Luke stood at the door and watched the two cars—theirs and Benedict’s Chevy Tahoe—pull away down the Carter’s drive. After they’d gone, he followed Elliott back inside the house where they offered to make themselves useful in the kitchen.
“Thank you, but you’ve done enough!” Rose said, shooing both them and Estela away. Luke and Elliott didn’t take much convincing—almost every plate had gone straight into the dishwasher after use anyway, so there wasn’t really that much to do. They scarpered!
"So it's back on, then—Sam and Becks?" Luke asked, making light conversation as he followed Elliott up to his room,
Elliott pulled a face as he turned on the top step. "Those two? I’m afraid so..." He disappeared around a corner, and when Luke reached the top of the stairs, he spotted Elliott passing into open door down the landing on the left. Luke paused a moment, looking around and getting a sense of the layout of the upstairs. It didn’t take long for Elliott’s head to pop around the door post, looking for him.
"This is my place. Come on in." With that, Elliott disappeared again.
Padding down the soft carpet, Luke paused and peered through the entrance to Elliott’s room. He smiled to himself at what greeted him—there was nothing about the place that was remotely along the lines of, 'Piss off, this is my space. No entry!'.
Elliott's bedroom was much lighter than the warm, sun-drenched sandstone tones of the dining room. In contrast, Luke stepped into the pale cool of the Andean mountains of South America. At the windows, long drapes cascaded with blue-white shades of ice glaciers, and in a surprisingly clever contrast, Elliott's bedspread seemed alive with the exotic spices of a Peruvian jungle! It was like walking into a geography lesson! Along with the color, Luke's nose picked up the same scent that had struck him in a hospital elevator, some weeks previously.
At first look, it was a room he would describe as ‘tastefully messy’, and it seemed like Elliott had a dozen things on-the-go at once—all in a space that Luke decided was well-used rather than chaotic. Books filled the shelves, and papers—presumably school work—were spread across a heavy-looking, oak desk. The memorabilia of countless countries were everywhere. Immediately absent to Luke's questing gaze was any TV screen or games console, though a good quality laptop, pushed to one side, rested on the desk. What did take him by surprise was the nylon-stringed guitar that was propped on a stand, not far from a comfortable-looking, overstuffed chair. Several pieces of sheet music lay strewn across the floor nearby.
"You play the guitar?"
Elliott shrugged. "No, not really. I'm totally crap at it. Do you?"
Luke shook his head as Elliott turned to cross to a walk-in closet. He'd never learned any musical instruments—not even chopsticks on the piano!
Across from the closet, another door opened into a bathroom which, though not shared, didn’t look that different to Luke’s own—just a bit bigger. “I really like your room,” he murmured, now he'd got the feeling for it.
"Thanks." The voice came out of the closet.
You could tell a lot about somebody from their bedroom, Luke mused; Simon's, Ryan's—even Todd's that changed color every time one of his mum's moods took her! Luke’s own room was probably filled with clues to who he was, too.
Here, it was the same. Everywhere he looked, there was something that probably had a story to it. He crossed to the bookshelf, unsurprised to find many of the books that were there were in Spanish or some other language he could hardly guess at. He lifted up something that was sitting on top of a disorderly stack that looked familiar.
“Der Herr der Ringe.” He pronounced it clumsily, and grinned. “I wonder what that is!”
Elliott emerged from the closet and chuckled. “I tell you—German speaking orcs are freaking nightmares!”
“These should do you.” A pair of knee-length board shorts were in Elliott’s hand. Lime green overlaid with orange markings, he tossed them to Luke, who caught them easily.
Elliott headed for the landing again. “Come on, I’ll show you a place downstairs where you can change, and then we can relax!” Caught up by his friend’s momentum, Luke trotted down the stairs after him.
Outside, Natty was already waiting, and was perched on the edge of the pool. She called, “Hurry up, Ellie—you’re taking too long!”
“Be there in a minute, Nat!” Elliott replied. His sister slipped into the water and kicked away from the side. It looked like she swam like a fish. Elliott pointed to the door of a small extension jutting from the side of the house. “Guests usually use the sauna to get changed in. It’s not on, and there’s some towels in there, too. I’ll see you in the pool.”
