Kandy and Miguel #10: The Park, Part Six.

Her brows popped. “You would take me to one?”

“If you wanted to go. I sure as shit ain’t lettin’ you go to one or some club or whatever alone.”

Hearing the slight edge in his voice, Kandy leaned forward to get a better look at his face. “Papi.”

“What, conejita?” Idly, he was rubbing his chin while she took it upon herself to return to her original position of straddling his lap and facing him.

“You’ve been to one of those places?” Both of her palms were now back to rubbing the front of his chest nice and slow.

He cautiously nodded as he eyed her. “After I got out here and settled. I thought it might be an easier way to find somethin’ casual. Wound up runnin’ into a lotta older couples with a certain interest.”

Kandy frowned and then kissed just above the center of his chest. Closing her eyes out of respect for the fact he wasn’t ready to reveal the tattoo that covered a good portion of his torso, she let her pointer finger pull down the neck of his tank so she could press her lips flush against his skin. There was something about that that just drove him crazy. With his hand disappearing into her hair to encourage her mouth to stay where it was, he let slip a groan when her tongue replaced her lips.

“Kandajha.”

Not even a full breath later and he felt the urge to groan again when her palms snuck around his sides to massage his back beneath his top. Since there were no signs of her letting up, he gripped her roots from underneath the bulk of her hair just enough to separate her from his skin and correct the power imbalance. Those amber eyes flashed with the playful naughtiness he had come to enjoy as she took the time to straighten up the front of his tank to make sure the tattoo wasn’t visible. Even when she was stirring up trouble or teasing him, she had a way of using little gestures and expressions to remind him that her intent was never malicious or to be disrespectful.

Sitting there over his thighs in his lap, her hands went back to massaging the top of his hips and in toward his lower back. “You’re my Papi and nobody else’s.”

At first blush, it was cute the way she spoke. But the longer he watched her, the clearer he saw a possessiveness she had that was all her own. Still, her interest was intriguing to him in light of her tendency to enjoy fooling around in semi-public spaces. Was there enough of an exhibitionist inside of her to enjoy putting on a show or to let him tie her up in front of others? While he found her to be just as exquisitely beautiful as her submissiveness, Miguel didn’t know himself how he felt about putting her on display. 

“You don’t gotta play in the club, conejita. We can just watch together.”

“I know my Papi loves to watch.” 

“And mi estrella likes to show off sometimes.”

“Mm, true.” She knew what he was asking and she smiled whilst coyly wrapping the curled ends of her hair around a few of her fingers. “I’m happy to give my Papi a show just for him anytime he likes.”

Running his thumb affectionately back and forth over her lower lip, he smiled at her warmly. “Only for me.”

Not about to break eye contact, she waited for the right time to kiss his thumb as it passed by. “Only for my Papi.”

Miguel very much got the message that there would be no group activities and was not in the least bit disappointed. “Mi buena conejita.”

Kandy studied him for a moment or two and then casually inquired, “Do you ever use that energetic presence you got?”

“As a way of either discouragin’ or encouragin’ people from doin’ shit? Sure, when I need to. That’s just somethin’ I learned in the street, nothin’ special about that.” 

“With women! And don’t act like you didn’t know what I was really askin’.” She smiled at him and tilted her head waiting for his response.

“What, like to get a girl to like me? Nah.” His brows lifted as he did his best to wipe away the sly grin with a tattooed hand, but he wasn’t quick enough.

È un piccolo bugiardo!” She giggled behind her hand and shook her head, “Papi, you are very, very, very good at it.”

Miguel blinked knowing immediately by the pronunciation that it was Italian, “What the fuck was that? Picco—” 

Piccolo bugiardo?” He stared at her, making her laugh again. “It means little liar.”

“Can’t just say ‘Son mamadas’, huh?”

“Maybe I need some intense, one-on-one tutoring, Papi. One inch of your dick for each verb tense I memorize.” When he started to shrug and act as if he was considering it, she pushed him.

Laughing, he pulled her close and wrapped her up for a rather involved and lusty kiss. “Mi conejita.”

It seemed like those lovely ribbons of humor that wound their way through their conversations also helped to untie all the emotions both had bundled inside of them. Surrendering to his kiss and embrace, Kandy shifted her weight into him and hugged his narrow waist. Up those hands went, following the widening V-shape of his torso until she reached his chest. All the times he had called her conejita that afternoon and it was this time that melted her almost completely. When her fingers finally swept in across his collar bones to reach his throat, she proceeded to slowly walk them up and over his jaw to the hollows of his cheeks just to feel the way his mouth moved when he deepened and continued their kiss. At some point, the thought of watching a replay of them making out under the sheets and then in the backseat of his mint condition 90s Mercedes S600 made her moan.

Pulling back from her, he was chuckling, “Qué fue eso, mi corazón?”

Papi, I just can’t help what your energy does to me.” She whimpered into his ear to tease him before stealing a page from his playbook and nipping at the side of his neck.

He grumbled and nuzzled her trying his best not to replay that meek whimper over and over in his head. “What it does to you, huh? You sayin’ it makes that little pussy ache? I thought it just helps me to be an intimidatin’ ass motherfucker.”

“I know you don’t just use it to make somebody back the fuck up. You use it to make those chicks who got no fuckin’ idea who they’re dealin’ with swoon and fall to their knees with their mouths open.” 

“I make you wanna fall to your knees with your mouth open, querida, and I know exactly what it’s hungry for,” He pushed the side of her head lightly with the bridge of his nose to speak low into her ear. “what you’re hungry for.” 

Closing her eyes, Kandy waited for him to back off a little before turning to cutely kiss his cheek and whisper back. “What am I hungry for, Papi? Su leche?”

Si.” When her thighs squeezed his flanks, Miguel chuckled, but then began to more seriously examine the methods he used in the past to pick up women. “So you can feel when I play around with that, with you?”

Another laugh and Kandy tugged at his shirt. “Are you joking? Of course. I don’t think it has the same effect on me as it does others though.”

“It doesn’t. It’s different. I—” He ran one of his palms around the back of his neck and grimaced briefly.

Sensing a shift in his mood, Kandy waited before speaking to get a clearer feel for what changed. Still adhering to their agreement about privacy and not invading his thoughts to read them, she was just trying to identify the wave of emotion from him that was washing over her. Without knowing it, he was teaching her that her ability worked best when she was patient and still enough to experience all the nuances involved.

So many sensations she picked up couldn’t be translated into words. Sometimes, a word like grief or relief fit perfectly, other times like this one all she could do was let herself experience it and then try to match it as close to something else she had felt. It would be from those occasions that she’d try to suss out the context that might apply to him. While she could have labeled what he was radiating as nervousness, it was far more accurate to identify the mix of emotions as what they both seemed to feel when concerned about being judged for an action or thought. Miguel was nervous about explaining what he used to do.

Very gently, she gave her worried Scorpio a nudge. “When you’re in that mode, it feels like you’re all over me without even touching me, Papi.”

Without hesitation, he leaned forward and provocatively growled in her ear again. “Is that what you want, conejita, to feel me everywhere?”

A tender and encouraging caress of his jaw brought him back to look her in the eyes. “I want my Papi to finish explainin’ to me what he used to do when he was young, but doesn’t anymore ‘cause he learned better.”

Resting his forehead against hers, he closed his eyes and smirked before placing a kiss on her hairline. “If I found a chick I wanted and she was on the fence about shit, I put my foot on the scales.”

Her brows slowly lifted before dropping to furrow in concentration. “How though?”

Miguel shrugged his shoulders and sighed as he sat back to look at her. “Lust can be a powerful ass motivator, querida. If we at some party, all up on each other, what you think you’re gonna choose when I’m in your ear about fuckin’ you till you pass out and you start feelin’ like you bein’ stretched already?”

The corners of her lips began to sneak up for a small smile, but she quickly quashed it. “Sex with you isn’t ever quick, is it?”

“You know I like to take my time.”

A slow nod as she tossed some of her hair off to one side and eyed him. “You ever do that with a chick who’s wasted?”  

He shook his head adamantly. “Never been into that kinda shit or even if they ain’t drunk, but just high as fuck.”

“You want them aware.”

Now in the affirmative, he was nodding intently with her interpretation. “All the way. But I’m not into fuckin’ with people’s heads like that anymore. Bein’ out here with Irma, I had to, like, completely change up how I do things. No way am I bringin’ some strange chick home. It was less drama when I was upfront about shit. All I want is to fuck. I’ve got some questions. If she answered them right, then we went somewhere else.”

Kandy took in an awkward breath, having started to feel the need to ask a particular question. “You know that I…”

“I know you’re careful with it, querida.” Seeing her growing disheartenment over her drug use, Miguel held one of her hands and softly rubbed the back of it with his thumb. “But the same rule applies to you. You can’t hold a conversation, we ain’t fuckin’. I don’t care if you tryin’ to get me out my clothes or not. It’s not a question I’m ever gonna ask you ‘cause if I’m standin’ there wonderin’ about it, then I’m makin’ the decision not to.”

Here was another situation where Miguel was inadvertently highlighting to Kandy how much she had been leaning on marijuana to manage her anxiety. At this point, she was turning a more critical eye to how often and how much, whether it was actually management versus avoidance, and if it was something enabling her to avoid going to therapy and doing the required work. Rather than inquire about what she was specifically thinking about, Miguel decided to kiss the back of her hand instead. He had a hunch about what was causing her to quietly reflect. While he didn’t like seeing her troubled about something, it was reassuring to know that she was re-evaluating her choices and habits out of a concern for her own mental health as well as the health of their relationship. 

Having been there himself, he knew what it was like to finally rip the lid off and have a look at what’s really inside. It often was quite startling to see how powerful and subtle denial’s skewing of one’s perspective could be especially when it came to behaviors that often evolved into unhealthy habits and even destructive addictions. Kandy shook her head again and sighed whilst looking up at the blue sky. More and more, it felt like so many parts of her life were coming to an end. Her upset wasn’t over those chapters closing, but rather that she had allowed them to be written in the first place. 

For whatever reason, the standard Devil card from a tarot deck popped into her head. It was a corrupted version of the Lovers card. Two individuals stood with chains around their necks and the Devil hovering above. It was quite the contrast to the pair happily standing with each other under the blessed watch of an angel, like on the other. What was pulling her focus wasn’t the flames or the unpleasant intimidating expression of the horned beast perched above the couple. Instead, she noticed that the chains around their necks were loose. In fact, they looked loose enough that, if so inclined, they could lift them up over their heads and free themselves. Receiving the message, she acknowledged it subtly by placing her palm over her solar plexus and gave it a gentle pat.

“I know you were just a teenager when the thing with the bike went down, but was this somethin’ you could do before, or did it only come after?”

Having clocked the movement of her hand, Miguel smiled to himself, again pleased to see that she was actively interacting with her gifts in a positive way. “When I was young, usin’ it got me a lot real easy. But after the accident, that shit turned destructive crazy fast. It’s like ‘cause I now was aware of it, that it wasn’t just me bein’ me causin’ that attraction, there was a negativity attached to it. Maybe that was always there and I didn’t have sense enough to fuckin’ notice it.”

“How long does it last?” Very gently, her fingertips had begun to trace up and down the length of the tail of the scorpion tattooed on his right forearm.

“Until I stop focusin’ or whatever on it. With you, it just happened. I started thinkin’ about somethin’ and you just started feelin’ it. I know it hits you different ‘cause what I get back from you feels different.” Despite feeling ill at ease talking about the dating tactics he had since retired, there was a lightening of the weight he had been carrying around now that he had the chance to acknowledge how irresponsible he had been. One of his biggest concerns was that his newly found partner would rethink her participation in the things they had talked about doing together. The possibility of losing her trust or damaging the confidence she had in him to keep her safe was quickly upsetting him. “When I put you in that relaxed space, I can feel the second you reach that shit too.” 

She could tell by how he was expanding his answers that he was concerned about how her opinion of him might be changing. “You ever get a girl come around later upset?”

“Yea. A couple times. They got mad sayin’ I made them cheat.” Kandy looked at him sideways over that explanation, but he wasn’t giving any room to what would have been her argument for their personal responsibility. Miguel sighed and sat back against the cement, rubbing his face with both hands. “Querida, it was fucked up. Regardless of whatever they wanted at the time. I was irresponsible with it and crossed lines.”

Her fingers stopped their tracing patterns for her palm to almost protectively shield the scorpion from view. “That’s why we have the rules about what we can do.”

The gesture didn’t go unnoticed. “Yes. They’re some of the most important rules we can have, Kandajha.”

“But I really fuckin’ love how it feels when you do it.”

“Good, but that don’t change nothin’. I take them rules serious, querida. With you, I get that it don’t fuck with your thoughts the same, but I’m still gonna always be careful as fuck with it. Especially with you because you’re so sensitive.”

Kandy looked down at her hands which had come to rest very high up on his thighs. There was nothing sexual or suggestive about how her hands got there. It was just the most comfortable position considering how she was sitting in his lap. She didn’t seem quite like she was distressed, but perhaps something more akin to being reluctant. It was her turn. A phrase from her therapist caused her to laugh to herself. Despite the amount of cognitive distortion she had left unchecked over the last year or so, Kandy could still see how much of an emotional person she was. The more she tried to perpetuate the detached airy image, the more their conversations reflected back to her how much her feelings influenced her.

To reassure her, he reached up and tenderly petted her cheek with his thumb, “Mi brujita has a bewitchin’ talent of her own though and I’m not meanin’ how good she is at suckin’ my cock.”

Her mouth tilted up for a coy little smile as she shook her head. “Excellent.”

“What?”

“Not just ‘good’, I’m ‘excellent’ at it.”

Miguel smirked and slowly nodded. “I got no doubts about that, mami.”

“I maybe get the same result as you but the method is different. Yours operates on the physical, but mine is all about emotions.”

“Like your other gifts. But what are you sayin’, that you can make a motherfucker fall for you?” He laughed but stopped when she started rubbing between her collar bones.

“I didn’t understand how bad it could be. I can’t say I was totally unaware of it, but I thought that because it was temporary nothing bad could really happen. That’s what Sandra was talking about when she mentioned the game playing. I mean, she doesn’t know what I can do, but she has seen the fallout.” 

“Did you use it to date?” Before he even finished the question, he felt a subdued wave of emotions press against his chest; it was her anxiety.

Kandy took in a slow breath and finally sighed. “No, I knew that if I didn’t keep feeding the intention that it would fade. Whatever they really thought or felt about me, if anything at all, would come back eventually. On the days I was bored, if I saw somebody I thought was interesting, I’d get them to talk to me for a little while.”

Miguel watched as she looked down and then away from him, likely over at the palm trees beyond the cement half wall he was sitting against. He knew right away that it wasn’t when she was bored, but when she was lonely. Kandy was smart, funny, and pretty. Even with as shy and quiet as she could seem, it was difficult for Miguel to imagine that she wasn’t occasionally approached. Taking into account how she spoke of her hookups and dating in general, he kept being brought back around to the theme of control. 

“What would you talk about, querida?” Carefully, he reached up and tucked some of her hair behind her ear to get a better view of her face.

Kandy was still and silent for a time. It was just long enough for him to figure out that she was trying to shove back in whatever was trying to escape out of her own baggage to zip it shut again. Once she had, the feeling in his chest disappeared. After a slow breath, she put on that familiar smile and shrugged. He was really beginning to dislike that smile. It was a mask to hide the pain he knew was there that she was still nervous about letting him see.

