Kandy and Miguel #9: The Park, Part Five.

Kandy sat back from him and folded her arms across her stomach. If he went by the change in her position alone, Miguel might have thought she was upset about his prying. But when he looked at her face, he was met with the sunniest of smiles. It wasn’t one of those artificial masks of a smile to hide her upset either. This was genuine and the complete opposite of what she had displayed just a few minutes ago when trying to wrap the rather cruel behavior of her grandmother, Amina, up in a civilized-looking box. Had she been anyone else, he would have assumed she was about to make some smart-ass joke at his expense over his rant earlier against the unchecked greed and influence of organized religions. Instead, his head tilted to the side as he tried to guess what the girl who avoided giving definitive answers about her own culture and beliefs thought of what he said.

“Sandy was right. Zo would have loved you. She really would have. The shit you two would be talkin’ about…” 

It wasn’t at all what he expected, though it was a nice sentiment to hear, which made him more curious about the woman who raised her and what she taught Kandy in the short time she was in his little witch’s life. “She was Cuban?”

Kandy nodded. “Catholic, too. Though towards the end she got closer to the Pentecostal side of things.” He frowned over the last part and she rubbed his chest again. “When you’re dyin’, you’ll give time to anybody preachin’ about healin’, I think.”

“Did it come between you?”

“We got to a place where I made the decision not to let it.” She smiled at her Scorpio’s tender tone he used when asking such a sensitive question. “I knew it wouldn’t be forever.”

Reaching up to caress the side of her face, Miguel leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “So, we’d be scrappin’ at the dinner table, huh?”

“Maybe, but Zo had this thing about bein’ really inspired and moved by people with passion, especially if it had to do with representation and justice. Havin’ people around her full of ideas and excitement kept her goin’. I think had she lived longer, she would have been very interested in a lot of the things that interest you.” Her eyes dropped over to a stretch of the blanket next to them and she brushed her hair back. “I feel like she’d tell me that you’re what I need. Who you are, how you are, your energy is what I’ve needed in my life.”

Though he knew to tread lightly, Miguel wasn’t going to completely abandon his contention that differing economic factors played a part in alienating certain Latino communities from each other. As a Mexican-American living in a city with a sizable and well-connected Cuban community very active in politics, he had both seen and experienced classism and discrimination based on his family’s roots. This also didn’t include the disrespect he occasionally ran across with his own people when the discussion of how close his family still is to Oaxaca and how strongly he identifies with his indigenous ancestry became unavoidable.

Up went his dark angular brows as he rubbed his chin pensively. “And the kids at the border in them cages?”

“It would have broken her heart. And angered her.” Clearing her throat, Kandy fluffed up the roots of her brunette curls as she shyly smiled up at her Scorpio. “Kids were always the group she tried to advocate for and protect the most. But I know you‘re really askin’ me about somethin’ else. The answer is that I don’t know. Las jaulas would not be somethin’ she’d ignore. Like I said before, I know when Mexico is thrown into the mix, shit changes for a lot of people. She never talked about immigration or colorism and those issues weren’t very high on my list at the time.”

“If she never spoke out against those things, why you think she’d give a fuck about the people who were here first?” His shoulders lifted and then dropped as he probed further.

Her smile deepened to a knowing grin as she looked at him from the side of her eyes before turning the amber pair’s focus back out to the water. She knew what he was up to. Catching the coy look, he smirked and wound his hand up the end of her curls gathering the wind-tossed tresses into a thick column. Though he hadn’t yet pulled on the rope he had fashioned from her hair, Kandy knew he would in order to maintain her focus on the conversation.

“Zo got involved with the tribal council lookin’ to get permission to adapt one of the drug and alcohol avoidance programs she co-created with a local pastor to try and make a dent in teenage substance abuse —“ Seeing him wince, Kandy squeezed one of his forearms in commiseration. “It was a humbling experience for her, Red Road and all. There was some recommended readin’. But, she learned from it, dove in, and wound up caring and understandin’ more. She was in the process of tryin’ to do it right when she ran out of time. That’s why I say that if she had been here longer, you two might have really connected on those issues.”

Scooping up her hand, Miguel kissed her knuckles with affection as he let his tone soften not intending to keep circling them back to the events leading up to the woman’s unexpected passing. “How much of that hurt and outrage for others did you inherit from her, mi corazón?”

“A fair amount. I went from only ever seein’ from people what not to do to learnin’ what I should do from her.” Taking in another measured breath, she finally looked back at Miguel and offered him a weary-looking smile. “You know me well enough by now to know I’m not gonna ignore the problematic sides of people I love, cariño. There are issues I’ve always cared about because of how and where I’ve lived, but I knew I couldn’t share with her or openly participate in certain things. As I push the grief out, I have now more room in my life for what I’ve neglected.” 

Whilst taking in what she had shared, he stroked the length of his fingers along hers as he unlatched and then relocked their hands together a few times. “Them things you wanted to do, you couldn’t ‘cause she wouldn’t approve?”

“Or I was afraid she wouldn’t. I needed her in my life for as long as I could have her and I wasn’t gonna risk losin’ that tradin’ on the belief that her love for me was stronger than her belief in the misinformation or prejudices she inherited from her own family and religion.” Kandy paused for a moment a replayed to herself what she had just spoken aloud. “There was a time where I couldn’t and wouldn’t admit that shit, let alone tell somebody else about it.”

Miguel frowned as Kandy brought up again her awareness of the limitations on the love people had for her. To her and around her, it sounded like love had always been a limited and conditional exchange even with the people in her life who had been assigned the positions normally associated with its unconditional form. Thinking about his own life and relationships, he knew that it all came down to the other person regardless of the nature of the bond between the two people. There wasn’t a single moment he could remember where loving and protecting his sister Irma was an option. The bond simply existed as far back as his memory went. Sadly, this was not an emotional connection their mother shared and was quite apparent throughout Irma’s life. Despite the woman maintaining telephonic contact with her youngest child, Miguel still doubted the sincerity of their mother’s interest in Irma’s growth. Though his grandmother’s stubbornness could get in the way at times, he believed she would be there if he called for help. She might show up with a lecture, but she would show up.

Querida, you know you got value just by bein’ you and not just in the shit you do for people, right?”

Like a deer, Kandy froze immediately having forgotten his rather impressive ability to read between the lines. Though her free hand lifted to rub between her collar bones, she caught herself and redirected it to smooth down the top of her hair, which she had also forgotten he was still holding behind her neck. The business methodology she had unknowingly stumbled across and used to survive the emotional tumultuousness of her family life was assessing risk and return. Miguel used it to make his decisions, personal and professional. Kandy used it, along with her gifts, to constantly measure how safe she was in situations she had no choice but to be in. The easiest way to keep the peace and herself protected was to make it so that she was invaluable in some way.

“No, I know.” She offered him a casual smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

His little witch was fibbing to him. She might have known it, but she didn’t believe it. This added another layer of context to her and how she viewed the transient nature of people in her life. As she had said earlier, she wasn’t going to try and stop someone who wanted to leave and instead believed if they wanted to stay then they would. With that also came clarity on the one-foot-out-the-door feeling he had picked up from her during some of their more tricky issues that needed to be discussed. While it wasn’t something he would do anyway, he made it a point specifically with himself to not ever use walking out as a threat in an argument with her. 

“I know you like colorin’ outside the lines, mi brujita, so I’m bettin’ magic is one of them things on that list.”

Kandy smiled genuinely and sighed with a little bit of relief before looking up at her halcón, grateful that he decided to move the conversation along. “It was one, a big one. To be fair to Zo, we both had a positive influence on each other over time. She opened my world up emotionally — like this between us, would not be happenin’ if she hadn’t been so determined to help me. Don’t get me wrong, I know who you are to me and that makes it different out the gate between us, but I wouldn’t have kissed you in the car or been comfortable enough for us to be so…” 

“Physical?” His head tilted with curiosity as he tried to imagine how things would have gone had she avoided letting him hold her hand in the car to comfort her, which eventually led to her kissing him. “You still woulda talked to me?”

“Did you not see the way I looked at you?” Up went one of her brows quite sharply as she laughed. The moment he smirked was when she realized that he still thought it initially only had to do with what he looked like. “Miggy, Zo might have helped me to be more open to people, but if I didn’t feel what I felt in that car, it wasn’t gonna happen. Yea, you’re fine as fuck, but that isn’t enough to get me to do what I did.” 

There was a flash in those brown eyes of his, which made her grin for a second. “If it ain’t my good looks, querida, then what was it? Musta been pretty fuckin’ serious to get you to wanna come up out of them shorts.”

Just like she needed to hear and be reminded of certain things, so did he and she was happy to oblige him. “You wanna know what it was?”

His brows tilted down adding more edge to the playfulness burning in his dark eyes. “Tell me.”

Of course, this was something Kandy couldn’t strictly articulate into words. Instead, she eased up closer to him, face to face, and gently draped one of her arms around behind his shoulders. With her eyelids drifting shut, she rested her forehead against his and occasionally nuzzled the side of his hawk-like nose with the tenderness he had come to love. It took less than a second for her body to slip into a more relaxed state just by being so up against him and he noticed. As much as he wanted to kiss her, he held off to see what all she would do and say to answer him. 

She bit her bottom lip while slipping a pointer finger down one side of his jaw before finally kissing his mouth. The intoxicating mix of how she took her time with it and kept the involved kiss soft and nonaggressive was luring him further and further away from the safety of standing on the edge of his emotions and deeper into them. Other than releasing her hair to gently hold the side of her face, Miguel didn’t interrupt or attempt to take over. This was her show and he wanted to see it, start to finish. Feeling the warmth of her other hand moving up under his tank top to rub over that mysterious colorful tattoo he was keeping from her caused a shift inside. Despite how uncomfortable it had been to sit back against the cement, he found his torso relaxing against it as she continued to massage the center of his chest. 

Eventually, the kiss came to an end and she drifted back to cuddling her cheekbone against his. “All this that you’re feelin’ in here…” Her hand stopped for her fingers to pat directly over his heart. “This fuckin’ brew of emotions that I just stirred up in there is what I felt in the car. I didn’t know it until I looked at you, but I had felt like I had been runnin’ my whole life. And in that fuckin’ Mercedes all of that shit stopped. You make me want to be still. The more I’m with you the less afraid of it I am.”

The power of the mix he felt wasn’t like the uncontrollable whirlpool he had been afraid of. Instead, it was like settling back into a steamy hot bath that was both soothing and stimulating in its own way. Miguel found himself wanting to slouch further and further down into this heated pond she had brought him to by her touch alone. But it was the other things she said that distracted him from remembering to reach for that invisible rope to pull himself up out of it. 

Miggs, listen to what she’s tellin’, you bro. It’s the first day. Don’t start with that shit. You know this conversation has been goin’ on a lot longer than a fuckin’ day, carnal. You can’t tell somethin’ shifted with her after she almost ran outta here? Or maybe you do and you too chicken shit scared to say you do. You said no more hidin’. Is she? She hasn’t been showin’ you more, tellin’ you more? You said no more runnin’. She just fuckin’ told you she don’t want to.

Quite naturally his heavily tattooed hand slipped from her face to her throat for a firmer hold, which made her sigh happily as he sat her up. “This is one of those times you want my cock in you and to tell me you love me, ain’t it?”

Brighter than the sun, Kandy smiled at him. “Yea, seems to be some overlap with you wantin’ to be nice and deep in this pussy while tellin’ me how much you’ve missed me though.”

His brow furrowed at the unexpected reaction he felt himself have when she teased him about missing her. It hadn’t hurt per se, but it wasn’t pleasant. Kandy felt his hold on her neck weaken prompting her to pay closer attention to him. He began to understand that she was, in a rather indirect way, making him aware of something inside, but it was still too far down in the deep for him to experience fully.

“Some advice, cariño?”

Miguel blinked and looked up at her having felt the tug of her voice bringing him back up to the surface. “Advice?”

“Don’t chase it. You can wind up wastin’ a lotta fuckin’ energy tryin’ to hurry it along. You know somethin’ is there, but when you’re supposed to see — or feel — whatever it is clearly, you will.”

He let his arms find their place around her hips and softly rubbed her back beneath her t-shirt. “Mi brujita empática.

While she was happy to finally have someone in her life who wasn’t just respectful of her gifts, but valued them as well, it did cause her to think back to when she first moved to Tampa to begin living with a family who had no connection to anything esoteric or the occult. “I tease you about your disdain for Irma’s — wait, what are we gonna call that kid?”

“Batis–”.

“Miguel!” Before he could finish the last name of the overthrown president of Cuba, Kandy gave his shoulder a bit of a shove that was slightly less playful than it normally was.

He laughed and raised his hands. “My bad, my bad. His name is David.”

“I can’t wait to meet David.

“No, his parents call him Day-vid. Not Duh-veed.

“Fuck his parents.” Kandy waved her hand to dismiss the notion. “Zo woulda straight up been like ‘Hola, David!’ and I’m totally gonna do it every time I see that kid.”

Miguel smirked as if it somehow would conceal from her the rowdy grin bubbling beneath the surface. “Is that how Zo sounded?”

“When she was in full-on Little Havana Auntie Mode, for sure. One look at you and –” 

He watched her as she took a moment to pull up the memory of the woman’s sound and gestures. It pleased him that Kandy seemed more able to speak about Zoraida in a happy and positive mood. While he very much wanted to know more about the woman he had crossed paths with a few times prior to meeting Kandy, he didn’t want it to be at the expense of his little witch’s progress in healing from the grief of her passing. When her hand gently clasped his long angular jaw to hold his chin, he looked up at her with those brown eyes filled with curiosity. Something about it felt different.

Ay, Miguel! You’re so handsome! I will be the Yaya with the best-looking grandbabies in all of Tampa Bay!” 

Immediately, Kandy let go of him and covered her blushing face with her hands as he laughed at her temporary Cuban accent. What got him to crack up wasn’t just the sound or cadence, but the way her hand went from resting on her hip to gesturing intermittently as she spoke. Remembering the photo of Zoraida and Kandy at the holiday party she showed him earlier, he could now very easily imagine the force that was Zo’s youthful exuberance and the way the glamorous extrovert had helped his little witch come out of her shell over time. 

Tossing her hair out over her shoulders, Kandy shrugged and brought them back to the original conversation. “I tease you, but I get the Cuban thing. I made the assumption she would be cool with certain stuff and she wasn’t. Like there was a time, in the beginning, I never thought I’d ever have an altar of any kind in the house.”

“Was that ‘cause of the Catholicism?”

