The atmosphere at the river was as she remembered, light, gleeful and excited about the imminent big celebration. But most important, it was welcoming. And if she needed anything right now, was to feel welcome, not chased by some crazy person.
It took them a while to spot a free table before they began unloading their stuff from the trucks.
Sonia and Stephan had taken care of the food, and thank God because Julia was starving. Magdalena had also pitched in with the sweet portion of their lunch, though this time she’d added some frozen popsicles of different tropical flavors like mango with chutney, lemon, strawberry, kiwi, even watermelon. They didn’t last more than ten minutes, as the entire gang plus their significant others and in the case of Raul and Felix, their little ones, attacked the cooler Jim had helped Magdalena carry from the truck.
Still, Julia didn’t regret what had gotten her sidetracked from eating breakfast the second time this morning. She gave Damian a sideways glance and her face lifted up with a grin. It was as he’d been thinking the same, because his mouth crooked wickedly to one side, sending little tremors all along her body.
In the end, Sonia and Stephan had brought their own truck as well, one similar to Damian’s but two years older. They would need to head back to the restaurant earlier and wouldn’t want the rest to have to head back as well. Her vivacious friend had not masked her huge I-know-what-you- were-doing-just-now grin from her face the second she saw Julia outside Damian’s house, where they’d all decided to gather before driving to the river.
Sonia, Magdalena, Julia, Jim and Damian had driven in the brand new truck. Stephan had driven in his truck with some of his French buddies who were still here and were planning on leaving the day after the town’s main celebration. Raul and his wife Elaine and twin girls, drove in his family’s SUV along with his parents and Felix did the same. Both men did so with looks of chagrin when Julia teased them about the change from their manly, bad ass trucks from when they were young, to their family, soccer dad, ballet lesson SUV’s.
Like she used to when she was younger, Julia rode on the bed of the truck with Magdalena and Sonia. And like they used to, they shouted at passing cars and waved when some honked at them.
They were currently sitting at their table. Raul’s and Felix’s wives were with their kids swimming at the kid’s section of the river; a netted section where the water wasn’t too deep. It was like old times, plus Stephan and Jim.
Julia sat leaning against Damian, who hadn’t left her side in the three hours they’d been here, except for when they had their first volleyball match and he’d gone to play with the guys. This time the girls won over by three points. Apparently, Felix’s wife used to be in the volleyball team at her high school, so she had made sure the girls kicked the guys’ ass, sprouting a healthy dosage of marital competition which was later settled by some long hugs and kisses.
“Who knew we would all be together again.” Magdalena sighed, while she angled her head towards the sun, sunglasses and sunblock on her light skin. Her hair shooting off red sparks as Jim stroked some loose strands off her face.
“And that it would be so many of us. Okay, Sonia and Stephan, when are you going to move on to the next thing.” Felix winked at Raul who nodded his head while his eyes landed on his wife and twin girls. Felix’s little girl was chasing her brother around, both kids splashing all around the improvised kid’s pool.
“What next thing?” Sonia asked.
“You know, the diapers, late night crying, food that doesn’t look like food all over your clothes, burning your hand while testing the milk, that next thing.”
Stephan translated for his French friends who were sitting on some pliable chairs next to their table. They erupted in an animated response in French, though they did too regard both Stephan and Sonia, expectantly. Sonia only blushed, probably the first time Julia had seen her do that when it wasn’t to get a guy’s attention. Stephan took her hand and said.
“Ah, des enfants. Vell, ve think ve’ve started on that, n’est pas?”
“Okay, dude, after all these years I still have no idea what you’re saying.” Felix joked, making everyone in the table laugh. Sonia rolled her eyes and kissed her husband on the cheek.
“Don’t listen to him, he still has trouble understand Spanish and English. But what my gorgeous husband here said, is that we are already working on that. We hope to get pregnant by the end of the year or sooner.”
“Oh my God.” Magdalena gasped and took Sonia’s hand from across the table. “That’s amazing.”
