Amazingly enough, even though they've been living in my head for a while now, these guys don't belong to me yet. Maybe I should ask them to pay rent. Or not.
Much love and many thanks to my beta reader and cheering section, Miss Becky. If you enjoy this ongoing saga at all, you have her to thank for it—she's the one who's keeping me going, inspiring me and encouraging me not to let the guys escape.
Interlude 2 : Just Another New Year's Eve
(Another sequel to "Survivors")
by Melody Wilde
Sands had been forced to attend a lot of boring parties back in the so-called good old days, when he'd lived in D.C. and had been a rising young hotshot in the CIA and had still had eyes, but this one was unquestionably the worst ever. The music was too loud, the room was too crowded, and there was a strict no smoking policy in effect in their host's house. Peachy keen. It just doesn't get any better than this.
He leaned against the wall, head bowed in a mostly successful attempt to keep people from talking to him, nursed his drink, and wished to hell he'd stayed home to help Mamacita and Chiclet babysit. He'd known—not guessed, but known—it would be like this, so when El had asked him to come along, his first response had been a resounding no. But El hadn't let it go. El had kept saying it would be good for him to get out and to meet people and to socialize, until even Mamacita had taken El's side. So he was here and they were there. Happy New Year.
He was pretty sure that welcoming in the new year with them would've been a lot more fun than this. He could've been sprawled on the couch, eating pizza, listening to the ball drop in New York City, and playing with Solana, not standing here bored almost into a coma and afraid to let himself get pissed because he was in an unfamiliar house with unfamiliar people. Yeah, Solana would've been a lot more fun than any of the women who had approached him so far tonight.
A corner of his mouth twitched up at the memory of her tiny hand patting his cheek. He'd developed a surprising attachment to Lorenzo's two-year-old adopted daughter. Surprising because he'd never much liked kids, except Chiclet, of course. But this one was well on her way to having him pussy whipped, and somehow he didn't even mind.
El and Lorenzo were finishing up yet another ear-numbing mariachi song. How two men—even two quite possibly drunken men—armed with nothing more lethal than acoustic guitars could make so much noise was beyond him. He shifted slightly, moving the pressure of his weight from his spine to his right shoulder. They'd asked him to join them, but he wasn't ready for a public performance just yet. He was learning fast, and he immodestly knew he was playing well, giving the instrument the intense concentration that he gave to everything he set out to do, but it was still too soon. Maybe next year. Assuming they were invited back after his little altercation with their hostess. And assuming El managed to convince him to come to another party like this ever again in his life.
"Roberto!" An arm draped around his shoulder, pulling him into a sloppy hug, and his glass tilted sharply. "//How did you like the music?//"
He righted the drink and extricated himself with a tight smile. "//It was really something, Lorenzo.//" He used his free hand to check the front of his shirt. Wet. Great. Oh well. At least now I get to smell like I'm having a good time.
"//We're going to do love songs next—so the couples can dance and…//"
He knew Lorenzo was making some sort of obscene gesture suggesting sexual activity. He considered reminding the younger mariachi that he was sort of unable to decipher sign language, then decided to leave well enough alone. He didn't care. He just wanted the evening to end, preferably peacefully, the sooner the better.
"//Would you like to dance?//"
"//Gee, that's sweet of you to ask. I'd love to. So which of us should lead?//"
It took Lorenzo a minute to get the joke, and then he laughed too long and too loudly. He's definitely been into the alcohol.
"//No, no—not with me. With Juanita.//" Lorenzo lowered his voice. "//She thinks you're hot.//"
Because this man was El's friend—and, most of the time, his friend too—Sands forced a pleasant smile to remain on his face as he shook his head. Didn't this fuckmook remember what had happened the last time a woman had said she thought he was "hot"? Maybe Lorenzo had forgotten, but he never would.
"//Not tonight, thanks.//" He even managed to put some sincerity into his voice. He wondered if Rocio was keeping an eye on her new husband. If so, it was about time for her to show up with a reminder that he was a guest at his in-laws' house and should behave according to their standards, for tonight at least.
Ah, right on schedule. Sands had to fight to keep the anticipatory grin off his face.
"//Hello, Roberto.//" She stepped between them, a whisper of silk and perfume. "//Are you having a good time?//"
Because he genuinely liked her—and adored her daughter—Sands smiled and nodded. "//It's a great party. Thanks for inviting me.//"
"//Do you mind if I borrow Lorenzo for a few minutes?//"
He have a half-bow. "//Be my guest.//" He couldn't help adding, in an undertone, "//Be gentle with him//", and was rewarded with her low laughter.
It was too noisy to hear their retreating footsteps, but the aroma of alcohol in the immediate vicinity lessened, telling him she'd herded Lorenzo away. He shifted again, trying to find a comfortable spot to lean on.
"You are not enjoying yourself, my friend?"
He turned his head slightly at the sound of El's voice—El's sober voice—and his smile was genuine this time. "It's okay. I'm doing fine."
"You have the look of a man on the way to the gas chamber."
He grimaced. "Sorry. I'll work on it. I don't want to piss off your friends."
"They are Lorenzo's friends," El reminded him. "His wife's friends. I am here only to play." El touched his arm lightly. "And I am tired of playing. Let's go outside for some fresh air and a cigarette."
"Oh thank Christ." Sands straightened. "I thought you'd never ask."
