I’d been people-watching for almost an hour, so I saw him as soon as he walked in. It was hard not to. The eyes of a few other women in the bar showed that I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed.
He was tall and broad-shouldered, nicely muscled but not over the top in some crazy Arnold Schwarzenegger way. He wore khakis with a navy blue T-shirt tucked into them. His black hair was not quite to his chin, and he had it tucked behind his ears. His eyes were large and dark, set in a smoothly chiseled face with perfect, golden-tanned skin. There was some mix of ethnicities going on there, I suspected, but none I could discern. Whatever the combo, it worked. Extremely well.
“Hey, is anyone sitting here?” He nodded at the chair beside me. It was the only empty one at the bar.
I shook my head, and he sat down. He didn’t say anything else, and the only other time I heard him speak was to order a margarita. After that, he seemed content just to people-watch, like me. And honestly, it was a great place to do it. Alejandro’s was right next to a midlevel hotel and drew in patrons and tourists from all sides of the socioeconomic scale. TVs showed sporting events or news or whatever the bartender felt like putting on. A few trivia machines sat at the other end of the bar. Music – sometimes live, but not tonight – forced the TVs to have closed-captioning, and dancing people crowded the small space among the tables.
It was humanity at its best. Teeming with life, alcohol, mindless entertainment, and bad pick-up lines. I liked to come here when I wanted to be alone without being alone. I liked it better when drunk, stupid guys left me alone. I wasn’t sure about articulate, good-looking ones. One nice thing I soon discovered was that with Tall, Dark, and Handsome sitting next to me, no losers dared approach.
But he wasn’t talking to me either, and after a while, I realized I’d kind of like him to – not that I’d have any clue what to say back. With the glances he kept giving me, I think he felt the same way. I didn’t know. A sort of tension built up between us as I nursed my Corona, each of us waiting for something.
When it finally came, he started it.
Not the opening I’d been expecting.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your perfume. It’s like…like violets and sugar. And vanilla. I suppose it’s weird to think violets are edible, huh?”
“Not so weird as a guy actually knowing what violets smell like.” It was also weird that he could even smell it. I’d put it on about twelve hours ago. With all the smoke and sweat around here, it was a surprise anyone’s olfactory senses could function.
He shot me a crooked grin, favoring me with a look that could only be described as smoky. I felt my pulse quicken a little. “It’s good to know what flowers are what. Makes it easier to send them. And impress women.”
I eyed him and then swirled the beer in my bottle. “Are you trying to impress me?”
He shrugged. “Mostly I’m just trying to make conversation.”
I pondered that, deciding if I wanted to play this game or not. Wondering if I could. I smiled a little.
“What?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Just thinking about flowers. And impressing people. I mean, how strange is that we bring plant sex organs to people we’re attracted to? What’s up with that? It’s a weird sign of affection.”
His dark eyes lit up, like he’d just discovered something surprising and delightful. “Is it any weirder than giving chocolate, which is supposed to be an aphrodisiac? Or what about wine? A ‘romantic’ drink that really just succeeds in lowering the other person’s inhibitions.”
“Hmm. It’s like people are trying to be both subtle and blatant at the same time. Like, they won’t actually go up and say, ‘Hey, I like you, let’s get together.’ Instead, they’re like, ‘Here, have some plant genitalia and aphrodisiacs.'” I took a drink of the beer and propped my chin in my hand, surprised to hear myself going on. “I mean, I don’t have a problem with men or relationships or sex, but sometimes I just get so frustrated with games of human attraction.”
“It’s all masked in posturing and ploys. There’s no honesty. People can’t just come up and express their attraction. It’s got to be cleverly obscured with some stupid pick-up line or not-so-subtle gift, and I don’t really know how to play those games so well. We’re taught that it’s wrong to be honest, like there’s some kind of social stigma with it.”
“Well,” he considered, “it can come out pretty crass sometimes. And let’s not forget about rejection too. I think that adds to it. There’s a fear there.”
“Yeah, I guess. But being turned down isn’t the worst thing in the world. And wouldn’t that be easier than wasting an evening or – God forbid – months of dating? We should state our feelings and intentions openly. If the other person says ‘fuck off,’ well, then, deal. Move on.”
I suddenly eyed my beer bottle suspiciously.
“Just wondering if I’m drunk. This is my first beer, but I think I’m sounding a little unhinged. I don’t usually talk this much.”
He laughed. “I don’t think you’re unhinged. I actually agree with you.”
He nodded and looked remarkably wise as he contemplated his answer. It made him even sexier. “I agree, but I don’t think most people take honesty well. They prefer the games. They want to believe the pretty lies.”
I finished off the last of the Corona. “Not me. Give me honesty anytime.”
“You mean that?”
