(…or start here)

A little over an hour ago, Lisa Green did something I’d never seen before–she retreated. It happened in the East Village during our historic, long-overdue bar crawl. She’d briefly glimpsed someone she knew, and the effect it had on her had the same effect on our heartfelt, confusing, energizing, and, at times, shockingly violent reunion. Silently we went on a short walk, a train ride, and another short walk, until returning to my soon-to-be-vacated apartment. The whole time, questions crawled around inside of me, pleading to be unleashed–the biggest and most insistent being, “Who the fuck was that guy?” I kept them sedated, out of respect.

However, after she spent an unknown amount of time on my mattress, staring at the ceiling, I decided to skip past the question in question and dive into our inevitable back-and-forth: “You have to tell someone.”

She shrugged weakly. “I’ll get around to it eventually.”

“That’s new.”

“No,” she replied, “it’s not.”

“What I mean is, you’re positive you’re never talking, and then I usually drag it out of you anyway.”

“Really?” She gave me a look that made me wonder if I’d just told her that purple rhinos were contemplating with shoes. “Really? Do you think that, after ten years, you know anything about me?”

Clearly this was a rhetorical question, so I didn’t answer.

“I actually trust people now,” she said. “More than one person who just might not be there tomorrow.”

“Now just wait a minute.”

“Just shut the fuck up, Max.”

“Um.” Though we were only seven when we’d met, we’d never used each other’s first names. Originally it was because our relationship was strictly business. Later, it became a private joke. The only time I’d ever called her Lisa was during the heated conversation that would separate us for a decade. Even then she didn’t call me Max. And now, as the word set fire to my ears, I was reminded of how I felt the moment I gave up my virginity, and how, even though it was only an imaginary construct that meant nothing, I’d lost something I could never own again.

“You don’t get to talk anymore.”

“Now you’re just being dramatic,” I told her.

“I said shut up!” she roared. “That’s what you always do! You just keep talking and talking, and you never have to fucking deal with anything.”

“I always listen to you.”

“No, you fucking don’t.” Her voice was softening, but my heart was terrified. “You just let me give you something you can use to make yourself my hero. Like you were some kind of a fairy princess, and it was your job to turn me into a real boy.”

“Your analogy is problematic.”

She shook her head with the kind of disappointment that cause me more violence than her fists ever could. “You’re just like him.”

“Like who?”

“That’s none of your goddamn business.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Because you weren’t there.” She spat out the words. “Because you told me to go fuck myself, and you left me alone. And I had to fix myself. And I think I did a pretty damned good job of it.”

She had, but that’s not the part that stuck. “I left you alone because it was impossible to be your friend. You pushed me too far.”

“I’m bipolar. I had no control over myself back then.”

“So you had no control when you smashed the hell out of my kitchen? When you shoved our friend Angelo into that arroyo because he said something stupid about your breasts? When you ran around and had sex with every teenage boy who would? When you called the cops on my cousin and got him thrown in jail for dealing, where he still is?”


“You are so full of shit.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You don’t have any idea how mental illness works.”

My eyes rolled. “Please. You should know better. When someone gets drunk and beats the shit out of his family, do the cops arrest the six-pack?” That was low of me, I admit, considering her father. But I was mad.

“Drinking’s a choice.”

“Maybe the first couple.”

“Hitting’s a choice.”

“So were the times you hit me,” I told her, “but I forgave you yesterday, because…” Shit. How should I put this? “Because I love you.” It was a weird kind of love, and that something we both understood, even to this day. It went deeper than the love I felt for my family, and was sturdier than the love I’ve felt for anyone I’ve ever had sex with.

“I know,” she sighed. “But I’ve moved on.”

“I haven’t.”

“I’m sorry.”

I needed to escape and slump down on a chair, but the closest thing I had to that in my now-empty apartment was a pair of barstools in the kitchen. I shuffled over there, because I couldn’t stay here in my bedroom with her forever. I had no idea whether or not I wanted her to follow.

After a while, she did. “Do you ever want to look at me again after this?”

“It depends,” I replied. “Do you miss me?”

“Oh, God yes,” she sighed. “You have no idea.”

“I probably do.”

“What now?”

Another long hush smothered us.

