Kandy and Miguel #5: The Park, Part One.

“Free hour is up! Give me money or get the fuck out!” Outside the restaurant’s upstairs office, Manny sighed and pounded his fist on the locked door to get Kandy and Miguel’s attention.

Without warning, the door swung open and Kandy slipped past Miguel’s cousin giggling as she galloped down the stairs. Turning slightly to watch her go, he noticed all those curls were no longer tied up in a ponytail but free, full, and flowing. A few seconds after, Miguel stepped up to the threshold of the door in his tank top and dress pants. The crisply ironed shirt and suit-matching tie from earlier were nowhere to be seen. 

The five-foot-seven and rather stocky-looking half of the pair stared at his younger cousin while Miguel took the liberty of nicking a cigarette from the pack in Manny’s front shirt pocket poking out above his apron. 

“You tall ass, lean ass, suave ass motherfucker.” Passing the half-torn matchbook to him, Manny watched as he lit up the cigarette.

Gesturing with the Marlboro, Miguel exhaled the smoke to the side. “Don’t tell Irma?”

“Oh, there’s a fuckin’ lot I won’t be tellin’ Irma. Do you know whose daughter that girl is?” He gestured down the stairs after Kandy.

A nod, “I figured it out. Niece. She’s Cassandra’s niece, not her daughter.”

“Like that makes a difference. Did you guys fuck?” Awkwardly, the man tried to peek around his taller cousin to see if there were any indications in the office for any unauthorized sexual activity, whatever those might have been.

Miguel glared at his cousin while taking another drag off the cigarette.

“My bad, did you make tender love to your soulmate on my pleather couch?”

“No.”

Manny grimaced, “On the desk?”

An annoyed sigh, “The first time I’m with her ain’t gonna be in some dingy ass office on a couch you –”

Manny raised a meaty hand pointing at Miguel. “Don’t shit talk my couch. That couch is comfortable as fuck. You used to sleep on it when your amateur vagabond ass first got out here.”

Another narrowing of his dark gaze, the Scorpio was drifting into that pensive silence he was known for while working through the last part of that cigarette.

Manny laughed, “You got that look.”

“What look?”

“That look.”

Shrugging with exasperation, Miguel’s hands lifted. “What fuckin’ look?”

“The look that you be plottin’ shit. That you got designs on this girl. Like you a movie and a blowjob away from pickin’ out baby names.” Manny knew enough of where Kandy’s head was at and now he was curious about Miguel’s.

“I like her.” A small shrug and he stamped out the cigarette on the tile.

Manny shook his mostly bald head and laughed at him again, “Migs, that’s a whole lotta fuckin’ like. Be real about it bro, is she worth it with all you tryin’ to do out here?”

“That restaurant owner you linked me up with is a fuckin’ asshole.” Miguel opted to borrow from Kandy’s bag of tricks to temporarily divert the conversation elsewhere.

“Yea, but he pays real good, which is what you need, right?”

A half-hearted shrug. “Sandra said we good. Might not need to make a move after all.”

Manny blinked at that and was silent for a moment before folding his thick arms over his chest, “It don’t matter if she did or not. Wifey seems cool, but you know who the rest of them are. Gettin’ in bed with her means gettin’ in bed with all of them. Is that some shit you really wanna get tangled up in? Introduce Irma to?”

The mention of Irma’s name caused Miguel’s eyes to narrow again and Manny held his hands up. His cousin had clearly made up his mind and wasn’t open to hearing anything that might try to dissuade him from seeing Kandy. 

That skeletal hand slowly washed down the front of Miguel’s own neck as he stood there leaning against the doorframe. Miguel wasn’t truly ignoring Manny’s points. They had been rattling around inside his own thoughts since the girl had inadvertently talked about the food from the restaurant he happened to work at which also happened to be owned by her aunt.

“I dunno, primo. It just feels…” Miguel sighed while rubbing his chin. “I got work tonight before I see her again later. Maybe I’ll have it figured out by then. We gonna go chill by the pier for a little bit. Talk some more.”

“Miggy — come on!” Kandy’s playful voice echoed up the staircase out of seemingly nowhere as she peeked around the corner up at them.

Manny watched as the corner of Miguel’s mouth twitched up into a flash of a smile just at the sight of her. And it wasn’t one of those smug or snarky smirks of Miguel’s. Looking down the way at Kandy now, Manny saw the difference in her compared to the shy and quiet demeanor she had when they first spoke downstairs in the kitchen. They both were like different people, like two chemical compounds that suddenly turned active from just the slightest interaction with each other. 

He nodded to her, “Be there in a second, querida.”

Kandy’s smile blossomed even more. When she noticed Manny grinning, she blushed a bit and lifted her fingers from the wall to give him a small wave. This time, the return of her bashfulness didn’t upset or confuse Miguel. Instead, he sighed and folded his arms over his stomach while leaning against the wall. 

Once the girl had disappeared back out front, Miguel turned to his cousin, “Can you take Irma to school tomorrow?”

“I’m not tellin’ Irma about your little sleepover, bro. You can do that yourself.”

“I’ll take care of that.” He sighed. “If I call you, can you maybe pick her up too?”

A barely-there brow arched. “You ever plannin’ on comin’ back?”

Miguel looked at Manny sideways, “Of course. Just for tomorrow that’s all. I’m not even askin’ for a full day. I just need to take a break, spend some time with somebody who’s –”

“I get it, man. But you lucky we closed Mondays.”

“How you still makin’ that drive out here?”

Manny shrugged. “I get to stare at tits and ass all day comin’ in off the beach.”

“Always a spot for you at Conrado’s.”

“And have you breathin’ down my fuckin’ neck all day like the miserable asshole you are in the kitchen? No thanks. I’m good spendin’ forty minutes each way.”

A smirk and nod. “I’ll call you later.”

“One for the road?” Manny offered him another cigarette and he happily accepted it.

“Thanks.”

The two clasped hands and embraced before Miguel started down the stairs. Once he reached the bottom, Manny called down to him.

“Hey, don’t forget the condoms.”

Miguel shook his head as he walked through the door and back out into the restaurant’s main room. The late afternoon pickup orders were starting to trickle in, but there were already enough people that he had to strain to look up over the line to try and find Kandy. Considering how loud the ambient chatter was, he figured she probably had escaped outside.

The morning visitors to the beach now heading home were the cause of most of the congestion on the streets surrounding the roundabout and pier car park. Despite the light at the end of their block cycling through greens, none of the cars moved out front of the restaurant. A black Infiniti Q50 sedan with its windows down was bumping Nights by Snow Tha Product providing the score to the scene at least for the next four minutes. The buzzcut-having, polo-shirt-with-the-upturned-collar-wearing driver wasn’t paying much attention to the traffic jam inches from his bumper. Instead, he was watching Kandy up on the sidewalk as she waited for Miguel to walk out. Reaching forward to the stereo in the dash, he turned up the volume for her on the synth-heavy track. Much to his chagrin, no attention was paid to him.

“Where everything starts with your kiss…”

It was hot as hell and the sun wasn’t letting up, but it was nice to feel the contrast to the dry cold air conditioning in the office. With her hair already back up in a ponytail, Kandy had tied a knot in the back of her A Tribe Called Quest t-shirt and rolled up the hem just a little showing a couple of inches of her tummy above the waist of her very short denim shorts. Miguel saw that the purple lipstick had been reapplied and the matching heart-shaped sunglasses had found their place back over her amber eyes. 

“When the light is so bright, you get a little bit — a little bit blinded. When you’re lifted so high, your fallin’ feels like flyin’.”

With her arms bent at the elbows, she rolled those wrists and snapped her fingers in time to the song as a girly little left-right-left move of her hips kept her body in motion. Miguel walked up just as she began to harmonize with the bridge sampled from another track by W. Darling.

“When you’re lost in those eyes, feels like you might be gone forever. So one last kiss –”

Her arms immediately went up over his shoulders for a sexy little sway in front of him as she continued on with the last half of the bridge. Settling in with her, he carefully removed her sunglasses to get an unobstructed view of her. Meeting his dark gaze, Kandy stood there with him for a few moments and then reached up to kiss him as suggested by the song’s lyrics. He was tense and she felt it while tucking the eyewear into a side pocket of her bag. Those hips wrapped in the form-fitting denim didn’t stop their rotation and back and forth shift to the track as it wound down into the outro.

“Baby, I could change your life. That’s if you let me, yea.”

Kandy kept looking at Miguel while her head subtly tilted back toward the car behind her on the street. “Guy starin’ at my ass?”

Miguel wasn’t amused as he glared over her shoulder at the kid eyeing Kandy up while grumbling out a response. “Mm.”

“Why don’t you show him who this ass belongs to, Papi.

Those deep brown eyes of his came back to Kandy while his palms moved down her body to take two healthy handfuls of her curves. Beyond a lustful or possessive grope, he squeezed her rear in a rather territorial fashion. She didn’t stop movin’ to that beat while keeping all her focus on Miguel. The scorpion and rosary tattooed hand gave her another lewd grip as that skeletal hand flipped off the dude in the Infiniti behind Kandy’s back. Up went those windows muffling the music and hiding the driver’s disappointment.

One of her elegant pointer fingers trailed against his jaw as he stood there in front of her. “Lo extrañé.” And she very much had missed him, more than for the short time he had stayed behind in the restaurant speaking to his cousin.

Taking her hand in his, Miguel kissed her knuckles gently. Soft and slow came the next kiss to his lips. The follow-up was deeper but shorter-lived. The final was a simple peck before looking up at him with a smile and a rub of her palm over his chest. Looking in her eyes, he saw in them what he wasn’t always sure would be there. But, her heart-lightening glow of happiness blossomed and he knew it was because of him rather than in spite of him. 

Nuzzling her ear, he brought her around to his side. “Let’s get you your dress, mi corazón.”

Taking her place at his side, Kandy rested her head on his shoulder as they walked. Idly rubbing up his back to between his shoulder blades, Kandy felt Miguel tense up before quickly making himself relax under her touch. 

“Does it hurt?”

He shook his head, “Just feels weird, you know, havin’ someone touchin’ there.”

“I’ve got your shirt in my bag if you want it.” 

“Nah. I need to get used to it.”

