“Ever After.” Chapter 4

“No, I have a better one. Remember that time when we went up there with Raul’s dad’s truck and had the music so loud that Julia’s mother called the police?”

“Oh my God. I’d totally forgotten about that. The look on your mom’s face was priceless, when she had to go down and get you out of jail.”

The group sitting inside Sonia’s restaurant roared with laughter as they each remembered how their parents had been called in the middle of the night and had been asked to come collect their sons and daughters.

Julia took a sip of her michelada – light beer with lemon, Worcestershire sauce and spicy sauce – as she glanced at Raul’s twin girls, one of them in Raul’s lap pulling eagerly at his dad’s ears while the other girl held a bottle of milk between her chubby hands in the arms of her mother. Elaine, Raul’s wife, was English with blond hair and blue eyes. Raul Castro was olive skinned like Sonia but had dark brown eyes and dark short hair. The twins were a mixture of chocolate and vanilla, with light brown hair with streaks of gold, eyes in between blue with a hint of brown around the edges, and their skin still undecided between white and tanned.

Sonia had been right. They were going to make their father suffer once they were all grown up.

The one who had brought up the whole police incident, Felix Marquez, was currently bouncing a toddler, a boy, up and down in his lap. His daughter was busily going around the table carrying a doll that had seen better days, looking up expectantly at the twins wondering when they were going to come down and play. His wife, Maria, was from Guadalajara but had flawless English as she had studied all her life in American schools. Maria had done her high school in the States and had met Felix when he’d gone to Guadalajara for college.

In most Mexican schools, English was mandatory, so that’s why Julia had had no problem communicating with her friends when they first met. The same could not be said about Julia, though she’d taken Spanish in her last year of high school, it had never stuck.

Sonia had been right about Felix’s kids, too. They had inherited their father’s black curly hair, but with their mother’s dark brown eyes. Felix was so different from the gangly eighteen year old he’d been the last she’d seen him. He had gone from being all bone to developing some muscle in the arms and chest, which kind of gave him a certain edge of maturity in contrast with his kid’s look as a teenager. Back in the day, he had hidden his face under a mass of curls, but nowadays he looked the husband and dad part with his hair cut short.

“I actually showed that mug-shot in the video on my wedding day. Good thing my man here had already said I do. I guess I forgot to mention that embarrassing moment from my past.”

Julia noticed the way Jim’s eyes brightened when his wife, Magdalena Hudson, formerly Garcia, leaned down and gave him a kiss on the mouth. It was hard to forget Jim trailing after them during the summers his parents and hers had come down to La Providencia, but she had never thought of him as being hot nor her friend’s type.

While Jim was a few inches shorter than Magdalena’s five eight and had sandy blond hair and soft blue eyes, Magdalena was a fireball. Literally, her red hair caught up under the sun’s rays, and her eyes were gray, so deep and vibrant they shocked you into awareness.

Magdalena was Julia’s same age. She was the one member of their group that had always stood out because of her unique physique. While Sonia and Raul exuded latin charm, Magdalena and Felix were often mistaken with being out-of-towners. Their skin was so white, it was hard to believe that  they had lived here all of their lives. Somehow their skin had remained virgin from the sun’s constant rays.

Magdalena and Sonia had liked to flirt with the many tourists that would come every summer – like Sonia’s husband – , from Europe. There had been this one guy from Greece, who had fallen completely in awe with Magdalena and had offered the sweet seventeen year old to go away with him. Because of her height and her looks, Magdalena had always looked older than what she really was. But like Sonia, she was always game with any plans the boys and Julia, more of a tomboy when she wasn’t fantasizing, would come up with.

But maybe all those rich, movie-type handsome guys that had chased after her friend had never been right. Jim, with his soothing presence seemed like what Magdalena needed in her life. Julia’s and Jim’s parents had been longtime acquaintances, though she and Jim had never gone past the occasional hello back at their old high school in New York. But as everything that had to do with that world, she’d lost track of their lives as well. Julia gave Jim another long look before returning her attention to Raul who had moved on to another anecdote.

