Saturday, June 17, 2017

Chapter 32

Caleb saw Leana waiting after he turned the corner. She did not look happy. He jumped his bike up onto the sidewalk then brought it to a stop beside her.

“You ask me for a date by leaving a letter at my door, give me the address of a random street corner, refuse to respond to my text messages and phone calls, then show up late?”

“Sorry,” Caleb said while trying to catch his breath. “Phone isn’t working. Bad traffic. Almost got hit by a car.”

The stern expression on Leana’s face immediately melted. “Oh gosh, are you all right?”

“Yeah. Have you been waiting long?”

“Um, maybe ten minutes?”

“Damn. I’m sorry.” Caleb locked his bike onto a signpost.

“It’s all right. Your metro card still isn’t working? And your phone on top of that? What’s going on?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Caleb said. “Just bad luck lately. Ready to eat?”

“I’m famished.”

The restaurant was only a block away. The colorful sign on the front identified it as Casa de Sandoval.

“Wow,” Leana said. “How have I never heard of this place?”

“It’s brand new. Opened last week.”

“I hope it’s good,” Leana said, trying to hide her skepticism. Caleb wasn’t surprised. As Mexican food was her favorite, she could be very picky.

They entered. Caleb requested an outside table from the hostess and they were quickly seated on a second floor balcony with a great view. The setting sun painted the clouds in swaths of reds, pinks, and oranges—all reflected in the windows of the buildings. Everything in the city cast an elongated shadow.

Leana browsed the menu. “Wow. I have no idea what to get. Everything looks so amazing.”

“Check the next page,” Caleb said.

Leana did and her eyes lit up. “They have chile relleno burritos? Oh my gosh.” She looked at Caleb.

“You knew about this?”

“I checked all the reviews I could find. Lots of people say they’re are even better here than at Filipe’s.”

“No way. Not possible.”

“You’ll have to try it and find out.” Caleb casually scratched his chin as he looked up at the sky. “You might want to take a look at the desserts,too.”

“Hmm?” Leana flipped to the back. She gasped. “Tres leches!” The people sitting around them looked at Leana, alarmed. She laughed. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m just so excited.” She leaned forward and whispered to Caleb. “Tres leches is the best dessert ever.”

“I know,” Caleb said. “It’s your favorite kind of cake.”

“Have I ever told you that?”

“No.”

“Then how could you know?”

“I asked your brother.”

“He’s in Germany.”

“Yeah, but there’s this cool thing called the internet.”

“You’re ridiculous, Caleb.”

“You’re ridiculous-ly awesome. You deserve it.”

Leana blushed and turned to hide her face as their waiter walked up. He introduced himself, asked if he could get them drinks. Leana looked too embarrassed to speak, so Caleb ordered two horchatas for them.

Once the waiter was out of sight, Leana reached up to swat Caleb on the arm. “Don’t surprise me with corny stuff like that in public,” she told him.

“Sorry,” Caleb said, smiling.

“You don’t look sorry.”

“Probably because I’m not.”

“Ugh. You’re the worst.”

Caleb’s smile widened. “You’re the best.”

Leana blushed again and kicked him under the table.

“Ouch.” Caleb reached down to rub his shin.

Leana cleared her throat and straightened her posture. “So, Caleb, how are things going?”

“What do you mean?”

“How’s life? How’s your summer going?”

“Um.” Caleb’s mind raced with the recent events involving Lucidity, Yin Jiāng, and Obscurity. This was actually the first time he’d been able to stop thinking about all that crap in a long time. The flashes of memory felt like an intrusion on this perfect night, so he pushed them away. He wasn’t about to unload all of that on Leana. “Well,” he said, “I’ve made some new friends.”

“Oh really? Tell me about them.”

“I met Dem through Marcos. She runs DJ battles online. She’s really into anime and… computers.”

“Cool.”

“Bō’s another person I met recently. He’s into parkour and… art.”

