Disclaimer: The X-Men, namely Cecilia Reyes and Bobby Drake, do not belong to me. Almost everything else does, however, so be kind and ask before making anything other than standard use of this work. This is for Queen B, who prodded so very nicely, (and who has me stuck in present tense for some reason :-D). This could also answer the Growing Old challenge sent here some weeks ago.
"text"--translated from Spanish.
© K-Nice 1999

Beauty Comes to Those Who Wait
by K-Nice

The fast tattoo of salsa music blares out of a large stereo. The young man just inside the entryway of the shop is stomping quickly, his swiveling hips tugged into motion by the swift drum beat.

Cecilia winces at the sharp trumpet sound from the boom box. She let the weight of her age sink down on her. There was a time that she could have joined in and pounded the floor to put Jennifer Lopez to shame. Even now, she taps her soft-soled shoes on the linoleum floor to the rhythm as she hauls her sagging body through the door, causing the little bell the ring. Its sound is swallowed up by a crash of cymbals and a final drumbeat. The bell tinkles again as her husband steps up behind her.

Bobby places his head on the small of her back, as much to support himself as to steady her. The drive from Westchester was exhausting for him. There was a time he loved to dart in and out of cars, tailgate, run tolls -- whatever held a momentary thrill. But the weary cant of his head bespoke his agitation with bummer-to-backseat traffic, blaring horns and the confusing road signs that plagued every trip to the South Bronx, not to mention that it was murder trying to parallel park a Lincoln through bifocal lenses.

"Señora, Señor Drake. Si' do'n." The young man finally notices them as the radio plays the morning news report in rapid Spanish. He reaches out an arm to guide the two gray-haired patrons to the most comfortable chairs in the waiting area. Smiling all the way, he speaks excitedly to them, his Dominican accent flowering his Spanish. "How are you both? How's life in the suburbs? Can I offer you some coffee, tea, Ensure?" He smiles even wider at the last. They're the healthiest old folks he knows, but that's not too surprising seeing the Señora is really the Médica.

"Everything is fine, Mataieu, but I'd like to get started soon." Cece answered for them both, her accent flavored a bit differently. Bobby had acquired fluency other the years of their marriage, but he had trouble when the words became like chatter in his English ears. Sitting in a car for over an hour had aggravated her arthritis. The sooner this was over, the sooner she could convince Bobby to give her a hot/cold rub down. If his hands didn't cramp up from gripping the steering wheel so tightly on the Major Deagen.

"Alicia, Alica! Missus Drake eas 'ere! Rapido abuela!" Mataieu bustles behind a greasy shower curtain, which separates the back of the shop from the front area. Bobby can hear the rumblings of conversation back there and levers himself up from the pleather chair.

"Milady, may I escort you to your throne." He bows as deeply as he dares, his mischievous smile making his wrinkled skin shine radiantly. Cecelia chuckles softly and takes his arm. They walk carefully, arm in arm, to the chair in the center of the room. She leans on him heavily as she sits, her right hip still weak since the slip and fall outside the Salem Center Health Clinic. Her force-field saved her from a break, but the ache still lingers. Settling herself in the high chair, Cecelia lets her eyes follow Bobby as he makes his way back to his seat. His taunt muscles have softened with time, a certain stoop has come to rest in his shoulders, but his smile is the same, if not better. His eyes hold years, but years full of good humor. He is not the tired old man she saw in her old neighborhood, worn to dust by sadness and struggle. Bobby has had more than his fair share of troubles, but Cecelia sees beauty in the way his laughter has persevered.

"Cecelia, how are you!" Alicia shuffles out from her seclusion behinds the curtain. Her round body is draped in a bright flowered housecoat. Her feet, gone flat from decades of standing all day and into the night, force her to wear the softest of fluffy slippers.

Cece beams at her childhood friend "Hey, 'Licia, what's doing?"

"I suppose you aren't gonna spare my wrists and just get a perm?" Cecelia looks outraged, but Alicia continues undaunted as she gathers up her supplies. "An Updo? A finger-wave, something? Please?" Eyes narrowed to slits to match her friend's appearance, Alica suddenly looks heavenward. "Lord Jesus save me from Satan and CeCe Reyes and her braids."

