Chapter 2 –Winner Takes All

For those who missed Sunday’s blog, I’m trying to put the finishing touches on this book, and in order to get inspired to finish in a timely fashion, I’m releasing two chapters per week of Winner takes all.

Chapter 2 – A New Beginning

The last thing Javier needed in his life was a woman. He’d vowed to stay away from them after New York. And he’d been pretty good at keeping that vow for the past four months.

But something about this woman intrigued him. She’d come to the bar, sat alone, and hadn’t ordered a drink. She’d spent a decent amount of time talking to his sister, Josefina, about what food to order.

Javier had watched her from his table and tried not to seem conspicuous as he ate pupusas. She wasn’t his type, though she was beautiful. Caramel skin, hair to her shoulders in some kind of twists and lips that just screamed to be kissed. He wasn’t sure if she worked out to get that body, but she was surely working that red slinky dress that cut off mid thigh and had a swooping v-neck that accentuated her breasts. They were a nice size, and looked so succulent, he could only imagine what they looked like once separated from that dress. His cock twitched.

Dammit. He wasn’t sure why this one was getting to him. Ever since Delilah, he’d been sufficiently through with the ladies. He felt a surge of anger just thinking about her. Delilah. He should have known just from the name. When he’d met her, he’d thought of the sweet, silver-toned radio hostess his mother listened to on weekday evenings. All warm and light as she dispensed love advice. How wrong he’d been. He should have thought of the original vixen who had wooed poor Sampson and then sold him out to the Philistines. That Delilah was more akin to the one he’d gotten.

He shook his head, blew out, and banished Delilah from his thoughts. Instead, he watched this woman. He found he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She called Josefina over a couple more times during her meal, and they chatted. Questions, perhaps. She was pointing to things in the restaurant. Pictures. He sighed and looked at a picture she’d just pointed to. It was a little boy on a farm in El Salvador. Javier’s father, Josef.  He looked so little and unintimidating in that photo. If only Josef had remained that way.

Javier’s interest should have waned when she asked about his father. Showing interest in a man he got along with as well as oil did with water should have been a sign that she was not the one. Only, for some reason, it just made him more curious about her.  As soon as Josefina had a moment free, Javier waved her over. She came to his table, but remained standing, as if she might take his order. His father would have been incensed if it looked like she was sitting with a customer. “Who’s that lady?” he asked, inclining his head toward the bar. “The one who’s been monopolizing your time?”

Josefina turned and looked  in the direction of the gorgeous customer. “Um, she just stumbled in here after not liking the place down the street. She was curious about how long we’d been here. Wanted to know more about the restaurant’s history. I told her the story: dad’s story.” Javier refrained from rolling his eyes. Dad’s story. It had been one of his first real sells, a sign that, given enough motivation, he could sell anything, even a father who hated him.

“You put in the bit about the first restaurant burning down?” he asked.

Josefina did not refrain from rolling her eyes. “It’s not like you created the restaurant, Javi. You just polished the story a bit so it sounded good.”

He hated how he didn’t get credit for punching up the story, for boiling it down to its best elements. The story’s key component was the imagery of the Phoenix rising from the ashes. Santiago’s had been rebuilt, the dream completed, success claimed, a final triumph.  It was the perfect story. And, really, that’s all it was: a story. The image of the successful American dream applied only to the business. Josef Santiago’s personal life was more aptly described as an American nightmare.

“Javi, what’s rule number one?” Josefina asked.

Rule number one. “The customer is always right,” he belted out with a smirk.

She gritted her teeth and shook her head. “You know what I’m talking about,” she said, but she clearly felt he needed to hear it said aloud. “Don’t hit on the customers.”

“Rule number one is for employees. I’m not employed here, now am I, sis?” he asked.

She sighed.

He grinned. No, he wasn’t technically working here. An employee had called in sick, and Josefina had asked if he could lend a hand. He’d almost said no, but his sister wasn’t his father, and if she was asking him to lend a hand, she needed it. He’d been forced to work here throughout high school and any time he’d been home on break during college, so he knew the ropes. Still, he wasn’t an employee, so he wasn’t about to be stuck with employee rules.

