Kandy and Miguel #4: The Office.

Kandy found herself standing outside the private upstairs office listening to Miguel become more and more heated with the guy on the phone. She sighed and closed her eyes whilst resting her head against the door frame. Seeing him on top of her, her hands in his hair, the initial str– Stop it. You have no fucking idea who this guy is and you can’t wait to be under him? Getting worked the fuck out, yes. I’m a grown ass woman and if I wanna f– He could be dangerous, Kandy. He’s not going to hurt me. He could be dangerous for you in ways you haven’t considered.

She was over waiting and arguing with herself. Walking in abruptly, she paused just long enough to lock the door and then started fishing her phone out of her bag. Miguel immediately turned still, tempered his tone, and cleared his throat. The cursing in English and Spanish stopped as well. Smoothing down his dress shirt, he felt caught out for how out of pocket he was being. It was clear he was still stuck in the stage of trying to present the best image of himself to her rather than the most forthright. Not even the smallest acknowledgement of his presence was given by her as she walked through the office, in between him at the desk on her left and the couch on her right. 

What is she doing? His dark gaze followed Kandy as she frustratedly yanked a cable out of a zipper pocket on her bag to plug into the aux port of the stereo system mounted in the far wall. She didn’t know if there were speakers in the other areas of the restaurant, but she couldn’t have cared less. A few taps to the illuminated screen of her phone later, the device was left with her bag and tennis shoes. Pitching the gum in the rubbish bin, she stepped barefoot up onto the cushion of the chair across from him before hopping off of it and onto the desk.

The more time he spent on the phone with the owner of the other restaurant meant less time he had with her. She wasn’t going to tolerate that. What would have been the point to go round and round with this idiot who clearly didn’t give a shit Miguel had given up his time and energy to prepare for this interview in the first place? To Kandy, the man wasn’t worth any further effort.

Miguel sat back and looked up at her as pleased as he was surprised she was on the desk demanding his attention. But Kandy didn’t give one single fuck how surprised he was and she wasn’t demanding his attention, she was commanding it. After a few seconds of hearing the beat, her body melted into the relaxed seductive rhythm of the Tinashe track. There was a ticking clock married to the tempo of the song’s intro and if he wasn’t hanging up by then, she’d be down those stairs in a flash.

Once upon a time, I was all alone. How you like me now? Do I turn you on? The brunette kept it simple letting her pelvis pull the motion up through her body and occasionally ended it with a roll of her shoulders or a swirl of her ponytail leading her into a slow turn. She noticed even though the party on the other end of the call was continuing to argue, Miguel had stayed quiet. This was as much about getting her out of the annoyed mood as it was getting him to refocus on something far more important.   

Yea, watch me go to work. I’ll put on a show. Placing the cigarette between her lips, she pulled the strip of matches from her pocket Manny had given her in the kitchen. Dropping down in time to the bass line, Kandy tore one off and struck it. The flame sizzled and popped to life, letting her light the end of the cigarette. Watching her it was clear she was in an entirely different zone. Fanning out the match, it was left in the ashtray behind her before she turned back around to lock eyes with him. Two bounces and a lewd squeeze of the same breast he had been groping downstairs and up she stood, locking those shapely legs in place. He silently ended the call and rolled the office chair even closer to the desk. 

Don’t stop lookin’ at me. Don’t stop lookin’ at me. Bending at the waist, she leaned down and held the cigarette to his lips as an offering. She knew he was tight from the call. He happily accepted the tobacco from her with Death’s hand. Holding it between his left pointer and thumb, he watched as she swirled her hair and rolled back up, back into the bounce and grind punctuated by the hi-hat. As the track wound down, she ended up kneeling on the desk in front of him and crawled forward until they were practically nose to nose. Leaving the cigarette in his mouth, that bony hand disappeared out of sight under the desk. She knew where it went, yet it didn’t stop her from continuing by walking her own hands onto the arm’s of his chair forcing him to sit up straighter. Now that silence had filled the office, her amber eyes dropped to his lap. A perk of her brow confirming where his hand had indeed slithered off to. She caught the change in how the fabric of his dress pants fell against his leg and had to bite her lip. Watching her intently, he purposely squeezed what was growing there because of her. 

“Wishin’ this was your hand, mami?” He took one last puff from the cigarette and stared into her eyes which were ablaze with her own arousal. Giving himself another squeeze to tease her, “I should make you take care of this problem for me.”

Holding her position of half on the desk and half on the arms of his chair, Kandy stared into his eyes until she was sure he knew she had hit the pause button and shifted into a more serious mode. “Never forget who the fuck you are and what it took to get here.” He smirked and looked down at the phone giving her a short nod. Dipping lower, she came up to press her lips against his luring him into another one of their long deep kisses. Feeling one of his hands curving around the back of her head, she waited a moment before slipping his phone out his reach. When she leaned back to put the device on the opposite side of the desk, he tilted to the side to get a better view of what she was doing.

“I’m gonna be needin’ that.” Not if Kandy had anything to say about it. He was not going to be taking calls while they were up here.

Looking back at him, she perked a brow. Her delicate features were straightaway wearing an expression, which communicated her questioning of whether she had heard him correctly. “Um, no, you’re not.”

“Work is important. I gotta be able to take those calls, querida.”

“That guy,” Kandy nodded off toward the phone, “is lucky if you decide to take his call. Fuck him and his disrespect.”

Before she knew it, the palm of that skeletal hand was pressing lightly into the front of her throat while its fingers and thumb firmly curved around the left and right sides of her neck. He was carefully forcing her back fully onto the desk to sit on her folded legs. This gave him the maneuverability to drop what was left of the cigarette in the ashtray somewhere near his phone.

Kandy simpered and out came the familiar melodic taunt, “You keep actin’ like you don’t know who I am to you.”

Tilting her head back to expose more of her neck to him, she watched him quietly. Holding her at bay, Miguel wanted to snatch his phone back if only to snap a photo of what he had the pleasure of looking up at currently. It would’ve been an image Kandy would’ve enjoyed also as she could only imagine what his darkly inked Grim Reaper hand looked like encircled around the fair skin of her elegant throat. What tore his thoughts away from colours and brushes was the sudden vibration into his palm as she moaned. With that, she shifted her weight into his loose grip. The subtle stroke up and down her skin slowed as he brought her down to face him.

 “I know exactly who you are, querida, but it’s nice to see you finally do too.”

“I’m the girl who’s gonna fuck your whole world up when I moan in your ear how badly I need you to cum in me.” She was absolute filth sitting there on her knees with her hands flush against the desk between her spread thighs. His hold on her throat had tightened just slightly causing her to moan tauntingly at him, “You want somethin’ to worship? I’ll give you somethin’ to worship.”

Miguel could feel the shift in his temperament when she turned playfully mouthy, bratty even. It brought him out of a pensive and passive state and into one that was all about decision and action. This was the difference between the comfort of feeling as if he was in control versus truly experiencing the power he had developed from all that he had lived through. It made the scars feel less like scarring and instead more like armour.

“You think you deserve all this, mami?” His eyes narrowed at her and the discreet squeeze of her throat only lasted a few more seconds.

“I’m the only one who ever has.” 

There was a flash in those dark eyes of his, triggered by her bold statement. The growl of frustration from him made her smile as she obediently sat back, still wearing his grip like the finest of collars. 

A tender pass of his thumb over her lips. “Better watch that mouth of yours.” 

“Yea? Whatcha wanna do with it, papi?”

He sucked his teeth and turned her just a few degrees left and right as if examining her. “Tan desobediente.”

Kandy was pressing all the buttons she knew to press on him. Considering he never corrected the guesses she made downstairs about the nature of his casual encounters, she figured he had to be rather unfulfilled. But this wasn’t about the emotional aspect of sex. This was about that other part of it, which he needed. All she was doing was trying to figure out how far he felt comfortable exploring it with her. 

Something interrupted their little impromptu scene though. Miguel exhaled heavily and let his hand fall away from her neck as he washed his other down his face. Sitting back in the office chair, he watched while the brunette lounged on her side in front of him like a cat stretching out across the desk. 

“Were you not expecting this to come so easily?” Resting her head down on a folded arm, Kandy curled up a bit more in front of him.

“I care more about you havin’ a problem with it.”

Raising up a little, both of her arms folded in front of her chest on the desk, “Why, cause I’m cute and young and innocent?”

“Delicada, querida, delicada.” The pensive patting of his fingers returned to the sides of his chair. His dark eyes never left her as he thought about how best to answer her. Another sigh, “I don’t wanna fuck it up and you wind up scared of me cause you said I only get one shot.”

“Delicate doesn’t mean fragile, Miguel.” 

Rolling over onto her back, her knees raised to bring her feet up to her rear. Reaching out to him with her right hand, she caressed the side of his face while her left slipped down her tummy to inside the waist of her denim shorts. Kissing her palm and then sitting forward to kiss her lips, it wasn’t until Kandy moaned into his mouth that he noticed where her other set of fingers were. He glared at her errant hand, but continued on before pulling her wrist up a moment later. And just like that, they were back in balance.

Laying there on the calendar sheet blotter with her wavy tresses fanned out beneath her, Kandy smiled up at him after the kiss came to an end. “If I thought you were gonna hurt me, or had the capacity to, I straight up wouldn’t be here.”

His bony fingers disappeared into her hair intermittently as he affectionately pet the top of her head. Feeling his mood change while gently massaging the back of his neck, Kandy encouraged him to move in for another kiss. By then her other hand had curled against the inside of his palm. His arms encircled her as she lay there, one over her stomach and outside of her arm and the other above her head and around to her shoulder. The weight in her chest was getting to her as the sadness that made itself known threatened to make her heart burst. It didn’t belong to her though. He sat up when he felt the dampness on his arm from where her tears had run over the side of her face. 

Kandy saw the mix of confusion and concern, “You know how I know you’re not gonna hurt me?”

“Tell me.”

“You already know what happens when you try to teach someone you love a lesson out of anger or spitefully standby as they make the wrong choice.”

Kandy didn’t know if it was heroin or meth, which had caused the effects she had seen in the photo he showed her of Marisol. Maybe it had been both. She also knew there had been some other details he had kept from her about those days. It wasn’t too hard to piece together. The look in his eyes confirmed it was either one or the other — he had either brought Marisol into that world or didn’t intercede when he should have. This wasn’t just the guilt of a boy who had loved a girl who became an addict. This was the guilt of a boy who felt responsible. She wasn’t going to coddle him with vapid words of consolation and forgiveness. After all, he allowed his own anger to destroy someone he loved whether he put the needle to her arm or pipe to her mouth, or stood back and watched as she did it herself.

Miguel couldn’t say a word. There was no logical thought happening as he listened to her. Instead, it was just an internal riptide of emotions that he was caught up in. Nobody ever acknowledged his part in Marisol’s downfall however he suspected his grandmother knew. All the conversations he had had with that girl to get clean, to try one of the programs. If it worked for him, then it could work for her. The time he spent begging her to pack her shit and leave with them to start over. Endless bargaining and negotiating until she stopped coming home altogether. The nights he spent riding around the neighbourhoods to try and find her, first in his grandmother’s piece of shit Tercel and then eventually the Benz as he made progress on his own goals. Each time he hoped he’d get the chance to talk her into coming home to eat and get cleaned up. None of his attempts at helping Marisol back in California or since arriving in Florida had been fruitful.

“You gotta let all that go, Miguel.” Kandy continued to tenderly hold the side of his face.

