Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Onde Anda Você — Four

         "Ok, I've a serious question now-" I balance the huge plastic cup in one hand. I'm sitting in one of the concrete seats at the park; Ben is sitting in his chair, positioned in front of me. I gotta look up at him, which is a nice thing—for a change. "Is your name really Bernardo Bernstein?"

He nearly chokes at his freshly pressed sugarcane juice—a local specialty. He sets down his cup right between his legs.

"Why on earth would you think that?"

"Well, Bernstein Foundation and all." I shrug. "The one you gave a full speech for last night."

He raises his eyebrows in understanding and then laughs.

"Honestly I'm a little hurt that you think I'm a product of blatant nepotism." He fakes a hurt tone. 

I shrug again. This is São Paulo we're talking about. We've long since abolished the monarchy, but lines of succession—in politics and economy, of all things—are still very much A Thing. Money comes from money, and money is always, always old. In all honesty, there have been no nouveau riche in the tropics since women still wore corsets. Ben himself might not be a local, but he's from Minas and that's São Paulo's only slightly nicer twin.

"Besides, that's a stupid fucking name." He laughs.

"I don't know, it's kinda cute. It rhymes and all."

Ben rolls his eyes. "It's Monteiro. Bernardo Monteiro."

I chew on my greasy street food. Ben had promised me he wouldn't take me to the City Ballet, but we sure are really damn close. I can almost see gorgeous arches peeking through the trees, the proud City Theater glistening in gold from the exuberant lighting. It's been sitting here for well over a century, a monument for the elites of the 19th century. Surrounding the park Ben drove me to, 4 very different styles compete for attention, São Paulo's progressive history standing side by side; the graceful Neoclassical buildings next to the imposing Art Déco ones, and a touch of the 1950s modernist style overshadowing the contemporary reflexive glass skyscrapers. It's a city like no other.

"So if you're not a product of nepotism, then…"

"I'm just in a relatively high position at the Foundation." He says with a shrug. He's so full of bullshit. "They had me do the speech because they thought it would bring a touch of sensitivity that a crip should be up there congratulating people for… curing another crip with the double arm transplant and all."

"Oh god…" I bend forward with laughter, nearly spitting my drink. "That's some real tokenism shit."

"Yeah…" He raises his eyebrows. "But I'll gladly do it the day they find a cure for spinal cord injuries. Hell, I'll hop the steps up there."

Oof. I almost wanna high five myself for guessing that one right.

"What's your injury?" I ask, quickly taking a sip at my sugarcane juice, preventing my mouth from having any weird reactions, and taking the cue he's offering me before it cools off.

"T10." He says, then adds: "Complete."

I nod, faking normalcy, as if that piece of information was as natural as his last name or what he does for a living, but I make a mental note to refresh my mind on it later. A complete injury should mean he can't feel or move, and that he's, well, incontinent. Out of professional curiosity, I wonder if he uses a foley catheter, but of course that is TMI. And out of not so professional interest, I also wonder how it works down there.

A sequence of three skaters zoom by us, so fast they must be breaking the sound barrier, and I silently thank the quick distraction, the focus diversion, they offer. Now it doesn’t have to be awkward, and we can move to something, anything, else. Injury stories are too heavy for a… well, whatever the hell this is. It’s definitely not a date. Even though he paid for the food. But that’s not the definition of a date, it’s the definition of chivalry.

But isn’t chivalry just another way of taking women to bed?

Does that mean this is a date?

“Are you coming from work?” I change subjects.

“Liv, it’s Saturday.”

Oh. That’s right. The white tee and blue jeans he's wearing paired with a pair of impeccably white stan smiths should have been indication enough. He looks just as good now, informally dressed, as he did last night, the solid biceps I felt under the expensive suit are still very much there and hell of a lot more impressive. It’s not in a crazy weight lifting way, they’re not bursting from his shirt or anything and they look proportional to his body,  but they’re solid in this I-wheel-myself-all-day way, which I find surprisingly sexy. There’s something so incredibly masculine about Ben that makes me wanna watch him for hours. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to look at a man as much as I wanna look at him. 

“Weekends are an alien concept to me,” I say with a shrug.

“Even God rested on the seventh day, why shouldn’t I?”

“I guess I’m just more competent than God.” I shrug again, smiling. “If he existed, that is.”

