Ever After. Chapter 26

Julia worked ‘till eleven. Stephan gave her a quick ride up and Julia was grateful for it. In all of her haste to leave the house, she’d forgotten Chief Ramos’s warning to not go out alone at night.

There was no one up, or so it appeared as she pushed the door open gently and shut it with so much as a small click as she turned the locks. There was a faint light coming from the kitchen, which she turned off before going to her room. After a much needed shower, Julia was sure the minute she got into bed she would be dead to the world. Ironically, she just sat in bed, aware that Damian was a few paces away.

Since she’d cowardly left hours before, she wasn’t sure if Damian’s son had decided to sleep with his dad due to the strangeness of the house. It would be beyond embarrassing if Julia tiptoed to Damian’s and had to explain to a ten year old what she was doing in the middle of the night sneaking into his dad’s room.

That didn’t help her at all. The woman who’d been taken to the ultimate pleasure ride last night and this morning wanted it again, wanted him again. With a puff, she decided to do some writing to tackle her sudden heated insomnia. That didn’t help one bit either. All she did was stare at the screen. Her thoughts would go back to last night and to how Damian had been so worried he’d hurt her and how he’d been so tender and careful the second time around.

It was almost twelve thirty when Julia took her laptop, headphones and phone and went downstairs. The door to the study was unlocked so she eased her way inside, not bothering to close it. She made herself comfortable behind the desk. She selected a playlist from her Itunes player and opened up a new document.

While reviving her days as a waitress down at Sonia’s, the idea for a story had come up. It was something she’d played with before, based on one of the legends from Whisper Mountain. Something she would’ve never written before coming back, before Damian. Yet, it was as if the story itself was fighting for its chance to be out there, when all Julia had done had been to suppress it and bury it for the past ten years.

Only this time it wouldn’t be some ancient goddess or Princess about to jump due to heartbreak. Julia wanted to situate the legend in contemporary times and maybe add some magical characteristics to the characters.

Oh yeah, Susan was going to freak when she read it.

Immediately, she opened a comment box on the side of the document and wrote down: get books on magic, wicca, celtic magic, herbs. After that, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and let her imagination take over her.

After a while, Julia’s busy fingers taping across the keyboard sounded like someone was tap dancing nearby. The story was pouring out from her and she didn’t even dare to stop to reread it. This was her favorite part about coming up with a new story. The letting it take over your senses and not worrying about editing. That would come later. What mattered was she felt like she was flying and if she hesitated for a second she’d fall flat on her face.

More than an hour passed. She had her headphones on and her playlist still keeping her company, though the music was like a faint whisper as she began introducing characters and weaving the plot of her story. A total different story from what she normally wrote.

When she felt like her eyes had gone dry from not blinking, Julia pressed her fingers to her eyes and opened them. It was then that she saw him. Thankfully, she didn’t scream this time, she just let out a breathy, “Oh my God.”

Seriously, with all these scares she’d been having she was bound to have a heart attack anytime soon.

The little boy stood halfway in and halfway out of the study. He wore cotton pajamas with racing cars all over them. His hair was as ruffled as she’d seen it before, and though his eyes were watching her, curious and wary, Julia felt their power. The color was not as dark as Damian’s, there was a little bit more light to them, and Julia immediately thought of his mother. Still, she bet Maria, Damian’s mom, would say she saw much of her son in her grandson.

They were both considering each other, studying each other. Julia felt stupid since she was the adult, not some confused little boy. She cleared her throat and said, in a gentle voice. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Lucas replied, still not coming all the way into the study.

“I’m Julia. What’s your name?”

“I’m Lucas.” He eased his tiny body a few inches inside, his bare feet making no sound at all.

“Hi, Lucas.”

What the hell was she supposed to say to him? How’s your mom? I’m the crazy lady whose freaked out by you? Julia had never felt so nervous nor so inadequate than right at this moment. However, Lucas left her dumbstruck with his next words.

“You’re the lady from the picture.”

It took Julia a few moments to regroup her thoughts and ask the most basic question. “What picture?”

“The picture my dad has in his study back home.”

“He…..he..”it was hard to swallow, let alone process the boy’s words. When she did swallow, the sound was like a drop of water falling down an empty cave, “he has a picture of me?” she finally asked.

“Yes. I was playing one time and I found it in his desk. Daddy doesn’t like it when I play in the study because he says I leave a mess.” Lucas wrinkled his face, remembering his dad being upset that time. “But he doesn’t get mad, he just makes me clean it all up.”

“I…….he sounds like a good dad.” He had a picture of her? He’d kept one despite everything? Julia on the other hand had rid herself of every picture of them, everything that reminded her of him. Hence her absence from La Providencia for far too long.

“He’s the best. But he said that time that you weren’t friends anymore and he was sad.”

God, for a ten year old he sure was pretty perceptive.

“Sad?” Julia asked, skeptic. After all, Damian had confessed he’d spent the past ten years close to hating her. Had he still harbored some feelings for her, like she now realized she’d done for him?

“He said you were friends but then weren’t anymore. Like me and my friend Jonah. He moved to Boston. Did you move, too?”

“Not exactly.” She mumbled, trying to keep up with this kid’s quick mind.

“But you’re friends again, right?”

“I…suppose we are, yes.”

“Because he is happy. When he said you had to go before he smiled. He didn’t get serious like before.”

Julia had never met a kid like Lucas. The only words she could think of to describe him were smart and amazing. She didn’t really have any idea what to expect nor what his reaction to her would be.

Which is why she answered with the truth.

“I’m happy, too, that we’re friends again. He makes me happy.”

