“Well, so far, so good.” I took a sip of the drink. It was sweet and cold, creamy and yet easy to drink in big gulps. “Wow, this is great too.”
Ben smiled as he took a sip of his own. “I’m doing okay?” he asked.
“You’re doing great,” I told him. I was overwhelmed, to be honest. It had been so long since I’d had a crush on someone I’d forgotten how exciting it makes everything you do.
When our tacos were ready, Ben grabbed them from the window. they came stuffed in red and white checkered cartons. He grabbed all of them and balanced them over his forearms and in his hands.
There were no places to sit at Cactus tacos, and so Ben suggested we sit on the hood of his car.
“These tacos look messy. I’ll spill pico de gallo all over your car.” “It’s a ten-year-old Honda. I’m not exactly precious about it.”
“Fine. But I feel like you should know that I’m very clumsy and messy.”
“And you forget your keys a lot.”
“Well, I forget everything a lot.”
“So far, it’s all good by me.”
We sat on his hood and we talked about our jobs and if we liked living in los angeles, and sure enough, I dripped taco grease onto his bumper. Ben just smiled at me. ana called me as I was feebly attempting to clean it up and I put her through to voice mail. Ben and I talked long after the tacos were gone.
Eventually, Ben asked me if I wanted dessert.
“You have somewhere else in mind?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I thought it would be lady’s choice.”
“Oh,” I said. I was somewhat at a loss as to what to suggest. I had no idea where we were, no idea what was around us. “actually,” I said. “are you up for another adventure?”
“Absolutely!” he said as he hopped off the hood of the car. He put out his hand for me to grab. “Where to?”
“East l.a.?” I asked, gently. While I wasn’t sure where we were, I knew we were at least an hour from my place, and east l.a. was at least thirty minutes past my apartment in the opposite direction.
“East l.a. it is, my fair maiden.” He helped me off the car and opened my door for me.
“Such a gentleman,” I pronounced as I positioned myself to sit down.
“Wait,” he said. He grabbed me around the waist and pulled me to him. “Is this okay?”
My face was up against his. I could smell his breath. It smelled like cilantro and onions. It smelled sweet, somehow. My heart started beating faster.
“Yeah,” I said. “this is okay.”
“I want to kiss you,” he said. “But I want to make sure you won’t be embarrassed in front of the taco stand man.”
I smiled at him and looked over his shoulder. the taco stand man was staring. I was, in fact, slightly embarrassed. But it was just enough to make the situation thrilling and not enough to ruin it.
“Go for it,” I said to him. He did.
As he kissed me against the car, my body pushed in toward him. My arms made their way into the crooks on either side of his neck and my hands grazed the stubble on the back of his head at the hairline. His hair felt soft and oily in my hands. I felt his chest and torso push me further against the car.
He pulled away, and I looked sheepishly at the man at the taco stand. still staring. Ben caught my eye and looked back. the taco stand man turned away, and Ben started to laugh, conspiratorially.
“We should get out of here,” I said.
“I told you you’d be embarrassed,” he said as he ran around to the driver’s side.
Once we’d made our way back onto the freeway, I texted ana, letting her know that I’d call her tomorrow. she texted back asking what on earth I was doing that I couldn’t talk to her. I told her the truth.
“I’m on a daylong date. It’s going really well so I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Ana tried to call me after that and I put her through to voice mail again. I realized that me being on a date probably seemed a bit odd to her. I had just seen her yesterday morning for breakfast with no plans to date anyone, let alone date them all day.
Ben and I hit traffic. the stop and go of the freeway was made even more maddening by the sweat and exhaust from all of the cars. We had been stuck on the same stretch of road for twenty minutes when Ben asked a question I had been avoiding.
“When does this mystery place close?” he asked.
“Eh . . .” I said, embarrassed to tell him we were almost certainly not going to make it.
“It’s soon, isn’t it?” he asked.
“It’s soon. It closes at six. We’ve only got about a half hour. We don’t need to go. I can take you some other time.”
It just slipped out, the “some other time.” I didn’t mean to make it clear that I wanted to see him again. I mean, in my brain I assumed we would be seeing each other again, but I also wanted to maintain some sense of mystery about the whole thing. I didn’t want to show my cards that soon. I turned a little red.
Ben smiled. He knew what I’d done and decided not to press it. He just took the compliment and let it alone. “still,” he said. “I want you to get whatever it is.”
“Gelato,” I said.
“Gelato?” he said, somewhat disbelieving. “We’re racing across town for gelato?”
I hit him in the chest with my hand. “Hey! you said you wanted to do something. It’s good gelato!”
“I’m just teasing you. I love gelato. Come hell or high water I’m getting you that goddamn gelato.”
As traffic started to move slightly, he veered the car onto the shoulder, flew past the rest of the cars, and got in line to get off the freeway.
“Wow,” I said. “Way to take control.”
“Total ass**le move,” he said. “But this situation is dire.”
He sped through back roads and dangerously ran yellow lights. He cut a few people off and honked at them as he drove by to apologize. I directed him under unfamiliar overpasses, found unheard-of drives and lanes for him to traverse, and when we finally parked the car in front of scoops gelato shop, it was 6:01 p.m. Ben ran to the door just as they were locking it.
He pounded on it politely. “please,” he said, “just . . . can you open the door?”
A young korean girl came to the door and pointed to the Closed sign. she shook her head.
Ben put his hands together in a prayer position, and she shrugged at him.
“Elsie, do me a favor, would you?”
“Hmm?” I said. I was hanging further back on the sidewalk.
“Would you turn around?”
“I’m about to beg on my knees and I don’t want you to see it. I want you to think of me as a strong, virile, confident man.”
I laughed, and he continued to look at me blankly.
“Oh my God, you’re serious,” I said, as I laughed and resigned myself to turning around.
I looked out onto the main street in the distance. I watched cars stop at red lights and cyclists speed by them. I saw a couple walking down the street with a baby stroller. soon, I heard the jingle of a door opening and I started to turn around.
“Wait!” I heard Ben say. “don’t move yet,” and so I didn’t.
Two minutes later, the door jingled again and Ben came around in front of me. In his hands were two cups of gelato, both a light brown with brightly colored spoons sticking out of them.
“How did you do that?” I asked, taking one of them from him.
Ben smiled. “I have my ways.”
“Seriously,” I said.
“Seriously? I bribed her.”
“You bribed her?” I asked, shocked. I had never known anyone to bribe someone before.
“Well, I said, ‘If you can give me two cups of whatever flavor you have left, I’ll give you twenty bucks extra.’ so if that’s a bribe, then yes, I bribed her.”
“Yeah, I’d say that’s a bribe.”
“Somewhat corrupt,” he said to me. “I hope you can forgive me.”
I stared at him for a moment. “Forgive you? are you kidding? no one has ever bribed anyone for me before!” I said.