“Hey, girls!” Delia Booth bounced over, and I do mean bounced. She wasn’t wearing a bra as usual, and her thirty-eight double-Ds were very happy to see us. She’s the newest edition to our happy animal family, and she’s still perky after working at this shit-hole for two weeks. She must either be lobotomized or strung out on Valium. Her dark brown hair was perfectly in place as was her makeup, even though she had just finished the same shift as Lydia and me. She smiled a thousand-watt smile while covertly studying herself in the mirror.
“What’s up, Delia?” Lydia asked in a bored tone. I continued to primp, not bothering to greet Miss Homecoming Queen 1996 of Salinas High, thank you very much. It was the first thing she told me when I met her right before informing me that Salinas High was somewhere in the great land of California. I told her that even in Minnesota, we had geography lessons. That had sailed right over her head.
“Just wanted to see if you girls would like to grab a drink?” Delia had her hand on her slim hip and an expectant look on her face. “I know it’s a school night, but I thought it’d be fun to get to know each other.” I detected a hint of loneliness underneath the good cheer, but I decided to ignore it and take her words at face-value.
“Sorry, I got a hot date tonight,” I said, grinning evilly at her. “When I get Rafe for the night, there’s no going out for us.”
“You are bad, girl,” Lydia said admiringly, slapping palms with me. “Though I’m the same when I ride the Brian express. No stopping that ride.” We smirked at each other, ignoring the bewildered look on Delia’s face. Lydia and I were not exactly friends, but we had more in common than most of the regulars. “Not me, Del. I have dinner at Mother’s tonight.” She grimaced, unable to hide her distaste. She told me that one Christmas, her mother stood on the table and did the can-can in honor of the movie Moulin Rouge. Of course, this was after three or four highballs or whatever the hell it was that she drank. Mrs. Wilkerson was a functioning alcoholic by day, a raging alcoholic by night. Lydia has accepted that her mother was going to die fairly soon at the ripe old age of fifty-three. I didn’t see how she could accept the news with such equanimity, but I admired her for it.
“Ok, maybe another time?” Delia asked, a hopeful look on her delicate features. Despite my distaste for her, I felt a twinge of pity.
“How about Friday?” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.
“Friday’s great!” Delia burbled, clapping her hands like a little girl. I had to remind myself that she hasn’t been in Minnesota long, and I should try to make her feel welcomed as any good Minnesotan would. Minnesota-nice and all that shit. I failed miserably, however, as I felt nothing but resentment at having to entertain this woman. “You, too, Lydia. I won’t take no for an answer.” She waggled her finger playfully in Lydia’s face. I thought Lydia was going to bite Delia’s finger off, but she restrained herself admirably.
“I’m in like Flynn,” Lydia said with a saccharine smile. Delia was too dense—or too sweet—to understand that Lydia was goosing her.
“See you then, girls!” Delia wriggled her fingers at us as she bounced back to her corner of the room.
“Why us,” Lydia moaned as she continued fluffing her hair. “What did we do to deserve this?”
“That’s a good question,” I said, whisking the comb through my hair one last time. “Why did she ask us? It’s not like we have anything in common. Why not Ginger? Or Brandon?” Ginger had been on the royal court wherever it was she went to high school as had Brandon. The latter had also been first-string quarterback for his varsity football team. Personally, I vowed not to mention high school once I graduated from college, and it’s a vow I have religiously kept.
“Maybe she’s slumming,” Lydia snickered, spritzing herself with some truly heinous perfume. “You know, seeing how the little people live.”
“Well, we’ll find out soon enough,” I said, stuffing my accoutrements in my bag and standing up. “I gotta go.” I felt vaguely guilty for skewering Delia, even though she’s just the type of woman who deserved it. If she wasn’t so damn nice, I’d have an easier time being bitchy about her.
“See you tomorrow,” Lydia said, concentrating on the mirror. “Eight sharp.” I made a face—she had to slip that in.
I drove home at a fairly moderate speed for me—seventy miles an hour. Rafe doesn’t understand how I can consistently drive twenty miles over the limit and not have a single speeding ticket. What I’ve never told him, however, was that I’ve been stopped three or four times but have always managed to get off with a warning. Even though Rafe was not the jealous type despite his Latino roots, he wouldn’t be very happy to know about my methods for not being ticketed. Today, however, I wasn’t in the mood to watch out for cops or to finesse my way out of a ticket if I happened to get caught, so I flowed with the traffic instead of trying to overcome it. The commute wasn’t too bad, surprisingly so. I managed to make it back to my apartment with enough time for me to ponder cooking dinner. I preferred it if Rafe cooked since he’s a far superior cook than I, but I usually end up doing the honors.
