Gabi pulled up to Ryan’s building and sent him a text letting him know she was downstairs. He came outside wearing a casual suit jacket with a striped t-shirt underneath, dark denim jeans and a pair of Adidas sneakers.
He slid into the passenger seat of her car and flashed her a grin. “Hello again.”
They rode in silence for a few minutes before Gabi spoke again. “So. About my family.”
“What about them? I’ve already met your cousins and aunt at the restaurant, and Nico and Marisol last night.”
Gabi laughed. “You’ve met the sane relatives. Well, not Marisol; She’s batshit crazy,”
She shook her head. “But no. These people are insane. They’re loud and rude and they speak Spanglish. Half the time I can’t even understand them.”
She sighed, “And everyone is going to ask if we’re dating. Multiple times. I’m just giving you a head’s up.”
He pulled out his infamous notebook and scribbled something in it before turning to her with a smile. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“What are you always writing in that notebook?”
“What notebook?” Ryan replied, feigning innocence.
Gabi giggled. “You know what notebook I’m talking about! At first, I thought you were making notes about your employees' performances, but I notice you bring it everywhere, even outside of work. So what’s it for?”
Ryan laughed. “None of your business Miss nosey! How far are we from your mother’s house?”
His attempt to change the subject didn’t go unnoticed but Gabi decided to answer his question anyway. “You’ll know we’re close when you hear it.”
“Trust me,” she frowned. “You’ll know.”
They rode without talking for a few minutes, the only sound coming from the radio.
“What’s that sound?” Ryan asked, looking over at Gabi.
“My family,” she replied with a grimace.
Ryan rolled the window down and heard loud Spanish music blasting from the end of the street they were on. They pulled into a driveway at the end of the cul-de-sac and Gabi turned off the car with a sigh.
“If you don’t want to come in I won’t be offended. As a matter of fact, let’s go back to my place and finish watching Harry Potter. We were only two movies in--” She put her key back into the ignition and started to turn it.
“Gabriella,” Ryan said laughing. “I want to go in. It sounds like fun.”
Gabi groaned and put her head on the steering wheel. Ryan put his hand on her shoulder in a show of solidarity. “Let’s go inside. I’ll be with you the entire time.”
She turned her head to peek at him. “Promise?”
“I promise. I won’t leave your side.”
“Okay, let’s go,” she said stepping out of the car.
Ryan finally got a glimpse of her as she rounded the car. She was wearing a cream sweater dress with some booties. “You changed.”
She looked down at her outfit and back at him. “Yeah. It’s easier to do what my mom asks than it is to argue with her.”
“You looked pretty in the other outfit too,” Ryan said. “Not that you don’t look great now! But just, um, I--”
Gabi’s laughter interrupted his stammering. “Thank you, Ryan. Let’s go inside.”
Gabi was ambushed with hugs from her nieces and nephews as soon as she and Ryan walked in the door. She could barely hear their greetings over the sound of music and talking coming from the kitchen.
Marco, her oldest nephew, fled from the entryway screaming, “Abuela! Titi Gabi is here! And there’s a man with her!”
Gabi groaned internally when she heard the talking in the kitchen stop. “Here we go,” she said, pulling Ryan along with her into the kitchen.
All of her tias and her abuela were staring at her and Ryan in shock.
“Don’t everyone talk all at once,” Gabi said with a nervous chuckle. No one else laughed. “Everyone this is my friend Ryan. Ryan these are my tias; My mom’s sisters.”
“Hello everyone. It’s nice to meet you all,” Ryan said with a smile.
It was silent for a moment before all of the women erupted with excitement. They all rushed up to hug him, pushing Gabi out of their way. Isabella stood off to the side with a smug smile on her face.
“What are you smiling for Mami?” Gabi asked, laughing as her Tia Maria reminded Ryan that he already knew her from the restaurant. She kept shouting “pollo guisado” at him.
“They all say you never will find a man and here he is,” Isabella said with a smile.
“Mami. For the last time. He is my boss. We are not dating.”
“Ay, callate niña! They don’t know that!”
“Really Mami! You’re supposed to hate him. Don’t you remember how he treated me when I first started working with him?”
Isabella looked over at her daughter. “The way you look at him makes me think you don’t remember how he used to treat you. Besides, people change. I’m telling you, Gabi. He’s the one,” she said matter of factly, ignoring Gabi’s expression of incredulity.
“I’m going to go say hello. Angela and Lizzie are here by the way. And Lizzie brought a man with her too.”
Isabella stepped away before Gabi could question her any further.
“Okay, you old hens!” Isabella said, addressing her four older sisters. “He’s Gabi’s so back off.”
They all muttered curses as they returned to what they were doing before all of the excitement.
Gabi walked over to Ryan and led him from the kitchen into the backyard. “Sorry about that. They can be a bit...overbearing.”
Ryan laughed. “It’s fine. I take it you don’t bring guys home often?”
