“Ever After” Chapter 6

Well, well, well. That had certainly been an added bonus for his evening’s entertainment. He had followed all the sequence of events since the moment she left the office for the first time, her angry stride heading back and the little lover’s spat outside the building on the other side of the kiosk, across from where he was now situated. He was convinced that an unfinished story stood between his prey and that man. No doubt, he was the new owner of her family’s home.

He wondered if that would come in handy?

He would have loved to prove his theory concerning her shy eyes. Soon, he would have the privilege of watching fear and confusion, before he drained the life out of them. In all his life, he never would’ve imagined being in this peculiar situation. Not that life had turned out to be exactly as he had planned either.  He was sure though, that the woman who had gotten into her car not far from where he was watching her, would say the same once her time came.

The night air smelled of rain; that meant the warm temperature would go even higher. As he was enjoying a pleasant cup of coffee, he couldn’t help but notice the numerous languages spoken all around the small café. Most were currently discussing the upcoming events for the town’s celebration. Maybe next year, when things had calmed down, he could come back.

He followed the car’s taillights as they disappeared just around the hill. No point in starting tonight. Besides, he knew that she would be returning to the States tomorrow morning. He needed to relax his mind and body if he really wanted to make this work.

**************

Damian Solis drove his car through the entrance of the house. His house. Apart from his own personal reasons to come back and live here, he was also back to work and give something back to the town that had seen him grow and helped him become the man he was today. He had gone a long way to be where he was today.

It hadn’t been easy. It had taken a life-changing announcement to make him realize that he needed to get out of here. Damian knew he had been irresponsible and careless that night when he had let alcohol and sorrow mesh together and cloud his own judgement. When he woke up the next day and realized what he had done, he hoped that his responsibly led life could act in his favor and oversee his mistake. But when Sophia came to his house one day and communicated her three month pregnancy with his child, he knew he had to take responsibility for his own actions.

His estranged father had offered him many times to pay for his studies abroad and to give him a job inside his conglomerate of supermarkets. His father owned Summers, a chain located all around North Carolina and other neighboring states.

At first, he thought it would be a sign of disloyalty towards his mother, whom his father abandoned right after he had been born. But she was the first one to tell him to go and start over far away from this town and far away from the ghost of the woman who had hurt him so much.

His father, Phillip Summers, was the carrier of the Summers fortune, which had begun when his great-grandfather opened up a small convenience store which had, over the years, grown to rival the likes of Walmart and Costco, in service, quality and employee benefits. They had been rated one of the best companies to work in, five years in a row. Not only did they pay their people fairly, but most were given opportunities in managerial positions, some even becoming managers of the different stores they opened every year.

Damian had not enjoyed any privileged treatment because he was the boss’s son. On the contrary, while he’d been attending college, getting a degree in administration, he had started working at one of the stores near where he and Sophia had managed to afford a small apartment in Charleston, North Carolina, where the company’s headquarters were also located.

The first year, after his son Lucas was born, had been tough. Sophia managed to get a working visa and she too began working at Summers. Later on, Damian went from busboy to using the fork lifts that stacked merchandise inside the store, to store manager before his father pulled him into the administrative side of the business.

Though Phillip Summers was still quite capable, mentally and physically to still oversee his company, he had been giving more and more responsibility to Damian. Especially now that they would be entering the Mexican market.

But his father understood Damian’s heart had never been in North Carolina, which was why he had agreed to Damian’s proposal of becoming his partner rather than the successor. When the time came for Phillip to step down, Damian agreed he would consider coming back. If not, he would hire someone else, and they would divide the task of running the company, with Damian looking forward to overseeing the international side of Summers’ expansion.

He’d been twenty-one when he’d grabbed Sophia with a baby on the way and chose to never look back. And now, he was back. And owning a house which he had never seen so much as the outside gate, since Benjamin Andersson would never condone his precious daughter hanging out with a boy whose father had abandoned him. Though if Damian had given in to the urge to tell him who his father was, he could bet Mr. Andersson would have looked at him differently.