“You do.” That arm went all the way up his spine for her nails to creep into his hair hanging down against the back of his neck.

Kandy gave his shoulder another cuddle and he wrapped her up as they let a pack of pedestrians move past them. While she stayed in the moment enjoying the warmth of both the Florida sun and his arms around her, Miguel’s thoughts were beginning to drift back to California again. 

There had been a few times after the accident he messed around with other girls, but never somebody from the neighborhood. Even though that part of his relationship with Marisol had ended while he was recovering from his injuries, he still didn’t want to risk hurting her feelings on the occasions she allowed herself to feel them without the numbing effects of opioids. After a few upsetting and awkward hookups, he learned how to get what he needed while keeping hidden from sight the permanent damage left behind after flying into a chain-link fence at over 60mph with a bike. 

It wasn’t foolproof though. Sometimes, he’d get caught up in whoever he was on top of and his shirt would get pulled off or hands would roam unchecked to places he didn’t want. There was always a flinch from them that he either saw or felt. Especially if they ran their intrusive fingers up his back which had the most noticeable stretch of the ribboned scarring. The reception was always negative. It either was undisguised repulsion or an unrepentant hypersexual response brought on by seeing what they viewed as another trait of their bad boy fetish he seemed to embody. 

“It don’t…” He gestured over his shoulder at the scarring before leaving the unfinished question hang between them.

Kandy shook her head. But, she knew he was going to need an answer and not one of those bullshit dismissive lines about how all she saw was him underneath. Moving along the sidewalk in front of the marina, she took both of his hands in hers, having to slip in front of him to pass by the lines to some of the boat charters. Hitting the button to control the light that let them cross the busy and arguably rather dangerous lanes leading to and from the roundabout, Kandy moved his hands further across her tummy to her sides pulling Miguel in closer than close. Instinctively, he kissed the curve of her neck that he loved so much. Leaving his hands behind, her left raised to rub just over his shoulder line while her right went into his hair at the back of his head to bring him in for a quick kiss. 

“Anything that’s a part of you, from the way you stand to even your silence despite it bein’ frustrating as fuck sometimes…” 

Miguel smirked as she managed to get the sentiment across without using a particular word. Regardless of how affectionate she was with him, her aversion to using that very specific word was serious and real. A smile tugged at Kandy’s lips though as she felt his palms sliding higher under her shirt. The light turned red halting the impatient traffic in both directions allowing them and a group of others to cross safely back to the beachside. So much for finding out how high those fingers were going to try and sneak to. 

With room again to walk side by side, Miguel reached down for her hand and she returned to holding it on the side opposite of flowing traffic. “How often you do that hook-up thing?”

Kandy shrugged after giving his question some consideration, “A couple times a year maybe.”

“Your family never asks you about a boyfriend?” 

“I have a friend that used to tag along to family stuff.” 

“You guys ever –” 

“Only friends. It came to an end when he fell in love with a chick. Kinda blew our cover when I started invitin’ the two of them to family shit.” 

“Cassandra probably thought she was finally gonna marry your ass off.” 

She pushed him lightly and bit her tongue at him. “She gave me some flak for it for a little while. Her solution to everything is to find somebody and get married. Like a man will suddenly make life perfect.” Kandy could feel him laughing at her and the irony of their situation. “Hey, we equally make both of our lives better, right?”

As they sliced through the groups of beachgoers, he leaned in close and whispered to her, “Equally, huh? We still equal when I got you on your knees drippin’ down your thighs and your mouth full?”

There was no blushing or shyness to speak of when she looked at him. In fact, Kandy reached up and turned his face to her to look him dead in the eye as if waiting for some sort of sign or indication of something from him. He squinted with curiosity and she finally gave him a coy smile.

“It’s so cute to me — you thinkin’ you’d still be able to stand.”

Miguel laughed, “That so, querida?”

Her brows lifted and she was as serious as a heart attack. “There’s nothin’ subservient about the way I suck dick, Papi. That you somehow think you’re still gonna have it together enough to give me commands —.”

“We’ll see how unbalanced that shit is when I’m eatin’ you out.”

Releasing her hand, his fingers snuck up beneath her ponytail and began massaging the back of her neck. He could feel her tilt her head and lean into his touch. After a few seconds, the arm with the skeletal artwork hooked gently around her shoulders and brought her over for him to kiss the side of her forehead. When the pair was forced to come to a stop, Kandy wrapped an arm low behind his back before sneaking a cuddle to the side of his neck. 

“But I think you secretly like that shit.”

Straightening up to look at him, she wasn’t sure what he meant. “That I can suck your tip to make you cum until you pass out?”

“Kandy…” He chuckled and ran his hand over his mouth and jaw, right down to his neck having noticed a retired couple in front of them suddenly stop talking when they heard her.

A gentle nudge and she dropped her voice to slightly above a whisper, “What do I secretly like?”

“A knight on a horse.”

“Is that what you are? My knight?” She nodded off toward the big-bodied, cocaine white Mercedes S Class sedan he had parked near the entrance of the beach. “You got a really nice white horse.”

“You know shit is gonna change. Probably pretty fuckin’ quick.”

The brunette sighed somewhat uneasily. “I figured.”

“Are you afraid, querida, of what I’m offerin’?”

“I’m past the doubting part. Like I know when you say you’re gonna do somethin’, it’s only ‘cause you know how to pull it off and that you can.” This was one of those moments when Kandy wished they were sitting somewhere that would have allowed her to curl up against him and hide her face in his neck. “It’s not fear. I just kinda feel sad for some reason.”

“That’s ‘cause it’s all finally startin’ to hit in here.” He tapped his chest. “All that bullshit you went through, the empty words and promises. Now you got somethin’ real, somethin’ legit. That contrast makes you see more of how fake all the rest was.”

There was also the matter of her worrying over whether he was going to die. Her fingers wandered down to the front pocket of her denim shorts before she remembered she had already smoked what had been stashed in there for emergencies. Not like she could light up on the beach in front of God and everybody. Those bicycle cops were fast as fuck despite their rather impressive love handles. 

“I know I spent a lotta my life hatin’ on love and shit, but I also know the kind of photos I take. My friend and his girl, in a lotta ways they rescued each other. And I think I kept inviting them out to things because it was nice seein’ them in love. They’re pretty good together, like an old couple, but without the annoying bickering. And they kinda look alike, which is oddly cute despite how creepy that shit might sound.”

Miguel nodded, “The redheads.” 

She stopped walking and looked at him. Feeling the tug on his hand, Miguel looked back at her curious before realizing he had slipped and was caught. 

“You looked at the photos on my camera.” 

Unable to tell if she was mad or just surprised Miguel sighed and walked back up to her. “I was tryin’ to see if there was some way to find you if I lost you in traffic.” Not exactly a lie, but he did leave out how his curiosity had gotten the better of him.

He was unable to read her because Kandy hadn’t yet decided herself how she felt about him seeing them. She knew every single image she kept on that memory card. There was a very personal reason why despite having duplicates in the cloud and on her laptop certain ones didn’t get deleted off the card in the camera that she took with her almost everywhere. Those memories were very nearly always with her. It was a little odd knowing somebody had essentially browsed through a flipbook of images capturing people, places, and scenes that had such significance for her.

“How far did you get?”

“To the cookout at the river.”

A simple nod. “Not very far then.”

Perdóname, mi corazón.” Miguel kissed her forehead gently.

As he went to step back, she moved forward and wrapped his torso up tight giving a kiss to the side of his neck before retreating. “It was just some of the things that are important to me. Nothin’ serious, cariño.” Maybe there were details he saw in those images that communicated to him better the things about herself that she was now so reluctant to disclose.

Kandy wouldn’t get too far though as Miguel took her hand and gently turned her back into his embrace. On they walked, both equally relieved. For all the work she had done to portray herself as someone who avoided or didn’t even really need connections with others, Kandy sure liked to photograph both romantic scenes and family get-togethers. Miguel didn’t doubt how isolated she could make herself. That was definitely a real part of her life. But the way she clung to him out of concern, wrapped him up with a warm comfort only she could provide, lured him in with those amber eyes, kept him on his toes with a touch of her own chaos, got him laughing after a few rounds of banter — all of it read the opposite of wanting to stay distant. He believed her when she said she wasn’t second-guessing his desire to push things forward anymore. 

As someone who felt like she constantly had to be moving, doing, or saying something, Kandy had surprisingly adapted well to Miguel’s episodes of pensive silence. Through his very nature, he had reintroduced her to a stillness that she had developed a fear of, but now was starting to feel much more familiar and comforting even. And somewhere along the way, the obsessive need to think two, three, and four steps ahead in the conversation, to be overly prepared to avoid conflict or to have an out to defuse it, had dissolved. Naturally, Kandy still cared about what was being said and how, but it wasn’t controlling her to a point that it would inevitably result in a wave of anxiety. It was such a fresh and bright experience to be in the moment with him, learning about him, appreciating him.

“You don’t got some dude you’re gonna have to give bad news to because of me?”

Kandy smiled and shook her head, “I don’t keep anybody around like that.”

“Not ever?” 

A shrug, “You, Sandra, my friends — you all fell in love so early. It always seems to end so badly.”

“You never saw love between your grandparents?” 

Again, Miguel had her thinking about an era of her life that she hadn’t revisited in such a long time. Rarely did she go back to those days after becoming an adult. Things looked a lot different on replay now that she watched them through a much more experienced mind.

Jaddi and jaddati? My grandfather and my grandmother? Romantic stuff?” Even saying those words stirred up an odd mix of emotions within her. 

The Moroccan dialect was peculiar to his ears, but Miguel didn’t mind hearing it. He watched her with all the focus in the world, absorbing and cataloging every interesting sliver of information about herself Kandy let slip. Deep down, he knew he would only get so many bites at the apple when it came to asking so directly about her time with them in Spain. After a little while of walking, something did unearth itself in her memory causing her to smirk and smile.

“¿Qué es, querida?”

“He used to speak French to her. Try to. He liked to say his mouth never wanted to work right.”

That one memory tripped another causing her to drift back into a silence he was very familiar with. Miguel gave her a few more seconds before sweeping his thumb across the back of her hand, which he was still holding onto.

“What else?”

“Sometimes, I would hear them laugh together late at night. In their room.”