They had a sauna? Bemused, Luke took the shorts and went inside, and quickly revised his opinion. Extension was optimistic. Posh shed was a better description!
It was a simple sauna and he’d used them before in hotels. There was no window, but enough light shone through the part-open door to see that the walls were overlaid with wood, and several benches were stretched around the sides. At one end in the gloom, there was a basket carrying what looked like coals, though they would be cold to the touch just then.
There were light panels set into the walls, but Luke couldn’t see any light switch. He left the door open a few inches and changed. He considered how he'd been given his own private space to change. If he'd been at Ryan’s, he’d have stripped off in the bedroom without a moment’s hesitation. But he wasn’t. He was a guest at the Carters. In many ways, he was quite relieved—it was a whole lot easier this way than ending up feeling awkward in Elliott's room. Pulling on the swim shorts he appreciated the cool design, though they were a bit tight. Frowning, he tried to peer behind himself to check his backside.
Shit, was his butt that big?
Once he was ready, he picked up a towel from the pile and went outside. Elliott wasn’t there yet, so he took a seat at one of the patio tables to wait. Natty was playing with a ball in the pool, watching him warily out of the corner of her eye.
Suddenly, Elliott came flying out of the door of the house and charged across the patio bellowing, ”NATTY!” He dive-bombed into the pool, throwing up a tidal wave of water and spray that covered his sister. She splashed at him, squealing and squeaking, but from what Luke could see was just as up for it as her brother! Then she surged through the water, near enough to where Elliott could scoop her up on one leg to be flung across the pool.
From a distance, Elliott’s swim trunks were not that different from the jammers Luke had bought for himself that summer. Elliott’s were white, and perhaps they were a bit shorter in the leg. The blue markings down one side almost made them a reflection to the colors of Luke’s own pair.
White? Elliott seemed the only person Luke knew who looked surprisingly good sporting anything white around his backside. At least not without coming over like some Kmart-styled, middle-school look-alike!
Amid the giggles and squeals between brother and sister, Luke felt awkwardly out of place, but soon Elliott turned his way, waved and shouted, "What are you waiting for? Come on in!"
Luke grinned and walked over to the edge of the pool. He was still wondering whether to take a dive and risk looking like an awkward turtle, when he felt a firm shove in the small of his back. With a squawk, he flailed at thin air, flying headlong into the water! He came up spluttering and blowing the water out of his nose as Estela settled onto the side of the pool, an angelic smirk on here face. Swearing wasn't an option, so Luke grinned instead.
Elliott slid up to him. "I think I forgot to tell you—she's got a wicked streak!" He suddenly launched in her direction and caught her off guard. Luke surged after him, and between the two of them, they helped her into the water, too. One thing Luke was sure of—in that skimpy black bikini, she’d have most guys at his school drooling!
It wasn’t long before, fresh back from his date with Becky, Sam came rushing out of the back of the house to join them. Hopping over the patio trying to get his sneakers off in his hurry to get to the water, he divested himself of a tee and his shorts. All that was left was a pair of unsubtly-energetic Nintendo Mario Kart boxer shorts as he dived straight in.
“You're disgusting!" Natty glared at her brother as he came up wet and grinning. "Couldn’t you just go and change?”
Sam pulled a face. "Who cares? It saves Mom having to wash stuff, doesn’t it?” He was unrepentant and full of glee at being in the water with them. With a cheeky grin, he called across, "Hi Luke!"
Luke waved back. Sam had a point, he felt, though it was only someone like him who could get away with it! Bemused, Luke looked on as Sam took it upon himself to get some action going. Luke already knew that Sam was quite a character, and there was no doubt about it, he could probably be the life and soul of any party. He might also be the first one to get into serious trouble, but he was the kind of kid through which the fun and games would get notched up several gears under his goading. It wasn’t long before Luke had Sam on his shoulders, and with Natty perched on Elliott, a raucous piggyback fight ensued. Estela was happy to sit it out!
The next couple of hours were a total blast, and Luke thoroughly enjoyed himself. It was different to what he was normally did in a pool, but in a nice way. Messing around in a pool with girls wasn't the norm for him at Ryan's—or most other places he swam, for that matter!
