"You remember that, too?" he remarked, a little impressed by her skills. That, and embarrassed by remembering it himself. It wasn't that he didn't know how to dance, no, he was actually alright at it, the trouble was he worried too much and had never really liked the action as much. Thinking back on how close he'd been to her and how she'd looked in the gown made his face feel warm. "You probably shouldn't. I've never liked dancing much..."
"Dance with me!"
"Please?" The look she gave him always succeeded breaking him down, and damn if she didn't know it full well either.
"Oh, alright... but just one..."
Things were simple. Things were right. He couldn't remember the song anymore, nor could he remember the year they were married, her favorite color, what she liked to eat, he couldn't even remember her last name. But that didn't matter so much to him, as long as he remembered her. And he did. He would never, ever forget what she looked like, or the sincere feeling he felt in his soul whenever he met her eyes. He'd never forget that feeling of love.
"But if I had to dance with anyone... I'm glad it was with you." It was a sincere remark meant to imply nothing more than simple honesty. He turned to look at her, flashed a half-smile, and turned his attention back out the window, humming softly.
The way he said it made it sound more meaningful than just an offhand remark. If he had to, then with me? It was hard for her to think of dancing as anything someone had to do, as much as she loved it, but there had been special circumstances that day that would have made it a daunting task for anyone.
"You were good," she said after a moment, when the song was nearly over. "Think I could talk you into an encore sometime? It's not everyday that I get to dance with a guy who fills out a suit so well."
She gave him a quick smile of her own, a flash of bright white teeth, glancing over at him for a brief second, before looking back on the road and making sure she took their exit. Besides the pink bandages, he did look pretty nice there, settled in his seat in a nice big car like the Benz. Sunlight made his eyes shine like rounded brown stones in a clear puddle, catching the light. He looked comfortable and capable and fit--no wonder someone wanted him as their righthand man. He looked sturdy enough to be trusted at anyone's side.
He's sort of handsome when he smiles, in a rough-around-the-edges sort of way...
"Doubtful," he replied, trying to play with her and attempting to hide a smile that obviously said so, but mostly unsuccessfully. But I suppose it would depend on the circumstances and what song is playing. "I don't know if I could pull off a white suit for just any occasion either. That takes an awful amount of skill, and I'll tell ya right now I'm not a fashion guru. You give me sandals, I say put em on me, you say shorts, I say why not."
Why are you advertising your obvious faults? You should be impressing her. Not that I have any need to or anything but... it's better to advertise the ripeness of the fruit rather than the dark spots, right?
He scratched at his stubble on his chin thoughtfully, body extremely relaxed. "But the good news is that in that way I'm not picky. I like anything. The only thing that's ever bothered me is my inability to tie ties." Damn it. I almost gave myself a compliment, but nooo...
"Weelll you know..." Cadenza drawled, "such a defect can be fixed, with the wonders of magic." She chuckled as she turned into a parking lot that was only beginning to see some of its usual lunchtime crowd. Right nearby, the handpainted sign over the low, white stucco building read in a curling script, "Lita's".
"I've haad to tie a tie or two in a few of my past... let's call them 'careers'. For a fee, I might be willing to impart the trick to you, Signor," she guided the car into a prime spot and shifted it into park before giving him her most mischievous grin, complete with using her finger like a pistol to point at him. "Whatddaya say?"
"Is that so?" he asked, giving her a smirk and a look that said he was amused. "For a fee, eh?"
This can't be good. I can barely afford to FEED myself, much less learn the awe-inspiring great death defying trick of tying a tie. I can just see the crowd going wild over the sheer amazement. And then I drop dead out of starvation. But I can't tell her that... or tell her how little I make... if anything. She'd think even less of me than she does now. No one just brings it up out of the blue "Hey I can't really pay you anything because I need the money for food", it just isn't done.
The mischievous smile on her face made it equally hard to decipher whether she was serious or not and really expected him to pay. Regardless, Ruin, if anything else, had convinced countless others he was the most stubborn man on earth. He was not going to take charity and he was not going to stand for unneeded pity. And he wasn't about to give her a clue to his current situation by asking for an IOU.
