A/N: Oh, how I love my reviewers! Thank you for reviewing and following this rather dormant story. I'm going to try to be a little more active because this story is always on my mind, but writing it out can't be done.
I wrote this while bored at my grandmother's house because she didn't want my help cooking, so cooking was on my mind. I hope I don't lose people… I tried not to center it on the food and to take out references that no one would understand. Tell me if this sucks because I will happily rewrite.
Well, I'll let you read on now…
Maria woke in a daze to find herself in Anita's bedroom the next morning.
"She must have tucked me in last night." Maria thought.
Alone on Anita's bed, she attempted to recall what she spoke to Anita about. The last night was a blur. All she could think about was what Tony's skin felt like two nights before at the dance. She sat herself up straight, bringing her hands to her cheeks. So warm, she remembered.
Maria kicked her legs out from under the pile of sheets on top of her, exposing them to the grating cold. She, like the rest of the Sharks, still had some getting used to. From Anita's room, Maria had a few flights of stairs to get down before reaching her family's apartment. She ran, feeling stupid for not covering her legs and feet the night before, and found she was the last to wake up. Everyone was awake and working and she let herself into her apartment to get dressed.
"Por Dios," Anita announced, looking up from the dinner she was preparing. "It's nearly nine o'clock. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Where's Bernardo?"
"Oh, he's out getting spices. Some things are so hard to find here, but we figure someone knows what sofrito is."
"I'll help with the rice when he…" Maria looked from the pot to Anita and then to her door. She was on her toes, still too cold to rest her feet entirely on the floor.
"Excuse me." Maria said abruptly as she went into her room and locked the door.
After getting dressed into her work dress and a sweater in record time, Maria sat out on her fire escape. Her daydreams took her into a world where she could see Tony again. Hear his voice, feel his touch. She closed her eyes, trying to escape from the dirty world around her when she was startled into reality.
"Maria?" A voice called from below.
Maria jumped up. On the ladder was Tony, climbing up as he did the night of the dance.
She took a breath. "Tony,"
She jumped up into his arms, kissing him as if they hadn't seen each other for years.
"Tony," Maria looked into her room, "Come in."
"I want you to meet Anita."
Before Tony could protest, Maria was inside her room waving him in. He bent down into the window and let himself through Maria's door into the kitchen. For a moment, he marveled at the foreign smell coming from the pot Anita was attending to. Next to her were a plate of raw chicken and an odd assortment of spices and herbs.
"Hello, Tony." She said without looking up.
"Anita?" He, still unsure of most of the Sharks' actual names, looked at Maria horrified.
"Yes, hi! Don't be nervous, I won't bite." Anita looked up and winked.
"What are you cooking?"
"Asopao de pollo y arroz y todo..." Maria added in, trying to stay in the conversation.
"Stop, Maria. It's just some soup and chicken. Come here." She answered back, looking down into the pot once again.
Tony approached slowly, as if each step he took would agitate a sleeping bear. Maria came behind him to push him forward.
"You're fine," she whispered.
"I'm so sorry about Bernardo and all the other boys. My own actions yesterday were wrong as well. I want some peace around me; this isn't World War III." She continued adding herbs to the pot.
"You're right." Tony said, relaxing.
"You shouldn't be sneaking around anymore," Anita said, turning to Maria with an authoritative air. "Tony, why don't you stay here for some time and help cook? I didn't want to be stuck here, but Maria's parents are out for the day and Rosalia left me alone."
"I said I'd help anyway." Maria looked at Tony hopefully.
"Wonderful." Anita gave a spoon to Maria and turned to walk away. "I'll be back to eat. Tell Bernardo that I'm in my room. Bye, Tony."
She slammed the door and quickly walked away.
"It's okay. She just hates cooking. To be honest, she's not that good either." Maria laughed and kissed Tony. "You don't have to be nervous anymore."
"Well, Bernardo hates me and I haven't met your parents…"
"My parents are much nicer than Bernardo." Was all Maria said back.
Maria diligently worked, switching between crushing together a majority of the spices in the kitchen in a bowl and stirring the soup. She turned every so often to smile at Tony as the aroma got stronger and more distinctive. "Come here. I want you to try something before I get my hands messy with chicken."
Maria held out a spoonful of the soup to Tony. He did not realize how different the food they ate was. He smelled it for a minute and looked at Maria with concern.
"What is this?" He asked.
"Did Anita mess it up? I tried to fix it with the pepper." She took the spoon. "Oh, it's fine!"
Maria took another dip into the pot and quickly put the spoon in Tony's mouth.
"There." She said, feeling accomplished.
After a moment of tasting the soup, Tony asked what it was for the third time. As she rubbed the spice mix she had just created onto the chicken, she explained the soup to him and the variations of it they ate back home.
"It's my favorite." She said. "I hope you liked it."
"It was good. You really like food, huh?"
"We all do. I'll have to teach you some more before you meet my father… if you know about our food, he'll love you." She smiled. "Not that he wouldn't if you didn't."
"Are you sure I should stay…?" Tony began to feel agitated, and longed to simply hold Maria close
"I don't see why not, what with Anita trying to keep the peace." Maria shrugged as she threw the chicken into the bowl filled with spices.
"Well then, I will. You'll just have to teach me the names of the food… and the people."
Keeping her meat-covered hands arms length away from herself and Tony, Maria turned her head to him and quickly pecked him on the lips with a smile.
"You're going to love it." She said.