I’ll See You There

Tomás is the guy that lives in Barcelona and never does anything exciting besides sell pastries and wish he could be something a bit more, and Rosie is the twist of fate that walks into his cafe and changes all of that.

summer-valentine.jpg

It’s so cliché, how the whole thing begins.

The September weather is cool in Barcelona as Tomás makes his way down the city streets to work. He likes his job at the café, he really does, but on days like these,  when the sky is hanging low and gray overhead, he’d rather just stay in with his own special mug of coffee and a nice, long book. The thought is tantalizing, but his legs dutifully carry him to his work, a tiny café tucked away in the heart of the city. It’s not far from the Sagrada Familia, but tourists are rarely adventurous enough to find it. That, or Café Verde is simply not flashy enough.

Tomás would rather it stay that way, anyhow. They have enough customers already without the straggling foreigner that doesn’t knowpan from pasteles. As Tomás walks in, his eyes sweep over the few tables squeezed into the small place. They’ve got just one customer, a regular, Alvaro, whose wife died several years ago after five decades together, the last one especially blissful after all their children moved to southern Spain in pursuit of higher callings and left them to live out their elderly dreams. He nods briefly as Tomás makes the short distance to the counter, and Tomás smiles back, reaching for the apron he put on three years ago and hardly seemed to take off since.

Looks as if everyone decided to stay home with their own coffee today, Tomás thinks to himself as he loops the apron strings together around his slim waist. That, or it’s just an off hour for coffee. But there’s never a wrong hour for coffee, really, he argues back with himself. He yawns and nods at his coworker, Marcos, who’s playing on his phone in the little back room, waiting for the next batch of bread to come out.

It’s a slow, ordinary day, and frankly, even the dullest person in the world would seem interesting if they happened to wander into the café that afternoon. At least, that’s what Tomás tells himself when she walks in.

She’s tall, and her long brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail, but the first thing Tomás notices are her eyes. They’re big, and wide, and brown as her hair, and when the little bell over the door dings – he used to hate how it dinged, but he’s grown so accustomed to it he hardly registers it anymore – he finds himself looking right into right them. But she looks away, so Tomás does, too.

“Can I help you?”

Marcos’s voice breaks through the quiet of the little place, and Tomás feels a tiny nudge of irritation in his stomach. Customers who walk into sleepy cafés, he’s found, come to you when they’re ready. The decision of whether to order a sandwich or a cookie takes time.

“Oh, um,” the girl says, looking up at Marcos. She gives him a little smile and holds up a finger. “One minute.”

Tomás can tell immediately that she’s not a native Spanish speaker. That’s fine, of course, because he’d be a liar if he said that didn’t spark his interest. Just a little.

Like Tomás could have predicted, the girl is finally ready to order almost ten minutes later, and Tomás can tell Marcos is antsy so he lets him take it. She orders a coffee and one of their little glazed strawberry pastries. As Marcos busies himself with the coffee, Tomás takes it upon himself to reach into the glass case for the pastry.

“Nice choice,” Tomás says as he sets it on the counter for her. He means it, too. The strawberry pastries are some of his favorites.

The girl smiles, and Tomás swears he’s never seen anything as chocolatey as those eyes (which is saying a lot, considering he works with chocolate pastries and cakes and drinks nearly every day, and, well, just generally eats chocolate probably more than he should). “It looks delicious,” she says.

“It is.” He doesn’t have anything else to say, really, and there aren’t many ways for one to respond to such a statement, so they stand in silence and Tomás internally laments the fact that he killed the conversation so quickly. If seven words exchanged in the space of ten seconds could be considered a conversation.

Marcos hands her the coffee and Tomás pretends that he’s not watching her out of the corner of his eye as she sits at the table near the window. She pulls out a book, and though they only have three other customers in the space of the next hour she’s there, Tomás really doesn’t mind. They only make eye contact once more when she walks up to place her empty cup and plate on the counter.

“Thanks,” she says, with a tiny smile.

When she walks out, the door dinging again as it closes, Tomás lets himself watch her for the two and a half seconds it takes to walk past the window. He sighs as he grabs a rag and wipes down the counter, realizing it’s time to get back to real work now.

He lets himself wonder, though, what exactly it was that made her stand out from the hundreds of other pretty girls that have walked into the café over the years. And he wonders if she’ll ever come back.

Tomás would like to say that his life isn’t actually that boring, but until she walks into the café the second time, he doesn’t realize he’s been waiting for her.

It’s been just over two weeks since her first visit, but it’s not like he’s been counting or anything. He just does the math in his head, involuntarily, really. Gives him a chance to reflect on those two weeks. He worked, slept, worked, had class, went out with his friends a few times, worked, had class, played around with a new recipe one night for dinner (alone), paid his rent, slept, and worked a little more. Lather, rinse, repeat.

“Look, I’m not saying you need a girlfriend,” one of his best friends, Jacob, says during a night out. They share a table with their other two friends, Benito and Carlos. “But Tomás.” Jacob puts a hand on his shoulder. “You need a girlfriend.”

Tomás scowls. Sure, just because they have all found their little ‘soul mates’ doesn’t mean it’s all that easy. Besides, he gets on just fine on his own. He doesn’t mind cooking for one; if something burns, the only person to disappoint is himself. And he’d been on dates before, just none of them had ever turned into anything. His singleness isn’t for lack oftrying.

“Tell you what,” Jacob says. He takes a swig of his beer. The energy in the bar is high, and Tomás expects that it won’t be his only drink. “We’ll find you someone.”

“What? No,” Tomás says quickly. The last thing he needs is to be set up.

“Sure!” Carlos grins widely. “I bet I know loads of girls who’d love to go out with you.” He takes his phone out of his pocket. “Here, let me get a picture of you so I can show it around-”

“No!” Tomás can feel his face going red and he grabs the phone from Carlos’ hand. “No, you will not go around showing my picture to strange girls-”

“Not strange girls,” Jacob says. “The pretty girls, the intellectuals. We know you like the intellectuals.”

“The ones that like to be cooked for,” Benito chimes in.

“Ones that enjoy a pair of nice green eyes,” Carlos says with a wink.

“You guys are terrible,” Tomás says meekly.

Carlos nudges Benito and before Tomás can grab it, Benito snaps a picture of him with his camera.

“Really?” Tomás says, irritated. Benito is a photographer and never goes anywhere without a camera, so he should have expected this. But it’s not as if Benito doesn’t have pictures of him already, probably better than this one in the low light of a dingy bar. Still, he isn’t about to point that out.

“Great, now take that home and edit it all nice and pretty,” Jacob says to Benito. He gives Tomás a pearly white grin. “We’re going to get Tomás a woman.”

Of course, Tomás knows better than to take their little jokes seriously. They’re his best friends, but they have better things to do than find Tomás a date that will probably fizzle anyway.

The café is busier the second time she walks in, more people than just Alvaro, so he’s not expecting it at all when he hands a customer his order and calls next! and suddenly it’s her standing across the counter.

“Oh, hi.” He pauses, blinks, shakes his head and plows on quickly. “Sorry- I mean, what can I get you?”

The girl smiles, and if she noticed his strange little pause of recognition – if she remembers him, too, maybe – she doesn’t let on. “Hi,” she says. “Can I get a coffee?”

“’Course.” He punches it into the register and looks up. “Anything else?”

She shakes her head. “Not today.” She looks up at him through long eyelashes and says in what is possible to interpret as camaraderie, “But that strawberry pastry was delicious.”

Tomas feels a smile tug at his lips because she does remember. “Sure you don’t want one today? They’re fresh.” And it’s true; the last batch came out of the oven ten minutes ago. But she shakes her head. “Just coffee today, thanks.” She hands him the money and the coins fall into his palm, their hands a safe distance from each other and God he’s thinking way more into this than he should be.

She moves to join the other customers waiting. “Wait,” Tomás says, and she pauses. “Can I have your name?”

She blinks and Christ those chocolatey eyes. She looks slightly confused but opens her mouth to reply anyway, and Tomás realizes with a touch of heat to his cheeks. “For your drink, I need your name- to keep it all sorted.” He gestures to the crowd of customers.

“Oh, yes,” she says quickly. “Rosie- my name’s Rosie.”

That name and the way she says it, so rounded and sweet, makes him positive that she’s American. He nods and thanks her. He’s got her coffee made two minutes later, and as the rush dies down and she finds a seat in the corner, he has time to mull this all over. Rosie, the American girl that likes coffee and strawberry pastries.

It’s not widely known, but Tomás spends a good portion of his salary on cooking classes.

The thing is, the average person loves food. Multiply that love by infinity, and you have Tomás’ passion for the culinary arts. And he’s good at it, too, though he’d never say it.

“You have that…eye for flavor,” Jacob says one night when the boys invite themselves over for dinner at his apartment. “Like Benito and his photography. But for food.”

Tomás only shrugs, but a certain warmth blossoms in his stomach at the complement. Food, and the art of cooking it (and eating it) is, really, his number one love. Which is why every Tuesday and Thursday night he attends cooking classes. And he’s never told anyone, but his instructor said he was the top student. So he likes to think it’s more than worth his money, and it gives him something to look forward to after work.

While he doesn’t go bragging about his classes, it quickly became apparent that he knew his way around a kitchen during his first few weeks of work.

“Try to be a little worse at this, will you?” his boss at the café had said as she watched him sprinkle cinnamon over a customer’s hot chocolate with an amused smirk on her face. He smiled sheepishly and handed the drink to the man waiting. “You twenty-somethings usually can’t tell tea from coffee, so long as it has caffeine”

Tomás shrugged modestly. “I cooked a lot when I was little, my aunt and uncle owned a restaurant.”

“Good,” his boss said. She made to start back to the kitchen. “Could use a bit more help back here.”

So within his first month on the job, he was promoted to help out in the kitchen, which had, in the words of his boss, “never seen a better baker.” And it had to be true, because it’s become a thing for certain customers to deny a pastry if Tomás hadn’t been the one to make it.

Which is why, when Alvaro is around for his usual coffee one week into October, he pouts when Tomás tells him that, no, he didn’t make the sugar doughnuts.

“They’re still good, I promise,” Tomás says with a small chuckle at the man’s disappointment. The door jingles behind him and Alvaro sighs, knowing he has to move it along.

“But not great,” he says. “I’ll just have the coffee, then. At least you’re making that.”

Tomás nods, a tickle of flattery in his stomach, and dutifully turns to make the coffee the way he knows Alvaro likes it. “Always order from this guy,” he hears Alvaro saying behind his back to someone as he waits. “And make sure he’s the one that makes it, that’s the secret of this place.” Tomás smiles to himself as he grabs a clean mug.

“Thanks,” a voice says, and Tomás realizes he recognizes it. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He turns, just slightly, and – yes – it’s her, she’s back – Rosie. His stomach jumps into his chest as he pours the hot coffee into the mug.

“The golden information,” Alvaro says, grinning as Tomás turns around to hand him his coffee. He winks at Tomás before walking off to his usual table by the door. Tomás wipes his hands on front of his apron.

“What can I get you?” he says and meets her eyes – chocolate, like chocolate – and tries to pretend he feels no more for her than any other customer. Why should he, anyway? He doesn’t even know her.

“I’ll have a coffee,” she says through his thoughts. “And…whatever you’ve made in this case.”

Tomás glances at the display case. “Okay. Um.” He’d only worked in the kitchen for a short time this morning; today is more of a register shift. “I made those cinnamon rolls this morning.”

“Perfect,” she says, looking pleased. “I’ll have one of those.”

Despite himself, he feels slightly special that she wants something he’s made, even if it’s just because Alvaro told her to in front of him. Still, he feels the need to add, “You don’t have to listen to him, if you’d rather have something else. I’m not that great a baker.” But maybe it’s just for something more to say.

“No, I want it,” she says. “I love cinnamon rolls.”

“It’d be hard to find someone who doesn’t, I suppose,” he says as he grabs a plate and reaches into the case.

“We used to have them every Saturday morning when I was younger,” she says. “Pillsbury- well, from a can, I mean. But still delicious.”

“From a can?” Tomás raises his eyebrows, intrigued despite himself.

She shakes her head. “It’s an American thing,” she says. “It sounds terrible, saying that. Nothing’s nearly as fresh as it is over here.”

“That’s interesting,” he says as he places the plate with the fresh cinnamon roll on the counter, feeling slightly victorious because heknew she was American.

She shrugs as Tomás grabs a fresh mug for her coffee. He doesn’t want to let the conversation die this time. “So you’re from America, then,” he states as he turns to face the coffee machine. Obviously, Tomás, he adds to himself in his head.

“Yes,” she says behind him. “I’m studying abroad here for the year.”

I’m studying abroad here for the year. He silently tucks that piece of information away in his mind.

“Barcelona, of all places.” He throws her a grin over his shoulder. “Nice choice.”

“I thought so.” She pauses. “I know so. I’ve been here for a month already and I still can’t believe I’m here when I wake up every morning. It’s so beautiful.”

A bubble of pride rises in Tomás’ chest at the way she gushes about his city. He fills the mug and turns to grin at her. “Has it been hard adjusting?”

“Hmm, not as much as I thought it would be,” she says, and he believes it.

“Your Spanish is really great.” He hears himself say it and immediately backpedals. “I mean, not that it wouldn’t be-”

But she laughs. “Thanks,” she says, and takes the coffee from his hand. He smiles sheepishly. “That means a lot, actually.” She looks him in the eyes. “I was nervous about that, about speaking.”

Tomás blinks, and the first response to come to mind is me too. “You speak really well- a natural, I think.”

She smiles widely at him and Tomás thinks he might just melt into his shoes.

“Well, thank you…” She looks at him, searching.

“Tomás,” he says.

“Tomás.” And the way she says his name, with the slightest shade of an American accent, is something beautiful to his ears. She holds up the plate. “I’ll have to see if your baking holds up to what your friend said.”

Tomás rolls his eyes, but when she comes back to the counter twenty minutes later with her used plate and tells him that it was the best cinnamon roll she’s ever had, he doesn’t think he’s ever felt more pleased about his cooking.

“Probably because all the other ones you’ve had were out of a can,” he says, smirking.

She raises an eyebrow playfully. “If you’d rather not accept the complement…”

“No, no,” he says quickly, putting the plate into the dirty dishes bucket. “I’ll take it.”

She smiles, and Tomás stores the image away for his next bad day. “Good. Well….I’ll see you next time, then.”

He nods. “Next time.”

She makes to turn, but pauses. Hesitates. “I’m Rosie, by the way.”

I know. “Rosie,” he says, as if he’s pondering it over. He meets her eyes again. “It was lovely to talk to you, Rosie.”

If her face is slightly red as she turns away from him, he’s sure he’s probably only imagined it.

When she comes in a few days later there’s a certain camaraderie between them.

“Guess I just really liked that cinnamon roll you made,” Rosie says. She looks in the glass case. “What’d you make today?”

