Dr. Caras discharged her around noon. Both Julia and Esperanza stepped outside the clinic where Joaquin was already waiting for them. The gardener looked stricken with worry, though he beamed at Julia when he opened the door to the backseat of his truck.
When they got to the house, even though Julia assured Joaquin she was okay, she had to walk slowly as her entire body felt weak and her head was all fussy and dizzy from yesterday’s event. The place where the scorpion had stung her felt numb and parts of her leg still throbbed, as if she’d ran from here to Guadalajara and back. Her throat was also soar. As she made her way to the house, her entire leg felt heavy and dull.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t stay inside the house and rest. Esperanza rushed her to grab what she wanted because they had just fumigated the house in the morning and the fumes were still too strong for them to be inside. Julia went to her room, noticing the white sheets of her bed had been replaced by some cream colored ones. She grabbed her laptop, Iphone, Ipod and her backpack from yesterday and installed herself outside at the small cabin next to the pool.
Julia transcribed most of her notes from yesterday and began working on her column for the magazine. Susan had sent her an email telling her she had no idea who had sent her the letter, already intuiting something was wrong and inquiring about it. But all Julia did was tell her she was just curious, since most of their readers sent emails nowadays.
In between breaks from her writing, Julia could only come up with one explanation for what went on yesterday: she’d been careless and had forgotten to check her bed. True, she had rarely done it in the past or during her brief time here this time around, but if she had just taken the time to check the bed, nothing would’ve happened.
Scorpions were a normal part of nature on these hot lands. That’s why whenever she and her friends had camped out next to the mountain, they had taken the trucks and stayed on them instead of camping on the ground. Julia would just have to be careful the next time.
Esperanza made a light lunch but Julia wasn’t hungry. Her stomach was still tender from the terrible nausea that had assaulted her yesterday, while the poison had been coursing inside her body. Instead, Julia went quickly back into the house and brought her bikini and changed in Esperanza’s and Joaquin’s cottage.
The pool was refreshing. Not strong enough to do a few laps, Julia simply floated on her back, glad her ankle didn’t hurt anymore and that nothing worse had happened beyond a huge scare and maybe an anecdote she could insert in her column as part of her La Providencia experience. She had already had her first experience with tequila, now she had had it with one of the local inhabitants of this land.
By seven, Esperanza deemed safe to go back to the house. Again, Julia passed on dinner, not before reassuring the cook that she was fine and she just had a queasy stomach.
“Fine. But if you get hungry later, you come get me and I’ll make you something, okay?”
“Okay. But I think I’ll wait until tomorrow, though.”
Obviously, three hours later, Julia’s stomach was growling in complaint. Damn, she was starving. There was no way she was going to go knocking on Esperanza’s door at this hour, just so she could eat something. She would just have to figure it out for herself. There were sure to be tortillas and cheese inside the fridge, she could make herself some quesadillas to eat. Quesadillas were the only thing she ventured to cook, the only thing that Julia was certain wouldn’t put her in the hospital due to food poisoning.
Already in her pajama shorts and shirt, Julia made her way down to the kitchen and paused outside Damian’s office. There was a glow coming from under the closed door. This time she hadn’t heard him come in, probably because he must have come directly to his office and didn’t go up to his room.
Hesitating outside, Julia considered it polite to thank him for saving her life. After all, Esperanza had mentioned, casually, that Damian had stayed the night. It was a fact that puzzled Julia, but she decided not to dwell on it. It only meant he had maybe felt responsible for the accident happening in what was now his home, nothing else.
This was the third time he had come to her aide. Because she knew he didn’t like it, the least she could do was apologize for all the trouble she appeared to be causing.
Quietly, she tiptoed over to the door and knocked. Julia could hear the rustling of papers before they stopped and the sound of footsteps getting closer until the door opened. Standing on the other side, Damian couldn’t mask the surprise that appeared on his face as his eyes did a quick scan of the woman before him.
Julia’s body felt the prickle of his scrutiny and something inside her began to melt. Before she could end up a pool of hormones on the floor, Damian moved back and motioned her inside.
Her eyes studied the room and saw he still hadn’t unpacked many boxes. He seemed to have been in the process of archiving some papers when she knocked. He went back to his task. Julia felt her throat go dry, as this was the first time they were both conscious in the same room, without them snapping at each other.
“Do you ever take a break?” She smiled.
Damian smiled back and it was all Julia could do not to turn back and forget about thanking him. Since her discovery that she wasn’t entirely over him, being in the same room with him was proving to be a bit too much for her fragile state of mind.
“I’ve just been too tired to finish unpacking this room. But today I decided there was no time like the present.”
“You didn’t change the room much.”
“No. It was functional and I didn’t need anything else. The contents of the shelves though, that is a different matter.” His hand motioned first at the now empty shelves and then at the sealed boxes scattered all over the floor. He must’ve brought those with him from wherever he’d been living these years.
