Jenny parked her car by the curb in front of Gio’s house. She glanced at the red painted ranch style house and smiled.
“Cute,” she said. “Now do I need to pick you up later, Cinderella or is he taking you home?”
Andrea laughed. “No, my parents will be gone so he can drop me off. Lucky’s is having their annual pre-Christmas party.” Andrea rolled her eyes. “All the drunks will be there til late for the free food and one free drink with coupon.”
“Good times.” Jenny patted her knee. “Let me know if anything changes.”
“I will.” Andrea opened her door then reached into the back to get her dress and bag. “Thanks again.”
“I want to see pictures.”
“Sorry, I don’t have a camera.” Carmen would surely have a photographer, but Andrea might not get to see them right away, let alone have any.
“I figured as much.” Jenny reached into her purse and pulled out a disposable camera. She tossed it onto the passenger seat toward Andrea. “That’s why I got you this.”
“I’ll pay you back.”
“Pay me back with awesome pictures. Besides, you’ll have to pay to get them developed.”
“Fine.” Andrea grabbed the camera and smiled. “See you later.”
“Have fun!” Jenny waved and pulled away from the curb.
Before she could go more than a few steps, the front door flew open. Wearing sweatpants and t-shirts like her, Gio and Poppy both raced out and ran down the steps, laughing. He used an arm to push her behind him and reached Andrea first. He wrapped his arms around her waist and spun her around, her plastic covered dress spinning out like a flag and the bag with her shoes and makeup slipping off her shoulder to dangle from her elbow.
She laughed with him. “Put me down before I drop all this stuff.”
“Lo siento,” he said, letting her slide down his chest until her tennis shoes were back on the ground. He kissed her lips then jerked his chin toward Poppy standing behind him with her arms crossed. “I had to get to you first since she’s going to steal you away again.”
“It’s my day, hermano.” She giggled and punched his shoulder. “Get used to it.”
“Sì, it is.” He took the dress and bag from Andrea’s grasp and shook his head. “Well, it was nice to see you again. I’ll just join the rest of the commoners.”
Andrea and Poppy laughed then his sister took the dress from Gio. “I’ll take that. You shouldn’t get to see her dress until she’s in it.”
“It’s not a la boda, Poppy.”
“No, but my day, my rules. See you inside, Andrea.” She blew a raspberry at Gio and skipped back inside the door with the dress.
Andrea grabbed his face between her hands. She kissed him again, a little longer this time. “I missed you yesterday,” she said between kisses.
“Same.” He leaned his forehead against hers and held her hands. “Mis abuelas are probably looking out the window. We should save this for later. They wouldn’t like it if I did what I want to do right now.”
“Oh?” Andrea smiled. “Would I like it?”
“Absolutamente.” He pulled her bag from her hand and slung it over his shoulder. “Are you ready to meet mi familia?”
“All of them?” Her stomach tightened. “Sure.”
He laughed at her high pitched answer. “It’s just my grandparents for now. The rest will be at the church.”
“A quinceanera begins with a mass. Then we get to party.” He kissed the back of her hand and they walked along the sidewalk toward the front door. “Dancing, food, my dad crying as he tries to give a speech.”
“Can’t beat dad tears for good entertainment.”
Gio laughed and held the door open for her. As they entered, Carmen and Miguel rose from their places on the recliners and came to kiss her cheek.
“Hola,” Andrea said, feeling brave enough to kiss them back this time.
“We’re glad you’re finally here,” Miguel said chuckling. “Poppy is strung tighter than a violin. Maybe you can calm her down with hair and makeup.”
“Oh, stop it,” Carmen patted his elbow. “It’s a big day for her.”
“I’ll do my best,” Andrea replied.
Gio squeezed her hand in his for a moment then gestured to his grandparents on the couch.
“Nonna Ruiz, Abuela y Abuelo Martinez, esta es mi novia, Andrea.” He waved a hand at each as he said their names then ended with a hand on Andrea’s lower back.
Andrea met their smiling faces. “Mucho gusto,” she said.
They all stood and Nonna Ruiz reached for her first. She kissed both of Andrea’s cheeks, holding her by the shoulders.
“Ciao. It’s very nice to meet you, too.” Her shoulder length dark hair was heavily peppered with gray but her smooth skin only wrinkled around her eyes and mouth as she smiled. More good genes for Gio.
“Sì, mucho, mucho gusto.” Abuela Martinez, Carmen’s mother Andrea assumed, kissed her, too. The soft white curls left hanging out of her bun tickled Andrea’s cheek like feathers.
