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That's The Way Love Goes

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One

 

It was a day like any other when Juan Badillo recklessly and savagely ran Daniela’s beloved Carla over.

 

At least, that's how Daniela intended to tell anyone who'd listen as soon as she opened the salon the next day.

 

"Ow, Dani!" 

 

Carla was tense from pain, and had spent their whole walk up leaning heavily on her to keep weight off her swollen ankle.

 

Daniela kept a neutral face as she guided Carla to sit on the toilet seat lid, "Sit down. Déjame mirarte."

 

As soon as Carla was settled, Daniela perched herself on the edge of the tub facing her. Daniela reached for her girlfriend’s hand, and Carla flinched slightly. Carla sought out physical contact always, as a way of grounding her in the present, and shutting out the extra noise buzzing about in the world. Watching her flinch gave an indication of how bad it was. Physical pain was a beast, living and crawling, cutting her off from what she most desired.

 

"I’ll be okay." Carla's words were sharp, and her left leg started bouncing repeatedly.

 

Daniela wasn't buying it. "You were just crying out in pain, mi vida."

 

This time, Daniela fumbled around under the sink and pulled out the first aid kit.

 

It was one of the many necessities that came from living with Carla. The tall woman was about as accident-prone as she was dramatic. A stubbed toe here, a bruised hip there; sometimes, it seemed like she was always injuring herself, but Daniela was more than happy to patch her up after the fact.

 

But her current predicament wasn’t her fault. Carla had been walking back from lunch, when Juan and his stupid skateboard came careening down the street at top speed. Carla was masterfully juggling a bottle of Pepsi, two to-go bags, and her cellphone as she often did when Juan the Menace made contact. The rambunctious young teenager’s skateboard rammed into Carla's right ankle and his body collided hard with hers. Carla crumpled like a fine rock, the food landing on the ground, the pepsi rolling down the block, and Juan with his skateboard landing half on the sidewalk and half on top of Carla in a graceless heap. 

 

The street fell into chaos. Cuca came running out with a broom in her hand, expecting some kind of attack when she heard Carla shriek. Soon others followed, carefully taking in the scene.

 

Daniela proved to be a masterful multitasker; she ran outside, cussing Juan out in ways the seventeen year old had never heard before, all the while protectively wrapping Carla up in her arms. Daniela ran through a series of questions, checking for a concussion almost mechanically, and refusing to let Carla up until she was satisfied.

 

That was all the distraction they needed. Vanessa and Usnavi were quick to check Juan over, making sure he wasn’t hurt, before sending him far away before Daniela could wring his neck for harming a hair on her beloved’s head.

 

With Juan gone, there was nothing fascinating left to look at, and the street quieted down again. 

 

Daniela left Vanessa and Cuca in charge of the salon. Daniela loved her work, but it came second to Carla. So she took her home, conscious of her ever-swelling ankle and the tension in her posture with every step.

 

“Lift your arms.” Daniela gestured towards Carla’s clothes.

 

Carla frowned deeply, “Why?”

 

“Necesito ver lo para saber si es malo.”

 

And she needed to see just how badly she needed to kill Juan next time she saw the little bobo.

 

“I fell onto the sidewalk, Dani.” Carla kept her eyes focused on her girlfriend’s collarbones, rather than her face. She could not focus on maintaining eye contact, not when her body was screaming so loudly. “No es gran cosa.”

 

“That pendejo hit you with his skateboard.” Daniela turned her hand around in a circle. “Now, lift.”

 

Carla bit her lip as she did what Dani asked of her. It’s only as her arms got about shoulder level that she stopped, protectively crossing them over her chest.

 

“I can’t.” Carla whispered as tears welled up in her eyes, “It hurts.”

 

Daniela took a long, slow breath. It pained her to see Carla in pain. Carla was so light and joyful, and had long since turned into her whole world. Every fiber of Daniela’s being screamed for her to bundle Carla up and hold her tight. But that wasn’t what she needed. Carla needed her to power through, and tend to her emotionally later.

 

“Can you stand up?” Daniela kept her voice soft.

 

It took a few seconds, and a helping hand, for the tall woman to stand again. With the adrenaline worn off, she was feeling her injuries and exhaustion more acutely.

 

As Carla got her balance on her swollen ankle, Daniela quietly moved closer to her. She flexed her fingers once as her hand shook with anxiety, then she reached out to the hem of her lover’s hoodie. The fingers of her left hand had wrapped around the bottom, and Daniela made sure to keep her nails curled away from Carla’s body. Once there was a gap between the hoodie and Carla’s body, Daniela let the palm of her right hand slide across Carla’s bare skin just above her jeans and back to settle on her hip. Her left hand was quick to mirror the action.

 

Daniela maintained her focus on the torso in front of her, as she dragged her hands up Carla’s sides to lift the top up. Dani knew every curve of Carla’s body by heart, knew the areas that were sensitive, knew every stretch mark, birthmark, and the two tiny tattoos that covered her skin. This time, her hands mapped out the differences, the places where her hip met her waist that twitched at her contact, and the sharp intake of breath as the tips of her fingers grazed over raised lines on her back.

 

Daniela couldn’t look at her face, not even as Carla leaned just a bit into her touch when her hands reached the sides of Carla’s breasts, and she ran her thumbs over the fabric of her bralette. She knew herself and how quickly she would cave if she saw the pain on Carla’s face, and in her eyes. So, Daniela clenched her jaw and shifted to the side.

 

“Can you lift your arms out away from your chest?” Daniela didn’t need to see her face to know her brow was knitting. “Like a zombie?”

 

Carla nodded once and did as she was asked.

 

Daniela grabbed the hoodie’s bottom edge, lifting it up over Carla’s head and off her arms in a well-practiced move, before she moved behind her to assess the damage.


Mierda , Carlita…”

 

There was a friction burn starting from her neck and moving down to the upper part of both shoulders, where her back skidded against the sidewalk. It was rough and patchy, marring her beautiful skin though not in a permanent way. Daniela briefly noted a deep red bruise forming on the back of her left hip, surmising exactly how Carla hit the ground. Daniela made a mental note to keep Carla from sleeping on her left side for the next week or so.

 

“¿Es mala?”

 

Daniela was gentle with her love, but she would never lie to her.

 

“It will heal.” She pressed a kiss to Carla’s bare shoulder. “Now your jeans.” 

 

From her place behind Carla, Dani wrapped her arms around her again. This time popping the button open, and unzipping the jeans without hesitation.

 

Daniela peeled the skin-tight denim off Carla’s hips, rolling them down her legs as carefully as she could until they were finally pooled around her ankles. Carla’s bright blue thong was quick to follow. Finally, Daniela unhooked her red bralette -one of Daniela’s favourite things was Carla’s absolute refusal to match her bra with her panties- and tossed that aside as well.

 

“Okay.” Daniela’s eyes tracked over her lover’s body. “It looks like your back got the most of it.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Sí. Tu culo es perfecta como siempre .