I said, “Want another drink?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

to be continued…

Walking on Eggshells

(…or start here)

The coolest thing about police interrogation rooms anywhere in the country is that they all look exactly like they do in the movies or on TV. There’s variety, of course–some have shackles, while others don’t, and their sizes differ, but that’s really it; they’re all decorated with a metal table and plastic aluminum chairs, and they’re all lit by unflattering fluorescents. Through the two-way mirror–also a prerequisite–I watched a uniformed policeman enter, legal pad in hand. Tradition dictates that he should have had a file folder as well, but this was the twenty-first century, and paper costs money and trees.

“So your friend in the other room told us the whole story,” he said.

“Are we really going to do this?” I asked him.

“Do what?”

“Well, there’s no Good Cop with you, and you don’t strike me as a Bad Cop, so I guess that makes you Mildly Irritated Cop.”

“Shouldn’t you be taking this a little more seriously?” he asked.

“Look, Officer…” I squinted at his name-tag. “… Reynolds. Do you know how many times I’ve done this?”

A hundred and two.”


His expression told me nothing.

“That’s really cool.” I reached into the pocket of my trademark brown leather pea coat and pulled out my notebook and pen, which, for some reason, they hadn’t confiscated. “Can I write that down?”

“Be my guest.” He clicked his own pen so he could record the upcoming conversation. “Do you know why you’re here?”

“Because some guy in a trucker hat got punched in the face.”

“And the girl…”

“Don’t call her a girl to her face,” I interrupted. “She hates that.”

“… woman with you, a Lisa Green, states that you were punched in the stomach.”


“Did you happen to see who did it?”

“I did not,” I replied. “I’m assuming it was the same guy.” It wasn’t.

“That seems unlikely.”

“The bar was kind of crowded, and my attention was already occupied.”

“By what?”

I smirked. “By the ladies. The attention-getting ladies, if you catch my drift.”

If he had, he didn’t let on. Definitely Irritated Cop. “Why did you volunteer to come in to sign an affidavit then?”

“I didn’t,” I replied. “My friend did.”

“She gave us a description of a white male, age eighteen to thirty-five, dressed in blue jeans and a denim jacket.”

“That could be anybody.”

He rolled his eyes. “The victim said he didn’t know who assaulted him either, so he’s not pressing charges.” That was probably because he didn’t want to admit that a diminutive woman knocked him out with one punch. “That said, between you and me, were you the one who did it?”

I snorted. “If I had, my knuckles would be broken, and he wouldn’t have suffered a concussion. I’m a wimp, Officer.”

“I see.” He jotted that down. “So you think it was your companion?”

“She hits like a girl.” Well, a cave girl. Especially when somebody knocks the wind out of me.

“I thought you said she didn’t like to be called a girl.”

“There’s no reason that statement has to leave the room, is there?”

He shook his head.

“Then she hits like a girl.”

“Is that a no?”

“That is a ‘I can’t tell you for certain.'”

He stood and said, “Mr. Fuentes, we don’t want to take up anymore of your time.” What he meant was that he didn’t want me to take up anymore of his time, but calling him on that was a good way to get pepper-spray in my face. “You can go ahead and check out and go your own way.”

“Do I need to sign anything?”

“Only whatever Roger gives you when you check out.”

Roger?” I both grinned and frowned. “Is he ever not at that desk?”

“Not as far as I know.” Heading for the door, he recommended, “Stay out of trouble, Mr. Fuentes.”

That wasn’t likely. “Have a nice evening, Officer!”

He grunted.

After I’d been processed, I exited the building, only to be greeted by Lisa, who was leaning against a lamppost, lighting a joint.

“You’ve got balls of solid steel,” I told her, “going into a police station with an eighth of weed in your sock.”

“Being here with you after all these years,” she replied, “inspired me to act out.”

I chuckled. “Why don’t we head back to the Village and find ourselves bar without fisticuffs on tap.”

She held out her arm, and I wrapped mine around it. “Let’s.”

A quick train ride later, we wandered the narrow, vibrant streets of my favorite neighborhood in which to drink a lot. While contemplating a well-worn pub, a douchebag in a gray, three-piece suit, a black shirt, a white tie, and a camel-hair overcoat rounded the corner, thus lowering the tone. Something about the way he studied us with his expensive, horn-rimmed glasses and looked away as if we weren’t there made me want to break my knuckles on his nose. It didn’t help that he was informing his cell phone, “Our business partnership goes into full effect at the start of the next quarter. I suggest that, between then and now, you grant Mr. Franklin sole contact with my company, inasmuch as you can’t be trusted to …”

All of the color drained from Lisa’s face. “Wait a fucking minute! I know that asshole’s voice!” She then squeaked, “Sean?”

