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I set the beer on the floor and pulled Rosa harder against me, turning her around so her legs crossed over my thighs. Her waist was small, and I let my fingers wander across her ribs. She had more give than Corabelle did before she was pregnant. I caught myself comparing them and forced myself to shut off the flow of thoughts.

Rosa wore a simple sundress with a tie in the back. I reached around and tugged on the bow, letting the fabric go loose around her. She looked up at me with big round eyes, her lashes heavy and dark. She didn’t wear a lot of makeup, but that was just for the farmacia. She’d been colored up when I saw her that first night. I was just catching her early.

I wasn’t sure if kissing on the lips was all right, so I aimed for her neck. Her throat was soft and hot, and now I could move faster, pushing the dress over her knees and spreading my hands over her skin.

Rosa shivered a little, and I remember thinking — she can play the part. But when I had the dress up and over her head, I realized she couldn’t be that experienced, she couldn’t have been at the game long. She was too earnest, held my gaze too long, and the way she welcomed me to her, seeming to really want me with her, kept bringing back the same feelings I had for Corabelle rather than what I’d expected with someone paid to be there.

I almost couldn’t do it. There was too much past in the room, and not enough distance. I couldn’t separate the sex from the emotion any more than I had before.

But Rosa got it. She knew it was hard, and she took control then, stroking my face and kissing my hair. She touched me like a lover would, not a stranger, and when her mouth met mine, I just let everything fall away, eyes closed, like I could be anywhere, like I could be home.

When she straddled me, I sank right into the passion of it, relieved to connect with someone. Only later, too late, did I remember the condoms in my wallet and that with this woman I had to protect myself.

Afterward Rosa curled against me like a girl rather than someone jaded about sex. And so I held her and let the moment go. The sounds of night life heating up drifted in from the windows, and I wondered if she’d take on someone else that night, more than one. A wave of revulsion washed over me, wiping out the tenderness. I sat her up and reached for my clothes.

She snapped out of whatever had her so sensitive, jumping off the sofa and dragging her dress back over her head. I didn’t want to pay her only the few dollars she’d asked for the other times, and so I laid an amount on her table that I thought was hopefully enough.

As I headed down the stairs, my anger at the whole situation threatened to boil over. I’d done this thing, broken away from my past. It was time to stop thinking about Corabelle and the life I’d left behind. I’d figure out a new future and a new path. If I wanted to rut into street walkers, I would. If I wanted to bet on pool, or get in bar fights, or be the asshole my father showed me I could be, then it just didn’t matter.

I wasn’t going to let any of the bullshit matter.

When I first opened the door out into the night, a couple guys looked at me like I might be an easy mark. But I was scrappier than they figured, and after a couple punches and a bit of blood on all sides, I felt initiated. I would come back to Tijuana again and again, and each time I’d piss off somebody different and live to tell about it. I’d see Rosa, maybe another girl, maybe two at once.

Nobody would tell me what the hell I ought to do. I didn’t owe anybody anything.


As I walked back to Bud’s, the anger of that night threatened to take over the control I’d reestablished since Corabelle came back. How many stupid things could I do in one month? Walk out of my kid’s funeral, get sliced by who knows what sort of illegal doc, then screw a hooker without a condom.

I’d checked out fine after, no bonus diseases, and they’d certified me as properly snipped.

But that was weeks later. That one time with Rosa was definitely in the window. Damn it, why hadn’t she protected herself?

But then Corabelle had been on the shot. Maybe I had jiz of steel.

I pulled out my phone and stared at the picture again. Surely it couldn’t be. I’d seen Rosa pretty often for the next few weeks, between rounds of drinking and raising hell in various bars, until I cracked the radiator block on the Camaro. I spent pretty much every dime getting it running again so I could keep going to work, since the night shift meant the buses were shut down.

In fact, everything went south after that. I had to pay tuition, then books. I eventually sold the car and bought a junker to cover the next quarter. Eventually I dropped to fewer credits because I couldn’t afford full-time tuition. Then even the junker had to go, so I walked.

I hooked up with a lady or two stateside on the rare occasions I had any extra dough, but not in Tijuana, since I had no way to get there. I could have gotten normal girls for free, but I saw how clingy they got with Mario and some of the other guys. I didn’t want to feel obligated to them, for them to pin any of their hopes on me.

Actually, I knew when I finally got back to Rosa. Finn’s birthday almost a year later. I hadn’t told anybody I’d gotten to know about my history, hell no. But Rosa I could tell. I couldn’t call her up, as I’d always just showed up at her job or her place. We had no way to contact each other.

I’d just started at Bud’s and Mario loaned me his Yamaha. I didn’t have a license for it, but that sort of obstacle didn’t stop me in those days.

When I got to her farmacia well ahead of closing, she was still there behind the counter.

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