The tail end of Kendrick Lamar’s Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe was tumbling out of the stereo of the lilac Jeep Wrangler as it followed the graceful arc of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway that runs from downtown Clearwater straight out to the white sand coast on the Gulf of Mexico. An immediate downshifting followed now that the driver was face to face with a mental backup on the bridge. Both lanes were beginning to stack up on the westbound side and barely any traffic was coming from the beach. The open-top, no windows, and no doors lifestyle was solely enjoyable when in motion. The idea of being stuck out under the hot sun was not Kandy’s idea of fun and she could feel herself burning already.
Inching her way up, she took her spot behind a tattered burgundy and tan Expedition and next to a white mid 90s Mercedes Benz S600 sedan that looked like it had just been cut out of a Vacpack. The paint was well kept. No scratches, haziness, or swirls from where she was sitting. The headlamps were clear and bright. Even the stock non-polished wheels looked brand new. Really the only modification to it she could spot was the rather dark limo tint.
“A little crazy from the start…” The opening vocals of Slow Burn by Jaira Burns began to play, pulling her attention away from the Benz. Reaching into the ashtray, she pulled out a lighter she kept stashed for emergencies like these while lifting her denim-clad hips to fish something out of a front pocket. There was a struggle to reach something in those rather tight short shorts. Her very tight and very short shorts. It might’ve been October, but it was still hot as hell in Tampa Bay and whatever was left of the strawberry milkshake from Steak n Shake was already turning into a pink pool inside the styrofoam cup in the console holder. Finally, the neatly rolled joint was retrieved and placed between her lips, which happened to be glossed in a color that matched the body of the Jeep and the lenses of her heart-shaped sunglasses.
Miguel’s brown eyes quickly ran through the same rotation they had done for the last four minutes. First, the black and steel encased SLR wristwatch by Tag Heuer on his left wrist, then to the clock dial in the gauge cluster, before lastly ending with a flash of his iPhone’s lock screen. This was quite possibly an ominous sign from the heavens above. He was sure he was going to be late. If it wasn’t the accident on the other side, then it would be from not being able to find a parking spot down by the pier.
After the phone call a few days ago with the owner of a beachfront café, his excitement for the job interview he was now expecting to miss had been fading steadily anyway. The guy wanted a fresh menu with more authenticity to his family’s own Hispanic roots, which was what initially lured Miguel to call about it. Unfortunately, it was a hectic phone call that had frustrated him to the point of almost canceling. From it, he had a feeling in his stomach about the focus and reliability of his potential new employer not matching the promises made already. But the money was slightly better than what he was making at his current job and worth at least a go-see considering that this might expand into other investment projects for the owner.
Reaching under the tan leather armrest, he grabbed a set of index cards he had written up over the intervening days. It mostly covered menu ideas from slight changes to the restaurant’s current offerings to the more extreme. Also included were costs and a suggested schedule for revitalizing the place, which had rather mediocre reviews on Google. His cousin, who managed another café down the way, had vouched for the man and that went a long way with him. From what Miguel could tell, this was the owner’s first restaurant having made his money mostly in construction and development in Southwest Florida. He knew the information he had collected forwards and backward, but what the hell else was he gonna do while burning gas on the bridge that felt like it led to nowhere?
Once lit, Kandy took a quick hit and exhaled in time to recover enough to harmonize on the second chorus. “… burn it slow-low-low-low-low-low-low-low-low… I don’t wanna lose control-ol-ol-ol-ol-ol-ol-ol-ol. Baby, can we burn it slow-low-low-low-low-low-low-low-low.” Another inhale and she increased the volume just a bit more. Waiting for the chorus, she matched the run dancing through the end of the bridge leading in. “So before it all goes up… can we burn it slow…”
Noticing the bass from the vehicle next to him, Miguel looked to the side finding the Jeep parked about even with the start of the rear door of his sedan. Reaching up to cock the rearview mirror at an angle to watch the brunette, he waited a second and then lowered the passenger side windows a few inches. A smirk. She was hitting the right notes at least. Someone needed to be having fun on this Sunday afternoon. Kandy had definitely clocked the lowering of the windows — a bit hard to miss on that snow-white slab-sided German tank idling next to her. She couldn’t see much of the driver with how dark it was in there, but she could feel him. High on sugar and mellowed on a rather pleasant strain of marijuana, there wasn’t much that could rain on her sunny day.
