The following morning Julia didn’t attempt to leave her room. She stayed in bed for most of the morning until Esperanza came in at around twelve, with a tray of hot spicy chilaquiles and some much needed coffee. The cook, though she didn’t say anything as she sat with Julia while she ate, the latter feeling grateful she was able to keep the food inside, was clearly upset by her reckless behavior from the previous night.
“I know I acted irresponsibly.” Julia voiced the cook’s thoughts.
Esperanza only lifted her shoulders up and down with a jerk, as if telling her it wasn’t her business what she did with her life. Julia knew different. If there was someone besides Susan or even Danny who cared about what happened to Julia, that was Esperanza. Though she hadn’t done something foolish as come back up walking in the state she left Sonia’s or driven a car, Julia knew she must’ve sounded really pathetic slurring her words last night.
Esperanza got up from the wicker chair next to the window. From here she could see the bright sun glinting off the surface of the pool, announcing this would be yet another beautiful day. Julia’s arms came around the cook and she kissed her cheek before saying.
“I was stupid. I promise I won’t do it again. I’m sorry if I worried you, again.”
Esperanza’s hand touched Julia’s cheek and she said. “I always worry about you. I know you’ve had it tough and maybe you needed to unwind. But there are other ways, mija. You can talk to me and not only to Mr. Cuervo.”
Julia giggled but considered the woman’s offer. The truth was she hadn’t talked to anyone about her father’s death. She’d just been thrown into the middle of all of the money problems. Not even her mother had come and talked to her, despite the fact that they saw each other at the funeral. Her mother only gave her several accusatory remarks and with a sinking feeling Julia understood her mother somehow blamed her for the troubles they were in, and for her father’s death.
Regardless, what had she had to do with a man who had shut her out of his life because she had chosen to follow her dream? Not even Danny, as they’d talked about it before her little sister went back to school, had known her father had been in so much trouble. She’d heard he had been losing some cases lately, the last one causing some investment banker that Danny couldn’t even recall his name, to go to jail. But as she’d told Julia, being away at Harvard meant she was disconnected from what was going on back at the house.
Chasing those uncomfortable and gloomy thoughts away, Julia kissed Esperanza one more time and whispered into her ear. “Thanks. I’ll remember that next time.”
The day was indeed lovely, but the constant pounding inside her head had Julia considering that going out into the bright daylight would be the worst mistake ever, after drinking herself stupid with tequila, of course. So she decided not to waste the time away by staring at the ceiling above her bed and dedicated most of the afternoon working on the final chapters she had to send to Zack.
“I knew that if I called the police they wouldn’t suspect me. I mean, who would be stupid enough to commit a crime and then call the police?”
“Why did you kill your son?” Nate leaned down over the metal table inside the interrogation room. His partner, Jacob, was looking in on them through the one-way glass mirror. Though he knew he had to know all the facts before formally accusing this woman with murdering her son, Nate couldn’t control the way his fists clenched over the table as he saw there was not one bit of remorse inside the mother’s eyes. If only, she looked appalled she was having to explain herself.
“Because I said that he couldn’t have another bowl of ice-cream. He just threw his plate at me. He spilled what was left of the chocolate ice-cream he’d had on my brand new shirt.” The mother shrugged, exasperated. “but then again, John was always acting different, not normal. I tried to reason with him but he got crazy and he started making these ear piercing moans, because he couldn’t talk. I needed him to shut up for good. I was sick and tired of him just making half-audible sounds when all the kids of his age were already talking clearly.”
“But your son was sick.”
“I know!” She shot him a heated stare. “And I hated him for that. It was humiliating not to be invited to play dates. Lilly had no friends since all the kids at school made fun of her brother. The mothers…..God, I knew they felt sorry for me. John couldn’t be around regular kids, he was just like baby, a stupid baby. It wasn’t fair.”
“Why wasn’t it fair, Miss Lock?”
“Because I was perfect. I was homecoming queen, most popular and pretty girl in school. Everyone envied me my perfect life. Then, I met the perfect husband and when Lilly was born I knew life would stay that way. But when John came I was so mad. We knew that there was something wrong with him while I was still pregnant. I begged my husband to terminate the pregnancy. People like us don’t have to deal with a retarded child.”
Nate wanted to slap the woman until she saw the only one retarded in this room was sitting across from him. Instead, he asked. “But he didn’t want you to have an abortion?”
“No. The selfish bastard kept telling me we would only have to work harder. Yeah right, like he had to deal with changing diapers on a kid old enough to go to the bathroom on his own.”
“Your husband loved John, didn’t he?”
“Yes.” She said as if she still couldn’t understand why. Nate recalled how devastated Mr. Lock had been when they’d told him his wife was the prime suspect in his son’s murder. Nate had expected outrage at the accusation, but the man only crumbled to the ground and began sobbing like a child, holding the baby blanket that had belonged to his son. According to Lilly, her dad was the only one who took John out, to the park, the beach, the only one who made him laugh.