“Why the fuck are you still here?”

And there came that relaxed, sunny smile of hers, “‘Cause I’m supposed to be and want to be.” Seeing her reply wasn’t sufficient, she brought his other arm over her chest to kiss the scorpion tattooed on his skin. “Because I know you learned your lesson. And you can understand why I’m the way I am. Maybe even look past those things I’m still working on, not be afraid of them. Possibly see through all of it and get that I’m worth the extra bit of time and effort. You know what real loss is. Not many people do or allow themselves to feel it.”

He went back to lightly stroking her hair wondering if she’d ever look at him the same way, “I don’t work tomorrow.”

“At all?” She gently placed his palm with the rosary over her heart before covering it with her own. Giving him such an honest answer had jumpstarted the flutter in her chest again. The weight of their hands made it easier to count her breathing and relax.

Miguel shook his head, “When I come over later tonight, I want to stay. And I ain’t leavin’ tomorrow ‘til I’m done with you.”

The level of contentment she felt after hearing that was so visible and so present in her sigh and smile he was equal parts surprised and relieved. “Before you stopped earlier, what were you wanting to do?”

He chuckled to himself how quickly she hopped to the next subject as it came to her. It was an odd experience, this mix of depth and flight with her. With an affectionate cuddle to her ear, he turned his hand and slipped down through the collar of her oversized t-shirt just far enough to grope one of her breasts. “Eat you until you begged me to let you cum.”

The moan rising her throat was suppressed as she grabbed his hand to try and keep it still. With his other, he reached over and removed hers, which had temporarily halted the massaging inside the cup of her bra. Holding her wrist above her head, he resumed groping and teasing her breast.

“Would you have?”

He smirked at how meek she sounded asking that question, but he wasn’t going to make this easy for her. “Would I have what, querida?” A well timed pinch and slow twist of his finger’s grip made her spine curve a few inches up off that disk.

Minding the correction he had given her earlier, Kandy gripped the edge of the desk with her free hand rather than trying to sneak it past him to down between her thighs. It took all of her concentration to repeat the question the way he preferred it to be asked of him, “Would you have let me cum, papi?”

Her obedience was rewarded with a steady stroking of his thumb as before until her thighs locked together and the muscles along her lower abdomen tightened. After a few seconds, he withdrew from her, but rested his elbows on his knees. Sitting eye level with her now, Miguel admired her profile as her body was starting to calm down. Noticing that he hadn’t responded, Kandy turned her head to look at him. She smiled at him, still very much under the spell of the pleasure from the attention he paid her a minute earlier. So close they were that she was easily able to nuzzle the tip of his nose with her own. 

“You gotta earn the privilege, querida.” Reaching up, he tenderly pet her cheek causing her to cuddle into the palm of his hand. “And you will, when you learn to take every inch I decide to bury deep inside you.”

Kandy blushed and covered part of her face immediately. He could tell when she curled up on her side in front of him that it was the girlish smile she was hiding from him. When she giggled, he couldn’t help but shake his head.

“Tu timidez, the shyness, I don’t get it. How can you go from –” 

“From talking about how good it’s gonna feel when you push inside me for the first time to wanting to hide like a –” She looked above them whilst trying to remember how he said the word for little bunny. “conejita?”

Miguel glared at her and shifted his weight as he suddenly felt her toes pass back and forth over his thigh tauntingly. As she lay there in front of him, he softly began to massage the top of her foot after sitting back entirely in the chair. Somehow, it had snuck down off the desk when he wasn’t looking to find its place in his lap. “How can you be both?” 

Kandy shrugged and unfolded her arm so her head could lay flat on it outstretched off the desk. “I just am. One doesn’t negate the other. With you, it’s not that I don’t think before I do or say whatever. It’s that I don’t overthink it, or get neurotic about it. Occasionally still happens in a Danger, Will Robinson kinda way though, the second guessing. If you’re believin’ that how I am with you here or whenever I’m comfortable is how I am with everybody else, you’re gonna be disappointed when we get around other people.”

“One version of you has to be more real than the other, querida. Is it the one I see or are you just pretendin’ to be somebody else for me?”

Miguel saw how tightly her jaw set as he challenged her sincerity. It was just like when he admitted he wasn’t sure whether she was being genuine in her feelings for him earlier. This was a sticking point for her, someone accusing her of being dishonest, a fake, a manipulator. There were only so many chances he’d get at bat to take a swing at settling this issue before she was going to turn it into a fight. 

In contrast to how he would’ve handled it, Kandy sat there silently until her anger mellowed into annoyance. It was important for her to remember they had only known each other a few hours. By her reaction alone, Miguel knew Kandy wasn’t lying about who she was. Or at least she wasn’t knowingly trying to deceive him. Plenty of people with more life experience were walking around not having any idea who they were or with an awareness of the patterns of their behaviour. Still, he waited for her to speak hoping to gain some insight on what the real deal was or at least become more familiar with how she saw things.

“Sometimes,” Kandy could feel she was still aggravated, but worked to shove it back to confront his rather persistent doubt. She cleared her throat and took another breath, “Sometimes, it’s easier to just be the doll people want me to be than to constantly fight against something I’m never gonna come out the winner on. People look at me and they either see what they wanna see or they see what they wanna hate. When I know it will impact my day to day, I try to show them what they want, what they like, what they’re comfortable with. It’s exhausting as fuck and I hate it. But pretty fuckin’ necessary.”

Her tone had turned rather harsh by the end and Miguel was left lightly patting his knees while he considered what she said. Kandy could tell he wasn’t too pleased about what she admitted and the broader implications of it with regard to whether he could trust her. She gave him a few seconds for whatever his initial reaction was in his thoughts to die down to where he could hear what she still had to say.

“The bigger problem is you play that role long enough and you wind up forgettin’ it isn’t really who you are. You forget the you underneath the mask. And before you know it, that mask isn’t a mask anymore. This is somethin’ I’m sure you’re familiar with, no? When you haven’t been the one steerin’ your life and you finally do get freedom and control, you don’t really know what to do with it at the start. So to answer your question Miguel, I’m still figuring shit out.”

“I don’t want you lyin’ to me.”

The slow turn of her head accompanied by that red hot glare after she heard his request made him doubt his approach almost as much as he had been challenging her integrity, again. He could imagine the choice words she had for him queued up. Instead, she stayed silent and still for one of the most excruciating minutes of his life.

“I’m not Ginger. I’m not gonna scam you, lie to you, roll you, steal from you, use you, manipulate you, set you up, sell you out, cheat on you, break your fuckin’ heart, or any of that other fuckshit she did.” She was so even and controlled in her speaking it was to the point of being flat and he knew then just how mad she was. In contrast to his typical irate ranting, Kandy distilled that anger down into an easily containable amount. An amount that was easy to use in a very direct way, he imagined. The reference back to their discussion of their shared favourite scene from Scrosese’s Casino was better than getting yelled at in Spanish by an infuriated girl he was trying to woo.

“Can I give the twenty– how old are you again?” She knew, but was being bitchy on purpose.

He grumbled a little bit and passed his hand down through his hair to the back of his neck. The advice line. She was madder than mad. “Twenty-five. In November.”

“Right, right. Can I give you some advice despite you bein’ a lot older than me, ruco?”

A lot? I woulda been the senior wreckin’ that freshman pussy. Miguel lifted his hand giving her the go-ahead, which was likely more of a ceremonial gesture than one with actual power in this conversation. He couldn’t imagine she would just accede to his request that she not.

“Quantitative analysis is not gonna help you predict my behaviour. Gettin’ info out of me and tryin’ to fit me into boxes on your spreadsheet so you can compute whether or not I’m worth the risk, worth the investment, is never gonna work. All it’s gonna do, like it’s doing right now, is make me not wanna fuck you and instead tell you to go fuck yourself.” 

Another few minutes of heavy silence filled the room as the two settled on staring at her feet, which were still in his lap. There was nothing about getting upset with Miguel Kandy enjoyed. It’s just he picked the one thing that set her off the most and it was essentially questioning whether she was a liar. Out of all the people who had lied to her in her life, the promises that had been made with no intention of ever fulfilling them, to be suspected of being the same, doing the same to others was infuriating. 

Sooner rather than later, the brunette sighed and nudged with her toes his hand he had used to pet her earlier. Surprised by it, Miguel watched her for a moment before stroking his hand straight from her foot up as far on her leg as he could reach. When her eyes shut, he rotated his touch to the inside of her thigh on the return stroke down to her toes giving her a squeeze here and there. She bit her bottom lip and pulled her leg in the opposite direction to in turn rub against his palm. 

Not wanna fuck me? Mamadas. With how high she let his fingertips reach, he doubted her commitment to staying away from him. At least for now. But he got the message. Inching along in his return to her, he groped high on the back of the thigh most available to him. Right up under the denim, he snuck his hand and massaged just beneath the curve of her rear. He could feel the sliver of lace trim of her panties run over the back of his knuckles as he turned his wrist left and right. Those almond shaped amber eyes refocused on him with a few blinks. Miguel could see how much she enjoyed the work of his hand and that it was getting rid of the agitation he had triggered earlier.

“I have the same problem with you.”

He tilted his head and eventually returned to nonchalantly wrapping his palm up in the length of her ponytail as she rested back down there in front of him, “Predictin’ what I’m gonna do?”

“A little different. I never know how much you’re gonna make me feel. It’s like those dreams where you’re in a car or some shit. And there’s a wall or a big ass truck or something ahead. You’re trying to slam on the brakes fast enough, but you can’t stop. It’s that feel of sliding ‘cause everything is locked up, the weight of the car, the ABS, no traction, all of it.”

“Out of control.” He knew exactly what she was talking about, both the dream and what it sometimes felt like with her when he began to overanalyze it.

“Mm. Very. To go from feelin’ nothin’ to  feelin’ all this?” The girl smirked and looked up at the office’s ceiling as he continued to run his hand scandalously high up her leg. “From hello to quiero –”

“¿Qué quieres?”

Taking her time, Kandy sat up and brought her legs around to hang off the desk. Her neatly painted toes came to rest on the wedge of the chair’s cushion left vacant between his legs. Keeping her knees together and leaning forward with her arms folded over her thighs, she looked all proper sitting there.

“¿Como se dice –” Her eyes rolled to the side and he reflexively sat up with interest. When he was near enough to her, she lightly dragged a fingertip up the center of his throat, under his jaw, to hook his chin and shrink the gap even more. “fuck —  en español de México?”

The tension, temptation, attraction, chemistry, all of those things flowed back and forth between them. It was heavier than water, so smooth and rich like an oil. Almost tangible enough to coat the hands he used to touch her. In his head, he wondered what she would look like if it had been tinted a colour, a warmer shade of the purple she seemed to favour. All the fingerprints he’d leave on her skin, the smears of his palms. And what if those lips of hers dripped with paint that matched perfectly what was between her thighs? 

“Coger.”

A slow nod and Kandy released him before sitting away from him once more. Placing her palms on the blotter behind her, she settled back and idly lifted one of her feet to examine her pedicure. She felt his gaze on her as she purposely let the word hang between them in the silence that flooded in. Just as he was accepting that was all she was going to give him, she finished her original statement. “De ‘hola’ a ‘quiero cogerte’.”

“Duro o –”

“Is there a difference?” Kandy tilted her head as she squinted, full of curiosity at this question over whether she preferred in general a stronger hand from him or something more gentle.

