“Never turn down a gift, or they’ll stop coming,” Niña’s mama had always said with a smile and a nudge.
Layton knelt with the felt box in his hands, ready to spring his eternal trap. Around Niña a thousand heads transfixed on her face, like cats ready to pounce. This was the final and largest of Layton’s offerings this day.
Niña knew it was only a matter of time before he popped the question, Elisa had told her so one summer night, and Elisa was right about everything. That was why it hurt, arriving in her new Benz, in a tailored dress she would never wear again, to look down on his expectant, pale face. Shit, they had spent three years together.
But then, his sister Elisa had proved a better bedmate for two of those. If she said yes, she would lose Elisa. If she said no, she would lose Elisa and more.
“Niña López, will you make me the happiest man on earth and become my bride?” Layton said, and the box opened like the ark of the covenant. Unlike Indiana, she couldn’t look away. It sat in cream satin: a white gold ring studded in rose droplets, headed with the clearest cut crystal she had ever laid eyes on and....
“That’s not mine,” she said. By the time her brain caught up with itself, the onlooker’s silence became a mad shuffling of pockets to bring out their iPhones. “You’re proposing to me with the same ring Rachelle turned down!”
Why do I know this? She wondered as her mouth went off. I’ve clearly had too much Dom tonight. However she knew it didn’t seem to matter, as Layton’s already white face turned the same colour as the satin.
“You know...I mean, Niña, darling! I would never-” Layton stammered.
Ask him about the others, Niña. Ask about Peyton and Alexia, said the voice inside her. She did, and saw him visibly wince at each name.
What does a dirty bastard like him deserve? Niña thought. A quick side glance answered that, and she swiped the half-full flute off their table and washed him in champagne. Fuck, being Samantha once and a while felt good. She took the keys to the Benz and tossed them in the wine puddle that was quickly forming.
“Check please,” she called out. “His treat.” She stormed off the patio and past the maitre’s desk. No one stopped her. No, they revelled in her. It wasn’t until she rounded the corner that a horrible feeling welled up in her gut. She bent over and threw up against the wall. Black mascara tears followed, and it took all she had to not wail.
She shivered, realizing at once she hadn’t brought her jacket out. But she couldn’t return now. She stumbled father away, disoriented and feeling very suddenly alone. Hours seemed to pass before the crackling of tires slowing across salted asphalt stopped beside her.
Look up, she heard in her mind. She did, and Elisa smiled from behind the wheel of the Benz Niña had just left behind.
“Hey, hot stuff,” Elisa said with a comically low voice. “Care for a ride?”
Niña laughed until tears came, then the tears ran alone as Niña fell to her knees. She heard the car door open and then Elisa’s warm hands on her back, her lips to Niña’s ears.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, I’m here.”
They drove until Niña calmed down, then they drove for another hour after, the sun beginning to rise. All the while they shared a mind, thinking with each other.
They arrived at Elisa’s suite on the coast, and Niña tossed her shoes off and let her toes feel the cold cement. Elisa rounded the car and brought out a familiar felt box. Niña’s heart stopped.
Elisa opened it to reveal a single Altoid. “Have this so I can kiss you, damnit!” she smiled. Niña was giddy as she took the mint and let it burn her raw tongue.
Elisa made good on her promise, and as her lips pulled away she whispered, “Now say yes, and I’ll find you a ring no other girl in the world has seen.”