He lifted his own finger like a pistol of his own, then made a remarkably spot-on shotgun cocking noise, shifting his hand so it was like he held one. "I say I miiiight just be willing... what's the fee?"
Awww yeah. That's how we do things. Don't ever agree right off.
She smiled like a shark might smile, playing along, and making him wait for her answer as she put on the emergency break. She turned the engine off and the car went silent.
"Well, just between you and me..." the gypsy began, leaning in. She stopped just a few inches from him, the mischievousness returning to her dark blue eyes as they fixed on his, as if negotiating some kind of hush-hush deal, "Ooone boost, just hold me up for a few moments, so I can see what it's like to have clouds in my ears como tu. Theen..." she leaned back away again and straightened up in her chair, folding her hands in her lap, "then we just might be even. Kapeesh?"
As soon as the car went silent, Ruin felt a very slight uncertainty enter his mind. She is joking, isn't she? She won't actually charge me much, will she? She looks pretty... pretty serious, like she wants to eat me or something.
"Well, just between you and me..." she slowly, calculatingly began to lean in towards him, closer. He could have sworn he felt the seatbelt tighten its grip on him, like he was captive. Not that he minded, because what he was captive to actually made him feel a little elated. He wondered if she realized his palms were getting a little clammy.
She stopped mere inches away from him, close enough to where he could stare into her eyes and almost swim in them, where he could inhale the slightest of breaths and smell her scent like it was a perfume.
He couldn't help but drink up her appearance now that he had her so close to his body, his uncertainty and stiffness a little apparent. He did not realize that as much as he saw of her, she likely saw of him. His eyes instinctively drew downwards, towards the diving v of her red blouse, and beyond it. Oh sweet Jesus...
In the gap between her body and her top, he could just make out the luscious curves of her cupped breasts. They were cradled in the velvety grip of her crimson bra, supple and colored like a rich, sweet caramel. It was extremely excruciating to look away. I wonder how they taste... His mouth had begun to water a little and thoughts which should not have entered his mind could not help but give the tiniest hint at what he'd do if she were his lover...
Snap OUT of it, Ruin! His eyes jerked back up to meet hers, but what seemed like torturous minutes to him had likely only been a few seconds, because she didn't seem to notice. He was damn thankful for that.
Her eyes whispered something he couldn't quite understand, followed by the sweetest, most drawn-out offer he'd ever heard from her. "Ooone boost, just hold me up for a few moments, so I can see what it's like to have clouds in my ears como tu. Theen..." she leaned away, and his body leaned forward in again instinctive response before he controlled it and forced himself to relax. She folded her hands in her lap, obviously not understanding in the least how utterly exhausted she'd left the man in her car. "Then we just might be even. Kapeesh?"
"K...kapeesh," he stuttered, clearing his throat afterward and nodding. "Sure... I can do that..." If I don't get out of this car and get some fresh air asap...
"Bom," she grinned, and then sat back to look over him again. Look over him one more, long time. The image of the seatbelt hugging his sculpted chest tight played itself over again in her memory. How much did someone have to work out to have a body like that? There'd been scars too, but she hardly noticed them for long. There were far too many pleasing lines to trace, the outlines of abdominals only the shadows could show her gifted eyes, letting her see far clearer than others could. Her estimate hadn't been wrong before--he was in great shape.
And maybe more than just "sort of" handsome... she thought. Gods, how long has it been since I got any? Weeks? A month? If just a little peek in a car gets me going...
The woman blinked her eyes and cleared away her thoughts, reaching for her purse to find something safe to do with her hands. The car felt too hot, and suddenly all she could smell was his earthy, heady scent. "Bom..." she repeated herself, "it's a deal then... let's make it official over that lunch, huh?"
She turned and opened her car door, and breathed in the sandy, warm air. It wasn't much cooler, but it'd have to do.
