Confusion lingered in his head even after he found out the truth.
Gustavo, one of many immigrants who come to the United States from Mexico, looking for the American Dream, is living a nightmare. His pregnant girlfriend/partner just dumped him. That Sunday afternoon, in the middle of December 2015, as the sky drizzled the pavement with a slow but steady rain, he walked out of his studio apartment and aimed for the nearest tavern, ready to drown his suffering with cheap beer. What he didn’t expect, though, was to find out that there are worst things than being dumped.
The long, dark and quiet street in the San Roque neighborhood made his heart slow down even more. Yes, he was too much of a pussy, too romantic and dumb.
“Why does this happen to me?” he asked the empty street, in English; he’d been taking classes at the Santa Barbara City College, and even after this heartbreaking moment, he still had a chance to practice. Dedication, huh? Yes, that’s how Gustavo always thought of himself: a dedicating, loving, and supporting individual. Then, why did his girlfriend dump him?
She’d always told him to look for a better job, where he would be able to practice his English. Having two jobs as a dishwasher, where he was never able to say anything but thank you and ok, didn’t seem like something she, an expectant mother, would want for her child’s father to be doing. She was working even after finding out about her pregnancy because she wanted a better life. Gustavo, who was still too attached to his roots, wanted her to just be a mother.
The noise of the cars on State Street made him look up, noticing he’d already walked five blocks down the street. Briefly, he lost track of time. He walked south on State Street, thinking about the picture he had on the nightstand, next to his bed, which showed his now ex-girlfriend with a radiant smile, her short, black, straight hair covering her ears. He wondered why she’d cut her hair that short. He told her she looked just fine when she had it longer.
“Just fine?” she’d asked the first time he dared to say that. Clearly, he was unable to come up with a better word. She didn’t want to look ‘just fine.’ She wanted to look beautiful, charming, delightful, and even aesthetic, but those adjectives were too big to fit in Gustavo’s brain.
“You know what I mean,” he’d said, unable to come up with something better to say.
“No, I don’t!” she’d said, and her anger was beginning to build up, ready to explode. “I cut my hair this short because I wanted to, Gustavo!” she’d bellowed and walked out of the house. This was around the beginning of the year, Gustavo remembered.
“Was it February?” he was unsure.
The drizzle was threatening to become a torrent. By then, Gustavo’s back, and buzzed shaved black hair was soaking wet. He felt the uncomfortable stream of water go down his dorsal spine. He put a hand on his back, trying to stop it. He didn’t like that feeling.
But she did, he remembered, as he stepped under a door to cover his head from the rain. The tavern was close by, but he wanted to smoke a Camel and think some more about her and how much she’d changed.
Especially when they made love.
He was the sort of guy who never graduated from the missionary position, had a vague idea of what foreplay meant, and was both surprised and disgusted when she wanted him to slither a cube of ice from her mouth to her privates.
“What?” he’d asked, hoping he misheard her.
“I want you to go down on me!” she’d screamed, her small and good-looking body still shaking with lust. Then, they didn’t know about the pregnancy, but she already had an idea, a feeling, something that told her about the changes in her body.
His cigarette was almost gone, the rain was getting worse, and those uncomfortable memories kept playing in his head against his own will.
He’d got out of his bed, his hairy, brown belly and male boobs dangling in unison. He was short and ugly. “What do you mean go down on you?” he’d asked, and the look on his face matched the rage you might feel if someone tells you God doesn’t exist.
The question and the tone were the switch that turned off whatever urges she had at that moment. “Forget about it,” she said and turned around.
He’d looked down. His small penis was still hard. “Hey! I’m not done!” he’d whined.
She’d lifted a hand and pointed toward the bathroom. “Go jerk off! Bathroom is over there!”
“Unreal,” he said, as the honk of a car took him out of his thoughts. “Was that it? She left me because I didn’t want to go down on her?” trying to look for answers, he lit up another Camel. “Wait!” Gustavo said out loud; talking to himself was becoming a habit. “Is it because I smoke?”
Gustavo spent twenty minutes smoking, thinking, talking to nobody, and looking for answers. He’d actually asked her the day she was leaving. He’d mentioned the sex, the cigarettes, and ultimately, the most important question of all.
“Is there someone else?” he’d asked.
She didn’t answer that question. Her silence was an answer on its own. It was true, ever since the beginning of the year, his girlfriend had grown distant, was on her phone all the time, texting, talking to someone else, and she would sometimes disappear, claiming she was going out with a girl-friend.
He blinked fast, thinking that was the remedy that would take his thoughts away like a headache pill. A happy couple walked past him, laughing, hugging each other, talking about Christmas, and Gustavo thought just how fucked up that was. Why did he have to witness this shit?
Is there someone else?
The question was still dancing in his head.
“Fuck it!” he said, wanting to pretend everything was ok. But it wasn’t. He wasn’t that brave. The thing he missed the most was not being able to raise a family the right way (according to whatever shit he thought was the right way). Now, the second thought that haunted him was the laugh his friends and family would have if they found out he got dumped. He shook his head, thought it didn’t matter, and promised himself he would go and ask her for the ring he bought for her birthday last year.
“The perfume, too. What was it? Channel Number 5?” he didn’t remember the name but was perfectly sure about the smell.
“No,” he said out loud, while making his way toward the tavern. “What kind of a man would I be if I did that shit?”
The Tiburon Tavern had a brown, tall and heavy door that made your arm hurt when you pulled it open. There was a pool table on the right, and a sad pair of white kids wearing matching white tees and oversized jeans pretending they knew how to play. Eminem’s The Way I am was blasting out of the jukebox, and Gustavo had a pretty good idea these kids were intentionally playing that song and dressing up like Marshall Mathers.
The bar was on the left, next to the jukebox, and the bartender was an angry-looking blonde who hadn’t gotten laid in a while or had recently been dumped as well. Her crooked, red blouse showed a black bra, one of her big breasts about to pop out. As Gustavo got closer, he had a better look at her short, denim skirt and disappointing behind.
He wondered if such disproportion was plain genetic bad luck.
At the bar, there was a man staring at his beer; maybe he forgot how to drink it. The bartender grabbed a towel and cleaned a glass that was already clean, while giving Gustavo an annoyed look. Further to the right, there was the couple he’d seen earlier, openly making out in the semi-empty bar.
“What can I get you, honey?” The bartender said, her voice sweeter than her looks.
Gustavo sat at the bar, three stools away from Man Who Stares At Beer, and said, “A Bud Light, please.”
The woman grabbed the glass she’d cleaned and poured beer from a hose that looked like the ones Gustavo used to wash dishes at the restaurants where he worked. She put the beer next to him and said in Spanish, “Es todo?” somehow, she guessed he was able to understand her.
“Seven Dollars,” she said. He took his wallet out, thinking it was a little pricy for a mere glass of foam with a joke of beer in it. But he paid, anyway. As he was deciding between paying with a card or with good old cash, someone came from the back, clad in black, and still pulling up his zipper, while his boots made a noise that echoed all over the place. “Do you want me to open you a tab?” she asked.
Gustavo had no clue what that meant, he hadn’t gotten to that level of English yet. “Que si quieres que te cobre despues,” The guy with the noisy boots said in Spanish, as he sat two stools away from the sucker who was still looking at his beer. What was wrong with that guy?
“Yeah, please.” Gustavo said to the blonde and “Gracias,” to the other guy.
Gustavo finished his beer five minutes later and ordered another one. The sad pair of white kids got bored, but stood there, openly ogling at the couple that was still making out. The bartender started playing with an iPhone that was bigger than her hands, Man Who Stares At Beer had finally decided to take a sip, and Guy Who Wears Black was reading Post Office, a novel by Charles Bukowski. I’m not afraid, another cool song by Eminem played in the jukebox, but it finished as the brown, heavy door opened, and a gorgeous girl entered the place, making everyone look her way.
Everyone. Except Gustavo. He sat with his back to the door. He still had his head wrapped around his most recent and devastating break-up. The girl wore red heels, which were noisy, and left scratches on the floor every time she took a step. Her long, black, curly hair rested freely over her shoulders. Her small, black purse was against her upper left arm and red dress. But the most exquisite feature was Channel Number 5, which oozed freely from every pore.
And that was the moment when Gustavo looked over his shoulders. He sniffed the aroma that covered the air. His girlfriend’s perfume. The one he bought her when he found out they were having a baby.
She stood next to the jukebox. No, the correct word is posed; as if she was waiting for some photographer to snap a furtive picture, something that would leave this moment tattooed in time. Who knows, maybe it would end up as a calendar at some corny garage, where a horny mechanic would spend his days staring at it while touching himself.
Out of her small purse, she retrieved a red lipstick and applied some, while her eyes looked at the music selection. What to play? she might’ve been thinking while everyone was still looking at her. The guy who was making out with his girl received a well-deserved slap on the face because he was paying attention to the wrong female.