“Right.” She nodded, looking anywhere but at him.
“How’s the ankle?”
“It’s numb and it hurts at times. Other than that, I’m fine. Thanks.”
“It’ll be like that for another couple of weeks, then you’ll be as good as new.”
They remained quiet, each unsure of the other, until Julia cleared her throat and said. “I wanted to thank you, for you know, not turning around when you saw me on the floor.” She winced inwardly at the bitterness of her words.
“Why would I have turned around, Julia?”
“I didn’t meant it like that.” Fearing an outburst from Damian, Julia sighed and added. “What I meant was, thanks for saving my life.”
Damian turned his attention back to his filing before Julia could make out his expression. He simply replied. “You’re welcome.”
Okay, so that was it. She should say goodnight and get out. Something about seeing him here all alone, with all these unopened boxes and the single light from the desk illuminating the room, had her taking a step forward, against her better judgement.
“I was on my way to make some quesadillas. You want me to make some for you?” Julia shut her mouth, shocked the words had simply come out.
Damian blinked twice, obviously taken aback by her out of the blue dinner invitation. His eyes were such a myriad of conflicting emotions, Julia wondered if maybe she had pressed her luck and it was best if they kept their distance. His next words confirmed her suspicion. “No, but thanks.”
“Oh, okay.” Julia ground her teeth to stop her disappointment from showing. She shrugged her shoulders and added. “Well, I’ll get out of your way, then.”
Damian saw her turn away and cursed mentally at the disappointment he’d seen flash across her face. She was clearly being nice because of what he did, not that he had done it expecting anything in return. However, he was still out of sorts from how desperate he’d been at almost losing her last night. Which was why he said, before she reached the door.
“Wait. Did you just say quesadillas?”
Julia froze and with her back to him, she looked at him over her shoulder, the beginnings of a smile painting her lips. “Yeah. It’s basically the only thing I can cook that won’t kill me or others.”
“That doesn’t sound so encouraging. But I’ll take my chances.”
Something inside her leaped with joy, but she quelled it immediately. Julia grinned back at him and asked. “How many? One, two, three?”
“Seriously, you’re asking me how many?”
“Right,” she shook her head, “you’re the man with a bottomless stomach. Fine, I’ll be back in five hours then.”
Damian chuckled. “Need any help?” He offered.
“Nah, I’ll manage. Anything to drink?”
“Why don’t I take care of that? Would you mind if I opened a bottle of red wine?”
“Oh no, go ahead. As long as it doesn’t have tequila in it.”
He laughed some more and both left the office. He disappeared into the living room while Julia began to take out all of the ingredients for the quesadillas.
In the end he did help her, though Julia kept her distance as he shredded the manchego cheese and she warmed up the tortillas. Then, she put the cheese in them. It was weird being in the same room with him without all that tension and unspoken hurt, plus his inexplicable hatred against her keeping them company. Tonight it was only the two of them, both unsure as to what to make of this unexpected peace offering.
Julia filled a platter with quesadillas, plus some guacamole Esperanza had in the fridge. Damian grabbed the wine glasses and a bottle of Merlot and they went back to the study. He cleared the leather couch of some other boxes and they sat, saying nothing at first, as they both devoured their first four quesadillas and drank from their wine glasses.
Julia wiped her mouth with a paper napkin while did another quick inspection of the room. Her father’s old mahogany desk and leather chair were still here; this couch had also been here. The floor was the same red tiled as the rest of the house. The only addition was the tower with the blinking green lights for the wireless Internet and some wooden cabinets Julia assumed would be for filing, probably the papers Damian had been going over when she’d come earlier.
Noticing his eyes following her visual journey of the room, Julia took another sip of wine and got up, her hands suddenly clammy as she didn’t know what else to say to him. There had been one time when they would talk about anything. That had been one of the things that had attracted her to him. There was a real smart and understanding man under that breathtaking face and body.
Every time they saw each other during the summer, Damian would tell her of the things that had happened in town during her absence and Julia would share stories from New York. But mostly, she would tell him about how much she’d missed him and how she’d dreaded having to go back to a group of people who thought they were better than anyone else just because they had money.
“But you’re here now.” Damian would always reply. “With me, and they can’t take this moment away from us.”
Julia didn’t dare look at Damian, when she knew the memory of those days was plastered all over her face. She couldn’t show him she still thought about those times, though she had tried to bury them in the past. Not anymore. Being in this place, in this house and in this town so close to him, had cracked open the wall she’d erected around those happy times.
“I take it back.” Damian said from behind her, as he leaned back on the couch with one arm resting on the back.
“Take what back?” The cheating? The fact that you chose someone else? Julia waited for his answer.
“Me not trusting your cooking. This was amazing.”
