The Policeman Arrested a Young Guy for Stealing in the Supermarket, But when He Searched

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Alejandro woke up to the sound of his alarm clock. He immediately got out of bed and headed to the bathroom. He never allowed himself to linger; his years as a police officer had long accustomed him to this. He quickly washed his face, brushed his teeth, put on his uniform, and left the house. Alejandro never had breakfast in the mornings; at most, he could afford to grab coffee and a pastry from the 24-hour supermarket on the corner.

He hurried down the sleepy street. He didn’t particularly like the city he found himself in due to his job. Truth be told, he had grown tired of cities long ago. In his mind, they all blended into a single gray mass of buildings, skyscrapers, and identical shops. Over the past 15 years, he had moved through a dozen cities, and none had left a mark on his heart.

His life remained the same everywhere: dull work with documents and archives, interrogating criminals whose faces he forgot as soon as they left the police station. He had no friends, only acquaintances, some of whom he couldn’t even remember by name. In the evenings, Alejandro would sometimes visit the same bar not far from home.

There was a decent retro band playing there, performing songs from his youth. They momentarily distracted him, helping him forget the hardships of his harsh existence. There, in the bar, he would remember his childhood home, his father and mother, childhood friends, the school he used to love attending. Where had all that gone? Why had the colors of life faded so much? Was he doomed to eternal loneliness? Asking himself these questions, he invariably remembered Mercedes, the only woman he had ever loved. Then bitterness spread through his weary heart. Yes, he loved her alone, and he lost her. He was to blame for everything. Alejandro asked for the bill, left generous tips, and went home carrying memories and regret with him.

That morning was gray and misty. He hurried through the streets of yet another unfamiliar city, feeling that his soul would never warm up again. At the supermarket, he momentarily slowed his pace. He didn’t want to eat, but the warm lights beckoned him to enter. As the policeman approached the sliding doors, they let him in, and Alejandro habitually headed down the aisles in search of his favorite pastries. Near the chocolate bar display, he saw a young man, about 19 years old.

Something about his demeanor seemed familiar. For a moment, the young man looked at him strangely and immediately turned away, pretending to browse the products. Something was off. Alejandro’s years of experience told him that the young man was acting very suspiciously. As if reading his thoughts, the young man suddenly darted away and quickly headed for the exit. The policeman’s instinct prompted him to follow. He saw the young man bypassing the checkout counters and almost running towards the glass doors. Alejandro chased after him.

“Hey, kid, stop right there!” he shouted, quickly noting that the cashiers were watching him with surprised looks. Maybe they think I’m crazy, but I’m 100% sure that kid is up to no good, thought the policeman on the fly. He caught up with the guy at the exit and roughly grabbed him by the sleeve of his jacket.

“Stop right there!” exclaimed Alejandro. “I’ll let you go after a search.”

The young man paled. The man noticed that the color of the kid’s eyes strangely resembled his own: a rare hazel green shade.

“I-I didn’t take anything,” stammered the detained unconvincingly.

“If you didn’t take anything, then prove it. Empty your pockets,” Alejandro sternly replied. He couldn’t stand being lied to blatantly. Years of service had armored his heart, impervious to sympathy. The kid allowed himself to be searched. In one of his pockets, the policeman found nothing but a hole. But in another, there lay a stolen chocolate bar and a small black wallet.

“So you said you didn’t take anything, huh?” The policeman bitterly smirked. How many of these juvenile thieves had he seen in his lifetime, and they all looked so innocent at first glance? He trusted no one anymore. The kid cast his gaze down.

“I’m sorry. I’ll pay, just please don’t take me to the police station. My mom is very ill,” the policeman just shook his head.

“Why didn’t you think of that before walking out with a stolen chocolate bar in your pocket? Why the silence?”

The kid slumped further. “I-I honestly don’t have any money, and I’m very hungry. I do work, really, but it all goes to my mom’s medicine.”

Alejandro skeptically eyed the kid. He did look very thin, even emaciated. Maybe this time he was telling the truth, but that didn’t excuse him.

“And do you often steal chocolate bars?” he asked.

The guilty kid nodded and lowered his head. “Every day.”

The policeman’s face became impassive as a mask. “You’ll have to come with me to the station.”

The kid looked up at him, tears filling his eyes. “No, please. My mom won’t survive this.”

“I’ve already said it all,” Alejandro replied firmly. “You’ll have to answer for your actions.”