 

She tapped her asscheek lightly, laughing as Carla squeaked in surprise.

 

“Now, let’s get you cleaned off so I can wrap your ankle.”

 

Daniela’s hands were back on Carla’s waist as she helped her limp out of the pile of clothes on the floor, and into their bathtub.

 

Before Daniela could step back to let her shower, Carla pulled her into a kiss. It was a kiss of gratitude, and no small amount of tenderness; one that shot right to Daniela’s core the way every single touch and kiss did. Daniela sighed as they met, warmth building throughout her entire body as Carla’s lips closed around her bottom lip and sucked as they pulled apart.

 

Kissing Carla was always sweet; like honey and apple pie. She was filled with a sort of unrestrained passion, while Daniela was always so careful. The older woman walked the line between who she was and who everyone had expected her to be. Her parents had had hopes and expectations, but she had desires. One of her desires, her biggest, had also been the one she never acted on, not until she was 1,615 miles away from Vega Alta. Then she kissed fiercely, held hands firmly, and loved with abandon.

 

“Gracias, Dani.”

 

“De nada.”

 

She bent down for Carla’s clothes as the shower turned on. Once everything was in the hamper and she’d found a nice loose-fitting t-shirt for Carla to wear to bed, Daniela sat on the toilet waiting for Carla to finish washing herself.

 

Carla grunted a bit in the shower, drawing Daniela up from her seat to open the curtains. Carla was struggling to lift her arms enough to wash her upper half, and Daniela stepped in without hesitation nor regard to her own clothes, taking the washcloth out of her hand, and rubbing it across her back. Carla hummed, rounding her shoulders so it was a bit easier for Daniela to reach her.

 

“Dani?” Carla’s voice was soft.

 

“Hm?”

 

“Where’d you learn how to do this?” Carla clarified, “Take care of injuries.”

 

Daniela sighed. “Vanessa’s mami Elena is an angry drunk; has been since we were niñas.”

 

The heaviness in her voice made Carla turn to look at her. Elena had always been a touchy subject. Daniela focused so much energy on helping Vanessa -indirectly so as to not raise Vanessa’s overactive hackles- that she never let her thoughts and feelings stray towards Elena.

 

Or at least she tried her best. Daniela had found it to be harder to cut someone she loved out of her life than she wanted to believe.

 

“Vanessa’s lucky to have you.” She offered Daniela a supportive smile.

 

Daniela may not have Elena anymore, but she had Vanessa, and now Carla too. That was more than she ever could have hoped for.

 

“I’m the lucky one.”


Two

 

Daniela was very quiet as they arrived home from dinner at Abuela’s.

 

The night had been fun, as always. Nina spent most of the time enthusiastically planning for graduation: what she was going to wear, the hairstyle she wanted Daniela to do for her, and her new job at the bookstore downtown to help pay for college in a year. 

 

"Never have I seen a child more excited to work," was all Daniela said the whole night.

 

No one else noticed. They were all too caught up in Nina’s joy, and teasing Usnavi, while Vanessa tried to keep her thoughts away from her upcoming weekend at home with her mother. The legal requirement had run out when Vanessa turned eighteen, but Elena had a rather impressive penchant for manipulation, and Vanessa still dragged herself across Washington Heights to kept up her two nights a month.

 

But Carla? She made sure to keep an eye on Daniela, just in case.

 

“Tell me.” Carla ran her hand across Daniela's back.

 

“¿Qué?”

 

Carla was quick to strip out of her dress, pulling her hair piece out and removing her bra. Carla hopped -literally hopped her way into her sleep shorts, and shimmied her top down, both of which caused Daniela to laugh and shake her head every single night- into her pyjamas.

 

“Whatever gossip you're thinking about.” The taller woman quirked an eyebrow at her. “Tell me, so you won’t stay up half the night.”

 

“It's not gossip.” Daniela leaned against the bedroom door frame. “I'm just thinking.”

 

Carla’s brow knit in confusion. “ About what?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“It doesn't look like nothing…”

 

Carla was many things, intuitive most of all. She knew people thought she was slow —she took her time to make sure her mouth said exactly what her brain thought, and it was only when she didn’t want things to come out jumbled and confused— but she was deeply thoughtful. She knew Dani better than anyone. She knew how she would focus her time and attention on gossip to keep the heaviness of loss and pain away. She knew leaving her home and her family to move to a city on her own had left her with a need to be tough, to never show weakness.

 

And she knew enough to know that when Daniela was quiet half the night, something was wrong.

 

Daniela didn’t move, and so Carla took initiative. She walked over to her, and helped her out of her shirt. Carla poked her tongue out just a bit as she unbuttoned the flowy satin blouse as carefully as she could. The fabric slid under her fingertips, dancing across Dani’s skin in a silent rhythm. When the shirt was undone, she slid it off Dani’s shoulders, and tossed it across the room to their hamper.

 

“You really want me to meet your family?” Daniela spoke just above a whisper.

 

Carla unzipped her skirt, sliding her hands under the fabric and maneuvered it down Daniela’s legs. Carla paid extra attention to her girlfriend with that action; she crouched down so Dani could steady herself with her shoulder, and made sure to kiss the scorpion tattoo inked onto Daniela’s outer right thigh.

 

“Vanessa and your sisters know, and nothing’s changed.” Carla shrugged. “I just don't wanna lie to my parents anymore.”

 

Carla stood back up again, enjoying the way Daniela tilted her head back just a bit to maintain their eye contact.

 

“Even if they take it badly?” Daniela asked carefully.

 

Díos, this woman. Daniela was always so ready to put her own feelings aside for Carla. She was the one who let Carla take the lead in when to tell everyone, and how to maneuver situations.

 

Daniela, who’d spent years unlearning internalized homophobia and accepting herself so she could be as loud and proudly gay as she damn well pleased, was offering Carla the lifeline. Because they both knew Carla’s family was religious. They both knew how they felt about people like them . And Daniela knew what it was like to lose her family; her parents. She wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

 

“Sí.” She interlaced her fingers with Daniela’s. “If they don’t want to be in my life, that’s on them. But I can’t move on if I don’t know for sure.”

 

Carla walked backwards, pulling Daniela along until the back of her knees hit the bed. Carla wrapped her free hand around Dani’s waist, sliding it up her back to her bra. With skilled fingers, she unhooked the garment, and tossed it aside as well.

 

Carla opened her legs, and Daniela stepped right into the space between them. Once she was nestled in, Carla leaned forward, and pressed a kiss to Daniela’s sternum. She then turned her head, and laid her ear on the left side of her chest, sighing as she heard Daniela’s heartbeat. It was loud, as always, and even. Daniela’s heart sounded like Carnaval in Vega Alta, beating with the strength and pride that flowed in Daniela’s every vein.

 

They stayed in that position for a while, Carla sitting and listening to Daniela’s heart, and Daniela stand, carefully combing her fingers through Carla’s hair.

