Of course Anthony wouldn’t hurt me. This woman was nuts. I ushered her out through the kitchen, only to find Herman had let himself in and was sitting at the dining table drinking a beer. He stood up at our presence, chivalrous man that he was.
Demetria stopped short in her usual pattern of legs akimbo. “What is he doing in here?”
“I have no idea.”
She smacked him in the chest. “Were you listening to our conversation?”
“¿Comó?” He opened his dark eyes wide.
“Don’t play the no speakie inglés with me,” she said.
“Cerveza?” He held up his beer and grinned at her like a fool.
Yes, I agreed. These people, including her, were unbelievable. I turned to the refrigerator to help myself to a beer, feeling that I deserved something finer than Bud Light. I also knew without looking that there was nothing finer.
When I turned around again, bottle in hand, the universe and its disparate particles linked together to cause me trouble.
Anthony walked in while Demetria stepped out, and Herman cornered me by the sink, where he clinked his bottle suggestively against mine. Over his shoulder, I saw Anthony and Demetria exchange hate-filled glances.
“Hasta mañana, Antonio,” Demetria sang with her a la Salma accent. “Your secretary made me an appointment.”
“Great. I love my secretary.”
Well, I loved him too. He was the one who had left me alone with no instructions whatsoever, and without a phone. And now I had Herman nearly leaning over me and breathing into my face with his beery breath.
“Ella, if you ever need me, I’m there for you,” Herman said.
I put my hands out as a reflex to prevent his falling on me, and they landed on his shoulders. Well, one of them did. The other still clung to my bottle, which I rammed into his chest. He must have interpreted it as an intimate gesture, however, because he brushed my cheek with his bottle-free hand.
“Thank you, Herman,” I said.
“I want to know what you’re doing living with Anthony. It’s not right. Anthony’s my dude, you know, my hombre, but he’s not right for a nice girl like you.”
“You don’t need to spell it out for me. I’m just borrowing his spare room for a while.”
“Well, maybe so, maybe not. If you need me, you know where to find me.”
Herman really did have a luxurious mustache, as glossy and full up-close as it was from afar. I had a sudden, strange desire to touch it, smooth my fingers over it, but I didn’t dare. I couldn’t begin to imagine how he would interpret it. I drank down my entire bottle of beer in one swallow and, in the background, I heard the swoosh of the refrigerator door.
“Anthony, will you get me another beer?”
“Nope, Ella, I don’t think so. Free beer doesn’t come with the contract,” he said.
“It might, if you didn’t share it with the neighborhood. I also have a landlord’s clause in my contract that says I don’t put up with your little trysts, especially if Herman has anything to do with them.”
Herman straightened up immediately. “Hey, Anthony, chill out, all right?”
“Funny, I don’t think I’ve signed any contracts,” I reminded him.
“Well, you’re going to, tonight. Herman, get out of my kitchen. I need to have a private chat with Ella.”
“Mind if I grab a beer for the road?”
“Sure, whatever. Take two if you want,” said Anthony, and he thrust two bottles at him.
After the screen door slammed behind him, Anthony turned to face me. “I don’t ever want to come home to find those two in my kitchen at the same time.”
“Are you implying that I wanted them here?”
“From where I was standing, you were all over Herman.”
I couldn’t listen to this on an empty stomach. I searched through the refrigerator and, lucky me, found more Bud Lights, y nada más. I uncapped one and drank it down. The bubbles made my stomach roll over in agony. When had I last eaten?
“Herman was all over me, and not the other way around. Demetria swung by to see you, not me, but you weren’t here. Where were you, anyway?”
“Maybe it’s none of your business where I was.”
“Well maybe,” I paused as dizziness swept over me, “it is my business if you’re going to attack me for attempting to be your secretary without an appointment book, or a gun for heaven’s sake, to ward off the men who sneak into your kitchen and steal your beer. Do you have food, by any chance?”
“Food? I don’t think so. I just came from my daughter’s birthday party. I haven’t really had time to do the shopping. You could do some.”
I closed my eyes and swayed back and forth. He was at his daughter’s birthday party? I’d forgotten about his fatherhood status. “I don’t have a working car. In fact, I won’t have any car at all if we don’t tow it away before my ex-landlord does.”
“You are the most pathetic secretary I’ve ever hired. Did you still want to break into your parents’ house?”
Oh, yes. I’d forgotten about that. I nodded. Of course I did.
“Let’s go do a little shopping first. We’ll need to wait for it to get good and dark. They don’t have a security system, do they?”
“Not last I checked.” But, then, I didn’t know much about my parents anymore.
“I guess we’ll have to risk it.”
“Yeah, I love to take risks,” I said, and followed him out the door as if it were actually true.
I noticed he was careful to lock up and wondered if he would ever give me a key so I could have the same privilege.
I also noticed a lingering odor of Demetria that pricked the backs of my arms with goosebumps. It wasn’t dark yet, though, and I didn’t spot her or her car anywhere in the vicinity. Maybe it was the scent of flowers, I told myself, the perfume of the late-August Hollyhocks next door that were covered in magenta blooms–which, as it turned out, was simply a poetic way of ignoring the obvious.
p.s. The dude in the picture is a Mexican singer called El Chapo. He’s got a fantastic crooning voice, which is complimented by banda music of the finest sort. Why is he here, in my NM Noir? Well, he’s got a gran bigote. That’s why! Oh, plus, I have that album, and I happen to like it.