David Soto Writes

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

Tag: novela (page 1 of 3)

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.

Sometime after noon, Pierre woke-up 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. “Some coffee, my love?” 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 prepared herself 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, my love.”

“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.

“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, “Sorry, ladies. There will be no chocolates today.”

The ladies giggled as they walked away, not saying anything in return and too hungover 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 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.

She stocked the shelves of her shop 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 an auspicious one. 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 Pierre announced, “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. “Excuse me, but does anyone in your family have green eyes?”

Lover Number 5 (Chapter 12)

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

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

The second youngest among the soldiers was a man by the name of Pascual Ortiz. Unlike most of the other soldiers, Pascual was only a couple years older than Pierre. Because of this, the two bonded. Pierre was far superior when it came to soldiering, but Pascual possessed 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 after accidentally wandering into Pilar’s brothel. 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—usually during a meal. Pascual read the letters out loud, but changed his routine one day when the message opened with “Dear Pierre” instead of “My dearest son.”

“What is it?” Pierre said with a mouth full of arroz con coco. Pascual read 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. The colonel denied his request. He instead promoted Pierre to sergeant and gave him a squad to lead. Pierre was too good of a soldier to be granted leave. The colonel 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 no longer have the protection of the army but that 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 thought. He would no longer fight for the same people who held him prisoner. 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. The mission was to find the camp, torch it, and bring back any surviving enemy soldiers. The day before the patrol headed out, Pierre requested leave for when he got back.

“I’m sure we can figure something out upon your return,” the colonel said. 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—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 finally 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 got so much pleasure from touching Pierre’s bare 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.

“When a rebel 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.”

“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 all sorts of armed conflicts as I traveled north. After Mexico, I found myself in Cuba and then ended up in 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 the injuries 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 joked with me, saying that I was immortal. In Panama, they even started a rumor that I was an immortal soldier. For years that rumor followed me, and then one day, I started to believe it. I didn’t want to, you see. I didn’t want to be immortal. In fact, just the opposite. I wanted to die, so I 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 years, I heard 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, Pita.”

***

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 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.

“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 even some 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 minimal experience with foreplay. And even though she enjoyed 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 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 as 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 to emit passionate groans of his own. 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 passionate cries 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 collapsed on top of 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, 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 well the sun came up.

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

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 looking for something. Along the way, he periodically stopped 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 deep inside him in a place that had been dark for a long time. 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.” Pierre bent down to take a screwdriver out of the toolbox revealing the small group of children that had gathered behind him.

“You kids go play,” Esperanza shouted, waving the towel 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 pieces 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. In the end, 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 completed the job 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.

“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 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 entry 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 massive 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.

***

“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 are 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 the shop 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, though felt good to finally tell someone. She had kept this secret for so long. 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. Caught off guard by his request, she 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.

“Hey!” 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. Realizing she now had a meal to prepare, Esperanza removed her apron. “I have to do some shopping,” she said. “If I am not back before you leave, be back here just before sunset.”

***

Everything was ready by the time Pierre reappeared that evening. He showed up for dinner wearing his green fatigues, as they were the only clothes he had. He did bathe and changed into a clean set, though. 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. Esperanza made both from scratch. She had grilled a whole chicken over a small wood fire before allowing it to simmer in the sauce and get tender. She realized that she had made a mistake by only buying one chicken. It never occurred to her 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 the rest 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. 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 so that 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 in your dreams told you to?”

“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 conviction wasn’t unwarranted. Esperanza was attracted to him. He had known this for weeks, but it had never been more evident than it was on this night. The sexual tension was so intense that it gave off an odor that Pierre could smell.

“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 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 Pierre? 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 briefly, 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.”

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

Pierre was born in a brothel in Panama 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 had mastered 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 himself no longer in possession of the said 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 chuckled 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 Pierre felt content.

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—intrigued by the curious crowd of women gathered in front of the shop who all happened to be staring at him. The clock struck two, the metal bolt slid over, and the heavy double doors swung open. 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 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, “Come in, ladies. There are plenty of chocolates for everyone.”

Pierre was nearly two meters tall and easily weighed that of two men. If he were to put on some tights and a mask, he could easily pass as a luchador. 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 shirt 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. “Excuse me.”