Tilting her face toward the heat of the sun, Kandy closed her eyes and sighed back into the confetti patterned cloth seat. With the song winding down, a burst of a couple echoing pops followed by a few crackles sliced through the end of the dreamy track. Switching off the Jeep’s engine, Kandy listened carefully again for what she thought she had heard. They must be on the other side of the bridge…
A fair amount of drivers and passengers had gradually begun to mill around on the bridge with most gathering at the top no doubt getting a good view of whatever unfortunate scene was splattered and shattered ahead. Hyenas, Miguel thought with contempt. His eyes refocused on the cross hanging from the rearview mirror. Every bit of protection in this fucked up world counted. The music had stopped and he looked in the mirror again. He watched the young girl as she went about digging through a bag in the passenger seat to finally pull out a camera before jumping down out of the Jeep. With what was left of the joint between her lips, she pulled off her sunglasses and tucked them into the collar of her A Tribe Called Quest t-shirt. The notecards seemed less important and the pensive tapping of his fingers slowed to a stop as the brunette picked a spot just to the left of his driver’s side headlamp.
She must be high as fuck.. He barely finished the thought when a milky grey Aston Martin DBS Superleggera howled down their side of the bridge followed close behind by a deep blue AMG GT, which got his head to turn. The shutter went mad capturing frame after frame of the pair that flew by. But still, she stood there waiting after they had disappeared well out of sight. The sun reflected off the steel band of the Tag Heuer as he went back to pensively tapping his fingers on the top of the S600’s dash and this caught her attention. The only thing she could see was the heavily tattooed hand that looked like an anatomically correct recreation of its own X-ray. The bright metal band of the high-end watch was such a weird sight.
Death wears a Rolex? Kandy mused to herself silently. Again, she felt the weight of his gaze on her and she was right. Miguel was watching her intently so very curious on whether she would get close enough to say hello. Fairly certain she still couldn’t see most of him inside the dark cabin, he opted to lift a few fingers from the dash in a subtle greeting. Maybe she’ll notice, maybe she won’t. It was the slight shift in the corner of her mouth that gave her away as she brought the camera back up to take a shot. Instead of committing to it, she looked back over to him with that sly smile and an up-nod. He shook his head and sighed glancing at the hanging cross again. It had been a long time since he caught sight of a smile like it, particularly one aimed in his direction.
Now even he could hear what she was waiting for as it was coming closer to their section of the bridge. But, for whatever reason, Kandy still was looking into the car as if she could see him. Sure there was just a slight smokey tint on the windscreen, but his dark suit blocked her view of the light brown and tan upholstered driver’s seat. Death had a physical form it seemed and this Mercedes was not driving itself after all. Miguel was beginning to doubt just how concealed he was until she turned back to the empty eastbound lanes and the purple-colored McLaren 570S scorched by. A rush of the breeze off the intercostal flowing underneath them lifted up parts of her layered curls that were secured level with the top of her skull. Leaning to the side to see around his Mercedes, she appeared to be enjoying the sight of the McLaren the most. It likely had to do with the fact it was a close match to the paint on her Jeep, her lipstick, her sunglasses, and even her nails.
Again there’s that flicker of a smile that almost felt like an offer for something more until the brassy horns of an EMS truck invaded their rather serene side of the bridge. Kandy’s expression fell away so quickly Miguel sat up a bit in his seat. It was a type of fear he hadn’t seen in a long time, but not as distant a memory as the type of smile from earlier. Her first instinct was to walk over toward the Jeep, but it could offer her no protection at all. The panic began to rise as she realized she had no place to go to get away from the noise. When the burst of adrenaline hit, Kandy spotted a large box truck about ten cars down and wondered if she could get to the side of it fast enough. Its height and size would soften the hit of the sirens as long as she carefully maneuvered around its shape to keep a solid side between her and the noise.