“Anything.”

This girl was so afraid of getting attached to anybody that it reminded him of himself. The causes behind their aversion to letting people close were very different, but he understood her need to control and limit how far people could get. In their own respective ways, they had been afraid of feeling emotions and connections that might cause them to become out of control and abandon the systems they cobbled together to keep themselves safe from hurt and distraction.

“Is that what happened with that motherfucker?”

With that same fixed smile, she looked at the barely visible outline of the tattoo covering his chest. “No, he was a very specific choice.”

“You wanted to drown.” Echoing her words back to her, Miguel kept his palms still on her thighs partly to feel the comfort of having her with him, but also to be ready to help calm any turbulence the subject might bring up.

Rather than specifically acknowledging what he said, she shrugged and moved on to her negative experiences with playing around with people’s emotions. “Like you, I never really spent the time to find out if they already had someone or were married. I wasn’t interested in dating. I just wanted to spend a little time, talk to somebody, or not eat alone. That’s my biggest thing. I hate eating alone. If there was a guy that seemed cool, then I would get him to keep me company while I ate. They’d ask for my number sometimes and I’d give it if I had a good time.”

“Was Bolt Boy one of the ones that couldn’t stay in his motherfuckin’ lane?”

Doing her best not to laugh, Kandy eyed him. “Bolt Boy?”

“Yea, you know, that racist motherfucker Cassandra asked about on the phone.”

“Yea, I know who you’re talkin’ about, cariño. Como un elefante.”

Miguel chuckled, “Why, ‘cause I pay attention and remember shit?”

. And yes, he was one. It lasts longer or affects people differently who have certain issues.” She smiled thinly and almost apologetically as she stumbled over how to identify a particular group without being insensitive. “I didn’t know that at the time. So, it kept buildin’ and buildin’. Normally, it fades pretty quick especially if I’m not around similar to yours.”

It didn’t matter who or when, but that anyone would have the audacity to hurt or harass Kandy was what stirred up the more aggressive side of Miguel’s protectiveness. “How bad did it get with him?”

“A couple times things got out of control. He didn’t know where I lived, but he knew about one of the car shows I used to go to and he knew my car.” The little brunette shrugged and fluffed up her hair again, having needed something to do with her hands. “I dunno if he got psycho because I stopped seein’ him or if he found out that I wasn’t as white as he wanted me to be. He was so dull to me. The conversations never really went anywhere, which, I guess in light of the tattoos, probably was a blessing.”

“You never asked him anything about them?”

Kandy shook her head and shifted her weight in his lap so that she could lock her ankles around behind him on the blanket. “No way. I had always seen him wearing a tie and shit. I didn’t notice them until one time we were out and his truck got a flat tire. He took his shirt and tie off to change it and that’s when I saw them. I asked around about him though and found out who he runs with, who his family is. That’s not anything I wanna be the target of.”

Knowing her interest in vehicles, it was unlikely she’d refer to the Jeep that way. Suddenly, Miguel was incredibly curious about what car she actually owned. He had a feeling it was very much in line with the comment he made to her when they very first met that small and fast seemed more like her style than the 4×4. Kandy had been accurate in her guessing that Miguel’s interest in cars was limited only to the cars he had dreamt about while growing up. The Mercedes-Benz S600, which was older than she was, was a source of tremendous pride for him. Other than budgeting for the proper maintenance on the V12 powered sedan, he only spent money on himself to buy the occasional book or perhaps a little upgrade to his wardrobe here and there in the form of a snazzy new tie or pair of shoes. 

Perhaps, he would land one of those old Lincoln Continentals from the mid-sixties he drooled over at the car club shows Manny would drag him out to back in California. He’d have that Lincoln murdered out without a spot of chrome anywhere except for the lip of the deep dish black wheels wrapped in OG-style whitewall tires. The white, silver, and light blue decorative pinstriping on the hood, down the sides, and on the trunk would match the classic double bench seat interior. With some nice limo tint on the glass, Miguel wouldn’t think twice about going to work on his little witch in the backseat.

“I’m obsessive, mami.”

“No, you’re intense and focused. Like you’ve got perspective. This was some upside-down, inside-out shit. I wound up puttin’ my car in storage and started drivin’ the Jeep. I still stay out of Tampa except to see Sandy, but that’s probably not really necessary anymore. I know better now where not to go.” The brunette with the faded purple curls and glossed lips smirked after a quiet moment. “I really fuckin’ miss my car though.”

Though the thought of her sitting on his face in the back of the Continental he hoped to own one day was beginning to fade, he still found himself rubbing and groping the part of her thighs where he’d hold her in place. “Cassandra doesn’t know anything about it?”

Forced to bite her bottom lip, Kandy let herself feel the barely-there, almost ghost-like sensations his imagination had conjured up seconds ago. “She knew somethin’ was up. But no, not what I’ve told you. What you heard me tell her on the phone earlier was the most of the truth I’ve ever shared with her. The reason I gave her to put the car in storage was that I was gettin’ hassled and ticketed.”

“It’s small and fast then?” He grinned and she had to turn his face away from her now relieved he had become fully refocused on their conversation.

“It’s small,” Kandy shrugged and then finally laughed. “I dunno how fast it is, but it feels fast enough when I need it to.”

Taking her hand down from his jaw, he kissed over her knuckles and then held it in his lap. “You don’t feel that obsessive shit with me?”

Tilting her head, she looked at him confused. “Not ever, not for a second. I’ve never felt like you were gonna hurt me or mess with me.”

“You weren’t ever thinkin’ like I was some kinda psycho with how we been talkin’ about the future?” His thumb tenderly rubbed along the back of her hand the same way it had when he held her hand in the restaurant. “You told me not to scare you and I don’t wanna scare you. Never.”

Sitting there in his lap facing him, Kandy got the familiar push to say something to him. It wasn’t a thought of her own, but instead a message she was supposed to pass along. This always made her feel so awkward and weird. With her free hand, she rubbed the pressure point to try and snuff out the sparks of anxiety that were trying to fire. She couldn’t refuse to do it. Well, she could, but she didn’t want to deal with the fallout both here on this plane and the spiritual one for ignoring instructions. 

“Whatever she told you about that part of you, you need to forget. You’re nothing like that, like him. Or like them?” She wasn’t quite sure why there was the correction, but added it anyway and then did the familiar subtle pat of acknowledgment to her torso. “The people who love you and who know you, know the difference.” 

“Like father, like older son, like younger son.” His arms wrapped under her rear and lifted her to sit closer to allow him to hold her against his body. “Unless I repent and turn to the church.”

Por supuesto.” Folding her arms back behind his neck, she sighed and looked up at him to see more of an expression of sadness than the sarcasm, which had sharpened his words.

“Who did that come from, querida?”

This was another one of those questions that she dreaded. The question about deity always seemed to be the weapon most favored when it came to dividing, singling out, and then attacking. Depending on who was asking, Kandy did her best to use the right term to escape criticism or worse. With Miguel, she knew he wouldn’t insult or try to punish her if she claimed a connection with one entity over another, or a specific archetype, avatar, or named deity. Still, there was that residual baggage of prior experiences and then also the pressure of trying to negotiate a way to conform enough to his grandmother’s expectations to avoid rejection.

“Spirit, Source, God?” 

His brow lifted just slightly. “Creator?”

She learned to recognize when he was testing her by how unreadable he would become. He didn’t want any of his thoughts or emotions to influence how she might respond as he was after a pure, honest answer from her. For someone who had learned to survive by reading and tailoring her engagement with others based on the information and cues they gave her, Kandy felt entirely ill at ease over the prospect of having to genuinely answer this type of question. It wasn’t that she couldn’t think for herself. She could and did. She even had her own beliefs and ethics, which she adhered to, to the point of needing to stay on the fringe of certain social circles to peacefully coexist in a state known for the prevalence of Christian Conservatism in its communities.

Doing her best to casually shrug, Kandy served up a cheeky yet evasive reply. “Go up high enough anywhere and you run into the one at the top, right?”

As much as he wanted to pointedly ask her who she worshipped, if anyone, Miguel could sense it wasn’t the right time. Perhaps that was a question best answered by being in her space and seeing for himself who was represented in the books, statues, candles, and whatever other iconography she might have. Kandy could tell he wasn’t satisfied with her answer. Maybe finishing their previous conversation about consent, will-crossing, and magic might help him to get a better understanding of who his brujita was in her practice.

“After my grandfather got sick, my grandmother used to do love workings. Charm bags, talismans, oils, things like that. She always warned people away from it because it never failed to turn corrupt and ugly. But, some insisted and we needed to eat. So, I got to see what happens when people cross another’s will for something selfish and not for protection. And, as an added bonus, it terrified me to see how desperate and scary people could become from something I used to think as a concept was so beautiful.”

“What they felt though wasn’t ever really love, querida. If you feel real love for somebody, you don’t want to hurt them. You don’t do toxic shit to manipulate them. The obsession to be tied to them and to always insert themselves into that person’s life ain’t got nothin’ to do with love. It’s about control and possession.”

She was shaking her head. “I know you haven’t come out and asked me if I tried with you to get you to feel something. When I looked at you in the car and then when we were kissing, I never considered it. As much as I was attracted to you and drawn to you and didn’t know what to do to see you again, manufacturin’ it wasn’t an option.”

Squinting at her with curiosity, he thought back to earlier when she had crawled into his lap to make out with him after suddenly changing her mind about getting out of his car. “Did you leave the camera behind on purpose?”

Laughing, the little brunette covered her face with her hands. “No! I straight up forgot it. I totally couldn’t believe that we were –”

“Two seconds away from fuckin’ on the bridge in traffic?”

Turning away from him a little more, she eventually peeked out at him from between her fingers. “Yes.”

Taking one of her hands away from her face, he kissed the back of it and watched silently as her expression changed. She was thinking about something. Though he didn’t mean to, what she was remembering started to play in his head. It wasn’t as vibrant or clear as he wasn’t focusing his energy on receiving it out of respect for her, but he was unwilling to let her hand go. The moment she was replaying was when he had noticed the second set of sirens headed up their side of the bridge. He had suggested she stay in the car with him and took her hand as he had done just a few seconds ago. 

In spite of not having the same ability to pick up and read the emotions of others, Miguel was still able to glean some idea of what she felt based on what she remembered about him. It was the way those memories and experiences were presented that showed a love and respect that touched him. She wasn’t focusing on the flashy car or his tattoos, not even when she was working on getting him out of his suit and tie. Instead, it was the way he held her hand. 

“It’s the everyday things that do it for me, Miggy. Your tax bracket doesn’t affect how much I feel for you. Fuck a handbag, fuck a car, fuck a house. I don’t give a shit. What matters to me is you holdin’ my hand when I’m scared and us eatin’ dinner together.”

“Watchin’ a movie on the couch and payin’ bills?” He tilted his head to try and see her face underneath some of the sections of her curls, which had fallen forward to obstruct part of his view.

When he picked those two activities in particular, she smiled to herself and brushed her hair out of the way to look up at him. “Fallin’ asleep keepin’ my Papi warm.”

Still holding her hand, he carefully extended her arm behind her and bent it up against her back before pinning her chest to his. Closer than close, he looked down the bridge of his hawk-like nose at her and saw the dark mix of rebelliousness and lust swirl in from the edge of her amber gaze. In that moment, he didn’t care what it would take to get her comfortable enough to be in his home or how much time needed to pass for her to want to build a family with him. Whatever she needed, he would give her. 

With one hand still loose, Kandy was able to reach up and comb the longer jaw-length layers of his black hair back out of the way. “Adoro a mi Papi.”

Seeing his heart soften at the declaration, she cradled the base of his skull and tenderly kissed him while he continued to maintain control over her other arm. Locking her wrist at her hipline with his skeleton-looking hand, the fingers of his other snuck up into her hair to deepen and extend the kiss. The corners of her mouth perked up into a sly little smile whilst she gripped his hips with her thighs. After a bit, it wound down to where he let her hook her arms up against his shoulder blades and nuzzle into the side of his neck. Just like the kissing she did to the tattoo on his chest, the feather-light kisses full of deference placed on the roses along the bottom of the Santa Muerte portrait turned him on as much as they touched his spirit. 

“If shit gets rough between us, we don’t do work on each other. No cryin’ to lit candles. No prayers and petitions. We sit down and talk it out.”

De acuerdo, mi halcón.” Sighing with what seemed like a fair amount of relief, she nodded before hiding her eyes in the side of his neck. “I will never do magic like that, not for us or anybody. The price we would wind up payin’, I don’t even wanna think about. You may irritate me with how you like shit cleaned or maybe I don’t like the fuckin’ fabric softener you buy or whatever stupid bullshit couples squabble about. But I’d rather have that to deal with than wonder what might be taken from us or twisted for the imbalance caused by doin’ somethin’ like that to each other.”

Listening to her elaborate, Miguel held her tighter and kissed her shoulder. “The work my abuelita does, a lot of it is healin’ people from traumatic shit. She helps them put the pieces of themselves back together. Another part of it is helpin’ to free them from the bad energy in their life: envy, jealousy, or whatever it is that they usually let in. Sometimes, they just out in the world unprotected and not knowin’.”

Kandy laughed and shook her head. “I have no idea where I first heard it, but somebody told me once that I may not believe in the devil, but he believes in me. Not knowin’ about shit does not protect you from it.”

“No, it doesn’t.” He smirked and kissed halfway along her collarbone. 

“So does she stick to just like the Holy Trinity for who she goes to charge or power things? I’m sorry, I don’t have much of a vocabulary for Curanderismo.”

“You good.” Miguel sat back and shrugged. “It depends. If somebody comes to her without believin’ any certain way, then she goes to the saints and God. If they got relationships with somebody, she tries to lean more into that because that’s where they get their strength from.”

“Your grandmother doesn’t seem to have the loyalty to the Church that your mother does, but still I’m surprised she doesn’t have a problem with Santa Muerte over the type of love workings people usually do with her.”

“Sometimes, I think she’s about as Catholic as you are.” Miguel rubbed his jaw pensively. “I asked her about that one time, about the darker side of people’s asks.”

“Oh, what did she say?” 

“She asked me if I knew anybody who ever asked Her that somebody be harmed or killed and, of course, I said no. That narco shit, she says ain’t what She’s about either ‘cause when you see the shrines for Her they got set up and shit it’s when they’re bein’ arrested.”

“Her position is that they just co-opted Her mythos?” Kandy’s brow lifted as she sat up with interest. “The prayers and rituals for those housewives are pretty fuckin’ intense to just be lore and propaganda. But they pale in comparison to Her powers of protection for those marginalized and forgotten. What do you think?”

“I think She will do whatever the fuck She feels moved to do. If a holy entity like Her decides to grant some fucked up ask then it’s gonna go down. But She carries them scales, querida. That shit is always gonna wind up gettin’ balanced. Like what you said: they wind up payin’ in some kinda way.” Miguel shrugged with no small amount of discontent. “It’s the one-dimensional bullshit narrative that fucks me up. They either try to strip away any power that goes against the fuckin’ establishment or when they see that shit ain’t gonna work they turn it into bein’ from the Devil.”

“It’s not all love and light.”

