Rhea held tight to Aggie’s hand as they made their way through Christmas shoppers to Joe’s café four doors down. The only vacant table in the tiny café was right by the front door. Rhea sat Aggie down at the table and told her to “Stay right here and don’t move. I’m gonna go order us some lunch.”
Spritely Joe Leybas was cooking in a battered old frying pan on a two burner stove in the back of the unadorned room. He looked up as Rhea approached. A smile creased his eyes.
“Rhea! Hola. Back so soon!”
“We ran out of Jesus night lights.” Rhea explained. “They’re our biggest seller.”
Joe tossed a fat hunk of fresh fish into a pan sizzling with garlic and lard.
“Is that Yellowtail?” she asked, breathing it all in.
He nodded and smiled then splashed some tequila on it from a bottle of good Asombroso.
“Oooh, I’ll have that, please. Dad, too, he’ll be here in a minute.” She turned to Aggie, who was already looking bored. “Aggie, what do you want to eat?”
“Cake please.” Aggie chimed.
“I don’t have cake–” Joe started–
“That’s OK. I’ll get her some cupcakes at Boom Boom.” Rhea told him then asked how, exactly, he was making the Yellowtail.
He loved to talk about food. So did Rhea. As he told her how – first – the fish needed to be so fresh you could smell the Pacific, then you marinate it in tequila – Asombroso if you have it – and lime… Rhea got lost in the story.
Sitting all alone by the door, Aggie was getting antsy. A fat man came in. Aggie felt a flutter of shadow cross her face and turned and looked out the gap where the door hadn’t quite closed.
A blue parakeet flew by. My oh my! Then six or seven or eight followed. Aggie ran out, after them.