Even though it had been only a few short hours, he looked surprised to see her. The three women looked annoyed.
“Hi, Luco,” said Marlee. She nodded to the women, waiting for Luco to make the introductions. His eyes said that the idea of doing so had yet to make an appearance.
After a short, but awkward silence with nothing forthcoming from Luco, Marlee took matters into her own hands.
“Hi, my name is Marlee.” She extended her hand, but none of the women moved. Marlee got the message.
“OK. Well, I guess I’ll see you all later at the cat show.”
Feeling the chill, she started to leave.
“No, Marlee, wait,” said Luco. “I’m sorry. Where are my manners? Has anybody seen them?” He giggled at his own joke.
Luco was drunk. That much was now quite obvious to Marlee.
“Marlee…yes. Tina, Shaniqua and Millie, this is Marlee. Marlee, these three ladies are…Sheena, Monique and…Tillie.” He was groping in the dark for the names.
All of the women looked at Luco as if he had completely lost his mind. He hadn’t. He’d just mislaid it at the bottom of a tequila bottle.
“What? Did I say something wrong?”
The women looked at each other.
“Hi, Marlee. I’m Mindy. She’s Tashika and this is Sylvie.”
“Oh, really?” said Luco. “I’m sorry.” He seemed embarrassed, but it was hard to tell. He had riveted his eyes on Marlee, like he had never seen her before.
Luco leaned forward toward Marlee. “Are you having a good time?
“Yes I am, Luco. I’ve met some very interesting people.”
She looked at Luco, taking inventory of this man.
His eyes, she noticed, had an undefined sadness in them. He was in isolation behind his eyes. Here he was at this party, surrounded by women, yet standing in the foggy air very apart and alone. Marlee wondered why.
She peered past his long lashes and through his soft gray eyes in an attempt to use them as those oft-quoted windows into his soul. All she saw was a dark, forbidding barrier. Nothing could get past it. Luco was a divided man. Marlee wondered what had happened to him to make him so apart from himself.
Mindy, or maybe it was Tashika, saw the intensity of Marlee’s gaze and the way she was assessing Luco and put her face right up to Marlee’s. “Jesus, honey, leave something for the rest of us.”
Inside Luco’s mind he was considering Marlee in a new light. She was no longer just the next customer in line, but a woman, a very attractive woman. In the misty, diffused light, an aura seemed to shine around her. Had he been sober he would have realized that it was just a trick of optics. He was not sober and her image reminded him of the pictures he had seen as a child, paintings of the saints floating in a beatific corona.
Seeing Marlee appear so suddenly, her hair glowing and the turquoise teardrop pendant so brightly perched by her heart, Luco was attracted and unnerved.
“Marlee, you look like Santa Maria de Merida. Your hair, your turquoise, your halo.”
“My what? My halo? Luco… you’re drunk as a skunk.”
“No. No. Listen to me. Can’t you see it, Tamisha? Doesn’t Marlee look like Santa Maria? You’re beautiful. You’re sagrada.”
“Luco, I’m not any saint and you need to stop drinking for tonight.” She looked at the other women who all had their arms crossed, not amused by Luco’s fixation. Mindy’s eyes were just slits aimed at Marlee.
“You want him sobered up, Your Holiness, you do it alone. I came here to get laid.” Tashika picked up the thought.
“Yes, Little Missy, we came here to get this man drunk, horizontal and naked. Now, you butt in and he’s talking about your ‘halo’…Damn. Girls, let’s leave these two alone so they can pray.”
They all pushed past Marlee, giving her steely looks. Sylvie stopped and spoke, not caring that Luco was standing right there.
“Girl, you bring him up to the second floor and maybe we can all get a taste of each other.”
“What?” Marlee was incredulous. The fog swirled as the girls walked away.
Marlee and Luco were alone and her mouth was open in amazement. His eyes were half closed in a stupor. He was ready to pass out.