The kid nodded towards the wallet that the policeman still held in his hand. “Please give it back. There’s no money in there anyway,” he pleaded. But Alejandro slipped the wallet into the pocket of his uniform.

“I’ll check its contents at the station.” With these words, he led the kid out of the supermarket. The police station was only a couple of blocks away. Alejandro briskly walked along the sidewalk, never taking his eyes off the boy, who could barely keep up. Looks like he really doesn’t eat enough, flashed through the man’s mind. At the station, he immediately took the thief to his office.

“So your mother is sick, you work, and you have no money for food?” Alejandro said, pulling out the black wallet from his pocket. The kid only nodded silently. “Let’s see what’s in here.” With those words, Alejandro opened the wallet and peered inside: several small coins, a shiny pebble, and a folded piece of yellowed paper. That’s all that was there. It seems the guy wasn’t lying, Alejandro thought, but his usual suspicion kept nagging at him. Placing the wallet on the table, the man took out the scrap of paper and was about to unfold it when suddenly the young man jumped up as if stung.

“Oh no, please, not that! It’s… it means a lot to me. It’s a memory of…” he mumbled hesitantly, but Alejandro shot him a stern look, unfolded the paper, and his heart skipped a beat, his hands betraying a slight tremor. This just couldn’t be. Alejandro held in his hands a note he himself had written many, many years ago. Back then, he was still very young, having just graduated from the police academy. He was assigned to a neighboring town, which thrilled him to no end.

Every weekend, he could hop on a bus and go home. The town Alejandro found himself in was a resort town nestled in a cozy little bay. During the season, it was overrun by tourists, and there was no shortage of work. But young Alejandro was ready for the challenges. He had dreamed of becoming a police officer since childhood. Setting out to patrol the evening streets for the first time, he felt like an invincible hero. However, to his dismay, he didn’t encounter a single disturber of the peace in a couple of hours.

Walking along the promenade, Alejandro noticed a group of young guys. Despite the heat, they wore leather jackets and ripped jeans. The guys were loudly chatting, each holding a cocktail bottle in hand.

“Drinking alcohol on the promenade is prohibited,” Alejandro said loudly, approaching them. The guys threw him surprised and mocking looks.

“And who are you?” asked one of them, a tall red-haired guy in his 20s.

“Sergeant Alejandro Alvarez.”

“We haven’t seen you around before,” the lanky guy replied insolently while the others chuckled. The young policeman paid no attention to the laughter, insisting on his point.

“Are you going to arrest us, General?” someone with a high-pitched voice cheekily asked. Only now did Alejandro notice a girl among the guys. She too was dressed in ripped jeans and a worn leather jacket. Her hair was dyed a bright raspberry color, and she had a piercing in her nose. She was smoking a cigarette, holding it delicately between her slender fingers. The wrist peeking out from the wide sleeve of her jacket was also delicate and very beautiful. The girl herself gave the impression of fragility. Alejandro suddenly felt the desire to protect her. Noticing his gaze, the girl stood up from the bench.

“Why are you staring at me like that? Do I look like a criminal?” she asked gruffly, though her voice was very gentle. Alejandro was taken aback.

“No, but I’m obliged to check your documents, Señorita.”

“And she doesn’t have them with her,” the red-haired guy answered for the girl and burst into loud laughter. The others, of course, joined in with their buddy.

“Why wouldn’t I have them?” the girl’s melodious voice broke through the laughter. “I do.” She boldly approached Alejandro and pulled her driver’s license out of her pocket.

“Mercedes Castro,” he read aloud, glancing briefly at the photo. The girl had normal dark brown hair, neatly styled.

“Yes, that’s me,” Mercedes replied challengingly. Alejandro looked into her eyes and smirked, handing back the document.

“You have a noble surname, yet you behave like a commoner,” he casually remarked.

“Oh, listen to him talk,” the young policeman heard the voice of the red-haired guy. He clearly didn’t like how Alejandro spoke about his girlfriend. But Alejandro didn’t look around; his

gaze was fixed on Mercedes’ eyes, which were now shooting angry sparks. To the young man, it felt like he was about to drown in the depths of those eyes.

“And you’re not my daddy to tell me how to behave,” Mercedes gritted through her teeth, throwing away her cigarette. She proudly lifted her head and turned away from Alejandro.

