By the way she avoided his stare, Damian wondered if she was going to finally talk about the letter. Most important, why they had made all those plans when she hadn’t cared for him at all. He braced himself for the hurt that had come with the letter before, to crowd the room, and used stocking the shelves as a distraction.
Julia took this as a sign to go on, and she cleared her throat before she said. “I am a writer.”
He whirled around, a couple of books in one hand, his eyes so wide, Julia could tell he’d not been expecting this at all. For the first time since seeing him again, Damian’s face was shadowed with confusion. It was as if he was seeing her for the first time, only this time she was growing a second head or a third arm.
After what felt like hours, Damian managed to wipe the baffled expression off his face. With a voice thick from the riot of emotions taking place inside him, he asked. “You mean you didn’t go to law school?”
Julia heard the doubt coming from him, as if he were expecting Julia to say she was just kidding and that she was a lawyer.
“No.” Julia pressed her lips together before correcting herself. “I mean yes, I did at first. But that was because………..other stuff happened.” Julia didn’t want the conversation to turn about Damian and his wife and kid.
“I quit after a year and a half. I couldn’t take it anymore. So, I became a writer.”
Damian’s body was assaulted by a cold sensation that traveled from the tip of his hair to the nails on his toes. It was as if the earth was shaking under him. Unable to grasp what this meant, he dropped the books on the desk, went to the center of the room and slumped down on the coach. He raked his hair, in a clear sign of despair.
Was that why he had treated her with such hate? Because he thought she had become a lawyer in the end, though she had sworn she would never let go of her dream of being a writer? Maybe he had been disappointed in her. Still, how could he have thought that? They hadn’t heard of nor seen each other in ten years, why would have Damian assumed she’d obeyed her father’s wishes in the end?
Immediately, another question assaulted her. Why did he care what she ended up doing with her life? He had left her, he hadn’t waited for her to come back. It didn’t make sense. But then again, nothing had since she arrived to this town.
From under his bent head, Damian sighed, as if something had finally made sense.
“So that’s why you weren’t speaking to your father.” Finally, he looked up at Julia, a sense of lostness marring his features. Without blinking an eye, he asked. “Is that why he kicked you out?”
Not surprised his mother had told him what she’d revealed to her the day of the funeral, Julia nodded before replying. “Yes.”
Julia took the other end of the couch and hugged her legs to her chest.
“I began taking some creative writing courses, while I was still doing the whole law school thing. I began to see I was happier when I was writing than when I was studying the foundations of the law. So, I decided to be honest with my dad. I figured since I had given it a try, he would understand that I was in the wrong place. That I was losing myself by doing something that didn’t make me feel alive inside. Of course, he was furious. He said that if I wanted to continue to have his support, economically, then I would stop this nonsense of writing and finish law school.”
“But you didn’t”
“No, I…….” She was going to say, I was still broken by what you did but decided to keep that to herself. Julia rubbed her face with her hands and continued. “I told him that wasn’t going to happen, so he kicked me out. I had no money, no job, nothing. Luckily some friends I had met on those writing courses let me crash at their place. I found a job at this diner in Brooklyn and was able to rent the apartment above it. I kept on taking courses not because it was a good place to have people read my stuff. Some of the teachers who taught those courses were writers or agents or worked at publishing houses. That’s how I met Susan.”
“Susan?” Damian asked.
Was she really discussing her life with him? Did he really care? One look at him and Julia noticed he still wore that confounded expression on his face. She decided to tell him the rest of the story.
“Yeah, my savior. She gave a class at NYU. I was only able to afford that one class. She pulled me after class one day and inquired if I was interested in working with her in this new magazine she was starting up. I said yes. Anything to get out of that diner and closer to writing for a living.
It was rocky at first. Putting a magazine out is tough, especially a new one. But we slowly began building a reputation for ourselves. And then one day, a year after I started working for her, I showed her this manuscript I had just finished. She knew some people, her husband actually, who worked at this publishing house and that was it. I’ve been writing books and working for Mirage ever since.”
Damian felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. Part of his anger at Julia had been that she’d caved in to her father’s demands instead of fighting for what she wanted. He thought of her as weak, and not the woman he had come to know over those summers together. It had reinforced his view that all he had known about her, about them, had been a cruel lie.
