In the morning there was a heavy mist hanging over the water. I got a cup of coffee, went out on the small deck and stepped down onto the sandy beach. Sipping from the cup, I tried to look at my meeting Claudio with some objectivity. It seemed like his plan to meet guys wasn't a very good one, or at least hadn't worked well before, because Sandy didn't strike me as what anyone would call trained. He'd been thoroughly charming, though, and I felt pretty happy with the way we'd talked and hung out. I was wrestling a bit with the idea of showing up at his house, though. It would be bold, but it might also be kind of weird. Realistically, this was a fling. Three weeks – well, just a little over two weeks to go – and I'd be headed home, and Claudio would still be here, perfecting sending Sandy out to snare some hottie.
The thought was deflating, and yet there had been a chemistry between us. I think the fact that he'd felt kissing me was a good idea was the cherry on top of how easily we'd talked. It seemed to me that clicking with someone doesn't often come easily, and I should at least find out if it was all just a chance encounter, no more than a cute story, or if there was actually something there.
I decided not to worry about what would come after, if there was something good between us. You can only go so far down that road before you're married and having to make decisions about having kids and mortgages and – seems like it takes all the fun out of things. I finished my coffee and set the cup town on a picnic table before wandering down to the edge of the water and letting the waves wash over the tops of my feet while I dug my toes into the sand.
It occurred to me that while Claudio had kissed me, my short time with him was far better than any of my hookups. It was nice to have someone to hang out with, and it didn't hurt that he was cuter the more I thought of him. Still...not going to his house. Wouldn't be a good look, so no. Won't do that.
I turned to look back to the room where Bry stood with the coffee pot in hand. “Want the last cup?”
“Yeah!” I called back and headed back up the beach, snagging my cup. He poured the brew into my cup and then went inside. I turned and looked back toward the beach, then he rejoined me.
“Let's walk the beach,” he said, heading down toward the water. I fell in beside him, and we struck out along the shoreline.
“So. Any reason we're taking a romantic walk down the beach?”
“Jim and Kim want to fuck,” he deadpanned.
“Yeah. Nah, Shana started to text, and I decided to pretend I forgot my phone when I went for a walk. Her parents were going to some gallery or something in town, and she was asking me to go with them.” He was quiet for a few steps. “You know, I realized something.”
“Oh?” I asked in a playful tone.
“Not that, Perv,” he said and shoulder checked me. “I was realizing that when I went to ask Kelsey out, I thought I was nervous but...now I think I wasn't really sure about her. Like...I wasn't comfortable or something. I was thinking I should have listened to my gut instead of telling myself not to miss out on someone that was interested in me. Make sense?”
“A little,” I said. “I mean, setting aside she wasn't good enough for you –”
“Stop, not that again.”
“– but the thing is, you didn't know, right? Like, it's okay not to have all the answers when you start something, but if you pick up on red flags, take 'em seriously.”
He snapped his fingers. “That's more like it! I wasn't so much nervous as I wasn't sure asking her was a good idea. I mean, it turned out just fine for a while, so I was genuinely blindsided when she cheated. You know how I am about forgiving shit like that.”
“Yeah – don't. I agree. If you're going to do some shit when you're less inhibited, like being drunk, like, it just means you're not trustworthy.”
“To a point, right? I mean if you're completely shitfaced, your thinking is different – but Kelsey's friend was saying to me that Kel didn't even have that much – like, a glass or two.”
“Not that I'd really try to defend her in any way,” I said in a speculative tone, “but we don't know what was in the cup.”
He grunted. “Valid. Think maybe I made a mistake in judging her?”
“Personally, I think you dodged a fuckin' cannonball. That one was too obsessed with babies and stuff like that. I think she thought you were some kind of meal ticket she could get by pumping out a few kids.”
Thoughtfully he said, “Yeah. I was getting that idea, but thought maybe I was seeing something that wasn't really there.”
“I could have told you.”
“You're not what anyone would call unbiased.”
“But I'm biased toward you,” I told him with a grin.