“Let’s go, guys. There’s too much morality here.” With these words, she grabbed her backpack and, without waiting for anyone, headed along the promenade. The others reluctantly followed her. The red-haired guy gave Alejandro a grim look as a parting shot but said nothing. The young policeman clenched his teeth, but soon his attention shifted back to the girl. He watched her departing figure for a long time.

The next encounter took place on the road. Alejandro was crossing the street at a pedestrian crossing when suddenly a red motorcycle came speeding around the corner. It barely managed to brake in front of him. Alejandro, in uniform, raised his eyebrows sternly, expecting an explanation. The motorcycle driver removed his helmet, and the young man breathed out in surprise. Before him stood Mercedes Castro. Her leather jumpsuit with long sleeves tightly hugged her slender figure, and this time her hair was dyed a venomous green color. Mercedes’ eyes looked bold and mocking.

“Oh, familiar General! Why are you moving like a tortoise?” she laughed. Alejandro choked on her unexpected audacity and didn’t immediately find a response. Meanwhile, Mercedes put her helmet back on and revved the engine.

The next time the young policeman encountered her was in the supermarket. Alejandro didn’t immediately recognize the girl. Mercedes was standing at the fruit stand, picking out the most beautiful apples. She wore a light blue cardigan and a white floral dress, and this time her hair was dyed turquoise. Alejandro wanted to walk past, but his legs carried him toward the girl.

“Mercedes Castro, what an unexpected encounter,” he said ironically. “Today, not in leather and not on a motorcycle. Surprising.”

Taken aback, the girl stuttered and dropped an apple from her hands. It rolled across the floor. Alejandro leaned down and picked it up.

“Were you following me?” Mercedes asked, squinting, quickly regaining her composure and once again assuming the guise of a playful and audacious girl.

“No, just came in here for coffee by chance.” Mercedes looked at him, tilting her head slightly.

“And you seem to be an apple enthusiast,” Alejandro smiled.

Mercedes looked somewhat puzzled into the basket, which already contained several apples, and unexpectedly burst into tears in front of the young man.

“This isn’t for me,” she managed to say through her tears.

Alejandro felt embarrassed and blushed. He had unwittingly upset the girl. “And for whom?” he cautiously asked.

The girl wiped her tears with the back of her hand. “For my grandmother. She’s sick and hospitalized. I’m going to visit her.”

Alejandro felt even more ashamed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

“It’s okay,” Mercedes replied, taking a small mirror out of her purse. She looked at it anxiously.

“You look great,” Alejandro sincerely said and immediately bit his tongue because Mercedes gave him a sly look.

“Are you already giving me compliments?” she flirtatiously asked. Alejandro felt himself blushing once again within a few minutes of their conversation.

“Just stating a fact,” he casually replied.

Mercedes nodded, clearly not believing him. “Do you want me to accompany you to the hospital?” Alejandro unexpectedly asked himself. It seemed that the girl was also a bit taken aback, but the invitation clearly evoked pleasant feelings in her.

“Are you afraid I’ll be kidnapped on the way?” she smiled.

“That too,” Alejandro replied seriously. They paid for the apples and left the supermarket. The early evening was warm, with a gentle floral scent in the air blending with the salty sea breeze, making the inhalation of this cocktail more than pleasant. The hospital was only a few blocks away from the supermarket, and Alejandro suddenly found himself thinking that he wished the road to it would never end. He couldn’t recall what they talked about, but Mercedes laughed a lot, although her eyes still remained sad. The young couple stopped at the entrance of the hospital, and the girl thanked Alejandro.

“Can I get your phone number?” the boy asked, terribly afraid she might refuse.

But Mercedes just nodded in response. On the way back, Alejandro unconsciously felt wings behind his back. He called her the next day and asked about her grandmother’s health.

“She’s a bit better,” Mercedes replied. “I’ve already visited her today.”

“Do you love her very much?” Alejandro asked.

“Yes,” the girl confessed. “She’s my kindred spirit, the only person who understands me like no one else in this world.”

Alejandro suggested meeting up and taking a walk along the promenade, and the girl agreed. They wandered along the sea for a long time, sat on a wooden pier, and skipped pebbles into the water. Then it became completely dark, and the stars lit up in the sky. Alejandro knew a bit about constellations. In his childhood, his grandfather told him stories about the Big and Little Dippers, about Orion and Cassiopeia, about the Hair of Berenice and Andromeda. The young man told Mercedes some of them. The girl listened very attentively and tried to find these constellations in the sky.