The actuators of the S600’s central locking system thumped suddenly inside the thick doors calling her attention back to the driver. His skeletal tattooed hand pointed toward the front passenger door. The relief was indescribable as the girl sprinted around to the side of the sedan and disappeared inside. Feeling for the switches on the center console, Miguel rolled up the windows while she got in.
Kandy’s hand shook as she brought the joint up to her lips for a pull of its hopefully soothing smoke. Letting it fill her lungs, she closed her eyes and waited. Just as her head fell back against the headrest of the plush seat, the ambulance flanked by two police cars crested the top of the bridge and thundered by. Out came the smoke and the counting began. The marijuana was one thing she could taste, its aroma mixed with the driver’s cologne were two things she could smell. The chill from the air conditioning, the grain on the leather seat, and the smooth wood panel insert on her door made up the three things she could feel.
It took a few minutes, but he detected a slowing in the rhythm of her breathing as it steadily returned to a calmer state. Observing as she refilled her lungs and timed the duration of her breaths, he saw that she was still shaking a fair amount. Though his instinct might have been to reach out and take her hand to give her something to hold onto, Miguel figured it was best to let her be. For now, he just kept an eye on her and waited while she worked through whatever she had going on.
The world inside that Mercedes was so peaceful. Every sound outside of it was muffled and dulled down to the point they were easily ignored. It was the complete opposite of the Jeep which was loud, harsh, and exposed.
“You okay, mami?”
Kandy suddenly remembered she was in a stranger’s car and opened her eyes to see the tan headliner and the matching shade pulled over the sunroof above them. She was about to answer when she looked over and saw him properly for the first time. All she could do was smile. With his elbow on the center console, he was closer to her than she expected. The intensity of his gaze was highlighted by the somewhat mischievous sparkle that now came to light in his dark eyes. Even though her vibrant demeanor was tempered a bit by the bout of anxiety, Miguel still saw the girl who could and would stop traffic with that curvy little body in those short shorts. Indulging himself a little bit more as they stared at each other, he imagined it was more likely to be the way she made others feel that kept them near her long after the show was over.
“You good?” His brows lifted slightly as his hand rubbed the pointed chin of his oval face, which was married perfectly to an angular nose with a rather tall bridge.
Simply put, Kandy just wanted to put her face in her hands and hide. She remembered it had been his car that the windows were lowered and then this happens. Just smile through it as you die inside, Kandy. It’ll be ok.
Miguel sat there quietly watching, no smiling or laughing, instead just the steady soft percussion of his left hand’s fingers on the top of the S600’s gauge cluster. Her eyes slowly slid to the side to see what he was doing. His jaw was now propped up by the hand that was wrapped in a rosary of ink anchored at his wrist by a scorpion. His fingers flexed pensively almost as if the cross drawn inside of his palm was actually there to hold.
“Yea, yea.” A short nod followed as she decided to focus her amber eyes on her side of the car in an attempt to keep her embarrassment hidden, “I’m good.”
“You sure ‘cause I don’t want you faintin’ or some shit?”
Another nod. “I’m good.”
Although she was staring at the glovebox, he could still see the edge of an awkward yet charming smile. “Not a fan of lights and sirens, huh?”
She took a breath and sighed before looking over at him again. Her hand gently rested on his arm bringing his hand down from his face. “Thanks. Like for real.”
A simple nod from him, “Anytime.”
The curve of his jaw was well accented and defined despite being clean-shaven because of how high the artwork on his neck stretched. Unfortunately, her curiosity was kept at bay because the combination of his dress shirt and dark blue suit jacket blocked most of the view.
“You own probably the nicest W140 Benz I have ever seen in my life.”
“Good enough for 2Pac. She wasn’t always this clean though. Took a shit load of money. And time.”
“How long have you had her?”
“About five years. I won her when I was twenty.”
An odd answer and she perked a brow. “In like a card game?”
He laughed at the thought. “Nah, won her after a fight. They didn’t wanna pay me. I threatened to fuck the guy up, but I wanted a car he had on his lot so…”
“A boxing promoter and a used car salesman. Wow.”
A slight shift in his shoulders, “He was from the neighborhood. We worked it out. I was gonna buy the car with the money anyway.”
“You got what you wanted anyway.”
“I got what I wanted anyway.” A slow nod.
