At seven that night, Julia surveyed her image in the mirror, appreciating the way her skin had turned a light, golden brown with the few hours she’d spent lying under the sun, before the whole Damian kiss/pool/dunking debacle.
Among the many things Sonia and Magdalena had made her buy, there was this cute above the knee black cotton strapless dress and a pair of low heeled sandals, plus the long silver chains dangling from her neck and the silver hoops dangling from her ears. She shook her head and her hair settled in a mixture of curls and waves behind her back, while she tied a clip on either side to keep it from getting on her face.
Julia made sure she had her phone, the set of house keys Esperanza had given her and lip gloss – cherry frost was the name of both the color and flavor- plus money and ID. She tossed them inside the small purse she hung across her body. It was the first time in a very long time that she was getting ready to hang out with friends. Despite her current situation, she was looking forward to tonight.
Standing with her hand outstretched to open to door, Julia waited a few beats. She’d heard Damian come up to his room earlier. She’d also heard the door shut close an hour later, as she assumed he must’ve gone to his study to work. Still, when Julia opened the door to the hallway, she peeked her head sideways listening for any sound from Damian. When she was sure the coast was clear, she made her way downstairs leaving a note for Esperanza that she would be in town at Sonia’s restaurant, enjoying a good dosage of karaoke night.
Ever since the gang had learned she would be staying for a while, they had decided to postpone their karaoke night last Saturday and have it today. It was the perfect timing before both Sonia and Magdalena would become swamped with more tourists than they were right now.
There was a line of yellow that shone from under the closed door to what was now Damian’s working space. Julia made a run for the door, making sure to shut it gently behind her. It was like she was again a teenager, sneaking away from her parents’, to join her friends and Damian. Only she doubted the latter would either care or worry if she wasn’t at home.
The image of his angry face as he’d emerged from the water, made her hasten her pace. She may have had the guts to show him he couldn’t just attempt to charm her or assume her knees still shook at the sight of him. Though they did, but that was neither here nor there at this point. However, she was not so sure she could put on a brave face if she saw him right now.
The gate, which remained closed only by a smaller chain, until Joaquin put the heavy lock after everyone was inside and tucked in for the night, opened without a sound. In the process of walking down the arch, a small purple bougainvillea flower fell on her head. Feeling giddy for the night ahead, she tucked it behind her ear and stepped outside the house.
The memory of the truck and creepy driver had her opting for the shortcut into town. It was an uneven road that skirted down around the hill, cutting off a good portion of the paved road and which eventually led out to the town’s limits.
Since it was summer, the sun still clung to the sky, casting a pink glow to the horizon. Still, Julia knew this shortcut by heart, having snuck out from her house to see either Damian or her friends many times. Or to simply wanting to avoid the hassle of the longer way down the road to town.
The town square was alive with music. People were walking hand in hand. Families were with their little kids, as they ran freely around the kiosk, begging their parents for cotton candy or hot dogs from the street vendors positioned on each corner of the square. Julia knew that there would be more people selling food on the streets as well as game booths. Mechanic games would be set next week, when the countdown to the town’s celebration began.
Sonia’s place was buzzing with evening diners and those who preferred to stick to drinks. The music was louder than when she’d come last Saturday, but its volume didn’t seem to annoy the others. If only, some had taken to dancing in between tables while others simply lingered around the bar where the bartender served drink after drink.
As an addition, there was a small improvised stage plus a huge white screen that hung from one of the walls to the side, and a couple of microphones all set and ready on the stage. Next to it was a booth with what she assumed was the karaoke machine. The white screen was most likely to display the lyrics for each song.
As Julia glanced around the almost full restaurant, she spotted Sonia at a corner table with the rest of her friends, minus their little kids. Raul saw her standing at the entrance of the restaurant and waved at her. Julia grinned and decided what better way to end the day than to have fun, something she hadn’t done in a long time. Since her relaxing time by the pool had been so annoyingly interrupted, a party was just what she needed to make the last of her wariness from this morning’s run, go away completely.
“Oh God, I think I am seeing quadruple.” Julia groaned at the shot of tequila in front of her on the table.
“No honey, those were the four shots of tequila you just downed. And may I remind you that the one right there makes ten.”
Sonia chuckled and took a swig from her own tequila while they listened to Magdalena belt out a very poor tribute to Whitney Houston’s I will always love you. Like always, Jim seemed to be entranced by his wife, as he encouraged her by raising his cellphone as if he were in a concert.
“Not even drunk does she sound on tune….wait is it in tune or on tune?” Felix looked seriously confused, his eyes already too glassy to focus on anything. Julia felt her own world spinning at an abnormal pace, but she was ecstatic, happy, and she was having a very good time, or had been before the weight of her crazy consumption of tequila came crashing down on her.