“Anyway. Shana might be fun to fool around with, but I'm already getting these red flags. Honestly, if she's that fucking talkative all the time, and she overshares like no one I've ever met...probably not worth it. I mean, why would I want to go to bed with her? She's probably talk the whole time.”
I twisted my voice and hunched my back while saying, “Oh my gawd, Bryson! You're so good.”
He burst out laughing. “That's what I'm afraid of right there – that's my nightmare.” He glanced at me. “Is it easier with guys? I mean for you?”
“You mean sex?”
“Yeah. Like just hooking up.”
I sighed. “Yes and no. Getting into a situation where you'll get laid isn't too hard, depending on how picky you are and how picky they are. It's so bad, really, like it's a transaction. I almost feel like you're supposed to rate your experience after, so other people know if they want to fuck that guy too,” I said with a chuckle.
“Imagine,” he said with a big laugh. “Two of Ten, would not fuck again!”
I laughed along with him, but soon took a deep breath. “See, the thing is...to me, sex is supposed to be this big goal. Everyone's in a big fucking hurry to lose their virginity, but to be honest...I regret my first time. Not just because it hurt and I was an awkward virgin and all that, but the guy I lost it to? Meaningless. I was just someone he liked enough to ask what I was doing and invite me to his bed. It sounds convenient, and I guess it is in some ways. If it's what you're looking for – just to get off and move on with your life.”
“That's what the guy you saw yesterday – that's all it is, right? He must just be looking for a fling?”
“I...thought about that, but no. We had fun hanging out and talking over the coffee, then we had fun riding around on the scooters. I think the kiss was more spontaneous than anything else.” I glanced at him. “Felt kind of natural.”
He nodded. “That's good, then.”
We turned and headed back as the first raindrops began to fall. By the time we got back to the room, it was coming down steadily, if not that hard.
“There you two are,” Bry's mom said by way of greeting. “Got caught in the rain, huh?”
“No – your son threw me in with my clothes on! Look at me!”
“I did not! You threw me in!”
“Uh huh,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “We're going to go into town and see a show. Kim said she and Jim found a good place to eat. Thought we might have an early dinner. What do you think?”
“Better than watching TV,” Bry said and slipped his feet into his sandals. “I'm ready.”
“At least put a shirt on, Bryson,” his mother said with a sigh. “I'll get the car keys.”
As the door closed behind her, I said to Bry, “I liked you just fine without a shirt. Just sayin'.”
He stuck his tongue out and squeezed one of his nipples in my direction, and I honestly don't know what the hell that means – but it was funny.
We got into town and were pretty surprised to find out we were going to see a drag show. The little theater was rough, with wooden bench seats and a stage maybe eight feet wide. The person who came out to do the show was too tall and muscular for a woman – or any woman I was used to seeing at any rate. Some of the act was funny, some was just...whatever. I guess it was an experience, but I wasn't sure I'd ever want to do that again.
When we got back outside, everything was damp, and it was humid, as it was still warm. We walked up and down the street, looking at the tourist shops and talking to each other. Finally everyone was hungry enough, and we turned down a side street, following Jim and Kim. They led us to a colorful building – painted red, with a white sign with green lettering that read Pupseria Mia.
“Is this a Mexican place?” I asked, guessing from the red, white and green.
“They have some Mexican stuff, I guess,” Jim said. “The pupusas are good, though.”
Bry or I were probably about to crack a juvenile joke about feces when I saw Claudio behind the register. My feet took on a life of their own, and I slid up next to the counter.
“I found you,” I said with a smile.
Claudio looked up at me and raised an eyebrow. “What?”
Feeling suddenly unsure, I said, “Um. Yesterday? Sandy?”
He gave me a knowing smile. “I look a lot like him – but better. I'm Mauricio. Claudio is out making a delivery.”
Feeling foolish, I asked, “Oh, um. Are you guys...twins?”
“Brother. His twin is Marina – I think she's seating your party now.”
I turned to look back and saw Bry's mom, Jim and Kim moving toward a table, following a girl with raven-dark hair, while Bry looked at me expectantly.
“Oh,” I said, turning back. “Um. Sorry.”
He leaned forward. “The family is really conservative. Not sure why you came here, but don't let on how you guys know each other, okay?”