He nodded, “There is a difference. With me, there is a difference.”

“Entonces,” She gave him a quick shrug, “give me both.”

Miguel laughed at her reply. Of course, she would demand a hand caressing her face while the other tied her wrists out of the way. Being exhausted and then affectionately indulged. Half the night spent pushing and stretching limits while the rest was spent getting tangled up and lost in each other. It seemed as though she needed this dynamic as much as he did. 

“Cariño, there are gonna be situations where it takes me time to realize like yo, I can do ABC or fuck this, I don’t have to do XYZ. Like when you come home from work and all I wanna do is shut the door behind you, shove you against it, and drop to my knees. That same girl who will enthusiastically suck the life out of you is probably gonna be nervous as fuck meeting your family. I may be able to give you a show and drive you fuckin’ crazy in this little room, but I’m also the girl who winds up standin’ in the corner at a house party. All ‘cause the fuckin’ software I have for this replicant that I am hasn’t been patched into adulthood.”

“But you’re the model that got that dick sucking DLC installed from the factory, huh?” While he was hoping to make her laugh, Miguel was surprised at the degree to which she enjoyed the joke. There wasn’t a hint of defensiveness over its timing or contempt for its content.

“For such a serious fuckin’ guy you really know to slip in those one liners.”

“Yea, I know how to slip in somethin’ else, too.” He picked up the foot he had been idly petting and affectionately kissed her ankle. 

“Am I gonna notice it though?” 

“Oh, I’ll make sure you feel me, mami.” Miguel carefully removed her legs from the front of his chair allowing him to stand up and begin unlatching his cufflinks.

“¿Qué haces?”

First the right and then the left, he removed the bits of gold hardware with the hawk’s head embossed on them. Offering them to her to hold, she examined them as he went about untucking and unbuttoning his dress shirt. “Love is about gettin’ inside each other, querida. This shit is only gonna work if we both –”

She tilted her head and completed his paraphrasing of the quote, “Surrender to it?”

He stopped and looked at her before nodding. A mental note was made to ask about her getting the reference later. “To it, to each other. You tell me somethin’, I tell you somethin’. Just like we said.”

What are on those shelves? Kandy lounged there trying to imagine what sort of books would be stacked next to his bed or shoved beneath it. She thought back to Manny’s remark about Miguel’s romanticism. A Scorpio, an idealist when in love, and who reads poetry late at night? Told you he could be dangerous, Kandy. All that intellectualizing air isn’t going to save you. The brunette smirked at the argument she was having in her thoughts, You can’t catch the wind. Maybe this one can, Kandy. Cuidate.

Shrugging out from under the material, Miguel peeled off the dark blue fabric to reveal the grey tank top underneath. The contrast between his left and right hands extended all the way up both of his arms. At first glance, the muscle definition was impressive without being bulky. The skeletal work spread up his forearm into darkened slashes as she expected, but also continued to his shoulder, over it, and across part of his collarbone. As he held the shirt out to the side to fold it up neatly, she was able to see the blackest areas of the semi-skeletonized arm helped conceal scarring ribboning up the limb, mostly on the back and inside. His right arm was entirely bare except for the rosary and the scorpion down low on his forearm and hand. Glancing over to her, Miguel knew she was looking.

Kandy could tell by the way he was taking his time in folding his clothes he was somewhat uncomfortable in front of her. To another person, he might have come off as normal as anyone else, but she had gotten used to his stillness. This was his form of fidgeting, making the movements and busy work for his hands last. He didn’t want to sit still and be examined. Whether it was because of the tattoos or the scarring she couldn’t quite decide. 

“I’m gonna be seeing you naked anyway. It can either be in the ER when they cut off your clothes cause you’re having a stroke from talkin’ to some idiot or…” 

With his right hand he made a quick pass up his left arm before smirking. It was the scarring. “Or?”

Kandy sat up to be closer to him. Her fingertips walked themselves from his left and right hands simultaneously until they reached the middle of his forearm, which is where the scarring started on his left side. She had definitely gotten his attention. He was watching her with great interest as he felt her palms conform to the contours of his muscles and move up his shoulders to trace his clavicles to his throat. Not a hint of hesitation or a single flinch from her. She didn’t stop until she reached his jaw. The left side of his neck had a familiar portrait of a veiled woman with a crown of roses and long flowing red hair growing out of her skull. The shading on his bones looked as if it matched that of the saintly figure, probably the same artist. On the other side was the older black and white portrait of a woman she had assumed to be one of his grandmothers she first spotted whilst in the car. Detailed and rich in their tones, both pieces were high quality and likely cost him significant time, money, and pain. 

“The women in your life?” Kandy looked up at him with that playful yet easy going smile of hers and he smirked before nodding.

“The ones that keep my ass alive.” He lifted his left arm a foot or so to pull her focus back to the scarring. “You gonna ask?” 

The longest sections of his dark hair in the front framed his face to just below his ears while the other layers settled at the top of the back of his neck. It was into the latter her fingers disappeared out of sight to comb through affectionately. Definitely a fresh cut for his interview, it likely looked excellent on him whether it was slicked down as it had been earlier or allowed to air dry.

With gentle pressure to the top of his shoulder, she wordlessly suggested he sit back and relax in the chair again, which he ultimately did. Out came her legs to encourage him to roll back to her as much as he could. It was just about getting him comfortable.

“I’ll only ask if you’re ready to tell, mi halcón.” Easing to the edge, Kandy shrank the space between them and was now able to fold her arms behind his neck. Sneaking in a kiss, she lovingly sought out his lower lip with her plush pair and let their mouths linger together as long as he wanted. 

Again, Miguel always expected some form of overtly sexual behaviour when they were enmeshed. This was part of why it was so surprising when she was full of compassion and tenderness for him instead. So much so he was beginning to consider whether this shallow view of her feelings for him didn’t really have anything to do with her, but was instead rooted in the other passing relationships he had had with women prior to her. Objectification could cut both ways and was a massive mindfuck for him as well. 

Lifting her up off the desk, he brought Kandy down into his lap and was relieved to see she understood exactly why he moved her. Easing her arms low around his flanks, she leaned into him for a hug and rested her head against his. Though his arms were still around her from bringing her down off the desk, Kandy waited. Eventually the muscular limbs tightened against her torso and he nuzzled into where her neck curved into her shoulderline. It felt like he was worried she’d suddenly disappear or sprint out the door and down the stairs out of his life as she had been prepared to do earlier. 

Miguel hated sharing anything about what happened to his body, to him from that time of his life. He avoided it so well, he either opted to bend the random chicks over a piece of furniture or kept his shirt on to prevent them from seeing something that would pique their curiosity during those one nighters. Kandy wasn’t the only one who didn’t want people asking about details or trying to piece together even the smallest thing. The double edge of learning from one’s mistakes was the shame which came with fully understanding the ripple effects of poorly thought out decisions. 

He kissed what was rapidly becoming his favourite part of her neck while holding the back of her head and shoulders to keep her close in the hug. They couldn’t sit like this forever and he knew that. 

Giving him another few seconds, Kandy eventually turned her face and kissed the joint of his jaw before whispering in his ear. “Stop touching me like you’re sayin’ goodbye to me.” 

Feeling him nod, she sat back from him and placed her elbows on the desk. Forced to loosen his hold on her to permit the lounging against the blotter, his hands came to rest low on her hips. Looking up at her finally with those dark eyes, he was greeted with her smiling face and that twist in her hips like she had done back in the car park when they introduced themselves. 

Miguel did not strike her as the type to exaggerate things for dramatics, so Kandy figured whatever it was was going to be pretty bad. Instead of feeding him some love and light bullshit about how she’d stay no matter what he would wind up telling her, she instead simply tried to be supportive and encourage him in being honest about it. While Kandy believed people had the capacity to change, and Miguel certainly seemed to be a person who managed to accomplish that, there were some things behaviour wise she would never accept or be able to overlook. She was just as concerned as he was about what he was going to tell her. The difference between them was she hid it from him much better.

“Drunk and high as fuck. Ridin’ too fast. Livin’ that fuckin life. Got caught up. Literally. Last thing I remember was the sound of the fuckin’ bike lockin’ up when I hit the curb. I didn’t even see that shit. Like God just put his finger on that bitch and stopped those wheels dead. They say I missed the utility pole by like two feet and went into a chain link fence. Bike went in it with me. Dragged me over the hill and down sixty feet. The fence did more long term damage than when I actually hit the ground.” Looking at her as he recounted what happened he watched as it played out in her head what he was describing. It broke her heart like she had been there and lived it with him. A heavy sigh.

“You didn’t know me then, querida. I wasn’t worth givin’ a shit about. I was all kinds of fucked up in my head. The things I was doin’.” Miguel knew she wanted to say something, but was too upset to do it. Instead, he decided to continue on by dropping his hand to his right thigh, “New hip, rods and pins. Everything else,” he then gestured up his left arm around his shoulders and down the right side of his torso to connect the scarring, “is from the slide. Twenty-six with the body of a senior citizen, un ruco.”

On the rare occasions he had shared with people outside of the family small snippets of what happened, Miguel was always met with the same blood pressure raising mix of judgement and pity with contempt occasionally thrown in for variety. But Kandy never looked at him the way he expected her to, even now. When she placed her palm on his chest like he had done to steady her through her anxiety earlier, he held it there like she had held his. Despite being unable to say it, her touch communicated what she felt. He had always been worth it. And the notion of him not being here, of him no longer existing was devastating in its own way for her. Her empathy was such a welcomed relief from the norm and somehow made this easier for him to revisit.

Swallowing gingerly, she gave a quick press between her collar bones. “You said long term? Is that part of why you box? It feels like it’s not a casual thing for you.” 

A heavy shrug passed through his shoulders and she instinctively caressed his jaw, “Left arm ain’t as strong anymore. Got a lot back, but not everything. Trainin’ keeps me from losin’ more. And it gives me a place to put the anger I can’t get rid of on my own.” He paused just long enough to turn his face and kiss her palm. “Docs didn’t think I’d have enough to stand up and balance. That wheelchair and walker played real fuckin’ good to the judge though.” 

A nod, “What happened with that, how long did they jam you up for?”

He rested his head back on the chair and stared at the ceiling. It was time to man the fuck up and tell her all of it. If she or her family ever checked up on him, they’d find out anyway. Honesty was the best policy and all the other trite bullshit sayings. “I stole the bike from a neighbour. Abuela got me a good attorney, with all my health shit, rehab, plus the guy goin’ to bat for me — judge put me in this new diversion program they were trying out. Therapy, drug counseling, GED, vocational training. Lotta fuckin’ hoops, but I wound up with a suspended sentence.”

“How many years you got left before –”

“I don’t plan on gettin’ back into that shit, Kandy. It was too hard gettin’ out.”

She shook her head, “Almost.”

“What?”

“Almost. It was almost too hard for you, but you did it. You made it. You’re out of it.”

That was one of the things he was going to have to get used to with her. She seemed to make it a point to get him to acknowledge an accomplishment or goal. Encouragement in general was rather alien to him. More than that was the recognition by others of how far he had come. 

With the way he was rubbing his chin, Kandy knew there was more. He wasn’t at all aware of how obvious it was to her he was considering whether to lie to her about it. Rather than step in and make the decision for him by calling him out, she sat back and waited to see if he would decide to tell her the truth. 

“I had a gun on me. And some other shit. It all got thrown to who the fuck knows where in the accident. They never found any of it.”

