Love, in English(7)

By: Karina Halle

I shook Mateo’s hand, surprised at his warm, firm grip. “I’m Vera, nice to meet you,” I said before I ever so subtly adjusted myself so that I there was a good amount of space between us. It was just as well that he was a married businessman. I hadn’t come here to sleep with the first Spanish man I’d met. Otherwise I’d end up in bed with the man I was miming to on the street.

“Vera,” Mateo repeated, his voice smooth and polished as glass. “You have just arrived and already you have made me feel better about myself.”

I frowned at him, curious and finding his carefully pronounced English adorable. “How so?”

“I was late also. I thought I would spend the whole ride alone.” He smiled warmly. “So. Tell me about yourself.”

I flipped my hair over my shoulder and grinned. “Oh, okay. How long is the bus ride?”

“Three hours, he said.” He nodded up the aisle at Manolo. “We’re supposed to talk the whole ride.” He gave me a one-shouldered shrug. “More or less.”

He was right. Everyone on the bus was murmuring to each other in a forced and kind of awkward way, a range of accents and tones filling the space.

“All right,” I said, feeling immediately comfortable around him. Then again, it was often that way when you were with married men. There were no expectations or misunderstandings—you could just relax and be yourself. “How about we ask each other questions? Take turns. You know, I go first and you go second.” I hadn’t meant to be patronizing but his English was so good that I’d forgotten why he was here.

“I know what taking turns means,” he said good-naturedly.

“Well then that brings me to my first question,” I said. Normally I would have slapped his leg in flirty good fun but I decided against it. Okay, so maybe I couldn’t be exactly like myself. “Why are you here? You speak really good English.”

“My company,” he said. “My English is good, yes, but not so when compared to you. In an international market, those who are fluent in English remain at the top. If you don’t speak so well,” he waved his hand back and forth and winced, “eh, then you are looked at as being dumb.”

“You’re definitely not dumb,” I told him.

He smiled faintly. He had nice lips. “You don’t know me after some beer.”

“A lightweight, I see.”

He frowned. “Light…weight?”

Well he certainly wasn’t dumb but I could see he didn’t know everything. Time to try out my non-existing teaching skills. Lord knew that’s all I’d be doing for the next month. I could only hope that it would feel as easy as it did with Mateo—a stranger up until a few minutes ago—but I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky.

I sat back in my seat. “Yeah, lightweight. It means that you can’t handle your liquor very well. One drink gets you buzzed, the next gets you drunk.”

“Buzzed?” he asked. “Like a bee? I do not understand.” His brows furrowed, his expression endearing. He had really striking eyebrows.

I had to stop thinking like that.

“Kinda,” I said. Actually no, it was better not to confuse him. “Okay, buzzed is like when you’re feeling good. Loosey goosesy,” I waved my arms up and down like a spaced-out hippie. “Tipsy. Almost drunk. You know, you’re like…”

“Happy,” he filled in.

“Yes,” I said. Well, unless you were drinking and in a shitty mood, then that first drink just makes the tears fall. But that was neither here nor there.

“Do you get…happy, Vera?” he asked. His voice was lower and leaned into me ever so slightly. I caught a whiff of fresh-smelling cologne, something expensive that probably came in a turquoise bottle. The cologne made me happy.

I gave him a small smile, suddenly self-conscious. I had expected his eyes to be resting on my cleavage, this damn black tank top kept falling down so low, but he was staring forward at the seat in front of us, waiting patiently for my answer.

“Um,” I said rather eloquently. “I’ve been known to get happy.”

He nodded as if he were pleased with that answer and relaxed back in his seat, the space between us widening again. “In Spanish there are many words I could use, but Manolo said there would be, how you say, consequences if we not speaking English. I admit, I did not realize that we won’t be able to speak a word of Spanish. I can’t imagine I will survive three weeks.”

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