“You know so much. It’s very interesting with you,” she admitted. “Shall we meet on the weekend?”

Alejandro took her hand and shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I’m going home for the weekend.”

Mercedes nodded understandingly. Alejandro thought for a moment, and an idea came to his mind. However, summoning the courage to say it out loud was quite difficult.

“But if you want, I can take you with me,” the boy finally exhaled.

Mercedes looked at him in astonishment. “Do you want to introduce me to your parents?”

“Why not? They’re quite fun people, and you’ll see my home,” Alejandro said, his heart pounding.

Mercedes silently pondered the offer for a few moments. “Okay,” she said. “Just tell me, what’s your parents’ favorite color?”

“Why do you ask?” Alejandro wondered.

“I’ll dye my hair,” Mercedes laughed, and the young man smiled in return. He felt surprisingly good.

The trip couldn’t have gone better. Mercedes appeared at the bus stop in a simple blue dress with small polka dots. Her hair was a natural dark reddish hue, and on her nose, the young man no longer saw a piercing. Alejandro realized it was only an imitation. They sat side by side in the front seat, and part of the way, Mercedes dozed off on the young man’s shoulder. When they arrived, the parents met them at the bus station. Alejandro introduced them to Mercedes, and by the joyful expressions on their faces, he could tell that they really liked the girl.

Everything was perfect: delicious home-cooked food, relaxation in the shady garden, a stroll through the nearby fields together with Mercedes, where they lay side by side for a long time, inhaling the honey scent of flowers. The girl made wreaths for herself and Alejandro, and the lovers resembled two children. So carefree and joyous was their day. Overwhelmed by emotions, at some point, Alejandro felt that poetry was pouring out of him. He pulled out a scrap of paper from his bag and an unknown pencil stub from somewhere and wrote them down. Then he discreetly tucked the note into the pocket of Mercedes’ sleeping dress.

Twenty-some years had passed since then, and right now, Alejandro, standing in front of the young thief in his office, held that very scrap of paper in his hands.

“Please return it,” the boy pleaded tearfully. “This note belongs to my mother.”

Alejandro looked at the boy with sightless eyes. “Your mother?” he echoed.

“Yes,” the boy confirmed. “So will you give me the note back or not?”

“All right,” Alejandro carefully rolled up the scrap of paper, put it back into the wallet, and handed it to the boy, who promptly tucked it into his pocket. For a while, the policeman remained pensive.

“And what’s your mother’s name?” he asked hesitantly at last.

“Mercedes,” the boy replied.

“Mercedes,” Alejandro repeated softly. There was a long silence. The boy looked at the policeman bewilderedly, as if the sudden change in him took him by surprise. There was no trace of his previous confidence and assertiveness.

“So you say she’s sick?” Alejandro whispered.

The boy nodded. “She’s in the hospital for several months already,” he murmured quietly, avoiding eye contact.

Alejandro felt his legs weaken. He pulled a chair towards himself and sat down. “And how long have you been living in this city?” the man asked hoarsely.

“Since I was born, if I’m not mistaken,” the boy answered, raising his gaze to the policeman. Alejandro sighed heavily. Then he stood up and paced around the room as if pondering something.

“Listen, what’s your name at least?” he asked the boy.

“Al,” he replied. “It’s short, but my full name is Alejandro.

The policeman looked shocked at the boy. That’s why he seemed so familiar: the same eyes, the same hair. Al was simply a copy of himself in his youth. Alejandro’s head spun. What he realized just didn’t make sense to him. How could this even be possible? Could this young thief be his son?

Memories carried Alejandro back 20 years. When they returned from the young man’s hometown with Mercedes, he took up his post the same evening. The streets of the city were relatively calm. A couple of rowdy youths were trying to prove something to each other, and that was all. But when Alejandro walked out onto the promenade and reached the very spot where he first saw Mercedes, he noticed her former company there. The guys were again sipping cocktails and talking loudly among themselves. The tall red-haired guy spotted the policeman from afar.

“Ah, our dear Alvarez has arrived,” he shouted. The whole group gathered and moved closer to the leader. Alejandro sensed trouble but didn’t show it. They wouldn’t attack a law enforcement officer, he thought. He approached closer and, as before, reminded them that drinking alcoholic beverages on the promenade was prohibited.

“So what will you do if we continue to do it, huh, hero?” the redhead asked insolently. The others surrounded Alejandro in a tight circle.