 

Daniela sighed, “If you’re ready, then we’ll tell them this week.”

 

Carla turned her head, resting her chin on Dani’s chest in order to look up at her.

 

“¿De verdad?” Carla had the biggest smile on her face, the one that was always reserved for Dani.

 

That smile proved without a doubt that she’d made the right decision.

 

“Sí, Carla.”

 

Carla beamed, then stood up to kiss Daniela soundly. Daniela rolled her eyes, but smiled at her.

 

“Alright, enough. We should sleep.”

 

Daniela put a hand on her nightstand drawer when Carla stopped her.

 

“Will you sleep without a camisa tonight?” Carla chewed her lower lip, “Quiero eschucar su corazón.”

 

As cute as she was, Daniela could see right through her. 

 

“Are you sure you don’t want an excuse to grab my tetas during the night?”

 

Busted. 

 

Still, Carla did her best to feign innocence, “I mean, I can’t control what my body does when I’m asleep.”

 

Daniela rolled her eyes, but dutifully left her body bare but for her panties.

 

Both women set their alarms, then slid into bed together. Daniela settled first, laying on her back with one hand flung up above her head, as Carla lay down beside her, her head pillowed on her chest.

 

“Buenas noches, Dani.” Carla slid her hand across Daniela’s waist, and held it firmly, “Te amo.”

 

Daniela sighed contently, “Te amo.”


Three

 

“I’m so sorry!” The words went flying out of Sonny’s mouth in a rush and a squeak.

 

Sonny had been telling the family about his part in the school play -he was the only ten year old to get the strong, understated role as Apple Tree #2 in The Wizard of Oz- when, in his exuberance to demonstrate the best way to whip fake apples at Dorothy and the Scarecrow, he knocked Daniela’s glass of wine right down her romper.

 

The whole room moved with incredible speed; Daniela jumping away from Abuela’s gorgeous tablecloth in the blink of an eye, only made possible as Carla jerked her chair back. Cuca, Nina and Benny rushed at the salon owner with napkins and paper towels, ready to contain as much of the mess as they could. Vanessa and Kevin, being the supportive people they were, made a very strong attempt not to laugh.

 

“It’s fine, cariño.” Daniela looked up just enough to stroke his cheek with her thumb, before her attention went back to holding her top as far away from her chest as she could. “I don’t think it got on the table.”

 

“Está bien if it did.” Abuela gave Daniela her usual gentle smile. “Stains give a tablecloth character.”

 

The family took her words to heart, as always. Abuela Claudia could always see the positive in everything: a broken vase, chipped paint, or even a burned finger meant something to her. Each moment was something to be cherished, and it made the world just a bit brighter.

 

“What about in clothes?” Vanessa inclined her head towards Daniela. “Because Dani bought that romper last week.”

 

Abuela’s laugh rang like chimes through the apartment.

 

“You’re right. They’re not so nice in clothing.” Her beautiful, wise eyes locked on Carla. “Take her to change, cariño?”

 

While Daniela suspected Abuela was aware of their relationship, the only one who knew unequivocally was Vanessa. Daniela and Carla had painstakingly sat her down when she was eleven, and explained their relationship to her. It was a risk; having a gay legal guardian wasn't the bully-able offense it used to be, but it wasn’t exactly well-received on the playground either. But Vanessa took it in stride. She'd seen the neverending revolving door of abusive men her mother paraded around her. What Daniela and Carla had was not that; it was stable, and more importantly, safe. And so Vanessa just shrugged, then headed out to study with Nina.

 

They had, however, been creative in their excuse when Carla moved in. The barrio wondered, of course. If there was one person whose gossip they never heard about, it was Daniela’s, and so everyone twittered about, wondering why Carla was moving into Daniela’s room, rather than finding her own space. Daniela had been a bit too casual with her lie, reminding the block that the second room was Vanessa’s. But the way they moved around each other, and the level of intimacy they exuded made it fairly obvious, nonetheless.

 

“It’s literally right down the hall-?” An incredulous look crossed Usnavi’s face.

 

Apparently not to Usnavi, though.

 

Vanessa rolled her eyes, unable to keep the sarcasm out of her voice, “It’s so nice of you to wash Daniela’s outfit as she changes, Carla .”

 

“And efficient, too,” Kevin said seriously. 

 

Ay Dios mío . Maybe Abuela was the only observant one.

 

Carla didn’t wait for another comment. Instead, she grabbed Daniela by the elbow, and led her to the door.

 

They only just made it to the hallway when Benny’s voice carried out of the dining room.

 

“Dude, how did you manage to get it DOWN her top, but missed spilling it on the front?”

 

The kids tittered with laughter.

 

“It’d be a neat trick in a wet t-shirt contest.”

 

“Cuca!” Daniela dragged her name out with a warning tone, “Sonny is right there .”

 

They could imagine the other woman rolling her eyes. “He’s heard worse, Daniela!”

 

“All of it from you !”

 

“Leave it.” Carla rubbed her thumb over that particular spot on the small of Daniela’s back that made her shiver, “It’s not like she can corrupt him more than she already has.”

 

Knowing Cuca, she would find a way, but Daniela decided that was a worry for another time.

 

It was Daniela who twisted to shut the door behind them, before Carla’s hand wrapped around her wrist, and dragged her into their apartment. The air felt thinner when they were alone, the scent of Carla’s obnoxiously strong French toast candle still hanging in the air. There was also a calm that washed over them; from being in their sanctum sanctorum, with walls laid carefully to hold in love, care, and security.

 

Carla sped right into the bathroom and started the water in the sink before Daniela could even close and lock the front door.

 

“We’ll soak it for half an hour, then put it in the wash, okay?” Carla poked her head out of the bathroom to look at her girlfriend. 

 

“Claro.”

 

Once the sink was half filled, Carla shut the water off, then turned her attention back to Daniela.

 

“Can I?” Carla pointed to the romper.

 

Daniela waved her consent.

 

Carla was careful as she stepped in front of her; Daniela was almost delicate to her, a flower in full bloom stretching up towards her sun; her Carlita.

 

Holding the fabric away from Daniela’s wet skin, Carla unbuttoned the romper. It was black and sleeveless, with buttons right down to the large red belt at her waist. Carla kept her focus locked on the fabric rather than her girlfriend, her tongue poking out in concentration as she opened the seven tiny buttons.

 

Soon enough, she was free. Carla opened the belt without difficulty, before she held her hands out, steadying Daniela as she and her sky high platforms stepped out of the garment. 

 

As soon as the romper went to soak in the water, and the pressure finally off, Carla finally turned her complete attention back to Daniela.

 

Oh .”

 

Daniela was in lingerie. The lacy, blood red, incredibly elegant, and so thin Carla could tear it to shreds with one hand kind of lingerie. The balcony style cups were covered -if you could call it that- with sheer eyelash lace, and a delicate bow nestled deep between her round breasts, while sweet floral embroidery set onto a daring mesh paneling, the bikini cut bottoms were low rise, and flirtatious.