Her halcón finally smiled as she quoted the trite white-washed good-vibes-only philosophy of witchcraft that had infected social media in recent years. “It sure ain’t.”

“Job would probably like to have a word about being used to prove a point in a pissing match amongst spiritual entities.”

Her mentioning of the prophet made him laugh with no small amount of fondness for her wit. “Do you believe that suffering is necessary for spiritual ascension, querida?”

Not at all expecting that curveball of a question, she watched him lift her hand and examine it against his own before finally pressing his palm against hers. For a brief moment, she thought she could feel an actual cross indenting into her skin where his tattooed rosary was. This was another question that very often kicked off an argument, which she did her best to try and avoid. While Kandy had been aware of the fact she couldn’t be open about certain things regarding her spiritual practice, it was through the process of discussing all the finer points of their beliefs that she truly began to realize how much she felt forced to hide. 

“I think that you get tested about the lessons you’re supposed to learn. You get opportunities to show your growth and to reinforce it and strengthen it. But no, I don’t think the suffering often glorified in certain books and by particular groups is in line with the true way to follow whatever tradition you’re a part of. It’s antithetical to the principles of many belief systems.” Kandy took a breath as she debated about whether to continue on with what was her full answer to his question. Naturally, Sandy’s warning about giving Miguel the complete truth replayed in her head. There wasn’t anything she was about to say that was radically different from the positions he had already shared. Again, it was simply a matter of her getting used to the freedom afforded her inside their relationship. “I’m also lookin’ at who benefits from tellin’ the masses that they should suffer and give up and sacrifice. I look at who upholds the versions of those texts and teachings that contain the misogyny and cruelty and xenophobia, which all perpetuate suffering, but are of a man-made source and not spiritual. Where are they on the ladder of suffering compared to the teenager sleepin’ under a bridge and turnin’ tricks to get by ‘cause their parents kicked them out over how they express and present themselves in their identity?”

“Or they woke up to the truth and decided to learn about the traditions of their people that existed long before other motherfuckers came along?”

Though Miguel was doing his best to keep his approving smile under wraps, Kandy still spotted those dimples in the hollows of his cheeks. “And cut out the middle man?”

By then, he simply had to kiss her and he did. With her hands gently massaging his forearms, she noticed the tension in his muscles that was in conflict with the affection pouring in from him. When their mouths separated to end the kiss, her forehead rested against his after she gave his cheek a quick nuzzle.

“Kiss me how you wanna kiss me, Miggy.”

Chuckling, Miguel kissed her cheek before whispering in her ear. “If I did that, we’d be goin’ to jail ‘cause of bein’ out here where we are. Or did you forget again about where that is?”

The kiss he placed on the side of her neck beneath her ear after his coy little question made her shiver. “They won’t arrest us just for a kiss, Papi.”

He knew by the playful lilt in her voice that she was more than aware of what the scenario really was. “It ain’t the kiss, conejita.” 

“No? What is it then?”

“It’s that two seconds after I start kissin’ you the way I wanna kiss you, I’m gonna be workin’ every inch of my hard as fuck cock into your tight sweet —“ Feeling her move, the boxer had the drop on his sweetheart and without skipping a beat he grabbed her wrist to prevent her hand from covering his mouth to stop him from finishing his statement. “—- little cunt. And you know I ain’t gonna stop until after I make you cum.”

Stifling her moan as best she could while shivering against his body, Kandy let go of the playful brattiness and instead let herself float along the surface of the pleasure triggered by what he described. Feeling her arm go limp against his hand, worry overcame him to the point that he took a hold of her and sat her up to see what was happening. Face to face with her again, Miguel saw the pleading look in her eyes for him to end the lust-fueled torment of having to imagine over and over again all the different ways he had promised to take her and all the things he vowed to do to her during the process. It was her silent admission that she had no say about when or where or if he would bless her with such relief.

Seeing her floating in that beautifully warm space that stemmed from the pleasure of the submissive experience, relief washed through Miguel. With both of his hands tenderly cradling her head, his thumbs stroked over her cheeks just before he kissed her again. While this time he was doing it exactly the way he wanted, his intent had shifted after looking at her. She was so vulnerable with and trusting of him that witnessing it transmuted the lust he felt for her. The sex he wanted to have with her wasn’t about acting on the carnality of their desire for each other, but it was instead now about demonstrating his love for and devotion to her. He wished he could pull that blanket over them and shut out the world to make love to her. It would have been even better if somehow he could just snap his fingers and put them in their bed so that he could begin working through the list of all the parts of her he wanted to kiss, taste, touch, and photograph.

Her heart was aching so much from how gentle he was touching her that she was sure she’d start to cry from it if they were allowed to remain in that state together. “I could love this forever.”

“Love, huh?” Noticing the dampness in her eyes, he let his hands slip back down her body to work their way into the back pockets of her shorts. “What else you love, querida?”

Knowing what he was on about, Kandy laughed into the side of his neck and teased him a bit by first flexing her left hip followed by the right to give a little wobble of her curves under his palms. “I love that the things I pick up and see from you are pretty nice. That’s somethin’ I really love.”

It was impossible for him not to imagine what it would have been like for her to execute those flexes whilst on top of him in their bed, working herself down onto his length. “Hazlo otra vez.”

Complying with his command, she contracted the left half of her rear and then the right but held it for a longer count so that he could fully explore how much movement there was in the action. Withdrawing his fingers from her pockets, he swept his hands up higher and rotated them more toward the side so that they could better feel the toned muscles doing the work. After a carefully timed swat of her ass with one of his palms, which resulted in a soft groan from her, he snuck his fingers down the back of her waistband hoping to touch more of her despite the restrictive nature of the super tight shorts that hung low over her hips.

“Nice things, huh?” Miguel went back to idly rubbing the top of her thighs after giving up in the fight against that bastard denim she had on. “Nice like when I got you on your bed, thighs spread, tellin’ you how fuckin’ amazin’ you are before lickin’ my initials all over your cli—“

“Yea, yea. Just like that.” Turning her face away from him, she purposely cut him off from finishing his sentence before gingerly swallowing to keep stifled the moan in her throat.

Unbeknownst to her, Miguel’s dark brows had settled low over his eyes lending a rather devious edge to his usual mischievous grin. “You sound like you still got a real problem with that word, mami.”

Casually waving him off with her hand, Kandy looked out across the park in the opposite direction, which coincidentally was toward the hotel. “No, no. Someone could hear is all.”

“There you go worryin’ about what other people gonna hear.” Leaning in near her ear again, he nuzzled the joint of her jaw causing her to purr. “Ain’t nobody gonna hear if we don’t want them to, conejita. With the way you actin’, I gotta wonder if maybe after everything you don’t wanna be in the back of the Mercedes. You know, ‘cause somebody might hear somethin’.”

Listening to him, Kandy began thinking back over some of the things she had imagined them doing in his car every time she had looked at the late 90s tank of a Benz since mid-morning. With their skin-to-skin contact and the pair focused on generally the same subjects, it wasn’t a surprise that what she started to remember he began to see also. The snapshots that landed in his mind’s eye from her trip down memory lane flipped through in a flurry, but there was enough there to see the overall theme of what had her keeping tabs on the big S600 sedan.

On reflex, her hand came to rest on his thigh just to keep herself tethered. “No, I want to, Papi.”

A tender pass of his hawk-like nose preceded the issuance of a stern question. “You wanna what, conejita?”

Her eyes closed once more as she tilted her head to chase after him for another caress, but he was having none of it. She sighed and looked up at him. “Papi, I really, really wanna play with you in the car.”

Convénceme.” Miguel slipped that bony-looking hand up under her hair and sought out the back of her neck.

The nervousness she had felt disappeared the moment the weight of his hand registered on her body. His thumb and fingers wrapped around left and right for a gentle massage to encourage her to relax and enjoy their little sidebar. Her playfulness often, but not always, emboldened her to speak frankly to him. On this occasion, it was a combination of both it and his instruction that inspired her to comply without much effort from him.

“We both know that Benz parked over there has got the black-banded windows. Double-paned, but you can always shove my panties in my mouth.”

Miguel’s brow lifted at the mention of his white S600 she was so infatuated with and its factory sound-proofing. “Why would you be makin’ that kinda noise, conejita? Details.”

“On my back. Shorts off, panties off. One ankle tied to the front passenger seat headrest, the other tied to the backseat headrest.” The hand she had placed on his thigh moved up higher on his leg and rotated down further on the inside, but stopped just shy of touching the part of him that was off-limits without permission. “First my fingers, then yours, then finally your tongue until I mess up all that coffee-colored leather.”

While she had been coy earlier in the afternoon about being tied up or restrained, this was a pleasant little surprise she had gifted him. Miguel knew exactly how he would have secured her slender ankles to the headrests as she lay in the backseat with her legs lifted and knees bent. If only she had on a pair of heels for the rope to loop around and under the sole tying them to her feet as well. That was an image he’d love to see. Kandy anywhere in heels and naked would be something Miguel would always enjoy, especially when she was presenting herself or restrained in a position for unobstructed access and inspection. 

Despite how big that V12 sedan was he had in the lot on the other side of the park, there still wasn’t enough room to fully accommodate them. She wanted to get eaten and he wanted to do the eating, but Miguel was caught up regretting not being a better manager of their time in the office over his cousin’s restaurant. On the desk, on the couch. He had had her lounged across both pieces of furniture in various states of undress. A sigh. Technically it wouldn’t have broken the rule. Having been so adamant about enjoying her at home for the first time with full privacy and comfort, he wasn’t about to waste those hours of layered arousal he had built up in both of them just to have some awkward, moderately satisfying fumbling in the back of his car.

“I don’t hear you sayin’ the word you need to be sayin’, mi conejita. But, I’m gonna have you repeatin’ it so fuckin’ often your delicious little cunt will wind up wet as fuck the moment you hear it outta your own mouth.” He smirked and cupped the base of her skull to play against her expectation of getting her hair pulled for noncompliance.  

Papi…

“Yes, mi conejita?” Unexpectedly, he reached forward and tenderly kissed her forehead. 

“Please.”

“Please, what?”

“Please use your mouth on my clit and make me cum. Please, Papi?”

“You think you earned it, conejita? I ain’t sure you have.” He watched her quietly for a moment and saw how she licked over her lips before gazing up at him through the fog of lust. “You thinkin’ about suckin my dick again?”

She shook her head and purred into the side of his neck. “I want that part of me to ache every time I think of you, Papi.”

Slowly, he gathered a fist full of her hair from underneath and carefully tightened his grip pulling her head back until her neck was straightened and exposed. “Tell me how you’re supposed to.”

“Please, Papi.” There was nothing meek or mild about her response as she knew exactly the kind of reaction she wanted from him. “I need your mouth teasin’ my clit until I pass out from cummin’ so hard for you.”

“You need it, huh? Like you need to suck my dick, too, conejita?” Still, his fingers clenched causing her to moan again. Another nod from her only to feel him nudge her lightly with the tip of his hawk-like nose, “Dilo.”

Papi, I’m so good at it. Slow and steady just like how I know you like it, Papi. Just let me lay there, anywhere. The backseat of the car, the couch, our bed.”

“This sounds like a reward for mi conejita, letting her nurse the head of my cock until I’m ready to let her swallow what I give her.” Miguel had underestimated the effect of his statement on both of them as the pair groaned and groped each other simultaneously.

Papi.”

Her voice had that sexy haze to it he imagined he might hear if he woke her up early on a workday morning to fool around or when she’d implore him to continue even after they had gone a few times already on a late Saturday night. With the way he brushed back her hair and tenderly cradled her jaw, she could tell he was pleased with her responses. The first kiss from him was so light and comforting that she whimpered and touched the Santa Muerte portrait tattooed on the side of his neck. The second was so slow and indulgent that it turned Kandy nearly upside down, as he pulled her across in front of him and dipped her low whilst supporting her back and shoulders with one of his strong yet lean muscular arms.

Speaking of answers, there was something she had been wondering about. But it wasn’t until Miguel eased her back up into a sitting position that she was able to even begin trying to put together what she wanted to know. Folding her forearms behind his neck, she rested her cheek against his and sighed. Feeling him smirk and bury his laugh into her neck, Kandy smiled whilst affectionately rubbing down between his scarred shoulder blades.

“We get a little carried away with each other sometimes, don’t we?”

Taking her hand from behind him, Miguel lifted it to his lips. “Makin’ up for lost time?”

Grinning, she pushed his jaw a little with the bridge of her nose before nuzzling up closer to his ear. “I really wanna know somethin’ though, Papi.”

“Anything, mi conejita.” He was in the process of kissing over her knuckles.

“What would have been my punishment on the blanket if I had cum?”

He smirked. “Knowin’ now how much you like swallowin’ I’m not sure it woulda been much of a punishment.”

Sitting up to look at him properly, she pouted. “Please, Papi?”

His thumb lightly rubbed back and forth over her lower lip. “Time out for a week. No fingers, no toys, no dick, no edgin’, no nothin’. All so I could turn you into my little cumslut.” She moaned and bit her bottom lip causing him to firm up his grip on her jaw. “See what I mean? Punishments ain’t supposed to be that enjoyable, mi corazón.

Her fingers hooked into and wrapped themselves up in his tank top to give it a playful tug. “What’s a cumslut, Papi?” She knew what it was and he knew she knew what it was.

Turning her face to the side and shifting her focus onto the hotel he had been staring at earlier, Miguel brought her in close to answer. “Una conejita desobediente who takes every load I give her. The one she gets when I push it down her little throat after I hold her head in place and fuck her filthy mouth.” He watched as her eyes closed and her weight shifted into his touch causing her posture to slump slightly after he took a guess and finished what she was trying to tease him with earlier. “The one she gets when I shove my tip inside her needy wet cunt an–”

Kandy groaned at his use of the word and he lowered his hand from her jaw to her neck. “You gonna groan like that when I make you stroke me off into your cunt, conejita?” 

First, she imagined what it would be like to only feel the first inch or so of his length push inside. Then the sight of being made to use her hand to grip the rest of him that he wouldn’t allow inside of her followed. A shiver swept down through her body and her thighs flexed against his hips. These specific images and acts he presented her with were exactly what she fantasized about as a submissive without a Dominant. Now, here he was, safe and knowledgeable, and clearly possessing a solid understanding of what turned her on, which also fed into the familiarity they felt with each other. He noticed she was holding her breath and he gave her a quick little squeeze to refocus her. 

When her eyes refocused on him, he very carefully moved his arm to position her back into a more proper posture in his lap. “Respóndeme.”

Taking in a slow breath, Kandy gingerly cleared her throat. “Yes, Papi, I will groan like that.”

“How about when I wanna shoot across those perfect tits you love to play with instead?” Covetously, he let his dark eyes roam down over her figure again making sure to spend an extra bit of time appreciating the section of her torso he had just referenced.

“Miggy.” 

Hearing his name playfully spoken, Miguel looked up at Kandy to see that amber gaze of hers he found to be so enchanting in sharp focus. “Or dump a handful in your mouth after I make you watch me jack off, Kandajha? That’s what you like, don’t you, mami? Seein’ my hand on my cock?”

