Los Regalos Del Corazon ---(The Gifts of the Heart)-------- (A Chico and the Man story) by Mariposa
The Comfortable Couch
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Only a few months after announcing their engagement to her flabbergasted father, Ed, Sharon Brown and Chico Rodriguez faced the biggest hurdle of their relationship to that point. While Chico had managed to buy a new setting for the diamond he had first intended to give to his former girlfriend, the moment he placed the ring on Sharons finger his meager savings were completely wiped out. A couple of weeks before Christmas, Ed found Chico sitting at the workbench in the garage, chin in hand, his deep brown eyes staring at nothing and a forlorn look on his handsome face. "Whats the matter with you, Chico?" Ed demanded, "You and my daughter have a fight already?" With a start Chico turned to face his boss and future father-in-law. Ed was obviously in one of his usual black moods--the thought of marriage between his only daughter and the assistant he had come to love like a son had only brightened his life for a few days. "No, Ed, everythings fine with me and Sharon, its just that..." Chico trailed off, embarrassed to have to admit to Ed that he couldnt afford to buy Sharon a Christmas present. With the energy crisis, business had not been so good, and he didnt want to ask Ed for his Christmas bonus in advance. "What is it, boy? Speak up!" Trying to stall as long as possible, Chico jumped down off the high stool where he had been sitting and began to pace, Ed shuffling along behind him in a futile attempt to keep up with the much taller and younger mans long, loose strides. Finally, Ed came to light on the stool and just watched until he couldnt stand it any longer. "For heavens sake, Chico, stand still and tell me what the problem is!"

Chico stopped short and stood in the middle of the garage, index finger between his full lips the way it often was when he was deep in thought. Slowly he walked over until he could lean against the workbench, crossing his arms and legs. Ed looked expectantly up at Chico, who continued to look at the greasy concrete floor as he said quietly, "I cant get Sharon a Christmas present." Puzzled, Ed wondered aloud, "Why not? I know you havent been dating all that long, but youve known her for a long time--you must have some idea what she would like?" Chico at last looked Ed in the eye and shook his head, making his long black hair bounce against his broad shoulders. "No, Ed, man--its not that...its that I cant afford to get her something as nice as I want to." Ed chuckled and patted Chico on the back. "Is that all? Dont worry about that--I can give you whatever you need! Besides, Sharon doesnt need anything extravagant! Remember, she grew up the daughter of a struggling garage owner, and she plans on being the wife of a struggling mechanic! You dont want to get her hopes up that shes gonna be better off with you than she was with me!" Still chuckling, Ed headed for the office and opened the cash register. Chico, at first so stunned by this remark that he just stood with his mouth hanging open, finally found his feet again and ran after Ed. "Look, man," he protested, taking the money from Eds hand and returning it to the cash drawer, "I dont want your help to buy a present for my fiancee. I want to get the money on my own." Now it was Eds turn to look stunned, "And just how do you plan to do that? You havent even got anything worth pawning!" At this, Chico broke into a wide grin, flashing deep dimples and large perfect teeth. He hugged an incredulous Ed and ran out of the office to his tiny apartment at the back of the garage, calling over his shoulder, "Thanks, man, you just gave me a great idea!"

A few blocks away in her slightly larger apartment, Sharon was balancing her checkbook and berating herself for not being more careful with her money. With Christmas just around the corner and two men in her life now to buy presents for, she realized she would have to stop insisting on paying her own way on her dates with Chico. Every time she pulled her wallet out of her purse he rolled his huge, gorgeous eyes heavenward and pouted in that boyish way that almost made her melt. But although would never say so to Chico, Sharon reasoned that she probably made more money than he did in her job as an obstetrical nurse. All she would say to him was that he deserved to be treated after buying her such a beautiful ring. Leaning back in her kitchen chair and rubbing her eyes, Sharon looked at the ring, then at the clock. It was almost two oclock in the afternoon, time for her to get into her uniform and get to the hospital for the three-to-eleven shift. It was rough on her and Chico--not being able to go out except on her Tuesday nights off and every other Saturday--but the nighttime and weekend pay had made Sharon think it would be possible for her to contribute a little money to their future at least. Todays session with the checkbook had brought home to her how little it really was, however, and as she drove to work Sharon tried to decide where else she could economize. Passing one gas station after another and noticing the escalating prices, she began to wonder if her old clunker of a car was worth it.

