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It took me several minutes to shake the feelings that suddenly enveloped me. It was taking so long in the line and, no, I wasn’t any happier about parting from Miguel.
I found myself furiously shaking my head, trying to get rid of his image, his memory. And the sudden revelation that I might be an out of control slut. I looked around to see if anyone had seen me vigorously shaking my head. No. I was alone and unnoticed in a foreign country. The whole thing was simply idiotic. He was a nice man who had been polite to a lonely woman traveler even though he was so clearly out of her league.
If it had happened at all. Never forget that there were paid professionals with many degrees among them who would tell you that I had imagined everything and promptly increase my medication.
Finally, I got to the front of the line, answered a few glumly asked questions and got admitted to ... I suddenly remembered that I might not know what country I was in. I was about to ask the customs official when it dawned on me that asking what country I was in was likely to raise an eyebrow or two and maybe get me detained in whatever country that turned out to be.
I got admitted to the rest of the Barcelona airport, that’s where I got admitted to.
The glass doors whispered apart and allowed me entrance to Terminal A with its crowd of waiting friends and relatives searching each arriving face. No one was looking for me.
Out in the middle of the terminal, I asked directions of a scurrying porter who sent me toward the corridor of rental car agencies.
I should have known where to find them but my usual state of being was disoriented and there were few things quite as disorienting as airports. For instance, the last time I rented a car here, I swear it was in another terminal entirely; somehow the rental offices had migrated to the main terminal. I was sure of it. Sort of sure of it. I was feeling less than sure about just about everything.
There was no one ahead of me at the Hertz counter. I stepped up and was greeted by a fresh-faced Maria Catalina. Renting a car. This was right in my wheelhouse.
And then it became clear that we had a communication problem. Maria Catalina’s English was almost exactly as inadequate as my Spanish. We were bumbling slowly along when a quick burst of Spanish exploded over my right shoulder. I would find out later that it wasn’t Spanish, at all. After all, I wasn’t in Spain.
My first thought was that some dink was trying to cut in ahead of my transaction. I turned around to deliver a scathing look to whoever had spoken.
Miguel was standing there.
“I couldn’t do it,” he said, gesturing helplessly as Maria Catalina replied in equally rapid-fire not-Spanish. “She wants to know if your insurance will cover this rental.”
Flooded with the overwhelming feelings that Miguel brought with him, I nodded numbly. He took over what was left of the rental car transaction, pointing out lines which needed my signature, handing me back my credit card and license, and accepting the keys.
He transferred my luggage to his luggage carrier and led me to the elevator. As the doors closed behind us, he turned to me, “The train got there and I was all ready to get on it but I couldn’t do it.”
It was nice, I noticed, to be back in that little bubble that was Miguel and me together. But it was so weird. “What is going on here?” I blurted out.
“I don’t know,” Miguel replied, carefully enunciating each word as the elevator doors opened and he led the way out into the parking structure. He indicated an ultra-modern aluminum bench, “You stay here. I’ll get the car.”
I sat and tried to convince myself that I wasn’t being kidnaped. After all, I had just allowed a complete stranger to walk off with my rental car keys. On the other hand, he’d left his luggage behind. On the other other hand, I was preparing to get in the car with said total stranger. On the other other other hand, he made my panties wet, very wet.
He honked as he pulled up in the small black Ibiza just about the time I was wondering what he’d meant when he said he ‘couldn’t get on the train’. This was more than a little strange and it didn’t get any less strange as we worked together to figure out how to unlock the trunk. Or as I watched him expertly stow the luggage. Or when he walked over and held the driver’s door for me with a gallant “Senyora.”
He was so damned beautiful and so damned tall and so damned there.
“I should probably let you drive,” I heard myself say as I stepped into the car.
He shook his head, “Oh, no, no. I want to be confident you’re used to the car before I send you on your way.”
He closed my door and walked around to get in on the passenger’s side. I watched him settle in, my cheeks blazing, my hands shaking.
“Who are you?” I asked.
Miguel smiled that ready smile of his, “I don’t know any more. Put on your seatbelt.”
“I will. My father’s a police officer and I think we had the first car with seatbelts ever.” I heard myself babbling as I strapped myself in. I wondered, though, if I’d felt the need to announce that my father was a police officer in order to put him on notice. Then I wondered what use I thought my father was going to be if this particular situation went south.
I turned to this ... this stranger into whose hands I’d put myself. Or, actually, I realized, who had just put himself into my hands, “How do we get to wherever we’re going?”