“Yes?” Esperanza answered, opening the doors just enough to expose her face. Even though he stood on the sidewalk and she 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 only 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 tomorrow,” 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,” she 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.

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 disembarked, 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 a few 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 to 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, “Welcome, Esperanza. Come in. I’ve been waiting for you. Lupita has told me so much about you.”

Certain 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’ll 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 put down roots 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 had a late dinner with Doña Luz, and some nights they shared 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 bit 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 store across the street.

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

The other woman who had yet to say a word 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 before 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 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. The town even built a new school to accommodate the influx of children.

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 five 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, handsome stranger in green fatigues, wearing a black beret, standing across the street.

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 a city filled with bright, vibrant colors. Lively painted buildings lined the streets one after another. Each one painted its own combination of loud colors. 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 candy store came first. She smelled the Buen Día Dulcería long before she ever saw it. She followed the breadcrumbs leading her there—happy children with big smiles or rings of chocolate around their mouths.

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 sat evenly spaced on polished copper trays. Each different type of chocolate on a sperate platter. 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.

“Excuse me, 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 of the store. 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 gain any experience. 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, Esperanza said. “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 kind and patient teacher. Esperanza would have paid for the experience.

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, 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. She did wonder what it would be like to have someone special in her life, but could not move forward without knowing for sure 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 entertainment for tourists.”

“Well, I wished I checked with you before 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 a bigger 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 it had been nearly twenty years since her husband passed.

“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 more than a dozen flickering candles lit the room well. 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.

“Your hands,” the woman said.

Esperanza put her hands on the table. The Señora picked them up and studied her palms. Esperanza noticed a confused look on the Señora’s face. 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.”

Pitying 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 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 the men died 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 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 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 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 in 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 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 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, the coroner his death ruled a heart attack.

Esperanza felt terrible 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 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?”

Don Miguel was well 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. He needed no further explanation 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 would 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, they’ll lock you up on suspicion. I’m sorry. 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 on grinding up a batch of cacao nibs. Don Miguel returned a couple of 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.

Lover Number 2 (Chapter 6)

    Because he was dead, Don Raúl’s hand over Esperanza’s mouth relaxed allowing the sound of her screams to ring throughout the house. She had already been crying—her pillow wet with tears on each side of her face.

The first person to arrive at Esperanza’s bedroom was Lupita, followed closely by Doña Ángeles. Speechless, Lupita did several signs of the cross. Doña Ángeles, however, had something to say “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 his 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 read 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 just watched as 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. 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 six feet under, 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 enlarged, 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 like she did when she was a baby 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 on 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 became well aware that she had something that men desired.

At first, she thought they were just being nice, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that they all wanted 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 found herself alone for the first time in her life. With no chores or work to do, she had a lot of free time on her hands. It was during that free time that she thought about the only person who ever really cared for her, Lupita. The only time her mind was clear of any anguish was when she ate.

She found joy in trying all the different foods the different parts of the country had to offer. 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 said. Or “I mix bacon grease in the masa.” Often though, the answer would be, “I don’t know. 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 place to rent, 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 a town 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, a young German with a bandaged head apologized to her. “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 de 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 it 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 being in a 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 de 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. Waitresses tucked the bottom of the blouse into a white cotton skirt that had 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 usual, and he bought her a pair of 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 knew 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 continually increasing Ernesto’s profit, 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 did she want? Ten percent? Twenty? Thirty? Forget it! He would do 15 percent, tops!

“…by working in the kitchen,” Esperanza finished her demand.

“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 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 to be chopped. Though the work was menial, she loved every minute of it. She carried with her blissful energy she absorbed in the kitchen through her entire shift as a cocktail waitress.

She could tell that the kitchen staff was humoring her by letting her be in the kitchen. They had no intention of allowing her to 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.

One day the kitchen staff arrived to find Esperanza already in there. 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 de Puerto Escondido was the most popular restaurant in all of Puerto Escondido.

***

“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 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 what he had envisioned 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 Don Raúl stole her virtue. It felt like an old memory to her—one that didn’t hurt so much. She thought 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. “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 had 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 Esperanza’s squirming thwarted every attempt he made. As much as he tried, he found the pleasure of Esperanza 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 it 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.

