David Soto Writes

I think I figured out what I want to be when I grow up.

Category: Fiction (page 1 of 4)

Cody

Her name was Cody. Can you believe that? A girl named Cody. She was cute, terribly cute with these big brown eyes and messy bunned curly light brown hair. She didn’t have the curves I like, but the way she looked at me made me melt. All I knew about her is her name and that she liked to drink. Last time I was at this place was the first time we met. She was completely shit-faced.

This joint had community tables. All I wanted to do on this night was sit down to enjoy my arepas. I butted in on a group of people that left one end of the table open. I asked to sit. “Sure,” they said with drunken glee. Cody wasn’t there, she was at another table. I didn’t get in more than a hello when I was introduced to her. When the time came, I said my goodbyes and gave a little wave to Cody who was eating tostones with a curiosity that said she was so drunk she had no idea what she ordered. She gave me a dismissive wave with her fork.

“Sorry we couldn’t chat,” I said.

“Yeah, well. I would have liked to talk for a bit.”

She looked offended. Normally I wouldn’t care, but those big brown eyes reached out and pulled me close to her. I sat down. “What are you eating?”

“Fried plantains or something. I don’t know. It’s good though. You want to try it?” She picked at her food with her fork trying to get a little bit of everything in this one bite she was about to offer me.

“No, thank you.”

“It’s good. Trust me.”

“Yes, I’m sure, but I just ate. I’m full.”

She didn’t believe me. “Fine!” she said. I had the feeling she thought I didn’t want to use the same fork as her. The truth is I would have used it if I wasn’t full. I wasn’t afraid of her cooties. I would have kissed her if she had given me the slightest clue that she wanted me to kiss her. When was the last time I kissed a girl? Jesus.

There was not much of a conversation. Maybe if I was also shit-faced things may have gone differently. But I wasn’t, and they didn’t.

The next time I saw her we talked a little more. I went to the same place every Friday because of the food trucks but mainly to see if I’d run into her again. It was two Fridays later when we I saw her. I think she saw me too but pretended not too. When she walked by, I touched her on her shoulder and gave a little wave. She turned and smiled not at all surprised to see me. She continued to the bathroom or wherever she was going. When she got back, she asked me to sit next to her.

“Sorry about last time. I was pretty drunk.”

“I don’t think you did anything you have to apologize for?”

“Apology accepted is the proper response, or you could not accept it, I guess.”

The funny thing about her apologizing for being drunk last time was that she was just as drunk this time as well. We tried to converse, but it was useless again. I did, however, noticed the way she was looking at me. A woman hadn’t looked at me like that in a long time. They used to—a lot—but once I hit my forties, it just hasn’t happened. I say this not to brag but to let you know that I know what that look is. It’s the look someone gives you when they are in love with you.

Several Fridays passed by and finally, there she was again. She helped herself to my sweet potato fries.

“These taste like funnel cake.”

“By all means, help yourself,” I said with sarcasm.

“You put them in front of me. That implies sharing.”

“It does?”

“Yes, it does. But don’t worry I won’t eat anymore.”

“Oh my god. I was totally kidding. Eat as many as you want.”

She was not drunk on this night we chatted for a bit, and then I asked her “Do you always look at people like that?”

“Like what?” she asked back.

“Like you are in love with them.”

“Is that how I am looking at you?”

“Yes.”

“Then, no. I don’t.”

“So why are you looking at me like this?”

“I guess I love you?”

“You love me? We barely know each other?”

“Well if that’s how I’m looking at you, then that must be it, no? You appear to be the one who’s an expert at how one looks at people when they are in love.”

“Maybe I’m wrong.”

“You’re not.”

“I’m twice your age. How old are you?”

“I’m 28.”

“Ok. Not twice but still.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. This is kind of a shock to me. Have you ever been in love?”

“Yes. Many times.”

“Well, I haven’t. This is the first time, and I am not blowing it off like it’s nothing.”

“What if I’m an asshole?”

“Then I fell in love with an asshole.”

“Well, I am an asshole. So…”

“Do you believe me?” I could see the tears start well up in her eyes. It was the first time she had ever been in love, and she was scared. She had managed to keep men at distant for some time. What happened? I can guess. I suppose the real question is at what age did her father abandon her.

“I do.”

“How could you?” she asked.

“I can tell. It’s one of these things I have.”

“Things?”

“Yeah. Like gifts. Some people are gifted with music, or numbers, or athleticism, or even entrepreneurship. My gift is love. I can give it and receive it on demand.”

“Do you love me?” she asked me.

“I can if you want. I mean, I would love to love you. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“It’s never worked out for anyone. There were a lot of tender and beautiful moments. Ones I’ll cherish for the rest of my life but with them comes sorrow. Something I’d like to avoid.”

“Yeah, let’s avoid that. What do you mean if I want?”

“I mean. Just say the word, and I’ll love you back.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that!”

“I don’t know how I feel about this. I kind of want you to love me back on your own. Isn’t that how it usually works.?”

“Not with me. Though, I suppose I could have just loved you back without telling you. Then you would have had the illusion that I just fell in love with you.”

“Why couldn’t I have just fallen for someone normal?”

“I doubt anything you do is normal.”

“You’re right. That’s why I would love some normalcy. But no. Why start now?” she said as she took a drink of her local super-hoppy ale. “Do you love me or not? I am not going to tell you if I want you to. That’s just strange, I …” She paused when she saw the look in my eyes. I was looking at her like she had been looking at me—like I was in love.

Now, that I think about it, I didn’t just decide to start loving her at that very moment. I already loved her. I just chose to let it show. Or rather, not to act on it. She’s so young and cute. I didn’t want to scar her for life. I am Facebook friends with a lot of married women who still love me. I have the other end of the spectrum too. Some women have blocked me completely—not wanting to have anything to do with me. I prefer the ones who still love me.

So what is the problem with a man who can love so freely? How easy it is for him to take it away. What happens when you love a woman like she has never been loved before and then suddenly take it away? Well, one of two things. She’ll either tell you how much she is still in love with you only days before her wedding day or she will hate your guts and never want to have anything to do with you ever again.

The truth is, I love them all. All women! I just don’t let them all know it. I can’t explain it. I do know that it’s easier to show love to the cute ones. I’m shallow, sue me. I used to think I needed to find a reason why—like they were good with kids or had blue hair. It turns out that way all bullshit. I love every woman I come across. I let my guard down after few drinks. That’s why even the occasional flings never ended up flings. What was supposed to be a no strings hook up after a night of drinking always seemed to turn into a romance that shouldn’t have really happened.

Panadería Diamanté (Chapter 13)

The next morning, just before the sun was fully up, Esperanza and Pierre made love again. This time, after Pierre blissfully erupted, instead of playing possum, he collapsed next to Esperanza, pulled her close, and held her till they both fell back asleep.

It was after noon when Pierre woke to find Esperanza standing at the foot of the bed wearing nothing but her black shawl over her shoulders, holding a tray of cookies in one hand and two cups of coffee in the other. “Quieres café, mi amor?” she asked him.

He didn’t answer her. He just sat up and took the two cups from her hand and let her sit next to him before giving one of them back to her. The two sat in bed enjoying their coffee together, not saying much, until Esperanza noticed an odd look on Pierre’s face.

“What is it?” she asked holding her steaming mug in front of her mouth with both hands.

“Your eyes,” he said.

Esperanza was prepared to hear how beautiful they were, something she had heard many times through the years. She felt a little disappointed, wishing that her new lover had come up with something more original to say. Then, he did.

“Something has happened,” he said. “They are no longer green.”

“What?” she said. “That is impossible.” She got off the bed and walked over to the bureau. She put down her coffee and picked up an overturned hand mirror. “These eyes are the eyes of a serpent. It’s been a sign of my curse all…” She looked at herself in the mirror and quietly finished her sentence, stunned. “…these years.”

Her eyes were black. So dark there was no telling the difference between the iris and pupil. She looked over at Pierre but quickly returned her gaze to the mirror. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “What does this mean?”

“I don’t know,” Pierre said. “But maybe it’s for the best. I don’t know if I can be with a woman who has eyes of a serpent.”

Esperanza shot a quick glare over at him. “Oh? I got news for you, Señor. You are stuck with me no matter what color my eyes are!”

“If you insist, mi amor.”

“I insist,” she said as she walked back to the bed, taking the mirror with her.

She sat down at the edge of the bed and looked into the mirror once more. Pierre came up behind her, straddled her, and put one arm around her while he held onto his coffee with the other. He kissed her on the back of her neck and rested his chin on her shoulder.

“Did you make chocolates today?” he asked, not sure how long she‘d been awake before him.

“Shit,” she said as she got up to check the clock. “It’s almost two.” She put the mirror down and adjusted her shawl to cover most of her naked body. As she quickly tiptoed to the front door, Pierre enjoyed watching her bare ass jiggle until she was out of sight.

The women out front were surprised to hear the metal bolt slide, unlocking the door before two o’clock. Esperanza didn’t swing both of the large doors open like she usually did. Instead, she just opened one barely enough to stick her head through, “Lo siento, ladies. There will be no chocolates today.”

The ladies giggled as they walked away, not saying anything in return and too hung over to notice the change in Esperanza’s eye color.

When Esperanza made it back to the bedroom, she found Pierre had finished his coffee and what was left of the cookies and was lying back in bed.

“You finished the cookies, I see,” Esperanza said as she spread her arms, opening her shawl and exposing her naked body. “Good, you’re going to need your energy.” She let the shawl drop to the floor and made her way into bed.

“Again?” Pierre asked.

“Twice is luck. Good or bad,” she said. “Three times is Destiny.”

***

Pierre brought over his duffle bag from the boarding house that very day, and for the next nine months, he continued to fix things around the shop. One of his tasks was to redo the shop’s sign. It now read, PANADERÍA DIAMANTÉ.

Esperanza had assumed the key to her secret ingredient was her built-up passion, or whatever it was that kept her eyes green. Whether it was that her eyes were now black or that she had a satisfying lover, she now knew she could not offer her overpriced chocolates with a money-back guarantee. She now had to make a living as a regular baker. She didn’t mind it. It was a fair trade for finally being happy.

The shelves in her shop were now filled with conchas, niño envuelto, pan fino, pata de mula, orejas, quequitos, pan picón, bisquetes, and, of course, chocolate croissants. She made a good living and was happy in her new life.

One of Pierre’s tasks, one that Doña Luz prophesied, was to turn the bedroom with the ocean view into a nursery. Several miracles happened on the night their bedroom illuminated the town. One of them was the conception of Pierre and Esperanza’s first child.

The day of the child’s birth was auspicious. The whole village gathered outside of the bakery to await news that would signal the beginning of another all-night celebration, like the one they’d enjoyed on the night of the conception. This time, though, they’d had months to prepare. The villagers had decorated the town, swept the streets, and even made a banner that read, BIENVENIDA. Musicians from different communities were invited to play. Bar and restaurant owners ordered extra beer and tequila. When Esperanza went into labor, fishermen set out to sea to gather fresh fish and shrimp for the occasion.

When the announcement was made, “It’s a girl!” the crowd erupted in cheers and the first of many bands began to play.

The delivery was flawless. The couple held each other’s hand and smiled with tears of joy in their eyes as the midwife cut the umbilical cord and bathed the newborn baby girl. Neither of them could believe that all those years of turmoil could have come to such a happy ending. But, as the attendant swaddled the unnamed baby, she couldn’t help but notice something peculiar. Curious, she looked at Esperanza and then at Pierre. Pierre and Esperanza looked at each other and then back at the midwife, losing their smiles and wondering what was wrong.

Finally, the midwife spoke unable to contain her concern. “Señora? Señor?” she said. “Disculpe, pero—who in your family has green eyes?”


If you like what you read, feel free to get the rest of the story on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and Kobo!

Lover Number 5 (Chapter 12)

During his years in the Colombian army, Pierre had continued to grow. The food and physical demands aided in this, but what seemed to fuel his growth more than anything was combat.

Pierre was fierce on the battlefield. In the rebels, he instilled fear. In his fellow soldiers, he instilled courage. His fellow combatants looked up to the man, even though he was younger than most of them.

The second youngest among the soldiers was a man by the name of Pascual Ortiz. Pascual was only four years older than Pierre. Because of this, the two bonded. Pierre was far superior when in came to soldiering, but Pascual had a quality Pierre wished he had, the ability to read and write.

One day Pascual, feeling indebted to his friend because he had already saved his life on more than one occasion, offered to write letters to anyone Pierre chose. “A woman, perhaps?” Pierre took him up on his offer and had him write a letter to the most special woman in his life, his mother.