Tomás bites his lip. “My shift started about twenty minutes ago, so I actually haven’t made anything…”

She looks up, eyes still bright. “That’s alright. To be honest, I kind of wanted one of those strawberry pastries.”

“Perfect.” Tomás grabs a plate and opens the case.

“Do you ever make them?” she asks as he pulls out a pastry.

Tomás shrugs. “I have once or twice. I’ll make whatever’s in demand, really.” Nothing in the café was really very difficult to make, at least for him.

“Do you like to bake?”

“Yeah,” he nods. “Well, I prefer cooking.”

He glances up and meets her gaze. She looks as if she’s quietly assessing this information, and he feels the skin under his collar grow hot.

“Can I get you anything else, then?”

“Oh- yes, can I get a tea?” she says. “Earl Grey.”

He nods. “Coming right up.”

And it goes on like this, for a few weeks. She’ll come in, order something (that he’s made, preferably), they’ll chat while he’s getting her food (slowly, if there isn’t anyone waiting behind her), she’ll go off and sit and read or study or occasionally talk to Alvaro, and he’ll go on working (sometimes catching her eye across the café). It turns into something of a routine, and it makes him excited to go to work in the morning.

It’s one afternoon at the end of October, on a Wednesday – Rosie usually comes in on Wednesdays – and she hasn’t come in, and while he’s still hopeful, it’s getting late, and she does have a life outside of this café, unlike him. Shame, though, because it’s a slow day, just him and Marcos manning the shop with a few sparse customers.

Tomás is just dozing off at the counter when he hears his name.

“Uh, Tomás?”

He jerks up and turns to find Marcos standing beside him. His expression is uneasy, which, in turn, makes Tomás slightly suspicious.

“Yeah?”

“I may have….I mean, something- er, can you help me out for a minute?”

Tomás sighs, but makes an effort to retain patience because it’s not like there’s anything else happening right now. Marcos turns to lead him into the back room.

“It just, ah, kind of all fell in,” Marcos says as Tomás stares down at a bowl of pastry dough that is one part dough, eight parts salt. Tomás picks up the empty bag from the counter.

“Just kind of fell, did it,” he says, raising an eyebrow at Marcos. Marcos rubs the back of his neck.

“Well, I mean-” Marcos sighs. “It’s a slow day and I was bored and I thought the recipe looked simple enough- its’ not like anyone else is here, anyway.”

Tomás rubs an eye. “Marcos, the only kitchen duty you have is to take things in and out of the oven, and I think there’s a reason for that.”

Marcos at least has the decency to look sorry. “I was just bored.” He’s about two years younger than Tomás; nineteen, if he recalls correctly, but has the maturity of a fourteen year old. Tomas puts the empty salt bag back down and reminds himself that he has nothing else to do anyway.

“I’ll fix this,” he says to Marcos. “You just go man the register, okay?”

“Thanks a lot, Tomás.” Marcos gives him a firm clap on the shoulder, and Tomás just nods. “Yeah, yeah. Next time I spill coffee, you’re cleaning it up.”

“When do you ever spill anything?” Marcos says with a cheeky smirk. “I’ve seen you balance six cups without sacrificing a drop.”

Tomás stifles a smile and shoves Marcos toward the door. “Just go, we may have a customer.” Marcos laughs and disappears through the doorway.

A normal person might just throw the whole batch away, but Tomás can’t stand to see perfectly good supplies go to waste. Grabbing a measuring cup, he gets to scooping out the extra salt. When he’s taken out as much as he can, he gauges the salt left in the batch and takes out the other ingredients to match it. Unsurprisingly, it turns out to be a lot of dough, and though it’s a slow day, he figures he may as well bake some of it. Topping them with some strawberries and sugar glaze, he pops he pastries into the oven and sets the timer. He glances at his watch. At least it’s killed forty five minutes of his shift.

“Disaster averted?” Marcos says when Tomás emerges from the back room. He’d been doodling on a receipt with a pen.

Tomás nods. “You can rest easy, Marc.”

“Thanks.” Marcos gives him a grateful pat on the back. “Oh, I should tell you, a girl came in here asking about you.”

Tomás looks up at him. “Yeah?”

Marcos nods. “Mmhm, long brown hair, been in a few times before, I always see you talking to her.” He slants a look at him.

Tomás rolls his eyes. “What’d she say?”

Marcos shrugs. “Just asked about you. Why? What do you want her to have said?” He’s grinning now and Tomás really wishes he wasn’t, but he can’t abandon the nonchalant act now. “Nothing,” he says.

“Just left, too,” Marcos says, and if he’s hoping to get something out of Tomás.

It’s working. “Do you want me to be mad at you about the salt?” He raises an eyebrow.

Marcos grins and claps him on the back again. “No, nope. Just think that girl might not just be coming for the coffee anymore, is all.”

Tomás sighs and goes to rearrange the dishes he’d arranged this morning. He’s disappointed he’d missed Rosie, especially because, well, he wouldn’t say he made the strawberry pastries for her, but…

There’s nothing he can do now, and she asked about him, at least, didn’t she? That’s enough to get him through the remaining two hours of his shift.

It’s the first Saturday in November and Tomás is on break from an eight hour shift. He sits by the window, holding a mug of warm coffee between his hands and absently watching people pass by on the sidewalk. Of course, it takes all of five seconds for him to recognize a particular long haired passerby.

His heart jumps into his chest when he realizes she’s turning into the café. He almost makes to stand up before he realizes, well, why? There’s no need to show off any excitement. Instead he looks down at his coffee, as if he hasn’t noticed anything.

He sees her walk up to the counter out of the corner of his eye, and assumes she’s probably just not seen him. Why would he be sitting at one of the tables, anyway? That, or she just wants some food, probably.

He hears her order a tea, but she doesn’t ask for him like she apparently did the other day. Saturdays aren’t predicable, anyway. Sometimes he’s in, sometimes he’s not. But he’s always in on Wednesdays. Not that he would expect her to realize these things anyway.

“Oh- Tomás!” he hears to his left hardly a minute later. He really shouldn’t feel so happy that she’s noticed him, but, well. He looks up at her, pretending like he hadn’t noticed her until this moment either. “Hi, Rosie.” He gives her a smile that is probably a tad too wide.

“What are you- oh, are you on break?” she says, noticing his apron.

He nods. “Yeah, I have a full twenty minutes.” He glances at the empty seat across from him. “You- would you like to sit?”

She nods and takes the seat, setting her tea down in front of her. “Thanks.”

He nods, and there’s a silence for a moment that he really doesn’t know what to do with, before he reminds himself- start simple. “So…how are you?” he says.

She meets his eyes. “I’m really well, actually. I went to Madrid and Toledo last week, so I’m trying to catch up on some work. Exams are coming faster than I expected…”

“You’re here to study, then?” he says. “And how was the trip?”

“It was great,” she says, smiling slightly. “Really great…Spain is just great, I guess.” She lets out a tiny laugh and pushes a bit of hair behind her ear. “But yeah, came here to study.”

“Oh, well if you’d rather I wasn’t-” It’s a stupid thing to offer, and he knows she’ll turn it down, but he has to make it, doesn’t he?”

“No, no,” she says, reaching a hand out across the table, almost touching his coffee. “After your break is over, I’ll study.”

He grins. “Okay.”

So they talk, and it’s the first time there isn’t a case of pastries between them. A table, sure, but it’s nice to mix it up a bit, Tomás thinks. She tells him about her travels and classes, and he tells her about the café and a book he’s been reading because sadly his life isn’t as nearly as adventurous.

“Of course it is,” she says, giving his foot a little kick under the table. “You’re still just figuring it out.” And somehow it’s one of the best things anyone has ever said to him.

Of course, the twenty minutes pass entirely too fast, and too soon he’s standing up and readjusting his apron.

“Thanks for the company,” he says, collecting his empty mug. “Usually my breaks are just me sitting here.”

“Of course,” she says. “If you ever need company again, just…well…” she trails off, looking slightly embarrassed because just what? Something like joy bubbles up in Tomás’ chest.

“Course,” he says, though he doesn’t really know what he’s saying courseto, but that’s okay. The ambiguous offer means more to him than it should, probably. “If you need anything else…I’ll be at the counter.”

She comes up to deposit her dishes near the end of his shift, and as she’s leaving Tomás feels his phone buzz in his pocket. Ten minutes later, after he takes his apron off and pulls on his coat, he looks at it to find a text from Carlos.

Come out with me and Jake and Ben tonight?

Tomas opens up a new message, because why not? His twenty minutes with Rosie today has him feeling social and restless and not in the usual tired stupor he’d be in after such a long shift. So when he meets up with them at a bar an hour later, he’s eager to catch up with the guys.

“Nice to get a night out,” Jacob says over his first drink. “Been trying for weeks but someone can’t tear away from his girlfriend.” He looks pointedly at Carlos.

“What?” Carlos says, shrugging. “I’ve only been dating Emilia for a few months, give us a break.”

“Still in that honeymoon stage,” Jacob says reminiscently. “Guess I can’t blame you too much. I remember when Elisabet and I were the same way…” His eyes meet Tomás’ over the table, and Tomás suddenly gets a sense of foreboding in his stomach. He raises his glass to his lips and looks away, but Jacob goes for it anyway. “What about you, Tomásito? Anyone?”

The first face that pops into his mind is Rosie’s, of course, but there’s no way he’s going to bring her up. “No.”

“Ah, come on, I refuse to believe a good looking guy like you could stillbe coming up empty.”

“Well, believe it,” Tomás says. But he still doesn’t meet his eyes and he can feel Jacob looking at him closely.

“He’s lying,” Jacob says. He nudges Benito beside him. “What’d you think, Ben? Is he lying?”

Benito looks at him and Tomás feels safe looking back at him because Benito is not nearly as scrutinizing as Jacob. He raises an eyebrow and Benito stifles a smile and shakes his head. “No idea, Jake.”

“I say he’s lying,” Jacob declares. “So who is she, then? I bet you met her at your little café- or those cooking classes. Yes, those cooking classes.”

Tomás shrugs, feeling a bit more confident now that Jacob’s off the right track. “I promise you, Jake, when I find someone, you’ll be the first to know.”

Jacob rolls his eyes and takes a long sip of his drink. “Doubt that, but thanks, Tomás.” The guys laugh, and Tomás settles back a bit more comfortably in his chair. “But since you won’t tell us, we’re still going to set you up on that date.”

Tomás groans, and Benito and Carlos laugh even more.

If anyone else was to walk into the café besides Benito that day, Tomás would think he was screwed.

Luckily, it is only Benito who comes in while Tomás happens to be serving Rosie her coffee and cinnamon roll- and, no, they are definitelynot flirting-

“I did want one of the strawberry pastries, but since you made the cinnamon rolls-”

“I’ve told you, I’m not that great-”

“You know exactly how great you are.”

“It’s not like it’s my own recipe or anything.”

“But you have some sort of magic touch, Mr. Baker.”

“I prefer Mr. Chef.”

“Okay, Mr. Chef,” Rosie says, and reaches forward to take the plate from his hand, most definitely not purposely brushing their fingers.

Tomás doesn’t even realize that Benito is behind her until she steps to the side to wait for her coffee and there he is, looking at him with raised eyebrows. It takes Tomás’ brain a moment to move from Rosie’s touch to Benito’s face.

“Oh- Ben, what are you doing here?” Tomás says, immediately thrown off. The world of the guys and the world of Rosie were, until this second, very separate things.

“Just wanted a coffee, didn’t know you worked here,” Benito shrugs.

“You- shut up,” Tomás says, ignoring the urge to roll his eyes as Benito grins at him. He grabs an extra mug and notices the way Benito glances at Rosie.

“Right, um,” Tomás starts. The whole thing is slightly strange, but, well, he’d call Rosie a friend now, he supposes, so they deserve a proper introduction. “Ben, this is Rosie- Rosie, this is one of my best friends, Benito.”

“Nice to meet you,” Rosie says, reaching over to shake his hand. Benito notices the cinnamon role in her other hand. “Wait, Tomás, did you make that? I want one.”

“As long as you promise to pay for it this time,” Tomás says, grabbing another plate as he switches the coffee machine on. He looks at Rosie. “He only comes for the food.”

“What else is there to come for?” Benito says.

“I don’t know,” Rosie says.

Tomás rolls his eyes, but a part of him glows with the fact that he and Rosie know each other well enough now that she can tease him like Benito does.

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, handing Benito a cinnamon roll and turning to make the coffees. When he turns back around, they’re both smiling.

“What, were you guys whispering about me behind my back?” Tomás says as he slides the coffees over the counter.

“Nope,” Rosie says. “I’ve just got a table over here.” She takes the coffee and looks at Ben. “Nice to meet you, Benito.” She smiles once more at Tomás and takes the table by the window.

Tomás looks at Benito. “What did you say to her?”

Benito shrugs. “Nothing important.”

Tomás tries ignore to spark of joy at the thought that one of his best friends have got on with Rosie so fast and he rolls his eyes again. “Fine. What are you here for, then?”

“What do you mean?” Benito says, taking a sip of his coffee. “Can’t just stop by to see a friend?”

“If you’re sure…”

“Well,” Benito starts, clearing his throat. He meets Tomás’ eyes. Tomás raises an eyebrow.

“Well?” Tomás repeats.

Ben inconspicuously glances across the café, in the direction of the window. Tomás narrows his eyes slightly. “Ben?”

Benito clears his throat again. “Yup, just here to see you. How’s your shift been?”

Their conversation turns very mundane, and when Benito finally leaves, Tomás is left feeling slightly off, like the intention of Benito’s visit was not to talk about how many tables Tomás wiped off today. But when Rosie comes up to give him her dishes, their subsequent ten minute conversation wipes Benito completely from his mind.

“I’ve got exams all next week,” Rosie says several days later, standing across the counter as usual. “And then I’m going to England with some friends the following week, so I may not be around much.” She pauses and glances at him. “Just…so you know.”

Tomás smiles, leans over the counter. “So I don’t think you’ve abandoned me.”

“You’ve got Marcos…” Rosie smirks.

“Perfect,” Tomás rolls his eyes.

She laughs lightly, and Tomás thinks that he’ll miss that sound for the next two weeks. He looks up and meets her eyes, and she doesn’t look away.

“Well, I, um…” He taps a finger on the counter. “It’ll be difficult…but hopefully I make it through these next two weeks without you.”

It’s not the first forward thing he’s said, but he feels the skin under aprons strings heat up as she blinks back at him with a tiny smile. “Well…you can say the same for me.”

Tomás smiles back, pretty sure his heart is singing.

It’s halfway through the next week and he’s just really starting to miss her but trying not to think of it too much when someone comes flying through the door of the café and it’s-

“Rosie?”

He’s confused, obviously, but even more delighted. However a look of concern flicks across his face when he sees her harried expression.

“Hi, Tomás,” she says, and runs a hand through her hair with the air of someone trying to cool themselves off. She doesn’t meet his eyes.