“Who’s that girl everyone’s looking at?” Man Who Stares At Beer finally had the gumption to say; his voice matched his general appearance: empty and boring.
“She’s a fuckin’ hooker,” the bartender sneered, but the way she said it carried envy. It was obvious she wanted to be in the hooker’s heels. She looked confident and accomplished, while the bartender was sad, ugly and bored of her own existence. “She’s actually a blonde, like me, but I guess the bitch’s trying to be someone else.”
The hooker (let’s call her Curly Girl instead) had finally found the song she wanted to play, or so it seemed. She got some quarters out of her purse, put them in the slot, and her fingers moved around the touch-screen, selecting, thinking, considering, reconsidering, while everyone hung on their curiosity, waiting to see what her taste in music was. She didn’t look like she liked hip-hop, but you never know. Pop was another possible option, but the silence was broken when a soft guitar tune floated quietly out of the jukebox, turning into a nice rock melody.
“Please baby can’t you see, my mind’s a burnin’ hell,” was the beginning of the song. Guy Who Wears Black stopped reading, something about the song made him get a pen from his pocket and write something down on a napkin. “I got razors a rippin’ and tearin’ and strippin’ my heart apart as well,” and unbeknownst to herself, the envious bartender started to hum the song and danced awkwardly, moving her disproportioned body from side to side.
Curly Girl’s moves were a lot more sensual. And she knew it. She finally approached the bar, sat next to Gustavo and yelled, “Hey bartender!” she then tossed her purse on the counter and moved her head around, making Gustavo breathe in all that Channel Number 5 he was trying to ignore.
The bartender gave her an annoyed look, meaner than the one she’d given Gustavo when he walked in. “What’d you want?” she asked, zero tolerance in her tone of voice.
“Tonight you told me that you ache for something new,” the lyrics of the song lingered in the background, “‘Cause some other woman is lookin’ like something that might be good for you,” and soon the music filled the whole place.
“Maker’s on the rocks,” Curly Girl said, as she took her phone out of her purse and sent a quick message, all the while smiling and biting her lower lip. She then looked at Gustavo. “Hola,” she said.
How did they know he spoke Spanish?
Nobody noticed when the two wannabe rappers left. The no-longer happy couple also left, the girlfriend intolerant of her man staring at another woman. Man Who Stares At Beer was also gone, the bartender kept playing with her big phone, and Guy Who Wears Black was minding his own business, writing god-knows-what on a bunch of napkins.
Gustavo was on his third beer, the alcohol made him feel larger than life, as he kept looking for answers. Curly Girl was on her second whiskey and had chosen another song: Born This Way by Lady Gaga. Gustavo was thinking about the first song, though. He didn’t know who sang it, but it sounded pretty good. She kept on sending messages to somebody, making faces, like you normally do when having an orgasm.
“What’s on your mind, amigo?” Curly Girl broke the ice.
Gustavo hated to be called ‘amigo’ but what the hell; he had to talk to someone. And it seemed as if the drink allowed him to express himself better. “My girlfriend dumped me,” he said, looking at the hot girl, but also wondering why she was talking to him.
Anybody would’ve shown sympathy but not her. She looked nonchalant. Still, in the back of her mind, she thought she might be able to get something out of this interaction. “I’m Alice,” she said, and outstretched her hand.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, shaking his hand. The music and the two other people in the bar faded away.
The alcohol was giving him ideas. Yes, he was still sad, but he was also horny. He was a man, what did you expect? And knowing Alice’s job was sharing sweat and other fluids with strangers at bars made his position easier.
“Can I ask you a question?” he asked, slurring his words, making his accent a bit less comprehensible.
“Sure,” Alice said and took a sip.
“The bartender said you are, um,” he stopped. He either didn’t remember the word he was looking for or he was too ashamed to ask.
“Um?” Alice said, making fun of his awkwardness, while holding the drink near her lips, smelling the liquor.
Gustavo sighed, “she said you are a_” he said again, while the bartender, who wasn’t that far away, approached them.
“I told him you were a hooker!” she yelled, like she was giving him the time of day.
Alice smirked and gave him a pitiful look. “You can’t say the word ‘hooker’ or what?”
Gustavo had to smile at his own stupidity. “I can, but_”
“You’ve never been with one?” the bartender asked, inviting herself into the conversation. She gave Alice a smile, which took Gustavo by surprise, because he thought they hated each other.
“Yeah, but long time ago,” he said, with his head down, as if he’d been caught looking at a Penthouse magazine.
“Let me guess,” Alice said, “when you were younger, your daddy took you to a brothel, so you could lose your virginity?”
He understood every word in that sentence, except the word ‘brothel.’ “What is a brothel?”
“Un Prostibulo,” Alice said in Spanish.
“Oh,” he got it now. “Do you speak Spanish too?”
“Yep. I’m half-Mexican on my mom’s side, and my father is white. He and I both have the same taste in women,” she winked at him.
He didn’t get that part. “What do you mean?”
“She means she likes pussy, you idiot!” the bartender said and walked away to keep playing with her phone.
Now that was something new. He would’ve never guessed it. Alice didn’t look like a lesbian, or the way he thought a lesbian would look: big, tough, short hair, angry look on her face and tattoos all over her obese body. Alice looked like a woman, a real, sexy woman who was able to stop more cars than a red traffic light.
“What? That surprised you?” Alice asked, while signaling the bartender for another drink. She came, poured Maker’s in her glass and walked away.
“You don’t look like it. I mean, I don’t want to offend you, but I would have never guessed it.”
She took a sip, “Mm, I know. I normally dress like this just for the job. Men wouldn’t sleep with me if I were wearing blue, baggy jeans and a white, extra-large shirt. That shit ain’t sexy.”
He had to smile at the image she just provided. “Yeah, you are right.”
“Don’t you think it’s funny, though? The clothes a woman wears turn on a man, but he ends up taking them off anyway, and soon enough, they both will be completely naked. So if I wore something you might consider ‘unattractive,’ why would you even worry if you are gonna fuck me once the clothes are out of the way?”
“Makes sense,” he agreed.
Trying to keep up with the conversation, she said, “If I sleep with a girl, it’s only because there’s an emotional connection.”
“So what about men?”
She took another sip. “That’s just business. I like to provide a service for guys like you,” she said and got closer, making his hair spike at the proximity, “men who are trying to look for ways to drown their sorrows, find some peace after, I don’t know, a break-up,” she winked again. It seemed like she liked to do that a lot.
Then she breathed his air. Their mouths were too close. Inevitably, he was getting hard, his penis menaced to rip through his jeans. But at the same time, the image of his girlfriend was in his mind, as if it were trying to stop him from having some clandestine fun.
“How much?” He said.
See? He was just a man after all.
“You know,” Alice said, “only because Christmas is around the corner, and you’re going through a really hard experience in your life, I’m gonna give you a discount?”
He didn’t know if that was a lot. He never paid for sex before. At the brothel, his father had paid for the service. Later he made out with a girl back in Mexico, in the back of a car, but he was really nervous and couldn’t get it up. Years later, he met his girlfriend at a concert; they fell in love, and the rest is history.
“Ok, my studio apartment is nearby.”
She gave him a look. Normally, she doesn’t go to dude’s homes, for a number of reasons: you never know how crazy the client is, what kind of shit he could do to you, or who else might want to join the party unannounced. But she was feeling charitable this time, and Gustavo didn’t look dangerous.
“Let’s go,” she said, grabbed her purse, and stood up. He noticed she was slightly taller than him and that intimidated him a little bit.
Gustavo paid for all the drinks and walked out of the bar with what looked like a smile on his face.
The rain had stopped. There was only a cool breeze, lingering around, giving the dark street a ghostly feeling. They both were shaking for different reasons: she was cold, and Gustavo was having second thoughts. He was probably thinking he was not going to do a good job. He had never been that good in bed. Now that he remembered, it was his girlfriend who taught him where to put it the first time they were together. And not just that, she also had made the first move.
He had a feeling things would work out this time. He was a bit older, there were no feelings involved, Alice didn’t even like men, and it would just be like jerking off in the bathroom, like the time when his girlfriend sent him away because he refused to go down on her.
Trying to make some sort of conversation, he said. “So how did you know men go to brothels to lose their virginity?”
“My mommy told me stories,” she said, while walking with her head down, her heels making that clacking noise that filled the empty street. She then took out her phone and sent another message. “All her brothers did that when they were kids.”
“Oh,” he said. “My brothers did the same. It’s some sort of tradition where I am from.”
“It’s a weird tradition, don’t you think?” she asked, her fingertips still hitting the touch-screen.
He thought about it. “I guess, but we have to learn sooner or later.”
“Did you?” she wondered out loud.