For the next several years, Pierre communicated with his mother through Pascual. Pilar, who was also illiterate, had one of her newest whores, Marisol, read his letters to her. Marisol was a young lady who was supposed to go off to university but instead became a prostitute upon leaving home. Pilar would dictate letters back to Marisol, who gladly scribed them, even though she would have rather been working in her new profession.

When the letters came back, Pierre would keep them in his breast pocket until the next opportunity arrived for Pascual to read them to him. This was usually done during a meal. Pascual read the letters out loud, but changed his routine one day when the letter opened with “Dear Pierre” instead of “My dearest son.”

“What is it?” Pierre said through a mouth full of arroz con coco. Pascual was reading the letter to himself, a strange thing for him to do. But what piqued Pierre’s curiosity was the somber look on his friend’s face.

Pascual looked up on the verge of tears, “I’m sorry, my friend. Your mother has died.”

Pierre swallowed his rice. “Read it to me.”

“I, I…,” Pascual stuttered not wanting to perform the task requested of him.

“Read it!” Pierre shouted.

“Dear, Pierre,” Pascual began. “My name is Marisol. I have been the one writing the letters for your mother all these years. Your mamá had been suffering with tuberculosis for some time now. She kept this from you so that you wouldn’t worry. She was doing quite well, but just the other day she suffered a horrible coughing fit that resulted in her death. I was there with her when she passed. Her dying wish was for me to write you this letter. By the time you get this, she will have been buried for several weeks, I imagine. I am sorry that word could not get to you in time for you to make the funeral. If you ever do make it back here, please look me up, and I will take you to her grave. Sincerely, Marisol Rivera.”

When Pierre began to sob, Pascual got up, left the letter, and walked out of the dining tent. The rest of the soldiers soon followed, some leaving full plates of food behind. None of them thought less of Pierre. The young man had proven his manliness countless times on the battlefield. Many of them were alive because of him. They all knew there was only one thing that could make a man of such caliber cry, and they left him to do so alone in the mess tent.

Later that evening, Pierre presented the letter to his commander and asked to take leave. He was denied and instead promoted to sergeant and given a squad to lead. Pierre was too good of a soldier to be granted leave. His commander knew that if they were ever to engage the enemy without him, many men would end up dead.

For several weeks, Pierre requested leave, and each time the commander denied it. His superiors told him the time was not right. So he waited, growing more and more impatient. He was willing to dedicate his entire life to the army. All he wanted was a little bit of it for himself so that he could pay his respects to his mother.

After more requests and more denials, it became apparent to Pierre that the officers he reported to had no intention of ever granting him leave. His first impulse was to desert, but then he would be hunted by two armies. He had personally seen to the deaths of so many rebel soldiers that he became the first person in the Colombian army to have a bounty on his head who was not an officer.

Deserting meant that he would not only no longer have the protection of the army, but that very army would also be looking to put a bullet in his head. To Pierre, death didn’t seem like such a bad idea, but not as a deserter. That was dishonorable. He was a good soldier, the best. The army won many battles because of him. If they couldn’t grant him leave, then to hell with them. He wasn’t going to be a prisoner who helped his captors by killing their enemy. Death in battle would be an honorable way out and an even better solution. He would do more than see the spot in the earth where they buried his mother, he would join her in the afterlife.

The army received word of a rebel camp just a couple days’ march away. Pierre was to lead one of the squads to find the camp, torch it, and bring back any surviving enemy soldiers. The day before the patrol was to head out, Pierre requested leave for when he got back.

“I’m sure we can figure something out upon your return,” said the colonel. Pierre knew what this meant. He had heard it before, too many times. He decided that this was the last patrol he would ever go out on—at least, the last for the Colombian army.

***

“When I woke up, I was lying on a table. A doctor was working on me by lamplight. Trying to dig a bullet out of here,” Pierre tapped on the scar right below his sternum. Esperanza was intrigued by the story and didn’t say anything for fear of interrupting him. “‘You should be dead, Señor,’ the doctor told me. ‘I know,’ I told him.

“I had been out for three days. All of the men that went out on that patrol were dead. All but me,” he told Esperanza, looking down at the ground as if in shame. “When we got to the camp, the rebels were waiting for us. The men didn’t stand a chance, especially since I was there to get killed and not to kill.”

“I just stood there watching my men get slaughtered as I waited for a bullet of my own. I didn’t even raise my rifle. I could see the rebels. There were many well in range, which meant they could have easily shot me. But they kept missing and taking out the soldiers around me instead. I didn’t realize how much the men depended on me to fight. I saw so many of them fall and was about to say, the hell with it and start taking out rebels, when the bullet I was waiting for struck me.”

“I dropped my rifle and fell to the ground in pain. I waited on my knees for another shot to hit me, but I must have passed out instead. The rebels slaughtered the rest of the men, and then went through and stabbed all the bodies with bayonets. That’s how they found me alive.” Pierre took his green shirt completely off and turned his back to Esperanza. He tried to point to the spot where the bayonet had pierced him, but couldn’t reach it.

Esperanza touched a scar and asked, “This one?”

“No,” he said. “Lower.”

“Here?”

“No. Too low.”

She tried another scar.

“No,” he said. “To the left.”

Esperanza got the point, but she was getting so much pleasure from touching Pierre’s naked back that she continued. “This one,” said determined it was the right wound.

“No. Just above…” Esperanza touched a scar that was the straightest and most subtle of all of them. “Eso,” he said.

“Apparently, when he pierced my flesh, I let out a gasp. He was about to push the bayonet all the way through me when his commander stopped him. Based on my size, he guessed who I was and thought it essential to keep me alive. So, I became their prisoner. It took them three days to get me to their base camp. A trip that should have taken them half that. I guess I was quite a load to carry.”

Esperanza caught herself still touching Pierre’s back long after she’d identified the wound and quickly dropped her hand to her side.

“They never got the bullet out of me, but I healed anyway. In my convalescence, I got to know the rebels. Their base camp was also their home. Not their real home, the government seized that property, but a temporary one. Their families were with them. They had nowhere else to go. While the men went out looking for supplies, the women stayed back preparing meals and tending to the children.

“You notice I said go out for supplies?” he said to Esperanza, wanting to make sure she understood this part. “That was all they ever did, was go out looking for food and things they needed to live. They never went out looking for us or to cause trouble, like we were told. We went out on patrol to interrupt their supply runs. We killed men who were just out trying to find food to feed their children. And we took that food”—his voice grew louder—“back to our camp!”

Esperanza could see the pain on his face and hear the remorse in his voice. She had already been fighting off the temptation of throwing herself at him, but seeing the side of the giant warrior made the temptation worse.

“The only reason they kept me alive was their hope to get me to fight on their side. I could have easily done it, but my goal was to die so that I could see my mother, and I was halfway there. As far as the Colombian army knew, I was dead. The rebels burned the camp and the bodies along with it. With this, I could make my way north without being hunted by either side.”

“I gave them as much intelligence as I could and swore to them that I would never take up arms against them ever again. I also swore to myself that I would never take up arms against any rebels, ever.”

“They sent me off with two escorts, and I made my way back to Panamá. The two escorts kept me alive whenever we ran into any other rebels, by simply introducing me as a friend. I kept the two rebels alive when we ran into patrols of Colombian soldiers, by killing the soldiers. I never found out if they made the weeks-long journey back home alive without me.”

“Paying respects to my mother brought me no joy, and I started to regret not dying back in Colombia. I became a drunkard and began wandering the earth looking for wars to fight in.”

“I fought in Mexico and Cuba. Then went off the Middle East and Asia. I returned to Cuba and then went off to Africa. Always fighting on the rebel side. Even as a drunk, I was still a hell of a fighter. I killed many men. But being a drunk has its disadvantages. My reflexes slowed, and I began getting injured more and more often.”

“I was stabbed, shot, and hit with grenade fragments. Some of them were minor, but most were not. This was when I started to notice a trend. I heard the words, ‘You should be dead,’ over and over again. I began to wonder if I would ever die.

“Men started joking with me, saying that I was immortal. One drunken night, I decided to prove them wrong, and put my pistol to my head and pulled the trigger.”

Esperanza gasped when she heard this and responded with, “Ay, no!”

“It’s okay,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m here. Aren’t I?” Pierre began to part his long, black hair next to his temple. “Maybe it was just dumb luck, or maybe I just have a hard head, but the bullet traveled around my skull under my scalp and came out the other side.” Once he knew Esperanza saw the scar hidden by his hair, he parted his hair on the opposite side of his head, showing her the exit wound. “It burned like a son of a bitch.”

“For the next several years, I continued to hear the words, ‘you should be dead,’ but never died. Not even close. So you see, Señorita, I cannot be killed. Not even by you,” he said as he grabbed Esperanza by the waist and brought her into his bare chest. “And even if you could kill me, dying because I made love to you would not only bring a much-wanted death, it would be the most glorious death I could ever have dreamed of.”

Esperanza closed her eyes and said to herself, “Thank you, Lupita.”

***

Before Pierre could even lean in for a kiss, Esperanza already had her lips locked onto his and her arms wrapped around him.

As busy as she was getting their meal ready that afternoon, Esperanza had forgotten to close the wooden shutters on the window in the front of the shop. They were both so engaged in Pierre’s story that they hadn’t noticed the crowd that had gathered in front of the window. Many of the villagers were peeping in, looking past the dark front of Doña Luz’s old bakery and into the well-lit kitchen in the back. When the two finally embraced, the crowd erupted into cheers and applauds. One or two members even shouted out, “Eso!”

“Upstairs,” Esperanza commanded, slightly embarrassed, but eager to continue. Pierre picked her up with one arm under her back and the other under her knees, and carried her up to the bedroom without the slightest bit of effort. The crowd awarded this action with more cheers and a few more “Esos” and a couple “Órales.”

With disappointment, the crowd dispersed, but they were content with what they assumed would take place next. They all felt, especially the women, that it was long overdue.

***

Upstairs the couple undressed each other. Esperanza was struck with a bit of fear when she noticed that every part of Pierre was proportionate to his stature. For the first time in her life, she thought that her lover might kill her.

Pierre took what Esperanza thought was an eternity to enter her. She had very little experience with foreplay. And even though she was enjoying it, she was anxious to both feel him inside of her and see if he would live through the experience.

When it finally did happen, she felt more pain than she had experienced when she unwillingly lost her virtue to her stepfather. She thought God had gifted her her virginity back, but it could have been the massiveness of Pierre. It made little difference. As the pain faded, she began to feel the tension build like it had with Antonio Cruz before he climaxed and died. Only, this time, her lover persisted, and she was on the verge, at the age of thirty-five, of her own hard-to-come-by orgasm. The first of her life.

As the two made love, their passion was so strong that they started to emit a glow. A glow that grew brighter as they each grew closer to erupting in pleasure. At first, only a few of the townspeople noticed the white light coming from the bedroom windows. But, eventually, the light became so bright that it woke some people out of a dead sleep when they mistook it for the sun.

The pleasurable moans from Esperanza as she began to climax expedited the satisfaction of Pierre, and he began his own passionate moans. Concern grew in Esperanza as the moment of truth approached, but she was so overwhelmed with physical pleasure, so caught up in the moment, that she didn’t dare do anything to stop it.

As their moans grew louder, the light coming from the bedroom grew brighter. So bright that some of the villagers who had come outside to investigate, shaded their eyes. The two reached their climax together, and out of both fear and pure joy, Esperanza began to cry. Pierre had collapsed on top on her.

With the immobile weight of her giant lover on top of her, the crying Esperanza started to panic. She thought surely she would suffocate or, in the least, be stuck there for days until someone finally forced their way into her shop to find her, naked, underneath Pierre’s dead, stiff body. She was curious, though, to find that she wasn’t having any trouble breathing at all. It was as though not all of Pierre’s body weight was on her.

Before she realized why she could breathe, she heard words, “Thank you, Lupita.” It was Pierre.

Through more tears, she began to repeatedly slap her naked lover on his shoulders, chest, and face. “You did that on purpose,” she yelled.

“Grrr,” Pierre responded, like he did when he played with the children. He propped himself up on his hands and knees, and growled again through the biggest smile Esperanza had ever seen on the man. “Grrr,” he said again as he leaned in and gave playful nibbles on Esperanza’s neck.

Her crying subsided a bit to make way for laughter as she gave a few more slaps, eventually stopping and wrapping her arms around her lover. Her tears continued, but they were tears of joy.

Pierre let out one more growl as he brought himself up onto his knees and proudly stuck his chest out. He raised both his fists in the air and screamed loudly, as if he were on the battlefield making a declaration to his enemy, “I am immortal!”