“How are you?” he asks, a bit carefully. Something about her seems slightly delicate right now.

“I’m alright,” she says. She meets his eyes. “Actually- no, never mind. Sorry, this is stupid- I’m just a little stressed about exams, I shouldn’t have come here.”

She turns toward the door, and Tomás nearly reaches across the counter to stop her. “Wait, Rosie.” She glances back at him, looking embarrassed. “Hey. I get off on break in about ten minutes. It would be nice to have some company.” He reaches into the glass case and pulls out a strawberry pastry. “Here, have one of these while you wait.”

She starts to shake her head. “Oh, Tomás-”

“It’s on me.” He puts it on a plate and holds it out for her. “Take it, I made them today.”

Rosie opens her mouth to protest again, but he only shakes his head and holds it in front of her persistently. She finally smiles, a little ruefully, but it looks much better than a frown.

“Grab the table by the window, it’s my favorite,” he says. She rolls her eyes and he bites back a smile. “I’ll be done in a few minutes.” He watches her walk to the front of the café out of the corner of his eye, as if unsure she’ll stay if he’s not looking.

Two coffees and a latte later, he’s strolling to the front of the café with two teas in either hand. He places one in front of Rosie and her empty plate.

“You really don’t have to.” She looks up at him. “I can pay you back.”

“Of course not,” he says as he sits down across from her. “It’s on the house. Besides, you’ve got to save your money for England. The exchange rate isn’t particularly pretty.”

She sighs, but smiles at him. “Thank you, Tomás,” she says. “You’re very- I knew there was a reason I came here.” She looks at him over her mug, and he notes that the way her eyelashes frame her eyes is particularly pretty today.

“Exams that stressful?” he asks, interlocking his ankles between his chair.

Rosie nods, looking tired. “I’ve got one left, and I just…cracked. I don’t know. The others weren’t terrible but this is my hardest class, and I’ve just used so much energy already on the others. What if I do terribly? What if-”

“You won’t do terribly,” he says. And he’s not just saying it just to make her feel better. “You go to that fancy school, right? That smart one in the States-”

“Yale,” she says, her lips curling into an amused smile.

“Exactly,” he says. “You work hard. I’ve seen it for myself. How much homework have you done in here?”

“Too much.” She pushes a lock of hair out of her face and he sees her eyes better.

“Far too much,” he says. “But you work hard at it, and you wouldn’t go to Yale if you didn’t. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. Sitting in a cheap café across from some guy who pays for the rent of his cheap flat in pastry money.”

She laughs at that, and a small part of him relaxes. So it’s working, he’s semi-good at this whole comforting a girl thing. He bites back a smile.

“They’re delicious. You should be rich,” she says.

“Tell that to the Starbucks around the corner,” he says dryly.

She laughs again, then looks at him. Her eyes linger for a moment before she says, “Do you know, I almost went to that Starbucks, the first time I came here.”

“Oh yeah?” He cocks an eyebrow.

“But I didn’t,” she says pointedly. “It was my first week here, and I thought, I’ve been to Starbucks a million times at home. I need to go somewhere authentic and Spanish.”

“So you came here,” he says flatly.

Callate.” She swats his hand on the table and he pulls it back, smirking. “Yes, I came here. I liked the name.”

“Café Verde,” he says. “Green café.”

She shrugs, looking at him. “I like green.”

He looks back at her, suddenly very aware of the fact that green happens to be the color of his eyes.  He unlocks his ankles beneath the table and finds her foot and gently nudges it. “Well, I’m glad you like green.”

She smiles softly, and Tomás thinks he could look at her like this forever. “So am I.”

He overruns his break by about five minutes that day, and when she’s left and he’s back behind the counter, Marcos nudges him from behind. “Extended break and giving out free pastries, should I report this to the boss?” He smirks and Tomás swats him away.

“Like you could stand the guilt of knowing you got your favorite coworker in trouble,” Tomás says. He raises an eyebrow. “Besides, you owe me for that time with the salt.”

Marcos pretends to look wounded. “Wow, shut down,” he says. “You win this round. Again.”

“Always,” Tomás smirks before he turns to take the next customer’s order.

The next week and a half creeps by, and it’s the last day before Rosie returns from England. She didn’t say anything about when she’d be at the café next, and he should probably expect to wait a few more days, for her to catch up on sleep from traveling and whatnot, now that she’s on holiday break. But he secretly hopes she’ll come by tomorrow. Hopes a little too much, probably.

He does get a visitor, however, that afternoon.

“Hey, Tomás!”

He looks up from the counter he’s wiping down and tosses the rag in the sink behind him. Carlos beams at him over the pastry case, tall and gangly and all limbs.

“How’s it going?” Tomás asks. “You look very cheerful.”

“Just had lunch with Emilia,” he shrugs. He was never very good with nonchalance, Tomás thinks to himself.

“Yeah?” Tomás says. “How is she? Can I get you a coffee or anything?”

“A doughnut would be nice,” Carlos says, leaning against the class case. “One of those chocolaty ones. And she’s great. Em’s great.”

Tomás smiles. Carlos is usually cheerful anyway, but ever since he got with Emilia his joy has been particularly infectious. He opens the case and grabs a doughnut as Carlos slides a euro across the counter.

“Yeah, speaking of dates,” Carlos says as Tomás tosses the Euro into the cash register. He takes a big bite of his doughnut. “We got you one.”

Tomás freezes. “What?”

“Jake, Ben, and I,” he says easily, taking another bite from his doughnut. “We got you a date. Tomorrow night at eight.”

“Wait, what?” Tomás says again. He shakes his head as if he can bounce Carlos’ words back at him. “No, I’m not doing that.”

“Sure you are,” Carlos says, finishing off his doughnut with a last big bite. “We promised you, didn’t we?”

“You weren’t being serious, though,” Tomás says.

“Well, surprise,” Carlos says. “Great doughnut by the way, did you make them?”

“No,” Tomás says. “But- Carlos, I’m not just going on a date with a stranger.”

“Aren’t we all strangers in the beginning?” Carlos says.

“Stop,” He’s not really in any kind of mood for Carlos’ jokes right now. “I’m not doing this.”

“Come on, we worked really hard for it,” Carlos says. “And she’s not just any stranger. You’ll like her, I promise you.” He actually sounds earnest, and Tomás looks at him warily.

“How can you know that,” he says.

Carlos raises his eyebrows. “We’re your best friends, we know you. We wouldn’t just set you up with any random girl.” Carlos looks at him, waiting for a response. When Tomás only glares at him, he gives him his best sad eyes and a desperate, “Please? Just one date?”

Tomás sighs. “I don’t want to.”

“I’ll bet my life you’ll enjoy it.”

“You bet your life on everything.”

“But I really bet my life on this.”

Tomás grinds his teeth.

“She’s really pretty,” Carlos adds in a singsong voice.

No, Rosie’s really pretty. She’s the only person he wants to see tomorrow.

“And we’re paying,” Carlos says.

Tomás sighs. “I still don’t want to.” But he knows Carlos isn’t going to let him say no. “And I hate the three of you.”

Carlos grins. “Perfect. Go to this restaurant- ” he hands Tomás a slip of paper with a name and address on it. “-and ask for the reservation made under the name Jacob. Got a nice window table for you, overlooks the square.”

Tomás puts the paper in his pocket. “Should I buy roses, too?” he asks dryly.

“Only if you’re hoping for a second date.” Carlos winks. “Who knows, maybe you will.”

Don’t think so. “You’re the worst.”

“The best, actually.” Carlos grins. The door dings behind him and a couple walk in. “Well, I’ll let you get back to your work, Tomás. Thanks for the doughnut”

“Yeah, yeah,” Tomás says. “Thanks for nothing.”

Carlos laughs and reaches across the counter to pat Tomás on the shoulder. “You’re the best, Tomás.”

Tomás sighs. He really, truly, doubts that.

The next day comes and Tomás is antsy. Antsy because Rosie is back in Barcelona and every time the little bell over the door dings he looks up and doesn’t even try to hide the fact that he hopes it’s her. Antsy because he has a date tonight and he’s really not in the mood for talking to a stranger.

He shouldn’t be surprised, really, that Rosie doesn’t come to the café. He doesn’t even know what time her plane lands, and she’s probably exhausted anyway. But he has the day off tomorrow, so that means he’ll have to wait all the way till Monday, if she decides to come in then, anyway.

He’s never pined so hard, and it’s a little pathetic, he thinks. But he’s too far gone now, and there really isn’t much he can do. Sometimes he has to remind himself, she’s only studying here for a year, she won’t be here forever. Then he doesn’t want to think about that, so he doesn’t.

He finds himself back in his apartment after his shift, looking at himself in the mirror with a nice collared shirt on, cursing his past self for agreeing to this. He could survive on eggs and toast tonight; he doesn’t need a free meal. Besides, the weather is cold and cloudy and he doesn’t feel like going back out there.

He sighs at himself for his internal whining, ruffles his dark curly hair and makes sure he hasn’t got anything in his teeth. “Just let yourself enjoy it, Tomás,” he mutters to the mirror. Just one date.

He looks up the address Carlos gave him and has to admit the restaurant they picked out doesn’t look too bad. He grabs his coat as his phone buzzes in his pocket. He looks at the caller ID. Jacob.

“On your way to the restaurant?”

“I am,” Tomás says as he closes his door behind him and makes sure it’s locked. He shrugs his coat on with one hand as he starts down the stairs.

“Just making sure,” Jacob says easily. “Didn’t want to let you flake at the last minute.”

“I wasn’t going to flake,” Tomás says, disregarding the thoughts he’d been having just ten minutes before. But he doesn’t sound particularly excited, and Jacob seems to notice.

“Tomás, just let yourself have fun,” he says, echoing Tomás’ own words to himself. “She’s a nice girl, trust me. You’ll like her.”

“Alright,” Tomás says.

“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

“Okay.”

Jacob laughs. “Call me after, will you, buddy?” He pauses. “Unless, of course, you’re still busy-”

“Shut up,” Tomás says, rolling his eyes. “Sure, whatever, I’ll call you.”

“You irritated now,” Jacob says. “But you’ll be thanking me later. Unless you’d rather just skip to that part and thank me here, of course.”

“Don’t think so,” Tomás says. “Alright, I’m almost at the restaurant. I’ll call you later, then.”

“I want details.”

“You’ll take what you get.”

“You know me too well.”

Tomás slips his phone back into his pocket and zips his coat up to his chin. He’s still about ten minutes from the restaurant, but he doesn’t want to use up all his conversation skills on Jacob. Besides, he always likes a quiet stroll through the city, even when it’s cold like this.

He gets to the restaurant right at the stroke of eight. He walks up to the hostess and asks for the reservation made under Jacob’s name. As the woman leads him to the table near the windows, Tomás knows he would be lying if he said he wasn’t a little nervous.

And if he was nervous to be on a date with a stranger, it only makes sense when his emotions shoot to the moon when he sees that the girl already sitting at the table is none other than-

“Rosie?”

He freezes, shocked, open mouthed and staring.

Pleasantly surprised. He’ll kill Jacob.

The hostess turns around and looks at him, confused. Tomás stuffs his hands into his coat pockets because they are not suddenly clammy.  “Um, yes, thank you.” He manages to say. She nods and heads back to the front of the restaurant, and Tomás is left rooted to the spot.

“Tomás?” Rosie says tentatively.

“Hi,” he says, and takes a step forward. “Yeah, hi, Rosie.”

“Would you…like to sit?” she suggests. She gestures to the seat across from her. Tomás feels his face go red and he takes the seat, heart beating wildly. He’s entirely thrown off and entirely sure that it’s showing.

“Sorry,” he says quickly, taking a hand out of his pocket and pushing some hair that wasn’t in face out of his eyes. “I just- didn’t expect-”

Rosie smiles slightly and folds her hands in front of her on the table. “I know.”

Tomás opens his mouth to respond, ignoring the fact that he has no idea what to say, when the waiter stops at their table and takes their drink order. Without thinking, Tomás orders water, and Rosie asks for a Diet Coke.

“Well that was stupid,” Tomás mutters once the waiter leaves. “Ordering water when I’m not even paying.”

Rosie laughs, and some of the tension lifts. Tomás feels himself crack a smile and relaxes slightly in his chair.

“Oh, are your friends paying, then?” Rosie asks, leaning forward slightly.

“Yeah,” Tomás says. He pauses looks at her. “Should I not have told you that? They probably wanted me to look like a proper gentleman or something.”

Rosie laughs again, and he relaxes a bit more. He’s not very experienced in the art of dating, but he knows making a girl laugh is half the battle won. “No, I think you’re right to tell me. This way we can order the most expensive things on the menu.”

“You read my mind,” Tomás says. He looks at her, takes her in for the first time, and he notices she’s done something with her eyes. More mascara or something. It makes her brown eyes sparkle, and something deep in his stomach warms.

“Are you planning on staying?” she breaks through his thoughts.

He blinks. “What?”

Rosie stifles a smile. “I’d just like to know if you plan on staying,” she says again. “You look like you’re about to take off with that coat on.”

He looks down at himself, still in his coat zipped to the chin. He smiles sheepishly. “Yeah,” he says, shrugging it off and glancing up at her. “I plan on staying.”

She smiles at him, and Tomás suddenly loves his best friends.

“So- how-” He clears his throat. “I mean, how did my friends-?”

“Oh, it was Benito,” Rosie says. “That day I came to the café all stressed out about my exams? I ran into Benito outside when I was leaving. Said he was coming to see you but was hoping I might be there.”

“Oh yeah?”

She nods and looks down at her hands. “It was quite lucky, really. I mean- ” she looks up at him, cheeks coloring slightly. “I wasn’t going to be back for a week and a half, Benito wouldn’t have been able to find me.”

Tomás nods. “Very lucky.”

“Yeah, so Benito asked me…out, I guess. For you.” She looks at him. “Gave him my number and everything.”

Tomás raises an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

A smile plays on Rosie’s lips. “Yup. He texted me the details yesterday. I’d told him I wouldn’t have a free night till today and…your friends waste no time.”

“Guess not,” Tomás says. He looks at her. “You didn’t think it was weird, did you?” He doesn’t know why he’s curious.

“Well, I was surprised,” she says slowly. She meets his eyes. “But no, not weird.”

Tomás holds back a smile, and the waiter comes with their drinks.

“Your meals?” the waiter asks, pulling out his pad and pen.

Tomás looks down at the menu in front of him. He’d almost forgotten they were there to eat food. “A few minutes?”

This is good, because Tomás can actually prove he knows about food beyond pastries and cookies and doughnuts. And he’s not going to skimp with the price if he sees something good.

“Let’s get tapas for a starter,” Tomás says, leaning over his menu. “Setas al Ajillo. Mushrooms with garlic and olive oil, it’s delicious.”

“Mm, that does sound good,” Rosie says, glancing up at him over her own menu.

“Trust me, it is.”

“I think if I’m going to trust anyone about food, I’d be you,” she says. “So what would you recommend I get?”

