If they say that life flashes right before your eyes when you die, do you also get a flashback of your exes when your perfect boyfriend is proposing to you? At least that’s the case for Regina Cortez. There’s her dramatic high school boyfriend, her first college crush, the irresistible heart breaker, and the ever elusive one. By backtracking to her past, will Regina make it to ‘I Do’? Or will she just keep running away?
They were at the last stop of The Great Taco Hunt. Six stalls, one mission: to find the best taco in the city.
This was a gift to him, from his girlfriend, on Valentine’s Day.
Chase thought she would have wanted to be wined and dined, but Regina suggested this food festival with food trucks, tacos, beer and other cuisines.
She’s the best girlfriend, did he already mention that?
Regina walked around with a San Mig Light in one hand. She was wearing a shirt with the cover of Hatful of Hollow on print, the same one she grabbed from his closet, because she liked doing that- wearing his shirts because they were comfortable and they smelled good.
It was the fabric conditioner, she reasoned.
She stomped on the ground with her cherry Doc Martens before turning back to him.
“I really think we should just crown Taco Wacko.”
Taco Wacko was the third stop, and she was right, it was good. It was possibly the tastiest of the bunch- cured beef with cheese, peppers, onions, and their signature salsa. It was a soft taco too, the kind she preferred, because she still thought eating the hard shell was messy.
But the vegetarian taco they just had was also interesting. It was filled with spinach, mushrooms and cheese, with bits of corn, squash and peppers. He enjoyed it til the last bite.
“You’re full, aren’t you?”
Chase actually expected her to be tapping out at Stop #2. Regina was never much of a Mexican food fan, she found them always a bit too spicy for her liking. This is why he thought that this whole event was just for him.
“I could fit another one in,” Regina touched her stomach. “I have a food baby. Wanna touch?”
He laughed, “Do you want to get dessert after this?”
She was the desert type of girl. She liked sitting on coffee shops, lingering on a coffee cup, relishing on something sweet while sketching something. That was her. And he loved sitting across her. He would watch her smudge the edges, her fingers turning gray at the contact of lead or charcoal. She sometimes would look up at him and then laugh, like she just remembered that he was there.
She yawned, “Depends on what’s next.”
They approached the food truck and read the menu. They offered Carnitas Tacos, and he knew they wouldn’t be able to make that dessert stop. They ordered, let their tacos touch as if toasting, then ate with much gusto. They stayed at the food festival for less than an hour after that, crowned Taco Wacko the winner and ordered a couple to take away.
It was a successful date, considering he only had a couple of days to get away with his shifting schedule at the hospital. Today wasn’t exactly Valentine’s Day either, it was a couple of days later because on the actual day, he was on ER duty. Apparently, people still get sick and accidents still happen on that day.
Chase left Regina that morning with pancakes and Nutella on the kitchen counter, two dozen red roses on the vase, and a wrapped coffee table book containing the artworks at the Louvre just waiting for her.
That was what he could pull off then, but this day – this was theirs.
They drove back home and Regina raised her feet up on the seat, still clutching her stomach. She closed her eyes and spoke very little.
When he safely parked, she got off and mumbled something as she ran to the door. His brows furrowed, but followed her slowly inside. His unit was empty.
“Regina?” He called.
And then he heard the sound of water coming from the toilet. Chase dropped his car keys on the counter and grabbed a bottle of water on the fridge. Usually nights were spent watching Dexter. They watched this show together and again, with his recent schedule, they were stuck on Season 2.
He settled on the couch and turned on the TV. “Do you want to start watching now?”
It took a while before Regina answered, “I think the food baby is a devil.”
He turned around and found her by the frame of the door, a bit washed out. “You okay?”
She considered the question then turned back and closed the door. Okay, he thought. They had six tacos. Chase walked over to the door and spoke to her through it.
“Are you throwing up or…?”
He heard another flush and waited, but she didn’t open the door. “Do you think it’s the vegetarian taco?”