The next day was one of Sharons Saturdays off, and Chico had promised to take her shopping. Each secretly hoped the other would give some hints about what they really wanted for Christmas. But they were so lost in the own worries about how to pay for those presents that the ride to the mall passed in tense silence they hadnt experienced with each other before. When Sharon did speak it was to complain, "I am so sick of filling up this ratty old car every five minutes! It absolutely devours gas, and that is becoming so expensive I dont know what Im going to do!" Chico smiled his most charming smile and offered, "How about if I give it a complete tune-up? That should improve the gas mileage." Sharon smiled back but shook her head. "I know that wont help enough to make much difference in how much I spend on gas--my dads a mechanic too, remember?--especially when the price is going up every week!" Seeing the familiar pout playing under his drooping mustache, she lifted Chicos hand to her lips and kissed it, adding, "But it was sweet of you to offer!" By now they were at the mall, and after Sharon parked the car she got out first and looked back in the window as she closed her door, continuing, "Besides, just look at how broken down this thing is getting--the upholstery is even starting to get holes in it!" Chico got out and came around to put his arm around Sharon, knowing better than to offer any more help once she had turned him down concerning the tune-up, but having gotten enough of an idea about her Christmas present so that he had changed his mind about shopping. "Lets go get something to eat and go to a movie instead, " he suggested into her ear in a low, husky voice, "I think Id rather be sitting in the dark with you right now anyway!" Sharon looked up into her tall, dark fiancÚs fathomless eyes just in time to see him close one of them in a sensuous wink. At the same time his mouth opened, and she stood on tiptoe to give him a deep kiss, their arms going around each others waists. When he spoke to her and kissed her like that, Sharon thought as her head began to spin, she could refuse him nothing.

After a quiet early dinner and some heavy necking in a movie theater, Chico and Sharon went back to his apartment. Sitting close on the bright blue futon couch, they picked up where they had left off in the movie. His delicate fingers entwining in Sharons curly blonde hair, Chico drew her face close to his and kissed her for the millionth time that evening, his long tongue entering her mouth and exploring in a way that she had come to love more than anything else he did to express his love. By now he had fulfilled most of the fantasies she had had about him all these years--he was kind, gentle, and attentive, just as Sharon had imagined him--but Chico always seemed to be able to stop before he lost control. Sharon had to admire his chivalry and restraint, yet she longed for him to do more than just French kiss and fondle her on the outside of her clothes. He had even stopped her in the movie when she tried to unzip his jeans, though he did let her caress his smooth, sculpted chest under his shirt (that was kind of hard to avoid doing, when he always wore shirts unbuttoned so far!). At this thought, Sharon chuckled to herself, and Chico broke the kiss, looking into her eyes with a puzzled expression. "Whats funny?" he asked. "Nothing, Chico," Sharon replied, "I was just thinking that here we are, two people who have known each other for years, consenting adults who are going to be married, and all we ever do is neck like a couple of nervous teenagers!"

Chico let go of Sharon and leaned back against the couch, his head thrown back so that his long hair spread fanlike over the cushion. Sighing heavily, he said slowly, "I know we are not teenagers, bebe, that is exactly why I dont go any farther! We dont have to do that in order to prove that we love each other, do we?" He turned his head to look at Sharon and reached to stroke her arm, but she wriggled away, starting to become angry. "But Chico," she struggled to find the words, "I know you are not a virgin, and neither am I--so why do we have to stop?" Chico sat up, looking as if he was also fighting anger. His strong jaw worked and his huge eyes narrowed until Sharon was actually a little frightened of what might be coming next. Trying to head off an argument, she touched his cheek and asked softly, "Is it because I am your bosss daughter? Are you afraid of what Dad might do if he found out we were sleeping together right here?" Now it was Chicos turn to back away from Sharons touch. He stood up and began to pace. "I am not afraid of anyone or anything!" he fairly shouted. Sharon worried that her father might hear, but held her tongue. "I am trying to make this relationship different from all the other empty engagements that--you know very well--I have had in the past!"

Sharon reflexively looked down at the ring on her left hand. Chico caught this and raised his voice even louder, "What, is that whats bothering you? Do I have to prove something to you because I was on the verge of asking someone else to marry me just before we confessed how we felt about each other?" Sharon shook her head and stood up to face Chico. "No, that isnt it at all--I guess I am just jealous of all the others who have been able to lie naked next to you and have you make love to them, when I have loved you all these years and have never even sat on your bed...and have only seen you without a shirt a couple of times!" Sharon chuckled again, but Chico was really angry now. "What do you have to be jealous of? I plan on making love to you, and no one else, for the rest of my life! Cant you wait a few more months?" Tears were coming into Chicos eyes and Sharon moved closer, trying to take him in her arms. But once again he broke free and went to sit back down, head in his hands, shoulders shaking. Looking down at him, Sharon remembered the night that all her long-denied love for him had come to the surface, when she had found him just like this on the couch in the garages waiting area, crying over Nancy. For some reason the fact that his tears were now for her only fueled her anger about his hesitance to make love to her--if he loved her enough to let down his masculine guard this way, why couldnt he do so in bed? Sharon pulled the ring off her finger and put it on the coffee table, then quietly let herself out of Chicos apartment, tears streaming down her cheeks.