I carefully locked my car, even though it’s a ninety-five black Accord with a hundred-thousand miles. I didn’t think I was in danger of being robbed, but this wasn’t the best neighborhood, and I wasn’t taking any chances. I know compared to Chicago or San Francisco, we didn’t have bad neighborhoods in Minnesota, but Phillips was the worst. I didn’t choose to live here to make a statement or to keep it real; I lived in Phillips because it’s all I could afford. Well, that’s not strictly true, but I liked to put a couple hundred in savings every month which was difficult enough now but would be impossible if I moved to a better neighborhood. I didn’t mind so much that I felt slightly uneasy any time I walked around the neighborhood, and I wouldn’t dream of moving. My parents hectored me as did my various siblings, but it was all water off this gray duck’s back. I did have a security buzzer at my apartment building, even if no one really paid attention to it and let just anybody walk right in. I was whistling as I walked up the stairs to my apartment, my good mood increasing as I could smell the spicy Mexican food permeating from my apartment.
“Hey, chiquita,” Rafe greeted me with a lazy smile. He hustled from the kitchen to give me a buss on the cheek. His black hair was cut short, and he was giving me the bedroom eyes. His nicely-muscled torso was covered by an apron, but he didn’t look any less masculine for it. He liked to affect a Mexican attitude, but his true roots were a mystery. I heard him talking to his mother once on the phone, and it wasn’t Spanish he was talking. When I asked him about it, he just smiled and changed the subject.
“Hi, lover,” I said, looking at him from under my eyelashes. We’d been going out for six months now, and I hadn’t gotten tired of looking at him yet. He’s not very tall—at five eight, he’s a mere inch taller than I. What he lacked in height, he made up for in musculature. And attitude. “Smells great. What ‘cha cooking?”
“Me, baby, me.” Many nights, we’ve postponed dinner in favor of other activities, but I was famished.
“Burritos? Tacos? Enchiladas?” I asked, deliberately starting something.
“Ah, no, none of that crap. How you going to expand your horizons if you stick to the tried and true?” He grabbed me by the hand and led me into the kitchen where, as usual, he had made a mess. We have a rule that whoever cooked didn’t have to do the dishes, and he took full advantage of the fact. Pots and pans were piled in the sink, not to mention stacked along the counter. “Take a whiff of that.” I inhaled deeply, appreciating the jalapeno smell redolent in the air. As usual, he refused to tell me what he’d cook because he preferred me to be properly awed by the taste without having any preconceived notions, as he liked to put it. Sometimes, I think he just made up the crap and didn’t want me to know that his dishes weren’t authentic Mexican cuisine, but who was I to argue as long as he cooked me delicious meals? There was meat and vegetables salted and peppered then wrapped in some kind of tortilla. There were beans on the side. Red beans. Rice. Potatoes. A salad. And for dessert? Some kind of flan. Or caramel custard.
“That was fabulous, babe,” I said in appreciation after downing considerable portions of everything. It had been an exceptionally busy day, and I only had time to grab a hot dog somewhere around eleven in the morning. As I did not like to cook, I tended to favor men who did.
“How was your day? Your sister called, by the way. She was highly delighted to have a man answer the phone.”
“She would be,” I retorted. Mona was the dyed-in-the-wool romantic in the family, wanting everyone to be paired up. She’d been with her lover, Michele LeBlanc for three years and was talking about having a commitment ceremony. She wanted me to the her maid of honor. I told her I would, but not if she forced me to wear a bastardized version of a prom dress. She laughed hysterically, but I knew my sister. Lesbian or no, she would have a traditional ‘wedding’ because she’s the girly one in the family. She and I suspected our brother Owen might be gay, but have left it up to him to come out of the closet.
“She still bugging you to get married?” Rafe asked me with a heart-stopping grin. He knew me so well in such a short period of time. He was the yang to my yin with his ever-present cheerfulness to countermand my more dour personality. Not that he was Mr. Pollyanna because I couldn’t have stood it, but he certainly liked looking for the silver lining whereas I preferred staring at the clouds.
“Always,” I said with a groan. My sister’s goal was to be a bridesmaid and as she pointed out, it wasn’t likely with the crowd she ran with. I stood up to clear the dishes while Rafe popped the top of a Mexican beer.