 

Carla’s entire brain came screeching to a halt.

 

“I wanted to surprise you.” Daniela smirked at the way her love’s eyes devoured her.

 

“Yup!” Carla cleared her throat of the squeak that had developed, “You definitely did that.”

 

“Unfortunately, it has to be washed as well.”

 

Daniela reached back to undo the bra, only to be stopped by Carla’s hands. She moved Daniela’s hands, using the long fingers of her left hand to hold both wrists in the air above her head. It was a calculated movement, forcing Daniela’s back to arch just a bit, and thrusting her chest up just a bit more.

 

If she ended up spending extra time in the confessional, so be it.

 

Carla lowered her head, pressing her lips to the skin on Dani's neck. She kissed where her neck met her shoulder, while holding Daniela’s arms midair. Carla dipped further, and nipped her clavicle, and Daniela gasped, her hips rolling into Carla's.

 

Carla released her hands. She used one to cup Daniela’s cheek, and pulled her up into a kiss. Carla exuded love and devotion; in her smile, in her words, and on her lips. She always teased a deepening kiss out of the lightest of pecks, wanting to share her playful passion with the woman she loved. Carla was deviousness itself, letting her tongue trace the edge of Daniela’s lips in order to gain entrance. 

 

Her other hand wrapped around Dani’s waist, as Daniela’s hands fell to Carla's hips.

 

Carla pushed her bra straps off Daniela’s shoulders, then kissed the exposed skin of her breast. Carla could taste the wine on her skin, and she felt drunk on the taste. Carla cupped Daniela’s breasts, and licked and kissed every drop of wine off her right boob, before popping up to kiss her lips.

 

Daniela sighed into her mouth, and Carla undid her bra and removed it, before turning her focus to the other breast. Carla blindly dropped the bra into the sink with her romper.

 

Carla continued her task of cleaning the wine off of Daniela’s chest, hoping to devour every droplet of the fruity liquid as it clung to Daniela’s heated skin. Daniela couldn't do much, but held Carla’s head in place. Carla nipped just beside her nipple, and Daniela’s knees buckled. Carla tightened her hold on her, but couldn’t stop.

 

“Everyone is waiting for us, Carlita.”

 

Carla sucked harder where Daniela’s breast met her sternum, and Dani knew without a doubt she wouldn't be wearing anything low-cut for the next week or so.

 

The taller woman didn't stop her ministrations, instead she fumbled in her pocket until she found her cellphone, and handed it off to Dani at the same time as she kissed and licked down her ribcage.

 

“Thirty minutes to soak, then laundry.” Carla mumbled against her skin. 

 

She managed to find a few more drops of wine, as she turned her entire focus to the upper right quadrant of Daniela's stomach. Her hands slid into her panties, and pushed them off Daniela’s hips, and onto the floor.

 

Daniela paused to moan, and forced her brain and hands to work long enough to send Vanessa a text.

 

Feeling tired. We're going to finish the washing, then go to bed.

 

With the text sent, Daniela put Carla’s phone next to her own on the toilet seat cover.

 

Carla turned them both, and pressed Dani against the wall. She kissed down her stomach, then lifted one of her legs up on her shoulder.

 

Daniela’s groan blocked out the incoming text notification from Vanessa.

 

You’re both nasty, and I’m sleeping over at Nina’s.


Four

 

It was raining the day of Abuela’s funeral, finally bringing an end to the heatwave.

 

Carla had been quiet the whole morning. At first, it was so she could jump in and help out at the slightest ask, but that only lasted until the service. 

 

She felt the knot well up in her throat while she was carrying the coffin. Kevin had taken point on that. He and Benny walked first, holding Abuela’s head up high the way she had, and her mother had before her. Sonny and Nina were on either side, hands around her middle in a way so similar yet so different to the constant hugs they’d given.

 

She and Usnavi carried her feet, helping Abuela walk her very last steps on earth.

 

Being a pallbearer was not for the faint of heart. It required strength of body, to be sure, but it also required strength of mind. Carla didn't think she had much of either, but she did her best. For Abuela.

 

The service was long and beautiful, in ways that reminded everyone of Abuela Claudia’s stories. Carla liked the priest; his voice inflected and danced on the air, rather than dropping like a stone. He gave time to each passage he read, purposeful and unhurried, and handled the eulogies with remarkable care.

 

“Abuela Claudia had simple pleasures. She sang the praises of things we ignore.”

 

Usnavi spoke with the elegance of someone who had loved and lost over and over again. They sang “praise to this”, praise to her and her glory. To the scratch in the record, and to the woman who had loved them para siempre. Nina read the last poem her mom had written, the one she had been too grief-stricken to recite at Camila’s funeral. Sonny went up with his first memory of her, marching around the apartment with him after he’d discovered the joy of talking animals in Robin Hood.

 

Carla couldn’t go up, nor could she release her white-knuckled grip on Daniela’s hand. Carla recognized, later when she was able to breathe, and thinking hurt a little less, that Daniela wouldn't have gone up anyway. Her memories of Abuela were hers; they had a relationship that was built on a secret that not even Carla knew, and so Daniela would let the eulogy that lived in her heart stay there.

 

“Breathe, mi amor.” Daniela’s words were soft, blending with the sounds of the priest announcing the Requiem Mass, and the sound of rain pelting the church roof.

 

She did what Daniela asked, taking a deep breath into her lungs, only for sobs to escape instead. Once the floodgates opened, Carla had no way of stopping the tears. Heartbreak poured out of her like a river breaking through a dam. 

 

Abuela’s first words to her were at a dinner Dani dragged her to, before she even worked at the salon, but after months of dating Daniela. Daniela had never once stated who Carla was, not to anyone besides Vanessa, but they felt Abuela watch them for the first half hour of the night.

 

Abuela Claudia cornered her on her way back from the bathroom. She had looked up at her, smiling warmly, with tears shining just in the corner of her eyes, and said, "Daniela loves you. Please make her happy."

 

Seven words, and Carla knew the matriarch had accepted her -had accepted them- completely.

 

The weight of their loss was profound.

 

She felt Daniela’s comfort in an arm around her shoulder and a kiss to her temple, and finally, a shoulder to cry on. 

 

The burial was as somber and dreary as it could be. The heavens were weeping for their Abuela Claudia, and la familia let the downpour mix with their tears.

 

Daniela and Usnavi held the reception at the Rosarios’. While Usnavi bounced between mourners, keeping his face uncharacteristically firm and impassive amidst the grief, Daniela took on Abuela’s role of caring for the family. It was, after all, her role now, she supposed. She would have given it up in a heartbeat for another day with their matriarch.

 

Nina had insisted on handling the food, flitting in and out of the apartment offering snacks, and drinks to everyone she could, then sending Cuca and Benny around to collect plates and cups.