It was as if time hadn’t gone by. Ten years felt like only one and they had all lived their lives during a year only to meet again like they always did every summer.
“In tune, bro.” Raul said, the least drunk of the three friends sitting at the table. The guys’ wives turned out to be pretty cool, only they weren’t as trashed as their guys. They still laughed at their husbands’ stupid drunk jokes and had even taken out Julia, Sonia and Magdalena out dancing to the improvised dance floor.
Julia clapped and wooed with the rest of her friends as Magdalena finished singing.
“Okay, my turn.” Julia announced to the startled faces around the table.
Before anyone else could take the stage, Julia got up and stumbled all the way up to it. Her cheeks were flushed and she knew she was one shot away from being impaired to speak. The computer screen from where the songs were being programmed looked like it was moving out of place. Sonia had had the bright idea to teach her how to use it before her massive consumption of tequila had begun.
Julia found the song she wanted to sing and programed it. She took the mike and after tapping on it, she said. “This song is dedicated to all those women out there who have had the mis…….misfortune,” she tripped on the last word and chuckled, “to fall in love with a man.”
A guy yelled from the back. “You haven’t met me yet sweetheart.”
The entire place burst into laughter and Julia sent the stranger a kiss. In that instant, Taylor Swift’s Picture to Burn began to blare throughout the restaurant. That song plus a couple of others, “Love Story” and “You belong to me” were part of her guilty pleasures playlist on her Ipod.
From their table, Sonia and Magdalena both muttered an oh boy but fell quiet as Julia began to sing.
Surprisingly so, she wasn’t out of tune. Her voice was filled with all the heartfelt passion the song required, especially when she reached the part where she sang:“so watch me struck a match on all my wasted time, in case you haven’t heard, your just another picture to burn.”
Alcohol made her even less self-conscious as she moved around the stage and danced. She even asked her captivated audience to sing along. Sonia and Magdalena both got up and joined her on the chorus parts, though they only screamed drunkenly. Raul and Felix just laughed at their friends and took several pictures with their cellphones.
When the song was over, Julia and her friends took a bow. After Julia, other more or less drunken fellows took the stage, each one funnier than the last one.
It was nearing midnight and Julia lay with her head on the table muttering. “I hate tequila. God, someone just shoot me.” She whined and felt Raul’s hand on her back as he patted her and said. “Hey, you said that like an hour ago and you had those two other shots.”
“Oh, someone shoot him.”
Sonia, who was obviously off duty tonight from overseeing things at the restaurant sat beside Julia, her curly black hair sprawled on the table as her hand hung from her side, almost touching the floor.
“Why do I feel like I’m going around in circles?” She slurred.
“Because we are sooooo drunk.” Julia answered, lifting her head, wincing when her own world began to spin furiously.
Part of her functioning brain remembered that she had walked down from the house. How the hell was she going to get back when she wasn’t even able to sit up straight without swaying to one side or the other? She knew it would be irresponsible, even more than drinking herself stupid, to attempt to go back on her own.
Finding her purse on the table next to Sonia’s head, she took out her phone and after three tries, managed to dial the number of the house, which Damian hadn’t bothered to change.
When a distracted male voice answered “Yes?” Julia felt her blood sizzle at the sound of his voice, amid the alcohol coursing her veins,. Damian was probably still up working from his study.
“Oh, hiiiiiiiiii.” Julia screeched and began to giggle. She heard his exasperated sigh and then he said. “Julia? Where the hell are you?”
“I left a note.”
“Oh well, if you left a note.”
“Look I need to spake.” She giggled before correcting herself. “I mean, speak to Esperanza.”
There was the sound of Damian closing a door and then the urgent hushed voice from the cook as Damian said. “Well, your mija is wasted. Here, she wants to talk to you.”
“Hey, I am not wasted, you moron.” Julia complained.
“Julia?” Esperanza’s worried voice came on the line.
“Oh, hey! Listen, you think you or Joaquin could come pick me up? None of us here are in any condition to drive.” She glanced at Raul who had joined Felix on the stage as they, along with their wives, were destroying Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Magdalena was leaning against her husband’s shoulder and Sonia………well there was basically no one to give her a lift up.
“Will be down there in ten minutes.”
“Grrrrreatt!” Julia hung up and Sonia was attacked by a fit of giggles next to her. Julia’s head was all fuzzy, she began giggling as well before her friend could share what had been so funny.
“You sounded just like that orange tiger from the cereal.”
“Shut up, you’re drunk.”
Sonia attempted to high five her but missed and only sneered at Julia and countered. “Yeah, that makes two of us sweetie.”
Damian knew he should’ve just gone back to his study or up to bed and have Joaquin and Esperanza deal with Julia. But it was midnight and Esperanza had wanted to go wake up her husband so they could both drive down and pick up the precious Andersson girl.