“If they had –”

He nodded. “I’d be sittin’ in fuckin’ prison and not here with you. Irma would be my age before I’d even have a chance of gettin’ out.”

Kandy tapped the base of her throat while looking up at him. She was doing the math and he could tell. Curious like she had been, Miguel waited to see if she would ask. The massage to the pressure point was not relieving the feeling she was going to hyperventilate. It was one of those things where she’d just have to push through it. He was still leaving part of it out.

“Was it your gun or were you holdin’ it for somebody?”

“It was mine.” He tilted his head and kept his deep brown eyes fixed on her.

She looked at him with wariness creeping in around the edges of both her voice and eyes, “You ever use it?”

A nod, “Por supuesto.”

Her brows popped at his answer. Of course he has, Kandy. He wasn’t some soccer dad selling homemade gourmet edibles out of his minivan on match days to housewives bored of Xanax and Ambien. 

“Do you have one now?”

“A gun?”

“Yea.”

“Nope. I don’t let any of that shit or people like that around anymore. No way am I lettin’ them around Irma. Part of why we’re in Tampa and not Orlando. I don’t want her gettin’ mixed up in that. Lasered off or covered up what I needed to. And that’s it. I ain’t lookin’ to be on my way to meet my girl and have some asshole with a jacked up grill Benny Blanco me before I make it to her, querida.”

Another film reference got her to smile briefly. Curious, she tilted her head. “Your girl? Who’s she? Do I know her?”

“You might.” Miguel smiled a little bit and swept his palms up and down the tops of her thighs. 

“She pretty?”

“Very.”

A slow nod, “She smart though? Not one of them dumb bitches, right? That shit gets real boring after a while.”

“She hides it though. Can’t figure out why.” Miguel gave her the time she needed with her little flirtatious jokes to put some distance between herself and her feelings about all of what he had told her.

“That bitch.” She offered him a coy smile, but the brightness continued to rapidly fade. The humour wasn’t working. Something was staying on her mind. 

“What is it, Kandy?” He was preparing himself to hear whatever excuse she could give him to cut their day short. Or maybe she’d just be straight up with him and admit it was beyond what she wanted to deal with.

“At the end when he talks about her, when Carlito talks about Gail, and she’s dancin’ on the beach in the background? We already know he’s dead, but that love, that regret in his voice.” Kandy’s amber eyes had fallen to the scorpion on his right forearm, the one tied up in the rosary. Death was certainly a fixture in her life, but she hadn’t shared with him the details yet that he needed to fully understand where all this was coming from. Taking her hands, he lifted them up to kiss both sets of knuckles to try and reassure her. That’s when he noticed she was staring at the redheaded form of Santa Muerte on the left side of his neck. “She’s already saved you once. How many more times is she going to?”

“No, no, no. It’s not like that.” Reaching behind her neck, Miguel gently brought her in to kiss her forehead before looking her right in the eye. “Te lo juro. Te lo juro. I’m just some tatted up Mexican motherfucker from L.A. workin’ in a kitchen and makin’ sure his sister gets to college. I pay my taxes. I clip coupons. I go to soccer practice. When it gets cold and rainy, I walk like an old man. Ain’t nobody lookin’ for me, querida, nadie. Nobody.”

After a few seconds, Kandy nodded. But Miguel could see in her eyes she didn’t believe a word of it. Not because she thought he was lying, but because people had made her a similar impossible promise about their own life expectancy. It was one she had heard a dozen times. And inevitably they broke it either by dying, naturally or not, or left her by some other means, which was similarly permanent. She wrapped his torso up tight and buried her face in his neck again wanting to hide from the world. As she had done for him at the start, he let her have all the time she needed by holding her there.

Deep down, Kandy knew the sensation of losing the grip on her emotions wasn’t because Miguel was taking control away from her. Instead it was because she was letting go of the reins deliberately. That, more than anything, was probably the most unnerving part of this. All the distance, physical and emotional, she forced in between herself and others did not exist between her and Miguel. Her comment earlier about not having the ability to engage a clutch to disengage the drive of her feelings was right on the money. Despite initially making her uncomfortable, his ability to see right through her bullshit and keep her from running and hiding, brought her an odd form of relief after a time. On top of all that, he was still here despite whatever she shared.

A minute ticked by before feeling her sigh and kiss up under his jaw. “You got the Mercedes at twenty.”

“Yea.”

“How long did it take you to get to that?” 

“The accident was on my seventeenth birthday. So almost three years. I started sellin’ my scripts on the side and stashin’ the money. Program got me into the food service industry, took fights on the side, ones I knew I could handle once I was on my feet. Two and three jobs. Whatever it took that wouldn’t put me in the dirt or cuffs.” As she was starting to feel better, her hold on him loosened and he let her ease back against the desk to look up at him. “Last day of middle school for Irma, loaded up the Benz, picked her up, and we were out.”

“Five years for you to get outta there.”

He smirked and then nodded, “You’re right. I don’t always think about it like that. All the way back to the start. But yea, gonna be six in June.”

“That’s a big fuckin’ thing you did. For yourself, for your sister. Most people give up way before then.”

Both of his hands came up to the back of her head and very gently removed the hair tie securing the bunch of curls gathered there. Not a tug or a pull as he fished the purple cloth accessory free from her tresses. A light shake of their ends by his fingers made the layers fall as they should down her back and over her shoulders. Less of the girl and more of the woman. Shyly, she looked up at him while letting a hand disappear into the roots of her hair for a quick fluff here and there. 

“Who taught you Spanish?”

“Cause I don’t look like I should speak it?” Her eyes jumped up to his and narrowed subtly. It was enough to let him know she knew what he was up to with the timing of his questions. Kandy smiled and toyed a bit with the hem of her A Tribe Called Quest t-shirt. “My grandparents, my dad’s parents actually. I spoke Castilian for like the first ten years of my life.” 

“Never woulda guessed.”

“That English wasn’t my first language?”

He nodded.

“My grandfather was from Morocco and he met my grandmother in Ceuta, a city of Spain, but carved out of Morocco itself. I watched a shit load of MTV and listened to rap when I got back to the States. It filled in a lotta gaps that school left. Wherever you need to fit in, you do what you need to, right?” She sighed and shrugged. “There’s a whole other side of my family that is very English Only, but I appreciate them bankrolling my education. Looks real fuckin’ nice on paper.”

“Your mom’s.”

The look she gave him was plenty to confirm his guess. “And then when I came back to the U.S., my real mother’s aunt, Zoraida, she was Cuban, I lived with her. When I say ‘mom’, that’s who I mean. I mean Zo.” 

“The Queen of the High Seas who passed?” 

A simple nod, “She was more a mom to me than anybody, to everybody, not just me. Her Jeep, her fishing gear.”

Miguel watched her silently as she sat there staring at her hands, which had folded themselves into her lap. How fascinating the chipped magenta nail polish had become in that short time. He gently pet her knees now that her legs and folded across his.

“What about your parents?”

He caught the smirk she tried to conceal with running a hand up into her hair. Up went those brows as though she hadn’t heard him, “What?”

A second try, “Your parents, where they fit in?”

They don’t. The corners of her mouth lifted and for the first time he saw what he knew was the mask she had mentioned earlier. “You’re probably gonna wanna know it all, right?” 

The contrast was so sharp he felt a pang of guilt for thinking what he’d seen from her up until that point was anything less than authentic. It was a pretty smile affixed on the mouth of a pretty girl. But it was the emptiest fucking thing he’d seen in a long time. He felt like an absolute asshole. 

An encouraging squeeze to her calf, “You tell me somethin’, I tell you somethin’.”

“This shit’s gonna get awkward fast. Just lettin’ you know now, papi.” Pushing up on the desk behind her, Kandy pulled herself out of his lap and sat there across from him. 

With the abrupt relocation, Miguel knew this was part of a bigger and more important discussion that was likely to upset her. While he was sad to see her move further away, he was content with being left the ability to run his hands up and down her legs, which remained extended to him.

Without saying anything, Kandy began working her fingers down into a front pocket in her shorts. Growing more frustrated, she relented and laid back flat on the desk. Miguel perked a brow and enjoyed the view as his palms immediately washed up her thighs in order for his fingertips to tease just inside the barely there legs of her shorts. 

“And to think, if I had worn a skirt, you could be fingering me right now.” 

It wasn’t until he heard her strike another match that he looked up and saw a fresh joint between her lips. A smirk and authoritative squeeze, his hands were still as high as they could go pushing against the annoying denim standing in his way. Once she had successfully retrieved what she needed, Kandy sat back up and took a long pull of the marijuana before letting herself relax in silence.

“Is this what you do to guys, mami? Get them hard and hold out on them?” Exhaling through her nose, she then laughed and offered it to him. 

He shook his head and declined, “It makes me wanna –”

“Fuck?” A brow perk and another hit. He smirked and stayed quiet. She pointed over her shoulder, “Couch is right there, papi. I could be ridin’ your dick til you gotta leave for work instead of sittin’ here tellin’ you about my childhood. You wantin’ to see if I’m a girl with daddy issues?”

Miguel sighed and continued to run his fingertips up and down the length of her legs. Like a magician, she had one hand here while pointing over there. Anything to boost the chances of successfully distracting him from the topic she wanted to avoid. “I told you, querida, when I have you for the first time it’s gonna be in your bed. I want your pussy to ache every time you walk by that motherfucker. Every morning when you straighten them sheets and every night you sleep in it and I’m not there.”

Kandy shut her eyes while distracted by the thought of such a thing. Two could play at that game apparently. 

Plucking the joint from her unexpectedly, he took a drag off it and gestured for her to start talking. “But I asked ‘cause I actually wanna know.”

She finally laughed and brushed back the shorter layers of her hair before shifting into a more comfortable sitting position. Seeing her move made him smile. Back to being even in their enjoyable discomfort.

“So,” Kandy took a deep breath. Miguel was either going to judge her or he wasn’t. Her hand extended out to him in a silent request for another go at the marijuana. Getting a glimpse at her upset underneath, he handed it off to her and went back to gently petting her calves. “My mother, the woman who actually gave birth to me, Lola, is this very slender and pale blonde with ice blue eyes. She got all the Nordic and Northern Italian traits of her mother. And all the crazy”

“The witch who doesn’t cook.”

“A man who pays attention, my God, I’m wet already.”

Miguel watched as she tried to keep her head above the water line with humour and flirtation, “You been wet for a while, mami.”

Looking up at him, Kandy smiled. She knew what he was doing and was grateful. “After my mother’s father dies, the one who made the cookbooks I told you about, Sandy, my aunt –”

“The attorney with a heart.”

“That’s the one. She moves to Miami into his house to go to University. Lola comes out for vacation from London and meets my dad who was a DJ at a nightclub. This tall, dark, and handsome Spanish, Turkish, Moroccan guy, modelled on the side, made music, plenty of money, cars, clothes, cocaine. All the shit she likes, especially the cocaine.” Feeling his hands on her stop, Kandy glanced to Miguel who looked just as awkward as she felt, “No, no, no. You look nothing like him. Yo, please don’t get it twisted. This is not some Electra complex-by-proxy fuckery.”