But Gio’s grandpa skipped the kissing and wrapped Andrea in a big hug with his long arms. Taller than Gio’s six-feet, he towered over her, making her feel like a kid. She laughed as he squeezed her, getting a glimpse of Gio’s dimpled face as his grandpa lifted her off the floor and held her to his barreled chest.
“Ah, so you are the chica Gio won’t stop talking about.” He set her back down on the floor and shook her hand. “Poppy wasn’t the only one watching out the window for you to arrive. And now I can see why.”
He winked at Gio and Andrea’s face flooded with heat.
“Guilty,” Gio said taking her hand again and holding it with both of his.
“Papà…you’re embarrassing them,” Carmen said with a laugh. “You’ll have plenty of time for that later. Ease into it, sì?”
The adults all laughed at that and Gio pulled Andrea toward the bedrooms. “C’mon, I’ll rescue you. Poppy is probably getting impatient.”
“Good luck,” Abuela Martinez called after them.
Andrea smiled as Gio led her down the hallway to Poppy’s room. He stopped outside her door, glancing back toward his family talking loudly in the living room.
“Sorry, I may have mentioned you a time or two. And Abuelo loves to embarrass me.”
“It’s fine. They seem really nice.” She snorted. “Your Abuelo is a hoot.”
“He likes to joke and he’s never shy.”
“Hmm, so you come by it naturally then?”
“Ha, sì.” Gio cupped his palm around her cheek. “Work fast, okay?”
“I will.” She leaned into his hand and closed her eyes for a second. “Hey. What is a la boda?”
Gio grinned then glanced again toward the living room. He gave her a soft warm kiss that turned up the heat in her face—and her chest and her legs and her gut.
“A la boda is a wedding. Poppy was being silly.”
“Oh,” Andrea widened her eyes. What had Gio mentioned to them before she arrived? “Your grandparents don’t think that we—”
“No.” He laughed. “It’s just that a quinceanera is kind of like a wedding. You’ll see. That’s why I said she was being silly.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty silly.” And toooootally against her plan. Andrea sucked in a deep breath. “I better get busy. I’ll see you when I finish so… a little over an hour.”
“Okay. I’ll go back and talk about you. Gives Abuelo more to tease us about.”
“Good idea,” she said giggling. He kissed her fingertips then walked away as she knocked on Poppy’s door.
An hour later, after finishing Poppy’s makeup and hair—which took longer than expected because she asked Andrea to weave a sparkly silver ribbon with the braids in the back—Poppy said she’d dress in the basement.
“Mis abuelas and Mamà want to help with that part.” She hugged Andrea. “Thank you so much. I’m glad my brother met you.”
“True, I was here at the right time.” Andrea fiddled with a curl that kept leaving the group on Poppy’s shoulder.
But Poppy shook her head. “No. That’s not what I meant. Gio hasn’t always been so, cheerful.”
“He seems pretty cheerful to me.”
“He’s had… trouble before. With kids at school.”
“What kind of trouble?”
Poppy bit her bottom lip for a moment then nodded. “He’d be angry for me telling you but in the past, he’s not been... serious with girls.”
“Stop.” Andrea put her hand on Poppy’s arm. “He’s already told me about this. About his, uh, experiences.”
“Oh. Well, that’s good. He’s being honest then.” She smiled and shook her head. “He must really be serious about you.”
“No. For sure. You don’t see the changes in him. He’s different. Happier. Because of you.” Poppy kissed her cheek. “So, thank you.”
Andrea nodded and swallowed the lump from her throat. Poppy had it wrong though. She was happier.
“I’ll go so you can get ready.” She grabbed a pair of white tennis shoes from her bed. “I know he is dying to be with you.”
She left and Andrea stared at the closed door for a moment. Wow. Poppy was taking the whole girl to woman change seriously. She’d sounded more like Gio’s mom than his little sister.
Moving to the bed, Andrea unzipped her bag. She applied a light coat of makeup, pulled the very top of her hair back, securing it at her crown with the sparkly rhinestone comb, and slipped into the blue dress—this time without a bra to mess things up.
Good thing I’m a b-cup.
She put on the silver shoes, added a pearl necklace and earrings from Jenny’s boutique, and surveyed the results in the full length mirror on the back of Poppy’s bedroom door. She nodded and smiled. Not bad. At least she didn’t look like she came from the trailer park tonight.