The douchebag turned back around, this time with his eyes wider than I’d ever seen anybody’s get. “Fuck me in the ear!” he replied before dropping his phone and running like hell.

“What the fuck was that?” I asked, intending the question for anyone who might be listening.

“Take me home,” Lisa replied.

“What… ?” I repeated.

“Take me home now.”

Since she was my best friend in the history of the entire world, I obeyed, but not before picking up the discarded cell and pocketing it. I loved myself a good mystery.

to be continued…
(… a look back, for perspective)

Divine Intervention

(…or start here)

Whoa!” I shouted to the hairy, naked ass and to the girl whose legs were wrapped around it. “Jesus! What the hell? There is a lock! Right there! To keep this kind of thing from happening! Jesus!”

After recoiling and slamming the door, I stole a quick glance of the bar where she sat, tucking her hair back into a clip with one hand and sipping from a beer with the other.

Forty hours ago, my world was gone. The woman I loved had dumped me with the help of the US Postal service, I had a few days left to vacate my apartment without anywhere to vacate to, and, because these things happen in threes, somebody put a gun to my head and took away my money. Alone and unsure, I’d resigned myself to spending the rest of my life without smiling again.

And now, there she was, catching my gaze and flashing me a raised eyebrow, a smirk, and a shrug so slight that only I would see it. She showed me how to get back to my feet and keep doing what I did best–much the same as I did to her from the moment we first met. She was beautiful, wild, sexy, and totally not my type. She was the most important friend I’ve ever had. She was my angel.

And it was that look in her eye that inspired me to open the door again and say to the couple, who had by now resumed fornicating, “How do you guys even dothat? Yoga? There’s not even enough room in here for a sink!” I wish I was kidding, but it could actually be found around the corner. That reminded me: “And don’t forget to wash up. Seriously.”

“Get!” the woman yelled in the voice of a bear. “The fuck! Out!”

“Lock. Right here,” I replied and slammed the door.

Forty hours ago, I never would have imagined me laughing, but here I was.

Lisa Green shot me an expression and gesture that said, “What the hell is going on over there?”

With my own expression and gesture, I replied, “I’ll fill you in later,” before stepping over to enter the second restroom.

“Occupied,” snarled the unshaven redneck sitting on the toilet.

“I can see that!” I snarled back. “There is a motherfucking lock!”

I returned to the stool beside Lisa, sipped my beer, and told her, “Occupied.”

“There’s two restrooms, you know,” offered Dan the bartender.

“Also occupied,” I said. “By three people.”

Lisa squinted at me. “Each?”

“Total,” I replied.

Dan the bartender asked, “How can anybody even do that? Yoga?”

“And some lube, I’m sure.” To Lisa I explained, “They’re kind of small.”

“Figured that’s why the sink’s on the outside.”

“Do me a favor?” I asked. “Keep an eye out over my shoulder and let me know when someone finished up?”

“That might be sooner than you think,” she told me.

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Was one of the guys a hick with a chin-beard and a trucker hat?”

“He’s right behind me,” I sighed, “isn’t he?”

She nodded.


She nodded again.

Facing the man, I told him, “I said I was sorry.”

“No you didn’t.”

“Well, I’m saying it now: I’m sorry I interrupted you defecating. Please forgive me.” And with that, I returned my attention to Lisa.

“He’s still here,” she said.

“Still pissed?”

She nodded.

The man asked, “Anybody ever teach you to el knocko?”

I turned back around. “I see what you did there: You transformed an English phrase into a mockery of Spanish by adding an O and the article el to the…”

The next thing that happened was unclear, but I noticed that all of my air had been forcibly removed, the world burst into a bright shade of pink, and I groped the bar for anything to hold onto. As I sank to my knees, I managed to gasp, “Green, I’m going down.”

The environment rushed back in, filling my lungs, and populating the space around me with an audience asking if I was okay. In my opinion, this was a dumb question. I panted for a bit and scanned the room for cute faces. “Any of you ladies a nurse?”

Just about every one of those cute faces frowned.

“Any of you ladies want to learn?”

That’s when the crowd parted, and from my vantage point, I watched a pair of scuffed work boots stagger backward. The dungaree-clad knees attached to them buckled, and shortly thereafter, the rest of the redneck crashed to the floor.