“Oh, uh, can't be that well, right? I thought you were him, so! I'm obviously not that, um, you know....”
“Yeah. Trust me, everyone thinks we look alike at first. And yeah, you played it so cool, no one would ever guess you two were out kissing on the beach.”
I looked at him with wide eyes.
With a smug expression he said, “He might have mentioned you.” Then he leaned back. “Your party is waiting, sir. Enjoy your meal.”
I tilted my head in confusion, wondering what the fuck I just walked into, and headed back to Bry.
“Was that him?” he asked in curiosity.
“Um, no. His brother. They look a lot alike.”
We sat at a freestanding table with brightly painted chairs.
“I'm Marina, and I'll be your server tonight. Can I start you with something to drink?”
We placed our orders, and she left with a bright smile.
“Damn,” Bry said to me in a low tone, “she's got a smile for days.”
She did. It reminded me of Claudio's smile, but only on the surface. His was more...devilish.
“So,” Kim said with some excitement. “Jim and I found this place the other night, and they have some really neat things. First we have to order tamarindo. I had always wanted to try it, and it's not a disappointment! We should get an order of platanos con crema – just plantains with cream for an appetizer – they are delicious.”
“I like trying new things,” Bry's mom replied. Bry and I mumbled an agreement. I don't mind trying new things in theory, but Kim has something of a track record. She convinced us to try this sampler plate at an Indian restaurant and gave us very little to go on besides 'it's all so good!'. So I'd picked a piece of chicken with some rice and a brown gravy, since it looked somewhat familiar, and just a little of this meat that looked dyed red. I figured the red would melt my mouth, since I'd heard about Indian food being spicy, but no – it was actually kind of a sweet flavor. The other, safe looking one? Fucking nuclear bomb in my mouth would have been cooler.
Marina came back to our table, and I couldn't help but feel she was giving me a few lingering looks. We placed the orders for us to try the tamarindo, and Kim ordered two servings of the platanos con crema. As she walked away, Bry leaned toward me.
“She was giving you an eyeful. Wonder if she knows how not into that you are?”
I shook my head and leaned in to him. “It's Claudio's twin sister. I think she knows who I am. His brother said something about, um, the kiss. So. But...um, said the family is really conservative.”
Bry snorted. “Okay. Still, she gets done giving you the evil eye, remind her I'm here, huh?”
“Bro,” I said with a little grin. “She'd eat you alive.”
“That's what I'm sayin'!”
“What are you two talking about?” Jim asked.
“How loud you two are,” Bry said dryly. “Didn't know you were a screamer, Jimmy boy.”
“I do not want to hear this!” Bry's mother said immediately.
“Aww, Mom!” Jim said with a devilish grin. “Think of it as payback for making Bry and me sit downstairs while you went to 'work things out with daddy' when we were little.”
“Like that worked,” she said with a snort. “You two played baseball in the kitchen with my eggs and the broom.”
“You did?” Kim exclaimed.
“Oh, trust me, these two caused more problems,” she said with a wave of her hand.
“Here we are,” Marina said an she started placing glasses around the table. “Enjoy the tamarindo and I'll be right back with your platanos con crema.” She glanced at me and tilted her head, a small smile flitting across her lips.
As she walked away, Bry elbowed me. “Bro. You better introduce me.”
It was pretty weird, really. If something did develop between Claudio and myself, then that meant I'd have to deal with my feelings for Bry. I don't know how people manage to have romantic relationships with more than one person at a time. Whenever someone gets into a relationship, it seems like no one else exists anymore. In a way I get it – you're trying to build a life with someone, and they become something like the middle of your life. But...not only do relationships end, it seems like an awful lot to ask of a single person.
I think that you have to maintain more than one relationship, but different kinds. You can have a best friend and a romantic partner. If anything, when you tell your secrets to them, you get more than just one perspective. It seems like getting more input from people that value you is better than fewer.
But as I glanced at Bry, I still felt the pull of attraction and a bit of sad frustration that he'd never feel that way for me.