“Yes.” I set the bottle down and looked at him. He was watching me intently now, and his look was smoky again, all darkness and sex and heat. I fell into that gaze, feeling the response of nerves in my lower body that I’d thought were dormant.
He leaned slightly forward. “Well, then, here’s honesty. I was really happy when I saw the empty seat by you. I think you’re beautiful. I think seeing the bra underneath your shirt is dead sexy. I like the shape of your neck and the way those strands of hair lay against it. I think you’re funny, and I think you’re smart too. After just five minutes, I already know you don’t let people screw around with you – which I also like. You’re pretty fun to talk to, and I think you’d be just as much fun to have sex with.” He sat back in his chair again.
“Wow,” I said, now noticing I’d put on a white shirt over a black bra in my haste. Oops. “That’s a lot of honesty.”
“Should I fuck off now?”
I played with the rim of the bottle. I took a deep breath. “No. Not yet.”
He smiled and ordered us another round.
Introductions seemed like the next logical step, and when his turn came, he told me his name was Kiyo.
“Kiyo,” I repeated. “Neat.”
He watched me, and after a moment, a smile danced over his mouth. A really nice mouth too. “You’re trying to figure me out.”
“Figure you out how?”
“What I am. Race. Ethnic group. Whatever.”
“Of course not,” I protested, even though I’d been trying to do exactly that.
“My mother is Japanese, and my father is Latino. Kiyo is short for Kiyotaka.”
I scrutinized him, now understanding the large dark eyes and the tanned skin. Human genes were exquisite. I loved the way they blended.
How cool, I thought, to have such a solid grip on your ancestry. I knew my mother had a lot of Greek and Welsh, but there was a mix of all sorts of other things there too. And as for my deadbeat father…well, I knew no more about his heritage than I knew anything else about him. For all intents and purposes, I was very much the mongrel the keres had called me earlier.
I realized then I’d been staring at Kiyo too long. “I like the results,” I finally said, which made him laugh again.
He asked about my job, and I told him I worked in Web design. It wasn’t entirely a lie. I’d majored in it and in French. Both areas had turned out to be completely irrelevant to my job, though Lara swore having a Web site would drive up our business. We mostly relied on word of mouth now.
When he told me he was a veterinarian, I said, “No, you aren’t.”
Those smoldering eyes widened in surprise. “Why do you say that?”
“Because…because you can’t be. I just can’t see it.” Nor could I imagine telling Lara tomorrow: So I was in a bar last night and met this sexy veterinarian… No, those concepts somehow didn’t go together. Veterinarians looked like Wil Delaney.
“It’s God’s truth,” Kiyo swore, stirring his margarita. “I even take my work home with me. I have five cats and two dogs.”
“Oh, dear Lord.”
“Hey, I like animals. It goes back to the honesty thing. Animals don’t lie about how they feel. They want to eat, fight, and reproduce. If they like you, they show it. If they don’t, they don’t. They don’t play games. Well, except maybe the cats. They’re tricky sometimes.”
“Yeah? What’d you name all those cats?”
“Death, Famine, Pestilence, War, and Mr. Whiskers.”
“You named your cats after the riders of the apocal – wait. Mr. Whiskers?”
“Well, there are only four horsemen.”
We talked for a while after that about whatever else came to mind. Some was serious, some humorous. He told me he was in town from Phoenix, which kind of disappointed me. Not local. We also talked about the people around us, our jobs, life, the universe, etc., etc. All the while I kept wondering how this had happened. Hadn’t I just been noting how I lived outside of society? Yet, here I was, talking to a guy I’d just met like I’d known him for years. I barely recognized the words coming out of my own mouth. I didn’t even recognize my body language: leaning into him as we talked, legs touching. He wore no cologne but smelled like he looked: darkness and sex and heat. And promises. Promises that said, Oh, baby, I can give you everything you’ve ever wanted if you’ll just give me the chance….
At one point, I leaned toward the bar to slide an empty bottle across it. As I did, I suddenly felt Kiyo’s fingers brush my lower back where my shirt had ridden up. I flinched as electricity crackled through me at that slight, casual touch.
“Here’s more honesty,” he said in a low voice. “I like this tattoo. A lot. Violets again?”
I nodded and sat back in my chair, but he didn’t remove his hand. That tattoo was a chain of violets and leaves that spread across my lower back. A larger cluster of the flowers sat on my tailbone, and then smaller tendrils extended outward on both sides, almost to my hips.
“Violets have sort have become my patron flower,” I explained, “because of my eyes.”
He leaned forward, and I almost stopped breathing at how close his mouth was to mine. “Wow. You’re right. I’ve never seen eyes that color.”
“I’ve got three more.”
This got his interest. “Where?”
“They’re covered by the shirt.” I hesitated. “You know anything about Greek mythology?”
He nodded. A cultured man. Cue swooning.