“What do you like?” He looks at her and he’s genuinely interested. He knows all of Benito, Carlos, and Jacob’s favorites; it’s important information he keeps stored in an important compartment of his mind.

“Well,” she says slowly. She meets his eyes. “Everything, mostly.”

“Mostly everything,” he repeats. “Well that narrows it down, doesn’t it? Let me rephrase. What do you like most?

She purses her lips, looking somewhere above his head. “Pasta. Rice. Chicken. Anything green. Lots of flavor. Chocolate”

Tomás nods, brain whizzing as it eliminates and exams possibilities. “Chocolate is very doable, but we’ll have to save that for later.” She grins, bright, perhaps because later.

“Well, you’ve been here about three months, so I’ll assume you’ve had paella,” he says, and she nods. “Not on La Rambla, I hope. Way too overpriced. And you can get it much cheaper and better other places.”

She rolls her eyes. “Well, you’ll just have to show me those places, then.”

Tomás looks down at his menu, because yes, he would really like to do that. But back to the task at hand-

“How about a stew,” he says. He points to the picture in the menu. “Chicken, rice, spinach, chickpeas. Warm. Good for a day like this.” He gestures to the chilly night out the window.

“Okay,” she says. She looks at her own menu then up at him again. “That sounds very nice, actually.”

Tomás holds back a smile because she’s letting him decide for her and she likes it. “What about you?” she breaks through his fond musings. ”What are you going to get?”

What was he getting? He looks down at his menu again. He didn’t need anything too warm, or flavorful, because he was getting enough of that from Rosie tonight. “Probably this steak dish. Sometimes you’re just in the mood for steak, you know?”

She laughs. “If you say so.”

So the waiter comes, takes their orders, and of course the tapas are delicious, and when their dishes come those are even better.

“I’m never making a food decision on my own again,” Rosie says as she scrapes the last of her stew from the bowl, cheeks rosy from good food and good conversation. “Always consulting you.”

“I’m not always right,” Tomás says modestly, though her words make his insides glow.

“About food, you are,” she says. “You’ve never let me down about food. Well, or anything else.”

He looks up and meets her eyes, and the smile she’s giving him tickles him to his toes. “Well- I- you too,” he says, because he can’t think of anything else to say.

At some point in the meal, his feet find hers under the table, and they sit with their ankles resting comfortably against each other. It’s something he thinks he could get used to during meals.

“What do you think,” he says, before the waiter comes and asks them about dessert. “About gelato?”

“I think it’s one of the best things man has created.”

And that settles that. Twenty minutes later they find themselves walking down the sidewalk, having gotten gelato from one of the tourist shops. Perhaps a bit overpriced, but Tomás won’t make his friends pay for this one.

“I love the city at night,” Rosie sighs, bumping shoulders with him, perhaps accidentally, perhaps on purpose. It’s slightly foggy and it magnifies the lamplight, soft and orange, as cars dot the streets with their headlights.

“So do I, I-” Tomás pauses, but why not? “When I was seven, I snuck out once after I was put to bed. Didn’t…really plan on going home. Walked the city all night. It’s a miracle nothing happened to me. No one even stopped to wonder what a kid was doing walking around by himself at two in the morning. But it was great…it was, all the lights, and such. Crazy people, too.” He laughs slightly. “Sorry, I’m not being very eloquent.”

“That’s okay,” Rosie says softly. Tomás turns his head and she’s looking at him, half her face in shadow and the streetlights reflecting in her eyes. “Why didn’t you plan on going home?”

“I…” Tomás looks at his feet. “I lived with my aunt and uncle, and they were great. Still are. So is my cousin. But I…I don’t know, they were hisparents. I wanted parents of my own. Something of my own. Does that make sense?”

Rosie nods. “Yes.”

“I did go back in the morning, though,” he goes on after a moment. “I got really sleepy, and wanted a bed. So I snuck back in. And now you’re the only person besides myself who knows of my nighttime adventure in the city when I was seven.”

Rosie smiles to herself, a private little smile that Tomás just happens to catch the tail end. He sticks a spoonful of gelato into his mouth, the chocolate rich and cold against his tongue.

They walk for several minutes in silence.

“Okay,” he says as they turn a corner. He tosses his empty gelato cup into a trash can. “Enough about me and Barcelona and Spain. Tell me about you, about America.”

Rosie shrugs. “America’s nice.”

“Come on,” Tomás says, nudging her. “It’s America. It runs the entireworld. It’s got to be more than nice.”

“I mean,” Rosie says, still with a tone of indifference. “It’s nothing like here.”

“Of course it’s not,” Tomás says. “That’s the point. Really, what’s it like? The farthest I’ve been is Madrid, and that was just one time.”

Rosie looks at him, and perhaps it’s his eagerness that softens her. “Alright,” she says. She tosses her own empty cup in a trashcan and links her arm through his. It’s cozy, and warm, because it is cold out, something he hadn’t thought of when he’d suggested the gelato. “America’s big. What I’ve seen of it is hardly comparable to what I haven’t seen, and every part of it is so different. I grew up on the east coast, Massachusetts. You know, Boston?”

She goes on, and on, and Tomás listens, hanging onto every word, because every part of it is so interesting. America is so foreign, so far away and unattainable. Somewhere he never even considered it possible to go. And here’s this girl that lives in two parts of it and even went toLas Vegas once.

“And the food, well, the food’s different all over,” she says, much more animated than before. “Like Europe, a bit. Southern food’s different from the north…”

And she talks, and she’s so interesting and cultured and traveled and Tomás has no idea why she would agree to go on a date with him, who hardly goes beyond the radius of his apartment, the café, and his cooking classes. Of course, tonight he has, but he’s made sure they haven’t gone too far. It is night, and the metro stops at twelve.

“Wow, that’s…” he says when Rosie pauses. “I’d love to go to America one day, I really would.”

“But why go to America when you can live in Spain,” Rosie says with a little sigh.

“Why go to Spain when you can live in America,” Tomás shrugs, smiling a bit. “Why visit England when you love being in Spain? How was that, by the way? You never gave me details.”

Her eyes light up, and Tomás holds back a laugh. Perhaps she is truly European at heart. They talk about her trip for the next hour, and the next time Tomás looks at his watch, he’s very glad that he doesn’t have work tomorrow.

“One thirty in the morning,” Tomás says, stuffing his hand back into his pocket. At some point, their linked arms turned into hand holding, and he’s glad it wasn’t his watch arm.

“Oh,” Rosie says. “Wow, didn’t realize we’d been out here so long. My legs are a bit achy though.”

“Mmm,” Tomás says. He can feel it slightly now, and he’ll definitely be feeling it tomorrow. He was never one for exercise. “Where do you live?”

She moves them in the direction of her apartment. “Not far from here, actually,” she says. “My roommates are probably asleep.”

“You get on with them well, then?” Tomás says, though by the sound of her England adventures, it certainly seemed like they did.

Rosie nods. “Oh, yes, I love them. Couldn’t have been a better, really. Funny how these things happen.”

Though he’s tired and his legs are sore, they arrive at Rosie’s apartment far too soon, and he’s regretful for having to let go of her hand. They hold on for a moment, standing there outside the doorway to the building, fingers warm between them.

Tomas finally clears his throat, hoping his hand doesn’t feel too clammy in hers all of the sudden. “Well I’m glad-” he starts. “I mean, I’m glad my friends aren’t total idiots.”

Rosie laughs at that, bumping his shoulder with hers. “Benito looked a bit nervous, when he asked me, to be honest.”

“I bet,” Tomás says, smiling slightly. “Took him ages to ask out his own girlfriend. He’s a good guy, though. I should probably thank him. Thank them all, really.”

“From me too,” Rosie says. She looks up at him. “And you, I thank you.”

“I really didn’t…” But the words die in his throat at the look on her face. She squeezes his fingers and he’s sure he must be blushing.

“A perfect gentleman, just like they wanted.”

He smiles at that, and he hears himself say, “You look really pretty.” Crap, now he’s sure he’s blushing. But it seemed to be complement hour, and it was just so true he had to tell her. Smooth, Tomás.

She might be blushing too, though it’s hard tell in the dark. Her smile is enough to warm him to the core. And when she leans up and presses her lips to his cheek, murmuring a quiet “thank you,” it’s as if the street suddenly tips upside down.

“I- a second date,” he says dizzily. “Would you like to go on a second date?”

“Yes,” she says, beaming, face still close, and he can feel her free hand on his shoulder, playing with the curls that touch the tip of his collar.

And crap, he’s never usually so- but she’s close and intoxicating and he just likes her a lot, so he turns his head and his lips find hers. She sucks in a sharp breath through her nose but her arms fit tight around his neck and she responds with a kind of enthusiasm that makes his head positively swim.

They kiss once, twice, a third time before he’s finally on his way, smiling and tired so lightheaded and dizzy he’s sure he must look drunk, walking home like this at two in the morning, but he doesn’t even care.

When he reaches for his phone to text Jacob, to tell him he’ll call him in the morning because he needs sleep and to process everything before he spills it all out like he some kind of giddy thirteen year old, he realizes he still doesn’t have Rosie’s number. But, he’s sure, he’ll get it.

Weeks go by and it’s December, and perhaps Tomás can call Rosie his girlfriend now. They’ve been on four dates now, kissed far more times than that, and Tomás honestly doesn’t believe he’s ever known truer happiness.

“Tomásito, in the thick of the honeymoon stage,” Jacob says one day when he and Benito come to visit him at the café.

“Don’t even start this,” Tomás says as he hands him his coffee.

“I set you up on that date, I deserve to be able to say whatever I want,” Jacob says.

“No, you don’t,” Tomás says as Benito turns to Jacob indignantly. “Hey, I’m the one that found her. You originally sent me over here to him up with your roommate’s cousin,” he says.

“She’s an intellectual, Tomás likes that type,” Jacob shrugs. He looks at Tomás and winks. “Obviously.”

“Will you both shut up?” Tomás says. “Ben, you didn’t find her. I knew her already and you just saw us talking.”

“You mean flirting,” Benito says. “Flirting like your lives depended on it.”

Jacob looks at Benito. “Was he good at it? I’m trying to imagine if Tomás is any good at it.”

“Oh, he was a pro,” Benito says. “She was swooning.”

“Shut up,” Tomás says again, feeling his neck grow hot. “Get out of my café.”

“Is it yours now?” Jacob asks. “About time, you make the best damn pastries anywhere.”

Tomás groans. “I’ll give you a free one if you leave me alone.”

Benito’s eyes light up. “Really?”

No.

“That reminds me,” Jacob says. He looks at Tomás. “We’re on for our annual Christmas dinner this year, right?”

Tomás sighs. Every year he, Jacob, Benito, and Carlos get together the night before Christmas Eve and make their own Christmas dinner before they all depart home to see their families. Or, rather, Tomás makes dinner while the other three half-heartedly decorate sugar cookies (made by him). “I suppose.”

“Oh, don’t look so bothered,” Jacob says. “You love hosting us.”

What really makes Tomás irritated is how very true that statement is. He scowls, but Jake goes on before he can say anything. “How about this. How about this year we invite all our girls? Hm?”

Benito perks up. “Sure.”

Tomás hesitates. Jacob raises an eyebrow. “What, we’re not good enough for Rosie? We, who set you up with her? She already knows Ben here.” He claps Benito on the shoulder.

Tomás sighs. It’s just that their still so new, is all. Formally introducing her to his friends was like some sort of…second step. Still, it couldn’t be so bad. “Fine, as long as you stop gloating about how you got us together.”

“Oh, I’ll never stop gloating about that,” Jacob says. He grins at Tomás’ scowl. “Really, Tomás, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you didn’t like us very much.”

“How strange,” Tomás mutters as he moves to serve the customer who just walked through the door.

When a knock sounds on his apartment door three hours before the dinner, Tomás rushes to answer it with an apron tied around his waist and a soup spoon in his hand.

“You’re too cute,” Rosie says when she sees him, pecking his cheek with a kiss. Tomás ruffles his nose. “Cute?”

“I’m not opting for something manlier this time,” she says as she shuts the door behind him. “I said you’re cute and that’s what you are.”

Tomás sighs, but he supposes he’ll accept that. He leads her to where he’s been working in the kitchen. It’s not her first time at his apartment; she’s visited a few times over the weeks they’d been dating. The first time was for their third date, when he’d invited her over for a home cooked meal, which she claimed was better than any restaurant food she’d ever had (a complement he held nearer to his heart than she’d ever know, because restaurants in Barcelona were quite good). That was the first time she called him cute, and though he blushed to his toes, he argued that that didn’t feel quite manly enough, so she settled for “rugged in that apron.”

“I love this kitchen,” Rosie says as she settles down the dessert box she brought. Tomás glances at all the food, pots and pans, bowls and spoons and mugs and sparse utilities crammed into the tiny space. Not nearly enough room to cook comfortably (a square of counter space was all he had to work with), but he had to admit, a part of him loved it, too. The overflowing spice rack, a tiny fridge filled with things no average twenty one year old would ever have (“Aspic, what even is that?” “Get out of my fridge, Jake.”), a severely mismatching plate set, a cookie jar that is always and never full. It’s a kitchen full of food and flavors and secrets Tomás would never be able to put into words.

It’s without a doubt his favorite room in his apartment, if only by default because it’s a kitchen. His apartment is nice, simple yet full of food and books, the perfect size for one person who really doesn’t need much more.

“What are we having tonight, then?” Rosie asks, looking up at him expectantly when he throws her another apron. “I’m ready for my first Spanish Christmas dinner.”

Tomás opens the oven a crack, and she peeks in. “Roast lamb,” he says proudly.

“Not paella?” She looks up at him. Tomás can see the smirk hiding in those lips.

“Ha ha,” he says, closing the oven door. “Because that’s all we eat in Spain. Nothing else.”

Rosie smiles and squeezes herself between him and the oven. She pushes his curls over his eyes. “So sarcastic.” He feels her warm lips against his.

He lets her kiss him until his lips can’t help but kiss her back, setting his hands on her waist, against the stove which probably isn’t the safest place to do this, but it’s warm and he realized back on their third date that his kitchen really is good for more than just cooking food.

“Don’t tell my friends this happened here, or they’ll never eat,” he says into her skin when they break apart.

“They’d eat your food if you’d made it on the metro floor,” Rosie says into his hair, and he laughs against her neck.

The thing is, Tomás is really excited for his friends to properly meet her. And for her to meet them. Maybe he’s just in a good mood, but there’s something about the thought of all his best friends in a room together, celebrating his favorite holiday, that’s got him excited and happy and other stupid feelings in the same realm as cute.

Finally, after five, maybe ten, definitely not fifteen minutes later, Tomás has given Rosie the job of cutting up some potatoes as he starts on the beans, and he decides that this is the best Christmas dinner prep he’s ever had.

Maybe Benito’s joke wasn’t all that funny, and maybe they’ve all had abit too much of the hard cider Jacob brought, but Tomás finds himself full and happy and Rosie’s laughing against him as Christmas music hums in the background.