He was still seething from her throwing him into the pool, her reaction one of a spoiled brat who instead of dealing with a situation just made a scene and stormed out like a diva. And much to his dismay, there was a nagging feeling inside, intrigued and curious about the scratches he’d glimpsed before she left the pool.
Annoyed, Damian slammed the door of his black BMW and began heading to Sonia’s restaurant, on the other side from where he had parked. On his way across the town square, he found two of Julia’s friends, as they were being aided by two women, who he assumed were their wives.
When the one with the short curly dark hair spotted him, he tried to stand up straight and attempted to glare at him. To Damian, it looked more like he had some sort of facial paralysis.
“Hey, it’s you. Don’t think we don’t want to kick your ass for what you did to Julia.”
The other guy, who was the less drunk of the two, gave him a more meaningful glare and grabbed his friend’s arm.
“Calm down, Felix. We can’t take him down now.”
“Why not?” Felix sounded affronted.
“Because even though there’s two of us, we are now seeing four of him, so we are at a disadvantage.”
“So we need to get more guys?”
“Yeah, that’s what I meant. Come on, it’s not like we won’t see him again.” Raul glowered at Damian but allowed himself to be steered away by his wife. Damian fought the impulse of asking both of them what the hell was their problem. What lies had Julia been spreading to her friends?
Felix seemed content with his friend’s suggestion and allowed himself to be also led by his wife who had turned momentarily pale at the threat of a fight between her husband and the newcomer. Damian decided it was best to ignore them.
The restaurant was half-empty when he walked inside. At first, he didn’t see Julia anywhere and he went to Stephan, the French guy who was buying lemons and other fruit and vegetables from the fields across the road from the house.
Stephan acknowledged him and met him halfway.
“Stephan. I was under the impression Julia was here.”
“Oh, oui, oui. She is. She is with Sonia sitting on one of the benches out in front of the kiosk.” His hand pointed to two women leaning on one another as they laughed and waved at anyone who strolled next to them.
“Attendez-moi,” He said to Damian as he went back outside. “I should get my wife too before she embarrass herself.”
Damian was tempted to say that she already was, but didn’t have that level of confidence with the French guy. They went over to the bench and both women quieted down when Stephan stopped inches away from them.
“Ah, cher, have you come to put me away?”
“Oui, cherie. Come on. I asked Mario to close up for us. Let’s go.”
“Oh, isn’t he the best?” Sonia cooed.
Damian was afraid she might cry at any moment. He stepped into view and instantly, the air around him became heavy with tension. Julia sucked in her breath and Sonia said a little bit too loudly than she’d probably intended. “Oops.”
“What are you doing here? Where are Esperanza and Joaquin?” Julia’s drunken state made her sound hysterical.
“At the house.” Damian replied, dryly.
“But I told them to….”
“Oh, yes. To come pick you up. Well, they have better things to do than to tend to some drunk woman’s request. Joaquin was already asleep when you called. I saw no point in waking up the poor man for this. He’s been working all day.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. As opposed to me the spoiled princess. Bite me, Damian.”
“Okay. Let’s go, Stephan. My head is killing me.” Sonia couldn’t help but wonder why the sparks flying off from these two hadn’t burned her yet. She let her husband take her by the hand and guide her away. Julia yelled at her. “Hey! Don’t leave me here with him!”
Her friend waved halfheartedly over her shoulder and kept on walking. As much as she loved Julia, this was not her battle, though she would love to give Damian a piece of her mind one day. Though not today when her mind sloshed with all the alcohol she’d drunk.
“Great.” Julia moaned, not at all worried Damian could hear her.
Damian took her hand but Julia snatched it away from him. Without looking at him, she got up from the bench, the sudden change of position enough to make her sway. She would’ve fallen had Damian’s arm not come around her waist, just like that day at the edge of the road. Just recalling how he’d looked at her with all that fury had her tugging free from his hold and stumbling away.
“Where the hell are you going?”
“This is childish, Julia. You think I wanted to come?”
No, she thought, and the answer was like a knife twisting inside an already open wound.
She got as far as Sonia’s restaurant before she realized her sense of direction was as screwed as the situation she was in. Julia heard Damian come up behind her and swallowing her pride and her embarrassment from the scene at the pool, she turned around slowly, giving her body a chance to adapt to the change of direction. When her body faced his, he stared at her like he had after he’d kissed her today. Unsure of what to do next, but unable to hide the hint of desire as it glowed with the pale moonlight from above.
Julia knew it was the alcohol taking control of her actions. She closed the space between them and whispered. “Why did you kiss me today?”
It took Damian a moment to come up with an answer, as he had obviously not been expecting her blunt question. The wait somehow made Julia anxious. In a sadistic way, part of her needed to know why.
“Because you asked me to.”
“No, I didn’t. I was singing.”
