“Have you been listening to a word I’ve been saying?”
Michelle’s voice cuts through Carlos’s distracted thinking and he flushes bright red. “Sorry?” he offers, but Michelle is grinning.
“What's going on in that head of yours?” she asks.
Carlos shakes his head, making a dismissive noise, but Michelle sits up and grins at him. “Come on,” she says. “You’ve listened to me talk about Iris for three years. It’s my turn now.”
He sighs, but there’s a smile tugging at his lips. He knows there’s no dissuading Michelle now, much as he might want to. It’s stupid anyway, this thing he can’t stop thinking about, but it might do him some good to talk about it. A problem shared, and all that.
“I… I think T.K. is going to break up with me.” The words come out in a rush, and the shock on Michelle’s face might be funny if it were under any other circumstances.
“Why?” she demands. “Do I need to step in? I’m told I have an excellent right hook.”
“No - Michelle!” Carlos cuts in. “It’s… It’s probably nothing. I’m just overreacting.”
Michelle looks at him disapprovingly. “Yeah, you’re not getting out of this so easily. C’mon, spill.”
Carlos looks away, hands fidgeting with his beer bottle. “He’s just been distant lately. Not emotionally or...physically. But we haven’t been hanging out as much, and it’s not like our jobs don’t stop us from doing that anyway, but even when our shifts do match, it’s like he always has one excuse or another. And I know he’s lying some of the time.
“But then, when we are together, things are normal, you know? We’re normal. I just…” He sighs. “I just don’t know what to think.”
Michelle is silent for a long time, so long that Carlos almost can’t bear it. Eventually, she places a hand on his back. “I hate to bring this up,” she says quietly, far too gentle. “But, do you think, maybe, he might be cheating on you?”
She sounds almost guilty for asking, but Carlos understands. “The thought crossed my mind,” he admits. “But T.K. wouldn’t do that. I know he wouldn’t, not after everything he’s been through.”
Michelle still looks dubious, but she drops the point. “What, then?”
Carlos shrugs. “That’s the problem; I don’t know. Every time I think about it, I can only guess that either he wants to break up, or…” He trails off, unwilling to even voice the thought.
“Or…?” Michelle prompts.
Carlos grimaces. “Or,” he starts, taking a deep breath, “I’m worried he might be using again.”
Michelle’s eyes go wide. “No,” she says firmly, shaking her head. “I’m not saying you wouldn’t know better than me, but I see him at work; he doesn’t seem like he’s using. He can’t be, unless he’s really good at covering it up.”
“I know!” Carlos says, half-yelling. “I hate myself for even thinking about it, but, again, I don’t know what to think.” He sighs, deflating a little. “Sorry.”
“Well, have you tried asking him?”
Carlos sends her a withering look. “That’s the first thing I did, ‘Chelle.” He sips his beer. “Maybe I’m rushing him.”
Michelle almost chokes on her own drink. “Carlos,” she says, once she’s recovered. “You two are literally the slowest-moving couple I know. How the fuck could you be rushing him?”
“Well, it kind of started after I asked him if he wanted to meet my family. He said yes, but maybe he’s having second thoughts?”
Carlos doesn’t need to look to know that Michelle’s rolling her eyes at him. He’s fully aware that she thinks he and T.K. have one of the weirdest relationships known to mankind - and that’s without the mess at the beginning - but she supports them anyway. He half-expects her to call him an idiot and explain for the umpteenth time that T.K.'s completely head-over-heels for him, and could they just hurry things up already?
But she doesn’t. Instead, she just hauls him to his feet, a shit-eating grin on her face.
“Come on,” she says. “We’re going boyfriend hunting.”
It’s Carlos’s turn to choke. “What?”
“Where’s T.K. now?”
He purses his lips. “I don’t know. It’s why I called you actually; we’re supposed to be hanging out, and then he cancelled last minute. Gave one of his excuses.”
Michelle’s expression morphs into one of determination. “All the more reason to go now.”
And Carlos is helpless to resist as she drags him out of his house and bundles him into her jeep.
They find T.K. surprisingly quickly, but it’s not anywhere Carlos would have thought to look. He’s in a little tapas bar ten minutes from Carlos’s house, a really nice place run by a Reyes family friend. He’s taken T.K. there a couple of times, and just the thought of him going there without Carlos hurts a little, stupid though that is.
He’s sat at a table near the window, opposite a small woman. Carlos doesn’t know her, but T.K.’s clearly met with her multiple times by the way they’re easily chatting.
“At least we know he’s not cheating,” Michelle comments drily. Carlos shoots her a look, but he can’t help but be a little bit relieved all the same.
“Michelle, we should go,” he murmurs, eyes still fixed on T.K. “I can talk to him about it la-”
He’s cut off by the sound of the car horn. He jumps, turning to stare at Michelle, though not before he sees T.K. catch sight of them, eyes blowing wide.
“What the fuck, Michelle?”
She shrugs innocently. “Oops?”
He glares at her, but she just points past him. He turns to see T.K. leaving the bar and heading towards them, an awkward smile on his face. Michelle gives him a little push and he pouts at her, but gets out of the jeep, walking to meet T.K.
“Um,” he says. “Sorry?”
T.K. raises an eyebrow. “You’re sorry?” he asks. “Don’t you think it ought to be me apologising?”
“I know I’ve been pulling away,” T.K. cuts in, fiddling with the strings on his hoodie. “But, I swear, it’s not what you’re thinking. I… It’s kind of embarrassing, actually.”
“More embarrassing than Michelle forcing me to stalk you here?” he asks, and T.K. laughs.
“Fair point.” He points at the woman he’d been meeting with. “That’s Cristina. She’s, uh. She’s my Spanish tutor.”
Carlos’s mouth drops open. “Your what?”
“I’ve been learning Spanish,” T.K. says. “I felt bad about not knowing any, and you want me to meet your family so I guess I, um, wanted to impress them?” His voice tilts up at the end, almost as if asking a question, and Carlos feels a ray of warmth light up in his chest.
God, he loves this man.
There’s still one thing that’s confusing him, though. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks.
T.K. flushes bright red. “I wanted it to be a surprise,” he replies, nearly too quiet for Carlos to hear.
Carlos laughs. “Well, colour me surprised,” he says, voice low, winding his arms around T.K.’s neck.
“Careful, officer,” T.K. says. “Wouldn’t want to have to arrest yourself.” He grins, face lighting up, and adds, “Mi corazón.”
And Carlos tries to keep a straight face - really, he does. But he can’t help but burst out laughing, and T.K. makes a noise of protest.
“Sorry, amor,” he says, pulling away from him. “But you might want to save the Spanish for a while. My mom is way too polite to say anything, but if you talk like that around my sisters, they will never let you hear the end of it.”
T.K. winces. “My accent’s really that bad, huh?”
Carlos nods, smiling. “Needs work.”
T.K. gets an all too familiar glint in his eye then, and leans in close to whisper in Carlos’s ear. “Maybe you can help me out, officer.”
Carlos shivers and is just about to reply when he’s yet again interrupted by Michelle’s horn, which attracts her several dirty looks from passersby, and one from Carlos himself.
“Get a room!” she yells, and, much as Carlos is going to kill her for this later, he has to admit that she has a point.
“Come on, tiger,” he says. “Let’s go home, and then I’ll teach you everything I know.”
T.K. grins and loops an arm around Carlos’s waist. “I’m holding you to that.”
“Oh, I know.”