After a few teary laughs as they revived their mischievous youthful days, Raul turned to Julia and ruffled her hair like he used to when they were younger.

“Too bad you’re going back today, we were thinking on having a karaoke night today. Felix here still believes he can sing.”

Felix scoffed and threw a napkin at his friend. His son took this as a sign of an interesting game and began squealing waiting for his dad to throw another napkin.

“She probably doesn’t want to hang out with us lowlives, since she is now this super hotshot writer.” Felix said, winking at Julia.

Julia’s mouth fell open, then she turned a piercing stare at Sonia.

“What?” She asked, defensively. “You thought I wasn’t going to tell them? We’re your friends, Julia.”

Everyone’s attention was on her, all waiting expectantly for her to say something. This situation was very foreign to Julia. For some time now, those interested in her stories were those who bought her books, never anyone immediate to her apart from Susan, Zack, her editor, or Danny.

Julia shifted uncomfortably in her seat, self-conscious. Raul stepped in to her aide.

“Hey, maybe it is better she isn’t here. Now that she is this kick ass writer, she might use our most embarrassing moments and use them as material for her stories.”

“Or she might kill us all.” Felix added.

At her questioning look, Felix said. “I may have read one or two of your books. Maria has them all by the way. Who knew our very own Julia was the talented Kate Morgan?” He toasted Julia with his bottle of Corona.

Like she did when she first held her book in her hands, Julia felt a sense of giddiness mingled with growing accomplishment, when the rest of the heads around the table nodded in agreement. It was humbling and a confidence booster to have her friends appreciate her work.

Julia didn’t have any clever speech or anything to give. She simply said, in reply to Felix’s earlier comment. “Ha, ha. Very funny.” Julia sneered at both men. “Death is a natural part of life. That’s just how it is. Just because I don’t write and they lived happily ever after in the end, it doesn’t mean I am this sad, depressed writer. There’s more to stories than true love and happy endings. Besides, they’re both so overrated. Well, present company excluded.”

She toasted her friends in return, feeling a pang of jealousy that they all had what she had once dreamed of having. Then again, she had come to learn there were few who were lucky in love and in life. She was just grateful she had at least half of that equation with her career as a writer. To Julia, it was the closest she would ever come to being lucky. She had tried the lucky at love deal but it had all burned and exploded right in her face.

Sonia and Stephan stood up and went to the kitchen. They came back with their lunch. As Sonia began passing down plates she eyed the entire table and said. “Okay, okay. I didn’t spend all morning making these chilaquiles for you to talk and talk and not eat.”

Julia’s stomach grumbled when the smell of cooked tortilla chips and beans reached her place. She accepted another michelada from Stephan, who looked like a European version of George Clooney with the same crooked smile, that made thousands of women swoon, with the addition of a thick French accent.

Julia had introduced herself to Sonia’s husband using the little French she still remembered from when she was in high school. Stephan had looked pleased she had made the effort.

“Sonia, this looks amazing.” Magdalena said as she took a sip from her tequila with lemon soda, while Jim eagerly took the first bite of his chilaquiles.

“Now I hope you all make room for dessert. I tried this new recipe for a mango pie. You’re my guinea pigs. If you don’t drop dead then I can serve it at my place during the town’s party.” Magdalena said.

“I haven’t dropped dead and I think you are an amazing cook.” Jim spoke for the very first time since Julia had arrived at Sonia’s place. Julia took this as an opening and asked. “So Jim, what’s up with you? You’re the first person from my family’s circle that I have come in contact with in a very long time. Well, besides my lawyer.”

Jim was taken aback. His shyness taking center stage as most likely he was not used to being addressed directly. Julia suspected the rest of the gang knew he was quiet and only spoke to him when he initiated the conversation. Still, they didn’t seem to find this odd or rude. Magdalena’s personality was also a tad too bubbly and bright and she spoke enough for both of them.

He seemed to consider her question before replying. “I’m a designer. I do art for book covers, mostly. Though sometimes I design CD covers as well. Like you, I chose not to follow in my father’s footsteps. I just could never do the whole investment banker deal. Too much stress in my opinion.”

