(With thanks to my beta, Terri Derr) (Words: 1,323. Date: 7 July, 2015)
“Don’t do it.” Scott shook his head as Katie reached for the bowl of chili con carne. They were in the middle of their dinner at the taberna just off the square in Morro Coyo. It was Katie’s introduction to Mexican food. They had come into town with Johnny and Emily in the carryall. Johnny had ordered mostly mild dishes for everyone to share, but there was one exception: Consuelo’s extra hot chili, the dish she made especially for Johnny and a few other mad men.
“How am I to know if I like real Mexican food or not if I never try any?”
“These enchiladas and quesidillas are authentic Mexican food, just less spicy than average until you get used to the flavours.”
“They’re very tasty, but I’d like to try some of Johnny’s chili too.”
“Help yourself.” Johnny pushed the serving bowl towards her before using a tortilla to scoop a large mouthful up from his plate.
“Don’t encourage her, Johnny.” Emily cut into her enchilada. “Scott’s right, Katie; Johnny has a cast iron stomach.”
“I like spicy food. I had an East Indian curry once, and it was wonderful.”
“Well, if you must try it, you’ll need this.” Emily put her knife and fork down and passed the jug of milk across the dark wooden table. The cream had separated to the top.
Katie wrinkled her nose. “I think the cure might be worse than the complaint.” She pushed the jug away. “I’ll be fine with water.”
“Don’t be so hasty.” Scott took hold of the handle. “Water won’t help much. Milk is better for soothing the bite.” He’d learned that the hard way. Johnny smirked. He was obviously remembering the same meal.
Katie peered into the clay jug again. “Is it chilled?”
“Not much chance of that in Morro Coyo.” He went to pour her a glass. “It’s fresh.”
“Don’t bother. I can’t drink milk unless it’s cold.”
“Trust me. You’re going to change your mind if you try that chili.” He still held the milk jug, ready to pour.
“You’re exaggerating.” Katie tossed her head and turned towards the water pitcher. “This will be fine, and I probably won’t even need it.” She filled her glass and picked up the bowl.
“If you say so.” Scott put the milk down. He wasn’t going to argue with her. Now he came to think of it, her brother Bob always said it was a fruitless exercise; Katie had to learn her lessons first hand. Scott watched as she transferred a large spoonful of chili onto her plate.
She licked her lips. “Well, here goes.”
Katie forked meat and beans into her mouth, chewed and swallowed with a smile on her face, and—
“Oh…oh, my...” Two-handed, she grabbed her glass. She drank the water in seconds. But it didn’t seem to help. White and gasping, she lunged for the milk jug, nearly knocking it flying in her haste. She was shaking. “Help me!”
Peeling her fingers back from the handle, Scott calmly poured as Katie spluttered and fanned her mouth. She snatched at the glass.
“Uh, uh, that’s not very polite.” Straight-faced, he held it out of reach.
“Give it to me.” She made another grab for the glass, laughing and crying at the same time.
Scott cocked his head and raised his eyebrows.
“Well, seeing you asked so nicely.” He gave her the milk, and she gulped it down.
“I’ll get you for that, Scott Lancer.” She poured herself another glass and drank more slowly. “Oh my, Johnny, how can you eat that stuff?”
“Shsh, Consuelo will hear you.” Grinning, Johnny picked up the serving bowl and scraped what was left onto his plate. “You easterners don’t know what good food is.”
Emily handed Katie a napkin, and Katie dried the tears in her eyes. “You should have stopped me, Scott.”
“Emily and I both warned you.” He took the napkin from her. “Hold still. You have some milk on your top lip.”
Katie’s eyes widened as Scott wiped away the milky moustache. “Oh no, really?” She went from white to red in seconds, clapping her hands over her face.
Scott pulled them away. “It’s not that bad.”
“Stop laughing at me.”
He was trying not to laugh. Katie seemed to be getting really upset, but even Emily was struggling, and Johnny—well, Katie would have to be blind. Looking down at his plate and hiding behind his hand, Johnny was shaking with mirth.
“Oh dear God, my mouth is still on fire.” Screwing up her face, Katie choke down more milk, dabbing the napkin to her lips between swallows.
Thinking she was calmer, Scott twisted sideways and rested his back against the screen separating them from the neighbouring table. “A valuable lesson, Miss Eliot. Perhaps next time…Are you all right?”
Katie had turned deathly white. She shut her eyes and pressed her lips tight together, one arm holding her midriff. Then her stomach lurched. Her hand flew to her mouth, and her chair clattered backwards as she made a beeline for the door.
“Es la seńorita bien, Seńor?” A startled Consuelo was knocked against a spare table as Katie rushed outside.
“Too much milk.” Grabbing his hat, Scott got up to go after her.
“Now I know Katie’s perfect for you, brother. You’ve got so much in common.”
“It’s not funny at all.” Emily glared at Johnny, pushing her chair back to get up.
“No, Emily, I’ll go.” Scott smiled and hurried towards the door. He was pleased Katie and Emily were friends.
He found Katie in the alley way next to the taberna; he was just in time to see her retch. Sobbing, she emptied her stomach on the ground as Scott held her hair out of the way. When, at last, nothing more came up, she stood panting, clutching her arms around her middle. Scott gave her his handkerchief and helped her into the shade. She leaned back against the adobe wall, eyes shut, and breathing deeply. As soon as he was sure she wasn’t going to faint on him, he went to fetch the water bottle from beneath the front seat of the carryall.
“Here. Drink slowly.”
Trembling, Katie accepted the water. She rinsed and spat, then drank, tears running down her face.
Scott said nothing. Katie had learned a little more than he’d intended. If only she hadn’t been so stubborn. If only he hadn’t teased her—she might not have drunk so fast. He took her in his arms and held her. After a time, the small sniffs and tremors stopped. She lay quietly in his arms, and then pulled away.
“Are you all right?”
“I will be.” She wiped her eyes and blew her nose with Scott’s handkerchief.
Scott thumbed a final tear from her lashes and wrapped his arms around her again. Katie rested her head against his chest and clung to him, as he stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head. He would have been happy to stand like that forever, despite the circumstances, but then she began to shake again. Alarmed, he pushed her to arms’ length.
Oh, he did like Katie Eliot.
She wasn’t crying; she was laughing.
It was contagious.
For several minutes, they shook with laughter together. Scott’s side ached, and their eyes watered; they took turns to wipe the tears from each other’s lashes.
“You have the most beautiful grey-blue eyes, do you know that?” Katie tiptoed and kissed him, without any care for who was watching—and there were men watching, because Scott could hear the whoops and whistles in the background. Katie didn’t blush or look around. When their lips finally parted, her eyes were all for him, and his were all for her. ““Thank you for not saying I told you so, Scott.” She nestled back into his arms. “Next time I’ll do as you say.”