Flushed from the sensations, Kandy busied herself with her bag next to her feet all in an effort to avoid the waitress until she had collected herself. In contrast, Miguel sat quietly with his ankle on his knee except this time he was positioned a bit further under the table than he had been before. Knowing she was safely out of his sight, Kandy covered her face with her hand and did what she could to suppress the girlish laugh under the table. Did that actually happen? Yes Kandy, that actually happened.
As much as her brain wanted to indict her for her seemingly reckless behavior, Kandy kept returning to the feelings of familiarity and ease she experienced with Miguel. The emotionally unencumbered state he put her in reminded her of what life was like before certain events took place. He made her remember who she used to be, which was definitely causing a shift away from how she operated in what had become her ‘New Normal’. And operated was the correct word because it sure as hell wasn’t living.
“Sorry to interrupt again,” the waitress placed the three dishes down on the table, one for him and two for her. Nodding to his half-empty mug, “You want a top off?”
“Yea, thanks, Lydia.” Miguel cleared his throat while checking that his tie was straight.
Bringing over the carafe filled with fresh coffee, the waitress glanced over at Kandy, “What about your lady friend?”
“Can you bring Kandy some ice water?”
“The sun get to you, honey? You are a little red.”
Sitting up properly, Kandy managed a wordless nod as Miguel kept an eye on her over the rim of his mug, decidedly satisfied with the state he had temporarily left her in. After Kandy was presented with the water, Miguel did as before in unwrapping and dropping a straw into her glass. She smiled at the waitress politely and began drinking from it hoping the flush in her cheeks would start to die down. The set of bony fingers that had worked its way up under her shirt a few moments ago was the same set that was now affectionately petting high on the inside of her thigh. Miguel felt her knee raise a few inches to encourage his hand to slip further up and he was happy to oblige her by moving it along until the side of it hit denim.
Once they were alone again, Kandy shifted in her seat to softly caress the right side of Miguel’s face before resting her head against his. In kind, he kissed the top of her head. While he loved it when she was provocative and flirtatious with him, he also enjoyed when she handled him with a tenderness he hadn’t encountered in a long time. It was these little affectionate breaks they took, which were helping sway him away from thinking this was a fling and instead worked to confirm this was likely to be something far more serious than either had imagined. As lustful as the two could be with each other, there undoubtedly existed also a rapidly growing attachment underpinned by deep, genuine affection.
“Qué es eso?” Kandy nodded toward his dish after leaning against him for a bit.
On his plate was a trio of corn tortillas topped with a diced meat, salsa verde, diced onions, and cilantro. “Lengua.”
Sitting there staring at the food, she eventually looked up at him rather confused. “Lengua, you mean like –”
As tempted as Miguel was to give a rather vulgar clarification, he instead smiled and squeezed a lime wedge over the first taco of beef tongue. Then came a big healthy bite taking away half of it. It was good, not as good as his, but it was good. To his surprise, he had been hungrier than he knew as it hit him the moment he smelled the delicious aroma of the slow-cooked meat and spices.
Now looking down at what he ordered for her, Kandy suddenly questioned what was in the fried potato balls next to what she believed were tamales. Wiping his mouth and fingers with a napkin, Miguel was doing his best not to laugh at her.
“Chorizo and cheese, querida. Nothin’ crazy.”
Her finger shifted to point at the flat rectangular items drizzled with a sauce and topped with a dollop of whipped cream, “Tamales?”
An affirming nod to the second bit of food, “Nuts and dulce. Maybe raisins in it. You were high as fuck earlier. Somethin’ salty and somethin’ sweet.” That sounded right up her alley.
Kandy was eyeing the remaining two tacos on his plate as he was finishing off the first. Squeezing another lime wedge over the next in line, he saw her staring at the food again.
“I bet you you’ll like it.”
Kandy’s brows lifted and she sat up with renewed interest, “Bet what?”
“If you’re right and I like it, what do I have to give you?”
He grinned at her and sighed before sitting back to take a moment and consider his answer. Rubbing his chin, he finally decided and nodded to her. “I want your phone number.”
Surprised by that, she looked at him questioningly, “That’s all? All you want is my phone number? You could have anything…”
“I will anyway.”
“Have everything?” A small smile creased her lips.
“Todo.” A confident nod, “If I’m wrong though, and you don’t like it, what do I gotta pay?”
Kandy smiled as she mentally flipped through a catalog of possibilities before dipping her pointer into the whipped cream of the tamales and then licking it off. “You gotta spend the night with me. All night. Wherever, whatever I want.”
He sighed with a wry smile and his arms folding across his chest. “Damn, does everything end in sex for you?”
“You know it doesn’t.” A flash of those amber eyes at him whilst taking another swipe and lick of the sweet fluffy cream. “Maybe I just want somebody to shave my legs for me and paint my toenails.”
Kandy knew Miguel was testing her. He was waiting to hear something specific. Though it seemed lighthearted and flirty, she was convinced he would take whatever her response was very serious. So much so it was likely to influence whether he’d continue with her. Try as she might to take a guess, Kandy decided it best to keep things as honest as possible. Again, there was the nagging feeling he would know the instant she tried to lie.
“I thought we got past thinkin’ I was gonna pull a cum and run. All this talkin’ about forever and lifetimes we’ve been doin’.”
He squinted at her with faux confusion, “Have we been talkin’ about them things, querida?”
“With the way we look at each other, touch each other, we’re definitely sayin’ somethin’ along those lines. You didn’t hesitate at all ten minutes ago when you were tryin’ to make m–”
Up came a brow, “Tryin’?”
Unexpectedly, Kandy blushed a bit and picked up the second taco he had already prepped for eating and took a bite. Super tender and flavourful chased with the heat from the salsa and bite of lime, it was indeed good. He watched her as she tried to keep a poker face whilst tasting the food, but the little eye roll of enjoyment gave her away. Reaching into her bag, she eventually pulled out a purple-red lip pencil to write her phone number across a fresh napkin. As he went to reach for the remainder of his taco, she playfully turned away and ate the rest.
“See what I tell you, mami? I know what you like.” Miguel slid the napkin with her number off the tabletop, folded it, and placed it in one of his pants pockets letting her have the change in subject. “I know it’s good anyway. I taught him how to make it.”
“So you were being serious when you said you cook for everybody.” Using a fork, Kandy sliced into one of the papas rellenas exposing the chorizo and queso center before eating half.
“When I came out from Cali, my cousin hooked me up with a job here. Didn’t last long. Lease fell through on an apartment. Wound up movin’ to a place in Town n Country. Had to find another job, but it worked out anyway. My sister is in the school she wanted to be in and it’s not far from the shop I’m at in West Tampa. Drive home ain’t bad either.”
“How old is she?”
“Irma? Seventeen goin’ on fuckin’ forty. Graduates from next year though.”
Though he tried to turn it down, Kandy saw how he was beaming when he started talking about his sister. “You’re proud of her.”
An emphatic nod. “She wants to be a doctor. Takin’ all these advanced classes and shit. She’s got the grades. But it’s still…”
“Expensive as fuck. Is that why you’re in businessman mode today? Aimin’ to make a move up somewhere?”
“Job is decent, but it ain’t gonna be enough. You got a brother gonna run up on me after he finds out all the thin–”
“All the things I want you to do to me?”
The smallest of smiles creased his lips as one of his pointer fingers leisurely ran along the shape of his mug’s handle. “Do I need to be wearin’ a vest? Lookin’ over my shoulder?”
“Doubt it, he’d use a bat anyway. He’s on a baseball team.” Kandy laughed a little bit and leaned over to kiss his cheek sweetly, “Carmelo signed to a team out in California after…”
Miguel listened as she trailed off and he comfortingly stroked her leg. “She kept all you guys together, huh?”
“She did.” She smirked and sighed. “If you wanna go, you’ll go. If you wanna stay, you will, right?”