I touched my upper right arm. My sleeve covered the skin. “This one’s a snake wrapped all the way around my arm. It’s for Hecate, the goddess of magic and the crescent moon.” What I didn’t add was that Hecate guarded the crossroads between worlds. It was she who governed transitions to the Otherworld and beyond. This tattoo was my link to her, to facilitate my own journeys and call on her for help when needed.
I moved to my upper left arm. “This one’s a butterfly whose wings wrap around and touch behind my arm. It’s half black and half white.”
“Psyche?” he asked.
“Good guess.” He really was cultured. The goddess Psyche was synonymous with the soul, which the butterfly represented in myth. “Persephone.”
He nodded. “Half black, half white. She lives half her life in this world and half in the Underworld.”
Not unlike my own life. Persephone guided transitions to the world of death. I didn’t travel there myself, but I invoked her to send others across.
“She governs the dark moon. And back here” – I tapped the spot behind me where my neck connected to my back – “is a moon with an abstract woman’s face in it. Selene, the full moon.”
Kiyo’s dark eyes held intense interest. “Why not one of the more common moon goddesses, then? Like Diana?”
I hesitated with my answer. In many ways, Diana would have served the same purpose. She, like Selene, was bound to the human world and could keep me grounded here when I needed it. “The others are…solitary goddesses. Even Persephone, who’s technically married. Diana’s a virgin – she’s alone too. But Selene…well, she doesn’t get a lot of press anymore, but she was a more social goddess. A sexual goddess. She opens herself up to other people. And experiences. So I went with her. I just didn’t think it’d be healthy to be marked with three goddesses who were all alone.”
“What about you? Are you alone, Eugenie?” His voice was velvet against me, and I could have drowned in those eyes. They were like chocolate. Chocolate is an aphrodisiac.
“Aren’t we all alone?” I asked with a rueful smile.
“Yes. I think in the end, we all are, no matter what the songs and happy stories say. I guess it’s just a matter of who we choose to be alone with.”
“That’s why I come here, you know. To be alone with other people. There’s isolation in a crowd. You’re hidden. Safe.”
He looked around at the buzzing, moving sea of people in the bar. They were like a wall surrounding us. There but not there. “Yes. Yes, I suppose that’s true.”
“Isn’t that why you’re here too?”
He glanced back down at me, his expression a little less sexual and a bit more pensive. “I don’t know. I’m not sure. I guess maybe I’m here because of you.”
I didn’t have any quick retorts for that, so I started playing with the bottle again. The bartender asked if I wanted another, and I shook my head.
Kiyo touched my shoulder. “You want to dance?”
I was pretty sure I hadn’t danced since high school, but some force compelled me to agree. We stepped out into a crowd of very bad dancers. Most were just sort of floundering around to a fast song with a heavy beat that I’d never heard before. Kiyo and I weren’t much better. But when a slower song came on, he wrapped me to him, pressing us together as close as two people could be. Well, almost as close.
I couldn’t ever remember anything like this happening with a guy I’d just met, a desire for someone I actually wanted and not just someone who was available. His body felt hard and perfect against mine, and my flesh kept concocting ways to touch his. I was already picturing him naked, imagining what it would be like to have his body move against and inside of mine. What was going on with me here? The images were so vivid and real, it was a wonder my feelings weren’t written across my face.
So I didn’t really mind when he slid his hand up the back of my neck and brought his mouth down to kiss me. It wasn’t a tentative kiss either. No first-date kisses here. It was the kind of kiss that meant business, the kind of kiss that said, I want to consume every inch of you and hear you scream my name. I’d never really made out in a public place, but it seemed kind of a trivial concern as that kiss burned between us, our tongues and lips exploring the contours of each other’s mouths.
But when his other hand slid up and cupped my breast, even I was surprised. “Hey,” I said, breaking off slightly. “There are people around.” Amusing, I thought a moment later, that I was less concerned about him doing it than being seen doing it.
He kissed the side of my neck, just below my ear, and when he spoke, his words heated my skin. “People only notice if you make a big deal about it.”
I let him kiss me again and didn’t say anything else about the hand that continued to stroke the curve of my breast and tease my nipple into hardness beneath the shirt. His other hand slid down to my ass and ground me closer to him, letting me feel exactly what was underneath his jeans. The fact that we were doing this in public suddenly made it a lot sexier.
I let out a small, trembling sigh and then broke away from the kiss again. Only this time, it wasn’t because of any prudish feelings. It was from need. My body’s suddenly urgent and excruciating need.
“Are you staying next door?” I asked, indicating the hotel adjacent to the bar.
“No. Out at the Monteblanca.”
I let surprise show on my face. That was in the region near where I lived, in the Santa Catalina foothills. “That’s not a hotel. That’s a resort. A really nice one. Veterinarians must make a lot.”
He smiled and brushed his lips against my cheek. “You want to see it?”
“Yes,” I told him. “I certainly do.”