***

When the light from the bedroom faded, the whole town erupted in cheers, and an impromptu fiesta began. Music started to play, and everyone danced and drank in the street until the early morning.

Just before two p.m. the next day, there was a gathering of hung-over women outside the front door of Esperanza’s shop.


If you like what you read, feel free to get the rest of the story on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and Kobo!

Pierre Fixes Everything (Chapter 11)

His size alone was enough, but add the look someone gets after decades of combat, and Pierre was an intimidating-looking beast of a man. The men in Barra avoided eye contact with him out of fear. The children, though, they couldn’t care less. They were drawn to the giant.

The afternoon Pierre was to repair Esperanza’s door hinges, he made his way to her shop with his head down. He was looking for something. Along the way, he would stop to turn and growl at the children closely following him. They’d turn and scream and run out of reach, giggling. Pierre would then resume his walk, searching the ground for something, until the children got their confidence back and got close enough to him to be just beyond his grasp. “Grrr,” the sound came from between his teeth as he chased the children away again, laughing and smiling the whole time.

Pierre preferred the company of younglings over adults. Partly because he was an overgrown child himself, but mainly because no child had ever tried to kill him. It was the only time he could let his guard down.

Just before getting to Chocolates Diamanté, Pierre spotted what he was looking for, a useless, discarded piece of wood that had probably been lying in the street undetected for weeks. He picked it up and put it in the back pocket of his green pants and continued to Esperanza’s.

When he got to the open doors of the shop, he stopped and turned around and gave one last growl, scattering the children.

“Are those your kids?” Esperanza asked as she appeared in the doorway.

Still looking at the scurrying children Pierre answered, “I don’t think so.”

He meant it as a joke and turned to look at Esperanza, hoping for a laugh or at least a giggle. What he got instead was a spark that lit a fire in his heart and trailed down to his groin. Even though this was not the first time he saw her, her beauty stunned him.

He looked into her eyes as if trying to tell her he loved her without words. She looked back at him as if to say, I know.

Esperanza broke their gaze to look down at Doña Luz’s husband’s wooden toolbox as she slid it towards him with her foot. The sound of the wood scraping against the tile floor caused Pierre to finally look away from her.

“I have some tools here,” she said. “If there is something else you need, let me know. I might have it.” With the purchase of the bakery came everything that Doña Luz didn’t take with her when she left, including her dead husband’s belongings.

“Ah,” he said. “I already see what I need.” As Pierre bent down to take a screwdriver out of the toolbox, a small group of children that had gathered behind him was revealed to Esperanza.

“You kids go play,” she shouted while waving a white towel that was in her hand. “This man has work to do. You can come back and harass him later, when he is done.”

Pierre got to work on the door. He removed two of the screws from one of the top hinges with his fingers and the third with the screwdriver. He then took the piece of wood from his back pocket and, with his knife, split it in half over and over until he had many thin slivers. He packed the three screw holes tightly with as many slivers of wood as he could, and with a swipe of his knife, he cut off the excess, making the slivers flush with the wooden door frame. He then put the hinge back in place and began tightening the three screws. When he was done, the hinge was as secure as it had been the day the door was originally installed, however many decades before.

He did the same to the other door and had the job complete in fifteen minutes, including picking up the tiny pieces of wood splinters off the floor.

“All done…” Pierre hesitated.

“Esperanza,” she said. “Did you forget my name already?”

“No, of course not. How could I? It’s just, I didn’t know if we would speak to each other informally or not.”

“Is it okay with you if we do, Señor De Los Campos?” Esperanza asked with a hint of sarcasm.

“Yes,” Pierre said. “I would like that very much, Esperanza.”

“Well then, Pierre, come in, and let’s figure out how else to put you to work. Don’t expect to be paid for a full hour after doing only a quarter hour’s worth of work.”

As Pierre crossed the threshold of Esperanza’s shop, the whole village turned to one another and grinned as to say, “See, he is here for her.”

***

Esperanza was curious as to the way Pierre entered the shop. He turned to the side and ducked his head, as if the door was narrower and shorter than it actually was.

“Why are you doing that?” Esperanza asked.

“Doing what?” he said as he straightened up, feeling safe that he’d cleared the door.

“Go back outside,” Esperanza ordered.

Following her orders, he turned back around, and again turned to the side and ducked his head until he was outside. Confused, Pierre turned around to face Esperanza, shrugging his shoulders and turning up his hands.

“Now, come back in,” she said.

Pierre again began to walk through the door like he had every other door in his adult life, and was immediately interrupted by Esperanza, “Ah, ah, ah! Stand up straight.” He did. “Face me!” He did this as well. “Now, take a step!”

Pierre smiled when he realized what she was trying to do. Even though he had been working on the large doors, it hadn’t sunk in how big they were. As he walked through the door like a normal-sized person would, he felt it fitting that the home of this beautiful woman had doors that seemed to be custom-built just for him. Destiny, he thought.

***

“Some coffee,” Esperanza offered.

“Only if you join me,” Pierre returned.

“Well, I was already going to have some, so it will be you who is joining me. Have a seat. I’ll be right back.”

Pierre looked at the small table and pair of wood-and-wicker chairs. They looked more like decoration than actual furniture. When Esperanza returned, she found him leaning against the high counter she stood behind when she was open for business.

“You don’t want to sit?” Esperanza asked.

“Those chairs look un-repairable.”

“What are you talking about? They are not broken.”

“They would be if I were to sit in them!”

Esperanza understood and set the tray with the coffee on the counter. “We’ll stand then.” After setting the tray down, she quickly lifted an unfolded napkin as if performing a magic trick. “For you,” she said.

Underneath the napkin was a dish of Esperanza’s chocolates. Pierre looked at them as if they were pellets of rat poison. “Uhh,” Pierre said, not taking his eyes off the candy. “I am not having problems with my menstruation.”

“Don’t worry. I made those just for you, without my secret ingredient.”

Somewhat relieved, Pierre picked up a chocolate to examine it. “What is your secret ingredient?” he asked.

Esperanza responded without hesitation, “My blood.”

***

She could not believe that she let that out. She had kept this secret for so long that did feel good to finally tell someone. Doña Luz knew of course, but it was Lupita’s ghost that spilled the beans to her. This was the first time that Esperanza had told anyone. Why she chose to disclose it to Pierre, she did not understand.

Pierre was indifferent to the whole revelation and just shrugged his shoulders and popped a chocolate into his mouth.

Esperanza, eager to change the subject, asked, “What else can you fix?”

“I can fix everything,” Pierre told her.

Pierre was a talented and gifted warrior, but over the years he had developed some exceptional skills as a handyman. It wasn’t that he wanted to be a tradesman. It was just that he was so large that he often broke things and found himself responsible for returning what he damaged to good-as-new conditions.

He would have to fix things like a chair he’d broken just by sitting in it, doors that were damaged because he didn’t know they were locked when he tried to open them, ceiling fans that hit him in the head, and countless walls, support beams, and furniture that he would break just by leaning against or bumping into them.

Over coffee that afternoon, Esperanza decided to employ Pierre to get the entire shop in good-as-new condition, and for the next several weeks, Pierre reported to the shop at two-thirty every day. While doing his repairs or over a coffee break, which Esperanza ensured took place, the two became acquainted with each other.

***

One afternoon, while Pierre was painting the interior walls of the shop, he paused long enough to ask Esperanza to dinner. “There are so many places on the beach; we should dine together this evening and watch the sunset,” he said.

Esperanza was scrubbing some dishes when he asked. She was caught off guard by his request and paused for a while to figure out the best way to answer him. “You want to pay tourist prices for mediocre food?” she said.

“I just thought it would be something nice to do.”

“The best view of the sunset in the entire village is from my roof.”

Feeling a bit defeated Pierre said, “It was just a thought.”

“It just seems like such a waste not to watch the sunset from there.”

“Yes, I suppose you are right.”

“Plus, the best food in the village is made right here in my kitchen.”

Pierre, already having resumed his painting, just nodded in agreement with Esperanza.

“So, why don’t we have dinner here, then?” Esperanza said.

Pierre kept painting and nodding his head. He seemed to be pouting over what he thought was her rejection, not realizing that it was an invitation.

“Menso!” Esperanza shouted, throwing a towel at him, to get his attention. Pierre turned, stunned, as if the towel had been someone’s hand. “I am saying, why don’t we have dinner here instead?”

Pierre didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. His smile was enough to let Esperanza know that he was in favor of the idea. She removed her apron and said, “I have to do some shopping. If I am not back before you leave, be back here just before sunset,” and walked out the door.

***

Everything was ready by the time Pierre reappeared that evening. Being that the only clothes he had were his green fatigues, this was what he wore to dinner, though he did bathe and change into a clean set. He chose to leave his beret in his back pocket, deciding that his un-frazzled, slicked-back hair was more appropriate for his date.

As Esperanza started to carry a tray of covered pots to the table she’d set on the roof, Pierre offered to take the platter for her. But she told him to take up a chair instead. The chair did not match the set, but it was made of metal and was much more capable of supporting the weight of her oversized dinner guest.

As the sun began its departure, Pierre and Esperanza dined on chicken mole, beans, and rice. The mole sauce and flour tortillas made the meal; both were made from scratch. Esperanza grilled a whole chicken over a small wood fire before she allowed it to simmer in the sauce and get tender. She realized that she had made a mistake by only buying one chicken. It slipped her mind that Pierre’s appetite would match his stature.

In the time it took Esperanza to eat one of the two breast pieces and a little beans and rice, Pierre had devoured every other piece of the chicken and most of the beans and rice at the table. They both drank their share of red wine, and when Pierre admitted that he was still hungry, she served him what was left of the beans, rice, and tortillas from the kitchen. While Pierre finished off the food, she returned most of the dirty dishes downstairs and put on the water for coffee.

With the sun long gone, the cool of the night made the warmth of the kitchen more inviting. Pierre helped her with the rest of the dishes, and when everything was clean, Esperanza poured them each a cup of coffee and brought out a platter of sugar cookies she was able to make before dinner.

The pleasure of their meal was a bit of a distraction; it wasn’t until now that they found themselves in a position to engage in conversation.

“Why are you here, Pierre?”

“You invited me,” he said. “For dinner, remember?”

“No, menso. I mean, why are you in Barra?”

“To marry you, I think.”

Flattered, Esperanza didn’t let it show. “You came here to marry me? Did you know I was here when you headed this way?”

“No, I didn’t know anything about this place.”

“Then what possessed you to come?”

“A lady came to me in my dreams. She told me to come here. I ignored her at first, but then the occasional visit turned into a nightly one. Eventually, she even started haunting my afternoon naps. I finally deserted the army I was serving in and began my journey here, just so she would leave me alone and I could get a peaceful night’s sleep.”

Briefly distracted, Esperanza asked, “Why did you have to desert? Why couldn’t you just leave or wait till your time was up?”

“In that war, the only way out was death or peace, and for me, that meant I would serve an eternity.”

“What war was this?” Esperanza asked.

“A meaningless one in the Congo.”

“Africa! You came here from Africa because a woman told you to in your dreams?”

“She was very convincing,” Pierre assured Esperanza.

“And now that you’re here, you think you are supposed to marry me? Why is that?”

“She told me I would find something that would bring me happiness for the rest of my days. I feel that is you. And after tonight’s meal, I am almost sure of it.”

“Almost?” Esperanza asked, as if offended.

“Well, we are not lovers, so how can I know for certain,” Pierre grinned. “What if you are a bad lover? That would certainly not make me happy for the rest of my days.”

Esperanza huffed and threw a half-eaten cookie at Pierre. “How could you say such a thing?”

Pierre put his hand up to defend himself from any more incoming cookies, and laughed. “If it’s any consolation, I find it very hard to believe that you would be anything but a passionate lover.”

Esperanza had no idea if she was a good lover or not. She never got any feedback from the lovers she did have. Well, except for the fact that each one had died. All of a sudden, it hit her that she shouldn’t even be talking about making love.

“Well, you’ll never know,” she told him.

“Really? But I’ve come all this way,” Pierre said with a tinge of confidence as he put his coffee down and made his way over to her. His confidence wasn’t unwarranted. Esperanza was attracted to him. He had known this for weeks, but it had never been more obvious than it was on this night. The sexual tension was so intense that it gave off an odor that Pierre could smell in the air.

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But it’s your own fault for listening to some crazy lady in your dreams telling you to travel halfway around the world.”

“I never said Lupita was crazy,” he said, as if the woman in his dreams was a real person. “I said she was very convincing.” He was even closer to Esperanza now.

“Lupita!” She couldn’t believe what she heard. “Did you say Lupita?”

“Yes, she introduced herself in the beginning. She said she was from Guanajuato and that she had been looking for me for years.” His hands were now on her waist.

