~~~~~~~ PART III ~~~~~~~
ESMERALDA JUMPED UP, holding Patrick’s hand as he followed her to the stage.
“Eso es todo!”
They approached the dance area while other couples departed, and Patrick wondered… are we gonna be the only people dancing? Esmeralda faced him as he searched his foggy-brain for ‘Merengue moves.’
As if sensing the situation, Esmeralda draped her right-arm around his left-hip, pressing her palm into the middle of his back. He did-the-same as she raised her left-arm beside her head. Patrick embraced it. Afterward, she pulled-it-back-gently, then spun her body-on-the-beat.
He relaxed, replicating Esmeralda’s rhythm and intensity.
It had been years since he’d danced Merengue and Patrick thought to himself… it’s coming back!
Thirty-seconds-later, Esmeralda transferred the lead from-her-body to his, pressing hips when Patrick twirled her.
“Whoa! You can twirl?”
She wide-mouthed the words as Patrick smiled.
THROUGHOUT THE FOUR-AND-A-HALF minute song, they danced alone. Though two women playfully stepped together on the opposite edge of the dance floor. As the song ended, Patrick spoke into Esmeralda’s ear. “You weren’t kidding about nobody liking Merengue, here! The dance floor emptied like we released a plague! How come nobody here likes Merengue?”
“Because Merengue means someone will clean the house all day!”
“Why does it mean that?”
She raised her brow and smiled as Elvis Crespo’s solo voice trumpeted the next song through the speakers.
Algo en tu cara me fascina
Algo en tu cara me da vida
¿Será tu sonrisa?
¿Será tu sonrisa?
“Si!”, women shouted and pulled their partners to the dance floor, filling every space as Patrick glanced at Esmeralda.
“Wow! Ladies love this song! I like it too. I don’t know what he’s saying though. Can you translate?”
Esmeralda leaned in close while dancing. “He’s singing to a woman, telling her how beautiful she is. Something in her face is to him, fascinating. Something in her smile is to him, life. Then he asks, is it your smile? That is the beginning of the song.”
She looked up. “This part.”
The-A-Capella introduction faded as horns blared, ushering the upbeat tempo. It pounded through the floor, and like rhythm-soldiers all couples marched to the beat.
Patrick pressed his chest against Esmeralda’s as she recited the first verse.
“In her face, he sees things he should not see. Her smile is sweet and tender. He cannot stop imagining it. He begs her please, never stop smiling. Then he tells her she has a beautiful smile, and her smile is what he wants.”
Patrick raised one brow and scrunched-the-other. “Hmm. These lyrics started really-sweet like he spoke intimately with the mutual-love of his life. But now, he sounds like a weirdo. He wants her smile!? What’s he gonna do with it? Why can’t she keep it? It’s her smile, not his!”
“He is in love with her.”
“I know it seems like that? But the way he’s describing it, sounds like an unhealthy infatuation. Like he’s spying through a telephoto lens while she’s walking her dog in the park, or entering the grocery store to buy Kale! Are the police aware of this psycho? They should watch him! He’s unstable!”
Esmeralda hit Patrick on the arm playfully.
“Plus, he’s got these background singers encouraging him? Who are these guys!?”
He mimicked the chorus while pointing at the speakers.
“‘¿Será tu sonrisa?’
That means… ‘is it your smile?’ Right? These guys are enablers! They’re supporting bad-behavior.”
“No! They’re talking nice about the woman. Helping the man profess his love.”
“Okay. I believe you. But I’m keepin eyes on Elvis Crespo. Something’s not right.”
Esmeralda laughed. “You know he is gay?”
“Elvis Crespo’s gay? I didn’t know that!”
“He is super-gay.”
“So he’s singing about a guy then? That doesn’t make it any better, just because he stalks men instead of women? He’s still a stalker! Everyone here’s concerned about this predator!”
TWO-HOURS-LATER, they’d danced through an array of Merengue, Bachata, and Tejano songs, and consumed more drinks. Relaxing at the table, Patrick glanced at Esmeralda. Her eyelids lay half-open, pressing down. He pondered… it’s time to go, then extended his arm across the table, touching Esmeralda’s wrist.
“It’s getting late, wanna go?”
She turned her head towards him wearily.
Upon paying the bill, he stood, then watched Esmeralda rise to her feet, wobbly. Patrick rushed to her side, bracing her body with his own.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes. I am fine. I am just tired.”
He guided her toward the exit, then to her car.
“Can you drive?” she asked.
