Latin Quarters is not Leilani’s favorite night club. It attracts salsa snobs who are quick to toss you back to your seat if you can’t keep up. Leilani sits for the most part, watching her friend dance when a man approaches her.
“Come on, let’s dance,” he says, stretching out a hand. He has gelled black hair and green eyes. Holding Leilani tighter and tighter against him, he doesn’t take his eyes off her and twirls her around.
“What’s your name?” the man asks in a thick Italian accent.
“Maurizio. I’ve never seen you here before.”
“I hardly come here. Do you come here often?”
An hour passes by and Leilani needs to rest her feet. Maurizio follows her to a table and grabs a seat next to her. He offers to grab her a cup of water but she declines. He moves his chair closer to her, his knee brushing against hers.
They trade stories about living in New York, their careers and pastimes, the usual run-of-the-mill until there is nothing left but music in the background. They watch each other. Leilani likes this part. Maurizio’s hand finds his way to hers and rubs the back of it softly.
“I like black women,” he says and nibbles on her ear.
A week later, Maurizio invites Leilani to his place for dinner. One of his many careers between teaching high school, bartending, and now electrical engineering, included cooking for his uncle’s restaurant during college. Watching him make pasta in the kitchen, Leilani feels somewhat intimidated when he mentions he’ll be forty in November, fifteen years her senior.
The meal smells delicious, linguine with peppercorn and white sauce. It is the best Leilani has ever had.
Maurizio describes a home he owns in Sicily overlooking the valley and hills. “It was beautiful,” he says. Now he rents it out. Leilani pictures herself visiting the villa together when Maurizio shows her a picture of it.
They scrape their plates clean and Maurizio powers on his computer. “I want to show you some of my salsa videos,” he says. He motions for her to sit on his lap, places an arm around her and sneaks a kiss. She kisses back. Rubbing his hand through her hair, he plays the videos. Leilani is taken aback. For the past two years, Maurizio has traveled all around the world to salsa congresses, Rome, Madrid, Budapest, Berlin, Miami and Los Angeles. He has filmed each instruction class learning from the best. Until now, she assumed it was a hobby.
Maurizio presses pause and looks at her. “So maybe you can come over and we can practice the moves.”
Leilani doesn’t know what to say. “Um okay.” She tells herself he’s harmless over the weeks as they watch dance routines on a large projector screen in his living room with Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe, Joe Arroyo, Eddie Santiago and Sonora Carruseles bursting through the speakers. She is out of breath each time she leaves his apartment. Part of her feels like this won’t work, but he is settled in life, makes her laugh and is easy to talk to. It doesn’t hurt that he can cook well too.
It’s been two months and Leilani gets little sleep these days. Maurizio insists they practice at least three times a week at Latin Quarters. She doesn’t have the heart to tell him she hates the place.
After dinner one night, Maurizio asks to go dancing.
“I’m too tired, not tonight,” Leilani says.
Maurizio looks unsure of himself, looking down at his plate then at Leilani again. “Well, do you mind if I go out for an hour?”
“Then I’ll just go home.”
“No stay. I want you here. I’ll be right back.”
While Maurizio gets his fix, Leilani wakes up his computer to check her email. The desktop is a weekly calendar spread of every salsa night across the city. Not one day is blank.
Two hours pass by and Leilani dozes off on the couch. It’s 11 p.m. and he hasn’t texted or called. Leilani doesn’t have a key to his place so she can’t leave. He has turned her into a salsa slave. Leilani texts Maurizio demanding him to come home.
She is waiting on the sofa, arms crossed, when he arrives. “Your ass was gone for more than an hour,” she says, zipping up her leather jacket.
“Tesoro, forgive me please.”
“No, I’m mad at you.” She leaves the apartment and he follows her.
“Tesoro,” he calls.
“Stop calling me that.” She doesn’t mean to be nasty but something about that calendar, their practices and his late-night fixes have put her in a saucy mood. The magic has worn off.
But Maurizio looks so earnest. “I’m sorry,” she says, standing next to the subway station. They kiss goodnight and Leilani walks downstairs to the train.
“Let me know when you’ve made it home safely,” Maurizio calls out, “ah, but don’t call, text me.”
Leilani spins around. “You’re going again?”
“Yeeeees, I need to moooove,” he says, doing a one, two-step in place.
On the train ride home, Leilani deletes Maurizio’s number.
MONIQUE ANTONETTE LEWIS is the founder of At The Inkwell, a reading series located across the U.S. and in London, UK. Her essays have appeared in PoetryBay, Fused Society and the digital storytelling project, The Afterlife of Discarded Objects: Memory and Forgetting in a Culture of Waste. Monique lives in Denver.