“I think it’s a Miami thing, too. Miami is weird ‘cause on one side you got people-people, with tradition and pride in it. Then on the other –”

“You got a group tryin’ to cultivate power and legitimacy through money and all the conservative bullshit that goes with it.” Lifting his hands as if to reassure her that he wasn’t going to go on another rant, Miguel smirked and sighed. “There was a time when bein’ Catholic in this fuckin’ country got your shit fucked up. It’s funny as hell seein’ the Evangelicals accuse grandma of bein’ an idol worshippin’ lost soul who prays to saints instead of Jesus. Let them fuckin’ fight each other. Maybe it’ll give people a chance to wake the fuck up.”

“It wasn’t just tryin’ to fit in to play the game and get somewhere. Zo was close with a pastor of a Pentecostal church for a lotta years, way before I came along. Knowin’ who he is, that influence has always been in her ear.” 

“Was that the guy who wanted to go tell a tribe how to heal their own people?” He caught himself and how acerbic his tone was.

But instead of giving him the scolding he expected, Kandy sat there smiling ear to ear whilst nodding. “To Zo, any opportunity to fund a good cause or make connections was worth whatever trouble that person might bring.”

“That whole End Justifies The Means strategy never fuckin’ works out, yo.” Miguel sighed heavily.

“One of the biggest fights we had was when she caught me setting up an altar a couple days before Halloween. When she saw the skeletons and death, she freaked the fuck out. I tried to explain what it was. She started prayin’ and just…” Kandy shook her head. 

His hands had returned to her thighs but slowed to a stop knowing exactly the type of experience she was talking about. “When my mom went over the edge with all that church shit every argument, every upset was the Devil sowin’ strife and discord. It didn’t matter about what we felt or her actions, it was just some evil tryin’ to fuck up the family. No compassion, no fuckin’ accountability. When I saw Irma startin’ to change how she showed her emotions, that fucked me up, like for real. This kid, who just wants her mom to love her, is learnin’ what I did on the street. Fuckin’ hide that shit or you get played. You a mark if you feel shit. My sister who just goes to school, watches cartoons, and colors was changin’ like how I did, a drug dealin’, banged out motherfucker from the barrio covered in tats and scars. Pops and bro were already in prison. They ain’t drunk and the issue anymore. That’s when I knew my mom was part of the fuckin’ problem. Violence was only half it.” 

“Abandonment was the other.”

He looked up at her and then finally nodded. “I went back to the social worker they hooked me up with in that court program and she got me into some parentin’ classes. Told her I got some girl pregnant and wanted to do better.”

“When you learned and read enough to see you could pull off takin’ care of her, that’s when you decided to make a serious plan?”

“Pretty much. With all the readin’ and shit, the statistics on drug use, recidivism. How losing culture and not bein’ connected to our roots feeds into it. All that shit meant there ain’t no way I could do it while stayin’ local. Mom wasn’t gonna change. Homies didn’t wanna let me go. I was a frequent flyer with the cops. Manny had come out to Florida after I recovered from the accident and kept talkin’ up to me the idea of leavin’. He ain’t never copped to it, but I felt like he knew some shit was gonna go down and was doin’ his best to try and hurry my ass along.”

Kandy smiled to herself while she watched him get more animated with his hands as he chained it all together and listed his reasons to escape life in California. “Sounds like all that planted some other seeds too.”

“It did. So many people got no idea what they’re up against. Like we rah-rah, fight the system, fuck the man, which is all the way right, but we got no fuckin’ understandin’ of how big that shit is. Maybe some of us do, but as a people — brown, black, First Nations, non-white, whoever else not in the Great White Club of Right  — we ain’t playin’ the game how we need to. Like, I ain’t stupid. I know money is important, market share, buyin’ power, all that financial shit. It’s how we get it and other groups get it that fucks me up. Sellin’ our souls to the fuckin’ people who created the system and cuttin’ each other’s throats ain’t the ways to do it.”

“The end never justifies the means.”

“The never do, querida. Never. Especially not when it comes to righting an imbalance of power.”

Listening to him go deeper into explaining the conflict he had about politics within the Latino community, she could feel herself becoming more comfortable with the inevitability of having to talk about another side of her family’s history. It was one that she hadn’t even discussed with Sandy, who was arguably the relative she was closest to. In fact, the only person she felt like she could talk it over with was her friend Talia, who had her own cross-cultural issues to navigate within her family. 

Kandy also agreed with everything Miguel had said. Zoraida used the same strategies she had learned while watching her family rise through the political ranks, first locally in Miami, then across the state of Florida. She had been instrumental in raising their national profile before her death, but still clung to certain antiquated, pro-establishment ways of thinking. This often included issues of religion, sexuality, and gender identity.

“When we had the fight about the altar, the things Zo was sayin’, the prayers and phrasin’ in them had that Pentecostal-Evangelical feel. The Satanism and devil worship bullshit is tired, but that never really hurt my feelings. It was when she was tryin’ to banish it from me and I could see she really believed it was changin’ who I was.” Right after that, Kandy made a connection she hadn’t before and was rather surprised by the motivation revealed to her. “I think that’s part of why despite some of the horrible shit my grandmother did, I’m kinda protective of her. I still was fortunate enough to be raised by somebody who had the knowledge and experience to guide me with what I can do no matter how fuckin’ bad it got in Spain. So to go from that to a household where none of that existed –”

“Nah, it existed. All of it had just been vilified as fuck to Zo. That motherfucker gettin’ up there in front of everybody lyin’ and the rest of them all believe in it. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t have the power to scare them.” Miguel sat forward and out came that rather sharply pointed bony finger to punctuate his message.

Seeing how dark his eyes had gotten, she knew he was angry about it and decided to softly rub the center of his chest with her palm again. “He gets a vision about somethin’ and it’s a blessed message from the Holy Spirit, so open your wallets. I get a word about somebody who’s gonna lie, cheat, or steal and I’m a demon-possessed false oracle who sold my soul.”

It felt like every time he noticed her hand stroking against his chest, the more enjoyable it became and he was quite happy to let it continue. “Knowin’ how much she cared about others in different ways musta made that shit pretty hard to take. Was it all just words or did she take it further than that?”

“She made me throw it all out.” Kandy lightly rubbed the space between her collar bones with her free hand. “Everything except the photos. I begged to keep the photos and she let me have them. But everything else went into the trash. After that, she went upstairs and tossed my room and found some books my friend gave me –”

“Your Catholic-adjacent friend?” When he flashed her that mischievous smile, Kandy looked up at him with all the love in the world and he was relieved he was able to buoy her spirits a bit.

“My half-Dominican, half-Mexican, Santería-practicing best friend who also happens to be a member of the LGBTQ community.” With a fingertip slipping up the center of his throat to hook beneath his chin, she encouraged him closer for a short kiss that was still somehow indulgent-feeling despite its brevity.

Despite the state of relaxation she had put him in, Miguel squinted at the description and waited to see if she would share her friend’s name. That was a very specific type of person she described and if it was who he thought it was then they were connected even closer than either originally thought. Silently mulling this over, he considered what it would mean if it were true. What had their friend in common shared about him unknowingly to Kandy? Had there been a time when their friend had referenced Kandy in some way? Surely she had if Kandy viewed her as a best friend. Remembering Kandy had withdrawn from people following Zo’s death and that Manny and Talia had only started dating over the summer, there was the possibility that neither had occurred due to timing. He had to appreciate the connections and circles that somehow kept them in each other’s social orbit, but had also kept them apart until the timing was right for them to meet.

The hand that had been toying in her hair now curved around behind her neck to pull her back in for a second round of kissing, which caused her eyes to roll to a close. This session was all love and affection. While either of those things might’ve very quickly led them down the path toward something more lustful, the pair managed to stay right in the thick of this unexpectedly romantic sidebar. They could’ve easily been slow dancing in some smoky bar as jazz played in the background or stuck at some unreasonably long traffic light in the middle of the night on the way home. All it would take was a couple spare seconds for the two to look at each other and feel the magnetic pull of emotions between them.

After a few seconds, the hand that was wrapped in the tattoo of a rosary anchored by the scorpion eased under her jaw to support half of it as his thumb drifted against her cheek ending the kiss. “So, how did you get the altar in there?”

Kandy laughed and rested her forehead against his. “You really wanna know about all this?”

“If I’m askin’, it’s ‘cause I wanna know.” Giving her forehead another encouraging peck, he sat her back from him so that she could continue.

“It took a while for me to get past the hurt. Sometimes, I still think about it. Even back then, I knew she loved me pretty soon after gettin’ there. Carmelo was their only kid. But that particular fight set it up so that I really felt like there were some absolutes I couldn’t cross. I never hinted at them ‘cause I knew it would hurt her. It was just something I learned to live with as a trade-off for being there.” When she shrugged, it wasn’t out of defeat or fatigue, but rather a self-confident defiance. “There was no way I was gonna hide every part of me though. I brought my friend over more and more. She and I would always talk about her practice and stuff related to it, by the pool, when we were at the table, in the car. And then that next Fall, I set up another ancestor altar just off the kitchen like I had before. Zo’s family, my family, friends she had who had passed as well. She came home and saw their photos, the offerings, the personal items I collected. I told her if she thought it was evil, if it was against God, then she could take it down and throw it away herself.”

Miguel chuckled to himself and ran a palm down over his jaw. “The guilt trip worked?”

“Surprisingly. I don’t think she ever put any offerings down and lit any candles, but that wasn’t really the point. I deserved space for my beliefs and I fought in my own way to get it.” Kandy glanced out toward the Gulf to see the thinning out of the beachgoers. “For a while, I wanted to know what she thought of it or felt about it.” 

“Her approval.” He clocked the rolling of her eyes and chuckled good-naturedly at her bristling over the term. “It’s natural, querida. You respected her.”

“Never the same though. It really fuckin’ upset me to see a woman so intelligent and cultured and a really good person fall for divisive religious bullshit. In that fight, she straight up believed that man in his costume over me.” Noticing how surprised he was by the way she was talking, Kandy lightly patted his chest. “I told you I wasn’t gonna go off defendin’ the church, or any church, to you.” 

“Ah, mi brujita rebelde.” There came that familiar territorial groping of her rear as he held her lower half against his.

Kandy fought the urge to grip the part of him she wasn’t allowed to without his permission and instead refocused herself on the conversation. “Have you made any progress at all with your mom over the years?”

Miguel straightened his body into a more upright sitting position with a sigh. Her question wasn’t an easy one to answer, neither emotionally nor with any real accuracy. As he sat there, he couldn’t remember the last time he actually had a conversation with the woman who seemed to be the last barricade he needed to clear to move on with his life.

“After the first year, when she threatened to take Irma back, things eventually cooled off. Like, I expected her to stop callin’ Irma once she saw I was holdin’ up my side of the deal with sendin’ her the money, but the calls kept comin’. She kept tryin’ to reach out. I dunno, like, Irma never seems to be upset when she calls or after she gets off the phone, but I don’t trust Irene. Not after all the shit she pulled. With her, no news is good news. So like, if my phone ain’t ringin’ from abuelita about her or nobody from the neighborhood is callin’ me, then we good. Out of sight, out of mind.”

“You look like you’re waitin’ though. Do you feel it comin’ or is it just baggage?”

Thoughtfully rubbing his jaw, he eased into silence as he went back over the times receiving correspondence from his mother in any form had kept him up late at night despite being on the other side of the country. “I didn’t feel it for a long ass time and then when Irma started her senior year, the calls from California have been comin’ more often.”

She was staring at him silently and he could feel her filtering through what seemed to be overflowing from him to her. “You’re checkin’ the phone bill. That’s some real Scorpio shit.”

Miguel smirked and nodded with a bit of an embarrassed smile. “Irma is even more of a fuckin’ vault than I am, querida. For my peace of mind, Imma stay checkin’ that damn bill.”

Smiling, Kandy leaned in and kissed his cheek sweetly before wrapping both of her arms up around his neck. “You think the calls mean your mom is tryin’ to make a play for after she graduates?”

“That’s what I’m afraid of. All the paperwork and all the conversations are still about Miami. But I’m freakin’ the fuck out that she’s promisin’ her this sunny life in California at UCLA or some shit.”

Cariño, I know I never met your sister, but she’s fuckin’ smart. She might’ve been young when you took her out of there, but she was old enough to remember.” Seeing how deep his concern went, she caressed the side of his face. “We’ll keep her protected, Miggy.”

You hearin’ her? Yes, I hear her. Are you really, though? For real homie, are you? Yes, I really hear her. Look at what you fuckin’ got. Look at what’s sittin’ right in front of you. In your fuckin’ lap, bro. Turning more to get a better view of her face, Miguel watched as his little brunette became curious about the thoughts floating inside his head. Her brows lifted as she tilted her head, wondering if something was wrong. Instead, he took her hand from his jaw to kiss the back of it.

“What were the books your friend gave you?”

“The ones that Zo took? Oh. Real 101 stuff for like Santería and other forms of syncretized Catholicism. Talia smartly thought it best to kinda keep my practice skewed that way until the dust settled with Zo. I actually think Zo was lookin’ through them because she started askin’ questions here and there around my birthday. She still didn’t like tarot, divination, or anything that got close to mediumship. Those things stayed off-limits in any form.”

Miguel knew there was a ticking clock on telling Kandy that her best friend was his cousin’s girlfriend. And though he was actually rather relieved by this, he still wasn’t sure he had fully considered how this might negatively affect his relationship with Kandy. Manny would go home after work and call up Talia with the news. Then, Talia would call Kandy and he’d have to deal with the awkward fight about why he didn’t speak up about it. Even though she had sensed the shift in his focus, she again abided by the rule of respecting his privacy and didn’t listen in or sift for clues about what was distracting him. But it was quite obvious that something in what she was telling him had sent him down another avenue of thought.

How many fuckin’ people your ass gotta have in common with her before you realize this was all meant to be? How much shit do y’all gotta be into before you wake up and admit this is who you asked for, Miggs? That ain’t the issue. The issue is if we both grown enough to pull this off. You met today for a reason. What do you think?

“That was just her fear talkin’, querida.”

Those amber eyes of her narrowed right before surprising him with a quick flip of her wrist and grab of his chin. She had managed to catch the boxer off guard. He looked at her not with disapproval, but pure desire. The instant she swept her tongue across her upper lip he was curling that skeletal-looking pointer finger for her to venture closer. Flexing her legs over his hips, Kandy put herself right back into her favorite position high in his lap and her arms extended over his shoulders. With her hands clamped over the opposite side of the cement behind him, she pressed her chest into his and soon after felt his palms rubbing up her flanks under her shirt.

“Zo was lucky that Talia only likes boys.”

“Jesus Christ, Kandajha.” Again his hand covered in tattoos like a skeleton wiped down over the lower half of his face.

The little brunette rolled her eyes. “You like it when I’m a little —“

Hearing the sudden pause, Miguel looked up at her expectantly. “When you’re a little what, mi conejita?”

“When I’m a little defiant, Papi.

His hands went right back to squeezing and rubbing her denim-clad hips and rear. “You’re right, I do, conejita.