Miguel could feel and hear the hurt despite the tone she used, which was like saccharine-soaked sunshine. In his life, he had been both the person left behind and the one who did the leaving. It made him quite familiar with the unique blend of guilt and resentment both sides offered. But he couldn’t help wondering if in her own subtle way she was challenging him to choose. When Kandy didn’t mention anything about her father, he decided to circle back around to him another time. The more information he managed to coax out of her, the better in focus in his mind she became. Depth was not an issue. She simply kept to the surface to get through the day-to-day. Now he found himself battling the urge to change her circumstances, a tendency he apparently brought with him from California after all. How she was related to the charter boat captain was still a bit of a puzzle. Though the more difficult it was to figure out their relationship to each other, the more Miguel let himself believe it ultimately wouldn’t be problematic should he decide to see her regularly.
There went that shift in the contact on her leg Kandy immediately noticed. He was mulling over something. It felt like there was something there he wanted to say, but he was keeping quiet about it. She could only wonder, but the silence between them was getting way too thick for her liking.
“What if I had been wearin’ a skirt? I think I probably kiss strangers in cars as often as you fuck girls on the bathroom counter in your cousin’s restaurant.” This time with a spoon she scooped up another bite of whipped cream and dipped into the caramel drizzled around.
“You mean instead of havin’ them coochie cutters on?” They both laughed and she gave his shoulder that familiar lighthearted push before he started shaking his head, “Don’t give a fuck, I’m not fuckin’ you in no bathroom.”
“That’s your line — no sex in public bathrooms?” She giggled and he smiled a bit while idly rotating the near-empty mug in front of him. “If not in the bathroom, where then?”
Miguel was quiet for a little bit, thankful she decided to strike another match to keep the fire going. Kandy knew he wasn’t just improvising that groping session earlier. He was far too deliberate to just fall into playing her body against her. This man always had a plan, and probably several alternatives ready to go.
“Upstairs in the office. There’s a couch up there.”
She nodded and then looked over at him with curiosity and cant of her head. “You honestly wouldn’t fuck the love of your life in a bathroom? Tug up my skirt and put me right against the mirror?”
“Love of my life, huh? You sayin’ we soulmates then?” Miguel was calmly rotating the mug between his palms whilst watching her.
“You always findin’ me over and over again out in the world. Remindin’ me that no matter the lifetimes that pass, I belong to you and only ever you forever. Like I said earlier, all that past life shit.” She cut off more of the tamale stuffed with dulce and cream cheese filling before devouring it and then pointed at him with the empty spoon, “Don’t act like it doesn’t turn you on.”
Miguel had returned to hanging an arm over the back of her chair, his torso turned to get a better look at her. She in kind turned toward him and leaned against the table with a folded arm. He was extremely interested in the language she was using but did his best to give her an unaffected shrug.
“I think sex for you is probably all ritual, and I don’t mea–”
“I know what you mean, querida.” His fingers unwrapped from the mug to stop her from explaining. Pensive tapping before he finally looked up at her again, “And what you think I’m praying for?”
“When you’re with the wrong one, I think you’re praying for the right one.”
“And when I’m finally with the right one, querida, what am I doing?” Focused in on her was the pair of brown eyes she was falling harder for with every passing minute.
Kandy’s brows popped thoughtfully as she started scooping up some of the creamy filling studded with raisins and nuts again. She had quickly gotten to a place where she needed to look away from him. “Givin’ thanks and praise.”
He laughed a genuine warm laugh, not the cool laid-back smirk and grin. “Oh, man.” A hand ran down his face to his jaw. “Thanks and praise, huh?”
A nod, “Thanks and praise.”
“But it ain’t like that for you though? Even if you like the guy?”
“I never like the guy. I don’t wanna know him and I don’t want him to know me.” Another healthy scoop of cream and lick of the spoon whilst she held his dark gaze again to measure his reaction. She saw the subtle lift in one side of his mouth and she smiled, “All I care about is if he can get hard and shut the fuck up for fifteen minutes so I can get to where the fuck I wanna go.”
“I can do a good fifteen.”
“What happened to horas y horas?” A provocative perk of her brow before the two shared a short laugh.
“Why not buy a fuckin’ vibrator, mami?”
There wasn’t an answer to that that she was willing to share so instead she simply flipped it around on him, “Why not buy a fleshlight, cariño?”
“‘Cause them things are creepy as shit.” Another loop back in the conversation and he added this to the list of what to revisit when she was more comfortable.
She had to laugh a little at how easily he could be grossed out by peculiar things. When he heard her and saw her expression he shrugged, “What? They are. I don’t wanna be stickin’ my dick in somethin’ I can–”
“Yea, yea. Like you never sank your dick into some questionable ass pussy in your life.”
He paused and shifted his shoulders left and right a little, “Like maybe when I was young. At a party or somethin’. Drink a little too much and the wrong shit starts lookin’ right.”
“Uh-huh, but you a real connoisseur now?”
“I ain’t complainin’.”
Using the straw he had given her, Kandy stirred what was left of the melting ice in her water. There was something on her mind. Back to silently taking her in, learning, observing.
A few minutes passed and his hand fell to her thigh again for a comforting pet. “Qué estás pensando?”
Kandy had heard while growing up all the stories from Sandra and Zoraida about love at first sight and every wonderful romantic notion. But those weren’t any of the experiences she had had herself. No high school sweetheart or cupid’s arrow moment, but rather infrequent and occasional spans of time spent with other people to break up the monotony of dealing with shit she had survived. Until, of course, she got in that Mercedes and locked eyes with its owner. It was the most instantaneous thing, like lightning. And that electricity had been there every time they looked at each other since. Every time.
“I don’t enjoy it.” She shrugged a little bit and drew a heart in the whipped cream, “When they kiss me for the first time, I usually know what I’m gonna wind up gettin’. It’s always the same.”
He looked at her and slowly smiled, but it went unseen as her attention had returned to the food. “So why go through with it?”
Another lick of the sugary caramel from the curve of her spoon, which was quickly cut with one of the chorizo-stuffed fried potato balls. It pleased him she was enjoying the heavenly combination of the sweet and savory treats he picked out for her.
“I probably go through with it for reasons similar to yours, but not nearly as deep. I just wanna connect sometimes. Like I can’t imagine you balls deep in some girl and not all in your feelings.” She grinned as he snickered over her phrasing. “I’m serious. I don’t have the emotional capital to extend myself the way you do. I can’t do all that, share myself that way, go all that far. So why do you do it? Unless you’re imaginin’ somebody else is under you.”
Not a word from the Scorpio as he picked up a fork of his own and cut away a small bite of the tamale. Kandy instinctively knew any time he turned his eyes away from her when she said or asked something it meant she had likely stumbled over a sore spot.
Kandy tilted her head and stared at him beginning to question whether he had lied to her about there not being anybody else. “Wow, you miss her.” She was as surprised as he was by what she said.
With that, he dropped the fork down on the plate with a bit of a clatter before sitting back to stare at her. The sound of the metal hitting the ceramic caused Kandy to flinch and tap the base of her throat. It was beyond annoyance. He was actually angry. Who at, she wasn’t entirely sure.
“Do I remind you of her?” Still, nothing from him as he smoldered. Or perhaps it was more accurate to describe him as being like a SubZero freezer whereas her anger could become scorching like an oven and just as quickly, which it very much had. “Do I fucking look like her?”
The look he gave her was so cold it could have frosted every piece of glass in the room. Her choice to sit back from him was not made out of fear, but instead from the upset she felt for being on the receiving end of it. Fishing in his pocket, he pulled out his cell phone and began swiping a few screens. He only looked at the device long enough to find what he was going to show her. A couple of seconds later it was tossed on the table in front of her. As Kandy reluctantly picked it up, he began drumming his fingers again on the cold empty mug and staring out the window at the street. The tension between the two of them was as palpable as the magic that had drawn them together on the bridge. The one thing more distracting than the negativity was realizing how mad and hurt she had gotten at the possibility he was keeping something serious from her. Had it been an hour yet?
