Miguel Rivera took a long sip of sweet horchata. He never tired of the taste of milk, sweetened rice, and cinnamon blended together with ice. His mama used to make it the same way, and he’d hover around the kitchen while she mixed up the beverage.
He tried to contain his excitement, feeling almost like a kid again. Getting the contract for the Hernandez’s kitchen remodel would help Rivera Remodeling end the year in the black, if barely. For his first year in business, not bad. Not at all. He was surprised when Tommy’s father approached him the other night at church.
“Señor Rivera,” Juan Hernandez had spoken as if to a business equal, “I understand you do kitchens.”
And so after a few minutes of conversation, they agreed to meet for lunch today to talk more about the project, or so he hoped. He needed one more project for the year. Pablo, his friend and fellow contractor, told him business usually screeched to a halt from November through January.
Miguel perused the menu and ordered the special, beef fajitas, knowing whatever he ate at La Cocina would be delicious.
Gaby was working today back in the kitchen. He’d glimpsed her once at the pass-through window, her serious face focused completely on the food going out on trays to customers. A strict planner like her father, but with a warm side like her mama. Maybe she still had that warm side, but he hadn’t seen it in a long time, and since his return to the fold, she seemed to steer clear of this formerly lost sheep as. Not that he blamed her.
“You’ve ordered?” Señor Hernandez took the seat across from him. He placed a manila folder on the table between them.
“Yes, the special.”
“It’s on the house, as they say.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Okay. Well, what do you have in mind for your kitchen? Give me your ideas, and I’ll give you an estimate. Of course, it depends on the materials you want for cabinets, countertops, sink, and floor, and if you want to use the appliances you have now or buy new ones. And your budget.”
“Ah, I see. And my Rita isn’t here. She knows what she wants. But I can tell you the floor plan, where our appliances are.” Mr. Hernandez scratched his chin and frowned.
Miguel opened the portfolio on the table and showed him the graph paper with small cutout pieces to arrange and form kitchen layouts. “Show me the layout. I’ll need to go by your house and take measurements.”
“Sí, sí, of course you will.” Mr. Hernandez looked intently at him for a moment, and Miguel fought the urge to swallow the lump in his throat. Maybe he was changing his mind about the whole idea.
His waitress, a blond, glided past, steam rising from her tray, and the scent of peppers and tomatoes and melted cheese drifted in their direction. Miguel’s mouth watered. The donut he’d inhaled at six that morning had disappeared long ago.
Mr. Hernandez slapped the table with both palms and made the silverware jump. Miguel almost jumped, too. “I have it, I have it. You come for supper tonight. Rita has cooked something. There’s always enough. Like the old days.”
Miguel tried not to exhale his pent-up breath. Only a few diners glanced in their direction. The piped-in mariachi music featured a great drum solo at the moment. At first he sensed Gaby’s father was going to change his mind about hiring him. But he wasn’t expecting an invitation to supper at the Hernandez’s home. “Like the old days, the good ones.”
Mr. Hernandez nodded. “The good ones. Miguel, a man can make mistakes, bad ones that he does not think he can untangle himself from. But when the day comes and he travels a new path, he will look for the old path and see only weeds growing over what once was his favorite walkway. Do you understand?” Again, he gave the intent look, his dark brown eyes nearly black.
“Sí, Señor Hernandez. I understand that very well now. My old path is definitely overgrown.” And thorns might emerge from the weeds and try to track him down. But he didn’t say this to Gaby’s father.
Lynette is giving away a copy of her book A Riverwalk Christmas. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!