“I know somethin’ else too, Papi.”

The way she was looking at him out from under a few fallen layers of her curls as she toyed with the grey cotton material of his tank top was starting to ratchet up the playful tension between them again. “Tell me what else you know, mi buena conejita.”

“I know you got somethin’ I really need inside of me right now.”

Running his palms up her thighs, he cursed the denim that was too tight to allow his fingers to sneak inside and tease her panty line. “What you need inside you, conejita?”

Leaning in close without even the slightest hint of shying away from answering him, Kandy looked up at Miguel. “I need my Papi’s long, hard …”

Cock. The word rang in his ears though he knew she hadn’t spoken it. Still, his reaction was the same. Grabbing the underneath of her hair, he held her in front of him so that he could watch her groan with enjoyment. Though she did her best to move in closer to him, Miguel tightened his grip on her hair keeping her exactly where she was. Out came the sultry giggle and taunting smile of the playful brat he knew lurked inside of his beautifully submissive conejita.

Papi, you might ban me from sayin’ that word, but you can never stop me from thinkin’ it.”

Miguel shook his head and finally chuckled as his hand drifted around to her chin after releasing her hair. The tender and affectionate stroke of his thumb’s pad against her plush lips melted away some of that defiance she spoke of earlier, but he could still feel her pelvis pressing down against his suggestively. 

Holding her face, he made sure he had her attention for his response to her cheeky little statement. “I never wanna stop you from thinkin’ anything unless it’s upsettin’ to you, querida. Those things you felt like you couldn’t tell Zo, I want you to work on gettin’ to a place where you can tell them to me. No hidin’, mi conejita. You don’t gotta do that anymore. Mi abuelita? We will find a way around that so you don’t wind up hurt.”

Nodding, she closed her eyes and softly held his wrist. By now, he had learned what she was really asking for when he felt her grip his arm. Without a word, Miguel let go of her jaw and carefully wrapped his fingers and thumb around the left and right sides of her neck. When the contoured surface of his palm rested lightly against the center of her throat, Kandy’s body relaxed and the corners of her mouth perked slightly for an appreciative smile. In a reciprocal move, Kandy returned her hand to the center of his chest and held it over his heart and the tattoo that mysteriously stretched across most of his torso.

“Miggy, I’ve eaten your food. I have felt what it can do and what you can do. The friction between you and su abuelita, how much of it is about her pressurin’ you to come back and be the next in line?” It was very obvious he wasn’t pleased with her question, which only made her bring the petting of his chest to a stop.

He chuckled for a second as he was now on the receiving end of one of those conversational curveballs, but eventually shrugged and thought about it. “I wanna do shit my own way. How she learned to do it just ain’t how I wanna live my life. There’s lots I wanna do, querida. Like, important ass things. But I can’t do them stuck in the barrio treatin’ everybody’s problems.”

Hearing the dip in his tone, Kandy gave his forearms an affectionate squeeze as he now held her hips. “Knowin’ how important keepin’ those spiritual traditions alive is to you, that’s gotta be hard to live with sometimes when you’ve decided that isn’t your path. Does she know what you’re doin’ out here?”

Bypassing the question about his practice, he began to wonder how much his little witch knew of what he did. “For a long time, she thought I was shittin’ all over it. I wasn’t. I just can’t do it the way she does it. It’s ain’t for me. Not like that.”

Kandy could feel the sadness in him caused by the alienation he experienced from his grandmother over his choices and journey. She knew him enough to expect that he’d be cagey about things that were an ongoing source of upset. Her Scorpio wasn’t a fan of talking about things until he had fully digested them or come up with a strategy to handle them. When it came right down to it, he might not have been a curandero, but Miguel indeed was a healer. Thinking about what it would have taken for him to do the type of workings he did so consistently on her food without knowing her, Kandy tilted her head and watched him until his brows raised from curiosity.

“Do you have a set group of guides you consult for the needs of each order of food or do you get the advice from those specifically connected to whoever is eatin’ what you’re plating? That’s how you do it, right? The food has a general blessing, but a dish doesn’t leave for service without you checkin’ it. So, if that person tied to that plate needs somethin’ extra, that’s when you do what you do? I bet your hands touch nearly every takeout and delivery order too.”

Miggs… 

Miguel smirked before ultimately smiling at her. “I love you, querida.”

Papi.”

He saw the familiar mix of love and kindness along with respect and admiration. Without a second thought, his sculpted and tattooed arms wrapped across her back and hips so that he could bury his face in the curve of her neck. Though it had grown faint over the intervening hours, he could still pick up a trace of the orchid and coconut-based fragrance she was wearing. She had no intention of pressing him for answers as she hadn’t expected to get much clarification this early on in light of the conflict he still felt about his nontraditional approach to the gifts and abilities he had inherited from previous generations. The goal had more to do with letting him know that she thought about that part of him, respected it, and was as supportive as she was curious.

Once she had given him a few seconds to get centered, Kandy gently eased herself back from him so that she could serve him up a suspicious little glare. “You sure?”

Before she knew it, his skeletal-looking hand had swept up her neck and into the roots of her hair to gather a palm-full of those wild curls. Seeing how her eyes rolled back to a close made one side of his mouth twitch up into a dark grin that disappeared as quickly as it had formed. He wanted her focused though and with an almost gentle wash of his fingers over her scalp, she purred and opened her eyes to be greeted by the man she loved more than she could say.

“Does conejita wanna feel how sure I am?” Extending his arm a few inches further, he held her taut and demanded a rigidly straight posture with her head up and chest out.

Those unique amber eyes rolled down to focus on his long angular face in time to see him suck his teeth whilst admiring her curves. Kandy knew he was lounging back against the concrete picturing her nude and on top of him in the same strict pose. For the sake of self-control, the brunette was also doing her best not to visualize him underneath her, also liberated from his clothes. Regardless of whether she’d finally get a clear view of whatever the massive tattoo was that wrapped over and around his torso, Kandy loved the chiseled and tapered physique he had crafted to build back what he had lost from the motorcycle accident and make him competitive in the ring. 

Despite being held locked in the position of his choosing, she was still able to sneak her fingers under part of his tank top to feel the contours of his abdomen, which indeed reminded her of a scorpion’s segmented body. “Please, Papi. I do.”

“You do, what?” 

Taking a moment to settle back more comfortably in the very regal posture he had been holding her in, Kandy sat in Miguel’s lap with an expression that only a proud submissive could offer her Dominant. “I wanna feel how sure my Papi is that he loves me.”

“Put your knees up, conejita.”

Instead of leaving her legs lazily wrapped around his hips, she pulled her legs in toward her torso until her feet were flush against the blanket just behind his hips. This not only brought her knees up against his sides but also forced her to sit down between his thighs rather than up in his lap. She now had to look up at him as she lounged there, held in place by both his grip and her palms as support behind her. Had they been naked and in bed, it would have been the perfect angle to —

“Mm, Papi…

The way the meekness from the pleasure she was experiencing softened her tone made him throb as he focused his concentration on her body. It wasn’t a new sensation for her to feel what seemed like his hardened length pressing inside of her. This ability he had was something he liked to use on her during their more involved sessions of flirtation and Kandy wasn’t about to tell him to stop. She was trusting that he knew enough about her to know where the boundaries were and there were no indications that he was venturing anywhere close to violating them. 

It had been such a long time since she had felt desire for somebody and even longer since another had been capable of putting her into such a deep state of arousal. In fact, Miguel was quite adept at keeping her there, which was another thing that she didn’t mind. She enjoyed the ache, the hunger, the tension between them. Ironically, there had been several occasions since they met each other hours earlier when they could have messed around, but for whatever reason, there was always an interruption or distraction. 

When he felt her palm slip beneath his tank top to press on his abdomen, he slowed the thoughts of the rhythm he had built in his imagination and backed off slightly out of concern that it had started to be uncomfortable for her. Because he couldn’t feel any of it, he had only her responses to go by.

“No, no, no, Papi. Please don’t stop.”

Though she had pushed herself back up into his lap and looped an arm around his neck to regain her leverage, the angle and other particulars of the sensations she was experiencing didn’t change. Rather than letting the shift in her position cause her hair to catch in his grip harshly, he bent his arm to follow her in close and held the back of her head. While Kandy might have been on top of him to grind down on his pelvis and ride him, it still felt as if he was very slowly stroking back and forth inside of her as she lay on her back. 

“Sit still, conejita.” Firm was his command, but it was met with a short whine of protest that made him smirk.

Ultimately, she followed his instructions and held herself over his lap on her folded legs that were straddling his thighs. With her hands on the concrete half-wall behind him to keep herself steady, Kandy couldn’t help but think of how similar this was to the way she had wanted to climb on top of him on the couch back in the restaurant’s private office. His stroking resumed and with every pass what felt like another half-inch or inch was pushed inside of her. The defiant whine had weakened to a pleading whimper as she slumped slightly against his hold from the pleasure that was overtaking her.

“Open your eyes, conejita. I wanna watch you while I train you to take all of my c–”

“Funnel cakes! Hot, crispy, sweet funnel cakes! Get your funnel cakes!”

While Miguel jumped from being startled by the closeness of the vendor’s voice, Kandy was already leaning back and grabbing for her book bag on one of the blanket’s corners. The instant his concentration was broken, the sensations she felt inside disappeared allowing her to focus on the fried treat ready for purchase just down the way from them on the other side of the sidewalk. Chuckling as he watched her fish out a few bills, Miguel relaxed back and hung his elbows up on the edge of the cement half wall behind him.

Standing up barefoot between his thighs, Kandy looked down at Miguel with a provocative perk of her brow. “You want somethin’ to eat, Papi?”

He smirked as all he could think about was hooking his arms frontward over her hips and holding her in place while burying his tongue deep inside of her. If only she had been wearing a skirt and they were somewhere other than out in public. Gazing over at his Mercedes parked in the distance, his rosary wrapped hand had slipped up between her thighs scandalously high, high enough to rub the crotch of her denim shorts and feel the dampness he no doubt caused.

“I’ll eat later, conejita.”

Having become a bit unsteady on her feet from the physical sensations of what he was fantasizing about registering inside her body, his little witch rested her fingers on his shoulder. When he looked up at her she had already reached down to cover the back of his hand between her thighs with her own and pressed it firmer against herself.

“This is always for my Papi.

With a gesture like that, he would have had her thigh hanging over his shoulder and two of his fingers hooked inside her tight velvety tunnel. “Go get your treat, conejita.

Giggling from the playful swat to her rear, she was already hopping over the cement to skip across and down the way to the man selling the hot and crispy funnel cakes dusted in icing sugar. Unable to resist, Miguel twisted around and folded his arms over the top of the warm cement just so he could sit there and watch her. Kandy knew her halcón to expect that he’d be keeping his eyes on her. Greeting the older balding man behind the cart with a cute wave, the little brunette took her time in leaning over a few degrees to get a good look at all the sweets and toppings he had on offer to go with the plate of funnel cake. As much as he had been annoyed at the restrictive nature of the material, Miguel was forced to admit how fantastic her firm rear looked in the low-rise denim shorts. When she tilted forward causing the fabric to pull tighter over her shape, his head angled off to the side as if it would somehow give him a better view.

Having pointed at something in particular, Kandy nonchalantly began to swish her hips back and forth, turning left and right after crossing her wrists behind her body. All Miguel could think about was walking up and looping a stretch of pre-knotted rope over those wrists to secure them in place out of his way. It wasn’t until he spotted one of her hands sneaking into a back pocket to lewdly grip half of her rear that he realized she was aware he was silently observing. One last taunting lift and drop of the globe of toned flesh preceded her pulling out the folded cash in exchange for the paper plate of food. Halfway back to Miguel, the man called out to her for her change, but she instead smiled and waved to him to keep it. 

Offering his hand to help her back over the cement to rejoin him on the blanket, Kandy happily took it while maintaining perfect control of the well-balanced, but still flimsy disposable plate. Taking a seat at his side, she already had her legs folded to her chest with the plate on top of her knees by the time Miguel got settled again himself. Eyeing what she had, he recognized the well-fried and very crispy-looking golden thatch work of the funnel cake beneath two large white piles of something he couldn’t identify. Whatever it was had a healthy sprinkle of oreo crumbles on top and swirls of chocolate syrup. In the center was a pair of fried disks that looked like tan mini-hockey pucks.

Without looking up, she broke one of the disks in half and dipped it into one of the glossy white stretchy mounds. “I’m carb-loading.”

Miguel laughed. “For how hard I’m gonna work you out later?”

She had just popped a bite of the confection in her mouth when he delivered that suave reply. Her free hand dropped down to rub down his thigh and give it a suggestive squeeze whilst enjoying her food. Soon she found herself eating one-handed as Miguel had decided to keep the hand she had placed on his thigh right where she left it. Though he dressed to the opposite side in his pants, her fingers were still casually rubbing the inside of his leg.

“Watch yourself, mi halcón.”

Amused by this, Miguel chuckled and leaned in close to her. “Did you really just tell me I’m the one that’s gotta be careful?”

Nodding after she finished the other half of the disk, her amber eyes eventually turned to meet his dark pair. “I did.”

Draping one of his tattooed arms around behind her shoulders so that he could eliminate the space in between them entirely, Miguel nuzzled over her ear. “And what do I need to watch out about, conejita?”

When he used her pet name, it was the signal to her that he wanted to reactivate the shift in their power balance. Kandy didn’t have a problem with stepping back into her submissive role on the fly, but she wasn’t going to let him use his Dominant role to shield himself from experiencing the more casual aspects of their relationship. She truly had no desire to switch roles with him outside of the rare playful novelty of dressing the part and winding him up in heels and a catsuit. However, this did not mean she was up for forfeiting time with him outside of their dynamic. They would need the balance of playing together as equals to keep them both on an even footing. 

Tilting her head toward him as she went about tearing off a small section of the fried dough. “Papi, may I have permission to use one of those words?”

Seeing how preoccupied she was with dipping the funnel cake piece into what he assumed was a type of white icing, Miguel eyed her for a moment or two. “One and once, only.”

Pleased that he granted her the ability, Kandy was also rather surprised that he agreed. Maybe the conversation they had earlier when they discussed the finer points of why and when she used certain words or avoided them altogether reshaped his thinking on the matter. Taking her time to eat the bite, enjoy it, and then lick the chocolate off her fingers, she revisited her theory that a major factor behind why Miguel barred her from saying those words was that he really enjoyed hearing her say them. Perhaps, his level of enjoyment was to such a degree that he was concerned it might sway or erode his resolve in situations he expected her to be rebellious and bratty. 