He quickly discovered that Estela was as tactile in the water as she was everywhere else. Maybe it was her southern European culture, but she didn't treat him any different from the way she treated Elliott or Sam. Perhaps it was all the time Elliott had spent living in other cultures, but in the water he was just as expressive.
Whatever it was, it was catching, and Luke succumbed. In the setting, and with the other four, the comfortable disrespect for personal space didn’t seem out of place. Soon drawn out of himself, he quickly became at ease with the increase in intimate body contact as they slipped around each other in the water.
Eventually, it started to cloud over, and the warmth went out of the day. Needing a break, Luke hauled himself out of the water and sat on the edge. A few feet away, Sam and Natty fought over an air mattress. At the other end, far enough that Luke couldn’t make much of their Spanish even if he could have understood it, Elliott and Estela were deep in conversation. Several times, Estela looked across and grinned in Luke’s direction. Whatever it was about, it finally got her a sharp word from Elliott followed by a face-full of water.
Sam appeared to give up on the air mattress and swam across. He became breezy as he pulled himself out next to Luke. “So, how’s Simon?” he asked. “Becks wanted to know. Dad said you were here and she said I had to ask you.”
“Simon?” Luke became cautious. No doubt Becks would quiz Sam at length when he next saw her.
“He’s gone sailing today. He’s doing good.” Even if he wasn’t, there was no way he was saying anything about Si that would get back to Becky Kear—even at the best of times!
As high-spirited as ever, Sam replied, “Sailing? Cool! Can I go?”
“Not sure, Sam. You’ll need to ask him.” Luke kept his tone neutral, suspecting that having Sam in a boat was a recipe for complete disaster! He changed the subject quickly. “How about you? Recovered now?”
It was the first thing he could think of, but was regretting bringing up the issue of Sam’s hospitalization almost immediately, when Sam grinned and said, “Sure...do you wanna see it?” Quick on the draw, Sam grabbed at his flamboyant Super Mario boxer shorts.
Not far away, Estela let go a long flurry of Spanish that sprung out and flicked at Elliott’s younger brother. At first, Sam grimaced, and then he grinned. Slipping down into the water, he surged away towards Natty as Elliott hauled himself out to take his place.
To Luke's look of bemusement, Elliott said, “If you want a translation, it’s a bit complicated. But simplified, she said, ‘if you get that diminutive wanger out one more time, Sam Carter, I’m going to cut it off, stuff it down the drain, and then drown you myself, right in this pool!’”
“Ouch!” Luke burst out laughing.
“She’d do it, too! I told you she was a bit feisty!” Elliott chuckled as he looked her direction. “Couldn’t do without her, though.”
Leaving Luke wondering what that meant, Elliott paused and shivered, then said, “It’s getting cool—I think I’m going to get out.”
“Me, too," Luke said. Toweling himself dry as Elliott disappeared into the house for something, Luke settled comfortably onto one of the loungers. He wasn't at all surprised when Natty got out, too, and came and settled herself next to him. He had no idea what he'd done, but Elliott's little sister had apparently taken a shine to him.
Elliott reappeared from inside the house wearing a warm sweatshirt. In his hand, he carried another for Luke. Pulling up a chair, Elliott hollered in the direction of the house. "DAD?"
A face appeared. "What?"
"Can I get the fire basket going?"
Benedict stuck his head further out of the door, and said, "That's a good idea. Maybe we could put some sausage on a bit later, too—if anyone’s hungry. What about you, Luke? Ready to eat again soon?"
Luke grinned. The truth was, even after a great lunch, he was ravenous. "I'm always ready to eat, Mr. Carter!"
The fire basket wasn't small, and between them he and Elliott hefted the heavy metal frame from its secluded corner and put it in a place where Luke could see previous scorch marks on the aged and worn sandstone slabs. It felt like the damage belonged there, and was like Elliott's room—not being off-the-shelf perfect made it more down to earth and homely rather than appearing like a show house. Perhaps being like that was a choice, he decided, and he wished his own mum could learn a thing or two about not having to have stuff absolutely perfect!