“Good point.”

Still, I bet he's a nice catholic boy. Maybe not one who goes to mass or is very committed to faith and dogma, but a cultural, generational catholic guy who bows his head and crosses himself when he walks into a church, and has a nice relationship with Mother Mary. It’s sweet, I think. My family has strong opinions on lots of things, but religion isn’t one of them; they’re only vaguely spiritualist. I’m not even that much. 

Speaking of which…

I feel my phone vibrating against my leg before I hear it ringing, and I immediately reach for it. Mom. I raise an apologetic finger at him and accept the call.

“Why aren’t you at home?” Is the first thing she asks. Nice talking to you too. “Wasn’t your shift over an hour ago?”

Sometimes I think that letting my mom know what my work schedule is was a terrible idea. She probably tried my landline—she's the only one who does. Not even I know my own landline phone number.

“I’m working some extra hours.” I say. I don’t owe them the truth, and explaining Ben isn’t something I’m too eager to do.

“Do you need money?” Her voice becomes more suspicious.

“No, mother.” Although I wouldn’t complain if I got some. “Just covering up for someone.”

I can almost hear her shake her head like I’m a lost case. I probably am.

“ I swear, what they do to you isn't legal. Any labor court would think so.” I don't entirely disagree, but I don't wanna start yet another discussion involving labor laws. "Are you coming to dinner at bachan’s tomorrow? Or will you work another shift?"

As much as I’d love to lock myself up at home tomorrow and not have to do anything other than scroll through all the useless streaming platform catalogues I own without finding anything appealing enough to watch, I can’t say no to that. Dinner at grandma’s is unskippable for reasons that are entirely out of my control. 

“Yeah, I’ll be there.” I say, sharing a look with Ben, who’s been doing a good job at pretending he isn’t interested in the conversation. 

“Good, because you know bachan, she’ll wanna roll the food all by herself and the arthritis…”

“What time do you want me to come?” I ask before she can go on.


In case you haven’t noticed, Dinner at bachan’s is just a manner of speaking. And even though we’ll all be there to help Bachan roll the food because of her arthritis, she won’t actually let any of us do more than cooking the rice, maybe she'll condescendingly let mom do something. And we’ll spend the day sitting in the kitchen, talking about whichever cousin isn’t there—you don’t wanna be the cousin who isn’t there. 

“Your dad is telling me to let you know we’re all wearing the stripes-” she quickly adds after I hear his voice in the background. “For the game.”

You’ll not be allowed inside the house if you don’t, I hear him talk into the phone before mom can swat him away.

“Sure, mom.” I chuckle, breaking eye contact with Ben and crushing my empty plastic cup with one hand. “I gotta go.”

Once she finally hangs up, I find Ben looking at me with a questioning look.

"At work, huh?" 

Yeah. Shit.

"My parents already know enough about my life,” I explain, not that I need to. “I like to keep what I can to myself.”

He doesn’t seem too affected. “You’re close with them?”

I snort, “Understatement of the century. Are you?” 

“Close with your parents? Not yet, but I intend to.” He says it with such a straight, convinced face that I can’t suppress the laugh. I barely even notice it when I playfully slap his knee, making it bounce a bit and crush the empty plastic cup set between his legs. I quickly retreat my hand and sit on it, staring down at his feet on the footplate to avoid his eyes. 

At first, I’d thought his shoes were impeccably clean, but now I see that isn’t completely true; the tips and the outer rubber soles are scraped, in places where they shouldn’t be. It only takes me a second to deduce it’s from dragging them in the asphalt whenever he transfers on and off his car. When I look back at him, he doesn’t seem upset.

“Yeah, I don’t know. We don’t live exactly close and they're kind of… complicated.” Ben tells me with a shrug, not even blinking at my faux pas. “Do you have any siblings?”

“Only one older brother. You?” I sit back. “You kinda look like you have a big family.”

“Yeah, you know how we are. Gotta have lots of kids so they help out in the coffee fields,” He rolls his eyes. “But no it's just a brother and a little sister. My parents somehow managed to be pretty conservative in every aspect that matters.”

The way he says it makes me think there’s some underlying bitterness thete. My parents might be nosy and inconveniently intrusive, unaware of personal boundaries and still think of me as an extension of them even though I’ve been living on my own for years, but it’s not something I’ve ever considered holding a grudge against. It’s family, it’s how we work.