Esperanza’s mind was rapidly filling with thoughts. Could it have been her wet nurse? Did she send him? Why? Why would she send such a desirable man to her, knowing her situation, knowing she couldn’t be intimate with a man? Deep in thought, the questions abruptly came to a halt when she felt Pierre’s lips against hers.

She kissed him back, but only for a second, and then slapped him across his face and stepped away. She was breathing heavily, as if she had been walking the hills of Guanajuato. “This can’t happen,” she said. “It’s impossible.”

“I think it is supposed to happen.”

“It can’t!” Tears were forming in her eyes.

“Why do you say this?”

“Because I have made love four times in my life! Four times! With four different men, and every one of them died as soon as they climaxed. If you make love to me, you will die, Pierre, and that I cannot bear.”

Despite the somber mood, Pierre erupted into laughter.

“What is so funny?” Esperanza asked, crying, confused as to how he could find what she’d just told him funny.

“What’s funny?” Pierre asked as he ripped open his shirt exposing his bare chest and stomach and his many battle scars. “I am immortal. That’s what’s funny.”


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The Biggest Boy To Ever Join The Colombian Army (Chapter 10)

Pierre was born in a brothel in Panamá City, Panamá. His mother, Pilar, who had come to Panamá from Colombia to work, thought she was barren. After working for years in the trade, not once had she ever missed her period.

Her favorite customer was a French engineer who would pay for her services for days at a time and take her away from the whorehouse. He would bring her back when his furlough was over and promised to return the next chance he got. The last time he dropped her off, he swore that when his work in Panamá came to an end, he would marry her and take her with him back to France. The day he told her this was the last time he ever saw Pilar. Soon after making his promise, he died of malaria, like many men did during this time. Nine months later, Pilar gave birth to a miracle and named him after his father.

Not only did Pilar think it was a miracle that she became pregnant, or that she carried the baby to term, but also that she was able to pass such a large baby through her vagina and not die in the process.

Though he did not have a father, Pierre was lucky enough to have several mothers. It was almost as if Pierre needed to be raised in a brothel. The boy was so large that his mother alone could not produce enough milk to satisfy him. In a whorehouse, there is no shortage of pregnant or recently pregnant women around. If Pierre wasn’t asleep, he was attached to a whore’s breast.

The women also took turns in the changing and bathing of Pierre. They were all impressed with the young boy’s endowment. All of them hoped to be retired by the time he became of age and earned his first five Panamanian Balboas. They feared the damage he might do to them should he decide to employ such a woman.

Within due time, Pierre started working in the brothel, mopping up secretions and washing soiled bedding. By the time he was ten, Pierre was as big as any man around and started coming to the aid of women who screamed for help from their chambers. At first, he would just throw the men out. Then one day, a frightened patron apologized and paid his fee before leaving. When Pierre presented the money to the whore, she promptly paid him a tip. From this point on, Pierre made sure to collect the fee first before he threw the men out. Even if he had to beat it out of them.

The respect Pierre earned from the women plus his new source of income allowed Pilar to become semiretired and eventually take over the brothel as the madam.

By the time Pierre was thirteen, he was a master at fighting and self-defense. He took a few licks and nicks over the years, but, eventually, it got to the point that he would always come out unscathed. If a customer pulled a knife on Pierre, that customer would quickly find that he was no longer in possession of his knife and that it was at his throat. If he pulled out a gun, he’d find himself looking down the wrong end of the barrel, if Pierre hadn’t knocked him unconscious with it. In time, the rumors that the women of this particular whorehouse were protected by the biggest, meanest son-of-a-bitch alive had spread, and no man who frequented the whorehouse dared to raise a hand to a whore or even think of not paying.

Peace in the brothel left Pierre with no purpose. Over time, his mother could see the fire in his soul start to extinguish. “It’s time for you to go, amor!”

Though the size of a man and with the strength of two, at fourteen, he was still a boy and cried like one at the thought of being away from his mother.

“Your job here is done, my son. These women are secure and safe because of you. There is nothing more for you to do. You have no purpose here, and without a purpose, you cannot grow into the man you are supposed to become.” Right then and there, she stuffed the boy’s pockets with dollars and Balboas, and sent him crying out the front door of the brothel. She never saw her son again.

The boy headed south, and by the time he got to Colombia, he was out of money and hungry. At the border, he asked a soldier if he knew where he could get some work in exchange for food. Without looking up from the papers he was checking for authenticity, the soldier said, “What skills do you have?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any,” the boy said. “All I’ve ever done is mop floors, do laundry, and fight men.”

The soldier let out a chuckle and handed back the papers to their owner. “Sounds like you qualify to be…” The soldier finally looked up, and then gulped as if trying to swallow an avocado pit. The boy dwarfed him. “…a soldier,” he finished.

Turning his head over his shoulder, the soldier shouted, “Colonel!”

By the end of that evening, Pierre sat alone in a dining hall kept open just for him, dressed in the biggest uniform they could find, shoveling spoonful after spoonful of rice and fish into his mouth. Happy as a pig in shit.


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Pierre Bernal de los Campos (Chapter 9)

By the time Pierre made the trek from the bus station to the front of Esperanza’s shop, everyone in Barra de Navidad was aware of the big, handsome stranger in town. His looks were on par with only one other person’s in the village, Esperanza. Everyone felt, without a doubt, that he was there for her. Everyone except Esperanza—and Pierre himself.

When he happened in front of Chocolates Diamanté, he stopped to look at the crowd of women gathered in front of the shop, who all happened to be staring at him. At that moment, the clock struck two, and there was the sound of a metal bolt sliding, followed by the opening of the heavy double doors. When Pierre saw who had opened the doors, he could not believe his eyes. Years later he would claim that that was the moment he fell in love with Esperanza.

Though he had traveled for months not knowing exactly why his destination was Barra de Navidad, he was sure of it now. It was for the most beautiful women he had ever seen.

The opening of the tall doors snapped the women out of their trance. Their attention turned to Esperanza, who was now in a trance herself. Her eyes were locked with those of the giant man on the opposite side of the street. It wasn’t until one of the ladies cleared her throat that Esperanza was able to look away and say, “Pásanle, mujeres. There are plenty of chocolates for everyone.”

Pierre was nearly two meters tall and easily weighed that of two men. Thick as a barrel, his body contained little, if any, fat. Everything about the man was dark. His skin, his hair, and his eyes. He wore the green fatigues of a soldier, but there was no rank or flag anywhere on them. The only decorations he wore were the sweat stains under his arms and down his back, recently awarded to him by the heat and humidity of the Pacific Coast. His top was tucked in, with several buttons unbuttoned, exposing his hairy, tan chest. His leather combat boots were worn and now brown, as all the black dye had long faded. On top of his head was a black wool beret that had to be baking his head in the heat. He was so handsome that it would be easy for a man to think Pierre could steal his wife, if that man thought his wife was worth stealing.

Being the good-looking world traveler that he was, Pierre had known and bedded hundreds of beautiful women, but none compared with the owner of this chocolate shop. He knew she was his destiny, and he was not going to wait to meet her. He bought a young coconut from a street vendor and cut a hole into it with his knife. He drank the cool water in the shade, until the crowd of women in the shop dwindled to nothing. It turned out his destiny could wait a little while, especially if it involved the chance of being embarrassed in front of a group of townswomen.

When the coco was empty, he tossed it back to the vendor, who would no doubt cut it into chunks and sell the white pulp. With his duffel bag in tow, Pierre headed over to Esperanza. As he approached the shop, Esperanza’s last customer walked out. It was two-thirty. She nearly slammed the doors in his face, but he stopped her with his free hand. “Disculpe!”

“Yes?” Esperanza answered, opening the doors just enough to expose her face. Even though he was standing on the sidewalk and she was at the elevation one had to ascend in order to enter the shop (which was just one step), she still found herself looking up at the stranger.

“What kind of shop is this?” Pierre asked.

“It’s a chocolate shop,” she responded and attempted to close the doors again.

Again Pierre stopped the doors with his hand. “In that case, Señ — or…” he drew the word out as long as he could, hoping for help.

“Señorita,” she said.

Destiny, he thought. “In that case, Señorita, I would like to buy some chocolates.”

“I’m sold out!” she announced, once again attempting to close the doors.

He stopped her again, but this time without his hand. “Ah, ah, ah. Then I will come back tomorrow.”

“I will be sold out tomorrow too.”

“Then I will come the following day.”

“You do not want these chocolates, Señor. They are dangerous.”

“Danger is something I am accustomed to, Señorita.”

Taking a different approach, Esperanza said, “Didn’t you notice who my customers were? These chocolates are only for women. It helps with their menstruation.” She was partially lying.

Realizing the chocolates were a dead end, Pierre quickly thought of another reason to come back. “I can fix your door.”

This caught Esperanza’s attention. In seven years, there was not one repair made to her shop. There were plenty of handymen in the village, but if they were bachelors, they were too intimidated by her beauty to enter the shop, and if they were married, they were not allowed.

“I see that at least two of your hinges are loose. If I can acquire some tools by tomorrow, I can fix this in just a few minutes.”

“How much do you charge?”

“I will do it for the pleasure of your company during the time it takes me to complete the task.”

“I will pay you twenty pesos an hour.”

“If you insist, Señorita.”

“Be here at two-thirty,” Esperanza said. “I will have all the tools you need.” This time she met no resistance as she closed the doors.

“I’ll be here,” Pierre shouted through the closed doors. Before he walked away, he shouted again, “Señorita?”

“Yes?”

“What is your name?”

“Esperanza,” the door said. “Esperanza Diamanté.”

“Esperanza Diamanté, I am Pierre Bernal de los Campos. Mucho gusto.”

“Mucho gusto, Pierre,” Esperanza said quietly through to door, her lips nearly touching the ancient wood. She stood there until she could no longer feel his presence.


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Barra de Navidad (Chapter 8)

Esperanza arrived in Puerto Vallarta early on Easter Sunday. It was a long and miserable bus ride. While most people slept, she lay awake in the dark, wondering if what she had done was justified.

As soon as she got off the bus, Esperanza checked the departures for a bus line that had Barra de Navidad on the schedule. There was only one, Tres Estrellas, but it didn’t leave until the next day. She bought a ticket, caught a taxi, and headed downtown. As she walked through the streets, shops began to open. The morning sun and fresh ocean breeze invited her to do something she hadn’t done in years, sunbathe on the beach. After checking into a hotel and dropping off her bags, she began shopping for a bathing suit.

She fell in love with a white crocheted two-piece that seemed more ornamental than practical. As beautiful as it was, it was overpriced and so delicately made that no sensible person would ever think of paying so much for it. It was something a rich woman would buy for sitting by the pool with a cocktail, not to actually wear into the water. Esperanza bought it nonetheless. She didn’t even take it off after she tried it on. “My God,” the lady working the store said. “Only a woman as beautiful as you could ever wear that.” Esperanza left the store wearing her new bathing suit under her blouse and skirt, and headed to the beach.

Using her skirt as a blanket and placing her folded-up blouse under her head, Esperanza lay in front of the breaking waves taking in the sun. After a few minutes, something seemed to ignite at both the top of her head and the soles of her feet. If one were to observe what was happening to Esperanza, one could say she looked like a fuse that had been lit at both ends. The red heat and the crackling sounds of sparks burned, working their way across her body to meet in the middle. Like the controlled burn of a cornfield where fires are lit to prepare the field for a new crop, the stalks and weeds of Esperanza’s past burned away, leaving a rich and fertile soil for a new life to grow. After hours, she felt rejuvenated and wasn’t the least bit burnt, as one would expect from spending so much time in the sun. It was as if her body was doing some much-needed catching up after years of being away from the beach.

On her way back to her hotel, Esperanza entertained herself by walking through all the shops that had opened since she first walked through earlier that day. When she passed by the store where she bought her bathing suit, the same lady saw her and said, “I can’t believe it, Señorita. You are even more beautiful now than you were a few hours ago.”

In her hotel room, Esperanza took an unexpected cold shower. She spent several minutes trying figure out which of the faucet handles was for hot water and which was for cold, but eventually gave up. She washed the sand and sweat from her hair as well as from her clothes and hung everything up to dry. Lying naked on the bed, she let the ceiling fan finish drying her off. Just before sunset, she put on her clean, dry blouse and turquoise skirt, and went off to have dinner. After some mediocre ceviche, shrimp cocktail, and two beers, she returned to her hotel and went to bed. By the next afternoon she would be in Barra de Navidad.