Lisa’s hand appeared in front of me, and I took it so she could drag me to my feet. “You had that coming.”

“It’s true,” I replied.

It was then that we realized that everyone, including Dan the bartender, was aghast.

“What?” I asked them.

to be continued…

(Take a look back, for perspective or take a brief detour)

Marching Orders

(…or start here)

“Bring me her phone number,” demanded Lisa, my oldest and closest friend in the world. She subtly pointed to the other side of the crowded bar where a skinny woman with too-straight hair, too-long fingernails, too-high heels, and too-much makeup sipped from her unnaturally pastel alcoholic beverage.

“You want me to do what?” I squeaked.

“You heard me, Fuentes.” She used my surname to indicate to me that she was serious.

“I don’t really go for the Long Island type, Green.” I used her surname to indicate that I too was serious.

“I’m not asking for her hand in marriage,” she replied, “just her number.”


“Because it’s something you’ve never had a problem with before.”

“People change,” I told her.

The look she gave me was one part mourning and one part pitying. “What happened to you?”

Fell in love,” I replied. “It took the edge off.”

“It’ll do that.”

We shrugged at each other and took a sip of our beers at the same time.

After a moment, she grabbed me by the shoulders, looked deep into my eyes, and said, “Trust me.”

Taking a deep breath, I stepped away from her protective aura and flexed my fingers in a quixotic attempt to restore circulation to them. I moseyed over to the plastic doll and forced my lungs to spit out the single most successful come-on line I’ve ever used: “Hi, I’m Max.”

“Lara,” she replied.

“Are you from the …” I stopped when I realized that we’d both lost interest about three words ago.

Head hung low, I returned to Lisa’s side. “I give you ten for effort,” she said, “but dock you seven for desperation.”

“I am desperate!” I sighed. “Can we just go?”

She gently slapped my cheek and pushed my forehead with her index finger. “I don’t think you’re listening, asshole. We’re not leaving here without a phone number.”

I groaned.

She nodded toward a pair of women a guy like me could fantasize about but never date. “Round two,” she said.

“I can’t even get one number.”

“I’m only asking for one,” she replied. “And the sooner you bring me one, the sooner we can get out of here and go find a real bar.”

“Look,” I began.

“You look!” she shouted, startling the both of us. She took several deep breaths before reaching up, grabbing my chin, and forcing me to look her in the eye. “Do you remember your cousin’s graduation party?”

It took me a moment to change gears to keep up with her, but I did.

“You brought the keg, and you were fifteen.”

I shrugged.

“Or the time you and me stole my father’s truck to go tailgating, and he never noticed.”

“What does that have to do with …”

“Fuentes,” she said, “you don’t do things that are impossible; you do things because they’re impossible.”

We locked stares for a long time until I broke away with a grin. “That’s a pretty moving speech.”

She blushed. “Been practicing.” She tapped her finger on the bar in the space between two shots of whiskey. “They’ll be waiting for us when you get back,” she said before she spun me around, patted my ass, and shoved me away from the counter.

I counted to ten, regained my composure, corrected my stumble, and broke out into an easy stroll. Ahead of me stood the women in question, hugging the wall and looking as bored as thirteen-year-old nerds at a spring formal.

Without warning, I appeared between the two of them, leaning against the wall so casually you’d be forgiven for assuming I’d been there all night. “Hi,” I said to them, “I’m Max.”

They giggled, more out of surprise than anything.

The woman on my right held out her hand with a smile. “Jaz,” she told me.

“My pleasure,” I replied.

Her friend informed me, “Legs.”

“Your name is Legs?”

She shrugged.


She took a coy sip from her daiquiri.

“So your parents could tell the future.”

She peered at the space between the hem of her skirt and the floor before grinning and playfully punching my shoulder. I was doing pretty well so far, but if I didn’t wrap this up soon, I was going to lose control and stagger into boorishness. “I like both of those words,” I told them, and with a well-oiled, smarmy flick of my wrist, I held up a business card.

“What’s that for?” Legs asked skeptically.

I pointed at Lisa. “See that woman over there?”


She’s like a sister to me,” I said, “and she’s never been to New York before.” I made intense eye contact with both Jaz and Legs to make sure they were with me before continuing, “I’m thinking of stuff to show her, and I want you to call me if you had any ideas.” Backing away from them, I grinned. “Thanks!”

