“Look at you!” The buxom blonde woman nearly bowled over fair and petite Sylvia. “I’ve never seen you so filled out!
Later, Sylvia would tell her boyfriend, “Fucking hilarious for her to say that, when she’s the one who always looks like she’s one missed period away from baby bloat!” But Sylvia had remembered her manners that night at the black tie charity dinner in Seattle. “It’s this ridiculous foodie culture they have here in the PNW. You don’t know how many times I have to turn down beer and pizza.”
“You? A taste for beer and pizza?”
“I know, right?”
Joseph kept his distance while his girlfriend met up with an old friend from the east coast. Sylvia and this blond woman named Judith could share all the squeals and cheek-kisses they wanted. Besides, Joseph intended to keep a close eye on his little sister Reina, who had accompanied them as part of her reintegration into high Spanish-speaking society.
It was actually Reina’s idea to come to the annual black tie fundraiser that donated to a different cause in Latin America every year. This year’s was anti-violence against women and children. Had it really been a year since Reina was abducted by a human trafficker? Great. Now I’m thinking about it. Joseph held himself closer to his sister. The once spunky and silly Reina had turned into a more reserved shell of herself overnight. She had delayed starting college until this past term, and confided to her family that she intended to switch her major from Hispanic Literature to Humanitarian Studies. Her father had shrugged, and her mother had immediately questioned if this had to do with thoughts the therapist filled into the youngest Montoya child’s head.
Joseph never volunteered it was his suggestion after hearing his little sister speak a few times. “Better for you to do something that you believe in than anything else,” he had told his sister. “Don’t worry about the money. You’re in a position where you don’t have to.” He would know. He wasn’t getting a dime of inheritance from the family, but Reina would get a sizable share when their father passed.
“You all right?” he asked her at the edge of the room.
Reina was one of the few women in the room not confined to a black dress. She instead wore a conservative sapphire blue gown that made her stick out more than Judith King, whose breasts were barely contained in that little black dress of hers. As far as Sylvia knows, I never noticed.
“Asi asi,” Reina sighed. “Crowds make me nervous sometimes. Sorry that… whoa, ¿quién está?”
Joseph had so successfully ignored what else went on in the room that he barely noticed the arrival of Judith’s date. Boyfriend. Patron. Whatever. Truth was, he couldn’t keep up with the terms Sylvia used from her old life as a courtesan. All she knew was that Judith was coming with a Spanish-speaking date named Miguel. Some kind of casino magnate. Joseph never thought much about it. Until now.
Because he recognized that look on his sister’s face. That boy-crazy expression she hadn’t espoused since before she was abducted.
Great. Who the fuck had caught Reina’s eye?
Jesus Christ. Look at that guy! The man was built like a fucking linebacker, and was easily the tallest, biggest guy in a room full of men and women who could afford personal trainers and some of the best diets on the planet. In Miguel Bolivar’s case, however, it was a hearty helping of genetics that made him look like that. Judiciously curvy Judith was practically a pixie next to him. Sylvia was completely dwarfed when she shook hands with him. That’s the kind of guy you like? Joseph thought that while looking at his sister. Did his job as her biggest brother ever get easier?
“Hey, you two!” Sylvia flagged them down. “Come over here!”
Joseph took his sister’s hand and hauled her blushing cheeks over to Judith and Miguel. “Pleasure to meet you,” Miguel said, sticking out his own hand for a shake. What the hell is that accent? Joseph was better acquainted with local accents than most, due to the nature of his job as an agent for the Portland police. He spent half his days listening to interviews and telling investigators where suspects were from based on their accents. Nobody stood a chance if they were Mexican or Salvadorian, the two parts of his family. Miguel was definitely neither.
“Mucho gusto,” Joseph muttered, completely caught off guard and forgetting his manners.
Somewhere, his stepmother had a heart attack.
“Ah! And who is this?” That accent only grew thicker when Reina shyly approached to shake a hand the size of her face. “Encantado de conocerte, señorita.” Reina almost fell into a fit of giggles when Miguel kissed her fingers. “Me llamo Miguel. Y usted?”
Oh. Oh. The man was Castilian. That explained everything. Including Reina’s fit. She always had a huge crush on that Enrique Iglesias guy. Spaniards will be the death of us.