***

With the whole village watching her, Esperanza easily found Doña Luz’s old bakery. Though she had retired years before, the shop’s sign still hung out in front. The faded sign read, “Bueno — Panadería y Pastelería” accompanied by a cartoon Mexican man wearing a serape and sombrero. Before she could even knock, Doña Luz opened the massive doors and said, “Bienvenida, Esperanza. Come in. I’ve been waiting for you. Lupita has told me so much about you.”

Knowing that Doña Luz must have been mistaken, she was curious that she had used that name, of all the possibilities. “You mean, Evangelina? Don’t you? Doña Eva?”

“No,” the old woman said. “Doña Eva didn’t give much detail at all in her letter. I would have responded in the negative had it not been for Lupita.”

Doña Luz could see the look of confusion on Esperanza’s face and said for clarification, “Your wet nurse.”

“Señora, Lupita has been dead nearly twenty years.”

“Yes, I know,” the Doña responded as if talking to the dead was as common as gossiping with a neighbor.

Esperanza stood there, shocked, not knowing what to think. But as Doña Luz continued to talk, she understood that there was only one way Doña Luz could know the things that she knew.

“Come in. Come in. Let’s eat something,” Doña Luz encouraged. “You must be hungry from your travels.” She escorted Esperanza up to a small kitchen just past the bakery, where she had a pot of something keeping warm on the stove. Esperanza took note of the aroma coming from it.

As Doña Luz turned and lit the burner under the comal, she continued talking. “Lupita told me all about your travels and how you worked in that bar in Puerto Escondido. If I were as beautiful as you, I would have done the same. No shame in using what the Lord gave you. It is a pity things didn’t work out with you and that young man. She told me how you studied under Don Miguel. You plan to make your chocolates here I assume? That’s why you brought a bag full of cocoa pods? Anyway, just this morning she told me what you did the other night in Guanajuato. Good for you! He deserved it. It’s not often a woman gets to exact revenge like that. Flour or corn?”

Esperanza just sat there completely shocked, with her mouth opened. No one in the world could know all of those events. Yes, there were a few that could maybe put two of them together, but no one knew them all, especially not a woman she had just met a few minutes before. Trying to figure how it was possible, she remembered Lupita’s last words, “I’ll be looking after you the whole time. I promise.”

“Flour or corn, mija?” Doña Luz asked again.

“Huh?” Esperanza said, coming out of her daze.

“Tortillas. Would you like flour or corn?”

“What are we having?” Esperanza said with a warm smile.

“Caldo de camarón,” the Doña answered.

“Corn, please.”

***

Esperanza took great comfort in Doña Luz’s soup, as well as in knowing that Lupita had been watching over her all these years, though the soup was easier to believe.

She finished a bowl, and Doña Luz refilled it without asking. Esperanza consumed the second as eagerly as she did the first, alternating spoonfuls of soup with bites of rolled tortilla wrapped around salted pieces of avocado.

While still working on her first bowl, Doña Luz started to discuss the terms of their arrangement. “Lupita said it will take you a while to come up with the money, so I will accept installments until you do.”

“I’m sorry?” Esperanza said. “The money for what?”

“To buy this place, of course. What do I need it for, anyway? I might as well do some traveling before I die.”

It never occurred to Esperanza to settle down somewhere. Maybe it was time. She could have her own shop and make a good living for herself. Though she’d never have children of her own, maybe someday she could adopt a child. And why not do it all here, in Barra de Navidad?

For the next couple weeks, Esperanza worked in the shop, cleaning it up and getting it ready to reopen for business. She worked all morning, and after siesta she would head to the beach to take in the sun. Each night she would have a late dinner with Doña Luz, and some nights they would even share a beer.

When Esperanza started to make headway on the shop, she left work a little early to head out and sell some of the chocolates she’d brought with her from Guanajuato. She was a little timid about selling her special treats, but thought she had better get to work if she was going to buy Doña Luz’s bakery anytime soon.

She walked around town with a basketful of chocolates, but found that people seemed to avoid her. On her first attempt, she wasn’t even successful at getting eye contact with anyone. That night at supper, she confided in Doña Luz.

“They are all intimidated by you,” the old woman confessed. “You are too beautiful.”

“What should I do then?” Esperanza asked with a mouth full of meatball.

“Be more aggressive. Time will prove that you are not here to steal their husbands. But, for now, assert yourself when it comes to selling your chocolates.” The Doña put a portion of a meatball in her mouth and began to chew it. “And charge a premium. They’ll pay it when they learn of its powers.”

The next day Esperanza went out determined to sell some chocolates. She walked up to the first pair of villagers she saw, two middle-aged women walking down the street. She didn’t wait for them to make eye contact, but instead stood in front of them and said, “Chocolates, Señoras?”

The ladies seemed stunned to be so abruptly halted by the stranger.

“I made them myself.”

“How much?” asked one of the ladies.

“One hundred pesos,” Esperanza told her.

Both ladies gasped. “Do we look crazy?” asked the woman who had spoken before. “I could buy two chocolates for ten pesos right there.” She pointed to a little tienda across the street.

“Those chocolates won’t give you the best orgasm of your life!”

The woman who hadn’t spoken dug into her brassiere and pulled out a neatly folded wad of pesos, and gave it to Esperanza without counting it. Esperanza took the money, and handed over two chocolates wrapped together in cellophane and a little piece of red ribbon.

“Eat them both just prior to making love, and if they don’t do as I say, I’ll give you your money back,” Esperanza instructed.

With a big grin that exposed her gold caps, the second woman took the chocolates and finally spoke. “I’ll tell you if they work tomorrow when we have coffee,” she said to her friend.

Jealous, as if the conversation over coffee had already happened, the other woman also reached into her brassiere and pulled out a neatly folded wad of money equaling one hundred pesos, and gave them to Esperanza. Esperanza wondered if every woman in Barra kept a hundred pesos down in her bosom, as she handed over another pair of chocolates.

“Enjoy yourselves, ladies,” Esperanza said as she held up the two bundles of money. “These will be waiting for you tomorrow if you are not satisfied.” She gave them a wink and walked off back to the shop, feeling as though she had conducted enough business for one day.

The next day, when she headed out to sell some chocolates, it was she who was abruptly halted by two different women this time. “We would like to buy some chocolates,” they said in unison as they each handed over one hundred pesos.

***

Realizing that her customer base was going to grow quickly, Esperanza made haste in getting the shop ready. She ordered a sign and made arrangements with a produce vendor to keep the cocoa pods coming in. Within no time, Chocolates Diamanté was up and running.

Over the next seven years, Esperanza made chocolates in the morning, sold them in the afternoon, and spent the early evenings sunbathing and walking on the beach. As a result of her chocolates, the population of the little fishing village doubled, and a new school had to be built.

Within the first two years, Esperanza was able to buy the shop from Doña Luz. Upon receiving payment in full, Doña Luz set off to do some traveling before she died. Her last words to Esperanza before she got on the bus were, “Enjoy the bedroom that overlooks the beach while you can. In due time, you will find that it will be well suited as a nursery.”

Esperanza blew the old woman’s comment off, thinking that she may have forgotten about Esperanza’s dilemma. For the next seven years, she didn’t even look at a man with the faint hint of desire. Until the day she opened the doors of her shop and saw the tall stranger in green fatigues, wearing a black beret, standing across the street.


If you like what you read, feel free to get the rest of the story on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and Kobo!

Lover Number 3 (Chapter 7)

Esperanza hung around long enough to get the official cause of death. Which was a heart attack, just like her stepfather. Upon hearing this, she packed up her two leather bags with money, skirts, blouses, and sandals and headed up to the city of Oaxaca. She’d had enough of the beach and left her bathing suit behind.

On the bus, she couldn’t help but suspect it—two lovers, two heart attacks. Was she the daughter of the devil? Was she cursed? Could she never be able to make love to a man without killing him?

She knew nothing about the city, but found out right away that it was beautiful. She got a room at a boarding house as soon as she arrived and then went out to take in the city on foot. Oaxaca was filled with bright, vibrant colors. The streets were lined with buildings. Every one painted its own combination of loud colors. Each edifice butted up to the next. They were so close together that the only way one could identify the property line was by where the cobalt blue paint ended and the canary yellow began.

As Esperanza took everything in, she kept an eye out for two things in particular: a place where she could get an answer to a crucial question, and a place where she could satisfy her sweet tooth.

The dulcería came first. She could smell the Buen Día Dulcería as soon as she turned the corner. She had been following the breadcrumbs leading her there. Happy children with big smiles or rings of chocolate around their mouths showed her the way.

The candy store had wooden barrels filled with all kinds of different candy. There were the typical cheap, hard candies. Two pesos. Taffy. Three pesos. Candied fruit of all flavors. Four pesos. Caramels and milk-based candies to include some chocolates. Five pesos. But what caught Esperanza’s eye were the ones with the price tag of ten pesos.

These chocolates sat behind a glass case, protected from thieves as if they were diamonds, not chocolate. They were evenly space on polished copper trays. Each different chocolate had its own tray. Today there were three platters: chocolate-covered almond clusters; strawberry chocolates, which were small pieces of soft strawberry candy covered in chocolate; and what looked like just plain pieces of chocolate. It turns out, these had a little chili powder in them.

“Disculpe, Señor. Can you tell me why these chocolates cost so much?”

“Because I make them myself, Señorita. From this,” the chocolatier said, holding up a raw cocoa bean pod.

Esperanza had a look of both shock and happiness, like a child who just woke up on Christmas morning. She turned her gaze back to the chocolates in the glass and said, “I’ll have one of each. No, two!”

She gladly paid the sixty pesos and had one of the almond clusters in her mouth before she made it out the door. Outside, on a bench, Esperanza ate each chocolate one at a time. By the time she finished them, she had concluded that the one she cared for the least was the strawberry. She thought it too sweet. She loved the crunch of the almond clusters, but her favorites that day were the plain chocolate pieces.

Esperanza realized that desserts were one area she had yet to get any experience in. A new city, a new skill, and a new start. Yes, she thought. This man will teach me how to make chocolates.

“Absolutely not,” said Don Miguel Garcia, the chocolate maker and owner of the Buen Día Dulcería. “I don’t have time to teach anyone anything. I’m very busy here.”

“I can help you. I’ll work for you.”

“I cannot afford to hire anyone.”

“I’ll work for free.”

And that is how Esperanza became the apprentice to the chocolatier Don Miguel Garcia.

***

With her new job, Esperanza decided she would stay in Oaxaca for a while and got herself a little apartment. Down the street from the apartment was a dance club that doubled as a dance studio in the early hours of the evening. Along with learning how to make chocolate, Esperanza decided she would learn to dance as well. The dance teacher was a cocky Spaniard named Antonio Cruz, Esperanza’s third lover.

For the next two years, Esperanza studied chocolate and dance. Eventually, Don Miguel started paying her a little something. The amount didn’t really matter. Working with Don Miguel was a pleasure. The man was a patient teacher and was kind overall. Esperanza would have paid for the experience. She had plenty of money from her years in Puerto Escondido.

Antonio Cruz, however, seemed to be the complete opposite of Don Miguel. He was neither patient nor kind. He would ridicule students who couldn’t stay in step or remember a combination. And at every opportunity he found, he would brag about the country he’d left as a teenager more than fifteen years before. Whenever the words, “In my country” came out, everyone around prepared themselves for a line of bullshit.

Regardless of all this, Antonio Cruz went to bed with whichever of his students he wanted to, whenever he wanted. They couldn’t help themselves. There was something about seeing someone practice the gift God gave him that made him irresistible, no matter how much of an ass he was. There was no denying it, Antonio danced beautifully. This alone was enough to seduce most women, but for good measure, he was also handsome. Esperanza couldn’t believe she was attracted to such a jerk, but she was.

There were two reasons why Esperanza did not go to bed with Antonio Cruz. One, because he told her she would: “It will just be a matter of time before we end up in bed,” he said to her the evening of her first dance class. The other reason was the chance she might kill him.

One day while Esperanza dipped fried banana chips into chocolate and then laid them on wax paper to cool, Don Miguel asked her, “Is there something wrong?”

Esperanza looked down at the chocolate-covered banana chips, not finding anything she could identify as wrong, and then dipped her pinky into warm chocolate and tasted it. “No, I don’t think so.”

“No, not with the chocolate,” Don Miguel hesitated. “With you? I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. It’s just that it’s been nearly two years since you arrived here, and I haven’t seen you in the company of a man. Forgive me for saying so, but you’re a beautiful, young woman who could have anyone you want. I’m just curious as to why you choose to be alone.”

It’s not that Esperanza needed a man to be happy. Her happiness came from doing the things she loved, like dancing and cooking…though she felt the prospects of becoming a mother were very low without a man. The truth was, she did wonder what it would be like to have someone special in her life, but could not move forward without knowing for certain whether or not making love to her was fatal. She kept all these thoughts to herself and instead answered the Don by saying. “I think I’m cursed.”

