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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Love in Any Language by Christina Cole

"You're probably wondering why I enrolled in Spanish in the first place." Six-foot Danny James slouched in his chair and grinned at me. He was failing Spanish and had asked me to tutor him. "I heard it was a romance language. I thought if I learned it, all the girls would go wild over me."

"That means it came from Latin," I explained. "It doesn't have anything to do with love."

Not that Danny needed any help attracting girls. He already had every female in high school panting over him. Me, included, although I would never let him know that. With his blond good looks, his sleek, muscular form, and that irresistible smile, he could have any girl he wanted. He would never have any interest in somebody like me.

"What can I say?" He shrugged. "I'm just a red-blooded, all-American jock."

I laughed, but in truth, his words stung. Although he meant them as a joke, they reminded me that Danny and I lived in two different worlds.

My parents came from Mexico. I was born and raised in the states, growing up in various border towns. At home, we spoke Spanish. With my friends, I chattered away in English. I loved my heritage, and I loved being part of the American dream, too.

Last summer, everything changed. We moved to a small midwestern town. People stared wherever we went, and some of the shopkeepers made it clear they didn't want our business.

When school started, I hoped the kids would put aside their prejudice and give me a chance, but I soon gave up that idea. I felt awkward and ill-at-ease and was always getting tongue-tied. I didn't fit in, and I knew it.

Then, I met Danny. I'd seen him around school, of course. When he approached me in the hall one morning, I couldn't believe he wanted to talk to me.

He needed help. Desperately. As quarterback on the football team, he knew he could lead our Eagles to victory in the big homecoming game -- if he got to play. His low scores in Spanish threatened to bench him. Would I be willing to work with him to bring up his grades?

"Why don't you just drop the class?" I asked.

His blue eyes met mine, and he shook his head. "I'm not a quitter," he said in a firm voice. That's when I knew I liked Danny. I admired his determination.

As we worked together, I sometimes flattered myself, pretending Danny enjoyed being with me. I knew better, of course. He was only there because he needed my help. He even offered to pay me, but I refused to take any money from him. Not for something as simple as speaking a language I'd known from childhood.

Some afternoons he had football practice, but every other afternoon, and sometimes on weekends, too, Danny and I sat in my family's rec room downstairs, and he'd listen as I talked about mi familia. I told him stories about my parents, and about my aunts and uncles still living in Mexico. Sometimes Danny stayed for dinner to enjoy Mama's authentic Mexican cooking. One afternoon I grabbed a CD of Mexican music and taught him salsa and merengue.

I liked Danny, and I thought maybe he liked me, too.

But then I learned the truth.

"There's a girl I want to impress," he confessed one evening. "I want to write a letter to her, in Spanish, to tell her how I feel." He grinned.

"She knows Spanish?" Obviously one of the girls in his class had caught his eye. I hoped he didn't see my disappointment. "Well, you know the basic rules of grammar, and you've got a dictionary. Why don't you write something, and I'll check it afterward, OK?" It was the best I could offer. I couldn't sit there, helping him choose the words to tell another chica how much he cared for her.

Thank goodness our time together would soon be over. I wouldn't have to smile and hide my broken heart much longer. The semester finals were coming up the next day. Danny would do well. He'd be able to stay on the football team, and no doubt he and his girlfriend would have a great time dancing at the homecoming celebration.

"Adios, mi amigo," I told him when he left that evening, quickly closing the door behind him. The sooner Danny was gone, the sooner I could forget him.

Who was I kidding? I'd fallen head over heels in love. I would never forget Danny.

The next afternoon, he caught up with me as I walked home from school. "I did it! I passed the exam." His smile melted my heart. "Thanks for everything, Maria. Or maybe I should say muchas gracias."

I nodded and kept walking. Seeing him again made my heart ache.

"Oh, you said you'd read this for me." He reached into his pocket and handed me a folded sheet of paper.

Again, I nodded. His love letter. To his girlfriend.

It was simple, yet eloquent. His Spanish was far from perfect, but his meaning was clear.

"I wouldn't change a word of it," I told him as I handed it back. "I'm sure she'll be very impressed."

He stood in front of me, a tender expression on his face. "Maria? Don't you understand?" He reached for my hand and placed the folded letter in it again. "Es para ti," he whispered. "It's for you, Maria."

"Me?" I stared down at the letter and tears of joy filled my eyes. "You wrote this for me?"

He grinned. "I told you Spanish was a romance language. Maybe I don't speak it very well, but --"

His arms went around me, and his sweet kiss said it all.

About the Author: Christina Cole has recently returned to writing after being away from her desk for many years. She has been published in confession and inspirational markets, and now plans to devote herself to romance writing. Christina lives in the midwest. She is currently at work on a full-length historical romance.

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