He didn’t move, as she had expected he would upon hearing this information. From what she could make out, he was older than she, although he couldn’t have been much older than 20.
“What are you doing in here?” she asked.
“What are you doing in here?”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Just couldn’t deal with the scene out there. It’s not really my style. And you?”
“I’m here with my father.”
“He’s one of them?”
“He works in the production room.”
“What do you mean, ‘good’?”
“It’s good that he’s not one of them.”
“Aren’t you one of them? Isn’t that why you’re here?”
“No way.” He snorted. “They did a story on me once, a whole feature article that won the reporter some big award, so they figured they owed me or something and invited me to this thing.”
“Why would they write a story about you?” Carmen Elcira asked. He was handsome, certainly, and something about him was strangely compelling, but on their own, those were not qualities that warranted a feature article.
“I don’t know.”
“You must know.”
“You’re very demanding,” he said.
Carmen Elcira narrowed her eyes and studied his face. He was wearing the plainest of clothes, with sunglasses propped on his head. She wondered if he could see her just as well, the yellow seersucker dress with ruffles around the armholes and her deceased mother’s straw hat that she had chosen to wear. And then, she didn’t know why, the thought occurred to her that he had probably seen her walking around the party earlier and, liking what he saw, had followed her into the laundry room where he could be alone with her. That was the sort of thing that always happened to attractive girls in the movies, after all.
“You are a disgusting man,” she told him.
“What did I do?”
“It’s what you wanted to do.”
“Hey, all I wanted was to take a break from the party for a minute. It’s not my fault you were in here already.”
“Well, I was trying to be alone.”
“So was I.”
“But I was trying to be alone first.”
Carmen Elcira heard him sigh, but she saw, also, that he was amused. He stood and walked to her. Close up, she could see his chiseled face, a small cleft in his chin. His hair was styled into a small Afro. “Are you sure that’s what you want?” he asked.
He let his gaze linger. Carmen Elcira was determined not to be the first to look away. “Then, by all means, don’t let me stop you,” he finally said, and started to back away.
“Thank you,” she said.
He bowed in sarcastic deference.
“A real gentleman,” Carmen Elcira said as he continued his retreat.
The man stopped and smiled. “At last, we agree on something,” he said, before he walked through the door.
That night in bed, Carmen Elcira couldn’t help but think about him for some time—the two of them talking in the dark amid the scent of detergent, the way he had approached her, leaning so close to her face before he left. She smiled into her pillow.
Before him, of course, others had turned her head. Notably, a few years earlier, a boy named Cristóbal Vega had moved in with his family next door to Carmen Elcira and hers. Cristóbal Vega was not charming, nor intelligent, nor adventurous, nor even particularly funny. In fact, every time Carmen Elcira tried to talk to him, she found him fairly boring. So she satisfied herself with simply staring at him, which was all a boy like that was good for. Her bedroom faced his, so she kept her window open wider than usual to listen for the moment he walked into his room. As soon as she heard his door close, and the chopping blades of his fan start, Carmen Elcira went to her window and stared longingly at Cristóbal. She watched him sit and flip through the thin pages of comic books. She watched him nap on his bed. She watched him nibble his nails. She watched him kick his shoes off into the corner of his closet. She watched him look at more comic books. And every night before bed, Carmen Elcira gazed upon Cristóbal as he took off his undershirt—the way he crossed his arms and drew the cotton over his head, his honey silk skin underneath—and she had to bite the tip of her tongue between her teeth to stop the strangest feelings that buzzed within her until she was calm enough to go to bed herself.