Two divorces have taught Mariela Estevez that she’s better suited to being a mistress than a wife. Whose heart needs all that “forever after” trouble? Still, her affair with her married lover, Hector, has become complicated—especially because he’s also a tenant in her apartment building in the heart of Miami’s Calle Ocho in Little Havana. But when Hector is found dead just steps from Mariela’s back door, on the eve of her fortieth birthday, she’s forced to examine her life—and come up with a plan to save it, fast...
Hector’s passing sparks the unexpected return of a gift Mariela rejected years ago and thought she’d never have to face again: clairvoyance. Suddenly, Mariela’s visions come swiftly and unbidden, as do revelations about her other tenants. Lost loves, hidden yearnings, old jealousies—all reside on Calle Ocho. Most of all, Mariela’s second sight awakens her not just to the truth about Hector’s death and the secrets in others’ lives—but to the possibilities blooming within her own.
With warmth, wit, and insight, award-winning author Anjanette Delgado explores one woman’s flawed but heartfelt attempt to live and love well, transporting readers to the center of contemporary Little Havana and a community of uniquely human, unforgettable characters.
Here's an except:
No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver. There is none more blind than he who doesn’t want to see.
In my life, I’ve found that this is most true of women married to unfaithful men. As for the mistress in the equation, the truth is that being the other woman is a decision. A conscious one. Don’t believe any woman who tells you she didn’t know what she was doing when the penis belonging to your husband just happened to land inside her vagina. Walk away if she starts with “I didn’t know,” “We started out as friends,” or “By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late and we were in love.” Because this woman isn’t stupid, innocent, or deluded. She’s lying.
I can assert this with such conviction because I’ve been both: the blind woman married to a man who likes to spread it around and the other woman with no excuse.
Or at least that’s who I was that afternoon, casually checking into the Hotel St. Michel in Coral Gables. Me, walking into the freshly cleaned room with its French hay-yellow walls, blue-and-white chinoiserie-patterned linens, and dark wood furniture. Me lighting tea lights inside the whiskey glasses I’d lugged here in my environmentally conscious, recycled cotton “Feed” tote, before slipping into the sheer, navy blue, boatneck baby-doll I’d picked up at a Ross Dress for Less discount store for a quarter of its Victoria’s Secret price. And none other than moi, waiting for my married lover, Hector Ferro, to walk through the door.
Yep. All me.
A new me. An unmarried me. A me without an owner. Where before I’d wasted life hours straightening my long, wavy black hair because “my husband likes it this way,” I now sported honey-colored, neck-length curls around my too-pale face and wide-set brown eyes. Where I used to wear A-line skirts to hide my protruding backside, I now sported snug-enough jeans all the time (high-waisted, low-waisted, skinny, or destroyed to a literal inch of their useful lives), like a symbolic uniform, to show I belonged with the strong, the sexy, and the free.
As I walked around the cozy little room making myself at home, early afternoon sun shafts of light seemed to slip in through the shutters, igniting the yellow walls and making it seem as if the whole room were aglow. In that light, it was easy to imagine I was in Paris instead of Miami, to accept the role of mistress, to allow myself its perks. I was glowing too, more so at thirty-nine than I ever had at twenty-nine, and looked as radiant as if I'd just had a facial, thanks to the green vegetable shakes my neighbor Iris swore by and had taught me to make. That, and a recipe for Dr. Etti’s fruity rooibos tea drink, had helped me eliminate almost thirty pounds from my five-foot-five inch frame in mere months. (Place pineapple and apple peels and a handful of goji berries in a pot of hot water. Allow to boil. Add a few tea bags of African red bush, also called rooibos, set aside to cool, and then refrigerate. Drink with a squirt of raw blue agave nectar for a delicious diuretic.)
Of course, there was more to my glow than tea. I was now, for the first time in my life, enjoying being the object of a man’s reckless desire and nothing more. I’d played the role of the betrayed wife twice before. Wasn’t I entitled to be on the other side of the broken vows for a change?
A single rap on the hotel room door told me he was here, and I rushed to open it, loving that he jumped all these hoops for no other reason than to make love to me, while resting in the complacent knowledge that the unfaithful ways of the man now slowly and knowingly taking me in with his eyes, were someone else’s problem.