Time slowed down again around the Carters, though without everyone drifting into their own worlds of the paper, the TV, books and laptops. As the fire took hold, it pushed back the chill, and the early autumn evening soon filled with the tangy aroma of sausages and a whole range of other meat and vegetable delicacies that began to cook on a griddle that swung over the coals. It felt quite magical, and Luke knew that if they did this every weekend, he’d be there like a shot!
Then they began to tell stories. Some funny, and some intriguing. Some were recent, and some were from times and countries of a distant past. Even he joined in, and found himself talking about how he and his family had come to live in the States; the tough days when they’d first arrived from the UK, when he'd had no friends and had no idea where or what anything was. They all—at least the older ones—got it when he talked about feeling like a foreigner, even though he and his new classmates shared a common language.
“You make it sound so easy,” Natty said, when he’d finished. Resting her chin on her hands, she looked glum. “Why can’t I make any friends?”
In a few short hours, the little girl had begun to treat him like some wise, older brother, and hung onto his every word! Natty, he discovered, had just started second grade at Creek elementary, and after years of homeschooling, was finding it difficult to fit in. She’d dragged her chair next to him as he reminisced around the burning logs
"Just stick at it, Natty," he said. "Don't even fret about it. I remember the first time I got invited to someone's house. It was about a month after we arrived, and mum got completely lost!" He gave a wry chuckle. Even now the memory of it wasn't that good.
"We drove around for an hour, up and down every road we could see before we eventually gave up and came home. I thought my life was over!" Actually, he'd sulked for days and been a right asshole, but maybe it was better not to dwell on that part.
"Right now," he continued, "it might feel like everyone seems to know everyone else while you don't know anyone. But it’ll soon change. Trust me. And sometimes, having one or two really good friends is better than knowing everybody, anyway. I bet if I asked you next week, you'll have found at least one friend!"
"Do you think so?" Her eyes sparkled, and she seemed genuinely hopeful.
"I'm sure of it!"
By the looks of the little girl, she was going to start turning heads soon, anyway. He winked, "And I bet most of the boys are just way too shy around you just now!" A small smile crept across her face and he suspected he'd hit close to the mark.
“Oh, heaven help us!” Her dad saw it too, and grimaced. “Not boys as well as a houseful for girly sleepovers? Should I stick my head in the oven now, or wait a few weeks?”
Sam rattled something off in Spanish as everyone laughed and it got him a hard look from his mother, though Luke had no idea what it was about.
He really needed to learn the language!
The cloud cover had been thickening, and the evening around the fire came to an abrupt end when it started to spit with rain. It wasn't cold, but they got indoors fast as the shower became a downpour, with heavy drops bouncing off the slabs and boiling the surface of the pool.
Leaving their sweatshirts indoors to avoid them getting soaked, he and Elliott skidded in and out of the rain bringing in various empty plates and the remains of the supper. The fire hissed and quickly died.
During a lull in the weather, Luke went to the sauna room to change, but inside it was dark and he still couldn’t locate a light switch.
“The lights are bust in there, I’m afraid.” Elliott’s voice was at Luke’s shoulder making him jump. “Why don’t you just bring your stuff up to my room, and have a shower, too, if you want. You probably smell of smoke from the fire. There are plenty of towels up there. I’ll just help finish clearing up and come up in a bit.”
“Sure...if that's okay with you. Thanks.” Luke located his stuff. Glad not to have to keep fumbling around in the dark, he rubbed himself as dry as he could. Then, making sure his feet were clean, he trotted upstairs and retraced his steps to Elliott’s room.
Closing the door behind himself, he flicked the light switch and crossed the room to put his clothes down on the bed before slipping out of the borrowed swim trunks. He was reaching for his boxers when he sniffed himself. He pulled a face. Even with the rain, the smell chlorine was quiet strong, competing with the bite of the wood smoke in the sweatshirt Elliott had loaned him. Despite the offer, he’d not planned on taking a shower, but was rapidly changing his mind. And anyway, he decided, if he took a quick rinse now, it would sure save time later at home.
It would only take a minute.