He was exceedingly grateful to accept her proposal and nodded dumbly, escaping into the outside air where his heartbeat could slow once more. He thought for a moment as they walked to the entrance, wondering if he really saw her linger when she looked at him. Did he have something on his face? He examined himself briefly in the window of the place they were visiting. No, he confirmed, nothing on his face.
Then why did she stare at him for so long? Was she looking for something? Wondering if she could trust me? Wondering why I looked at her or IF I looked at her? Oh please tell me she didn't see me looking at her. I couldn't help it! It was a moment of weakness! She's so beautiful! I got confused! The excuses were limitless, but the fact of the matter was: he enjoyed it. And, he regretted to admit, he wouldn't have minded a longer look.
"Place looks nice..." he tried to forget what had just happened although he knew that wasn't very likely. "You eat here a lot?"
"Oh yeah, whenever I need a break from cooking or feel like going out. They've got the best dirty rice this side of Rancha Rosa," she told him, pushing open the red doors to go in. She'd considered letting him go ahead of her, if only to see if the view was as nice from behind, but decided it was too obvious. Besides, ladies first and all that.
"Denza!" cried the hostess at the counter when they came in. Salsa music was playing on the radio, and only half the main dining room was full so far. The patio outside had more space, with only a few regulars out in the midday heat.
"Angela!" Cadenza called back, and moved to embrace the teenage girl. There was some awkwardness as they had to shuffle to avoid getting the woman's long curls stuck in the girl's new braces, but they worked it out and soon Cadenza was nearly lifting the girl off the ground. "Como esta tu mae?"
"Oh, same as always!" the girl answered, like it was an old routine. Then she looked behind the gypsy and her thin cheeks colored. "Wh... who's your friend?"
"Oh, that's..." Cadenza paused when she realized she didn't know how he'd want to be introduced--Ruin, the way she knew him, or Roan, the name he gave to strangers--and widened her eyes as she looked back at him. Help me! her urgent expression said, which? She hoped desperately that he understood.
"Really?" Ruin listened to her affirmation and nodded. Dirty rice? He stayed mostly out of the way as she greeted the young teenage hostess, but seeing how chummy she was with everyone made him admire her. He'd never really gotten close to more than a handful of people in his lifetime, and even then he'd been reserved at times. It was when she tried to introduce him she became flabbergasted, looking to him with such a desperate spark in her eyes he couldn't help but want to aid her.
"I'm sorry, I should have introduced myself." He put on an absolutely gentlemanly-outer shell and stepped forward, cool as a freshly-washed cucumber. Normally he'd go with Roan, it's what he always went with in the past and it made little sense to say otherwise, but sure enough, he said without an ounce of nervousness. "Ruin. It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Angela." He offered her a hand to shake.
Why? Why did I use my real name? She's just a child herself, it couldn't do much harm in this case, thank God, but if my real name spreads too much... who knows what could happen... why... maybe... maybe I don't want to hide anymore. Maybe I feel like... I want to belong here, that I want to make a place for myself and this makes me feel more at home. He wondered if Cadenza would ask the same question.
"Er, yeah... Ruin, I knew that," Cadenza murmured, mostly to herself, but Angela wasn't listening anyway. The girl's heart was halfway up her throat at the prospect of holding hands with the well-built stranger.
"P-p-pleasure..." the girl managed in a breathy, unsteady voice. She grasped his fingers with two skinny, limp ones of her own and just held them there, giving a weak, nervous giggle. Her brown eyes had dilated a little into a docile, dreamy look and a melting grin spread over her young face. Her cheeks were red under their tan.
Gods, Cadenza thought, finding it a little hard to watch, was I ever that young?
"Angela!" snapped a matronly, stern voice from the kitchen then, the speaker's Rubatoian accent thick, "¡Salga su cabeza de las nubes y consiga nuestros clientes asentados!"
"S-s-si madre!" the girl all but leaped as she yelped, scurrying away from Ruin and Cadenza like a frigthened mouse with her face pale as she rushed to get menus and then usher them along, "Lo s-siento!"
"Calma, calma, hold on a second!" Cadenza cut in then, grasping the girl's arm gently but firmly before she could take off like a motorboat, "Lita, it's me!"