He confiscated the marijuana back from her seemingly feeling entitled to smoking the last of it. “Were they together or just like a –”

“Hit it and quit it deal? I dunno. Sandy says it was a night and like a day of smashing after meeting in the club. Lola makes it out like it was a few weeks of this grand love affair they had to keep quiet. He probably ghosted her after realizing she was a psycho. Like, she’s one of those types that if a man looks at her too long she’ll tell people he’s obsessed and stalking her. Every man is so fuckin’ in love with her and wants her. The narcissism is real.”

Miguel leaned to the side in the office chair and covered his mouth with his hand. Watching his reactions were making her laugh, which was a nice consolation prize for him. Still, this didn’t help diminish his concern about his own relationship with her having a better sense now of the lifestyle she probably was accustomed to.

“You okay?”

“Yea, yea.”

“Don’t worry. There have been several times today I have wondered if I’m really as fuckin’ batshit looney tunes as my mother for thinkin’ some motherfucker could be even slightly head over he–” Kandy suddenly stopped talking and looked at Miguel nervously.

He had no desire to address her statement at present and instead resumed idly rubbing one of her legs. “Continúa, querida.” 

“It doesn’t take a fuckin’ genius to guess what happens next. Lola is pregnant with me and Sandy lets her stay with her in Miami. Lola is totally convinced she can get my dad to see I’m like this sign they were meant to be together.” 

Another sudden stop and Kandy gave a few quick pats to the base of her throat. Watching her as she stared at one of her hands again, it seemed like Kandy was surprised talking about it would affect her so sharply. “She was not successful and, you know, too much time had gone by. She had to go through with havin’ me.”

“Grandma didn’t know?”

Kandy laughed and eventually sighed. “This is the part about the story I can kinda enjoy. Lola and Sandy kept it from her. Hid the whole fuckin’ thing. She didn’t find out until some piece of shit reporter from one of the London rags called her at home to ask for a comment about becoming a grandparent. Can you imagine the look on that woman’s face, the face of one of the top selling European fashion magazines? It was all over the dailies the following morning. My mom lookin’ like some bloated beached whale being rolled into the hospital to have me with an insert of my dad’s most recent mugshot in the corner. There are scans of it online. It’s great. Playboy drug dealer and up and coming South Beach DJ from North Africa impregnates socialite daughter of British publishing royalty. Anyway, she flew to the States, checked my mom out of the hospital and I didn’t see either of them until I was like twelve or thirteen. Some total telenovela shit, right?”

“They left you behind?”

Kandy’s brows popped while considering his rather succinct summation of her parental abandonment. She shrugged nonchalantly, “Well, yea. I came out lookin’ like my dad so there was no way they were gonna spin that. Not like they could bleach and iron my hair. Probably would have tried. But Miguel, they were such awful people. Thank God I wasn’t made to go with them.”

He noticed her rate of speaking had gone up quite a bit as she skimmed along the surface of her feelings. “That’s how you wound up with your dad’s parents?”

“Yea, yea. My father’s parents were living in Miami so they took me. September 11th happened a couple years later and they lost their business because of –”

“They’re muslim.”

Kandy nodded and tapped the familiar space in between her collar bones. “Things were changing and they decided they wanted to go back home. My grandfather was getting sick, his heart. Sandy was a college student, she couldn’t take care of a kid. The next decade I was livin’ overseas with them, mostly in Spain, near Málaga. I learned English at private school. Sandy would come out and visit a couple times a year. But, it was my grandfather’s death that got me brought back to the U.S., here to Tampa. Sandy’s uncle had met and married Zoraida by then and she agreed to take me in. Her family is Cuban, which was a completely different experience.” 

“That’s why you talk halfway decent.”

Out came that smile and light hearted laugh, but Miguel was back to being unreadable. The playful tone was disappearing and the air was turning heavy. Though she still felt like she would have been unsuccessful in lying to him, she could have just said she’d explain it another time. It was starting to feel cold like when she had tripped over the Marisol subject earlier. Had she been any other place in the office than sitting on the desk, she would have been gathering her things to leave. The silence was torture to her.

“Sometimes, I walk in a place and people assume I don’t understand anything until they start talkin’ slick and I give them a look. Other times they talk to me all normal like and I panic ‘cause I’m so not used to it at a million miles an hour. Everybody says shit differently, I never sound all the way right to anybody, not even my friends. I’m always afraid I’ll use the wrong word. So, I just don’t. This with you is probably like the most Spanish I’ve spoken in the last few years.” Kandy looked as if she wanted to crawl out of her skin seeing as how she was fidgeting with her hair and the placement of her hands. When the brunette noticed how closely Miguel was watching her, she promptly ended it with a shrug. The race of words stopped just as abruptly.

Miguel knew there wasn’t a significant age difference between them, just four years or so, but he couldn’t help seeing how young she seemed while trying to deemphasize the insecurity she was describing. The fake indifference in her shrugging reminded him a lot of his sister Irma. He tilted his head while watching her as she avoided him and smoothed down her hair. “Do you speak Arabic?” 

“A type.” Kandy waited for some kind of feedback or response. Something to help her better gauge how he was leaning or where his thoughts were. Nothing. Only his watchfulness. “It’s not like I get opportunities to speak it here. I’d get to go back to Spain for summer vacation and holidays to see my grandmother, but I haven’t gone in a while.”

Miguel nodded. “Are you Muslim?” The question got her to look up at him and it felt like she was trying to decide on something. There was something in her head she was wondering about. 

Finally, “No, no, no. Not at all.” 

So quick came her answer that his brows raised. It was then he became aware of how unsure she was, unsure of what his reaction would be. “You know if you were, it ain’t a problem.” He resumed gently stroking her legs with his fingertips and she visibly relaxed a bit, but not fully.

“I’m not.”

“Una católica?” As much as he wanted to learn about her, Miguel didn’t enjoy seeing her so upset, which he felt partially responsible for. Instead he gave her an out wondering if she’d take it or work through the unpleasant subject for the sake of openness. While her level of honesty was important, he was actually using it as a measuring stick to assess how comfortable she was with him.

“Somethin’ like that.”

Not my mother’s kind of Catholic. Miguel smirked to himself and nodded accepting the vague explanation for now. A pensive pass of his palm down the skeleton on the left side of his neck. He himself had often been reminded to reign in his thoughts, his demeanour as it could be overwhelming to others. Too present, too strong, too intimidating. Quietly confident despite his disapproval of and discomfort around others. Most times he chose simply to stick to himself than waste his energy on constraining and contorting himself to make people he didn’t care about not mind that he was present. That alienation at sixteen combined with a glock and an unrestrained temper proved to be a powder keg until he was left humbled after that tango with the two wheeled Suzuki.

As he had gotten older, it had evolved into not giving a fuck about how people interpreted his silence and stillness. He was tired of hurting the two people who loved him, and maybe even was tired of hurting himself. But here he was, giving a fuck. This pretty girl sitting in front of him with her legs in his lap was making him give a fuck about a lot of things. Especially how she regarded him.

“What about your pops though?” 

“What about him?” Gathering up her hair, Kandy was in the process of neatening up the top sections until she realized she didn’t have the tie he had removed when he took down her ponytail earlier.

“Have you ever met him?”

“Yea, three times, I think..” Releasing her hair, she fluffed it up more and piled over to one side.

“But he’s not in your life? Even when his parents had you?”

A slow shake of her head and Kandy began to wonder if the conversation about religion would have been less painful than the one they just jumped into, “My dad never visited them. Never went home for the holidays. None of that cause I was there, you know? My grandfather loved me, but I know he was bitter in the end. Like he had lost his son because of me.”

“Kandy, you don’t kn–”

“I do know.” She lifted her hand to stop him from saying the same ridiculous line that people used when she made the awful mistake of talking about her parents, “First time I ever met him? My grandfather was very sick. He was dying and I think on some level my kid brain knew that. My grandmother took me for a weekend to Seville, which was weird. We never did shit like that, go into the cities to see the sights or whatever. Something happened and we wound up going back earlier than planned and I’m thinking on the drive back he musta died. My grandmother leaves me in the car for what felt like eternity. I’m eleven sitting in front of the house and I had never seen my dad before other than pictures they had of him in the house. But like I knew him when I saw him walk out. My grandfather wanted to see him one last time before he died. So that’s why they got me out of the house for that little trip. So that he’d be willing to visit him. He looked right through me, walked right by like I didn’t even exist. That’s kinda how it’s always been. My grandmother couldn’t be with the man she had loved for forty years in his last days because someone had to watch me. What right did I have to go back in that house anyway? I just fuckin’ sat there. A neighbour came and got me for the night. Next morning, my ass was on a plane.”

He folded his arms over his chest and stared at her silently for a minute. “You didn’t stay for the funeral?”

“I didn’t have a lot of say, Miguel. My grandmother wanted her son at his father’s funeral. Can you blame her?” The shift in his tone was hard to ignore as well. It seemed he was quite offended by all of it. Kandy shook her head and ran a hand through the length of her hair just to have something to do other than sit there and stare at his hands on her legs. The more she sat there feeling him get madder and madder, the more she felt it was time to go. Reaching her limit, she lifted her legs carefully over the side of the chair to stand up.

“Where are you going?” Sitting forward, Miguel reached for one of her hands as she slid off the desk, but wasn’t quick enough just like in the Mercedes.

“You’re mad.” Kandy looked back at him seeing him stand to stop her from leaving while she shoved her things into her bag. “Sorry I didn’t turn out to be whatever it was you were pra–”

“Of course, I am. You’re not?”

Her brows raised and she sighed with exasperation, “It was a long time ago. Being mad about it isn’t gonna do anything, Miguel. They didn’t care when I stood there in front of them –”

Surprisingly, she wasn’t able to finish the sentence and instead stood there staring at the ashtray on the desk between them. He rubbed his face with the hand that looked like a skeleton’s and moved around to the front of the desk to lean back against it. As long as she didn’t move from there, he was content with giving her some space. After a minute or two, Miguel walked up to her and slid an arm around her hips just like he did in the lot at the beach. Lifting a hand to her forehead, Kandy leaned into him whilst staring at the door over his shoulder. 

Miguel waited another moment before kissing her forehead and then nuzzling her ear, “Porque lo que hicieron estuvo mal. Imperdonable.”

“La mitad de mi familia es malisima, but you can’t just say it, Miguel.”

He laughed gently into her neck before giving it a kiss, both hands locked at her lower back. “That half don’t need to meet me then.” With a sigh, he leaned back to get a look at her, “And why can’t I say it, querida?”

That pain was right there barely still under the surface, but this time it was her own. It didn’t seem to matter how many years had passed, it had been summoned and was felt instantly. “Because if a stranger can see about them what they can’t or don’t want to –”

His hand carefully slid down her arm until he was able to take the strap of her bag from her to set her things on the coffee table. Holding onto her still, he stepped around in front of the couch and sat down. She was either going to stay with him or go. 

“Sabes que no soy un extraño.” The soft pet by his thumb drifted back and forth as he gave her fingers a gentle squeeze.

Coming to stand in front of him, Kandy gently brushed back his hair while he kissed the hand of hers he still held. She knew he wasn’t a stranger to her, not really. It was more than just familiarity and comfort, it was relief she felt, which fuelled her willingness to open up to him. So much of her life she still kept firewalled off from even her oldest of friends. Yet here she was, sharing these things with him, round after round. And when she slid back into the old habit of expecting him to be like the rest, similar to how he did her on occasion, it was a wave of relief that washed over her when he proved her wrong.