Magdalena took her husband’s hand and said. “He is a genius, Julia. You should come by one day to the house and see his work. Oh,” her face fell as she recalled Julia had mentioned she was leaving today. “Maybe when you come back, because you are coming back, right?”

All stares were centered on her. The speakers hanging from each corner of the restaurant were playing some Shakira song in Spanish, while the sound of conversation from the other people at the restaurant blended with the relaxed mood the soft blue walls and open windows gave to the place.

The restaurant was located in one corner in front of the main square, its outside painted uniformly in a soft creamy white as the rest of the facades of all the other stores and restaurants. The inside though, felt fresh. The blue from the walls and ceiling gave the impression you were looking at the cloudless sky so characteristic of this region. The fans above them were spinning desperately trying to chase the heat away.

There was a lounge section at one corner, right next to the entrance with leather seats, and white acrylic tables. The bar and the kitchen were located at the back, next to the storage room. There was an arched wall dividing the place in two rooms, both rooms filled with tables and chairs, plus the ones on the sidewalk for those who enjoyed eating outside despite the heat.

Sonia had saved a table right at the corner, apparently it was the same table they all sat at when they got together each weekend.

“I promise, I’ll come again next year.”

“You better.” Sonia squeezed her arm as she took the seat next to her before they all began eating.

At ten to four in the afternoon, Julia said goodbye to her friends. After the whole ritual of exchanging phone numbers and emails with them, she left the restaurant while the echo of laughter filled the air as it followed her quiet steps. It had been good to see all of them again. Julia felt relieved and grateful that they didn’t hold it against her for not keeping in touch. Without saying it out loud, she knew they understood why she had never returned.

She sat a moment on one of the square’s benches, to grab her compact mirror from her purse and check her appearance. She didn’t want to admit it but her imminent meeting with the house’s new owner had her in a bout of jitters. It was as if she were one of her characters and she was about to walk into a life-changing situation.

For some reason, she felt like the whole world around her was holding its breath for when she finally met the mystery buyer. Of course that was absurd, Julia realized, not to mention a bit paranoid. If only, she should be curious to meet the man who looked like he would take care of what she had once wanted for herself.

After fussing with a dab of lipgloss on her lips, she pulled her hair up for a few seconds and welcomed the refreshing breeze on her neck. She took a deep breath and got up. The sooner Julia did what she’d come here to do, the better. Already this place was trying to pull open doors she’d locked a long time ago. Doors that led to places inside her heart she rather never go back to ever again.

Five minutes later, she’d crossed the square and gone inside the notary’s office.

Interesting. She didn’t walk in a sexy and inviting way like the other two women from her group of friends. Instead, she seemed to move as if not caring if anyone noticed her. But she was wrong, she was worth noticing and paying attention to. Even if her friends shared more noticeable attributes, Julia was gorgeous in her own quiet way. He bet her honey-colored eyes could blaze whenever she experienced strong emotions such as anger or passion. The way her hair moved with the air when she walked reminded him of silk, as it fell smoothly though a person’s fingers. And her tall, lean body spoke of hours of constant training.

He had seen how she had stood there fixing her face and trying to conceal not only the heat and sweat from her brows but also the dark circles under her eyes. She failed to hide the nervousness that was evident in her every move. Even her eyes weren’t able to conceal an emptiness that he attributed to the fact that she was about to finalize the sell of the property so famous in this town. The daughter of the successful lawyer, Benjamin Andersson, had come back after many years of absence only to see the end of her family’s important standing in the town of La Providencia.

The whole town had been buzzing with the numerous guesses as to who the new owner could be. Some speculated that he was a wealthy European business man, others said it was probably a friend of the Andersson family, and others were sure that it was probably one of the many locals who had struck rich and wanted to return to his or her homeland.

Not that he cared. But he could feel his blood boiling with the satisfaction of seeing a small piece of the Andersson empire crumble because of Mr. Andersson’s mistakes.

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