Maddie stared out the car window at the dark, empty street, her heart in her throat, a question on her lips. Phantoms of the salsa music from the club pounded against her skin. Tonight the silence between them was suffocating; it stole her voice. She took a deep breath and tried again. "Alejandro?"
“Um… Friends of mine are having a party next Saturday. It's a couples kind of thing.” Maddie squeezed her eyes shut, "I'd really like to introduce you to them. Will you come?"
"No," he replied, staring resolutely forward.
She sat silent, still, waiting for him to say something more; he didn’t. "Is that all the reply I'm to expect?" Maddie finally asked, fighting a bad English accent as she stole Mr. Darcy's line from Pride & Prejudice. Had her pride led her astray, just as Darcy's had, she wondered.
Alejandro shrugged, "What more is there to say?"
Maddie watched his broad, muscular shoulders roll gracefully under his tight polo shirt. She would not be distracted. "How about why?"
"Does it matter? The answer is still the same." He said sullenly.
"Yes it matters, damnit." She said, crossing her arms.
Silence filled the car, every long moment more stifling than the last. Alejandro rotated his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. Very carefully, he pulled onto the entrance ramp for the QEW. Her heart twinged; he was taking her home.
Maddie broke the silence first. "Come on, Alejandro, talk to me. I deserve a better answer than just no. Why don't you want to meet my friends?"
"It's not that."
"Then what?" she asked, her words sharp.
"I don't want to talk about it," was his churlish reply.
"Of course not. Well I do. Why are you being such a closed mouth jerk?"
"Do you really want to have this conversation right now?" He countered caustically.
"Yes!" She all but yelled.
"We aren't a couple," Alejandro said with hushed venom. "I'm not lying to your friends."
"I didn't ask you to," she said from between clenched teeth. "I just, want to introduce you, to, my friends," her words haltingly pushed through the sea of her emotions. "Is that too much to ask?"
"What kind of relationship do you think we have?" He asked in a carefully neutral voice.
"What?" She replied, genuinely confused.
"Just answer the question."
She brushed her bangs behind her ear. "I don't know. I mean, I thought I did, but now I'm not so sure."
"So what did you think?" He pushed.
"I thought..." Maddie shook her head, her eyes glassy. "No, I'm not humiliating myself further. Clearly I was wrong."
"Maddie, don't be like that. I like you, you know I do. We have a lot of fun together. You dance..." His voice went husky, low, "like sex incarnate. And everything you promise on the dance floor, you deliver. You're amazing, really. But I like things how they are. Casual. Do you understand?"
"Yeah," She coughed, choking on her tears, "I understand."