It was five days before Chico called Sharon again. In the meantime he carried the ring in the pocket of every shirt he wore, close to his heart, though he said nothing to Ed. He thought constantly about the effort it had taken to keep the vow he had made to himself, to wait until he and Sharon were married. Every time he kissed her he felt as though he would burst out of his tight jeans, but he didnt want her to be like all the others. After a few nights he always found himself disgusted with how easy it had been to get each woman into bed (or the back seat of her car), and with the fact that what they really admired about him was nothing more than the good looks they all said he had. He had never really been able to see this in himself, even though he tried to always look his best, dressing well in his off-hours and keeping his hair and mustache well-groomed. Those things were important to him, yes, but not as important as being loved because he was a good, honest, hard-working and intelligent person. When Chico finally picked up the phone in the garage (one afternoon when Ed had gone to deposit their meager earnings at the bank and he knew he would not be overheard), the first things he said to Sharon were these, and he was ecstatic to hear her answer, "Oh, Chico, dont you think I have always known all those things about you and loved you for them just as much as for how beautiful you are on the outside?!" With that all the anger between them melted away, and Chico was glad he had arranged for Sharons Christmas present even as he wondered if he would ever see her again.

Christmas Eve came just a couple of evenings later. Sharon stood before the full-length mirror on the back of her bedroom door, thinking that for once she had managed to pull herself together pretty well. The dress she wore was chiffon, mint green--one of Chicos favorite colors and appropriate to the holiday--with a draped low neckline and long puffy sheer sleeves. Its skirt was multi-layered, full and just below her knees. The silver high-heeled sandals she had chosen were a vast departure from her sensible white nurses shoes and Sharon had a hard time walking in them, but they complemented the dress perfectly and would make it easier to dance cheek to cheek with her long-legged fiancÚ. They werent planning on going out, but she had selected several records of slow music just right for that and had them stacked next to the stereo in her living room. One of them was already playing in the background. Fluffing her hair out with her fingers, Sharon looked at the clock and saw that it was almost time for Chico to arrive. Sure enough, she had no sooner had that thought than there was a quick knock at her door. That was another thing that she had come to love even more about Chico since they began dating--he was always so considerate. Sharon hurried to the door, nearly stumbling on the shag carpet in the unaccustomed shoes. But when she saw Chico it was not the shoes but her overwhelming relief that made her fall right into his arms. They stood on the threshold, holding each other and crying, for several minutes before Sharon could collect herself enough to raise her eyes to Chicos and say, "Merry Christmas, babe!"

"Feliz Navidad, mi vida," Chico answered as he lowered his head to kiss Sharon with a hunger that she hadnt felt in him before. Without breaking the kiss, he stepped into the apartment and closed the door with his foot. Still kissing they made their way to the couch and fell onto it, Sharon half-sitting, half-lying on it and Chicos upper body resting against hers. They ran their hands all over each others clothes as far as they could reach from this position, and Sharon thought to herself that only Chicos bare skin could feel any softer than the dark blue velvet jacket he was wearing. As much as she was enjoying his kisses and caresses, it had been so long since she had seen him that Sharon just wanted to look at Chico for a while. She sat upright and straightened her skirt, only then fully realizing that Chico had pushed it up above her knees and that his large hands were still running up to the tops of her exposed thighs. She found herself in the awkward predicament of taking his hands in hers and stopping him. Chico looked surprised and asked, "Dont you want me to go further?" There was no anger in his voice this time, and his eyes were shining in the candlelight that was the only illumination in the living room. "Not just now, babe--I think you might have something that belongs to me, and I want it back before we go on." Sharon smiled as she saw the realization come over Chicos lovely face, then saw him look down at her left hand still holding his right. He sat back and reached inside his jacket for the ring. Placing it back on Sharons finger, he whispered, "Te quiero muchisimo, mi amor."