“I’ll have to take you to the police station,” the young man said calmly.

The redhead menacingly rolled up the sleeves of his black sweatshirt, revealing a tattoo depicting a sword and a snake. “Feeling brave, huh?” he sneered through his teeth. Alejandro held his gaze.

“I wouldn’t advise you to attack a police officer,” he warned calmly. “The consequences won’t be pleasant.”

The redhead spat at his feet. “And I wouldn’t advise you to hang around Mercedes,” he replied roughly. “She’s not for you. We won’t let you off. Consider yourself warned.” With these words, the tall guy nodded grimly at the policeman and, pushing one of his own, walked away. The rest, like loyal subjects, followed him. Alejandro watched them for a while. What bastards. He needed to warn Mercedes to be more careful.

Alvarez patrolled the streets all night, and when he returned to the police station, an unexpected piece of news awaited him. Alejandro was being transferred to another city. This news shocked the young man. He didn’t want to go so far from home and leave his beloved, but orders were orders. Alejandro pulled himself together and called Mercedes to tell her everything. Hearing the sad news, the girl burst into tears. They met half an hour later at her house. Seeing her beloved, the girl cried even harder. Alejandro hugged her tightly, stroking her hair for a long time, trying to comfort her, but she was inconsolable.

“Perhaps it’s for the best,” Alejandro admitted, recalling the threats from his former friends towards Mercedes.

“What do you mean?” the girl asked, wiping away her tears.

Alejandro told her about the conversation that had taken place on the waterfront. “Don’t pay attention to them,” Mercedes waved it off. “I’ve known them all since childhood. Dogs bark, but they don’t bite.”

Alejandro sighed. “I just want you to be happy. I’m not sure if being with me will be good for you. A life of constant travel…”

Mercedes looked into his eyes and said seriously, “I’m ready.”

Alejandro was momentarily stunned. “What?”

“I said,” Mercedes repeated seriously, “that I’m ready to go with you to the ends of the Earth.”

The young man looked at her in amazement. “What about your family, your grandmother?”

Mercedes shook her head decisively. “I’ll visit her very often.”

Alejandro couldn’t believe his ears. “But that means we should get married,” he said. “My family is very traditional, and that’s how I was raised.”

Mercedes smiled happily. “So I’ll become your wife, if, of course, you agree.”

Alejandro nodded, hardly believing his luck. “Yes, I agree!” exclaimed Mercedes. Hearing these words, Alejandro lifted her up and spun her around. The wedding was very modest; only the closest relatives from both sides were present. Immediately after the ceremony, the newlyweds set off on their journey into their new life. The unfamiliar town where they were going to settle welcomed them with sunshine. A good sign, thought Alejandro. He was very happy.

His beloved wife was by his side. He was promised a promotion at work. They were given a small but nice apartment. What more could he ask for? At first, everything was wonderful. Mercedes enjoyed living in the new town, happily arranging the apartment, bringing warmth and coziness to it. She started attending meetings of young wives held at the local club, made new friends, and didn’t feel bored or lonely when Alejandro was at work.

They spent weekends together, sometimes staying at home, sometimes going somewhere, or watching movies. Life seemed wonderful and beautiful. However, gradually, something imperceptibly changed. Alejandro spent more and more time at work. His new position required him to meet more demands. Moreover, a secret criminal group appeared in the city, causing panic and constant disruptions to the lives of ordinary citizens.

Alejandro became nervous, slept and ate poorly, constantly looked grim and focused. He saw crime everywhere. He was very afraid for Mercedes’ life and reacted sharply to any glance when they went out together. Eventually, they stopped doing that, and Alejandro forbade his wife to go out alone. Mercedes, accustomed to complete freedom, found these changes very difficult. She became pale, and one day Alejandro heard her vomiting in the bathroom. However, he was in a hurry to work and didn’t ask about anything. In the evening, a real storm broke out. Alejandro returned late. He had spent the whole day on his feet and hadn’t eaten anything. The only thing he dreamed of was coming home and collapsing on the bed fully dressed. However, Mercedes met him at the threshold.

“Why did it take you so long?” she asked. It was clear that the girl was on edge.

“Darling, you know I have a lot of work. I’m very tired,” Alejandro replied.

“And what about me? Did you ever think about me? Didn’t you think about what it’s like for me to sit at home all day waiting for you to come back?” Mercedes suddenly burst out.

