Two Pendejos in a Pod
rating: +14+x

Carlos wasn't fond of the smell of cigarettes. He didn't like the way the scent would slowly seep into his hair, or his clothes, or the wallpapers of his father's old room, wrapping its invisible arms around him until he felt his lungs give out. It came to a point where his mother banned him from entering the room, lest she have to call the ambulance for him again.

So, it didn't make much sense, how he always found himself at the same bus stop every day, sitting next to his coworker as she pulled out her crumpled pack of Newports. She lit them with clumsy fingers and absentmindedly took drags as they waited together, glaring at a point in the concrete as though it had personally offended her.

Carlos thought she was beautiful. Her eyes were puffy and bloodshot, but he loved the soft brown of her irises, the flecks of gold that seemed to shimmer in the waning sunlight. He liked watching the wisps of smoke frame her face, lingering in the air above like a halo. Her face was a constant carrier of stress, lips always slightly downturned, eyebrows furrowed, fingers curling and rubbing around the bridge of her nose as if she was afraid it would fall out of place.

Sometimes they'd talk. At first, it was more of Carlos talking at her, his long-winded stories punctuated with periodic nods or shakes of the woman's head, and the occasional “hmm” in response to a particularly shocking plot twist. He got the feeling that she wasn't all there all of the time. Sometimes her eyes glassed over completely, shoulders tense, and expression unreadable. On these days, she'd let the cigarette burn down to a nub. He learned to jostle her shoulder when the burning end approached her fingers.

Of course, it wasn't always like that.

Some days she’d ask him to tell her about himself, his life, his hobbies. He asked her one day, half-jokingly, why she let him ramble on so long. She told him, her lips quirked up in a rare smile,

“You have a nice voice.”

She skillfully avoided any inquiries about her past, instead choosing to regale him with outlandish stories about her college days, or supernatural phenomena she swore were fact.

Those days seemed to number fewer and fewer as time went on.

She’d never told him her name, but he knew it anyways. It passed between people's lips in break rooms, hallways, and stairwells, like a terrible secret.

Josefina

Josefina

Josefina

Some days, they sat together in a comfortable silence, both too exhausted to make polite conversation. On these days, Carlos would sit a bit closer, just so their shoulders brushed against each other with each breath.

She was consistent. She smoked exactly one cigarette a day, which he figured out as he watched her pack's contents dwindle over the weeks. She showed up to work at exactly 8:30 am and was sitting, waiting at the bus stop by 6:15 pm. They'd walk together if he got off early, and he'd meet her there if he was late.

Today, he was late.

He was surprised to find her taking up his usual spot. Her face relaxed slightly when she saw him, before waving him over. Carlos approached cautiously, eying the dark circles that now hung almost halfway down her face.

She looked absolutely terrible. Lips cracked and bleeding, eyes almost swollen shut. Despite this, she did something entirely unexpected.

She smiled. It was strained and awkward, but a smile nonetheless.

She carefully patted the spot next to her, and as if compelled by a supernatural force, he sat.

"Are you-um." He began. "You doing alright there?"

She blinked, apparently confused.

"Oh! Yeah, I'm good, I just haven't been sleeping well for… a while now." Her voice was thick with exhaustion and mucus.

"Are you sure?" Carlos questioned. "I mean, I think I have some leftover cold medicine in my bag if you need anything for your nose. And I heard on this podcast I watched earlier that too much blue light can be bad for your sleep-"

"Carlos," Josefina cut him off. "Can I be completely honest with you about something?"

Carlos quickly nodded, encouraging her to go on. "Of course man, I promise you can trust me with anything."

Josefina cringed as if bracing to be punched in the face.

“I’m not the most eloquent person, but I think you know that by now,” she said, absentmindedly playing with a loose strand of hair. “It’s kind of funny, actually.”

“What is?” Carlos asked.

Josefina made a face as she forced herself to continue.

She took a deep breath before speaking. “I like you a lot. That’s obvious enough to me, but, um.”

She let out a strained laugh, shaking her head and replicating that same forced smile.

“Well. I’ve been kind of an asshole is all. That isn’t really my problem though. I could just apologize and make a bunch of bullshit promises about how I'll be better, or whatever.”

Carlos frowned and crossed his arms.

“I don't really think you've been an assh-” he began. She quickly cut him off.

“I have, please don’t say that. I don’t need anyone justifying my actions, it'll just…” She trailed off, trying to grasp at anything that could properly express her point. She eventually gave up, placing her head into her hands and sighing deeply.

“I like you,” she repeated, “I like you enough that I really would make the effort to be better, I mean I've tried, it's just that-”

Carlos experimentally reached out, taking her hand and squeezing it between his own, running his thumb against scarred knuckles. When she grew quiet, he looked up and tried his best to smile reassuringly.

“It’s alright,” he murmured. “I’m still listening.”

There was a tense silence, the creases between Josefinas eyebrows growing as the seconds ticked by. After what seemed like an eternity. She eventually let out a choked bark of laughter and dropped her head to rest on his shoulder.

It should have been something tender, something sweet, but her entire body was tensed as if she was waiting for him to push her off. She didn’t relax when Carlos put his arm around her, but she did bury her face into his neck when he started rubbing circles along her back, muscles slowly unclenching.

“Fuck you. Fuck you, fuck you-Jesus Christ, why? Why are you so fucking nice to me?” Josefina asked, voice slightly muffled by the scratchy material of Carlos’ sweater.

He chose not to mention the cracks in her voice when he responded.

“I… think you are good for me. In your own little ways. I get that it’s probably difficult to show that you care, but I really don’t think you’re as bad as you’ve convinced yourself you are.” Carlos stumbled over his words, anxiety twisting his already lead-laden tongue.

He felt her head shift on his shoulder, and he knew she was looking at him. He could taste the next set of self-deprecating words like they'd been said already, and he desperately wracked his brain for something to break the silence before she could.

“I like you-I like you a lot too. I mean- I really do enjoy your presence, and you let me word-vomit all of my bullshit to you, and this is definitely gonna sound weird, but I'm really just grateful that you even make the effort to listen.”

Carlos felt sweat condense at his hairline as he waited for Josefina’s response, not daring to look at her. He flinched in surprise when he felt her arm wrap firmly against his waist, scooting closer to him until their sides pressed together snugly. Slowly, surely, they both began to relax.

After a while, Josefina spoke again.

“I think,” She proclaimed, “we’re both a little stupid. Socially that is.”

“Yup.” Carlos agreed. “I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing.”

“Two pendejos in a pod.” she joked.

Carlos smiled at that.

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