Sharon knew enough Spanish to understand that what Chico had just said could mean not only that he loved her very much, but that he wanted her in a physical way. "Te quiero muchisimo tambien," she responded, knowing that she meant it in both ways but waiting for Chico to make the move that would confirm which meaning he had intended. Instead, after one more deep kiss Chico stood up and said, "Lets dance," raising Sharon to her feet effortlessly. They swayed for a long time, Chicos heavy sideburn against Sharons cheek, which he turned to kiss every so often. Sharon loved dancing with Chico--he had taken her to discos several times and even during the fast numbers it was obvious how graceful he was. They shared a love of many kinds of music and Chico often sang and played guitar for Sharon. She especially loved it when he sang love songs in Spanish, and she was looking forward to hearing his sweet, clear tenor singing Christmas carols tonight. That thought caused Sharon to stop dancing, lean away to look up at Chico and ask, "Wheres your guitar? Did you leave it in your truck?" Chico didnt answer--instead, chuckling nervously he led Sharon to sit on the floor beneath the Christmas tree and suggested, "Why dont we open our presents now?"

This time Sharon was the surprised one, but she merely nodded. Chico reached into the inner pocket of her jacket once again and pulled out a long envelope. His grin was infectious as he handed it to her. But Sharons smile quickly faded when she opened it and pulled out a gift certificate from the shop of her fathers old friend Manuel Guerrera. It was for a complete reupholstery of the interior of her car. "Oh Chico," she breathed, looking into his eyes, which had gone serious when he saw her expression, "you shouldnt have done this!" Chico laughed heartily, head thrown back and every tooth showing, "Why do people always say that?" Sharon didnt join in his laughter, but took Chicos chin in her hand and made him look at her, "No, I mean you REALLY shouldnt have!" He became immediately somber when he saw the tears in her eyes. "Why not, bebe?" Sharon turned to reach under the tree for Chicos present as she answered, "Well, remember how I said I thought it was getting too expensive to keep my car?" Chico nodded dumbly as he took the huge package Sharon handed him, not taking his eyes from her face. "Well, last week I decided to sell it and start taking the bus to work!"

Chico, for once at a loss for words, couldnt look Sharon in the eye anymore in his complete embarrassment at having made such a mistake. He busied himself with opening his present. When he saw what was inside, tears came to Chicos eyes as well. "Ooooh, Sharita," he breathed, using the pet name he had invented for her, "its beautiful!" He lifted the heavy wooden guitar case from its bed of tissue paper and laid it on his lap, running his hands over the smooth polished surface until his long fingers came to rest on the letters embossed in gold leaf on the neck end: "Francisco Ramon Rodriguez y Sanchez" on one line, "Chico" below that in quotation marks. "Open it," Sharon was bouncing with anticipation. Chico unlatched the lid and lifted it to find inside a hand-tooled leather guitar strap, covered with painted crossed flags of Mexico and the United States inside intertwined hearts. And slanting up the front of it was his name in bigger gold-leaf letters, just as on the lid of the guitar case. "Ay, Dios mio!" After staring at it for several moments, Chico laid the strap back inside the case and closed it, letting it slide off his lap onto the floor. He put his face in his hands and fought back tears.

Sharon scooted over to him and patted his head down onto her shoulder. "Whats the matter, Chico? Dont worry, it didnt cost nearly as much as how it looks, and besides, since I sold my car I have quite a nice little bundle in the bank!" This only made the tears spill from Chicos eyes, and Sharon put her arms around him, stroking his soft hair and rocking gently back and forth. "Im sorry, mi vida," he finally choked out, "sorry I bought you the wrong present and sorry I hocked my guitar to do it!"

Sharon released Chico and looked down at him. "You did what?" Chico sat up and wiped the tears from his cheeks, nodding as he answered, "Yeah, I hocked it, but even if I hadnt it was so old--nowhere near nice enough to have that strap on it or to be stored in that case, they are so muy bonito!" Sharon smiled at the way Chico mixed up his languages when he was emotional. "Well," she said, "you can always get another one--maybe with your Christmas bonus." He nodded, but was obviously fighting not to cry again as he asked, "But what will I do with the gift certificate? The garage truck is even more beat up than your car was--it wouldnt be worth reupholstering!" Sharon didnt say anything about that, just cradled Chico in her arms and rocked him some more. "Sing to me, mi amor," she pleaded, "you have such a sweet, true voice, you dont need your guitar to sing a Christmas carol for me!" Sitting up and boosting himself onto the couch, Chico began to sing softly, holding Sharons hands and leaning forward to look into her eyes as she remained seated at his feet, tears of joy streaming down her cheeks. "Noche de paz, noche de amor..." he began. Sharon knew it was a Spanish translation of "Silent Night", but the words were not exactly the same as in English. In fact it was almost as if Chico were singing her a seductive love song--"Night of peace, night of love..." She made up her mind as she listened to his heavenly voice that tonight Chico Rodriguez absolutely had to make love to her--after all, he still owed her a Christmas present!

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