Love, in English(8)

By: Karina Halle

I felt a strange pang of disappointment. “Only three weeks?” I asked. “I’m here for four.”

“I bet you’re going to get tired of talking,” he smirked. “And I will get tired of having to think. Perhaps I shall end up dumb in the end.”

“Ah, but if you have enough beer, you can be dumb and happy.”

“Buzzed,” he corrected, grinning impetuously. He brought his phone out from his pant pocket. “I must write that down. Buzzed.” He made the z vibrate as he said the word and I couldn’t help but smile. When he was done he put the phone away and steadied his gaze at me.

“Now,” he said slowly, “it is my turn to ask you.”

“Wait, I was going to ask you where you worked.”

He cocked his head to the side, his smirk deepening. “Those aren’t the rules. Next turn. Now, Vera, tell me what you want to…achieve…when you leave Spain?”

I pursed my lips. “I’m not sure I understand.”

He ran his hand through his hair as he tried to gather his thoughts. It really was thick and shiny and artfully messy, the color of this dark brown desk that was always in the display at my favorite antique shop. Coffee with threads of gold. A few grey hairs teased his temples and for the first time I started wondering how old he was. Not that it mattered, but he had such an easy, jovial way about him that it never occurred to me that he’d be much older than his early thirties.

He cleared his throat. “Sorry, my English…okay.” He waved his hand at me. “Why did you sign up for this? We all have because of our jobs or our companies. But why did you? What do you hope to gain?”

I blinked a few times at his question. “Wow,” I remarked. “That’s pretty deep. What happened to where are you from? Or what do you do for a living?”

Mateo wasn’t fazed. “I can tell you are either Canadian or American, yes? Where you are from is not important. What you do is not important. Why you are here? Yes, that is important.”

To tell you the truth, I was the one feeling a bit dumb. I wasn’t sure what to say except what I always said.

“I wanted to meet new people, have new experiences.”

He watched me closely, his eyes burning with an intensity that wasn’t there a few moments before. It’s like he was searching for the truth, like he knew I was lying. It made my skin prickle, electric and alive.

Still, he didn’t say anything. He just studied me. Even though he hadn’t moved, he felt closer.

I took in a short breath and looked away. “I know it’s not important, but I’m an astronomy student. I study the stars. I study light that died billions of years ago, planets and stars in other galaxies, millions of miles away. All that time and space. And I hadn’t even fucking been to Europe. I was beginning to feel like a chump.”

There was slough of silence between us. I eyed him gingerly.

His lips twitched into a smile and with that I felt like I could breathe again.

“A chump?” he said. “This is a bad thing?”

“Yes,” I said, my heart beat slowing down. “It’s a bad thing. I felt like I had no business studying the universe if I couldn’t even go overseas and study people there. And yes, I do actually want to meet new people and have new experiences, too, as cliché as that sounds.”

“So you want to study me?” he asked. His tone was innocent but the sparkle in his eye said otherwise. Thank goodness he kept putting out this jokey vibe—most of the time, anyway—or things would get…inappropriate.

“Yes,” I said. “I want to study all the Spaniards and find out their deepest, darkest secrets. Starting with you.” I wagged my eyebrows at him in an exaggerated motion to let him know I wasn’t serious.

“But you never answered what you hoped to gain from all of this.”

I wasn’t done yet? I sighed. “A better understanding of the universe?”

He tapped my arm briefly and I swallowed hard at his warm fingertips on my skin. He smiled. “You know what Vera, I believe you. But I believe that after spending a month with a bunch of Spaniards in the country, you’re going to understand the universe even less.”

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