I turned around, let out a slow sigh of relief, and made it back to Lisa’s side before I fell over.

“Nice move with the wrist there.” She reminded me, “But aren’t you forgetting something?”

“Wait for it,” I replied before downing the whiskey.

After a moment, a delicate hand placed a different business card on the counter, and a throaty voice whispered in my left ear, “I don’t know about your friend, but I have a pretty good idea what to show you.”

Another card fluttered over to the bar, and another voice whispered into my right ear, “I don’t want you to get lonely when she goes home.”

The expression on Lisa’s face was halfway between stunned and smug.

I picked up the cards and studied them. “Allegra,” I said. “That explains that. And Jasmine. Of course.”

Lisa grabbed my cheeks and pulled me toward her to give me a grateful, platonic kiss on the lips. After giving me a moment, she took her shot and announced, “Come on, Fuentes, let’s get out of here.”

As we left and walked down the street, her grin was matched only by my own, I bumped her shoulder, she brushed my palm with her pinkie, and our hands drifted together.

to be continued…

It’s a Trap

(…or start here)

Last time I saw her, she was seventeen, unwashed, and covered in hooded sweatshirts and baggy jeans. Now her jeans fit delightfully, her long-sleeved T-shirt showed off her voluptuous, athletic figure, and she cleaned up remarkably well. At twenty-seven, she looked like a woman.

She squinted around my apartment. “Anything to drink around here?” she asked.

“As a matter of fact, there is,” I replied and directed her to the kitchen, where I showed her a bottle of vodka. “We have potatoes.” I held up some gin. “We have juniper berries.” Waving at my collection of scotch, whiskey, and bourbon, I told her, “We have various grains. And finally…” I indicated the tequila; “whatever the hell this is about. Worms or something.”

“I’ll take the worms.”

“Of course you will.”

Between us, we exchanged a half-dozen shots, three joints, and a mea culpa or two. With all of this behind us, she said at last, “I’m exhausted. Where am I supposed to sleep?”

“You’re tired?” I asked.

“This has been a hell of a day,” she replied.

I sighed and pointed. “There’s a lumpy mattress in my room right over there.”

“Where are you supposed to sleep?”

“On the same lumpy mattress.”

“Interesting.” She strolled down the hall, shaking her hair out of its clip and pulling her shirt over her head. As she reached back to unhook the clasps on her bra, she peered over her shoulder and purred, “Don’t look now.”

I turned my wide-eyed, bewildered attention to the liquor. “Um,” I said and poured myself a shot out of the closest bottle without looking at it. I gagged. It was the gin.

“Coming to bed?” she shouted.

Since I’d known her, she’d been constantly careening through various moods and identities. Adapting to these had become a routine for me–a jarring, sometimes terrifying routine, but a routine nonetheless. Clearly I’d fallen out of the habit, because I had no idea what to do with the seductress currently in my room.

After blessing myself with the sign of the cross, I inhaled and peeked around the corner. She’d long since covered herself in a T-shirt and a blanket while having stripped away all the suggestion from mere moments before. Relieved, I plopped down on the mattress and removed my boots. I asked, “Anything you want to do while you’re in town?”

She appeared at my side immediately, brushed her thick hair behind her ear, bit her lower lip, and glanced down at my mouth.

Crap. I knew where this was going.

“Yeah,” she breathed and kissed me.

It was the longest kiss of my life. Of course, I’m not referring to the duration. What I’m referring to is how it felt. She and I had been the oldest and closest of friends; she protected me from bullies, and I protected her from herself. Not once did it ever occur to us to try this, but here we were, twenty years after we first met, ten since we’d last spoken, our lips and tongues probing each other.

Until we stopped.

“Anything?” she gasped.

“Nothing,” I replied reluctantly. “You?”


“This is really awkward,” I said.

She rolled onto her back. “I guess we know the answer to that question.”

We stared at the ceiling even longer than we’d spent trying to kiss, waiting for the other to say something that might dig our way out of this silence.

She was a woman of action; I was a man of words, and therefore, it was up to me: “You know, this isn’t the most embarrassing thing we’ve done together.”

“It’s the most embarrassing thing we’ve done to each other.”


Another long hush smothered us.