Smiling out of sight behind her as they navigated their way through a thicker pocket of beachgoers, Miguel kissed above her ear. “You can’t let yourself forget everything.”

“I would need more than that though. More than a few nights here and there and some fucked up French to make what they had worth workin’ at. Like, the way he limited her, how could he love her and do that? I know they loved each other. But how could he stop her from just being who she was? She was so smart and beautiful and magical. Outside of those four walls or whenever someone else was over… ”

Letting her trail off, Miguel could sense the tightness in her throat from the upset. Closing the gap between them, he came up behind her and held her close for a few seconds as they waited for a trolley to offload hotel guests ahead of them. She sighed a little, but affectionately rubbed his arm. Though he disliked seeing her upset, he was getting a chance to understand better, see clearer how control had pervaded her life. This wasn’t really about a sheltered girl struggling to find her footing out in the real world. That was a rather debasing one-dimensional view of her. There had been another layer to that detachment, which made more sense now. Kandy seemed to believe that if she got too close to anybody, she’d wind up with a bit in her mouth and a bridle on. 

“Not real encouraged about love goin’ off what you saw, huh?”

“Fuck no. Watchin’ everybody get fucked up and make dumb decisions wasn’t exactly the greatest way to sway me. It’s like the deeper you love the sharper a knife it turns into when shit goes left. I’m not real interested in sharin’ my life with someone who can look me in the eye and stab me in the heart. All those years and for somebody to still be able to hurt me like it’s nothing?” As an afterthought, she looked up at him to gauge his reaction. “I know that sounds kinda harsh. No disrespect.”

He shrugged and didn’t seem to be bothered by it. “When you start out young, it’s so fuckin’ toxic. You grow together not ‘cause of the love, but the fuckin’ war you’re caught up in. Fightin’ your families and friends or fightin’ against each other. And then what? A couple years, you got a kid and gotta get married. Then another kid and you gotta find a bigger place. Just livin’ with somebody you can’t fuckin’ stand, lovin’ until you hate them.” 

“Whose story is that?” Kandy perked a brow and when he looked over at her she shrugged, “That isn’t your story. You loved your girl.”

“It’s not the whole story, but it be part of it. Marisol couldn’t see life out the ‘hood. Even before the drugs, her biggest goal was gettin’ a fuckin’ job at a store a few streets away. I was never into that bullshit about workin’ til I die just to keep my kids barely out of poverty. Or runnin’ around the streets as a fuckin’ old ass man. The point is to make progress every fuckin’ line of us, not accept shit as it is ‘cause it’s what we know, what’s expected.”

“What was your plan before the accident?”

He laughed at her question, “I had no fuckin’ plan for life, querida. I just wanted out. Me and my dumb ass, I thought it was all about the money. Get the cash stacked up and then you’re livin’ the life. I watched pops and my bro get locked up, my friends too. And I used to say they just didn’t know what the fuck they were doin’. Three things get you money and sports and music are the two I ain’t good at.”

“Always been the mastermind, huh?”

Miguel smiled and looked over at her with a flash of the familiar enticing look in his eyes. “I was a clever fuckin’ kid. But that only got me in deeper until I got enough of the pieces together to see the bigger picture. Sometimes now when I’m payin’ bills, I add up all the money I used to blow through when I was doin’ what I was doin’ back then. All the dumb shit I bought, all the people I gave money to cause they had their hand out and a good story.”

“Any of those people show up after the accident?”

There was a bitter edge that sharpened his smirk, “Not as many as I thought.”

“And the ones that helped you get to Florida?”

He shrugged, “If I left, that money and supply was gone too. Learned real quick to keep those plans quiet. Yo, Manny was it and that neighbor who got me extra construction jobs. I still feel bad about fuckin’ up his bike. Even after I caused all that shit, he was like the first person out the family that looked at me when I came home and saw what I was tryin’ to do. But I knew I had to walk outta there with as much fuckin’ money as I could and tryin’ to get that shit together without certain people in the barrio knowin’ ain’t that fuckin’ easy.”

“Funny how all that works. The ones that try to obligate you, guilt you usually never show their face when you need them. For a long time, I got stuck thinking that if family doesn’t give a shit, nobody else will.”

It was upsetting him to think of her struggling to deal with things, whatever the problems were. Sometimes cutting everybody out for a short time got rid of the noise and let a person think clearly. His recovery from the accident and relearning basic physical activities had forced him into a type of isolation, a timeout from the world, which allowed him to process things and plan. In a lot of ways, Miguel looked at it like a gift, but he had to remind himself few others would ever tap into that Hermit mode and utilize it constructively. The trouble was always when it stopped being a temporary change and the isolation progressively became permanent. 

“You seem like you got an okay relationship with Cassandra. I know she works fuckin’ all the time though.”

“She’s always been in my life somehow. Either there-there or helpin’ out and makin’ sure I got what I needed. Everything kinda fell on her shoulders the last few years. I can’t really be mad ‘cause she always seems to be tryin’ her best.”

“You still feel like you get pushed to the side?”

“I’m twenty-one. People die and life changes. I’m not new to that cycle. And I know I’ve been coastin’ for a little while now, but I’m tryin’ to get back in gear. Part of why I came out here today. Some days, I build on that momentum. Others, I can only try and keep the waves from eating away at what I have.” There was a pause as Kandy realized this was probably the most she had spoken to a single person in weeks. Never mind the personal questions they were asking each other and the information they shared. Along came that bizarre wave of familiarity, as if they walked along this beach every Sunday together for as long as they had been alive. “When shit goes down, we don’t rally together. We scatter, my family. My friends saw when I was drownin’ and pulled me up. They’re different and strange and wonderful, all at the same time. Definitely closer to me than most of my relatives. They’re my safety net and that’s helped to change my definition of family as I’ve gotten older.” 

“What am I then, querida? Am I one of your friends?” 

Kandy’s grin was bright enough to power both Pinellas and Los Angeles counties. Seeing her like that was like the best upper hitting at just the right time. But he caught that drop of her brows and teeth gripping her lower lip. 

“You still got questions about all that, Papi?”

“Maybe I just like hearin’ you admit to all of it, to the effect I got on you.”

Stepping around in front of him with a hand sneaking under his shirt to rub his flank, Kandy whispered in his ear. “You mean admit how fuckin’ wet you make me when you got your hand on my throat and you’re tellin’ me what to do?”

Turning his head, Miguel stared right at her with those dark eyes. Instead of grabbing her ass, that bony-looking hand found its comfortable place against the small of her back and pressed her body up against his. In time with his steps, she kept moving with him just as if he was leisurely leading her back across the floor of a club. Kandy gently cleared her throat and the provocative edge to her expression quickly melted. 

“I can make you cum whenever I want, querida, you know that. That’s not what I’m askin’ about.”

Heavy, intense, and heady, the combination of his tone and his confidence nearly had her knees knocking. She glared at him for pulling that trick out of his bag, but not before she caught a flash of mischievousness in his eyes. Rather than continue on the sidewalk along the street, Miguel had diverted them up into the pier’s park area next to the lot where her Jeep and his Mercedes were. Past a cluster of palm trees and benches, he stopped her from walking further toward the covered picnic areas and instead pulled her gently back to lean against an outside wall of one of the other buildings. The steady stream of traffic was left back to the east, the pier was twice the distance away to their west, and the parking lot was just over his shoulder to the south. It was all still busy, but there weren’t any people close enough to intrude upon their conversation.

Her hand withdrew from his flank and rose to between her collar bones, but Miguel took a hold of her wrist to prevent it from reaching its destination. Rather than letting her rub the pressure point, he instead kissed it and felt her shiver against him. A second followed before his mouth moved on to the side of her neck. Her book bag dropped with a thunk at their feet.

Dime.” 

“I know you believe what happened on the bridge was some real shit. So do I. I believe you when you say you want me around and wanna do the whole family thing. You want the girlfriend experience. But like –” Kandy relaxed back against the pink painted cement as he stepped up in front of her. The way he looked with his shoulders back, carrying all that intensity in his chest, married with a daring playfulness in his eyes — she ached nearly every time he invaded her space.

“The girlfriend experience?” He perked a brow. “Ain’t that what lonely ass johns tell escorts that they want?”

“Maybe. Maybe you just lookin’ at me the way you do isn’t enough and I need to hear some things from you.”

“And what way is it that I look at you, Kandajha?” Miguel leaned in with one of his hands on the wall just slightly above her head.

“Like I’m it.” Kandy swallowed gingerly as he inched closer.

“‘Cause you are.” Tilting to the side, his mouth found hers while he tenderly held her jaw.

Kandy was not ever one of those women who spent her youth falling in love with the Prince Charming archetype in animated films or got wrapped up in the histrionic love affairs of the telenovelas always playing in the background. If it wasn’t death sweeping in to clear the board and force a rebuilding, she had found that the men who came into her life inevitably tried to censor or control her. The idea of being trapped in a situation or tied to somebody drove part of her isolationism masquerading as independence. Until, of course, Miguel came along and blew up that delusion in a matter of hours. A girl living in somebody’s pool house and smoking her life away because she was avoiding going to therapy does not an independent woman make, regardless of her newly acquired financial means.

After enjoying the kiss for a few seconds, she pressed her palm into his chest to back him off of her. “I need to know how far you’re gonna take this. I need to know what kinda plans you’re thinkin’ about, like real plans.”

He laughed a little bit before sighing and looking at her with a not very serious suspicious narrowing of his eyes. “I’m gonna take it as far as you let me.”

“As far as I let you?”

Miguel put his hands in his pockets and stepped back from her, “I ain’t the one with a fear of commitment, querida. After that call with Cassandra, there ain’t a fuckin’ thing standin’ in between me and what I want. So, I’m good. You say you don’t doubt what I can do. What you got to worry about then?”

Kandy knew the telephone conversation back in the office had changed things for him more than he initially admitted. She had felt the shift in the way he touched and kissed her. No more hesitation, only the cool, calm, and collected vibe Miguel wore so well. It felt like they were more in sync, however that might have been possible. It also reminded her of something Sandy used to talk about, that it’s the opposite strengths and qualities of a partner that keep the balance and attraction spinning.

“All the way?”

“Is that what you want?”

Resting back against the wall, the brunette looked up at him and sighed. 