Damian sighed and put his hands on her shoulders, the touch bringing back many bittersweet memories of the many times they had walked around this square holding hands. The novelty of first love always making her feel like she always did whenever he’d looked at her: beautiful and desirable.
“Then I guess I got confused.” Damian’s mouth was inches away from hers and Julia knew she wanted him to kiss her again.
“But I might ask you now, to kiss me.”
Amid her blurry sight and spiraling thoughts, Julia was aware she sucked in her breath and closed her eyes when Damian used his thumb to caress her cheek. Anticipating the explosion of emotions, she felt like someone had sucker punched her when he said, his words brushing her lips instead of his mouth. “I’m afraid if I kiss you I’ll get as drunk as you are and tequila has never sat down well with me.”
Glad for the cover of the night, Julia was thankful Damian couldn’t see the disappointment that went through her at his rejection. Not that she should want anything from him ever again, least of all a kiss, given his current situation. Instead, she glared and took two stumbling steps back. “Go to hell, Damian.”
“You sent me there ten years ago, sweetheart.” Damian moved past her and began walking in the direction of his car.
When Julia made her way to it, she was already regretting that last shot Raul had forced her to take. Okay, maybe not forced her so much as putting it in front of her and Julia gulping it whole. God, she hated tequila, she hated the man waiting by his expensive car with the door open, and she hated having come back and being vulnerable.
The night air was cool against her alcohol flushed face. Seething by his rejection and by the fact that she’d wanted, wait no, prayed he’d kiss her again, Julia just stood there, while Damian waited for her to get inside.
“Julia, get in.” He ordered, like an angry parent. That he had the nerve to tell her what to do ruffled her feathers, but she simply jutted her chin up and tried to walk as dignified as more than ten shots of tequila allowed. Julia was almost about to get in the car when her insides finally reacted to the amount of alcohol she’d consumed and she groaned “oh God” before bending down and throwing it all up.
She heard Damian swear but nearly jumped when his hand grabbed her dangling hair and pulled it behind her back. The clips she’d put earlier tonight had slipped and drooped to the sides. Julia went at it for several minutes before she felt she had thrown up everything she’d eaten since coming here. Weak, and no longer caring she was humiliating herself, she let Damian guide her into the car. He leaned over her to buckle her seatbelt and the scent of him had her stomach going crazy, though this time with something feathery like wings.
Julia was faintly aware of him getting inside on the other side and starting the car. Everything went dark as her eyelids dropped and she went into a tequila induced slumber.
It wasn’t until she was already inside her room ten minutes later, that she realized Damian must have carried her from the car to the house. He put her gently on the bed and leaned down while putting his hand on her forehead as if she were a sick child.
“You seem to have gotten rid of most of it. Want me to bring you a bucket just in case?” He spoke calmly, the nicest he had to her since they’d seen each other again.
She shook her head and couldn’t help but be carried away by his handsome features. His dark eyes held her inspection and for a second, it was like going back in time, to where nothing bad had happened yet. This time though, he did brush his lips against her forehead, the touch so endearing Julia forgot why it had all gone down the drain ten years ago.
“Thanks for going to get me. I’m sorry if I spoiled your evening.”
Damian pushed away a strand of hair that had fallen across her face, taking off the hair clips from her hair. “I suppose I understand you’ve had some tough months with what happened to your father.” He said as he placed the hair clips on the bedside table next to him.
“Oh.” It was the first time he’d mentioned her father without making it perfectly clear it had been Damian who had ultimately helped pay off her father’s debts. It was as if he understood the regret she felt at the broken relationship between her and her father, though she was certain he knew nothing of how badly things had been between them in the end.
“I’m sure your father would’ve been content with what you had to do to salvage your family’s name.”
His words were like a bucket of cold water making more to dissipate her tequila night than her hurling at the side of street. For a second, she’d wished he would just gather her in his arms and tell her it was going to be okay. But that was as real as happily ever after and true love forever.
Julia was about to reply when Damian reached inside his trousers’ pocket and pulled out his Blackberry, his lips curving into a smile as what he was currently reading softened his features.
It took Julia a second to understand who could’ve put that look on his face. It had been the same one her own dad had given her when things with them had been okay. When she would join him at his study and inquire about his latest case.
She turned on her side and said over her shoulder. “Thanks again.”
Damian didn’t appear to be bothered by her dismissal and got up. Before leaving her room he said. “What happened to your arms and legs?”
At first, Julia didn’t understand his question. Then, she remembered what had happened earlier today during her run. It would be so easy to tell him the truth, but if she allowed herself just that one weakness, she would regret it in the morning. So she only mumbled. “Fell down while running. It’s nothing.”
There was a pause coming from him, as if he wanted to ask her more. Instead, he simply closed the door gently and left her alone. Julia clutched the pillow to her chest and did what she hadn’t done in a while, she cried herself to sleep.