“Where are we headed?”
Instead of driving me straight home, Brendon pulled off onto a side road, claiming he had a surprise. I shifted nervously in the leather seats of Brendon’s royal blue Arch Aries, trying to enjoy the new car scent of the vehicle. After discovering my truck was out of commission, he had promptly offered to drive me home after we made one stop.
I had nearly forgotten about the stalled engine, intensely focused on winning the pool game. The win was so close, and then Brendon used a trick and pocketed that coveted eight ball. I half-expected him to gloat, but instead Brendon graciously walked over and shook my hand vigorously. This was new for me. Davis would’ve politely let me win. Billy would’ve been a sore loser. He was at nearly every game we played together. Brendon, on the other hand, was full of surprises.
While Brendon went off to the men’s room, I remembered my truck wasn’t working. Embarrassed, I asked Juan for the name of a mechanic. He told me about his father’s brother’s cousin’s sister’s boyfriend’s dad who worked at a shop on the edge of town, but they wouldn’t be open until morning. He offered to call me a taxi when Brendon returned from the restroom, overheard, and insisted on driving me home if we would make one stop first.
We drove away from town on a paved-turned-dirt road. I bobbed my head to the Mexsimican guitar music playing on Brendon’s stereo, making a mental note to take Miguel up on his offer to tutor me. A berry-scented cardboard tree hung from the rearview mirror, swaying as we drove over bumps in the road. Sweet summer strawberries and raspberries comingled with the nondescript new car smell and hints of cinnamon cologne. I allowed my back to relax against the biscuit-colored leather seats, enjoying the feeling of sitting. The seats in my father’s Vorn P328 were uncomfortable, lacking proper lumbar support, tufts of white polyester and yellowed foam spilling out of the sunworn leather. Brendon’s seats, on the other hand, were just as I imagined a car seat should be – comfortable, fitting around me like a glove, welcoming fatigued muscles, easing the journey.
We arrived at the end of the road, the red desert hillsides stretched to the night sky, beckoning the stars to enter the small valley filled with sandy shores and misty blue waters. I tried to avoid gasping audibly at the beauty of the tiny lake, created by diverted waters from the Rio Simnora. A few lone Palo Verde trees dotted the distant shore, and swamp grass shot up from sand pockets along the closest shore. Brendon slipped out of the car and walked around to get my door. I took a step forward and nearly stumbled.
“Careful,” he said, grabbing my arm.
I smiled sheepishly. I’m such a klutz in heels.
We walked across the grassy covered lot to the beach, and my heels sunk once again into the sand. I debated taking them off, but I figured my feet would grow cold as the evening was slightly chillier than normal.
“What is this place?” I inquired, pausing in stride to take in all my surroundings.
“It’s called Barrio Beach or the Neighborhood Beach,” Brendon replied.
“It’s beautiful,” I remarked.
“This is part of Parque Nacional Santa María de la Purísima …” the words rolled off his tongue melodically. “It’s a corner of a Mexsimican national park.”
“Santa María de la Puréesima,” I repeated, cringing at my butchered pronunciation.
“Purísima,” Brendon corrected gently. “It means Saint Mary, the Pure.”
I squinted my eyes and watched as the hot white stars sprang to life, waltzing in the ripples across black velvet waters.
“I can see that,” I said.
“She was a nun from Simspania in the mid to late twenty-fourth century,” Brendon said while turning to face the lake. “She traveled from Simspania to Mexsimco in the twenty-three hundreds to escape the Simspanian Civil War, and she worked daily with the poor and the sick who came to the doors of the Sisters de la Santa Cruz… Sisters of the Holy Cross.”
“Interesting bit of trivia,” I pursed my lips and nodded.
“Jacoban school boy,” Brendon said nonchalantly.
I turned to look at him, a smile spreading across my face. “I bet you were wicked.”
Brendon smirked. “I was. What about you? Private or public?”
“Private school all the way, though non religious,” I replied. “Mamma thought I deserved to be challenged.”
“Mamma?” he arched a brow. “Were you raised in the South and then lived in Califorsimia? Or let’s see Championne? Simtannica?”
“None of the above. My mother’s father is Simtalian. He felt it was important to retain his heritage.”
“Do you speak Simtalian?”
“Sì, parlo correntemente I’italiano.”
Brendon nodded in acknowledgement. “Impressive.” He set down his bottle in the sand. “What do you think of…Sei bella.” He proceeded with a mock-bow.
“Thank you,” I said, feeling flustered. “You’re pretty nice to look at too.”
“Grazie,” he bowed graciously, and added, “Mi manchi.”
“Silly,” I giggled. “You can’t miss me. I’m still here.”
“Mi piaci,” Brendon said fluently.