“That’s a question, isn’t it?” he asked.
I proceeded – with a grand grinding of gears – to stall out the manual transmission. Glancing over at Miguel, I saw him work hard to suppress a grin.
“One of the first things we have to do is keep the car running,” he didn’t resist saying.
I was focused on doing just that as he directed me onto the Ronda. This main highway, which surrounds Barcelona, was bumper to bumper in morning rush hour traffic. Actually, Miguel informed me, it was bumper to bumper almost any time of day. A constant stream of motorcycles added to the general madness by weaving in and out among the cars and those funny mini trucks that seemed to be everywhere.
After several tense minutes, Miguel leaned forward in his seat, “We’re looking for the E-15. I think it’s going to be the next exit after this one.” He looked at me. “I don’t think that. I know that. I lived here the whole time I was growing up. I was born in Barcelona. I know how to get from the Barcelona airport to anywhere. Why would I say that?”
I made a grateful, careful transition to the other less crowded roadway.
“Now it’s basically a straight shot to Girona. I’ll give you plenty of notice before we have to turn again. What do you want to talk about? What’s going on? What do you think is going on?” Miguel asked, twisting in his seat to look at me.
I tried desperately to think but, as I said, he was so there. “Are we convinced something is going on?”
“Oh, yes,” he replied, “We are very convinced something is going on. Lucy, I … you’re going to think that I’m nuts but I felt you walk up to me on the plane. I had my eyes closed. I was listening to Rachmaninoff when suddenly I felt this … I was overwhelmed by this electrical energy and I opened my eyes and there you were. The source.”
He probably thought I was silent because I was taking in this information but, in reality (reality!), I had a quick flash of what lewd acts I might have been up to if I hadn’t been driving. I played a mental whack-a-mole game to keep that to myself.
“What do you think of all this?” he asked. He was serious and I felt that was the least he deserved from me as I attempted to drag my mind out of the gutter.
“You promise not to laugh at me? I mean, can we put all our cards on the table?” I asked. I would, I hoped, hold on to the ace.
“‘Cards on the table’? What does that mean?” Miguel was puzzled.
“What does that mean ... um ... can we say whatever we want to say?”
“But where does that come from: ‘cards on the table’?”
“Do you ever play poker?”
“Poker? Si. Oh, I get it. I get it. Okay.”
I don’t know. Was I happy to get this glimpse at how intelligent he was? He could have been a whole lot stupider and looked like that and managed to make his way through life just fine.
“I think,” and Miguel’s gestures were as fascinating as his words, his presence, “we have to say whatever we want to say. I think there is something magical and unique and something we are blessed to be experiencing going on here.”
I was becoming overwhelmed and was grateful to have my driving to focus on. It was not unlike trying to drive while high. Not that I’ve ever done that, of course.
“Look,” I said, trying swiftly to backpedal, to run away from whatever it was that I found myself entangled in, “here’s the truth of the matter. We are two strangers who met on a plane. I am a lot of years older than you are. I am rattled and frazzled and stressed...”
Miguel’s sudden laugh took me aback, almost offended me.
“What?” I asked heatedly.
“Lucia, that is not what’s going on. At least, it’s all immaterial. It has nothing to do with what exists between you and me. Even before our eyes met, something happened that has never happened to me before. I don’t know that friends or family have ever been through anything like this. I’ve not seen it in a movie or read it in a book. Maybe seen it in a movie but I have never felt like this. Have you?”
I was silent.
“Have you?” he asked again.
“I have never felt like this before.”
“So what is it?” he pressed me. “And don’t take your eyes off the road. Maybe we shouldn’t be having this conversation now, not while you’re driving.”
“When should we have it? When I’m spending the rest of my life in Michigan and you’re spending the rest of yours in Spain?” I demanded.
“Ah, that reminds me. I’m supposed to explain to you why you’re not in Spain.”
“You have got to be joking,” I splurted.
“Yes, I am. I want to tell you but let’s not leave this subject.”
“Okay,” and I heard the note of resignation in my voice, “this is the only thing that makes sense to me. Please feel free to laugh at me and tell me I’m crazy. I keep thinking of the concept of soul mates.”
I waited. Miguel’s response, when it came, came softly, “So do I. Suddenly, there you were and I was, for the first time, complete.”
I had to be making up this conversation. My psychiatrists must be right. This simply could not be happening. I wondered where my body really was.