“You still think I won’t catch you, huh?” 

“It’s not the landing I worry about, Miguel.”

“After that? You think I’m just gonna up and disappear one day?”

Or you’ll die when we’re at our happiest… All he got from her was a single nod to go along with that unwavering stare. Kandy wanted terms, not vague romanticism. She needed the benchmarks to have something to measure their progress, to make sure they both could see the other was still invested next week, next month, next year. But when that skeletal hand of his moved up the side of her neck and she felt the way it gently cradled her jaw, she leaned her cheek into his touch further almost like a cat seeking out affection. Amber eyes drifted over to the redhead with the crown of roses and a skull for a face tattooed on his throat.

Smartly, Kandy closed her eyes to try and hide from him her worries. She knew he wasn’t at all like the same types of people she had gotten stuck with in the same patterns and cycles before. As standoffish as she tried to be to keep herself from falling over the edge so quickly, it was her sigh and nuzzle into his hand that ultimately betrayed her. Miguel knew she purposely wasn’t looking at him because she didn’t want him to see what she was unwilling to say, which was how badly she wanted everything he said he could give her despite her fear. It served to remind him just how high the stakes were for her and that not everyone had such control over their own mending as he had had over his own. 

“Where you wanna be right now, Kandajha?” Another tender pass of his thumb against her skin.

There was just something in the way he pronounced her name, his cadence and tone as he hopped through the trio of vowels. For somebody who absolutely hated the sound of her own name, Kandy was very much interested in hearing him say it for the rest of her life. In fact, she could almost imagine what he’d sound like with that East L.A. accent, his hand tangled up in her hair, looking down to watch her s–

“At home,” Kandy looked directly into that Scorpio’s eyes and soul and answered more completely, “In our bed.”

She could tell immediately by the way he pulled her in that what she had said turned him on, and it had nothing to do with the piece of furniture she mentioned but everything to do with her use of a very specific possessive pronoun: our. Now his arm wrapped down across her back for his hand to grope one half of her rear as the other went to the base of her skull. The turn that let him back himself up against the wall just before kissing her over and over again happened so quickly and decisively without any hint of hesitation or nervousness. Melting into it, Kandy rested up against him and brushed her fingers down through his black hair to force back some of the jaw-length layers out of their way. 

After the kiss naturally wound down, Miguel sighed with contentment as he took the opportunity to really examine her up close. He noticed how she purposely underlined her lips by not bringing the color out fully to their natural edge to reduce how full they looked. It had been blended so subtly, he hadn’t picked up on it until he found himself inches from her

“Words don’t do it for you when it comes to serious shit like this, huh?”

A slow shake of her head, but it was clear she was only half hearing him as her pointer finger traced back and forth along a short stretch of his jaw. “People can say anything, whatever they need to say to get what they want, right? Show me you doin’ what you need to do for us in the long term — that’s what does it for me.”

“You think I’m just tryin’ to get laid tonight?” Miguel wasn’t at all serious with his question, but he still asked it to tease her. 

Another shake of her head, though this time she was delicately pushing her finger up under his jaw to tilt his head off to the side. Miguel wrote it off as Kandy just wanting a better look at the veiled skeletal saint with her crown of roses, the spiritual entity with which the brunette seemed to have quite a few unresolved issues. Much to his surprise, he would instead feel a quick pass of her tongue over the small patch of his skin she had stumbled across earlier in the office. 

Before he could stop her, Kandy latched the plump lips he had been admiring onto the sensitive section of his neck to alternate between tenderly sucking and kissing that one spot. Miguel very nearly lost his balance leaning on the wall. Luckily, he was able to push his foot back against where it met the sidewalk to gain back some stability. Caught between wanting to stop her and enjoying her mouth, his eyes rolled over to the parking lot and settled on his Mercedes parked not too far away. Even Miguel had his weak places and Kandy seemed determined to discover them all.

Pinche súcubo.” 

Kandy laughed and nuzzled his jaw finally showing him mercy by leaving his throat alone. “¿Un demonio, verdad? Quizás soy. ¿Quizás, en realidad mi nombre es Lilith, hm?”

Taking the back of her head again with his hand, he brought her into a deep and rather vulgar kiss that wound up smearing some of her lipstick. A curl of his fingers and he found a solid grip on the underneath of her ponytail. This time she was the one reaching out to the wall for support until he relinquished his hold on her hair and switched their positions by pinning her back up against the sun-warmed cement. Moving on to her neck, Miguel went after her much in the same way she had done him. The groan was barely out of her throat by the time his hand was clamped over her mouth.

Ultimately, what ended their rather heated session on the backside of that unused building near the pier was fabric and not a person, or worse, law enforcement. Reaching down between her thighs with his skeletal tattooed hand, Miguel grumbled out of frustration when he felt the denim crotch of her shorts. A huff and he rested his forehead against hers taking his hand down from her mouth.

“I better not catch you in shorts for a long ass time, mami.”

Taking a breath, Kandy kept her head back against the wall. “Or what, Papi?”

Up went his brows as he looked at her. She played the role of a bratty little pet so well it could make him twitch. Narrowing his gaze, he wondered where she learned something like that. Probably in the same manner he found his own way in this dynamic: it came naturally. 

“Or I’m gonna leave you so fuckin’ sore in places, mi brujita, you ain’t gonna wanna wear them pants.” He nodded to her, “Fix your lipstick.”

Wiping his mouth with his palm to make sure she hadn’t left any makeup behind on him, Miguel watched her take a few seconds to visualize how that punishment might take form. Whatever she saw behind her eyelids made her slip a few inches down the wall. Even though Kandy had said to him in the office to not hold back, he still found himself studying her to see if he got too close to a line or, God forbid, shot past one. At some point, he knew they were going to need to sit down and really talk about the finer points of what they enjoyed. His only concern was whether she’d find him too extreme. When Kandy tried to play off her slip as just crouching down to retrieve her lipstick and compact from her bag, Miguel smiled a little and placed his hands back in his pockets. 

Flipping open the mirror, Kandy inspected his handy work, which turned out to not be as bad as she expected. A few rubs of her thumb along the lower right side of her mouth removed the trails of smears that cut through the once pristine line. Turning in place to get a better angle on the light, she became aware of his watching again and she smiled. Unscrewing the cap to the tube of purple matte liquid lip color, the brunette hesitated for a moment when bringing the sponge tip of the stick to her lips.

“All the way, conejita.”

Her eyes rolled down to her reflection and then refocused on his dress shoes that were mere inches from her. She knew what he was talking about. The emotions she felt knowing that he noticed and then also that he didn’t approve — even if that was the word for it, which she wasn’t sure that it was — caught her off guard. Determined not to let him see how it affected her, she held the mirror at a downward angle robbing him of the view of her reflection as he stood above her. It also limited her view of her own reflection to just her mouth.

Complying with his request, the angled applicator swiped the rich grape color along the squared corners that bookended the sweeping plump middle of her lower lip, which was the one she reshaped the most with the pencil. First right, then left, her head turned a few degrees after she pumped the stick back into the tube for a recoat of fresh color. The last was her rather pointed and wide cupid’s bow, which she normally softened, that then dropped down at a low angle creating her top lip. A final coat to both halves evened it out before she closed everything up and stuffed them back in her bag.

He was rubbing his chin looking like he had something to say when she stood back up. Taking in a slow breath, Kandy readied herself for whatever it was going to be. No doubt some lecture about how trying to conform to the mainstream beauty standard would do nothing but eat away further at her cultural identity and it was up to her to put a stop to that erasure by standing up to it and representing herself.

“What you said to me back in that office, on the phone with that asshole, to never forget who the fuck I am?” He moved up to her and leaned around to the side to whisper in her ear, “You be proud of who and what you are, mi brujita. Don’t let them take your power from you.” With that, he gently kissed her forehead before stepping back again.

Kandy smirked and looked up at the blue sky above them immediately feeling her body relax just from the sound of his voice. His delivery was everything and she appreciated how he handled her more than ever. “I would kiss you, but this shit is still wet for another minute or two.”

“Dry time don’t matter to me, querida, I’ll smear it whenever I like.” 

“We’re gonna have a lot of fun, aren’t we?” She let one of her hands rest softly against his scarred flank, which was still covered by his tank top. The little rub of her palm reminded him of back in the car park right before they began walking together for the first time, his arm around her and her hand on his side.

Looking down at her, Miguel wrapped her up again to enjoy the feel of what belonged to him. “More than that.”

It wasn’t until the clouds passed overhead that she noticed there was something else tattooed on his torso after all. The sun was just bright enough on the material of his tank for her to make out some of the colors and patterns. Her eyes lit up when she realized that what curved around his side also connected to what was in the center of his chest. Though she was bursting to ask about it and have a better look, her intuition told her to leave it alone for now. A conversation for another time as it likely was a similar type of camouflage for his scarring. Instead, she fell right back into the rhythm of their conversation. “It did turn me on though.”

“What did?”

“You all protective over me after I shared some of my family’s history of bullshit with you.”

Miguel had caught her clocking the artwork down across his torso. Though seeing her grin was enough to make him smile, he was relieved to not have to show her and explain it. He had talked enough about that part of himself for one afternoon. Now, all he wanted to do was enjoy her. “Yea? That how I keep you in my bed? Remind you on the regular that I give a shit?”

“Holidays are right around the corner. If we start talkin’ about goin’ to some awkward family dinners, you might find yourself fucking me in Cassandra’s upstairs library while everybody is arguin’ at the table over the last slice of pecan pie.”

Both palms were on the wall high over her head as he leaned in close to whisper in her ear. “Upstairs in the library with the cook?”

“Long as use that big motherfuckin’ pipe I know you got, Papi.” Kandy grinned and bit her tongue playfully.

“You’re so fuckin’ filthy.” A hand washed down his face as he laughed.

Sólo para ti, por ti.” 

If it wasn’t the way she looked at him, it was these little sentiments she sprinkled into their conversation. They were the kind that kept him knowing this was the real deal, this was his second chance at all of it. He could see how she felt while it was like she could see in him the man he ultimately was working toward being. It was unexpectedly as invigorating as it was encouraging.

En esta vida y en la siguiente.” Just as he slipped in that smooth line about them in this life and the next, he caught her attention drifting yet again to something behind him. He stopped to look over his shoulder only to see his near-flawless 1997 Mercedes S600 sedan parked amongst the generic family cars, minivans, and SUVs.