“Wow. They sound like interesting people. How did you meet Bō?”

“Oh, you know, just around.” Caleb had hoped their waiter would show up again to interrupt the current conversation, but it didn’t look like he’d be that lucky. “Tell me about your new job,” Caleb said to change the topic.

“It’s going really well. Working with Meiying is nice, but it gets so busy that we don’t have have much time to talk or anything.” Leana sighed. “People make such a mess that I swear ninety-nine percent of my time is spent just refolding clothes and rearranging them. But the other people who work there are cool.” Leana thankfully stayed on the topic of her job. She told him about each of her new coworkers, then recounted a few stories about wild customers.

The waiter returned to take their orders. Leana got the chile relleno burrito, of course. Caleb decided to go with a combination plate that included a tamale, chicken quesadilla, and a beef burrito. They continued to chat until the food arrived and then they focused on eating. Once they finished the entrees, they ordered tres leches for dessert. Leana bounced in her seat as the thick slice of white cake arrived, resting in a small white puddle. The super-moist cake drenched in cold milk was topped with airy whipped cream. Caleb quickly understood why Leana loved it so much.

The waiter came to take their plates when they were finished and gave Caleb the check. After paying in cash, he stood and led Leana outside. “Let’s go for a walk,” he said as they reached the sidewalk.

Leana groaned. “I don’t know. I’m stuffed.”

“We can walk slowly. You’ll enjoy it, I promise.”

“All right,” Leana said. She took Caleb’s hand. It was his turn to blush, and he hoped she didn’t notice.

Lunar Park was only a few blocks away. The small trees filling the park glowed softly from lights woven between the branches.

Leana narrowed her eyes at Caleb while grinning. “How convenient that this was so close.”

“I know, right? What a coincidence.”

They followed one of the many paths between the trees. The park seemed completely empty, except for them and the crickets chirping and the toads croaking in the grass. Caleb was completely relaxed. He felt no need to rush across the city, to track anyone down, or to research cybersecurity. This was the only place he wanted to be and the only thing he wanted to do.

They came to a circular pond in the center of the park. The wavering reflections of the tree’s lights looked almost like glowing fish swimming under the surface of the water. Caleb brought Leana to sit on a nearby bench. Before he had a chance to speak, she kissed him. He leaned into her. She squeezed his hand.

When they separated to breathe, a question burst from Caleb’s chest and out through his mouth. “Do you want to be my girlfriend? Again?”

Leana smiled at him in the dim light. “Yes, dummy.” They kissed more. After, Leanna rested her head on his shoulder. They sat that way for a while, listening to the crickets and watching the water.

Caleb’s sense of contentment shattered as a train of guilt slammed right through him. Dishonesty had destroyed their relationship last time.

Caleb took a deep breath. “I need to tell you something,” he said.

Leana lifted her head and slid back a bit. She had sensed the stress in his voice. “What is it?”

He told her everything, from the very beginning—the mysterious messages from a girl named Miranda that he’d never met—to the very end—the meeting at Dem’s warehouse where they planned their heist to destroy Obscurity and save Lucidity from the Yin Jiāng tower. “We’ve got everything pretty much figured out, he said, except for how to get in without being stopped at the front door.” After speaking, he kept his eyes to the ground. He couldn’t bare to see the look on her face, whether it was of disgust, or confusion, or anger.

“I can get you in,” she said.

Caleb looked up at her. Inexplicably, the only emotion showing on her face was determination.

“What?” Caleb asked. “How?”

“Remember that paper I wrote last year, the one that got first place in the contest?”

“Kind of…”

“The topic was Technological Tools for Open-Source Leadership. After it won that award, I got invitations from lots of companies to talk to them and take a tour of their offices. I only went to a few, but I’m pretty sure Yin Jiāng was on the list. I bet if I give them a call, they’ll invite us right in.”

“Wow.”

“There’s a catch, though,” Leana said. “I’ll have to go with you.”

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