Dropping his underwear back on the bed, he passed though into the bathroom, shut the door, and turned on the shower. There was a dirty clothes basket in the corner, so he dropped in the sweatshirt and then the swim shorts before stepping under the water.
It was a bathtub shower just like their own, though Elliott seemed to have a hell of a lot more bottles of different scents of body wash, shampoo and conditioner than Luke did! He chose something he’d never used before, just to experiment, and quickly washed down. Then he did his hair with something different, too.
Toweling dry in front of the mirror, he spotted the three bottles of cologne sitting on the counter top. Three? He only had one, and that had been a Christmas present and had probably come from the 'extremely affordable' shelf!
Intrigued to discover what was behind that scent that he'd picked up on Elliott and really liked, he sniffed at the biggest bottle—a heavy, square glass container. It was hard to tell, so he squirted some onto the back of his hand and held it to his nose.
No, it wasn't that. Though that was okay, too.
He tried the next one on his other hand, and hit pay dirt. He made a mental note of the brand for his Christmas letter to Santa. In for a penny in for a pound, he tried the third as well. And that wasn’t half-bad, either.
Quickly he washed his hands with soap—the last thing he needed was to come out smelling like a boutique! As an afterthought, he took the second bottle and sprayed a small amount on his chest and rubbed it in. Elliott wouldn't mind. It was like the shampoo...how could you find out what you liked without trying it?
He studied himself in the mirror as the scent rose up to linger in his nose, and turned to study his profile. Those swim shorts must have been old—there was no way his ass was big! In the mirror, he glanced at his neatly cut wanger as it hung comfortably soft.
That was a mistake.
He found himself thinking about all the wrong things as the teasing scent of Elliott Carter played with him. Within a few moments that were as short as the cropped hair over his manhood, Luke began to become aroused. He grimaced as he started to get tight.
Crap—great timing, you stupid asshole!
Ineffectually, he pushed at what had arisen, then wrapped the thick sea-green towel tightly around himself to hide it away. He'd used more than the planned couple of minutes in the bathroom, because by the time he got back to the bedroom with the towel around his waist, Elliott was already there.
“Better?” Elliott looked up from where he'd been browsing on his laptop, a towel draped across his shoulders.
Luke grinned. “Yep—thanks. I put your shorts and sweatshirt in the wash basket. Hope that was okay?" Coming closer, he peered at the screen that appeared to be full of flight times. "Going somewhere?"
Elliott chuckled and shook his head. "I wish. No, just checking for Es' flight tomorrow. Dad thinks he can get her an upgrade to business. At least she'd get some sleep—it's an overnight to Madrid."
"An upgrade?" Luke's interest was piqued. He'd never flown business class, but he'd travelled enough to know that upgrades rarely happened unless you were some high-flyer who spent most of their lives crisscrossing the skies picking up air-miles. "Can he do that?"
Elliott tapped his nose. "It comes down to who you know. Dad's with DHL—he happens to know a lot of the right people!"
Under the towel, Luke could feel his unfortunately-timed excitement was thankfully subsiding. On the bed, his EUROBOY boxers were where he’d dropped them on top of the pile of clothing, and he blinked at them, wishing now he’d taken it all with him into the bathroom. He was probably being stupid, but there was still something about Elliott that made him nervous. Not uncomfortable, but definitely on edge. The whole day had been fun, especially the evening, but whether Elliott knew it or not, the guy had been pressing lots of Luke's buttons.
Elliott, however, seemed quite at ease, and Luke was relieved that his friend didn’t appear to want to hang around to see him get dressed. Instead, Elliott headed into his bathroom. “I’ll just be a minute,” he called over his shoulder as he closed the door.
Luke dressed quickly, berating himself for being an asshole, and then stood at the window for a few moments watching the still-hammering rain as it competed with the sound of the shower. Then, out of interest, he picked up the German copy the Hobbit that he found in the same pile as The Lord of the Rings, wondering how long it took to learn a language. He settled into the warm, comfortable, overstuffed chair to take a look.
Der Kleine Hobbit.
So, ‘Der’ was probably ‘The’
Kleine? He took a stab at ‘little’. Why the hell would the German’s need to add a word? Why not just Der Hobbit? They didn’t do German at the Academy, and Rose was right, the language department was a bit crap.