Another skater rolls by, their wheels making that satisfying sound on the concrete, stopping suddenly to make a cool flip in the air. Ben and I are both watching it, so I say: “Oh, to be young again…”

Ben’s eyes linger on the skater a little longer than mine, and I get to briefly watch his face as he does it; does it hurt a little—watching people do that kind of thing? Does he miss skating, if he ever did? Does he miss the mere possibility of it? But then he looks back at me, a mischievous look on his face, 

“Speak for yourself, I'm not old.” Then he reclines back on his chair, lifting the front caster wheels and balancing in the back ones until his knees are nearly touching his chest. I’ve seen him do that before, back when he needed to wheel through the grass or little curbs, but this time he suddenly turns his chair around, spinning so quick his empty plastic cup flies in my direction.

“Ben!” I let out a laugh.

The boyish grin once he’s over that really convinces me he’s not old at all. He bounces back for a little longer and settles down. Ben wheels closer, adjusting his feet in the  narrow footplate again. His knees spasm for a moment, his heels going up and down and sliding back to the calf strap. He presses down his thighs by leaning over with his forearms and it subsides.

“So I guess I won’t be seeing you tomorrow?” He asks after aligning the tips of his shoes. 

I lean in too, “You will, if you sleep with me tonight.”

His knees are touching mine now, elbows on his thighs, so close I can feel his fresh sugarcane breath.

“Nice try, Livia Nakamura.” his lips hover over my ear, making every hair in my arms and neck stand up. “You keep doing that and you might just get what you want.”


“But I have plans for you.” I just hope they're not long term ones. "In the long run."

Yeah, about that…

"We'll see."

"Nat is getting a boob implant later this month."

I frown. "But she already got one."

My cousin Christina shrugs and nods, "She's getting bigger ones."


My mom's eyes are on the sushi rolls she's been working on for the past twenty minutes—enough time for grandma, sharing the kitchen table, to finish five, rolled to perfection—but that doesn't stop her from shaking her head disapprovingly.

"She'll regret it sooner or later," she says. "And have to pay double to get it removed."

I don't know if that's entirely true, but Bachan chuckles in silence, eyeing mom's slow work. "Less rice, Anna."

I sit back against the table, sharing a look with Chris as we watch mom struggle to roll her sushi, and sip my beer. The kitchen has always been the beating heart of bachan's home; it's where we gather, no matter how many of us, to cook—rather watch grandma cook or pretend to help, like mom—and mostly share family gossip. If Nat had been here, with her infamous boob implants, she'd probably deliver the news herself, lift her top and show us how big the new ones will be by using the nearest fruit available. 

"Isn't it true, Livy?" Mom asks me. "I bet you see ruptured implants all the time."

"Not really." I say. I'm a trauma nurse, for fuck's sake. If I do see that, they're a distant afterthought to the poor car accident victim with such a massive blow to the chest. "It doesn't rupture the way you think it does."

 "Good job, Anna!" Grandma congratulates mom, looking at the wonky sushi roll she finally managed to finish. It sounds like what you say to children after they draw a dog that looks vaguely like a square. "Now go see if the boys need help with the grill."

They don't. They haven't even started the fire yet—they're waiting for Tib with the charcoal. But I guess grandma needs a way to push her off the kitchen. Diligently, as if assigned with an important mission, mom washes her hands in the sink and dries them in her silly apron, disappearing behind the french doors to where the boys are having beer and discussing the upcoming match, pretending to season the meat.

"Oh, Annie…" Bachan laughs and the rest of us follow—me, guiltily.

Mom is famously known for overdoing it; her attempts at impressing grandma have always been a thing. I suppose she always felt a little like an outsider in her own community, a late sakura flower bloomer—from a japanese-descent family that was never very traditional or connected to the roots, even carrying a brazilian surname. 

Even now, thirty years on, a couple children in and three decades of mutual affection later, she maybe felt like she had to keep her place in dad’s family. It’s true—she'd never roll a sushi to perfection, and she might have to look up the japanese recipes on a handwritten book Bachan gave her for christmas years ago, but she was great with the traditional brazilian food, she'd been the one who taught dad how to make a proper churrasco, the proper brazilian barbecue, and she was by far the person who spent the most time with grandma, the two forming the most unexpected duo in the Nakamura family.