Kandy tapped the screen to keep the phone from switching off. On it was a snapshot of a younger Miguel with a girl who was holding the phone up to take their photo. Her long thick straight hair had been bleached a honey gold blonde, but the ebony roots had grown out quite a bit and the ends were frazzled. There was a tiredness to the girl’s green eyes and a shadow around them dulling her olive skin. Kandy had known plenty of addicts in her life to spot the complexion problems and recognize the withering of another’s vitality. The tattoos from her neck down onto her chest and the corresponding ones on her hands told the rest of the story. Some she even recognized from people she knew in Orlando. His girlfriend was deep in that life. Her amber eyes slid over to Miguel in the photo. He had his arm around the girl and was just looking at her with a smile tainted with the pain of surrender. Reflexively, she rubbed that space between where her collar bones ended.
Fuck… Switching off the screen, Kandy placed the phone down on the table in front of him very carefully. She had absolutely no idea what to say. That photo told her a great deal about him. All she could do for a few minutes was stare at the table. The hurt she felt from him in the photo was the same hurt mixed with anger that currently filled the foot of space between them. He simply hadn’t been ready to talk about it, but she had inadvertently pushed too hard.
A simple shrug and he repocketed the phone. “To me,” he put that skeletonized hand on his chest before placing it on the small space of tabletop between their plates, “this is different, but is this shit really different to you?”
As she went to speak, he stopped her before she even got out the first syllable. “Tell me or I’m fuckin’ out. No jokes. No changin’ the subject or tryin’ to get me to fuck you. Is this different?”
This is not a game, Kandy. There’s no reset button, no pause menu, and no cheat codes. She didn’t doubt him for a minute he’d be out that door and walking. There would be no chasing him to his car and stopping him. There would be no second chances. This was her one opportunity to get things right with him, to start things the right way.
Another pass of her fingers between her collar bones and she shifted uneasily in her chair next to him. “Is there room for me in your life with her still being in yo–”
He sighed frustratedly before smoothing down his tie again. “There is no “with her”, Kandy.”
“Is there room for me?”
“Kandy, I will make room for you.”
“If you ever call me by her name, I’ll –”
“You’ll do what?” Amused by her bad girl act, he looked over at her and reached out for her chair to drag it to within a few inches of his.
“I’m so fuckin’ serious, Miguel.” Leaning away from him, she ducked his hand coming in to touch her neck and swatted at it. “I’ll cut your tongue out.”
“And make tacos out of it?” He perked a brow. “You haven’t even seen what I can do with it yet.”
She glared at him trying to resist the laughter he was intent on pulling out of her. Still, he kept smiling knowing how on the edge she was to not being mad, not that she truly had been in the first place. The peculiar flash of possessiveness on her part did raise an eyebrow though and he couldn’t help but wonder if it was rooted in hurt from the idea of this not working out to be what she wanted.
He continued being facetious with her, “But don’t be fuckin’ lazy like my cousin. He uses the foil. Go to Mercado’s and get the banana leaves.”
“For real, Miguel!”
“With the lime, I feel like I can taste that metallic shit.” He sighed and sat there for a moment before sitting forward and reaching for her hand. “If I wasn’t sure about what I could do, I wouldn’t be here. Why you so scared, though? That’s what I don’t get. This don’t feel good to you, what’s between us?”
Before she was aware of it, her wrist had turned to allow her fingers to take a hold of his hand. “I’m not scared.” She was, but wouldn’t acknowledge it. “It’s the end I worry about.”
Miguel chuckled lightly, “Why you think it’s gotta end though? We haven’t even gotten started, mami.”
Kandy gave a nonchalant shrug letting her hand slip free of his, “Come on, this shit always ends. The hotter it starts, the quicker it burns out, right? Fuckin’ on the first date isn’t exactly known to lead to happily ever after.”
In a blink, his hand gently grabbed hers preventing it from making a slick getaway. “I’ve done more livin’ than you, querida. No offense. But when you find this,” He was gesturing between them and then snagged one of her potato balls with his right hand, “You grab onto that shit and you don’t let go.”
In the short bursts of stillness and silence that naturally grew in between their exchanges, Miguel didn’t know what to make of what they had been saying to each other. The hurt on both sides had been real, just like the enjoyment and chemistry. Sitting next to her with his hand finding its place on her leg, laughing, and enjoying a bit of lunch was as comfortable and cozy as the luxuriously overstuffed reading chair he had in his living room. They had their awkward moments, but it wasn’t the kind of stiff awkwardness that came with somebody new. Rather it was the kind that two people felt when trying to remember the rhythm between them, the rhythm to dance, to talk, to connect, to love.
“When was the last time you saw her?” She caught him bristling at the question and offered to keep the playing field level between them, “You tell me somethin’, I tell you somethin’.”
“Last time I saw her? Ten minutes before I got in the car to pick up my sister from her last day of middle school in Cali.”
“She wouldn’t come with you.”
Miguel shook his head. “She made her fuckin’ choice and I made mine.” There was a harshness in his tone that hinted at the layer of resentment that had formed over time.
“Is that when the photo was taken?”
A single nod as he stared at his plate while softly caressing the back of her hand.
“Is she still…”
“When I first got out here, I sent money back to try and get her clean. She never made it a week, usually a couple days. Abuelita still keeps an eye on her. But I don’t keep track of her no more.”
Falling into silence, Kandy sat there staring at their hands entwined. It was a form of contact she often avoided. But the concept of somebody else being able to slot ahead of her in importance to him only urged her to cling tighter, which she was struggling to resist. “You wanna know what I’m scared of?”
He looked at her and quietly waited.
“My aunt is like you. You love even if it hurts, even if they’re gonna wind up destroyin’ you.”
“The captain’s wife?”
“The Mako? No way.” Kandy laughed at Angie, the Grim Reaper, being cast in that role, “No, the attorney.”
“An attorney with a heart?”
She smirked, “Fuckin’ loved this dude since before I was born. Real grown shit. It fell apart. She can’t get over it. It’s been years and any time you fuckin’ look at her it’s like half of her is missing. He could call her in trouble and she’d probably drop everything even though she says she’s moved on. For her, I guess that love was the strongest, purest shit she ever had.”
Miguel wanted to keep her talking to give himself as much as he could to consider what the long term looked like for them. His theory that she was a distant relative was no longer holding water and this was rather disconcerting. Again, it was a simple choice between only two options. He could make an excuse to cut their lunch short and never call her — he hated even imagining something like that with her — or he could just accept the fact that at some point he was going to have to deal with her family and who they were and all the very tricky and possibly unpleasant circumstances that could come along with that.
A shrug, “She won’t talk about it. I don’t think I remember him. That’s how long she’s been in this fuckin’ purgatory. Somebody could come along who would be everything for her and she wouldn’t even see them.”
“She put herself there, Kandy. Nobody else. Guilt’s a motherfucker. What does her shit have to do with you though?”
“With me? Nothing.”
Dark eyes slid over to her, it clicked what she was getting at without coming out and saying it directly to him. “That’s not gonna happen.”
“She’s not somethin’ you need to worry about, querida. Marisol ain’t gonna get better and I know that.”
“I can’t imagine livin’ the rest of my life lovin’ somebody who won’t or can’t love me back.” Shaking her head, she reached for her glass of water and stirred it idly with the straw he had provided.
While Miguel knew Kandy was referencing the situation of being involved herself with somebody who was emotionally unavailable, it still managed to cut him as it too could apply to his situation of losing the girl he grew up with to something he had brought into their lives. Just like when he thought she was leaving earlier, the idea that she would exit stage left over the concern about him being focused on the past was upsetting. The possibility that this was the one and only time he’d be sitting with her somewhere and enjoying her company was getting to him in a way he hadn’t experienced in ages. It felt like he was losing her.