“Okay, now we’re wandering into date territory,” I laughed awkwardly. “Which this is not. But I like you too… as a friend.”
“Only a friend?” Brendon arched a brow.
“Uh… seriously… Brendon…” I waved my hand, trying to appear casual. “We’re just good friends hanging out on this beach… Barrio Beach.”
“Well, what if I said…” Brendon trailed off and I tried not to stare at his lips. “Sono pazza di te.”
I flushed and took a step backward, both equally in shock by what he said and surprised that he spoke Simtalian, Simlish, Mexsimi, and possibly other languages fluently. I flubbed for a response, something snarky I could say in Simtalian, but couldn’t find the words.
“You’re probably passionate about a lot of things,” I turned and stared dead straight ahead at the wooden skeleton remains of a boat perched on the sand.
I couldn’t figure Brendon out. Is he flirting with me? Or is he genuinely trying to tease me? Or perhaps he just enjoys saying random phrases in other languages? Maybe he was trying to impress me. Perhaps his line was more innocent than I was making it be. He did say he was writer. Writers were romantics, always spouting nonsense and rich flurries of words. I swallowed hard and hoped for the latter. Still, I whipped my eyes to Brendon as soon as he turned and walked away. Simultaneously, I hoped I hadn’t offended him, and appreciated his backside. He is good looking… for an older man. The thought brought an instant flush to my cheeks. What is wrong with you Kass? You can’t be dating now… or thinking about dating… or appreciating a man’s backside. Good God… girl, you’ve got to get it together. I wrung my hands nervously.
“What are you doing?” I asked with a laugh as I watched Brendon.
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, muttering under his breath as he paced across the ground.
“Counting exactly how many paces I need to be away from you for this to constitute as a platonic hang out session and not a date.”
“What?” I laughed, feeling a familiar heat rising in my cheeks. “That’s ridiculous,” I narrowed my eyes and awkwardly grinned.
I had never heard of such a thing.
“Don’t be silly. You sat closer to me than that in the car, and even closer at the cantina,” I waved my hand, trying to keep from giggling. “I don’t care if you stand closer.”
Brendon looked up at me, a smile playing at the corner of his lips. “How much closer?”
I shivered again, this time, I think from excitement. “Why don’t you…” I waved at the box. “Come stand a few feet from me and we’ll have a conversation.”
“Let’s sit for a spell,” Brendon sat down cross-legged on the sand.
I followed suit.
“I do recall someone promising to star gaze with me,” he reminded.
“Oh,” I made a face. “I did.”
“You did,” he grinned, dropping his hands into his lap. “Are you warm enough?”
“I’m fine,” I said, laying my hands over my knees. “What kind of writer are you?”
“Ah, more questions,” he chuckled softly.
“What’s wrong with questions?” I frowned.
“Absolutely nothing. I’m the managing editor for a newspaper on Legacy Island.”
“Interesting. I had family on the Island at one point.”
“Yes, my bisnonna has an estate there, I think, and my nonno grew up there.”
“Have you visited?”
“Oh right… that’s the official name… yes, I’ve been a few times. My siblings and I used to like to take the ferry to the Island for the day.”
“How many siblings do you have?”
“Younger or older?”
“So you are the oldest child? Me too.”
“How many in your family?”
“Four. I have a brother and twin sisters.”
“Oh that’s nice. Are you close with them?”
Suddenly, I felt as if I was prying. I glanced up at the stars, leaning back on my hands.
“I am closeish with mine. I was named for the constellation, and my sister, Carina was named for the nebula, and my sister, Andromeda for the galaxy,” I said quietly, hoping to ease away from the subject.
“Ha!” Brendon snorted.
“What?” I glared at him.
“I guess your parents just got bigger with their children’s namesakes as time went on,” he teased.
I frowned, and huffed a piece of stray hair away from my eye. “Well, it’s not like I wasn’t important to them.”
“Of course, how could you not be?” Brendon smirked, leaning over and brushing the hair behind my ear.
I froze at the surprisingly intimate gesture done in such a casual way.
“An intelligent, opinionated, educated, beautiful woman such as yourself, of course, you’d be important,” he said, returning his hands to his lap.
I blushed. “You already told me I’m beautiful in Simtalian and I’m pretty sure you’ve said something to that effect in Mexsimi.”
“Would you like to hear it in another language?” Brendon leaned close to me, and I could feel his breath on my ear and cheek. “Perhaps Simbern?”
“How many languages do you know?” I intentionally leaning back as I asked the question.
“Five,” he replied. “Simpanese, Simbern, Simtalian, Mexsimi, and Simlish, of course, and six, if you count my broken, poor attempts to speak Champio.”
“Ah… just six?” I arched a brow, teasingly.