The brunette’s parents never made a single change in their lifestyles to try and accommodate her existence. Instead they shirked the responsibility off onto whoever was most convenient. Yet the man sitting in front of her, the owner of that impeccable Mercedes, the one who could get her to laugh and moan, upended his entire life for his family and to save himself. Thinking back to the carpark and her first question to him, about what took him so long to show up, maybe she had been waiting for him all that time without knowing it. And then there he was. Finally.

With his elbows on his knees, he clasped his other hand over the top of theirs before looking up at her. “What you said earlier about you thinkin’ like your mom would in all this with me,” Miguel shook his head, “I know what that looks like. I’ve seen that shit up close. You don’t got that problem, querida.”

Kandy knew her mother was severely mentally ill and it no doubt contributed to how neglectful and manipulative she could be. But somehow that part of the conversation always got twisted into Lola’s inability to fully comprehend what she was doing to her child. It was very nearly the same when it came to her father and his behaviour. It was just so tragic that his life was full of drugs and questionable people despite his musical talent. He was so deep into that fast life, he just couldn’t give it up and go legit. Not even to be a father to his child. How sad and unfortunate for them those were the hands they were dealt. Kandy rarely factored into these conversations beyond the passing mention as the aforementioned “child”, of course. 

After mulling over what he said, Kandy nodded before stroking her hand through his hair again. “You ever talk to your dad or go see him?”

Miguel shook his head. 

“Your brother?” 

“Nope.” 

“You’re still mad.” 

He smirks slightly with a nod, “I’m still mad. My pops, I can sorta forgive. He didn’t have the opportunities my brother had. His luck just ran out. Bro pissed it all away though, third strike before he was thirty three all ‘cause he was reckless. Took my dad ‘til he was fifty to basically get sentenced to life.” 

“And you almost got sucked in the whirlpool with them.” 

“Mom goes out there every chance she can get to cry in that dumbass waiting room. Then comes back like some fuckin’ carrier pigeon with her messages. I blocked her from callin’ my phone, but she sends me letters. She got the address outta Irma. My sister’s young still in her thinking. It hasn’t really hit home for her yet that mom ain’t right. I have to let them talk to each other, but I try to keep an eye on what she says to Irma. Irma’s smart, but she doesn’t know yet how sensitive she is. Mom can fuck her up real bad. She feeds on that shit. Thank God she’s too fuckin’ old to have another kid.”  

“They’re people, Miguel. With problems.” Kandy shrugged. “All we can do is accept them for who and where they are.”

He glared at her over being fed the boilerplate comment both families seemed to favour. That familiar sharp gesture of his hand sliced through the air, “Come on, don’t do that.”  

“Do what?”

“Don’t start actin’ like you’re okay with people doin’ whatever the fuck they want to you. They’ve gotta answer for that shit. I was done coverin’ for people a long ass time ago. I don’t broadcast that shit, but I won’t pretend like people didn’t make the choices they made. My mom fell in love with a thug. That’s the life she got for herself. Now she wants to be some fuckin’ martyr for wayward love like he’s sittin’ up in prison cause he was tryin’ to free the people or some shit. He didn’t go away, he’s in prison cause he got caught movin’ weight after the transmission went out on the truck he was drivin’. I don’t give a shit what you agree to tell everybody else to keep things on time in that circus.” Still with the hand and the short quick swipes of his fingers, again like he was throwing away useless cards, until he put his palm to his chest. “But you tell me the truth. Always. They don’t just get a pass for hurtin’ you ‘cause their life is shit or they’re fucked up somehow, querida. Especially not for how they treat people I care about.” 

Kandy did her best to keep her smile from growing too much as she watched him get all animated. With the lightest of pushes from her, he sat back on the couch giving her room to sit down in his lap and hang her legs over one of his. “Yes, papi.”

“Nah, and don’t think you can do that neither.” He saw that cute look she was giving him with the coy smile. The same hand started rolling his pointer finger like tracing a cylinder rolling across the ground as he named off his list. “Thinkin’ you can just touch on me or kiss me or flirt your way out of havin’ important ass conversations, querida. This shit is serious.”

Miguel saw those legs fold up in his lap and the once very active hand came to settle upon one of her ankles. She kissed the center of a thick black ribbon of ink covering the scarring at his shoulder and he quickly wrapped that arm around her. Brought in, Kandy curled up against his chest and nestled into his neck as before.

“For real though, I hear what you’re sayin’. And there are other people who deserve the respect more, and not my mom and dad. My grandparents, Faysal and Amina. Zoraida, the woman who was really my mother.” She felt his jaw rest down against the top of her head and she closed her eyes. “My aunts, Cassandra and Anzhelina, my nephew, you and your sister, your grandmother, a few friends. You’re the only people I want in my life.”

Frowning out of her view, Miguel gently kissed the top of her head and sighed. His right hand had found its favourite place high on her thigh again, contemplatively stroking back and forth. Though he couldn’t be sure yet, he had a nagging feeling his suspicions earlier about the restaurant she mentioned was correct. He knew the place she had been raving about, the place with the mole and the fried peppers with the cheese she liked. It was the restaurant he worked at. There wasn’t any definitive proof of it at this point, but the coincidences were starting to stack high. To his relief, Kandy hadn’t seemed to put it together likely because she had never been to the restaurant in person. Sandra always ordered delivery or picked it up herself. 

“Your folks, they the people when they see a guy like me comin’, they double lock the alarm on their car, grab their bag? They gonna look at me some type of way?” 

“The only people who show up to dinner are usually the parts of my family worth knowing. Sandy is very particular about who gets an invite. If you shop at Mercado’s you probably have met my non-uncle uncle. The owner’s son, Julian. Navy guy. He has a kid, my nephew, with Angie.”

“The big diesel motherfucker?” His hand lifted from her thigh to scratch nervously at the underside of his jaw.

“Yea. He’s an interesting cat.”

“He’s always tryin’ to get me out on his boat.”

Kandy smirked, “Sounds about right. His mission is to convert the distressed landsharks one charter and Jimmy Buffet live CD at a time.”

“So that creepy ass blonde is his wife?”

She laughed and he was relieved having accidentally pondered aloud. “Platinum blonde? Yea. That’s Angie. They aren’t actually married, but as good as. It works for them.”

“She’s the chef.”

Another nod, “The mako.”

Shifting to the right to prop his arm up on the high side of the couch, Miguel began to rub his chin as he thought all of this through. There was no way to talk himself out of it. He absolutely was working in the restaurant her aunt Cassandra owned. He had seen Cassandra and the blonde together on occasion. It was the same sandwich shop named after her grandfather, the one who wrote the journals. Conrado’s West Tampa Sandwich Shop, just a stone’s throw from Irma’s school. The universe had an interesting sense of humour and now he was trying to figure out how bad the fallout from all this was going to be. 

The first thing on his list was he wanted to avoid having to stop seeing Kandy. But he needed the job and the paycheck especially since Irma was going to be a senior next year. Cassandra was a pretty hands off boss, but finding out he was taking down her niece regularly probably wouldn’t go over so well regardless of the long term plans he might have for them. Heading off to work and then just not calling Kandy or ever seeing her again wasn’t even an option. He couldn’t do that to her, but he also couldn’t let go of what she could be, what they could be. Miguel had to be sure. He wasn’t going to risk his job, Irma’s future, and who knows what else without finding out as much as he could about this girl. She ticked a lot of boxes, but there were still some major things they had yet to tackle. Maybe he could somehow manage the two for a little while and just take the next job he could find. If it meant staying at the same pay rate temporarily, he’d figure out a way to make it work.

Kandy knew he was off thinking about things he probably shouldn’t be thinking about. It was either the past or the future, because it certainly wasn’t the present here with her. What an odd feeling it was for him to not be touching her legs, whether it was a squeeze, a pet, or whatever else he loved doing with them. The biggest indicator he was checking out of the conversation and going somewhere else was when he removed his hands.

“Did she say somethin’ to you that freaked you out?” She knew this had nothing to do with Angie, but used it as a way to pull his focus back around to her.

“Who?” Miguel blinked and looked at her clearly having come back from outer space.

“Angie. You said she was creepy.”

“Oh,” Scratching that same spot again, he sighed and shrugged a few seconds later, “It was the way she was lookin’ at me. Like she wanted to fuck me and eat me.”

“You gotta get to know her. There’s a charm she has. Where’d you go?”

“When?”

She eyed him with those golden brown eyes, “Just now. Were you even on this same plane?”

“I just wanna make sure I’m a whole ass person to you and not some rebellion fuck to piss off your family or satisfy some itch you got, muñeca.” Miguel knew that was likely going to hurt her. But in light of what he just figured out and what she may or may not know, he had to be as certain as he could she was worth the risk, spreadsheet or no spreadsheet.

On some level she was shocked by what he said, but perhaps, part of her knew this was coming. “Miguel, do you normally tell somebody about your whole life the first day you meet them? I don’t. When was the last time you felt this comfortable with somebody? Have you ever?” 

Miguel couldn’t look at her. Seeing him frown, Kandy knew there was more to this. Nevertheless, she went along with it until either he decided to talk about what he really wanted to talk about or she could figure it out herself. 

“Please don’t sit here like none of what we felt or done today with and to each other happened. This is all actually happening. The world is right side up for a change.” Sitting to the side, she nodded at the tattoo on his neck, “Like were you just prayin’ as somethin’ to do and you never considered she would come through for you and the wheel would turn?”

Staring up at the ceiling to avoid her, Miguel kept quiet. That wasn’t gonna fly, not in this situation after he lobbed a grenade in the middle of it all. Raising up, Kandy shifted her weight so she could straddle his lap and fold her legs on the outside of his. She wanted to be better able to see his face, but also he needed to see she was serious.

“All the ones who came before me, no matter how casual you paint them to be, their one dimensional view of you has really got you all the way fucked up. And now you got me fucked up. You’re so burnt out on that shit you don’t realize all the other things I need there to be to feel what I’m feelin’. I know I don’t hide that I want you or my attraction to you like at all and that doesn’t help. But you really think I can’t see you as a whole ass person? Miguel, you’re the one who can’t see you as a whole ass person.”

Picking up his wrists, Kandy gently placed his hands on her lower back before creeping up closer to his torso in his lap to refold her arms behind his neck. Nose to nose, nowhere to go. His dark eyes focused on her face and he saw how much she resembled a doll. The thick curled lashes of her large amber eyes. A cute little nose just above that pillowy soft pout he loved to kiss. All framed by the voluminous mane of curls she often tossed over to one side to keep out of her way. She looked so delicate and fragile, but he was learning she was far from either. Still, he would always treat her as if she were whether she knew the truth about herself or not. 

“It’s not where you’re from, what fuckin’ colours you wore, the letters and numbers hidden under the ink, or what you never got caught doing.”

“No?”

She shook her head, “No.” Reaching up to one side of his face, Kandy gently kissed the other starting at his temple, then his cheekbone causing his eyes to close, “And it’s not just how you sound or how you touch me.“

“What’s left then?” His question stopped her just as she was about to kiss him and caused her to sit back to meet his gaze.

“It’s the way you plan and think and watch, the fuckin’ balls and courage and energy it took for you to shed who you were, uproot your fuckin’ life, and bring your sister somewhere away from all that family bullshit. That you have the capacity to love somebody that much and follow through on it. It must run you into the fuckin’ ground, but you still do it. For her. You saved her, Miguel. Do you honestly not get that?”

His left hand ventured up and took hold of hers, which was still caressing his face. He let their fingers interlace before kissing her hand. The roots of this ran so deep in him he was barely able to listen to her. With a worried sigh, she rested her forehead against his and shut her eyes. 