“Rosie,” Jacob says across the table, a laugh lingering on his lips. “You’ll show us all around America when we come to visit, won’t you?”

“Oh please, will you?” Sofia, Benito’s girlfriend, says from Rosie’s other side. She’s a shorter, brown haired girl. They’ve known each other all of three hours, but they’re fast friends already.

Rosie laughs. “Of course.”

“Fantastic,” Carlos says, stuffing the last of a cookie into his mouth. “Is the food good there?”

“Doesn’t even compare to the food here,” Rosie shakes her head.

“That’s okay,” Jacob says. “We’ll have Tomás with us.” He grins across the table at Tomás.

“I need to find friends that don’t like me for my cooking,” Tomás rolls his eyes.

“Don’t be stupid, it was your charming personality that drew us in,” Carlos says. He grins. “We just stayed for the food.” Benito nods in agreement.

“I bet Rosie knows all about that,” Jacob nods at her.

“Hey,” Tomás says, but he feels her soothingly grip his knee under the table.

“Actually,” she says. “It was his food that drew me in. The charm that made me stay.”

Everyone laughs, and Tomás sighs but smiles all the same. He supposes he’ll take that.

Later, when they’ve retired to Tomás’ living room, which is hardly big enough for three people, never mind six, the girls are squeezed together on his tiny couch while the guys lie around on the floor, and Sofia says, “Rosie, you’ve got to join us on our spring holiday,” the other girls agree.

Her eyes light up “Really?”

Emilia nods. “Of course! We’re going to Italy, Sofia has family there we’re staying with.”

“Are you serious?” Rosie looks between them.

“Yeah, are you serious?” Jacob cuts in. “Talking about your vacation in Italy that doesn’t include us.” He gestures to the other three boys.

“Very serious,” his curly haired girlfriend, Elisabet, says, nudging his foot with hers.

Something inside of Tomás shines, because obviously he knew they’d like Rosie, but she’s been invited on the girls’ sprig trip and that means more than they can probably guess. Rosie meets his eyes across the room and he grins back at her.

Midnight comes and goes, and it’s officially the 24th of December, Christmas Eve, and they celebrate and bring out more wine and food and Tomás doesn’t think they’ve ever had a better Christmas dinner. He knows he’ll have a nice time at his Aunt and Uncle’s tomorrow, but this is undoubtedly the best part of this year’s Christmas.

Around two in the morning everyone is very full and getting quite sleepy, and after a bit of cleaning up, it finally comes time for Tomás’ friends to leave.

“You know, I heard Sofia and Rosie talking and Sofia doesn’t live far from Rosie’s apartment, if you want me to walk her home,” Benito says in the kitchen as everyone else is putting on their coats.

Tomás shakes his head. “I’ve got it, but thanks, Ben.” He claps him on the shoulder.

Because, even though the night is over, Tomás has got one more thing up his sleeve. So he whispers to Rosie that he’ll walk her home, and she stays behind as the rest of their friends file out.

“Do you need help cleaning anything else up?” Rosie asks once the others are gone and it’s quiet all of the sudden. Tomás shakes his head.

“Nah, I’ve got it,” he says. He looks at her. “Did you like my friends?”

“They invited me to Italy,” Rosie says. “Yes, maybe I like them. A little.” She smiles, and Tomás is so relieved and happy he could kiss her, so, yes, he does.

“I’ve got something for you,” he says when they break apart. Their heads are close, lips never far from each other, and he reaches down into his pocket.

It isn’t very original, and he hopes she doesn’t think he’s too lame giving her a necklace, but by the way her eyes light up when she sees it quells all of his doubts in a second.

“Tomás, I love it,” she says, carefully lifting it out of its little box.

“I just, I know you like green,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck.

“I love green.” She meets his eyes. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.” She kisses him, and he puts the necklace on around her neck as she holds up her hair.

“My gift isn’t nearly as nice,” she says, reaching for her bag. “But…well, my mom sent me these and after that discussion we had about American snacks…”

“Oreos!” Tomás says as she pulls the box out of her bag. “Rosie, this is great!” He takes the box into his hands, and when he looks back up at her he sees something fond in her eyes.

“I’ve never seen anyone so excited about some Oreos,” she says. “And believe me, people in America get excited about Oreos.” Tomás grins and kisses her again.

He walks her home a bit later, and even though they’re only going to be separated for a few days, they take the long way there.

Tomás doesn’t think he’s ever started a new year with a better outlook on life, and as January turns into February, things only improve. First of all, he’s gotten a raise at the café, second, one week there’s a competition hosted in his cooking class, and, to no one’s surprise, he wins the hundred euro prize. And, third of all, he’s got a Valentine this year.

“I’m going to take you out for something nice with this,” Tomás says the night he wins his competition. They sit in his living room, on the couch, limbs tangled under a blanket. Tomás hasn’t put the money down since he’s won it.

Rosie laughs, then pauses, and Tomás sees something happening in her mind the split second before she says, “No, Tomás, save it.”

“Why?” he says.

“Just save it.” She props her chin on his chest and looks up at him. “Really, save it.”

“Okay…” he says slowly. He raises an eyebrow. “What you are thinking?”

“Nothing,” she says. “Just save it. I’ll be very mad if you use it for something unnecessarily fancy on me.”

Tomás sighs and kisses her forehead. “Well, alright.”

So he doesn’t do anything unnecessarily fancy for Valentine’s Day, because he knows Rosie isn’t the type to say one thing and mean another, and she’s more than happy with a homemade meal and a cozy night in his apartment.

Rosie looks beautiful that night, cheeks warm and rosy and the green gem on the necklace he gave her gleaming against the skin of her neck. She beams at him from across the table when she sees he brings out the dessert.

“Chocolate cake,” she says. “How American.”

“How universal,” Tomás says, slight smile on his face. “But I doubt you’ll find a cake like this back home.”

“Oh, obviously,” Rosie says. “I love chocolate cake.”

“Me too,” Tomás says as he cuts her a piece. “You can never go wrong with chocolate.”

They’ve had this conversation before, of course, but chocolate is one of Tomás’ favorite subjects and Valentine’s Day is a really just an excuse to eat more chocolate than usual, anyway.

“This is perfect,” Rosie says halfway through her cake. “All of this, Tomás. All so perfect.”

Tomás shrugs modestly. “I like to do it.”

She smiles. “You know, I was a little afraid you’d do something fancy with that money you won. And it wouldn’t have nearly been as great as this.”

Tomás raises an eyebrow. “I happen to know some great restaurants, you know.”

“We’re sitting in my favorite restaurant right now,” she says defiantly.

Tomás rolls his eyes, but his heart soars anyway. He looks at her. “Why exactly are you so insistent that I don’t spend that money, anyway?”

She shrugs and looks down at her cake. “Just…”

“Just…?”

She looks up at him, bites her lip, looks back down. Up at him again. Hesitates. “I just. I…have an idea.”

Tomás is already intrigued. “Yeah?”

She nods slowly. “It’s…maybe it’s too much.”

“What is it?”

“Well…”

Rosie.”

“I want to go to Paris.”

He looks at her, raises his chin carefully. “Alright,” he says slowly.

Her face is turning red. “With you. Together. I…it’s just an idea, that I’d like to…do.”

Tomás blinks. It’s a lot; more than a hundred euros would pay. But he’s never been to France, and he does have quite a bit of money saved from the café over the years for lack of having anything great to spend it on. “Okay,” he says, and the word slides a bit too easily off his tongue.

“Okay…as in…what do you mean by okay?” she says. She looks nervous, and Tomás almost wants to laugh because she’s too cute about all of this. He reaches across the table and gently brushes his fingers over hers before taking her hand into his grasp.

“I mean…okay.” He shrugs. “Alright. Sure.”

Rosie stares at him. “Sure?”

“Sure.”

“Okay.”

“Alright.”

They look at each other, and then Rosie reaches across the table and kisses him, and he’s smiling so hard his cheeks hurt. Because he’s going to France with this beautiful girl.

Later, they fall asleep on his couch under their usual blanket, and when they wake up the next morning, Tomás makes coffee and they look up train tickets and Eiffel tower prices. Rosie’s eyes are sleepy and she’s wearing one of his sweatshirts, her lips are pink and she smells like flowers and chocolate cake and Tomás thinks he just might be in love, but he doesn’t tell her that.

They book their trip to Paris for April, when the weather is a little nicer and warmer and after Rosie’s holiday in Italy with the girls, because that’s happening, too.

“I’ll miss you,” Rosie says the night before she leaves. He’s locking up the café (more responsibility comes with getting a raise) and it’s the end of March, and the temperature outside isn’t too bad for night time.

“I’ll miss you too.” He turns around and kisses her on the forehead, the cheeks, her lips. He makes sure the door is locked and wraps an arm around her as they start toward her apartment. “You’re going to have a great time in Italy, though. Won’t even think of me.”

She nudges him in the side. “You just want me to say I’ll be thinking about you all the time.”

“Not at all.”

“Fine, then I’m not going to say it.” He grins when a minute later she says, “I wish I could stay at your apartment tonight.”

“Me too,” he says easily. “Early flight, though.”

“Mmm,” Rosie hums and leans her head against the crook of his neck as they walk. The night is warm, the balminess of spring has come, flowers have started to crop up in windowsills and the sky is a mixture of purple and pink above the low buildings.

When they reach her apartment he kisses her, lips lingering over warm skin. She pushes a hand through his curls, which have gotten long. The streetlamp behind her outlines rouge wisps of her own hair.

“I’ll probably get this cut while you’re gone,” he murmurs thoughtlessly.

“Don’t you dare,” she says, and kisses him again, pushing his curls over his eyes.

Tomás walks home trying to feel content, trying to not thing about how much it bothers him that they’ll be apart for a week, when in actuality come May, she’ll leave for America and who knew when (or if) she would ever come back. But like always, he pushes those thoughts out of his mind and instead decides to call up the boys to see if they’ll be around this week, which, undoubtedly, they would be, seeing as all their girlfriends were leaving the country without them.

“Do you think you would have asked Rosie out if we hadn’t set you up with her?” Benito asks one afternoon while Tomás is on break and Benito has nothing else to do. They sit at a table next to the wall because the window table’s taken, which is a shame, because it’s nice and sunny outside.

Tomás looks at him. Benito shrugs. “Just wondering.”

“No, it’s a good question,” Tomás says. And it is. “I…well, I think something would have had to happen eventually.”

Benito nods. “And look at her now, vacationing in Italy with Sofia and the other two.”

Tomás smiles slightly. Rosie had been growing very close to the other girls; she’d even had to turn him down several times for nights out with them. “Yeah, it’s great.”

“Just, Tomás,” Benito says, lowering his voice slightly, and Tomás knows what’s coming before he even says it. “What about…when she has to leave?”

It’s unexpected, the way Tomás’ heart clenches at the words. It’s one thing for the prospect to exist in his mind, but another entirely when said out loud. Like it’s an actual real thing.

“I…don’t know,” Tomás says. He looks up at his friend, sandy hair and tanned skin. “That’s really all I can say about it, Ben. I don’t know.”

Benito looks at him, eyes sympathetic. Tomás looks away. “It’s just, when she first walked in here, I didn’t think it would ever turn into this. Still blows my mind, to be honest. And most of the time I don’t know what to do about it.” He signs. “All of the time, actually.”

Benito smiles at him, a soft, understanding smile and Tomás is glad that it’s him he’s talking to about this, not Jacob or Carlos, who would be well meaning but too many words.

“But she’s worth it, right?” Benito finally says.

The bell dings as a customer walks in, and Tomás thinks back to that first day she came into the café, all chocolaty eyes and American accent. Pink lips he would kiss so many times he never even tried to count. A warm body to wake up next to in the morning, crammed on that stupid little couch. Something that would inspire him to go to Paris, and someone to make him want to come home at night. A place deep in Tomás’ stomach grows warm and he feels himself nodding. He meets Benito’s eyes.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, she’s worth it.”

When Rosie returns from Italy a few days later, she’s all smiling lips and tanned skin and let me tell you about the food, Tomás.

“I’m glad you had a great time,” he says, smiling, and he kisses the corner of her mouth. The sun is shining today and the spring weather is definitely here to stay. So they go to the park and find a nice patch of grass and lay looking up at the sky, Rosie’s head warm against his neck and her voice floating into his ears like some sort of music, telling him all about Italy.

“I can’t wait for Paris, Tomás,” she says sleepily sometime later, as the afternoon starts to wane.

“Rest a little, first,” he says, chuckling slightly, fingers tangled in her long hair.

“And take exams,” she sighs. She closes her eyes. “Why must studying abroad consist of so much studying.”

“It’s a mystery that can’t be solved,” Tomás says, and kisses the top of her head.

They lie there as the sky grows dark, until Tomás forces them up and brings her home and makes some dinner. Afterward she falls asleep on his couch, and when he turns the light off and tries to sneak off to his room, she somehow detects his presence leaving and makes noises of protest, so he grabs her hand and pulls her to his bedroom, because that couch is too small and dingy, anyway.

It all feels a bit unreal when Tomás steps off the train and finds himselfnot in Barcelona.

“Tomás, we’re in Paris,” Rosie says beside him, and he doesn’t truly believe it until he hears the intercom system echo throughout the station and the person behind it isn’t speaking Spanish.

The city is huge, for one thing, not that Barcelona is particularly small. But their hostel is supposed to be nearby, and Rosie takes charge of finding it, which is probably a good idea since she has more experience with these things and oh my goodness they’re not in Barcelona.

Luckily they get there before Tomás can give into the urge to wander into some café or restaurant, and when Rosie sees him eyeing a crepe venue on the street she just tugs on his hand and says, lips twisting in amusement, later.

Tomás merely nods and follows her into the hostel.

They’ve gotten the cheapest beds available (which isn’t exactly cheap because Paris is expensive), bunks in a room shared with twelve other people. Tomás has never stayed in a hostel before, so it’s a little strange, but Rosie assures him its fine, and he takes the top bunk because he’s secretly always wanted to sleep on the top bunk of a bed.

And then they’re free to do whatever they want, and while their plans seemed so neat and organized before, the city is so big and busy around them and it turns out you can’t see the Eiffel Tower from every street corner, and they find themselves feeling a little lost and wanting to do everything at once.

So they start with the crepes, because they’re hungry after the train ride and would rather not stop walking. They get them hot and full of Nutella, and God it’s one of the best things Tomás has ever tasted.

“I mean, I’ve had Nutella crepes before, of course,” Tomás says. “But these French must have some sort of secret they’re keeping from the rest of the world.

Rosie just looks at him, a slow smile creeping onto her face. She looks at her crepe, dabs a fingertip of Nutella onto his nose. He makes an indignant face and she laughs, and the way her eyes scrunch in the corners make his heart squeeze.

