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“Maria Soria may be coming back to work,” Marlen had said.

I opened my eyes to that sentence floating in my head. It was a fact now. Maria Soria was back. Last night, our brief encounter arose in me those feelings I didn’t want to experience anymore. It wasn’t the lust I felt for Elena. It wasn’t even the brief infatuation I shared with The First Maria. It was something different. It was similar to what I felt for Rosa, the cheating girlfriend I left behind in Mexico. Soria’s breathy and soothing voice had a devilish effect on me.

I looked to the left, the sunlight seeping through the blinds, making me smile. The polo shirt I’d gotten the previous day lay on top of the chair next to my desk. My name was embroiled on the left side. I smiled again, as its burgundy color made me think of raspberries. When was the last time I had raspberries? My senses heightened slightly more than usual. I felt as though I was under the influence of a drug (Adderall came to mind). I sipped from the bottled water on the nightstand, feeling the lukewarm liquid energize my insides.

It was 9:00 am, and my only worries were coffee and eggs. That day was one of those rare occasions I didn’t work and had the whole day to myself. My schedule had changed at McDonald’s, so Javier was making up my official manager schedule. The last two weeks had only been a transition. Javier already thought I should work a nightshift alone. That was what he told me the previous day. I wasn’t worried or nervous about that. Then, I thought about Staples and the fact that nobody would clean the restrooms that day. I rolled my eyes at that thought and pondered about food and Maria Soria.

I also went through my head, coming up with ideas, something I could do for fun, and the bookstore was the first thing that appeared in my mind. I was about twenty pages away from finishing The Alchemist, so looking for the next book was the right thing to do. I had books at home, resting untouched on the small bookshelf next to the desk. Going to the library was mainly an excuse to go out of the room and out of my head. So I took a shower and got ready to go out and conquer the world.

First, I had a Denver omelet at Cajun Kitchen, a small diner located on the other side of Camino Real, where K-Mart was. I thought about eating at McDonald’s since it was cheaper, but I deserved something better, pricier, according to my ego. When I crossed the street toward Camino Real, I took a shortcut behind McDonald’s and went straight to the bookstore.

I entered the building with The Alchemist nestled between my fingers, a notepad, and a pen. The Borders sign was hanging all over the place. The smell of coffee was the first thing that caught my attention. Then there was the music. Classical music, the kind of music that traps you, sends you to another dimension, away from the bland world. I like classical music. It’s the only music I listen to when I want to lose myself in a book or when I want to start writing a story.

I approached the clerk, a young girl who looked as bored as anybody else who does a job they hate. Her fingers ferociously typed on one of those Sidekick phones.

Are those monstrosities still around? It seemed so.

“How can I help you?” she finally said, after flipping the phone close. Her eyes were the kind of green that made me think of phlegms.

“Just a small coffee,” I said and put three dollars on the counter.

She took the money, put it in the register, and gave me fifty cents back. As she poured the coffee, I looked at the tip jar but felt like a total asshole if I only put fifty cents in it, so I took a dollar and put it there.

Her bored face turned into something else: interest. Even the shade of green changed. “That’s nice of you,” she said, handing me the coffee. The Seattle’s Best logo was staring at me.

“Nah,” I said, “I’m not nice.”

She put on a curious stare. “So what are you? ’Cause you don’t, well…” she stopped and reconsidered what she wanted to say.

I took a sip of coffee, which I didn’t need since I had a cup of coffee with the omelet. I looked around. Nobody was behind me. “What is it?”

She let her guard down. “You promise not to get me in trouble?”

“Why would I?”

“You said you’re not nice, but I thought, well, you’re not an asshole really, but then like, I thought again, you kinda gave me that vibe at first.”

I chuckled. “Story of my life.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I look this way, somewhere on the verge of asshole-ness and deep thought. I guess I am in my head way too much.”

She smiled and glanced at the book and the notepad, her body language more open this time. “Are you some kind of a professor, or what?”

“Hah. Good one,” I laughed. “I’m a manager at McDonald’s. I also have a part-time at Staples.”

I had a feeling that information was going to make her lose interest. But it didn’t.

“You’re honest.”

“Of course,” I said. “I don’t know you. Imagine if I lie to you about where I work, and then you find out. Staples and McDonald’s are in this shopping center. You’re bound to find out.”

She laughed. “OMG! I love that! You’re totally right!”

I smiled and winked at her. “I know. Thanks for the coffee.”

“You’re welcome. Refills are a dollar. In case you want more later.”

“I think I will,” I said and looked for a seat.

There were sofas in the middle of the place, tables, and chairs against the windows. I sat on a couch, opened the book, and started to read. A guy sat in front of me. He had a book and a computer on his lap. The seats by the window began to fill up with more people, loners like me, with a random book to pass the time, and loners like the guy sitting in front of me, with laptops and textbooks.