“Yeah, it really is.” Julia agreed with the redhead, while the guys including Stephan’s friends for whom Stephan had translated, began to banter and offer many tips on how to get about the whole baby making deal. Stephan shook his head at them, probably glad none understood what they were saying. Julia did some, but she pressed her lips together to keep from laughing.
“And what about you two?” Felix now directed the question to the other married couple sitting at the table. This time, before Magdalena had a time to reply, Jim stepped in and took his wife’s hand over the table. “Oh, we’ll get there. I just have this new project I’m working on. Once I am done, I think we’ll start working on that. Right, honey?”
Magdalena seemed taken aback by this piece of information, To her credit, she quickly recovered and smiled. “Yeah, I can’t wait to be a mom.”
At least her words sounded sincere. Except Julia frowned at they way Magdalena eyed her husband, as if the whole idea was news to her. She figured maybe she’d been surprised Jim had spoken at all, let alone about their plans for a future family.
Unfortunately, Felix saw too late the warning flashing from Sonia’s eyes, nor did he catch Raul shaking his head from side to side. Julia’s stomach sank to the floor when he asked. “And what about you two?”
Julia straightened up from her comfortable position against Damian’s chest, while he fidgeted in his place. The heavy and uncomfortable silence was momentarily disturbed by a group of teenagers who’d thrown one of their own into the river. The sound of water splashing was too shortlived for it to steer them clear off the talk of marriage and babies.
Felix only muttered “Ouch,” when Magdalena kicked him under the table. Then he said, wincing. “What? I mean, you are back together, right?”
Great, everyone’s attention was focused on them. Reaching for her already lukewarm beer, Julia swallowed the golden liquid along with the dryness in her throat and was grateful her face was half hidden by her own sunglasses.
“Oh, well. I…..I mean, we…….” What the hell was she supposed to answer when she had no clue herself? Were they really back together? Or would she end up going back to New York?
“We are back together. But I think we both agree we’ll take things one day at a time.” Damian’s voice made her look back at him, his non concealed stare plagued with the same questions running amok inside her head. The truth was they’d once planned for the future and look what had happened.
“Yeah, one day at a time.” Julia agreed, content for now.
Thankfully, one of the twins came by asking for daddy, providing them with a much needed distraction. Wanting to get out of there, Julia offered to pick up their paper plates and other trash and take it to the dumpsters next to where all the families had parked their trucks.
The music was blaring from different portable speakers. It was a mix of music in Spanish, some pop music in English, and other more upbeat Latino songs, a mash up of positive energy and of people having a good time. Certainly a very long way from this morning’s events. It calmed her and made her feel at ease.
She dropped the plastic bags inside the dumpster. When she came back, she found only Damian at the table, looking so handsome with his open shirt and swim trunks. He smiled at her and she remembered this morning and last night and was grateful her legs didn’t turn to goo then and there.
“Sonia and Madgalena went to find the bathroom. Stephan and his friends went to get more beer and Raul and Felix are over there.” Julia followed the direction in which Damian inclined his head, and found Raul with a kid on his shoulders and the other girl being coated in sunblock. Felix and his wife were having a mini soccer match with their kids.
Taking in the scene, she found that she was happy. Despite all. Maybe part of her longed for what her friends had. Still, it had been years since she’d been content like she was now. She held on to the feeling as long as she could.
“What are you thinking?” Damian interrupted her thoughts.
“That I’m glad we came. Though the heat is crazy. I think I might melt at any moment.” She took a seat in front of him.
“It certainly is getting hotter.” Damian announced. He’d begun to stand up but Julia was oblivious to it, her stare back with Raul and Felix.
When his voice caressed her neck, she nearly fell off her seat. Her heart began to beat fast because she saw the clear intent swimming inside his eyes.
“Oh no, don’t you dare, Damian.”
“Dare what?” But his arms were already reaching down for her. Julia had just enough time to push him and bolt away from the table.
