“Lucas! What are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to get here on Monday.” And Damian thought, he would have a day to prepare Julia for the arrival of his son. It hadn’t escaped his attention that she hadn’t brought up the subject about Lucas again nor had he pushed it. He was selfishly still savoring being back in her life. But as soon as he’d seen his son come out from the house, his heart had swelled with love and pride for the little boy who still clung to him.
“Mom said we should surprise you, Daddy.”
“You sure did. Where is your mom?”
“She went to visit grandma Luisa. Esperanza said she would take care of me until you came back. She’s nice.”
“She sure is.”
Damian ruffled his son’s hair before putting him down and bending on his knees to be eye to eye with him. He could tell by how he kept moving from one foot to the other, that Lucas couldn’t wait to tell him about his first long trip ever.
“Have you eaten?”
“Yes. Esperanza let me have some ice cream.”
Damian frowned like any parent was supposed to. Although, he was thrilled his son’s first reactions to what he hoped he would one day consider his home, his town, were positive.
“I’m sure there will be something better for dinner. Come, let me get cleaned up and you can tell me all about your trip.”
It was then Damian remembered Julia. His son beat him to it, when he asked. “Where’s the lady that was over there?” His finger pointed to the empty place where Julia had been standing.
Damian wondered the same, and cursed her for taking off when it was so close to dark. The blue and red lights from the patrol car glinted in the dusk, stopping outside the house for a few minutes before turning around back to town. Unfortunately, the woman that car was supposed to be watching over had taken off to God knew where.
His son’s eyes, a mixture of his and Sophia’s, waited for an answer. Damian stood up and held his hand out for his son. “I’m sure she’s okay. You’ll meet her later.” And he’d make sure she understood the severity of her situation when she came back.
Lucas intuited his dad rather not talk about it so he grabbed his hand, bigger than his and felt excitement inside his tummy as he was finally reunited with his dad.
Julia didn’t know where she was going until she stood outside Sonia’s busy restaurant. Katy Perry was blaring from the inside, and the multi-language conversations from the tourists inside drifted to where she was. Sonia was just coming out from the small storage room next to the kitchen when she saw her. She passed through tables and the lounge bar to get to the entrance.
“Hey! What are you doing here?”
Her friend’s eyes took a while to focus on her, as if her mind was a million miles away.
“What? Oh, hey.”
“Hey, yourself. What are you doing here?” She eyed her from tangled hair to open-toed feet.
“I……I need to start working on a new story and I need inspiration.”
“Sweetie, what’s wrong?”
Julia clenched her teeth before spluttering the real reason she was here. Instead, she pleaded to her friend.
“Please, I just need some time to think, that’s all. And I need to write. I just…………”
She breathed out, at a loss for more to say that didn’t reveal why she’d ran like a scared rabbit the second Lucas had come out running from the house.
Sonia’s eyes narrowed, studying Julia’s flushed face, probably from running all the way to town. Her hands wrung nervously below her waist, and her eyes avoided Sonia’s close inspection. Suspicion arose inside the restaurant owner, but she knew or rather she hoped, that if Julia needed help, she’d confide in her when she felt ready. Which is why she asked next.
“So, a new story, ha?”
Julia nodded, grateful.
“I thought I’d come down and give you a hand. Maybe get those inspiration juices flowing.”
“You’re looking for inspiration and in the process, you’ll help me by waiting tables? You know you can sit down and write as long as you want?”
Sonia bit her bottom lip, considering, then she waved her friend inside.
“Fine. I could use the help.”
Julia’s body sagged in relief, and she touched Sonia’s shoulder.
“Yeah, whatever. Just try to keep up. We’re packed tonight.”
Julia snorted behing Sonia.
“Please, I worked as a waitress before becoming a writer. Trust me, I can hack it.”
Sonia chuckled and shook her head, glad that whatever was troubling her friend was forgotten. At least for now, anyway.
“Okay, if you say so. And if my saying yes helps your tortured writer’s soul then, okay. Just here,” she gave her a set of keys, “there’s a bathroom at the back of the storage room. My bag is inside the bottom drawer of the desk. There’s a brush inside. Do something about that hair of yours. I’ll give you one of my cooking aprons to cover that mess. People do eat here, you know.”
Julia glanced down at her appearance and winced, embarrassed.
Julia flew past her, and Sonia yelled after her. “Hey, I better be in the thank you section of your book.”
Julia winked and went to the back.
Sonia knew there was more than what Julia had explained. But knowing Julia, she wouldn’t talk about it if she pushed her. She still hadn’t told her how her night with Damian had gone. And if her sixth sense wasn’t getting rusty, whatever had made her come down here, had to do with the same man. Julia had still to remember she could count on her friends.
Damian and the reunion with his son were already at the back of her mind. Julia was busy going back and forth from the kitchen and the bar to the tables, juggling plates of hot delicious Mexican food, cocktails, beers, micheladas, tequila and coffee.
Sonia had been right. It was a bit hectic. But contrary to when she used to work at the diner in Brooklyn, in here Julia was having a blast. Despite her aching feet and arms. The other waitresses were pretty friendly and Julia was making a hefty amount of tips, which she stored in the small apron’s pocket Sonia had given her. It looked kind of cute actually. And she had been able to untangle her hair and comb it into a presentable ponytail.