“That’s enough…” he laughed, and slugged my arm playfully. “How about you any languages?”
“Just Simtalian and Simlish, though I’m picking up Mexsimi. It helps that it’s a romance language and similar in some respects to Simtalian,” I remarked. “But it’s still somewhat a mystery to me.”
“Tienes una sonrisa muy hermosa,” Brendon said in Mexsimi.
“I know that means something about my pretty smile. Enough with the compliments,” I sighed in mock-annoyance. “It’s your birthday after all.”
“I’m just getting started early,” he smiled, gazing up at the stars. “If I was going to be named after something, I’d want to be named after a constellation. Probably Leo.”
“Why? Because it matches your personality?” I laughed.
“Leo. Lion,” he responded. “And better a constellation than to be named for an interstellar dust and gaseous cloud or to be swallowed up in an entire galaxy.”
I half-smiled. “I think that’s a backwards compliment for me.”
“Think what you will,” he said, his eyes sparkling as he leaned close to me.
His fingers tiptoed across the sand, crossing over the top of my hand. My eyes widened in surprise and my lips parted as I caught my breath. For an eternity, his fingers hovered above my hand, heat emanating from his skin. I was grateful since I was beginning to feel chilly. Even so, he lingered a mere half inch from my hand, causing my heart to skip a beat, even though he never actually touched my flesh.
“I’m glad I met you, Kassiopeia,” he said in a low throaty voice.
“I’m glad I met you too,” the pink breached my cheeks as I spoke and then added his name, “Brendon… happy birthday.”
“This has been a pretty nice birthday,” he pulled his hand back as if changing his mind. “And pretty nice company.”
“Really?” I squeaked, slightly disappointed that he never held my hand. Recovering my normal voice, I added, “I would’ve expected a fancy party and lots of women and loads of juice with you.”
“I can be humble,” Brendon said teasingly, and then sobered, “And I think I needed a quieter birthday this year. The partying and women and booze can wait.”
And just like that, I was reminded of the years of experience this man had on me, and probably dozens of dinner table companions, and probably quite a few to have shared his bed. I smiled shyly, and turned my gaze away and back to the heavenly expanse, deciding right then and there that Brendon would make a good friend, and only a friend.
“Yes, I’ve enjoyed our not-date-date,” Brendon grinned.
“Right. Our not-date date.”
Why do I feel disappointed?
“More fun and relaxing.”
If you say so… I thought, feeling my heart skip a beat again. Brendon Shore made me nervous.
“Low pressure,” I added aloud.
“So are you ready for the next one?”
I swallowed hard. “Um… you mean another not-date date?”
“Your birthday. It’s in a few days, right?”
“Since I won the pool game, I get to take you out again.”
“I have no choice,” I said in mock-seriousness.
I would enjoy another outing with this new friend of mine.
“We could come back here if you want,” he said.
“Maybe,” I shrugged.
“We could be… Barrio Beach Buds…” Brendon teased.
“Oh look,” Brendon lifted his hand and pointed to the sky.
I had to brace myself in the sand to keep from falling backward at the sudden movement.
“A shooting star,” he smiled.
“Right…” I looked upward and caught a glimpse of moving light in the sky. “A shooting star.”
We gazed at the sky for a few moments before realizing our arms were entwined. Brendon clumsily pulled his arm from behind me, brushing my lower back as he did. A tingling sensation trickled through my body, and I mentally kicked myself. This is a not-date-date.
As if the universe knew I needed a distraction, my cell phone began ringing. I smiled and apologized, wondering who was calling me so late.
Loud sounds like wild partying echoed in the background on the other end of the line. I repeated “hello” a few times, plugging my other ear in hopes of hearing better. I heard giggling and loud slurping sounds, and flushed heatedly when I realized it was kissing sounds.
“Who is this?” I demanded irritably.
“Kass, is that you?”
The familiar voice of my best friend slurred her words as she spoke.
“Ayesha?” I turned away from Brendon and walked a few paces across the sand. “Are you okay? Where are you?”
“I’m at a frat party at Sun U,” Ayesha replied a little too happily. “Hey girl… how are you?”
“You sound wasted, girl,” I said seriously. “You should go home.”
“Home? Mmmuh-uhhhhh,” she moaned. “I found myself… a… nice… guy.”
I rolled my eyes. Ayesha always found “nice” guys… more like flings at best, one-night-stands at worst. Sometimes I thought the girl was a one-woman love machine.
“Ayesha, why did you call me?”
Crashing sounds filtered through the background and I could only assume someone knocked over something expensive that they would regret the next day.
“What?” Ayesha yelled.
“Why. Did. You. Call. Me?” I enunciated.