Hector was in his late forties and attractive in a sophisticated, sexy, citizen-of-the-world kind of way: strong jaw, dark blue eyes that crinkled at the slightest smile, ash-brown hair parted on the side like a newscaster’s, and the lean, lanky build of those who can eat what they want without putting on weight.
He’d been a college professor in Argentina and still dressed like one: tan slacks, slightly rumpled cotton shirts always open to reveal crisp, white undershirts, and the same careless khaki trench coat that he must have worn around his Buenos Aires campus, because even in Miami, he never took it off, rain or shine. I could imagine him walking to classes, absorbed in his thoughts, never imagining his country’s economy would get so bad he’d have to emigrate to the United States with his wife, a nutritionist of some sort, and use what savings he’d protected to buy a small bookstore in Miami’s far from gentrified Little Havana.
He was one of those men whose thinning hair did nothing to diminish the power of his charm and undeniable masculinity. I could almost see how his unruly brows coupled with the smile I’d come to know so well, always somewhere between properly friendly and slightly mischievous, might have been hard to resist for even the most emotionally stable of his students.
He was smiling that smile now, as his eyes took in my feet and then my hips, lingering for a moment on my breasts. Next: the outlining of my mouth, and finally a full stop right into my eyes, before grinning with feigned modesty, as if the evil of his thoughts were too much even for him.
“Hey,” I said.
“Ey,” he returned my greeting, forgetting the h, stepping into the room, and kicking the door shut with his foot before wrapping his arms around me and walking forward, all the while holding me tight, so that I was forced to walk backward in a jumbled tango two-step past the suite’s little salon and into the bedroom area where I heard him toss what I knew would be a book onto the bed behind me.
“I brought you somesing,” he said into my ear, the thick Argentinean accent that seemed to underline every sound before it came out of his mouth seeming, to me, even more sexy than usual that day.
I scurried away to see what message might be hidden in the book he’d chosen to bring me this time. It was the pocket version of Chiquita, a novel about a real-life Cuban burlesque dancer who drove men crazy in the late 1800s despite being little more than two feet tall. I smiled. Hector had placed a piece of cigarette box foil on page 405, marking the beginning of a paragraph that I proceeded to read out loud while fighting his efforts to liberate my body from the baby-doll.
“A scandal like that was in no one’s best interest so, with all the pain of their souls, the lovers had to separate,” I read, then closed the book, confused.
“What’s wrong, flaca?” he asked, using his favorite endearment for me, which means “slim” and is common in Argentina.
“Trying to tell me something, mister?”
“What? No! Of course not. The marker, eh, how you say? It must’ve slipped. You can see how sophisticated it is.” He smiled, taking off the trench and slipping off his shoes. “Nah, I just love the author. And, you know, he’s local, comes into the store a lot, so, if you like it, I can introduce you to him one of these days.”
“Why? Were you scared I was telling you somesing?”
“Pu-leeze,” I said, pursing my lips to the side like a good Cuban.
“You do look a little scared,” he said, coming closer with pretend concern.
“Nope. I don’t do scared, and, frankly, my dear, you think too damn much of yourself,” I finished, making my voice deep and husky, my best imitation of Rhett Butler.
He gave me the puzzled look he saved for trying to figure out what movie I was quoting or referring to.
“Gone with the Wind? ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’?” I said.
“Aaaaah, my God, why don’t you quote books? Books make good quotes.”
“It is a book. A book with over a thousand pages I’ll never read when there’s a perfectly good movie to tell me the story.”
“But if you read the book, you’d know the quote is ‘My dear, I don’t give a damn.’ None of this ‘frankly’ business. Simple. As it should be. That’s why you should quote, and read, books.”
“Yes, Professor Ferro,” I mocked him, making a mental note to buy the book and read at least the first few chapters, see what I’d been missing.
That was one of the great things about my affair with Hector. Though I never went to college, I wanted to learn and had long before decided to make up for the formal education I’d denied myself by reading everything I could get my hands on. I’d spent countless hours learning all kinds of things: art history, math, philosophy, politics, biology, and enjoying nothing as much as I enjoyed fiction. Literary or trashy, it didn’t matter. I craved stories and felt frustrated when my limited education prevented me from fully understanding the old English expressions in a great love story like Wuthering Heights. (I’m sure I’m still missing a lot of it, though I’ve read it twice.) But now, with Hector, it was like having a private tutor who could unlock any book’s secrets. He called it providing context. I called it finally connecting the dots I’d been accumulating for years and loved the thrill of “getting it” when he explained something I’d missed.