I had no idea what Miguel was thinking. But then he was a figment of my imagination. He had to be. I wondered when I’d had my new breakdown, tried to figure out what had caused it.
“Lucy?” he said.
“But I don’t even know you,” I protested.
“Don’t you?” asked Miguel.
“I’m making you up,” I actually said to him. “Because I feel like I know you completely, inside and out.” I realized as I finished this declaration that a part of me was hoping that Miguel would laugh at me again, say I was crazy, and ask to be dropped at the nearest bus stop.
He didn’t. Instead, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I am a real person.” He laughed and added, “I have never had to say that before.”
Miguel sat quietly for a moment then, despite fighting to keep my eyes on the road, I caught him nodding thoughtfully, “It feels to me as though we’re made from the same batch. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual artist but, you know how paint only matches if it’s from the same batch? That’s not strictly true anymore, by the way, but it works for what I’m trying to say so let’s go with it. What I’m trying to say is, if Leonardo da Vinci had painted with us, we would have matched perfectly.
“I believe in God,” Miguel continued, “or at least in a power that conducts the music of the Universe and it seems to me that it would be a very bad thing to take what we’ve been given and throw it back contemptuously. You were referring to that very same thing earlier.”
He paused then, “That’s why I couldn’t get on the train. It’s why you were still there when I got to the rental car counter. Remember, Lucy? You had a communication problem that slowed your transaction down. Why did you get the only car rental person at Hertz who doesn’t speak English? Do you think that’s common at an American company in an international airport? If that hadn’t happened, I would have missed you. We would not be sitting here.”
We were silent for a while. I was listening to my heart beating and trying to make any kind of sense out of this.
“When I was walking back from the train, I was so sure that I had missed you. I felt like a fool,” Miguel said, then “Turn right.”
Some distance on, he added, “We’re almost there. Turn left at the next street.”
I did as I was told.
“Looks like you’ll have to find out why you’re not in Spain some other time,” Miguel’s laugh was again sudden and filled the quiet car. “Pull up over there.”
Once more, I did as I was told though I was hardly able to believe that my morning’s adventure was coming to an end.
Miguel took off his seatbelt and looked at me. “I don’t even know what to say,” again he gestured helplessly, “I can’t say good-bye but I can’t say I’ll see you soon. I can say that meeting you has tipped my whole world on its axis.”
He pried my hand from its death grip on the wheel and dropped a kiss in my palm then opened his door to get out.
His right foot hit the pavement as I tried to remember where the trunk release was. Then he sat there. One long leg out and one long leg in. Unmoving.
After a moment, he pulled his foot back in the car. “It seems to be my morning for feeling like a fool. This is not the university I teach at. I have directed you to the university that was my university, the one I graduated from, where I went to school. I’m sorry. I was so ... my mind was so blown by what is going on that I got confused.”
I smiled – I’d tilted his world on its axis? Mine was a spinning gyroscope which was rapidly increasing its rotation.
Miguel rushed on, “It’s not fair to continue to take up your time. I can get a taxi from here.”
“Look,” I replied, “I don’t feel we can have it both ways. I mean, either we’re caught up in this bizarre cosmic event in which it’s perfectly okay for the Universe to give us more time together or we’re not. And if what’s going on is really real and not just some ... well, there are two possibilities here for me. One, that what we’re experiencing is strange but real and, two, that I’m actually lying in a mental hospital somewhere imagining all this.”
I again watched Miguel as he struggled to form a response.
Finally, he looked at me, “Once again, I am real.”
“Then how do we get where we’re going?” I asked.
Miguel let out a whoop, “There’s that question and that I don’t know but to get me to where I’m supposed to be, turn right.”
We rode in silence and hadn’t gone far before we ran into a construction zone traffic jam which stopped us in our tracks.
Miguel exhaled an exasperated breath and turned in his seat, assessing the situation. It was not hard to see that we were completely blocked in. He pulled out his phone, explaining as he did so, “I’d better call the secretary at the school and tell her I’m not going to make my first class.”
I determined not to listen but quickly realized that wasn’t even an option. Miguel spoke Spanish, or whatever he was speaking, so rapidly that I couldn’t catch even the occasional word that I could in my conversations with the Spanish-speakers that I knew in LA. He was clearly the Usain Bolt of “Spanish” speakers and, when he finally hung up, I told him so.
“That wasn’t Spanish,” he replied. See what I mean.