“Is that really how you feel about us, you and me?” Miguel’s hand was back to twisting around the end of her curls letting them fall between his fingers, his expression entirely unreadable. When she didn’t reply, he carefully took the glass out of her hands and placed it on the table before leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees to look up at her, “You are supposed to jump off this cliff with me, querida.”
“And you know I meant everything I said about you, to you, in front of the waitress. Every word.” Miguel might have been scrutinizing her every move, but Kandy could only stare at her glass he had taken from her.
He sighed, “I know that now and I’m seein’ you just fine.”
“You thought I could play you with a kiss like that?” Taken aback by that, she looked over at him with an expression that didn’t hide too well how offended she was. “You might be able to fake that shit, but I can’t.”
“Cuando la limosna es grande hasta el santo desconfía.” He watched as she worked to piece it together.
“When the giving is good even the saint doubts? Wow, I like that.”
Miguel was a man intent on getting answers to his questions. When he wanted to know, he wanted to know. The one guy Kandy goes off with turns out to be the one she can’t hide or distract from the truth, what luck.
“I don’t have a clutch with you, Miguel. I don’t know how to be around you and not feel what I feel. It’s all or nothing. But, wherever it is you go in your head is too far away from me. I stop being able to feel you. It makes me feel like I’m losing you to something or somebody I can’t see. So when all I get from you is that questioning, half in half out shit when you come back from that place, I start to doubt us and I don’t like it. Wherever or whoever you’re visiting…” The brunette shook her head and left the rest unsaid.
Kandy didn’t have relationship conversations because Kandy didn’t have relationships. She glanced up at the clock on the far wall and guessed it hadn’t been more than maybe two hours since they met. Yet here they were having this conversation about commitment and longevity. And in some weird way, it felt entirely appropriate and the right occasion to have it. For all the times she didn’t give a flying fuck about what other people said about her life or own self, she certainly was struggling against what they might say about rushing into this relationship with a stranger. Relationship? Is that what this is? Is that what this is supposed to be?
Feelings of guilt and responsibility were what kept Miguel from letting go completely of the broken girl he left back in California. He didn’t want to go down the road again of having a partner who was too fractured to put back together. Once was enough. The relocation to Florida had brought considerable stability and freedom to his life and his sister’s and he had become extremely protective over who and what he allowed in. He had to be as sure as he could be this wasn’t going to blow back on his work, his family, or the progress he had made working on himself since leaving Los Angeles.
The truth was the voice that kept pulling on Miguel’s neck was his own. All of the exciting and magnetic qualities of Kandy’s personality he loved reminded him of similar things he had seen sparks of in Marisol but hadn’t a chance to be realized. He hadn’t lied about being able to tell the difference, feel the difference between that experience and this. But there were times the things Kandy caused him to feel were so gripping that it spooked him. The flip side of that coin was the more time he spent with her the more he understood there was a depth in her that existed beyond the superficial layer of free-spiritedness and intermittent waves of coquettish charm. His reluctance to wade back into the waters of deep emotion was weakened by the moments when they talked about weightier subjects like their solitude, their connections with others, and family complications. He sensed they would be able to relate to each other despite how different the details could be and that how they processed their emotions and experiences was what linked them so tightly.
At certain angles, Kandy had been able to see underneath his shirt that the black slashes of ink extended from the bones and shadows drawn onto his left hand up his forearm and to his shoulder. What else the sleeve of artwork consisted of was still concealed, but she was confident in assuming it was another coverup of some kind. There was plenty he hadn’t told her yet and she was willing to be patient, but there was a limit. It seemed like an eerie reminder there were two sides to everything and everybody. Maybe this was a warning, a lesson for her about people. If it was, it was a painful one and one that would further reinforce her preference for solitude.
Miguel pensively rubbed his hand over the portion of the black and white portrait of Santa Muerte tattooed on the side of his neck that was exposed over the top of his dress shirt’s collar. Sneaking a look over at Kandy, he smirked and sighed as he sat there listening quietly to the voice that came from deep within. The message the came with it clarified things and was so succinct in the explanation it offered to him that Miguel almost felt foolish over how he had reacted to the situation he found himself in.
Kandy knew he was watching her as she stared at the table in front of her. “Are we actually talkin’ about all this? It feels like we’ve been here before.” His observant gaze could feel so heavy at times.
Picking up her right hand, Miguel let it rest against the palm of his left. His dark eyes settled on his bony fingers and how they tenderly curled around her elegant set. He still hadn’t given her an explanation of what he was thinking about during the times she caught him drifting. All the same, it fell on him that she had this insecurity about his connection to Marisol. This was something he would have to fix and it likely could only be remedied with time. Now, he wasn’t sold on if she’d give him the amount he needed. Miguel was coming to understand Kandy wasn’t going to compliantly accept silence and unresponsiveness. His hand with the rosary found its place resting lightly atop hers, which he was still holding with his left.
“You’re not an escape or a replacement, Kandy.”
Startled by his statement, Kandy almost pulled away from him but relented after gazing into his eyes. With someone as serious and busy as Miguel, she did have a real concern the time he had spent with her was just him giving in to a short-lived relief from his real life. One that after he went home to his work, he’d forget about and move on from. Or worse, he would only call her when he needed to take a vacation from his responsibilities again for an afternoon or a night, possibly a weekend. Although she didn’t truly believe Miguel would ever try to rekindle things with the one before her, Kandy wasn’t yet convinced he wasn’t infatuated with her because she reminded him of better times.
“We both know why we’re here, right? It ain’t ‘cause I was supposed to go see some asshole about a job and it ain’t ‘cause you wanted to get high as fuck and work on your tan.”
“Fated?” One of her brows lifted.
“As fuck. I can’t get past that shit. I don’t fuck up my whole schedule on one of my days off to chase some chick. I don’t leave money on the table to go spend time with some girl I don’t know like that. I don’t bring girls around family.”
Kandy swallowed gingerly and began rubbing between her collar bones. Miguel instinctively let go of her hand and reached up to place his hand at the base of her neck and top of her ribcage. Her heart was like a jackhammer pounding away at the cross tattooed on his palm. She closed her eyes and clasped one of her hands over the back of his to keep it where it was as she took a minute to catch her breath. There was something else she wanted to ask, but her reluctance to do so was very apparent.
Steeling herself and pushing beyond the feeling burning in her lungs, Kandy cleared her throat. “You’re not just rescuing me because you wanna try and get it right this time?”
He had greatly underestimated her. That young, supposedly disorganized, and distracted affect of hers was just an illusion. It was a sleight of hand she used to get people to go off in the direction she wanted them to. Now he was the one pinned into a corner for clarification. While Kandy had the unspoken fear Miguel would be able to spot the smallest of lies she might have been tempted to tell, he was the one currently concerned about the very same thing with her. He knew any type of spin or extra charm he put on this would drive her away. He knew in his soul she’d walk out if he tried to bullshit her.
“Of course, I want another chance at getting shit right. I fucked up a lotta people in my life, querida. Did a lotta fucked up shit. I dunno, maybe I had to learn from all that shit to get to here to start makin’ the right choices. But it’s not the only reason why I’m sittin’ here with you.” His right hand rose to his neck and absentmindedly traced a section of the portrait of the veiled redhead with the skeleton appearance. “I been waitin’ and waitin’. Doin’ all the right shit. And it’s like nothin’ is happenin’. Maybe I messed up so bad I don’t get that second chance. I take care of my sister, my abuelita, make sure my moms is okay, and that’s all I get.”
“Tu penitencia.” By then, the feeling in her chest had abated and she was sat there holding his hand with both of hers. “And then I come along and throw all the chips in the air.”
The film reference made him smirk, but he eventually shook his head, “It was your smile when you were waitin’ for that last car to come through. The purple one.”
