Authors: Lexie Ray
THE BIG MOVE
Miami Hearts 2
L E X I E R A Y
Published by: Rascal Hearts
All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
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Cover Art: Rosy England Fisher
My life made it a necessity to have the ability to blend in wherever was necessary. That meant that I’d learned some customs in Miami, my new city, very quickly. Others came more slowly — I was trying to erase my own past, after all — but I was able to mask my ignorance until I could master them. I had to pass for something I wasn’t, and the devil really was in the details.
English had been the first barrier to overcome. While I’d still gone to school, there was only limited, bare-bones instruction in the language. I could say
, and maybe some vague small talk about the weather and my name, but everything else flummoxed me. So I found a community center that offered free classes, watched as much English-language television as I could fit into my schedule, and practiced as much as I could, trying to ignore the shame of trying to brokenly convey what I needed and how I felt to people.
It helped that Antonio was there, right alongside me, helping me every step of the way. For several days of the week, we banned Spanish from our tiny apartment, intent on speaking to each other in English to get better at the language.
I love you
just doesn’t sound the same in English as it does it Spanish. I didn’t think I’d ever get used to it.
Without Antonio, life was so much harder. I’d let my masks slip off time and time again, and I was afraid that it was just a matter of time before people figured out who I was and where I came from.
And that would be the end of me and of my life here.
“Sol! Stop being a wallflower and come here! You have to try this!”
It was a good thing I was among friends now. My first American barbecue was completely foreign to me, and I was doing a very bad job at blending in. It didn’t help that I was worried about Antonio. Ever since I’d gotten that text message from his phone that he was in danger, telling me that I held his life in my hands and demanding money, I hadn’t been able to focus on anything else.
Maybe I shouldn’t have come to the barbecue, but Faith had been so pushy. I’d been sending money. I’d been praying to gods I didn’t believe in anymore, contacting people I’d been afraid to talk to for years for Antonio.
I wanted — no, I
to feel some kind of support, to be around people who were kind and happy and loving. I needed something of an affirmation that there could still be good parts of life, even if my own was falling apart.
“Hot off the grill,” Faith announced, shoving a paper plate in my hands that was brimming with steaming varieties of meat. “I didn’t know what you wanted, so I got you one of everything.”
I smiled. “I don’t think I’ll be able to eat all of this,” I admitted. There was a sampling of ribs, sausage, a hamburger, a hot dog, a chicken leg, and other things I couldn’t identify. When this group of people assembled for a barbecue, they weren’t messing around. I was pretty sure there was enough food here to feed the neighborhood I grew up in.
“You’ll do your best!” Faith chirped, clapping me on the shoulder before returning to the fray. Her boyfriend, Adam, was manning the grill, looking remarkably manly in a frilly apron. Faith’s roommate, Jennet, was laughing with Faith’s kid brother, Luke, and their neighbor Nick was serenading everyone on his guitar. It was a beautiful day to be outside, but then again, there weren’t many bad days, weather-wise, in Miami. In many ways, it reminded me of my home — the place I used to call home, anyway.
Faith was lucky. She had so many people who loved her. Her family might not have been traditional, but it was still a family.
For the longest time, Antonio had been my only family. We loved each other so much that we became the world for each other, and it didn’t really matter that our family was so small. We were everything. We were all we needed.
, my existence shrank to a pinpoint. Faith didn’t know how grateful I was to be included in this gathering. It worried me to spend too much time by myself. I wasn’t used to it anymore. I’d always had Antonio.
“You’re going to have to tell me your recipe for this salsa,” Jennet raved, plopping down in the vacant chair beside me, her plate piled high with a healthy serving of nearly everything on the menu — including a huge dollop of my salsa. I was surprised that her plate was withstanding the weight of all of that food.
“It’s a secret recipe,” I teased her. “If you know it, you won’t have any reason to invite me back.”
Jennet guffawed before working one of my chips through the mountain of salsa. “That’s horrible, Sol. Of course we’d invite you back, even if we did know your secret salsa recipe. I’d just want to pass it off as my own from time to time, impressing my future Prince Charming, of course.”
“Oh, of course,” I laughed, shaking my head. Jennet was boy crazy, Faith had confided in me on more than one occasion. The girl — a beauty in Amazonian proportions, tall, fierce and blue-haired — probably had guys falling over themselves to date her, but she was notoriously picky.
“And the more we’d invite you over, the more secret recipes you would reveal,” Jennet continued happily, not caring that she was talking with her mouth stuffed full of food. “Until finally, I’d learn how to cook and hook a man right through his stomach.”
I winced at the visualization of that — even if I knew it was a play on words. That was one thing I’d never get used to English: all the gruesome-sounding slangs and sayings. What I was picturing in my mind’s eye right now was a triumphant Jennet wielding a fishing pole, a heavily muscled man attached to the business end, a hook through his navel, flopping around like a fish.
It was pretty much the opposite of sexy, and was doing a number on my appetite.
“You’re so lucky you’re Cuban,” Jennet said, jerking me back to the conversation and mercifully away from the horrible picture playing out in my head.
“How do you figure?” I asked, my mind primed for taking notes.
“Oh my God, isn’t it obvious?” she gushed. “You have such a rich heritage and culture — not to mention delicious food. I’ll be honest with you. I was totally expecting you to break out the black beans and rice today. I was absolutely looking forward to it. Can I make that a special request for next time we cook out? I’m a fool for black beans and rice.”
I carefully made a notation to do some research on black beans and rice in my mind before smiling and nodding.
“Of course,” I said. “I didn’t want to be too obvious my first time. I just wanted to make something I thought everyone would like.”
