“You don’t know how to lead,” she repeats,mocking it. “In Las Palabras, you were always theleader. Everyone gravitated toward you because theyrecognized that. Do you not remember your ownpresentation about creating your own destiny? That’swhat you do, Mateo. You create. You lead. Everyoneelse follows.”
“I follow you,” I tell her, kissing the tip of her nose.
“You follow my coño,” she says.
I place my hands on either side of her face and holdher as I stare deep into her eyes. “I follow every part ofyou, everywhere. You go before me, Vera. You alwayswill.”
As she sometimes does when I’m being especiallyhonest, she looks away shyly. It’s cute, like she can’tbelieve that I could feel the way that I do about her. Butsometimes, most times, I just want her to believe it, toown it.
“Anyway,” she says, quickly skirting over what Isaid, “you do have what it takes, Mateo. I think thiscould be the best thing that could happen to you. You’llbe a part of what you love again, in it as much as youcan be. But it’s not about what I think.”
“It is about what you think.”
“It’s about what you think,” she says. “So what didyou tell them?”
I lay my head back against the couch cushions andstare at the ceiling. “They are giving me until Friday tothink about it.”
“Good,” she says. “By then you’ll know what youwant, if not sooner.”
But the thing is, all I really want is her.
Somehow, the night seems to be hotter than the day. Theair is thick and sweltering, like simmering soup, as Veraand I walk hand in hand to my parents’ front door. Theyhave no air-conditioning inside and I’m already chastising myself for wearing asuit, but even pushing forty, it’s hard not to dress up foryour parents. My mother had instilled it in me at a youngage, to always look nice for her, if not for my father, andit’s something I do now for Carmen, my stepmother.
We stand on the front steps and I squeeze Vera’shand appreciatively. We have dinner at their houseusually once a month, on whatever day my sister Luciacan fit into her social calendar. Vera gets along very wellwith my parents, especially now that she’s picked up abit of Spanish and can converse more with my non-English speaking father. Originally she was going to tryteaching him English but my father has the patience of acat, and that never amounted to anything.
Carmen opens the door with a bright smile on herface, the smell of anchovies and basil wafting in frombehind her. She’s quite a bit younger than my father, butno matter her age, she seems to give off this air ofvitality. I think she keeps my father young. Shedefinitely keeps the old grump on his toes.
“Mateo,” she cries out, and pulls me into a hardembrace. She smells like sage and earth, and her largeearrings rattle as she pulls away, holding me at arm’slength while she looks me over, as if I am just a boy andnot a man. I don’t mind.
She sweeps her eyes to Vera and takes her in like acool glass of water. It helps that Vera is dressed in ametallic silver shift dress, the kind you’d see in afuturistic version of the 1960s.
“Vera,” she says, “you look beautiful. Your dress,you’re really becoming quite stylish.”
Vera waves away the compliment as pink stains theapples of her cheeks. “Blame it on Spain,” she says witha smile. It’s true though, shopping in the windingalleyways of Madrid with her friend Claudia has becomeone of her favorite activities, and every day her ownsense of style and well-being seems to blossom.