San Luisita, Puerto Rico
The day was still warm as Sylvia sped north the three miles or so to San Luisita. The way was familiar but a bit boring. Periodically lanes like her own trailed off into the trees westward to the ocean or eastward into the interior. Several times she saw cars passing in each direction. Occasionally people would wave at her; she was well known around here.
For nearly half her life she’d spent some or all of the summers near this town on Puerto Rico. To some of the locals she was a minor celebrity. She was “their” little professor, another proof that smart people came to P’Rico — or from it, as some people thought she was native to the island. The last summer she’d been astonished to find one of her scholarly papers tacked up on a bulletin board in her favorite restaurant. Which was where she was headed now, hunger gnawing at her gut.
Eager, she increased her speed, gearing up again and again until she was at the top ratio. The sprocket chains and wheels made louder and louder noise as she accelerated. Glancing down at what before had always a useless speed indicator she saw she was nearing eighty kilometers per hour. These were racing speeds and she wasn’t wearing special clothes and her bike wasn’t a racer.
It might not be able to take much more stress. She slowed down to a sedate but still ground-eating pace which quickly took her to the outskirts of San Luisita. She pulled up on a slight rise that gave her a look down on the city, bathed in sunlight. A lot of the city was made of beige adobe with red-brick shingles. She loved the tapestry the houses made, punctuated a few places by taller and more modern buildings, including one tall glass-fronted building.
There were 12,000 inhabitants, most of them in the lower and middle of the economic rungs. Luisita had its slum, though it wasn’t as bad as the worst of San Luis, the big city of the island, the capital and the main tourist attraction. “Little Luis” also had a small mid- and a tiny upper-class. The newer part of the city had been renovated several years ago and was newly fashionable.
The arms of the bay sheltered a mix of smaller and larger fishing craft, a few cargo craft bound to other parts of the island, and several yachts, one of them fairly big and new. That was the property of a TV movie star who vacationed in Luisita whenever he could. She’d attended dinners where he had been, quiet and surrounded by a more outgoing entourage. Tall and with curly brown hair and nice eyes, he had seemed more shy than stand-offish.
She took a deep breath of the off-ocean breeze. It was becoming faster and cooler now. Usually it raised goose-bumps on her legs and arms at this time of day. Not now. Maybe never more. Weremonsters apparently did not get chilled.
She let herself enjoy the sights for a few more minutes, then launched herself down the incline.
Twenty minutes later she pulled up on a busy street at the edge between mild slum and renewed old-town. Across from her was a large restaurant two stories tall with a false third-floor front. A cartoon painting of a white cowboy hat on a yellow-orange background dominated the top third of the building. The letters underneath it in red-rimmed orange said “Lone Star.”
Sylvia smiled as she always did at the sight. It was a silly but effective gimmick, what with every other native restaurant in the city tending toward the Caribbean and Cuban and French. She had first come into the Star barely a teen to see if they really had Tex-Mex food. She had eaten it at the University of Texas where her older brother went and fallen in love with the food.
They did indeed though they also had the other kinds of popular island food. Of course, it did not hurt that she had fallen in lust with the young Latin waiter who was the owner’s oldest son. The next summer they’d had a short but fierce affair that had separated her from her virginity. And the next year after that, the lust behind them, they had effectively become brother and sister and she a daughter of the family.
She chained her bike to a convenient pipe and went in. The interior was large, warm, and scented with spicy food. Cheerfully covered round and larger oval tables filled much of the room. The young Latin woman at the greeter’s podium looked up from a menu and her reflexive greeting died on her lips.
“Mamí! Tell Papí! It’s Sylly.” She pronounced Sylvia’s nickname as “see-lee.”
Rocio came around the podium and hugged Sylvia fiercely. Then she stood back holding her shoulders at arms’ length.
“What do you mean, going off without saying a word?” the young woman said. “We thought you were sick. Or your Mamá was. Or your brothers.”
Laughing, Sylvia denied any illness anywhere. “It was urgent business at school. I had to go right away.”
Then she had to explain again as her friend Arlen’s younger sister yielded to her parents. She had to repeat her excuse several times before it penetrated the several family member’s attention who came up to greet her.
