Love, in Spanish(10)

By: Karina Halle

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.

I am aware that I am beaming at Vera proudly whenCarmen pinches my cheek quickly and says in Spanish,“You’re still as smitten as the first time. That makes mehappy, Mateo.”

Vera shoots me an inquisitive glance but I onlypress my hand into her lower back and usher her insidethe house.

There is a fan in every room, their constant whirringcompeting with the sultry sounds of Ella Fitzgerald onthe record player. My father is sitting in the living roomwith a glass of wine beside an open bottle, leaning backin his chair, eyes closed.

“Ignore him,” Carmen says, gesturing for us to sitdown while she places two extra glasses beside thebottle. “He’s pretending to be asleep. He’s mad at mebecause I wouldn’t let him put extra anchovies into thesauce.”

Sure enough, the moment she turns and heads backinto the kitchen, my father opens one eye in a rathercomedic gesture.

“Don’t worry, she’s gone,” Vera says in Spanish asI pour ourselves some wine.

My father smirks at her appreciatively and my chestfeels warm. I never have any doubts when it comes toour relationship, but I know most people do. It’s tiring tohave to explain why I’m with her, why she’s with me,why I left my wife, how I could do such a thing.

With my parents though, they never judged me.They understood in some ways that life doesn’t alwayshand you things in a neat package. It dollops them outhere and there in messy, confusing splatters, and whenyou see something amazing, you better drop what you’redoing and hold on with two hands. They know why Iheld on to Vera when I came across her and why I stillhaven’t let go. They know that true love only comes byonce, or twice, if you’re really lucky.

My father was one of the especially lucky ones. Helost the love of his life—my mother—and though it tookten years, he finally found Carmen. He never gave uphope or faith that he would find someone else for him.

We are joined by Lucia, who has come straightfrom her new job at one of the television stations. She’slively and talkative, and drinks most of the wine, but Ican’t help but retreat into myself, lost in thought. Timeslike this, with my family, trick me into thinking the pathVera and I have chosen is an easy one. It makes mecrave the warmth of a house, of a future, of my ownflesh and blood.

I stare across the table at Vera as she brushes awayward strand of hair behind her ear, her other handtucked under her chin, her smile and kind eyes focusedon Lucia as she describes her day to us with crazy handgestures. I’m not getting any younger, but neither isVera. I’m not with her just for the moment, she is notjust a passing fancy. I want Vera by my side for the restof my life.

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