“Oooh, forget what I’m saying. A beautiful woman in my hotel room and me a terrrrible, terrrrrible bore,” he was saying now. “Why should I tell you what to quote? We’re different people with different lives. If you want to watch the movie, you watch the movie, and I’ll read the book. Perfect, eh? We’ll complement each other.”
“Exactly,” I said, unsure I liked this interpretation of us.
“Too bad I’ll never know what you’re quoting,” he said, kissing me, his hands searching my willing hips, the keys to my common sense relinquished so many months ago.
“We’re not that different,” I said, eyes closed, trying to fix what was bothering me. “You’re the one who says we have the story chemistry, and—”
“Wait! What is this?” he asked suddenly, focusing the tips of his fingers on a particular spot along my outer thigh.
“This,” he said seriously, lowering himself until he was sitting on his haunches, pretending to examine my thigh with his hands, dragging the tip of his index finger softly over my upper leg, as if outlining something.
“This, eh, like a circle, right here.”
“Oh. That. It’s a birthmark,” I said. Then trying to give the smooth, round, cinnamon-
colored stain a positive spin, I added, “My mother had it too,” as if that settled that and made it a family heirloom.
“A birthmark. Interesting,” he said, closing his eyes and kissing the fleshy top part of my leg where he’d been “tracing.”
Then, “Hey! Where did it go?”
I shrugged my shoulders innocently, holding my arms straight and close to my body in order to help the baby-doll fall to the floor, then putting my hands on my hips and looking directly into his eyes.
“A vast improvement,” he said, eyes slowly traveling up my body, reaching and
meeting my gaze.
“I thought I’d show you I have nothing to hide,” I said.
“Clever,” he responded, imitating my pure business tone. “Maybe now we’ll be able to find it.”
“Maybe,” I said, thinking men can be endearing when they’re being ridiculous and preferring this Hector to the one who lived to argue and to lecture, but could never admit to being wrong.
“Unless you’re hiding it,” he said, kissing a line across my pelvis. “You do understand, I must be thorough in my search?” he continued, effortlessly coming up to my belly button, kissing it, then my right rib cage. Then, “Wait! I think it may have hidden under here,” he said, slipping his palm under the slight curving of my breast as if to cup it. “Um-huh. Yes. Right here.”
“I…I don’t think so,” I managed.
“Yes, the, eh, wadduyucallit? The birthmark. It is hiding, like a spy. Unfortunately, she leaves us no choice but to coax her out. It can get very warm under there. Very dangerous for her. May I?”
I wanted to laugh, but humor had always been my downfall, and I was too excited, despite myself.
“All right. If you must, then do what you will, but my birthmark and I have principles
and will not reveal a word no matter what you do,” I said, giving up.
“Ah. A defiant one, are you?”
“Yes, sir. Yes, I am.”
“Very well. Then I have no choice but to teach you both a little compliance,” he said.
“Um-huh,” he mumbled, his tongue already doing a deft recognizance of the sensitive hollows within my mouth, his hands moving down my back like a pair of hikers carefully descending a dangerous peak.
“Hector,” I began when his palms reached my buttocks, steadying them only to press himself against me, his scent seeping into me like the ink of a henna tattoo, his mouth kissing my words away, stopping to peer at me only once it was clear I had nothing intelligible to say.
“You do understand I must examine the area if we’re going to find this, eh, cunning birthmark,” he said then, smiling knowingly, teasingly.
“Well. Like I said. If you must,” I responded, trying to take off his shirt despite my shaky hands and buckling knees.
But he leaned in, steadying me at the waist with one hand and interrupting my progress by bringing my left breast to his mouth with the other, kissing and rubbing his lips softly against it, as if outlining the pink-brown edge of my nipple with his breath, until we both fell back onto the bed, I, as convinced into “compliance” by the clever approach of his seductive imagination as by the skill of his hands and the warmth of his breath.