He nodded, “When Ginger realizes before Ace does that he’s there for more than just to pull her. He coulda had a suit on the floor throw her out, but he went himself. Watchin’ her on a screen wasn’t enough. Like he don’t even know it yet, but she did. When she’s looking over her shoulder at him and walkin’ away, it was that smile that fucked him up.” Testing the waters, Miguel gently moved his hand up behind her neck and guided her in closer to him. When he wasn’t met with resistance, he kissed her softly before then kissing her forehead. “I don’t wanna keep shit from you, Kandy.”
“Then don’t.” She stopped him as he had done her earlier, “And I don’t wanna hear nothin’ about how it isn’t that simple and it’s complicated. I get that there’s shit you’re worried about that when I find out I’m gonna walk. I don’t think you’re lookin’ to trick me into seein’ you as somebody else or misrepresent what you’re about with me. If anything I think it’s the opposite, you’re very insistent I see you for who you really are ‘cause you’re convinced I’m not yet. I come with my own baggage, Miguel. I’m not some happy-go-lucky, everything-is-bright-and-beautiful cheerleader.”
“If we both want this then we do what we gotta do to have it, querida. But not a cheerleader, though? Fuck. I guess I gotta get past it somehow.” He sucked his teeth and sighed dramatically.
“Like how you got past me cloggin’ up your nonexistent toilet with a massive shit on a nonexistent cruise ship?”
“Fuck, Kandy. We gotta make that right with Lydia. Yo, when she finds out that it ain’t true, it’s gonna hurt her feelings.”
“Let me clean it up. Mi lio.” She gave a reassuring pat to his thigh, “I kinda think she’ll enjoy hearing what really went down anyway, but I’m probably gonna leave out the part where I was gonna suck your dick in the car.”
“Oh my God, your mouth.” Miguel ran his hand down his face and sat back from her laughing.
“Yes, my mouth. It’s amazing.” Sporting a small smile, she was clearly pleased with herself. “You should try it sometime, cariño.”
“You think I don’t see how you be lookin’ at my car when we walk by? I know what you wanna do in there.”
“You do, huh?”
“Probably what I wanna do.”
“Even if I make a mess?”
“If?” There went one of his dark brows as he took a spoonful of the caramel to taste.
“Mm. That how it is?”
“With me, always how it is.”
“Earlier you seemed like you had some very specific shit you wanted to ask,” Teeth gripped the straw of the glass of her ice water while she did her best not to grin. Kandy stood and carefully slid her denim-clad rear over the table’s edge to sit in front of him. Crossing her legs, she left her feet to dangle in between his knees, “So start askin’”.
“If the sirens never came, would you have come talk to me?” Miguel settled comfortably into stroking his palm up and down her shin, maintaining that contact, that possession of her.
“You saw how I smiled at you.”
“Yea, but you couldn’t see me. I know how dark the tint is.”
“I saw your car though. Old Me probably woulda used it as an excuse. Knock on your window, tell you how nice it is, ask if you’d let me take a couple photos.”
He grinned as he considered the alternate version of their initial meeting. “The Old You? What about the You of Today, querida?”
“I would have wanted to.”
Seeing her mood slip, Miguel affectionately squeezed her ankle. “You really do stay away from people.”
A shrug. Kandy kept her eyes down at their shoes. Such a contrast between her neon animal print high tops and his very sharp and sophisticated dress shoes. “The disappointment gets old fast, you know?”
“Is that la ansiedad?”
Kandy looked up in time to see him tapping on his chest. “Yes and no. If what I gotta do to be okay and the shit I gotta look out for is exhausting to me, it probably is a mood killer for others. I mean, I know it is. There’s a lot I feel like I can’t do, don’t wanna do. People get tired of hearin’ me say no or havin’ to consider that that’s one of the things that comes with havin’ me in their life. But I also gotta trust when I do go out with somebody they took the time to know that they aren’t bringin’ me somewhere where I’m gonna have a problem.”
“Does the smokin’ help?”
She was quiet for a moment while trying to move beyond her feelings of embarrassment about these things. If he spent any time with her at all, he’d see all of it anyway. This was another one of those subjects she normally downplayed or outright lied about to others. Still, the brunette knew if she even tilted things by the slightest degree away from the truth, he’d be done and gone. Especially considering it involved the frequency with which she used drugs.
“It keeps me in a place where I can still come back if somethin’ happens.”
“It keeps you from losin’ control.”
The touch to her leg had changed to the familiar pensive stroking and she was left wondering what he was thinking about. His perception of her definitely had to be changing. Maybe he was reconsidering all the things he said to her up to this point.
When she didn’t say anything, one of his fingers lifted to point down the way at the hinged door. “The noise from the kitchen — that why you picked this table?”
She smiled shyly and nodded. “Metal bangin’, doors slammin’, pots and pans, things –” Freeing up her hands she soundlessly pressed her palms together with emphasis. “fallin’ to the floor. Fireworks and shit exploding in the microwave because I forget that I have this annoyin’ ass fuckin’ problem and set the timer for too long.”
“And sirens.” Tilting her head to stare at the ceiling, she sighed, “It’s a lot. You didn’t know before, now you do. So if you wanna like take some time to –”
“You mean if I wanna get up and leave ‘cause I found out you been through some shit?”
“Kandy,” Miguel sighed and she immediately started laughing, which caught him off guard.
Straightening up, she smiled a little. “That sounds like the sigh you give your sister when she’s being difficult.”
“When she ain’t listenin’.”
“I’m listenin’, but when it’s too good to be true –”
“La conejita desconfía?” Miguel carefully took hold of her ankles and uncrossed her legs so that he could massage both limbs without hindrance. “I ain’t perfect, querida. No matter how many times you look at me like I am. That kiss fucked me up, the one in the car.”
As she went to hide her face in her hands, he reached up and stopped her with a chuckle. On the flip side of all this, Kandy was finding some reassurance that the version of herself she thought she had lost was still inside somewhere. Spontaneity was still possible just like adventure and discovery were. Despite being left curious as to why he was changing the subject, she relaxed and went with the flow.
Leaning forward, she clamped her hands over the front edge of the table, “You kissed me back though.”
He sighed heavily. “I did. Didn’t even think about that shit. Just straight did it.”
“‘Cause you don’t ever fully run off your emotions unless you’re completely out of control, right?”
Miguel sat back and stared at her. His hand slipped down to the top of her tennis shoe and remained still. It was his turn now. This was part of the deal though. If he wanted a real partner with a real connection, real conversations were required. This also meant showing up completely as himself as he was, not who he wanted to be or hoped to be one day. That wasn’t to say he thought he could play her on his potential. He knew she’d see through any speculative bullshit and neither one of them was reckless enough to go all-in and bet on futures of any kind.
Kandy was starting to feel like she was way out on the ledge here, but it had to be done. The quicker they got beyond these roadblocks, the better off they were going to be. “You’re pretty good at hidin’ it, but I know the anger is there. You should know by now I’m not that chick who would ever play you off that.”
Keeping his smile suppressed, he still let the mischievous glimmer in his dark eyes shine through. “You’re not? Why not? I thought all girls like guys fightin’ over them.”
“‘Cause I’m never gonna put you in a situation where you can be taken away from me.” Her delivery was so straight and serious that it was almost jarring how different it was from her normally sweet and light-hearted demeanor.
In comparison, his presence was so substantial at times she expected to be able to reach out and push against the otherwise invisible forcefield that was his mood. This time that energy was absent as if it had withdrawn on its own. In reality, Miguel wanted to eliminate any influence he might have over what she had to say. So he simply clasped his right hand over his left, the rosary over the bones and the secrets they concealed while resting his elbows on his knees.
She perked a brow and canted her head off to the side to watch him. The gears were definitely turning behind those marvelous brown eyes of his. “Miguel, just ask me, whatever it is. You don’t have to sit there and fuckin’ wonder about shit. You can just ask and I’ll tell you.”