The experience was too much for Esperanza. As much as she tried not to let it 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 to make love. We don’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 enjoyed not having 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.

Lover Number 4 (Chapter 4)

Esperanza was not the only one living with Doña Eva. María Elena, the head housemaid, and her oldest daughter, Ana, also resided in the house. The rest of María Elena’s family lived in Guadalajara. Every few months, Mariá Elena traveled home by bus for an extended weekend with her family. Ana had a special bond with her mother, especially when it came to cooking. The months-long separations from her mother were particularly hard on the young girl. When María Elena told Doña Eva that she might not return from her next trip to Guadalajara, Doña Eva insisted that she bring her daughter back with her to Guanajuato.

In awe of Esperanza’s beauty, the twelve-year-old Ana looked up to her and started splitting her time between the kitchen, with her mother, and the bakery, with Esperanza. The two bonded and became like sisters. They would laugh, play games and go for walks in the city, shopping along the way or trying pastries from other panaderías. When Ana started her first period, it was Esperanza she broke the news to first, not her mother. Although honored that Ana had confided in her, Esperanza sternly told Ana, “That is something you need to tell your mother first, not me.”

***

Ana wanted so badly to emulate Esperanza that she started to mimic her voice inflections, mannerisms, as well as her kindness. Nobody thought anything of it until Ana began to imitate Esperanza in ways she could not control.  As if by magic, Ana’s body started to blossom into that of a mature woman— that of Esperanza.

Ana’s twelve-year-old girl clothes began to swell with breasts and hips. It got so bad that both María Elena and Esperanza spent a good deal of money and time taking Ana shopping though it was no use. The girl seemed to outgrow her clothes every week. Ana’s new curves brought her a lot of unwanted attention from older men. One of these men was Esperanza’s fourth lover, Miguel Sandoval.

Miguel Sandoval was a bachelor who made a decent living delivering water. Between drinking and baking, Doña Eva’s house went through so much water that she had to have it delivered every day. Doña Eva’s house was on his route. Every day—except Sunday—Miguel Sandoval counted the empty blue five-gallon water bottles, hauled them up to his truck, and carried full ones back down, two at a time, to replace the empties. He alternated trips from the truck between the bakery and the kitchen until he replaced every empty bottle with a full one. When he finished, Doña Eva paid him for each bottle, plus a generous tip.

His tips were why Miguel Sandoval made such a good living. He was polite, courteous, and charming. He never left a house without a generous tip. The only person who saw through his deceit was Esperanza. No matter how polite he was to her, she could see his real intentions. Just by the feel of his lustful gaze, she could tell that he was in the bakery without ever seeing him. Luckily for Miguel Sandoval, Esperanza was not in charge of paying for the water.

Every time Miguel Sandoval delivered water to Doña Eva’s, he would hope to catch Esperanza still in the bakery, mixing something or maybe washing dishes, so he could get a glimpse of her breasts gyrating underneath her sheer white cotton top. Then one day, Esperanza noticed that all the empty water bottles had been replaced. Miguel Sandoval had come and gone.

This was about the time Ana had started to blossom. Miguel Sandoval had occasionally seen Ana during his deliveries. He had thought nothing more of her than that she was the head maid’s little girl—until the day he carried in two full bottles, one on each shoulder, into the kitchen and saw a large pair of breasts swaying with the rhythm a woman used to knead masa with her bare hands. When Miguel Sandoval finally looked up from the woman’s jiggling breasts, he realized that the woman was not a woman at all but the twelve-year-old Ana.

Now, during every water delivery, it was Ana he was hoping to catch in the kitchen, instead of Esperanza in the bakery. It didn’t matter to him how young she was. Her purity turned him on even more. The young college girls that he seduced on a nightly basis at the bar no longer satiated him. He knew he needed something different but wasn’t sure what it was—until the day he started to notice Ana.

***

María Elena’s scream seemed louder than it actually was, being as it came during siesta. Immediately, both Doña Eva and Esperanza tracked the cry down to Ana’s room. On the bed was Ana, curled up in the fetal position sobbing. Standing next to her, holding a pair of Ana’s panties soiled with a pink liquid, a distinct mixture of blood and semen, was María Elena. She also sobbed.