“I didn’t even know salsa was a typical Cuban thing,” Jennet confessed. “Is that horrible? I saw it more of a Mexico, Central American thing.”
I gulped, hoping my anxiety wasn’t visible. “I’m not sure. It’s just something my aunt taught me to do. I know some of her relatives came from Central America, so maybe that’s where she picked it up.”
“That’s so interesting,” Jennet moaned, “and this salsa is so good. Why couldn’t I have had a wise female role model to impart the art of cooking to me? I swear, I can barely pop a bag of popcorn without ruining it.”
“Um, don’t you work at a snack shop?” I asked, seeing a chance to direct the conversation away from me and my “Cuban” past. It was a good exercise to try to talk about being Cuban, and this seemed like a safe enough environment, but I still didn’t want to screw it up. Antonio was usually the one who jumped in and talked about life on the island, not me. It was something I needed to get better at, but right now, I just wanted to dodge away. Antonio and I had agreed that Cuba would be the easiest place to be from. Nearly everyone who arrived in the States from Cuba was granted asylum, and there was a thriving Cuban population in Miami.
It was so much easier to be Cuban in America than Honduran. Hondurans, like we were, didn’t get granted asylum — especially when they were caught in the country without the proper documentation. They usually got thrown right back out again.
No, it was much easier to pretend to be Cuban — even if I still had a lot more to learn about life and culture on the island. I could do that a lot easier than explain about Honduras and why I’d left and why I didn’t have the right papers to be considered a legal human being in the United States.
“At the snack shop, all I have to do is jam skewers in corncobs, keep the hot dogs on the rollers, and keep the nacho cheese hot,” Jennet explained, jerking me back into the present, away from my laments and worries. “It strains my very limited skills in the kitchen, let me tell you. I much prefer to be in costume, out on the street. That’s my favorite part.”
I laughed and shook my head. “You’re very brave. I don’t know if I could wear that thing.”
I hadn’t seen the Corn Queen in person, but Faith had described it very vividly to me. It sounded like a nightmare — an embarrassment to hawk junk food dressed as a giant corncob.
“Well, I don’t think I could wear some of the things you wear for your job,” Jennet said with a wink. “Faith would bring her costumes home to wash every now and then, and let me tell you. They made this girl blush.” She gave a cackle that led me to believe that Jennet wasn’t as modest as she was making herself out to be.
“You should come to the club some time,” I joked. “You could give it a try. You’re very tall. You’d probably be a hit.”
“The day I take a stroll down the stage will be the day you take a turn as the Corn Queen,” Jennet said, a wicked smile making the corners of her mouth curl up. “We’ll have to have a day when we switch careers. It’ll be a learning experience, I’m sure.”
It was kind of surprising to me that I dreaded a corn costume more than my skimpy, sparkly lingerie. Of course, there had been a time when I’d dreaded the lingerie, so there was that. It was probably something that a girl could get used to, after a while. I’d learned that you could get used to anything if you really had to.
“Oh! Mojitos!” Jennet exploded suddenly, making me jump and cover my heart with my hand. “Sorry. It’s just that I really want to learn how to make a good mojito.”
“Mojito?” I repeated, the word unfamiliar to me. “You like them?”
“They’re kind of my favorite cocktail ever,” Jennet proclaimed, rolling her eyes skyward. “Girl, you don’t even realize you’re getting drunk on those. They’re so refreshing. Please tell me you have a good recipe for those.”
I didn’t want to disappoint Jennet, but I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. If this was some kind of Cuban national cocktail, I would’ve really blown it if I couldn’t come up with even the basic ingredients.
“I didn’t really have enough money for the finer things back on the island,” I said, casting my eyes to my feet. I hated when I had to outright lie. It was easier when I could field a question that I already knew from previous questions, or if I could keep whatever answer I came up with close enough to the truth. The truth was, my aunt really had taught me how to make chips and salsa. And of course my aunt had relatives from Central America. That’s where I was really from.
“I’m sorry, Sol,” Jennet said, looking contrite enough to send a pang of guilt through my body. “I don’t mean to sound like a dumb American. I’m probably just naming all of the trite crap from Cuba and it’s because I don’t know any better. I’m offending you, aren’t I?”
“No, no, no,” I said quickly, seizing her wrist. “It’s just … I guess talking about it makes me miss it. Makes me miss my boyfriend. It’s not your fault. I’m happy to share all the recipes I know from the island.”
“Of course,” she said, smacking her forehead. “Your boyfriend. I’m so stupid. Well, I mean, I didn’t know. But I figured there had to be someone in your life. You’re way too cute to be single.”
I snorted. “Where’s your boyfriend? You’re supermodel gorgeous.”
Jennet sighed, rolling her eyes. “A good man’s hard to find, I’m afraid,” she said. “And you should never settle for someone less than perfect.”
“No one’s perfect,” I argued, a little bewildered and amused. Even Antonio and I had our disagreements from time to time. “It’s just with who you love. Sometimes, you can’t help but to love someone even if they have flaws. It’s the imperfections you learn to love, and then you realize that no matter how many imperfections your love has, he is perfect for you.”
Jennet blinked several times, staring at me. “Well, love sounds downright easy when you put it like that,” she said. “I don’t know. I’m hoping my Prince Charming’s out there. Faith found hers in Adam.”
We swiveled our heads around at the same time to observe the happy couple. Adam was feeding Faith little bits of meat hot from the grill, and she was kissing the very tips of his fingers, which, I could imagine, were scorched from handling the freshly cooked fare. They were so adorable together, and they’d come through so much. The simple and affectionate actions made me long for my Antonio, for that casual interaction that meant so much.