They’re in Paris for four days and three nights, because Tomás can’t afford anymore (which Rosie assured him was fine, four days is plenty), and Tomás can already tell every penny spent is going to be worth it. They walk, crepes sweet on their tongues and their eyes never bored of buildings and statues and fountains and- Rosie points, and Tomás sees the Arch de Triumph in the distance, down the long road between buildings. Barcelona has one of those, the Arc de Triomf, though it’s not nearly as big and while it’s nice, its grandeur has been lost on Tomás long ago. This, thought, this is the Arch de Triumph.

It’s a strange feeling, being the tourist, when Tomás is so used to being the local. It’s a slightly helpless feeling, not knowing where anything is and being unable to read signs and understand what people are saying. But it’s exciting, and he wants to see everything, and he suddenlyunderstands why foreigners sometimes stop walking in the middle of the street, or pull out a camera for something so seemingly ordinary. He makes a mental note to never scoff at a tourist at home again. So they follow the road to the Arch de Triumph, climb up to the top and take pictures like proper tourists.

“Wow, Paris,” Rosie says, looking out over the city. They can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and the Louvre is directly ahead of them down a long strip of road. Cars circle around them, an endless roundabout.

Everything is a little less…colorful, than Barcelona. A little more pastel, a little more elegant, and chic. Tomás likes it. It’s different and it’s beautiful and so incredibly French. They walk down Avenue Charles de Gualle, a concentrated commercial district, full of stores and restaurants and the most expensive macaroons Tomás has ever seen (“Fifty euros forfour macaroons? Are they serious?”) and they walk and they walk until they reach  Tuileries Garden, right in front of the Louvre Museum. They find a bench next to the big fountain, and they sit down, and Tomás tucks an arm around Rosie and they look at each other, because they’re in Paris together and who would have even imagined they would come this far.

It’s their second day in Paris, and Tomás is having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that while Spain is right next door, the food here is so incredibly different. And the culture, of course.

“You know, you can eat snails in Spain,” he says over lunch at a restaurant near the Notre Dame cathedral. A plate of snails sits between them and he holds one up in front of his eyes. “I mean, I know they’re a French thing, but they’re not exactly rare elsewhere.”

“Have you eaten them in Spain?”

He meets her eyes. “Well, no.”

Rosie raises her eyebrows. “Just eat your French snails, then.”

So he does, and it’s really not too different from anything he’s ever had before. Salty. Chewy. Smooth against the tongue and if he didn’t know better he might have guessed he was eating some sort of seafood, like a clam or a scallop. Rosie watches him from across the table. His lips curve into a smile. “I like it.”

But, then again, there aren’t many foods he doesn’t like.

They go into the Notre Dame after, and she grips Tomás’ hand and they walk inside and it’s beautiful, very beautiful, but not nearly as beautiful as Rosie’s face as she takes it all in.

God, he’s turned into such a sap.

It’s massive, and crowded, but then again all tourist attractions are, and they each spend five euros to go to the top. The view is amazing; perhaps not as amazing as from the Arch de Triomphe, but considering that every view of Paris seemed to be amazing, it’s still pretty great. It’s very windy, and the warm weather is a bit chillier up here. Rosie tucks herself against Tomás’ side.

“So pretty,” she says, holding up her camera to take a picture of the view. Tomás watches her for a moment, and then turns to a young woman near them that he noticed was speaking English.

“Uh, picture?” he says. He’s not too great at English, but he can get by. The woman nods and Rosie hands her the camera.

Tomás wraps an arm around Rosie and they smile. Her hair tickles his cheek, and he rubs his thumb against her skin when he feels it’s cold. “Okay, one, two…three!” the woman says. It’s their first picture together in Paris, and when Rosie looks at it later, when they’re back on the street, she looks up at Tomás and says, “We’re definitely getting this one printed.”

“Did you know that if you wanted to properly look at everything in the Louvre, it would take you four months?” Rosie says when they’re in the Louvre later, and it’s the most magnificent museum Tomás has without a doubt, been in, and probably ever will be in.

“Wow,” Tomás says, and he believes it. The place is absolutely massive, which makes sense, considering it used to be a palace. The halls are wide and plastered in art and the staircases grand and intricate and crawling with people. He glances at his watch. “Too bad we only have about…four hours until it closes.”

“Well, we’ll have to do our best, then.” Rosie grabs his hand and starts pulling down a new corridor. “Come on, I promised Carlos a picture of you in front of the Mona Lisa.”

“What?” Tomás says as she pulls him through the sea of other visitors. As they round a corner, the crowd only thickens.

“Right in this room.” Rosie points to a sign. They turn, and there it is, small and grand right in the middle of the room, all by itself and under the gaze of hundreds of eyes. Tomás wouldn’t say he ever really found the painting very appealing, but he will admit it’s cool actually seeing it in person and not in a text book. “We need to get closer,” Rosie says, tugging on his hand, and they launch themselves into the crowd.

When they emerge less than ten minutes later (Tomás doesn’t know how someone could stand to be in that crowd any longer), Rosie has a few new photos and Tomás a new enemy (I didn’t mean to elbow that woman in the face!”). They wander into the next room, which is significantly less crowded and much easier to breathe in. Rosie stops to look at an unfamiliar painting and Tomás turns to her to ask her what exactly it is, but instead finds himself kissing her.

“What was that for?” he asks when she pulls away, a tiny smile on her face.

She shrugs. “Does there need to be a reason?”

“I suppose not.”

“Come on, we have four months worth of art to see,” she says, grabbing his hand again, and he lets her pull him on to the next thing.

That night, after a long dinner and a rainy walk back to the hostel, Tomás is about to climb into his bunk, hair wet and skin tingling from a hot shower, when Rosie tugs on the hem of his t-shirt from the bottom bunk. He pauses, one hand on the ladder, and looks down at her.

“Do you think,” she says, just above a whisper because other people are already asleep around them. “You want to…” Half of her face is cast into shadow in the dim light, and her own wet hair is pulled back in a long braid that hangs off her shoulder.

Tomás feels something in his chest soften, and he smiles and lets go of the ladder. She makes a space beside her and he crawls onto the soft sheets and pulls the blanket over them. It’s a tight fit; the bed is much narrower than his one at home, but they don’t mind. She presses her back to his chest, and he wraps an arm around her waist, pulling her closer.

“It was cold last night,” she whispers, gentle fingers prying their way between his.

“Hmm.” He presses his lips to the hollow of her neck.

She makes a humming sound, and he chuckles into her skin, pushing their legs together beneath the covers. She tilts her hear head and he’s met with her lips, so he kisses her, quietly, until he can feel sleep tugging at his eyelids.

“Night,” he hears her whisper, placing one more tiny kiss on his lips. He murmurs in response, fading.

Very warm indeed.

When they had planned their four days in Paris, they hadn’t really discussed why they left visiting the Eiffel Tower until the last day. But they did, and Sofia had told Rosie it sparkles at night, every hour on the hour, so they go at the end of the day.

“For something made out of a bunch of metal, it really is quite nice,” Tomás says, gazing up at it. It’s massive, and he can only imagine the view from the top. Miles higher than the Arch de Triomphe and the Notre Dame, at least.

He feels Rosie look at him. “You’re such a poet.”

He grins and looks back at her. “That’s why you’re dating me.” He winks.

“So smooth.” She rolls her eyes, pecks him on the cheek and readjusts her hand in his. “Come on, let’s go up.”

It’s early enough that the tower hasn’t started sparkling yet, but the top level is closed, which is fine with Tomás, seeing as the second level ismuch cheaper. He’s kept careful track of his spending and…well, he went over his limit yesterday afternoon.

They buy their tickets and get in the elevator to bring them up, and this, Tomás decides when they get there, is the best view. It may not be the top, but it’s higher than anything else they’ve been to. The sky is just beginning to darken and within the hour all of Paris will be a sea of lights. The clouds are a hazy pink, and not for the first time during this trip Tomás wishes he had Benito’s photography equipment (and the skills to use them), but Rosie seems handy enough with a camera. She’s already pulled it out, and Tomás smiles fondly into her shoulder.

She leans against him a little; enough. Clicks the shutter button. He wraps an arm around her waist, shares a bit of his warmth. Satisfied, she lowers the camera and leans against him fully. He kisses the top of her head, hair wispy in the wind against his lips and his nose, and she sighs and says, “I love you.”

Tomás freezes. All the tourists and noises around him disappear as his heart clenches and he forgets he’s standing on the Eiffel Tower. It sounds so normal and so casual she may as well have said it a thousand times before. He blinks, a thrill taking hold of him as his heart begins to pound in his ears. He breaths into her hair and he feels the words slide off his tongue, releasing themselves from the cage he’s been holding them in for so long. A new kind of feeling flows over him like a very warm, very pleasant waterfall.

“I love you too.” He wraps his arms around her tighter, properly. He loves her, he loves her, he loves her, and he remembers he’s on the freaking Eiffel Tower in the middle of freaking Paris. He feels so good, too special, not like the average kid from Barcelona that he is. With Rosie, he’s…so much more. He closes her eyes and presses his face to the top of her head, heart full to bursting for this girl, he’s so in love with her.

They stay like that, wrapped up and looking out at the view, until it becomes all too apparent that a man with a fancy camera wants their spot when he sets up his equipment just a tad too close. Tomás doesn’t mind, though. Rosie loves him, and they’ve got other views to see.

They find another open spot on the other side. The sun is really beginning to set now, and the city is awakening with its own lights. As they look out over the railing, side by side, Rosie fidgets. Tomás looks at her, and she feels him watching.

“Er- about what I said,” she says, looking slightly uneasy. “I- er-”

She’s cut off by the chorus of “ooh!” around them, and Tomás looks up. The Eiffel Tower is sparkling, properly sparkling against the purple sky and it’s really very pretty. But Tomás wants to know what Rosie was going to say, what she going to say about what she had said.

“What were you saying?” he says, looking back at her, lowering his head slightly to hear her better over the people around them. Her brown eyes meet his green ones, and the twinkling lights of the tower high above them reflect back at him.

“Never mind.” She wraps her arms around his neck, hands warm against the chill, and she kisses him hard, all lips and teeth, and his eyes close and he sees his own stars as his chest starts beating out of whack and it’s nice, very nice. He kisses her back, and as her tongue slides into his mouth – a proper French kiss, some distant part of his mind notes – he wouldn’t have guessed he was capable of loving another person as much as he loves her.

They spend two hours up on the Eiffel Tower, and even then Tomás feels he could be up there for longer. But, after a long day of walking, it would really be nice to sit. They find a nice spot on the grass behind the Eiffel Tower and it’s just beginning to sparkle again as they sit down.

“Quick, quick,” Rosie says, tugging on his hand. It’s one thing to see it sparkle when you’re on it, but another when watching it sparkle as a whole, and Tomás decides he likes it better this way. Rosie presses her cheek against his shoulder, and once it ends Tomás has the urge to lay back on the grass, but he gets an idea first.

“I’ll be right back.” He stands up

“Where are you going?”

“Just around the corner, I’ll be back in a minute.”

He returns, admittedly, several minutes later, but he has two Nutella crepes in his hands, so Rosie forgives him.

“Saw the crepe stand around the corner on our way here,” he says as he hands one to her. It’s warm, and he licks the Nutella that’s dripped onto his pinky as he sits back down beside her. “Dinner.”

“Perfect.” He gets a wide smile in thanks, and warmth curls in his stomach. They eat mostly in silence, enjoying the Eiffel Tower and each other.

“I think,” Tomás says as he takes his last bite, “what makes these so good is the fact that there’s about half a jar of Nutella in each of them.”

“Could use a little more, in my opinion,” Rosie says.

“I like your opinions.”

“Thank you.” She finishes up her own crepe. “Glad a chef like you thinks that’s a good idea.”

He laughs, wraps an arm around her and pulls her back on the grass so they’re looking up at the sky. It’s completely dark now, or at least as dark as it can get over a city. The sky is hazy, but Tomás tries to pretend he can see the stars.

“I’m not a chef,” he says. Rosie tucks herself snuggly against his side and chuckles slightly. She reaches up and pushes a curl away from his eyes. “That’s the biggest lie I’ve heard in my life.”

“I make pastries in a café,” he says, smiling slightly. “Hardly the life of a chef.”

Rosie is quiet for a moment. “But you want to be a chef.”

Tomás feels himself nod. “I- yeah, that’d be really nice.”

“You make it sound like it’s not possible.”

Tomás blinks at the sky. He wishes he really could see the stars. The haziness is a little confining. “I mean, is it?” He says it lightly, a rhetorical question, almost.

But Rosie picks her head up. Looks him in the eye. “Of course it is.” Says it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. Something in him squirms; there’s too much faith in her voice.

“I didn’t even go to uni,” he says.

“You take cooking classes every week.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like…credential.”

“So what,” she says. “You know your stuff, and anyone that would turn you down obviously doesn’t have working taste buds.”

He laughs and leans up and kisses her. It tastes sweet like Nutella and Paris and sparkling Eiffel Tower lights. When he pulls away, the ferocity in her eyes has softened.

“I’m in Paris with the most beautiful girl in the world,” he says, pulling her back down beside him. “Let me live one impossible dream at a time, okay?”

She sighs, pushes her nose against the collar of his shirt. “Fine,” she says. “Tell me what you want, then.”

“What?”

“What you want,” she says, propping her chin on his chest. “Out of life. Tell me your impossible dreams.”

So it’s going to be one of those conversations. But okay. He likes those conversations.

“Okay. I want to be a chef.” He pokes her shoulder. “You got me.”

Really, Tomás.”

He’s quiet for a moment, and Rosie settles on his chest, the top of her head pressed against his chin. He trails his fingers along her arm. “I mean, it’s true,” he says. “It’s what I want.” Rosie stays quiet, a little nudge for him to go on. “I don’t want to work in that café forever.”

“You shouldn’t.”

He smiles into her hair. “I just…I don’t know, if I’m going to work one place forever, I want it to be more. I love the café, but…”

“You can only make pastries for so long.”

He nods. “Yeah, so…yeah, I wouldn’t mind cooking…professionally, I suppose. I mean.” A ball of warmth spreads from his stomach as he entertains the idea. “It’d be cool to have my own, you know, restaurant.”

“Tomás,” Rosie says. “That would be perfect.”

“Right?” He smiles to himself. But there’s a reason he doesn’t let himself think about it too often. “Too perfect. Don’t know how it would ever happen.”

Rosie smooths the fabric of his shirt with a finger. “I think it could definitely happen.”

“How?” he says. “I just know a few recipes, not how to run a business.”

She shrugs. “Find someone who does.”

Tomás sighs. “You make everything sound so simple.”

“The simple thing,” she says, gently pressing her fingers against his side, “would be to not try at all.”

He blinks, and presses his nose into her hair, closes his eyes again against the soft flowery scent, pushes out the new chorus of oooh!’s that spring from every corner of the courtyard as the tower sparkles for the third- maybe fourth? time tonight.