“It’s your dedication, your loyalty, your protectiveness, your possessiveness, your heart,” Her other palm pressed into the center of his chest again, “tus valores, y tu valentía, mi halcón.” 

“You callin’ me that, tu halcón, and I thought it was ‘cause of this,” He smirked and ran a finger down the tall bridge of his narrow nose featuring a rather prominent bump.

She gave him a little nuzzle with the tip of hers like she had earlier. “What’s it gonna take for you to get that I want every side of you you have to offer?”

“Kandy, Kandy, Kandy.” Whatever it was, he was agonizing over it. 

Again came that warning in his head he was on the verge of losing her. How many times was she going to try and convince him she was taking it as seriously as he was? He couldn’t let her go. So, he was going to do what most people did when it came to problems they didn’t want to deal with. He was going to completely ignore how impossible his decision was going to make his  life.

Miguel resolved in that moment to step up looking for a new job and keep seeing her. Rather than taking her to meet Irma and to the party, he’d tell her he just wanted some quiet time with her alone still. It would keep him from having to lie to her or tell the truth. Maybe Manny would have a spot for him. The commute would be a pain, but it wouldn’t be forever. He didn’t want to think about the massive pay cut he’d wind up taking because her aunt paid him well over the typical rate to do his job. And he didn’t want to think about the time and energy it would take to drive all the way out from Tampa to Clearwater Beach every day if he had to take some pissant job in Manny’s place while trying to land a corporate or hotel gig. All he wanted was a solution resulting in him still getting to see her whenever he wanted.

“I’m all outta words, papi.” Kandy shook her head while taking his other hand away from his face. 

When both sets of their fingers were laced together and their palms locked in place, she leaned down and kissed him. Though the touch of her lips on his was light at first, it gradually shifted as the kiss deepened and continued. Miguel had absolutely no leverage in this considering how his hands were tied up in hers and he was confined to the deep corner of that plush couch. Kandy wasn’t letting up and he wasn’t in much of a position to stop her. Maybe all he needed was a long night with her to get right and clear his mind.

His opening came when she went to unbuckle the belt to his pants. Taking a hold of her body, he lifted her out of his lap and turned to lay her down on the couch. This, unfortunately, was not the smart move. With one of her arms hooked around his neck, she had already managed to work her hand down into the front of his pants and was actively groping him through the front of his boxers. Everybody had a limit to their self control, even Miguel. Snatching her wrist to pull her fingers from around him, he pinned her wrist to the couch above her head. Moving further along, he pushed those legs of hers up higher over his hips causing the folded limbs to spread wider for him. 

Kandy’s hand slid down his neck to his chest and stomach before falling to the front of her denim shorts to unbutton and unzip them. Just imagining how deep inside he would be if it weren’t for the layers of fabric separating them made her moan in anticipation. Even when she was burning with lust for him, he could still see the adoration underneath all of it and it shook him. Interrupting the unzipping of her shorts, Miguel was pulling her shirt up her torso and arms. She happily sat up to have it removed leaving the blue and white gingham push up bra, which kept contained her full, but modest sized bust that fit her small frame perfectly. 

Miguel was busy kissing up her throat and working to push down her shorts when she whispered teasingly, “You gonna wear me out before work and then come home and do it all over again, papi?” 

He sighed and stopped, hiding his face in the top of her chest causing her to laugh and run her fingers through his hair. There came a very muffled version of his voice, “Tengo algo que decirte.”

“Yea, you gotta tell me somethin’? I swear to God if you tell me you have herpes, I’m gonna be so fu–”

Retreating back to sit on the side of the couch, he looked at her sharply. It was serious prompting her to sit up on her folded arms while lounging on the couch in front of him. With his elbows on his knees, Miguel rubbed his hands together back and forth as he worked to try and figure out the easiest and most painless way of broaching this subject. He couldn’t lie to her. He couldn’t keep it from her. Kandy watched him as he sat there not unlike a rather conflicted yet incredibly handsome gargoyle. The imagery made her smile a bit and she reached out to gently pet his shin with her toes.

“This is from earlier. What is it?”

Just as she was on the edge of truly beginning to worry, Miguel started talking. “I work for Cassandra. It’s her place I’m at in West Tampa.”

“My grandfather’s.” Squinting a bit, Kandy sat up further and stared at him for a moment. “You make the mole.”

A simple nod, “I make the mole.”

“I love your food.” She said it in such a tender way he couldn’t help but smile.

“That’s really it for you, the food?”

“Your food. Were you honestly worried I was gonna freak out about this? You gotta be lookin’ at this like it’s a sign. Some fucking way were gonna meet. Whether it was random in traffic on some fuckin’ bridge or me finally goin’ to pick up dinner to take home. All the times Sandra said she was there havin’ lunch and to swing by, but I gave her some stupid excuse.” Watching him, her head tilted when she noticed he was still tense, “You’re not doubting the meeting part, right? What else is it, papi?”

“I can’t lose my job, Kandy.” He sighed heavily as if a weight was lifted from finally saying it out loud. He stared at his hands and the tattoos on them, the ones visible and the ones buried.. “Cassandra pays me really fuckin’ good. More than most ever would.”

“Because you deserve the money.” Bringing her legs up to her chest, she folded her arms atop them. Resting her jaw down on her knees, she started to think about how much this was sounding like goodbye. “Why would you lose your job?”

“Come on, I’m gonna be fuckin’ my boss’s –” He caught himself and looked up at her to see her smiling with an arched brow.

“You told me a half hour ago you basically wanted me at every Sunday dinner and feast day. That’s a lot more than just fucking me, Miguel. So which is it?”

“Kandy, I know who Cassandra is. My punk ass from Cali may only been here a couple years, but even I know what goes with her last name. They probably got your whole life mapped out.”

“It may be her name, but it’s not mine.”

“Kandy –”

He hadn’t understood the politics in play when it came to her parentage. Her mother didn’t recognize her, her maternal grandmother didn’t recognize her. The ranking member of the family who she considered to be an uncle didn’t recognize her. Sandra likely had something set aside for Kandy because she always made an effort to look out for the girl. But ultimately she had neither any entitlement nor any obligation to the Boledi family legacy. She was freer than most.

Standing up from the couch, Kandy zipped up her shorts and reached for her bag. Smirking, Miguel closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead figuring this time he had actually blown it. A few seconds later, he felt a tapping on his knee. She was standing there next to him with her phone in her hand and pointing down to the couch cushion.

“Muévete un poco. You look like you’re gonna turn to stone for a place on Notre Dame.”

He smirked and did as she instructed, settling into the same corner he had been in earlier. With his arms on the back and side of the couch, Miguel watched as she sat back down in his lap facing him.

“You trust me?”

Silence.

“You went into this big fuckin’ thing about me being the one that needs to decide about jumpin’ off a fuckin’ cliff with you. This is the cliff, Miguel. I’m here. You’re the one hesitating. Do you trust me or not?”

This was one of those situations where he knew he had to make his decision based on his gut as there was no way there’d be enough time to sort through all the facts to where he would be comfortable. She wasn’t going to give him that time anyway. A second or so later, he gave in and nodded.

“Vale.” He perked a brow and she sighed before making the correction, “Está bien.”

Eyeing him with faux disapproval, Kandy switched on the phone’s screen and clicked on the call app. The line rang on speaker and she immediately put her hand to his chest keeping him in place. He was looking a little froggy and she simply wanted to make sure he was going to stay right where he was.

“Pronto?” Cassandra clicked onto the line in the familiar abrupt tone.

Kandy winked at Miguel who was anything but amused and rubbing one side of his forehead nearly to the bone. “Ciao, carissima zia. Come va?” There came that super charming and sweet voice. It obviously was the one she liked to use when wanting to get her way.

The shuffling of papers could be heard along with the occasional pop and clank of a three ring binder. Somebody was prepping for trial. It wasn’t surprising the attorney was in her office working on a Sunday afternoon, but she did seem to be in a rather pleasant mood. “Non mi posso lamentare. Come stai, bambolina?”

Miguel saw the subtle shift in Kandy’s mood at the greeting. But with a pass of her hand through her hair, it was gone. “Benissimo, I’ve been hangin’ around with this boy lately.”

The attorney chuckled lightly through the phone, “The one from the hotel?”

Kandy shook her head and sighed while silently cursing the heavens above. “No, no. I met someone new.” She could feel Miguel’s body become tense beneath her.

“What happened to the kid from the hotel?”

“White boy had bolts on his neck.”

“Frankenstein?”

“No. The SS kind.”

Up went Miguel’s brows right about the time Sandra responded in her very proper Hertfordshire accent, “Oh.”

“Yea.”

“Who’s the new guy then? Hopefully not another one of those street racing tossers who’s going to ask me for the family discount for traffic court. I thought when you had me put your car in storage, we were past all that. When are you going to grow out of that phase?”

Miguel was starting to get a kick out of the conversation. He now sat there with a smug smile folding his hands on his stomach waiting to hear some witty retort from her. Switching the phone to the other hand allowed her to press her palm into the front of his pants and let her fingers conform to the shape of his length. Running her tongue lewdly over her upper lip, she gave him a squeeze and he glared at her after uncomfortably shifting his hips.

“Kandy?”

“He’s not really a boy.”

“The new one?”

“Sì, è un uomo.” Staring Miguel right in his eye, Kandy ran her hand up under his shirt to his chest, similar to how he often felt her curves, “È così bello, e romantico, e intelligente, e maturo, e sicuro di sé.” 

Miguel didn’t know any Italian at all, but it wasn’t too difficult for him to piece together what she was saying about him. The urge to touch her was far too strong and he relented by caressing the tops of her thighs idly. Naturally, that eventually grew into his hands wandering up to her hips and then around to her rear. He groped her body possessively and watched as her eyes drifted shut and her head tilted back.

“Come on then, give us the goods. Who is he? What’s he do?” It was rather lovely to hear Cassandra excited about something not work related.

“We met at the beach. He works for you I think. I didn’t wanna say nothin’ to him cause I wasn’t sure. I didn’t wanna freak him out.” In retaliation to his groping, Kandy shifted her weight down into the front of his pelvis knowing full well the material of his dress pants wasn’t going to be much of a buffer for the harsh denim she had on.

“He works at the firm? What’s his name?”

“His name is Miguel,” On queue, that skeletal hand squeezed and fondled her breast under her bra again forcing her to hold the phone high above her head to keep the mic from picking up the involuntary groan he caused.

“Who?”

“Miguel. Pretty sure he works at Conrado’s.” Though she had stopped grinding against him, his thumb continued to tease back and forth forcing her to focus on her breathing.

“You met Miguel at the beach?”

Realizing it seemed a rather bit out of character for himself, he began gesturing in front of his neck for her not to say anything about the interview. Kandy smiled. “He was there with his sister.” 

“Oh, that makes sense.” A pause. “You like Miguel?”

Gripping her bottom lip with her teeth, Kandy went to try and finish unzipping his pants, but he grabbed her hand and held it away from his body. At least it got his hand out of her bra. “Yea, why?”

“He’s just so serious.” The couple on the couch smirked in unison before kissing each other. “He’s a solid bloke, but he’s really, really –”

“Serious?” Miguel buried his laugh in the curve of her neck and Kandy grinned as she went on talking into the phone. “But like he said he was gonna call me and ask me out, I dunno if he’s gonna do it, but –”

“More than serious. Focused. If Miguel says he is going to do something, he is a man who will do it. If he hasn’t yet, then there’s a reason for the delay.”