Out came the seductive smile she had occasionally let him see throughout the afternoon. It always made an appearance when he managed to carefully push her through whatever shyness she struggled with regarding a particular activity or interest they were discussing. She had switched the way she had addressed him from his Dominant title to his name and he had transitioned into doing the same with her seamlessly. Somehow, she knew exactly the way she needed to invoke his name to summon him forward and in front of the part of his identity known to her as Papi

“What I like?” A brow perked before she started shaking her head and tracing his long angular jaw with her pointer finger. “What I love. I love watchin’ you stroke.”

It was impossible not to notice how relaxed and comfortable she seemed to be when in this mode, mood, gear, or however he could’ve described it. His little witch felt a lot more settled in her skin than the typical twenty-one and a half-year-old. Miguel silently wondered if he held the same sway with her. Could he, during the times she got too caught up in insecurity as conejita, speak her name and have this confident version of his brujita appear before him? With a tilt of his head, he watched her silently and then began reconsidering his last thought. Perhaps it was conejita who got the brujita to reveal herself to him. 

“That all you love?” He flashed her the naughtiest of grins and paired it with those panty-soaking dimples after gently releasing her neck to let her move about as she pleased.

Rather than blushing and turning his face away, Kandy laughed and wrapped her arms up behind his neck. “I fuckin’ love it when you come out to play.”

His dark angular brows lifted while he chuckled. “When I come out to play? Maybe I should be givin’ you disclaimers and shit like you did me, mami. What if you get tired of how much I run my fuckin’ mouth and all the shit I talk, huh?”

“And what if you have so much fun fuckin’ me you forget all about Papi and conejita?”

He felt the surge of desire roll through him, but now it was anchored by the inner confidence that had been growing with each of their little exchanges. Every flirtatious and explicit interaction between them validated the knowledge they both somehow had of the other. The harmony of their likes and wants and the like-mindedness they shared regarding boundaries and rules had so far been as if they had fine-tuned this chemistry over years, decades even. Whether this was facilitated by their preexisting connection or how much she seemed to trigger his intuition, Miguel cared less and less. All that mattered was with each passing instance, he trusted the feeling of what to say or do with his little witch more and more because it had never led him in the wrong direction.

Carefully his left hand, which was covered in the anatomically correct skeletal tattoo work, snuck up the center of her chest to find its place on her throat. “Nunca te descuidaré ni olvidaré, mi conejita.

Even though they sounded nothing like their English counterparts, Kandy’s heart still ached when he spoke of never neglecting or forgetting about that other special part of her. Despite knowing he couldn’t instantly relieve her of the pain she was feeling, Miguel did what any good Papi would do: he kissed her tenderly and wrapped her up in a protective hug. Relaxing against his torso, she melted within his arms and hid her face in the side of his neck. He had to smile when she gave his torso a squeeze on account of how possessive it felt. As natural as ever, the pair slipped into a peaceful silence. Miguel stroked her hair whilst watching the beachgoers enjoy what was left of the Sunday afternoon and Kandy rubbed his lower back as she cuddled under his jaw.

Sometime after his hands turned still and settled on her rear, she sat up and nonchalantly began tracing the scorpion‘s tail on his forearm. “I really wanna know what we can do together, to each other. But, the most important is us learning what we need to do so that you can enjoy it too.”

While Kandy hadn’t thought about the kind of reaction she should expect from Miguel, his response, or lack thereof, was still rather off-putting. It was almost as if she hadn’t said anything at all. Had it not been for the familiar pensive rubbing of his palms back and forth over the outsides of her thighs, she would’ve started snapping her fingers in his face. Outwardly, he might have been unreadable, but the wave of anxiety from him that rolled through her was undeniable. She didn’t understand why all of a sudden he would feel so uncomfortable about something they repeatedly enjoyed with each other. Unless there was something about it he had been withholding from her.

“Take off your bra.” Before she could protest, he lightly kissed her mouth and quickly followed it up with a longer-lasting kiss that made her moan. “Now, conejita.”

Looking over her shoulder to the blanket, she gestured to it for permission to lay back, which he granted with a nod. Watching her as she stretched out in front of him, both of his hands came to rest on her knees while her legs remained wrapped around behind his body. When she pulled her arms inside her shirt to covertly begin unlatching the piece of lingerie Miguel wanted taken off, his palms moved as high up her inner thighs as they could until they ran into denim. Right when she was pulling the straps down over her arms inside her shirt, he began applying pressure to the crotch of her shorts with his thumbs, startling her. The finesse and care that was typically present in his actions were gone. The deliberate feel of his movements had been replaced with an improvisation that felt awkward and forced. Something was definitely off. 

To soothe away the surprise, Miguel began massaging his thumbs up and down that small strip of partially damp denim. Doing her best to hold back the moan, Kandy managed to remove the bra and subtly push it out from under her shirt and to the side folded on itself. Thinking maybe this would bring about an end to what his hands were doing, she was in the process of sitting up when his left hand relocated to a better angle to firmly rub in a circular fashion over her entrance. It wasn’t enough to penetrate, but rather tease and provoke.

“Papi, what are you doin’?” The way she sounded and how her eyes slowly rolled back to a close made his dress pants feel uncomfortably tight. 

“Playin’ with my conejita’s pussy.”

Papi.” She was pleading with him even more now, though whether it was to stop or ramp it up, remained to be seen.

“How hard are they?” He nodded to her chest and watched as her hands moved under the cover of her shirt to feel her nipples. “Show me.”

Slipping her arms back up into and out of the sleeves, Kandy snuck the hem of her shirt up her torso inch by inch until it had gathered beneath the curve of her breasts. Watching him carefully, she noticed an absence of the usual fire in his eyes. He might not have been distant and off thinking of other things, but he was certainly detached from what they were doing. Having decided to return to properly sitting in his lap, Kandy placed her arms over his shoulders and rested her forehead against his before shutting her eyes. The moment he was about to admonish her for changing positions without permission, she kissed him in such a kind way. 

Pulling back from her, he looked at her questioningly as she removed his hand from between her thighs. “Red?”

“If you don’t wanna talk about somethin’, tell me you don’t wanna talk about somethin’. Don’t try to use my body to distract me.” Her hands lovingly held the back of his neck and base of his skull as she took a stab at what was bothering him. “I get why you hide it from Irma and your mom. But I’m not your mother and I sure as fuck would never tell her anything. Miguel I…”

Kandy sat back from him and folded her hands in her lap while she reviewed all that they had shared about their respective practices so far. She couldn’t shake the feeling he was hiding from her how strong his gifts really were and his mastery of them. It even felt like there were aspects of his abilities he hadn’t fully disclosed. Though the reason he gave earlier for not being more open in general felt sincere and could also apply to what came across like a more deliberate withholding, it wasn’t what was making her anxious. The uneasiness actually stemmed from not being able to assess the true balance of power between them. 

Though he had been silently watching her as she was reflecting on things, he was surprised when the energy from her changed so drastically. Miguel winced having realized his error in judgment. He was trying to avoid intimidating her and instead brought on another type of concern, which was spooking her. Unexpectedly, he also found his feelings to be hurt slightly when he saw she had become suspicious. When she looked up at him with those now troubled amber eyes, he saw also how close had come to scaring her into thinking that someone who could overpower and control her was possibly hiding those strengths to disarm her. 

“I’m not tryin’ to trick you, Kandajha.” When she blinked in startlement, Miguel gestured to his face to indicate how apparent her thoughts had become through her expression. “But I’m a lot.”

What pulled her back from the edge of the whirlpool of paranoia and anxiety was hearing how pained Miguel sounded when speaking to her. He barely got the last bit out — his disclaimer about himself. The sound of his worry about how far this had set them back in their progress gripped her chest. He couldn’t even look at her as he stayed staring up at the near flawless blue Florida sky. 

While he expected her to fire back with a playful spin on his words, Kandy decided to inch closer to him and sit silently with her arms folded behind his neck. Though Miguel wasn’t able to specifically explain how he knew it, he somehow recognized she was exploring his feelings. He thought back to the exercise earlier where she ran her hands over the different glowing ropes she described as emotions when he had her revisit her feelings about an activity he wanted to try. She was sifting through the different layers of his emotions like when he ran his fingers through her hair and felt the individual curls. The truth was he had no idea how to communicate to her what he felt. Instead, he simply sat there and let her feel for whatever she needed to know. 

There were a lot of things she could have said to him and probably many more questions she could’ve asked. His regret over how he went about things was underscored by the dispiritedness caused by what he perceived as her doubting whether she was safe with him. Kandy softly traced one side of his jaw back and forth to his chin, eventually kissing his lower lip with her soft pillowy pair. When it wasn’t met with much of a reaction, she went back to kiss his upper lip letting her mouth linger a little longer on his. It was when she rested her forehead against his and closed her eyes that he finally reached up and caressed her face.

“You may be a lot, but you’re never too much, Miguel.”

“Kandaj–”

She wasn’t going to give him a chance to try and get her to walk back what she said. With an arm wrapping low behind his back leaving her other hand to drift up into his hair, Kandy tilted her head to kiss Miguel again. It was unhurried, intense, and ultimately arresting. Nothing about it was aggressive, but its impact was jarring for how gentle she was touching him. Holding the kiss for a few seconds, she waited before relaxing her body into his embrace fully. Once his sculpted and tattooed limbs protectively held her form, she went right back into it with him. He could feel the totality of her devotion with every move of her mouth and hands. More and more, the pair were both learning from and teaching each other how to connect through a softness that only existed between lovers who felt a comfortableness and freedom in their intimacy. 

When she submitted to him and surrendered to the vulnerability they both were wary of, Miguel began wrapping the bulk of her tresses around his left hand again. Nearly to her roots, he steadily pulled on that wild mane of hers until she groaned and broke the kiss. He held her undivided attention. Kandy knew better than to listen to the voice of fear masquerading as suspicion. Somewhere inside, she could feel it being fueled by self-sabotage and her insecurities. She was well acquainted with what the energy of someone who wanted to harm her felt like. A part of her reminded herself of that terrifying experience and what being around that person was like. 

Stripping away all the extra theories they shared and the romantic notions of past lives and soul mates, the one thing Miguel could not conceal or fabricate was what she sensed from him. The gift that alerted her to who was dangerous was now telling her who was safe. This wasn’t one of those RomComs where the main characters mess up once or twice, lesson learned, story arc over. This was real life and a relationship with this level of intensity was always going to be a learning process, even if it were completely vanilla and without the added complicated benefits of their gifts. It was about unlearning bad habits, embracing communication, trusting the other to show up, and believing the truth and not the lies on the tape running in both of their heads.

“Close your eyes.” Expecting her to hesitate, Miguel was relieved to see that he didn’t have to try to convince her.

By the way she had been kissing him, Miguel knew she was trying to encourage him to revisit his decision and rectify things by sharing rather than avoiding the conversation. Even though it might have been a gamble, he was betting on her being patient enough with him to give him the room he needed to do it his way. He knew the first step in this was to massage away the rest of whatever friction he had unintentionally created between them. 

He could be just as soothing in how he touched her as she had been with him only a few moments ago and he made it a point to remind her. It started with a kiss on her forehead, which made her sigh and close her eyes. It was then followed up with a series of short affectionate kisses beginning at her temple, one just under her cheekbone, and then ended with another in front of her ear. Bringing her up against his chest with a flex of his other arm, she hooked her pair up over his shoulder blades and back from underneath.

Miguel wasn’t looking to bring her in too far, but rather only enough to set aside the catastrophizing attitude that had begun to contaminate both of their moods. Meanwhile, his little witch was learning to recognize what it felt like when he put her in that very peculiar relaxed state. It was like being saturated in a warmth that calmed her entire body all at once. In her mind, there was no way her anxiety could even exist in such a place. Resting her temple against his cheek, she exhaled the last bit of tension that had temporarily taken up residence in between them. 

Little did he know how close his brujita was to kissing the side of his neck and telling him how much she loved him when he began to speak. “You know what I’d do to keep you safe, querida.”

Instead of saying whatever it was that was seconds away from falling out of her mouth, she answered him and kissed the base of the Santa Muerte portrait tattooed on the left side of his neck. “.” 

“You know how fuckin’ important you are to me.”

“Mhmm.”

He felt her affectionately squeeze his torso and cling to him, which sharpened his own disappointment with himself over the way he had gone about handling this. “And you know how honest I’m bein’ when we talkin’ about what you make me feel.”

Turning her face further into his neck, Kandy took a minute to just breathe. “Miggy, I was trustin’ you from jump that when you held back on shit it was ’cause you knew the timing wasn’t right or there was some external justification for it. That’s not what this was. You were keepin’ shit from me ’cause you were all turned around in your head from worryin’ about how I’d react.”

Letting go of her hair, Miguel hugged her and kissed the curve of her neck before whispering to her. “I know, I know.”

Comfortingly, Kandy ran her hand down the back of his head and kissed in front of his ear before whispering to him. “I can’t make the choice to stay if you aren’t givin’ me all the information I need to have. That’s not a real choice. We can’t have secrets, like at all. None, Miggy. None.”

“Lo siento, mi corazón. No quiero lastim–”.

“I know hurting me isn’t somethin’ you’re lookin’ to do.”

It was true that any decision she made based solely on the information he wanted to provide wasn’t true consent. When she framed it similarly to how their discussions about a scene should go, he began to see and consider things differently. Just because this conversation didn’t have anything to do with sex, bondage, boundaries, and limits, didn’t mean consent was irrelevant. Living with someone whose gifts were as active and potentially as invasive as Miguel’s required full disclosure and transparency on his part.

She noticed the way he was holding her and it reminded her of their first serious round of admissions to each other back in the office of his cousin’s restaurant. “Stop touchin’ me like you’re sayin’ goodbye to me.” 

Recognizing the statement, he smirked into her skin and kissed the same spot on her shoulder again. “I tell you somethin’, you tell me somethin’?”

“Always.” Kandy ran both of her hands through his hair reassuringly and sat back to look up at him.

Catching himself craving a cigarette again, Miguel cleared his throat and sat up a bit straighter against the cement half wall behind him. “You make me feel things, but I can make you feel things too. Physically.”

“I know. I felt it earlier.”

He rubbed a palm over his mouth and jaw before glancing at her. “Nah, I wasn’t all the way with it earlier.”

“’Cause, you were holdin’ back?” Her head tilted to one side as she watched him.

She sounded more curious than accusant, which granted him some relief. “Yea, I got real caught up in the back and forth with you about…”

Kandy absolutely remembered the circumstances during which she felt like he had very slowly pressed himself inside of her even though the pair were fully clothed and having a nice little chat in a public space. “About what, Papi?”

Miguel chuckled and then nodded in acknowledgment of her turning the tables on him. “This how it gonna go?”

“Yes.” Her response was so clear and direct that it made him grin.

“I wanted you to feel what it’d be like to have me inside while talkin’ about how much I wanna cum in you.” Possessively, he groped her curves with both hands before lifting her to try and seat her higher in his lap.

Kandy tapped the side of her jaw like she was trying to make herself remember something. “Wasn’t there more to that conversation though?”

His tattooed hands ran up her back beneath her shirt before returning to support her firm well-rounded rear. “The parts about how your body is gonna change, we gonna change, everything is gonna change when we have our kid?”

Taking his jaw in her hand somewhat similar to how he had done her to demand attention and focus, Kandy looked at him with a sharpness that wasn’t at all dulled by love, lust, or infatuation. “So stop forgettin’ who the fuck I am to you. I’m not some stranger or some chick you just met, am I?”