“You can invite a friend over,” Alejandro suggested. He walked into the room and sat on the bed, still fully clothed.

“I didn’t come here for that,” Mercedes continued to shout. “I came here to be with you, but you’re never here.” With these words, she started to cry. Alejandro wanted to get up and hug her, to comfort her, but he had no strength left.

“Come here, my love,” he quietly called out.

“No, I won’t,” Mercedes stubbornly replied, then suddenly exclaimed, “I don’t want to see you at all. I regret ever meeting you.”

These final words from his wife pierced Alejandro’s heart painfully. He erupted with anger, jumped off the bed, and rushed towards Mercedes.

“Do you think I like this life?” he erupted. “Do you think I dreamed of this?”

She cried again. “You chose it yourself, and you always only thought about yourself. You’re selfish. You don’t know anything around you,” the girl exclaimed with bitterness. And then Alejandro couldn’t hold it anymore. He made the biggest mistake of his life. Instead of embracing and comforting his wife, he unconsciously raised his hand to strike her. Mercedes looked at him with wide eyes. Then she quickly shook her head as if fighting against a vision. The tears in her eyes dried up instantly, replaced by fear in her gaze.

“You won’t do it,” she said calmly. Alejandro burst into loud sobs. Lowering his hand, he covered his face with his hands and cried.

“Forgive me, my love. I don’t know what came over me.” Mercedes remained silent for a long time. Then she went to the bathroom and locked herself in. Alejandro, overwhelmed with sorrow and shame, lay down on the bed and fell asleep. He woke up in the morning. The bed was unmade. Mercedes was not there. Alejandro struggled to get up and staggered into the bathroom. There was nobody there either. There was a note on the kitchen table:

Forgive me, but you won’t see me again,” Mercedes had written to him. Alejandro rushed to the closet and threw open the doors. His wife’s clothes and her suitcase were gone. He leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. “Have I lost her?” a thought flashed in his mind. Realizing this, Alejandro jumped up as if stung and rushed out of the house. He ran, not caring where he was going, until he reached a small old cottage where Mercedes’ best friend, Laura, lived. Alejandro started banging on the door with all his might. After a couple of minutes, it swung open, and Laura’s husband, Diego, appeared at the threshold, looking alarmed.

“Alejandro, what’s wrong? You look terrible,” he exclaimed.

“Mercedes,” Alejandro panted, “is she here? Don’t think about hiding her.” But Diego just shrugged.

Sleepy Laura appeared behind him. Seeing the young policeman, she became worried. “Alejandro, what’s wrong with Mercedes?” she quickly asked.

“No, I don’t know,” he replied bewilderedly. “She’s gone. I thought she was here.” Tears welled up in the man’s eyes. “We had a fight yesterday,” he confessed. “I was very tired and fell asleep, and in the morning she was nowhere to be found.” Having said this, Alejandro couldn’t hold back and started to cry. “She wasn’t herself, blaming me for locking her in four walls, but I was just concerned about her safety.

“Wait, Alejandro, why are we standing here?” Laura’s husband intervened. “Come inside and tell us everything calmly.” But the policeman just shook his head.

“No, if she’s really not here, I have to find her. I’m guilty before her, and I’m terrified of losing her.” Alejandro attempted to break free, but Diego managed to grab him by the sleeve.

“Stop. We’re not letting you go in this state. You might do something foolish or, God forbid, get hit by a car. Come inside and calm down.” Alejandro gave in. He allowed Laura to lead him to the kitchen and sit him down at the table. The young woman immediately rushed to brew herbal tea to somehow help her best friend’s husband calm down. Diego entered the room. He changed into a T-shirt and jeans, replacing his casual clothes.

“All right, here’s the plan,” he said

briskly. “Drink some tea. It won’t hurt to calm down a bit. Then we’ll take my car and go search for Mercedes.”

Alejandro just nodded. Laura placed a cup of tea in front of him, and he took a few sips, burning his tongue. “All right, we’re off,” he exclaimed, jumping up from the table. “Thanks for the tea, Laura.” He and Diego quickly left the house and got into the car. Alejandro remembered that Mercedes had two other good friends, so they went to search for the police officer’s wife at their places. However, neither of them knew anything about the girl.

“I haven’t seen Mercedes in so long. She’s always at home,” said one of the friends. The other just shrugged. It was evident that both were telling the truth. Alejandro was becoming desperate.