He knew the first line of the Hobbit and had a copy on his shelf at home. In fact, when Luke saw it on his brother's bedside nightstand, he’d been surprised that Simon had gone to the trouble to check the copy out of the school library rather than asking to borrow Luke’s.
‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ That's how it began. He compared it with the German, ‘In einem Loch im Boden, da lebte ein Hobbit.’
Well that wasn’t too bad. He knew ‘ein’ was ‘a’, so that probably made ‘einem Loch im Boden’, ‘a hole in the ground’. He grinned to himself. Hell—at this rate, he’d be fluent in a couple of hours!
The door to the bathroom opened, and wearing only a towel around his waist, Elliott emerged. He spotted the Tolkien paperback in Luke’s hand as he slipped the towel off and began to dry himself down. “Did you know that reading books that you already know in English, is quite a good way of learning a language.”
“In einem Loch im Boden, da lebte ein Hobbit” Luke smirked, though his pronunciation had to be total crap!
“Not bad.” Elliott draped the towel over his shoulder a moment, took the book, and rattled off the next couple of sentences. The accent was a whole lot better, but Luke wasn’t really concentrating on that as he couldn’t help but get drawn-in by the partially-toweled but otherwise buck-naked form in front of him. Close up and at eye level with Elliott's midriff, it also wasn’t hard to miss that, since their last encounter in the school showers earlier that week, it appeared Elliott had made a serous trim back of his bush!
Elliott seemed to be the kind of guy that could put you at ease wherever the situation. He was clearly comfortable enough with his own skin just then to let it all hang out, though he must have known that Luke would notice he'd taken to a little manscaping. Luke smothered a grin. Maybe Elliott and Estela were rubbing off on him, because he didn't actually feel that discomforted by the show of flesh, either. He had, after all, seen it all quite recently—and it looked like the guy had picked up a few pointers from the Academy guys, after all!
Luke took back the book, and continued to study Elliott though the corner of his eye as his friend's backside passed into his closet. He smiled to himself; he'd seen that before, too, and it still didn't disappoint!
Out of the closet, a voice emerged. “So what time do you need to go?”
“I dunno. Nine would be fine.” Luke's eyes flicked from the book to check his watch. That gave them over an hour or so. “Is that okay with you?”
“No problem. I can drive you back.” Elliot was pulling a tee over his head as he emerged. He wore what was becoming a pair of familiar white boxers. In his hand he was carrying a pair of shorts.
Luke glanced at those boxers with interest as Elliott donned his tee, and you had to hand it to him, the guy wore white well. In fact, he seemed to wear most things well...period. The chocolate brown shorts went on, too, and it was a déjà-vu moment, taking Luke back to that morning at the opticians!
“So do you guys cook out on the fire like that a lot?” Luke asked, putting down the book as Elliott settled cross-legged onto his bed.
“Now and again. It’s never that planned—we’ve always liked doing stuff on the spur of the moment.” Elliott smirked. “I think it’s a Latino thing! If you enjoyed that, then you’ll have to try a churrasco sometime.”
“A what?” And when was sometime?
“A churrasco. It’s a Brazilian barbeque, though they do it all over South America. They do them in places called ‘churrascaria’.” Elliott’s talent for Portuguese turned the word into a dish in its own right!
“Churrascaria.” Luke tested the name on his tongue. It sounded—and probably tasted—a hell of a lot better than Longhorn! “I’m hungry already!”
Elliot chuckled. “You'd need to be! They cook every kind of meat you can imagine over open fire pits. Once you’re seated, they give you a little table flag so you can let them know if you’re still eating. While it’s showing, they'll just keep coming round putting more on your plate until you’re so stuffed you can hardly walk!”
"Really?" It sounded like free refills, but for steak!
Luke turned his head at the sound of a knock at the door.
“Come in!” Elliott called as the handle began to turn.
The door pushed open and Estela stepped in. Dressed, she looked like she’d showered as well. Her eyes flicked between the two of them, and she said one word. "Uno?"
"You bet!" Elliott's tone was enthusiastic. "Have you played Uno before, Luke?"
Luke shook his head.