I said, “Want another drink?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

to be continued…
(… a look back, for perspective)


(…or start here)

I’ll never forget the very first thing she said to me. She said, “Shoes sink. New plan: set A-list dove wings in curl?” On second thought, maybe she said, “Blue-pink toucan wet, hurray! This loving the world?” It also could have been, “You think you can get away with shoving a girl?” It was kind of hard to hear because my testicles were aching from a recent, enthusiastic kick, and dirt was being shoved into my mouth.

Twenty years ago, at the age of seven, I had a gang. My lieutenant was Hakim, a master thief who could get anywhere. My thug was Angelo, who was tall and kind of chubby and therefore intimidating. Rounding us out was my cousin Banjo. Banjo was younger than the rest of us and pretty useless, but he wasn’t annoying, so we let him hang around. If we were a miniature mafia, I was the miniature godfather. Hakim stole what I told him to, Angelo threatened who I told him to, and Banjo stayed out of my way when I said so.

One afternoon, Angelo were hanging out at the school playground, and we saw a girl our age sitting on our swings. I wasn’t having that, so I sent him over to push her off. The fact that she landed in a mud puddle was a sweet bonus. A few mornings later, she retaliated.

My life changed that day.

Prior to that moment, Hakim, Angelo, Banjo, and I were marching down a path that led to juvenile detention and a mailbox full of welfare checks. But as I went home to clean myself, change my clothes, and lie to my parents so they didn’t know their son just got his huevos handed to him by a girl, I thought about her. If I was this humiliated without witnesses, how did she feel with a couple of her peers pointing and laughing?

From that point on, I had a new mission. I sent Hakim out to retrieve stolen toys and Angelo out to frighten bullies. But after about a week and a half of this, some of the bullies began to fight back, and it became apparent that Angelo was not a very good enforcer. What we needed was someone mean and angry. We needed that little girl.

I tracked her down and paid her five Merde Bars to take care of Simon Largo, one of our more obstinate problems. It worked out so well that we put her on retainer, at a price of one candy bar and a bag of Xtra-spicy Munlach Brand Buffalo Chips per week. Eventually, she loosened up enough with us that she started kicking ass pro bono.

Her name is Lisa Green, and she was the most important friend I’ve ever had.

I’ll never forget the very last words I said to her, ten years after we first met. I said, “Don’t you ever fucking dare ask me for anything ever again.”

And yet, there she was on the phone, asking me for something.

I repeated it, just to be sure: “You seriously want me to let you sleep in my place this weekend?”

“You’re right,” she sighed. “I don’t know why I thought calling you was a good idea. It’s probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”

“Pretty high up there, at least.”

We both laughed nervously.

I told her, “I don’t have a choice, do I?”

“You can tell me to fuck off.”

“I don’t want to do that.” I took a moment to squeeze back the tears that were coming. “JFK or LaGuardia?”


“Figures,” I muttered. “See you there.”

“Fuentes,” she told me, “I’ve missed you so much.”

I wanted to say, “I know,” or “Me too,” but my throat had tightened too much to let words out.

At Newark Liberty Airport the next day, I alternated between watching the arrival board and pacing. I couldn’t recall the last time I was this nervous about seeing a girl, especially one I had no plans to seduce.

With the travelers from her flight pouring into the baggage claim area, I paced harder. Would I recognize my long-ago-exiled best friend? Of course I would. I knew that face better than I knew my own. I’d spent my childhood and adolescence witnessing her growing into it.

There was that slightly too-large nose, which I’d had to squeeze shut the first time we’d ever smoked pot. It flared when it was angry, as it did when she’d discovered that the boy to whom she’d lost her virginity was interested only in keeping score. Today it was still a little too big, but smooth and elegant.

There was her jaw–a little too sharp to be feminine–that set when she was hurting, or clenched like it did when she saw me mere moments after uber-bully Ricky Ortega had shattered my nose in retaliation for some stunt I’d pulled. Today, it was still strong, but now soft and relaxed.

There were her eyebrows, furrowed, arched, and raised, now thin and inquisitive; and her hair, greasy and tangled, but now full and soft and bunched into a loose clip at the base of the neck I’d never seen before. There were her engorged lips, which rarely grinned, preferring instead to smirk and pout. Once, they were barely darker than the rest of her face, but now they were crimson, swollen, and sexy.