Miguel was inadvertently teaching the fast-paced Gemini patience and stillness the more time they spent together. He sighed as he went about considering the best way to frame whatever it was he wanted to ask. So without prodding or rushing him, she relented and waited silently.
“What do you pray for, querida?”
That was one hell of a question. She finally looked at him and Miguel recognized the weariness in her eyes instantly. It was the same weariness growing in his body every day since he turned seventeen. Her answer was fairly simple and straightforward, to her at least. Whether it would resonate with him, she didn’t know. But at least it would be honest.
A simple shrug, “Home.”
While Miguel often felt like he had sunk to the bottom of the ocean, Kandy seemed like she was just as lost in the tides at the surface. His hand wandered up her leg and remained tethered there.
“Where’s home, in Miami?” Miguel tilted his head, paying attention to the tension in her body and her expression. She was avoiding looking at him and instead turned her face toward the windows, but he could see her eyes were shut. “Dónde está el hogar, mi estrella?”
He leaned forward and kissed her topmost knee before soothingly petting her calf. It was his turn to wait as she worked to get herself pulled together to speak. This was an uncomfortable moment for her. She had been forced out of the big house behind the big gates she had done most of her living in and the pool house she had been exiled to was never really gonna feel like home. She felt like she simply occupied space whether it was the matter of storing her possessions or having a place to rest her body at night.
“Here.” Without looking at him, her palm found its place square in the center of his chest over his heart forcing him to sit up a bit. “When my feelings are this big, Miguel, they are so close to the surface. So close.”
When their eyes met again, he saw her unspoken petition. The Gemini who would never ask somebody to stay was sitting there silently imploring the Scorpio to at least be certain in his ultimate decision. An unexpected wave of emotions crashed against the inside of his chest. He was mad for her at the people in her life who had seen the same look from her but chose to ignore it and leave her behind. He was hurt for himself that the one person in his life he had wanted to see this same look from never showed it and never tried to stop him from leaving California.
But then there was also the relief that came with the understanding that if he had never made it to Florida, he would have either wound up in maximum security or a grave and Irma would be trapped in a tug of war between their mother and grandmother. Where they were now, he was making good money and had options to grow it. Everybody got to eat. They lived in a nice little house in a quiet neighborhood. Irma was thriving at school and Miguel kept the past in the past by focusing on accomplishing the goals he set for their future. And Kandy? He didn’t want to let his mind go to where he imagined she might be in the future if he hadn’t found her that morning. She had only been in his life for a few hours, but it now felt rather alien to him to not consider her presence when thinking of the future. It was almost like she had secretly always been there and his awareness of this was growing steadily.
She swallowed and closed her eyes for a few seconds. “Por favor, debes tratarme con ternura, okay?”
“Te lo prom–” Before he could finish his promise, Kandy was moving to get off the table. Miguel immediately took ahold of her hands to rob her of the leverage to slide down prompting her to glance at him. Standing from his chair, his hands went to her hips and finally settled against her flanks. He couldn’t imagine being anything less than gentle with her.
“People say how bad they want truth and honesty and yet…” The young brunette let the statement hang there between them to see if the older Scorpio was at least honest enough with himself to acknowledge how he reacted to anyone picking up on the faults in him he detected so easily in others.
Miguel’s hands fell away from her as he took a seat in his chair across from her once more. There was more to the lesson. Kandy could see with the crossing of his arms over his chest, she had gotten that scorpion’s tail to curl defensively. She rolled her eyes and immediately was discouraged.
“I’ve never been on that bullshit that the truth hurts and ‘cause it’s true I can just say it. Truth is like a knife. What you do with it decides if it’s a tool or a weapon. As mad as I may get, I don’t have that ability in me to use things against the people I love. So when I say somethin’ it’s never to get your blood up.” Kandy gently caressed one side of his jaw as he looked up at her. Her other hand very gingerly pushed one of their dishes further away from her to make her point, which he noticed. “When it comes to feeling safe with you, I trust you until I can’t. Kinda naive, I guess, but I don’t know any other way to do this.”
Miguel didn’t like the distance put in between them caused by her choice to remain sitting on the table. He wanted her up against him. On the plate was the piece of silverware he had tossed flippantly when he became frustrated earlier. After a few seconds, he remembered how the noise of it had startled Kandy. How he had handled revealing that part of his life to her during that conversation could have gone a lot better. It was not his finest moment.
Leaning forward, Kandy reached out to him and placed her hand on his chest. “There’s a lot goin’ on in here. The reason I’m not afraid of all that is ‘cause I’m not afraid of you. But be careful with me, Miguel.”
He had been careless with her already and he hated it. With a sigh, his palm returned to her shin and slowly ran up and down the lower half of her leg. The illusion of protection that secret-keeping provided was easily shattered when people inadvertently stepped on one of the many personal landmines concealed underneath his polished surface. Marisol was definitely one. Kandy knew there were likely others left to unearth and to not fall for the unfazed demeanor he tried to project. However, she was making it perfectly clear that should he ever lose that trust, he would never be able to recover it.
The dip in the Scorpio’s tone melted her heart and it was apparent he was getting stuck in that obsessive loop about what he should have said or done differently earlier. Kandy lifted his chin to bring his eyes up from the floor. “Puedes venir aquí? Quiero…”
Deploying that cute little tone of hers got him up standing in front of her again. Miguel watched her with a slight smile as she searched for the word she wanted in Spanish. There came a familiar possessive squeeze of her hips “Qué quieres, querida, hm?”
Placing his palms flat on the table just behind her, he invaded her space. “Dimelo.” That’s what she wanted, to pull him out of his thoughts and bring him into the present with her. Kandy bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes enjoying the scent of his cologne and the feel of him there.
Miguel took the liberty of leaning down to kiss the side of her neck. The set of legs he loved so much vined down behind his own making him the one locked in place this go. With a relaxed sigh, Kandy let her head fall back to give him all the access he wanted while wrapping her arms low around his waist. He wasn’t going to complain about the times like these where she took comfort in clinging to him.
The brunette had an interesting way of fostering the feeling of being both an effective and protective leader inside him he didn’t always get to experience as the primary caretaker of a teenager in high school. Sometimes Irma’s near-constant dissent made Miguel feel like he was failing in his attempts at guiding the girl. After all, the world he grew up in was not the same as the insulated bubble he had meticulously constructed for his sister. Kandy was at least letting him feel like he was having some success in getting through to her and understanding her.
Feeling his mouth leave her skin, Kandy looked up at him in time for his palms and rather long fingers to relocate to her jaw. As he cradled her face, she could feel his thumbs tenderly caressing a small section of her cheeks in front of the joint of her jaw on either side. It reminded her of a particular way people pet their cats. It felt so good her eyelids with their thick curved lashes dropped low.
“I’m sorry about the fork and the plate earlier.”
Kandy smiled and lazily opened her eyes to gaze up at him after a few blinks to her vision. It surprised her to see the concern brewing in those dark eyes of his and she reassuringly massaged his lower back. He was checking to see she was still with him, and she was. When he saw all the affection and desire present in her, he visibly relaxed. The curve of her mouth widened as he felt her legs tighten around his urging him forward. Taking the last step or so, Miguel was flush up against the front of the table.
“I’m not goin’ anywhere.” She shook her head with a coy smile, “Dunno what turns you on more though, when I give you that come fuck me look or the other one.”
“What other one is that?” He grinned a little trying to get her to come out and admit what he had suspected for a while.
“You know the one.”
“Would you let me take you out?” Scooping her up underneath her rear, he brought her to the edge of the table. “All the family get-togethers and shit, holidays, all of it.”
Kandy’s wrists crossed over behind his neck quite content with his hands conforming to her curves. “Quinceaneras, too?”
He smirked, “Any excuse to dance, mami?”
“Solo bailo para tí, but what is your sister gonna think of all this? Of you havin’ somebody?”
