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Different Shades of Brown
"Hardheaded girl!¿No ves que no es seguro? Do you not know how close you are to Mexico!?" Victor's voice rose into his familiar octave of exasperated frustration.
I grinned to myself as I swung around the corner of mi familia's restaurante, wondering idly who had fallen victim to my brother's easily piqued anger.
Victor's stoic silhouette wasn't startling; I was accustomed to the erect posture, the tendons that jaunted from his smooth skin, the clenched hands. His back was to me, but I knew how his eyes would be hard, flashing dangerously. His gaze was directed towards someone, though, that halted me in my amused gait.
If Victor ever had a rival to match his poised anger, it was the figure of Laina.
Our newly hired waitress stood as stiffly and vertically as Victor, her arms folded stubbornly across her chest. Her pretty features were set in stone, the delicate lines defiant and cold. Set against the wild hair that defined her to us, her eyes, usually slitted with laughter or wide with reveries, were just as hard as Victor's were. Her lips were braided into a sneer.
"Apparently, very close," Laina retorted back, eyeing my brother in a way that was meant to be insulting, but more amusing to me.
I had walked close enough that I could see my brother's mouth opening and closing, attempting to frame a comeback, but Laina wasn't finished.
"And you know I can't speak Spanish. I've never been to Mexico, and I don't know very much about it, and if I did, you would think that you wouldn't blacken its image! You'd think you'd want to let me know its goodness, when everyone else glorifies its bad reputation!" She tossed her curls, and inhaled sharply.
I doubted my brother had heard a word of what she had to say; I'd bet he'd been thinking of how to cap her first statement, the way his mouth opened as soon as Laina had taken a breath from her tirade.
Mi hermano, I thought to myself, el nino nunca piensa. I decided to intervene, and glided in between the two.
"¿Qué pasa, Víctor?" I inquired casually, a grin playing at the corners of my lips.
"Edmund!" he released a breath through his nostrils,"La niña es una locura! Ella está tratando de tomar un bús a su casa, y es de noche!"
"English!" Laina quipped, and Victor shot her an icy look. He looked back at me, and I rolled my eyes, indicating that he should explain in ingles.
Victor's lip curled back.
"The crazy girl wants to take a bus back home! It's nighttime, in Brownsville, and she wants to take a bus! Loca!"
I raised my eyebrows, but before I could reply, Laina cut in, leaning around me to glare at Victor.
"You're the crazy one! I've always taken buses! When I lived in L.A., I would walk throughout the city!"
"It isn't safe! How many times do I have to tell her? Esto es México!"
"As long as you use common sense, then it's perf-," she tried to justify herself, but I'd grown tired of their childlike bickering.
"Basta! Enough!" I cried, spreading my arms between the two, as if I could catch their edgy words.
"Cabron," I addressed Victor,"What do you intend to do? Hold her against her will? She needs a way to get back to her familia. They'll worry if she doesn't come home because you shouted at her all night. ¿Entiendes?"
Laina grinned triumphantly, and Victor wouldn't look at me, apparently feeling betrayed.
Laina's smug look withered, though, when Victor annouced sullenly,"I meant to drive her there myself."
He sought my eyes, trying to convey from the darkness of his how dangerous a rough, border city could be in the clutches of night, especially to a girl as young and as pretty as Laina.
My features softened, and I turned to Laina, who was staring at Victor's motorcycle as if it were a steel monster waiting to send her to a concrete-smearing death.
"Laina," I started gently, always the peacemaker,"it's too late for you to take the bus. Mi familia and I would feel terrible if something were to happen to you. Could you please call your papa and let him know that we insisted?"
Laina glanced at Victor, and I noticed for the first time that he was holding her bag hostage. I couldn't stop myself from grinning; it was no wonder she had stayed. Victor, thinking I was avenging him, grinned with me.
But it was his turn to lose his complacent expression when Laina pivoted and declared in my direction,"Fine. As long as it's with you, Edmund."
Orale, I moaned quietly within my head, as Victor faced me in his anger, a glint of jealousy in his brown eyes. Nunca piensa! Couldn't he see that all she was afraid of was the stupid motorcycle? Of course, girls usually loved his bike, but Laina had jolted him severely since working with us. She wounded his ego, and for that reason, I couldn't help liking the girl, even if she couldn't speak Spanish.
"No," I told her flatly, before Victor could rekindle the argument,"I've got some things I've gotta do. Let Victor drive you; you'll be perfectly safe. Trust me, Laina. Have a good night." I pretended to tip an imaginary hat, and Laina marched away from me without a word, towards the restaurante, undoubtedly to call her papa.
As soon as she had vanished, Victor sighed dramatically. He lifted his hands in the air, and said,"La chica es una locura. Nunca debimos haber contratado su. Lo que queremos con ella, Edmund?" He let his hands fall, and scuffed the ground with his boot.
I shoved his shoulder, and he whipped his head up.
"You should apologize to her, Victor. She's not crazy; she's just independent. No es loca."
I smiled at him, to let him know I wasn't truly angry, and he followed me to my faded pickup truck. He slammed the door behind me after I had climbed in and setttled myself into the cracked leather, and he leaned on the window frame.
"Ver la pintura! C'mon, Victor, the paint is faded enough!" I complained, but his expression was coy, and he lowered his voice theatrically. "I still think she's crazy."
I pulled away abruptly, and he laughed in the open air, his head tilted back.
"Don't scare her!" I called out, and he hit the back of my truck with his palm, a grin stretching the facets of his face. I sighed, and nearly regretted my decision to leave Laina with him. Victor, absorbed only in the moment, hadn't even questioned whether I really had things to do or not. I doubted he would believe me if I were to tell him I wanted to see Lucina, and since I knew he'd be away all night, he wouldn't question my whereabouts, either.
As I was pulling out of the driveway, I glimpsed Victor grinning hugely, seated on the black leather of his motorcycle, and clasping Laina's bag closely to him as she carefully arranged herself behind him. He revved the engine loudly as soon as she seemed secure, and that scared her. She grabbed the loose folds of his jacket and wrapped her arms around his waist, and the playful expression on Victor's face faltered for a moment, and for the first time, I saw uncertainty in the usually arrogant features.
I laughed quietly, and my tailgates disappeared into the night, leaving my brother to his consequences.
To be continued, if the audience wishes it...