However, all he ever saw was the son of a woman who was a teacher at the local middle school. Her income enough to support her and her son, despite his father’s constant child support money. Which Maria Solis, his mother, gave to him with not a penny having been spent to take with him when he left La Providencia.

Now that he thought of it, he had never told Julia about his father, or rather his identity, only that he had left his mother right after he’d been born. In hindsight, it had probably been a wise choice. Damian would’ve never known if Julia stayed with him because of his family or because her feelings were deeper, more purer than that.

He let out a snort as he turned the engine of his BMW off and got down. Julia Andersson had never had pure and honest feelings for him. She had proven that by running away the first chance she got, after she realized being with him would mean losing access to her perfect rich world.

He glanced down at his watch and realized it was way past his son’s bedtime to call him right now. Sophia and Lucas – he was ten – had decided to stay behind in order to let him finish the rest of the school year, then as soon as Damian was done moving himself in to the house, they would come and join him.

Besides, Sophia’s work made it hard for her to get away. Since he knew he was going to be up and down working closely with the local farmers, they’d both reached the decision of waiting until the town’s celebration so Lucas could enjoy the whole deal. He wanted to show his son the land, to introduce him to the people, and to remind him of where he, too, came from.

He had not taken a couple of steps when the front door flew open and out came an elderly woman, sturdy nonetheless, her long hair in a braid behind her back and an apron hanging from her neck and tied around her waist. Behind her, a man who had been his salvation during this whole buying process. One, who judging both by Julia’s and Esperanza’s faces, had not revealed the secret he had asked him to keep.

“When Joaquin finally blurted out your name after I threatened him with the wooden spoon, I couldn’t believe it.”

If there was one person, or rather two people he had missed as much as he’d missed his own mother, it was the couple beaming at him.

“Esperanza, you’re as beautiful as always.” He said this while taking her hand and brushing his lips lightly on her knuckles.

“Oh my, still as charming and handsome as always. How is your mother?”

“She’s fine. I actually stopped by her house earlier. She sends her love and hopes you won’t spoil me with your cooking. She’s afraid I’ll stop liking her own once I get used to yours.”

“Well, then, you better invite her here as often as you like.”

Damian let her kiss his forehead like a mother would a son who’d come to visit and then he shook the frail-looking hand of the gardener, Joaquin.

“Joaquin, I appreciate you giving me a hand with all this. I’m looking forward to seeing the fields.”

Si, si. It has all worked out perfectly. You’ll have the best lemons, watermelons, cucumbers, bananas and papayas of the region.”

“Hopefully, it will be more than that, but for now let’s just work with what we have set in motion. And I am afraid I’ll be giving you a hard time for a while longer.”

“I’d die if I didn’t work hard everyday. I know you’ll be a good boss to have around. As long as you don’t mess with my gardens then I’m sure we’ll have a pleasant time.”

“It sounds fair.”

“So, did you see her?” Esperanza jumped right on to the thing that she was dying to know ever since her husband broke the news of the mystery buyer.

“Woman, give the man a chance to sit down.”

“Oh, si, si. Come, come. I have a cold beer waiting for you. I made chicken fajitas for dinner with avocado salad. Is that okay?”

“Only if I get to have more than one beer.”

If he was going to endure Esperanza’s questioning about Julia then he needed a beer. Damian paused before answering the cook’s question.  “Let’s just say things got complicated down there.”

Now there was an understatement.

“Complicated?” Joaquin frowned at him.

“Yes. It turns out the papers had several mistakes and they have to be rewritten. But the computer at the notary’s office crashed and they have no backup files. And with the celebration of the town only weeks away…..let’s just say we are not priority right now.”

“But then won’t you have a problem moving in?” Esperanza inquired, worry creasing her strong face.