“Luco? Are you alright? You don’t look so hot.”
“Hi, Marlee.” A silly grin stumbled its way across his face. “Marlee, I’d like you to meet three of my closest friends. Tanya, Slovakia…hey. Where’d they all go?”
He looked around at the empty air. The motion disoriented him and he started to reel. Marlee reached out and grabbed him before he fell over. She tried to get her shoulder under his for support. Luco smiled at her then turned his head toward the street and vomited.
“Oh, Luco,” said Marlee. Luco’s place in her unconscious ratings dropped several spots. She held him until his session ended.
“C’mon, Luco. Let’s get you inside.”
She put her arm around his waist and draped his arm over her shoulder and began to maneuver Luco’s bulk toward the house. All she wanted to do was get him inside and then let him sleep it off.
Climbing the steps up from the walk was a big job. Marlee half pushed Luco ahead of her. It wasn’t so much walking with him, as it was controlled falling.
When they reached the top step, Marlee was out of breath.
“Let’s stop here for a second.”
She leaned up against the wall and Luco carefully sat on the rim of a large planter box filled with geraniums. Marlee held onto his hand, just in case he started to teeter backward. Marlee took a few deep breaths.
“I need to get in shape, Luco. Luco? Are you with me?”
He looked up at her and smiled.
Marlee looked at him and laughed. She couldn’t help herself.
“Luco, I’d hate to be your head in the morning. C’mon, big fellow. Let’s go.”
She gave his arm a tug to pull him to his feet. It worked and Luco rose onto two very shaky legs. He tried to steady himself, but lurched forward, bumping into Marlee.
The force of his body in motion pinned her to the white siding by the door. His muscled chest pressed against her. Marlee gave him a shove, but he was dead weight. His face was flush against hers.
“Luco, let’s get you inside. Where is everybody now that I need some help?”
“Hi, Marlee.” He smiled and without warning he turned his head and kissed Marlee full on the lips.
The force of the kiss surprised Marlee even more than the kiss itself. After all, drunken men often do stupid things.
One summer she had to deal with the pawings and sloppy kisses of a gangly oboist. When Luco’s body crushed against her and his mouth clamped on hers, the first words that entered Marlee’s mind were, “Band Camp.”
“Luco,” she managed to mumble when he slipped off her face and shifted his amorous moves to Marlee’s neck.
“Oh, mi corazon. Te amo.” At least that’s what it sounded like to Marlee.
She wasn’t angry. She knew that it was the alcohol and gravity that had Luco acting this way. Marlee wasn’t mad, but she sure as hell wanted him off of her.
Marlee gave him another good shove and he rocked backward onto his heels. Afraid he might fall and hurt himself she grabbed his shirt to steady him. Luco’s marinated endocrine system took that gesture as a call to action and Luco, once again tried to kiss Marlee. This time his right hand found her breast.
“Damn it, Luco,” said Marlee, her patience gone. She pushed him off and pulled her hand back to hit him. The force of her shove made the slap moot. Luco staggered back. His feet tried to move fast enough to stay under him, but failed. He reeled and fell, luckily backside first, into the planter box. He landed with a thud, crushing the season’s first blossoming of the geraniums.
Marlee, her hand still ready to slap Luco if he tried again, was breathing heavily from the surprise and the exertion. She could see her breath misting as she exhaled.
She looked down at Luco, sitting on the flowers, looking dejected and mumbling to himself. A lone surviving geranium poked up from Luco’s crotch. Life goes on.
Seeing Luco in such a sorry state upset Marlee. Luco had always seemed so “in control,” so above the crass and mundane. And now, here he was, sloppy drunk, sitting in a flower box.
“Oh, Luco. I’m so… disappointed in you, and that’s my fault, not yours. I believed in the image and forgot that there was a real person behind it.”
Luco stirred and looked up at Marlee.
“Mi paloma. Te amo. Besa Regalito por mi.”
He blinked and for a moment his fog lifted.