El draped his arm around Sands' shoulders and started moving through the crowd, surreptitiously guiding Sands with the pressure of his hand and body. It was a pattern they had fallen into months ago, one which allowed El to help Sands move about in an unfamiliar setting, without being obvious about the fact that Sands needed guidance.
"This is a beautiful house. They have a big garden area out back where we can go."
"I hope the senora doesn't have no smoking signs posted out there too."
"If so, we will go farther," El promised.
The cooler air on his face told him they had passed through the open doors and were moving across the large porch. "Steps down," El said quietly. "Six."
Away from the crowd, Sands began to relax. El's hand tightened slightly on his shoulder in sympathy. "I'm sorry. I had no idea you would hate this so much. I shouldn't have insisted that you come with me tonight, however much I wanted you here."
Sands shrugged. "I used to be better at dealing with people I don't know."
"You'll learn again." He turned left. "Through here."
"Where are we going?"
"As far away from the noise and the crowd as we can get."
They walked in silence until the sounds of the party were faint and the scent of the flowers was strong, then El stopped. "Here. I think this is good."
"No." El's arm dropped back to his side. "Just the ground."
"Even better." Sands lowered himself carefully and stretched out his legs with a sigh.
"Did you bring your tobacco?" El settled beside him.
Sands nodded and reached into his jacket, fumbling for the pouch that he'd tucked out of the way earlier. He gave a half-smile as he pulled it out and opened it.
"You know, for a second or two there, I thought she was going to rip my head off, right there in front of all her guests."
"Senora Rodriguez. She was pissed because I'd ignored all her 'no smoking' signs and was just about to light up."
"And what did you do?"
"Nothing much." He made his tone innocent. "Told her I hadn't seen the signs. And turned my face in her direction and lowered my sunglasses. Just a little bit…" Sands grinned at the memory of the woman's gasp of shock. "Christ, I wish I could've seen her face."
"So do I." El chuckled softly. "I'm sorry. I should've warned you about—"
"Stop apologizing," Sands interrupted. "It doesn't matter. I should've realized nobody else was smoking and asked why." His hands moved in the familiar pattern with tobacco and paper, filling and rolling. "What time is it?"
"Eleven forty-five. Do you mind?" El took the pouch and began to build a cigarette for himself. "Do you want to leave?"
"No. I've lasted this long. I can hold out 'til the bitter end." He struck a match. "Besides, Lorenzo said you were going to play some love songs next. I wouldn't want to miss that."
"If you keep on as you are, next year you will be the one playing and we will be the ones listening."
Sands ducked his head to hide his sudden pleased embarrassment. "Gracias," he mumbled.
For a few moments the only sounds were those of their breathing, then El said, "It's peaceful out here. Quiet. That's why I wanted to come away from the party for a few moments. I felt that I had no choice but to accept the invitation to play guitar tonight. But this is the way I wanted to begin the new year."
Sands grinned. "Being quiet?"
"No. Being with my brother."
Sands throat tightened, a memory coming back so strongly that it threatened to choke him. Sitting on the steps with El almost seven months before, just the two of them, smoking. El's voice, El's presence, battling the demons—the terrors--that possessed him. "Lean on me, Roberto. Let me help you bear the pain." "I will not let you be destroyed. You are too important to me." And then, incredibly, "I believe that I would like you to be my brother. I would like to have a brother as strong and brave and good as you."
On that particular night, he hadn't been able to believe he was any of those things, but in the days, weeks, and months that followed, he had tried to be. He had tried to be worthy to be called "brother".
El shifted, leaned so that he could drape an arm around Sands' shoulders. "We are brothers now, sí?"
He had to swallow hard before he could choke out a barely audible, "Sí."
"Tonight…have you stopped to think about where we were last year at this time?"
He nodded. Still healing. Physically, at least. Not a clue that I had a family who loved me. That they were just waiting for me to understand it and accept their love. So alone, just like I'd been my whole life.
El's words echoed his thoughts. "I was sitting in my house—our house—drinking. Alone. So very alone. I had no idea that soon my life would change. That you and I would come to this place…a place where we are brothers…from a day when I sought you out in order to kill you."
Sands nodded again. "If you hadn't come looking for me…if you hadn't followed when they took me…" I would've been spared a lot of pain along the way. But I'd never have known how much Mamacita and Chiclet loved me. How much I loved them. I'd never have had this brother. I'd probably be…where? What would've happened to me?
El's voice went soft, and his arm tightened again. "I believe life began again for me that day, although I did not recognize it then."
"Me too, brother. Me too." He tossed his cigarette away and let himself move into the hug, slipping his own arm around El's waist.
"There have been bad things this year, but good has come from them. A family for us, a family for Lorenzo…"
Another minute of this and he was going to be crying on El's shoulder like a fucking baby. Sands cleared his throat and made his tone flippant. "Oh golly, El, is this going to turn into some kind of New Year's Eve introspection?"
"And why not?" He could hear the amusement in El's voice. "Isn't that what this night is for?"
"Well, that and getting drunk and having somebody to kiss at midnight."
"Shall I go back in for some alcohol?"
The air was suddenly filled with the sound of sirens, announcing midnight. "Too late," Sands muttered.
El laughed, wrapped both arms around him, and gave him a noisy kiss on the forehead. "Happy New Year, Roberto."
"Happy New Year, El." He let his head rest briefly on his brother's shoulder. "And many more."
(To be continued…)