Ever After. Chapter 1.

Once upon a time, in a castle high above the hills, lived a Princess. Like all Princesses, she was beautiful and for that, the King guarded her zealously from the rest of the world. She had long billowing hair as soft as silk, the color of chocolate, while her kind all absorbing eyes were the sweet and rich color of honey and her skin as smooth as cotton, made her look all the more delicate to the rest of the world. 

Unlike all Princesses though, she didn’t fall for the dashing and handsome Prince, or rather Princes her father had chosen for her. No, she fell for the one man her father would never approve of. A soldier, a commoner, with no riches nor titles, just his heart and his courage.

And just like all Princesses, she believed the power of true love would conquer in the end. That it would defeat everything and everyone that sought to destroy it. She believed this with all her heart, she was willing to endure her father’s rage. She was willing to fight for what she believed deep inside her soul to be real. 

Only that she didn’t have to fight at all. Unlike all those fair maidens who get true love in the end, she discovered there was no such thing as a happy ending. The one she believed loved her as intensely and as unselfishly as she, showed her there was no such thing as true love. He betrayed her, taking with him her heart and her soul. Shattered, she swore never to be so foolish as to believe a man would be willing to risk all for her.

Those in the kingdom who last saw her say she climbed to the very top of Whisper Mountain. From the top, they could see her white robes flowing in the wind, her long hair billowing around her face and some even swore they could see the tears glistening from her face, as she cried for the man who abandoned her. 

Days went by and the people from the kingdom got used to seeing the Princess at the top of the  mountain, her sobs a heartbreak from which they couldn’t escape. Until one day, there was no one  at the top of the mountain, except for the unreachable blue sky, its vastness hugging the town with an emptiness, for their Princess was nowhere to be found.

It is said she finally jumped to her death, the pain too strong, only ceasing to exist would take it away. Some swore that at nights, they could still hear her cries as they traveled with the wind.

Julia squeezed her hands tighter on the steering wheel as she maneuvered the Corsa along the dangerous curves of the road ahead of her. She had left the federal highway and its comforting two lanes on each side and was now on a two-way piece of road that made for the last stretch of her trip.

It had been a very long day. From getting herself in time to JFK this morning, hurrying through customs and immigration at Mexico City in order to catch a connecting flight to Guadalajara, to finally finding herself behind the wheel at this late hour.

Her flight had landed at precisely six o’clock in the evening and it had been another hour after going through all the circus of renting a car, before she’d started driving the familiar road to La Providencia. Amid the stress of getting to the highway before night fell, Julia had neglected to eat anything and her stomach was starting to grumble in complaint.

There was only one road to La Providencia. It entailed driving through a series of pronounced curves as it cut through the mountains, which were also dark and dangerous at this time of night. Although, the first hour she had been able to go above sixty miles an hour, the intricate curves of the road she was currently on and lack of natural light, made her slow down considerably. She had wanted to avoid driving at night this final stretch, but the traffic before leaving Guadalajara had put her behind schedule.

This was not an ideal road to drive after sundown. First, there were potholes the size of the Grand Canyon all along the road. And second, there was no cellphone signal until after you left the mountains. So being stuck with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night with no phone service, was not ideal. Especially, since most people drove this way during the day, there would be no one to assist her should she encounter a mechanical problem at night.

Vedera was streaming through the car’s speakers, as her Ipod was plugged to an auxiliary cord to the car’s auxiliary audio outlet. The gentle rhythm of Loving Ghosts calmed her jittery nerves, while she sang in a shaky voice along to the lyrics of one of her favorite rock bands. Her Ipod was one of the things she never forgot when traveling, which she did quite a lot. If only this trip was as simple as the ones she took regularly as a writer for the magazine she worked for, then she wouldn’t feel this need to stop and turn around and forget about it all.

However, Julia wasn’t on her way to discover some exotic treasure hidden in a foreign city, nor was she going to immerse herself in an otherworldly journey of local flavors, although La Providencia was one of the most beautiful places she had ever been to. No, she was on her way to being reminded of her own demons. Or rather, just one. One she had struggled not to think about in the time she had been away.