 

Vanessa sat quietly in the corner, folding into herself until most eyes glazed right past her devastated form. 

 

Kevin was lost in his head, and it took more than one nudge from Daniela— his best friend, his confidante, his baby sister of sorts— to get him helping out, even on autopilot.

 

Daniela kept her focus on each task at hand. There was a weary strength to her movements; one that had planned and gotten through her older brother's and both of her parents' funerals before she turned twenty-one. Every action was broken down into microscopic steps, keeping her feet, her hands, and her mind busy until it was just a buzz of white noise. It was the weary strength that kept her going, one that helped her rouse dozens of people on the street the night Abuela died, who sang Alabanza on her front stoop. It was the same one that kept her up for two days, helping Usnavi with calls, and Kevin with the bills, and then again through the next week and a half until everyone was donning their black clothes for the service.

 

And it was the same one that sent Carla home to change after she got soaked through from helping Martina Ruiz start her clunker of a car in the middle of a torrential downpour.

 

Once most of the other guests had left, Daniela made sure Vanessa and Sonny were comfortably sleeping, tucked under a blanket on the couch, while Usnavi and the Rosarios started cleaning up.

 

Then she'd taken over in the kitchen, sending Nina and Benny running between the apartments, packing as many of the gifted leftovers into as many freezers as they could. She had no idea why flan was the go-to mourning food in the community, but at least she could take comfort that everyone had at least two in each of their fridges, ready to feed them on the days when grief took too much of their energy.

 

Finally, when the apartment was quiet, and the mess was manageable, Daniela, Cuca and Benny went home for the night. The walk down the hall seemed to last an eternity, weights and chains dragging her down with every step. Everything was uncomfortable: the straps rubbing on her heels, the shift of her one appropriate mourning dress, and the ache burrowing deep in her chest. Without the stress of packing or moving the salon, or planning a funeral, grief had found its foothold. 

 

“Hey.” Daniela jumped as Benny ran back up the stairs towards her. “Tell Carla we said goodnight.”

 

It was at that moment that Daniela noticed her wife’s absence.

 

“I will.” Daniela forced a smile onto her face.

 

“Love you, Daniela.”

 

The breath caught in her throat. She was overtaken by the feeling of all the unmentioned declarations of love in her life, of the missed demonstrations of care, and the times she failed to remind someone of the place they held in her heart. So many lost moments with loved ones who have now passed on. The way every memory was not just an ‘I miss you’ but a ‘you are missing from me’. Daniela had lost count of her missing pieces by now. 

 

She knew she couldn’t waste another opportunity again. “I love you, too, Benny. Text me when you’re home.”

 

He smiled sweetly, then jogged down the stairs after Cuca.

 

Daniela made her way into the apartment, a large plate of pastelitos resting on her hip, and a frown etched deeply on her face.

 

“Carlita?” Daniela kicked her heels off, “¿A donde fuiste?”

 

It was only as she turned back from putting the plate in the fridge that she saw her.

 

Carla was standing, unmoving, in the living room, having made it just far enough to rid herself of her shoes, but not all the way to the bedroom.

 

“Carla?”

 

The other woman remained still. 

 

Shit.

 

Carla was stiff in a way she only was after coming out of being locked in an unresponsive, immobile state. 

 

“Mi vida,” Daniela reached for her phone, pulling up Carla’s recently played list, and starting the first song. 

 

Once the music was playing, she tucked the phone into her bra, and tried to get Carla’s attention again.

 

“Carlita, you’ll catch a cold…”

 

Carla cut her off softly, “You can’t smoke anymore.”

 

Daniela blinked back in surprise. She hadn’t expected Carla to be able to speak for another few minutes. 

 

“Carla, I haven’t had a cigarette since it became illegal to smoke inside—“

 

This time, Carla’s words were just a bit stronger, but still difficult to hear. “Not even cigars.”

 

Daniela knew Carla was feeling emotionally raw in a way that was unique to her. Stress and overwhelming emotions often resulted in Carla becoming overloaded, which could lead to her withdrawing both mentally and physically. Normally, Daniela was better at recognizing the signs of her wife’s shutdowns and meltdowns, but she’d been too wrapped up in…

 

Daniela ran down the list of tasks in her head to help Carla, only to stop as her wife shivered and scratched at her stomach. 

 

“Can I help you out of your wet clothes?” Daniela made sure to be clear with her words.

 

Carla’s brow knitted in concentration, before she gave a stiff nod. Daniela crossed the room quickly. Carla’s dress has been bothering her since before she even put it on. Carla didn’t own anything black that was nice enough for a funeral. Instead, she’d borrowed from Vanessa. Vanessa who could ignore itchy tags, and uncomfortable fabrics. Who bought clothes based on how inexpensive they were knowing she could Frankenstein -Daniela’s word, not Vanessa’s- something better.

 

Dani stepped behind her, dragging the zipper down her back without hesitation. She lifted her hands up, peeling the soaked fabric away from Carla’s body, taking care not to touch her. She wouldn’t dare startle Carla with a surprise sensation, not in this headspace.

 

Once the dress was past Carla’s arms, she shoved, letting it fall to the carpet below. Her bra and underwear were quick to follow.

 

“Ven querida. Vamos a la cama.”

 

No , Dani.” She stumbled towards their bedroom, so Daniela assumed she wasn’t protesting going to bed. “You can’t keep smoking. And we need exercise, and actually take vitamins, and—“

 

“¿Qué?” Daniela placed a firm hand on Carla’s back, and left it there until they reached the doorway of their room. “Carlita, you hate those big stones they sell as vitamins as much as I do.”

 

"You’re going to die, Dani!" Carla's tone was still weak, but her words felt like a knife in the gut.

 

Daniela’s eyes widened in alarm.

 

"Just like Abuela." Carla's eyes welled up with tears. "You’re gonna die before me, and I can’t go through… I don’t…"

 

Ah. 

 

Daniela discarded her own dress in under five seconds, then blindly fumbled in their drawers until she found soft underwear, and oversized t-shirts.

 

Carla rarely had shutdowns, but when she did, Daniela always thought about her flight to Nueva York. The flight attendant’s voice was bright and cheerful in a way that wasn't forced when she said, "Make sure to put your oxygen mask on first, before you help anyone else with theirs. If you can't breathe, they won't be able to either."

 

She took a deep breath, yanked her sleep shirt over her head, then went back over to Carla.

 

"Mi vida… Death is a part of life." She was careful as she pulled the panties up Carla’s mile-long legs, "And mourning, it's a demonstration of love."

 

"Mourning hurts , Daniela." She shook her head, "It hurts, and I don’t want to do this again."

 

"I know." What else could she say, really? 

 

Daniela led Carla to their bed. Exhaustion was burrowing deep into both their souls. Carla always needed time to herself, to nap and to recover after any overload. 

 

And after the funeral? After the devastation of losing Abuela? Daniela understood that slow, heavy, excruciating tiredness acutely.