María Elena thought her daughter had given up her virtue at such a young age. This was not how it was supposed to happen. María Elena had visions of a big wedding and a white dress. She had hope that her beautiful daughter would be a good Catholic girl and save herself for her wedding night. Not that María Elena did, she herself was pressured into giving up her virtue at a young age to someone who said he loved her but didn’t. She wanted something different for her daughter—something better—but it seemed that Ana had followed in her mother’s footsteps.

Esperanza knew better. It all seemed too familiar. Seeing Ana lying in bed—that distant look in her eyes. “She’s been raped,” Esperanza announced. The other two women gasped simultaneously, both doing the sign of the cross.

“Is this true?” María Elena asked her daughter. Ana did not respond.

“It’s true,” Esperanza answered for her. Lowering her voice, she continued, “Burn those clothes, so that she never has to see them again. She’ll need time heal. I’ll handle this. I’ll find out who did it and I’ll get revenge. Doña Eva, my time here has come to an end. Do you know someone in another city I can apprentice under? I’ll have to leave as soon as…” She hesitated for a second. “It happens.”

Both María Elena and Doña Eva were shocked at how Esperanza sounded more like a general than a baker’s apprentice. They followed through with everything she requested.

Esperanza knew it was Miguel Sandoval, but would need confirmation before she committed the deed. It would have to come from Ana herself. Esperanza knew the child would tell her when the time was right. In the meantime, María Elena burned the soiled clothes Ana wore that day, and Doña Eva sent off a letter to Doña Luz in Barra de Navidad.

It took several weeks before Ana started to resemble her old self. Miguel Sandoval had given up his profitable water delivery route, trading it with someone else in the company and claiming that he needed a change of scenery. When Esperanza felt she would get an answer, she asked Ana what had happened.

She learned that Ana had been walking home from school and was about to start up a steep hill—the kind of hill Guanajuato was famous for—when Miguel Sandoval pulled up next to her and offered her a ride. Innocent of any intentions he may have had, Ana gladly accepted. Halfway up the hill, Miguel Sandoval pulled into a small parking lot of an apartment building, claiming he needed to make a quick water delivery first.

Sitting in his truck, he couldn’t help but notice how her breasts filled her white school-uniform blouse so much that the buttons looked as if they were going to pop off. And how sitting down caused her navy blue skirt to expose a good portion of her thighs. Right there, in the apartment building parking lot, in the cab of his water delivery truck, Miguel Sandoval stole Ana’s innocence.

Upon hearing this, Esperanza knew that Miguel Sandoval would be dead that night and that she would leave Guanajuato, never to return.

***

Late that night, Esperanza walked into the kitchen where María Elena and Doña Eva were having a late supper. The two women froze when they saw with her two leather bags. “I’m leaving tonight,” Esperanza announced. Upon hearing this, Doña Eva walked over to a drawer and pulled out an envelope which contained a letter of introduction to Doña Luz and a wad of cash.

“Doña Luz is a retired widow now,” Doña Eva said. “Her bakery has been closed for years. There is enough money here to rent the shop for three months. That should get you started. You no longer need to apprentice under anyone. I assure you. Open your own shop and find an apprentice of your own.” Doña Eva placed the envelope in Esperanza’s hand and followed it with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Take care of yourself,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Esperanza then made her way to a crying María Elena. “When Ana is a woman, tell her what happened.”

Through her tears, María Elena said, “Thank you for this, Esperanza. God bless you.”

Esperanza embraced María Elena once more and made her way to the front door. Before she closed the door behind her, she turned around and said, “It was Miguel Sandoval.”

***

Had she gotten Ana’s confession a day later, she would not have known where to find Miguel Sandoval. It would have been Easter Sunday, and no businesses would have been open. Thankfully, it was Saturday, and she knew he would be at his regular spot, trying to seduce a tourist or an exchange student on the dance floor.

She had the taxi driver park on a quiet street. She asked him how much he made in one night, and offered him half that amount up front and told him she would pay him the rest by midnight if he waited for her. He agreed. Leaving her two leather cases in the car, she went off to the bar with nothing but two of her seductive chocolates.