“What do you mean?” Don Miguel said as he gave a vat of chocolate a stir with a wooden spoon.

Regretting her words, Esperanza said, “Well, it’s rather private, Don Miguel. Let’s just say I’ve been seeking help and haven’t had any luck.”

“Who have you gone to?”

“Every fortune-teller in town. So far, all that I’ve learned is that they are all fakes.”

“Yes, they are merely entertainment for tourists.”

“Well, I wished I checked with you prior to going. I would have saved myself a lot of money.”

“I know of a woman,” the Don said. “She is thought of as an Aztec medicine woman. She predicted my life as a chocolatier. Which may not have been such a magical prediction, being that she’s the one who taught me how to make chocolate. Chocolate is a Nahuatl word, by the way. I will take you to her when we are done here.”

“How do you know of this woman?” Esperanza asked.

“She is my mother.”

***

With all the chocolates for the next day made, Don Miguel locked up the candy shop and escorted Esperanza to his home. The house looked like all the other buildings in Oaxaca, but when Esperanza walked through the open door that was a cut-out of an even larger door, she could not believe her eyes. The house looked like a two-story hotel with an open-air garden right in the middle, complete with a fountain, though it didn’t work.

Right away Esperanza thought that Don Miguel could afford to pay her a little more, but later she found out that the house had been a gift from his father-in-law. The Don’s wife was the rich man’s only daughter.

Don Miguel walked Esperanza to his mother’s room and yelled out, “Mamá.” He then put two ten-peso coins in Esperanza’s palm. “She will insist on being paid,” he said. “Don’t worry. I’ll get the money back. She thinks I need it.”

The old woman slowly appeared out of the darkness of her room. She wore all black, including a lace veil. She was in mourning, even though she had been a widow for nearly twenty years.

“Mamá, this young lady needs your help,” the Don said to his mother and then gestured to Esperanza to follow her into the room. “I’ll let you have your privacy. If I’m not around when you finish, let yourself out.” Esperanza followed the old woman into the dark room.

A combination of Aztec and Catholic relics decorated the room. From the outside, it appeared dark, but was actually well lit with more than a dozen flickering candles. The old lady took a seat at a table and Esperanza sat in a chair opposite of her. There was an uncomfortable silence for several seconds, until Esperanza remembered the coins in her hand. She laid the pesos on the table, and the medicine woman quickly picked them up and stashed them away.

“Tus manos,” the woman said.

Esperanza put her hands on the table and the woman picked them up and studied her palms. The Señora looked confused. After a while, she gave up and looked up to stare into Esperanza’s green eyes. Esperanza waited patiently until the old woman finally spoke. “I can’t help you,” she said as she took out the coins and put them back on the table. “Your spirit is blocked by a higher power.”

“No,” Esperanza pleaded. “I need your help! I’m desperate. I need to know if I am cursed.”

Having pity on the beautiful, young girl the Don’s mother said, “Tell me your troubles and I can give you my advice, but it will just be from me, not from the Gods themselves.”

Esperanza hesitated for a minute, wondering if she should actually say what was troubling her. No one on earth knew what happened to her the two times she’d made love. At the most, they only knew of one event, but not both. She decided that it was time someone knew.

“Señora, the two times I have made love resulted in the men dying while still inside of me. I need to know if I am cursed, if this is my destiny.”

“Young lady, twice is luck. Good or bad. Three times is destiny.” Satisfied with her own answer, the medicine woman swiped the two coins off the table into her hand, concluding that she had earned the pesos after all.

Esperanza left Don Miguel’s home, dumbfounded. She still had no idea whether she was cursed or not. Though now she knew of a way to find out.

***

She still needed to work on her mariposa, reverse cross-body lead, and, of course, her hand stylings. Hand styling alone made a woman look like she knew what she was doing on the dance floor, as long as she stayed in step. Esperanza still had too much to learn and couldn’t take the chance of sleeping with Antonio right away. She would wait.

Of course, she could have conducted her little test on some other poor soul. Many men made their desire to have her very clear, but she looked at it two ways: By making love to Antonio, she would be giving herself to someone she had wanted for a long time. If he lived, maybe she would let him have her again. If he died, she would rid the world of a pompous, womanizing ass.

In the meantime, Esperanza spent the next several weeks perfecting her skills, both on the dance floor and in Don Miguel’s candy shop.

***

The day Esperanza realized she had learned everything she could about dancing from Antonio, she hadn’t had the courage to make her move. She didn’t have the courage for two more weeks’ worth of lessons. Eventually, her desire to finally find out the truth overcame her, and she asked Antonio if he gave private dance lessons. He knew what this meant. It was how all the women made their move. He thought this day would come, but had almost lost faith after the first two years. “Sure,” he said. “Come by my apartment tonight at nine o’clock.”

Esperanza knocked on the door at precisely nine p.m. She could hear the music coming from inside. Her heart was pounding.

Antonio opened the door and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek. He then took her hand and led her into his apartment as if he were escorting her onto the dance floor. He took her right hand in his cupped left hand and put his other on her back. When the two began to dance Antonio asked, “What did you want to work on tonight?”

“I want to make love,” Esperanza answered.

“Of course,” he said, giving out a little giggle.

“What’s so funny,” she asked.

“Nothing. It’s just that in my country you have to make an effort to seduce a woman. Spanish women are not so easy.”

Shut up, pendejo! Esperanza thought but didn’t say.

In the bedroom, Esperanza quickly removed her three articles of clothing. Her blouse, her skirt, and her custom-made sandals. Antonio was shocked at how the woman who had waited over two years now seemed so eager to make love. Regardless, seeing the most beautiful woman he had ever known lying naked in his bed aroused him, and he eagerly undressed and got on the bed with her.

Years of having women throw themselves at him had made Antonio a lazy lover. He entered her right away, not taking any time for foreplay. Despite being a talented dancer, Antonio was a terrible lay. Even a woman as inexperienced as Esperanza was bored with his performance.

She stopped him and slid out from underneath him. Ignorant, Antonio did not pick up that she was dissatisfied, but assumed she just wanted to change positions. He turned over on his back and placed both his hands behind his head.

Not sure what to do, even thinking of just leaving, Esperanza stared at the naked man with his erection pointing toward the ceiling. That’s when it occurred to her that a woman could be on top—could do all the work, so to speak. Something Antonio was more than willing to let her do.

Esperanza decided to stay and crawled on top of him, awkwardly fitting his erection into her. Sitting there, on top of him, Esperanza realized she didn’t know what to do. Antonio was no help, just lying there looking at her. Suddenly, a new song came on, a cumbia. Esperanza loved salsa music, but loved the rhythm of a cumbia more. She instinctively started moving her hips to the beat.

Chuga-cha, chuga-cha, went the rhythm of the song as Esperanza rocked her hips back and forth to the tempo. In time, she found that she was enjoying herself. Never in her life had she felt this much physical pleasure. Chuga-cha, chuga-cha!

Getting lost in the music and the joy of lovemaking, Esperanza looked up in ecstasy, closing her eyes. She continued to move her hips to the music, concentrating on the tension that was building deep in her body. She felt Antonio’s hand cup her bouncing breasts, and this helped build the tension even more. Chuga-cha, Chuga-cha!

Soon, she felt she was losing control of her body. No longer in sync with the music, she was bucking wildly to her own beat. She now understood why people loved sex, and, for a brief second, she envisioned a lifetime of lovemaking. That’s when she felt Antonio’s hands release her breasts and then fall to her side.

She froze, with her head still cocked all the way back. She slowly began to bring her head forward, only opening one eye, afraid of what she was going to see.

Only one word came to mind when she saw her dead lover: Destiny.

Chuga-cha, chuga-cha.

***

The next morning, the death of Antonio Cruz was the talk of the town. Everyone had pity in their heart for the poor girl who was in bed with him when he passed. Some even knew that the poor girl was Esperanza, but most didn’t. She had nothing to hide. No one would ever have guessed that she had actually killed him with her passion. Plus, would a murderer notify the authorities?

With the music still playing, Esperanza sat on top of the dead Antonio Cruz, thinking of what to do. But, before she could come up with anything, she felt the need to vomit.

After emptying the contents of her stomach, Esperanza lay on the bathroom floor, naked and sobbed. She found herself not crying for poor Antonio but for her realization that she was cursed, that she was destined to forever be alone, never to take a lover ever again.

After getting her composure, she got dressed and headed straight to the police station, where she reported that her partner had quit breathing while making love. She feared no repercussions. She was obviously distraught, and there would be no signs of foul play. In the end, his death would be ruled a heart attack.

Esperanza felt bad for having killed a man. Only the fact that she didn’t know the outcome for certain, ahead of time, brought her peace. She thought for a long time of how to handle this curse of hers. In the end, all she could think of was to stay away from men for the rest of her life. Knowing what she now knew, she could never allow herself to make love to another man ever again. To do so would be murder.

***

The next morning, despite the goings-on of the night before, Esperanza decided to continue on with her life and went to work at the candy store. She walked in to find Don Miguel spreading cocoa beans out to dry. Right away, she knew he was unhappy with her.

“This curse you spoke of,” the Don inquired. “This was it, wasn’t it?”

Obviously, he was aware of what had happened. “Yes, Don Miguel,” she answered as tears welled up in her eyes.

“And this thing, it happened in Puerto Escondido? It’s why you left?”

“Yes, Don Miguel.” The tears were now rolling down her face.

“How could you do this, knowing your history?”

“Twice is luck. Good or bad. Three times…”

“Is Destiny,” Don Miguel finished. He tossed fistfuls of cocoa beans in the air as he brought his hands to his forehead. Nothing more needed to be explained to him with regards to why she had done it.

“Who else knows about this? About what happened in Puerto Escondido and last night!”

“Just you and, possibly, your mother, when she hears the news. If she does.”

“Oh, she’ll hear about it alright. Gossip is her full-time job. But we don’t have to worry about her. Confidentiality is part of the arrangement. Even if she did say anything, no one will believe a crazy, old medicine woman. It’s not her I’m concerned about. Word travels fast in this state.”

Don Miguel continued, “With Puerto Escondido being only a day’s bus ride away, people travel there often to take in the beach and vice versa. It could be weeks or months, but someone will tell the story of what happened there to someone who knows what happened here. And if they don’t know your name, they’ll surely know your description. The authorities are sure to find out. In the least, you will be jailed on suspicion. I’m sorry Esperanza, you must leave Oaxaca.”

Esperanza was now crying into her hands. Don Miguel could see her remorse. Feeling he was partially at fault, he decided to help her. He put a handful of wet cocoa beans in her hands and told her, “Here. Take over for me. I’ve got something to do.” Don Miguel dried his hands on his apron and said, “Don’t worry. I’m going to help you. It’s the least I can do.”

Esperanza dried her eyes and blew her nose, and got to work on spreading out the cocoa beans. When she finished that task, she started the work of grinding up a batch of cacao nibs. Don Miguel returned a couple hours later.

“I sent a letter to a friend of mine who lives far from here. We should hear back from her in a week or so. If it’s good news, I’ll fill you in on the rest. Until then, keep working here in the shop as if everything is normal and go straight home each day when we are done. It will be in your best interest to be a recluse from now until you leave.”

Esperanza did as the Don requested. It wasn’t hard to do as she didn’t feel like doing much more than sleeping and working. About a week later, she came to the Buen Día Dulcería to find Don Miguel with a smile on his face.

“My friend has agreed to take you on as her apprentice. She is a baker and gourmet chef. She has a lot to teach you. As long as you are her apprentice, you can board with her as well.”

“Thank you, Don Miguel! When shall I leave?”

“Right now,” he said. “Go to your apartment and pack your things. Then go straight to the bus station. Draw as little attention to yourself as possible. Here, cover yourself with this.” Don Miguel tossed her a black shawl. “It’s my mother’s. It’s the least she could do. Take the first bus available. It doesn’t matter where. Stay the night there, and the next morning start making your way up north.”

“Where am I going?” Esperanza asked.

“Guanajuato,” Don Miguel answered.


If you like what you read, feel free to get the rest of the story on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and Kobo!

Lover Number 2 (Chapter 6)

Because he was dead, Don Raúl’s hand over Esperanza’s mouth relaxed. This was when she let out a blood-curdling scream. She had already been crying. Her pillow was soaked with tears on each side of her face.

The first person to arrive at Esperanza’s bedroom was Lupita, followed closely by Doña Ángeles. The first words out of Lupita’s mouth were, “Dios mío,” followed by signs of the cross. The first words out of Doña Ángeles mouth were, “What have you done?”