He didn’t want to appear like he was amused by all this, but he smiled, “That’s your first suspect?”
“I have a complicated relationship with vegetables.”
“It could be everything.”
“Not Taco Wacko.” Regina insisted. “And don’t watch Dexter without me.”
“I won’t.” He raised his hands even if she couldn’t see it. He walked over to the fridge, got a bottle of sports drink and laid it on the counter. He also heated water on a kettle.
A few minutes later, the door opened. She was one foot out the door, hesitant. Chase looked at her, eyebrows raised.
She frowned, “Who gets diarrhea for Valentine’s, seriously?”
That made him laugh.
“Just me,” Regina sighed. She pushed herself out of the toilet and walked over to the counter.
“Drink that,” Chase pointed at the bottle.
She didn’t say anything, just took the bottle and did what was told. She was hunched, one arm clutched at her stomach.
“Everything,” She answered quickly, groaning.
He smiled because, of course, she would say that. Regina can get quite dramatic. She has the tendency to exaggerate things – but not to a fault. And Chase knew that if this was diarrhea, then she would have abdominal pain. The kettle whistled. Chase took a hot compress bag from the cabinets and prepared it for her.
When he handed it to her, she asked, “What, no drugs?”
He tucked the hair behind her ear, “No. You need to flush that out.”
“Such a romantic conversation we’re having.”
“Come to bed?”
“Now, we’re talking.” Regina grinned.
She jumped off the stool but grimaced, her hand still on her stomach. So Chase swooped her up, arms around her shoulders and the back of her knees.
She gasped, but then shifted herself to hold on to him.
“Romantic enough for you?”
Regina giggled on his neck. They reached the bedroom in a matter of seconds. Chase put her down and plumped the pillows as she sat up.
“You know I have to keep running back to the toilet.”
“Yes,” He answered, kneeling on the side of the bed. “You should.”
She lowered her head, turned on her side to face him. “Sorry, I’m such a weakling. Mexican food and I really don’t get along.”
“Taco Wacko is an exception.”
She smiled at the thought of it, “What we had was wonderful. But you’re welcome to eat my piece. I don’t think I can look at tacos right now.”
Chase leaned in and kissed her forehead. “The Great Taco Hunt was the best date.”
“Except I’m pooping in my pants.”
He pouted playfully, “Yes, except that.”
Regina rolled her eyes and put a hand on his face. One finger traced his moles. She liked doing this, she poked him as if to check if he was real.
“But hey, I get to take care of you,” He added. “Still the best Valentine’s Day celebration.”
“Sure,” Chase answered. “I take care of other people all the time, now I just get to take care of you.”
“You always take care of me.”
He tilted his head, “I’m not around as much as I wanted to be.”
She propped an elbow, “You like what you’re doing, right?”
“Yes,” The answer was easy. He liked that he had a sense of purpose. He liked waking up in the mornings or staying up ‘til the wee hours because of his job.
“Then it’s all worth it,” Regina’s hand dropped on his. “I know what it’s like to spend your time doing something you don’t necessarily like and to be with someone you don’t exactly love.”
He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it.
“I’m having none of that now.” She leaned in and kissed him then, her mouth full and soft. He used to dream about this, kissing Regina, and now he got to do it whenever he wakes up, goes to sleep, and any time in between.
She pulled away, and then retracted her hand. Chase looked up at her and met her eyes. She kicked up the covers and got on her feet, “Okay, moment’s over. Have to go.”
She ran out of the bedroom and straight to the toilet, shouting, “I love you!” before shutting the door.
Chase remained on the floor, leaned his back on the bedside table and laughed. He thought that the best parts of his days were kissing her, finding her in bed at night, or coming home to her with her paints and brushes scattered around the dining table. It hit him that not only did he get to see her on good days, but also on her messiest. Diarrheas included.
He stayed for a moment to let that sink in. Then, with a clear head and a better sense of purpose, he decided that he would do everything he could to make her feel better, cared for and loved for the rest of her life.