Though her tone was as sweet and easy-going as ever, he very quickly picked up on how serious she was being. “No, you’re not.” 

Watching her, he felt as though he was seeing past the pretty and colorful gift wrapping she used to distract others from looking deeper. It seemed more like he was staring at the woman he had known and been connected to for decades. The person who knew him better than anybody was trying to get him to move with her in the right direction, but also in the correct way. Even as assertive as she was being with him, it was clear the motivation wasn’t to control, challenge, or be disrespectful. In the times she had said she hadn’t found him intimidating or imposing, he found the voices of the past echoing in his head about how it was untrue. With all the things he had done and the types of people he had dealt with during his time back in California, it was inevitable that she’d become suspicious of him. Or so he kept telling himself.

Kandy watched him as he retreated to his thoughts about something and she very gently let go of him to sit back to give him privacy. If only she knew that her Scorpio was contemplating again whether the surprise he felt about the way she always looked at him was far simpler than he initially thought. Maybe it was something more basic than seeing the love and respect in her eyes. Maybe it was the unexpected realization that when she looked at him he could see in her that she was seeing him as human. His brow furrowed as he began rubbing his chin and she imagined he was debating whether to share something with her. She was hoping that’s what he was considering. When he took a moment to comb back the longer layers of his black hair, she did her best to ready herself for whatever he was going to say.

“You know, when you get caught up in that whole fuckin’ system with law enforcement, the judge, your public defender, even people who know you-know you, they look at you like you ain’t nothin’ anymore. They take that photo of you and it’s done. They act like it takes your soul and I got a couple of those photos, querida.”

“I know you do.”

“I don’t mean to keep bringin’ that shit up cause I know I’m doin’ a lot better than most that made the same choices as me. I been real fuckin’ blessed. But it’s like, even the people you go to for help or to get jobs, they look at your sheet and you a fuckin’ monster to them. They look at you not as like a person, but the numbers and odds of how likely you gonna steal from them or fuck them up. Keepin’ shit from you about what I can do? I feel like I already gotta be real careful around you, with you, until you see that I’m bein’ honest and trustworthy with all I been sayin’ to you. So to add to that, on top of it, that I can do certain things, I mean, what if it’s too much for you? It wasn’t like I was never gonna tell you.”

“You didn’t wanna lose me. You were startin’ to doubt that putting all the cards on the table was a good idea.”

“All at once, yea.” He nodded and shrugged. “Why would you trust somebody who can do the fucked up shit that I did?”

Kandy sat there in his lap quietly, staring at the obscured tattoo on his chest as she let go of the jumble of thoughts competing to be spoken to him, some hers and some not. She cleared her mind and waited. She knew something would rise to the top and it would be the most impactful. When she was in this mode it was like catching someone in the midst of trying to decipher the lyrics of a song they were listening to or translate a message into another language. A few seconds later she smirked and rolled her eyes. Whatever it was she heard, felt, saw, or learned, she didn’t seem to be a big fan of it.

Miguel had to chuckle at the expression on her face. “Irma’s given me a look like that. Usually ‘cause whatever she gotta tell me is gonna make my day while makin’ her eat crow about somethin’.”

Kandy rolled her eyes even more on this second go, but eventually smirked and shook her head. “It’s not that bad. It’s just –” 

She groaned slightly and he laughed again. “What, querida?”

Growing more frustrated that the words weren’t coming to her easily, Kandy shut her eyes and took a breath. “Doubting our ability to be there for each other is doubting us and ultimately doubting Her. She showed you what our future should be. We have a choice about whether we commit to it, to each other, or abandon this. It’s a choice. It’s not because we can’t or are unable.”

He idly ran his fingers down against the portrait of Santa Muerte on the side of his neck as he took in the message Kandy shared with him. Knowing it had to do with the folk saint he prayed to and followed, he wasn’t surprised at her reaction. But he did find it amusing that she seemed to be talking about and listening to Her so much in one day. Those dark eyes washed over his little witch who was again looking as though she were downloading and decoding something.

“I like to run and hide. You like to cover and bury. That’s our first instinct and it’s gonna take some time to change that programming. We both have talked about that. It’s about givin’ each other grace when we fall into it, right? But we gotta stop and turn around when we realize we aren’t handlin’ things the right way. We go back to today and what we agreed to.”

“Back to the beginning.” Both hands gave her rear a possessive squeeze before relaxing into more of a pensive rub that made her smile a little. “If I had lied and said you were wrong…”

Taking in a breath, Kandy looked at her halcón before sighing. “I’m reasonable, Miguel. A lot of the things we will be tellin’ each other ain’t easy shit to admit. If you need time and space to do it, I’ll give you that. You’re givin’ me that about Her. But don’t lie about what you need. Let me be as patient and encouraging to you as you are with me.”

Miguel watched her intently as this time she reached out to his neck and tenderly touched the black, white, and red tattoo of the skeleton saint itself rather than distantly gesturing to her own skin. That was quite a noticeable change. 

“I notice I sometimes forget it’s only our first day.” Doing his best to deliver that as casual as he could, he waited to see if she had anything to add to it from her side of this experience.

“Time is the most elastic thing. It feels like we’ve been here for days and I have totally loved all of it.”

“Days, huh? You countin’ this shit out as lunch bein’ our first date, the blanket as our second, and the third bein’ us goin’ shoppin’? Is that why you’re lettin’ my ass stay over tonight?” He smiled slyly.

“Nope. I’m just tired of cummin’ without you. I miss making love to you. I miss bein’ in bed with you. I don’t wanna go one more fuckin’ day and not hear your voice or see your face.” And with that, she shrugged.

All of those statements were rooted in Kandy’s own thoughts, not from a desire to pull his strings, and not from some other source. When she sat there peacefully at his side or in his lap, those were the things she found herself thinking during the lulls in their conversations. When she looked at him, it was more and more with relief. With every passing minute, some part of her was waking up and remembering the feel of him, whoever he was. The familiarity they both experienced when together was so warm and bright that it sharpened the cold harsh contrast of their absence from each other’s lives like a razor. 

Miguel was giving more weight to the idea that sharing with her now the things he had tried to bypass earlier was indeed the right choice. What she was saying and all the different emotional experiences they were learning to swim through were leading him to this decision rather than agreeing to tell her at a later point and asking her to be patient. It wasn’t a sense of urgency as much as it was the sensation of all the pieces coming together. It had taken her gently confronting him about his forms of avoidance to get him to dive deeper into what he was truly feeling. 

His fear had nothing to do with Kandy, nor did it have anything to do with the ridiculous notion that if he disclosed his gifts to this girl he was dating that the details would get back to his mother and potentially trigger a meltdown. Kandy marked the next stage of his growth. While the universe had deemed him ready for the next series of challenges by making the pair finally meet, Miguel was starting to get tossed around by waves of fear and insecurity. Despite all the self-discipline and determination he had built into himself, despite all the progress and success he had experienced growing into the role of Irma’s sole parent, what if he couldn’t manage to nurture and grow the self-love and sense of inner worth he would need to keep his half of the plane’s engines firing? 

This wasn’t just about business deals and securing financial independence for his family. He knew the key to long-term sobriety and avoiding a return to criminality were those two qualities. As much as he loved Irma, his grandmother, and Kandy, Miguel had read enough books about addictions and recidivism to know it started and ended with the love, value, and respect he had for himself. Sharing everything with Kandy and bringing her in, pushed him closer to having to start that inner work. The quicker they made progress in their relationship, the sooner he would have to be making progress on fixing those trouble spots. 

At some point, one of his hands had migrated up to rub her throat in the same way he often stroked her thigh when drifting in his thoughts. It was the vibration of her groaning in delight that brought him back to the present to see her submit to his touch. To hear her speak of their connection in the way that she had ignited his passion for her, which burned as hot as the ivory and blue flames of ethanol. His grip on her tightened just slightly as he made no attempt to dial back the intensity of what he felt whilst holding her gaze. His dark eyes searched her amber set for any trace of fear or concern, but there was none. As he marveled at that, she managed to lean in close enough to tenderly kiss his mouth. It was her way of acknowledging what he was doing and why. Though he kept his grip on her, he allowed her the freedom of movement to continue and deepen the kiss for as long as she fancied.

Eventually, Kandy sat back and returned to massaging over his hips and in towards his spine, which was a heaven all of its own. “Papi.

His black and white skeletonized hand slipped up to her jaw so that he could run his thumb back and forth over her pillowy lips. “What is it, mi conejita?”

In quite a clear and obvious fashion, her amber eyes dropped down to his lap for a second before she looked back up at him with a mischievous little smile and lift of her brow. He smirked and shifted his position as much as he could, which was rather hard given that he was stuck underneath her and against the unforgiving ground beneath the blanket. Like a cat waiting, she watched for the slowing of his thumb so that she could quickly give it a kiss as it passed by.

“Your words, conejita, use them.”

“Talkin’ about all this has made you so fuckin’ hard, Papi.” She took her time by picking up his wrist to place his hand back down on her throat. Keeping it there, she petted the back of his hand before nodding off toward the car park. “Why don’t you take me to the car so I can feel you inside of me?”

Slipping his fingers around to the back of her head beneath her hair, Miguel very slowly brought her in, nose to nose with him. “I don’t need to take you anywhere for you to feel my cock inside you, Kandajha.”

Another one of those feather-light kisses was placed on the center of his upper lip, neither to tease nor to taunt, but to melt. Not letting her eyes close until the very last moment, she held his gaze for each — to the corners of his mouth and to the center of his lower lip. As playful and erotic as she was, she never left behind the gentle touch and soft-spoken tone, which rearranged everything he felt inside.

“Please, Papi. Let me feel you inside me.” Her hands snuck under his tank top to press flat against his back for a slow and firm run up as far as she could get to his shoulder blades. “I want my Papi to show me what he can do.”

Winding her hair around his hand, Miguel did his best to shrug off the shiver she was pulling out of him. “What do you say when it’s too much, conejita?”

She smiled. “I say red.”

“And when you need things to slow down?”

“Yellow.”

Miguel decided to keep it nice and simple. All he was going to think about was what it would be like to be sitting with her on their bed naked and wrapped up in the sheets. No clothing or annoying denim in the way, just her straddling his lap as she was now. One of his hands found its place on her hip as his other fingers clenched the roots of her hair to guide her mouth to his for a prolonged kiss. Halfway into it, he heard the first of her hunger-filled groans as she started to feel pressure against her entrance as if he were pushing the tip of his hardened length inside of her. Not wanting to hurt her, he took his time advancing deeper slowly, but at a steady pace while gripping her hip.

Kandy felt every millimeter and her moaning did not abate when she spread her knees obscenely wide as if to better receive him. She could barely hold back the drive to roll her hips forward when the pleasurable discomfort of his girth began to spread further with what felt like her body taking every single inch. When she tilted her weight forward as she would have to speed along the process, nothing about the sensations changed. He was entirely in control of what she experienced causing her to smirk before he visualized flexing deep inside of her, thus triggering another groan.

In contrast, and much to his own disappointment as well as hers, Miguel felt nothing associated with the activity he was imagining. Instead, the only sensations that registered were those actively taking place in the real world: their kissing, her hands in his hair, and the slow wind of her hips in his lap. The true source of his pleasure came from hearing her enjoyment and getting a preview of what her reactions might be like when they were finally able to be with each other physically.

“Miggy…” Raising up slightly, Kandy rested her forehead against his diligently trying to get a handle on herself enough to speak to him. “Earlier when you asked how I could trust you…”

Like every other time, the way she half-moaned his name was like an electrical current slowly rolling through all the nerves in his body he thought had been dulled and deactivated from lack of use. Hearing how much she was at the mercy of the effect he was having on her body brought on a satisfaction similar to that of acting as her Dominant. The principles of consent, control, and trust involved were the same, but to an even higher degree considering how pure the stimulation was and indirect the delivery. Her choice of subject matter distracted him from his task, which caused the intensity of the brief demonstration to degrade rather quickly. Her whine in protest made him smile and he backed off a little more to look at her. 

“Every human is capable of doin’ heinous shit. Anybody who says they never could is lyin’ either to themselves or to whoever is askin’ them the question.” With her focus returning, she rested her hands against the sides of his neck and took in a slow breath. “Miggy, you show me all the time the man you are. How you take care of Irma shows me the man you are. The way you’re so gentle and considerate of me shows me the man you are. Your plans and goals for yourself, for your sister, for us, for our family, for the business side of this show me where your focus is. It shows me the direction you are lookin’ in and I can clearly see isn’t the past anymore.”

He offered her a relieved smile, which he then quickly wiped away with a pass of his palm over the lower half of his face when he suspected it showed how concerned he had been. “Felt so good it made you decide all that, huh?”

Seeing how unaffected he was by their messing about, her eyes narrowed playfully. “You didn’t feel any of it?”

“One way only when I’m awake.” He shook his head. “It’s a little different when I’m asleep.”

“How –” She stopped speaking as she tried to figure out how to word her question. “Are you thinking of the concept or actually seeing it?”

“Depends on how intense I want it to be. The more I focus on it –” He then nodded to her for her to fill in the blanks with what just happened.

Though it was short-lived, this still was a serious thing to consider. He could cause her body to feel probably any sensation he wanted whenever he wanted, she figured. Based on what he said, it likely would only be stronger and for a longer duration when they weren’t awake. This was going to require a lot of trust and self-policing. Miguel sat quietly watching as it all sank in for her and now more than ever did he want a cigarette. While Kandy wasn’t concerned about him possibly hurting her out of anger or punishing her after an argument, she did wonder how it would work if he was drunk or otherwise not in full control of his decision-making. 

After their conversation about the gang lifestyle he left behind in California, Kandy hadn’t been concerned much at all that he would return to it. But as diligent as he was in maintaining his sobriety, there would always exist the possibility of relapse. This was the only true source of apprehension she had regarding being safe around him and the abilities he possessed. It was tempered by knowing the connection was weak enough that it all would disappear soon after he became distracted. Looking at him now, Kandy somehow knew that if ever he tripped up there would be warning signs ahead of time. Whether she would allow herself to see them rather than withdrawing from him preemptively or sticking her head in the sand to ignore them entirely rather than confront the issue straight on, she couldn’t confidently say. It was just their first day — one of hopefully twenty thousand together. 

“I can’t make anybody feel anything.” She looked almost more disappointed in the limitation of her own gifts than she was troubled about his, which made him run his hand around to the back of his neck.

“This is kinda where it’s more like what you say about yours. If a person don’t want me to have access, I don’t. If somebody ain’t open to the concept, if they ain’t relaxed, or I guess just believe in the possibility, it’s like a wall around them. Forget the touching, even if it’s just to visit. So, it ain’t like I really got unlimited and free reign to do what I want.” His brows tilted down giving his smile a flirty edge. “But, mi brujita is a good student. She should never forget the power and knowledge she has to protect herself. I know with all that readin’ and translatin’ you do that you know how to keep certain things away from you and stop them from gettin’ attached.”

“I do, don’t I?” She sighed quite heavily and it was only then that he realized how distressed she had been whilst pondering what life would be like living with somebody who could do what he does.

Miguel pushed to the side his fear that she would rethink embracing him so quickly and instead took the more positive approach of focusing on the fact it meant she was taking these important aspects of their life together seriously. “The greater gift to honor your ancestors, querida, is to practice what they teach you. Their power is your power. I don’t care how big a fuckin’ hat some joker wears or who they fuckin’ pray to, don’t let nobody talk you into givin’ up what you inherited from the blood pumpin’ in your veins.”