 

Dani poured her into bed, adjusting her pillows -and Carla was one to sleep with no less than three in the bed, even while she stole space on Daniela’s every single night- until Carla was propped up.

 

The older woman ducked out of the room as soon as Carla was settled. She moved quickly, leaving Carla's dress to hang over the tub, before shutting off the lights in their apartment. She then went to the linen closet.

 

That one blanket, the one Carla rarely used, not consistently since they'd found a home in each other’s arms, was folded neatly -and rudely- on the top shelf. Daniela cursed herself, then her giant woman and her incredibly long arms before hunting down a chair to stand on. She grabbed the thick fabric without much fuss, but refused to return the chair to its rightful spot. When she was awake and refreshed, it would serve as a reminder for Carla to keep important objects closer to the ground.

 

Once their home was locked up tight, Daniela returned, tossing the weighted blanket over her wife, before sliding into bed. Daniela shifted, pulling Carla over into her arms, before she settled in. 

 

"Does it get easier?" Carla's fingers found their way under her shirt, and stroked the soft skin she found there.

 

Daniela didn't have to ask what she meant; losing someone, grieving someone who took up space in her heart and soul wasn't something easily forgotten. 

 

"No, mi amor." Daniela sighed, "You just get stronger."

 

She felt more than saw Carla’s head snap up, as if making a connection she hadn’t before.

 

"You’ve buried both parents."

 

It wasn’t a question, yet Daniela felt compelled to answer.

 

She nodded somberly . "And all four grandparents. Miguel, Ernesto, Tia Patricia, Camila, and a few friends in the 90s."

 

Saying that list, her list, stung in ways she hadn't let herself think about in a very long time. Sadness flowed in her veins, circling into her heart, and out around her body day in, and day out. Every one of those people showed her love, and added a building block to who she had become. Some hurt less, her grandparents, who were all older, and had lived full lives before they passed. Her brothers hurt infinitely more; Miguel was killed by a drunk driver when he was nineteen. Daniela had to go through the rest of her teenage years without her big brother to tease her, or impart any of his wisdom. And Ernesto, her baby brother, he had been older when he died, but twenty-six was still far too young. Daniela would always regret not hugging him longer, and reminding him just how loved he really was.

 

Carla’s voice was barely above a whisper, "And now Abuela."

 

She reached over and placed her hand on Daniela’s heart. Her skin was still cold from the rain. It was as if she was feeling Daniela’s heartbreak -one that perfectly matched her own- through her heartbeat.

 

"Dani?"

 

"Hm?"

 

"Yara didn't make it?" Carla chose her words carefully.

 

Daniela sighed sadly.

 

"Her flight got canceled. There was a hurricane…" Daniela bit the inside of her cheek, "She called me crying, Carlita. Right there in the middle of the airport. She wanted so badly to be here for her."

 

Carla could only imagine. She wasn't aware of everything regarding their relationship with Abuela; there were some things that were too intimate to ask, so she chose not to. But she knew enough to know how much missing the funeral would have felt to her.

 

"We'll call her tomorrow." Carla's voice was just above a whisper, "On FaceTime, so you can see each other."

 

That was the thing that broke Dani. It was the first moment when Daniela allowed herself to grieve. She let out the sob that had been sitting just below her chest, tears falling faster and harder than she expected. 

 

Abuela was the first person she really confided in when she arrived in Nueva York. She was the one who found her a couch to sleep on -Kevin and Camila's- for her first few months, who was always there with food and a listening ear whenever she needed it. Abuela saw everyone for who they were, without judgement. She recognized the spark of long-term devotion between Daniela and Carla even before they did, and she tended to them with the bellows of her unwavering love until their love became an eternal flame. 

 

Daniela turned her head, and let tears fall onto Carla's shoulder.

 

"Alabanza Abuela."


Five

 

Daniela and Carla were lying down on their bed, too tired from their day, Hell their week to undress. The commute to and from the new salon wasn't the worst, not when they had each other, and an endless stream of people to watch and discuss. What they hadn't prepared for was the influx of clients demanding their time and energy almost as soon as Daniela opened the doors. Both women soon realized they needed to hire more stylists, but not until their accounts were back in the black. Until then, they all put in more time, and stretched themselves a bit too thin.

 

"Your family is exhausting."

 

Daniela could not remember the reason they'd agreed to spend time with the Vasquezes after a long, painful week, but it had been the last straw. Carla’s mama had invited everyone; cousins, her grandparents, and almost all of the kids were there, chatting and dancing away at the family barbecue.

 

As the youngest of her generation, Carla often ended up the centre of attention with all of her cousins' kids, while Dani gossiped with the Tias. Normally that suited them both just fine; the children were as energetic and enthusiastic as Carla, and Daniela could share chisme with just about anyone. But they normally took the morning off first.

 

By the time they made it home, both women were exhausted. Daniela closed off her books for the next day without any hesitation, and begged Vanessa and Jessica to cover Carla’s clients. They both needed a day to themselves.

 

"Uh-uh." Carla nudged her, "They're your family, too."

 

"Why did I marry you, again?" Daniela covered her obvious teasing with a groan.

 

"I have a great ass, and you're really gay."

 

She rolled onto her side, and burrowed her head onto Daniela's stomach, her hand curling around her wife's leg.

 

Daniela smiled softly, "That was it."

 

Carla stroked the fabric of Daniela’s leggings slowly, but firmly from the inside of her ankle up between her thighs. The movement reverberated across Dani's skin, rippling like water, and sending a shiver right to her core. 

 

When Carla reached her center, she cupped her there, dragging her nail up the seam, before moving back down her leg again. Her movements were interlaced with distraction, one that only came from being surrounded by the comfortable and intimate presence of her wife.

 

"Do you wanna get away together?" Carla's words were muffled into the fabric on Daniela’s stomach.

 

"I would love to." The older woman sighed. "But we can't afford it."

 

Daniela's fingers ran up and down Carla’s back, before threading in her hair.

 

Both their actions were absent-minded, lulling them into a hypnotic state; not asleep, but not quite awake either.

 

"Mi abuelito gave me some money for my birthday that I haven't used." Carla glanced up at her, "It's not enough to get to New Zealand, but maybe we can see your sisters in Miami?"

 

Daniela opened her mouth to protest, albeit weakly. Her desire to see her family was strong, but her desire to take care of Carla was stronger.

 

"And before you say it, we are married, Dani. I want to take care of you too."

 

Carla shifted up a bit, massaging Daniela’s thighs with firm, strong fingers. She kept even pressure, kneading muscles until she felt tension release. Then, without glancing up at her love, she slid her hand under the hem of the pants, and down. 

 

With her hands on Daniela’s skin, she stroked every inch of skin she could reach. Daniela was like fire under her fingertips, and Carla was drawn to her in ways that consumed her mind, body, and soul.

 

Daniela smiled down at her, "You do take care of me."