Nate thought about his own daughter. He had walked out on his daughter just because he’d been a stupid coward. And here was this man, who had to live with the awful truth that the mother of his child had murdered his son just because she’d had enough. Nate couldn’t help but compare himself to the woman inspecting her nails as if she were waiting for an appointment at the dentist.
Maybe he hadn’t done something as abominable as killing a child. But he’d taken off because he’d had enough of the late night crying, the constant visits to the doctor as Megan, his daughter, had been prone to getting sick when she was a baby. The increasing amount of bills, the fact that he felt his wife no longer saw him as a man but just as someone who had to pick up the slack and help around the house, all of that had pushed him out the door. All poor and coward excuses. But in a way, he’d killed Megan’s hope in him, something for which he was paying dearly now as the first time his ex wife let him see Megan, she had looked at him without a clue as to who he was. Though Nate had glimpsed a kind of hurt, disappointment in what he’d done shinning from inside her precious blue eyes.
Julia sat back and re-read what she’d just written. As she skimmed the paragraphs in search for any typing mistakes, she thought about what her friends had teased her about, how someone always died in her stories. The fact that most of the times, if not always, her stories were not meant to be uplifting but more realistic, exposing the flaws men and women sometimes were unable to control.
And her latest story was no different. It was about a woman who had picked up the phone of her house and called the police, denouncing the disappearance of her five year old boy. The main character, a police detective, Nate Michaels, had followed every lead until the boy’s older sister began telling him their mother sometimes got a little bit frustrated, because her little brother had had a mental disability and couldn’t do most things five year olds could.
Like all of her main characters, Detective Nate Michaels had issues that made him a flawed man. At thirty-three, he was a workaholic, sober on the verge of a relapse, and had the weight of guilt eating at him, since he had walked out on his wife and baby daughter, unable to handle the responsibility being a parent entailed. This particular case had old guilts and ghosts chasing after him, which had made him from the very beginning of the story, attempt to rebuild the damaged relationship with both the mother of his kid and the girl who was now five, the same age as the little boy from his latest case.
It wasn’t like Julia enjoyed killing her characters, but as she’d told Raul and Felix, death was part of life. Drama was the reason other writers weaved stories about eternal love and happily-ever-after. Yet real life was more than “and they kissed and celebrated their love forever and ever.”
It was losing a grandparent, your son being shipped off to war, of some random drunk attacking your teenage daughter. Not that all of her stories were about gloom and the end of the world, but most of them conveyed the message “this is life, it’s not pretty but that’s what we get.”
If Julia was honest with herself, they were certainly not the type of stories she’d dreamed of writing when she was younger. Then again, she had believed in many things that ended up slapping her hard in the face, one of them being love between a man and a woman. Julia had learnt her lesson: being in love didn’t mean you couldn’t be wronged, lied to and then discarded like you meant nothing. She had meant nothing, had been lied to, and had been tossed aside.
She stood up and paced her room from one end to the other. What was happening to her? Since when did she have these internal debates, so she could justify what she wrote for a living? Her readers had no problem with her work. Critics were more harsh but that’s what they did for a living.
Maybe life had steered her in this particular path, story-wise, but it was Julia who poured her heart out with each and every one of her books. Julia who made sure her characters went through some kind of redemption at the very end, even if that redemption didn’t entail a fairy tale ending.
A little bit riled up by having wasted time just going through all of the above, she went back to writing for another three hours, before she came to the final lines. She liked that the final scene was of Nate waiting at the park, nervous at the prospect of spending the afternoon with his daughter.
To Julia, the ending spoke of sad endings but of new beginnings. Exactly what she’d been chasing after her entire life. But had she really begun a new life or was it that part of her was still stuck in the past?
She saved the document both in her computer and the usb device she always carried with her. It never hurt to have more than one saved copy of her finalized manuscripts. Opening her email, Julia typed the first letters of Zack’s name and his address appeared automatically. She attached the document and pressed send, feeling the jitters she always did whenever she sent her work to her editor. Julia dreaded receiving an email saying: “this is crap.” Though it would probably take many revisions from Zack and then herself, before the story was finished completely.
A knock on her door had her calling over her shoulder “yeah?” before Esperanza opened the door and peeked inside her room.
“Hey, what’s up?” Julia got up and went to sit on her bed.
“This came for you. It’s mail.”
“Oh, yeah. Susan said she’d send some stuff over. Thanks.”
“Susan?” Esperanza asked.
“My boss and friend in New York, and my agent as well.”
Esperanza gave the manila envelope to Julia. Without another word, the cook shut the door as she left the room. Julia teared open the envelope and shook its contents on the bed.
She noticed her cellphone bill and credit card bill that she could pay online. There were a few postcards she’d sent herself from the latest trip she took to Europe to visit the chateaus in France. And there was a small white envelope that stood out. Generally, when readers wanted to write to her they used the email address that appeared at the end of each article or column she wrote, or at the back of her books or left a comment on her website.