There came the flood of emotions in her heart for him. All that love and appreciation was pulled back to the surface every time he gave her the medicine she wasn’t aware she needed. He was replenishing her spiritually in a way that was so nurturing and empowering. All she could think to do was raise up to wrap her arms around his neck and hug him tightly. Miguel chuckled at the sudden embrace until he realized how much appreciation was present in it. In response, he held her body against his by protectively crossing his arms around her hips and over her shoulder blades. 

Another kiss was given to the portrait of Santa Muerte on the side of his neck before he felt her hide her face against his tattooed skin. It wasn’t that these concepts were absent from Kandy’s thoughts or inner dialogue. On her worst days, sometimes the only things that got her through were reaffirming her identity, her abilities, and value to herself. But it still was a very intense moment to see again the man she hoped to spend her life with also believe in and support her in the same ways. He was already showing up emotionally for her in the same ways she knew she would for him. 

Reaching up beneath her hair for her neck, he gently guided her back so that he could get a look at her. She appeared so young to him, far younger than her twenty-one and a half years. When he softly held her jaw and the side of her head, she leaned into his touch and closed her eyes. By then he understood what he was seeing and his heart broke for his little witch. Visually, she appeared unchanged to him. But somewhere between the optic nerve and the part of his brain that put it all together, his spirit intervened and revealed to him what was beneath the surface. Or if asked to explain, that was how Miguel would have described the process of recognizing the stage at which trauma first struck her spirit deep enough to fragment her soul. 

She couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen, which was around the age he himself started spending more time in the streets. Thinking back to their conversation about her life in Spain with her grandparents, he estimated it had to have been when her grandfather passed away. It was the same year Miguel went on to have the motorcycle accident that resulted in his fortunately only temporary death. Even in her delicate innocence, there was a knowing rooted in her gifts and grounded by her intuition, but neither came with the knowledge of how to protect her heart.

“Whatever you’re thinkin’ about better not stop you from comin’ home and fuckin’ me till I can’t walk right or I’m gonna Angela Basset your Benz.” Kandy had picked up the mention of Spain and the shift in how his touch felt, both of which inspired the cheeky comment to pull him out of his thoughts.

He shook his head not believing a word about automotive arson whilst still enjoying the flirty threat. “Nah, you love my ride too much to do all that.” 

Kandy was quiet for a beat as if she were giving serious thought to his assessment of her fondness for his white Mercedes-Benz S600 sedan. “You’re probably right. I’d just steal the motherfucker.”

Miguel laughed and picked up her left hand taking the time to look at her fingers which were curled down over his. She had noticed him doing that more often during their recent conversations and wondered what it was about. Still, she honored their rule against sneaking a listen to or peek at each other’s thoughts. It didn’t seem to be negative, whatever it was that either inspired the motion or the subject he meditated on whilst looking at her hand. He looked so content that she had to smile and appreciate the sight of it.

Suddenly, a light pressure leaned into the front of her torso that was warm and familiar. Kandy blinked and froze startled by its presence along with the addition of a similar weighted feeling across her back. Though she was sitting in Miguel’s lap facing him, there was a good amount of room between their torsos. It was certainly wide enough a space that she wouldn’t feel the heat from his body, but it felt like he was up against her. With one of his hands still holding hers, the other had been left resting atop her thigh. The narrow band of sensation running from one hip to another across her back reminded her of someone resting their arm behind her.

Seeing that Miguel was preoccupied with her hand and his thoughts, Kandy closed her eyes and tried to isolate the set of sensations to try and figure out how they were familiar. Clearing her mind, she took a breath and then reacquainted herself with them. Her instinct was to lift her arm and rest her palm on his shoulder. He was thinking about them slow dancing. She couldn’t exactly see him cutting the rug up in the club, but rather was more of the type to find his perch with his coffee or nonalcoholic beverage of choice in hand. At this point, a slow subtle left-right movement was tricking her equilibrium into thinking they were shuffling together to some unheard song. 

Instead of peppering him with questions and ruining whatever he was envisioning with her, Kandy hooked her hand over to the front of his shoulder to rest her head down on it to wait until he was finished. Her amber eyes naturally fell to the portrait of his abuelita etched into the side opposite of Santa Muerte. The corners of her mouth lifted slightly as she noticed the fear she had about meeting the woman had been lessened by her and Miguel’s disclosures regarding their experiences with the esoteric and spiritual. Eventually, her weight shifted into his body and her eyes closed. The relaxation she felt in his presence unwound her muscles and freed up her breathing so that she could peacefully enjoy the sound of his.

Querida?” Miguel kissed the back of her hand he had been holding all this time.

A delightful sigh escaped from her. “Hm?”

“Ask your questions.” Hearing her giggle in response made him smile and nudge her to sit up in front of him.

Shifting back into her original position of facing him in his lap, Kandy tossed some of her curls off to one side as she sifted through all that she wanted to know until she found the right place to start from. “Was this ability to manifest sensation and do the astral thing with you before the accident?”

Rubbing his palm around behind his neck, he eventually sighed and shrugged. “Maybe? Probably. My dreams have always been fucked up in a lot of ways. I mean, yea, there were times like people said somethin’ about me poppin’ up in some dream they had. I never made the connection. Then everything got turned all the way up after the accident like to a fuckin’ thousand. That’s when I started studyin’ this shit and readin’ everything I could get my hands on.”

“To try and find the off switch, yea I remember you mentioning that.” Her thoughts went back to wondering what amazing titles he had on his shelves knowing the man would never entertain owning a Kindle.

“The patterns I see over all the shit I been readin’ makes me think there’s other stuff for me, like a potential for other ways for this to work.” Up came his hands as he started to gesture while speaking. “Like more projection and connection with another person, and then the travel side of it. The stronger the connection between me and tha–”

“With me.”

She was so matter-of-fact in her correction of his phrasing that he stopped and smiled at her. “The stronger the connection between me and you, the more we can maybe do together.”

Kandy had to smile a little when she realized he was more curious about what it was than just trying to figure out how to stop it from working. Maybe even Miguel hadn’t yet noticed his interest had shifted away from only trying to close down that part of his brain to now possibly developing and mastering it. His excitement and enthusiasm were fiery and seemingly unlimited in energy. Despite it being such a significant departure from his initial laid-back and aloof demeanor, she found the intensity of it to be incredibly captivating. This was Miggy and not Miguel talking. That much was clear.

Raising her pointer finger as if she were about to hit a pause button, she detoured them to a brief sidebar. “Can we make a rule that we keep certain levels of touching, real and manifested, tied to a consent and agree arrangement?”

He nodded without hesitation. “I get it’s serious. Like, that’s a real personal space and boundary thing. So, I won’t be just touchin’ you any kinda way whenever. But that cuts both ways. Conejita still needs permission to touch what she seems to enjoy feeling.”

Kandy blushed and nodded before looking back over her shoulder just to give herself something to look at other than his handsome face. “It felt so fuckin’ real. And I thought it felt real the first time. If I had been blindfolded or asleep, I’m not sure I would’ve been able to tell the difference. Even after talkin’ about it and me knowin’ what was up, my body wouldn’t listen. I wanted you so badly.”

“Like, the way you were movin’ on top of me?” Miguel looked up at the sunny sky above them as he interlaced his fingers behind his own neck.

“What way was that, Papi?” She was so good at play-acting the unaware, doe-eyed darling.

Miguel smirked and let his dark eyes roll down to stare at her rather flatly. “You know how.”

Covering her mouth with her fingers just long enough to conceal the good-natured giggle, Kandy let him off the hook about a more detailed rundown. “I still doubt it’s a replacement for the real thing or as good as.”

“Real me is always gonna be better.”

The way he said it made her smirk and eye him. “’Cause, you throttle back on that last little bit?”

He grinned enough to flash those dimples at her. “Of course, mami. I’m always gonna make you come to me for the real thing.”

“Always gonna make me come to you?” Closing her arms around behind his neck, Kandy was losing the fight against holding back her own grin as she tilted her head to the side to kiss his mouth.

Tipping his head back away from her, he bought himself just enough time to flirtatiously fire back. “I’ll always make you cum.”

“And I’ll always cum for my Papi.” Staring up at him, she smiled again and then decided to kiss underneath his chin forcing his jaw to lift a little more.

Miguel knew immediately that she was up to something. Brimming with curiosity, he remained outwardly neutral and opted to let her go about whatever she was going to do for now. Further down she went with her head canted off to the side so that she could kiss the very center of his throat. He chuckled and sighed to himself, remaining content with the idea of just sitting back and enjoying her affection. Rubbing her cheekbone softly along the side of his neck like a cat cuddling up against her human, her mouth eventually wound up right in front of his ear.

“I know we’re solitary in the way we both practice, but I’m serious about what if we sometimes do things together?” She let that idea sit there in his mind for a few seconds before elaborating a bit more. “Blend what we can do like how we’ve been playin’ around today.”

Kandy knew what would get his attention and make those gears behind those dark brown eyes spin. There were quite a few levels on which they fit together in such an intricate way. One was how their world views, temperament, and other aspects of their psychological selves seemed to naturally create a balance. They worked in harmony with each other. Though they had just begun to scratch the surface of exploring and discussing their preferred forms of magic and belief systems, he had heard enough to believe an adequate amount of parallelism existed to make collaboration not just possible, but also powerful. 

“I think I’d be open to investigatin’ that with you, querida.” 

Sitting back from him, she clasped her hands together but stopped short of the familiar cute clapping of excitement. “Real legit work with real intentions though. Not some junior-level, 101 type stuff. I want us comfortable enough to do things together when we need somethin’ fixed or changed or whatever, whatever, whatever.”

Rubbing her thighs, Miguel nodded. “As we not out here summoning the end of the world on some apocalyptic shit.”

“Yea?” One half of her mouth lifted whilst she brushed a few sections of her hair back out of her face.

To see that sunny glow overtake her coy sultriness was something else. He paused for a moment to caress the side of her face as just the idea that he would participate in it with her was enough to make her so happy. The way he was looking at her caused her to blush and reach for his hand snapping him back into the moment.

“We can.” Miguel nodded again, amused at seeing her hands finally pat together with the girlish cheer he had come to love.

The soft clapping unexpectedly stopped and her expression shifted to one of what looked like confusion initially, but it was cleared away with a smaller smile. “Wow, this is really happening.”

“You ain’t asleep, querida.

“I don’t need to be asleep to dream of things.” A bittersweet shadow darkened the otherwise charming way she held her mouth.

Silent for a beat, Miguel went back to pensively stroking her thighs as he mulled over what she said or perhaps more accurately the way she said it. “Is that what it feels like to you? A dream?”

“When I used to get upset as a kid, fuck there are times I still do this, but I would just say that I wanna go home. No idea where I was talkin’ about or what it looked like or should look like.”

“But you knew how it was supposed to feel.” By her reaction, Kandy hadn’t expected him to understand, but he did. More than that, he had experienced something similar when fighting to get out of California. “That’s what you feel with me. In the restaurant, you put your hand on my chest when I asked you where that was. Tell me what our home looks like, querida.”

The question made her just as uncomfortable as when he asked if home to her was Miami. Taking in a slow breath, she rubbed between her collar bones and shrugged weakly. “What makes you think I’ve thought about it like that? It’s only been a few hours.”

Sitting forward, he curled his bony pointer and middle finger fingers together to urge her in closer. When she met him halfway, her arms relaxed down around his waist unsure of what he was going to say and do. The moment he flashed her that mischievous and charming smile, she felt her body relax before she even had time to process it. Feeling him nudge her temple with his hawk-like nose and kiss above her ear, the brunette bit her bottom lip.

“Tell me what the table looks like that I’m gonna be eatin’ my conejita on.”

“Our table?” One of her brows lifted when she turned her face toward him.

A pleased smile creased his lips as his fingers gathered a bulk of her curls against his palm. “Our table.”

“It’s big like the kitchen. Enough room that every one we want over for special occasions has a place. The special things we make for tradition and holidays, we have the space to make them and set out for all of us to enjoy together.”

“Our kitchen?” 

When he mirrored back to her the correction to phrase things as theirs rather than speaking in general terms, Kandy suspected that what she was now feeling was similar to what had brought about Miguel’s smile. “Our kitchen, which is gonna be big and bright. And you never gotta cook in it unless you want to, Papi. I can learn the cooking thing. But don’t think that you’re gonna cook at work and then have to at home.”

His brows rose before he started to laugh. “The ‘cooking thing’? That’s what you call it?”

“Excuse me, the highly technical skill of properly preparing sustenance for my family.” Playfully, she gave his shoulder a light push while becoming aware of how laid-back he was.

With his arms hanging off the front of the half wall behind him, Miguel’s wrist lifted just enough for what looked like the Grim Reaper’s pointer finger to aim in her direction. “I’m gonna taste whatever I want though, whenever I want.”

“Of course, I wanna make sure it gets my Papi’s approval.” The little brunette waited until her Scorpio was on the verge of saying something salacious before amending her statement with a sarcastic delivery as dry as his own. “If you drop dead then I know not to feed it to Irma.”

Somewhere back in California before the accident, before the drugs swallowed up everything, he had been a teenager who was in love with a girl from his neighborhood and had big ideas that were partially fueled by the books he regularly escaped into. That era seemed so distant that it felt altogether like a different lifetime. He first felt a levity within him reminiscent of that time when Kandy took his hand and cheerily tugged him along the sidewalk as they talked about what they would do with their afternoon together. It had been so natural to gently pull her arm and spin her back into his awaiting embrace while he considered whether to take her to his cousin’s restaurant a few blocks away.

He smirked and shook his head, but the smile still appeared as he looked off toward the white sandy beach beyond the park they were sitting in. “That mouth.”

“Which you love and the girl it belongs to.”

Miguel reached around to her rear and gave it a swat that was a good deal sharper than the others. The whimper, which softened into a subdued moan as he rubbed over where he spanked her was enough to make him throb. And when those amber eyes rose to meet his dark pair, what he saw in them took away whatever was left of his preexisting fear regarding fully disclosing the abilities he had either been given at birth or were born through the trauma he had experienced. He saw her love, admiration, devotion, lust, desire, and passion in all their layered glory. It became so obvious to him that he had to marvel at it. The sense of familiarity was nearly overwhelming and it all finally fell into place after a few seconds of letting the connection surface in his consciousness. 

Kandy watched him silently as he went from being moved about something to a wave of recognition washing through him. When her curiosity began to displace what he had been focused on, Miguel took her into his arms and held her against him. It was an embrace that was even more intense than back in the office when he sought comfort and encouragement from her to combat the fear that had been trying to stop him from sharing with her the worst parts of his old life in California. She held him and waited just like before not caring at all about how much time it took for him to decide to share with her. 

After a few minutes, he guided her back only enough to kiss her mouth. The flood of emotions overtaking her mere seconds after it began was so concentrated that Kandy had to wonder if they belonged to her or to him. They felt rooted within her own while also confusingly distant in a way she couldn’t fully describe. Nevertheless, it was potent enough to bring forward tears as she wrapped her arms around him and continued the kiss. 