“Platanos con crema?” I turned at the distinctly male voice that couldn't be our waitress and smiled to see Claudio with a plate in each hand.
“Oh, yes! You all have to try some of these – don't anyone chicken out!” Kim said enthusiastically. I really wasn't paying her much attention, though, as I searched Claudio's face for...what? Recognition? Pleasure?
“Yes, of course, sir. I'll show you where the bathroom is,” he said to me loudly enough for the table to hear, but they were all kind of focused on the treat before them that Kim was excitedly talking about.
“Oh, yeah, thank you,” I said and began to rise. I came to an awkward stop as Marina appeared and began speaking in rapid-fire Spanish to Claudio. Her pace was far too much for my high school Spanish to keep up, but her tone was pretty clear – what the hell did he think he was doing. There was a very quick back and forth between them before the rest of my party noticed I was standing with the two of them having a tense back and forth.
“No debes asumir que nadie más puede entenderte.” Kim looked at Marina and Claudio with both her eyebrows slightly raised.
“I apologize,” Claudio said quickly.
“My brother is an idiot,” Marina said just as he finished. They looked at each other, and then Marina looked back to the table and said. “Yes. We meant to say we're sorry that my brother is an idiot. Enjoy your meal.”
Not quite yet, I thought. “Uh. Bathroom? Still kind of...waiting.”
Marina gave me a pointed look. “Si. This way.”
“I think that-”
“He has deliveries,” she said.
I paused and said, “Right. I'm sure he can drop me off on his way.”
Her mouth twitched, and then she turned and headed off. Claudio let out a small breath and wiggled his eyebrows a bit as he started away, and I fell in behind him. We moved past a counter and then a small bar with every stool occupied. Turning a corner, we were in a short hallway with three doors, two marked with Latin themed caricatures to define which bathroom was for whom, and a third that was marked as employees only.
“I thought I'd lost you,” Claudio said quickly as he turned to face me. “I'm sorry I couldn't wait – my family takes being on time and the restaurant very seriously.”
I smiled hesitantly. “I didn't want to show up at your house...seemed a little stalker-like.”
He looked at me with a worried expression. “That may have not gone so well.” Then his features softened and he smiled. “It's really good to see you, though.”
“I wanted to-”
I turned to see his sister, looking at us with wide eyes. She turned her gaze to me.
“You are going to get him in serious trouble! You better not even think of kissing back here. Anyone could walk back here and see you!”
I blinked a few times. “I just wanted his number. I thought I lost him.”
She snorted. “He's not lost. He's wild, irresponsible, frustrating-”
“He gets the point,” Claudio said with an edge to his tone. “Don't worry. I'm not going to shame you, hermana. At least not at work.”
The hard set of her face softened, and she said, “Claudio. You know what I meant. If anyone besides me or Mauricio saw you with this gringo, they would throw holy water, and we'd be hearing about Santa Maria until our ears bled.” She glanced at me and said, “The family doesn't know, so you can't let them see.”
I pursed my lips slightly. “Like I said – I just want a way to talk to him.” I looked back to Claudio. “I mean...if you want to?”
He grinned and pulled his phone out. “What's your number? I'll text you now.”
Once I'd gotten the text and we'd stood grinning at each other for a moment, Marina cleared her throat and said, “Don't forget to wash your hands,” then headed back to her tables.
“Thank you,” Claudio said. “For understanding. For being smart enough not to show up at my home.” He smiled a bit wider. “For not just walking away. You could have.”
I smiled as I pocketed my phone. “Well. One kiss was not enough for me to make a decision. I'm going to need more...evidence.”
“A kissing scientist? How many other people are you getting...evidence from?” he asked, eyes twinkling.
“Just one...for now,” I said and laughed a little at the situation.
“Perdona,” a man said as he moved past us in the small hallway.
“Claro. Perdona,” Claudio said. “So. I get done about eleven. Will you be awake?”
“I'll be talking to you,” I said confidently. We looked at each other, and I was seriously thinking we were going to kiss, despite the danger to him, but his sister called out in a sharp tone and made us both jump.
“I have to go. Orders to deliver.” He stared at my face for a moment more and then was gone. I went ahead and used the bathroom and headed back to our table.
