“¿Tú comes manzanas?”
“Yo bebo leche.”
Rafael glanced up from the case file he was reviewing at the kitchen table. Sonny was sprawled out on his couch, glued to his phone. They had been seeing each other for a while and were now at the point where spending time together didn’t have to involve constant interaction. Sonny was content to hang out on Rafael’s couch and read or watch tv. Rafael was content to curl up on Sonny’s, laser-focused on his Nintendo Switch.
The first time he brought it over, Sonny’s jaw dropped. Sonny had barely pulled out his textbooks before Rafael made a beeline for the couch and turned on his game.
“Did you really come over here to not help me study and instead play, whatever it is you’re finding so interesting?” Sonny asked with mild exasperation.
“Please, I know you don’t really need me to help you study. Besides, I’ve been pulling 12-hour days in the office for the last nine days. I just need to get out of my head for a bit,” Rafael explained. “And it’s Mario,” he added with a whine. “I never got to have this growing up.”
And with that, Sonny’s heart melted. Of course he didn’t have Mario growing up in the Bronx. Even though he didn’t often talk about his childhood, it was always implied that his family didn’t have much money. Maybe he could scrape together some coins to go to the arcade every now and then, but he certainly wouldn’t have had a Nintendo. He deserved every video game he wanted. Sonny believed Rafael deserved to have everything in life, including a partner who spoke his native language.
“Las manzanas por favor,” a child’s voice stated.
“Las manzanas por favor,” the Staten Island accent replied.
Finally, curiosity got the better of him. “Carisi…are you….are you having a one-sided conversation about apples and milk?”
Sonny flushed and looked down. Maybe this was a mistake. “Yeah, I thought maybe I’d learn some Spanish. I know when you talk to your Ma you only speak Spanish. And I hear you when you argue with Nick.”
“And you thought asking about my apple-eating habits would be nice to throw into the mix?”
Sonny sighed and tossed his phone onto the couch. “Well Duolingo isn’t exactly going to teach me how to Mirandize or discuss the finer points of case law.” “I know it’s stupid,” he added when Rafael didn’t respond.
Rafael remained silent. This was new. Mentally he took stock of previous partners and quickly sorted them into two categories: Latinos who were already fluent in Spanish and white people who ignored his heritage until dinnertime rolled around, when they would happily dive into whatever Cuban meal he threw together and then act like enjoying ropa vieja counted as cultural competence. If the language skill wasn’t already there, no one had ever made an effort to acquire it.
Yet here was Carisi. Butchering rolled Rs. Struggling his way through food items Rafael isn’t entirely sure Sonny even eats. And he was doing it to show that he cared. This is love, Rafael realized. In all the time they spent together, neither man had said the words, but this is what love looks like. Someone relaxing in a home that isn’t his, baby-stepping his way out of his comfort zone, to form a stronger bond with another person for completely non-selfish reasons.
“Te amo,” Rafael blurted out. “Te amo mi dulce Soleado.”
Sonny’s eyes snapped up. He understood exactly three words of that sentence. At least he thought he did. But it wasn’t enough. He needed to be sure because he wanted to say it back. With confidence and certainty. In a manner that didn’t sound like he was badly parroting a cartoon character on an app.
“Raf…I…I gotta tell you that if you’re saying the phrase I think you’re saying, romantic conversations aren’t taught until Unit 6.”
Rafael let out a laugh and moved closer. “I love you,” he said, leaning in even closer. “I love you, my sweet Sonny,” he whispered before reaching down and gently cupping Sonny’s face for a kiss.
“I love you too Raf. I love you so much. Te amo…pero no bebo leche y no quiero comer manzanas.”
Rafael let out another laugh and gave him another kiss. “It’s okay that you don’t drink milk, and you don’t have to eat apples. As for Unit 6, I’m pretty sure I can manage to give you all the Spanish lessons you need. Although I must say, we need to work on how you roll your Rs. It’s really all about properly moving your tongue.”
This time it was Sonny who let out a laugh before pulling him in for a deeper kiss. “I think that can be arranged. In fact, I think I can start working on my tongue movement right now.”
Rafael grinned as he moved to straddle the taller man. “Sí. Sí tu puedes. Yes you can.”