“Why don’t they do the same with the girls?” she asked, “There has to be some sort of sexual equality, don’t you think?” she grabbed a cigarette from her purse, and he offered her his lighter.
He lit up one for himself and said, “It’s not the same. You wouldn’t marry a girl if you knew she had been with someone else before.”
“So you guys do it because you want to be the ones who know more about sex?”
“Has it worked?”
More silence. That was a good question, though, because in his case, his girlfriend was the one who knew more about sex.
“We all must have the same opportunities,” she insisted, while putting her phone back into her purse. “There has to be equality! Don’t tell me you’re one of those idiots who think women are subordinates?”
He didn’t know what the word ‘subordinate’ meant.
“Never mind,” she said.
They arrived at his studio apartment, which was a room built in the back of the garage of a really nice white house in the San Roque Neighborhood. In fact, all of the houses were nice. It was as if only well-to-do people lived there; no noise, the houses well kept, and many of them with Christmas lights decorating the facades.
“Who owns this house,” she asked, while he was inserting all of his keys in the door, unable to find the right one.
“A man who works with computers in L.A. I don’t really know what he does. He’s a friend of one of my bosses.”
“And that’s how you got this place.”
“Cool,” she said, and he was finally able to open the door. “And where do you work at?”
“I have two jobs. McDonald’s and the SB Diner.”
“Nice,” she said, while walking into the small apartment. She began to look around, measuring the place, looking for ways to run in case things got out of control. There was a small kitchenette to her left, a bathroom to her right, the bed was on the far left corner, a nightstand next to it, what looked like a closet to the far right, and a small desk in the middle. “Wow. This place is small.”
He nodded again.
“So what are you? A manager? You speak decent English.”
“No, I’m just a dishwasher in both jobs. My girlfriend and I had been going to school for a while; that’s why I learned some English.”
She put her purse on the desk, heard a new message coming in, but decided to answer it later. “How long have you two been in the country?”
“Five years,” he said, while getting closer to the bed. “We came in 2010.”
“Really? And you only work as a dishwasher?” she asked, getting closer, taking her heels off, trying to ease her way toward sex.
“Yeah, my girlfriend wanted me to look for a better job. I guess that’s one of the many reasons why she left me.”
She squinted, sure that she had heard that story before. “Maybe. But you didn’t get her pregnant, did you?”
He looked up. He actually forgot to mention that tiny but important detail. “I did. She’s due February, I think.”
Alice began to think, realizing that her client’s life was a bit more messed up than what she initially thought. She didn’t know if she should stop asking questions and just get it over with. She wasn’t that much of a conversationalist, but somehow, in this case, she felt like she couldn’t stop herself.
She didn’t say it, but she thought the unnamed girlfriend did the right thing. She was looking for a better future, why else did you come to America in the first place? But Alice, at that moment, had come to provide a service; a service that also included a discount, so she thought it would be a good idea if she just got down to business.
She pushed him to the bed, gently, while giving him that sexy, fuck-me look. He began to unbutton his shirt, while his hands kept shaking, even if the room was hot enough. She smirked, playing her part, like a McD’s clerk does when handing out Happy Meals from the drive-thru window. She put a knee against his crotch, making him jump. Then she moved his shoulders toward the pillow, as if he were a baby. When she was on top of him, her fuck-me eyes suddenly change to a look of surprise.
“What did you say your girlfriend’s name was?”
Her name was Carmen Lopez. She was the only girl born in a household filled with older and younger brothers, where the words sex and seduction were as common as the Hail Marys and Holy Fathers. Yes, she was also a Catholic, but something in her made her feel differently. She looked like she would never break a plate, but her mother had already replaced the porcelain for plastic, just in case.
When she was around twelve years old, she started to feel something for the handsome men in the telenovelas, who were kissing and hugging stupefied-looking women. She even touched herself one time, surreptitiously, wanting to be in their place. When her mom noticed, she slapped her wrist, reminding Carmen that she was sitting right next to her. Yes, she was too young to do those things in front of her mother, who feared the girl might’ve been possessed by the devil.
One day, when she was about fifteen, and her sex urges were more powerful, Carmen saw her father taking her younger bother to a brothel to become a man. Then, she decided to complain. “Mom,” she said, as the two men left the house, “why don’t you take me to a place like that? I also want to become a woman.”
Her mother slapped her, this time across the face, “For the love of God! Good girls don’t do that! Who do you think is going to marry you if they knew you went to one of those places?”
“But all of my brothers have gone to those places!” she whined, while pressing her cheek with both hands.
“Well, it’s not the same!” Mother said but was unable to explain why.
Carmen never understood the ‘rules’ they lived by, and when she was eighteen, still watching soap operas, she kept on dreaming about that person who would take her toward The Promised Land Of Sex. She had masturbated, of course, while looking at the porn magazines one of her brothers kept under a nightstand.
It was normal. It was her life. Who the fuck was going to tell her what to do with her body?
And one day, at a local concert, she found her ticket toward The Promised Land.
There was this guy everyone talked about. He wasn’t good looking. He was short, chubby and a little weird. His name was the only attractive thing about him: Gustavo Alameda. The Alamedas were some of the richest people in town. They were drug traffickers/business owners; although some people claimed they didn’t own any business. They had a little more money than the average people, they had some sort of status, and anyone who would marry into the family was set for life.
Or so she thought.
Carmen, on the other hand, was a Lopez, and you know about the Lopez family: there are so many of them in the world you never knew who had a secret rich uncle in the big city, or a homeless brother who slept somewhere under a bridge.
But Alameda, even enunciating the last name made your day happier somehow.
All of a sudden, this dream of becoming an Alameda took her over like the evil spirit in the Exorcist movie. It was a good idea. Brilliant even.
Poor Gustavo leaned against a corner, clad in white jeans, white turtleneck and brown boots and a belt, scared shitless, unable to ask a girl to dance. Los Tigres Del Norte were on the stage, playing romantic music, while guys in sombreros and cowboy boots had the girls by their waists, dancing so close the boners and thoughts of sex afterward were inevitable.
Carmen saw him from across the room, a certain degree of pity in her eyes. It was time to help a poor idiot out.
She made her way through the dancing floor, some of her girlfriends already moaning, while their dancing partners rubbed their manhood between their crotches, almost making love right there on the dance floor. Carmen had to admit that she was jealous. All her friends had already fucked. What was so wrong with her?
She was short, a little over five feet, but didn’t men like them short? Her facial features were intriguing: big brown eyes, small nose, sexy pursed lips, and her breasts were big enough for a guy to suck on without losing his breath. Or was it because of her skin color? Yes, she was a little darker than the rest, but who cares about race down in Mexico, anyway?
So she was getting closer to this little fucker who was still against the wall, and now he looked at her, somehow feeling as if an angel from heaven was coming to take him out of this hellhole. It’s all a matter of perspective, you see. If you’re not the one having fun, you may find any venue to be boring and unsavory.
“I see you are not dancing?” she yelled into his left ear.
“My girlfriend couldn’t make it!” he said, realizing that was probably stupid, because he didn’t have a girlfriend. Half the town knew he had never had one, and he had probably blown his one and only chance to get laid the way it’s supposed be.
“You don’t have a girlfriend!” she said, hoping it was still true what she’d heard about him.
He smiled awkwardly. “You’re right.”
She pulled him by the hand and took him to the dance floor. The band played another romantic song. Gustavo looked into her eyes and had the weird feeling that he had just fallen in love.
The making out session behind Gustavo’s car was awkward. He had no idea what he was doing. But she did, based on her vast knowledge of soap opera romance and his brother’s porn magazines. So she walked him through the process, step by step, telling him everything he needed to know. And yes, that was Carmen’s first time having sex; not exactly what she expected.
Because this was also Gustavo’s first time –the brothel doesn’t count- and he felt something, he called it love just to be safe, he immediately told her that he wanted her to be his girlfriend. Carmen couldn’t believe her good luck. Anybody else would’ve just ejaculated on her face, said thank you, and forgot she ever existed.
But not Gustavo Alameda. He was a gentleman.
“Sure,” she said, unable to distinguish if this was just a dream, or her life was actually going to get interesting.
All of a sudden, Carmen Lopez was the envy in town. Everyone knew of the Alameda family, but not everyone knew them personally. She was the only one who had the guts to go and dance with the ugliest offspring. What people didn’t know was that he wasn’t just the ugliest, he was also the stupidest. He would’ve married anything, just to be able to stick it somewhere and feel something afterward.
Like a gentleman, he went and asked her parents for their blessing and authorization to date their one and only daughter. The whole family sat in the living room, Carmen’s seven brothers, mom and dad, all of them in front of the little man (who was as tall as Carmen, by the way). He was shaking. Obviously, there was nothing friendly about this meeting. He was also a bad liar and was unsure if he should tell them that he had already deflowered their daughter.