 

The way she said it, that particular tone, had Carla grinning into her stomach. Daniela's hand slid down the back of Carla’s shorts to rest on her ass.

 

Carla hummed contentedly, then shifted again, sitting up just enough to drag the leggings and panties off Daniela’s legs, and tossing them over the edge of the bed. 

 

With her wife bare before her, Carla continued to stroke at her center gently. She caressed her labia reverently at first, then moved in until she was moving a languid line from her clit to her opening and back.

 

It was only when Daniela was wet that Carla settled her face between her thighs. She alternated between kissing and licking at her, as if she was the sweetest water in the hottest desert.

 

Carla hungered for Daniela, but she wanted to savour every ounce of her. It was gentle and lazy, and Daniela sighed almost in relief at the tired pace. There was a time for passion to be sure, but they needed that calm; the moment between the excitement and bustle in their days.

 

Daniela's hand found its way back into Carla's hair, pulling at her roots lightly as her hips rocked into Carla. Daniela ached for her, noticeably, and Carla turned her head to groan into Daniela’s thigh.

 

Carla tugged Daniela’s legs just a bit further apart, then ever so slowly slid a finger inside her. Daniela stuttered, grinding down, desperately craving more .

 

"Come up here."

 

She grabbed Carla’s shirt as soon as she moved, and pulled it up over her head. Carla was coordinated as she moved up Daniela’s body, pushing her jean shorts and her thong down to her knees, before settling her bare hips between Daniela’s spread thighs. That feeling, heated skin pressed together left them breathless.

 

Daniela slid one finger inside Carla as Carla matched her movement, and added a second.

 

They kissed hard and long, and slowly brought each other to orgasm.


Plus One  

 

Back in Daniela's office, Carla slid two fingers into Daniela.

 

Daniela gasped, and her hands gripping tightly on the edge of the desk. Carla grinned at her love. Daniela was a sight to behold, her hips rolling to get Carla’s fingers deeper inside.

 

“Oh, so THAT’S how to make you speechless.” Carla sounded way too smug.

 

Before Daniela could quip back, Carla added a third finger, and Daniela’s breathing stuttered.

 

“You’re so beautiful.” She leaned over to whisper in Daniela’s ear, her movement caused her fingers to twist, and Daniela choked on air.

 

“Oh mierda…” Daniela’s hand flew up, to grasp Carla’s shoulder tightly.

 

That earned her another giggle.

 

“And everyone thinks you’re the one who tops.” Carla beamed at Daniela’s grunt in protest.

 

She shifted around, moving until her knees fit comfortably between Daniela’s spread legs.

 

Using her other hand, Carla rested the tip of the strap-on at Daniela’s entrance, on top of the hand that is still inside Daniela, and she paused.

 

“You good?”

 

“Sí.” Dani nodded once, then again with more sureness, “Okay, I’m good.”

 

Carla adjusted her knees once more, and tilted her hips forward, sinking into Daniela as she pulled her fingers out.

 

Daniela gasped, “ Díos .”

 

Carla looked Daniela over in reverence.

 

Carla tentatively nudged forward, and Daniela purred. The tall woman lit up, bringing her hips back a bit, before slowly moving them again, hoping to get a repeat of the sound.

 

“That is enough of this slow bullshit.” Daniela’s voice was shaky, but still held a hint of fierceness as she chased the absolutely incredible feeling.

 

With a single arched eyebrow, Carla pulled back agaim, until only the tip of the dildo was inside her.

 

“Whatever you want, mi reina .”

 

That was all the warning Daniela got before Carla slammed her hips forward, forcing a sinful groan from Dani’s lips.

 

Daniela felt herself trembling, legs and arms fighting to keep her upright. Carla ran her hands down her legs, hands magnetized to the roll of pleasure coursing through Daniela’s body.

 

Carla was eager, and incredibly strong, hips snapping with rough and slow strokes.

 

It was different than what she was used to, but Daniela would be lying if she said she wasn’t a fan of slow and hard. Even moreso knowing Carla was the one giving her that pleasure.

 

Dani’s body craved more, thrusting forward to meet Carla’s hips with a slap.

 

“Always trying to take control, huh?” Carla arched her eyebrow again.

 

Daniela growled, “Could you fucking-?”

 

Whatever else she wanted to say was cut off by her own gasp, as Carla put her hands on Daniela’s hips, shifting her weight until Dani’s back hit the table.

 

There was a moment when Carla almost went with her, losing her balance, and pulling a laugh out of both of them as she flailed to regain herself.

 

“Still good?” She smoothed Carla’s hair back off her face.

 

“Yup. Just need to-“

 

She adjusted her hands, so they were on the desk just under Daniela's arms. The entire angle changed, and Daniela let out a broken sob.

 

Carla preened, resuming her previous rhythm as she plunged back into Daniela’s core.

 

Daniela felt a slow build inside her, unable to chase her own climax, yet still being driven there by Carla's wonderful thrusts.

 

“Besame…” Daniela reached out to hold the back of Carla’s neck.

 

Carla's face softened as she obliged. Their lips met in hunger, chasing the intoxication that bubbled up between them with every touch, and kissing with a burning fire that counterbalanced the slow waves of their hips. Carla’s hips jerked sharply, as the feeling of surrounding Dani in every way overwhelmed her.

 

It was at that moment that the door flew open.

 

“Dani, have you finished-?”

 

Daniela and Carla barely had time to break their kiss before Vanessa took in the scene before her.

 

Vanessa’s eyes widened, before she slammed her hands over her face. “WHAT THE FUCK!”

 

She didn’t give them the opportunity to speak or separate before the young woman fled.

 

Out in the salon, Cuca cut the music as soon as Vanessa’s shout filtered out from the back office. 

 

“What happened?” Nina reacted first, rushing towards her best friend with worry colouring her face.

 

“My EYES!” Vanessa shook her head, doing her best not to gag.

 

Cuca glanced up at the office door, noting frantic rushing on the other side, as well as the sound of Daniela cussing, and she smirked. 

 

She hadn't expected that.

*

 

“Shit.”

 

Carla’s brow knit deeply, “You okay?”

 

Getting redressed was a sobering experience. Carla had slid out of Daniela the moment the door shut, and rather ungracefully removed the harness from her waist while Daniela replaced her underwear. She turned, ready to toss the toy into her bag, when Daniela’s hand stopped her.

 

“Here.” She held a wad of Kleenex in one hand, and Carla’s boyshorts in the other.

 

Carla grabbed for the tissue, dutifully -if exaggeratedly- wiping the dildo off before she threw it in the tote bag.

 

Daniela bent down in front of her, and tapped on her thigh. It was almost funny, the way she held Carla’s underwear for her to step into; funny and sweet. Daniela knew better than anyone that Carla’s coordination was not as strong after strapping up. She remembered more than a few bumps and bruises as Carla fell while taking those first few vertical steps. That was one of the countless reasons Dani loved her; she was a giant goof.

