Steph and I are in countdown mode, preparing to get TIES out there! We're getting all kinds of sentimental hanging with Deo, Whit, and the gang, so we wanted to share a little scene straight from the Rodriguez synagogue, where merriment is being had by all!
I’m slightly off balance when I head up the stairs to the rec center attached to the synagogue where the festival is already in full swing. Little girls with flowers wreathed in their hair dart past me, a band heavy on the accordion is playing a song that’s getting a very frisky group of seniors on the floor to break out some shocking, hip-thrusting moves. I don’t see Deo or Whit and Marigold, who were bringing several trays of blintzes that Whit cooked and dozens of floral wreaths that Marigold wove.
I fade into the back, sitting with my glass of wine, keeping an easy eye roving for my people, and enjoying all the cheerful, foreign-but-familiar elements of a big cultural gathering. When I turn and realize there’s someone sitting next to me, I jump slightly.
When I realize who it is, I feel way more flustered than surprised.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I demand, sloshing a little wine out of my glass as I gesture with it.
“Uh, maybe you could keep it down with the swearing? We are in a synagogue.” Ryan’s eyes flash with annoyance, and I drop my gaze to the rim of my wineglass, feeling a strong blush heat my neck and cheeks.
“I--um, I’m sorry. You caught me off guard,” I argue lamely, double-checking to see if anyone who would be pissed to see us together is around. I think we’re hidden well enough in this corner that no one will notice us. I’m desperate to flip the subject, but I’m afraid I’ll come off sounding like even more of an ass. “Are you even Jewish?”
Ryan crosses his arms, making his muscles bulge. The scarred, tanned skin looks so warm and soft over all those hard muscles. He raises his dark eyebrows at me. “No, I’m not. You?”
“My family is strict Roman Catholic,” I admit, wondering what happens to my fully functioning brain when he’s around. My theory is that it melts and warps the second I see him, leaving me with nothing but a pile of goo to work with. Which, obviously, renders me an incoherent half-wit. “One of my uncles who still lives in the Philippines does this whole real crucification thing every year.”
If I could somehow disconnect my vocal chords when I was around him, I might be able to curb my silent pleas for giant holes to open under my feet and swallow me.
Ryan’s tight lips relax into a smile that’s so warm, it cusps on hot. “Crucifixion, huh? Your family doesn’t mess around. My uncle Billy and my uncle Pat had a fist fight at the funeral mass for my uncle Philip, but that was the extent of the violence.”
I pat the chair next to me. He’s been standing since my insanely rude greeting, and I decide I’ve reached my quotient for knee-jerk social faux pas today.
“It sounds like our uncles may be the root of all our family violence.” I sit up straighter in my chair when he settles next to me. I want to know why he’s here, and I wonder if it has anything to do with me.
Though that seems like a leap. And I’m not sure if I like the thought of it or not. But after barking at him the way I did, I can’t just ask anyway, so I put it out of my head.
“Uncles. Can’t take them anywhere. Unless you’re actively looking for bloodshed.” Ryan shifts forward in his chair, resting his forearms on his knees, and I can see the firm lines of his back through the cotton of his light button-down. “Do you go to mass?”
Our conversations always end up like this: me revealing more than I truly feel comfortable exposing, then wishing I could take half of it back. It’s alway basic, everyday stuff, but it feels so private. Maybe because I can’t remember anyone else asking me about anything I didn’t pointedly offer up. Even Mei, my best friend since middle school, has complete respect for my sometimes irrational need for privacy.
“As far as my mother knows, I’ve never missed a Sunday mass in my life.” I lift the wine glass to my mouth, even though my stomach feels a little acidic. Ryan’s body is so close to mine, his warmth is warding off the air-conditioned chill. “When I’m away at college, I don’t go. I like going with my mother though. I love watching her practice, if that makes sense. She’s so into it, so devout. I sometimes wish I could be that way.”
I clamp my mouth shut. On my long list of things I don’t like talking about, my feelings about religion cut right to the top. But here I am, spilling my guts.
“I hear you.” Ryan’s voice is soft as he looks over the kids tumbling in a circle, squealing with laughter, and picking themselves back up off the linoleum. “I had a few pretty messed-up years. I can’t say I’m ashamed of them, because I honestly believe you go through what you go through for a reason. But I’m not proud. Not at all. So part of me feels like I have no business sitting in that pew, especially because I never even considered confession. There’s no chance I’m saying anything that might get back to my mother. Not a chance.”
I look at him and narrow my eyes. “How bad are we talking about here? Because if you’re some kind of mass murderer or something, I have extensive training in martial arts. I used to spar with the uncle who crucifies himself, so I’m pretty badass.”
“Thanks for the fair warning.” His mouth is serious, but his eyes light up and seem to beckon me closer. “I’m talking more sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll debauchery. I’m a lover, not a fighter, definitely.”
And I’m a virgin who’s never done a drug in her life and prefers classical music. If not for the fact that I could take most grown men down in hand-to-hand combat, I’d be a total goody-two shoes Asian girl cliche.
I clear my throat. “I know the church can be pretty big on judgment and guilt, but you have to keep in mind that at its core, it’s all about forgiveness. Or, you know, it’s supposed to be.”
He leans closer to me, and I catch the salty smell of his skin in my nostrils. “That’s my problem: I don’t want forgiveness. What I did? A ton of it was stupid. But it moved me to right where I am today. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
My mouth goes so dry, my tongue feels wooden. He moves his knees in my direction, and the rough hair on his leg brushes against my smooth calf. That one movement feels so erotic, so like legs tangled on a bed under twisted sheets, that I gulp down the rest of my wine and draw my leg back.
….TIES is coming August 26, 2013!