“What have you been up to, girl?” Christina reaches for my hair, twirling it between her fingers. “It’s so long now! I remember when you had that pixie cut.”

“It took me years to grow it out,” I laugh. “I’m not going there again.”

“This is a good look, if a bit traditional.” She winks. “Guys usually like this long, silky dark hair.”

I roll my eyes, conscious of her own fantasia-colored streaks. She was always the bolder cousin, and I’m not sure she’s ever cared about what guys think of her.

Chris slides her wooden chair closer to mine, lowering her voice the way we used to do when we were just teenagers sharing scandalous secrets. “The boobs aren’t Natalia’s only secret.”

I raise my eyebrows, suddenly a lot more interested. Bachan is methodically moving around the kitchen now that mom isn’t in her way anymore, uninterested in whatever we have to say. “Do tell.”

Ok, so I’m guilty of gossiping too. Nobody is perfect. What makes it ok is the fact that it’s totally reciprocal. 

“I saw her last week… and she has a new boyfriend.” She tells me. “A gaijin boyfriend.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah.” She chuckles, raising her voice a little bit. “It’ll be at least another couple months before she introduces him to the family, mark my words.”

“If it even lasts that long.” Considering Nat's track record.

“It’s a great way to rule them out, to be honest.” She sips my beer. “Bachan still asks how my first boyfriend from high school is doing. Now I only bring the ones I intend to keep.”

“Which is why we haven’t met a boyfriend of yours in years?”


The topic moves on, but I can’t help but think that I’d make it to the ultimate spot of the family gossip book by dating not only a gaijin—which is honestly old news these days—but a disabled one too. A permanently, severely disabled boyfriend like Ben.

Not that he'd be my boyfriend. I’m just wondering.

Tib finally arrives with the charcoal to light up the grill, bringing with him more beer packs than he can carry and two of his loyal companions, the Murakami siblings.

“Hey sis.” He kisses my cheek before handing two of the beer packs. “Put this in the freezer, will ya?”

Tiberius is five years my senior, but he looks as young and boyish as ever, wearing bermudas, boat shoes and a football team cap turned backwards, along with the matching team jersey. He says a quick hi to Christina and hugs grandma before crossing the french doors to fight with dad for a place at the grill. 

His ever present childhood friend Leo and his sister Nina, Tib’s on and off—I suppose on now—girlfriend are a bit more shy, and take longer politely greeting each one of us. 

“How is your bachan doing?” Mom asks with a soft voice. “Your mom told me she fell from the stairs last week.”

“She’s fine,” Nina answers. “Phisiotherapy has been great.”

Grandma nods. Our families met each other at the Port, having spent two months in the same ship, and have been inseparable ever since, well over a sixty years later, owning a flower business together before I was even born, and now with Tib and Leo working together on their startup.

“How are you doing, Liv?” Leo awkwardly tries to hug me, but I’m quicker and offer him a friendly tap on the shoulder. 

“I’m good. You?” 

 I can see mom screaming at me with her eyes, her eyebrows shooting up behind his back, urging me to be a little more friendly. It’s no secret she’s been trying to set us up since we were teens, the perfect family alliance—the Nakamuras and the Murakamis, friends forever.

And since Tib can’t seem to be consistent enough in dating Nina, a ring nowhere to be seen, and there’s nothing they’d love more than uniting both families, they don't try to hide how hard they try. Which is both funny and inconvenient in equal measures.



I put the packs away so they’re cold enough for the game, and escape from the kitchen to the living room, exchanging looks with Christina who doesn’t seem to be feeling any sympathy for me. I really don’t feel like exchanging pleasantries with Leo—he’s pretty cute and nice, and he clearly likes me back, which is my biggest no-no. Men these days will try to make everything about feelings; what happened to low-to-no commitment one night stands, friends-with-benefits, once-in-a-while fucks? Are we suddenly too old for that? We only fucked twice, and on New Years'. It shouldn't count!

