Really?! Part 7

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Izzy is in the middle of removing her apron. She turns holding it in her hands. Her form-fitting sleeveless sweater hugs her curves. It has been a year. A year since—"Zara?"I shake my head, "what?""Hm, you seem," she walks towards me smiling, "distracted." I look into her eyes and swallow."It should be illegal for you to be that sexy. Do I have to warn some man about bringing you home on time?"Izzy giggles and sighs. Her arms folded she cocks her head. Her eyes blinking as she opens her mouth to speak - the doorbell rings. Damn it. I was almost tempted to have, that talk. The face of the visitor appears on the door."Come in," we say in unison. My cousins Jael and Peter walk in. Uncle Henry in tow with a bag and dad."Dad, tio, guys?" I look back at Izzy, "hi." Although it is standard for Puerto Rican families to visit each other with a last-minute warning. I had gone through putting my family through the delicate training process of not arriving unexpectedly for the sake of my sanity. Apparently, they are still stubborn on this front. The elders ignore me approaching Izzy. My cousins walk up to me and hug me. "Happy birthday!""Oh," when I turn I see Izzy with my father and uncle putting a box in the fridge. I turn back to the door to see that Tanaka managed to pass through."I thought we discussed this.""You forgot it was your birthday. I made an executive decision." He saunters over to me and places a kiss on my cheek before backing away. He acknowledges the elders in the room first, before greeting my cousins. My father approaches Tanaka and places a hand on his shoulder, "come on let's play some dominoes, Ken." Tanaka glances at me before agreeing. My uncle and father abscond with him into the side room. "Bring us some maltas," uncle Henry calls from our small living room. I sigh, Izzy stops me before she grabs some drinks from the fridge. "Don't you dare lift a finger, birthday girl." She grabs the drinks and brings them over. You would think some things changed over the centuries. Apparently, machismo isn't one of them.Jael puts on some music over the wi-fi. My favorite, the classic Suavemente by Elvis Crespo starts blasting through the house. Izzy finds herself in my arms. We dance in tune to the salsa. Her smile, it does something to me, like suddenly summer has come after a long winter. There is no one else. I feel the warmth of her hands. The electric feel of her pulsing through me. The smell of the rice she made for me makes me want to cry. There is someone missing today. I feel her bitterly as we dance joyfully. The beautiful morena my father fell for, my mother. Something about Izzy's warmth brings up the memory. Even though her voluptuous frame and curls are entirely different. I step away once the song is over and go to our office. "I need some air," I call out randomly to no one. Of course, someone follows me in, because that exit was too suspect. I sigh and turn to greet the interloper. "You have been sighing a lot lately." Izzy shuts the door behind her."I am sorry."Izzy's eyes widen, "are you ok?" I turn away from her."Yes, I just. I thought of her.""Mom, huh?" Izzy had called her that too. She calls her own mother, "mommy." Not that she does that too publicly. It is a little odd at her age. Izzy approaches from behind. I feel her wrap her arms around me. I let out a breathe as if I had been holding in the world. I lean back into her."Izzy," I grab her hands and turn to her, "there is something I have been meaning to tell you." Her face is soft. Her lips slightly open as she glances at me in question. I could bite those lips. I look at the door fearing interruption and lean closer to her. She doesn't back away."Please don't hate me. I don't want things to change for the worse, but I can't hide it anymore." She grabs my cheek. My heart trembles. "I love you, I am in love with you.""It took you long enough," She pulls me toward her lips. I have to get up on my toes a little because she is taller than me in her heels. My arm wraps around her waist. A moan escapes from her lips as we kiss. The music stops outside the room. We release each other. I am certain my skin is flushed. I try to calm my inner fire with sobering thoughts. The door opens. Uncle Henry is standing there. He glances at Izzy then back at me as if, somehow, he knows. "You gonna' eat or what?" It's our house, but dutifully we walk out. We set up the table with my cousins. The family sits together. My uncle and father at opposite ends of the table. Izzy and I sit at each side of my father, Tanaka to the right of my uncle and next to me. My cousins taking up the rest of Izzy's side. Izzy knows my relationship with Tanaka is mostly open and we don't have anything against kissing other people. I watch her to see her reaction when Tanaka leans towards me and whispers in my ear. I feel his breath on my skin like a kiss, but look at Izzy and feel every inch of my skin now I know I can have her. It seems this birthday is more than just a memorial day.My father clears his throat when my uncle folds his hands in prayer, "a little prayer is good."I nod, "I agree, shall we start then." We all link hands. It is my house. If we have to pray, we will do it my way."Thank the gods for the food we will eat. Thank you to the animals who have sacrificed their lives and those who provided the meal we eat today. May our food be blessed by the divine and may we eat in good health. So mote it be."Everyone else, except uncle Henry, says, "amen." We all dig in, a poignant silence filling the air during our meal. Mother would have said "god" to make tio comfortable. He has always disliked me. He can choke on the word "gods" a little. He coughs and I stop thinking ill thoughts. That must have been a coincidence. Father breaks the silence first. He is serving himself from a plate of pasteles that they brought. Izzy would not make that by herself, it is far too much work. During Christmas, the extended family lines up just to make it, including Peter, while dad and uncle Henry roast the pig on a spit.Music is still playing but at a less loud, and slower pace. The list is modern pop from Jael's selection. Father clears his throat and places his fork down."There is something I need to tell you." He looks at everyone. We all put our forks down and face him."I am going to the Puerto Rico house this weekend - to stay." Izzy and I look at each other. I turn to look at my uncle to see if he already knew. He is calm. His eyes knowing as he shares an intimate stare with my father. Anger blackens my heart. He told him first. Before anyone can say anything father continues. "I can leave like this because I have spoken with Ken. He has something to say." Father looks at Tanaka who kneels next to me. Frozen in my seat, my mouth hanging uncharacteristically open as he pulls out a ring, "Zara, you have been faithfully by my side through the years. I want to take care of you. Make a family with you. Will you marry me?" I stand up and back away in shock. Father and Izzy have neutral faces. Tanaka stands and approaches me calmly. Looking me in the eyes as if we are sharing a secret. I look from him to Izzy. Torn. What is he doing? What do I say? Father clears his throat, "I believe Ken asked you a question?" My heart drops. My uncle has a smile on his face. My cousins are staring as if their favorite drama is playing right before them. I look back at Tanaka angry but also surprised. Moved. My heart trembles again, but at that steady pace, it does when you're with someone you have been intimate with for years. We can do this. But, do I want to. I can only marry one person. Do I want that person to be him? How dare he ask this way?"Yes," falls out of my lips without thinking. The ring finds its way onto my left hand. What have I done? Izzy's face is blank. I could have said I need time to think. My relatives all get up shouting congratulations. My cousins grab Tanaka calling him, "cuz'" and "primo" interchangeably. Izzy gets up and congratulates us. She begins clearing the table to make way for the inevitable cake. Idiot. I want to facepalm but smile and kiss Tanaka instead. Happy, but shamed, I listen to my cousins chatter about our wedding and how it will be organized.

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