“If I let myself, I could get a little freaked out by this. You don’t speak Spanish. I’m not in Spain ...”
”Ah,” said Miguel, “since we’re not going anywhere, it’s perfect timing: the Catalunya lesson. And I do speak Spanish but that wasn’t it.”
“Catalunya?” It rang a bell but a teeny, tiny, faraway one.
“This corner of what looks on a typical map to be Spain – Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona – is actually an autonomous community called Catalunya. There have been many struggles between the Spanish and the Catalans over Catalan independence. They began in the 10th Century when it stopped being France and became Aragon. Then, in the 15th Century, the King of Aragon married the Queen of Castile ...”
“Oh, whatzisname and Isabella.”
“Si, whatzisname and Isabella – Ferdinand,” he rolled the “r” very impressively. “The two countries retained their separate autonomy. That ‘th’ thing, where ‘C’s and ‘Z’s are pronounced like ‘th’, that’s Castilian. Many people have died for Catalan independence through the centuries. In the 20th Century, when Franco – do you know Franco?”
Yes, I did. He was the guy who was “still dead” for the longest time on Saturday Night Live. I wasn’t about to share my ignorance again. I settled for nodding.
“Franco was determined to make Catalunya part of Spain and did so through oppressing the Catalan people. It became illegal to speak the language which you just heard me speaking, Catalan.
“We ... the reason I don’t want you,” he grinned, “to bring your Spanish ways into Catalunya is that there is a very strong national pride in Catalunya and a drive for independence and people who don’t realize that your use of Spanish is, you will forgive me, ignorance, may be angered by it.
“In particular, it is a problem to speak Spanish with a Castilian accent. The Castilian armies have often occupied our beautiful land and we are particularly sensitive to being reminded of those dark days. That’s why it is always Barcelona with the ‘s’ sound.”
“I had no idea.”
“No, I knew you didn’t,” Miguel agreed. “Just don’t do it anymore and all is forgiven.”
“My Spanish is practically unintelligible anyhow,” I pointed out.
“That’s true,” Miguel agreed.
“Have you always lived in Catalunya?”
“As I said, born and raised in Barcelona. University and teaching in Girona.”
“Where are you setting up your magazine?”
“Ah, Girona. It’s a little slower paced. It suits me better.”
Miguel took my right hand in both of his. “There,” he said, “real.” He turned my hand over and traced the lines in my palm, sending shivers up my arm.
Still holding my hand, he leaned back in his seat, threw his head back and closed his eyes. “Mmmm,” he said.
“I lied to you,” I had to say.
He opened his eyes, “About what?”
“The Mile High Club.”
“And not very well. Don’t do it again. Mare de Déu, what I want to say to you!” said Miguel.
“Go ahead,” I was thinking of all the things I wanted to say to him.
He shook his head and we sat there in silence while I took my hand back and moved the car forward a foot.
“Tell me about your family,” I said, bracing myself to hear about his wife or fiancée. He had immediately taken my hand again.
“My father is a jeweler, my family owns a number of jewelry stores. My mother is a doctor. I have two older brothers and an older sister. I am the baby and, fortunately, my two brothers went into the jewelry business so it was okay that I was the sheep,” said Miguel.
“The sheep? Oh, you mean the ‘black sheep’?”
“Black sheep? Okay. Yes. The one sheep that wanted to sit around the meadow and draw pictures. That’s a picture I have to draw now,” he put my hand down on his knee and sketched in the air, “the black sheep sitting on a rock and drawing the other sheep. Self-portrait.”
“That just reminded me of Animal Farm.”
“What, the old pig?” Miguel asked.
I nodded, and was a little amazed that he got the reference. Maybe we were from the same batch. His knee was certainly the right place for my hand.
“That’s one of my favorite books,” he added.
And maybe we weren’t.
“I’m going to tell you a secret that I’ve never told anyone else. I’ve never read that book.”
“Then how ...?”
I interrupted, “I faked it. In fact, when I just mentioned Animal Farm, I thought it was a cow. I was a terrible student. I never did my homework but I still got A’s and the occasional B and my mother used to give me long talks about how I could have gotten straight A’s...”
It was Miguel’s turn to interrupt: “What is an ‘A’?”
“That’s the best grade you can get,” I explained.
“You do ‘A’ through ...?” he asked.
“Ah, we do ‘1' through ‘10'. ‘10' is the best. So you’re telling me your secret.”