“Where else could she have gone?” he exclaimed.

Diego thought hard. “You know what, buddy,” he finally said, “let’s go to the train station.” He started the engine, and they set off. At the station, the men approached the ticket counter, and seeing the familiar cashier, old Hugo, who had been working there since time immemorial and knew all the townsfolk by face, they turned to him hopefully.

“Mercedes? Yes, she bought a ticket early in the morning but asked not to tell anyone,” he calmly replied and kindly added, “So have you two had a falling out?”

Alejandro grimly nodded. “Well, no worries. Young and foolish,” reassured old Hugo. “You’ll make up. She’ll be back like a little lamb.” But Alejandro didn’t share his confidence.

“Please, Hugo, tell us where she went.”

“Where else? Home, of course,” he simply replied. “Apparently, she missed her family.” Alejandro immediately bought a ticket, and the next morning knocked on Mercedes’ parents’ door. They opened it and were terribly surprised to see Alejandro on the doorstep. And when he told them the reason for his sudden appearance, Mercedes’ mother clutched her heart. It turned out that the girl hadn’t been home. Alejandro visited all of Mercedes’ old friends, even the red-haired one, but no one had seen his wife. He couldn’t catch her trail.

“Are you going to arrest me?” Alejandro snapped back to reality at the boy’s voice. The policeman startled and looked at the young man, noting his resemblance to himself once again.

“Hold on. You have time for prison,” Alejandro bitterly smiled. “Can I visit your mom instead?” Alejandro’s face elongated in surprise.

“You can, but why would you?” he asked.

Alejandro nodded quickly, making a snap decision. “Then let’s go,” he said. “Questions later.” Alejandro headed for the exit, and the policeman, grabbing the keys to the patrol car from the table, followed him. In the hospital, they approached the registration desk together.

“Hello, I’m here for Mom,” said Alejandro to the administrator, a woman in her 50s with a kind but slightly tired face.

“And who’s this with you?” she exclaimed in surprise. “Your relative? You look so alike.” Al glanced at the policeman.

“Well, actually,” he began, but Alejandro didn’t let him finish.

“Yes, a relative,” he firmly answered. “I’m his father.”

Al coughed, but the administrator didn’t pay attention to it. “How wonderful that you’ve come now. Al will feel better, and Mercedes will probably be delighted too.”

“I hope so,” Alejandro said, his heart pounding. They walked to the elevators and went up to the third floor.

“Is Mom seriously ill?” Alejandro asked Al, who had been staring at him all this time but hadn’t asked any questions.

“Yes,” the boy noted in response, and the policeman sighed heavily. Finally, they reached the right ward and stopped in front of the door.

“Are you sure Mom won’t get worse when she sees you?” Alejandro asked quietly.

“I hope not,” Alejandro repeated. “If you upset or hurt her, you will regret it,” the boy said firmly.

The policeman just nervously nodded in response. Al opened the door and entered the room first. The man followed him, feeling trembling inside. It seemed to him that his heartbeat could be heard throughout the room. He recognized Mercedes immediately, despite the passing years. She looked very pale and exhausted from illness. The woman looked up at him, and silent tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Mom,” Al whispered, taking her hand.

“Mercedes,” Alejandro murmured, stopping in the middle of the room, hesitant to approach. The woman smiled.

“Al, please stay in the corridor for a bit. We need to talk,” she said.

“Is he really my father?” Al couldn’t help but ask. Mercedes simply nodded in response. Al walked out, glancing back at Alejandro, his face reflecting a mixture of emotions. When the boy closed the door behind him, Alejandro rushed to Mercedes, fell to his knees beside the bed, and buried his face in her blanket. It seemed to him that she was so fragile and almost transparent beneath him.

“Forgive me, my love. Please forgive,” he muttered hoarsely, as if none of these 20 years had passed, as if they had argued just yesterday.

“It’s me who should ask for forgiveness, darling,” Mercedes whispered. “I was already pregnant with Al back then and couldn’t control my emotions. I realized it later, but it was too late.”

“But why, my love? I waited for you all this time. I remained alone.” Mercedes looked at him incredulously.

“At first, I convinced myself that I should forget you. I was always so proud. But when Al was born, everything changed. I realized it wouldn’t be fair to keep him hidden from you. So I went back to our town, but you were no longer there.

“They transferred me,” Alejandro whispered. “The police gave me your new address, and I went to you. When I approached the house with Al in my arms, I saw you with another woman.”