When he felt her going for his belt buckle, Miguel chuckled breaking the kiss and carefully took her by the wrists to fold her arms behind her back. “Kandajha.”

Snapping out of it, she looked around and then hid her face in the side of his neck. “We really gotta work on this.”

When her arms finally relaxed, he released her wrists. “In not gettin’ caught up and thinkin’ we the only people in the world?”

“Basically.” His little witch smiled bashfully after quickly sweeping her fingers under her eyes quick enough to go unnoticed before placing her palms on his chest for a small affectionate rub.

Watching her stare at the obscure tattoo over his heart, which she seemed completely enamored with despite not knowing what it actually was, Miguel kissed her forehead. “Qué estás pensando, querida?”

“I’ve seen you go from not bein’ too sure about somethin’ with us, to bein’ curious about it like maybe you got it figured out, to bein’ all —“

“Caught up in it?” One of his dark angular eyebrows tilted provocatively.

Smiling, Kandy nodded. “I’m guessin’ some shit you didn’t think was connected is startin’ to make sense now.”

Miguel could either just get it over with now or likely wind up in an awkward situation later. For some reason, he had a gut feeling that if he didn’t take this opportunity to talk about these things with her then somebody or something was going to force the subject. Pensively, he slipped his fingers over the Santa Muerte tattoo on his neck. All he needed was to have an amazing night with Kandy only for it to be ruined by having some bizarre episode of nightmares that he would then have to explain while stressed out and embarrassed.

“I did have nightmares before the accident. They were a different kind though. I mean, like, they weren’t all bad, but just, I don’t know. They definitely would fuck my ass up for a day or two.” 

“Emotionally?” Her head tilted and clearly too curious to be all that upset about him holding back from her.

“Yea. Some were straight-up fucked. Like fucked up shit went down in them. Others were more normal. Like I was —“ Miguel took a breath and ran his palm down over his mouth and chin before shrugging as if he was resigned to having to explain. “It was like I was rememberin’ somethin’ that happened. An honest to God memory. Even if what I saw wasn’t sad, I’d be miserable as fuck for a few days after it. Like I had lost the things or the person I was rememberin’.”

Kandy did a double-take when he mentioned that someone else was featured in the series of dreams he had, but she decided to throw him an easier question instead. “How old were you?”

Looking down at her hand resting atop his skeletal tattooed one, Miguel smirked at a private thought, which just popped into his head. “Thirteen. The summer before high school was the first time I ever did anything more than weed. I was tweaked outta my mind. Like I ain’t even sure I slept over them days.”

Feeling the receding of his energy, she knew that whatever he was thinking about was something he wanted to keep to himself. Out of consideration and respect, her hand moved away from his leaving him to decide whether he felt comfortable enough to keep his on her thigh. Noticing the gesture, he affectionately pet the limb but did not make a move to recapture her hand.

Saving her from having to figure out how to ask, he went back to hanging his arms on the cement with a shrug. “Mushrooms and Acid.”

“But that wasn’t what got you in trouble.”

“No.”

Her halcón watched her silently back in his very familiar unreadable state to such a degree that she couldn’t tell if he was trying to figure out if she had picked up on certain details from him or possibly whether to tell her outright whatever it was. Kandy had her guess that it was the same as what befell Marisol, which was heroin. But, opioid addiction came in many forms, from prescription drugs to fentanyl, and consumed in a variety of different ways. 

Kandy offered him the only neutral response she could come up with on the spot. “Okay.” 

The unreadability of his expression ended with a furrowing of his brow, but he was still keeping his distance from her. “Okay?”

“Were you expecting me to respond differently?” She knew he had, but shrugged nonchalantly anyway to reinforce her nonjudgmental position. “Were you expecting this to be a fight?”

He sighed and ran a hand down the lower half of his face. “It’s a lot to deal with, querida.

“It is.” She nodded. “But I think this just supports our reasoning that we always gotta tell each other everything. No secrets. We are reasonable with each other because we see each other accurately and fully. We can do that because we are committed to not hiding or concealing shit from each other. Our compassion and respect mellow our reactions. It reminds us and gets us to listen even when we might not wanna hear the other out.”

On one hand, Miguel was relieved to hear this confirmation of how she wanted them to handle difficult circumstances. However, he still doubted whether she truly appreciated how risky and potentially upsetting things might become if he ever slipped up in his self-care or at worst, fully relapsed into addiction. She was smart and he knew she had experience with people close to her who had substance use issues, but his concern wasn’t with her intellectual understanding. This was strictly relating to whether she was underestimating this from an emotional standpoint.  

“If in a couple days or whenever you feel like it’s more than —“

“Miguel, I know you love me and I know what you’re tryin’ to do.” Taking his jaw in both of her hands, she glanced down to the side, clearly preoccupied with something.

Watching her, Miguel couldn’t remember which side supposedly indicated a person was trying to recall a memory versus the side tied to hearing and processing sound or speech. Whichever she was doing, it required concentration as the loving caresses of thumbs in front of his ears slowed significantly and lost their steady rhythm. When it came to her, whatever it was, she nodded as if affirming her understanding, which made him even more curious.

“Shame is a spirit that is forbidden from living here.”

His little witch had spoken the statement with its very specific phrasing as casually as someone ordering the same coffee they consumed every day for the last ten years. He knew within that not only was she trying to remove any barrier that might come between them, but she also meant it literally. Shame is a spirit forbidden from living here. Not once did her eye contact waver as she sat there in front of him banishing a negative and destructive energy from existing in the emotional space between them. 

Witnessing how grounded she was in both thought and spirit, Miguel imagined how comforting it was to have someone who loved so fiercely. He couldn’t help but consider what a relief it would have been to have someone with that kind of presence around while terminally ill and in the process of negotiating death. When the stakes were high, Kandy showed up and had the command and control over herself that she needed to get through the unpleasant chapters of her life. Learning how to tap into that same faith and confidence for situations outside of emotional extremes and high-stress situations would help her so much, but he wasn’t sure how to go about teaching her that skill. Rubbing his jaw pensively, his first instinct was to call his grandmother. 

Kandy’s problem wasn’t truly fear and certainly not weakness. He suspected that in addition to being exhausted, the girl had simply forgotten how to process things outside of whatever upheavals she had been forced to adapt to, to come out the other side. Her inner emotional transmission had only one usable gear and not only did it restrict how fast she could move in life, but it also kept her spinning at a rate that perpetuated the burnout. 

Manny had occasionally tried to get Miguel to see that he was stuck in his own survival mode still. He knew his cousin was right, but he wasn’t confident in himself enough that he could shift emotionally into a different and more appropriate gear for living without losing the motivation and discipline that kept him moving forward and away from crime and addiction. Miguel was familiar with how it was all supposed to work, but he either didn’t trust the process or felt he wasn’t yet ready to make that change. Kandy, on the other hand, had retreated from participating in the problem-solving side of the situation by abandoning therapy and diving into the quest to connect with her spiritual and cultural roots while self-medicating with weed, chocolates, and an almost obsessive workout regimen. They both had skills and information to teach the other in this particular area, which its difficulties manifested a bit differently for them both.

They sat together in a silence that was as deafening as any of the massive cargo planes, which miraculously flew in and out of MacDill Air Force Base a couple bridges to the East over in Tampa. As he stared at her, she could tell he was searching for something in her. It was likely for some clue as to where that message came from. Her answer, if he had asked, would have been both simple and complicated. When it came to mental and physical wellness, Kandy had seen how important it was to stay positive and hold on to all that was good and vibrant. Addiction was one of the darkest experiences a person could have and she was not about to give up any of the sacred room, which had been set aside for their happiness and success, to the malevolent energy and destructive thinking that often proved to be the fertile ground in which relapsing took root.

Teasing him with a dramatic huff of fake frustration, she folded her arms behind his neck and smiled up at him. “Papi?”

The softness in her tone soothed his troubled heart as he sighed and rested his forehead against hers. “Yes, conejita?”

Rubbing the center of his chest with her palm, she looked up at her handsome and complicated halcón. “Usted me conoce.”

Sí, te conozco.” 

Getting him to reaffirm that he knew her, her spirit, her heart, all of her, was Kandy’s gentle way to remind him that they were brought here. Whatever wound up happening in their future, whether it lasted a hundred hours or a hundred years, whether all the things that had been revealed about their future came to pass or they failed at every single turn, they both acknowledged that there was a purpose behind entering each other’s lives that went beyond the obvious. They both believed there was a connection between them that predated their chance meeting on a backed-up bridge. 

He kissed her forehead and hugged her. There was something in the way his arms lingered that she was able to immediately recognize that he was asking for more. Without needing clarification or confirmation, Kandy carefully slipped her arms down under his and hooked them up against his shoulder blades so that she could place her jaw over his shoulder line. It wasn’t even a full second after she had embraced him that he rested his head against the side of hers and sighed. Quicker than the times before, his body shifted into a more relaxed state as he released the worries fueled by the shame she had called out.

Taking in a slow comforting pull of the fragrance on her skin, Miguel kissed the curve of her neck. “You know this is the one thing I can’t make any promises about.”

Hearing the hurt and regret in his voice, Kandy gently stroked her fingers up and down the back of his neck. “There is one you can make. You can promise to work on trusting me enough to handle the truth of whatever you may need to tell me. Please never forget that we’re on the same side of everything, Miggy.”

There were quite a few times that Miguel had let himself get sucked into the spiral of guilt and regret over using drugs independent of his failure to prevent Marisol from becoming a user herself. Knowing that the specter of addiction was going to haunt him for the rest of his life was something he thought he had come to terms with until Kandy entered his world. There had been a fear quietly growing that once she understood the nature of his previous drug abuse the years he had been clean and the work he put into maintaining his sobriety and strengthening his recovery wouldn’t outweigh the reality of what happened. If that didn’t scare her off, then he immediately went to thinking about how afraid she would be that he would relapse and the instability it would cause.

“You know I know how all that works, Miggy. The reason why it’s so important that you know I’m on your side and for you to feel safe to tell me how you’re really doin’ is so that you don’t feel like I have this impossible expectation that you’re not ever gonna have to face this again.”

“You don’t want me thinkin’ that you’re gonna freak out and dip.”

Kandy sighed as she sat there looking at the vibrant tattoo hiding beneath the grey cotton of his tank top. “I don’t know how to say what I’m about to say, but I need you to feel what I’m trying to mean.”

Miguel chuckled and then nodded. “Go ahead.”

“I know what’s in the books you’ve read. And knowin{ you, I know you probably got a plan for this goin’ off believin’ it’s inevitable it will happen, which is smart. Especially to make sure Irma is okay. We plan for the worst. But if it happens, so what? We deal with it.” Kandy shifted nervously and began to rub between her collar bones. “I’m not tryin’ to downpl–”

“I feel you, querida.” And he did, he knew exactly what she was trying to say. “I know you know you in love with a human being.”

She nodded wordlessly and he watched her, waiting for it to hit. And then it did. Smirking, she looked up at him to see his familiar sly smile. “Really?”

“Really.” He gave her rear a playful swat, which made her loop her arms around his neck and tilt her head back to laugh.

Feeling him drift into his thoughts, she sat back and got him to look at her. “You know I’m gonna answer when you call me to tell me you’re on your way tonight, right?”

He might have been staring at the base of her throat just above the collar of her t-shirt, but he was grinning enough to show those dimples. “I know.”

“And that I’ll be there waitin’ for you to come home?”

Yo sé.

Papi, un beso, por favor?”

“Where, conejita?” Miguel chuckled when she pointed to her mouth and then kissed her lips, letting his appreciation for her fair-mindedness and consideration shine through.

It wasn’t as easy as Kandy made it look, but she knew that at least for the very beginning Miguel didn’t need to see how much certain things they discussed affected her anxiety. While she was stepping out in faith that he was motivated to continue making the right choices, she knew he was a complicated individual — one that she loved and felt deeply connected to. Adding to that was the feeling deep down that they were meant to walk their journey together, which put her at a bit of a crossroads. 

There had been times in Kandy’s life when she had been faced with a major decision whilst also presented with information that favored one choice over the other. On the occasions that she had chosen to ignore the information or flat out refused to make a choice at all, the powers that be took it upon themselves to illustrate how needlessly unpleasant and difficult she was making things for herself. The start of her life with Miguel seemed like another chance for her to do things differently. She would either have to figure out how to live with the fear of Miguel’s possible relapse and not let that potential reality taint her experiences with him or she could choose to ignore every coincidence, sign, reference, and sensation that was telling her she was sitting with the exact person she was supposed to be with. The love they had for each other and the power of their attraction was unlike either had ever experienced, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t have to face trials and tribulations together. 

Here, again, the universe was stepping in to make her face a problem she had created for herself and the solution she had been ignoring. Her self-imposed isolation in the rural intersection of Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties, had truly been the result of exhaustion. The energy to fight and carve out boundaries and a life for herself had been reallocated to fuel her emotional survival causing her well to run dry. Instead of confronting the toxic dynamics in her family relationships, the little brunette turned around and walked back into her cave that passed as a somewhat luxurious pool house behind a set of imposing and ornately decorated motorized gates. Living in peaceful solitude was the only way she knew how to recharge and heal.

In light of her having seen so much decay and death, a part of Miguel wondered if it was really fair to her to stay in her life knowing that relapse was a very real possibility. What if his plan and support system weren’t enough to get him back on track before it permanently damaged their relationship? What if it failed completely and he wouldn’t be able to climb out of it again at all? Miguel sighed. He really needed to call his grandmother.

During the time he had been ruminating over the risk of whether he’d fall back into addiction, Kandy had turned more to the side in his lap to make it easier to look out over at the beach with him. “Stop.”

His brows lifted with surprise as he looked at her whilst she continued to watch the sliver of the Gulf they could see from their distant vantage point in the park. A hand of hers lifted to his chest to give him a few pats over his heart to indicate what she was talking about, though he already knew. After a few seconds, she rested her head down and nuzzled into his neck while draping that arm across to his other shoulder. With his forearm wrapping around behind her hips, his other hand was free to rub back and forth along one of her thighs. 

“Do you think the people you see are us? The people in your dreams, I mean.”

Miguel hesitated for a moment as he was unsure how much she really wanted to know. “If the guy I see is me, it definitely is not this version of me. Different face, different name, different life. We still in Cali, but older, like a different time. The nightmares that had those people in them never really made much sense to me either. It’s a story, but I still ain’t sure whose or why it’s supposed to matter to me other than it maybe bein’ me from a different time.”

The way his tone shifted in the last couple of words clued her in that he knew or thought he knew more than he was sharing. Rather than causing a confrontation like she had when accusing him of lying about having a girlfriend only to learn he was still dealing with the reality of Marisol’s fate, Kandy decided this needed a bit more finesse. As she was trying to think up questions she could casually ask, Miguel was trying to figure out how to get her onto another subject before she ran right into what he had been working to divert her around: another discussion about death.

“You said he has somebody special? He lost them?”

He hadn’t phrased it quite that way, but Miguel still nodded. “A blonde, but I’ve never seen her before. White girl, younger, not by a lot but enough to notice that shit. Sometimes, I think they’re together. Sometimes, I think they just friends. They definitely got a love for each other, but they aren’t with each other. Like, they don’t live together or none of that.” 

“How do they lose each other?”