“Is she done?”
Kandy caught him hesitating like a typical car guy however she had a feeling that for him this was the only one. Possibly something loftier was on a poster on his wall when he was younger and stayed in the back of his mind. But he wasn’t out on the bridges racing or being reckless. Far too serious of a man to be pissing away money, tires, and a driver’s license over little boy drag racing.
She could see the numbers spinning and the calculations flying as he began totaling up in his head stuff still needing to be done. “They’re never done.”
A knowing smirk. “Her seats are getting old. My cousin over in Miami does upholstery, headliners, all that shit. He’ll hook me up when it’s time. The backup system is fucked so I keep it off.”
“The way God intended.”
The brunette with lilac glossed lips leaned in close to him with that familiar playful grin, which he was pleased to see again. “But yours is a big ass 600 sedan, not the little five-double-oh that Pac had.”
“Five-double-oh, huh?” He cracked a smile and hit the eject button on the stereo. Out came the All Eyez on Me album.
“Wow, a working CD player.”
He laughed at her and shook his head, “You ain’t really that young, are you?”
She smirked and adopted a rather proper public service announcer tone, “The age of consent in Florida is eighteen and I’m twenty-one.” A beat later, “What the fuck kinda music were you expectin’ I listen to anyway?”
This girl is fucking wild. Miguel laughed to himself and ran his hand down over his face before answering her, “I dunno,” He took a hold of her wrist and lifted her hand to get a look at her choice of nail color, “Maybe Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé.”
A pause as she considered the list, “I do, but –”
Shaking his head, he played off the grin and instead gave a tug of the shirt she wore with the rap group from Queens on it. “Do you even know any of their shit?”
“Do it for the strong, we do it for the meek. Boom it in your, boom it in your, boom it in your Jeep.” She pointed back to her Wrangler continuing on, “Or your Honda, or your Bimmer, or your Legend, or your Benz. The rave of the town to your foes and your friends.”
“I’ll take your word for it cause I don’t listen to that east coast shit anyway.” The fake smug expression disappeared when he threw his hands up after she playfully gave him a little shove. “My bad, my bad.” Whether he was just relaxing in the driver’s seat or grinning ear to ear like he was now, Kandy could feel herself becoming a bit more enamored with him.
“Uh, sorry for smokin’ in your car.” She offered what remained of the weed to him.
A simple nod as he accepted and eyed the clock next to the S600’s gauges. He was definitely going to be late. Fuck it. With that, he took a healthy hit from it and waited. It was good shit.
She watched him now just as amused with him as he was with her. “Hit the spot?”
He nodded with a smirk before tilting his head back to exhale the smoke above them. That simple move he made afforded Kandy a slightly better view of the tattoos on this side of his neck. Everything was black and white with a rather large portrait in the center as the main focus on this side. Abuelita? If he’s twenty-five, she’d be old enough. Though she was tempted to reach over and ask about it, she kept her inquisitiveness to herself. The filigree and accents on what looked like it was supposed to be a gilded antique picture frame were clear and detailed. Top-quality work.
One more go and he was opening his door to dump the rest. As he was sitting back up to shut the door, he spotted in the side view mirror another police car coming from downtown. Reaching for the gear shift, he put the Mercedes back into drive and rotated his palm over the steering wheel inching the big sedan diagonally in front of her Jeep to give the officer room they’d eventually need to pass. This time he set the brake after putting the car in park and resigned himself to the notion they were going to be there for a while.
Curiously, Kandy looked over her shoulder to see the cars behind them following suit to accommodate the responding officer. Before she had time to react, Miguel had slipped his hand gently against her palm and interlaced their fingers, “How ‘bout you stay in here with me until this shit is cleared up?” Gently his thumb rubbed over her hand.
She barely managed a nod in the moment and seeing this, Miguel brought the back of her hand up to his mouth for a tender kiss. Her head fell lightly against the headrest again ultimately looking back up at him with those amber brown eyes of hers a second later. He knew she was trying to show him somebody other than whatever version of herself she thought he was seeing.
He nodded back over to the abandoned purple Wrangler that the S600 was now somewhat blocking, “That Jeep don’t feel like you.”
