Inner Diva
them about my niece and nephew.
Bor-ring.”
    He gave her a look of complete astonishment.
“You’re not boring. You’re mature.”
    She made a pretend snoring sound. “Gee,
thanks.”
    He looked confused for a moment. “That’s not
a cut-up. It’s good to be mature. In fact, I wish it hadn’t taken
me so long to get there myself.”
    Whereas, Monica thought she’d always been
there, and had never experienced life in the fast lane.
    “So, tell me about your niece and
nephew.”
    She smiled. “Spencer and Mae, ages four and
one. The cutest kids in the world, yada yada yada. My sister Barbie
is their mom, and she’s married to a politician. My mom and I spoil
them as much as possible.”
    He nodded.
    “How about you?” she asked. “Do you have any
nieces or nephews?”
    He delayed his answer just long enough to
clue Monica in there was a story there, and he was debating how
much he should tell her. “No, Luisa is the only sibling I have
left.” He rubbed his thumb against the back of her hand.
    “Did you have a sibling who died?”
    He nodded grimly, staring at their joined
hands. “I had an older brother who died when he was twenty. I was
eighteen when it happened, and Luisa was an infant.”
    “ Wow, that’s quite an age difference between
siblings.”
    He looked up at her. “You could say Luisa was
an ‘oops’ baby.” A slow smile formed on his lips. “But it didn’t
surprise me. My parents were so in love, it was unbelievable. Very
affectionate with each other. My papa called a family meeting when
they found out Mama was expecting. Neither Ricardo or I were
shocked.” He chuckled, then went silent.
    Monica waited. She wanted to hear about
Ricardo’s death, but she didn’t know if he intended to open up to
her. She wouldn’t push it if he wasn’t ready.
    The noises in the restaurant commenced around
them, making her feel sheltered in their booth.
    “Ricardo won free tickets to a NFL football
game in Kansas City. He and Papa went. Mama and I were waiting for
them, holding dinner till they returned. But it got later and
later. At midnight we got a phone call.”
    Monica felt a tightening in her chest.
    “They were in a car accident and neither
survived. It was winter and there were icy patches on the highway.
Judging from the looks of the vehicle, they must’ve gone
quickly.”
    Her mouth dropped open. She wanted to be
closer to him, to comfort him of this terrible event that
undoubtedly changed his life a decade ago. He continued to look at
the tabletop, not meeting her eyes.
    “From then on, it was just me and Mama taking
care of Luisa. She got a job, then two. I finished high school and
she refused to let me work to help her out. She wanted me to focus
on education so I could get a decent job later. I didn’t like that
she had to work so hard, partly because I never saw her. Just like
now.”
    The waitress arrived with platters of
appetizers and fresh drinks. In the midst of Carlos’ heartbreaking
story, food had lost its appeal.
    After the waitress dropped off her load and
left, Carlos cleared his throat. “It hasn’t been easy. Trying to
raise a child in an untraditional family. Me and Mama – the odd
couple.” He shook his head.
    “So, you’ve been a father figure to Luisa
since she never knew her own dad.”
    He paused, considering. “No, Monica.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Don’t make me sound like a saint. I haven’t
been, not by a long shot.”
    Monica studied his face that had turned
suddenly tense. “But you took on the responsibility of helping your
mother raise her, at an age when you could’ve gone off on your
own.”
    He nodded. “I’m there for Luisa, but not like
I should be.”
    Monica shook her head, wondering at his
denial. “She loves you …”
    He cut her off. “You only assume I was a
father figure to her because that’s what you would’ve done. Not
everyone is as responsible as you, Monica.”
    Monica blinked, watching his stony face. What
had

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