He opened the passenger door, then Esmeralda flopped into the seat. After closing her door, he walked around the vehicle and sat in the driver’s seat before adjusting the chair and mirrors.
“You have to give me directions. I don’t know where anything is, besides my hotel.”
“I cannot stay there.”
“No, I wasn’t asking that. I can drive you home. I’m just not sure how I’ll get back to my hotel, afterward.”
“You can stay at my place.”
Is that a good idea?… Patrick thought to himself.
“Are there any taxis around here?”
Esmeralda chuckled. “There is no taxi. You can stay at my place, it’s okay.”
“Okay. Just tell me where to go.”
HE FOLLOWED HER INSTRUCTIONS, driving down pitch-black roads away from town. Ten minutes later, he pulled into the driveway of a single story home and parked behind one vehicle that sat beside another.
“Who’s cars are these?”
“Mi madre y hermana.”
“What does hermana, mean?”
“Are you sure it’s okay for me to stay?”
“Yes. It is no problem. They are asleep.”
Patrick’s stomach turned… is this the part where a gang of cholo’s beat-the-shit-outta-me and bury-my-ass-in the desert?
He glanced around the neighborhood.
Esmeralda exited the vehicle and approached the front door. Upon arrival, she glanced back at Patrick who trailed her by several feet.
“Are you afraid?” she grinned.
Patrick shook his head while smiling.
“No. It’s just, I feel weird walking into your house. We just met a few hours ago.”
“What is my name?”
“See? You know me. I know you, too. Tu nombre es Chris.”
She opened the door and entered. Afterward, Patrick followed her down a hallway to-the-end as Esmeralda opened another door and led him in. Upon entry, she closed it, then switched-on a floor-lamp in the corner.
Soft light cascaded against pink walls. They were covered with stickers-of-stars. More of them plastered the ceiling. A galaxy of planets, moons, and spacedust. To his left, an unkempt queen size bed lay centered against the wall, paralleled by mirrored-glass-closet-doors on one-side, and a white dresser on-the-other.
“Are you thirsty?” said Esmeralda.
“Yeah. Just water, please.”
“Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
HE SAT ON THE EDGE OF THE BED and removed his shoes, then overhead Esmeralda’s voice in the hallway, speaking with a woman… her mother?… Patrick pondered. Seconds later, Esmeralda entered the room holding two glasses of water.
“Here is water.”
Patrick spoke between sips.
“I noticed children’s toys in your car, how old are your kids?”
“Boys or girls?”
“I bet they keep you busy.”
“Yes, mi madre helps care for them. Do you have children?”
“No. Not yet.”
“Why not? You should have kids.”
“It’s hard to find the right person to have kids with; I’m in no rush though. I like kids, but if it doesn’t happen, it’s fine.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
Patrick smiled. “I know a girl, and she’s my friend, but I wouldn’t call her my girlfriend. I don’t think she’d call me her boyfriend either.”
“Oh. Where do you live?”
“Is that where you are from?”
“No. I’m from New York.”
“New York City?”
“No. Buffalo New York, in Western New York State, about nine-hours-drive from New York City. Do you know where Niagara Falls is?”
“Have you heard of Niagara Falls?”
“I grew up a few miles from there. When I was in High School, my friends and I drove to the Falls all-the-time, just for fun. I’ve been there like-a-hundred-times.”
“I would like to see it one day.”
“You should go! Everyone should see it once. No-one should see it more than that. It’s like visiting the Grand Canyon; once is enough.”
“Have you been to Mexico?”
“That’s not Mexico.”
“I know. Three-years-ago, my old-girlfriend and I spent a day in Tijuana while vacationing in San Diego. Tijuana’s a wild place. We partied on… ugh, was it Revolucion Avenue?”
He glanced up in thought. “I think that’s the name of it? By noon, everyone on that street was buzzed. I have a funny story about Tijuana.”
“What it is?”
“My old-girlfriend and I drank the entire day too, wandering into different bars. By 8:00 p.m. the street was packed with sloppy-drunks everywhere. We walked near this nite-club and five-girls stumbled past us. American, college-age-looking-girls; they were super-wasted. But one girl was more-wasted than everyone else. My girlfriend and I stopped walking and watched them, because these chicks were a train-wreck. Anyway, a girl leading their group pointed at the club and said,
‘Oh! We should go in here!’
‘Yeah!’ the rest of them yelled.
Then they looked at their wasted-friend.
‘Ugh, what about Shelly!?’