Somewhere, their father was having the heart attack!
“Would you stop?” Judith lightly smacked her boyfriend’s broad chest. “Flirting with young girls is a deportable offense in this country.” She said it with a sweet candor only Miguel’s girlfriend could get away with. “We’re not as enlightened as you Europeans.”
“Anyway!” Sylvia wedged herself between Miguel and Reina, as if Joseph had trained her himself. “That’s your boyfriend. This is my boyfriend. Let’s all sit down and reconvene later!”
The black tie affair was a bit more informally arranged than others, since there were no assigned seats and most of the conversation was in informal Latin American Spanish. Mexican, Peruvian, Argentinean, and Chilean accents were the most dominant ones in the room, although Joseph quickly picked out the Salvadorian his grandmother spoke and some Honduran and Colombian. Miguel was the only one conversing in pure Castellano, and every time another guest caught on, their eyes lit up with sudden understanding. The only hilarious thing was that the poor bastard had no idea every American was so thrown off by his accent.
“Isn’t he dreamy?” Reina whispered to Sylvia at their table. Judith and Miguel hadn’t sat with them, but the man was so huge he was impossible to not spot moving through the crowd. “He kissed my hand!”
Sylvia rolled her eyes in Joseph’s direction. “Dreamy is one word to use, I guess.” To Joseph, she muttered, “There’s a reason Judith’s his girlfriend, you know. Reina wouldn’t make it one day with him.”
“Don’t you dare,” Joseph snapped. He would not tolerate that image in his head. Miguel had to be in his thirties, probably older than Joseph. Definitely way too old for Reina! “And don’t encourage the infatuation.”
“Aw, look at her. How long has it been since she smiled that much? Let her have her fun. Trust me. Miguel won’t risk Judith’s ire by openly flirting with her anymore.
Don’t be so sure. Men like Miguel left reputations in their wake. If half the women in the room were gazing longingly after him, it was because he was more than good looking. He was a philanderer.
Meanwhile, Reina remained turned in her seat, sighing.
“Let her have her little fantasies, Joseph. They’re not serious.”
“He’s a Castilian, Sylv. You don’t get it. Our father would shit himself.”
“Technically aren’t you all Spaniards going way back when?”
“Yes, and we’re also native Aztecan, Incan, and Mayan. I don’t have to tell you how that happened.”
“Never thought you would be the one to broach the colonization subject.” Sylvia laughed. “As it so happens, Judith says she convinced him to come because his family used to own plantations in Argentina and it was the right thing to do. She says she’s so woke now.”
“God, no, she didn’t say it like that. Please.”
“She did. She was 100% serious, too.”
“I see why you left New England, mi bella.”
Reina remained infatuated for the rest of the evening. Joseph was willing to let it slide until Miguel and Judith joined them again, and the man in question immediately picked Reina out for conversation.
Well, it was more like Reina started it.
“What part of Spain are you from, Señor Bolivar?”
“Valencia,” he responded with a flavor that quickly grated on Joseph’s patience. “It’s the most beautiful part of España, of course. But honestly, I did most of my growing up in Monaco, so I consider myself Monegasque in nationality.”
“Oh, right! España!” Monaco didn’t speak Spanish, so apparently that didn’t register in Reina’s head. “I’ve always wanted to go there! I’ve been to France and Italy, but for some reason my family has never sojourned to España.”
“You speak such beautiful Spanish, though.” Miguel turned to Joseph. “Your brother must take you.”
“Yeah, hon.” Sylvia propped her elbow on the back of her chair. “Take us to Spain for a change. Forget the family vacation home in Oaxaca. Pshaw.”
“What’s wrong with Oaxaca?”
“Nothing! Just we’ve been there twice in one year. Time to change things up.”
Joseph knew his girlfriend was ribbing him, but remained annoyed, anyway. It didn’t help that Reina and Miguel spent the next half hour talking about the merits of Spain – What merits? You guys sound like a mess over there! – while Reina picked up more and more Castilian inflections. The first time Joseph heard Miguel refer to Judith as his “corathon,” he knew it was only a matter of time before his sister started copying it.
“It’s such a shame he’s already spoken for,” Reina sighed when the couple left again.
