Ámbar was many things, but if there was one thing she wasn’t, was patient.
“C’mon, Simón,” she tried for what felt like the hundredth time. “Where exactly are we going?”
“You’ll see soon, joyita,” he sang, smiling to her that million-watt smile she loved. She had no other choice but sit in the car and wait for them to get to… wherever they were going. She decided to make a whole show of sighing and crossing her arms while gazing dramatically at the window. She wasn’t really mad at Simón —she could never be —and when she turned around to face him angrily, they both looked at each other and started laughing.
“Ya, ya,” he started, “I’m sure you will love it.” He gripped a little tighter the steering wheel. “I hope so,” he muttered.
“Hey, don’t start doubting yourself. I’m pretty sure I’ll love it.” Ámbar said, moving a little to stroke Simón’s leg soothingly.
He smiled fondly at her before turning back to the road.
“But! It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to know where we’re going, and you have me trapped in this car taking me God-knows-where. For all I know this could be an actual kidnapping scenario.”
“I can assure you I’m not kidnapping you.”
“That’s what a kidnapper would say.”
That got a surprised laugh out of Simón. If anyone asked Ámbar what was her favorite sound in the world, she would say this one. She would do anything to keep that smile on Simón’s face.
“-and it’s going to be until next week, so I wanted to take you before everyone started going last-minute, you know?”
“Mmm?” she muttered distractedly. She soon came to her senses and said hurriedly “Yeah, yeah, definitely.”
He chuckled, “I said that this new exhibition is going to be until next week, so I wanted to take you before everyone started going last-minute.”
“So we’re going to a museum?” she asked, masking her excitement with curiosity. She did have to admit itt had been a lot of time since she had gone to a museum.
“Well, no,” he stammered, “but we can go next time, if you want.”
She smiled, “I’d like that.”
They spent the rest of the ride in comfortable silence. Ámbar was still curious as to where they were going, when she saw the sign for a place she had not thought about in many years.
“The aquarium?” she asked, confused.
“I know this isn’t what you expected!” he replied hastily. “But I think we can have a great time today at the aquarium, don’t you think?”
Ámbar thought for a moment. It wasn’t like she was against the idea of going to the aquarium, she just felt a little surprised. “You know what, why not?” she said at the end, flashing Simón her best smile and Simón beating her instantly.
She was always happy when she lost against that smile.
“Great!” he cheered like an excited puppy. “Let’s go out there and have fun!”
From the moment they got out of the car, Simón wanted to show the entire place to Ámbar. He took a map from the reception started guiding her through the different exhibitions of sea animals, though they had to go back once or twice when Simón got lost. They spent the first half of the trip looking at puffer fish, lionfish, angel fish, guppies, and many other fish she did not even remember the names. She couldn’t stop her laughter when Simón would put his face next to the glass and make faces to the fish. She felt very embarrassed, when her boyfriend instigated her into making faces with him to the clown fish and one mother very politely coughed and asked them if they could move because her son could not see the fish, please.
After that embarrassing encounter, they decided to get something to eat and then go to the gift shop. Simón really looked like a kid on Christmas day when he got into the store. They started sorting through all the different marine merchandise they could find. At one point, Ámbar was looking at different keychains, when Simón appeared out of nowhere with a… fishing rod?
“I just wanted to say,” he started, barely containing his laughter, “that you, Ámbar Smith, are a catch!” he exclaimed as he slightly threw the line to Ámbar’s feet.
I’m in love with this man.
She tried to look as unsurprised as possible. “You need to stop hanging out with Matteo.”
At that moment, both of them heard some static from the speakers in the shop, and something else she couldn’t quite catch. Simón seemed to jump on the spot and ushered Ámbar out of the store. “We need to go, they are closing soon!”
“I still don’t know where we are going, though.”
“Don’t worry,” Simón smiled playfully at her before covering her eyes with his hands, “you are going to love it.”
For the next two minutes of her life, Ámbar had no other choice but to trust Simón with where they were going. She almost tripped once or twice and Simón immediately went “Sorry, sorry!”. She wasn’t going to get mad with Simón, but was about to ask him if they could stop for a moment.
Just then, Simón shouted “Stop!” and almost made her fall. “Sorry! Sorry,” he said one last time.
He took a deep breath. “Ok, I know you’ve been waiting to know exactly why I brought you here.” Ámbar could hear how nervous he was. “I hope that, even if you don’t like this last part, you’ve had a great time today here.”
“I have,” Ámbar said simply.
“Good, yeah, okay,” Simón said frantically. “Um, well, you once told me that your favorite animals were-”
“Manta rays,” they said together.
“Yeah,” he said softly next to her ear. She could feel goosebumps in her arms. “Well, the aquarium is having an exhibition until next week so… Hope you enjoy.”
He took his hands off her eyes. Ámbar took a moment to adjust to the light, but then she saw a bank of manta rays moving inside the tank, separated from her by a glass. She could not stop looking at them as they moved, swimming gracefully and circling each other.
While she was mesmerized by the manta rays, Simón was looking at her expectantly. “So… what do you think?”
“Did you know that manta rays have the largest brain-to-body weight ratio of any living fish?” she replied as an answer, not taking her eyes off the glass.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Simón answered, a little lost.
“Yeah,” Ámbar chuckled, “they have enough smarts to make the average dolphin jealous.”
Simón chuckled lightly at that, standing next to her. They stood there in silence watching the manta rays. Ámbar was still a little speechless by what Simón did for her. She had told him her favorite animal once before they had started dating. It seemed such a long time ago that everything happened between them. The drama, the lying. Ámbar could not believe sometimes that she was the same person who had hurt others the way she did.
But the thing was, she really was a different person. Not the best, but every day she tried to better than before.
And she knew every day was a little bit easier because she had Simón by her side.
She grabbed his hand. “Thank you,” she told him, only partly because of their trip.
He smiled softly at her. “Always, joyita.”
They stayed in the exhibition until it had to close, then moved to the other displays along the aquarium before deciding it was enough for the day.
When they got back to the car, Simón asked her “So, did you have fun today?”.
“Yes, I really did.” And just then, she remembered something and jumped in her seat. “Wait! I bought you something from the gift shop!”
She instantly looked inside her purse and started digging through her stuff. When she found what she was looking for, she gave it to a very confused Simón.
He looked at the keychain in his hands. It had a drawing of two otters next to each other, their tails intertwined forming a heart. Below them, it had a message that Simón read for a very long moment before bursting into laughter. When he was done, he wiped a tear from his eye “And I’m the one that needs to stop hanging out with Matteo.”
They laughed together for a bit before Simón drove them away, his car keys now hooked to his new favorite keychain.
It said: “I love you like no otter.”