“No. There won’t be any problem.” His only problem had left town in a haze of frustration and annoyance.

After he and Joaquin hauled his luggage to the house, he joined the couple at the granite counter in the middle of the kitchen, as the old man joined him with a Corona and Esperanza served them avocado salad.

“Now tell me where is that girl. I made her promise she would stop by before leaving. I was hoping I could convince her to stay. Especially now when it is already dark and the sky looks like it’s going to throw us a good one. It has been so dry these past few months, the earth is practically shaking in anticipation of water.”

Both Joaquin and Esperanza glued their stares to the kitchen entrance as if Julia would magically appear. Damian said nonchalantly. “No, she took off. I suppose she was going to spend the night in Guadalajara.”

“And you let her go?”

The outrage behind the question took him by surprise. Esperanza had one hand on her hip and the other clutching a wooden spoon. She was glowering. Damian feared she might use the spoon on him and not on Joaquin like she’d said.

“What was I supposed to do?” He shrugged his shoulders, bemused at the sudden hostility directed at him.

“Offer her to stay here. There’s room.”

Damian could see Joaquin was not happy about Julia out driving the mountains at this time of night, but he ignored both of them and continued to enjoy his salad. His mother was right. Esperanza’s cooking was superb. There was a spicy and acid taste to the vinagrete combined with the oily taste of the avocado that made him realize he’d missed the food, too.

When none of them spoke, he sighed and said.  “I certainly wasn’t going to drag her all the way up here. Believe me, she made it perfectly clear she couldn’t stand being in the same room as me. Not that I feel any differently myself.”

Esperanza was about to counter back but Damian saw Joaquin throw her a warning glance and shake his head at his wife. Esperanza huffed and turned around taking the chicken fajitas from the stove and putting them on a large plate. They ate in silence the remaining of the meal.

When Damian was done, he got up, rinsed his plate despite the cook’s complaints and headed for his office to check some emails; he had had wireless internet installed.

The new owner of the house stayed there for another hour and a half before he noticed the hushed voices coming from outside his office. He could easily make out what Esperanza was saying to her husband.

“How could he let her go?”

Amor mio, you know they have…issues. Maybe it is for the best. You saw her face, this is all too much for her.”

“Yes, and because I saw her face I am worried. She should’ve stayed. That girl is all bones now, and she looks like all she does is work.”

“I know, I know. But I assure you she has already made it fine past the sierra and is close to Guadalajara by now. Don’t worry.”

Damian couldn’t disagree with Esperanza’s comments on Julia’s much too skinny and washed out appearance. But if she worked her ass off more than was healthy then she was just following in her father’s footsteps or enjoyed the thrill of making money without enjoying the true joys of life.

And issues was a mild word compared to the disaster it had been to get involved with someone like Julia. And in any case, the only one with issues had been her all along.

He was about to resume answering an email when the door to his office creaked open and Esperanza came in, followed by a chagrined Joaquin.

“Damian. I have a bad feeling.”

“About what?”

“Julia. If we could please go look for her. Joaquin’s truck is at the shop. Maybe if you lent him your car, both of us could go look for her.”

“Look for her, where? She is probably in Guadalajara by now.”

“I have a feeling here.” She clutched her chest where her heart was. “Please.”

He saw both their eager faces as they waited for his response. He knew he could tell Joaquin how to handle his car but it would take them twice the time, not to mention the man looked liked he’d aged twenty years in the hour and a half Damian had been working.

Before Damian could reply though, they were startled by the roar of lightning announcing the start of a big storm which was most likely already underway at the mountains.

“Please, Damian.” The pleading tone with which she spoke to him had him cursing softly and taking out the car keys from his pocket and promising them he would look for her.

Assaulted by the sudden worry that indeed something might’ve happened to her, he cursed some more as he put his car into gear and sped away from the house gates and into the voracious storm already splattering drops of rain on his black car.

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