"Oh you hush up and get started." Cecelia sets back and grins into the wall of mirrors before her. Suddenly, her chair is no longer under her. Her force-field flickers on weakly as she bounces back into the seat. "Aiiiieee!" Grasping her chest, Cecelia glares hard at Alicia, whose foot still rested on the hydraulic pump that had brought the chair crashing down. She glared even harder at Bobby and his quiet chuckling.

Setting herself down on a stool, Alica pressing Cecelia, Mataieu and Bobby into service to undo the salt and pepper braids that adorn Mrs. Drake's head. With varying methods, but equal skill, they snip and tug and unwind. Alicia sorts the bags of human hair, mingling the black and gray in just the right proportions. Soon, Mataieu returns to his music and Bobby sits down to wait.

Looking in the mirror, her can see his wife's light brown face. She avoids his eyes, but her seeks hers. How can she know how much he loves her, and yet not realize that she is beautiful to him, even with her thinning gray locks exposed to the light of day? Bobby winks into the reflective glass, giving her his most smoldering stare. Cecelia bursts into delighted laughter, meeting his look with a spicy one of her own, until Alicia puls her head back into place.

Cece and Alicia begin a spontaneous conversation, filling each other in on the events of the past three months. Bobby listens, watching Mataieu welcome a customer and set up his own chair. Bobby remembers the first time he came to this beauty shop. There had been many more women in the shop that day, and Bobby had been the palest, malest thing around. At the time, his Spanish amounted to "Yo Quiero Taco Bell." and the conversation had attacked from all around him. He was newly married to the good Dr. Reyes, and never had he felt more alienated form her. She was in her element, and he just wanted to sink under the floor. He understood how she felt that day her brought her to the X-Men.

For over 40 years, she dragged him with her every three months to refresh her trademark braids. Over the years, he began to see the trip in a whole new light. The time together became valuable, first away from the X-Men, then away from their two children. In all that time, he was usually the only man sitting there idly watching his wife be transformed. Only Cecelia let her man see her unpretty, while other woman defended their glamorous front as reality. Waiting there, watching Alicia attack her head with a hot comb and hair grease, he was able to see her true, honest beauty.

The hours crawl along, the gossip beginning to carry a mournful tone as deaths are related. Bobby listens, absorbing most of it, noting the tears in CeCe's eyes. As if Hank's passing several months earlier weren't enough to cope with, now she had lost someone else dear to her. Bobby fights his memories until the growing dark outside provides a respite. Alicia hustles them into the back for a dinner break.

Cecilia's drooping eyes perk up at the sight and smell of chicken, beans and rice. Under her watchful eye, Bobby declines a Cerveza. Momentarily tempted by his sudden melancholy over his lost friend, he has no real desire to fall off the wagon. He was working on 20 years clean and sober and he wasn't about to louse it up, especially with CeCe right there to give him vicarious satisfaction. She reveals in the flavor, the youth that washes over her along with the rush of alcohol.

The rest of the even passes quickly. Always anxious, Bobby hovers at her side as Alicia takes a cigarette lighter to the ends of close to a hundred brads. One fist is cool as ice, but the other grips his wife's hand.

CeCe strokes his fingers, their comfort making the unnerving scent of burning hair a little easier to bear. She runs her fingers over two familiar marks on his hand -- the indentations and discolorations from his pencil and the rough callous where his thumb invariably rubbed both mouse pad and adding machine base -- battle scars of all those years running an accounting business from home while she ran the Clinic so that Juanita and Robert Jr. would have someone to come home to.

Walking out of the shop into the muggy New York night, Cecelia leans against her husband as he draws her toward the car. His hand rest on the ignition for several moments as he watches her with her head laid back and her brown eyes closed.

She feels him watching her and her eyes open to slits. That wondrous smile is all she needs to tell her what she has always known. "What?"

"It's just, I think you look more beautiful now than you ever did before." His voice cracks huskily and he turns the key.

Leaning back again she smiles through tears. "So do you mi amante, so do you."

-(main) - (biography) - (discussion) - (stories) - (pictures) - (links) - (updates)-