I finally come to from passing out at the sight of Max, I look up expecting to be in Israel’s arms, and I’m not, I’m in Max’s. I immediately try to fight him off, and he chides me as we’re walking away from the crowd. He tsk tsks me, and I look up at him angrily.
“Max, what the fuck!?!” I say to him confused.
“Just wait until we’re alone.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea for us to be alone.”
“Why is that?”
“Do I really have to point it out?”
“I suppose not, but what are we? Animals? Are we going to immediately hump when the time permits?”
I don’t even entertain that question. I take a whiff of his cologne, and instantly, I’m right back on the balcony in Spain, which irritates me further.
“Where are you taking me?”
“There’s an empty room in here, they think I’m checking you out and making sure everything is okay.”
“Which I am, so you can let me down now. I have to get back to my date.”
Max tenses up when I say the word “date”, and internally I’m smiling. It serves him right for getting engaged to my sister of all people. I know he didn’t do this on purpose, but it doesn’t make this betrayal feel any better.
We reach the room, and he sets me down on the table. I refuse to look him in the eyes for fear of my tears falling. He takes my chin and turns my face toward him.
“Kay, look at me.” He pleads.
“Why should I Max? Last I knew, you didn’t even want to get married.”
“And I told you, you changed me. That’s what I meant, that you opened me up to that possibility.”
I finally look at him head-on, and I already feel my eyes getting heavy with tears. A moment passes between the two of us unspoken, and the tension between us is so thick. Next thing I know, both of our lips are on each other, and he takes a swipe at my tongue with his. I don’t care that this is my sister’s engagement party, I don’t care if he’s her fiance, I don’t even care that I’m here with Israel, the only thing I care about at this moment is stitching up my bleeding heart, and the only way I can do that is by kissing him.
He wraps my legs around him all without breaking the kiss and begins to undo his pants. Right as he takes himself out, I hear a deep, faint, “Kay?” in the background. I see Israel in my peripheral, too stunned to even speak. Max’s back is to him, so he can’t the passion etched on Max’s face.
“I need to check her over in private,” Max’s deep baritone vibrates across my chest.
Israel looks at me and pretends as though he doesn’t even hear Max, “Kay, are you okay? Do you need me to stay?”
Clearing my throat from the lump in it that tried to makes itself home right in the middle, “Yeah, Smitty, you should go back out there. You know how much my parents love you.”
Max snorts softly as Israel says, “Yeah you’re right. I haven’t exactly had a chance to speak to them yet.”
Plastering on the best smile I could at this moment, “I’ll catch up to you when he’s finished examining me. Save me a dance?”
The look on Max’s face is murderous, and there’s a flush that comes to his golden skin and tints his ears as well. Israel closes the door, and I exhale audibly. I try to close my legs, forgetting Max is standing in between them. He brings me closer to him by dragging me to the edge of the surface.
I put my hand in between us and ask, “Max, what are you doing? You’re engaged to my sister!!! Just because she slept with my fiance, doesn’t mean I intend to repay the favor.”
Max takes a deep breath and says, “Yeah, you’re right. Despite all of it, I love Charlie. She needs me like no one has ever needed me before.”
I wince at what he says, “Too bad we never got our chance.”
This feels like a breakup and what’s funny is we were never dating. However, this heartbreak feels a thousand times worse than when I found Israel fucking my sister. All of the emotion that was on Max’s face just a moment ago, vanished, as he clinically checked me over. After confirming everything was okay, Max steps away from me, and I immediately miss his warmth.
“Max, really, I feel fine. Go back to your fiance. It’s your night,” I say placing my stoic mask back into place. I plaster a small, watery smile to reaffirm to him that I’m okay.
He brushes his the back of knuckles along my jawline and just stays silent for a moment. Leave it to my best friend, to come in and end the moment before Max and I end up fucking. Immediately, she starts spouting off rapid-fire Spanish at me, to which once again, I cut her off, “Ya, how many times do I have to tell you, just because we’re best friends, doesn’t mean I always understand what the fuck you’re saying to me.”