And now he was lightly stroking the back of my hand. If I hadn’t already lost my mind, I was losing it now.
“Oh, right. During my senior year of English literature – our last year before university – we were supposed to read about five books including Animal Farm. I read a couple of them but not Animal Farm. Turned out our exam was only about that book. I totally bluffed my way through it and got an A. I’ve never read it and yet I had the nerve to bring it up with you, to make you think I had. That was kind of a jerky thing to do, wasn’t it?”
“As long as it’s the worst thing you do to me, I forgive you,” said Miguel.
“Do you know what I feel like?” I asked.
“What are you asking me? Do I know what emotion you’re experiencing or do I know what it’s like to touch you?” he asked and doubled, tripled, quadrupled the emotion that had been the basis for my question.
“Am I dead? Is that it? Is that what’s going on here?”
Miguel laughed. “Yes, Lucy, you and I are dead and heaven is an Ibiza in a traffic jam in Girona. Let’s try a new subject. Tell me about being a film producer.”
“Miguel,” I murmured, “is it weird that my hand is on your knee?”
“No, it’s where it’s supposed to be.”
My panties were getting wetter and I ... never mind, I wasn’t going to think about that.
I pursed my lips, “As I told you, it’s nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds. I do have some great stories, though – how about I tell you amusing anecdotes from making movies?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“One of my favorite stories is from when we were shooting a short film in Hollywood. It had been written by and was being directed by Kathy Ironstone. Do you know the actor Al Ironstone?” I glanced over at him.
“Always plays the tough guy? Yeah. I like him. He’s good,” said Miguel.
“You would tell me if we were dead?” I asked, only half-kidding.
“Yes, yes, I would,” assured Miguel.
“Kathy is Al Ironstone’s wife and we were shooting this 15-minute film with a very low budget. We were all volunteering our time and I was both producing and cooking. I’m a terrible cook so that tells you a little bit about how ragged the production was. I had my then-boyfriend working as key grip.”
Look how well I was doing. Talking when all I could think about was his thighs. Well, if he thought my hand was supposed to be on his knee then, so be it.
“Finally!” Miguel interrupted. “What is a key grip? And a best boy? I see those on every film but I have no idea what they do.”
“Ah-hah. Well, cinema is the interplay of light and shadows.”
“Especially in old black and white films, like Hitchcock. Or On the Waterfront, one of my favorite films.”
“Or Casablanca. Have you ever watched Casablanca just as an exercise in design?”
“What do you mean?” asked Miguel.
“Forget the story and the characters and watch the pictures that make it up. The shadows of the palm trees and the ceiling fans. It’s ... you can take any frame of that movie and paint it and have a masterpiece.”
“I’ll have to try that.”
“The grips make those shadows ... or eliminate those shadows. They shade the light or reflect it.”
“Like in photography,” Miguel interjected.
“Exactly like in photography. Well, on kind of a grander scale. And they support the camera. The key grip is the most important one. He works right under the cinematographer and the cinematographer is the only one who’s supposed to give him orders. The best boy works under the key grip and it’s his job to keep the rest of the grips in line, do paperwork to make sure everybody gets paid and all that sort of thing. The dolly grip ...”
“Ah, you’re reading my mind. That was going to be my next question.”
I made the mistake of turning to look at him and our eyes met. My command of the English language completely disappeared. And Miguel knew it. I could tell by the look in his eyes and the sudden smile on his face.
“Do you want me to talk?” he asked.
I shook my head, “You have to stop doing that.”
“You just took my breath away.”
“That is the most amazing thing anyone has ever said to me,” said Miguel. He grabbed my hand off his knee and held it to his heart.
I took a deep breath and plunged desperately on. “The dolly grip moves the camera on these like little railroad tracks. ... I can’t believe we’re talking about this.”
“I’m learning about you,” Miguel said.
“Okay. On this little shoot we only had a key grip and one of my production assistants, Wiley was his name, was helping him out. My friend Sofia was in film school and she was being the other production assistant.
“Sofia is amazing. She’s ... well, I think she’s thirty-four this year. She’s so beautiful, talented – she writes, she directs, she paints, she sings, she dances. Sofia, by the way, is the one who brought up the Mile High Club...”
“You went to sleep,” Miguel interrupted me.
“You heard me,” he said. “Go on.”