I don’t remember if that was the wasted-girl’s name, it doesn’t matter. But I looked at her. This chick could not stand-up. Her friends… and I use the word ‘friends’ loosely here, supported her full-weight. This chick was a ragdoll, couldn’t talk, just mumbled incoherently like,
Then one of her friends said,
‘Why don’t we just leave her… here?’
She pointed at an empty bench, bolted into the sidewalk. It sat across from the bar, so her friends carried Shelly there and put her down. Afterward, they propped her body-up, so she could sorta sit-straight without falling over? Seriously, this girl was comatose, dead-weight.
I watched them and thought… no friggin way? These chicks are gonna leave their friend, on a park bench, wasted out-of-her-mind, so they can go into this bar and get more-fucked-up? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen!”
As Patrick spoke, Esmeralda slid open the closet door and rummaged through clothes while changing.
“After propping her up, they walked towards the bar. Then one of them stopped and looked-back at their wasted-friend.
‘No! We can’t leave her like that! It’s not safe!’
‘We need someone to watch her!” said the lead-chick.
“What about this guy?’
She grabbed some-random-looking-dude, strolling down the sidewalk, a Mexican guy. This dude seemed like he just got off work from a cabbage patch field or something. He looked tired as hell. Anyway, she squeezed his shoulders and begged him.
‘Can you watch our friend?’
I looked at this guy’s face; he was shocked.
Deer in headlights.
Lead-girl dragged him to the bench and pointed at Shelly.
‘Can you stay with her? We’re going in this bar. We’ll be right-back. Please, can you stay with her? Keep her safe?’
I’m not sure if this guy spoke any English. Maybe he understood, maybe not? But he sat down on the bench next to the wasted-girl. Then lead-girl said,
‘She’ll be fine. He’s gonna watch her!’
Afterward, they all thanked the guy.
‘Ohh! Thank you! You’re so nice. Thank you, soo much!!’
And that was it! These chicks walked into a bar, and left their wasted-friend on a bench, abandoned in Mexico, next-to-a-stranger they snagged from the street.”
“Oh, my God. Was she okay?”
“I have no idea. They didn’t ask me to watch her. But the guy they picked seemed nice. Hopefully, she was okay.”
Patrick shrugged his shoulders. “She needs new friends though! Plus, she needs to manage her drinking problem. That’s how women end up abandoned in foreign countries; because they’re wasted out of their minds! Then afterward, people in the U.S. wonder… how did that girl end-up missing and murdered in Mexico?
Here’s how. Dat girl-dumb. She-a–stupido.”
ESMERALDA CHUCKLED, “Do you want to know something?”
She stood in front of the closet, facing him.
“I used to be in a gang.”
“What kind of gang?”
“Nothing, just kids doing stupid things. Stealing. I am not in anymore. But when I was young, I was in.”
“I was arrested three times. My boyfriend was crazy. He did wild-stuff, drugs and other things.”
“It’s hard to get out of a gang. How’d you get out?”
Esmeralda turned, then reached high into the left-corner of the closet.
She retrieved something long, narrow, and dark. Then angled it towards the ceiling while turning her body.
Patrick’s body numbed… why are you holding a shotgun in front of me?… he thought.
“My boyfriend was crazy to me. One-night, beating on me. I told him I would shoot him. He dared me to.”
“He dared you to shoot him?”
“What did you do?”
“I shot him.”
“What happened after that? Didn’t you get arrested?”
“But he was beating on you? Isn’t that self-defense?”
“Then that’s not too bad. I guess he learned the-hard-way not to beat on you.”
“But he died.”
“Oh! Jeez. You killed him?”
“Yes. But on accident. Self-defense.”
“Yeah, self-defense.” Patrick grimaced.
“Did this happen in Mexico?”
“No, the U.S.”
He pointed at the gun.
“Is that what you shot him with?”
“Yes. Do you want to hold it?”
She extended her arms, cradling the weapon as Patrick gazed at it..
“Is it loaded?”
“I don’t want to hold it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” He stretched his arms-wide and yawned.
“It’s getting late. We should sleep.”
NO KISSING, NO HUGGING, NO TOUCHING. He lay awake throughout the night. Eyes open. Unable-to-sleep. Patrick imagined the-gun-in-the-closet which may, or may not-be-loaded. And the woman next to him, staring wide-eyed at her gangster boyfriend after-she-shot-him-in-the-face.
His thoughts looped…
who tells someone they-just-met, they killed their ex?
Who dares their significant other to-shoot-them?
Who dates someone they-might-have-to-kill?