She looks up at Max and then drags her eyes over to me, as though she’s trying to assess the situation.
“Hi! I’m Ayana. I’m that one’s best friend, and you are?” She asks as she puts her hand out.
“I’m Max, nice to meet you,” he responds, giving her hand a firm shake, “Ahem. Kay, are you going to be okay? I think you might need to eat.”
“I’ll be fine. As I said, it’s your night,” I smile.
Max leans in as though he’s giving me a hug and whispers in my ear, “We do need to talk at some point.”
I slightly shake my head as if to say “no”, so that I don’t bring any unnecessary attention to us before Ayana picks up the tension between us. He backs away and raises one eyebrow as if to say, “Do you want to try me?” I’m not going to lie, a small part of me wants to defy him, but I know he’s not going anywhere since he’s welcomed into my family already.
He writes his number on the back of some random card, places it into my hand, and says, “Call me if you start to feel faint again.”
I give him a small smile as he leaves the room, trying to look anywhere but at Ya or the spot, Max had vacated.
“Bitch, what the fuck was that!?!”
“What was what?” I feign innocence.
She rolls her eyes and says, “Mamí, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles could see the tension between you both, so again I ask, what the fuck was that?”
I close my eyes, trying to prevent the migraine that was threatening to come through. I reopened them and looked at the ceiling before confessing my soul, “That’s Max.”
Looking confused, Ayana says, “Yeah, I know. He introduced himself.”
“No, I mean my Max. Max from Spain.” I whisper the end as though, this is some God awful nightmare that I can’t seem to wake up from.
“HOLY FUCKING SHIT!”
I groan, “Please Ya, let’s try not to make a big deal of this.”
“How the fuck can I not? Your fucking slut of a sister seems to win again when it comes to your men. How are you not pissed right now?”
“Do I have a right to be? Max and I were never together. It was just the right person, at the wrong time. Plus, I’m here with Israel.”
’Which I still don’t understand,” she mumbles.
“Ya, please don’t give me shit over him okay? I’m not ruling out all possibilities of anything. What happened is in the past, and we’re just dating. It’s not anything serious or exclusive.”
She throws her hands up in surrender, “It’s your life mamí. You know I’m not going anywhere, but may I give you a little bit of advice?”
Before I can drum the energy up to even answer, she barrels on, “You need to deal with the unfinished business with Max before it deals with you.”
I scowl, “What do you mean? I plan to deal with it by way of avoiding him.”
“That’s not going to work and you know it, but since you’re so fucking terca. I won’t be able to tell you shit, you’ll just have to learn this the hard way.”
Feeling my irritation rise at the wrong person, I jumped down off my perch and asked tersely, “Can we be done with this? We’re at my sister’s engagement, and my date is waiting for me.”
“I’m worried about you ma, but this is your life.”
We make our way back into the ballroom, and Israel comes swooping in on me, never leaving my side. He possessively wraps his arm around my waist and kisses my temple. I smile hollowly, not because of his company, but because I’m being completely gutted with everything that’s unfolding before me.
Charlie is beaming, with Max at her side, showing off her huge ring. I sneak a look up at Israel, and his focus is solely on me.
“Does this not feel weird for you?” I ask awkwardly.
“What do you mean?” He asks scowling.
“I mean, a woman you once fucked or maybe more, I don’t know, is engaged and you’re celebrating with her?”
He stiffens at my question, “Well I suppose it’s no weirder than what you feel.”
“Touché,” I murmur.
“What do you say we dance? I’ve been dying taking you for a twirl and showing off my date. Tonight’s supposed to be about us as well, right?”
“You’re right,” I smile genuinely.
We make our way towards the dance floor, but get stopped by Charlie and Max. Her steps falter a bit as she sees who I brought with me, “Kay! I’m so glad you’re okay! I’m even more glad that Amare was able to check you out.”
I lean closer into Israel, laying my head on his shoulder, “Yeah, I think it was just a mixture of drinking, and not quite eating yet.”