“Damn, I’m gonna start thinkin’ you don’t want me and instead you’re just after my ride.”

“I’d rather be sittin’ on your good lookin’ face than those nice coffee leather seats.” The look he gave her made her cheeks flush a soft pink before she turned her eyes to the ground to hide the small smile from him. 

“That what you been fantasizin’ about each time you look over there? My tongue on your cli–”

“Miguel!”

Her protest had nothing to do with etiquette and proper comportment in public spaces. He could tell by her tone that her choice to interrupt him from completing his question had more to do with how the word made her feel and more specifically where she felt it. The nagging suspicion lingered within him that had he finished speaking that thought, she would have wound up moaning in his ear as if enduring his tongue in real-time. 

Miguel had wanted to pin her down to the desk’s blotter and drag her to the edge with his mouth while they were up in that office. But things never quite worked out for that to happen. Even when the pair were getting ready to walk out just before Manny pounded on the door, he had stood behind the desk staring at it trying to decide if he had enough time to do the job and still take her shopping. And now here this pretty little brunette was essentially admitting to having been thinkin’ about getting eaten out in the back of his Mercedes parked at the Clearwater Beach pier lot this whole time.

“What, querida?”

“Someone’s gonna hear.”

He laughed and inched a little closer, “You ain’t got no problem sayin’ to me what you say, talkin’ right in front of somebody’s poor abuelita who is just tryin’ to enjoy her afternoon at the beach after church about how you gonna deep throat every inch of my dick. But when it’s my turn,” Backing her right up against the wall, he rested his forearms up on the cement pinning her in, nose to nose, eye to eye, “to talk about how I’m gonna flick and roll my tongue around your clit until those knees lift and your legs shake, you get all shy and proper? That sounds like some hypocrisy I need to work out of you, mi conejita.”

Kandy shivered and had to look away from him as he spoke, which only let him bring his mouth closer to her ear. Just over the curve of his chiseled bicep, she could see the south side of the roundabout and part of the little bridge that led traffic back toward downtown Clearwater. They were not quite out of sight, but certainly away from the flow of traffic both on foot and by vehicle. Other things had drifted through her imagination staged inside the darkly tinted cabin of the late 90s German luxury sedan. Miguel knew just by how she kept blushing that there was more she could have shared and he was rather tempted to pull it out of her.

“Ain’t nobody gonna look over here.” A kiss to her cheek and a nuzzle over her ear, “And even if they did, all they gonna see is two kids in love talkin’ to each other.”

She was finally able to look back up at him. “Is that what we are? Two kids in love?”

“You got a better word for it?”

No, not really.

She shook her head and sighed with frustration before looking over toward the pier that extended out into the Gulf waters. “For the first time in my life, I’m in a situation where the only word that seems to fit is the one that I can’t –”

“What situation is that, Kandy?” 

Just say it, Kandy. No. Just tell him and be done with it. No. Are you saying you don’t feel that way? I’m not saying anything. Clearly. What if he says it first, what are you going to do then? 

“You’re the guy who…” She sighed.

He leaned in again, closer than close, mere millimeters separated their mouths as he tilted his head off to one side threatening her with a kiss. “I’m the guy who what?”

Being the sneaky little rabbit that she was, Kandy slid her fingers into his hair and pulled him into that kiss he had been holding over her just to buy herself some time. Right before she was about to moan into his mouth, she pushed back on his chest ending it and causing him to laugh.

“You’re the guy who has made the food I have loved so fuckin’ much.” A simple yet powerful sentiment. Kandy sighed with a bit of frustration. “I know that’s gotta sound like not a big deal to you. I’m sure people tell you all the time about how good it all is. But for what it was for me, to know that you were the one it all came from, trips me out.”

It was nice to watch her thinking begin to change, or rather that she had begun opening up to all the possibilities of what went into their meeting today. He had his suspicions about her, but she seemed so stubborn about refusing to acknowledge how this serendipitous or magical happening also could be looked at as proof that this was for the long-term, rather than some flash in the pan type of fling. With where this conversation seemed to be headed, he figured this was his best chance to find out for certain how accurate his guessing was.

“That good, huh?”

“For real. Like, I know you here, but there’s also this other part of you that I’ve somehow known for years, and yet never really experienced. You had to have started that job the same year Zo died. The fall of that year. So this whole time, in my worst days when I couldn’t stand being at the house I would go to Sandy’s and we’d order in. We always ordered from the shop. I think maybe one time we had to call a Chinese place ‘cause it was a Monday.”

He nodded. “We’re closed on Mondays. But, I actually started at the shop the year before. We handled some of the community events I think she was a part of. There was one at Irma’s school at the start of that school year, in 2016. We probably met in the mix of everything goin’ on, but you got past me somehow.”

The corners of her mouth perked a bit as she was somehow comforted to know that he had always been around in some way though they hadn’t known each other properly. “But the familiarity feels…”

When she trailed off trying to find the right phrasing, Miguel stepped out on his own ledge and offered her his take on things. “Feels like it’s somethin’ older?”

Staring at the cement between them, Kandy finally sighed and nodded before looking back up at him. “There are people I have known for half my life who still fuckin’ feel like strangers. In the car with you, walkin’ with you, sittin’ with you. I don‘t think twice about it. And your food. Miguel, your food is like medicine to me. The soup with the bread –” Kandy trailed off having noticed how quiet he had become.

Miguel had no idea what to say. His confidence in his ability in the kitchen wasn’t something he ever questioned. He knew he sent out good food. This was different though. It was the first time someone who had been affected by all he put into it communicated the effects it had. One hand came up to rub his chin pensively as he carefully considered everything she told him. Bringing his eyes up to her from the ground, he smirked seeing her so deep in thought. She was going back and forth about something.

“Whatever it is, querida, the answer is yes.”

“I get to go down on you in the Benz, cool. Let’s go.” She reached for her bag.

Miguel put a hand on her hip stopping her. “That wasn’t what you were fightin’ with yourself about. And the first time you get me to cum ain’t gonna be when you’re stuck down on your knees anyway.” 

“What if I like being on my knees?” She pouted a little bit and he gently reached for her jaw to run his thumb back and forth over her lips though this time with a lighter touch to avoid messing up her lipstick again.

“You’ll be on ‘em often enough, conejita.” He nodded to her to start talking. “Si tienes algo que decir, suéltalo.

As she had done before, Kandy tenderly took hold of his wrist. He stopped caressing her mouth and met her gaze. It was easy to feel her nervousness that was eventually confirmed by the uneasy inhale and exhale.

“My whole fuckin’ world got blown up that next year. The food, your food, the way it made me feel would always be what I needed to get through whatever the fuck it was I was stuck in. It was the only consistent source of comfort in my life. As fucked up or weird as that sounds, it’s true.”

He was silent for a while and she gave him his time to take it all in. Kandy’s eyes eventually closed and she kissed the pad of his now stationary thumb. For all the fun and flirty banter he enjoyed from her, he was still getting used to these very sincere and intense moments when she worked up the courage to speak honestly about the deep emotions circulating under the charming and playful surface she projected.  Her comments about the familiarity she experienced resonated with him as this duality in her wasn’t alien to him. Instead, it was more like trying to remember the rhythm, her rhythm, to be in sync with her again. 

“Never thought to come by and see who makes the mole?”

Hearing his voice, she opened her eyes and looked up at him with a smile. “I dunno. I think I thought if I did, it would take the magic away. I’d see behind the curtain and then nothin’ would taste right again.”

“Magic is what helped to heal your heart?” Her Scorpio’s head tilted out of curiosity with a flash of interest burning in his dark eyes.

Her amber gaze narrowed slightly as if peering up at him would somehow allow her to see the real meaning behind the words she heard. She felt like they were back in that mode of having two parallel conversations. There was the surface dialogue that was spoken and heard while underneath all of it was a back and forth that could only be felt. Kandy was quite convinced he was really asking her something else. It was frustrating to her that she could only get part of it. She was still second-guessing the answer that came to her just before she realized it was a test. He was clearly waiting for confirmation on his rather leading question. All she had for him was to go with the sentence that popped in her head initially.

“I doubt you just throw shit in a pot and walk away from it without another thought.”

“You’re right, querida, I don’t.” 

The pair stared at each other. Miguel was grinning while Kandy still remained slightly uncomfortable. Did they both just take a rather giant step toward admitting to the other that they believed and participated in a path of spiritual practice that fell outside of what was deemed conventional by society’s standards? He hadn’t corrected her about her assumptions regarding his grandmother and he also had given her another pet name, the diminutive of witch, with a seemingly affectionate feel. While his inclusion of the word magic, which was one she offered to him without thinking, went a long way toward swaying her into feeling comfortable enough to ask certain questions, it still wasn’t enough to rule out him simply being a conflicted Catholic who blessed or even prayed over his customers’ food orders. Just because he had said he wouldn’t have a problem with whatever vague concept he had of her solitary practice didn’t mean he wouldn’t be offended if she asked him if he identified similarly. But Kandy also knew her previous experiences with disclosing her esoteric interests, which unfortunately were often met with unpleasant responses, were skewing her expectations negatively.

“I’m jealous.” Kandy slid one strap of her bag over her shoulder before folding her arms across her stomach.

She nodded off toward the line of shops in the distance and he moved up next to her side. Pulling from behind his ear the spare cigarette Manny had gifted him before leaving, Miguel gave her a little nudge. Looking over at him, Kandy spotted the cigarette and glared at the chemical-laden vice he had balanced between his fingers. Kandy loathed tobacco products and had to smirk at the idea of the love of her life being a cigarette smoker. 

“You gotta stop smoking that shit.” Fishing out the last of the matches from her pocket she struck one off the side of the building as they walked past.

Cupping his hands around the end of it, he watched her as she reluctantly lit his third cigarette. “What are you jealous about?”

“My gifts aren’t in the kitchen.”

After taking the initial puff or two, Miguel looked over at her rather surprised. “At all? With as much as you like to eat —“

With a familiar playful push to his shoulder, Kandy smiled at him wryly as he hung an arm over her shoulders to keep her close as they walked. “If I really miss somebody, if I’m in that space where I really feel them, but not to where I’m like overloaded with it, then I can make something that they did. Or like if I get sick, I can make something to get better. But for other people, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it’s barely edible.”