How could her own father have done that to her? So what if Julia didn’t want to be a lawyer? Had he ever taken the time to read anything she wrote? Or to listen to the stories that came out of her mind like he had enjoyed doing when they were together?
There was this sudden rage exploding in the pit of his stomach. His gut tightened and his fists felt like pounding something. Damian could see her now, hurt by her father’s rejection but knocking on doors until she found one that opened. She hadn’t given up, and for that he could feel some of that bitter resentment start to thaw.
But then the most obvious question sprung up to his mind. Damian got up, wanting to do something with this anxiety eating him up from the inside. The air around them was suddenly heavy, plagued with foreboding, announcing more shocking revelations to come.
“But why have I never seen any books written by Julia Andersson?”
“Because I use a pseudonym.”
“Why?” Damian saw the answer when her eyes avoided his stare again. Her father. “Your father?”
“Yes.” She admitted, still thinking back to how she had had to hide her success from her family, as if she were somehow ashamed of it.
“I knew how he felt about it all. So before my first book came out I talked to Susan and she said it was up to me and I picked a name.”
Kate Morgan, Julia mused. A name she had just picked. A name that hadn’t spoken to some experience in her life or that really related to her, except that she was the woman people knew, who wrote those books. No one knew that Julia Andersson was Kate Morgan, the same woman who also wrote about her travels around the world for Mirage magazine. It was one of the reasons she never put a photo of herself on the back of the book like most authors did. It was also why the only author information people knew about her was that she lived in New York.
“You’re Kate Morgan?” Damian’s throat had suddenly gone dry.
Damian recalled reading one of her books. The book’s name was Before you Left. It told the story of a couple who suffer a tragic death when the husband dies unexpectedly during their 50th wedding anniversary celebration. The story is told by one of the daughters as she goes back to the stories from both her parents since their childhoods. How they met and eventually how they became a family. And how the family had been plagued with more tragedy with the dead of one of their sons and the accident that crippled the narrator. Damian had thought it was a heartening story despite the sad ending.
It had also been made into a T.V. movie for Lifetime, though he never watched it, just read about it in the paper.
“Yep. That’s me.”
They were quiet for a moment. Julia wondered if he had ever read any of her books. When Damian continued to say nothing, she stretched her legs and put her arms on either side on the couch and bent her head down, her loose hair framing her face.
What came out of his mouth next was so unexpected Julia was glad she was sitting down, because the sheer shock of it would’ve been enough to make her fall down to the floor.
“Then, if you became a writer, why did you say otherwise in that letter?”
“What letter?” Julia lifted her head, clueless.
“The letter where you broke things off between us. The letter where you said you weren’t going to throw off your life for some stupid summer fling. That you would be stupid to give up your life, your money, everything just to dedicate yourself to a relationship that had no future. That your father had been right, I could never be good enough for you. You were going to become a lawyer just like him. You wrote that you had wasted your time with some young girl’s infatuation, and that I should never again try and contact you because you were ashamed of us, of me.”
Julia wanted to gasp but there wasn’t enough air left inside her lungs to do so. She sat frozen, her eyes wide as she stared, bemused, at Damian. Why would he make up something like that? Was he trying to make up an excuse for what he did?
“What the hell are you talking about?” Julia finally demanded in a voice that shook with shock and outrage.
“Oh yes, play dumb Julia.”
Gone was the truce between them. Julia felt like she did when she saw him again at the notary’s office. Heartbroken, angry, and definitely not willing to let this man mess with her again.
“Play dumb? You were the one who ended things between us. You were the one who left, Damian, not me. You cheated on me, you….” She was breathing fast now, years of resentment bubbling up inside her chest. She sprang up from the couch and got as far away from him as possible.
Her arms hugged her stomach and she glared at him from the other side of the room. It infuriated her more that Damian was doing the same from his corner of the room.
“What do you mean I left? I never heard from you after you left that last summer, before you turned eighteen. You didn’t call and since I knew it would be useless to call your house…..then that letter came in January and…….”
