He took her to an Italian restaurant nearby, Mama Mia. Fitting. She had passed it several times on her way to school, but had never actually gone inside. It looked cozy enough and she decided it was just what she needed. They sat down at a private table and stared at each other for a few moments. There were so many questions but she didn’t know where to start.
She eventually asked the first question that came to her mind, a topic she had always been curious about. “So what language do you think in?”
Leo smiled at the abrupt question. “Mostly English. But Spanish always gets mixed up in there too. How about yourself?”
“Pretty much the same. I was born in New York but grew up in Mexico City so Spanglish has always been a part of me. It’s always been easier to just say whatever comes to my mind, regardless of the language. Although, sometimes I find it hard to speak to someone in just English or Spanish. I guess it just takes longer to sort through two different sets of lexicons instead of just one, and then be able to properly process through the thoughts in your brain. It’s funny how that happens, don’t you think?”
Leo looked back at Mia, speechless. She was pretty surprised too, she usually didn’t speak that much in front of strangers. Well, Leo wasn’t exactly a stranger, but still it had been odd the way she had just opened up to him so easily.
“Sorry, I was a psych major in college. I can’t help it sometimes,” she tried to explain. “Just don’t ask me to tell you what you’re thinking because I have no idea. So are we going to play 21 questions or what?”
It seemed to take a while for Leo to process his own thoughts.
“Um, of course … why else would I take you out to dinner?” He had been glancing over the menu, when he lifted his gaze and met her eyes.
“I want to know everything that goes on in that cryptic mind of yours,” he said.
Mia diverted her eyes back to the menu, her long lashes fanning over her pink cheeks. “Well, that might be a problem … that’s certainly going to take a while,” she teased.
“No problem at all. I think time is on my side, at least for now.”
A waitress soon arrived to take their orders. Mia noticed how the waitress ogled Leo and batted her eyes at him the entire time, but he didn’t seem to notice. Did all women treat him like that?
“So … how is it that a girl like you doesn’t have a boyfriend?” Leo asked as soon as the waitress left.
Mia laughed. What an ironic question. The fact that an absurdly good-looking guy was asking her that question was beyond ridiculous.“Why do you assume I don’t have a boyfriend?”
“Well, at first glance I would have assumed otherwise, but I haven’t really seen you talking with other guys. And you probably wouldn’t have come here with me if you did.”
Mia diverted the topic. “So you’ve been stalking me?”
“Don’t try to change the subject. You can’t answer a question with another question.”
Mia was about to protest when he lifted his hands in the air. “Sorry… those are the rules of the game.”
“We’re still playing that?”
“Answer the question, Mia.”
She didn’t know whether it was the authority he commanded in his words or the way he said her name that brought a slight shiver down her back.
She made a pouty face and crossed her arms. She looked back at Leo and he just stared at her with all the patience in the world. He slowly raised an eyebrow at her.
Realizing she really had no way out of it, she started talking. “Well … I actually just got out of a relationship. I had been dating someone for a few years, but we broke up before I came here. Needless to say it didn’t end well. That’s why you haven’t seen me with other guys, I’m trying to take a break from men and focus on myself. The last thing I want right now is to be played again by some jerk.”
A flicker of pain coursed through her at those last words. But just as quickly as it appeared, she made it go away.
“He obviously didn’t deserve you. That’s why I stay clear of relationships myself. It’s always too complicated, too hurtful. It’s better off just keeping it simple and having fun. Enjoy life while you can.”
“Well Leo, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“Casablanca? You couldn’t have said it better.”
“Where to Miss Fuentes?” After dinner, Leo had insisted on giving Mia a ride home despite several protests from her part.
Interesting. So he knows my last name, she thought. Well, she just happened to know his too.
“Mr. Durant, you really don’t need to drive me home. I’m just a few blocks away. Honestly.”
He smiled but then his expression turned serious. “No can do. I need to make sure you get home safe. Not after what just happened.”
“Fine … if you insist.” Only after a few minutes of driving, she spotted her street. “You can just drop me off on this next corner here.”
“You’re meaning to tell me you live on this corner?” Leo added a hint of sarcasm to his question.
“No … but my apartment is just a few buildings down. And you can’t turn on this street.”
“You think I’m a bloody taxi driver? I’ll go around.”
“Sorry, force of habit. I guess it’s been a while since I’ve been in a real car,” she shrugged. A ridiculously expensive looking car, to be more precise.