Lupita held Esperanza while they both wept.

Doña Ángeles had her husband’s body moved to their bedroom and told the servants who helped her, “You will not speak of this, ever!” She waited until the next morning to report her husband’s death, claiming that he passed in his sleep. Though the man was as fit as a bull, the coroner concluded that he’d died of heart failure.

Not only did the servants never speak of what happened, neither did Doña Ángeles. To her, Esperanza was to blame for the loss of both of her husbands. Now more than ever, she resented the beautiful daughter of the devil.

It took Esperanza months to get over what happened, though she never fully recovered—not for a couple of decades anyway. The one who took the loss of Esperanza’s virtue the hardest was Lupita. Over the next year, Lupita seemed to age at ten times the normal rate. She eventually became bedridden, and the roles between her and Esperanza reversed. Now it was Esperanza who took care of Lupita.

One day, while Esperanza was reading to her, Lupita spoke for the first time in months. “Enough,” she said. “It’s time for me to leave.” Shocked to hear her wet nurse’s voice, Esperanza was speechless as she watched the old woman help herself out of bed.

“’Pita, what do you mean?” Esperanza said.

“This house has become too dark. I must leave.”

Laughing in disbelief, Esperanza asked, “Where will you go?”

“I’m going to be with the Lord.”

Esperanza watched Lupita scavenge through the room as if she was looking for something, until she spoke again. “Ehh, what could I need?”

“’Pita, no. Not yet,” Esperanza said, and she began to cry, realizing that Lupita was truly leaving, though she was not sure how.

“That’s enough tears for now. It’s time. It’s my job to look after you, and I can’t do it from here, not anymore.” Lupita started to levitate. “As soon as I am gone, remove the money from my mattress. Find the black thread and cut along the seam. It’s my life’s savings. Take it, and tomorrow after I’m buried in the backyard, leave this God-forsaken place forever.”

As Lupita started to ascend, a hole in the ceiling began to appear. A bright light pierced through the hole as it began to enlarge, and pieces of plaster and concrete fell to the ground. Looking at Lupita, Esperanza could see a glow about her. The ten years she had aged in that year seemed to have reversed. Also, for the first time since that horrible night, Lupita had a smile on her face. “Don’t worry, mijita. I won’t abandon you. I’ll be looking after you the whole time. I promise.” And she disappeared up through the illuminated hole in the ceiling.

Esperanza closed her eyes and cried as if she were a baby again, anywhere in the house but the kitchen. Her mother came to the room and asked, “What’s going on in here?”

Through the tears, Esperanza choked out the words, “Lupita, she’s left.”

As if annoyed, Doña Ángeles said, “You can have the rest of the night to mourn. We’ll bury her in the backyard first thing tomorrow morning.”

Confused, Esperanza opened her eyes to find Lupita’s lifeless body lying in her bed and the ceiling intact. The Doña immediately walked out of the room, leaving her daughter alone to mourn.

The next day, after the funeral and during siesta, Esperanza followed through with Lupita’s request. She cut open the mattress where it had been sewn shut with black thread and removed Lupita’s life’s savings. She then packed two leather bags and left a note for her mother.

“Dearest mother, sorry I couldn’t say good-bye. I’ve gone away on a business trip.”

***

At seventeen, Esperanza’s body had been in full bloom for years, but she had lived such a sheltered life in Ojocaliente that she was unaware of the power of her beauty. In the year that she traveled the country, she was made well aware that she had something that men desired.

At first, she thought they were just nice, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that all they wanted was what her stepfather had taken by force. She had no interest in that and kept men at a distance for a long time.

Being a young, beautiful traveler with plenty of money, one would expect Esperanza to be having the time of her life. The truth was, she was sad. She was alone for the first time in her life and missed Lupita dearly. The only time her mind was clear of any anguish was when she was eating. She found joy in trying all the different foods the different parts of the country had to offer.

She tried everything she came across. She found that the best food came from the people in the street or on the side of the road. As she tasted the different delicacies, she asked vendors about the ingredients and then made notes in a book she carried with her. Sometimes the vendors could answer her, and sometimes they couldn’t.

“I use cinnamon tea as the base for my mole,” a woman would say. Or “I mix bacon grease in the masa.” Often though, the answer would be, “No sé, Señorita. My mother made them.”

Esperanza got great pleasure in seeing a ball of masa turn into a quesadilla right before her eyes. She would have it cut into as many pieces as there were different salsas, so that she could try them all.

One day, while eating a shrimp cocktail, she looked up and realized that she was in paradise. She decided right then and there that Puerto Escondido was her new home. By the end of that afternoon, she had found both a casita and a bathing suit she liked, and hit the beach to take in the sun.

It was on the beach that she realized how comfortable it felt to be barely dressed. She despised the attention it got her, though. Mothers would often cover their young sons’ eyes as they walked by, and men would often come up to Esperanza and try to make conversation without ever looking at her face. “To hell with them,” she eventually thought. “I’ll wear whatever I want.”

Puerto Escondido was filled with young tourists and foreigners, and it didn’t take Esperanza long to make friends. She spent her days on the beach and nights out with them. Smoking marijuana and drinking were habits she easily embraced until, one night, she found herself in a situation that reminded her of her night with Don Raúl.

The next day, the young German with a bandaged head apologized to her. Her response to him was, “Next time, after I break the bottle over your head, I’ll take what’s left and stab it in your neck.” There wasn’t a next time.

Esperanza felt it best to keep her senses about her and no longer participated in the smoking or drinking when she went out. After a few nights of this, she began to dread going out at all. The beach also had lost its allure. After trying to surf, she had resigned to just sunbathing, but this bored her after a while. With boredom set in and rent using up most of Lupita’s savings, Esperanza concluded it was time she went to work.

The first place she thought of was where she used to hang out with her friends, Mariscos Puerto Escondido. During the day it was a decent seafood restaurant, but at night it was the most popular bar in town. Not wanting to continue to be around drunks, Esperanza hoped to pick up a lunch or dinner shift as a waitress.

She walked in one morning before they opened and asked to speak to the owner. Ernesto was a handsome man not quite thirty years old. A close uncle had left him the restaurant when he passed away. As soon as Ernesto took the place over, he immediately brought in a stereo system and kept the restaurant open as late as the city would allow it. Within the first week, he had doubled his revenue. As any young man who inherited a bar would do, Ernesto enjoyed himself on a nightly basis. He took liberties with his liquor and his female employees. Within seconds of seeing Esperanza, he said, “When can you start?”

“Right away,” Esperanza answered.

“Good,” he said. “Let me give you a tour.” The first thing he showed her was his office and sleeping quarters, which contained a bed big enough for three people. They stood there for a moment in silence. When Esperanza gave no indication that she wanted to test the bed out, Ernesto continued the tour. Next was a private area for servers to change into their uniforms and store their personal belongings, and then it was on to the kitchen.

It was in the kitchen that, for the first time in a long time, Esperanza became overwhelmed with joy. Of course, she thought. That was why all the food she had been trying made her feel so good. It was the closest she had been to an actual kitchen. Esperanza was reminded of the stories Lupita would tell her. Of how, when she was a baby, the only place she wouldn’t cry was in the kitchen.

Excited, Esperanza addressed the owner. “Señor.”

Ernesto held up his hand and had a look on his face as if to say, “Please. Call me Ernesto.”

“Ernesto,” she continued. “I’ve changed my mind. I do not want to serve meals. I want to make them. Here in the kitchen!”

Ernesto let out a laugh and said, “Young lady, I’m not hiring you for either of those jobs. You are my newest cocktail waitress.”

***

The impact Ernesto had hoped for in hiring such an attractive woman was better than expected. The Mariscos Puerto Escondido was packed every night, mostly with men who had come to see Esperanza. The uniform for servers was a white cotton blouse with elastic at the top. The bottom of the blouse was tucked into a white cotton skirt with blue trim, and the restaurant’s name embroidered on it in big letters. Ernesto took the liberty to make some changes to Esperanza’s uniform. The bottom of her blouse came to an end right underneath her breasts, exposing her midriff. The slit in the side the skirt came up a little higher than normal, and he bought her some high-heeled shoes to wear.

Esperanza didn’t mind the sheer cotton top or skirt. It was as close to being naked in public as she’d ever been, and she quite enjoyed how comfortable that made her feel. She liked the uniform so much that she eventually bought some of the skirts for herself—without the embroidery or the slit in the side—and had them dyed different colors. As far as the shoes went, she hated them. And in time, getting rid of them was one of the demands she made on Ernesto.

***

Esperanza was not naive. She was aware that she was the one the customers came to see every night. She teased and flirted with the men, and if a song came on that she liked, she’d select a lucky patron and take him out on the dance floor. Nobody cared that she didn’t know the difference between cumbia and salsa. Just watching her move to the rhythm of the music was enough. Each song always ended with a roar from the crowd and a round of applause.

One day, after months of serving drinks and making Ernesto richer by the night, Esperanza came in early to negotiate new terms of her employment. Knowing that she could ask for anything she wanted, Ernesto waited in fear to hear her demands.

“First of all,” Esperanza said. “I do not want to wear these ever again.” She held the high-heeled shoes by their straps and then released them, letting them drop on Ernesto’s desk. “Next,” she said as Ernesto grimaced, waiting for it. “I want to make more money…”

There it was—what Ernesto had been dreading. How much was she going to want? Ten percent? Twenty? Thirty? Forget it! He would do 15 percent, tops!

“…by working in kitchen,” Esperanza demanded.

“Deal,” Ernesto said thanking the Lord for her reasonable request. “What shoes do you intend to wear?”

“Pues, my huaraches of course,” she said as she gestured down to her feet.

Ernesto looked down and saw her favorite brown, tattered leather sandals covering up most of what he thought were the prettiest feet he’d ever seen. “As you wish,” he said, but with the thought that he would have to replace those horrible things eventually.

Esperanza started in the kitchen that night. She spent most of her first dinner shift chopping. Chopping onions, cilantro, tomatoes and whatever else the staff needed chopped. Though the work was menial, she loved every minute of it. The blissful energy she absorbed in the kitchen was still with her through her entire shift as a cocktail waitress.

She could tell that the kitchen staff was just humoring her by letting her be in the kitchen. They had no intention of letting her cook anything. They all assumed she didn’t know how. Why would a woman this beautiful ever have to cook anything in her entire life? they thought.

The dinner-shift staff arrived one day to find Esperanza already in the kitchen. She stood at a table where a bowl of something sat along with a basket of tostadas next to it.

“What’s this?” someone asked.

“This is my fish ceviche,” Esperanza answered.

“We already have a fish ceviche on the menu!”

“Not like this,” she said and stood there, not inviting them to taste it, even though that was exactly what she wanted them to do.

Someone finally made a move and broke a portion of tostada off and scooped up a mouthful of the ceviche. He asked for a salt shaker, but Esperanza interrupted him, “Ah, ah. Taste it first.”

As soon as the staff member put the piece of tostada topped with ceviche into his mouth, his eyes widened. Still chewing, he went for another piece of the tostada. “It tastes like the ocean,” he said as he took a second helping. “An ocean with extra chilies.”

“Well, we are in the business of selling beers too,” Esperanza responded.

In the year that she spent traveling the country trying different food, it occurred to Esperanza that every dish was one special ingredient away from being elevated from good to great. The special ingredient in her ceviche was fresh ocean water instead of regular salt. She filtered that water through a series of coffee filters. What was left was a liquid salt solution that gave any seafood dish the essence of the ocean.

The last person to taste the ceviche was the head chef. With his mouth still full, he proclaimed, “This is going on the menu tonight!”

“It will have to be tomorrow,” Esperanza told the chef. “This is the last of it, and it takes twenty-four hours to prepare.”

“Then get to work,” he said. “And make plenty, for tomorrow it will not only be on the menu, but it will also be the special.”

With the head chef’s approval each time, changes were made to the menu as Esperanza introduced something else. Within time, Mariscos Puerto Escondido was the most popular restaurant in all of Puerto Escondido, making Ernesto even richer.

***

“Do you like them?” Ernesto could already tell by the look on Esperanza’s face that she did. Stunned, she held the handmade sandals in her hands like they were a pair of baby bunnies. “Well?” Ernesto asked.

Snapping out of her daze, Esperanza said, “Yes,” and put them on right away.

“Good,” Ernesto said as he presented her with another box. “Because I got you two pair.” Ernesto had spent months looking for a pair of shoes, until he decided that what he would like best to see on Esperanza’s feet did not exist. He sent away to León to have exactly what he wanted custom made. After sending several pairs back, the right ones arrived, and he thought that with all the effort it to took to get them, he’d better order a second pair. He waited till the second set of turquoise-and-silver decorated sandals arrived before he presented the first pair to Esperanza.