Most were decent comments, some praising her work, others disagreeing with some of the things she wrote and others giving her some constructive criticism, she usually tried to incorporate into later work if it made sense for what she was writing.
There was a post-it with Susan’s handwriting that said this had arrived to her house the day she left to come here. Billy, the doorman, had given the envelope to Susan as well as those bills she needed to pay while on her absence. Curious, as there was no sender’s name anywhere, Julia wondered if maybe Danny had written to her, and had forgotten to write her name.
She tore open the envelope and scooted further to the middle of the bed, sitting cross-legged and taking out the computer typed letter from the inside. As her eyes began going further down the letter, Julia’s skin went clammy and a piercing buzz erupted inside her ears. She tried closing and opening her eyes in case she was imagining what she was reading. Unfortunately, as the letter continued, every line nastier than the last, Julia clutched her chest and shuddered.
Look at you, look at what you’ve accomplished. All those bestsellers, even a couple of movies made from your books, writing for a magazine. You must think you have an accomplished life, a complete one. Your readers might see you and think that you’re this amazing human being who delivers heart-wrenching stories or who travels the world to explore exotic places in foreign countries.
But they’re wrong. You are a selfish person. Your spoiled girl actions have taken something away from me. You and your father owe me and since daddy dearest is gone, that leaves you, my beautiful Julia.
Maybe you have more bestsellers under your sleeve, too bad you won’t be alive to write any of them.
How am I going to love watching you straight in the eyes while I pry the life out of them. Maybe I can write a story about it. After all, you love killing people in your stories, don’t you?
Don’t worry, soon you’ll be in hell with your lying, deceiving father.
P.S Time is ticking……Kate.
Julia realized the raspy sounds echoing around the room were her ragged gasps as she tried to catch her breath after rereading the letter one more time. This wasn’t your typical prank letter, written by a guy who just wanted to mess around throwing threats at you. Hell, she lived in New York, where people threatening you was as natural as the sun that came out here in La Providencia.
What had her shaking like a leaf, with her hand still holding the letter, were the details about her life that the anonymous bastard had written to her. About her decisions and her father, especially the lying and deceiving part. What had her father gotten into before dying? Maybe he’d upset one of his clients. After all, Danny had mentioned he’d been losing some cases before his heart attack.
And what about her decision to become a writer? No one from her family’s old circle of friends, certainly not his clients and colleagues knew that she was Kate Morgan, or where she lived.
It had to be someone else, but who?
The name floated inside her mind but she shook her head in refusal, knowing deep down Damian wouldn’t do something like that, despite what had happened between them. But…….He could’ve easily found out her address through her lawyer. Damian had known about her father, and yes, her dad had treated him like dirt when they’d been seeing each other.
However, Damian had chosen someone else in the end. Why would he hold a grudge against her dad or her for that matter, after all this time? And why would he have made that comment about her using some lawyery tricks on him at the notary, if he knew what she truly did?
Julia just couldn’t fathom him writing such hateful things to her. True, he’d done nothing but treat her with contempt and an almost underlying hate that still baffled her, but Julia couldn’t quite see him sending this.
Besides, yesterday had been different despite it all being confusing. When he’d kissed her she had tasted the man she had fallen for and when he’d driven down to get her, he hadn’t mentioned nor tried to get back at her for throwing him into the pool. If only, he’d acted exasperated but not so much as to think he would kill her there and then. And Julia had witnessed the way his face had gone tender with fatherly love as he’d checked his phone.
Damian Solis could be capable of breaking her heart and stepping on her pride and of killing all of her hopes in love, but he wasn’t as ruthless as to want her dead, was he?
Another knock on her door ten minutes later had her letting out a yelp. Esperanza called from the other side and Julia rushed to put the letter away inside one of the drawers from the dresser in her room. Better not to think about that letter. She was most likely overreacting and it was just some jerk playing with her, not really intent on carrying on with his threats.
Julia opened the door. Some of the remnants of the letter must have still been playing across her face because Esperanza said after a long inspection. “Julia, is everything okay?”
With her heart still galloping wildly from the scare, she only nodded.
“You are pale again. Are you feeling sick?”
“No, I’m fine. But I think it’s time I left this room. I’ve been here all day.”
“Oh si, si. That’s why I am here. We are having dinner out on the terrace. Joaquin cut me some nice lemons and I made a cool pitcher of lemonade and some chicken fajitas in lemon sauce with rice.”
The word dinner had her glancing at her wristwatch only to note it was already past seven in the evening. That could mean that….”
“Is Damian going to have dinner with us?” Julia asked tentatively, suppressing the chill as her eyes darted automatically to the drawer where she’d tucked the letter.
“No. He is in town. He spent the entire day with his mother.”
“So, you are coming down? It is a lovely night.”
“Yes, I am.”
Without giving the piece of paper a second thought, she went over the small desk she’d put next to the sitting area and shut down her laptop, then followed Esperanza down to the terrace.