Carmen had already talked to him about this. He began to think about the conversation he had with her earlier that day. She’d said, “Leave everything to me. I’ll take care of it when they start asking questions. You just stay there and do not move a finger. Understood?”
A slow nod.
That was enough.
“So tell me young man,” Carmen’s father asked, “how did you two meet?”
“At the concert, dad,” Carmen said.
“I’m asking him, Carmen!”
“I know. Can’t you see how scared he is? Aren’t you happy to know he at least had the decency to come and talk to you in person before_”
“Before what?” her older brother asked, already guessing how that sentence was going to end.
His mother slapped him in the back of his head. “That’s none of your business!” she yelled. Apparently, slapping and yelling was her way of communicating.
Carmen’s father stayed quiet for a second, looking attentively at Gustavo, trying to figure him out, seeing if he was hiding something. Was it true? Hasn’t he tried to sleep with his daughter? He did look a little slow in the head. Maybe Carmen was right and nothing had happened between them.
“Tell me,” Father said. “Who did you say your family was?”
In fact, he hadn’t said anything yet.
“The Alameda family,” he said, and just like that, like the snap of a switch, everyone began to look at him with brighter and greedier eyes.
“Welcome to the family!” Mother said.
Carmen had to smile. Her family was just like her.
They kept on fucking here and there. Sometimes in the back of his car, sometimes in a fancy hotel two towns away, where nobody would recognize them, and once, just to make God mad, they fucked in the church, under the cross, right after mass.
“Why do you want to do it here?” he complained, while pulling his pants down.
“Because I want to, goddamnit!” she said, “My family loves you, now be a man and do me! Someone can come at any minute!”
They had constant trysts just like this one, and he began to wonder why she never got pregnant. What he didn’t know, was that Carmen would buy special pills to avoid that problem. Sometimes she would get them from one of her girlfriends, or even in one of those trips out of town.
However, there was a little problem. She was still not fully satisfied. Gustavo was romantic. Yes, he brought her flowers almost every day. Yes, he even took the whole family on a trip once. He had the life any teenager in the world would’ve killed for. He never worked. His father was filthy rich, and his wallet was always out to satisfy his kids’ whims.
Yes, that was all right, but sex and seduction were still the things Carmen wanted to experience. She thought about it all the time, while browsing through her brother’s magazines, touching herself, praying for a miracle, asking God to strike Gustavo with a dose of common sense and make him fuck her the right way.
She knew she yearned for something else. She just didn’t know what it was.
She thought about cheating on him once, but the town was too small. Someone was going to find out sooner or later. Once, Carmen even felt lost, unsure of herself. What she didn’t know, though, was that the bad news that came one day was nothing but a blessing in disguise.
Police cars were all over the place, someone had ratted on the Alameda family, and just like that, all the money and power they had was gone, flushed down the toilet, forgotten, leaving the whole town wondering what was going to happen next. Someone was going to start shooting, many people thought, because that was normally how many powerful drug traffickers decided to go down. But not the Alamedas. Turned out they weren’t even as big as everyone thought. For the local police, getting rid of them was as easy as taking candy from a baby.
Carmen’s mom was worried, not because of the normal reasons. She’d actually pictured herself living in the Alameda’s mansion, surrounded by maids who would wipe her ass every time she took a shit. Carmen’s father had the same dreams, by the way.
The police had taken the whole family to prison, except Gustavo, who’d spent the day at Carmen’s. Anyway, his father never made him part of ‘the family business’ because even he knew his son wasn’t cut out to be a drug dealer.
“What are you going to do Gustavo?” Carmen’s mom asked, feigning worry and serving him a plate of beans at the same time.
Everyone was at the table, even the brothers, all of them looking at him in unison, waiting for him to answer Mom’s question.
The smell of the food struck his nose, he wanted to eat, but thought he should answer the question first. “I don’t know,” he confessed.
Father was sipping from a cold Modelo. “How do you mean? Your father also has other businesses, doesn’t he?”
Now, that was a good question, because Gustavo wasn’t so sure about that. “No, I think it was just a cover. My mom made us say that at school just to keep people from asking questions.”
Somehow the beer didn’t taste good anymore. Father, as well as everyone else, looked at Gustavo with anger this time. Carmen sat right next to him, squeezing his hand, trying to make him feel good. It’s true, she also wanted to take his money, but she was a woman after all and her feelings (pity and compassion) were now what she needed to show.
“How long have you two been dating?” Father asked.
Fuck, Carmen thought, having a weird feeling she knew where this conversation was heading. They’ve had a pretty good time, it’d been a while, but they didn’t remember how long it’d been.
“It was at Los Tigres Del Norte concert, Dad,” the older brother said, and Mother didn’t slap him this time. She had good reasons.
“Four months,” Father said.
“Oh, not that long, Dad!” Carmen complained.
“It’s been exactly four months, Carmen,” Mother said, looking at poor Gustavo with darting eyes.
He was beginning to sweat. Somehow, Gustavo also knew what they wanted to know.
“Have you slept with my daughter?” Father asked.
Everyone’s eyes darting on him, the sweat rolling down his forehead, meeting the tears coming out of his eyes. He wasn’t a good liar, remember?
Carmen squeezed his hand harder, trying to make him hide all his girly emotions. But it was not that easy. He didn’t have to open his mouth. It was obvious. If you haven’t gotten laid four months into a relationship, what kind of an idiot are you?
“I’m asking you a question, you son of a bitch!” Father yelled, and even the beer can shook right next to him. “You answer my question right now, or I will personally call the police and tell them to come and take your sorry ass to jail!”
What to do? Even Carmen was shaking at that moment. He looked at her. Wordlessly, she begged him to keep his mouth shut. But he was a gentleman, remember?”
“Yes,” he said, and that was when hell broke loose.
“Oh God,” Carmen said, covering her head.
The whole family was in the living room now. Father was on the phone, walking all over the place like a caged lion, the sons and Mother kept giving Gustavo that darting look. What did they expect? Did they want him to un-sleep with Carmen? That’s not even possible. They needed to cut him some slack. Carmen was no longer holding his hand. She only sat there, next to him, as if they were two strangers waiting for the bus.
Gustavo felt alone, even if that wasn’t the case. The stares felt just like the dark, empty nights he spent in his room when he was a kid, surrounded by unseen ghosts, hidden underneath his bed and behind the closet. He looked down, unsure what he was waiting for. Carmen’s dad was just like the police, taking away his freedom. He just didn’t know what the sentence was going to be.
“I want to talk to Juan,” Father said to whomever was on the other end of the phone. He sounded mildly friendly, mainly because it wasn’t that person’s fault his daughter had slept with a rich kid who was now as poor as any Lopez in the world. “Estamos bien, gracias a Dios,” Father said.
When this Juan character got to the other end of the phone, Father stepped out of the living room. Right after that, his sons and wife followed behind him like a giant centipede. “Stay where you are!” he bellowed, and everyone sat back down at once. However, everyone cupped their ears against the wall, praying the wind could blow some words their way; just to be sure they had at least part of the conversation.
Gustavo and Carmen sat on the far side of the living room, but they were still able to make up some words Father was practically yelling through the telephone. “Want them to go,” Carmen heard his dad say. She frowned, afraid she knew what his father was referring to.
Gustavo saw the look on her face. “What?” he asked.
“Oh, shut up!” she snapped, while tiptoeing closer to the wall.
“Yes, the sooner the better,” Father said, and Carmen gulped the saliva she had accumulated on the back of her tongue. She was a perceptive girl, and she knew the town was going to talk about her for years to come. She gathered her father was trying to force Gustavo to marry her.
She thought this Juan person was the priest. She never cared to ask what the priest’s name was before. But why did he want to force Gustavo? He was scared shitless. He would marry her anyway.
It was Carmen who didn’t want to be attached. When Gustavo was rich, the money was the only thing that kept her unsatisfied-self in that relationship. She was actually happy, knowing she was now free to start flirting with other men in town. She’d already set her eyes on one or two men who undressed her with their eyes every time she strolled down Main Street on Sunday mornings.
“Tomorrow?” Father asked into the phone. “That’s quick but I guess it’s ok,” he went on.
Carmen kept on frowning. Everyone was by that time, except Gustavo, who sat alone in that chair, looking at the family as if they were the jurors who would sentence him pretty soon.
“Tomorrow what?” Carmen wondered, no longer considering marriage. Who wants to marry their one and only daughter in a hurry? What kind of a memorable event would that be? “What the fuck is my dad talking about?” Carmen thought, while her thirst for answers almost made her lose her breath.
“Ok, goodbye,” Father said. The sound of his boots announced he was coming back, and everyone sat back in their normal position, but forgot to stare at Gustavo this time.
What a relief, Gustavo thought.
Father came back, put the wireless phone on its cradle, and sat down next to his wife. “You two are going to America,” he said, as if he were giving the weather broadcast. “You are going to start a new life there, get married, and come back when this little problem with the Alamedas is forgotten.”