And then there were her chocolate-colored eyes, able to convey the broadest of emotions by being perpetually narrowed. They could be annoyed, as they always were around Banjo; they could be disappointed, as they always were around my friend Angelo; they could be inquisitive, as they always were around Hakim; they could be judgmental, as they always were around my girlfriend at the time, Heather; they could be stoic, as they always were around her family; they could be coy, as they always were whenever we exchanged secret glances; they could be flirtatious, as they were always were around most boys; and they could be angry, as they were most of the time. On the other side of the baggage carousal, they scanned the crowd until they found me and lit up.

She cautiously moseyed over, her head cocked as she examined me to make sure I was the right guy. As she did, I wondered what she had remembered about my face and whether the current one disappointed her in any way. I gave her a smile.

At this moment, so much needed to be said. She needed to apologize for what she did to make me hate her for so long. I needed to apologize for giving up on her. She needed to tell me how she’d grown up to be such a woman. I needed to tell her about the deep tear I’d made in my soul when I’d walked away from her ten years ago.

She went first. “Fuentes.”

That was my cue. “Hey, Green.”

“It’s good to see you again.”

“You’re wearing lipstick,” I told her.

“Yeah,” she replied. “Started doing it to impress a boy.”

“Did it work?”

She shrugged.

“It looks good,” I said.


“You want to get out of here?”

“I do.”

to be continued…
(… a look back, for perspective)

A Taste

Her broken-in jeans and threadbare shirt, through which he could make out a dark bra, clashed delightfully with his antiseptic decor. “Fancy,” she said.

“Yeah,” he replied, “fancy.”

“Must be nice being rich.”

“Indeed it is.”

She glanced around the apartment and asked, “Somebody actually lives here?”

He slung his jacket onto his easy chair, threw himself onto its matching slate gray sofa, loosened his tie, and kicked off his wingtips. “I fully intend to ignore your vague insult.”

“Nothing vague about it,” she told him. “Thanks for letting me stay over.”

“Think nothing of it. It’s a long cab ride to your place of residence.”

“I wish you wouldn’t use that kind of language around me.”

“Request denied.”

She grunted.

He pointed to a hallway. “The bedroom is through there. As I am, if anything, a gentleman, I will sleep out here.”

“And if I don’t want you to sleep out here?”

“Then you are welcome to use the sofa.”

“You are such a doofus.” She rolled her eyes. “Got anything to drink here?”

“If you’ll recall, I’ve been sober longer than you’ve known of me.”

“People have been known to change,” she said. “You did.”

“Not as much as you think.” He popped out his gold-plated cufflinks, tossed them into an empty ashtray, and rolled up his sleeves. “Besides, alcohol was responsible for these.”

It had been years since she’d seen the scars that ran down the underside of his forearms, and their presence almost seemed to comfort her. “You think it was the liquor that did that?”

“I’ve chosen to believe so.”

“Fair enough,” she sighed. “Mind if I have one?”

“Perhaps I should have been more clear regarding the absence of potables in this place.”

“I brought my own.” Sure enough, there was a stainless-steel flask in her purse. “Got any place to put this?”

“There are highball glasses in the cabinet near the refrigerator.”

“I thought you told me you still don’t drink.”

He shrugged. “I pretend.”

“You are so weird.” After pouring herself a few fingers of whiskey, she leaned on the counter, as casually as if it belonged to her, and took a long swallow, locking stares with him. They said nothing for what could have been hours until she asked, “Miss it?”

“Every day.”

“Still? It’s been, what, seven years?”

“In my defense, I enjoyed alcohol a great deal.”

“Fair enough.” She studied him for a moment. “Remember what it tastes like?”

He frowned in concentration. “No,” he replied sadly.

She strutted over to him, taking her time doing so. “Want a reminder?”

“Perhaps I should have been more clear regarding my sobriety.”

Propping her knee on the sofa next to him and steadying herself with a hand on his shoulder, she took a deep drink of the whiskey. Her lips brushed against his, and instantly he recognized the sour sting of the rye. He leaned hungrily toward her, but she backed away.

Without a word, she dipped a finger in the glass, traced her lip with it, and kissed him again. Eager for the flavor of the drink and of her, he licked and nibbled, causing her to moan.

“More,” he whispered when she pulled away again.

But when she raised the glass, he snatched it from her hand and placed it on the end table behind him, not caring that there was no coaster. Her hand, now free, stroked his cheek, drawing him in.

He brushed a lock of hair from her face. “More,” he told her again.