“Yeah, the making of quesadillas is a real science.” She replied, sardonically.
“We’ll you’ve mastered it, Julia.” He ignored her tone and toasted her with his wine glass. He eyed her over the rim, silently. Julia felt goosebumps and without noticing, began rubbing her arms to shake the sensation away. To distract her mind, she inclined her head toward the boxes.
“Need a hand unpacking?” Though the last thing she needed was to spend another minute next to his man, it would save her from making an excuse to go back to her room.
Damian couldn’t be more grateful for her suggestion. He needed to do something else rather than stare at her long legs under those shorts or imagine what her body would look like under that shirt. She’d been eye catching at sixteen and seventeen, not all feminine and flirty like her friends Sonia and Magdalena, but not shy either. She’d always seemed to be sure of herself, natural, and comfortable in her own skin. Despite her not being a local, Julia had always fitted in this town.
Back then, it was as if the real her had been waiting to flourish, like a flower opening up to the world as soon as the sun’s rays touched it. He’d seen the beginnings of that blooming, of the woman she would become, both physically and mentally.
However, Julia was now a puzzle to him. She was a mixture of that smart, warm and laughing girl meshed with the blur of what the years apart had done to shape who she was today. A side of her he ignored, yet he wanted to know.
They each kneeled in front of a box and after tearing the duck tape that held the boxes sealed, they began taking the contents out, silently. There were mostly books he’d used through school and those he’d read on the history of these lands, farming books and economics books.
“So, business school, ha?” Julia held one book in her hand with the title, Principles of Macroeconomics written on the cover.
“It turns out I had a talent for it, plus I couldn’t do what I wanted to do without it.” He said, nonchalant, like it didn’t matter.
Julia paused before asking in a shy voice. “In your father’s company?”
If Damian was surprised she knew about his father, he didn’t show it. He simply narrowed his eyes at her and asked. “Who told you?”
“Joaquin, the day he took me to see the lemon trees and other stuff you had begun to plant. So you’ve been in North Carolina all this time?” There was wonder and disbelief clinging to her words.
“How do you…”
“I once had to travel there. I read somewhere about the company, Summers, its headquarters are based there. I think I drove by them once.”
“Oh.” Damian didn’t know what to make of this. He got up with several books in his hands and began placing them on the empty shelves on the wall.
“Was it hard, you know, to get to know him?”
Damian stopped halfway before putting the last book he’d grabbed. He turned to face Julia who was squatted on the floor piling up books next to her.
“At first. I resented him for what he did to my mother, but things were different for me then. So, we took it one step at a time. In the end, he helped me when I needed him the most. We’re still building our relationship.”
“Yet you came back.”
“He knew part of me longed to come back. He gave me the choice of running the company from afar. And now that Summers is expanding here to Guadalajara, it made more sense I oversaw that particular project.”
Julia frowned as if considering something else. In the end, she decided to just ask away. “Is that what you’ve been doing since you got here?” Julia paused, then told him about Raul.
“He mentioned something about meeting with you.”
“I did. I’ve been visiting farmers all around the area and in other neighboring towns, trying to convince them to sell their produce to me, well not me, Summers. I want this land to thrive and their people to make a decent and better living.
“Some people say what we sell is more expensive than say Walmart, but it’s like when you go to a Starbucks and pay four or five dollars or more for a cup of coffee. You know that what you are getting is quality stuff and that the people who grew it are getting paid fairly. The products that come out of these lands are top quality. If we also invest in cleaner technologies, then these farmers will have productive lands for many years.”
He shoved the book into the shelve and scratched his neck. “Sorry, I get carried away.”
Julia’s lips curved upward and her eyes shone with admiration, something Damian thought he would never see.
“You always wanted to do something for this town. I’m glad you found an outlet for your plans. You’ll do great, Damian. You always had the drive and the heart. Most would’ve stayed away and not given where they came from a second thought. You’re different, I always admired that.”
At a loss for words, he only bent down to take out more books. It was then he remembered several boxes with all the books that had been here, after he had asked Esperanza and Joaquin to empty the shelves.
“There’s a bunch of law books you might find interesting and useful. They must’ve been your father’s but if you want them, they are in the little cottage where you found the sun beds.”
It was Julia’s turn to focus her attention on the box on the floor. She only shrugged her shoulders halfheartedly.
“I don’t really need them. Maybe we can donate them or something.”
“What? You already have a collection of your own?”
“I….no, not exactly.” She furrowed her brows.
Damian heard the hesitation in her reply and pressed the issue further. “What? They might not be the branch of law you chose but they might come in handy one day.”
Julia got up and found him staring at her. She dropped the books on the couch next to her and started pacing, wringing her hands anxiously. Finally, she stopped and turned to him, her heart beating fast with nerves.
“Damian, I have to tell you something.”