Though she had taken the time to tell and remind him that she wasn’t a sub who took advantage of such situations, he still seemed apprehensive about them. This had nothing to do with her and more to do with whatever unsureness he had about himself in his Dominant role. Having never had a consistent long-term partner was likely to bring to the surface an insecurity rooted in feeling as if he was unproven, which she could understand. The only way to get past this issue was for him to see and trust his capability, discipline, and control within their dynamic. She instinctively knew those qualities were there and he was aware of them as well. He simply didn’t trust their reliability yet.

“You know how much I love suckin’ your cock, Miggy.” Kandy bought some time to gauge his reaction to her statement out of her periphery by tearing off another section of the crispy funnel cake and scooping up a larger dollop of the mysterious white substance that curled over with soft peaks similar to a meringue. “But I also really like to stroke it and your cum would taste so fuckin’ good with what I’m eatin’ right now. So yea, ten cuidado, mi amor.

As if she had casually remarked on the weather, his little witch sat there continuing to eat her dessert. Having felt him hold his breath, Kandy decided to turn her head and look up at him after a minute. Miguel still didn’t have a response because he was too busy thinking about what she said. Despite how delicate he saw her, she certainly had fetishes of her own. And when she was comfortable enough to share them, like she was right now, he was learning the power and lust behind them rivaled his own. Glancing down at his lap, she turned more toward him and leisurely stretched her legs over his to covertly conceal how serious his problem now was. 

There was also the curious matter of her using his name. It was Kandy’s subtle pushback against being submissive in the conversation. She didn’t want to be when she said what she said and she wasn’t. Though she didn’t have to, she had still asked for permission to say it the way she wanted. He frowned, wondering what would have happened if he had denied her. Like always, one of his hands fell to one of her thighs for a meditative stroke back and forth as he mulled over something else. Sitting next to him was the woman he loved, his girl, and likely future wife. They had fallen so quickly and easily into their Dominant and submissive roles that he found himself unsure exactly how to be playful and physical with her outside of that dynamic. The focus and restriction of his identity had indeed become as much of a crutch as it had been a shield. He knew what Papi would say and do in response to her, but he sat there having to wonder about how Miggy would.

Switching the plate to her other hand, Kandy lightly patted his chest with her clean fingers to bring him back to the present. “Don’t overthink it. We both get off on restriction, but sometimes we just need recess.”

“Unstructured playtime?” One of his angular brows lifted as he thought of the parenting books he had read for Irma, which branded free time as a necessary part of a healthy structure to raise a child.

Hearing his reply, she looked up at him with another one of those bright sunny smiles. “Yes, unstructured playtime.”

This was one of the many reasons why Kandy loved him. His familiarity with the idea and the way he had leaned in just slightly to whisper it in her ear made her swoon. It almost made her laugh to realize that his knowledge of parenting concepts caused her to ache as much as his hand in her hair or when he held her throat. The man sitting with her had so many traits she adored independent of his looks and physical self. With time, she’d capitalize on the opportunities to show him.

Staring at her plate, Miguel couldn’t wait a second longer. “What the fuck is that white shit?”

Crema de nube. You know, it’s…” Her hand had returned from his chest to gesture through the air as if it would pull the word from her memory. “It’s marshmallow, but whipped like a cream. Like an icing, a frosting.”

Seeing the grimace he made, Kandy laughed and pushed his face to the side but not before he snatched the odd fried disk off her plate. “And this?”

“That is a fudge-covered oreo dipped in batter and fried crispy. I always buy from this guy because he salts his shit.”

Miguel smirked at how he had gotten her love for the mix of sugar and salt right when he ordered for her at the restaurant earlier. “Do you normally eat all this sugar?”

“Not a fan?” Her head tilted with interest as she snatched the cookie up to bite it after he returned it to her plate. “I’m pretty sweet, sure you still wanna eat me?”

“You are the perfect kinda sweet, querida.”

“Aww.” Kandy giggled and lightly pushed him when he showed her that unassuming smile with dimples she would come to think of as a Miggy expression as opposed to Miguel or Papi. “I don’t eat stuff like this day to day, it’s more of where I happen to be.”

“The place?” His other hand slipped up the tops of her feet after she had folded her knees and rested them low against his torso.

“Yea, like some food just tastes better in certain places. Like popcorn tastes the best at the movies. I dunno, the best corn dogs are at the baseball game. At the fair or the beach, it’s the fried shit. The best barbeque or fish plate is always gonna be in some church parking lot you accidentally drive by but gotta make a U-Turn to go back and get ‘cause it just smells so fuckin’ good when you get to the end of the block.”

Chuckling to himself, Miguel nodded before rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “What about Chile Rellenos? You got a place for that, mami?”

She did her best to suppress her smile as he mentioned one of her favorite dishes he happened to make for her at the sandwich shop. Dipping the fried cookie into the whipped marshmallow, her brunette brows lifted as she played up really trying to decide on an answer for him. Purposely, she licked her tongue over one half of the cookie swiping away a large lane of the icing-like topping. Miguel watched and shook his head as she continued to stare out at the beach knowing full well what she was doing. Up came her pointer finger as if she had finally picked a response to his question.

“I got the hookup.” Taking a healthy bite of the cookie, she was making him wait as she silently chewed her food. “This guy who is sweet on me will make me the best if I ask.”

“I ain’t surprised he likes you, querida. But do you like him?”

“The more I think about it the more I’m in love with him.” Kandy tore the remaining half of the funnel cake into a smaller section to capture what was left of the marshmallow cream into a tube-like a makeshift cannoli before taking a bite.

Though it still wasn’t a statement that directly addressed him, Miguel knew she was talking about him, but his reaction was different this go. “Why don’t you tell him?”

She heard the upset that was buried deep under his tone and it tore at her. Reaching down to his thigh, her hand gently squeezed it, not to arouse him, but instead to acknowledge his sadness and disappointment. You gotta give him somethin’, Kandy. 

“Because Death likes to take what I love.”

He knew why she was staring out at the beach and it wasn’t because she was appreciating one of America’s most awarded white sand beaches either. Her fear was real and he could feel it. This semantic game she was playing, which she wasn’t even sure would help keep him above ground, was the only strategy she had come up with to put a cap on her anxiety about it. 

Taking the plate out of her hands and putting it off to the side, he held her left hand in his and looked at her fingers. “You know who I pray to, Kandajha.”

“I do.” Sitting on his right, she wasn’t able to look at the Santa Muerte portrait on the other side of his neck and instead was greeted by his abuelita’s smiling face.

“And you still worried that don’t change things somehow?” His tone was still gentle with her leading into a kiss to her bare ring finger.

“When I have needed Her the most…” Kandy’s bitterness and pain were both as sharp as a scalpel, but she caught herself and sighed. 

Encouraging her over more into his lap, Miguel wrapped an arm down around to her hip while letting the other rest across her folded legs. Kandy immediately cuddled her cheek into his shoulder whilst tenderly tracing the roses of his tattoo of the folk saint of Death. Despite the harshness of her tone, he was still feeling encouraged that the falling out between Kandy and the deity who was the center of his personal practice could be mended. In some way, he actually felt like Kandy wanted it to be repaired, but just didn’t know how to move things back from the edge she thought she was teetering on.

“I know it’s hurt and not hate.”

A smile flickered across Kandy’s doll-like features as her hand uncurled to rest against his neck. Occasionally, her thumb drifted back and forth along the lower half of the depiction of the skeleton saint in a distracted way. Miguel wasn’t wrong. But that didn’t change the fact that Kandy was still convinced she had crossed a line and drawn the ire of the supernatural being she at one time prayed to herself. However, it did bring her some comfort knowing that he was gaining a better understanding of the conflict and wasn’t dismissive of her worry.

With a kiss to the top of her head, Miguel knew it was time to get things rolling again to prevent her from sitting too long in her upset. “If your dad’s mom wasn’t really Muslim or Catholic, what was she?”

“That’s a question I’ve always wanted answers to.” Kandy took a moment to kiss his collarbone closest to her in gratitude for ending the heavy silence they had slipped into. “I only ever saw saints or other Christianity-aligned figures on her altar even after she supposedly converted.”

“But you’re convinced she was somethin’ else?”

“What I know now, absolutely. There was no way the things she did, the workings she sold were anything close to the syncretic magic I’ve learned about since comin’ to the States. The talismans, charms, some of those images, and formulas come up in different forms of paganism that don’t have Christian syncretic equivalents. They’re very localized traditions.”

“And that shit don’t get written down.”

“Nope. The internet makes it a little easier. You come across a thread here and there about somebody’s grandmother or great-grandmother or the old woman down the way who did XYZ and that seems familiar. People comment on it about their own background or what their family did and it either confirms that’s the right direction or it turns you toward another. That part of North Africa plus some details I remember from things my grandmother would do have me lookin’ at the pre-Islam Berber practices.”

Something his abuelita used to say to him was ringing in Miguel’s ears prompting him to sigh. He needed to call her and apologize. In his charge to try and get back to the purest form of his roots, Miguel had often disregarded her advice to show appreciation for being blessed in knowing who he was and where he came from despite the Catholicism that displaced a lot of what he was trying to reconnect with. He had taken her emphasis on trying to discover and know his more recent ancestors as her efforts to dissuade him from being so focused on building relationships with nonChristian deities. But now he understood why he should work on both and that she hadn’t actually meant for one to be chosen over the other. Location of origination was only half of the picture.

Another part of their conflict was whether his aversion to syncretism and Catholicism was just a pointless semantic fight. If one prays to a specific deity who has a thousand names, what does it matter which name is used in the prayer? For Miguel, it was about showing the respect required to return traditions and beliefs to their original form, or as close as it could be done. In his mind, there was no room for white-washed saints or watered-down festivals taken and remade into what supported the agenda of an organization that seemed to thrive on disenfranchising its followers. 

Miguel rubbed the back of his neck realizing he had been acting like such a hypocrite when it came to Kandy’s relationship to her beliefs and religion, in general. “Kandajha…”

Feeling the upset in him grow, she nuzzled into the side of his neck and wrapped her arms low around his waist. “Yes, mi halcón?”

“I don’t want you to feel like you gotta change shit ‘cause of me or think that there’s gonna be pressure from me about how you do things, who you pray to, or what you celebrate.” 

Resting her chin on top of his shoulder, she watched him for a moment as he stared down at his skeletal-looking hand while it gently rubbed back and forth over her thigh. “You worried I’m thinkin’ you’re gonna feel some type of way when you see who’s on my altar?”

“I’m thinkin’ I’m a fuckin’ asshole for sittin’ here tellin’ you I ain’t like your grandfather when I been bashin’ the shit out of Catholicism and anything related to it.”

“Miggy, I know what your fight really is and why you take the positions you take on it. The truth is I never felt like I was bein’ nourished when I was sittin’ in a pew havin’ men tell me that the way I was when I was born was evil. The things we do together, which I love…” Kandy stopped to gently turn his face toward her so that he could see how sincere she meant it. “The abilities that allow me to participate in that, I have always had them. My gender, my ethnicity, what I can do — they have always painted them as qualities that either limit my relationship with God or are stuff I need to pray to make up for. It doesn’t get much more targeted and personal than that.”

Kissing her forehead first, Miguel eventually rested his against hers with a somewhat distressed sigh. “I don’t want you worried that if you wanted to keep to somethin’ like Santería or –”

“Somethin’ Catholic Adjacent?” She smiled up at him warmly and kissed him softly when he opened his eyes to look at her.

Once it ended, he sighed again and held her closer against him. “I wouldn’t disrespect none of it, querida.

“I get that She exists in kind of a grey area spiritually with church politics and all that pop culture noise,” Kandy’s fingers again caressed down along the curve of the ornate frame wrapped around the Santa Muerte portrait, “but you have Her tattooed on your body and I’m sure you got a big ass statue of Her somewhere in your house. I’m not real worried you’re gonna curse at a statue of Mary, Anthony, Brigid, Joseph, or any other saint or religious figure I could’ve had.”

“Could have? Santería didn’t connect?”

“While Zo was alive, it definitely felt like it was my only option.” It was clear by the pause in her answer that it was still an issue she was working on reconciling. “I dunno. It was more that I didn’t feel like I had a right to it. I know there are a lot of Latino followers, but Lola’s side, their background, is so fucked up.” 

Querida, your practice can be somethin’ you keep private. You don’t have to open yourself up to that criticism.” Having not lived with the cultural complication of being multi-racial, Miguel was beginning to see another blind spot he had regarding his anti-syncretic stance. 

“Sometimes, I really just want some kinda sense of community in my spiritual life.” Curving some of her hair behind an ear, she shrugged while looking down at the tattoo obscured by his tank top. “Do you ever feel like that?”

“I cared that the girl I wound up with was a part of things somehow, but that’s about it.” Miguel wasn’t going to say that his life was essentially so consumed by work and being a parent that he didn’t have the time to consider what that might look like. “You go to church with Zo?”

“At first. Mostly ‘cause I was concerned if I didn’t that it’d be a problem. Cicero never went. Carmelo might go with us on a major feast day in the off-season. When she started gettin’ real sick, she switched over to a Pentecostal church though. Pour on top of that the direction politics was and still is goin’, and I felt shoved further into the fuckin’ broom closet. I told her I’d drive her there and wheel her in, but I’d stay in the car.” Closing her eyes, Kandy listened carefully for the steady distant drum of the waves coming in on the beach just beyond the park they were in. “It’s weird when I think about it now. She didn’t really fight me on that. Even after I told her how I felt about the pastor, she never scolded me for it or challenged it much.”

“Black or white?”

“Black.”

Miguel squinted at that. “Pro-Orange?”

Kandy nodded. “That’s eventually how it turned out. He got his invitation to the lunch in D.C. and his name in the lights for a while. Guest preachers started changin’ to a certain kinda group. It was enough to bring some fresh white money into his church. But, it split the congregation and he finally jumped ship to the political and community activist side of things. What‘s fucked up is when he’s flowin’, that shit is on point. For real, for real. He’s got that connection and I know he knows it. What he could do with that could be amazin’ for people.”

“But he sold out.”

“That he did. Regardless of dogma, I would be fuckin’ terrified to be a shepherd who fails to protect his flock. I can’t imagine how he can justify takin’ their money while peddlin’ that poison to them.”

Hearing how acerbic her tone became made Miguel smirk. “I tagged the fuck out of occasionally goin’ when shit started feelin’ like more of a political rally. It was wild to me, bro. I never seen in my life so many people fallin’ all over some fuckin’ shady ass used car salesman.”

Kandy blinked and looked up at him. “You went to church after movin’ out here?”

Miguel ran a hand over the top of his head and down through his hair. “Manny thought I might meet somebody that way.”

Thinking back to the joke his cousin had made to her in the restaurant’s kitchen, Kandy smirked a little and then flashed him a playful smile in hopes of helping to sweep away his uneasiness. “Better to have a believer of some kind than stuck with somebody who doesn’t believe in a damn thing?”

The truth made him frown, which was that he had given in and taken Manny’s suggestion after more or less giving up the search for what he wanted. “Somethin’ like that.”