By this time at least one of the table of customers was growing impatient. An older man called out from it, wondering if anyone could get service here.
Sylvia acted quickly to forestall Dominick, the owner of the café, who could get testy easily. She advanced to the table, knelt on the floor beside the impatient man, and put a hand on the arm of his suit.
“Please forgive them. My mother was very ill and they thought she might die. Will you forgive them?”
A beautiful young girl pleading with big open eyes is hard for all but the hardest of hearts to resist. This man was not that hard. By the time he got through a confused mingling of apology and self-justification a young waitress and waiter were at his table efficiently dispensing food and drinks to the half-dozen guests there. Sylvia retired with a soft kiss to the man’s forehead.
Sylvia was hustled into the kitchen by Mamí and seated at a private table. At a stove Arlen was taking something out. He gave her a sardonic glance before turning back to work. He had not joined the rest of his family. He knew he would get his time with her later.
“Now what’s this about your mother being sick?” Mamí said. She had no trouble with either attention or hearing, so Sylvia knew this was for her son’s benefit.
Sylvia laughed. “No one’s sick. The University had a big funding change. I had to get there and fill out forms and defend my research. I’m just editing the last part of my dissertation so Miami is not spending any money on me any more. So it was no problem, just a lot of details to hack through.”
Mamí nodded and asked after Sylvia’s family. Reassured that the world was on even keel she took Sylvia’s order and left.
Sylvia enjoyed a couple of hour’s of food interrupted by brief visits by family members stealing a minute or two from working the restaurant. She ate three times as much as she usually did, but no one noticed, it was so spread out and family members were in the kitchen for such short times.
At least she thought no one noticed until Arlen took off cook’s duties once the evening rush eased. He accompanied her out to her bike and walked with her toward the supermarket a few block’s away.
The first thing he said to her was, “Are you pregnant?”
“No!” She laughed. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
“You’re eating for two. Or maybe three. You’re going to have twins.”
She gave him a hefty hip bump. “No I’m not.”
“You’re TRYING to get fat?”
She stopped, put her hands on her hips. “Does this look fat?”
He surveyed her. “Yes.”
That was a jolt. “Really?”
He looked at her closely. “No. But something’s different. You’re taller by … three inches, maybe. Your hips and shoulders are broader. And you’ve got more muscles.”
She looked down at herself. Her jeans were tighter. And she knew her chest had deepened, so her ribs had grown. But it was hard to judge oneself and she’d been so distracted by other matters.
“I’ve been body-building pretty hard. Feel this muscle.”
She flexed one arm and presented a bicep. She tried to relax it completely but knew she had not succeeded too well.
“Wow. Tight as a drum. That’s too tight. Change your discipline.”
Normally Arlen knew what he was talking about. A slender youth years ago he had begun serious body-building with the intent to create strength, not bulk. He didn’t want to look like a freak, he said, just look strong and be strong. And he had succeeded.
But none of his learning could cover someone becoming a weremonster.
“OK. I’ll do it. Now, how’s Helene?” Arlen was in his last year as a part-time civil engineering student. He had met a Swedish girl and it was beginning to look like they might actually marry.
They chatted all through their walk to the market and while shopping and through at least an hour of coffee and croissants at a French café. When the moon, two or three days past full, peeked up over the eastern horizon she said she had to go.
As she was about to get astride her bike Arlen hugged her tightly.
“Te ama, chica. Take care,” he whispered.
“I love you, Arlen. Be safe.”
She got astride the bike and took off. Perhaps twenty yards away she got off the bike and pushed down the kick stand to park it. Then she turned back to Arlen. He stood watching her.
Sylvia bent down and put both hands on the concrete. Quickly she flipped herself upside down and stood on hands alone, feet in the air. Then she slowly took one hand away. She pushed the free hand out to the side and brought it back, then swapped free and supporting hands. Lastly she faked a little wobble and a recovery from it by flipping up into the air and reversing and landing on her feet.
She gave a grin and a little bow while he clapped solemnly. Then she was back on her bike and powering away toward the night road home.
Warmth filled her heart and tears filled her eyes. That last had been as close as she could come to telling anyone what she had become.