Chapter Four: Meeting Caramel
“People think I’m trying to make a fashion statement because I never wear a bra. It’s really that I’m a tomboy at heart.”
— Actress, Cameron Diaz
While still dreaming that he was Sir Lamorál in another century, Almarón felt another gentle touch from the fingers of the woman standing next to him in the Rose Club room. Reluctantly, he returned to the present, slowly remembering that she was someone he knew: the same woman he kissed moments earlier. In his current state, to him, that moment seemed like a long time ago.
Suddenly, as quickly as he had departed the present time, he remembered where he was and how he had gotten there. He recalled the jazz energy he had felt and the recent memories of his library research.
He also remembered the emotional pain of losing Emily, and he winced.
“Are you okay, Carlitos?” the woman next to him inquired.
He looked around the room, realized anew where he was, and turned in the direction of her voice—her words, at last, registered their meaning inside of his head.
“Oh, yes, of course. I am alright... it’s just... it’s just... the music I hear in this room makes me drift off and... uh... (he had forgotten her name),” he stammered.
“You must still be a little in La-la-land, my friend. This is me, ‘Carmela.’”
Speaking in breathy tones, she centered and oriented him into the current time stream, and punctuated her sentence with a loud laugh.
“Carmela? Ah, yes, Caramel! Please forgive me, my friend,” he apologized as he rose and dutifully offered his seat to her out of habit.
Carmela and Almarón had known each other since their childhood days in Miami. Though they were adults now, she would forever call him by his nickname, Carlitos, which she had plucked out of thin air the day they decided to share a secret from everybody else and use made-up nicknames for each other. He would forever think of her as “Caramel” because of the color of her long and flowing hair.
Carmela declined Almarón’s offer to sit next to him. She preferred instead to sit directly across from her friend on one of the softer, gold-and-oxblood chairs that faced the couch. This decision separated her from her friend because of the low, mahogany coffee table in between them.
“Please, Caramel, pardon my manners, let me order some espresso and cookies.”
He stood and snapped his fingers to command the attention of a Hispanic waitperson he recognized, “Dos tintos y galletos, por favor.” He hadn’t waited for a nod of approval. With a tilt of his head, a shoulder shrug, and upturned palms, he now signaled his wish for her support. She accepted his offer, and he sat down.
A bit ruffled from the mind-journey he had just been on, he straightened his coat and shirt and ran his fingers through his hair. Next, he looked across the table and focused on her demure, blue-toned fashion ensemble.
“Caramel, that blue brightens your eyes.”
“Thank you, Carlitos. You are always so kind with your comments.”
She had answered politely but wondered what was eating him alive. She could see marks of tiredness around his eyes and the relaxed manner in which he lounged on his chair.
“How did you find me here?” he asked.
“Carlitos, I come here all the time. You don’t remember that?”
“Of course, Caramel. I remember, now that you have helped me to remember...” He laughed and smiled.
“Let’s see, the last time we saw each other here was...” he said, leaning forward and feigning seriousness with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, knowing full well that they had never been there together.
Her concern for her friend bothered her.
“What’s happening with you, Carlitos? We never came here together. I only have told you once that my father brought me here several times, although that seems now to be from some other lifetime to you.”
As her last words left her red-painted lips, she looked at him with a pained expression and wondered if he was alright or not.
He suddenly cracked a smug smile and laughed. For as long as they knew each other, he had surprised Carmela by certain tricks that he liked to play. She always fell for them, and this time he got her because her concern for him was so genuine.
“Carlitos, don’t do that to me!” she pouted and threw a small comfort pillow at him.
Laughing, he said, “I know we’ve never been here together, Caramel, but it’s just so much fun to play my little tricks on you. Will you forgive me this time?”
She relaxed and tried to smile approvingly, but then he laughed again, and she got caught up in it.
The sound of their laughter, and especially her laugh, however, triggered images of another time in his mind. Instantly, his head slumped forward, his eyes closed. In a flash, he was gone, forced back to an earlier time when he and Carmela were small children.
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