Papi.

Though he might have been dying for a cigarette, he was unable to head off the grin forming on his lips. “Yes, mi conejita?”

“I’m here now.”

Seeing all the love in the world she had for him in those peculiar amber eyes of hers, he held her chin and stroked his thumb over her lower lip. “You are.”

“Besides, good Catholic girls don’t give the best blow jobs anyway.”

Up went his brows as he started to laugh, “No? Who then?”

“Heretical-ass witches.”

Miguel smirked and eyed her. “You a good witch or a bad witch, mi brujita.”

“I mean, I swallow so –”

Again, her flirty airy personality brought in enough levity to bring him back up to the sun-warmed waters of the surface with another round of laughter. “Kandajha.”

“Unless my Papi tells me to spit.”

The look he gave her made her immediately grab a fistful of his tank top just before he managed to lock his fingers around the roots of her hair at the nape of her neck. All he could think about was standing over her and holding her curls out of the way while her pillowy soft lips stroked back and forth over the first few inches of his length. It was right about when he noticed her fingers loosening from the fabric of his top that he also felt something shift in his mind. Though his imagination still had her on display in his head as he stared into her eyes, he became aware of changes in the scene that he didn’t make. Gone was the slow and steady movement of her head as she pleasured part of him. Instead, she was staring up at him while tenderly, but also unforgivingly suckling his head and its very tip.

If it wasn’t the unwavering eye contact that was winding him up, then it was the way her cheeks fell inward under the change in pressure from starting another round of sucking after a short break. Gone also was her t-shirt leaving her completely nude though she did remain kneeling at his feet. This was her creation. At some point in the afternoon, Kandy had fantasized about this very scene and she was now revisiting it, either with the intent to show it to him or just for her own delight.

“I gotta wonder just how hungry for my cum you are, conejita.”

Rather than answer him directly, she opted to lean in close to him and softly kiss his cheek. Confused by it, he turned to look at her and that was when her mouth met his, pulling him into a slow, but passionate kiss. It was another one of those that challenged his self-control to resist laying her down on that hibiscus patterned blanket and chance attracting the attention of law enforcement with all that he wanted to do to her. Sure, they had been fortunate enough to wind up in a makeshift alcove created by the curvature of the cement half-wall that divided the park from the pavement carving through it. This had provided them with enough cover to play around earlier, but that paled in comparison to the thoughts he was having now. 

Miguel wanted to fuck. The risk and work involved with trying to get her shorts down low enough to somehow get himself inside of her were too much for where they were and he knew that. He didn’t want some quick, awkward session with her, just like he didn’t want to be restricted by the limitations of being in the backseat of his Mercedes. No interruptions, no confined spaces, no distractions. The question of what really was keeping them at the park as opposed to driving her home began bouncing around in his head. There was the matter of her Jeep, of course. It would get towed if they left it behind and he sure as hell wasn’t leaving the Mercedes. If he asked, he knew she’d lead him home. But there were a couple things he really needed to check on at work. At the moment, he might have felt like they weren’t that serious, but he had a feeling the worry about abandoning his responsibilities would sabotage him right as he found the perfect angle and pace of stroking in and out of his little witch.

When he moved his mouth along to just beneath her ear on the side of her neck, Kandy moaned briefly before letting slip a very calm sigh. Miguel noticed right away the change in how her body held itself. Even the parts of her he wouldn’t have described as being tense felt significantly more relaxed. Eventually, the brunette laughed a little bit whilst trying to sit back away from him despite his hand still being entangled in her hair.

“Was that to get back at me for showin’ you what I had been thinkin’ about earlier?”

“No.” He chuckled down into the curve of her neck before letting go of her curls to give her the freedom to move as she pleased. “If Santería ain’t it, what is then?”

With an arm around his neck for support, she dipped her head back toward the blanket arching her spine as she laughed. “Just like that?”

“Just like that, mi corazón.

“Okay, okay. I guess if you really wanna know…” Straightening up in his lap, Kandy flashed him a smile that very clearly showed she wasn’t at all upset about the change in direction and was instead just teasing him. 

Reclaiming her free hand, he brought it up to his mouth and kissed the back of it. “I wanna know everything about what I ask.”

“Sandy was right. Full and complete answers.”

He gave her a simple and very matter-of-fact nod. “Big plans.”

“I owe a lot to Talia, you know, my Catholic Adjacent Friend. She was the one who helped me get to where I am with things, wherever that is.” Seeing his brows lift from curiosity, Kandy went on to clarify. “After Zo died, Talia suggested I start over, start from scratch.”

The corners of his mouth lifted slightly at the mention of their friend in common, though he was more interested in understanding her practice right then than he was in disclosing that Talia was his cousin’s girlfriend. “Start over, how?” 

“Every part shapin’ what and who I believe in. No restrictions of any kind and with a totally open mind to whatever it was I might find.” 

The drive to kiss her was so strong, but instead, he nodded once. “You were reconstructin’ it yourself.”

“That’s a big thing to say.” Pausing for a moment, she sat with his statement replaying in her head, mulling over the depth and meaning of it. “I dunno. Maybe. I was just tryin’ to see what felt right. Living in the pool house gives me a lot of privacy and I needed somethin’ to focus on. So, I pulled all the family shit from Spain I had, everything from Zo, everything from Conrado, every birth and death I could find.”

“Have you done DNA?”

Before he finished the last letter of the abbreviation, her eyes dropped off to the side. Miguel realized instantly that it was a mistake bringing it up and he frowned apologetically, but it went unseen by her as she had turned her face into the Gulf breeze and shut her eyes. Trying to come up with something to say, Miguel floundered in his thoughts until she placed a hand on the center of his chest. After a few seconds of the soothing warmth from her palm, she gave him a few pats to reassure him that she was okay. A couple of minutes passed and she laughed before fluffing up the roots of her curls. No secrets, no hiding, and no running.

“No DNA. I think that’s probably not a good idea. You’ve seen my mom and dad. We can both Maury Povitch that shit about how much I look like him, but, you never know.” She shrugged that familiar wannabe unaffected shrug.

“You’re afraid there’s more of her mom’s side in you than you been thinkin’.”

And now she was going to do the same thing Miguel did earlier and move them right along past an uncomfortable topic— the fact that Kandy didn’t trust Lola to know for certain that Berkhant truly was her father despite the shared resemblance, personality traits, and talents. “I did a tree for both sides and North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula had the most hits. Algeria and Morocco, Spain, and Italy and Sicily are the areas with the strongest concentrations.”

“No surprises.” Miguel went back to gently petting her thighs and hips in slow, relaxing passes back and forth. 

“The irony of all this is my mom’s mom, shit on her family is thin. I get some hits in Germany and northern Italy, again, not surprising. But that and like a reference to either Austria or the Netherlands is it. There’s not much after my great-grandparents. But, I wasn’t really interested in spending much time beyond—”

“Seein’ if they’re as pure as they claim?”

“God, I hate that word.” She might have playfully pushed his shoulder, but Miguel knew his cheeky guess had been right.

“Outta them places mi brujita was brought to,” He paused to grope her rear causing her to eye him. “What calls to her?”

“Most of those places in their polytheistic days had very strong ancestral worship and reverence. Death has always been around me and She’s never somethin’ I had been afraid of.” Her expression dimmed again as her eyes dropped and her fingers rubbed between her collar bones. “I mean, not until recently. My first altar, before I even knew what an altar was, was for ancestor veneration. So, I put that on my list as the first pillar of my practice.”

Thinking of all the deities of death he knew from across the world, he wondered how many of them she had connected with over the years. How many avatars of the death deity and folk saint tattooed on his neck did his little witch acknowledge? Perhaps, he was just getting ahead of himself and slightly lost in the excitement of having a partner who embraced two subjects that symbolically went hand in hand: death and sex. The Scorpio was interested far beyond just getting a basic understanding of her spiritual framework.

“What else, mi brujita?”

“Animism. Every word you speak,” She stopped herself for a moment and trailed a fingertip down one side of his jaw. “everything you create and build or put time into, your car, your food, the plants, the animals, us, we all have our own spirit and charge.”

“Everything we create?” Those deep, dark brown eyes stared right into her and all of his brooding handsomeness melted away revealing the smiling sly sixteen-year-old jester with his dimples.

“I…”

It was so clear how affected she was that he couldn’t resist taking advantage by running his skeletal hand up her chest to her neck while nodding up at her with an uncontrollable grin. “You what, mami?”

Why couldn’t they be in bed with that same hand of his buried in her curls as she slowly rolled her hips over his? The hours they could spend sharing the intimate details of their private spiritual worlds until the pleasure finally overtook the pair simultaneously nearly made her moan. Bringing her legs back from across his thighs, Kandy rose up onto her folded limbs causing her throat to slip free from his hold. Before he knew it, she was straddling his lap with her ankles crossed behind his back, putting them face to face once more. Clocking the rebellious look in his eye, her fingers hooked and twisted around the material of his tank top at his shoulders.

Kandy pouted and gave him a little tug after trying to push herself up a bit more on his lap. “Take me home, Papi. I wanna go home.”

Chuckling, Miguel rubbed his palms up the outside of her thighs and forced his fingertips inside the barely-there legs of her denim shorts. There were no scratches made from his clean and well cared for fingers, but he did hook his grip around to the inside from behind. He could feel the stitching of the crotch of her panties and that was enough to tease her.

“No, conejita. Siéntate, por favor.”

The corners of her amber eyes narrowed slightly as Kandy tried to gauge how serious he was being. Of course, the mystery was dispelled when she felt the palm of his left hand rub one half of her rear as a warning. As much as she might have enjoyed getting her ass swatted for her delay in obeying, the little brunette opted instead to release his tank top and sit lower in a less provocative position. 

Seeing how pleased he was with her compliance, she folded her arms behind his neck and admired his handsome face for a few seconds. “You know what I can’t wait for?”

Miguel couldn’t help but smirk at her choice of words. She would wait if he wanted her to. “What, querida?”

“I can’t wait for when you got me by the hips and I feel your hand come down on my ass for the first time when I’m workin’ every inch of that pipe.”

His body was feeling what he was blocking his imagination from showing, but he fell back into that very halcón-like mode of observing her. “What’s it say that us talkin’ about this make us wanna fuck?” 

While she absolutely could have given him some superficial flirtatious reply, Kandy wasn’t feeling like throwing in any airy misdirection. This was actually starting to be an enjoyable process at certain points — sharing some of her discoveries and the more interesting things she had learned. Her palms slipped back forward to rest on his chest while she took the time to consider his question in earnest. Miguel could tell already that she was going to deal out some truth and he did his best to prepare for it in whatever small window of time she wound up giving him.

“I think it means that for a man who is so private about the magic he does, you’re really achin’ to have the other half of your whole be present and participate. You need that connection and have known about it while I have put a lot of fuckin’ effort into avoidin’ it.”

“But this is somethin’ you want too?”  

Picking up on the shift in his tone, she could tell he was questioning whether he had inadvertently pressured her into feeling like she had to share that part of herself with him. “Miggy, besides Papi and conejita, I can’t think of something that makes me ache more and love y— who I’m with more than having those shared experiences with intention. Us playin’ around the way we have has been so amazing and I’m not just meanin’ the physical side of it.“

He had stopped rubbing his jaw to look up at her in anticipation but still kept the smile despite her catching herself at the last minute. “Same rules as Papi and conejita.”

Kandy nodded. “Same rules.”

There was also the matter of her other statement involving a need she believed they both had. Naturally, he could just keep the conversation going and roll on by without addressing it. With anybody else, he would have. Miguel had found the courage to sit in front of this girl, strip off half of his business clothes, and lay out the gritty details of his former life after knowing her for only an hour. Maybe it was time to cross another thing off the list of topics he typically avoided. He certainly was getting used to the feeling of shedding that dead weight with every topic they worked through.

“I’m mad tired of fuckin’ just bein’ a waste of energy. I really need that shit to change, to mean somethin’ when I’m inside somebody. Like, be there in it with me even if we just fuckin’ to fuck. Don’t be someplace else.” 

Taking in a slow breath, Kandy shook her head and smiled up at him. “My Papi will need to train me out of some bad habits I’ve picked up.”

“I know, conejita.” Curving a section of her hair back behind an ear, his hand returned to her face to affectionately stroke its thumb over her cheekbone. “There’s so much you’re gonna get to do.”

“All those things we’re gonna do together, Papi.” 

When she closed her arms further around his neck to bring herself in closer to him, he nuzzled her ear and whispered to her. “Is that why you been wantin’ my cum so bad?”

Kandy sat there feeling him play with her desire for him. Independent of the little fetish she had, there were also the various ways they could employ sex and their bodies to further enhance any working or blessing they did. As hot as that fire was burning for him, she felt part of herself pulling back to question whether this was real. But the truth was the truth. She was sitting in the lap of a man who loved her and wanted to be a part of all aspects of her life. He cared about her, what she believed in, the things that she valued, and the people who were important to her.

Slowly, Miguel’s rosary tattooed hand began to wrap itself up in her tresses as he briefly considered how he might adapt ritual into their more intimate Dominant/submissive scenes. The trust, consent, limits, and structure required for their D/s dynamic to function healthily gave their playtime its own ritualistic feel and the idea of augmenting those intense and purposeful scenes with magic was exciting on multiple fronts.

Papi?

By now, his hand was all the way up to the nape of her neck. “Yes, conejita?”

Béseme, por favor?” 

Using a voice so sweet, how could he deny her? Guiding her in close, he held her in place while kissing her. With one of her arms remaining behind his neck, her other dropped to wrap across his back as she melted into his embrace. Her surrender to him and how clear it was that she felt safe with him was as moving as it was arousing. One last short kiss and he sat back from her tenderly stroking her cheek with his thumb.

“Don’t worry, conejita, I’ll take care of that ache later.” Watching as she bit her bottom lip and rubbed her hand up the front of his lower torso, Miguel chuckled and put their conversation back on track. 

“Promise?” She hadn’t even realized she used a word that she disliked so much and Miguel smiled at the progress.

“What about your mo–” Stopping himself before he made the mistake of referring to Lola as her mother, Miguel quickly rephrased his statement out of respect for Zoraida being the woman Kandy preferred to be recognized as such. “Lola’s father, what have you found there, mi brujita?”

“His mother, Amaranta, practiced.” He saw the pop of her brows and the sexy tilt of a half-smile. “It’s always had to be hidden or under the guise of somethin’ else. So for me, even within the family, it was not to be talked about or done openly. But it’s there if you know how to look for it.”

Outside of Zo and Cicero’s baseball-playing son, Carmelo, and Asher, the boy she referred to as her nephew, Kandy hadn’t spoken with much pride about the living members of her family. Her opinion of the dead was quite different and rather refreshing though. People might be able to cause her grief and make her question whether she belonged to a particular group, but nobody could tell her she wasn’t a legitimate hereditary witch. Kandy had documented practitioners on both her mother and father’s sides. The power and the abilities were all there not just inside of her, but also present in previous generations.