“No?” Her brows lifted with interest.
He shook his head, “You need somethin’ light.” His tone dropped a little bit as he leaned closer to her conspiratorially, “And fast.”
Was that a wistful sigh he caught from her? Kandy placed the camera on the coffee au lait colored amber-brown carpet of the Mercedes just in front of her seat to dance her pointer and middle fingers back and forth as he was still holding on to her other hand. “Two of the things that get my ass in trouble.”
“Yea? The opposite of me then. I like to drive slow, comfy as fuck.”
Just the tiniest of smiles while smoothing down the front of her hair leading up to the ponytail with her free hand. “I’m enjoyin’ some of that now. But she’s still a big ass Benz with a big ass engine and you could make her move if you wanted to.”
Miguel nodded and gave a little shrug, “If there’s someplace I wanna be.”
His attention now drifted out to their unconventional yet still lovely view of the intercoastal. Not a cloud in the sky, but the wind was picking up. The one thing he liked about his current schedule was he often made it to work before any of Tampa’s late afternoon or evening storms began. Kandy noticed his drumming had returned and wondered what kept pulling him away. It must have been important. Shifting his weight back to the side and leaning on the armrest once again, he loosened his hold on her hand just enough to let her readjust it for a more comfortable angle. Aloof, but aware.
People were beginning to walk back down to their cars causing him to point up toward the top of the bridge, “Looks like it’ll be over soon.”
Kandy did not want to get out of his Mercedes and it wasn’t because there was a small part of her afraid of the unaccounted for patrol car. In fact, having to deal with another round of upsetting sirens was the last thing on her mind as she stared at the passenger door handle. Though Miguel might have been relieved there was a chance he could still make the interview, the majority of his focus was back on the girl sitting in his front seat. He could ask for her number and would likely get it. But as the seconds ticked on and with every pass his thumb made against hers while they sat there together, it became clearer and clearer he just didn’t want to let go of her. He was enjoying the brightness she had brought into his otherwise stressful morning.
“Hey.” When he didn’t respond, she slipped her fingers under his chin and gently turned his face more toward her. What’s the worst that could happen? Just some guy in traffic, make his day. And yours. Have a little fun, Kandy.
The instant she saw that whatever he had been mulling over had been pushed to the back of the line, the brunette leaned forward and kissed his mouth. It was merely meant to be a cheeky little thing, short-lived, and right before she hopped out of his car. But then that skeletal hand, which was previously on the steering wheel, found its place around the back of her neck and gave him the leverage to deepen and continue the kiss. Hearing out of her the most exquisite moan, he let go of her hand allowing him to cradle her jaw and bring her in closer. For Miguel, this was starting to feel reminiscent of that time the ABS and traction control failed during a late-night rainy drive through Texas. There was no stopping that Benz when she hydroplaned and there was likely no stopping this.
Twisting in her seat to get a leg under herself, Kandy was climbing over the center console and straddling his lap before Miguel had time to take off his seatbelt. Slouching further down in his seat to give her some more room, he could feel her hands going to his shoulders to peel off his suit jacket. Without disrupting the kiss, he sat up to pull the material down his arms and throw it into the backseat. When she reached for his tie, the soccer mom mobile stuck behind them honked its horn for them to move. Sitting up and breaking the kiss, Kandy glanced over her shoulder to see that the traffic ahead of them had already started to slowly inch over to the other side. Miguel sighed while still rubbing her sides up under her t-shirt. He squeezed her hips bringing her attention back around to him.
Am I really sitting on this guy and his hands are all — yes, Kandy. And he’s all — yes, Kandy. And I’m all — yes, Kandy. In flooded the stillness as the pair stared at each other until he finally reached up to caress the side of her face again. Her warm smile evolved into a coy grin, which absolutely did not help him one bit. Behind all that lust and temptation, there was something else swirling around in those espresso-colored eyes of his. Kandy felt it and her expression faded as it began to sink in exactly what was happening between the two. The thumb of the hand Kandy had previously thought belonged to the Grim Reaper tenderly brushed over her lower lip when Miguel realized that she had picked up on where his mind was drifting to.