“Thought we lost you,” Jim said with a lazy smile.
“Had to wait,” I said, taking my seat.
Bry's mom gave me a look that made me squirm just a little.
“So, fun fact about me,” Kim said. “I'm minoring in language – in fact I'm fluent in Spanish. My maternal grandparents are from El Salvador.”
I leaned forward to look past Bry. “And?”
“And,” she said with a little grin. “That girl said she didn't care how good a kisser you were, he'd better not start anything in the restaurant or she'd finish him.” She smiled. “Begs the question...what kiss?”
My face got a little hot, but I smiled. “Don't know what you mean.”
“You little sneak,” Bry's mom said. “What's his name?”
I chuckled lightly and put my hand around my glass, sweating with condensation. “Claudio.”
“Looks like he put you on cloud 9. Where did this kiss happen – and when? Don't you hold out on me!” his mom said with a big smile.
I chuckled. “On the beach. Shana was keeping Bry to herself, and I met Claudio. We hung out. Liked each other.”
“What's not to like?” she said and sipped her drink. I copied her, feeling a little giddy. The tamarindo tasted like strong apple juice with a bit of peach juice mixed in. It was a really interesting, tasty flavor.
“Kim? What is this?” I asked, pointing to the drink.
“Comes from the tamarind. They're these pod-like fruits with seeds and pulp. You get this juice from the pulp.” She waved a hand. “Now tell us all about this forbidden love for Claudio.”
I shook my head. “His family is really conservative; that's why his sister is acting like she did. Can't really get into that here,” I replied.
“Oh,” she said, looking contrite. “That is the worst. He's cute as hell, though.”
Marina arrived with a big tray and began handing out plates to everyone. Before I was allowed to eat, though, Kim insisted I try the platanos con crema as she'd saved me some. The platano looked like a banana that had been cooked and sliced, maybe lightly fried – and there was a small cup to dip the pieces in that had something with the consistency of yogurt. It was a nice combination of flavors, and I nodded my head toward Kim.
“This is really good!”
“Another convert!” she said, raising her hand in the air and wiggling it around in a little celebration. “Now. Pupusas are a Latin street food – like hot dogs are here in the states. They have cheese or other fillings inside and have a cornmeal or rice flour outer shell, griddled with the good stuff inside. Curtido is kind of like a cole slaw, but it doesn't taste like ours. Spread that out on top of your pupsa and eat a little of it with each bite.”
We followed her directions and enjoyed a thoroughly new eating experience – one Bry decided to live stream. It was a really nice change from things like burgers and fries or fried chicken. Those things had their place, but this was a really nice, different set of flavors that I found I enjoyed. We all ate, and I was grateful everyone had gotten the message about dropping the subject of Claudio – at least for now. Kim's comment when Claudio and Marina were arguing at our table wasn't something I understood linguistically, but her tone kind of implied that she understood them – especially when you factor in how they were both a little embarrassed to be understood.
After dinner we walked to an ice cream stand and got cold treats, and that's when Kim started to ask, in a playful tone, for details about Claudio. Bry's mom was more direct.
“So I want to know how you met this boy,” his mom said. “Of course I want you to be happy, but God knows your mom is going to be after every scrap, and you know she's going to make me feel like a horrible parent if I don't know anything about this at all.”
“His mom needs some boundaries,” Jim said.
“She's too nosy,” Bry replied.
“Yeah...but your mom has a point,” I conceded. I told the story of Sandy being a terror to iced coffee everywhere and how we'd talked so easily. Exploring the town a bit by scooter and ending up on the beach.
“That's where my best friend, someone who should have some sense, kissed a complete stranger.” Bry grinned at me, and I rolled my eyes.
“He sounds pretty slick,” Kim said. “I mean, he was after you. Got you on the beach – muy romántico – and he's Latin.” She glanced at Bry's mom. “You've heard all about Latin lovers. I had one when I was in Spain for a semester.”
“Hey, hey, hey,” Jim said, feigning being hurt. “You promised never to talk about him again.”
She laughed. “I promised not to compare you to him.”