Ulises Gutierrez lives almost entirely on the food served in diners that give discounts to L.A.P.D. officers, giving him next to no need for fresh produce. But he comes to the farmer's market every weekend all the same, and buys from the same local grower. Every week he tells himself that this will be the week he asks her out, but every week passes with no more than small talk.
"Do you like to dance, Ulises?" Heather asks him after he pays for the apples and grapes he bought from her.
"Dancing? Yes, I do," he says, "I mean, I haven't really been out dancing in ages, but I do like it." He feels himself blushing, and wishes he were better at this.
"I haven't been out dancing since before Laurel was born," Heather says, "I miss it. Maybe you'd like to come dancing with me some time?" she suggests, smiling.
"Are you free tonight?" he asks, using every bit of courage he can muster to get the words out.
"Let me see if I can arrange a sitter for Laurel," she says, and pulls her cell out of her pocket, "Coby, I need a sitter for Laurel tonight, can you do it?" The call ends and she smiles up at Ulises. "It's a date."
"What time should I pick you up?"
Heather shakes her head, "I live way the hell up in Topanga; I couldn't ask you to drive out there. Meet me at the Rainbow Room at 9, okay?"
He starts to protest that he's more than happy to drive to hell and back for her, but decides instead to take what's she offering and not throw himself at her.
"What do you mean he has a girlfriend?" Stina cries when Eleanor tells her about Tori and Gavin, "Are you sure? Gavin has a lot of platonic girl friends, too, you know."
Eleanor rolls her eyes, "She was there at breakfast this morning, she spent the night with him."
Stina's eyes widen, "What were you doing there at breakfast time---Oh, no way, did you fuck Justin?"
Eleanor cringes, "I did not. I slept with him."
This time Stina rolls her eyes, "Whatever you want to call it, you finally lost your precious virginity."
That's not really true, Eleanor thinks, she is still a virgin, but better to let Stina and all their friends think she and Justin are having sex than to tell them what's actually going on.
"I just found out my ex has a new girlfriend," Stina pouts to Coby, explaining why she's at his door, "I just need someone to hang out with. I'll get depressed if I'm by myself."
"Sure, you can chill here," Coby offers agreeably, "But, whoever this guy is that dumped you, he's probably not worth all this emotion."
"He didn't dump me," Stina explains, "I broke up with him."
Coby cocks his head to one side, "If you broke up with him, why do you care who he's with now?"
Stina sighs heavily, "I don't want to talk about it."
Coby doesn't press her to talk, he just gets back to the game she interrupted when she knocked on his door.
"What is the point of this game?" she asks.
"Get to the bottom of the mountain, racking up points for doing tricks, and try not to die on the way down."
"I think random Yeti attacks would make the game more interesting."
Coby makes it down the mountain in one piece. "So, I hate to cut this short," he says, "But I have to go out to Topanga to watch my sister's kid." Stina gets up to leave, looking so forlorn that it breaks Coby's heart. "You can come with me if you want. Heather grows the tastiest kind in L.A. county, and she always gives me a fat sack when I babysit for her. So, it won't be a total drag."
Stina smiles, "Thanks, Coby. I really don't feel like being alone tonight."
"Laurel is just about ready for bed. Just get her changed and put her in the crib," Heather instructs Coby before she leaves, "And do NOT smoke in my house. Go outside if you're going to smoke."
"Hey munchkin, you ready for bed?" Coby asks, scooping up the sleepy toddler and scaring her awake.
Then he gets her into her PJs and settles her into the crib. The rest of the night will just be hanging out with Stina.
"Bueno," Heather greets Ulises as she meets him in the Rainbow Room, a nightclub on the pier, "You look nice." He's more conservative than she'd normally be attracted to, but Heather isn't one to judge a a man by his clothes.
"Do you speak Spanish, Heather?" he asks her, surprised by her greeting.
"Almost better than I do English. My parents were working in Guatemala and El Salvador mostly when I was born, I grew up speaking Spanish. I was ten when my mother brought me to L.A., and it was a huge adjustment to go to English as primary."
They sit and have a few drinks. She tells him about her parents' work in Central America, and about her father's sudden and still unexplained disappearance. "My mom couldn't go on, so she brought me back to L.A. with her. Then she married Coby's dad, but that didn't last long. After that, she started working with Doctors without Borders; she's been in Afghanistan for the last few years. I don't think she ever got over the fact that I got pregnant in high school and decided to keep Laurel. She said I was throwing away my future. And now she doesn't even call us, she's too busy saving the world. But she let me have the house, at least."
When she asks about his family, Ulises tells her how he lost his parents to gang violence at a young age, and about the grandparents who raised him.
With Laurel safely tucked into her crib, Coby takes Stina outside for a smoke.
"So, Heather's actually your step-sister," Stina says.
"Yah, her mom married my dad. My mom..my mom died after my dad left her, so I lived here with my dad's new family. And then my dad left for another woman, and didn't take me with him."
"Do you ever see him?"
"He sends checks. What about you, Ti, where are you from?"
"Somewhere cool and exotic," she laughs, "I'm from Vermont."
"Why'd you come to L.A.?" he asks, leaning back on his hands.
"Art school, of course. I thought about going to New York, but I figured I'd just blend in there. In L.A. I'd stand out in the crowd, you know."
"You're totally L.A., Ti," Coby laughs.
"Am not!" she exclaims, slapping him on the shoulder.
"You are," he says earnestly, "You're sparkly and bubbly and very, very, L.A."
"You take that back," she says, poking him in the ribs.
Coby laughs, "I won't take it back, Ti. You are the sparkliest chick I know," he says, grabbing the hand she's using to poke him, and tickling her with his free hand.
"I think we've shared enough gloomy childhood stories," Heather declares, leading Ulises out to the dance floor. "We came here to dance."
After an hour of dancing, they walk out to the pier to watch the surf roll in.
"I had a really good time, Heather," he says, "I hope we can do this again."
"You aren't going to say goodbye without kissing me, are you?" Heather teases.
The most beautiful girl in the city actually wants to kiss him. Ulises must be dreaming.
"Call me," she says before they part. Her smile stays with him as he drives home, and he dreams of her kiss when goes to sleep.
Stina jumps up suddenly, "This is wrong," she declares, "You and me, we'd never work."
"I think we would," Coby says, but Stina shakes her head vehemently.
"No way. You're not my type. And I'm sure I'm not yours. We'd just end up miserable. So, let's agree, this never happened, okay? And you can never, ever tell anyone."
"I'm kind of past the point where I have to tell all my friends when I kiss a girl," Coby says, "So don't sweat it. I'll never mention it again."
"We're cool, then?" she asks, dropping her head on his lap.
"We're cool, Ti," he assures her. He figures he probably dodged a bullet there. She's obviously on the rebound, and a little crazy. Being more than her friend would be a disaster.
On the long drive back to Hollywood, Coby drives with his left hand on the wheel, and his right drifting from the gear shift to her knee, gently caressing her before drawing back. She watches his face as his hand moves around; he's clearly not conscious of the gesture, nor is it sexual or grabby in any way. What it means, she cannot say, but she makes no effort to push the hand away when it lands on her.