“No, no. How dare you?” She yelled at him. “I came back. If I couldn’t get in touch with you was because my parents were watching me like hawks. And I was busy working. I took a part time job after school and was saving money to get the hell out of there. We talked about it, remember? That night on the back of your truck, as we lay in each other’s arms, when I thought we were……..” Her voice cracked but she didn’t dare say, the night I thought we were going to make love for the first time.
Summoning some inner strength, her next words were cold as a winter chill. “I was about to turn eighteen in a few months after that. They wouldn’t have been able to stop me from coming here. I even said I could be a writer anywhere or I would get any other job. We were going to make it work but you chose to sleep with someone else, marry her and leave town.”
If it weren’t for Damian’s ashen looking face, Julia would’ve had the energy to say more, to tell him he was a jerk and he had no right to pin the reason their relationship had failed on her. But it was as if she’d literally kicked Damian in the gut. His whole face was contorted in disbelief, his eyes unfocused as if he were going back in time. His voice sounded strained and faraway when he spoke next. “You….you came back? But when? I never knew…….”
“How could you?” She asked, her tone hollow. “You were already gone with your wife and the kid you had on the way. I found out when I came back looking for you. You were the talk of the town, apparently. Damn you, Damian. And to think I believed you when you said there was no one else but me. You must’ve laughed at how naive I was and how I believed all your lies.” Julia finished, the bitter tone of her words tasting acid inside her mouth.
“What? Are you going to tell me you didn’t sleep with someone else and got her pregnant?”
“No, I did.”
Of course he did. What had she been expecting by asking that?
“Who?” She knew she was torturing herself but she had to know.
Sophia Ramos. How could she forget her? The talk of the town was that she had had something going on with Damian before Julia. Every time she saw them together she would give Julia these looks that said she still wanted Damian and Julia being with him was not a problem. But it turned out Damian had sought her, instead of the other way around. Why wouldn’t he? She was tall, blond, blue eyes, curvy, everything Julia wasn’t.
Absentmindedly, Damian moved to the desk and opened a bottom drawer. He took out a piece of paper. There were faint white creases all over the surface of the paper, each line filled with despair and hurt.
When he walked to where Julia was, she instinctively took a step back. Damian didn’t seem to care and extended his hand and gave her the letter. Before Julia could start reading its contents, he said in the same strained, tight voice.
“When I got that letter I went crazy. I just couldn’t believe you would say that. I was so angry, I felt like I had been stepped on. Not even your father had been able to do that. You sounded so cold, dismissive. I got really drunk and Sophia found me. I wanted to hurt you like I was hurting. I needed to erase your touch, your face, your voice, everything from you out of my mind, so I slept with Sophia. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized we hadn’t been safe. I prayed that my mistake wouldn’t have consequences but it did. Three months later, Sophia came to my house to tell me what had happened. It was then that I knew I had to change, to be a good father for my unborn child. I took Sophia and contacted my father. We left.”
Julia’s body began to shake as the torrent of tears rushed out, while Damian just stared at her, torn, not sure if he should go to her or if he should stay where he was. Just hearing Damian tell her the crude details about what he did, was enough for what was left of her heart to break again into a million pieces. She cried bitterly, the pain choking her, as it did that day when Esperanza held her, after she’d learned Damian was gone.
Amid the bitterness making her head pound, Julia became aware of the piece of paper in her hand. She didn’t bother to steady her voice when she said. “I……I never wrote a letter.”
Finally, she lifted the infamous letter to read it. Julia had to blink twice to clear her teary eyes. As she started reading, she felt as if some invisible force was draining all of her remaining energy. What she had supposedly written to Damian, felt like a new wound on her already fragile soul. Not caring to go sit on the couch, she felt her knees bend and she was soon on the floor, not believing the words dancing before her eyes.
There’s no easy way to say this but the things is, I don’t want to see you anymore. What we had wasn’t real. It was just some innocent, school girl’s summer fling. I got carried away by the fact that I was in another country, the charm of a small town, but I think we are fooling ourselves if we believe this has any future beyond the time we saw each other during summer.
You’re an okay guy but I don’t think you are worth giving up what I have, my family, my social status and my economic privileges just so we can play house. The thing is, I don’t love you. I was just infatuated with you.
I have decided to never go back to La Providencia. I have a future to worry about. I am going to go to law school and become a lawyer like my father and you just don’t fit in that future. I think my father was right all along and you just aren’t good enough for me. No offense, I’m sure you’ll make some other girl happy but, you and I just live in different worlds.
