Add alcohol and stir!
It was still fairly difficult for Elena to understand every sentence the first time she heard it. What she had learned to do was react first and allow herself the time to piece the words together in her head. Failing that, she would just guess. With Thomas, it was easy enough - even if she didn’t immediately know what he said, she knew from his tender smile and tone of voice that it was something kind. She loved the way he blushed, not only because it added context to his words but also because he looked so charming that she couldn’t help but blush in response.
“I’m doing alright, too,” she said, repeating him through a bright smile. She picked up enough words: ‘busy’ ‘work’ ‘family and ‘pub’ to comprehend what he was apologising for. With a nod of acknowledgement, she replied, “I understand. You are busy with work for Adam, and me too, for Mr. Sullivan…But don’t be too busy, Tomás, okay? I like when you are in the pub with me. And then you see that I become better there - no more dropping glasses!”
Elena wished that she only had positive answers to his question. Being only their second meeting, the two were still barely acquaintances. She did feel drawn to him and found his presence comforting, as though she could open up to him, but when she first set out on her journey she had had to adopt a deeper sense of responsibility for herself, and that made her reluctant to share any problems with people she didn’t know well.
“You have more opportunity for seeing me at the pub, if you want,” she told him. “I try to take more shifts because...vivo sola. It is expensive...and I want to stay in Ireland.” Elena let her gaze drift away then, instead taking a moment to observe the gym members working the equipment and circulating the room. When her eyes met Thomas’ again they carried a slight sense of unease. Ever since she had snuck out of her mother’s apartment in Havana without telling her family where she was going, Elena knew that any problem she ran into on her journey would be hers to fix. Every time she got lost, every time she was held back by a language barrier, every time she ran low on money or came face to face with an aggressive stranger or couldn’t find somewhere safe to sleep, she knew she couldn’t rely on anyone to help her out.
Now, after staying in the same run-down hotel for several weeks, she was being threatened with eviction on the grounds that the hotel was not a permanent residence. If she wanted to stay longer, they told her they would have to start charging her double, which she knew she couldn’t afford. So, rather than ask anyone for help, she had just asked for more shifts whilst trying not to sound too desperate. It wouldn’t be the first time she had slept rough, but given that she was an illegal immigrant, she didn’t want to draw any attention to herself by joining the homeless on the streets. Plus, she wasn’t sure Conor would want to keep her on if she turned up to work without having washed for days. Nor would she have the guts to face her father, nor Thomas for that matter. There were too many people she wanted to impress, and if her journey ended up being for nothing then she wasn’t sure where she would go. So, she had to make it work. She had no choice. Put her brave face on, drown out her doubts with optimism - those were two things she was good at. Elena smiled brightly at Thomas. When she looked into his eyes, she found hope, and, after many brushes with unkind strangers on her solo journey, that was something she wanted to hold onto if she could.
Before she could think of how to change the subject, her attention was stolen by Adam making his way over to them. “Hola!” she chirped, her smile broadening in his presence. She hung onto every word he spoke, simply relishing the fact that he was speaking them to her. Catching the words ‘employee benefit’, her smile faded a fraction. She was glad to give the impression that she had enough money to join the gym even with the price reduced, but the last thing she wanted was to correct him with the truth, so she just placed a hand on her heart and thanked him for the kind gesture. She watched him address Thomas, apparently to let him know that he was now free to do something fun with his evening. As the man turned to leave, he nodded her way, which she reciprocated with a small wave. “Adios, Adam!”
When she turned back to face Thomas, her cheeks were glowing, and aching slightly from smiling so much. “You are at work? Not just at gym?” she asked with a slight tilt of the head. “Bueno...you are free for the gym now. Or maybe...” Shrugging a shoulder suggestively, she looked up at Thomas with a spark in her eyes. “You can be free for me?”
Misty Gray Adam