It pleased him to no end that she understood what he was actually asking and for that, she was rewarded with a kiss to the side of her head and an affectionate pass of his fingers back and forth along the side of her throat. They weren’t talking about scrambled eggs, grilled cheese, or spaghetti. 

“Maybe you’re just cookin’ for the wrong people, mi corazón.

This was all finally starting to hit home for Kandy. It was hard to imagine it, but she wouldn’t have to shove certain items into a box that she kept in the coat closet or strategically place other things high above eye level on shelves when he would come to visit. Even doing all that, there was always the risk that a guest would look too closely at the books on her shelves, which made it fairly obvious that she had more than a passing interest or curiosity about the subjects featured therein.

“Are they your recipes at Conrado’s? I can’t really see Sandy giving input on what you make.”

“The mole is my family’s, pop’s side is from Oaxaca. Most of the cooking I do is from what his mom showed me. My mom wasn’t much of a cook, too busy workin’ and runnin’ after my father. Her side is from Arizona. They go back a couple generations there, but I never met any of them. Pops kinda cut those ties for her ‘cause of the life.”

Kandy nodded, having remembered and recognized the state within Mexico from notes her grandfather had written in one of his cooking journals. “Your grandmother is the one who taught you tradition then. Your mom and her never got close after her family turned away?”

“For a time they were. Somethin’ happened and my mom went hardcore into that church lady mentality a few years after Irma was born. Started bitchin’ at abuelita about what she does, things she’s always done, things my mom has eaten from. No culture, no history, just the church. When I started tryin’ to get me and Irma outta there, I found out she wasn’t payin’ none of the bills. She had been givin’ the cash I gave to her to the priest. Came home one night and the lights were cut off. All the groceries I got spoiled, no A/C, and it’s August in L.A. Irma had school the next day, but she had no thought about what her kid was gonna take for lunch or that there’d be no light. I tried to take Irma with me to my grandmother’s, but she was threatenin’ to call the cops. I coulda beat her to death. I was so mad.” He paused for a moment to look at her, worried at how she might react to how he described his anger. There was a slight drop in her expression, but a tender touch to the wrist of the arm he had wrapped around her. Not picking up on any tension or discomfort from her, he sighed. “I tell you what though, that little scorpio sure as shit ain’t afraid of the dark.”

“Oh no.”

“Oh yes, querida, your ass is outnumbered.”

“Angie is one.”

Miguel smirked, “I somehow ain’t surprised by that.”

“Was it a postpartum thing with your mom?”

“I’m sure havin’ another kid didn’t help, but she pushed for it. She named me after a painter, Miguel Mateo Cabrera. He did these super fuckin’ religious images, so I think this problem has always been there for her. Weird ass fixation on angels and then she started collectin’ them, all of it. After that big fight, I didn’t go over there unless it was for Irma or to restock the fridge and never when she was home. I hadn’t been that angry in a long ass time. Fuckin’ scared me with that shit.”

“She must’ve flipped the fuck out when you came home with a tattoo of Her on your neck.” Kandy nodded to the Santa Muerte portrait on the left side of his body, which seemed to match the style of the anatomically correct tattooed bones on his hand, arm, and upper torso.

He laughed a little bit. “I kept those shirts buttoned up to the collar, yo. Middle of fuckin’ summer and everything when I went over there. Tried to be slick and grow my hair out a little to hide it on the sides. She clocked that shit the minute I walked in the first time with it. You women have this way of yellin’. It kills a man’s soul.”

“Couldn’t just be grateful you were alive.” Kandy nuzzled into his shoulder again and he let his arm fall down around to her waist for a squeeze.

“Guess not. But those peppers you love so much are half me and half from some cards Cassandra gave me. They were handwritten. Probably outta them notebooks you mentioned.” The wistfulness in his tone had started to darken and feeling that slide, Miguel decided to change the subject back to something that was far more pleasant to discuss.

“The notebooks!” Kandy was a little ahead of him on the need for a subject change as she had felt his shoulders lift from the tension of remembering certain things. Her fingers had already snuck down to take hold of his hand so that by the time he brought them back to the food, the brunette was already spinning out in front of him. “Oh my God, I can’t wait for you to see them!”

“You sure they ain’t somethin’ you wanna keep private for yourself, querida?” A faint smile tugged at one side of his mouth. 

He knew what she was doing and gently pulled her in to wrap her up again. A few kisses found their mark up the side of her head into her hair. Her eyes closed and her head shifted more to one side giving him all the access he could want if he continued back down. Miguel did, of course, his mouth ending its travels at the curve of her neck. Securely held against the front of his torso by the skeletal arm wrapped over the top of her chest and his other across her tummy, Kandy was back to wishing they were in a bed somewhere. Instead of being surrounded by palm trees and sand, they instead could have been wrapped up in sheets and pillows and each other.

“Most of those recipes are way beyond what I know how to do. At least in your hands, you can try them and maybe get some use out of them.” Her head turned for her to look up at him, but she hadn’t realized how close he was. “You’re the only one I’d trust with them anyway long as you promised to let me have a taste.”

Weekends were always family days at the pier’s park and rather than subject her to the chaos of the playground area, Miguel nudged her off to the right down one of the winding sidewalks that curved through the greenspace near the roundabout. It was also the much less populated side of the park compared to the sand-filled play areas and spaces for musicians and vendors hawking their wares.

Freeing her to walk beside him now that there was room, he leaned over and whispered in her ear as his hands slid back into his pants pockets. “I always got somethin’ for you to taste, mi brujita.”

His little witch winked at him and then stepped up onto a lower stretch of the cement wall they were walking by, which put her up a good eighteen inches higher than she was normally. Occasionally, her hands lifted to her waist level for balance as she navigated a corner or hopped across a break in the divider.

“Now I know what to keep in the house.” Her curved brows danced a bit before settling down over a playful smile.

Looking over at her with a bemused expression, he lifted a brow. “Corona y chicharrónes?” 

She rolled her eyes before pushing his shoulder whilst trying not to fall off. “Mezcal!” 

He smirked. “I woulda walked the fuck off if you said Cuervo.”

Squinting at him, she remained silent for another few steps before nonchalantly quipping, “I’m startin’ to get the vibe that you don’t really like either, cariño.” His shoulders lifted and dropped causing her to laugh, “That’s like an Irishman hatin’ Guinness. But everybody’s got their poison though, so what’s yours, Papi?”

Miguel sighed to himself over her phrasing before rubbing the back of his neck with the hand tattooed as if it was wrapped in a rosary. “Rémy.”

“If gettin’ you high makes you wanna fuck me all night, what happens if I get a couple rounds of that apple shit in you?” With that, Kandy jumped down off the wall before it doubled in height.

He stopped walking and sat her bag down on the cement while waiting for her to come back to him. Feeling him no longer beside her, she glanced over her shoulder to see him standing there silently. That familiar aloof and contemplative demeanor she first saw in the car park when he caught up with her was back. Folding her arms over her chest, she walked the few feet to stand in front of him.

“I only get a little for special occasions. So don’t keep none of that shit in the house. No tequila, no beer, no nothin’, okay?” His brows settled low over his eyes for a surprisingly stern, almost parental edge to his expression. He meant business.

Kandy nodded and began to wonder what tended to happen when all that bottled-up intensity got soaked in alcohol. “When was the last time?”

“Just after we moved here a few years ago. Thought I could just chill and have a few.”

“Didn’t work out that way?”

He shook his head and she nodded again in understanding.

Reaching out to him, Kandy hooked a few of her fingers into the hem of his grey cotton tank top for a coy little tug of the fabric. “Does my smoking bother you?”

“Other than you getting me high and hard as fuck?” Miguel stepped toward her and caught a glimpse of that little shy smile of hers before she glanced over behind at the very interesting line of palm trees that she only recently noticed. “Is that all you use, querida?”

The truth was that while Miguel wasn’t even the slightest bit concerned about marijuana being the substance that would negatively impact his own sobriety, he was wondering instead if he was actually seeing a warning sign that he was chasing after someone all too familiar. There was no doubt that her anxiety trumped whatever stress he might have to endure from work or an uncomfortable conversation. Having seen it first hand when it threatened to overcome her, his opinion of her rate of usage skewed to a more forgiving degree.

Kandy wasn’t surprised by his question considering what he had gone through with Marisol. In the last few months, it had started to feel more like a habit or a crutch than a smartly deployed tool to help minimize the anxiety and sometimes panic she dealt with. She wasn’t foolish enough to blurt out that she’d stop smoking cold turkey, but she would have agreed to work more on cutting back if he had asked. The awkwardness and embarrassment she felt any time the subject was brought up with him had her reconsidering the sabbatical she had taken from her regular therapy seasons.

“My friends have like no hesitation takin’ whatever for a night at the club or a party, but I can’t do that shit. I feel like if I tried it one time, I’d be fucked. My mom has been in and out of rehab most of her life. Cocaine and then as she got older she moved on to scripts. No idea about my dad. He’s in that fast lifestyle, so I’m sure he’s around it.” She shuddered for a moment and rubbed one of her arms to get the chill off her skin. “Even before everything that happened, that wasn’t really my bag. I liked to dance, not to party. People never really seem to understand that. Anyway, I usually duck out when people start to get –”

“Out of control?” The slightest tilt of his head before he kissed her forehead reassuringly. “No te preocupes por nada.

Nada?” She perked a brow and laughed a little to play down her dislike of that tired response.

Por eso, por mí, por nada.” He gestured out toward the beach and the vast waters of the Gulf of Mexico that was just a short walk away to the west.

Kandy’s eyes closed and she shrugged after sighing, “Si tú lo dices.” They all said the same thing.

Even though it was seemingly a laid-back reply, Miguel knew pretty quickly he had inadvertently planted a seed of concern. Telling her not to worry about him or anybody or anything wasn’t exactly going to take that uncertainty away.

“Long time ago, querida. Different place, different time.” 

Vida diferente?”