"...Doña Cadenza...?" a short, stout, full-figured Hispanic woman showed herself in the kitchen doorway, her surprised voice placid then like the calm of the storm. She had a hairnet on over a head of tight curls, a white apron over a traditional-print dress, and two fiery brown eyes that shone out of her round, expressive face. She looked to be about somewhere between the ages of forty-five and fifty, and gods help you if you reminded her of it.
"Si... you told me to come by anytime I was hungry..." the gypsy smiled at the older woman, "well, today I've got a friend here who could put a dozen camels to shame, so how's about it?"
Slowly, a proud grin spread over Lita's face, showing mostly in the twinkle of her eyes. Her daughter clearly had her eyes. She simply nodded to her friend, one of their best customers in recent years, and then turned, and in her voice like a trumpet, shouted, "¡Ponga algunos arándanos en ese arroz, nosotros tienen nuestra madre especial aquí!"
For the first time that afternoon, it was Cadenza's turn to have her cheeks turn pinkish. "Gracias..." she said, and then turned back to Angela without explaining to Ruin what had happened. She didn't know if he knew any Rubatoian or Castilian, but she sure as hell hoped he didn't at that moment. Normally it's nice that they remember my cravings, but when you've got an audience...
With the color returned to her face, Angela smiled a little anxiously and led them to a nice table in the shade on the patio outside.
"H-hope you enjoy your stay..."
"¡Salga su cabeza de las nubes y consiga nuestros clientes asentados!" = "Get your head out of the clouds and get our customers seated!"
"¡Ponga algunos arándanos en ese arroz, nosotros tienen nuestra madre especial aquí!" = "Put some blueberries in that rice, we have got our special mother here!"
Ruin admired the pleasantries of the little restaurant, the outer seating, the nice day, and the fact that it seemed to be family-owned. He'd always said people should take great pride in that. Now he had no idea what it was the woman had said, but Cadenza seemed to because he could have sworn he saw a blush fade over the next few moments. He decided it was probably better not to ask.
"Thank you, Angela. I'm sure I will."
He had to smile at the young girl's flustered, heart-fluttering looks she gave him through the conversation between her and her mother. Imagine if he'd gone so far as to give her hand a kiss. The poor girl would be comatose. He pulled out Cadenza's chair.
"Well aren't we Gentleman Ken?" she laughed a little, but accepted the gesture and took a seat. Angela bustled away to get a pitcher of water and some tostadas for the table, with what might have been a delighted squeal.
Once Ruin was settled too, Cadenza opened the menu out of habit but she hardly had to look at it anymore--she always got more or less the same thing. Chicken and cheese enchiladas, sometimes with carnitas instead, with a side of Lita's famous dirty rice and red beans. With blueberries... she added to that thought a bit bashfully, finding her stomach rumbling a little in anticipation of the meal. Oh Sweet Gaia don't let him hear that!
"So!" the gypsy said loudly to cover up the sound, "anything look good to you? I have my regular but there's no rush. If you want me to describe anything on there, I probably could too, except for that one fish taco they started making..."
The cringe she made at those words made her opinions on fish very clear.
Regardless of how much she attempted to cover up the growling of her stomach, Ruin still heard it. He smiled as she spoke louder and tried to keep it from being publicly heard by him and answered her calmly. "Everything looks good..."
He noted how her nose wrinkled in distaste and her body stiffened back with the mention of the fish taco.
Somebody doesn't like fish...
"I think I'll go with what you suggested first. Enchiladas. It sounds delicious. I haven't had something like that for a while." Or anything resembling food of any kind. He tried to change the subject. "How's Kate? Well? Enjoying school?"
"Oh, she's all right... a little shaky about the news at first..." the woman's voice grew quiet. Whether it was because of her own feelings, or because there were others on the patio, it wasn't clear. "The idea of having two new siblings was a lot for her..."
...Especially now that there's no pai there for any of them, she completed the thought in her own head. Her expression had immediately sobered when they got on the topic. Normally talk of Kate had brought such smiles to Cadenza's face. But not all was paradise at home.
