Rosa León watched an elderly couple unwrap and cut the burger she’d just served them. The woman lifted the seeded bun, and the man peeled off the pickles. They whispered as they worked.
“If only Mr. Iguana Man and I could share a burger like that…” Javi’s high-pitched voice was followed by an exaggerated sigh.
“Go away, Javi.” Since when could her brother read her mind?
“We’ll never make a profit if you gawk at the patrons and scare them away.” He scooped a handful of tortilla chips and popped them into his mouth.
“Nor if you eat our profits.”
She moved to the prep area, chose the chef’s knife, and picked a plump red tomato from the market basket. She counted her blessings with each slice. Successful business. Good health. Mamá and Papá. Even Javi—most days.
She didn’t need to catch the eye of the charming man who came into the restaurant every Tuesday and Friday.
When the cowbell connected to the front door clanged, her pulse increased. She didn’t look up, but her hand froze.
“Fix your hair, moco, it’s Iguana Man.” Javi headed up front.
She grabbed another tomato and sliced it in double time. Then another. Should she go out front? Fix her hair? Pretend he didn’t exist?
Slapping the knife onto the cutting board, she wiped her hands on a wet rag. Using the stainless steel reflection of the walk-in, she tucked long black strands back into her ponytail.
She slipped into the dining room and wiped a bleach rag over the table the older couple had vacated. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him. Short-cropped hair, dark-rimmed glasses, strong jaw, denim shirt, and dark jeans. An iguana perched on his left shoulder. Her pulse raced. Not because of the iguana, it was the man. Her daydream walking.
A timer pealed in the back. Javi glanced between the customer and the kitchen. “Rosa, could you—?”
“Si.” She’d served him plenty of times before. Why should today be different? She moved to the front counter and gripped the underside. Held tight. Anything to keep her hands from shaking. “Any questions?”
“Is it too soon to ask for my usual?” He grinned.
“Green Chile Meat Burrito?” And a coke and Sidewinders—their version of curly fries— but she couldn’t let him know she knew. Balancing excellent service with not-too-creepy was tough.
“Don’t forget the coke and Sidewinders.” Iguana Man’s baritone conjured images of a sunrise hike into the foothills of the Doña Ana mountains. His companion bobbed his wedge-shaped head as if in agreement.
A gust of wind caught the front door and slammed it into the brick wall. The cowbell crashed.
Sharp claws dug into Iguana Man’s shirt. A blue-green tail swished. Tiny arms and legs windmilled. Three feet of reptile skittered across the counter, launched through the order window, and disappeared into the kitchen.
“Kiah!” Iguana Man dashed into the kitchen. “Where’d she go?”
“She doesn’t normally bolt like that.” Iguana Man checked under the metal shelves.
“Our crashing door is a first, too.” She turned in a circle. Nothing. No sound of tiny feet. No scaly tail. “Maybe the hallway—”
They collided at the narrow opening.
“Sorry.” He grasped her arms.
She swayed. He smelled of bay leaves and cinnamon. Oh, her heart! “Kiah’s an unusual name.”
“Technically, it’s Hezekiah. Thought I was getting a male.”
“Imagine it’s tough to tell.” She giggled.
“Not at this age, but as hatchlings? Can be.”
She pushed the half-open storage room door and switched on the light. A soft pitter-patter faded deep into the room. The turquoise tail disappeared under a large freezer.
“Kiah, come.” He knelt and called again.
“Most of the time. Have a tomato you’d sacrifice? It’s her favorite.”
Rosa hurried to the kitchen, plopped freshly cut tomatoes into a disposable lunch basket, and returned.
“Who can I thank for helping me?”
“I’ve been little help.” She stretched out next to him. All she could make out was one tiny yellow eye deep under the shelf.
He bumped her shoulder with his and hooked his thumb toward his chest. “Aidan Sanchez.”
Heat raced into her cheeks. “Rosa. I’m Rosa.”
“Wanted to ask for a while, but you get real busy whenever I come in.” Aidan offered her a crooked grin. “And your partner?”
“He’s my partner.” A movement caught her eye. “She looks interested.”
“I know I am.” Aidan moved the basket closer to the opening.
Rosa peered at him, but he focused on the reptile creeping slowly toward the prize.
“Let’s try again. You and Javi are novios?”
“Ugh, no! Javi is my brother.” Her shoulders drooped. “I’m not usually so dense.”
“That I’m not dense?”
“That he’s your brother.”
A gray-speckled snout appeared out of the dark.
“Her eyes are so expressive.” Rosa raised up on her elbows. “Was she hard to train?”
“Just different. Having a pet iguana is not like having a dog.”
“What’s the best part?”
“She helps me meet girls.”
“Yeah.” She forced a half-hearted laugh, then pushed herself up, all her dreams deflating like a balloon at the end of the Albuquerque Fiesta. “You got this, I’m gonna—” She nodded toward the restaurant.
“Wait!” Aidan stood. “More importantly, she broke the ice with you.”
She stepped back, afraid to hope.
“A man can only eat so many burritos.”
“Javi has at least two a day.”
“Not a bad idea. If it means seeing you.” He stepped closer.
Her lips fell open, but no sound came out.
“What do you say?”
Her voice cracked. She coughed and tried again. “Are you asking me out?” It was as if someone held her balloon aloft, and started to refill it.
“Since you work in a restaurant, I was thinking hiking.”
“In the foothills?”
Kiah munched a juicy tomato slice, a mischievous smile on her face.
“I’ll bring the burritos.”
Flames ignited, and her balloon rose again.
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