Dispatch 6 (A conversation before lunch, Saturday, Sept. 19)

     "Your boyfriend."
     She looked at me blankly.
     "Your boyfriend. The other night. You said you were going to call him."
     She looked away, glancing at her menu, dismissing it. "I don’t want to talk about that now. Let’s talk about something else."
     Gina looked around for the waitstaff, her sculpted, painted nails tapping impatiently on the aged wood tabletop.
     "No, Gina, it doesn’t work that way. When I ask a question, you’re supposed to answer it." I tried to keep it steady, but I feared my voice was wavering. I hadn’t expected this.
     "Who says?" she said, her attention back on me, her eyes sharp.
     "Gina -- " I began.
     "No, I mean I’m not lying to you. I’m not holding anything back. I just don’t want to talk about it, is all. Is that alright with you? Can you accept that?" Gina said. Loudly.
     "It’s not okay if I ask a question and you don’t answer it," I said. I was about to go on, go on a tirade if necessary, but was interrupted by a waitress, a blonde waif with bags under her eyes.
     "Can I get you both something to drink?" she asked.
     Gina, lemonade. Me, Coke.
     As the waitress walked away, I said, "All access means I get an honest portrait of you, not just what you feel like telling me. It doesn’t just mean I tag along when you visit your spiritual advisors and pray," I said, regretting it instantly.
     She looked at me, her light brown eyes suddenly cold. "What are you trying to say?"
     I didn’t know.
     "I don’t know," I said lamely. But I think I have an idea what it meant. I think at that moment I figured it out. If Gina became self conscious about herself in this writing, taking me to see Luisa, praying to this sweet older woman, would be a good way of making me see her in a way she wants to be seen. Maybe it’s a cynical, uncharitable thought, but I’m too unsure of Gina at this point to put it past her.
     "So you don’t want to see my friends, the people I care about, the people who are important to me?" she said. "That’s what you’re trying to say?"
     "No," I said. "But when I ask a question about something important in your life, don’t blow me off. That’s what I’m trying to say."
     The waitress returned with our drinks. I scrambled over the menu as Gina ordered a tuna fish sandwich on 12-grain.
     "I don’t like to talk about him," Gina said, her eyes on the table. "He’s not for me to share. Do you understand?"
     I shook my head no.
     "He’s a beautiful boy," she said. "He’s… made of music. He has long hair and a dark body and he is very spiritual."
     I listened, the world disappearing around us as she painted his portrait with her words. "He’s an artist. He wants to be. Juan, his name is Juan, grew up near me. But he’s not like my family. Pobre. He’s poor. He never had things handed to him."
     Gina looked around suddenly. Her hands were clenched around the glass of fresh lemonade. Where her fingertips ended, condensation formed around them.
     "He’s very deep. Young, but deep. He understands me. And it’s very personal," she said. "I don’t like to share him, or talk about him, you know? Because it diminishes him. It makes him less real. Or less fantasy. One of the two. I don’t know. Does that make any sense?"
     I nodded this time.
     "So you love him?" I asked.
     "I love him and I’m in love with him. There’s a difference between the two. You know that, right?"
     "Yes." It hurt a little to say it, but yes, I do. "But what about Julio?"
     "Julio," I reminded her. "From the club?"
     She laughed. "What about him?"
     "You were, you know, making out with him and he…"
     She was smiling now and it disconcerted the hell out of me. "And he… what?"
     "He stayed over," I said. "At your co-op."
     "I’d been drinking and we made out. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love Juan. What does one have to do with the other?"
     "You’re in love with Juan, but you have sex with other guys?"
     "Where the fuck is our food?" Gina said suddenly. She looked around once more, her fingertips returning to their martial beat on the table. "They are so slow here."
     "Gina?" I said.
     "No," she answered this time. "Or, no, it doesn’t mean that. Look, Juan is very special, and I know this is your little project, or our little project, but I’m not comfortable. Not talking about this now, okay?"
     "So when?" I said, angry myself now. "Talk about later? Next week, next month, a month after it’s over?"
     "I don’t care," Gina said. "But you’re making all these little assumptions about me. I don’t know what you’re writing in your little notebook, but don’t assume you know what I do or how I feel about Juan or Julio or anyone else, okay? You don’t know."
     "If I don’t know, then tell me," I said.
     "Our food’s still not here," Gina said, looking away. She turned back to me. "No. Juan is off limits. Maybe just for now, maybe for the whole time we do this. Do you know what it is when something is sacred?"
     I felt the world, at least the world of this writing project, falling apart at the edges. "No," I said, sensing defeat.
     "It’s sacred. I’m not going to make it less than what it is by comparing Julio or anybody else to what I have with Juan. It’s not the same."
     "Okay," I said.
     "Our food’s not coming. I’m leaving," Gina said.
     In one fluid motion, she swung around from her chair, sliding her backpack’s strap through one arm and was off.
     I called out to her. She walked out the door, not looking back. She didn’t return.
     About two minutes later, our food and the check arrived.