Israel tightens his hold on me, “Plus she has me taking care of her.”
Charlie tentatively throws a glance over at Israel and says, “Nice of you to come, although I didn’t think you’d make it.”
“I wasn’t going to, but your sister invited me as her plus one, and I couldn’t resist.”
Deciding that I didn’t want to appear rude, I looked over at Max and asked, “So, tell me, Dr. Quintero, what’s your story?”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” he says stiffly.
“Well, I mean, you’ve been welcomed into the family, I just want to get to know my brother a little bit better.” I spit the word brother out like it’s a poison threatening to kill me.
“I’m so glad you think so Li, I would like for you all to dance and get to know each other tonight!”
Everyone but Charlie stiffens, feeling awkward at the situation.
“Charlie, no. It’s your night. I’ll get to know Dr. Quintero eventually,” I say with a sharp smile.
“Please, call me Max,” he says clearly.
“Um, I’d rather not. At least until I know you a bit better.”
“Oh, Li, stop being so formal! Please, I insist on you dancing, and getting to know each other.”
I look up at Israel and ask quietly, “Are you okay with this? You know she won’t let this go until she gets her way.”
He leans down, kisses me deeply, and says, “I’ll be fine babe. Just save me a dance will you?”
“Sure thing,” I say.
Max takes my hand, leads me out to the dance floor, holds me close, and says softly in my ear, “So that’s the angle you want to play this? As if you don’t know me?”
“I’m doing this for your benefit. I don’t know what you’ve told my sister,” I say with a little more anger than I had anticipated.
“Kay, I have nothing to hide. Your sister knows I have a past, but if this is how you want it to go, then we’ll do this at your speed.”
“Honestly? My speed is more us not being around each other. It’s just easier and less messy this way.”
I feel Max vibrating with anger, “And what about what I want? I’m supposed to what, be okay with the fact you’re with that douche of an ex?”
I frown, “You have what you want Max. You’re engaged to my sister! You have no choice but to be okay with whom I’m dating.”
I try to pull away from him, but he just holds me tighter. I can’t think straight with him in this close proximity.
“Where are you going? We’re not finished with our dance,” he says sorrowfully.
“I need to sit down, I’m feeling dizzy,” I lie.
Max gives me a quizzical look as the symphony starts a new number. I pull myself from his embrace, in search of either more liquor or food. Max lets out a string of expletives as he runs a hand through his hair, frustrated. I turn around and walk away, feeling like I’m leaving a piece of my soul on the dance floor.
Just as I think I can get a moment to myself, my mother stops me, “Kaliyah, may I have a moment?”
Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I mumble, “Jesus Christ, I can’t catch a fucking break.”
Looking back at features that mirror my own, just a little aged, I feel not even an ounce more than I should for the woman who gave birth to me.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am for your sister! And now that you’ve come back to your senses and gotten back with Israel, I’m happy for you too!”
Tamping down the rising frustration from just even being here, I plaster a fake smile on my face, “Yes, I’m delighted Charlie found her prince charming. As for Israel and myself? Nothing is concrete, we’re just dating.”
“Well, either way, I’m glad you were able to make it out to our little gathering. I know with your little job, it keeps you busy.”
“Excuse me? That ‘little job’ as you so eloquently put it, has made me very successful! It has paid for everything I have ever wanted to do. Why is it that you can never support me in anything I do? Everything I have ever achieved in my life, you have always found a way to shit all over!”
Taken aback, completely surprised, my mother literally clutches her pearls and stammers, “W-well, I never! I never understood you Kaliyah, your entire life, all I have done is just try to help you improve areas in your life; and what have you done but rebel and resist me at every given turn?”
“Try to help improve areas in my life?” I scoff, “Keep telling yourself that mother! You know what? This isn’t the time nor the place, and I simply don’t have the energy for it any longer. If you’ll excuse me, I intend to eat, drink, dance with my date, and be merry. I have no desire to go back and forth with you on things seeing as you have ZERO impact on what I do. I suggest you do the same.”