Speaking of men. My phone buzzes with a new message, and I open it without even checking. Ben. Ah, Ben. I don't know why, but seeing his cute chat profile picture makes me smile; he's sitting at what looks like a restaurant table and was caught looking at someone behind the camera with a goofy grin. His hair is definitely longer, with the stubble I always suspected he'd look good on. And it's true; Ben looks so cute I wanna keep looking at him. And also feel something deep down—jealousy at the person who got to shoot such a nice picture, the person he was smiling at, all doofy and charming. Could it be Suzanna?

Why should I care?

Hey cutie, his first message says. Thought I'd test it if you gave me your real number.

I giggle. Giggle! What's wrong with me? I make sure no one has witnessed it.

That trick doesn't work if you already know my address. I reply, quicker than I'd like to admit.

True. He's typing. I'm biting my already professionally short nails. It should work on any decent man, though.

So that's what you consider yourself?

I honestly can't tell if you're flirting or not.

Would an emoji make it better?

Nah, I kinda like it.


I take a deep breath in, settling down my nerves. Playing it cool was fun—I was good at it. But in truth I felt flushed and restless, my stomach bursting with butterflies and all sorts of feelings. I'm not sure I like it. I'm not sure I can handle this. I'm not sure I appreciate the way my heart beats a little faster and I have to immediately occupy myself with something else, or the way my facial muscles keep contracting on their own as I frenetically cut the vegetables I'm using not to burst into a million fucking pieces. I wanna sing, dance and run. Away?

I'm not sure.

When Leo drives me home because it’s too late to take the subway, he's talking but I still can't shake off that feeling, I'm just nodding. Then I have him naked in my living room, and I ride him on my couch. It's not necessarily bad—it's what grown people do. Then he silently gathers his clothes and kisses me goodnight on my lips, saying I'll see ya. I don't even remember what I answer, maybe I just mumble something back, a weak close the door before you leave

And still, many hours later when I stare at the blank ceiling after rubbing my skin raw in the shower, I still can't shake off that feeling of—something.



  1. Aww, Ben and Liv have such good chemistry. Totally was blind-sided by the Leo paragraph at the end. >_<

    1. Hahaha sorry!! I swear there'll be plenty of Ben action soon, hehehe

  2. There are so many things about this story that I like. Should I list them all?? ;)

    I am in love with Liv as a character because she seems so self-assured and also... like, not liberated and unchaste? Something we don't get enough with female characters and I. Am. Here. For. It!

    It feels like these last two chapters you've just given us teasers of Ben content! I can't wait to read next week's update (and hopefully get to know him better, too). He seems at once debonair, unassuming, and goofy, and I love it.

    Also I sure hope the Nakamura clan are reoccurring characters because I like them already.

    1. Wow EJ, thank you so much! Your review has been making me happy all week, haha!
      I love Liv too, I feel like she's definitely different from the other characters I've written—I often don't empathize much with my own main characters, but this time I'm really *feeling* her.
      And there'll be a lot more Ben coming, as you can probably guess haha I too feel like I'm knowing these characters more and more as each week goes by.
      And I'm glad you like the Nakamuras, because I do too! And they'll definitely play a big part in the story.
      Again, thank you for your thoughtful comment! :D

    2. Oops, I meant "liberated" rather than "not liberated." :)

      Getting to know the characters is so fun! Both as a writer and reader. :) Can't wait to read this week's update!

  3. I love your story and can't wait for Wednesdays to come.
    Can we hope for Ben's POV?

    1. Thank you so much!!
      Ohh, is a Ben POV something you'd all enjoy? I'm not great at writing male povs, but I could come up with something in the future.... ;)

  4. Yea, the Leo part at the end. No! Love the characters and so interesting the tidbits of the city and customs and food. Can’t wAit for more Ben

    1. Hahaha Don't worry, there'll be pleeeeeenty of Ben action soon. I'm glad you enjoy the details, I try not to make it too much but it can be hard to balance... I swear I had to delete like over 700 words of national history from this chapter so it could be readable LOL

  5. A wonderful chapter, thank you very much!

  6. Que capítulo incrível. A cena final foi muito inesperada e eu amei. Estou apaixonada também pelos Nakamura. Que felicidade quando chega a quarta feira, obrigada Catarina.

    1. Que bom que gostou, Ana!!! Os Nakamura são meus bebês, definitivamente vão aparecer mais... Obrigada por comentar!

  7. Uhm.sweet reminder. It's Wednesday today..