“Oh, God.” I gasped involuntarily then dug deep, “Sofia was helping me out on this little movie for free. It was the last day of the shoot. Fortunately, we had unloaded all the equipment we needed to use that day the night before. Oh, I forgot. We were parking our equipment truck down at a gas station at the bottom of the street. We’d paid them a hundred bucks to watch it.
“I drove past the gas station on the way in and Sofia and Wiley were sitting on a wall on the corner. The truck had been stolen. They were waiting for me because they didn’t dare tell Kathy, it would have thrown off the whole day’s shooting. And they couldn’t tell Kent, the key grip, because he would have changed in a phone booth and run off to take care of it and that would have thrown off the whole day’s shooting.”
“Changed in a phone booth?”
Miguel nodded, “Ah.”
“It was up to me. This was where I had to pull up my producer panties and kick some butt.”
Miguel laughed, “‘Producer panties’ – what are those like?”
I loved and hated this man.
“Nothing to get excited about. They’re iron,” I responded. “Like a medieval chastity belt. Sofia and Wiley and I walked into the gas station and found this burly, old, greasy man behind the counter. There we were – me, Sofia who must have been like twenty-three at the time, and Wiley, the most non-threatening guy I’d ever met. I demanded to know what happened to the truck.
“The guy flipped out and pulled out this huge butcher’s knife. Wiley stepped in front of Sofia and me. We begged him to come with us and we’d call the police. We were trying to drag Wiley away but he threw us off like some kind of worldwide wrestling champion. I remember Sofia and I were standing together and holding hands and Wiley was advancing on the guy. Sofia whispered, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to watch him die,’ and I whispered back, ‘Go call the police’ and tried to push her out the door but she wouldn’t go.”
“This is not an amusing anecdote,” said Miguel. He was playing with my hand, running his fingers in and out between mine.
I smiled at him, “Oh, wait. So both of us women had our eyes on what we were sure was going to be a scene of horror right in front of us. Suddenly Wiley grabbed the guy and kissed him on the lips. Right smack on the lips. The guy was so startled that he dropped the knife and Wiley scooped it up. Now we had the bad guy at knife point. Sofia called the police. They came over and all was well. Except the truck was still missing,” I swiveled in my seat to watch a laughing Miguel.
“But,” I said, “You haven’t heard the best part yet.”
“I haven’t?” Miguel asked. “This kiss is pretty good. I have to remember that. Not that I get into fights but now I know what to do.”
‘This kiss is pretty good’ was reverberating in my mind. It made an interesting counterpoint to ‘You went to sleep.’ I managed to find the ending of my story.
“Later we’re talking with Wiley and I said, ‘What made you think about kissing him? Where did that come from?’ and he looked at me and said, ‘I thought, what would Bugs Bunny do?’ Bugs Bunny had saved his life.”
Miguel brought my hand up to his cheek. He closed his eyes and held it there and I was immediately thrown drowning into the swirl of something-more-than-lust that I’d been living in since I’d first seen this man. I closed my eyes briefly only to find him watching me when I opened them.
A space had opened up in front of us and I pulled my hand back and moved the car forward another foot or two.
“Are you here because I fell ...” I started.
“Don’t insult me and the Universe by asking that question,” Miguel answered, then, “You have an ex-boyfriend; do you have a current one?”
I shook my head. “I’m not a very good chooser of men.”
Miguel raised an eyebrow, “Hmmm.”
“Just ‘hmmm’. I’m undergoing a moment of insecurity.”
He was undergoing a moment of insecurity? I was too terrified to ask him whether he had a woman in his life despite the fact that the unasked question hung in the air between us.
Miguel opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it.
The silence was broken by his phone ringing. He didn’t look pleased when he looked at the caller i.d. but answered it anyhow.
As I inched the car forward again and again, I felt as though I was suspended in space and time. Miguel’s staccato Catalan had an angry tone to it but that might have just been its speed and intensity. It was completely unintelligible but I could not help wondering if he was arguing with his wife or his girlfriend or his whatever. After far too long, his tone changed, was more apologetic. Then he hung up.
He tossed the phone onto the dashboard of the car. “My mother,” he said. “I was supposed to call her when my plane landed. Of course, I couldn’t tell her that there was a theory that I was dead. I did think about explaining that I might be the figment of a beautiful woman’s imagination but didn’t think that would calm her down either.”
I wanted him.
We were in that traffic jam for six hours. Miguel asked endless questions about my life and I dredged up responses, tiptoeing around and ducking under all the suggestive suggestions that were clamoring for attention.
