"Ay, Lucas, I don't care how gay you are," said Sonja as I tried to keep my hands on her swiveling hips. "White boys just can't dance." She pushed my shoulders away in frustration and retied her apron.
"You would know, Sonja," I answered, still swaying to the old Selena song that was blaring from La Boca's shabby old jukebox. "After all, you've danced with every white guy at school. Not to mention every Mexican guy, every black guy, every student teacher . . ."
Sonja snapped her towel at me as I flipped another red vinyl chair up onto table four, which she'd just wiped down. "Well, if I could find one who knows how to dance, maybe . . ."
"Shut up, you two," barked Cate. She looked up from the stack of dinner checks she was tallying in booth one and tucked a dirty-blond lock behind her ear. "You're making me lose count." She readjusted her leg, which she'd propped up on a chair pulled in next to the booth. "Ouch," she said.
"Pass-around Patty over here is the only one who's losing count," I said, pointing at Sonja, who'd just then bent over to retrieve a spoon from under table eleven. "Are you ever not thinking about guys?"
"You should talk, Mr. Totally Obsessed With His New Boyfriend," said Sonja, standing back up and snapping her gum. "What's his name? Marco? Marcus? Marty? The one who plays the piano or whatever?" She flipped her hair—no small feat, considering the pile of rich, weighty curls that fell halfway down her back and looked, well, heavy—and spun toward table thirteen, wiggling her butt to the beat and brushing tortilla crumbs into her hand. "Bidi-bidi bom-bom . . ." she sang, her voice filling the empty dining room. Sonja practically grew up at La Boca Mexicana, her father's small, gaudy, sixteen-table strip-mall cantina on Hampden Avenue. And ever since Sonja learned how to control the jukebox, Selena was a constant presence. "Martin! Is it Martin? Bidi-bidi bom-bom . . ."
"Marcus," I said, knowing she wasn't listening anyway. "His name is Marcus. And he plays the guitar." Beautifully, I added to myself. "Marcus." I savored the way my mouth moved around the word. Marcus. It felt like ice cream, and I didn't want to share, not yet. I wanted Marcus all to myself, forever.
Stop! I didn't want to jinx it. I didn't want to hope. Last time I'd hoped too much, with Tim, the whole thing blew up in my face. He'd laughed when I told him how I felt. I couldn't believe that in all my years of matchmaking, it had taken me until then to realize: The trick was not to hope. Not for myself, anyway. I'd save my hope for the people I set up.
"Can you please turn that down?" shouted Cate, clipping together a handful of receipts. "I can't concentrate!"
"You know, Cate," I said, "when you're not so grouchy, you're one of the prettiest girls I know!" It was true. Her eyes were clear and big and green, and her hair, when she let it down, moved like silk. Guys liked Cate, but many stayed away. She had a high-minded air about her, an intelligence, an aloofness. With the right makeup and a thong, she had the raw material to be a Maxim girl. But Cate didn't think much of Maxim girls.
Sonja stopped dancing and walked, stiffly, over to the jukebox in the corner. She reached behind where the employees-only volume controls were and, instead of turning it down, turned it up. Way up. "Bidi-bidi bom-bom!" she belted, taunting Cate. Cate grabbed a spoon and tossed it at Sonja, who blocked it with her hip, sending it clanging to the floor. "I will never turn down Selena," she said with a sniff. "La reina. In San Antonio she's considered a goddess! She is the angel of Corpus Christi!"
"Sonja," I said gently, "Selena is dead. You know that, right?" I put my hand on the back of her shoulder. "The queen of south Texas has been dead for ten years."
"Lucas!" gasped Cate. "You mentioned the unmentionable!"
"And you live," I added, "in Denver. Not Corpus Christi."
Sonja's shoulder stiffened under my fingers, and she inhaled sharply.
"You were in second grade when she died," I continued. "One day you'll make that pilgrimage to Corpus Christi to worship at her altar, but in the meantime, she would want you to expand your horizons."
"No me toca," said Sonja, wrenching her shoulder away from my hand. She walked over to the jukebox and turned it up still higher. "La reina," she growled.
I smiled. I was happy. It was the precious end of another Thursday-night dinner shift, and I was with my girls. My stubborn girls. We were fighting, but not really, because we were together. And it was still summer and Selena was the queen.
Later, things would only get better, when I would see Marcus again, for the first time since . . . I looked at my watch. For the first time since three thirty this afternoon, after he'd serenaded me with some song by the White Stripes and we'd had our second hands-on make-out session of the day. I'd left him at his place, snoozing, beautiful, unworried, with a note stuck between the strings of his guitar. It was a request: Write a song for me.
I imagined him there still, dreaming next to my note, under an invisible cloud of his sweet, sweet breath, waiting for me, perfect.
Okay, gross. If I was listening to myself talk like this, I'd tell myself to snap out of it. I flipped another chair onto table four, surprised at how light it felt. Everything felt lighter tonight.
The song finally came to an end and the room went quiet, revealing a ruckus on the other side of the swinging kitchen door. Pots and pans bashing, dishes crashing against each other, and competing voices, one deep and rich, one tinny and stressed, singing over a Mexican pop song, both way off-key.The Hookup Artist. Copyright © by Tucker Shaw. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from The Hookup Artist by Tucker Shaw
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