"Ellie?" Rose's voice filtered through the door from downstairs.
Elliott clambered up from his wide bed, and stuck his head around the doorpost. "YES, MOM?"
"Have you asked Luke if he would like something to drink?"
Elliott looked over his shoulder and raised his eyebrows.
Luke nodded. "Thanks. Tea would be great."
"Chocolate for me," Estela added.
"A TEA AND TWO CHOCOLATES!” Elliott finally bellowed.
"So come and make them, then!" The tone was scathing.
Luke grinned. Some things were the same in all homes, it seemed. "Well, if you’re offering hot chocolate, I'll have one of those, instead!" he said, before Elliott left the room. Then he turned to Estela.
"So, what's Uno?"
"A card game. Very fast. Come, I will show you."
Luke climbed out of his chair and followed her out. No sooner had they stepped into the hallway, however, than they were waylaid by Natty.
"Come and see my room," Natty grabbed Luke's hand. He hadn't the heart to disappoint her, so the two of them followed Natty to her room. It was a girly room. They didn't have such things at their house, and Luke smirked at the lilac and lemon colorings and the vast array of bears that took up most of the bed. He got the feeling that Natty had got them all out, just for him!
“Do you like it?” Natty beamed at them when he nodded.
She pushed a small bear at him. “This is Arthur. He’s my favorite!”
They stayed long enough for Luke to be treated to a naming ceremony for each stuffed toy—Estela took it surprisingly seriously—followed by a full tour of Natty's room. Finally, he and Estela trotted downstairs.
“Everyone seems to like you!” She teased him on the way down. Then she paused before she reached the last step. “You have not know them long, yes?”
He guessed enough from the disjointed English to figure it out. “The Carters? No, not really. We only met recently.”
She studied him through deep, black eyes before finally saying something quite strange. “If you want to know who Ellie is, you must ask him about Miguel.”
Miguel? Who the heck was Miguel? It was a totally odd thing to say.
“Come!” As fast as it was there, she flicked it away. “Let me teach you Uno.”
Benedict had been busy, as another fire had begun to catch hold in the wide hearth. It roared as he fed it with plenty of wood. The card game turned out to be just as fiery! Uno was as fast and frantic as Estela had promised, and both she and Sam were like maniacs! Even Benedict got energized!
Far too soon, nine o’clock came and Luke knew he should be leaving. It was a shame to leave the comfort of the fire and the fun, but within a couple of minutes he was standing on the front step saying his goodbyes.
“Thanks for having me, Mrs. Carter.”
“You’re welcome, Luke.” She was keeping a firm hold of Natty to stop the little girl climbing all over him again. “We hope we'll see more of you.” She went back inside with the little girl as, from inside the house, Sam’s voice spouted something in Spanish that ended in a yelp that sounded like his dad had given him a clip across the ear!
That kid sure was a handful!
It was still raining lightly as Luke, Elliott and Estela stood under the shelter of the partially-lit entrance porch. Estela slipped back into Spanish again with Elliott. She sounded determined as something other than the rain splashed between them.
Luke waited patiently, getting used to these frequent flurries by now. So much for the English classes!
“No!” said Elliott, suddenly breaking into English. “Just leave it, Es. Not now!”
Elliott ended the conversation by walking over to Luke. "Hang on here, I'll pull around," he said, and he darted into the dark.
As Luke waited with Estela, she gave him a hug and kiss to make her farewells. He knew she was leaving the next day, and could understand why Elliott thought so highly of her.
"Another times, I hope," she murmured. She turned to go, but then stopped. Her eyes flicked out into the darkness where the lights and sounds of Elliott’s Mazda cut across to them.
“You must promise me you will ask about Miguel," she said.
"What?" Luke wasn't sure he'd heard right.
"Promise me you will ask." She grabbed his arm tightly as Elliott drew closer. "Promise me, please."
That seemed to settle her and her lips twitched upward. As the car approached, she hurried back inside. Frowning, Luke watched her go.
A few minutes later, he and Elliott were driving out the entrance of the exclusive community and onto the highway. He studied the passing cars without seeing them, his mind stuck on his conversation with Estela.
Who the hell was Miguel?