“Hell no. Normal guys would run from these psychos.”
He leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Good thing I’m not a normal guy then.”
Gabi flushed deeply and looked around for a distraction. “Hey isn’t that your brother?”
Ryan whipped around and saw his brother standing on the other side of the pool, talking with Lizzie. “Luke?”
Luke and Lizzie looked over at them and waved as they walked over to them.
Luke greeted his younger brother with a firm handshake and a nod. Gabi frowned. That’s was an odd way to greet a sibling. She and Marisol weren’t on the best of terms but usually gave each other a begrudging hug in greeting for their mother’s benefit.
“Happy Birthday Miss Perez,” Luke said, turning to Gabi and shaking her hand as well. “I look forward to speaking with you on Monday about your progress at Cole Industries.”
He turned back to Lizzie who smiled at Gabi as she and Luke continued their conversation.
Ryan sighed and pulled Gabi away from them. “I’m sorry about him. He can be a bit cold.”
“A bit?” she replied with an eyebrow raised. “He basically just dismissed me at my own birthday party.”
Ryan laughed. “Okay, he’s practically arctic.”
Gabi smiled. “So he’s here to check on the branch?”
“Yeah,” Ryan said with a sigh, grabbing a beer from the cooler by the door. “My father wants him to see how we’re operating so I’ll need everyone on their toes for the next few weeks. No screaming at me in the hallways,” he said, tapping her nose with his finger.
“Yessir!” Gabi replied with a mock salute.
Just then her Tia Marcella called everyone in to eat. They were sitting down at the table when Gabi felt her phone buzz. She looked down and saw that she had a message from Angela.
OMG are you dating your boss!?!?!?!
Then what is he doing here?
My mother invited him.
When did she have a chance to do that?
Gabi’s fingers hovered over the keyboard hesitantly before she sent her response.
We fell asleep watching Harry Potter last night and she was there when we woke up.
Angela squealed across the table and Gabi kicked her in the shin causing her to let out another yelp.
Ryan looked down at Gabi while he loaded his plate with food. “What’s that all about?”
“Nothing,” she replied with a laugh. “Angela’s not right in the head.”
That earned her a kick from Angela.
HE SLEPT OVER!?
On accident you creep.
We’re discussing this later. Right now, I’ve got my eye on that last rib in front of you.
After dinner, they were all outside enjoying the last of the warm weather. Ryan was seated at the dominoes table with Gabi’s tios as they tried to teach him how to play. Gabi pulled him from the table after watching him lose horribly five times in a row.
“I guess we’ve found your weakness,” she said with a grin.
“I never said I didn’t have any,” he responded, laughing.
Ryan looked over where Gabi’s cousin Vivian was dancing with her husband. “What do you call that dance they’re doing?”
Gabi looked over and smiled. “Bachata. You want to learn?”
“Oh, I can’t dance like that.”
She took his hands laughing. “Well of course not! They’re professional dancers; I can’t even dance like that. Now come on, I’ll show you the basic steps first. Step left, right, left then lift your hip. No, the other hip. Good, now the other way. Right, left, right, hip. Good! Keep going.”
They kept the slow pace for a bit until Gabi felt he was getting the hang of it. She took his hands and placed them on her waist, trying to ignore his sharp inhale and the quickening of her own heart. She wrapped her arms around his neck and tried to avoid looking him in the eye.
“Okay now pick up the speed a bit to match the music,” she said softly.
One of her favorite songs was playing, Por un Segundo by Aventura, and she silently cursed her mother because she knew it had to have been her to turn it on. No one else would play such an old song.
They kept dancing and she kept avoiding his gaze. He pulled her closer to him and she gasped. “Why won’t you look at me?” Ryan asked.
“You know why Ryan,” she replied quietly.
He nodded and released her as the song came to an end. “Well, thank you for the dance Gabriella, but I’d better head home.”
“Oh. Um I can take you--”
“It’s okay; I don’t want to have to leave your own birthday party. It looks like Luke is leaving so I’ll catch a ride with him. His hotel is near my apartment.”
“Oh. Okay,” she replied, trying to hide the disappointment in her voice.
He started to walk away before he turned back and stared at her for a moment. He hesitated but leaned down and kissed her on her cheek. “Happy Birthday Gabriella.”
Ryan turned and left with Luke without a backwards glance at Gabi who was rooted to the spot in shock and confusion.
Angela and Lizzie came over to her and shared amused looks.
“Damn girl you’ve got it bad,” Lizzie commented, handing Gabi a beer.
Gabi shook herself from her thoughts. “I do not Lizzie!” she protested. “He’s my boss; It’d be wrong for me to think of him like that.”
“Well then you might as well quit now 'cause it’s written all over your face,” Angela chimed in.
“You guys are wrong,” Gabi said. But in her head she knew they were absolutely right. She definitely had a crush on her boss.