“I just.” He can feel the words coming, surfacing for the first time from a very deep place. “I don’t want to be…stuck. Or floating. I want…I don’t know…I want…” Rosie hums reassuringly against his chest and turns to press her lips against his fabric of his shirt, warm against his skin.

“I lived with my aunt and uncle since I was three months old,” he decides to say. “I moved out when I was nineteen, once I’d saved enough money from the café. Got that job when I was seventeen.” He pauses. “Didn’t even have my own parents because my dad thought it’d be a good idea to rough my mother up. She left, and he went to prison.”

“Tomás…” His name is pressed warm into his chest. He slides his fingers down her arm.

“I love the café, and I like my tiny little apartment, I just-” he bits the inside of his lip. “I want something of my own.” He’s told her this before, he remembers, on their first date. Funny how he let that slip out so fast.

Rosie twists around to look at him, meet his eyes and pushes his hair out of his face. He looks down. “Never really felt like anything was my own.” He licks his lips. “Well- not much to be proud of, at least.”

“Tomás-”

He looks up at her. “I’m not looking for reassurance,” he says quickly. “I’m not trying to get sympathy, please.” She closes her mouth, eyes softening. He knows what she’d say, what anyone would say. You moved out, took charge of your life, make your own money, have your own place, possess talent. And sure, maybe that’s true. “That’s just how I feel.”

They’re quiet for a moment, until she’s close, lips grazing his and his eyelids flutter shut. “I’m proud of you,” she says quietly, words warm against his mouth, soaking into his skin and traveling into his bloodstream until he’s glowing like the Eiffel Tower. She kisses him then, and Tomás doesn’t care that they’re in public, because they’re in Paris, and it’s almost law to do something like this here.

So he kisses her until his jaw aches and she remembers she needs to breath. They break apart, and it takes a moment for Tomás’ heart to slow down, and he so wants to say it, but-

“What you said before,” he says as she leans into him again, head on his shoulder. “Up in the tower-”

She looks up at him, eyes heavy in the reflecting lamplight. “Hmm?”

“You were going to- say something? About…you know?” Tomás bites his tongue. He probably shouldn’t have brought it up, should have just said it.

She blinks slowly. “Oh,” she finally says. She glances at him, something hesitant about her gaze and his heart picks up slightly, nervous for some inexplicable reason. “Right, um.”

He licks his lips, gently runs his hand down her arm. “Hm?”

“I just,” she starts, looks away. “I don’t…want to go, well, too far.” She meets his eyes. “If you don’t- want to go too far.”

Tomás blinks. “I don’t…I’m fine with it.”

“I just.” She looks up at the tower, lamplight spilling into her eyes. Her voice is quiet. “I’m not going to be here forever, and it’ll be…hard, you know? If we…keep it up, after I leave.”

Something in Tomás’ chest slips, and he swallows. “It would be.”

She pauses, pursing her lips. “What I said was true, though.” She meets his eyes. “I meant it.”

“So did I.” He presses his lips to her forehead. It’s warm and he dwells for a moment on just how nice his lips feel against it.

“There’s never been anyone else that I’ve-” She pauses, hesitant. “When I came to study abroad I didn’t think anything like this would actually happen.”

“Course not,” he says. How could either of them had known?

“I just,” she says again. Her eyes are wide. “Is this it? After I leave…is this it?”

Tomás doesn’t think he’s ever been asked such a heavy question, and one he wants to say no to say so badly. But it can’t just be his answer that matters. She waits for him, breathing through her nose.

“Depends,” he finally says. “Depends on what we want.”

“What do we want?”

The air between them is thin, and Tomás suddenly feels like he’s balancing on the edge of something, and if he moves the wrong way he’ll fall, or she’ll fall, and he doesn’t know how to move and all he knows is that-

“I love you.” He pushes his fingers through her hair and he’s so incredibly, irreversibly in love with this girl, it makes his head swim. “I love you,” he says again, and he almost can’t breathe from the truth of those words.

She lets out a little laugh, almost tearful, and he just catches a glimpse of the smile on her lips before her hands are cupping his face and she’s kissing him again, lips so warm and soft a fire burns in his stomach, and when she pulls away his face is red and he’s more than a little breathless.

“That’s what I want, too.” Her voice is soft, and the words taste wonderful against his lips. “I love you,” she whispers, and the words are new to his ears but old as dust to the tower in front of them.

The magic of Paris doesn’t disappear right away when they arrive back in Barcelona, but as the next week passes and Tomás goes back to work and Rosie finishes up her studies, the fact that she only has about three weeks left in Spain suddenly begins to become very real.

Tomás tries to ignore it, of course, as he has been this entire time aside from their talk at the Eiffel Tower, but he knows he won’t be able to ignore it when she’s on the plane back to America. And they have to face it, obviously. But the thought of talking about separation any more makes his heart twist painfully.

Another week passes, and as the days go by it doesn’t pass Tomás’ attention that they seem to be spending every moment they can together. Tomás goes by her apartment to make sure she eats dinner when she’s studying too hard for exams, and she slips into the café when she’s not at revision sessions to make sure he’s sufficiently entertained on lazy days.

Finally, Rosie finishes her last exam and she’s so happy she nearly cries, and all she wants is a night in with warm food and a comfortable pair of arms to sleep in. So she comes to his apartment and he makes her dinner and then, happily full and deciding they’ll leave the dishes for the morning, they crawl into Tomás’ bed, not even bothering to turn off the kitchen lights.

“I love you,” Rosie says sleepily as Tomás curls around her. He presses his lips to the back of her neck, wishing they could always be like this.

When Tomás wakes up the next morning, eyes caked with sleep, bright sunlight shines through the shades he hadn’t closed the night before, and Rosie lies awake beside him. Their legs are tangled beneath his blankets, bodies tucked snuggly against each other. Rosie meets his eyes, and he notes without comprehending, briefly in his sleep-hazy mind, that she looks rather sad.

“Hi.” He gives her a sleepy smile. His voice is rough in the morning, but she told him once that she liked it.

“Hi,” she says back quietly. He twists around to give her a sloppy kiss on the cheek.

“What time is it?” he asks, wrapping an arm around her waist and burying his face into the crook of her neck. He closes his eyes again. He feels her shrug. “Maybe ten.”

He could, very possibly, doze off again, but something in her voice has him look up. He seeks her eyes. “Kace?”

She doesn’t say anything for a moment, and Tomás is about to open his mouth again when she says, “I’ve got nine days left, Tomás.”

He blinks. “I- oh.”

“Nine days.” She’s looking up at the ceiling. “Nine days and then I’m gone. Not in Spain anymore.”

The words hit Tomás hard, and he can’t think of anything to say to that. He feels the impulse to comfort her, but really, what is there to say? “Maybe you’ll come back one day.“At least it was a good time!” He cringes at both of them. Instead, he finds her hand beneath the sheets and intertwines their fingers. She looks at him, eyes lined with distress. “I don’t want to go.”

He squeezes her hand and pulls her closer against him. His lips graze her cheek and find her mouth. The kiss is slow and he wants to have five thousand more of them every single day until her plane is in the air. “I don’t want you to go either,” he murmurs when they break apart.

They lie in silence for several minutes, Tomás’ arms tight around her, watching the dust float in the sunlight in front of the window. Her head is tucked against his shoulder, and it reminds Tomás of when they lied in front of the Eiffel Tower several weeks back.

“Rosie,” he says, voice low in the quiet room. “In Paris, that night, I never ask you what you wanted…your impossible dream?”

“Mm,” she murmurs, and he can tell she doesn’t want to talk about his. He pokes her leg with his toe beneath the blankets. “Come on, I shared mine. Your turn.”

“I don’t have any impossible dreams.”

“Of course you do.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you’re you, and anyone who wants to travel Europe has some sort of wild, impossible dream,” he says matter-of-factly. “Now tell me yours.”

She sighs. “Maybe,” she says, reaching a hand up through the blankets and tugging a curl into his eyes, “my impossible dream is that you’ll not ask me about this.”

Tomas looks at her through his hair, searching her eyes as best as he can. “Is it that bad?”

She shifts in the blankets. “No, I suppose not.” She huffs. “Fine, but I’m making it a story.”

“Naturally.”

She reaches up and tugs on his hair again, but he can see the amusement in her eyes. “Okay. Once upon a time, I wanted to go to Spain.”

“I’m intrigued.”

She looks at him. “Shut up.” She pinches his shoulder, and he laughs against her cheek. “Okay, okay, go on.”

“I wanted to Spain because I loved speaking Spanish.” She speaks slowly, eyes trained on something near their feet. “I loved…everything about it. From the way it sounded to the way if felt on my tongue. Better than anything in English ever could.”

“Obviously.” She pinches him again, but softer. He presses a kiss against her ear.

“So I worked hard, and I went on a trip to Spain with my high school when I was sixteen.” He knew that. “And it was great, but of course, it wasn’t enough.”

“Not nearly,” he says into her hair. He knows she’s smiling.

“So I went to college- university, I know, university, and I worked even harder. And I got into the Barcelona program.” She pauses. “I cried when I found out.”

“You did?”

She nods. “I was…really happy. And you know me, I cry at everything.”

He smiles. “True. Did you cry after our first date? Out of happiness?”

“No, I cried because I thought it was terrible.” She raises her eyebrows. “But Benito had already paid me fifty euros for two dates.”

“Hey!”

“Stop interrupting my story, then.” He falls silent, and she sighs. “Well, I guess you already know the rest, really.”

“Yeah, but I already knew you wanted to come to Spain,” he says. “Tell me about the impossible stuff.”

“Impossible stuff,” she repeats slowly. She looks up, brings her hand to his forehead again and pushes this hair out of his eyes with a finger. “I want…I want to always be this happy.”

Tomás presses his lips together, looks at her. She’s gazing at something over his head. “I want to always be as happy as I was the time I studied in Barcelona and made friends who took me to Italy and fell in love with a boy I kissed on the Eiffel Tower.”

Tomás suddenly wants to march straight to the embassy and demand they extend her visa for the rest of forever. But he only says, “Why is that impossible?”

She gives a small shrug. “Just feels it.”

He presses his lips against her cheek, says, so his words are engrained in her skin. “I think you can be this happy everywhere.”

“But Spain isn’t everywhere,” she says, voice thick. “Barcelona isn’t everywhere. Paella and sunshine and Emilia and Sofia and Benito aren’t everywhere. You aren’t everywhere.”

He lifts his head up. “Rosie.” His voice is soft, and he looks her in the eyes. As brown and beautiful as the day she first walked into the café, and there are tears falling from them. He brings a hand to her face, brushes them away.

“Tomás-”

She tries to hold it back but her body shudders, and he leans down and kisses both her eyes, her lips, holds her closely as she cries into his shirt. One hand is tangled in her hair and dear God he’ll do anything to make her happy.

“Of course I’m everywhere,” he says against the top of her head. “I love you, I love you so, so much and you have me, Rosie, you have me to take wherever you go.” He swallows. “You have the guys, too, and the girls, and paella and sunshine and Barcelona and Spain, always. Everywhere. I promise.”

“What i-if I forget?” she says obstinately, voice muffled by his shirt and the blankets.

He feels himself smile into her hair. “Amor, why would you forget?” He presses a kiss to her forehead, pulls back so he’s looking into red, puffy, lovely eyes. “Is this a face you could forget?”

She laughs, seemingly despite herself, and several more tears fall from her eyes, which he kisses away. It takes her a few more minutes to her calm down, and finally she’s breathing slowly and his head is on the pillow beside hers again.

“Let’s make a promise,” he says, pushing a strand of damp hair from her face. “Let’s promise to make our impossible dreams happen.”

It only seems right, really, seeing as both of their impossible dreams seem so very possible to each other.

“How?” Rosie asks, a hint of doubt in her voice.

“Any way we can,” Tomás says. “Make them happen for ourselves, and happen for each other.”

Rosie nods slowly. “Alright.”

He kisses her on the cheek, kisses her until he gets her to smile again (which really doesn’t take long), and, an hour later, coerces her (and himself, a bit) out of bed with the promise of toast with sugar and hot chocolate with a scoop (or two) of Nutella.

They throw a goodbye party two days before she’s set to leave, crammed in Tomás’ apartment once again, his small kitchen table piled with pastries from the café that his boss had insisted on giving him when she heard about his party plans, for “that pretty girl who’s made you so happy these past months.”

And that’s exactly what she is, he thinks, as she sits tucked against his side on his tiny couch, talking to Emilia on her other side but never without her hand in his.

By the end of the night most of the pastries are gone and everyone is probably a little bit drunk and arguing over who will miss Rosie the most, who can hug Rosie the most, who can-

“Nope, no, get of here, we’re done,” Tomás says, yanking Jacob back from where he’s leaning in, aiming for Rosie’s lips. Rosie just laughs and gives Jacob one more hug.

“And I’ll miss you, Benito,” she says, reaching for him again. “The guy who asked me out for Tomás. Who knows where we’d be if it wasn’t for you?”

“I’d have done it eventually,” Tomás mutters as she lets go of Benito, and she presses a kiss to his cheek, humming.

It takes another thirty minutes for everyone to say their final goodbyes, and when the door finally closes behind them the apartment falls oddly quiet. It’s late, of course; they could never end a party early, and Tomás grabs Rosie’s hand and they fall back on his couch.

It reminds him of earlier times, before he dug himself out of his conservative rut and let them sleep in his bed. The couch isn’t nearly as comfortable, and a five year old would be too tall to lay length-wise on it, but Tomás is a nostalgic sap.

“We’re not going to actually sleep on here, are we,” Rosie says after a moment.

“Nah,” Tomás yawns.

“Good,” Rosie says, and her body seems to relax slightly. Tomás looks at her. She feels his gaze and meets his eyes, and her cheeks redden slightly.

“What is it?” Tomás pokes her shoulder.

She looks down at her hands, hesitating. Tomás pokes her again. “Okay, just- okay, don’t freak out at what I’m about to say.”

Of course, his heart immediately begins thumping a little harder in his chest, a nervous pulse. “What is it?”

“I- well, I know you can be a bit a conservative prude sometimes,” she says, avoiding his eyes.

“What? That isn’t true,” he says indignantly.

“Tomás.” She gives him a look. “You’ve got a cross nailed above your doorway and a Virgin Mary figurine on your stove.”

Tomás folds his arms. “Whatever you say to me you can say in front of her.”

Rosie sighs. Then shrugs. “Okay.”. She meets his eyes, and there’s something very determined about them as she says-

“I want to have sex.”

Tomás nearly chokes on his own tongue. “What- Rosie!

“You told me I could say it in front of her!” She gestures into the kitchen.

“Not that- I- what- I-” He can’t seem to say, or even think, a coherent sentence. “I don’t- I don’t-”

Her face falls. “You don’t want to?”

He feels himself redden. “No! No, of course I want- I mean, just.” He takes a deep breath. “Where is all of this coming from?”

