”Was he there the next morning Nana? Or did he leave? Because I can see him leaving…” Noe questioned.
”Nope he was there…” Zulema answered.
Zulema turned her head hitting Bruno on the side the next morning.
”Oh shit…” she said out loud. I don’t remember how I got here…she thought to herself.
She moved a little more trying to see what it took to wake him up- they had only slept in the same bed together 3 other times and those times she was either hungover or still drunk when they woke up. The 3 glasses of wine had just given her a slight headache. She walked into the bathroom brushing her teeth turning on the water to get in the shower. She heard a muffled voice on the other side of the door. She knew it was his. She wrapped a towel around herself opening the door.
”Z…..” he looked at her naked shoulders letting his mind wander. She pushed him after kissing him on the cheek.
”Stop! I’m just gonna take a shower.” she said closing the door not even letting the idea in his head materialize.
”Fine..I’ll just make breakfast. You have eggs, right?” he asked.
”Yeah. There are eggs in there…somewhere. But if you want to make them extra fancy you’ll have to go next door and ask Tim.”
”Wait…has Tim seen you naked?” Bruno asked.
”No, Bruno. He hasn’t.” she laughed over the water. ”Now go make me breakfast!” she said to him not hearing a word from him after that. She got out of the shower smelling cinnamon, raisins and coffee. ”Wow…you’re a stud. Toast, coffee and scrabbled eggs.” she said taking a bite of the toast. He looked at her intently waiting for a reaction. Speaking with her mouth full she said ”Holy shit…what did you do to that? It’s amazing.”
He smiled at her not saying a word. ”My lips are sealed.” he moved his eyes to honey sitting on the counter.
”Oh….” she raised her eyebrow at the honey. ”I taste it.”
”What? Honey? No. That was out. You’ll never figure out my secret.” he said triumphantly.
”Oh? Wanna bet?” she grabbed a bag plastic bag sealing it. ”This goes to Justin- my chef detective.”
”Your what?” Bruno asked confused but amused at the same time.
”It’s the chef at this little place I always go to. He’s a genius. He can smell something and tell you what is in it.” she told him.
”I wanna see this guy.” Bruno replied.
”I don’t think you’re ready for him.” she answered.
”I’m always ready.” he replied.
”He’s out of town. But I’m keeping this as evidence for him.” she told Bruno.
”Fine. But don’t eat it later tonight. I want to find out if this guy is as good as he says.” Bruno told her.
”I’ll tell you when he solves the case.” she laughed.
”Z…” Bruno grabbed her hand suddenly catching her off guard. ”Come with me to my grandma’s tonight…”
She quickly pulled her hand away from his a little scared at his suggestion. ”I don’t do families…” she told him.
”I’m going to force you or be upset. But…if you go she might tell you what’s in the toast.” he told her knowing her foodie side might be won over. ”And she makes killer chalupas.” She sat looking at him for a few seconds trying to figure out what she was going to do.
”Okay. But don’t expect me to break out the pearls.” she told him cleaning up their breakfast.
”They’ll love you without the pearls, Z.” he reassured her.
Later that day Bruno opened the cab door to take her hand lead her toward a small apartment building in Brooklyn. ”Is this where you were staying when you were recording the cd? I can hear music…” Zulema wondered as he walked her to his grandmother’s apartment.
”I did…the music never stops here. I’ll take you to the best little place after dinner.” she respomded. She smiled at him as he opened the door yelling upon his arrival. She jumped back a little seeing several people rushing into the room. Bruno pulled her closer holding onto her hand the same way he did at the airport. He introduced her to his family –including cousins, aunts and uncles. Holy shit. She thought to herself. They sat down at a crowded table placing bright vegetables and fruit onto their plates.
”Zulema…tell me about yourself…” his father asked. ”Brunito hasn’t told us anything about you. We’re so happy to finally meet you.”
”He hasn’t said anything?” Zulema asked shocked. ”Bruno7*!”
”What?” he asked. ”I haven’t had time to tell them about you7*! Don’t lie. Your mom only knows that we went out once.” she shrugged her shoulders admitting defeat.
”So….tell us about yourself, mija.” his grandmother pushed.
”Oh..umm…so…I’m from Manhattan. I grew up in Syracuse…I have an older sister. That’s about it. Nothing too exciting.” she told them.
”What is your job? You’re not a model are you?” one of his cousins asked.
She looked at them a bit confused. ”No..I work with models…I work in fashion public relations. I represent a few designers. But no…I’m not a model.”
”Woah..Bruno…that’s a change.” his cousin Anita said.
”She’s different.” he smiled at her. She raised her eyebrow at him laughing.
”I better be.” she responded.
”Zulema…your name is so original. Where is your family from” his father asked.
”My mother is Saudi and my father is American.” she said flatly.
”Oh.” several of his family members said in unison.
”I was in San Francisco on September 11th. I don’t know anyone who was involved and it makes me sick.” she told them knowing exactly what they were thinking. ”Actually, one of my cousins passed away that day.”
”Oh gosh, honey. I’m sorry.” Anita said shocked. ”That’s horrible.”
”Yeah. It was hard. But I think we’re all getting close to being over it.” she told them not telling them it was a cousin on her father’s side of the family and not on her mother’s side. The conversation got a little more awkward after that.
”Zulema…do you pray five times a day?” Bruno’s cousin David asked. Bruno shot him a dirty look then looking at Zulema who was trying to find the words.
”I’m Lutheran.” she answered them. ”Excuse me…I need to use the restroom…” she got up walking away. Bruno got up following her stopping her in the hallway.
”Z…I told you they could be like that.”
She kept her head down trying not to cry. ”It’s not the first and it won’t be the last time this has ever happened. I just have to get used to it.” she said wiping away a single tear.
”Let’s go…we’ll go to that place I was telling you about.” he said holding her hand. She nodded her head following them out of the hallway. They said good-bye to everyone saying they would be back.
”You were right. Your family is crazy.” she told him walking next to him as he pulled her closer to her keeping her warm as they walked down the snow covered streets.
”I never get over snow, Z. How do you do this every year?” he asked. ”I’m freezing.”
”It’s 25, Bruno. It’s hardly cold.” she said feeling his cold hands stopping in the middle of the street holding them up blowing on them. ”You’re really cold. Come on…” she grabbed his hand running toward the building he was taking her to. She opened the door seeing the brightly lit bar playing salsa music. He put their coats down grabbing her by the waist.
”Let’s dance…” he winked at her.
”Bruno…I can’t dance like that.” she responded.
”Just follow me. I gotchu.” he said pulling her in to him starting to move his hips holding her waist tightly looking into her eyes reassuring her with his smile. They danced several dances laughing at each other through the whole thing. Before the end of the last song he pulled her in to him kissing her. ”You’re amazing.” he told her.
”Nana…why did they act like that to you?” Noe asked. ”I mean…they’re Puerto Rican so they should have understood…”
”Baby…we lived in a different world then. There is always one group that gets it. When I was younger it was Arabs. When your great-grandparents were alive it was African-Americans….”
”Why do people do that? It’s not okay.” Noe asked.
”Baby girl….there’s just no way to explain it. All you can do is be the bigger person and move past it.” her grandmother said.