Josefina looked like she planned to say something else, but she finally just shook her head and walked away. Maybe as little as a year ago, she would have threatened something along the lines of, “I’m gonna tell dad.” But his baby sister had taken on a more mature attitude as she approached her senior year in college. And she’d also gotten serious about the restaurant. The domain Javier had outright rejected, she’d come to embrace fully.

With Josefina off to check on a customer, Javier turned his attention to the beautiful mystery woman. She was now watching the band. The group had already played a short practice set. Javier glanced at his watch. It was time. The tables closest to the low, platform stage were empty, so he started pulling them away to make room for people to dance. Josefina sidled over to help him. Soon, they had the area cleared.

Miguel, the band leader, nodded to Javier as the group began to play a rousing salsa. The first rule of working at the restaurant was not to hit on the customers. The second rule was to work, not parade around having fun. And Javier was about to break both those rules. He stood on the dance floor and began to move to the beat. Just a swivel of the hip as his feet glided  in time with the music. He smiled and let the music’s vibrations guide his body. He knew one or two people would join in eventually. He turned, his body facing the bar, and looked right at the lovely woman in red. Her eyes sparkled as she smiled at him. He held out his hand and beckoned her to join him. She considered it a moment, and then stood.

The vision in red glided off the bar stool and sauntered right to him. Every eye in the restaurant seemed mesmerized by her. Or was he projecting his own thoughts to everyone else? But how could they not be watching her? Long silky legs, striding tall and confident, the way her hips swung, slinky, sexily, in tune with the music.

And here she was — right in front of him. She smiled crookedly, those ruby red lips looking sinfully delightful, and joined him on the dance floor. She nestled her fingers inside his extended palm, and he closed his hand around hers. Her touch was electric and his body hummed the closer she got to him. Together, they shimmied on the dance floor, their bodies flying in time with the music, gyrating, puffing, swaying and having a good time. They managed to keep up with each other through four songs, songs that brought others out, and drew the occasional, “You two are good,” from couples dancing nearby.

 She had a flare for the dramatic, for she winked at the compliment and said, full of bravado, “Of course we are.”

She was bold and unapologetic, and he couldn’t imagine anything more delightful than that in a woman. His dad would like her, Javier thought. Dammit! Where the hell had that thought come from? His father was the last thing he wanted to think about. Not when he was dancing with a beautiful woman, not when he was preparing for his triumphant tomorrow.  Tomorrow was the beginning of his new life. He wasn’t going to fuck it up this time. He was going to knock this one out of the park. It wasn’t the ideal post, but if he could craft his father’s life story into something moving, he sure as hell could do the same for his own life.

As the music faded, beautiful pulled away from him and gave a quick nod. “Thank you for the dancing,” she said, placing a manicured hand on her chest. “I need a little break.”

Javier nodded to her, and she turned and headed back to the bar. He followed, watching her nestle her fine ass into the seat. He knew he should stay away from her, but he couldn’t help the attraction. She was flawless: she was brave, she could dance, and she was into him. He leaned against the bar, preferring not to sit quite yet. “Can I buy you a drink?” he asked.

She eyed him, as if sizing him up. He didn’t mind. He had nothing to worry about when it came to size. He cocked the right corner of his mouth into a rakish smile. Her eyes roved his body, from top to bottom, and then she licked her lips as if she’d determined he was exactly what she wanted. “Sure, I’d love a drink.”

He grinned and motioned Marco, the bartender. “Her drink’s on me.”

Marco raised an eyebrow in doubt. Javier ignored the look and kept the confident smile on his face, but he had a flash of absolute hatred toward his father. It was one thing for his father to deride him privately. It was beyond the pale that he’d given the bartender the impression that Javier was a loser. Javier tried to ignore the look the bartender had given him, but Red Dress had watched the exchange closely. Javier thought for a moment that she might sour on him based on the bartender’s disdain at his offer to buy her drink. But she just smiled, turned to the bartender and ordered a glass of white wine.

Perfect. He leaned in. “I’m Javier,” he said.

“Tina,” she responded, with a come-hither smile.