There it was. This was the question Miguel had been looking to avoid after slipping up in what he said earlier. She was sitting up again and watching him, no doubt reading everything she could to try and gauge how honest he was truly being with her. He ran his hand around to the back of his neck and shrugged noncommittally.

“I haven’t thought about those dreams in a long ass time, querida. They eventually stopped after the accident. I think that’s ‘cause I started blockin’ shit on purpose.”

Kandy could see he was conflicted. He knew what the consequences would be if he kept things from her for selfish reasons. She had agreed to continue trusting him that if he made a choice on timing, whether it was related to sharing information or a bigger decision, she would respect it. When he knew it was the right moment, he would read her in. His answer about having put away that particular series of dreams was all true, but it wasn’t a true response to her question.

“They might start again, the ones from that life. Do you want to figure it out, or would you rather they not return?”

She had put him at a crossroads so quickly and easily that Miguel had to smirk and sigh. “I don’t know. It ain’t good, however it ended. I can tell by what I’m left feelin’ in those days after.”

“The loss.”

Cautiously, he nodded and watched to see if she was trying to snoop or fish for details. When her hands came up as a gesture to set him at ease, he frowned apologetically. Giving him a warm smile, her palms gently rubbed up along his chest bringing his dark troubled gaze up to her face. Relieved to see that she wasn’t cross with him, his fingers took hold of one of her wrists and brought it to his mouth for a light kiss on the inside.

“I just don’t wanna do somethin’ stupid to us and miss out on somethin’ we need to know or learn ‘cause I didn’t wanna look at it all again.”

Rubbing over the mysterious tattoo on the front of his torso, Kandy felt for her Scorpio. While part of his motivation had been to protect her from something, she could feel the dread he was experiencing at the thought of having to see those memories again from another time, another life. Sometimes, the simplest action was the strongest option to build a boundary, set a limit, or ground the flow of energy that could be overwhelming.

“Ask for whatever lessons or information to be delivered a different way. You have the ultimate say on what is allowed to have access to you and when that happens.”

Miguel smirked at how she reminded him of the basic rules he knew rather than letting him wander down a path of overcomplicating matters. “Fuck, I love you, querida.

With her hand gently holding the side of his face, she kissed his other cheek and held him close. “Me, too.”

“There’s more you wanna know.”

“You up for it?”

Silent for a few beats, Miguel took the time to reassess how he felt about sharing these parts of himself with her. “Fuck it, we here.”

“The other things you can do, like with the past, how soon did all that start?”

A shifting of his shoulders and both of his hands retreated into the pockets of his pants while he leaned back against the cement half wall. When he looked away from her to suddenly survey the section of the park in front of them, it became rather obvious that the question made him uncomfortable. She waited.

“The minute I woke up.”

“Hearing, seeing…”

He smirked. “I was in a hospital, querida. Pretty heavy shit. I thought I was losin’ my fuckin’ mind. Docs wrote it off as just comin’ off the pain medicine and all the other shit I had been usin’. It wasn’t none of that. I know what a fuckin’ bad trip is like. That ain’t it. I got smart and stopped talkin’ about it soon after ‘cause I didn’t need them lockin’ me up somewhere and pumpin’ all types of shit in me.”

Kandy could only imagine what it would have been like to be introduced to a new part of herself in such a traumatizing way. To wake up after a horrific accident only to be bombarded with sights, sounds, and smells of all the different types of situations people find themselves in when staying in a hospital, must have been a hell all its own. She had been lucky in that her abilities were always present. They grew as she did until she purposely neglected them after Zo’s death. Not to say they didn’t rudely and unexpectedly intrude every now and again, though usually to keep her safe or make her pay attention to something important.

“Is that why you stand with your hands in your pockets and why you sit or stand back away from things?”

Miguel was silent for a time before finally nodding. “You don’t fuckin’ realize how much you’re touchin’ shit outta habit, without thinkin’ until that’s the way things like to come through. I got this trick now though that the little shit or the stuff that fades quick — there’s a feel to it I get and I can kinda push it away before it opens up. Like it’s there and I feel it just like somebody puttin’ an envelope in my hand. But I leave it alone. And as time goes, I wind up forgettin’ about it and it falls outta my head and gets left behind somewhere. Kinda like what you said about me dictatin’ what gets through and what doesn’t.”

She pointed down at her thigh. “Rubbing my legs part of that too?”

He chuckled and shook his head. “Not really. I just fuckin’ love your legs, mami. But when somethin’ is there that I don’t wanna know about, any type of distraction works.”

“Plotting out the future, painting, boxing, cooking, makin’ your conejita whimper your name?” Up went a brow followed by half of her mouth in the form of a coy smile.

Nodding to her at first, Miguel then gave her a rather serious look. “You’re more than just some distraction, Kandajha. You know that.”

Staring up at the sky, she brought her palms to cover her face as she felt herself starting to blush from his gentle correction of how she classed herself. “Always the past?”

Rolling with the next question, he grinned and kissed the side of her head. “Yea. I started out playin’ with it a little to try and find the off switch. There’s a time limit on it. Like probably in a couple days, I wouldn’t have seen what I saw with you. Just some thought or a memory of what somebody said to you when you looked in the mirror this morning. Bigger stuff, more concentrated sticks around a lot longer. So I keep my ass outta places where fucked up shit has gone down. Hotels are almost as bad as hospitals, but I ain’t shy about askin’ for a different room. They don’t argue or make a fuss when I mention someone died in there, I usually get comped somethin’ or bumped up to a suite.”

“I get discounts when I call people out for dumb shit in a store.” They both smirked in unison. “But you don’t feel it like I do.”

“Not what they feel, no. It fucks me up seein’ some of that shit. But it’s just my own feelings, nobody else’s.”

Nodding for a moment, she folded her arms over her chest with a concerned look on her face. The brunette had a question, one that she expected the answer to upset her. He squinted, curious as to what it was. It had to be personal with how her posture had changed. 

Miguel took a wild guess. “You keep all that shit locked up tighter than Area 51, mi corazón. If you ain’t in a sharin’ mood, I got no clue. I’d rather you tell me yourself anyway. I want you to tell me all of it when you’re ready. Those boundaries we have are important, querida.

Her arms eventually lowered and eased back around his flanks. “This was somethin’ that put you at odds with your grandmother?”

“Funny as fuck, right? Moms has no clue or she woulda been up in that hospital tryin’ to carry out some ghetto ass exorcism. But it’s my grandmother giving me the hard time.” He ran his hand thoughtfully over the Santa Muerte tattoo before looking up at her. “She thinks I’m bein’ ungrateful. And disrespectful. Like I was kept here and given it for a reason and now I got this sacred obligation to use it or some shit.”

“It hasn’t driven a wedge between you, has it?”

He shook his head. “We’re both stubborn as fuck, but we wouldn’t let it get that far. She knows I’ve got my own way with things.”

“You, Papi, with your own way? Estoy tan sorprendido.” 

Noticing the very thin chain around his neck, her finger looped under it just enough to get a better look at its construction as Miguel smirked from her playful sarcasm. It was so delicate that she was almost afraid of inadvertently breaking it, but it was stronger than it looked. Still, with great care, the brunette fished out from the top of his tank the tiny cross and Santa Muerte medallion of protection. Silently, her halcón watched her as she discovered whose imagery was on the metal suspended around his neck. 

Out of the blue, Kandy leaned forward and kissed both the cross and charm before safely tucking them back into his shirt out of sight. It was an unexpected act of devotion that moved him. Her need for him to be safe and protected was overriding whatever reluctance she had in dealing with the folk saint from which she felt estranged. The fear of losing him or witnessing him injured or ill was more painful than whatever bruising her pride might incur from humbling herself before the veiled skeletonized deity often petitioned for healing from addiction and protection from violence.

Miguel moved her hair off her shoulder before slipping his hand around behind her neck to guide her in close enough to kiss her forehead. “I love you, Kandajha.”

Her eyes closed as he felt her again become aware of the tension in her body before purposely relaxing against him. “I think of all the shit I’ve talked about arranged marriages without knowing the people.”

Finding the reference and potential comparison amusing, he tilted his head to get a look at her to measure her expression. “Is that what this feels like to you?”

“Yes and no. We know we’re getting married. When you said that, I believed it. Having that certainty and how it powers this stage of us getting to know each other is kinda what I imagine people go through in that situation. A bond that liberates.”

He was glad to hear that despite her personal conflict with the personification of Death memorialized on the side of his neck Kandy was respectful of his spiritual connection with Her and accepting of the knowledge She had shared. “Arranged by the Universe?”

She laughed. “No, no. I mean that happens and I’m sure that’s how we got our first start. That’s kinda how I think it is for everybody. But this thing, our thing is way too old to just be the start of somethin’. These are old feelings, mi halcón. Older than me feelin’ you and your magic in your food. We brought this about. We did this. We have known each other.”

Easing her back away from him by cupping her face with his tattooed and scarred hands, Miguel looked in her eyes with a curious intensity that almost made her avoid his dark gaze. Seemingly sensing her discomfort, he began gently stroking his thumbs outward along her cheekbones. She squinted from the pleasurable contact and chased after it a little by leaning into his hands. Though Kandy wasn’t sure what it was Miguel was searching for in her eyes, as he indeed was searching for something again, he seemed ultimately satisfied with what he saw.

¿Sabes que no eres una extraña para mí?

“The more time I spend with you —“ The answer to his question was instantly there in both her head and heart, but she interrupted herself to consider the deeper implications of it. It wasn’t that she doubted the truth of his belief that they weren’t strangers to each other as much as part of her was still somehow afraid of fully acknowledging it because of some unknown fear that loomed deep below in that dark pool of emotions they were floating in together. “— the more I realize how much I have missed you, Miggy. But whatever happened, whenever, hurt a lot and I don’t ever wanna feel it or see it again.”

Hooking her arms up against his shoulder blades, she clung to him and buried her face in the side of his neck. Not noticing the change in his own feelings, Miguel started petting her hair along its length beginning from the back of her head all the way down. Gathering the bulk of her tresses at the nape of her neck, he let those curls fall from his grasp as his hand leisurely moved parallel to her spine. Kandy’s eyelids closed as she enjoyed the calming sensation his touch brought through her body. It was the way his little witch hugged him that eventually brought his attention to the peculiar type of melancholy swirling inside his chest. 

¿Estás bien, mi corazón?

Miguel was slowly becoming aware of the somber shift in Kandy’s mood. Even though she now had her cheek against the obscured tattoo over his heart and he was unable to see her face, he knew whatever she was thinking about was troubling her. This was one of those moments when he was able to pick up on some of her feelings without being able to explain it away as guessing based on her expression or a change in her tone or posture. Kissing the top of her head, he kept a tight hold on her until he felt the dampness of her tears through the grey fabric of his tank top. The dull sadness which had been building in him suddenly sharpened to regret. If it hadn’t been for the bizarre tightness in his throat, he likely would’ve started rubbing his chest as if that would somehow alleviate the emotional upset that was manifesting.

Forced to ease her back from him, Miguel was instantly granted relief from the cyclone of emotions as he moved to sit a little further away along the half wall. This gave her plenty of room to sit next to him if she wanted to stay close while he silently asked for a bit of space. Surprisingly, the sensation that had prevented him temporarily from speaking had not let up and he was gradually beginning to worry. The sorrow was shared between them, but the physical sensations he wasn’t too sure about. Though it spooked and interested him simultaneously, he recognized now wasn’t the time to investigate it. Assuming his decision to change their position was due to a desire to give her privacy about her thoughts and emotions, Kandy eventually moved to sit next to him. 

Clearing his throat, he was relieved when it started to fade finally. “What is it, querida?”

It caught him off guard how distraught she looked and she immediately wiped her eyes when she noticed his reaction. Feeling the thunk of her heart against her chest, Kandy took a minute to rub between her collar bones. “I —”

Seeing her struggle, Miguel reached over to affectionately squeeze her chin. “Todo irá bien.”

No puedo vivir sin t—“ It was such a simple little statement to try and calm her, but it did just the opposite as it was something she had heard a million times before from people. Stopping herself again, Kandy ran her hands up into her hair out of frustration. “Miguel, I don’t really know how this fuckin’ works. But I have this feeling that if one of us does somethin’ stupid or reckless that we know better about and one of us winds up…”

Feeling lightheaded, Kandy brought her knees up toward her chest and hung her arms over them while taking in slow deep breaths. Staring down at the blanket, it was then that she noticed again his socks and the banding around the top that matched the tie he had been wearing with his suit earlier. There were so many little things about him that she loved. While he was relieved to not feel the dizziness or other effects from her anxiety, Miguel was still puzzled about the sensation in his throat. It either had to be tied to some kind of memory that had been triggered within her, which she wasn’t sharing or it could have been something she was feeling right then. The latter felt very unlikely to him, though she was struggling to speak through her upset.

“This is exactly why you won’t say it. It’s because you think you know better not to.”

Miguel sounded so different when he spoke to her that Kandy had to look up out of confusion. He was still himself obviously, but somehow not. It wasn’t easy for her to define other than the experience reminded her a little bit of something that happened earlier in their conversation when she had challenged him about his self-control and self-doubt. Reflexively, his rosary and scorpion tattooed hand patted his pants pocket to feel for the package of cigarettes he forgot his sister had confiscated. 

Catching her glare over his search for something to smoke, the Scorpio smirked at his little witch. “We can talk about code switchin’ and cigarettes another time, Kandajha.”

“Can’t fuckin’ wait.”

He sighed seeing how displeased she was in general. “For what it’s worth, querida, I think you’re right about most of this.”

Kandy rolled her eyes and sat back now more annoyed with her anxiety than at the mercy of it. “I feel like I have lost you before. Like I have been at your fuckin’ funeral, stood at your grave just — even now, like right fuckin’ now sittin’ here next to you these feelings are old, but they are so fresh and real it gets like I can’t…” she had to gesture to her throat to indicate the tightness they both secretly had tried to ignore earlier.

“The squeeze?” Miguel could feel the faintest constriction burning through, which was far more alarming to him when factoring in that he wasn’t even touching her.

Squinting at him, Kandy was trying to work out how he knew what it was like when the lightbulb went off. “That’s why you backed off me. It was happening to you. Was that you or me?”

“I’m feeling it some now, but I’m not even touching you.” Swallowing, his brows popped at the curious nature of the very subtle yet very present pressure in his throat. “Maybe it is me.”

Kandy reached up to her own throat and held it with her right hand whilst kicking part of the blanket over toward him to plant her feet on the grass and soil again. “Maybe it’s how you died.” 

The moment she acknowledged it and grounded herself, the discomfort disappeared. Closing her eyes and turning her face toward the sun, her neck stretched and a slow full breath now traveled freely through her throat and into her lungs. Her theory had an odd impact on his emotions, which he couldn’t fully understand before his attention refocused on what she was doing. 

“Is that something your grandmother taught you?”

“What?”

“Feelin’ physical things in others.”

“No, I wasn’t able to do this when I was younger. Still, it’s really rare. I read about it in a book for empaths Talia gave to me. It helped me a lot when I was taking care of Zo.”

“Is that when it started, when she was sick?”

Taking in a slow breath, Kandy flopped her hair over to the opposite shoulder and rubbed her roots idly before shrugging as nonchalantly as possible. “I think it just busted the lock on somethin’ that had always been there. But hey, when you think real hard about fuckin’ me, it feels like your cock is in me so I can’t complain too much.”

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