The full moon almost made her forget how late it was. She’d suggested the late night walk to the neighborhood park because she hadn’t been ready to go home. Likely enthralled by her randomness, the usually over-cautious 22-year-old had agreed. They had been sitting on a recently installed green bench, near the under-construction playground, for a while. His back was as it should be, but hers was slouched and slanted toward him, making her sitting position, legs stretched over his lap and arms resting on her knees, only slightly more comfortable. He’d gently suggested they should head back once already, but was allowing her to linger. She was tired, her back had already protested, and she had an early flight, but still, she lingered.

They say new love is like that. Forgiving, not pushy. Later, his gentle suggestions regarding time would turn into stricter scheduling rules he would insist on sticking to and she would make fun of. As for her, the back pain and tiredness would soon be vociferous and regular complaints he could, at best, treat with gentle caresses, and at worst, write off as normal and to-be-ignored.

But on that night, when she finally let him stand, they held hands and walked back in a cloud of peace and happiness. They stood against his car, their bodies sheltered from the potential audience inside her family home by a black gate, a bus-to-rv-conversion project, and a line of Italian cypresses.

“I’ll miss you this weekend.” he crooned. She wrapped her arms around his neck a little tighter before pulling back to give him a last quick peck on the lips. She meant to say goodnight then. But instead…

“I love you,” she admitted. She’d been playing with the thought and the words for about a week, especially whenever they parted. But it was too soon. She hadn’t even believed she’d been thinking it. She certainly hadn’t meant to spew out the thought. Had she really said that out loud? Flustered, she attempted to make light of the situation. She smiled and started to back away, but not soon enough.

“I love you, too,” he replied.

“Ok. I’ll call you tomorrow.” She turned and awkwardly staggered toward the gate leading home. He couldn’t see it, but her eyes were wide with silent self-berating.

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I moved out on my own, again, a little over a month ago. Like before, I didn’t go very far. But this time things are different. I can smell it.

For one thing, I don’t smell nearly as much fast food. In the last month I ate McDonald’s once…and then only because I was craving it like chubby kids crave twinkies, so my sweetly accommodating boyfriend brought lunch to work for me one day. Also, a couple weeks ago I smelled picadillo that smelled the way my mama makes it! That was a surprise. The key to cooking like my mother, I’ve noticed, is to refrain from asking my mother how she does it and actually look for a recipe. Recipes are exact and make things smell the way they’re supposed to. My mom’s advice is un “tin” de esto, un “poquito” de aquello, and before you know it, you’re eating something that tastes like nothing. And today, I smell bistec de palomilla. It’s on the stove, slow cooking/frying to perfection, right now. I found that googling “authentic Cuban _________” tends to lead me to a blog called My Big Fat Cuban Family, and so far, so good, with the recipes. I’m not exaggerating about my cooking success either! Dad, of all people, had my picadillo, and didn’t complain a single time.

I also hardly ever smell rice or fried foods now. Not that I’ve decided whether that’s a good thing or bad. But it means I eat more salad. The point is, I’m eating at home more often this second time around on my own. I’m also enjoying it. If you want proof just know that I meant to put a picture of my dinner plate as the cover for this post but was so eager to dig in I forgot to take it before the first bite. The steak’s delicious, by the way. But anywho, this is all a good sign that this time around I won’t be returning home, and that I may actually be growing up. After all, going over for dinner, every single night, was exactly what took me back home the last time. I have my dear friend, Sunshine, to thank for the pinky-promise to only have dinner at home a couple nights per week.

It’s not just the kitchen smells that tell me I’m out of the house to stay; it’s everything. I want to come home after work. I don’t feel that unbearable pressure I sometimes felt, when I was 23, about going home to an empty space. My space doesn’t feel empty. It’s really starting to feel like home. I don’t know how to describe that feeling other than to say you know it when you feel it and it always feels safe and welcoming. I have plants too! The jury’s still out on whether or not I kill them within the next month, but at least I’m trying!

All in all, I’m lovin’ my little two bedroom apartment disguised as small duplex home. It’s been rearranged to fit my style, and looks and feels great. It may be time to start having the “house-warming” dinners I’ve promised friends and family. Can’t wait!

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