“Cassandra and Lola’s family is Italian, though?” 

Other than the popular mythology of the Greeks and Romans that he was exposed to through literature, Miguel had very little working knowledge of paganism and esoteric practices from that part of the world. It did please him that despite being under the oppressive thumb geographically and socially of the Church, there might still exist magical traditions kept alive through the people. He made it a point to remember to look later that night at whatever sources she had been reading. Knowing as little as he did about Sicily’s cultural history, he still had enough familiarity with Spanish history to be curious about what overlap existed between Italy’s notorious southern island and Africa’s northern coast.

“Like I said earlier, there’s nothing about their mother’s side that I want around me. There’s so much nationalism interwoven into the modern versions of many Germanic and Eastern European traditions that it’s a waste of time to me. I won’t be inviting any of that into my life.” 

“Nazis moved on from lookin’ for the Ark?” When his film reference was met with a blank stare, his brows raised disapprovingly. “You’ve never seen Indiana Jones?”

“You dig that problematic-as-fuck white guy fuckin’ up peoples’ shit left and right?”

He nodded to her with a playfully suspicious narrowing of his eyes. “You ain’t never seen a single one of them fuckin’ movies have you?”

“So, you just gonna throw out your anti-colonialist views for Spielberg, huh? I knew you were just workin’ that Indigenous Rights angle to get some pussy.” Though she did her best to not smile and give up on the charade, Kandy broke down laughing halfway through her answer. 

“That shit from the 80s ain’t any more or less problematic than the East coast shit from the 90s you listen to.” Both of his hands possessively gripped her thighs, letting his thumbs follow the curvature of her limbs over to the unseen inside beneath the long and oversized A Tribe Called Quest shirt she had on. “And you lucky as fuck you still in them shorts, mami.”

His fingertips barely made it clear of the denim as he rotated his wrists to pet her legs causing her to shift slightly in his lap. “Yea, why’s that, mi halcón?”

Before it could register, his rosary-wrapped hand was clamped against the back of her neck holding her at eye level with him while his left hand turned over to rub firmly through the crotch of her shorts. “‘Cause I’d have you watchin’ me playin’ with your pussy until you were right about to cum.”

The moan that was about to vibrate in her throat was snuffed out when she held her breath after feeling the taunting pass back and forth of his skeleton-looking fingers. “Then what would happen, Papi?”

“I’d ruin that shit, conejita.”

“Don’t tell me you got some kinda cosplay fantasy where you got the hat and the whip and you wanna plunder my pussy for treasure.”

As much as he wanted to maintain that authoritative hold on her, the joke made him laugh and drop his hand away from between her thighs. “I think pirates plunder, querida.”

“Archaeologists desecrate instead?” She flashed him a cheeky wink that pulled him right back into gear.

“This,” His wrist turned so that he could squeeze possessively what was between her legs while his other set of fingers held her hair back away from her face for him to kiss her forehead. “and this, belong to you and you only, conejita. You just share them for my enjoyment when you choose.”

“You forgot somethin’ else.” 

Before he could ask what she meant, Kandy was already running her hands up into the longer layers of his dark hair as she kissed him. When the tips of his fingers stroked up both sides of her back beneath her shirt, she gently took one of his wrists to bring his hand around in between them and hold his palm against the top of her chest. Those bony-looking digits stretched up to between her collar bones and rubbed gently causing her to smile and slow down the kiss. Miguel was beginning to feel that unusual sense of having returned to her somehow. The urge to wrap her up and bury his face in the curve of her neck to smell her perfume was only growing stronger with each passing second until finally he sat back and looked up at her.

“Kandajha –”

“Earlier, when I was tryin’ to say somethin’…” 

He blinked, feeling the odd mix of emotions recede once he was back in the moment with her. “When you were sharin’ what you believe.”

“What I wanted to say wasn’t about bein’ excited to have you smackin’ my ass while I’m ridin’ your dick.”

“Though you are.”

Kandy laughed and looked out toward the park for a moment as she pushed her hair back out of the way despite the persistence of the Gulf breeze. “Yea, maybe.”

“Maybe?” Up went those angular brows as he sat forward grinning, which caused her heart to skip a few beats.

Blushing, she reached up and very softly turned his face to the side to avoid having to look at her halcón with his sharp handsome features, swoon-worthy grin and dimples, and enticing dark eyes. “I was gonna say that other thing.”

Chuckling, he tenderly took hold of her wrist so that he could face her again. “That you love me?”

The corners of her mouth rose as the smile floating beneath the surface finally broke through despite her amber eyes staying locked on the hibiscus patterned blanket beneath them. “Quizas.”

Mi estrella, all I gotta do is look at you and I know. You never been able to hide it and never will, not from me.” 

Covering his hand again that she had left on top of her chest, she gave it a few pats. “This is the other thing. I know you will protect all three parts of me.”

While Kandy was very slowly becoming more at ease with him using that word, it did still ping her anxiety a small amount. She certainly didn’t feel comfortable using it knowingly and directly. However, the most important part of this wasn’t that she had less of a negative reaction to hearing the word, but instead what was the cause of the change. It wasn’t exposure to the word itself. Really, it came down to her letting his position on the matter — that he wouldn’t befall any of the unpleasantness Kandy feared because he was a devotee of the deity she was so concerned about — sink in. 

She, the skeletonized folk saint of Death depicted on the side of his neck, had brought him back on purpose. There were things Miguel needed to accomplish that Kandy could sense and this, too, encouraged her to consider his perspective on her worries. On top of all that, was a building sense of excitement and hope about the future. The idea of making major life decisions about work, where she lived, her relationships, and all those other grown-up issues were becoming less and less worrisome. She was shedding the insecurities about her abilities, the doubts about the future in general, and the isolationist mindset.

“That protection ain’t ‘cause I think you’re incapable. It’s ‘cause you’re important to me.” Lifting her chin to bring those peculiar eyes of hers up from the ground, he checked to see what was in them before nudging them back to their conversation. “Anybody else left from Conrado’s side other than Cicero?”

“Sandy is it. Her brother, Conrad, has been gone for a while and neither of them had kids. Carmelo, Cicero and Zoraida’s son, I would put on that side. It’s kinda odd to think about it, but me, Asher, and Carmelo are all they got for the new generation. We’re it.”

“What’s the age differences between you guys?” Miguel squinted as he tried to do an estimation in his head, which Kandy was amused by.

“Carmelo is the oldest, I wanna say he was born in like ‘92. I was born in ‘98 and Asher was ‘08.” Seeing his curiosity increase as he began doing the math, she offered him another bit of information. “Zo was about twenty years younger than Cicero.”

He chuckled to himself unsurprised by the age gap, but he quickly returned to rubbing his jaw and mulling over things aloud. “I know she’s older than she looks, but even if Cassandra had a kid now, it wouldn’t really have any cousins its age.”

“If Sandy’s gonna have one it probably would be around the time we’d have our first. She isn’t gonna do the mom thing if she doesn’t have her perfect white picket fence holiday card. Not like fake and on the surface. I mean for real, for real. You should see her on the holidays. Fuckin’ June Cleaver with the decorating and gifts. It’s obvious that she wants to have that experience.” Kandy stopped herself and rubbed between her collar bones for a moment. “Before, I mean. Sandy was like that before things happened with Zo. I think she had to have somebody show her that she could be more than just one thing to everybody and Zo did that.”

Rubbing her hips again, Miguel squeezed them possessively. “Our kid, huh?”

“That’s why you’re thinkin’ about the ages, right? To make sure there’s family around for them?”

The way his little witch was looking at him made him think she was trying to feel out whether he had been shown the ultimate composition of their family, but he hadn’t. “I know you said you want more than one. I’m just thinkin’ it’d be nice if somebody else had some too. Not just for the kids, but for you too. You know, so that you have someone you trust to go to about certain shit. I mean, I’ll always be there, but it’s different with women. Like, there are things women can only learn from other women. With Zo bein’ gone, I just wanna make sure you got that support.”

Kandy wasn’t quite sure how to respond to him. It wasn’t something she had considered. During the last years of Zo’s life, dating hadn’t even made the top one hundred list of things she was thinking of, much less the possibility of becoming a mother one day. And now she sat here in front of the man she was going to marry realizing that the one woman she had trusted enough to help guide her as a new mother was no longer living. That wasn’t how this was supposed to go. Reaching up to the base of her neck, she began to press and rub the pressure point to try and dial back the sudden influx of anxiety.

“Kandajha…”

Hearing him call her name pulled her out of her thoughts enough to notice the change in her breathing and prompt her to take a slow, deep breath. “I’m okay. Ours and Carmelo’s would probably be close if he doesn’t wait too long. He signed for five years, so he’s got another two to decide if he likes it out west. But, I’m not real sure if he’s gonna come back. The money is good and he’s on the rise. I get it if he doesn’t. The memories here aren’t really great for him.”

Miguel smiled to himself and gave her a reassuring squeeze as he was pleased to see her push through the temporary discomfort of her anxiety and continue on with the same subject. “You miss him?”

He continued to surprise her with his questions and her fingers slowed their massaging of the pressure point as her breathing steadily returned to a more comfortable rate on its own. “Yea, my family is small. Goin’ to his games was a big thing. I still take Asher when I can because he loves baseball. Sandy hooks us up with tickets for both sides if he’s playin’ against us. We have this thing where we swap sides halfway through.”

“Like the fuckin’ president at those football games?” Up went a brow as he grinned.

“Exactly. That’s how you keep the peace. I’m fucked if we ever wind up at the World Series and he’s pitchin’ for the other team.” Kandy laughed and in that moment appeared to be free of whatever thoughts had been distressing her. “How old is your cousin’s kid, the one from Miami?”

Miguel ran his hand over the back of his neck. “I dunno, he’s six maybe?”

“Miggy! You don’t know how old he is? You are such a bad uncle.” 

Though he knew she was teasing him, he still smirked and gave it some more thought. “Eight maybe. When we got out here, they were tryin’ to get him into some weird pre-school program and freakin’ the fuck out about if they’d let him in.”

“Montessori school?”

“That’s the shit. Fuckin’ crazy. They had this timeline to get on the list and all the things they wanted him to know or be familiar with it’s like the poor kid probably already fuckin’ has trauma and anxiety from that shit and he ain’t even in middle school yet.”

What started as a small smile had grown into a grin and eventually cracked from her laughter as Kandy did her best to cover her mouth with her hand. “Yo, you gotta chill. You should read about it. It’s kinda cool.”

“It’s expensive as fuck and don’t tell me they put you in one.” It was taking serious work for him to maintain the image of brooding disapproval and contempt when watching her have such a good time with him.

“No way. But Angie put Asher in one. He’s been out in the world explorin’ since he was like three.”

Miguel’s eyes fell to the scorpion tattooed on his right forearm as he thought about the woman they all called the Mako. “She’s really tryin’ to give that kid every chance to be okay.”

“Basically. I’ve seen people with a lot simpler personal issues do far more to fuck up their kids.” 

Kandy watched silently as he revisited his judgment about Anzhelina. While Kandy would never foolishly suggest that he should never be wary of the woman, he needed to have as complete an understanding of who he occasionally dealt with as he could. Knowing what motivated Angie was one of the best ways to keep everybody around her safe, or as safe as possible with her swimming freely amongst them.

“Her father is different from Cassandra and Lola’s, right? Is all of Conrado’s side Sicilian?”

“Yea, he’s some shady dude not allowed around. I don’t know a lot about him.” Not wanting to dissuade him from asking questions, Kandy nodded and filled in the blanks as she had become quite curious about his interest in learning about her family. “The Sicilian thing depends on who’s askin’ and who’s asked.”

Miguel’s brows raised slightly at his Gemini’s phrasing. “What’s the truth?”

“Half Cuban.” Watching as the surprise hit him, Kandy smirked. “The Boledi men seem to have a thing for Cuban women.”

“I thought with all this shit everybody had to be pure as fuck.”

“Tampa can be very different. Boledi roots run deep here, but they’re just as mixed as everybody else. It’s somethin’ you don’t draw attention to.”

“I can’t see Zo hidin’ who she was.”

“She wasn’t meant to.” Seeing the confusion on his face, she clarified. “Cicero always gave me this vibe that he resented his position in all of it. Like, he didn’t wanna be the next one in line. He married a woman from a very influential and political Cuban family in the public eye. His son is a major league baseball player. The moves he made, if you look at that shit, are all the moves you make to wind up bein’ on the outside, or at least not in a real place of makin’ decisions.”

“To avoid havin’ to step up. But Conrado married right, had some kids. He woulda been next? Cassandra’s in it up to her fuckin’ eyes.”

Kandy rubbed in between her collar bones as she mulled over the feelings and thoughts she had picked up from going through her grandfather’s boxes and notebooks. “On paper, my grandfather married who he was supposed to. Everything I see from him is food and travel and life. Yea, he was successful as fuck at openin’ restaurants and rebrandin’ hotels and all that real estate shit. But — I dunno, maybe you’ll feel what I’m tryin’ to say with this — but all those projects and accomplishments never felt like business to me, they felt like how he was creative.”

“A dreamer who turned out a winner in business, not a businessman.” Miguel understood exactly what she was saying.

“He was successful for a lot of reasons, but if he wasn’t, I don’t think he woulda cared beyond whether he had the money to start somethin’ new. I have no idea how much of what he did was touched by other shit. I don’t think he cared much either about it. He had his son, Conrad, to step in when he was old enough and Cicero was his mentor. But, when he died so soon after Conrado died, it all sorta defaulted back to Cicero.”

“You sure know a lot about the family history and shit you tryin’ to stay away from.” His tone was light-hearted, but she knew he wanted a real answer.

Taking a moment, Kandy shrugged her shoulders. “No different than when I said to you about eventually bringin’ Irma into what’s goin’ on with your mom. Or our discussions about knowin’ Angie. Me bein’ blind or ignorant about who my family is doesn’t keep me safe. Knowin’ the players involved allows me to see where the danger is, where not to go, who to stay away from.” 

The more they talked about the politics of her family the more he could see they had greatly underestimated her, which was probably the main reason why she hadn’t been pulled into things instead of it coming down to her mixed background. “Is that why you’re so attached to your grandfather, Conrado? ‘Cause he wasn’t one of them?”

“I dunno. You know I don’t agree with a lot of the shit that allegedly goes down.” She laughed and bit her tongue at him when she clocked him rolling his eyes at her use of the doubt-casting adverb. “He just seemed like a cool cat. I’ve never been to the house in Miami, but all the stuff of his I got I haven’t seen anything about anybody I know who is a part of that other world. No photos, nothin’. It’s easy to see why they kept him involved in things. He had the Midas Touch. Knowingly or not, his success laid the groundwork for the legitimacy they have now. Who knows where everything would be if he hadn’t died in some dumb ass car accident.”