When a loud sigh escaped me, he whispered, “Shhhhhhh. Please! I’m supposed to be stealthy, surprising my enemy. You will scare her away!”
Which made me burst out laughing.
“I resent that,” he said then. “Especially in the middle of a tactic mission.”
“You mean tactile mission?” I asked, aware of his breath slowly traveling toward the foot of the bed, south of my heart, along the length of my body.
“Yes, very good. I always, eh, wondered how…you say…that word…correctly.”
“Shhhhhhh, flaca, quiet,” he whispered. “I believe I have found her.”
<OT>I wish I could say it was being the other woman that got me into all the trouble that followed. But it wasn’t. What really got me into trouble was being a lousy clairvoyant.
It started with the bad marriages. They were my first overt signs of blindness.
This is what happened: at twenty-four, and then at thirty-five, I married two apparently different men who turned out to be exactly the same. Both cheated on me, and both must have studied from the same user’s manual (as in manual for using others), because when I divorced them, both fought me for alimony and half of all I owned despite the fact that they were the ones who left me for other women. Why didn’t I know they were cheaters? Wouldn’t even a bad clairvoyant have had a clue at some point?
Well, that depends. It’s true that understanding men has nothing to do with predicting the future and everything to do with being able to see clearly what is already right in front of you. In other words, if you listen to what he’s actually saying, you’ll never have to wonder what he’s “really trying to tell” you. You’ll know what’s going to happen between you because very often what’s going to happen is the direct result of what is happening now. (Best clairvoyance lesson I ever learned.)
But here’s the thing: Psychics use feelings to see. What this means is that when our emotions are involved, our sight goes to hell. And how can your emotions not be involved when what is happening, is happening to you? Which explains how we can see your future, while being blinder than a severely myopic bat about our own screwed-up lives.
But I didn’t know any of this back then. In fact, not knowing this little tidbit was exactly what had made me renounce clairvoyance after my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer during my senior year of high school. I thought, What kind of a clairvoyant am I? How could I not have known? To the eighteen-year-old me, I’d as good as killed my mother, or at least failed to save her, and was no better than an incompetent security guard asleep on the job and drooling on that guest sign-in pad. If my psychic power had seen it sooner, she might have lived. But it didn’t, and in my great guilt, and shame, I decided right then and there to kill my so-called gift by ignoring it forever.
And do you know what happens to a woman who goes through life refusing to see beyond the tip of her nose? She loses her “trouble radar” when it comes to men, that’s what. How else could I have been so dense as to marry the wrong man twice, and then decide that the only way to protect myself from loss was to become the other woman. To stick to married men. Wonderful, short-term men with no long-term expectations swirling about them. Men incapable of causing me further loss of free and clear Miami real estate or of my own estate of real being. Men I’d have to be crazy to grow attached to.
Or so I thought.
Because it was just this fearful, over-self-protective thinking that resulted in the very thing I was trying to avoid: I fell in love with one of them.
His name was Jorge, and he was, oh, so wrong. A free spirit, childlike, light, and impulsive, despite being in his mid-thirties then and only three years younger than I. He missed the family he’d left behind in Cuba and worked as a chef, while saving to bring the wife he’d married during a visit to his homeland. He was fun and kind and foolish, and very, very sexy. And he knew food. It was his religion and his native language, and he knew how to use it to fill you up until you cried with relief, or until what ailed you became loose, or until you loved him and became crazy with fear, with knowing that he could just as easily use this language of his to conquer your heart, as to demolish it.
So what did I do? I ran. Straight into the arms of the first “less dangerous” married man I found, which happened to be my married tenant of several years, Hector.
Yep, it must have been the fear of heartbreak that made me stupid, convincing me that I could get away with using Hector to protect myself from my own heart, that I could have an affair with him, right under the nose of his wife, Olivia. It was also this thinking that made me unable to see the terrible thing that would happen after he broke up with me, when it was too late for anything, really.
That’s when I had one of my dreams, the first in years. It was a strange dream and in it, all I knew was that something very bad was about to happen and that I was somehow responsible. It was just a dream, so I ignored it. I mean, when was the last time my instincts had pointed me in the right direction?
Unfortunately for me, for the first time in years, this time they turned out to be absolutely right.