As soon as she walked into the place, she spotted Miguel Sandoval trying to dance with an awkward, but pretty, blonde student from the States. When the song ended, they sat down at a table, and Miguel Sandoval mixed the pretty blonde a drink of sweet limeade and tequila, heavy on the tequila.

Esperanza had to turn down four offers to dance on her way to Miguel Sandoval’s table. When she arrived, she asked, “Can you mix one of those for me?” Miguel Sandoval was shocked when he looked up to see that the request had come from the woman he had been lusting after for nearly two years.

“You can have this one,” he said as he scooted over, making room for her to sit. Completely ignoring the pretty blonde student, Miguel Sandoval handed over the drink intended for her to Esperanza.

“It’s too sweet,” Esperanza said. “More tequila.” She handed the drink back to him. “Do you think I never noticed how you looked at me at Doña Eva’s house?” Miguel Sandoval topped off her drink with more tequila. She took a sip. “Ahh, that’s better. Why did you stop looking at me like that?”

“I didn’t think you were interested.”

“You give up too easy.”

“It was two years!”

“Well, I’m here now. I want you to look at me like that again.”

Usually the ladies’ man, Miguel Sandoval stumbled over his words. He was in disbelief. Never had he seen Esperanza outside Doña Eva’s house, and never had he thought he had a chance with such a beautiful woman.

“I want to dance,” she demanded.

“Of course,” he responded as he offered her his hand and took her to the dance floor. Miguel Sandoval then took both of Esperanza’s hands in his, and they immediately fell in step with the music.

Feeling something between their fingers, Miguel Sandoval took a look and asked, “What’s this?”

“Those are my chocolates. I brought them for you.”

Confused, Miguel Sandoval said, “Oh,” and went to put them in the pocket of his shirt.

Still in step, Esperanza stopped him and said, “No, try them. They’re made with chili.”

Reluctant, Miguel Sandoval unwrapped the chocolates and put one in his mouth, all while staying in step. He faked a smile to show that he liked it and attempted to put the other in his pocket, but Esperanza stopped him. She held up one finger and ticked it side to side. “The other one,” she said just before doing a solo turn. When she came back around to face him, she followed with, “Eat it.” To get it over with, he popped the other chocolate in his mouth and put the wrapper in his pocket. He then took her hand again, and they continued to dance.

Esperanza was pretty sure she could have the man if she wanted, but decided it was too important to take a chance, so she’d brought her chocolates. They continued to dance for several songs while she waited for the chocolates to take effect. Had it not been for the task at hand, Esperanza would have enjoyed herself. Except for a little dancing now and then while she baked, it has been years since danced particularly with a partner. Just as she was about to get lost in the music, she refocused her attention on Miguel Sandoval and saw a familiar look of lust and desperation in his eyes. It was time.

Not waiting for the song to finish, Esperanza took Miguel Sandoval by the hand out of the bar. Looking for some privacy, she dragged him to the back of the building. When she came to a staircase, she let his hand go and climbed the stairs to the roof of the building. Miguel Sandoval was close behind.

On the roof, the salsa music seemed far away but was still quite loud as it made its way out of the windows of the building and into the crisp air of the night. Esperanza saw a curious wooden table that was so large, it had to have been built on the roof. Better than the floor, she thought. She turned to Miguel Sandoval, hopped on the table, pulled her skirt over her knees.

She lay back on the table and lifted up her blouse, exposing her breasts, hoping that the visual would aid in Miguel Sandoval’s quick climax. Looking up at the stars, she wondered if they were being watched and patiently waited for Miguel Sandoval to enter her.

After two years of lusting for her, two years of pent-up desire, not to mention the influence of Esperanza’s chocolates, there was no holding back his orgasm. The excitement was too much. Within thirty-seconds of sliding his erection into Esperanza, Miguel Sandoval was dead.

***

As soon as she heard Miguel Sandoval climax and drop to the floor, Esperanza pulled her blouse back down over her breasts, got up, and walked down the stairs. She was relieved to see that her taxi was still there, waiting for her. As promised, she paid the driver the rest of the sum she owed him after he dropped her off at the bus station. When the overnight bus to Puerto Vallarta pulled out of Guanajuato’s Estación de Autobuses, she let out a big sigh and wept.