He wanted my hand either in his hand or on his thigh. We eventually got to the point where he would tell me to put in the clutch then do the shifting himself.
More than once, Miguel pointed to a supermercat at the side of the road. “I think I’m thirsty, pull over to the side, would you, please?”
He would jump out of the car and stride toward the store, giving me another opportunity to observe his quite wonderful tush, to lose myself in watching his long-legged gait and the authority with which he carried himself.
Then he would be back in the car, with a beer and a bottle of bubbly water.
One time he came back and said, “Every move you make, every word you say is engraved on my brain.”
Another time he came back with a plastic container of gazpacho which he shared with me, feeding it to me after warning that it was very spicy. It was.
The final time, before he fastened his seatbelt, Miguel reached out and stroked my hair. “Mmmm, I’ve been wondering what that would feel like.”
He bent his head toward me, “Go ahead.”
I hesitated only briefly before running my fingers through his curls. He laughed out loud as I was overcome by an attack of the shivers.
“Don’t laugh at me. It’s all your fault,” I said. I stepped on the clutch but Miguel laid his hand over mine on the shift.
“Don’t go yet. I want to just exist here together for a few minutes, to not be rushing to be apart. Have a drink of your water,” Miguel’s voice was thick with emotion.
As I took a healthy swig of water, thoughts from so many different angles flooded my mind that I literally shook my head to clear it.
“Are you okay?” asked Miguel.
I opened my mouth to speak but had no idea what I should say. I shrugged – eloquently, I hope. “You?”
“I am very okay,” said Miguel. “I am so enjoying this traffic jam. Never before have I enjoyed a traffic jam like this nor did I ever expect it was possible. Maybe, though, we’d better get back into it.”
I nosed the little black car back into the stream of traffic. The road curved off to the right and, as we went around the curve, the traffic jam broke up.
“Recony!” said Miguel, turning to smile at me, “Sorry. That was a genuine Catalan swear word. Do you have any paper?”
“Look in my purse,” I replied, grabbing it from the back seat and dropping it into his lap. That little voice shouted, “you just gave a total stranger in a foreign country – whatever country it is – your purse: What is wrong with you?”
Miguel pulled out a small notebook and held it up questioningly.
I nodded even as he was pulling his red pencil out of his pocket. Opening the notebook against the dashboard, he began to draw something.
Without looking up, Miguel said, “You want to stay on the right through that gate.”
I pulled up at the entrance to a large low building.
As I stopped the car, Miguel held the notebook out to me. “This is how you get to my apartment.” He pulled his keys out of his pocket. “This is the key to the front door and this is the key to my apartment. I will be there in two hours. Make yourself at home.”
I said the stupidest thing I’ve ever said, “I can’t. I just can’t. I have people I’m supposed to meet and I’m already going to be late for that. There are a lot of people depending on me. I have five hours to go and I’m supposed to meet Sofia at the airport in Nice. I just ...”
”Shhhh,” Miguel interrupted, “it’s all right. I understand. I don’t understand why the Universe is doing this to us but I do understand that you have a life. It’s been ... incredible, memorable. Amazing. Wait.”
He put his arm around my neck and pulled my head over to meet his to take a selfie.
“In my purse.”
He laughed as he dug through my purse again and I wondered what of all the craziness in there had amused him.
“There’s a pocket in there – on the side,” I told him.
He found my phone and pulled it out, looked at it doubtfully. “This isn’t turned on.”
He handed it to me. It was my turn to look at it doubtfully. Finally I said, “New phone. I have no clue how it works.”
Before he could say whatever he opened his mouth to say, I dropped the phone back in my purse. For some reason, I was ashamed of myself for doing it, and felt the blush flooding my cheeks.
He opened the door and got out of the car.
I sat for a moment trying to remember which knob or button opened the trunk. When I’d figured that out, I got out.
I met Miguel at the back of the car as he was opening the trunk. I watched him take out his bags and, when he turned suddenly and kissed me, I kissed him back. He took my breath away again.
“I’ve been wondering what that would feel like, too,” he said.
Miguel turned to walk away then, as quickly, turned back again.
“Why do I scare you so much?” he asked. “I promise I’m not a scary guy.”
After a moment, I answered, “I don’t know.”
“But I do scare you?”
“I hadn’t realized it until you mentioned it but, yes, you do,” I said.
He kissed me one more time, passionately, lingeringly, intensely, then turned and, this time, walked away