Carmen’s world began to open underneath her feet. She had questions, plenty of them, but had no way to start. This whole ‘problem,’ as he called it, had been a blessing when Gustavo had the money, but now, because of something ‘unfortunate’ she had to pay for this.
That was unfair.
She wanted to ask why, but the why was obvious; they had slept together, and Gustavo had to be a man and marry Carmen. He had no problem with that by the way. “Why do you want us to leave, Daddy?” she managed to ask, the angry tears accumulating in her eyes. “Are you ashamed of me? Besides, how am I leaving? I have no money to survive there?”
Everything was about her at that moment, gradually, her pity and compassion for Gustavo had faded away.
“That’s why you are leaving with your future husband, so he can provide for you!” Father said, ignoring the shame-related question.
“But I don’t want to!” she screamed, the tears already bursting. Gustavo remained quiet. Going to America was better than joining his family in prison.
“Carmen!” Mother yelled back. “Remember when you told me you wanted to become a woman? Well, this is your chance and you’d better take it!”
Yes, she’d said she wanted to be a woman, but this is not the way she wanted it to be. She was angry at the whole world at that moment, wishing she hadn’t opened her mouth back when she was fifteen and told her mother those words. How stupid. How immature. Now she realized what Mother meant by ‘good girls don’t do that.’
She didn’t want to be a good girl anyway. That was boring. The silence in the living room was beginning to be uncomfortable. Carmen decided to embrace this moment, trying to be optimistic, hoping it would lead to a better and brighter future, away from her close-minded family, who she didn’t want to see again. And she hasn’t.
It’s been five years since the last time they spoke. She didn’t even marry Gustavo when she arrived in the U.S., just to make her parents angrier.
Thankfully, though, she was able to find her true identity.
Alice was in the bathroom, changing her hair color from blonde to black. She didn’t like being a blonde. She always linked that to stupidity, but never said it because her BFF was also a blonde. Her mom was Mexican, had olive skin and black hair, and Alice always admired that look, which she described as exotic and otherworldly. But her father was white (too white, she thought) and she hated to look more like him. At least she had her mother’s eyes, hazel and seductive. You know, normally a girl is more inclined toward her dad, that’s what the general stereotype indicates, but Alice always felt a strange connection toward her own sex ever since she was little.
Maybe ‘strange’ isn’t the right word; ‘uncommon’ sounds better.
Unfortunately, her mom passed away from cancer and she had to live her teenage years with her alcoholic father, who used to have constant (and unprotected) sex with the hookers on Haley Street, who, most of the time, were actually men wearing heels, tiny dresses, and bras filled with rags and other cloth. Dad was always too drunk to differentiate.
However, and perhaps because she felt like she didn’t have any other choice, she saw this prostitution business as something she might be good at in the future. She’d already had sex when she was fifteen, in exchange for a better grade at a school where she ended up quitting anyway. The sex was quick, unmemorable and awkward. Her English professor pulled his pants down, did his thing, and was finished ten seconds later. Alice didn’t even have a chance to feel bad about herself. “Is this sex? The thing people have been talking about since the beginning of time. How lousy!”
At sixteen, a year later, she had her first sexual experience with a woman. She was a fat, ugly-looking girl who wore blue jeans, black tees and a hat with an 805 stamp on it. Alice was drunk, and maybe that is why she opened her legs with ease. But let’s give Fatty some credit, for she was an expert in the art of cunnilingus.
And Alice really, really loved that.
When she turned eighteen, Alice told her dad she was going away and went to live with her friend, a blonde who worked at the Tiburon Tavern on Upper State St. Although they were what you call BFF’s, they treated each other with anger and bad words on a regular basis.
“What the fuck is that smell?” Blondie asked from outside the bathroom door.
Alice heard, but did her best to ignore Blondie, because her favorite song, I’m The Only One, was currently oozing out of her radio. She started to sing along, while applying a sticky ammonia paste on her hair. She was wearing plastic gloves that came with the L’Oreal box that was on top of a white container filled with dirty panties from Victoria’s Secret and tight short dresses from the Bebe store at the Paseo Nuevo Mall in downtown Santa Barbara.
An inopportune knock made Alice blush with anger. “Fuck! Can’t you see I’m using the restroom?”
“It’s a bathroom!” Blondie yelled, “Restroom is the public kind!”
Alice rolled her eyes, took off her gloves and tossed them into the small trashcan next to the ‘throne’ (that’s what she called the toilet). She opened the door, and Blondie made a face as ammonia penetrated her nostrils. It took Blondie five seconds to recognize the strange woman who opened the door for her. The beautiful blonde hair that woman had, was metamorphosing into a dark and unappealing color she was not fond of.
Blondie used to call Alice her ‘Little Sis’ (mostly because of the blonde hair) ever since she moved in with her four years ago, when they both were merely eighteen years old. Yes, they had also slept together, but only when Blondie had broken up with someone and needed some sort of release. “What the fuck did you do to your hair, you bitch!” she screamed, and the rage looked authentic. Any idiot would’ve thought she was truly enraged.
Alice smiled and grabbed the tip of Blondie’s chin with her thumb and index finger, “Are you really angry, Sis?” she asked, using that seductive voice she’d learned while watching A-list movies on Netflix and porn clips on her favorite porn site.
It always worked.
Blondie had to smile. “I’m gonna go pee,” she said, while walking in and sitting down on the throne. The blue jean skirt she was wearing was so short she didn’t have to pull it up.
“You aren’t wearing underwear?”
Blondie looked at the plastic container. “Need to do laundry,” she said, and then looked back at Alice’s head. “Why did you do that to your hair?” Her tone was friendlier this time.
Alice had a reason, which was probably childish, but she was sure her BFF was going to be sympathetic. She leaned against the door, while Blondie flushed. “I was thinking about Mom,” Alice said, her facial expression (which was confident on a regular basis) turned sad for a moment.
And yes, Blondie was sympathetic. She approached Alice and gave her a hug. Alice’s eyes were closed but opened right away, as if she had come up with a great invention. “Did you wash your hands, bitch!” she said.
“Oh, fuck you!” Blondie said and walked toward the sink.
That year, 2015, started with hopes and promises of better things to come, just like any other fucking year, but Alice had a feeling her life was going to improve. She wanted to make more money, even open up her own brothel, and maybe, just maybe, she was going to find love. She’d had some fruitless and pointless relationships with women (and some men, too) who wanted to change her.
But she didn’t want to be changed. She was a prostitute because it was easy money, not because she hated her life. And that thing aforementioned about opening a brothel was real. She wanted to have her own business one day and knew she was smart enough to manage it well.
One of the many reasons why she liked Blondie was because she never wanted to change her. Blondie didn’t just respect Alice. She was also making a profit. According to the rules at The Tavern, it was illegal to pick up customers there, but Blondie and Alice had successfully gotten away with it for the last four years. That way, Alice didn’t have to get involved with the dirty homos down on Haley and Milpas Street, where sex was cheap, and you never really knew what you were getting yourself into.
The only thing they wanted to get themselves into at that moment was shopping, so they stepped into Blondie’s old, black Volvo and headed to town. While Alice was swimming into her own thoughts with a mesmerized look on her face, Blondie slapped Alice’s new black hair and said, “Where the fuck are you?”
Alice looked at her with fake anger. “I’m gonna eat your pussy ’till you die, you hear me?”
“Oh! I’m so frightened!” Blondie said. They both smiled and looked back on the road. The 101 North was semi-empty at two in the afternoon, and even if the sun shone up high, the sixty-one degrees on the dashboard said a different story. “No, seriously, what were you thinking?”
Alice told her about her dream of starting a brothel.
“Money-wise, we’re doing ok,” Blondie said, as she drove off of the freeway. “We have, like, enough money in the bank to put a down payment on a house. We just have to get the girls and get started.”
That sounded great, but Alice knew they had to do more than that. It wasn’t as easy as Blondie thought it was. In fact, not even Alice knew exactly what to do or how to do it. “No,” she said. “I think we have to wait.”
Alice changed the conversation. “Where did you say we’re going right now?”
“Shopping,” she said, wagging her head.
Alice rolled her eyes. “But what store you want to go to?”
Blondie thought about it. “Sears?”
Alice didn’t like that idea. “No, let’s go to Ross. We have to save money.”
“Save?” Blondie argued. “Let’s go to Goodwill, then!”
“Oh! Fuck you! I don’t want to go that low!”
They both laughed.
So they pulled into the Five Points Shopping Center, parked the car and walked toward Ross. Blondie had on her favorite skirt, and Alice had a dress that matched her new hair color. They would talk about business and other stuff later on. But unbeknownst to Alice, love was waiting for her at Ross.
