Brûlé

By Claire Gibson. You can read more writing by Claire at http://clairegibson.com and in Native Magazine.  She is the new managing editor of said publication.

Lauren snapped her laptop shut. What did I just do. She cussed, grabbing at her brunette ponytail while sliding off her bed onto the carpet. “Uhhhhhh,” she groaned. “Charleeeee!?”

Lauren’s tall blonde roommate appeared in a matter of seconds, wide at the hips but slender in the waist, with a mug of coffee steaming in her hands. She looked down at the floor with a raised eyebrow, and took a sip of joe. Looking up, Lauren could see the feather tattoo under Charlee’s right wrist. “I did it,” Lauren said, “and now I want to vomit.”

Charlee crossed her ankles. “I just want to go on the record saying that I like Seve, but think you’re making a mistake. And your muffins are burning.”

And as quickly as she had arrived on the scene, Charlee walked her no-mas-stay yoga-pants back into her own room.

Lauren sniffed the air, then jumped up. The muffins were burning. She threw the hot smoking pan on the stove. She yelled over the echo of aluminum, “Shit!” The morning was off to a remarkably spectacular start. In one short hour, she’d turned down her dream job with one Thanks, Mrs. Editor of the International Section, but no thanks e-mail, and now breakfast was ruined. She tried to carve out one of the charred blueberry lumps in an attempt to salvage the insides. Her fingers burned as steam poured out of the little vessel, and the roasted smell of burnt sugar wafted up to her face. They’re ruined.

I’m ruined, Lauren thought. Then she thought again. No I’m not. I’m moving in with Seve.  Who cares if Lynn Folks thinks I’m an idiot. Who cares if the Washington Post really liked my application. My life is here, right here, in front of this burned breakfast. I chose this, she thought, forcing a piece of burned bread down her throat.

“Bring me one!” Charlee called from her room. Lauren grabbed a napkin.

—-

The blue 1978 Chevy was up and running, a minor miracle. Ice residue dissolved on the windshield. Lauren rubbed her hands together for effect while the cracked leather seat vibrated beneath her. She checked her mascara in the rearview mirror, leftover from a night of dancing with Seve. She put her foot on the brake, and shifted into reverse.

It’d been three weeks since she e-mailed Lynn Folks at the Washington Post explaining that yes, she knew her fluent Spanish would be an asset to the International beat, but no, she simply couldn’t accept the job. She left out the part about moving in with the boyfriend that’d taught her Spanish in the first place. Severiano Çorrilla, the boyfriend of two years. The boyfriend who had come from distant Spanish royalty—the same boyfriend who left his family behind to follow what he called his corazón and Lauren back to the States. They’d spent six months in his bed during her study abroad in Madrid, so it only made sense that she’d stay by his side in Cleveland now that he had a steady job. She couldn’t leave him—she couldn’t move now. But for some reason, she couldn’t move herself to delete Lynn’s number from her phone either.

Halfway to the restaurant, she heard a buzz from her brown leather purse. Eyes darting back and forth from the phone to the road, Lauren read the text Not going to make it to brunch today. Pulling up to a red light, she typed back What’s wrong? Can I do anything? Then she erased the last question. When she walked into Hew Street Café, she felt another buzz in her back pocket. Case load. Te quiero. 🙂

Lauren smiled and felt dumb.

“Boob, what are your thoughts on Spanish men using emoticons?” Lauren asked, throwing her purse on the bar and grabbing a white apron. Boob was a three-hundred pound Latino culinary genius whose real name, Bobby Obregon, led to an all-too-easy abbreviation. He considered naming his restaurant eponymously but thought serving roast chicken breast may come off a bit crass. He chose the name of the Hispanic ghetto where he grew up instead, and regularly offered his favorite non-print tagline: “Hew Street Café, where the hood meets the haute.”

He huffed. “Lauren, what are your thoughts on me wearing a thong?” He waited for an outlandish response, but got none.  Boob continued. “It’s Deesgusting.”

Lauren laughed, and gave him a playful punch in the arm. Surely sideways smiley faces could be forgiven, she thought. Plenty could be forgiven of the boyfriend with the body of Michael Phelps circa 2008 and the face of Clark Gable circa Mutiny on the Bounty. Plus he was already partner at a firm in Cleveland, and rumors were spreading that he’d run for District Attorney before the age of 34. Lauren imagined him in a suit in front of a jury, cajoling them with his stark green eyes. In her court of opinion, he was pretty convincing.

After the brunch hour ended, Lauren leaned against the white-washed wall in the kitchen to smell the roasted tomatoes, garlicky black bean hash, and baking tortillas. Then she had a romantic notion. She had just enough time.

“Regresaré en media hora,” she said.

Boob huffed, giving permission for the half-hour break by handing her a to-go plate. He’d noticed Seve’s absence too.

Bumbling into a parking spot outside Seve’s apartment, Lauren grabbed the hot white box on the passenger seat that she had stuffed with brunch leftovers …  a makeshift, spontaneous, romantic picnic. She jingled her keys until a lone golden glint revealed itself amongst its silver brothers. My little golden key to his apartment, she thought but then self-edited, our apartment. Climbing the stairs two at a time, Lauren envisioned how difficult the move-in would be the following weekend.  She gave herself a mental pat on the back for scheduling some movers.

When she got to the door, it was already unlocked; a fact that Lauren remembered later. It should have been her first clue.

Inside, the kitchen light was on. The rest were off. Seve wasn’t posted at his desk, surrounded by briefs, as usual.  The papers were there, the computer screen saver floating eerily, but Seve wasn’t there to flash his brilliant white smile or say ‘Mi pequeña perla!” She assessed the scene quickly, and heard a loud crash from the bedroom.

Bumps, rustles, and sounds of feet scampering across the hardwood floors, scurrying like hundred-pound mice, made Lauren’s stomach drop. “Seve?!” she ventured into the dark.

And there he was. Guilty and holding dirty boxers in his only defense. And there she was, holding her breasts.

Lauren dropped the box of food on the floor, watching it splatter in a million directions.

She ran out, bumping hard into his desk and sending the laptop crashing to the floor at the same time. She ran out of the apartment and down the stairs, and slammed the blue Chevy door behind her. Her mind moved quickly. Before she’d even turned the car on, she was dialing with one hand and holding her forehead for stability with the other.

“Lynn, this is Lauren Gilman.” she said, straining to keep her voice calm and steady. “I’ve hired a team to help me move. I’m coming to Washington.”

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