“Oh, to tell you aboouut thisssss new guy I met…” Ayesha slurred. “Stop it…” she giggled. “Seriously… B…”
“Ayesha!” I whistled and said her name loudly. “Focus, girl.”
Brendon walked toward me. “Are you okay?” he mouthed.
“Yes,” I mouthed in return and strained to hear my friend.
“Okay… okay… okay…” Ayesha sounded out of breath. “Alright, Kass, I moved to the other room. He’s like an animal. I can’t keep him off me.” She giggled some more.
I narrowed my eyes, but was grateful I could hear my friend better.
“He showed up just the other day in the Valley. Oh Kass… he’s dreamy in bed. Woo! A real fire engine! Ow! Ow!” Ayesha gushed.
“Ayesh, you should probably head home and we can talk about this tomorrow when you’re sober,” I suggested. “Call a taxi.”
“Noooo… no no no… not until I tell you… until I tell you… tell you… this awesome thing… about this guy I met… and yeah, you’ve gotta know,” Ayesha said dramatically.
“Okay, what do I have to know?” I asked, trying to mask my annoyance.
“He’s so hot, girl. And he’s an artist… a painter actually…he does nude paintings actually. Isn’t that just so erotic?”
In that moment, I felt a cold lump crowd my chest and a pit form in my stomach. I couldn’t explain the queasy feeling in my gut, but I knew, somehow I knew, who Ayesha was talking about, and I nearly wobbled. Brendon caught my arm.
“Hey, are you feeling okay?” he asked softly.
I shook my head, and swallowed the nausea threatening to rise in my throat.
“He’s a painter… and he sculpts,” Ayesha giggled. “And oh my llamas! Those hands. Those sculptor’s hands. Wow… okay, I’m letting this get away from me. What was I saying?”
“What’s his name?” I asked pointedly, my hands shaking.
“He’s a painter. Did I tell you that?” Ayesha laughed hysterically as if this was the funniest thing in the world. “From back East somewhere I think, but he’s been in the Palms recently. Say… you were just in the Palms right?”
“Ayesha, you’re drunk,” I said forcefully. “Call a taxi. Go home. Sleep it off. Then call me later.”
“Oh his name… right?” Ayesha giggled. “Oh here he comes now…” her words sounded muffled and I could only imagine her waving the man toward her, my worst nightmare coming true. “Come here… sugar bean…” she said to someone else in the room. “I like to call him B because…” she laughed sharply as I could hear someone kissing… probably Ayesha’s neck. “Isn’t that hot? But his name is Bill… Bill Caspian.”
Author Note: Oh no she didn’t!? Oh yes, she did. Oooo… yes… drama is about to ensue. Of course, I won’t say anything else and I’ll just leave you hanging until the next chapter.
Okay, and now for some tidbits from this chapter.
- An Arch Aries is a play on a Ford Taurus vehicle. Harry Arch (a play on Henry Ford) is the founder and creator of the Arch Motor Company. An Aries is a play on a Taurus. The Ford Taurus 2010 is available via Fresh-Prince Creations.
- Barrio Beach means Neighborhood Beach, but the way you would say it in Spanish is Playa del Barrio.
- Parque Nacional Santa María de la Purísima is based on Parque Nacional Cañón de Santa Elena, a national park in Mexico in the Chihuahuan Desert.
- Santa María de la Purísima is based on a real life saint from Spain named María de la Purísima Salvat Romero. I picked her because of the letters “sim” in her name. She traveled from Spain to Portugal during the Spanish Civil War, not to Mexico.
- I couldn’t figure out how to translate sisters as in nuns so I left it “Sisters” in the story, but de la Santa Cruz means of the holy cross. This is a subtle tribute to my original home state of California, and many wonderful vacations spent in Santa Cruz.
- My Simterran version of the Simspanian Civil War (a.k.a. Spanish Civil War) happened during 2336-2339 in Simspania.
- Championne is my Simworld version of France and the language is Champio.
- Simtannica is my Simworld version of the British isles and their language is Simlish.
- Simtalia is my Simworld version of Italy and Simtalian is the language.
- The following phrases are in Italian:
- Sì, parlo correntemente I’italiano means Yes, I speak Italian.
- Sei bella means you’re beautiful.
- Grazie means thank you.
- Mi manchi means I miss you.
- Mi piaci means I like you.
- Sono pazza di te means I am passionate about you.
- Bisnonna is great-grandmother. Nonno is grandfather.
- Simbern is the native language of Simbernia, my Simworld version of Ireland, so Simbern is essentially old world-Irish.
- Simpanese is the native language of Simpan, my Simworld version of Japan, and Simpanese is Japanese.
- Tienes una sonrisa muy hermosa means You have a beautiful smile.