“She got a boyfriend. She ain’t gonna be bitchin’ when I tell her she needs to stay over at his more.”
A slight tilt of her head, “And why would you be tellin’ her that?”
“So I can fuck you wherever I want in the house I pay rent on.”
By the way he was groping her hips and looking at her, Kandy knew he wasn’t joking. “Never christened it, huh?”
He shook his head, “Nope.”
“You’re not worried he’s gonna Don Juan her out of her virginity?”
“He’s a good kid.” He gave a quick shrug. “And I told him if he hurt her, I’d burn his face off in the fryer at work.”
“No! Miguel, he’s like a kid!” Kandy laughed before kissing the side of his neck.
“But he’s a kid who probably be tryin’ to fuck my sister. And his dad is a Republican piece of shit. I hope she does get pregnant. Then that Cuban motherf–”
“Abbastanza!” Her fingers covered over his mouth again and his brows raised. Shaking her head, she corrected herself and removed her hand, “Basta, basta.”
Miguel was starting to enjoy making her smile until she blushed probably to the same degree she enjoyed saying the most salacious things to get a rise out of him, figuratively and literally. Regardless of the vulgarity both at times employed, there was a pureness to their chemistry he loved. It wasn’t tainted by years of them making bad decisions or hurting each other. The attraction burned brightly and the laughter came easily.
Standing there silently for a few minutes, he turned as serious and practical as could be from whatever he was thinking. “For real, if I wanted you in my life. Like we agree we gonna do this, what would you say?”
The playfulness and flirty demeanor disappeared as he stood there waiting for an answer. What Kandy felt in her chest when he looked at her was coaxing her further and further away from that set of rules she created for herself. She didn’t shake hands, didn’t hug, and always put plenty of distance between herself and others. Whatever it took to keep people out of her space, she did even if it was destructive. Yet, here she was with a stranger who was pulling her out of this invisible box she had built. But Miguel really wasn’t a stranger, not now and probably never really was.
“Florida plates. With the plans you got, feels like you aren’t gonna be goin’ back. How’d you wind up here though?”
There was a bit of dread in his sigh before went into the explanation. “Pops is doin’ life. Older brother got sent up for twenty doin’ the same dumb shit. I stayed around for as long as I could, but knew I had to get the fuck out. Grabbed my sister. Loaded up that Benz and kept drivin’ ‘til we hit the East coast. Spent the rest of the summer drivin’ around just seein’ shit. Neither one of us had been anywhere.” A familiar shrug was followed by the gentle petting to her leg. “We liked Tampa. Safer than Orlando, cheaper than Miami. Had community and some family here already. Good schools for Irma.”
Kandy nodded and let her hands wander down his neck to his shoulder blades, “Your sister is a senior, so you guys been here like three years?”
“‘Bout that, yea.”
Miguel was smart enough to know Kandy wasn’t going to let him gloss over some of the bigger choices he had had to make. But at least she seemed like she wasn’t put off by the circumstances he left behind. She was still here after the Marisol conversation and it was starting to feel like she’d still be here after this one. He inched his fingers down into the back pockets of her shorts causing her to grin.
“Mom ever visit?”
That was very sharp and definitive. Not many people who could understand the trauma of maternal alienation also knew the complicated sense of liberation that came with excising said parent from one’s life. Considering neither of the two female figures etched into the flesh of his neck was his mother, she figured it was safe to assume the woman would be a nonissue for the foreseeable future. His grandmother, however, was causing her anxiety to spike. Kandy dreaded the possibility of not meeting the woman’s standards. A smirk as she reigned in the worries running way too far ahead.
“You a part of that life?”
“What life is that, mami?” Such a dry, unreadable delivery.
“You know what I’m talkin’ about. Don’t act like you don’t cause I know you’ve been sweatin’ about when and not if I was gonna ask.”
Miguel tilted his head and narrowed his gaze at her, “If I was?”
A nonchalant shrug, “Then you were. Es agua pasada?”
“Dejé mi pasado atrás. Got out before I couldn’t.” A singular nod was followed by an inquisitive tilt of his head. “But you wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with me if I was, huh? Even if we went through all the same shit in the Mercedes? Most girls are int–”
She glared at him and he stopped having caught a glimpse of the upset she did her best to conceal. “Don’t joke like that. I’m not good with losing people.”
It was refreshing how she had the power to affect him. The most uncomplicated of statements she had made had him remembering again what his sister looked like when she visited him in the hospital for the first time after his accident. The pain of seeing Irma so afraid and worried hurt more than any of the rehab that followed. Looking at Kandy now, he saw some of that. She was trying her best to climb out of the black hole, which had her thinking it was better to have no one than to lose another.
“Is there any awkward shit I left out I need to ask before I can tell you and you won’t obsessively doubt me?”
“Nope.” Amused by her, he stood there and waited. Naturally, by then he already knew it was probably going to go in his favor. Still, he was interested in her delivery.
Kandy was aware that for anyone to have that level of intensity just in their regular demeanor a lot had to be going on emotionally under the surface. Could a large portion of her interest in him be chalked up to good old-fashioned curiosity? Perhaps not as much as she originally thought. The singer with the magenta lips and brunette curls kept revisiting the feeling she had when she saw the traffic starting to move — the dread she felt for having to leave him. It was something that had scared her initially. But when she fled his Mercedes and jumped into the Jeep, all she found herself doing was quietly praying he’d catch up to her. This detail was something she had withheld from him on purpose as it was still something she was coming to terms with.
“I would’ve said yes in the Mercedes, and the parking lot.”
“We both know we got a lotta shit to still talk about and learn. But as long as you show up as you, I’m with it.” Kandy picked up the end of his tie, “I know how the world works and sometimes you gotta walk in specific places as somebody else. Just don’t be that character with me, okay? I gotta trust you are who you show me. That’s the guy I wanna know and be in love with.”
Miguel tenderly took hold of her hands and brought them to his mouth to kiss before letting his thumbs trace over her top row of knuckles. “I can do that. But what about you though, huh? I know you got secrets of your own in there.”
“Nothin’ awful. Learnin’ how to grow the fuck up and stop runnin’ from shit. I know you know I’m twenty-one and I can seem imma–”
He laughed, “That’s not your problem. You don’t run, conejita, you hide. From the situation, from yourself.” Seeing her disappointment, Miguel kissed her forehead. “You’ll grow out of it.”
“But when I say things, I mean them.”
“I know.” Miguel nodded, “You are very, very particular about your words.”
Silent for a time, the brunette eventually looked up at him, “You really don’t think I was runnin’ from you when I made my quick getaway?”
Miguel shook his head, “You wanted me to chase you. But I gotta wonder what a girl who can sing at the top of her lungs on a bridge on a Sunday afternoon feels she gotta hide from.”
Death… A long inhale before she shrugged, “Change.”
“Then I must scare the shit out of you.” Back to feeling like himself, he rubbed his chin while looking at her. There was something else that was brewing in his thoughts.
Squinting at him, Kandy sat in her own contemplative silence. It was so apparent and odd Miguel chuckled because of it. He knew what she was doing, but didn’t pull back from her this time. The Scorpio stood there waiting, letting the Gemini feel her way around.
“You have everything planned out, don’t you?” When he didn’t deny it and instead bent down to kiss the same section of her throat, she let him and ran her fingers up into his hair. After a few seconds of his mouth on her skin, she pulled back and purred in his ear. “How far you get?”
“Not to everything, but far enough.” Turning his head, he kissed her cheek before stepping away from her. “Wednesday night, I want you to come by the shop. You need to meet some people. Irma’s gonna be spendin’ the night at her boyfriend’s. We got the house to ourselves and I want you to stay. I need to get you a dress for a party before we dip. I got no time during the week to do it. Friday night, I’ll pick you up and you’re definitely staying overnight.”
“I am, am I?”