They walked into the store, and a skinny and harmless security guard stood there, greeting the customers with a thousand-time repeated ‘welcome to Ross’ phrase that was beginning to drive him crazy. He even woke up every day saying that out loud. Blondie was chewing gum with her mouth wide open; the clapping of her jaws caught some shopper’s attention.
She offered Alice some gum.
“Nope. I’m cool,” she said.
They looked to the left, women’s clothes on hangers all over the place. They walked there, touched the fabrics, took one or two pieces out, put them against their chests and looked at themselves in front of the mirrors, thinking, making faces, imagining themselves wearing them and causing men to get an erection while staring at them on the streets.
“Fitting rooms are over there,” someone said with a low, timid Hispanic accent. It was so quiet it was almost a whisper. They looked at the young, short and tanned girl who had taken them out of their fantasy world. She was wearing one of those blue, oversized polo shirts Ross calls ‘uniforms,’ and a pair of black, tight jeans that accentuated a small but nice butt.
Alice glanced at the girl’s chest, looking for a name-tag, but it was covered with a bulk of clothes she was carrying. “Thanks,” Blondie said and walked to the back of the store, carrying a couple of items with her. But Alice stayed. She’d actually been smitten (if that’s the right word) by this Hispanic girl who looked somewhat like her deceased mother. Well, Alice’s mother’s skin was lighter. But still, the eyes and the size, the smile and even the hairstyle, black, long and straight. It all looked so similar.
They smiled at each other, and their eyes locked for a second. The girl was the first one to look away. She must be afraid of me, Alice reckoned. Right away, Alice had the impulse to know this girl’s name but didn’t ask. That’d be weird. Ross Girl began to put the clothes away randomly, blouses next to the jeans, jeans next to the blouses. Alice’s keen and expert eye told her what she needed to know.
The girl was also smitten.
When all the clothes were out of the way, Alice had a better chance to be able to look at the name-tag, but unfortunately, Ross Girl moved away quickly, giving Alice zero chance to satisfy her curiosity. Alice could’ve followed her, but that would be weird, too. By then, the skinny security guard was looking at Alice, as if he’d smelled trouble. Alice decided to wait, take a step back, and plan a better approach. She’d done this before, so there was no need to hurry. The good thing about being a girl is that you are always better at hiding your true intentions.
“Are you retarded?” Blondie asked Alice half an hour later, while they both were trying on those trendy shorts that left too little to the imagination.
“Why? Because I wanted to know her name?”
“Bitch, what if she doesn’t speak English?”
Being half-Mexican, Alice didn’t like that comment. “I’d rather wait and see. I don’t like to assume,” she said, thinking just how big a hypocrite she was.
“I could be wrong,” Blondie reconsidered, while looking at her behind and grabbing her ass like Nicki Minaj, making that face that suggests she wanted to use the restroom. Seriously, why do people think that look is sexy?
“I like her, I don’t know why,” Alice said.
Blondie squinted in disbelief. “Sure you do. You’ve been thinking about your mom, like, all day, and then you see this girl and then you’re like, oh, this must mean something!”
That was actually true, Alice had to admit as much. Besides, Christmas had just passed, and that meant another year she had to live without her. Blondie was right. She knew Alice well enough to know what she thought and felt.
“Ok,” Blondie said, “do you want my help?”
Alice had to squint. “What do you mean?”
“With the girl!” Blondie rolled her eyes. “We go look for her and maybe you can make a move.”
A smile on Alice’s face gave Blondie the answer she was waiting for.
They walked out of the dressing rooms, looking for the girl. Blondie’s gum was dry, but she kept on chewing, hoping for a miracle that would give her an extra bit of juice. Alice looked to either side of the store, desperately, like a mother looking for her kids. It was strange, Alice didn’t know shit about this mystery girl and she felt as if they’d known each other for ages.
Well, that’s how infatuation works, right?
Intuitively, Alice aimed for the men’s section, as if she had smelled the girl’s shampoo in the air. Or her perfume? Alice wasn’t sure. The only perfume she smelled was her own, Channel Number Five. The girl had also smelled it, Alice knew, in that brief moment they spent when their eyes rested on each other.
She looked back, looking for Blondie, who had probably gotten lost, looking for Ross Girl on the other side of the store. Alice heard a voice coming from an intercom, telling shoppers about the latest New Year’s discounts on the merchandise that was supposed to be discounted already. Alice suddenly felt a shopping cart furiously hit her in the stomach. “Watch it!” Alice yelled, and the girl was equally surprised, swearing to God himself she hadn’t seen Alice.
Then, the apologetic words of that girl faded away, the voice out of the intercom was nothing but white noise, and even the merchandise in the store, everything, vanished into thin air when Alice saw who was pushing the cart.
Ross Girl had clothes in her hands, as well as in the nearly-lethal cart, and Alice wondered if she was trying to keep her from seeing her name-tag. The girl was now able to look at Alice for a while longer and felt Alice’s eyes upon her, intensely sizing her up. That was definitely a good sign and also an invitation to make an approach.
“Do you always look at people so intently?” Ross Girl asked, and yes, she had a clear accent, but there was no hesitation in her tone. The girl knew how to defend herself.
Alice smirked, looked down briefly, and moved in. She could almost see the air filling the girl’s lungs, as she got closer. “I’m sorry,” she said, “only when I find someone…interesting.”
The girl’s smile was wide and the sparkle in her eyes suggested sincerity. “Thank you,” she said. “You managed to freak me out a little bit.”
They both laughed.
They introduced each other now and started chatting. Alice was surprised with the girl’s ability to speak the language so perfectly, even if she had merely come to the country four years earlier. “I study every day,” she confessed. “I have nothing better to do.”
Ross Girl had a distasteful look on her face, the kind you make when you remember something unsavory about your life. “A husband,” she said but then corrected herself. “Well, we are not legally married but we have lived together for a while so we call ourselves husband and wife to keep things short every time someone asks. He’s the one who calls me ‘girlfriend’ sometimes, or even ‘partner’. But I don’t like it, maybe because it’s true and that’s all we are.”
“Wow! There’s no love there?”
Silence. Sometimes silence speaks for itself.
Alice told her she was half-Mexican, but her Spanish was awful. The girl offered to help out, tutor her a bit, looking for an excuse to see her again. The smiles and endless stares only meant one thing: chemistry. This was perhaps the weirdest (and greatest) interaction Alice ever had with a girl before. So far of course, she was still young.
Time stood still, the people and noise of their surroundings was the least of their worries. But they had to say goodbye, unfortunately. They exchanged phone numbers, promised to catch up soon, and left separately, with a big smile on their faces.
It all seemed as if this was going to be her year. Of course, Alice didn’t mention what her profession was, but she would. Waiting was probably the best thing to do. She walked toward the women’s section, found Blondie and told her what happened. She was happy for Alice and stated her hope that Alice would get laid as soon as possible.
And she did. Many times.
Hundreds of text messages were shared every day, and perhaps because Alice’s level of infatuation was greater than her previous affairs, she behaved like a novice, answering messages right away, not giving Ross Girl the chance to wonder about Alice’s interest. Ross Girl had given Alice what she called ‘the lesbo vibe,’ or maybe that’s what she imagined. Every time she took a while answering a text, Alice would go mad, making up scenarios in her head, looking for answers.
“I’m pretty sure she has things to do,” Blondie would say with an obvious hint of sarcasm in every word.
Alice sometimes would go to Ross, looking for clothes she didn’t need, just to have a chance to see the girl one more time. They hadn’t seen each other outside of Ross, yet, but Alice was not going to give up that easy. The conversation had come up, and Ross Girl said she would love to go out for drinks someday.
They had been texting each other nonstop for about a month. Ross Girl told Alice about some changes she wanted to make in her life, cut her hair, go for a new look, and maybe dump her man. She was fed up with him for multiple reasons.
One of many nights, while Alice and Blondie were at the tavern, working on different sides of the counter, Alice seemed distant, looking at the myriad of bottles behind the counter, wondering why Ross Girl didn’t answer the message she’d sent ten minutes earlier. She even had her phone out of her purse, near her right hand, ready to pick it up at the first sound.
But instead of a message, she received a phone call. Alice didn’t expect that. By 2015, people stopped using cellphones to make phone calls. “Hello?” She answered.
The voice on the other end was sad and almost dismal. “It’s me.”
Of course. Alice knew who the caller was. She grabbed her purse, told Blondie she would be right back and walked out of the tavern. Having heard Ross Girl’s sad voice, Alice asked, “What’s the matter?”
Ross Girl told her about her latest fight with her husband and how he disliked her new hairstyle. Alice wanted to know if the idiot had put a hand on her, mistreating her in any way. Ross Girl said he didn’t and he wouldn’t. “It’s just the way he said it,” she said. “He is too condescending.”