Guanajuato Part II (Chapter 3)

For the next year, Esperanza continued her experiments. She hoped to find the right blood-to-chocolate ratio, who was best suited for the chocolates, and how many they should consume.

The women of Guanajuato never once feared or were intimidated by Esperanza’s beauty. Compared to Barra, Guanajuato was a much larger, more affluent city. If the women weren’t beautiful themselves, their fine clothing, houses, and jewelry made them feel good enough about themselves not to have to feel concerned about Esperanza. In fact, her peasant appearance and humility made the women feel comfortable around her. So much so that they came to her to seek counsel.

Every afternoon after siesta, Esperanza walked downtown to her favorite café to have coffee and read. From day one she was immediately engaged in conversation with men and women alike. Eventually, the women started to confide in her their deepest desires and secrets. When it came time to experiment with her chocolates, Esperanza knew that this group of women would be perfect.

Esperanza never did anything as blunt as saying, “Here these chocolates will help.” Instead, she listened to their problems, and when they finished, she would say, “I’m sure everything will work out the way God intends it.” She would then hand over two chocolates wrapped in plastic, tied together with a little piece of red ribbon. A few days later, when she met with the same woman, she would listen again to see if her problems did work out, and then would casually ask how were her chocolates.

When Señora Mendez reported that her husband had finally started making love to her again, Esperanza would comment something like, “Excellent” or “Congratulations” or even “Thank God!” Then she would ask, “How were the chocolates?” or “What did you think of the chocolates?”  To which Señora Mendez would say something like, “Oh, me and my husband both loved them.”

When the young Señora Escobar relayed that she finally had the first orgasm of her life, Esperanza replied, “Congratulations! Oh, and what did you think of my chocolates?” And the young Señora Escobar said that the first one had been so good that she couldn’t help but eat the second one right away.

When a woman complained about another member of her family, like a niece or goddaughter, Esperanza gave the Señora some chocolates and said, “Here, give these to your niece” or “your goddaughter.” When Señora Martinez reported that her only daughter was finally engaged, Esperanza responded,  “Excellent!” and then asked how her daughter liked the chocolates. To which Señora Martinez responded, “She didn’t even eat them. She gifted them both to her boyfriend—excuse me—her fiancé.”

Esperanza continued having these meetings for a year. She listened to each woman without interruption. Her only response to them was, “I’m sure everything will work out the way God intends it,” and to hand them her chocolates. Eventually, she had enough information to figure out the right combination of chocolates and amount of blood required.

The amount of her blood needed in one batch of chocolates was only six drops. This was easy to figure out as she reduced the amount of blood in each batch until reports came back that they did not affect the situation at hand.

To get a man to fall passionately in love with you, give him two chocolates.

To re-spark the flame between two lovers, one chocolate each.

And to help a woman either become pregnant or reach a hard-to-come-by orgasm, it was two chocolates for her. Coming to know this last one didn’t come without consequences.

After learning that Señora Dorado had not climaxed in over a decade, Esperanza told her, “I’m sure everything will work out the way God intends it,” and sent her on her way with two chocolates. When Señora Dorado got home, she had forgotten about the chocolates in her handbag. When her sixteen-year-old piano phenom daughter, Gabi, asked for money to go to the movies that night with her boyfriend, Señora Dorado told her to retrieve the money from her purse.

“Mamá!” Gabi shouted, not having any idea where in the house her mother was, but yelling loud enough that it didn’t matter.

“Yeah?” the Señora responded but not loud enough for Gabi to hear her. The Señora was not as boisterous.

“Mamá!” Gabi shouted again, not having heard her mother’s response. “Can I have these chocolates?”

This reminded the Señora that she had the chili-laced treats in her bag. “No, I want to try them.” Of course, Gabi could not hear her mother’s response.

“Mamaaaaa!”

By this time, an annoyed Señor Dorado couldn’t take it anymore and shouted at his daughter, “Take those damn chocolates and get the hell out of here!” To which Gabi happily did, along with some of her mother’s pesos.

On her walk to her boyfriend’s house, Gabi ate both of the chocolates. The two lovers never did go to the movies. Gabi came home having had the best (and also first) orgasm of her life—and having conceived Señor and Señora Dorado’s first grandchild.

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