“Maybe I scared him off.” Kandy grinned cheekily at him and he shook his head.

“He doesn’t seem the kind to scare easily, Kandy.” 

“Are you gonna have a problem with him and me, you know, spendin’ time?”

Cassandra sighed through the phone’s speaker, “Kandy, Miguel makes the shop run, right? What the two of you get up to when he’s off the clock, isn’t any of my concern. But don’t play round with this one, okay? It’d be too much of a bloody headache to try and replace him because you’ve wound him up like a toy. I don’t fancy cleaning up another mess. We’re going into the holidays and I just want everything to go as it should.”

Feeling Miguel’s hand retreat down her side, Kandy looked at him and saw the trace of disappointment in his eyes. He seemed to have expected more from Sandra than just being referred to as an employee, “What if it winds up bein’ more than that?”

“Like a proper relationship?”

“Yea, like if I wanted him to come with me to family stuff and be around-around.”

“So, this is serious for you.”

Gently, Kandy caressed the side of Miguel’s face, “Yea, I guess that’s a side effect of bein’ with him.”

“And he has no clue we’re family?”

“None.” Another wink and toss of her hair to the opposite side before kissing on his neck forcing his jaw up. His hand immediately slipped into her hair holding her there in the spot that made his eyes close.

“You need to tell him, Kandy. Let him make the decision on whether he feels comfortable to take you out. Is he as keen on you?”

Slipping out of the hold, she sat back up and watched him. Damn was he good looking. “He’s askin’ me to come meet his people, real wifey stuff.” 

“You guys have been at this for that long, eh?”

“Long enough.”

“Then you know he’s very intense. He’s patient, but not for the horseshit. He isn’t gonna stick round for the usual games, Kandy.”

Miguel lounged there under Kandy massaging her curvy hips while she did her best to maneuver past Sandra’s heavy handed paternalistic approach. It was frustrating the twenty-one year old to be spoken to as if she were a rebellious teenager. In fact, the unexpected chiding had nearly robbed Kandy of all the excitement she had about sharing some good news with her aunt. Becoming aware of Miguel’s watchful gaze, she offered a weak, almost apologetic smile.

“I know, I know.” The brunette sighed and rubbed the space between her collar bones, “I know all that. But all I’m askin’ about really is if you don’t have a problem if we –”

“Miguel doesn’t play about. He isn’t going to sell you something he can’t deliver on. He’s quite careful that way. So no, I don’t have a problem. If anybody at the table has a problem with it, they’ll get sorted. When you both are ready, ring me and I’ll be quite pleased to set a place for him.”

Wrapping her arms around his neck, Kandy kissed Miguel, forgetting about the phone entirely. Those strong toned arms of his snaked around her torso with one hand drifting up into her hair keeping her as close as possible during the kiss.

“Kandy?”

The brunette rolled her eyes and reluctantly turned her attention back to the phone, “Yea? I’m here.”

“Miguel thinks long term, Kandy. If you’re going to give it a real go with him, you need to start thinking about things in that context. Whatever he asks, he will want answers. Full and complete answers.”

“Capisco.” 

This was one of the things Kandy really needed to consider. She had absolutely no plan. No plan for going back to work, to continue her education, where she wanted to live. Her focus had been squarely on getting through the day for so long that planning out meals for the week seemed like a gargantuan task. Being in a relationship with a man as motivated as Miguel meant she would have to start figuring things out and this included all the things that she had shoved to the side. Was the little brunette with purple lips sitting on a multimillion dollar inheritance? Yes. But she hadn’t spent a dollar of it beyond buying food, weed, and keeping the Jeep filled with petrol. It had been so long since she had written or performed anything anywhere. The piano Kandy left behind in the main house had sat unplayed since Zo’s passing and singing in her car while high as fuck didn’t count. She had no earthly idea what she was going to do with herself.

“Ring me later?”

“Yea.” Still cloaked in Miguel’s embrace, she rested her head down on his chest and sighed when she felt the weight of his hand on the back of it.

“And Kandy?”

“Hm?”

“Zo would be proud. About you making it out to the beach, and about finding Miguel.” Then there were the times when Sandra stopped being a warden and said something rather loving.

The girl smirked and looked up at the ceiling. “Ciao ciao.” She knew Sandra was trying to do her best.

“Ciao.”

Ending the call, Kandy left the phone on the coffee table just in front of the couch and sat back looking down at him. “A seat at that table really fuckin’ means somethin’. Sandy can seem all business, but give her the benefit of the doubt.”

Miguel nodded but there was something on his mind and she tilted her head, waiting for him to ask. His hands washed up her waist and around her back. “She called you somethin’ earlier you didn’t like, bamb–”

“En Italiano, se le dice bambolina a la muñeca.” 

He could see regardless of what language the word for doll was translated into, it bothered her just as badly, “Is that what they call you in the family?”

Combing her curls down behind her ears, Kandy eventually smirked and sighed before staring up at the air vent above them to avoid looking him in the eye, “Please don’t call me that. Like ever. Not even jokin’ around. I’m not a toy to play with or to collect.”

Granted her tone was soft, but Miguel knew she meant business. Spending a few moments thinking about their planned shopping trip, he gave her an affectionate squeeze. “You wear what you want on Friday, querida. We don’t gotta go get you a dress.”

“En serio, I’m kinda curious. I’m not sure when you decided what it is you’re gonna put me in, but I know you have it exactly in your head how you want me, de la cabeza a los pies.”

“I do.” He nodded, “And you wanna know how I see you.”

“Como es justo. I told you exactly how you are to me, mi halcón. You’re so visual though. You think in images and I dream in words. You gonna show me?”

After a minute of considering her request, his hands returned to their gentle massage of her hips. “Sí. De acuerdo.”

“Yea?”

He smirked and then smiled seeing how excited she got over the chance to catch a glimpse of herself through his eyes. “Yea.”

Pointing at him with joking suspicion, “But you can’t change it. Not from what you had an hour ago to what you think I like.”

“I won’t.”

While he had been playing this little game with himself in trying to guess what she did for a living, his focus shifted back to another thing he had been wondering about for quite some time, “What’s your real name?”

Her palms came up to her face and she sighed before peeking over the tops of her fingers at him, “Your grandmother is going to think I’m cursed.”

He smirked, “Maybe she can fix that for you.”

“She probably could,” Kandy bit her bottom lip and then shrugged.

Who is this girl? Squinting at her, his arms folded over his chest, not from being defensive, but from puzzlement. He always asked for something different and interesting. Here it was. Thinking back over their time together so far, there had been several times the way she phrased certain things or framed an idea caught his attention. The more he went back over their conversations, the more stuck out to him. Then finally he gave her a cautious nod. 

“I can’t imagine loving you as long as she has and choosing to stay in California. So she must got a lotta people she takes care of in the neighbourhood. That’s the only reason I could think of for her to not come with you.” Kandy lightly tapped on the side of her own neck to indicate the bony Saint of Death in all her elaborate rose crowned glory. “And, I don’t think you found her on Google while you were laid up in some hospital bed. I think the two of you were introduced.” 

“You know her.” He gestured to the veiled woman once more on his neck.

“La conozco.”

He smirked again and moved his hand to the other portrait on the other side, “My pop’s mom, not Google. She’s the only part of California I miss.” 

“Religion quicker than anything can turn two people against each other regardless of how much love is there. Are we good?”

“Long as I don’t find my photo in your freezer, mi brujita.”

“Don’t give me a reason to put you in there.”

Miguel nodded in agreement and rather openly looked over her body cataloguing all the places he wanted his mouth to roam to later. That skeletal pointer finger hooked up under the center of her bra between the cups, “You never felt like a Kandy.”

But I taste ju– Her mouth opened for her to speak the thought, the hook from a Foxy Brown track sung by Kelis, but instead his little witch extended her right hand to him while brushing a few shorter layers of her curls to stack on the opposite side. “Kandajha Estella Ferro.” 

Sitting up to meet her half way, he accepted her hand, “Miguel Mateo Vela.”

“Miguel Mateo Vela who quotes Octavio Paz to the woman he wants to bed.” Kandy smiled and he very nearly blushed, which made her loop her other arm around behind his neck to bring him in for a slow kiss. It ended rather abruptly, however, when he pulled his head back to look at her.

Blinking, Kandy sat up, “What is it?”

“How’s a colonizer like you know who Octavio Paz is?”

“Miguel!”

His hand came up as he was laughing at her reaction to wave her off. Though he had enjoyed their jokes throughout the afternoon, he seemed to totally let the humour get to him now. “My bad, my bad.”

Yes, his dark broody sex appeal definitely had an effect on her, but it was when he was happy and in the present with her he was the most handsome. His body might leave him feeling old, but when Miguel was out of his head and in his feelings with her it was like before the accident. There was a levity that materialized underneath him and instead of feeling like he was sinking, it felt more like floating. Floating on the surface with her in the sun-warmed tide rather than drifting listlessly in the cold solitary depths of his thoughts. 

He caught her watching him and he smiled up at her. “Mi estrella.” One hand came to rest against the side of her face. “What happened with your name?”

Kandy grimaced slightly. “They got my name wrong.”

He smirked and twisted his hand up into her hair, “What?”

“At the hospital and on the birth certificate. My name was supposed to be Khadijah. Instead they put Kandajha. K-A-N–”

“Kandy with a K?” His angular brows lifted in dramatic surprise. “If I knew you spelled it with a K I woulda expected a blow job after that dance earlier. You sure you never slid down a pole before, mami?”

The brunette sat there in his lap fake glaring at him with narrowed eyes and an upturned nose. “Miggy sounds like the name of a guy with a three inch dick who blows his load after two minutes in VIP.”

“Three across, maybe.” He laughed the moment he saw her eyes drop to his thigh. “Yea that got your attention.”

“You always have my attention.”

“And don’t worry about time, querida. I got plenty of it for you.”

“K-A-N-D–”

“A-J-H-A.”

“Must be that J-H-A that fucks the white people up.”

“My last name ends in a vowel so –” She shrugged while noticing every so often his hand was inching its way higher in her long tresses.

“Kandajha.”

Her eyes closed as she sat there in his lap and he lounged back in the corner of the couch, “Repítalo, por favor.” Her hand ran from his stomach up to his chest as her folded legs squeezed his sides. If only she had been in a skirt, she’d have her hands up on the back of the couch for balance as she —

“Mm, that East L.A. you hear in me makin’ your panties wet again? Sé que te pone cachonda, Kandajha.”

She’d be lying if she denied the musicality of his accent didn’t turn her on her. Most of the people she heard day in and day out droned on and on like the teacher from Peanuts or wound up relegated to the back of her thoughts as worthless white noise. It didn’t matter if he was speaking English or Spanish, the effect was the same. And on those occasions when he leaned in and adopted that taunting little shift in his cadence, like just now, the ache between her thighs was instantaneous. 

When Kandy went to hide her blushing face from him, he laughed and brought her forehead to his lips for a quick kiss before she backed off of him. 

“You gotta go soon. Let’s get outta here before we get in trouble.”

Episodes

Kandy and Miguel: Intro
Kandy and Miguel #1: The Bridge
Kandy and Miguel #2: The Restaurant, Part One.
Kandy and Miguel #3: The Restaurant, Part Two.

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