It turned out she wasn’t the only friend to come give a hand. Raul and Felix came in an hour after Julia, Felix being assigned kitchen duty with Sonia while Raul helped Stephan man the bar. Elaine and Maria, were lending a hand but at Madgalena’s cafe. From the times Julia went to the tables on the outside, the lively cafe was packed with people sitting outside on the many chairs, while others streamed in and out of the place. Jim was most likely helping his wife as well.
Julia even took advantage of the opportunity to reacquaint herself with her high school French, as there were several French tourists, besides Stephan’s friends, who surprisingly so were taking turns lending a hand as well.
She was at the French guys’ table, blushing despite herself, when one of them named Jean began flirting openly with her. Julia took no offense in it, even doing some flirting of her own, just for fun. Not that she used to do that in her old days as a waitress. Nor had she been like her two friends in town, but so far everyone had treated her with respect, so she saw no harm in playing along.
“Je vous promet que si vous viens avec moi à Paris, je vous traiterai comme une reine.” Jean was promising her he would treat her like a Queen should she decide to go back to Paris with him. Julia pressed her mouth as if considering his offer, then shook her head.
“Vous etes très gentil, mais des reines à votre pays n’ont pas tenu de bonne chance, n’est pas? Vous rapelle Marie Antoinette? J’aime mon tete vous savez.”
After telling him that given the misfortune one of the most famous Queens France had had, by losing her head, Julia finished noting down their food orders before heading back to the kitchen and passing them to Sonia and Felix. Jean laughed good heartedly and lamented she wouldn’t give his offer a second thought.
With her back to the restaurant, she took a few minutes to rest her elbows on the bar’s counter as she watched Raul make a frozen margarita, while Stephan dealt with the checks for some tables.
“So, a new story, ha?”
Startled, Julia blinked twice before understanding Raul’s question. She leaned closer to the bar’s counter and answered. “Yep.”
“Do you want to talk about why you’re really here?”
Leave it to Raul to know something else was up.
“Fair enough. Just let me say, despite whatever reason you’re really here, I’m glad you’re happy.” He put a lemon wedge on the salted rim of the glass with the frozen margarita and signaled another of the waitresses to take it.
His head inclined in the direction of the table with the French guys and he said. “Monsieur over there looks pretty taken by you.”
Julia craned her neck over her shoulder to give Jean a wink of her eye, while he clutched a hand to his heart and his friends around him slapped him on the back and mocked his failed flirtations.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Though, he is pretty hot. But not as hot as one of the owners of this establishment.”
Stephan blew a kiss at her and continued to deal with more incoming checks.
“Please,” Raul snorted and squared his shoulders, “I’m glad Elaine isn’t here or I’d be in a lot of trouble. Have you noticed the many looks from the ladies headed my way, headed to moi?”
“Really? Well, my mistake then.”
“Yet, you didn’t seem freaked out by that dude flirting with you.” Raul pointed out.
“Oh, that’s because he’s been doing it so tactfully. Back in Brooklyn flirting equaled grabbing my ass.”
From inside the storage room, Julia heard her Iphone start to ring. She gave Stephan a look and he motioned with his head.
“Thanks.” Maybe it’s Danny, she thought. Her sister had written to tell her she was already settled in her studio and was starting to go to some auditions.
But it wasn’t her little sister, it was Damian. Julia winced when she pressed the ignore button. She felt guilty but she wasn’t near ready to explain to him why she’d bolted from the house. Actually, she had no idea why. Or she had, but she was embarrassed to admit it to him and to herself.
As she stood there with the phone in her hand, the prickling in her back had her blood freezing. A cold sweat trickled down between her shoulders and the adrenalin kicked up. Julia held on to her phone deciding that in the least she could hit whoever was behind her on the head with it, before she could make a run for the restaurant and ask for help.
When she turned there was no one there, and her eyebrows rose in bafflement. She caught a movement from the corner of her eye and muffled her scream with her hand over her mouth, her heart about to dig a hole through her chest. She recognized Jim as he stood carrying a carton of beer with both his hands, his face telling her he was confused by her reaction.
Paranoid, Julia scolded herself.
When she was sure she had her breath back, Julia lowered her hand from her mouth and put it over her pounding heart until it started to calm down.
“God, Jim, you scared me. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Sorry. Thought you heard me.”
Jim said nothing and neither did she for a while.
“This is awkward.” He said finally, his hands carrying the box, and his stare lowered to the ground.
The shrieks from a table whose occupants had had a drink too many, and the steady buzz of the rest of the people sharing a conversation, crowded the small room.
“I feel like we haven’t really talked since we saw each other again.”
“Maybe we should change that. I was thinking the other day that since you shocked us with revealing you are the Kate Morgan, you might want to take a look at the work I do. Might interest you for Kate’s next big hit. Unless you don’t want to, though I might pull the my wife is your friend card.”
Julia felt the tension slip away and went over to give Jim a hand with the heavy carton of Coronas.
“Actually, I might do that. I’ve a new manuscript being revised right now, and I’m planning on starting work on another book. So nothing is set on stone yet. Plus, the covers for the books had never been done by the same person, it always changes. Maybe I’ll stick with you.”
“Excellent.” He heaved, as Julia was clearly not taking off much of the weight. “Maybe I should get this out there.”
“Sure, sure.” She let him pass and he stopped when she said. “Magdalena is lucky to have someone like you Jim.”
Jim only gave her a shy smile and made his way out of the storage room, leaving Julia to take several more minutes to shake away the last traces of her scare with Jim. Taking her phone with her and putting it inside the pocket with her tips, she lifted her head, counted to ten and headed back out.