Joseph glared at her.
“Let her have her fun,” Sylvia muttered.
All well and good for Reina to have her girlish fantasies. It was quite another when she was came back from the restroom fifteen minutes later and swore up and down that Miguel had winked at her.
“You’re calling this fun?” Joseph hissed in his girlfriend’s direction.
“You’re being a bit too much of an older brother, hon.”
“Can you blame me? Look at that guy!”
“Like I said, he’s just being European. Judith won’t let him actually try anything. There are some morals in the courtesan world, you know.”
“A world you left.”
“Just in time too, apparently. Can’t even imagine being assigned to a man like that. You know what she told me?”
No, and I don’t wanna know.
“Dude’s got a monster cock. Like the stuff that gets laughed off the sex toy showroom for being too unrealistic. No thanks.”
“For the love of God, Sylv, I don’t need that shit in my head.”
The final straw was toward the end of the mixer, when Joseph witnessed his sister put her hand on Miguel’s arm before jetting off squealing into her shawl.
No. This had to stop. It wasn’t just Reina’s age. It was her vulnerability after everything that had happened to her. One thing for a teenager to have her fun. Quite another for it to be Joseph’s little sister.
Okay. So it had a lot to do with her age and relation to Joseph. Could anyone really blame him? He wouldn’t be able to relax and enjoy his dinner until he convinced Miguel Bolivar to back off.
“Mr. Bolivar.” Joseph left Spanish of every kind behind him when he approached a man twice the size of himself. “Can I speak with you for a moment?”
“Of course.” His accent was gone. “What can I do for you?”
Joseph cut right to the chase. He explained that his sister was young and vulnerable – in all the wrong, unattractive ways. As nice as it was for Miguel to flirt with a pretty young woman, and even nicer for his girlfriend to be understanding about it, wasn’t it best for them all if Reina didn’t get the wrong idea? Because Miguel surely did not mean to impart the wrong idea to such an impressionable young lady.
“Señor Montoya, I can assure you that I have nothing but the purist, friendliest interests in your sister.” Nope. Miguel was still too cocky for Joseph’s tastes. “Perhaps I am too detached from American culture. In Europe, it is common to be flirtatious with all women.”
Joseph narrowed his eyes. “Did Judith tell you what we do down in Portland, Mr. Bolivar?”
“She said something about investment banking.”
“Yes, that’s what our father does. He’s a very successful investment banker from Mexico City.”
“Yes. I didn’t go into the family business, though. Well, not my father’s. I followed my mother’s personal path.”
“Is that so?”
“Of course. I’m a senior agent for the Portland Metro Police, and my mother is the commander of my division. We specialize in undercover operations. Like, say, human trafficking and statutory rape.”
Miguel’s eyes grew wide in understanding. “I see! Thank you for your service, Señor Montoya. I believe Judith needs my attention. Thank you for the conversation.” Miguel hurried so quickly out of their corner of their room that he almost barreled over a woman in a floor-length gown.
“Oh my God, Joseph.” Sylvia had her head propped up on her hand when Joseph returned to their table. “You didn’t pull the cop shit, did you?”
“It gets the point across.”
“Your sister is nineteen. Even if something happened between them, it would be totally legal. And Judith would kill him before you ever found out about it.”
“Yeah, well, he doesn’t know that. Besides!” Joseph crossed his arms. “He pulled the uptight American card first.”
Miguel wasn’t around when they left later, a feat that made Reina more crestfallen than Joseph thought it might be worth. Judith was the only one to come by and say farewell before flying back to the east coast. She briefly looked at Joseph and said, “Miguel sends your mother his regards.”
“You brought up your mother?”
“What about your mother?” Reina asked. “Mi Cristo, Josef. You didn’t say something to Señor Bolivar, did you?”
Yes, Joseph was totally the bad guy here. When he, Sylvia, and Reina piled into his car the next day to drive back to Portland, the only way he could get back into their good graces for the duration of the car ride was by promising to take them to Spain for Reina’s spring break. Joseph hoped to God that he didn’t have to see a single Bolivar there.
(Instead, his sister would meet a more age-appropriate boy from Barcelona to piss her brother off. But that was another adventure.)