Alice gave her a moment to collect her thoughts. She wanted to be right next to her, thought about suggesting it, but hated to feel like she was taking advantage of her situation. She was still feeling as if she were getting the so-called lesbo vibe. In spite of that, Alice decided to wait.
“Where are you?” Ross Girl asked.
“The Tiburon Tavern.”
“Can I come see you?”
Alice couldn’t believe her luck. “Sure,” she said and smiled. “I’ll be waiting for you, Carmen.”
Alice took Carmen to her house, thinking just how sexy she looked with short hair. Words were unnecessary. The anger caused by her last fight was the excuse she needed to get out of her bubble and start exploring her true sexuality. She threw herself into Alice’s arms; there was no reason to believe she would be rejected. The make-out session was intense, ardent, and memorable.
Carmen had seen the magazines, and even porn videos on her iPhone, just to get an idea of what she needed to do with a woman. But still, she wanted to be seduced, owned, taken and possessed by this woman who appeared in her life earlier that year, like a gift, something Santa Claus had forgotten to deliver on Christmas.
When the clothes were out of the way and the pores of their skin open and vulnerable to the tiniest touch, Alice went down on her and performed the greatest and most intense oral sex of her life (that’s what she said afterwards), making Carmen reach the zenith of pleasure more times that she could ever imagine was possible.
Carmen wanted to do the same, although she’d never done it before. She was confident Alice would be a splendid teacher. When all was said and done, and the sweat and the passion dripped all over the bed, they both stared into each other’s eyes, and the moment was a bit more intense than the first time they met at the clothing store.
This was not a one-night stand. Normally, when Alice succeeded getting anyone in bed, she became distant, like any other seducer would do. In this moment, though, as she looked into Carmen’s eyes, Alice once again thought about her mother. She admitted to herself that such an image was a bit awkward, yet pleasing. She wasn’t one for proper behavior, anyway.
“Can I call you Mommy?” Alice asked, while embracing Carmen’s naked and trembling body.
The frown of a doubt appeared on her face. The last thing on Carmen’s head was the memory of her mother (or any mother, for that matter). But still, because neither she was one for proper behavior, Carmen decided to agree. “Ok,” she said, kissing her.
They both reached the zenith of pleasure one more time.
It’s amazing what can happen in your life if you just put your mind into something, a goal, a dream, whatever, and work hard every day, trying to reach it. But sometimes, when love comes knocking on your door, and you feel so strongly about this other person, you can’t avoid feeling that, among all the perfection you’ve seen in this relationship, there might be something they don’t like about you. For instance, your profession.
Alice was about to tell Carmen what she did for a living. Carmen wasn’t lame, though. She already had an idea, based on the way Alice dressed on a daily basis, always ready for business. They had secretly been going out for a month now, to coffee places, the mall in Ventura, a thirty-minute drive from Santa Barbara, and even spent an hour or two at one of the many motels along the freeway on their way back.
It was there in the motel room, under the blankets that were wet with the juices of passion after another exchange of caresses and love, that Alice had the guts to say it. “I’m a prostitute.”
Carmen didn’t look surprised, although that’s what Alice expected to see. She pictured Carmen jumping out of bed, as if there had been a catapult under her that made her spring upward. “I had an idea,” she said quietly, almost in a whisper. When she spoke Spanish, Carmen would talk fast and almost incoherently. Nevertheless, she liked to speak her second language slowly, thinking carefully, mulling over every syllable, and making sure she was doing it the right way.
Alice found that incredibly sexy. “What do you mean you had an idea?”
“I mean, I thought that was your job. You dress too, what is the word?”
An awkward moment of silence, then the imminent question. “Do you mind?”
Another unexpected reaction. “Are you kidding? Nobody sleeps with you if you are wearing blue, baggy jeans and a white, extra-large shirt.”
Alice smiled. “That shit ain’t sexy.”
Carmen laughed, shook her head, looked into her eyes, gave her a kiss, and got lost under the blankets, going ‘deep south’ on Alice. She was already moaning and smiling, ready for another exchange of caresses and love.
But not everything was sweet in this furtive relationship. As the days went by, Carmen felt as if she was asleep, wandering in eternal dreams (when she was with Alice) and nightmares (when she was with her man). She had this unwanted conversation with Alice, about how she would like to try and make it work with him. She’d been with him for almost five years and he was still the same broke and unmotivated man who came with her to America.
Somehow, trying to spice up their sex life, Carmen wanted him to go down on her, just like Alice did, but he seemed disgusted by the idea. He wasn’t that good at sex. He was too coy. Earlier in their relationship, Carmen had these crazy ideas, she wanted to have sex with him all over the place, which she did, but he always seemed to regret it afterwards.
“What exactly is wrong with him?” Alice asked.
“Everything,” Carmen said, realizing how vague that was. “It’s not only sex.”
“Yeah, I thought as much when you said he was broke and unmotivated.”
Alice wasn’t a therapist, but she guessed anyone with a decent dose of common sense would know what Carmen was going through: she was living a life she hated, with a man who seemed content with the way he lived his. Carmen wanted more, which is not a bad thing. Achieving a better life is pretty much the reason why everyone comes to America. Unfortunately, along the way, some folks tend to leave their dreams hanging on the border as they rush in.
“Have you told him how you feel?” Alice asked.
“Many times. I even_” she said and looked into Alice’s eyes, unsure how to finish that sentence.
“What did you do?”
“I told him I was pregnant.”
Alice didn’t know how to answer to that. “Th-that’s great,” she managed to say. “I mean, knowing there’s a kid on the way, he might change.”
“He was happy to hear the good news. I even told him I liked the perfume you use. And he bought me one,” she said and smiled, as if assuring her she would have the Channel by her side, as a sweet reminder of their passionate love-making. “But when I told him to look for a better job, he said everything was going to be ok and he didn’t need to change.”
Deep inside, Alice wanted to smile, too. She didn’t want to lose Carmen, and maybe this man’s stupidity was Alice’s good luck.
But, based on the way the conversation was going, it seemed as if it was time to break up with her. She thought Carmen was also slightly unhappy with the prostitution business but didn’t want to say it. Nevertheless, Alice liked her, and it wasn’t just because she somehow reminded her of her mother. I was her overall persona. Carmen was quiet, yet passionate. Reserved, yet lively.
Alice said something she never thought could possibly come out of her mouth. “Carmen, I really like you. If you want, I can help you raise your baby.”
Carmen stayed quiet for a moment.
“Is it because of what I do for a living? Do you want me to stop doing it?”
Carmen was confused. She knew about the dreams and aspiration Alice had for her future, she also knew about the people who had come into Alice’s life, trying to change the way she lived. But Carmen didn’t want to change her. “No, never. I would never do that to you!”
Previously, Alice never knew the difference between having sex and making love. It escaped her, she thought it was a myth, an idiotic idea invented by a lonely poet back in the old world, trying to make sense of his unsuccessful love life. But that moment, at her house, while lying on her bed, having this conversation with Carmen, Alice knew she loved this woman with all her might.
She wanted to jump all over her and kiss her again, get lost in her innocence, swim in her small, sweaty, steamy and sexy body. But this wasn’t the time for that. Carmen told her something she never expected to hear from a human being. No, never. I would never do that to you! She’d said, and to Alice, that was the definition of love.
And you know what they say: if you love, let go. If it’s yours, it’ll come back, if not, it never was.
A tear came out, streaming down Alice’s left eye, then the other. This moment had a sweet and sour touch, something new to her. “I’ll never do that to you, either,” she said, and let her go. “Do what you have to do. I’ll be around.”
This happened at the end of May, four months after they met at Ross. Alice thought she would never see her ‘mommy’ again. But she was mistaken. Carmen came back to her two weeks after Christmas, crying, because she had lost her baby.
Gustavo didn’t know why the prostitute was asking him that question. How was that any of her business? She was there to provide a service, not to unearth the past and talk about his most recent and unexpected breakup. What did you say your girlfriend’s name was? The question kept dancing in his head. He’d never really said Carmen’s name. He only referred to her as ‘my girlfriend.’
“Why do you want to know?” He asked her, but she wasn’t looking at him. She had gotten lost in her own head while looking at the girlfriend’s picture on the nightstand.
Then, call it gut feeling, whatever, Gustavo thought she might be the alleged girl-friend Carmen had, but a second thought told him that wasn’t possible. This girl was white, and Carmen didn’t have any white friends.
That he knew of.
“Why do you want to know?” He asked again, a bit louder this time, after what looked like a long interlude but could’ve been just a split second as well.
Alice came back from her own thoughts after she felt Gustavo’s erection under her skirt and jumped out of bed at once, as if awakened by an unpleasant dream. She looked for her purse, retrieved her phone, and looked at the message she’d heard earlier. She opened her eyes wide, surprised to read the message.
Gustavo kept on looking at her, confused, bewildered, unable to understand why the prostitute (he’d forgotten what her name was, by the way) was behaving this way. She looked at the picture on the nightstand one more time. Gustavo was now beginning to understand.
