Our Little Secret
The mirror was a little cracked, but it was the only one she could find after a thorough search of the house. It served well enough for Carmen to adjust the simple skirt she’d gotten from the weaver just the other day. It was a rich reddish purple color, with bold accents of red-and-gold designs. And it went so well with the indigo bikini top she’d gotten last year! Sunset was what she was thinking—very appropriate for the lighting, the time, the nature of the ritual, hell, for Alejo’s whole situation.
But, as useful as the mirror was, it unfortunately couldn’t provide the very key function of tying the complicated system of knots that the top called for. Luckily, she had more resources at her disposal.
“Hey, Gorman,” Carmen called over her shoulder. “Come in here.”
In short order, he strode into the room, appearing in the mirror. With a flourish, he tossed his cape back over his shoulder, boldly widened his stance, and set his arms akimbo. He turned his head and tilted his chin at a heroic angle. For a moment he stood still like some kind of Grecian statue, his bare chest lightly dusted with hair and the shadows of the waning evening light playing off the planes of his abdomen. A lone white cloth with blue designs wrapped around his waist and dangled down the middle, leaving his legs bare from the thigh down but for a simple pair of flip-flops.
“How do I look?” he asked, after giving Carmen some time for appraisal.
Gods, she wouldn’t mind if he wore that outfit every day.
Instead of saying so, she let out a little scoff. “Shit, Gorman, can’t you see I’m trying to tie down my cha-chas here?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Why?” Before she could respond with something properly scathing, he cupped his pecs with his hands. “I mean, mine are free.”
Damn, he was in rare form today! When did he smarten up, huh? Well, far be it from her to discourage him. Instead, she gave him a flat look in the mirror. “’Cause this is a cute fucking top, okay? You gonna get your ass over here and help or what?”
Without further protest he stepped through the room and took the laces from her. Helpfully she held her top in place and instructed him which knots went where. When he finished, she turned around to look at him directly.
“Now let’s have a look at you.” She made a show of swinging her eyes up and down, letting a slow smirk spread across her face. “So, a loincloth, huh?” Her smirk became a grin. “I can dig it.”
Lance’s nose wrinkled. “It’s like wearing a jockstrap.” He paused, flicking the cape a little. “But I’m keeping this.”
At this, Carmen raised one of her eyebrows. “Sorry, Gorman, but I don’t think that cape will go well with your janky-ass jeans.”
He held out a pacifying hand. “Have faith in me, Carmen. I’ll figure out something.”
She regarded him silently, her eyes running over him again. Boy would he.
But instead of saying so, she took her shawl from off the corner of the mirror, wrapped it around herself and freed her hair from it, tossing her head a little before brushing it into place with a few brief strokes of her fingers. Briefly it revealed her ears, which seemed… naked.
After a closer look she clicked her tongue a little. “It’s gonna be so weird, not wearing any earrings.”
Lance stepped beside her to regard her a little more directly. “Why aren’t you?”
She turned toward him, giving him a ‘Really?’ kind of look. “The ritual, Gorman.” She glanced in the mirror again, tucking her hair back. “Gonna do my ears this time.” One side tucked back looked good, but both sides would just look dorky. Maybe if she tied her hair up a little, just above the ears, and let the rest be down… or maybe some kind of headband…
A look of slight apprehension crossed his face. He brought a hand up, slowly, gently—tenderly, even—tracing the lobe of her bared ear. Unexpectedly, her pulse caught and quickened a little. After his hand dropped, she let out the breath she’d softly taken in and held. The sensation faded slowly, like the very edge of the surf on the sand as the water pulled back.
“Can I…” he hesitated. “Would… my blood help too?”
Carmen turned away from the mirror, looking him over a third time. Suddenly, she knew every last feeling that had strung Alejandra’s expression when she’d mentioned her daughter participating in this year’s festivities—not the least of which was a strange kind of hesitance. But Lance was a grown man, he could handle it. He’d heal up quick, anyway. And they needed all the help they could get.
Gods, what was she thinking? If there was to be any hope for the Fifth World—Fifth-and-a-Half World, whatever—she had to suck it up, get over her… shit, what had Lisa called it? Colonialistic… eurocentric… something or other. Conditioning? Preconceptions? Whatever—she had to get over her fuckin’ whitewashed attitude. If Lance wanted to cut on himself for the sake of the cosmos, she should be supportive of him being all honorable and dutiful and shit! And besides, this was going to be a celebration, a fun time! The ritual would be a very small part of the rest of the evening. Starting it off all solemn would only serve to make it harder to enjoy themselves.
“Sure. I’d say you’ve proven yourself worthy enough.” Her eyes flicked downwards briefly, pointedly. “You probably should wear a darker-colored loincloth, though.”
He gave her a bemused smile. “Uh… what for?”
Instead of answering, she stepped away to tie up her hair and apply some perfume, to give time to let it sink in.
It didn’t. “No, seriously, Carmen, what does that have to—”
She sighed and rolled her eyes before turning to face him again.
“To hide the blood, Gorman.” His look was still blank. Where did all his smarts go, huh? “’Cause, y’know, you gotta stab your verga.”
The color drained from his face, his face slackened in horror, and his knees turned slightly, unconsciously inward.
“Wait,” he began, chuckling uneasily. “You’re fucking with me, right?”
She gave him a smile and patted his face reassuringly. “It’s okay. You’re not Mexica. You can do your leg instead.”
He swallowed audibly and his shoulders dropped a little. Carmen turned away before he could catch her smirk, and moved to her sandals waiting by the door. Once she’d slipped them on, she schooled her expression, stepped into the doorway, and flicked a look over her shoulder.
“You comin’ or what?” she asked. Before he could respond, she started into the hall.
This spurred him to shake off his horror and follow her. He quickly caught up, falling into step alongside her.
After a few paces, he looked over to her and said, “You’re right, by the way. That is a nice top.” He paused. “You look… great. Gorgeous.”
An echo of the moment he touched her ear gently rippled through Carmen. A light smile played over her lips.
“I know,” she said. After a couple steps she slowed to a stop, tucked her fingers into his cape’s clasp, and drew him in for a kiss. Eventually she pulled away and added, “But thanks for saying so.”