Unwavering in holding her gaze, his palm slipped around to the back of her head just beneath the anchor of her ponytail and brought her down under his seat belt for a third kiss. Her arms hooked around the top of his seat under the headrest while his other snaked possessively around her hips. There was nothing playful or wanton about this, but instead slow and sentimental as if it were a kiss shared by two lovers who hadn’t seen each other in a good three hundred or so years. Another longer and harsher burst of the horn ended their moment in the Mercedes.
Miguel felt her lips near his ear and he slowly let his hands drift down the center of her back, “Gotta go.” Despite her saying the two words he didn’t care to hear, the taunting lilt laced through them got him to at least smile.
Of course, this was prior to hearing the thunk of his driver’s door opening. With one of those purple zebra-striped Chuck Taylors firmly placed on the cement, Kandy curled back out from under the shoulder strap of his seat belt and carefully hopped off his lap and out of the car shutting the door behind her. Sitting up in his seat stunned by her rather sudden exit, Miguel wasn’t exactly sure what to do.
Kandy had her hand over her mouth hiding her grin as she clocked the confusion and then understanding of the minivan driver who witnessed her exit. Giggling to herself, she climbed up in the Jeep and fired up the ignition. What had she done?
“What the fuck was that?” Looking over his shoulder out of the limo-tinted rear window, Miguel tried to get a read on if she had made it back to the Wrangler yet. And when he heard the start of its engine, he reached for the door but looked at his lap. “Carajo.”
In his peripheral, he caught sight of the black trail bars and the purple front of the 4×4 moving past the passenger windows. He knew they wouldn’t roll down in time. His hand ran down his face to his chin and Miguel was at last laughing at the ridiculousness of his morning. “Fuckin’ Florida, man.”
Not so much as a wave or a look back as she slid on by and put a couple of cars in between them by cruising along the shoulder. With her eyes shielded from view by her purple lensed heart-shaped sunglasses, Kandy did occasionally and covertly glance up to the rearview mirror to see if the S600 ever got rolling again. There was only one real direction they all could go in anyway. Unless, of course, he decided to take the turnaround break in the cement separating the east and westbound lanes a quarter mile ahead.
Slightly high, hard as hell, with a crumpled suit, and probably not going to be able to find a parking space in time, Miguel was half tempted to do a U-turn and call it a day. As he went to shift into drive, he noticed she had left her camera behind on the floorboard of the passenger side. Gingerly reaching across the center console, his fingers managed to get a grip on it. Much to the relief of the cars behind it, the Mercedes then straightened back up into its lane and was crawling along like the rest of them.
Whenever it was time to stop and wait, he scrolled through the gallery of images via the camera’s LCD screen. There had to be something on it about her. It looked like there was a car show at a local restaurant she went to. The sign was in a couple of photos, but he didn’t recognize where it was. He could have his sister Google it. A rather large Mastiff-looking dog, which was absolute putty in her hands. The interior of a bakery, but it was impossible to make out the logo on the small screen. Eventually, he got to a series of photos of her and other people. Maybe a younger brother, a couple about her age, and some taken at what he guessed was a family barbecue down by a river. But there was one photo he found the most interesting and it was of a fishing charter boat docked at the Clearwater Marina a mile or two ahead. Miguel didn’t just recognize the logo, but he knew the captain and his wife. As it was becoming apparent he likely had enough information to track her down after the meeting, Miguel was beginning to accept he really would rather just find her now and try to pick up where they had left off.
He lost sight of her for a while as his lane had to merge into hers to get past the rest of the accident being cleared. But as the cars split back into the other lane, he was able to spot her purple Jeep waiting to drive around to the beach carpark. They seemed to be going to the same place after all. Two clocks were clicking inside his head, one for the job interview and one to reach her.
It was hard to confuse that big beautiful Benz with the hire cars driven by tourists and the minivans and SUVs packed full of families and local college students. The pedestrian crossing light ahead of the roundabout was turning yellow as she cruised through it. Checking again, she saw the Mercedes surge forward on what surely had to be a red light by then, but just barely. Though he wasn’t excited about the idea, he hit the accelerator at the last second as the light switched. He was determined not to let her get too far ahead. It was really starting to feel like anything and everything was stepping in between them: jaywalking tourists, beach trolleys, rented scooters, and even the bicycle beach patrol who decided to ride two across in the lane.