Running his palms up her thighs and around behind her hips to her rear, he tucked his fingers into the pockets of her shorts. Sensing that the pause in questions was caused by him digesting what he had learned, Kandy was content to sit with her halcón silently until he was ready to continue. Though she kept herself out of his thoughts, she could feel a familiar intuitive sensation she typically felt when handling certain cards from her tarot deck. It usually came with one of two images: water levels equalizing to allow forward progress like in a lock system for boats or a set of antique scales adjusting and settling as they should. Sometimes, she could even feel the movement of pressure in her palms as if she was holding two items of different density. The words balancing, weighing, and measuring also tended to form in her thoughts depending upon which was most accurate to whatever the cards wanted to clarify.

Eventually, Kandy snuggled in close to the side of his throat and leaned against his chest. Again, there was no desire on her part to rush his process. With both her arms and legs loosely wrapped around his waist and hips, her eyes closed as her body relaxed into his more completely. Miguel was indeed reassessing his views on Cassandra, not just as his boss and potential investor, but also as the person who would likely function as his main in-law. She was the de-facto matriarch, at least on this side of the Atlantic. It was coming into focus for him that Kandy was going to need Cassandra and that Cassandra very likely needed Kandy in her life just as much. 

One of his little witch’s gifts that he wasn’t sure she was aware of was her ability to change the energy around her, not just temporarily in a person she was connected to, but also in her surroundings. When she felt the warmth of happiness and love, she radiated it like the sun. When she experienced the soaring freedom of hope, she charged everything around her with a vitality that could spark a wildfire of creativity. Her emotional state directly impacted not just what she could manifest, but if she could at all. This very moment, as she rested against him, he could feel the serenity floating through her just by having his arms around her body and his jaw along the side of her head. While in no way was it overpowering, it was still a strong enough current that it helped clear his emotions away so that he could see objectively the matters he felt he needed to address based on what she had shared so far. 

Unsure of how much time had ultimately passed after another round of thinking, Miguel tilted his head to try and get a look at the girl currently cuddled up in his lap. Feeling how slow her breathing had become, he smirked lightly. She had fallen asleep on her own as he had held her. Though he disliked having to wake her up, the clock was ticking and they still had things to do before leaving. Not wanting to startle her, one of his hands dipped underneath her shirt to softly and slowly rub up and down along her spine. A few seconds later and he felt her back curve from a telltale stretch and her arms affectionately squeeze his flanks.

“Mm.”

Smirking and sighing, Miguel did his best to put to the side the imagery her little moan conjured up the moment it hit his ears. It was a sound he imagined she would make when she very first woke up in the morning either under her own power or from his hands lovingly groping her curves. Though he was successful in keeping his mind’s eye clear for the most part, his body still reacted to it as if a shot of electricity sprinted down his spine and up to the very tip of his cock. 

“What were you dreamin’ about, querida?”

Turning her face more into his neck, she tried to muffle her giggle and hide her grin from him. “Keepin’ my Papi warm while sleepin’ in late on his day off.”

Rubbing his palm down his face, he stared up at the sky with almost a pleading expression as if he was asking for some assistance in the self-control department. Keeping both of his hands away from her body, he hung his arms straight out along the cement behind him to try not to pick up on too much of the dream she no doubt would try and tease him with. As much as he privately enjoyed the pleasure of seeing in explicit detail something he wanted so badly to experience, Miguel knew he needed to put his foot down and get her sorted on when she could and couldn’t deploy that trick against him.

Compórtate, conejita.” Though he hadn’t raised his voice, the firmness in his tone communicated everything it needed to. “Ahora mismo.

Raising her hands, she sat back and nodded. “Only when my Papi either asks to see or gives me permission to share.”

Watching her for a moment, he finally gestured to her. “I keep thinkin’ back to the first time you ever did that with me.”

“Oh, the memory of your soup?”

“Yea. I legit meant it when I said I don’t feel nothin’ when I pick up other memories. That’s why it scared the shit out of me. The heat of the bowl on my hands, the taste and smell of the peppers and the pumpkin, the pork. All of it. That part though of feelin’ you fall asleep tripped me the fuck out.”

“And when you play with me, you don’t feel anything either.”

“Nope. There’s been other shit that I’ve caught feelings or whatever here and there. Like hints of it. Faded and distant. But the one with the food was the strongest.”

“If you felt it once like that, which you did, then that means you got whatever it takes to do it again. Maybe that’s somethin’ we can add to our list to explore.” Her head canted off to the side whilst she began to gently rub his chest.

There was a flash of excitement in his dark eyes despite his expression remaining decidedly neutral. “You curious about it, querida, or you just trying to level the playin’ field?”

“I love it when we play-fuck, but I wish you could feel it or at least be able to decide if you want it a two-way experience.” She caught his reaction to when she gave the activity its very own term for within the private vocabulary of their relationship.

“Is that what you wanna call what I do when I think hard enough about fuckin’ your pussy that you start to feel it?” With both of his palms gripping her rear, he pressed and held her pelvis up against his.

Swallowing gingerly, Kandy glanced out over his shoulder at the traffic stopping and starting as they rotated through the lights on either end of the roundabout. “Feels like it fits.”

“You’re makin’ my cock hard again, Kandajha.”

While his use of that one particular word was enough to command her attention, it was when he spoke her name that she looked up at him. “I guess you gotta put it on my fuckin’ tab then, Miggy.”

He grinned and nodded with approval. “Don’t worry, we gonna settle that shit up tonight. Your grandfather, Conrado, he ever talk about what he believed in, God, or anything in what you got?”

Smiling up at him, she in turn massaged up and down his back under his shirt as they fell right back into their original topic. “Not really. There are passing references to God and the usual saints. It felt very Catholic, but who knows? He believed in somethin’, but I feel like he wasn’t sure himself about it.”

He sighed and shut his eyes letting his body relax under her touch while he sat there beneath her. “But his mom was the one on that side?”

“Amaranta, yea. It looks a lot like Santería or some form of it. I’ve only got a couple letters he saved from her. She talks about what she does for his protection and what he needs to carry with him. They’re really in rough shape and I can’t speak Sicilian. I bought this textbook to learn how to translate them, but it’s a slow process between scanning them in and cleaning them up just to read them. She married a Sicilian and that was the culture their children were raised in, but there are words here and there that are not Sicilian, or Spanish either.”

Straightening up his head, he peered at her with curiosity. “What do you think they are?”

Swallowing gingerly, she rubbed the pressure point at the base of her throat to try and stave off the discomfort that was unexpectedly building. “There were a couple I was able to figure out and with the way they’re spelled, I think it’s Taíno.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yea. I mean, I got no fuckin’ idea how much Cicero or anybody else knows about this. Parents can tell one kid things and keep it secret from the rest. Maybe it was just somethin’ she shared with my grandfather any not anybody else. It explains kinda why so much of his notebooks were focused on South America and the Caribbean. Cicero refuses to speak Spanish. I’m sure he knows how and I don’t really see him gettin’ all sentimental and excited about his mother’s indigenous roots.”

“Knowin’ all that now, you still don’t feel like Santería is somethin’ you could practice?”

“At best, I’m like maybe an eighth Cuban? I have figured out my own way of meeting and connecting with deity. If somebody from a certain group or hierarchy wants to build a relationship with me, then I’m down. That’s kinda how I’ve done it the last few years. It’s been really validating to see where those entities come from that do reach out. But how do you feel about havin’ a wife who is Andalusian, Cuban, and North African?”

“And Sicilian? I fuckin’ love every part of it. Now I got hope for you that your ass can cook. You just been needin’ the right teacher. That African part will make sure you don’t make none of that bland ass, no spice havin’ Cuban sh–”

Her brows lifted and he stopped himself before she finally pushed his shoulder playfully to let him know she wasn’t offended. “I like spicy food too. But you can make all the rice and you leave the potatoes to me.”

“You can’t cook rice?” The expression on his face was enough to make her laugh.

“I usually eat more potatoes. And down south, we do know how to spice our dishes.”

Hearing her proudly tout the regional differences of her home country’s cuisine made the Scorpio, who was known for his serious demeanor and silent observation that often made others uncomfortable, smile. Idly rubbing his jaw again, Miguel was too busy processing the different layers of the racial politics of Kandy’s family to notice how adoringly she was looking up at him. It was more than just interesting to him how their issues of identity and heritage were the inverse of each other on many levels. This was another area where they shared a parallel problem that seemed to manifest differently. Kandy knew the names, dates, and places of her family, but there was so much hiding and obfuscation surrounding the spiritual beliefs and practices of its members that she was having to investigate and piece it together herself. 

In contrast, all Miguel knew was who he had inherited his gifts from and exactly where that side of his tree was rooted. The people themselves — whether it was his whole mother’s side, his father as an individual, or his father’s father — were strangers to him. He could never understand why his grandmother would push so hard for him to connect with family that had passed on when she was guilty of gatekeeping their history when he asked directly. This was another one of those arguments that had been left to simmer on the back burner until it finally boiled over when he accused her of trying to use it as a ploy to get him to reconsider his refusal to join her practice as a curandero to continue the tradition.

Feeling the resentment toward his grandmother he had been releasing start to rear its head, Miguel turned his attention back to the unanswered questions he had about Kandy’s uncle. “Even if Cicero didn’t know about that part of their mom’s life, he still married Zo. So was it really the Muslim thing that got in between you and him?”

“You know what internalized racism and self-hate looks like. When I say there was no Spanish allowed, I mean it. Fuckin’ Taco Tuesdays was a fight and neither of us was Mexican.” Kandy finally shrugged and lifted a hand before shaking her head. “I think he just hates me because Zo saw me and the time she spent tryin’ to save his ass she started givin’ to me. But yea, I’m sure the extra strike of bein’ the wrong color didn’t help me much either.”

“But embracin’ that shit — his mom’s roots — callin’ attention to it woulda been the perfect fuckin’ way for him to take himself off the list to take over. Why go so hard at bein’ a racist piece of shit to cover it up?”

“Money. With how he lives, he’s gotta keep earnin’. Powers that be find out he’s got whatever gross way they wanna characterize the Taino blood in him, then he’s gonna be all the way out. The Cuban stuff gets kind of a pass like I said. But they probably wouldn’t even let him notarize a fuckin’ thing, much less be their boss. There’s no real one person at the top anyway. There’s a group of them that’s just as old and white as he pretends to be. He just sits at the table and reps our family’s non-legitimate interests or whatever.”

Sighing, Miguel closed his eyes and rested his head back against her arms. “Yo, I don’t want fuckin’ nothin’ to do with that joker. You don’t need to be goin’ around him anymore, querida.”

“He’s not somebody we really gotta worry about. His bullshit antics put him in this Cold War with Sandy and because of that he’s persona non grata at family get-togethers.” One half of her mouth tilted up for a weak smile before she leaned forward and affectionately kissed his pointed chin at the center of his long angular jaw.

With the satisfied grumble and squeeze to her hips, Kandy knew she had him in a comfortable state. Returning to his throat, she continued with the line of light kisses beginning under his chin and down the center ending between his collar bones. On the trip back up to his mouth, the tip of her tongue gently glided along the same imaginary line.

“Is your goal to keep me as hard as possible?” His dark eyes rolled down as far as they could to try and catch sight of her.

Capping it off with a peck to his lips, Kandy flashed him a playful smile. “For today, maybe.”

Sitting up to look at her a little better, Miguel was drifting back into his unreadable state. “‘Cause you think I ain’t gonna keep showin’ up?”

“Nope. ‘Cause I want your body to get used to what this is like.”

He smirked, “It hasn’t been that long, querida.”

“Really? When was the last time you fucked as Miggy and not Papi?”

Sighing, she had him there as he was unable to deny that he had been fielding his own feelings of trepidation about showing up as himself later on that night. But his little witch was certainly up to something in hopes of addressing his concerns whether he would admit to them or not it seemed.

“Miggy, I just want you to have me first.”

The way she said it, the reason why she said it, how it sounded — all of it made him turn his head just enough to gaze at his Mercedes off in the distance. Following his gaze, Kandy laughed a little bit and rubbed his chest. With his rosary and scorpion tattooed hand, he reached up and held hers still over his heart while the one illustrated to look like a skeleton’s curved around the side of her head and jaw. Feeling her lean into his palm and watching her shut her eyes, he stroked his thumb back and forth over her cheek.

Mi corazón don’t want me confused about who she’s here for.”

That amazing amber pair blinked into focus right before she gave him a little nod. “There couldn’t be a Papi for me to love if the Miggy underneath wasn’t loveable and amazing and worthy of the same respect.”

Closer and closer, his little witch inched her way up to the edge and he was intent on rewarding her for every attempt she made. “Pick up some juice on your way home and I want you to have a nap before I get there. Nothin’ too heavy to eat either, okay?”

Smiling with a hint of pink coloring her cheeks, Kandy nodded. “Do you care what kind?”

“Orange. Muscle cramps are a bitch and I hate that gatorade shit.”

Miguel sat there staring at her silently with his arms casually looped around her waist and her arms folded behind his neck. Squinting in thought, he remembered that she was just twenty-one. Well, twenty-one and a half, nearly. With the odd spell of quietness that materialized between them, Kandy watched him with great interest as she could clearly see he was pondering something. Rather than prod him to speak, she gave him his time and busied herself with looking here and there to see if any of the restaurants or stores had changed since she last made it out to the beach. 

It seemed like all over Tampa Bay new towers and communities were going up along with much-needed infrastructure. The old brick streets in some neighborhoods were getting widened, expressways were being extended and connected, properties in purgatory were being reclaimed and restored. Some neighborhoods were falling prey to gentrification and disinterested owners only looking for a smart investment rather than becoming part of the historic and vibrant communities that made Tampa Bay one of the most culturally rich and diverse metro areas in the southern United States. 

For some reason, the memory of an article in The Side Bar Blog about the closing of the historic cigar factories of Ybor City popped into her head. Then she realized what drew Miguel to work at Conrado’s. It was the authenticity and history preserved in the recipes, the stories that were told out front on the patio, and the soul of her grandfather that Sandy was trying her best to preserve. 

“You do all this for fun, the letters, the family records?”