I read for a while, unable to fully concentrate, as memories of Maria Soria started to come back. I hadn’t had a chance to talk to her for more than five minutes last night. The one thing I remembered her saying was that she was going to start today. I wanted to talk to her more but didn’t want to make it too obvious. Javier was there. Elena, too. If I had tried to do anything else, like sitting down with Soria and talking about life and why I liked her, people would start talking. And they were going to be correct. I had noticed before what a hypocrite I was. I did feel bad, judging others, and thinking about doing the same and dating on the job.

I could stop, I said to myself, my Internal Self, the one I have conversations with regularly. Yeah, that was a possibility, but did I really want to do it? Trying to justify my thoughts, I resumed the obvious: I was single and wasn’t fucking up anybody’s life by thinking about sleeping with people at work.

Are you sure? My Internal Self asked, bringing Elena to the front of it all. I had been honest with her about my feelings, about what we had, but I suspected that Elena wanted something more, based on the way she had been acting lately; at the job, she would walk past me, look at me in that way, the same way the clerk over here at Borders was still looking at me.


The same interest I had for Soria.

No wonder everyone knows about you and Elena, my Internal Self said. Her body language is just too obvious. You need to break that up if you want to date Soria.

“I know,” I said out loud, and the guy sitting in front of me gave an are-you-crazy- look.

“You know what?” he asked.

“Umm. Sorry, I was thinking out loud.”

He smiled and nodded. “I do that all the time.”

“I guess we all do.”

He went back to his homework.

I was able to take hold of the story I was reading. I read, and I read until I finished it. It was a great ending, with a twist, the kind of ending that makes your head explode. Books like this made me think of orgasms. I turned the last page and breathed, relaxed, in peace, thinking that this is the kind of story ending I would love to write someday. Optimistically, not all of the stories will be this good, but all I could do was try.

I looked around. All of the people I had seen earlier were already gone. There was even a new clerk pouring coffee. The afternoon had passed me by, and I didn’t even notice. I looked at my coffee cup. It was empty. Then, the rumbling in my stomach said it was time for me to eat. McDonald’s was the only place that came to mind, and my ego was about to make an appearance, suggesting I had something more succulent and refined.

Fuck that, I thought. There is a girl at McDonald’s I want to see. I stood up and went. I had to see Maria Soria.

I knew it was a bad idea, the kind of idea you know will get you in trouble, but you still do it anyway. Walking to the restaurant, I was able to find more reasons to excuse my behavior: I’ve been single for a long time, I needed to find someone who likes the things I do, I would love to have a more active, albeit monogamous sex life. I hadn’t had what you call a girlfriend ever since Cheating Rosa, and even though I had promised Roberto I was not going to try and hook up with someone at work, it was worth reminding myself that I had already broken that promise by sleeping with Elena.

Entering the restaurant, I looked at my watch. It was six in the afternoon, and I wondered where the time went. For the looks of it, most people weren’t in the mood for cheeseburgers at this time. The place was empty. Juanita was at the front, telling a new cashier how to do the job. The new cashier stared at the register with what I assumed was attention, yet he looked afraid. Fatima was in the kitchen, talking to Joel. I thought she was Maria Soria. Honest mistake, since they shared some face and body features; both were taller than your average woman, deep brunettes, slightly coquettish. Fatima was louder, though. I approached the register. The new cashier had no idea who I was, and I didn’t care to tell.

Juanita came. She was holding the schedule. “Gabriel,” she said. “You don’t work today.”

I looked at her. “I know.”

“So, why are you here?”

I thought that was a weird question. “I was in the mood for coffee, Dasani water, and two apple pies.”

“That’s it?” Juanita looked disappointed.

I sighed. “A quarter pounder and some fries.”

Juanita gave me the discount I wasn’t asking for. She then told the new cashier that I worked there. His facial expression suggested he didn’t care about that. My facial expression matched his. I gave him the money, looked at his name tag, and forgot his name two seconds later. I had more important things to look for. Juanita put my stuff on a tray. I kept glancing at the kitchen.

No sign of Maria Soria.

“Here you go,” Juanita said, smiling as though I was a regular customer. How did she do that?

“Thank you,” I said, my eyes still staring into the kitchen.

Juanita noticed. “Looking for someone?”


“Are you looking for someone?”

I shook my head.

She smiled the same way my mother did when she caught my brother telling a lie.

“I know who you’re looking for?”

My eyes widened. “You do?”

She nodded. “You’re looking for Elena.”

I frowned. “Why would I be looking for Elena?”