His hand curved down beneath her jaw to let his thumb caress her lips. “You musta heard that a lot, huh? My sister never spent a day with my pops and my brother wasn’t around long enough, but she ain’t gonna ever know what it’s like to live in a house with shit gettin’ smashed and doors broken. The shovin’ and the yellin’. All that shit stops with me. Not any of us Velas do that drinkin’ shit well, so why keep tryin’ to get it right?”

“But I can’t live with somebody that’s got that kinda anger either, Miguel.”

“I stay on top of it.” He lightly kissed the side of her head letting one of his hands rest gently upon her lower back to coax her back in for a hug. “And I got my ways of handling it.”

Beyond his good looks and swagger, it was Miguel’s sincerity that kept her from wandering too far into the forest of what-ifs and wondering about who will say what. How long does it take to know somebody? How long is enough to wait before intimacy? How long until a sound decision can be made about the rest of one’s life on the planet? Life itself had felt so temporary, a pointless kind of temporary because of how flippant people were with each other, and, historically, with her. 

In Miguel walks, entirely self-possessed and focused in seemingly every area of his life, every move he made, and every word he spoke. Until it came to her and his worry over what she thought of him, which was rather charming to her. He cared about whether she respected him. This, in and of itself, was a pleasant change. Kissing the center of his chest and whatever was underneath the fabric of his top, Kandy happily returned to him for a hug. When she caught herself cuddling her cheek into his chest, she started laughing.

“What?”

Keeping one arm around him, Kandy stepped back to let them start walking again if he decided. “I hate huggin’ people, touchin’ them and their problems. The people who always wanna hug on me always got that low vibe feel. It’s fuckin’ gross. Or like the people who treat you like shit and then try to hug you to make it better. Sorry daughter, you’re the stone in my shoe and you look like your asshole father, but come give mummy a hug.” 

Miguel knew he was the exception to that and turned her back toward him for a second hug that was more to comfort her than anything. Her eyes closed while her cheek returned to the place it had been before on his chest. It was only for a few seconds though. She ended it with an affectionate little squeeze of her arms up along his flanks before stepping out to his side.

He smirked and hung his arm over her shoulders again after picking up her bag, “She say that shit to you, or are you just fillin’ in the gaps?”

“Sometimes people don’t have to say things to me.” Leaving that vague answer to hang in the air between them, she had him drifting back to an earlier part of their conversation as they resumed strolling through the greenspace.

“If the kitchen ain’t your spot then –”

A shrug. “I’m not sure where that stuff fits in for me. There were things as a kid I used to do that I thought was normal, it never occurred to me that other people didn’t do them.”

“Like what?”

“You couldn’t lie to me about a damn thing. Still can’t. If somebody was really good, it might take me a little while to be sure, but usually by then I had asked so many questions that the person would know I thought they were sus’. It used to piss off my grandfather and I got banned from going to his business ‘cause I kept pointin’ out people who were scammin’ or not doin’ right. That was somethin’ that I never really got. I was savin’ his ass money, but maybe it was a culture thing. Like if I had been a boy instead, it woulda been okay. My grandmother eventually explained that stuff like that, about others, I should keep to myself unless there was danger of some kind.”

“Is that a pattern with you, querida?”

“What, doin’ shit to get kicked outta places?” She smirked and looked up at him with an arched brow.

They shared a little laugh as he nodded, “Thoughts or feelings, mi brujita?”

Caught off guard by the specificity of his question, she was quiet for a moment or two. “Feelings. But it’s not like I get some direct download of how somebody feels.”

“What’s it like?”

“Usually I can just hear it in how somebody breathes. Sometimes, they can just stand there and I guess the way they stand is how I know. Guilt was always the strongest, then doubt. Someone tellin’ the truth might have guilt over the facts, but they rarely doubt what they say. That’s a real simple way of explainin’ how I understand it. It’s like filters on a photo, I guess.”

“Do you feel what they feel or just know what they feel?”

“Uh, depends on a lot of things. Mostly I just know. If I’m close to the person or it’s really serious, I feel some of it, whatever is on the surface. It’s not very consistent, or I don’t know how to make it consistent. Sometimes I feel shit that the person isn’t even aware of inside when it’s a big deal. With certain people, it’s like an alarm system. Not to keep bringin’ her ass up, but that’s how it is with my mother. She makes me sick.” Miguel started to laugh and Kandy patted his arm. “No, I’m serious. If she’s gonna call me or I guess is thinkin’ about me for any amount of time, I get a headache, nauseated, mad tired.”

“So if you ever look like you got food poisoning –”

“Or the plague –”

“Or you might be pregnant –”

Kandy looked at him sideways and he lifted his hands, backing up from her with a laugh. “My bad.”

“It’s probably just my mother.” She nodded with a rather weak smile.

“Sounds like you need to do some trimming with her.” His arm came back around her waist and pulled her in close enough for her head to rest on his shoulder.

Her brows popped up at his suggestion, “You were just as observant as a kid as you are now.”

“When moms started freakin’ the fuck out about every little thing, abuelita backed off. But, where else she gonna find a babysitter for free? She mighta stopped explainin’ outta respect for my mom, but I still got to watch certain things, read a book or two.”

“Or a hundred?” Kandy cutely inquired, which made him smile.

More than ever, Kandy wondered what books he had that was the most worn. Sure, it would be interesting to trail her fingers across the spines of all the titles on his shelves, by his bed or under it. But it was the ones he affectionately returned to time and time again that she was most curious about. 

“It doesn’t call to you, what she taught you?”

“Not in the way she hoped. I know it ain’t what she had planned, but no way am I goin’ back to L.A. to take that shit over once she exits. And she made peace with it after I left. Took some time, but we moved past it.”

“It’s kinda interesting that Irma wants to be a doctor. Does she –”

He laughed, “Nope.”

“Nothing?”

Miguel shook his head, “She’s like you without the –” He rubbed his fingers together to represent the word neither of them knew, but understood what the gesture stood for. “All thought. Independent, intelligent, above a lot of people and things.” Placing a hand on his chest, he looked over to Kandy, “I may sting, but you and Irma can cut people the fuck up.”

“Surgeons cut to heal.” She offered off-handedly out of nowhere.

He smirked, “Yea, they cut off your fuckin’ hand when all your ass needed was a bandaid. She says she’s an atheist and this is all superstition, myths, backward peasant thinkin’ rah-rah bullshit. Science is science. Anybody who believes in this over here is uneducated. Like, whatever little girl. When she starts experiencin’ life and seein’ some real shit –”

“All that’s gonna change.” Kandy nodded and he immediately hooked his arm around her neck bringing her over to kiss the side of her head, grateful he had a woman walking beside him who understood and respected the other part of life that was entwined with the tangible. The little brunette kissed the forearm crossing over above her chest before lovingly petting his wrist. She was just as appreciative of his acceptance. “Luckily, Irma’s got you and you both have your grandmother.”

Though she hadn’t intended to, Kandy had inadvertently gotten Miguel thinking about the contrasts between their respective journeys being raised in and around both the spiritual and the esoteric. While his methods followed rather closely to the traditions of his family, he had to wonder what hers was like having been around so many different influences and probably not really feeling like any of them were her own. It was likely that at one time she had actively prayed to the skeleton saint memorialized on his neck. For what specifically, whether for love, for protection, to hold off death Herself, he could only guess. She talked about her practice in general terms, but in a way that seemed to indicate that it was private and for her own enrichment. When it came right down to it, he was just as curious about who and what was on her shelves as she was of his.

“As long as she don’t take after our mom and go bat shit crazy for a fuckin’ organization that’s fuckin’ rich, but still got folks starvin’ all over the place…” Miguel trailed off and eventually sighed from frustration. 

Kandy’s grin caught his attention and when he went to ask about it, she reached up to ease him into an affectionate kiss. She could feel him start to smile as it continued, followed eventually by both of his hands on her face keeping her locked into where she was. Toward the end of it, those skeletal fingers sought out her denim-wrapped rear to reclaim it with a possessive grope. Laughing, she backed out of it covering her mouth with her fingers. But with his arm still mostly around her back, she wasn’t able to go far. 

“What was that about, mami? I ain’t complainin’, but –.” 

A pack of partially lit college students on rented scooters was weaving by packs of pedestrians up ahead prompting Miguel to gently guide Kandy up onto the grass keeping her well clear of the Natty Lite fueled antics. Standing behind him, she peeked up over his shoulder before hooking her arms up against his chest from behind and underneath his tank top. Skin to skin, her palms ran slowly up his stomach to his pectorals. He tensed a fair amount at first from the unpredictability of her touch but made it a point to take a breath and relax. Her hands turned still, keeping him in a warm hug until she felt his shoulders drop back down to where they had been moments ago. 

“You were right earlier, but only a small part.”

His head turned a little bit letting him see the top half of her face up over his shoulder line, again like a cat, but one that was naughtily hiding in a box and surveying its surroundings. “Right about what?”

“It’s not just that you give a shit about me, it’s that there are other people who are important to you and you care about their future just as much. You got a lot you wanna do and it isn’t just about makin’ money, is it? Those things you said about doin’ shit differently is not just between us, but our family too, and that runs super fuckin’ deep for you. All of that, mi halcón, turns me on. All of it.”

Tenderly, Kandy kissed as high as she could comfortably reach on the side of his neck as the sidewalk had him a few inches higher than her position on the grass. With one hand on his chest over his heart and the other slithering down near his left hip to duck inside the belted waist of his pants, those fingers went back to a very deliberate massage of whatever muscles they rested on.

“Kandy…” His eyes closed and he reached up to clasp his palm over the fingers unknowingly petting the tattoo inked on the center of his chest.

Clearer than she had ever felt, she could sense him falling in that moment. Nothing was going to interrupt that hug as her arms gently tightened around him while she kissed a section of blacked-out scarring that rippled across part of his shoulder blade. Miguel knew what he knew and Kandy felt what she felt. Quite an interesting pairing. But now it was his turn to start feeling what he had known this whole time just like she had to start knowing and accepting what she had felt. Funny how that works. 

“You’re gonna play with me however you want, Papi. And I’m gonna whimper, moan, and gush for you. Probably even beg you to keep goin’ when I’m exhausted.” She could feel the change in his posture when she counted off those things. The tangible shift back into where he felt strong and comfortable. “But, you gotta let me have my moments to take care of you.”

Holding her hand now, Miguel lifted her arm to guide her back around to his side and off the grass. “Take care of me how, querida? What you think I need?”