“That water is cold. Besides, I’m not that hot.”
“I beg to differ. You are very hot, Julia.”
Inside her head she moaned, and felt color rushing up her cheeks.
Damian started to close the distance between them, his slow movements like that of a cat circling on his prey. Julia’s head began to look for an escape route but knew that she couldn’t outrun Damian, as much of a runner as she was. His long legs gave him the advantage.
“Damian, I’m serious.” Putting her hands before her, she tried to sound just that, but her voice faltered with nervous laughter.
In that instant, Sonia and Magdalena came back. Noting the sexual tension around them, they both signaled to their other two friends who began to say in unison. “Get her, Damian.”
Julia started moving backwards, her eyes glancing behind her back. Damian had found two new allies and they were putting their kids with their moms and moving in her direction. Julia was trapped. Still she made a run for it, but made it only so far before a pair of strong arms grabbed her by the waist and hauled her over his shoulder to the edge of the water.
Several other people who’d seen her run, began to cheer Damian’s intent to throw her into the water. Julia banged her fists on Damian’s back, the blood rushing from her feet to her head. With her stomach being pressed by the bones in his shoulder, she screamed and felt the sound vibrate in her belly. “Noooooo! It’s cold.”
“Tell you what. What if we both go in at the same time?”
“Yeah, right.” Julia felt ridiculous talking to him upside down.
“No, Damian…” Julia felt her body being flung into the air until she crashed the murky surface of the water. The crowd’s hoots victory were the last thing she heard before plunging into the cold water. Her whole chest contracted when the water engulfed her, though her overheated skin welcomed the sharp contrast. She found her footing and shot back up, finding Damian in the same place, the water lapping at his calves.
Julia splashed her way back to him, grinning but making sure she got as much water on him as possible.
“You’re such a liar!”
“Maybe. But now, Ms. Andersson, we’re even.”
Julia stripped off her wet shirt and shorts, walked past Damian and dropped them on the bench where Sonia and Magdalena couldn’t stop laughing. When she returned to him, she surprised him by jumping on his back and hooking her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck. She heard his hiss as her cool and wet skin touched his back and she whispered against his ear. “Clean slate pal. Now, we both go in.”
Julia was a mess. Her clothes had dried thanks to the heat, but her shirt looked like someone had used it as a canvas to splatter mud. Her shorts had dry plasters of mud on them and her bathing suit as well. Her humid hair looked like Medusa’s, dry strands like snakes on top of her head, and she was pretty sure she reeked of spilled beer. That one had been one of Stephan’s drunk friends, who’d drunk more tequila than he probably should’ve.
“You know my ass is going to leave a muddy print on your car seat.” Julia reminded him for the second time, but as the first one, Damian only shrugged one shoulder and put a hand on her thigh.
“I know. And I don’t mind. I kind of like your ass.”
His statement made her chuckle. Julia leaned over and kissed his cheek, reveling in this ease that had developed between them since their night together. Almost as if time hadn’t gone by.
The sun was starting to set, casting a lazy, yellowish glow over them. The air was warm and her eyelids felt heavy. She thought of taking one of the sun beds and lying down for a while. Maybe a quick splash into the pool. It would be the perfect way to end their Sunday. Well, one of the perfect ways to end it anyway.
Once outside the house, she offered to get down and get the gate. Damian drove past her and put the truck next to his BMW. He wasn’t even outside the car when the front door slammed open and out came a boy of around ten years old, with a mass of thick black hair bouncing over his head. The kid squealed and was caught in an air born embrace the second Damian was out of the car.
Julia froze, not sure if she should be witnessing such a private moment. They may have slept together and put away the past, but what she was now witnessing was something she’d avoided thinking about. A side of Damian that brought back a sliver of hurt which put a tiny crack in her newfound happiness.
She made up her mind in less than five seconds. Julia walked in reverse, her eyes glued on the tender scene before her, before disappearing from view and making a run for the shortcut to town.