“Is she your ex-girlfriend?” she asked.
Confused, he asked, “Do you know her?”
She was about to answer when Carmen opened the front door and walked in without asking for permission.
Carmen’s short and lustrous hair was wet. The rain was coming down again, slowly. The news had predicted that a heavy storm was imminent. But that storm wasn’t what Carmen had in mind at that moment. She was only focused on the rain of questions and answers inside the apartment, the half-truths and complete lies she had to explain to the two other people in that room.
Gustavo was still on the bed, covering his privates with a pillow, and Alice stood by the desk, holding her phone in her left hand. “Mommy, I just got your message,” Alice tried to explain.
Gustavo frowned. “How did you call her?” He stood up abruptly, his head spinning, reminding him how drunk he was. But he also remembered something else. Alice had said earlier that her ‘mommy’ told her about the brothels in Mexico. He would never have guessed she’d been talking about Carmen.
“That’s how I call her. I told you earlier,” she said to him. And to Carmen: “Babe, nothing happened, I swear. I saw your picture and_”
They didn’t notice but Carmen was still trying to catch her breath. She’d come running, after she realized her girlfriend was about to sleep with Gustavo. If they hadn’t been sending messages back and forth earlier, the story would’ve ended differently.
Gustavo wanted to argue about the ‘mommy’ issue but then realized the point was probably moot. “Do you know her?” Gustavo asked Carmen. “How did you know she was here?”
“Text messages,” Alice said. “And yes, we know each other.”
Gustavo asked more questions, and trying to be the man for once, he raised his voice and told Alice to shut up because he was talking to Carmen. Of course, he failed. Alice wasn’t easily intimidated. They both kept launching angry and darting words back and forth, while Carmen collected her thoughts. She wasn’t ready to talk, and knowing the size of her personal storm, she thought it was best to wait.
Just one more second.
“Stop it!” she yelled. Gustavo sighed, taken aback by the scream. Alice didn’t say a word. “I need to talk to you both. Sit down on the bed.”
Where to start? Carmen had no idea. She shivered, mostly because it was cold out there, partially because she didn’t plan to have this conversation. In fact, Carmen had planned to come only to pick up the rest of her stuff, but when Alice sent her a message telling her she was in San Roque, with a random Mexican guy who’d also been dumped, Carmen couldn’t help but think the ‘random Mexican guy’ was Gustavo. There are not many Mexicans living in that area.
Besides, Carmen was so happy with Alice, she never mentioned Gustavo’s name.
She had on a long, black coat and a scarf, her hands resting in the warmth of the front pockets. Gustavo looked at her belly, wondering why it hadn’t grown as much.
Truly, he just wondered that after all this time.
“I’m not pregnant,” Carmen said, like a judge in a courtroom. Alice couldn’t help but find that serenity attractive.
Gustavo felt bad, really bad, almost as if he had actually met that child, that future piece of life that would one day call him Dad. He wanted to cry, which was rather easy for him, but decided to swallow his sadness and tears for the time being. “What happened?” he asked, his voice breaking at each syllable.
“She lost the baby,” Alice said.
Gustavo looked at her with surprise, almost as if he’d forgotten she was there, sitting right next to him. “You haven’t told me how you two know each other.”
Alice looked at Carmen, silently asking her for permission to speak, but guessing it would be a better idea if Carmen did the talking this time.
“She is the friend I told you about, Gustavo,” Carmen said.
Gustavo frowned. This was interesting and confusing. “How did you_”
“We met at Ross early this year and we became…close friends.”
Gustavo felt as if there was something else she wasn’t saying. “Ok, that’s good,” he said and stood up, trying to get close to her. He also felt guilty. Being found with a prostitute wasn’t even in the list of things he wanted to do.
But she stepped back. “I’m not done,” she said. “I’m actually living with her right now.” She paused and looked into Alice’s eyes. Alice wanted to speak. Carmen’s penchant to suspense was perhaps the only thing she didn’t like.
Gustavo was still on his feet. “Mira, podemos regresar, tratar de empezar de nuevo,” he begged her to come back in Spanish.
“You forget I can understand you, right?” Alice said.
Gustavo ignored her. “Nada_”
“Don’t be an asshole and speak English,” Carmen demanded.
He gave up. “Ok. Look, nothing happened with me and your friend, I promise. I just felt sad when you left and_”
“Gustavo,” Carmen raised both her hands and her voice. “I really don’t care what you did. I need you to sit down because I’m not done explaining_”
“I know. I know. You say you live with her, but_”
“Gustavo,” she said one more time, “I’m sleeping with her. She is my girlfriend.”
Gustavo knew there was another meaning to the word ‘girlfriend’ in this country, but, based on the prolonged and perhaps unnecessary tension in the room, the meaning Carmen was referring to was the one Gustavo did not want to hear. I’m sleeping with her, Carmen said, and that too, didn’t mean to go to bed and snore under the blankets every night.
Gustavo was stupid. But not that stupid.
“I didn’t know you_” he said, feeling like he was never going to be able to utter the whole and unholy sentence. Who was he to judge what was holy, anyway? One time he hooked up with Carmen right under Jesus’ nose inside a church, and that was utterly blasphemous.
“You didn’t know I liked women?” Carmen said. “Neither did I. I mean, I had my suspicions. I grew up watching naked women in the magazines my brothers had. And I ended up with you because a part of me said that was the right thing to do. Then I met Alice.”
They looked at each other with love, ignoring Gustavo for a moment. He didn’t take it well.
“Really?” He said. “I’m still here!”
“I’m sorry, Gus,” she said, “I tried to make it work between us but I couldn’t see a future here anymore.” It was surprising how calm she seemed, almost callous and blasé, but maybe it was because she’d put up with him for so long, she was no longer interested in ‘trying to make it work.’
He leaned against the wall. He didn’t want to sit next to Alice. “I don’t know what to say.”
“There’s nothing to say,” she said. “There’s no need for unnecessary drama. I’ve seen too much of that already.” This new and sudden version of Carmen was a lot more attractive to Alice. True, this was not the moment to think about making out but she was in love. Madly.
Carmen said, “There is something else I need to tell you both.”
“What now?” Alice and Gustavo thought in unison.
Gustavo was looking at the floor with anger, sad over the confession, and thinking that there could be no worse news in the world to make a man feel like a piece of shit. Being dumped for another woman? Somehow, strangely, he would have felt better if it had been differently.
“What else?” Gustavo said, defeated, hoping this was all a bad dream.
Carmen’s serenity was momentarily shaken. It was obvious. She looked down, briefly, trying to take back what she just said. “I was never pregnant.”
Alice and Gustavo took the news differently. He felt like an idiot, about to cry for a baby who never existed, and Alice had a feeling there was a good reason why Carmen lied about that. But still, it was a lie, and Alice felt slightly betrayed.
“You lied to me?” Gustavo said angrily and the tears were no longer able to stay jailed in their sockets. Alice rolled her eyes. She was always bored to see adult, dramatic men cry. Maybe seeing him act like an idiot was enough for Alice to understand it was wiser to remain calm.
“Ali,” Carmen said. “I’m sorry I lied to you. I_”
Alice stood up. The smirk on her face told Carmen what she needed to know. “I can’t blame you,” she said, while part of her was happy it didn’t work out with him.
Adding insult to injury, they hugged.
“You can’t be serious,” Gustavo whispered to himself.
Before the women left, Carmen walked into the bathroom to grab her perfume. The rest of the clothes were in the closet, and while she took it and put it in her luggage, Alice waited next to the door. Gustavo remained where he was, looking at the ground, tasting the sour flavor of failure.
A part of him wanted to fight, but how would he look fighting against two women? Pretty pathetic. He was now looking at the girl he had spent five years of his life with, walking away from him unexpectedly, just the same way she walked into his life at that concert back in Mexico.
Another part of him focused on the positive side. She looked happy. He hadn’t seen that glow on her face in a while. He began to understand (too late) what she wanted from him. In his head, he made a promise to himself. He was going to change, be the man Carmen wanted him to be, and perhaps learn one or two things about sex.
“Good luck,” Carmen said, trying to be polite.
He tried to smile, wearily, which she found strange but pleasing. He wanted to wish her good luck, but that wasn’t going to be realistic. He was pissed, obviously, and it was better if he stayed quiet for a moment.
It was no longer raining when the two women walked out the door. “Leave it open, please,” he finally said as he watched them go, disappearing into the night. He aimed for the door, leaned against it and lit up another Camel. He was confused. He knew he’d be confused for a long while. By his reckoning, out of all the bad and unfortunate things that’d happened in his life, this was the worst. So far. Not just because his allegedly pregnant girlfriend dumped him for another woman, but also because he finally realized there is nothing concrete and conclusive. Life is always unexpected.