He parked in front of her apartment and Mia suddenly started to feel nervous. Why am I acting like a giddy schoolgirl? Focus.
“Leo, I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am for what you did today…”
Leo interrupted her and didn’t let her finish. “No need, sweetness. As horrible as it was, and I certainly wouldn’t wish that upon anybody … I was glad I got to spend time with you, given the circumstances.”
Mia’s heart sunk at the endearing term. She thought she had heard Leo say it earlier but wasn’t sure. She began to blush when a familiar tune came on the radio. You know I could really use somebody…
“Wow, I absolutely love that song. I was totally obsessed with them over the summer,” Mia shared.
“Oh yeah? I really like them too. They’re actually playing here tomorrow.”
“Ah, sí? I had no idea … I feel like I’m so out of touch these days. I would have loved to go.”
“Yeah it’s really too bad. I guess school just takes up all of our time,” he said.
“Tell me about it. Well, I guess I better get inside,” Mia said, a bit disappointed. She didn’t necessarily want to leave yet. Weird. Normally, she couldn’t wait to get away from people, especially if it involved a 1-on-1 situation or a confined space. Both of those paradigms were being debunked at the moment.
“Hey, so before you go, you still owe me something.”
Mia’s breathing hitched a bit. Trying to keep her voice normal, she asked the dreaded question, “And what would that be?”
One side of Leo’s mouth curled up. “Your number of course.”
Oh, that. “You know, I usually don’t give out my number to anybody,” she said playfully.
“I guess I’m not anybody, then,” he grinned.
Mia smiled and started to dictate her digits while Leo typed it into his phone. “Okay, I’m dialing you now so you have mine too. Anything you need, 3am … whatever … just let me know.”
“Thanks again, Leo,” Mia said. Feeling bold, she added “Anything else I owe you? You know you only have a 24 hour period to collect on the debt for saving my life.”
“Oh, is that how it works? Hmm, I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
Mia began to unzip Leo’s sweatshirt to give it back to him.
“Keep it,” he said, placing his hand on top of hers to stop her. The warmth of his simple touch spread through her, just as it had done all night.
“Are you sure?” she asked, trying to distract herself from it.
“Yeah, you need it more than I do.”
She leaned over to give him a kiss on the cheek and then moved to grab the door handle of the car.
“Mia,” he said puling on her hand that he was apparently still grabbing. She turned to face him and he was a lot closer than she anticipated.
“Yes?” she said, almost breathless.
“Try to avoid deserted pathways in the future, alright?” he said, his voice full of concern.
“I’ll see what I can do,” she said smiling.
“I’m serious, Mia. See you tomorrow,” he said, slowly letting go of her hand.
“Hasta mañana,” she said, and reluctantly, got out of the car.
She walked into her apartment completely baffled. She couldn’t believe the turn of events from the day. She had gone from being attacked on the street to having a nice rendezvous with Leo, of all people.
She quickly changed into her pajamas and curled up in bed. God, it felt good. She had also kept Leo’s sweatshirt on. It was … beyond comforting.
She picked up a case study on her bedside table, but found she couldn’t concentrate on the words. After reading the same sentence for 20 minutes, she gave up. She had too many thoughts and flashbacks going through her mind. Maybe if she watched The Daily Show she could clear her head. She put it on and was almost done with the episode when she realized she couldn’t remember a thing she had just watched.
She was lost in her thoughts when her phone vibrated next to her. She picked it up to surprisingly find a message from Leo on her messenger.
Leo: Still alive?
A grin spread across Mia’s face as she typed back.
Mia: Last I checked I’m still breathing, yes.
Leo: Glad to hear that. Keep up the good work.
Mia: Thanks. I try my best.
Leo: Ok so just wanted to check up on you. Have a good nite.
Mia: You too. Want to pass out, but I still haven’t read any of the case studies for tomorrow.
Leo: Are you crazy? You should rest. You’ve had a really rough day.
Mia: But then I won’t be able to participate in class.
Leo: Who cares? Live a little. Just wing it.
Mia: That’s impossible.
Leo: Go to sleep Mia. That’s an order.
Mia: Oh yeah? Says you and what army?
Leo: Don’t make me go over there and burn those case studies because I will.
Mia: Ok, sergeant Leo.
Leo: That’s drill sergeant Leo to you. If I find out you read them I’m gonna be very disappointed. Go to sleep.
Mia: Well maybe I would if you stopped texting me.
Leo: Touché. Good nite sweetness. xx
Mia: Buenas noches, Leo.