That look again. “Gabriel, please. Everybody knows.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said. “Where is she, anyway?”



Sinverguenza!” she said.

“I am not a sinverguenza,” I said, walking away from the front counter and getting a seat at my favorite table.

Juanita wasn’t giving up. She came right behind me. “I just asked you, and you said no, and now you are admitting it!”

I sat and took a deep breath. “Look, you’re right, I’m a bit shameless. I wasn’t looking for Elena. I was looking for Soria.”

She sized me up, gave me that look detectives have, her hands on her waist, and the fury of God in her eyes. “You’re such a man.”

“I am not,” I said, trying to defend myself but then realizing how weird that came out.

“Are you tired of Elena now?”

I wanted to take a sip of my coffee but had a feeling she was going to smite me if I dared. “Look, nobody is getting tired of anybody. We’re just friends.”

At that moment, Fatima came out, saying goodbye to whoever cared to listen. She walked to my table and said. “Hey, you!”

I smiled. “Hi.”

Juanita brought her up to speed with the gossip. Surprisingly, in my favor, Fatima wasn’t that much into feminism.

“Ay Juanita, you don’t know Elena. She sleeps with anyone,” Fatima said, then looked at me, “No offense.” 

“None taken,” I said.

“I hope you’re putting on your sombrero when you are… you know.”


Condón, Gabriel!” Fatima said, and then everything made sense.

“You bet,” I said, feeling better about myself.

Juanita said, “So they’re not serious?”

Fatima rolled her eyes. “Elena ain’t serious about nothin’, ok? She doesn’t know what she wants half the time.”

“Wow,” I said, “you sound like you hate her.”

She looked offended. “No, I don’t. In fact, I’m going to her house right now to watch a movie with the kids.”

“So, she’s your friend?” Juanita said.

“More than that! She’s my comadre.”

“I can only imagine if she were your enemy,” I deadpanned.

“Me too,” Juanita seconded.

“Anyway, I gotta go,” Fatima said and walked away.

“Bye,” Juanita and I said.

I looked at her, “See? I am not the asshole here.”

Juanita seemed more receptive. “I really thought you guys had something serious, like my Viejo and me.”

Viejo? Is that what you call your husband?”

“Yes, we have been together for a long time.”

“That’s cute,” I said, my Internal Self rolling his eyes.

A group of people came at once. Juanita excused herself and went to help the cashier. She never told me if Maria Soria was working, and I didn’t want to ask her again. Instead, I stuck my nose in the notebook and started to write. I hadn’t written anything in my journal for a while. I had to get some stuff out of my head. I wrote, letting the background noise mix up all the voices and turning everything into white noise. I didn’t know how long I was writing for, but there was a moment where all the lights around me lit up, and the night outside took charge of the streets.

But I wasn’t done. I wrote some more, welcoming the fluidity. Even though I was in a noisy place, I could still concentrate. My thoughts went overboard, and I couldn’t stop myself from imagining my future as a writer; I have had that thought a lot more lately. Is my life falling into place? I asked my Internal Self. What else do I need?

I looked up, apparently for no reason, finding myself in front of what I thought I needed.

“You look very focused. I didn’t want to disturb you,” Maria Soria said, with that breathy and soothing voice.

Maria carried the same grace and posture I remembered from the last time we spoke, minus the blue polo shirt. Like me, she was wearing a manager shirt. Hers was grey, the one kitchen managers used. And just like the last time we talked in the breakroom, we looked at each other like we were the last two people in the world.

“Take a seat,” I said, the words coming out of me on their own, caution already thrown through the window. I had been thinking about her all day, so I guess I made this happen somehow.

Maria pulled out a chair and sat across from me, our eyes locked, already seeing each other with that adolescent angst only people who have thought about each other for a while felt. My mind went back to January, the things I learned about her, looking for a way to start the conversation. She had been sitting there for ten seconds, and I was speechless. I had to say something.

“You know,” I started, “there was a moment I thought you were not real.”

She leaned back and crossed her arms while I felt like the earth was about to split open. What did I just say? Was that stupid?

“How do you mean?”

Think. Think. Think. How are you going to get out of this one?

“One day, I see you, and the next, you disappeared,” I said. “Good news is everyone has seen you, so I realized I wasn’t completely crazy.”

Maria laughed wholeheartedly, tossing her head back and setting her hair free from the confines of that hat she had to wear in the kitchen.

“I almost forgot how funny you were,” she said, her lower lip briefly sliding between her teeth.

“I can’t blame you. Last time I saw you was, what? Four months ago?”

“Yes, back in January, after, um…” she stopped, pondering whether she should recall the inception that let our lives collide against each other.

“After you had that little problem with your boyfriend.”