Miguel’s voice summoned her back from her own rabbit hole of thinking enough that she stared at him blankly until he canted his head off to one side. “Oh. Sort of. I mean, I totally would speak every language in the world if I could. But those letters are also important on their own. I never met my great-grandmother. Reading her words, understanding her thoughts, learning the way she did things or how she saw them is the closest I’ll ever get to knowing her and being with her. Who knows, maybe I have also inherited from her things that will shape my tradition and what I teach our —“

He was grinning at his Gemini while listening as she channeled all the traits of her ruler, Mercury, the Messenger. This girl sitting in his lap was talking about letters decades-old that she was translating in her own spare time to honor an ancestor and her practice. She cared enough to do that. Considering this was similar to how she treasured her grandfather’s recipe books, Miguel knew it was a pattern and not just a passing interest or way to fill her time. That was two generations of her family whom she never met, but respected and yearned to be bonded to in any way she could find. It also pleased him so much to hear her speak of the future when fully in the moment and not being constricted by her concerns of what others might think about their rather unconventional courtship. 

Interrupting their conversation, Kandy leaned forward and very gently caressed one side of his face as she kissed his cheek on the other. It was such a loving gesture that he actually blushed. It was one of gratitude for the consideration he showed for Zoraida’s place in her life and he somehow knew that. Her Scorpio may have been a complicated soul, but he was a good man and she was quick to acknowledge that whenever she could. Tugging the hem of his tank top to get his attention, she gave him a flirty wink when she looked up at him and he smirked. Instead of letting her get away, he reached behind her neck and carefully pulled her back in toward him. 

Mi mujer.” With that, his hand wrapped the rosary tattoo squeezed half of her rear as he gripped the roots of her hair with the skeleton-looking set of fingers that belonged to his other hand.

Her eyes slid shut and the most content of sighs slipped past her lips. “Mi esposo.

Tenderly, he pet her scalp under the thick layers of curls he had gathered into his grip. Whenever Kandy referred to him as her Papi, esposo, or even her halcón, there was a peculiar emotional response it triggered within him. She was claiming him and acknowledging his value and importance in her life, especially with that special honorific for his role as her Dominant. As he sat there and thought about it, she had never avoided being seen hugging or kissing him except for those times when they both had gotten carried away and were trying not to get caught. On the occasions when Lydia came up to their table in the restaurant, Kandy never downplayed or denied being with him. He tried to remember when he last strolled around casually without being buttoned up from wrists to neck. Miguel didn’t even walk to the end of the driveway to check the mail without his shoulders and arms covered. Not once had she tried to get him to hide his tattoos or scars. If anything, she was doing as much as she could to reconnect him with his physical self.

If it hadn’t been for her noticing his hold on her hair progressively weakening, it would’ve been the shift in his energy that alerted her to him getting caught up in his thoughts again. This was the perfect time to tilt her head off to the side and pull him into one of their head-dizzying, pulse-quickening kisses. With one arm across his shoulder blades, her other hand was free to comb his long black hair down to the back of his neck. To say that it shocked him back to the present was an understatement, but what a way to get his attention. Before she knew it, his tattooed fingers had curved under her rear and lifted her up just enough that he could readjust into a more comfortable position sitting there against the cement half wall. Setting her back down, she quickly noticed the source of his discomfort. It was obvious he was waiting to see where she would take things. As tempting of a distraction as it was to address his predicament, the things they were now discussing had required them both to step out and trust the other. The momentum was too important to let slip by.

“What else you wanna know about, mi halcón?” She bit her tongue at him like the observant little brat she was and he grinned again.

“If you just feel things, how is it you saw us in the bathtub?”

“You were thinkin’ loud as fuck.” Seeing that he wasn’t quite sure what to make of her explanation, she shrugged. “Sometimes, it happens. Rarely, but it happens. Like us back in the restaurant.”

“When I wanted to swipe everything off our table and —“

“Fuck me good? Yea, that was a loud-ass thought, Miguel.”

He smirked and nodded. Considering all of this, another question popped into his head. “How much of that could you see?”

Looking quite a bit like the cat that ate the cream, Kandy debated about how much to share. Seeing how curious he was, she knew she couldn’t really hold back from him any details, nor did she really want to. To go from only having one friend in her inner circle that she could talk to about the esoteric and spiritual to now also having a life partner who was just as interested as she was still required some getting used to. But he was the man who loved her and the one meant to walk with her for the rest of her time here, of this she was sure.

“I dunno. It’s kinda like a music video or a montage. The more excited the energy, the more frenetic, the more cuts. But with us, it was sorta slo-mo.” Dropping her eyes down to the blanket, she tried to play off her bashful smile, but eventually just had to let herself laugh and blush.

“Can I?” He raised one of his hands to show that he wanted to see her memory of it.

Coyly rolling her hips forward, she shifted her weight down on his pelvis whilst taking him by the wrist to place his hand on the front of her throat. “You sure?”

Miguel chuckled at how quickly his airy siren with purple lips could switch into the other twin, who was provocative, mischievous, and precocious. “I remember what I wanted to do to you, querida. Seeing it again isn’t gon—“

“Whatever you say, Papi.” Not giving him time to even blink, Kandy kissed him again and felt his thumb and fingers press against the sides of her throat.

Miguel did indeed remember what that improvised fantasy on the restaurant table was originally when he had a hold of her back when she was sitting on the edge in front of him after lunch. What he saw through her memory, while the same in terms of the sequence of actions, was entirely different. The opening image was of their plates soundlessly falling over the side of the table as it wobbled from the sudden shift of its weight. The point of view was as if a camera had been held level with the side edge and stayed there looking toward the large tinted window of the restaurant’s front. 

Next, he saw her hands walk themselves back to the front edge and part of her bare hips and lower back tilt to follow the angle. No denim and no lace were visible. The narrow perspective adopted by the invisible camera that was her mind’s eye only showed part of her legs coming into view, but it was enough that he could tell her knees were level with her chest and those toned limbs were folded apart out of his way. Not even a second later, his rosary-wrapped fingers clamped over the front edge of the table and a large portion of her curls fell down toward the surface of the table as if she had tilted her head back. Finally, his skeleton-looking hand gripped the other side of the table just before the rocking back and forth took on a more purposeful rhythm.

Releasing her throat, Miguel pulled back from the kiss and wiped his palm down his face and chin as the vision disappeared. His little witch sat there quietly with a bemused smile as she waited for him to tell of his experience. He didn’t take her warning seriously and was slightly more uncomfortable because of it. Half-heartedly, he glared at her causing her to laugh. Though it was all out of frame, he knew what was happening when his left hand only came into view after all those brunette waves fell backward, just like how he could imagine the feel of every subsequent thrust associated with the table’s movement.

Keeping her hands on her own thighs, she leaned around to his ear and purred to him. “Just ‘cause I can’t make somebody feel things like you can, doesn’t mean I can’t make you feel somethin’.”

Whether it was by how she spoke or what she shared with him, Kandy definitely was able to make his body a believer. “But that wasn’t how I imagined it. Like it’s accurate as fuck, but that ain’t how I saw it goin’ down in my head.”

“You saw how I translated what I got from what you were thinking. I don’t know why it’s like that, the different perspective, the different —“

“Lens? For a girl only interested in words, those were some nice ass images, mami.”

“Imagine what we could make together.” Her smile faded slightly and she turned her face into the breeze for a few moments to let it blow her hair back out of the way. “But, it’s not always pretty like that.”

His brows popped at the curious way she classified his fantasy of fucking her on a table in his cousin’s restaurant an hour after meeting in traffic. “It can be about other things?”

With a sigh, Kandy turned and eased over his one leg to wind up sitting at his side with her back against the cement as well. “Normally, it’s only when people wanna hurt me, like when they wanna do somethin’ to me or maybe someone nearby. So this has been mad refreshing. Rarely, rarely is it an everyday or normal type thought. It’s always an extreme of some kind — probably a better way to describe it.”

“Are there ever times you can’t?” Once she was settled at his side, Miguel reached for her hand and brought it to his lips for a kiss before holding onto it.

“If somebody is guarded, I can’t feel anything through those walls. Like a radio, people broadcast things and sometimes I happen to be tuned into their frequency. The more they focus on it and obsess about it, the louder or stronger that signal or thought is.” After a few seconds, she dipped her arm around behind his so that she could lean close enough to rest her chin on his shoulder. “But it’s so different with you. I enjoy this with you. Yes, for the obvious reasons, but also ‘cause I feel so close to you, more connected, I guess.” 

Here he was on a beautiful Fall afternoon sitting in a park and staring at the beach with his girl. All he could think about for so long was making sure the bills were paid and getting Irma off to college. While there had been times during the holidays and some late nights when he’d roll over into the cold empty half of his bed longing for a mate, it still hadn’t been what he’d classify as a priority despite the extra candles and offerings that found their way to his altar. The tall, grim-looking motherfucker from the west coast with his taste for classic literature and poetry was holding hands with a cute girl from Miami that was as bright and full of life as his confusing and sometimes upsetting dreams on those lonely nights were dark.

“Tell me how it’s different, querida.”

“I feel things from you almost constantly. I’m not invading your headspace or anything. I really am following our Golden Rule. Maybe it’s just things you don’t mind me knowin’ or subconsciously want me to know. What I said about the walls going up still applies to you though. That same strength and clarity is there when you wanna shut down. I know somethin’ is upsetting or distractin’ you, but I got no way of seein’ it unless –”

“It’s a really serious thing.”

“It’s so funny ‘cause when you go distant or you don’t wanna share, there’s such a void of…” Kandy paused to look up at the sky as she tried to find the words to describe the difference. “Well, you. When you’re here and comfortable, it’s like you wrap the blanket that you have around yourself also around me. When you don’t want to share things, it’s like you pull that blanket back and keep it just for you. That’s the closest way I can explain.”

He sat there nodding and sighed whilst bringing a knee up to hang his free arm over. “There’s never been much feelin’ on my side, with my stuff. So that shit never been somethin’ for me to consider, but it makes sense with how we fit together. I think the only reason I pick up on your mood here and there is from how we know each other. You’re really the only person I seem to have this connection or access to.”

“Since the Mercedes, I’ve felt it. When you go deep in your head, it’s so weird for that sensation or your presence or whatever to suddenly not be there that it trips me out. You’re here, meaning I can touch you, but you’re also not.”

Letting go of her hand, he slipped his arm free of her just long enough to wrap it around her to bring her in for a kiss to the side of her head. “I’m gonna work on that. It ain’t good for me to go back there so much. I don’t wanna wind up gettin’ stuck.”

Happy to be snuggled against his flank, Kandy nuzzled the front of his shoulder and kissed his tattooed skin. “You know, it feels like you’re actually visiting that time. Your energy is so fuckin’ big and when you’re not here with me actively it’s crazy how empty everything feels around me.”

“Big, huh?” Miguel smiled a little before looking back over at her and letting his eyes linger on her legs, which she had extended out in front of her.

Playing it cool, Kandy felt his eyes on her and very casually lifted her right leg and pointed her toe as if she were actually examining the state of her purple-painted toenails. A hand shook out the layers of her curls seemingly idly while her ankle turned left and right. The little show she put on for him came to an end when she recrossed the pair in the opposite direction. “Huge.” 

Miguel enjoyed every second of it unreservedly. When it was over, he looked up and saw that knowing grin spreading across her plush lips. He chuckled and shook his head with his attention refocused on the beach just beyond the park they were in. “You feel the same stuff with other people that you do with me, that blanket thing you talked about?”

Kandy laughed. “No fuckin’ way, cariño. I can get a sense of somebody, sure. The more I’m with them or the closer I am to that person emotionally, it gets a little stronger. But it is never like this. Even when I’ve felt it in an unnatural state, it still is nowhere near as strong as what we have.”

“Unnatural? Unnatural how? Explícamelo.”

“I’ve noticed if people take certain drugs like cocaine or even ADHD meds, an upper of some kind, I feel a little more than usual from them. Or if they’re manic or havin’ some kinda episode, but with that, it usually means the information is a mess and garbled. Weed and alcohol usually have the opposite effect, which is nice. It can be equally frustrating ‘cause it’s not sharp and clear.” 

“What about when you take somethin’?”

She took a moment to consider his question and furrowed her brow. “I’ve never taken anything beyond smokin’ or edibles. But I don’t really do that when I’m around other people.” Swallowing, her fingers rubbed between her collar bones for a moment. “I don’t like bein’ — whatever — when I’m around people, especially if I don’t know them. I don’t get fucked up when I’m alone or anything. I just don’t feel comfortable when there’s someone else there. Other than Talia, you’re probably the only other person who has seen me smoke.”

Though she hadn’t said it specifically, he could sense the shame she had about needing to use something to help facilitate a more calm and productive day. “When you’re relaxed, high or you got some liquor in you, you ever noticed it may be easier for you to pick up on things? Maybe even things when no one else is around?”

“I don’t think so. I mean, I didn’t really start smokin’ until after I kinda stopped bein’ around everybody. There’s not like any event that sticks out in my mind. Now I’m curious about it though. It’s not often I go out with my friends or go to a party. If I do, I’ll probably pay attention more to that.”

“‘Cause you’re curious about it?” Again that hunger for a cigarette tugged at him, though this time it was more of the draw of a comforting ritual he enjoyed when mulling over something than from a need to calm his nerves.

She shrugged. “Yea. I’ve read some about it and there are things I’d like to do to try and have better control over it. But, I don’t know if I feel safe takin’ it in certain directions. My grandfather’s condemnation to the side, my grandmother gave me some very strong warnings about it. Lookin’ back, I wonder if maybe she saw some shit that I’d be dealin’ with. I don’t think channeling is ideal for somebody presently workin’ through anxiety anyway.”

“It’s not somethin’ I’d consider safe for you right now either. You were smart not to go playin’ around on your own with those things, mi brujita. Maybe one day.” Miguel gently picked up her ankles to lift her crossed legs across his lap after she slipped the pair up between his. “But you never had somebody try to talk to you? Somebody that’s already transitioned?”

Turning quiet, Kandy cuddled her cheek against part of his chest. The resistance in her to answer as quickly and openly as she had been doing piqued his interest. Miguel waited to see if she would get past whatever this little bump in the road was. On one hand, it didn’t surprise him in light of how many religions and cultures viewed communing with the dead as an unholy or disreputable practice even for someone considered to be a healer or spiritually gifted. Reaching up, he softly ran his hand down over her hair to her back.

This was going to require Kandy to step out and trust that he possessed the character she believed he did. “When I do tarot.”

“You ask for somebody specific?” He had heard the nervousness in her voice and continued to pet her reassuringly.

Taking in a slow breath, she paused just long enough to leave a grateful kiss on his shoulder. “Sometimes, like if I really need some help. I can tell when I know things through my own way versus somebody sharing what they know with me.”

“You like tarot.” He nodded over toward her bag and the book she carried in it about the practice.

“It’s the safest way I’ve found to connect. I mean, I feel the safest.” With a slight grin, she rubbed up the center of his chest over his tank top whilst kissing the end of his shoulder again as her anxiety continued to recede. “You aren’t lookin’ to throw me in a dungeon and ask me about your future, are you?”

“If we’re in a dungeon somewhere, querida, there ain’t gonna be much talkin’ goin’ on.” 

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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