It had been ten years since she had last been to her family’s summer house in this remote town near the Mexican city of Guadalajara. Not even when she’d had to come to Guadalajara on assignment, did she visit the house. The last time Julia stepped foot in what she had once dreamed would become her home, she had been eighteen years old, naive, and full of dreams and of foolish romantic ideas, willing to leave her family and everything that it entailed and fight for the man she thought would do the same for her. Instead, she had come back to find the man that had mesmerized her since the young age of sixteen had gotten another girl pregnant and had left town in order to marry her and raise his future son or daughter.

Like she’d learned that day, when her parents came to take her back to New York, fairy tales and nonsense such as happily ever after and love conquers all, were all left for the movies. Or stupid little girls who spent their afternoons weaving stories about faraway lands when they were supposed to be paying attention to their math homework or to the plans their fathers had for them. Or for young women who had taken those same stories and given them the ingredients a little girl couldn’t possibly know of, like love and passion and ever after. But after that dreadful day, Julia swore never again to be influenced by such inconceivable ideas, not even in her writing.

She never heard of or saw him ever again.

Damian Solis.

The sole mention of that name inside her mind opened old wounds, ones she was afraid had never really healed completely. Julia had come back to stay with him but had been faced with the ugly truth. Of course, her family had been all too eager to tell her they had been right all along about that boy’s true intentions. Julia remembered her mother’s words reminding her that the only reason he had set eyes on her was because of her family’s money, and since she was going to leave all that behind to be with him, he sure as hell didn’t want to be with her anymore. When she’d first heard those words she had defended him.

“He isn’t like that.” Julia would reply, tiredly, at both her angry parents. He was always sweet and caring with her. And he was always ready to defend her, even if that meant going against her father, as he did during the many times Benjamin Andersson kicked him out of the house whenever he came by to visit Julia.

It was impossible not to shudder at the memory that sneaked up on her of those endless nights, when she would sneak out from her house and he would pick her up and they would drive where they could lie down on the hood of the car, and see the stars as they seemed to glow brighter in approval of their being together. She would revel in the way his lips took hers softly yet with an underlying urgency Julia knew that once she turned eighteen, she would leave home, and they would consummate their love. Even now, her empty stomach turned to jelly at the memory of being wrapped up in his arms during those stolen nights.

But as she had sat crying in what used to be her bedroom at the house, after she had learned the truth of his betrayal, she let her family’s warnings convince her mind and her heart that they had been right all along. Damian had been nothing but an opportunist who had never really loved nor cared for her. It was then that she had been thankful she hadn’t given him the one thing she’d dreamed of doing, her virginity. Damian Solis may have taken and broken her heart, but he had not taken her innocence.

Julia glanced at the numbers on the clock flashing from the dashboard. Ten-thirty p.m. She still had half an hour before she arrived at her destination. Vedera was replaced by Kate Voegele as she sang her own rendition to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, though Julia also preferred Jeff Buckley’s. She swerved her car as she almost disappeared inside a pothole, and listened to the tires screeching on the pavement as she twisted the steering wheel to make the next curve.

After that horrific day, Julia vowed never to come back. Until today. Things were so different now, Julia felt like this was all a sick dream and she would wake up soon. Right after leaving La Providencia and going back to New York, to supposedly follow her father’s life plan for her, Julia had found what courage and determination she had left and made the toughest decision of all: she had said no to her father’s plans and made her own.

Her decision to become a writer proved to be a disappointment and an affront in her father’s eyes. So, after the day she announced she just couldn’t take one more law class in Harvard, she was vanished from her family and had not seen them again, except for her little sister Danny. Now, Danny was following in what should’ve been her footsteps and was at Harvard studying law.