Maria exhaled, now crossing her legs, guarding herself against the memory. I had enough wits to change the conversation.

“How was Mexico? I heard that’s where you were?”

Her mind was now at ease. “It was good,” she said. “It wasn’t a trip I was planning to do.”


“My mom was sick. But she’s okay now.”

“Oh, I see. I’m glad she’s better.”

“Thank you.”

She sneaked a look at my notebook, and as she did that, I lost myself looking at her black hair, reminiscing how much I liked it the first time I saw it. Then her lips. She was probably wearing the same burgundy shade.

“Last time I saw you,” she said, “you were reading a book.”

I nodded. “I was.”

“And now you are…” she trailed off, trying to guess. “Doing homework?”

I shook my head then told her about my writing aspirations.

“Interesting,” she said, her voice getting more seductive than usual. “I don’t remember you mentioning that before.”

“I didn’t,” I confessed. “I was more interested in listening to your dreams and aspirations.”

Her smile became more pronounced. “You remember what I told you?”

Of course, I do, I thought to myself. I wrote it down.

“You’re studying to become a doctor,” I said. “I also remember you said you like to read more about your field, that you were not that into fiction.”

“I’m impressed. You actually remember our last conversation.”

“It was an interesting conversation,” I said, already blushing, while also looking for something else to say. “A lot has happened since you left.”

“I know,” she said, sympathy showing up on her face. “I feel bad about Omar.”

I shrugged. “But if you think about it, you’re making more money thanks to his transgressions.”

A smirk escaped from her lips. “If you put it that way.”

“And I also got a promotion thanks to that.”

I lost her for a moment. “Thanks to what?”

I told her my theory, how I suspected Omar had a problem with me, didn’t want to make me manager, and when Javier showed up, my future in the company changed.

“Probably,” she said. “Omar did have a certain predilection for the opposite sex.”

“I’m glad you see that, too.”

She looked back at my notebook. “Tell me more about your writing? Is it in Spanish?”

“No. English,” I said. “What I like to call ‘my American Dream’ is to write horror fiction in my second language.”

Her eyebrows went up at what I said. “Horror fiction?”

“Yeah, but who knows? I’d probably end up writing something else.”

“But horror is your favorite genre?”

I nodded, “That’s right. What about you? Do you like horror?”

She thought about it, moving her head from side to side. “It’s not what I like the most, but I do enjoy a scary story every now and then.”

“Yeah. It’s not for everyone.”

Maria looked at the front counter. Juanita was focused on showing the new cashier the ropes, but he still looked confused. Maria then looked back at me.

“And you’re going to City College, right?”

“I am.”


“Yeah. I’m almost done with it.”

“I finished it last year,” she said. “Now, I’m taking general education classes.”

“And how is that going?”

Maria inhaled, her chest rising as she did. “It’s hard,” she said. “Mostly because I have a son and have to take care of him.”

She kept her eyes on me at the mention of her son. She wanted to see my reaction. A lesser man would have looked for a way to end the conversation, but I didn’t want to do that. I liked this woman. She was smart, apparently more intelligent than me.

I smiled. “I’m sure he’s proud of you.”

She smiled, too. “I hope so.”

“How old is he?”


“Four? He’s a baby. Right now, you are his superhero.”

We looked at each other for a moment, without saying a word, as I imagined myself jumping over the table, kissing her; I wondered if she was thinking the same.

“I wonder why we never talked before,” I said. “I mean, other than that time in the breakroom.”

“Because you were too busy looking at Marlen,” she said. “And Maria Sanchez.”

Oops, I thought to myself.

“Well, now I’m looking at you,” I said.

She leaned toward me and rested her elbows on the table. I was sure she was going to mention Elena, but thankfully, at the moment, Juanita approached our table and saved the day.

“Maria. Are you almost back from your break?”

Maria looked at her watch. “One more minute, Juanita. One more minute.”

Unable to keep her mouth shut, Juanita said, “Gabriel was looking for you.”

I could have hidden under the table, but it was too late. I had to man up. “Yeah, that’s the only reason why I came.”

Maria was pleased to hear that, and as soon as Juanita left, she said, “Maybe we should have that coffee you promised last time.”

“I’d love that,” I said. “Are you working Friday?”


“Then, Friday it is.”

Maria wrote her number on a napkin with my pen before going back to work. I stayed there for another minute, thinking about how shameless I was. Juanita was right about that, but she didn’t understand that I wanted to have what she had with her ‘Viejo.’ I was craving a connection. I didn’t want something fleeting, like what I had with Sanchez, Maya, or Elena. Maria Soria looked like the kind of relationship I wanted. Filled with satisfaction, I gathered my things and walked away, disappearing into the night.


Photo by Solas-ser.

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