|Trio Sidestory: Sunbathing
Author: Guede Mazaka
Ever so carefully, Carolina set her foot down. But the extra concentration made no difference. Wincing in pain and huffing in annoyance, she tucked her bundle under one arm and, hiking up her skirt, quick-stepped the rest of the way to the bushes. It hurt like hell, but at least that way, she didn't suffer for nearly as long. Pushing back the foliage, she eased into the small clearing hidden in the middle…
…and promptly tumbled to the ground, having tripped over something hard and verbally abusive. //Bastard//, Carolina snapped, pulling herself up and straightening her dress.
"You're too kind," Sands growled, rubbing at his leg. He groped for his cane. Finding it, he tapped the tip out till he found her. "What are you doing here?"
Batting away the walking stick, Carolina sulkily unwrapped the blanket from her dime novels and spread it out onto the dusty grass, then rolled onto it. "The priest keeps staring at me. And every time Lorenzo stops by, he takes one look and laughs. I should take his left nut."
"So why don't you?" Sands asked touchily, putting down the cane and crawling over to the blanket. Stiffly. Especially his legs, which he was apparently moving as little as possible.
Snickering, Carolina buried her face into the first few gaudily illustrated pages. "Why don't you?" she countered in an arch tone.
"Oh, shut up." Flopping onto his back next to her, Sands exposed a milky span of chest, ribs still too prominent, but beginning to gain some flesh. His skin was ridiculously white, considering how much time he spent outside practicing shooting. Well, except for the reddish-purple imprints scattered over him from jaw to breastbone. And beyond, Carolina knew, even though his shirt currently covered up those spots. "You know why. Can't walk," Sands muttered, dubious pride and exasperation sharing equal parts of his tone. "Can't even stand to rinse myself off, unless stupid inexhaustible mariachi jackass helps. And then I end up against the wall again."
"Yes," Carolina agreed absentmindedly, her attention drifting back to her novel. On her arms and face, the sun brushed soft warmth all over her skin, sparking light tingles. A gentle breeze whispered through the leaves and her hair, occasionally making her tuck a few stray curls behind an ear.
"What are you reading?" Sands queried after several minutes of comfortable silence had passed.
Startled, Carolina blinked. //What?//
"Pages rustling," Sands said, slow and condescending. "Book. Plot. Content thereof."
She hesitated, glancing from novel to man to novel. Calculating the odds of Sands dropping the matter, Carolina inwardly grimaced and bit her lip. She mumbled.
"Louder, darling," Sands drawled.
Gritting her teeth, Carolina squelched the urge to smack and repeated it.
"Most of El's books are locked up and I didn't feel like dealing with the reverend," Carolina explained, hurried and defensive. "The ones in the library are boring. All religious visions and Church rules. So I asked Fideo to bring me something, and this is what he got. That's why. And if you laugh, I'll shove your cane up your ass so far you could suck on it."
Blinking slowly, Sands raised his eyebrows. "All…right. I won't." He said something else, but Carolina couldn't quite make it out.
"What did you ask me?"
Draping a hand across his forehead, Sands muttered, "Could you read some? Out loud?"
"You…like…Zorro?" Carolina asked incredulously, not quite able to reconcile this with her mental image of him.
Grinning, Carolina flipped back to the beginning. "'As he swept into the stables of the evil Don Rafael Montero, our masked hero was suddenly brought to a halt by a length of gleaming steel. Looking at its owner, he found himself facing a beautiful woman clad only in a filmy nightgown: Elena, the innocent, virtuous and very accomplished daughter of the evil Don…'"
Ducking under the branches, El came to a halt, speechless.
Curled around each other, Sands and Carolina simultaneously jerked their heads up at his approach, looking exceedingly embarrassed. And defiant, and…irritated?
"It's your fault," the American grumbled, hiding his head in the spread-out blanket. "You and your heroic idiocy. Can't even help myself now."
"You said you've read the entire series," Carolina objected, elbowing Sands. "But-" swinging her head back to El, she narrowed her eyes "-you're not getting off either. We're sore."
At last stepping forward, the mariachi took a seat in front of the other two, lifting up the slim paperback that Carolina was holding in order to see the title. Coughing to cover up his laugh, El tugged off his jacket and loosened his shirt laces, then laid down. Stretching out his legs and cradling his head on his arms, he watched the clouds passing across the sky. "Should I say sorry?"
"See? Imbecile," Sands declared triumphantly, pulling himself up to pillow his head on El's breastbone. Doing likewise, Carolina scrubbed at her still-flushing cheeks.
"So where are you?" El asked lazily, closing his eyes.
"Zorro-the-second just found out his master is going to be his cranky sarcastic father-in-law," Sands answered, poking Carolina. "Hey. Read the next part."
"I will, I will," she retorted, slapping at his hand. "Stop being so impatient. Ahem. 'Now, our brave hero was shocked by Diego's sudden revelation…'"