“Tenderness, kindness, some fuckin’ compassion. Room to feel shit. Like back in the office when you were decidin’ to show me everything.” Kandy nodded to the scarring on his left arm hidden beneath the layers of ink. “It can’t always be you playin’ this badass motherfucker with a huge dick who can make all the money he wants, make people sit the fuck down with a glare, and charm anybody outta anything.”

Miguel smirked at the caricature of him that she used to illustrate her point. “And how you gonna do all that?”

“When you have a fuckin’ monster of a day, when you feel like you got somethin’ in your way blockin’ you, shit’s not flowin’ right, or fuck, you just need somebody to love on you, you come to me. You let me make you feel good in all the ways I know how. It doesn’t have to be and can’t always be you with your hand on my throat in control of it all. Plus, you know,” His little witch shrugged nonchalantly before hooking her fingers just inside the belt of his pants, “I need to show my appreciation to you, too, for all the things you do to me.”

Querida, knowin’ that when I come through the door I get to see you –”

“Isn’t enough.” Kandy enjoyed the heartfelt sentiment on his part, but this was important. “Everybody says how serious you are, I get it. But I know how you have been here with me when you manage to leave all that other shit behind for a little while.”

“How am I then, Kandajha?”

“The happiest fuckin’ Scorpio I ever seen in my life. Funny as fuck, flirty, excited about things. Let me make it easier for you to get to that space and stay there. ‘Cause I know you well enough that if you got shit about work or whatever stuck on repeat in your head, you won’t be fuckin’ me right and you can’t make money like you know you can. You can be that dark intimidating scowlin’ ass Scorpio with his judgemental silence everywhere else, but when you come home, we rinse all that shit off you and you breathe.”

It had been his grandmother’s limpias that had gotten him past the emotional ties to his alcohol and drug use following his accident. And, when he had become lax in his self-care after moving to Florida, it was her prescribed ritual baths that had helped get him back on track. Plus, there had been some stern words about what he had allowed into his life again after nearly losing it. This was the basis for his other reason behind searching for a woman who had learned what was at least a comparable practice. It meant he would have somebody by his side who could see when he needed to take some extra time to care for himself, or in a worst-case scenario, she could help him get rid of whatever he had inadvertently brought home.

“I hear you, mami. I hear you.” Coaxing her back in close, Miguel sought out the graceful curve of her neck, which led out to her shoulder. He kissed her soft skin and hugged her little hourglass frame. “The imbalance has been fuckin’ with me a lot more lately.”

“We just need to get you outta panic mode.”

Leaning back from her, he looked at her with all his hackles up, ‘Who the fuck is panicking?”

Kandy smirked and rolled her eyes as his ego came out in full force. The slow steady stroking of his chest with her palm returned.  “Workin’ yourself to death to meet some arbitrary deadline that no one gave you. Not enough hours in the day. Loud ass tickin’ clock in your head. Obsessive over-preparing to the point you can’t enjoy fuckin’ anything, not even a day off. Work and shit you worry about invade your thoughts every time you have a solid minute of idleness. Let me know when I can stop listin’ things.”

Miguel sighed and reached for her hand to halt its motion. He needed stillness to consider what she was saying. It looked like his cousin Manny’s advice back in the kitchen was right on the money. 

Cariño, there’s a difference between bein’ about the bag versus bein’ stuck in survival mode. This isn’t California. Irma is doin’ her thing at school. You got a solid job with prospects on movin’ up. Nice car and probably a nice house in a quiet neighborhood. A girl who –“

He had been rubbing his jaw and listening to her, though when she got to that last sentence his brows lifted with curiosity. “A woman who what, querida?” Though his delivery was flat and even, the playful sparkle in his dark eyes let her in on the teasing.

Yea, Kandy, a woman who what? The brunette ignored the annoying voice in her head and placed both of her palms on his chest, side by side over his heart. “A woman who would burn some dumbass motherfucker’s world to ashes if they ever fucked with our house. A woman who does not give a single fuck if you got a God damned award-winning soufflé in that oven when she wants to be crouched at your feet in the kitchen on Sunday morning makin’ your eyes roll back in your head with your hand in her hair, she’s gonna be and you won’t be able to focus on anything else.”

If she was hoping to make him unsteady on his feet with that last visual, Kandy had inadvertently done the opposite. Miguel rubbed his chin pensively while nodding as though he was processing everything she had described. She squinted at him suspiciously and waited for whatever he was going to throw at her.

He finally leaned in close. “And how many times in a row do I gotta make you cum to get rid of that cute bullshit and see more of this side of you, mi brujita?”

Startled a little bit by his question, she swallowed but quickly recovered with a joking look of uncertainty. “I’m not sure you’re gonna like her, Papi. She’s real fuckin’ mouthy. Real opinionated about shit. Got a lot to say.”

“Good, you’ll be keepin’ my dick hard all the fuckin’ time then.” Miguel could see in her reaction that she wasn’t sure what to do with his response though it was interesting to note how she kept referring to this part of her personality as though it was something outside of herself.

This was one of those sore places people unintentionally trip over and find. Miguel might have been divorced from his own body, but Kandy was the reverse. It still confused her, the idea that he would include her intelligence and personality in the cluster of things that fuelled his attraction to her. Meanwhile, he was privately wondering what percentage of the people in her life demanded she dialed down what she thought or erased and dismissed her contributions to a conversation entirely. People could be so destructive when put up against things that intimidated them or were simply different from whatever was their definition of normal. 

There was a flash behind those amber eyes that he couldn’t quite decipher, “You lookin’ to tame her then, Papi? The challenge of conquerin’ what you want.”

“I know that ain’t fuckin’ possible. Even if that shit were, you ain’t a prize to go in a cage, querida.” Miguel shook his head and stepped back from her with his hands finding their place in his pants pockets again. “I don’t want somebody that has got nothin’ goin’ on up in their head, Kandajha. I’m lonely as fuck with nobody to fuckin’ talk to about life, stuff I wanna do, plans, the future, or even just some dumb ass movie.” 

She watched him intently and he meant every word of it. Not a single syllable felt off or false to her. After a few moments of considering what he said, she shrugged. “It’s a habit that I need to unlearn.”

“I know, but I don’t want you dippin’ back into that ‘cause you think I’m not gonna like what you got to say or I’m gonna be upset about somethin’.” Shrugging his shoulders, he looked over at the large swaths of green grass and the mix of people lounging around on blankets. Some were eating, some reading, others just chatting and playing about. “I get up, take Irma to school, go to work, take care of her at home, every fuckin’ day raisin’ a teenager. I love her, but I’m so fuckin’ bored with all of it, querida. Why the fuck am I workin’ for all this shit when it’s just gonna be me after she goes off to college? It’s more than just you makin’ me wanna have somebody. I don’t want somebody. I want you and that’s why I’m here.”

“Four.”

Those dark brown eyes stared at her until he realized what she was talking about. He moved back close to her really playing up the serious evaluation he was doing. “I think I can get to her in two.” Up came the pointer and middle finger of his bony hand.

“Two? You seem very confident about that.” Reaching up to her scalp, Kandy carefully began pulling and unwinding the hair tie that secured her curls in place. Her fingers disappeared into her roots for a gentle rub before tossing a bulk of the brunette waves off to one side as the tie slipped over her other wrist. 

He watched silently as she ditched the coquettish aesthetic and stepped a bit further into who she really was. All he could think about while she fixed that voluminous mane of hair was how much there was for him to play with and how it would likely double in length when he got her soaking wet, either in a pool, the shower, the bathtub, out on a picnic table in the rain, or wherever. 

When he didn’t respond, she looked up at him and saw that he was staring at her. The sun reflected off the Mercedes branded TAG Heuer as he ran his hand down his jaw and the front of his neck causing her to smile to herself. “What you all caught up thinkin’ about, Papi? All the places you gonna put it? All the places you wanna taste me?”

Miguel was aware of what she was saying, but still letting something play out in his head. When Kandy eased up to his side and rested a hand on his shoulder, his arm instantly wrapped around her torso. Now with his eyes on the hotel across the way, Kandy kissed the joint of his jaw.

“Is that where the bathtub is that you want me on my hands and knees in? In that hotel you keep starin’ at?” That got his attention, but she wasn’t satisfied yet that she had all of it. “The bathroom where you’re gonna pull me by the hair and force me to watch myself in the mirror as I cum all over your long, thi–”

“How do you know about the bathtub?” He looked at her with absolute seriousness and very clearly expecting a detailed explanation.

“The question is how do you know about the bathtub, Mr. I Only Pull Chicks From the Club.” She laughed and took one of his hands leading him along again in their walking, “What are you doin’ up in a ritzy ass hotel on the beach?”

“You first.” His tone wasn’t at all playful and she sighed heavily.

“Look, all I saw was my hair slicked back, your hand wrapped up in it, and you were behind me. I put together the rest.”

“You figured all the rest out?”

“I watched a lotta cop shows growin’ up. What do you want me to say?” Kandy lifted both of her hands and shrugged as if to remind him that he asked for this, the full experience was going to be a full experience.

“Tell me how you got the rest.”

She stood in front of him with her arms folded over her stomach. “It’s not hard. I know that the only time you’d ever have me with my back to you is if there’s some way for you to see me. The eye contact, the watchin’ is a big thing for you. Where is there gonna be water and mirrors? A bathroom. That angle, neither of us were standin’. Not the shower. Bathtub. You starin’ at the hotel was all I needed to run with it.”

“And the part about me makin’ you watch yourself cum?”

The sweetest of smiles appeared on her face though it wasn’t shaded with the familiar filter of shyness. “It’s one of a handful of situations that would probably be the most satisfyin’ for you. One of only two that I could think of involving a mirror.”

Her bag was placed on one of the thigh-level stretches of cement wall that was running parallel to the sidewalk. Standing there clasping one of his wrists in front of him, Miguel watched her silently. Kandy knew this look. He was trying to figure out how he felt about all this. Taking a seat next to her bag across from him, she crossed her legs and waited quietly.

“How many of those situations that you thought up do you wanna be in, querida?”

“All of them.”

Episodes

To read other entries in the Kandy and Miguel series, please click here or begin with the Kandy and Miguel: Intro post.

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