Please don’t try to contact me. I just need to put this embarrassing phase of mine behind.
No wonder he had been so cold and distant with her all this time. Julia herself was shaking from the sheer unpleasantness of the words before her eyes. She could only imagine what his reaction had been after not hearing from her in a while and then receiving this letter.
“I didn’t write this.” She said again, as if her words had the power of turning back time and making everything right again. But they didn’t. Damian had still slept with someone else and had married her and raised a kid with her. The damage was done.
Who could’ve done such a thing? Who could’ve……………………..And then as the answer popped into her jumbled mind, Julia moaned. “Oh, God.”
Damian knelt down beside her and touched her shoulder. This time Julia couldn’t cry, as the shock of it all had her in a sort of trance. When she was able to process any thoughts again, all she could think of was that she had been betrayed by the only person who was supposed to love her no matter what, her father.
“Julia, who wrote this?” Damian’s steely tone had Julia realizing he was thinking the same thing she was. Though he asked, somehow he already knew who’d been behind it all.
“Danny. I mean, my father must have made Danny write this. This is her handwriting. Not mine. I would’ve never…..I never…….” Julia didn’t know what else to say. The pressure on her chest was unbearable.
Damian’s curse resonated loudly on the white walls around them. Julia chanced a look at him and her breath caught in her throat. She had never seen him so mad before in her life. His eyes had gone completely black and what she saw in them made her think that if her father happened to walk into the study Damian would seriously hurt him.
There was a deafening roar inside his head. Damian wondered if he was imagining it all. How could he have been so stupid? So gullible? He’d fallen right into the trap. It had all been a lie. A carefully, calculated and despicable lie to separate them. And in the end, Benjamin Andersson had won.
He had made sure she realized he had been right all along. That Damian had proved him right. That he was only interested in her daughter for her money and that he hadn’t really cared about her.
How could he have lived with himself? And how could he have treated Julia like he did for choosing a career in writing, when he had already stolen from her the belief she had in their relationship?
Damian’s mother had been right, there’d been something else besides the letter. A lie.
Abruptly, Julia stood up, the letter falling at her feet on the floor.
“I need to go. I…..I have to call Danny. I just……I can’t deal with this now. I have to go.”
Damian reacted after a second and grabbed her arm before she made it to the door. Despite the earth shattering discovery for both of them, the mere feel of her skin under his palm had him thinking he had missed ten years of his life of not being able to do a gesture as simple as touch her like this. Feel her lips on his, feel her snuggled against the crook of his neck. They had missed out on each others lives, and now despite the truth being out in the open, they couldn’t have it back.
“There’s something you need to know.”
Julia didn’t want to know anything more. Her head was still reeling with what her father had done. She wasn’t sure her system could take another shocking revelation.
“Damian, I don’t want to….”
“I’m not married.”
“I never got married.”
Julia’s mouth fell open. She knew she should sit down again and concentrate on breathing. The only thing she did, was grab on to the edge of the open door and blink several times, before the meaning of his words ceased to spiral inside her head.
“But…..but they said…..when I came back, they said you left with your wife and that she……that she was pregnant.”
“I was going to marry her, but I couldn’t. As angry as I was with you, I knew I couldn’t do that to Sophia. In the end, she realized she couldn’t commit to me in that way. We decided we were going to work together to raise our son and that’s why we both stayed in North Carolina.”
“Yes. His name is Lucas.”
What was she supposed to say? It’s a nice name? All her mind replayed over and over was: He is not married, he is not married.
Right now, she felt like not one but a million scorpions had stung her all at once and she would collapse at any moment. She was tired, drained. In a matter of hours, all of what she had believed had proved to be a despicable lie. Julia had spent the last ten years staying away from his memory, from even thinking his name. And now, here he was and she didn’t know what the hell she was supposed to do.
“I really need to go.”
Damian wanted to touch her, but her eyes widened, like a frightened animal. Finally, he reigned in his own fury at what her father had done and said.
This time, Damian didn’t stop her from leaving the room. Once she was out of sight, Julia ran upstairs and went to her room, realizing she had been blaming the wrong person for her pain.