Once he got close enough to her again, Kandy relaxed and went about scanning the lot from the outside for a place to park. Being the courteous driver that she was, she flipped on her indicator and moved to take the turn into the quickly filling lot of metered parking. The Mercedes followed a few seconds later using his turn signal as well. He certainly doesn’t own a BMW…
A couple of cars back, Miguel witnessed the Jeep slotting into a space near the entrance. Impatiently, he followed the queue around the perimeter looking up and down the one-way aisles for a place for himself. As luck would have it, a minivan started backing out just before he was forced to leave the lot the attendant now deemed full with an expanding placard. He automatically kissed his fingertips and then rubbed the cross hanging from his rearview mirror. The Jeep was in the aisle across from him to his left while the beach access was to his right, but it was no guarantee she’d have to walk in front of him. If she was headed to one of the restaurants across the way, she could be in one of a dozen places by the time he got to the other side of the street.
It could have been Miguel’s decision to leave his suit jacket behind that was the real indicator his focus was no longer on the business meeting, but instead on satisfying his curiosity about her. Stepping out of the Mercedes, he took a moment to comb his hair back down into place and then reached into the car to grab the camera. One last straightening of his collar that barely covered half of the artwork wrapping around his neck and an adjustment of the rather sharp-looking blue, white, and silver tie’s knot. A sigh and he began casually strolling toward the 4×4. His dark eyes were already eagerly scanning the lot and sidewalks for any side of her. Walking in the direction of her Jeep was the same direction he’d have to walk in anyway to get to the restaurant across the way. He could ask for her number in passing — killing two birds with one stone. Thirty seconds, ninety at most.
Unsure of where the Mercedes went, Kandy was taking her time loading up her backpack. She unplugged her phone from the stereo, redid her ponytail. But, it was only when she went to double-check the settings on her camera that she realized she had left it behind in the Benz. Maybe this was a lesson to her. Yes, it was spontaneous and fun, but Kandy reminded herself that encounters like that rarely, if ever, turned out with a positive end. It was actually kind of reckless and perhaps even dangerous considering the way the world had started to spin out of control. And maybe the tractor beam-like pull she felt toward him was a warning sign and not something to trust. A defeated sigh. It had been nice to feel a little bit of that magic like in the books she had begrudgingly read to humor her aunt.
As she slid on her heart-shaped sunglasses and dropped down out of the Wrangler she couldn’t help but feel a bit wilted from how their little adventure seemed to have come to a rather disappointing end. Walking to the back of the Jeep she was busy on her phone paying for parking and didn’t notice him come to stand a few feet from her. Miguel waited patiently for her to finish whatever it was she was doing, but after reconsidering his approach and not wanting to spook her, he gently cleared his throat.
Just as she was hitting the pay button, she heard him and looked up. There he was. Probably about five feet, ten inches, quite slim but with broad shoulders. His torso was long and tapered to a narrow set of hips similar to certain athletes who trained for a leaner body mass. This guy knew he couldn’t just wear whatever was on the rack. His stuff had to be tailored and it was. Perfectly. Though he had been dressed impeccably right down to his shoes, there was something about it that made it feel more like a have-to than a want-to. The same breeze that was messing with his tie had loosened a few layers of his jaw-length black hair he had combed back to go better with his corporate look for the day.
Pushing her sunglasses up to the top of her head, Kandy smiled and sighed with a great measure of relief. Miguel, on the other hand, had a lot on his mind as he was still in his head about how he was going to spend the rest of his afternoon. Despite his silent presence, which she figured most found intimidating initially, Kandy quite enjoyed having him there. It was the same feeling as on the bridge, though he seemed much more at ease inside of the Mercedes than he did out here. She recognized something in his discomfort mirroring her own — he wasn’t very keen on overpopulated places. Nevertheless, he was right in front of her and even brought the camera with him.
After a period of silence between them, she finally asked, “What took you so long?”.
He smirked and clasped the skeletonized wrist of his left hand with his scorpion and rosary wrapped right. A simple shrug and smile, “Traffic was a bitch.”