“In what I’m gonna have you wearin’, we might not make it at all. I gotta leave in like a couple hours for work. Organize shit for the week. Some big parties are scheduled in and I need to be there to make sure it all gets set up right even if it’s my day off. But I’m gonna come see you tonight after.” Kandy was surprised and he smirked, “I told you I’d make room for you. It’s gonna be late though. Probably after midnight.”
Kandy slowly nodded, “Ok.”
Seeing the relief and happiness in his face calmed her nerves instantly. Whatever hesitancy she had about him coming over melted away and in its place was a longing to be at home with him. Just the idea of him walking through the door oddly triggered the feeling of missing him though he was still standing right in front of her.
Miguel raised her hand to his mouth for another familiar and pleasant kiss. “La vida es muy corta, querida. Maybe doin’ it like this is the right way.”
“It’s our way. But you know for this thing to have half a chance we gotta know and tell each other everything. You gotta let me touch every layer, see into every corner, know every inch of you.”
“Every inch, huh?” A high pass of his hand up her thigh. Those fucking shorts were the single thing keeping him from sweeping the plates off and out of the way to lay her down.
Kandy finally laughed seeing the image actively playing behind his eyes as it was so obvious on his face. “Kinda don’t think your cousin would appreciate another mess to clean up.”
It was the way his dark brows then tilted down low over his brown eyes and how the one side of his mouth lifted that tinted his already intense gaze with lust. Kandy was finding it harder and harder to resist it. Her attention strayed to being in bed and seeing him above her, looking at her in that way, what it would mean, the hunger involved, the ache that would be satisfied. She shivered and sat up before smoothing down her hair and twisting the ends of her long curly ponytail.
His palm moved up to the back of her neck and began to massage the muscles leading up to the base of her skull. Kandy propped herself up on a hand positioned behind her as the other went straight for the knot of his tie.
One of his thumbs gently slipped over her lower lip prompting her to kiss it in passing, “What you doin’, hm? I saw you were lookin’ at my tie earlier.”
“You did? Why you thinkin’ that is, Papi?” She took her time, using both hands now to carefully pull and separate the ends of the material snaked around his collar. One brow lifted lending a disobedient edge to that otherwise kittenish expression she was giving him.
Miguel covered his mouth with his hand and ran it down to his jaw, just watching her untie his tie with that look she was giving him. The way she addressed him, her tone. He likely had heard that word hundreds of times from dozens of women over the years, but the way it rolled off her tongue and fell from her lips was something else. With a quick rotation of her wrists, she looped his tie over behind her neck to hang down her chest.
“Anybody ever tied you up before, querida?” When she wordlessly shook her head, his shoulders squared up and his fingertips slipped up the outside of her thighs, “Is that what you want, hm? So you can’t get away when I got you bent ov–”
The shrill ring of his mobile phone echoed in the empty front of the restaurant interrupting their little interlude and startling her slightly. “Vete a la chingada!”
Saved by the bell. Kandy stared at the ceiling and exhaled. She was biting her bottom lip to try and keep her grin at bay as he scrambled to pull the phone out of his pants pocket while backing away from her. Like air and fire, the instant one of them struck a match the other was ablaze.
Miguel leaned in and gave her a quick kiss before folding some cash into one of her hands, “I gotta take it. Give this to Manny for the bill. I’ll meet you up in the office.”
Kandy nodded and reached for her bag as he was heading to the door marked PRIVATE with the phone to his ear. “Yo, I thought we were gonna meet up –”
Waiting until Miguel was gone, Kandy scooped up the last of his tacos and ate it before taking one final bite of the caramel and nuts from the tamales. After wiping down her hands, she popped a piece of cinnamon gum on her walk to the back of the restaurant. A light tapping on the swinging door and she leaned through to have a glance around. Manny was returning from cold storage with a stack of meat to prep for the dinnertime rush and he nodded to her.
“Miguel had a call and said to give you this for the bill,” Kandy still stood partially behind the door smiling faintly and offering the cash to him.
He waved his hand after setting the packages of food down on a clean metal counter. “His money ain’t any good here.”
Kandy pulled out a twenty and placed it in the order window, “For Lydia?”
Manny nodded before extending his hand to her. “Manny, the cousin who taught him all the good shit he knows.”
“Manny and Miggy?” A brow arch and he watched as the shy smile blossomed a little more before she finally shook his hand.
“Handsome and hilarious as fuck.” He finally noticed Miguel’s tie laying around her shoulders, “You guys didn’t fuck out there, did you?”
“Twice on the table. Sorry.” She let the joke sit dry and toneless until she saw him begin to question whether it was true. “I drew the line at anal. Your cousin is insatiable.”
Once he started to laugh, the demure smile returned with the relief that he found it funny. “Ah, she’s got jokes. Nice to see he got a girl with a fuckin’ sense of humor.”
Taking a breath, Kandy stepped further into the kitchen and folded her arms over her stomach. “Like, I know he’s your cousin and you’re not gonna talk shit about him, but –”
“You wanna know what his deal is?”
“I feel like one of those dumb characters in a video game where I go to the village and somebody is supposed to tell me somethin’ that helps me figure all this shit out.”
He smirked at her explanation, but as she moved closer, Manny got a better look at her and suddenly remembered where he recognized her from. “How did you guys meet anyway? Migs didn’t say.”
“Oh, there was an accident on the bridge and we started chillin’.”
His brows lifted, “No shit.”
“Yep.” Using one of her Chuck Taylors, she nervously traced the grouting of the kitchen tiles under her.
“So this is new-new.”
“We came right here after we parked. So however long we’ve been here, yea.”
Miguel was on a date with the daughter of the people who owned the very restaurant he worked in over in West Tampa. Manny had to make a judgment call about whether to text his cousin what was what or sit back and let fate continue to play matchmaker. The truth of it was, the shift he saw this afternoon in his sometimes grim-looking relative’s personality was so significant, Manny didn’t want to wreck it. The work and sacrifice Miguel had endured to get himself and his sister where they were was deserving of at least a few hours with a pretty girl who made him light up.
“I don’t think I’ve seen that punk laugh this much since high school.”
“He’s a real serious dude.”
“Too serious, but he’s legit. If you can cut through that workaholic bullshit, give him time to get comfortable…”
“Big fuckin’ heart?”
“There’s a lot that comes with it, but he needs somebody to teach him the livin’ part now. He’s got the survival shit down.”
Kandy silently nodded and sighed. It was pretty obvious in watching her something weighed heavily on her mind about it. In a way, she reminded Manny of how pensive Miguel gets when faced with a serious decision.
“Listen, if you ain’t sure abo–”
“So not the problem. You got like a cigarette I could have?”
Squeezing his pockets he found his pack and shook out a single, “You smoke?”
“Not this shit, it’s for him. He’s gonna be tighter than me when he’s done with that phone call.” The comment slipped out before she realized what she was saying. Kandy looked up at him as he was shaking his head and tearing off a sliver of his matchbook for her.
“If the cigarette don’t work, you could blow him like a good Catholic girl.” A beat passed and then they shook their heads in unison.
“This shit is gonna be a whole ass process, isn’t it?” Accepting the cigarette and matches, she nodded to him, “We’re probably gonna be upstairs for a lil’ while.”
Manny visibly groaned from annoyance and Kandy laughed. “That ain’t happenin’. You know your cousin. Probably by the time I get up there that will be the last thing on his mind.”
“For real though, he’s too much of a fuckin’ romantic. He gets it from all those books he used to read.”
Kandy’s eyes dropped to the floor as she smiled at the thought of such a thing. Gesturing to him with the cigarette, “Thanks. Try not to poison any of these tourists with your mediocre food?”
Manny grinned and stepped around to the side to hold the door for her, “Enjoy the rest of your day, Miggy’s Future Baby Mama.”
Passing by, both hands lifted to flip him off as she walked out to the front of the restaurant to head up the staircase.
Manny exhaled and began slicing open packages of the meat, “I’m gonna be an uncle before summer.”