She looks at him. “Where does it need to come from?” She crosses her arms. “I have a day and a half left in Spain with my boyfriend, whom I love very, very much, and who knows when we’ll see each other again and-” Her face begins to redden again. “Better sooner than later.”

“Better sooner than later,” he repeats, staring at her.

“That argument sounded a lot better in my head,” she sighs. The tips of her cheeks are rosy and Tomás feels himself smile a little.

Her voice softens. “I love you, Tomás.” Her eyes are wide and earnest. “And I want to be as close to you as I can before we’re…so far apart.”

Sure, it may be three in the morning and his apartment is a sticky from pastries, but there’s an attractive girl sitting on his couch who won’t be there two days from now. And he loves her. God, he loves her.

So he just leans forward and kisses her, brings a hand to cup the side of her face and moves his lips slowly against hers. “Of course,” he murmurs against her chin. “Of course.”

Not that it would take a lot of convincing, and not as if they’ve never come close before. They kiss a bit more, just warming their skin against each other’s, until Tomás finds her hand and, stealing greedy kisses along the way, leads her toward his bedroom.

The next two and a half days pass in a haze of sleep, food, packing, stolen kisses and sex three, four, five more times, because, really, why not?

The only thing Tomás hates is this sense of finality, the fact that time is passing and he can’t do anything about it, that it’s slipping through his fingers and he’s trying so hard to hold on, but it’s moving and it’s taking Rosie with it.

His boss had been kind enough to give him the time off, even after Paris, because “you deserve time for love, Tomás” and the wide smile she gives him is a little embarrassing but he’ll take it. Still, when Rosie’s all finished packing and has an hour until she’s got to be on the bus to the airport and Tomás asks her where she wants to spend it, she looks at him, takes his hand and laces their fingers together, says, “The café.”

So they go to the café, get those strawberry pastries and Marcos makes them coffee (“Not as good as yours,” Rosie whispers into his ear and pecks him on the cheek), and though it’s a busy day the table by the window is open so of course they take it.

Tomás locks their ankles together under the table, briefly wishing he didn’t ever have to let go, and they sip their coffees in silence, pull apart the pastries and watch the people walk by. At one point, Tomás looks up to find her watching him instead.

He almost feels like he should have some sort of speech prepared. I’m so glad you decided to come in here that day, you were so pretty and I knew you were special the second I saw you. But he doesn’t say anything, and neither does she, just takes his hand from across the table and plays with his fingers, the touch so warm and familiar and still adds a kick to his heartbeat.

“We should probably go soon,” he says when the coffee is long gone and so are the pastries. He looks at his watch. They’ve got twenty minutes until the bus comes, and they’ve still got to grab her stuff from her apartment.

“I know,” she says quietly.

And he can’t think of what to say, can’t think of anything very comforting. So he just settles for, “I love you, you know.”

She meets his eyes and smiles, eyes soft. “I know.”

So, five minutes later, after they bring their dishes up to the counter and walk out the door, he knows she kind of wants to cry so he just takes her hand, flattens his palm against hers and laces their fingers in the way only theirs fit.

And then they’re actually at the airport, and Tomás ignores the telltale sting behind his eyes as she presses her body against him, fits into the crook of his shoulder for what is possibly – certainly – the last time.

The bus ride over was quiet and far too fast. It wasn’t very crowded and they sat in the back; she leaned against his chest as he held her, fingers rubbing gentle circles into her palms. Her hair smelled flowery, as it always does.

She’s got her ticket in her right hand and his heart in her left, and he’s never wanted anything quite so badly as he wants her to stay. In this moment, he’s more than certain that the very blood beating through his veins is because of this girl.

“I love you,” he says into her hair, arms wrapped so tightly around her he’s afraid he may be cutting off circulation, but she doesn’t say anything so he doesn’t let up. “I love you, I love you. This isn’t goodbye forever.”

“Not forever,” she repeats, voice thick, into his shoulder, her grip around his waist equally as tight. “I love you too. I love you so much, Tomás.”

He doesn’t want to, he definitely doesn’t want to, but he glances up at the clock on the wall near the entrance.

“You’ve got an hour.”

“Shut up.”

“Sorry.”

After a moment, her grip loosens, and he lets her pull away. She wipes at her red eyes. “Don’t be sorry, I love you.”

He feels himself smile, and he reaches his own hand out to wipe away a missed tear. He notices the necklace he gave her for Christmas hanging around her neck, green gem sparkling in the bright airport lights. “Love you too. You’ll be okay.”

She sniffs, looks away. Her chin wobbles again.

“Hey, hey,” he says softly, reaches his arms out again and pulls her close. “You’ll be okay. We’ll be okay. We’ll see each other again.”

“When.”

“One day,” he says, because he can’t honestly give her any other answer. “Not too long.”

She doesn’t reply, only sniffs into his shoulder.

“Remember our promise, okay?” he whispers into her hair. He feels her nod. “Okay?” He wants to hear it.

“Okay.”

When they pull away again, she’s only got forty five minutes until her flight takes off. She presses her lips hard against his.

The last thing they say to each other before she walks through the security gate is “I love you” which could perhaps translate to, “I don’t want to go” and “I don’t want you to,” but they can’t even bring themselves to actually say goodbye and they really don’t want to say anything else.

Rosie turns just as she’s about to round the corner, meets his eyes. He gives a wave, a tiny smile, and she waves back, the closest thing they’ll get to a goodbye, probably. And then she finally turns and rounds the corner, and she’s gone.

The most beautiful girl to walk into his café.

The weeks that follow feel empty, a little grayer, despite the beautiful spring weather that slowly turns into summer. And he wants to say he’s working on their promise, if coming up with new dishes of comfort food could be called advancing toward becoming a chef.

They Skype, of course, Skype and message each other and email and use every form of communication the internet has to offer. And of course it’s not the same, but at least he gets to hear her voice.

As he rode the bus back from the airport that day his arms felt uncomfortably empty, as if his body was too light and too small and he needed something to hold, to attach it to. The feeling hasn’t let up since then, but he’s getting used to it.

The café is still the café, and even when pretty girls walk in it doesn’t matter because none of them are his pretty girl. Marcos tries to keep it upbeat, and his boss asks him about Rosie sometimes (he doesn’t mind, he likes to talk about her), but they don’t sell as many strawberry pastries and his chest aches when he has to make them, anyway.

The guys take him out, of course. Visit him randomly in the café and at his apartment. Invite him over to there’s. And it’s better than being alone, because he’s kind of forgotten what it’s like to be alone so much. But as the days, the weeks, the months go by, he gets used to it more.

“Just go to America,” Carlos suggests with a shrug one night over a pizza Tomás has made.

“Sure, okay,” Tomás says tiredly, rubbing a hand over his face. “Because I’ve got a few thousand dollars just lying around.”

“Right. Sorry,” Carlos says as Benito puts an arm around the back of Tomás’ chair.

“No, it’s okay.” Tomás sighs. “I’ve just got to stop moping. I’m getting better, though. Do you think I’m getting better?” He looks at each of their faces expectantly.

If their smiles were any faker, they’d be clowns. He groans. “Ugh, I’m sorry guys. I must not be very fun to hang out with anymore.”

“Nonsense,” Jacob says, waving a hand. He probably wants to make a joke about how his food keeps them coming back, and Tomás is grateful that he refrains.

“You’re always fun,” Benito says good-naturedly.

“And you balance us,” Jacob says. He points a finger at him. “We need you, Tomás. You’re the sensible brain. So even if you do go running off to America, think of how it’ll be us pining away for you.”

Tomás smiles slightly at that. Carlos claps him on the shoulder, and yeah, maybe his friends are kind of super understanding and sort of really great.

The summer passes, and Tomás is getting used to how things are now and slowly coming back to life again. He applies for a position as a cook at a nice restaurant deeper in the city – step one, he hopes, toward chefdom – and still talks to Rosie every day.

She’s well, getting ready to go back to school at Yale, and Tomás is always sure to keep up on her promise, always sure to add an extra “I love you” every time they talk. He likes to send her messages during the morning, while she’s still asleep, so she’ll have something nice to wake up to. But she’s getting along on her own, like he is, has her own friends, and he’s an odd mixture of happy and disappointed whenever she has to postpone talking to him for nights out with them.

It hardly feels satisfactory, but what else can he do? If there’s one thing this new job will have, at least, it will be a higher salary, and perhaps then he can start letting himself think of plane tickets and properly learning some English.

He thought he was getting better, though, he really did, until the boys take him out one night and Jacob looks him square in the eye and says,

“We can’t let you do this anymore, Tomás.”

Tomás blinks at him. “What?”

“You’re still pining,” Carlos says beside him. “And it’s been months.”

Tomás opens his mouth, gapes at him when he can’t think of anything to say. “Well- I- imagine if Emilia lived half a world away!”

Carlos shrugs. “Wouldn’t be as bad as you.”

Tomás looks at each of their faces, because, well, that hurt. But they all look so serious, and he’s feeling very lost. “What do you want me to do, then?” he finally says. “I’m not breaking up with her,” he’s quick to add. That isn’t even an option, ever.

Benito sighs. “We want,” he says, “for you to be happy.”

“I am,” Tomás says, and he isn’t lying. He’s happier knowing Rosie across the ocean than he ever was not knowing her.

“We want you to stop pining,” Carlos says. Tomás narrows his eyes at him, opens his mouth to retaliate, when Jacob lays a something out on the table.

“We want,” he says, a grin itching at the corners of his mouth, “you to see your girlfriend.”

Tomás looks down at the paper Jacob put on the table, hardly daring himself to believe his own eyes. A rushing sound starts in his ears and he can suddenly feel his heartbeat pounding hard in his chest. He looks up at the three of them, absolutely shocked.

“Are you-” He glances it again. “Are you fucking serious?”

Positively fucking serious,” Jacob says with the widest grin Tomás has ever seen. “Now don’t go using that language around her family, okay?”

“I- does she- have you told her?” Tomás asks. This all feels very unreal.

“Well, we couldn’t just have you popping over at some inconvenient time,” Carlos says.

“You can’t mess around with something like that considering the prices of plane tickets these days,” Jacob says.

Tomás looks between the three of them in disbelief. “You- you paid for me to-”

“Yes, and don’t say a word about it,” Jacob says. “Just consider it an early Christmas present. Birthday, too. Perhaps two birthdays.”

Tomás blinks. Rosie, he’s going to see Rosie. He’s going to America to seeRosie. The feet of his chair make an awful scraping sound and he’s sure people are watching when he lunges himself at his friends, but he couldn’t care less.

“I- I love you guys,” he says, throwing an arm around Jacob and clapping Benito on the shoulder.

“Hey, we got you in this mess,” Benito says.

“And we’re going get you into it even further,” Carlos grins.

“I don’t-” Tomás starts, still unable to formulate complete sentences. “How can I ever-”

“Repay us?” Benito says.

“I told you not to talk about that,” Jacob says. He pauses, a playful smirk on his face. “But inviting us over for dinner more often would be a good start.”

“And lunch.”

“Breakfast too.”

“Shut up,” Tomás says, but he’s smiling, he’s smiling so wide he think his face might break and it’s wonderful. But yeah, sure, okay. They bought him a plane ticket to America, to Rosie, and right now he wouldn’t mind cooking them breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of his life.

His trip doesn’t come until the end of November, though, so he’ll arrive just in time for the American holiday Thanksgiving. It gives her time to settle into the school year, and him time to make a solid amount of spending money (particularly for all the dates he wants to take her on). Luckily, it’s made a bit easier when he’s hired as a cook at the new restaurant he applied for.

Leaving the café is as hard as he thinks it’ll be. It holds four years of his life – has changed his life, and he almost feels as if he’s betraying something to leave it. But he needs to move on, they all need to move on at some point, Marcos wisely tells him on his last day. He makes Tomás a cup of coffee once his last shift ends and he hangs around to chat about random things, because really, Marcos is a pretty good guy.

The tables are old and chipped and the air smells sweet as ever. Alvaro sits loyally at his usual table, and a pair, a young boy and girl, sit near the window. Tomás smiles, promises he’ll visit from time to time (of course he will), hangs up his apron, and walks through the door, reveling in the sound of the little bell as it rings.

Surprisingly, (or unsurprisingly, as Rosie tells him over Skype) his new boss loves him, and only a few weeks in he’s given responsibilities that consist of assisting the head chef, who (“Not surprising at all,” Rosie says, rolling her eyes) seems to like him as well, and Tomás soaks in every tip he gives him, every word of golden wisdom.

It’s perfect, really, because his boss loves him so much he doesn’t even mind when Tomás asks for a week or two off. Or more, he adds silently in his head, but he doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.

It’s his first time on a plane, and all the boys come to see him off.

“Don’t crash, okay?” Carlos puts a hand on his shoulder.

“I’ll try not to,” Tomás says, tone a little too cheerful for effective sarcasm.

“Don’t get into too much trouble,” Jacob says, smirking.

“Take pictures,” adds Benito.

Tomás beams at them. He’s a little nervous, a lot jittery, and entirely excited. “I will.”

“Tell Rosie we said hello,” Carlos says.

“Kiss her right on the lips from me,” Jacob says.

Tomás picks up his back, hooks it around his shoulder. He grins widely. “I’ll be sure to.”

He doesn’t sleep a wink on the plane, and when he steps back onto solid ground he feels a bit wobbly from exhaustion and sitting so long, but he doesn’t mind very much. He’s in America, the city of Boston, and it doesn’t feel a thing like Spain and he loves it already.

Customs isn’t as hard as he thought it’d be; the guy at the desk knows Spanish pretty well, and seems satisfied enough when Tomás says he’s here on vacation.

“A bit of a cold vacation, though, isn’t it?” he says. Tomás just shrugs. “I don’t mind.”

And he doesn’t, not at all. Because he’s here for a girl and an adventure and an experience that’s all his own, it’s all his own, all with the help of Rosie and his friends and everyone who ever believed in him and made him believe in in himself. And crap, it’s corny, but he doesn’t even care.

And this thing that he and Rosie have is something solid and it’s something up in the air, and if they work hard enough, they’ll catch it. But he’s not going to worry, not about that, not about anything, right now. As he walks to the exit, where she said she’d be waiting, all he cares about is seeing those brown eyes.

He walks through the door, a little nervous, a little too jittery, and it really hits him that he’s an ocean away from Barcelona, the farthest away from home he’s ever been. He’s working on last night’s sleep as he scans the small group of people waiting, but he doesn’t see her, doesn’t see her-

Tomás!

But he feels her, smells her, tastes her when she throws her arms around him, so tight he think his blood may just stop flowing but he doesn’t even care, doesn’t care at all. He squeezes her back and buries his face in her hair, takes in the scent that hits him so powerfully it’s almost like coming home, smiles stupidly because life is so good and his friends are so great and he’s here and he can feel the happiness radiating off of her and maybe himself, too. He doesn’t know what will happen after this, but it’ll be okay. He presses a kiss to her top of her head and doesn’t let her go because really, it was always going to be okay.

Rosie.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s