“Wanna catch a movie?” Rafe asked, watching me clean up the dishes. The first month we were together, he insisted on helping me with them. I slowly broke him of that habit by thoroughly convincing him that he was doing more than his duty by cooking for me. I hadn’t met his mother, but I wanted to meet the marvel who produced a non-machismo man who was still so essentially male. “There’s a new Bruce Willis flick.” Ok, so his taste in movies left a little to be desired—it was something I was working on with minimal success.
“Not tonight, babe,” I said apologetically. “I’m really wiped out. Eddie the perv was at his pervy best today, and it just gets to me.” I deepened my voice in imitation of my boss. “Ya gotta be nicer to the kiddies Trixie.” I changed back to my normal voice. “Nicer to the kiddies, ha,” I snorted. “If he only knew.”
“I don’t get the problem, querida,” Rafe said with a frown. “You like children, so why you having so much trouble with them at the job?”
“They’re spoiled brats,” I said bluntly. “I like kids who are unaffected, not whiny little brats who just want stuff.” My voice was harsher than it needed to be, but I didn’t like having to defend myself. “And their idiot mothers who give in and buy them stuff just to shut them up.” I rolled my eyes upwards. “If you had to put up with that every day, you wouldn’t be so cool with kids, either. That’s not counting the ones who tug on your costume or the ones who kick you, either.”
“I think you’d be a great mom,” Rafe said, getting up and wrapping his arms around me from behind. “I think we should have seven or eight babies! How does that sound?”
“Sounds like the ramblings of a mad Catholic boy,” I grinned, turning to flick him with soapy water.
“Them’s fighting words,” he retorted, flicking some water of his own. Soon, we were engaged in an all-out water fight which ended up with us and the floor being soaked. It meant more work for me, but it also helped me release the aggravations of the workday, so I called it a wash—no pun intended.
“Thanks, Rafe,” I said, planting a kiss on his freckled nose.
“For what?” He quirked an eyebrow, looking at me devilishly. “For making a mess out of your kitchen?”
“For making me laugh.” I grabbed him and pulled him close, not giving him a chance to respond. Ever since I first saw him at Grumpy’s, a local bar, I’d wanted him. We had instant chemistry that has yet to diminish. It didn’t hurt that we were both performance artists as well, though his art incorporated more elements of dance than did mine. We hurried to clean up the kitchen so we could progress to more important matters: we were always good at sex.
Afterwards, he rolled over to stare at my naked body in frank appreciation. Although I was self-conscious about the extra ten pounds I carried on my thighs and ass, he loved every inch of me. He said in his culture, a skinny woman was looked down upon because she didn’t have child-bearing hips or the glorious curves that made a woman, well, womanly. She was viewed as still a child and treated as such. Consequently, many thinner girls ate more than was healthy in order to beef up their bodies. I often wished I were in that kind of society, but I’m not. Neither my birth culture—Taiwanese—nor my country—America—were very kind to women who wore larger than a size six.
“Querida, let me stay the night,” Rafe said, his dark eyes staring into mine. He made this request at least three times a week—always after mind-blowing sex—but so far, I’ve yet to give in.
“Not tonight, lover,” I said with a smile. It’s the same response I give to him every time he asked. I never explained that I can’t sleep with someone next to me unless it’s someone I completely trust. I get better sleep when I’m sleeping alone, and I was a bear if I didn’t get at least seven hours. While I cared a great deal about Rafe—indeed, I was close to saying those three little words—I didn’t entirely trust him, especially when he evaded my questions. He wouldn’t tell me basic information about himself such as where did he grow up—how many siblings did he have, if any—and was his father still alive? Until he opened up, I didn’t want to have him sleeping in my bed. While he understood that intellectually, it still bothered him from time to time.
“Ok,” he said agreeably, kissing each of my breasts before snuggling back in bed. “I don’t have to go yet, though, do I? It’s only nine o’clock.”
“I’m really beat, Rafe.” I smiled at him fondly, stroking his hairless chest. I dipped my hand lower to caress the tattoo he had that was emblazoned right above his groin, on his left hip. It was a slim dagger pointing at his cock. When I asked him the significance, he just shrugged.
“Keep doing that, and we’re gonna have to go again,” Rafe growled, kissing his way down my body. I opened my mouth to protest, but his mouth found its way between my legs, and I couldn’t say a word. After we finished for a second time, I kicked him out of bed. Not a bad way to end the night.