Mercedes barely uttered the last words, as if it was difficult for her. Alejandro was stunned. “But I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“She had long black hair down to her waist and tan skin. Such a beauty. And you seemed so happy with her,” Mercedes whispered. Alejandro paused for a moment.

“Oh, that. That was my neighbor, Anna. Sometimes she asked me to help her with nails or hang curtains. Maybe she was in love with me, but I couldn’t think of anyone else but you, my dear.” With these words, Alejandro gently took Mercedes’ hand. “I searched for you, I swear. Searched for you for a long time, but you disappeared as if you never existed. Sometimes I thought I had gone mad and just invented you.

Mercedes cried again. “How foolish I’ve been,” she exclaimed.

“Don’t blame yourself. That’s all in the past now. I’ll always be by your side, I swear to you, my love,” Alejandro fervently declared.

“I don’t know how much time I have left,” Mercedes murmured through her tears.

“Is it that serious?” The man grew concerned. “Al didn’t tell me the reasons for your illness. What do the doctors say?”

Mercedes wiped her tears and looked at Alejandro. “They say the course of the illness depends on my will to live. I didn’t have it. My life has long turned into a series of monotonous, empty days.”

Alejandro pressed Mercedes’ hand to his cheek. Her words struck a chord in his heart, and their meaning was all too familiar to him. “I’ll be by your side. Perhaps it will brighten your life even a little,” he said.

“Thank you, my love,” Mercedes simply replied. Al entered the room.

“May I?” he asked. Mercedes nodded. Al entered and sat on a chair opposite the bed. His demeanor showed he was awaiting explanations.

Alejandro stood up, kissed Mercedes’ hand, and approached his son. “You said my father died,” Al said softly, but there was reproach in his words.

“Yes, son,” Mercedes replied. “The thing is, your father and I had a misunderstanding at one point.”

Upon hearing the word “misunderstanding,” Alejandro bitterly smiled. “And we parted ways for many years,” Mercedes finished.

Al looked at his father with suspicion. “He abandoned us,” the young man clarified.

Mercedes shook her head. “No, son, he didn’t even know about your existence.” Al looked incredulously at his mother.

“Well, actually,” she confessed quietly, “it’s my fault in everything.”

“Both of us,” Alejandro interjected. “But now everything will be different.” However, Al still frowned.

“But just this morning, you practically dragged me to the police station,” he grumbled.

Mercedes clutched her heart. “What? Oh, and I didn’t even ask how you two met and how Alejandro ended up here. I was so upset.”

Alejandro sat on the edge of her bed and took her hand again. “Calm down, Mercedes. Al is not in danger. It was a mistake.” With these words, he looked meaningfully at his son. Al crossed his arms with a proud look, all like his mother. The policeman thought contentedly, well, it’s okay. We’ll make friends yet.

Alejandro arranged with an acquaintance to take Al to work in his business and teach him everything. Now thefts from supermarkets were over for good. Every day, Alejandro visited his beloved wife in the hospital, and with each visit, Mercedes noticeably improved. A blush appeared on her cheeks, and she started to take walks in the cozy green courtyard, something she had never done before. The nurses and doctors couldn’t be happier with the improvements in the patient’s condition.

“She’s glowing with joy,” they said to each other. “That’s what love does.”

Once, Alejandro arrived at his beloved’s place

in his official car, and having made arrangements with her attending physician, took Mercedes for a ride. They headed out of town. The weather was wonderful, with bright sunshine illuminating the day. Alejandro parked by the edge of a large field where yellow flowers were blooming. The air was pleasantly scented with honey. Mercedes took a deep breath for the first time in a while and laughed.

“It feels just like when we first went to visit your parents,” she smiled.

“Yes, even the sandwiches are the same. Just this time, it’s not my mom who made them, but me,” Alejandro replied. It seemed to him as if they had magically traveled back 20 years. They walked around the field for quite some time. Then Mercedes began to feel tired, so Alejandro spread a blanket on the grass. They ate sandwiches, drank coffee from a thermos, and then lay down side by side for a while.

“I’m so happy,” whispered Mercedes.

“Me too,” Alejandro replied softly. Mercedes turned to look him in the eyes.

“You know,” she smiled, “it seems like the thirst for life has finally returned to me.”

“That means everything will be okay soon,” Alejandro murmured, kissing his beloved.

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