I walk off from her, in hopes that I don’t run into anyone else wanting to socialize. My eyes scan the room, to look for both my date and my best friend, and I see Max, holding hands with Charlie while staring at me. We hold each other’s gazes for a few pregnant pauses, but I knew I had to break eye contact. So, I looked away towards the bar and saw Israel standing at the bar, looking uncomfortable.
I make my way over to him, ready for this night to be over with.
“Hey, I know I owe you a dance and all, but can we get a raincheck? I’m just ready to go home, and relax.”
He frowns, “Yeah, sure. Are you feeling okay?”
He pulls me closer, and instantly warmed by the scent of his aftershave. I close my eyes and inhale, “Yeah, we don’t have to end the date. I’m just ready to go; matter of fact, would you mind coming home with me, and just hold me?”
“I would like nothing more than to do just that. Let’s just go say our goodbyes to the happy couple.”
“And I need to text Ya to let her know I’m leaving early,” I say as I’m pulling my phone out.
ME: Hey Ya, Smitty and I are leaving. You’re more than welcome to come with us. I’ve had enough of today.
AYANA: Is everything okay?
ME: Yeah, just want to go home.
AYANA: Yeah, I’m gonna stay, I want to see if I can get some more information on Charlie and Max.
ME: Seriously Ya, just leave it alone. Promise?
AYANA: Te Prometo.
ME: Thanks Ya, you’re the best. We’ll talk soon.
As I put my phone away, we reach both Charlie and Max, still the center of attention. It’s amazing to me how I felt like I could conquer the world earlier today, and in some sort of twist of fate, I got the rug pulled out from underneath me.
I go up to Charlie and give her a hug, “Congratulations again Charlie. I’m truly happy for you.”
I look at Max, “As for you Dr. Quintero, you take care of her.”
Charlie frowns, “Li, you aren’t leaving yet are you?”
Israel steps up and says, “Yeah, I’m afraid I need to take care of my date. She’s not feeling well.”
Charlie stiffens, appalled that Israel would even speak to her, “Well, listen, we need to get together soon, so we can start planning!”
“Um, yeah. I’ve got a few major photoshoots coming up with deadlines, but once things die down, I’ll absolutely call you, okay?”
“You better! I’ll check in with you later okay?”
I smile as a response and Israel leads me out of the ballroom, down the hallway, and out of the front door.
“What do you say, I whip us up something for dinner tonight since we didn’t stay?”
“That sounds like a plan to me,” I whisper softly as the car rolls away. Israel reached over, grabbed my hand, and held it all the way home. The migraine I had been trying to prevent, slowly made its way to the front of my head. I hated that I allowed yet again another man toy with my emotions. I have to say, it was comforting to know that Israel didn’t seem like the same man I was engaged to.
This man seemed to be caring, intuitive with me and my emotions, even if he didn’t understand why or fully. Not once was he selfish with how uncomfortable he was being around Charlie; he spent the rest of the night doting on me, making sure that all my needs were tended to.
The next morning, waking up in Israel’s arms was bittersweet. I know I said, I’d give him a chance, but some times my former mistrust pops up every now and then. I no longer was the shy, conservative, reserved woman I once was two years ago. Getting comfortable in my skin took some time, and while I’m not exactly fully in it, I’ve come a long way. As we were making our down the steps and to the front door, my doorbell rings.
“Are you expecting company this early?”
“Not that I know of. Maybe it’s just a package. They’ll leave it on the front door.” I say as we stop to hug one another.
“So, when’s the next date?” Israel asks eagerly.
I chuckle as a response, “Soon. I promise.”
I open the door, still looking at Israel behind me, that I don’t even notice the gentleman standing in my front door.
“Ahem,” the familiar baritone says.
I slowly turn around, once again cursing life constantly playing its cruel little jokes on me. Although his facial expression is impassive, I could see the anger rolling off of him.
I gasp, “Max, what are you doing here?”