She put her things back into the bag and opened the door. She took a few steps into the hallway, stopping after she stumbled twice. The shoes were the lowest Jenny had, but still, at two-inches, they were higher than anything Andrea normally wore. She should have practiced.
Slowing her pace, she walked toward the men’s voices in the kitchen. Gio laughed at something his grandpa said in Spanish and her heart sped. She smiled as she came around the corner.
Miguel spotted her first. He raised his eyebrows and smiled as he stood from where he sat at the kitchen table. His black tuxedo made him look like a model for G.Q. Gio and his grandpa stood as well, Gio turning to face her as she came into the room.
His eyes and mouth opened wide for a moment then he pressed his lips together and visibly swallowed.
Andrea let her gaze travel from Gio’s perfect hair, past his crisp white shirt and black pants, snug in all the right places, and on to his shiny black shoes. Her heart bypassed fast and went straight to chased by Freddy Krueger speed.
“You look, uhm really great,” she said. Gio’s grandpa chuckled and her face grew steamy.
Dirty old man totally knows I think his grandson is hot.
Gio had the advantage of not facing his family. He took a longer time to check her out, lingering on her bare shoulders, and by the time his eyes finally made it back to hers, she thought she’d melt onto the kitchen floor.
“Hijo are you riding with us to the church?” his dad asked.
Andrea still couldn’t look at Miguel, but she could hear the smile in his voice and her face grew even hotter. She fingered the black velvet clutch Jenny had loaned her that held her camera and lipstick. She twisted and untwisted the clasp like she was making sure it worked instead of drooling over Gio in front of his dad and grandpa.
“Uh, no,” Gio stepped forward and took her bag then her hand, turning to face his dad. “We’ll go in my car. I’ll have to take her home later and you’ll probably still be entertaining the guests.”
“Sure. Sounds good.” Miguel smiled.
“We’re ready so we’ll go now.” Gio looked at Andrea then his grandpa and dad. “We’ll see you there soon.”
His grandpa chuckled again but Miguel only nodded. “Be safe. We should be there in about twenty minutes.”
“Yep.” Gio all but pulled her out the back door and onto the chilly deck. She’d forgotten to ask Jenny for a jacket, but the chill didn’t bother her—not with the heat Gio provided.
“What’s the rush?” Not that she minded being alone with him.
Without answering he guided her to his car parked at the end of the driveway behind what must be his grandpa’s red sedan. He opened the car door for her, and she got in. He jogged around to the driver’s side, tossed her bag into the back seat, then hopped in and started the car.
She turned to repeat her question and was instead pulled into his arms and kissed senseless. His fingers caressed her bare shoulders and slid up her neck to tangle in her curls and his warm soft lips moved over hers with a firmness he’d never used before. This kiss meant business and as far as she was concerned, the store was open.
Breathing fast, she kissed him back, running her hands across the black fabric of the tux jacket that covered the bulge of his biceps. She avoided messing his gelled hair but couldn’t resist slipping her hands to the silky shirt hiding his rock hard chest.
“This is why.” He kissed behind her ear and the heat of his breath sent goosebumps down her neck. “If I had to wait one more second, I was going to do this in front of Papà y Abuelo. God, you look incredible.”
He returned to her lips and she let him for a moment, then she giggled and pushed him on the chest. “That new leaf totally died.”
“Sì, your hotness scorched it.”
“Ooh,” Andrea winced. “That line won’t make it into the book.”
“Sorry, your beauty scrambled my brain.” He kissed her nose and reached for his seatbelt. “Maybe we should go before I ruin your impression of me more.”
Andrea turned his face back to hers and gazed into his deep brown eyes. “Hey, your grandpa saw me undressing you with my eyes, so I think we’re even.”
“That must be it. You’re a bad influence on me.”
“Sì.” She smiled and gave him a quick kiss. “Guess we should get to church, huh? Repent for our sins or something like that?”
Laughing he put his arm on the back of her seat and reversed out of the driveway onto the street. “Nah, I like you just the way you are.”
“That’s good, because I don’t get much better than this.” She waved to her borrowed dress and shoes. “I’m more of a jeans and tennis shoes girl. Jenny let me borrow all this.”
“Eres perfecta,” he said. “Jenny knows what she’s doing. My tux is borrowed, too. Who cares?”
He was right. Guys didn’t stress over borrowing clothes they wouldn’t wear again. Why should she? Andrea grinned as Gio drove to the church, her stomach filled with butterflies ready to dance the night away.
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