The reason she was coming back today had nothing to do with those naive illusions of first love. Ironically, it had been her own family that had forced her to jump on a plane in the middle of a book deadline, as well as during her most busy days before the magazine she worked for, Mirage, came out. Her boss, Susan, who was also her agent, and the woman who had saved her when her family kicked her out, had been really understanding and had granted her three weeks to sort things out. Though Julia hoped this matter would be settled tomorrow.

Her father, Benjamin Andersson, had passed away three months ago. Julia hadn’t known he was sick. Not that she had tried to stay in touch. Apart from Danny, Julia hadn’t had any contact with her father or mother since seven years ago, when she had gone to their house to show her father her decision to become a writer hadn’t been foolish. But not even her first bestseller novel ever, Tears of Despair, had been encouragement enough to put an end to the rift in their relationship.

The news of her father’s death had reached her via Danny, but also via the announcement in the obituary section of the New York Times. As one of New York’s most prominent defense lawyers, Benjamin Andersson had been an important member of New York society.

A month after seeing her mother and Danny, the first one for the first time in seven years, she had received a call from her mother herself telling her that there was a problem with the house in La Providencia. It seemed her father had put the house in New York as collateral to some money he’d borrowed from the bank and he had not payed in time. The bank was threatening to take over the house unless they paid what her father owed.

Her mother had sounded hysterical on the phone, apparently unaware of her father’s financial movements. But since Rose, her mother, had never liked going to the summer house, she had told Julia it was her responsibility to sell the house in Mexico, a place which, her mother reminded her in a reproachful tone, she had always chosen over her family.

Julia had not only been in shock with her father’s sudden death, but now the responsibility of salvaging her father’s name as well as the house and the people who still lived in it and took care of it, had been dumped unceremoniously, on her.

It took a call to the only friend from her family who hadn’t shunned her out like a leper when she became a writer, her lawyer, Brian Banks, to realize the only solution would be to sell the house and use the money that came from it plus some of Julia’s own savings to pay off the bank.

And that was the reason she was here, driving in the dark, with no cellphone signal, and feeling her heart start to beat faster as her body recognized every dent in the road as if she’d driven by yesterday, as she neared La Providencia.

A week after placing a call to the town’s notary to start moving the house around, she had received a call from a man named John Williams, a lawyer, who was interested in buying the house but at twice the price the notary had deemed as the house’s current market value. He had said he represented a man who wished to remain anonymous throughout the entire process. Wary, Julia had asked Brian to have a meeting with the lawyer and if possible inquire about this mystery buyer. She wasn’t about to hand over her family home to someone who might destroy it or who might use it for something illegal.

But Brian had assured her the buyer was a well respected man, apart from wealthy, and with no criminal record nor tendencies whatsoever. And that he came from a very important family. Julia trusted Brian and even though all of her dealings had been with this man’s lawyer, a call had come five days ago. John Williams informed her that in order to finalize the process, the buyer needed her to come down to La Providencia to sign the last of the paperwork. Julia had done everything she could think of to get out of coming back, but as John had insisted, his client wanted to have the town’s notary present to legalize the purchase and become the legal owner of the house.

It was almost midnight when she drove her car through the all so familiar road that would take her down to La Providencia. Since it was dark, she knew she would only see the outline of the house as she came out of the curve. From the pictures she had seen of it, before putting it up for sale, abandonment had done its job. Not only Julia but her father had stopped coming to this place.

Gone were the beautiful gardens. The white paint had gray lines where the walls had started to crack, and the pool had been empty, with grime and leaves making it depressing to look at. None of the glory and beauty that had characterized the house had been present. Still, it had confounded Julia that the buyer had asked to start with renovations even before the final papers were signed. After being reassured Esperanza and Joaquin would not be forced to leave their own home, that her father had built inside the property, Julia had accepted, realizing the sooner she was done with all of this the better.

She felt her fingers tense and her whole body go taut as she barely even glanced to her left side as she passed the house. Instead, she hurried down the road and pulled into the town’s small hotel to check herself in and try and get a good night’s sleep. Julia was comforted by the idea that by this time tomorrow, she would’ve put La Providencia behind her and returned to her life back in New York.

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