 

Once her underwear was in place -and Daniela made a quick grab at her ass- it was Carla’s turn to help. She grabbed Daniela’s bra, and lifted it up and over her body, like she would a necklace. Once Daniela’s arms were in the straps, Carla drew the fabric up over her shoulders. She wrapped her fingers around the band, and smoothed it around her ribs until the ends were on either side of her spine. Carla pressed a kiss to the back of Daniela’s ear while she hooked her bra in place. Redressing her love wasn’t something Carla needed to keep her eye on; neither of them did. While they enjoyed watching each other’s bodies, making note of how every piece of fabric laid and flowed on their skin, they had long grown out of the necessity for it. Carla knew what hooks Daniela used on each of her bras, in the same way Daniela knew how Carla liked her sweatpants rolled down.

 

As soon as Daniela’s bra was back on, it was easier to get Dani looking presentable. She had thrown on what Benny called a “Daniela classic”: her turquoise patterned dress, with ¾ length sleeves, and more cleavage than should legally be allowed. As soon as her dress was replaced, Daniela made a half-hearted attempt at fixing her hair. She was stopped as Carla pulled her back, and kissed her soundly. They both sighed happily.

 

“We’ll never hear the end of it.” Daniela spoke as they reluctantly pulled back from the kiss.

 

“Oh yeah.” Carla nodded seriously, “We’ll be on our deathbed, and Vanessa will be reminding us of this.”

 

Deathbed singular. Just knowing Carla intended for them to be together, even at the end made Daniela grin.

 

“Time to face the music.”

 

Carla winced. “Good luck.”

 

Daniela poked her head back into the back room to glare at her love, “Do not leave me to the firing squad.”

 

Carla gave her a two finger salute, both barely hiding a smirk as they noticed the wetness still clinging to those two fingers.

*

 

Nina guided Vanessa to sit in one of the salon chairs, patting her shoulder sympathetically as she watched Vanessa drop her head between her knees. Benny, Cuca, and Usnavi, jerks that they were, were all keeled over laughing their asses off.

 

“What were they doing?” Cuca had to swallow down her laughter.

 

Vanessa groaned, “The most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

“No, I mean…” Cuca smirked, “Fingers? Mouth?”

 

Vanessa shook her head, burying it in her hands again. It was then that Cuca knew.

 

“No me diga— STRAP???”

 

Vanessa gagged loudly.

 

Daniela picked a rather unfortunate moment to leave the back room.

 

“Oh, yeah…” Cuca gestured to Daniela, as she walked out of the back, “Daniela only blushes like that after Carla dicks her down.”

 

The patented eyeroll wasn’t enough to stop redness from creeping across Daniela’s chest. That resulted in more horrified gagging from Vanessa.

 

“You said you were leaving for the night.” Daniela cleared her throat.

 

Vanessa frantically jumped out of the chair, and into Nina’s arms, “Get away from me, you sex-crazed heathen!”

 

“I appreciate that you attempted to hide the sex hair.” Benny laughed through his sentence.

 

Daniela rolled her eyes again, pulling her hair up into a ponytail.

 

“You left ! You said you were going out for dinner.”

 

Cuca coughed to hide her laughter, “We got rained out of our picnic, so we decided to come back and set up here-...”

 

Vanessa cut her off with an accusing finger pointed at her guardian, “You said you were doing payroll!”

 

Daniela bit the inside of her cheek awkwardly.

 

Technically , I said I was going to be in the office…”

 

“I feel well paid.” Carla’s voice floated out to the centre of the room as she finally made her appearance.

 

Vanessa clamped her hands over her ears.

 

Daniela cleared her throat, “Where’s Sonny?”

 

“Sonny and my dad are bonding over some video game.” Nina glanced at Carla, and quickly gestured for her to zip up her jeans.

 

“Lucky for them, THEY don't have to calculate how much therapy they're going to need to erase THAT from their memory banks!”

 

Daniela pinched the bridge of her nose. “You said you were gone for the night.”

 

“And YOU are a business owner!” Vanessa got very close to shouting. “You should not be defiling your own back room.”

 

Try as they might, Carla, Daniela, Usnavi, Benny, Nina and Cuca could not stop themselves from laughing.

 

“It's not funny!” A grin snuck its way onto Vanessa’s face, “I am traumatized !”

 

That just seemed to make everyone laugh harder, and Vanessa joined, her laughter stifled slightly.

 

“I have to know.” Nina bit her lower lip, “Was the music for our sake, or for your own enjoyment?”

 

“Benny taught me how to make playlists, and in my defense, I made one called "Baby Making" as a joke.” Carla pointed a thumb at Daniela, “It's not like I can knock her up.”

 

“You certainly do try.” Daniela muttered.

 

Vanessa clenched her jaw, before sitting down on the blanket they laid out. When rain started to fall as they were grabbing takeout, she had been the one to suggest the salon as their alternate picnic location. With the supply carts shoved out of the way, they had plenty of space to set up their blankets and the food.

 

“Dinner is set up.” Vanessa aggressively pointed between Daniela and Carla. “I want enough space between the two of you to fit Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the holy donkey, Shadrach, and Meshach! And a damn goat, for good measure!”

 

Carla dutifully saluted, while Daniela shook her head. 

 

“Y'all nasty as fu-…” Vanessa grumbled to herself, as she pulled food out of the takeout bags.

 

“Was there a reason you were… You know, inside her at work?” Cuca made a rather graphic gesture with three fingers, then thrust her hips repeatedly for good measure.

 

“NOPE!” Vanessa threw an egg roll at her friend, “I do not need a reason! Just brain bleach.”

 

“You’re so dramatic.” Usnavi shook his head in amused adoration.

 

Vanessa didn’t miss a beat, leaning forward and jabbing him in the chest with her outstretched finger. “I’d like you to imagine what it would have been like if you had walked in on your parents having sex on a desk.”

 

The second the words were out of her mouth, Usnavi, Benny and Nina’s faces all morphed into matching disgusted expressions.

 

That caused the salon ladies to laugh out loud.

 

“I have to go home and look at my dad after this!” Nina grimaced.

 

“I work with them every damn day.” Vanessa’s lip curled as she gave Daniela the barest of glances, “You’re paying for my therapy, Dani!”

 

“Whatever you say.”

 

With the animated conversation filling up the room, Daniela took the opportunity to lean into Carla.

 

“Six years, and this is the first time we’ve been caught.” She shook her head.

 

“Do you still want to marry me?” Carla’s eyes turned downcast.

 

“Of course, mi vida.” Dani leaned over, and whispered directly into her ear, “And once we get rid of them, we can finish celebrating .”

 

Carla kissed her soundly.

 

HEY!” They pull apart to see Vanessa’s very angry face looking back at them, “What’d I just say?! Separate!”

 

They dutifully shifted away from each other.

 

The rest of the evening was spent talking and laughing with the others, and after, once they were in the safety of their own apartment, Carla and Daniela continued their celebration into the wee hours of the morning.