Esperanza started to have feelings for her boss. Gestures like this one helped, but he had made more significant changes over time. He’d cut his drinking down to the occasional celebratory shot, and his womanizing came to a halt, mostly. He was a man, after all, and waiting for Esperanza to come around had him so pent up with sexual frustration that he had to release it every now and then.

Esperanza’s beauty was enough to make any man want her. But her charm, charisma, and skills in the kitchen made Ernesto feel like this was a woman he could marry, forsaking all others.

One night after the bar had closed and Ernesto and Esperanza were the only ones left, Ernesto took a deep breath and said, “I’ve never seen you with a man, so I assume you are a virgin waiting for marriage. That being the case, I want to marry you. Not simply because I want to lie with you but because I love you and want to only be with you until the day that I die.”

For the first time in her life, Esperanza felt a man want her for more than just her beauty. She had gotten many drunken proposals over the years, but this was the first true, honest one. Her mind filled with visions of a happy life and children. It felt good to her to see this future. She’d never thought it was possible, but maybe she could have a normal life after all.

“I’ll marry you,” Esperanza said. “But I’m not a virgin, so I see no need to wait.” She dropped the towel she was using to clean on the floor and headed upstairs to Ernesto’s sleeping quarters. Ernesto immediately followed.

***

It had been five years since the night her virtue was stolen. It felt like an old memory to her—one that didn’t hurt so much. She felt she was ready to get on with her life and now seemed as good of a time as any.

By the time he got to the bedroom, Esperanza had already taken her sandals off. All Ernesto had left to do was lift her blouse over her head and pull her skirt down to the floor, and she was naked. “My God,” Ernesto said looking upon his naked betrothed for the very first time. It was a feat no other man in the world had the privilege of accomplishing. Still dressed, Ernesto walked counter-clockwise around Esperanza, lightly touching her with the tips of his left hand as he circled. He started at her shoulder and drew a line with his fingers down her body, as if he was painting a barber’s pole. By the time he got to the front of her left hip, just below her waistline, her knees buckled. Thinking she was going to fall, Ernesto grabbed her and then kissed her.

Esperanza responded to the kiss with overflowing passion. She kissed him back while boldly embracing him. Men had kissed her over the past few years, but none of them felt like this. None of them aroused her. And none of them had taken place while she was naked, feeling both vulnerable and comfortable at the same time.

Ernesto undressed himself in front of her. Like a little girl, Esperanza hid her face in her hands. She had never seen a grown man naked before. Hoping to ease her embarrassment a little, Ernesto got into bed underneath the covers. Esperanza followed his lead.

The kissing and caressing continued until Ernesto could no longer take it. He positioned himself on top of her, wedging his body in between her legs. He was more than ready to enter the most beautiful women he had ever known in his life, but every attempt he made was thwarted by Esperanza’s squirming just out of reach. “Are you sure you want this?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m sure.” Now more than ever Esperanza wanted to make love. Though she was attracted to Ernesto and wanted him to be her lover, at this point she just wanted to make love to make love. She wanted to prove to herself that she could. That what Don Raúl had done to her no longer controlled her—that she was over it. She scooted down to meet Ernesto’s erection and accepted it inside of her.

As soon as Ernesto entered her, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and his eyelids fell closed. The pleasure overwhelmed him, and he felt as if he were transported to another place. After a few seconds, Ernesto came back and opened his eyes to look at his lover. She had her face covered by her hands again. This time she was not hiding her embarrassment but her tears.

Everything was too familiar, an echo of the only other “lover” she’d ever had. As much as she tried not to let the experience of her new lover remind her of Don Raúl, she couldn’t help it. The tears came without permission, and she covered her face to hide that fact that she was crying. Hoping that Ernesto would finish before he noticed.

As soon as he opened his eyes, Ernesto withdrew from her and lay next to her on the bed. “You’re not ready,” he said, without anger or frustration.

“I’m sorry,” she said wiping away her tears. “I thought I was. I wanted to be.”

“What happened?”

“Talking about it is something I know I’m not ready for.”

“Okay, my love. We have a lifetime to talk and make love. It doesn’t have to start it all tonight.” Esperanza smiled, and he kissed her on the temple. “Here, lie on your side,” he said as he slid his arm under her neck to spoon her.

Esperanza welcomed this new position. She had never spooned before. She liked how she could lie like a child and be held. It was like being hugged but not having to hug back. It would have been the perfect had it not been for something hard poking her from behind. “What is th…” before she could finish her question she had Ernesto’s hard organ in her hand.

“Sorry,” he said. “It will go away in a while.”

A little embarrassed, Esperanza let go of his erection and turned back around. She couldn’t help but notice how close it was to her vagina. “Do people make love this way?” she asked Ernesto.

“Yes, of course.”

Esperanza lay there, thinking about what it would be like to make love in this position, when she felt him gently slide inside of her from behind. Ernesto didn’t need any other confirmation that she wanted to try again, other than the mutual burning desire he could feel between the both of them. When Esperanza reached back, grabbing him by the hip and pulling him closer to her, he knew he was right to try.

As much as Esperanza like this position for cuddling, she liked it even more for making love. She liked that she didn’t have to reciprocate anything. Not because she was selfish, but because she couldn’t. Her lover would caress her, and she couldn’t caress him. Her lover could kiss her on the neck, but she couldn’t kiss back.

Don Raúl was the furthest thing from her mind. Nothing about this lovemaking session reminded her of that night in Ojocaliente. That is, until she realized Ernesto was dead.


If you like what you read, feel free to get the rest of the story on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and Kobo!

Lover Number 1 (Chapter 5)

Esperanza was born on Christmas Day in Ojocaliente, Zacatecas. The delivery was uneventful until the midwife, Señora Mondragón, saw the child’s eyes. The Señora looked up at Esperanza’s father, Don Eduardo, and then to Esperanza’s mother, Doña Ángeles, and said, “Disculpe, pero—who in your family has green eyes?”

Puzzled, Doña Ángeles responded, “Why, no one.”

The first thought that came to Señora Mondragón was that the Doña had been unfaithful. Right away, she asked that Don Eduardo give the mother and child time to bond. The father, not knowing what was normal in childbirth, easily agreed and left the room.

“Forgive me, Señora, but I must know. Have you stepped out on your husband at all?” the midwife asked.

“Of course not,” the Doña responded. “How could you ask such a thing?”

“Perdón, Señora, but I had to know for sure.”

Besides being a midwife, Señora Mondragón also served as the town’s lie detector. People, usually women, would come to her with the accused in tow and pay ten pesos to ask a question in front of her. She would then simply respond, “He’s lying” or “He’s telling the truth.”

A mother once brought her fat, little boy to ask, “Was it you or the dog who ate all the empanadas?”

“It was the dog,” the fat boy responded.

“He’s lying,” Señora Mondragón concluded.

A young bride-to-be brought her fiancé to ask, “Were you at the whorehouse last night?”

To which he responded, “No.” They always said no.

“He’s lying,” Señora Modragón said.

Once a woman asked her husband, “Did you sleep with that zorra, Anita Rojas?”

Her husband answered, “No.”

Señora Mondragón was forced to say, “He’s telling the truth,” because of the question asked in front of her. But she knew that it was Sofía de la Vega whom he had slept with.

So, when Doña Ángeles answered that she had not been unfaithful, the midwife knew that she was telling the truth.

“This child is the daughter of the devil,” said Señora Mondragón.

“How can you say that?” the Doña asked.

“Because she has the eyes of a serpent!” she said and handed the baby to her mother.

Doña Ángeles gave out a “Dios mío!” and did three signs of the cross before taking her daughter.

Esperanza had green eyes. They were the greenest eyes anyone had ever seen, so uncommon that people thought that they looked like the eyes of Satan—though all anyone had to go by were artists’ renditions of the devil found in churches. Esperanza was not the daughter of the devil, but the dye was cast. She might as well have been.

With the daughter in her mother’s arms, the wet nurse, Lupita, was able to see the baby’s eyes for the first time. Regardless of what anyone said, when Lupita looked into the newborn’s eyes, all she could think was that they were those of an angel. Lupita immediately fell in love with Esperanza, and it was a good thing, because the Doña promptly handed her daughter over to her.

With the baby in her arms, Lupita announced in protest, “This baby is no daughter of Satan.” And with that, as if on cue, Esperanza started to wail and did not stop until the next day when Lupita reported to the kitchen with the baby in her arms.

Hours later, after la comida had been prepared and served, Lupita gathered up the child and exited the kitchen. As soon as Lupita crossed the threshold of the kitchen, Esperanza started crying again and did not stop until the next day when it was time to prepare la comida again.

It didn’t take long for Lupita to figure it out. With the help of the other servants, Lupita turned the walk-in pantry of the kitchen into sleeping quarters for her and Esperanza.

For a while, the house was at peace, and everyone seemed to forget the declaration of Señora Mondragón—until Esperanza learned to walk. The child got into everything within reach. The lower kitchen cabinets were fitted with latches so that she couldn’t access the contents inside them. All decorations and trinkets within one meter of the ground were removed or placed on higher shelves, for fear of them getting knocked to the ground and destroyed. The family even had to give away their prized German Shepherds because Esperanza would not stop collecting dog shit and bringing it into the house.

For the next several years, the only time the house was quiet was when Esperanza was asleep. No matter what happened, though, Lupita never lost her temper with the little girl. And when it came time for Esperanza to say her first word, it was “’Pita.”

Don Eduardo was so distraught by the child’s behavior that he stopped making love to his wife, for fear of creating another devil child. Then one day, after years of tolerating both the little troublemaker and the rumors as to who her real father was, Don Eduardo packed two leather bags and left on a business trip, never to return.

For the next several years, the house of Doña Ángeles never had a moment’s peace—until the day came that Esperanza started school. The relief was short-lived, though. By the end of her second year in school, Esperanza was sent home with a letter pinned to her blouse asking Doña Ángeles not to send the child back.

This was when Esperanza started her first apprenticeship, under Lupita, in her mother’s kitchen. Along with learning how to cook, Esperanza learned how to read. Although she resented her, the Doña couldn’t stand the possibility of having a dummy as a daughter. So she labeled everything in the kitchen with its appropriate word. After Esperanza mastered every word in the kitchen, her mother moved on to labeling items in the rest of their home. The house looked as though Doña Ángeles had died and was hosting her own estate sale, but instead of prices on the cards, there were vocabulary words. Once Esperanza learned how to read and spell the words on every label in their home, Doña Ángeles started giving the child books and insisted that if Esperanza wanted to be in the kitchen, she would have to finish a book a week. It turns out this was all the education Esperanza ever needed.

After several years, Doña Ángeles resigned to the fact that her husband was never coming back. She was also broke and resorted to the selling the antique furniture that decorated her house, piece by piece.

One of the furniture buyers was the widower Don Raúl de la Serna, a foreman for the copper mining company in town. After he first laid eyes on the Doña, Don Raúl came by the house every day to either inquire about or buy another piece of furniture. Within two months Doña Ángeles had her furniture back, even the pieces Don Raúl did not buy, as well as a new husband.

Don Raúl did not think of Esperanza as his own daughter. The wild child was just too much for him. But he did treat her with respect. She was, after all, his wife’s daughter. One Saturday, while peeling chayote in the kitchen, Esperanza got distracted, as she often did, and sent the tip of her paring knife into the end of her middle finger.

Though she was sixteen by this time, she let out a wail as if she was an infant who had just taken a tumble. She cried, not so much because of how much it hurt, but for the attention. Don Raul, who was in the garden, ran into the kitchen to see who was dying.

“What’s the matter in here?” the Don said.

Esperanza, crying and holding her finger in her other hand, shouted, “I cut my finger!”

The Don took Esperanza’s folded hands in his and took her over to the washbasin. As he unwrapped her finger, expecting it to be severed, he couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s just a pinprick,” he said. “There’s barely any blood.” The Don wiped the blood off Esperanza’s finger with his thumb and said, “Look. It already stopped bleeding.” The Don exhaled deeply and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “Dios mío. You almost gave me a heart attack.” Looking at his thumb he continued, “All that over a little drop of blood.” And then, without any thought, Don Raúl put his thumb into his mouth and sucked the drop of blood off of it.

Later that night, with a look of lust and desperation in his eyes, Don Raúl de la Serna crept into Esperanza’s bed. He slid between her legs and pulled her panties to one side. When she started to protest, he put his hand over her mouth.

By the time Don Raúl finished taking Esperanza’s virginity, he was dead.


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