"That's not surprising. It would be a lot for any little girl. Especially if she's always been your number one priority. She probably worried at first whether you would have as much time for her or if she did something wrong," he remarked, giving an order for ice tea to drink. He noted how sad Cadenza looked and decided to try and shift the subject once more.
"But she's more chipper now, then... that's good... what about your father? How is he? Well?"
Ask whatever you like Ruin... just hope she doesn't ask the same of you...
"Have you guys met...? He's not bad, he's been sticking around to help me out, but I'm sure he'd like to be back in his regular workshop at his house, where he's got everything he knows..."
Thinking of her dad's toys and inventions brought a slight smile back to her face. She thought then of the rattles Ruin had made for her--she hadn't thought too much over it then, but those had taken a lot of work, hadn't they? Hand-carved and colored. Did he do that kind of stuff often? She recalled the wooden doll he'd also made for Kate...
"Have you got something like that...?" she asked, propping her chin up on one of her hands comfortably, as she set her menu aside to focus more on talking to him. "A workshop? Someplace you like to make your things? I'd guess you've been making stuff like the rattles for a while, they sure didn't look like amateur work..."
"I haven't met him yet," Ruin affirmed as she went on, though he added with an afterthought that he wouldn't mind meeting the man in the future.
"Have you got something like that?"
"Huh?" he mumbled, looking at her, snapping back into reality from thinking about her father.
She was focused on him entirely, and it made him feel ever so slightly self-conscious. He brushed it away as she continued. "A workshop? Someplace you like to make your things? I'd guess you've been making stuff like the rattles for a while, they sure didn't look like amateur work..."
You'd be right about that... God, when did I make the first thing... I must have just been a teenager. Boy, that seems like forever ago... but do I have someplace I like to make my things? He thought back to his small cot, how his feet hung over the edge and he could feel the heat of the night sweltering over him sometimes, like a thick, humid blanket he couldn't shed. He thought of the comforting sounds he heard at nights, like the squeaking of the rats, the creaking of the iron hinges, as if the whole place were going to collapse any moment.
"I don't usually make things for people, but I have been doing it for some time... I've built houses before... by myself," he added on, his thoughts immediately going to the past once more. He'd built Elise's cabin with his own two hands, pouring into it his blood and sweat and occasionally tears from a stray hammer strike. He prided himself on his raw strength when it came to providing for others.
"But I don't have a workspace or anything... your Dad is lucky he does."
I wonder if I should ask her something like that...
"How many sisters do you have? It's only sisters, isn't it? And your mother... she's... passed away, right?" His eyes showed clear sympathy for her, understanding.
His eyes showed her that his mind kept going back somewhere, but when he returned and seemed to focus on her in the present again, it was not with more details of himself, but rather with more questions about her. Almost as if he was uncomfortable talking about himself.
I can relate to that. With most people I feel that way too, but...
Cadenza let that thought slide off for the moment, before he might begin to think she was ignoring him. He looked worried that his questions would bring up bad memories for her, but the concern in his eyes reminded her that he was only asking because he was curious, not to pry into her feelings. Strong walls had surrounded those wounds for years now anyhow.
"Yeah, only sisters... there are four of us altogether, five at one time. But that was then. Sonya... ah, that's my mother, she passed away almost... wow, I think it's over a year now... It's strange not having her around, but... there had always been times growing up when she couldn't do much for me even when she was there."
She then shrugged a shoulder and waved this topic past, as Angela came up to take their drink orders and ask them if they were ready to order lunch as well. Cadenza ordered her usual meal and a tall glass of guava lemonade. When she was done, she let Ruin take his turn and then relaxed again into her comfortable listening pose to ask him a question.
"So you said you have no place to work on your crafts... would you want one? Sounded like you do..."
In her deep blue eyes, there seemed to be a promise of things, plans going on in the mind behind their gaze. In some circles, the former mafia woman was known as a 'fixer', and not just in the way that meant she made problem people go away. She also sorted out people's problems, monetary, legal, or often material, much of the time as well. That was often the harder of the two tasks.