Well, I was about to be a shitty friend to her once again.
"Abuelo is cooking a big Cuban meal for Cayden's last night here," Mom said on the phone that morning. "What time should we expect you over here?"
Shit. I should have known he'd be cooking. I go to my parents house almost every Sunday, so why would this Sunday have been any different? Especially with Abuela gone. Abuelo needed to cook to keep his mind off things. Mom said he'd been a mess since the funeral. He wasn't eating. Wasn't smiling. Just cried all day in his room.
"We can be there around 4," I said. I saw Cayden raise an eyebrow at me.
I hung up with Mom and turned to Cayden.
"So ... change of plans," I said. "Abuelo is cooking a Cuban feast, and Colbie is going to hate me."
"I'm sure she'll understand," Cayden said "She understood last time."
"Yeah, and the time before that. And the time before that. It's getting ridiculous."
"It's OK. Maybe next time," was her response. I felt like an ass. I added 'make it up to Colbie' to my mental to-do list, right after 'get a tonsillectomy' and before 'be a better bridesmaid to Shanna.'
We decided to head to my parents house early so we could hang out in the pool before dinner. When we got there, Abuelo was stirring the black beans over the stove. He looked up at us, and my heart sank. I was so used to seeing his face light up when he saw his one of his grandkids. His expression looked empty. His eyes looked lost. And there was no hint of a smile.
He raised an eyebrow at me to acknowledge us. Whether he wanted it or not, I gave him the usual hug and kiss and told him I loved him.
"I'm making your favorite," he said.
Black beans weren't my favorite. I looked at him curiously. Had Abuela's death taken him off the deep end?
"No," he shook his head. "Out there. Cheesecake flan."
My eyes lit up and I hugged him again. Cheesecake flan was my absolute favorite dessert.
"Babe!" I said, turning to Cayden. "You're going to love it! It's so creamy and caramely and... oh god. It's so damn good!"
Abuelo half smiled at my excitement.
"I'm sure I'll love it," Cayden said, also amused by my reaction to food.
I walked back around the counter to where Cayden was standing. He put his arm around me as we looked out the windows toward the backyard. The sun was pouring through the blinds. The rays hit the pool and looked like white diamonds twinkling through the ripples from the waterfall. We exchanged looks that said, "Let's jump in."
Minutes later we were chest-deep in the refreshing water, my legs wrapped around his waist. And for a moment, everything was silent. I couldn't hear the splashes of water from the waterfall alongside the hot tub. I couldn't hear my dogs sprinting through the flowerbed, chasing squirrels and their own shadows. I couldn't hear the neighbor kids next door playing hopscotch on their driveway.
Cayden watched me. I watched his eyes move from my eyes to my lips to my chin to my ears to my nose.
"What? Do I have a booger?" I asked, moving as quick as I could to wipe my nose with a dripping wet hand.
"No," he stopped my arm before I could reach my face. "You're beautiful, baby."
I remember reading lines like that in books and rolling my eyes. Guys don't really say that! I thought. Or, He's lying. He just wants to get in your pants. It sounded corny to me. Cheesy. Fake. I also remember thinking that one day I wanted to date someone who thought I was the most beautiful woman in the world. The bees knees. The creme de la creme. I remember wondering if anyone would ever see me that way.
He did. And when he said it, I melted.
"You can't leave me tomorrow," I said, squeezing my legs around him tighter. "Who's going to entertain me when all of my girls go out with their boyfriends? Who's going to kiss me goodnight? Who's going to look me in the eye and tell me I'm beautiful even with black smudges under my eyes and a potential booger?"
"Don't think about it," he said, pulling me closer against him. "We have right now. We have tonight. We have tomorrow morning. And then we can worry about that. But for now, you need to lock it up."
I loved that he'd adopted my favorite saying. So I tried to lock it up. Cayden kissed me and I suddenly realized we were making out in my parents' pool. I felt like I was back in high school again, making out with random boys under the diving board where we thought no one could see us.
But I wasn't in high school anymore. I was an adult in a real-life adult relationship. With a man. A man who thought I was the bees knees.
"Did I tell you I almost drowned once?" Cayden asked.
"I think I remember something about that. The lifeguard had to come rescue you, right? And since then you've hated swimming?"
"Yeah," he said laughing. "And I remember this day, back when I'd just joined the military, we were all lined up alongside this pool, and the training officer yelled, 'Does anyone here not know how to swim?' and I had to raise my hand. Then I had to wear this flotation device strapped to my chest so I wouldn't drown. I looked ridiculous."
I started laughing uncontrollably. I couldn't get the visual out of my head. My big, buff boyfriend wearing floaties. Tears streamed down my face.
"Ah, you always make fun of me," Cayden joked, pretending to unlock my legs from his waist to push me away. He couldn't help but laugh, too.
Although it was just a silly story, it meant something special to me. It was the kind of story normal couples would have already told. It was the kind of story that only came up from spending a lot of time together, face to face. I realized there were thousands more stories like that that I'd have to wait to hear until he finally moved here.
"It's OK," I said after I'd composed myself. "I almost drowned once, too. We were floating down the Comal river last summer and there's this chute where the water flows really fast and kind of flings you out the other end. My innertube had a bottom to it, but the bottom was broken on one side so it was hanging down. So when it hit the current a certain way, it acted as a brake."
Cayden was already laughing, guessing where the story was going.
"I kept telling my friends, 'Um, my raft is broken. I'm going to launch out of this thing.' Everyone said, 'Oh, quit complaining and keep drinking!' Because that's what you do when you're floating the river. You drink and float and pee on yourself. I sort of forgot about my faulty tube until I felt the brake activate in the middle of the chute. I remember throwing my beer and launching out of my raft. Next thing I knew I was underwater and the undercurrent was so strong I couldn't get up. I panicked."
Cayden's laughing paused for a moment.
"I tried and tried, but I couldn't pull myself up. Then the current ran me into something. Someone. And I grabbed ahold of those legs and pulled my way up until I came above the water gasping and choking. Lucky for me, they were Shanna's legs. The lifeguards were at the edge, looking out with one hand shading their eyes, trying to find me. Maybe it would have helped if they'd jumped in and checked in the undercurrent, where any other drunken, launched idiot would be hanging out."
"Well, I'm kinda glad you're alive," Cayden said, unsure if he was allowed to laugh or not.
"Oh, you can laugh. It's hilarious. I just wish I could have seen it all."
We spent the next couple hours telling random stories until our shoulders were burnt, our fingers were pruned, and our stomaches were growling.
"Dinner's ready!" Dad said from the back porch.
We joined my family around the kitchen table and stuffed our faces with empanadas, black beans and rice, ropa vieja, fried platanos, rice pudding, and cheesecake flan.
And, yes, Cayden loved the flan as much as I did.