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June of last year
She wasn't pregnant.
Thank God, she wasn't pregnant.
In the middle of her cousin Mireya's rehearsal barbecue, nature sent Tamara Contreras running into the bathroom and now the realization penetrated through the white-hot fear ... I'm not pregnant.
Sitting in her Tía Yolanda's bathroom with goose-head faucets, antacid green walls, and pink towels with mermaids that looked like drag queens in shell bras, Tamara realized that she'd been freed.
Her cheeks and mouth jerked with the need to cry and laugh at the same time. Her breath came in shallow pants, her shoulders settled up past her ears, and her stomach braided itself tight.
Free. She was free like she'd just been behind the wheel of a spinning car with screaming tires throwing up smoke, the unstoppable centripetal force gluing her to the seat until suddenly it jarred to a stop, inches from the center divide. For five horrifying days Tamara sat in the spinning car, seeing all of her plans to hack off the apron strings flash before her eyes.
Good-bye ninetieth percentile score on the GRE. Goodbye Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Southern California. Good-bye her own apartment in L.A.
And hello to little gold handcuffs that would bind her to Ruben Lopez forever.
If her mother knew ... her eyes flew to the door. Tamara knew from twenty-six years of life that Mom had powers. Powers that saw through locked bathroom doors and carefully composed facial expressions. One hint of a clue that associated Tamara with pregna --
She covered her eyes with her hands, trying toshield herself from the weight of that word. If her mother linked the p-word and her daughter, Tamara would've wound up in Tía Josie's dress shop faster than a stick turning pink.
Now that all of her mother's friends' kids were married, Susanna Melendez Contreras, forty-nine, declared war against her daughter's decision to remain emancipated from the union. She deployed troops on all fronts, sent out the spies, then hunkered down in the foxholes, waiting for the perfect moment.
But Tamara was free. Fate had toyed with withholding the monthly bill, then went, eh, we'll let you off this time.
The bitch of it was that she couldn't even remember when she and Ruben had ever even hit the big one.
"Tamara! Tamara, what's wrong?" An iron fist rapped on the door.
Tamara shot to her feet, then remembered she had locked the door. "I'll be right out," she called, putting herself back together. Thanking God again that packing tampons hadn't been just wishful thinking.
"Ay Díos, you had me so worried." A two-inch-thick door was apparently too much distance separating her from her firstborn child. "Let me in."
The last time Tamara checked, she was sure she'd been potty-trained at two. "I said I'd be right out."
"Are you sick? Was it the beans? I knew it. I told Yolanda she put in too much anchovy and ..."
"Sorry, can't hear you!" Tamara twisted the tap on. God, cold water never felt so good. And the feel of those eyesingeing towels ... she'd never take towels for granted ever again.
You just got a renewed lease on life, she told her pale reflection in the gilt-edged mirror. And as God as her witness, as God as her witness she'd never have unmemorable sex again!
"I'm fine," Tamara soothed, when she stepped out of the bathroom.
"Ruben and I were so worried, m'ija. You just ran off making a scene." Her mom's eyes widened, making her face into a perfect mask of maternal concern. "Everyone will think --"
Tamara tuned in the "mother filter" and dropped out. Remembering her Yoga class, she breathed while her mom continued with her lecture that Ruben had only been making a little fun of her when he said she never got to the point of her stories and ...
Just two. More. Days.
Just two more days, and Mireya's stupid wedding would be over with, and she could finally -- FINALLY -- break up with him.
"Now, m'ija, it was just a little joke," her mom advised gently. But the hand that took her arm was anything but gentle as she led her down the hallway. "You know how our Ruben is."
Tamara caught that don't-get-angry look of hers when they walked into the living room, where Ruben waited with his arms crossed and his eyes focused on the ceiling. He hardly looked worried.
"Is she okay?" he asked, as if Tamara were deaf or two years old.
To the ba-ba bum-bum-bum rhythm of the ranchero music blasting from the backyard, Tamara retreated to her mental countdown: twenty-three hours, fifteen minutes, and eight seconds ...
Ruben pounced on every opportunity to embarrass her in front of her family, her friends; it was like he was trying to mold her into something that would make their relationship just right instead of totally wrong.
"She's fine," Tamara snapped, when her mother opened her mouth to broker a peace treaty. She looked into his long-lashed brown eyes, which she once thought were the most soulful, loving she'd ever gazed into and smiled so hard she could've broken a tooth.
"Ay yi yi." Her mom looked down at the floor, resigned to a life of having to explain her daughter. "La va a pesar." "I know," Ruben sighed. "No le veo la punta."
Goddammit. Tamara clenched her fist. They always did that ... spoke Spanish when they didn't want her to understand exactly what they were saying.Hot Tamara. Copyright © by Mary Castillo. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.