Julia mentally relaxed when Lucas grinned back. Her answer was sufficient for the little kid, for he finally came all the way into the study.

Why had she run before? It was pretty obvious that of the two people in this room, the one who barely reached her waist was the more mature. Not only had she worried Damian, and ignored his call, but she’d put herself al risk, just because she’d been to overwhelmed to deal with a very important part of Damian’s life. A part, she admitted reluctantly, that still hurt some.

And she knew that part of the reason for bolting, was because she was afraid this kid wouldn’t like her. Despite the fact that there was his mother to consider, and the small detail of how he came to this world, Julia didn’t sense any antagonism from him.

On the contrary, Lucas was really curious about her. He was eyeing her like Damian did, quiet, as if by some miracle, he could listen in on her thoughts, and found them fascinating.

Julia wondered if maybe he’d gotten lost. She was about to suggest she could take him to his father when his finger pointed to her laptop.

“What are you doing?”

“I am working.” Julia replied, startled.

“On what?”

“On……on a story. I like to write stories.”

At the mention of stories his eyes went huge, and he took two small steps towards the desk.

“What’s the story about?”

“It’s a love story.”

The admission surprised her, yet made her smile inwardly.

His face wrinkled as if he’d smelled something bad, typical reaction of a ten year old boy. That had Julia chuckling softly.

Lucas’s face then went very serious as if he were considering something and then he took another step forward without taking his stare off Julia. His eyes brightened when he said. “Could you tell me a story?”

“Me?” Julia chocked the word out.

Lucas’s face showed a faint glimmer of hope, the same that danced shyly inside his eyes. He nodded his head up and down, enthusiastically. Julia was afraid it might fall off.

She wasn’t sure what shocked her more. The fact that just minutes ago they’d been treading carefully, hesitant of one another, or the fact that he was standing there, asking her to tell him a bedtime story. Julia tried to get out of it not because she didn’t like Lucas, but because she needed more time to come to terms with her jumbled feelings for this boy.

“Why don’t we go find your dad? I bet he can tell you an amazing bedtime story.”

Julia stood up and rounded her desk, but Lucas made her stop.

“Dad doesn’t tell good stories, he always gets the names of the characters wrong.”

Julia grinned despite herself. Lucas did, too, apparently relieved his honesty wasn’t going to get him in trouble. That was all it took for Julia to agree.

“Okay. Why don’t we sit over there,” she pointed to the couch.

Julia took one end of the couch and decided to let Lucas decide if he wanted to sit next to her or not. His mouth twisted as he reached the piece of furniture. Then, as if remembering what his parents always said to him about strangers, he opted to sit in the middle, not too far but not too close to Julia.

He crossed his legs and waited. Julia closed her eyes. Having someone ask her to tell him a story was something that hadn’t happened in a long time. Even before she opened them again, she knew what story to tell. Though she would try to take it easy on the romantic aspect of the legend.

“Ready?”

Lucas nodded.

“Okay. This is a story Esperanza used to tell me when I was younger. It’s about a Princess who legend tells jumped off from Whisper Mountain, after her one true love betrayed her.”

“My mom showed me that mountain when we got here.”

“Maybe your dad can take you someday.”

“Cool.”

Lucas settled on the back of the couch and waited for Julia to carry on.

“The people in La Providencia say that at nights you are able to hear the cries of the Princess.”

The kid’s eyes went wide in wonderment. Julia smiled, because even now, the mystery involving the mountain and the legend built around it could cause the same sense of awe in her as well.

“Have you heard the Princess?”

“No. Though I’ve gone many times to the mountain with my friends. We used to camp all night, but we never heard her. But if your dad takes you, maybe you could go at night. And he can tell you more tales about Whisper Mountain.”

“Cool.”

Julia rested her back on the couch’s soft back. She took a deep breath and began telling the story she’d told many times before to her friends, Damian, Danny, and even herself. Specially, when she’d been alone at night standing on the balcony outside her room, staring at the iridescent colors below, that would turn silver under the glare of the moonlight and that other times would shine with a subdued gold when the sky was devoid of the moon.

“So, the legend says she jumped due to heartbreak, but that’s not what happened. You see, the man the Princess had fallen for was a warrior, so during their time together, he taught her a thing or two about battles and fighting. The Princess had spent days and nights standing at the edge of the mountain, her tears trailing down the mountain, filling up a small creek that was born inside it.

“But one fine day, the Princess had enough. She found she couldn’t cry anymore. So she climbed down the mountain and didn’t go back to the castle and her own. She disposed of her royal attire, and even though she was still beautiful, she was able to pass as a commoner, and eventually join the army ranks.”

“Cool, so she got to fight and stuff? With swords?”

And words, Julia thought of herself, who’d been in a way going from battle to battle for many years now, feeling lost in the same way the Princess had been. Had she found her peace already? Was Julia ready to trust again and fill that void inside her? Was she done fighting her past and her heart?

She shook these thoughts away and replied. “Sure. Princesses can also handle a sword, and this Princess became the best. Eventually, the men from the army began to follow her. She was fearless but she was also smart.”

Lucas inched closer to Julia, his attention engulfing her. Maybe it was conceitedness but she always enjoyed when her friends’ attention would be focused on what she would say next. It was interesting to watch the sequence of actions play a different emotion on their faces. Like each word commanded forward a new feeling: surprise, suspense, disappointment, happiness.

“Anyway, the Princess along with her army traveled to foreign and mystical lands in search of battle, defeating the most amazing and cruel creatures. Dragons who scorched entire villages, evil sorcerers who bewitched men and women, who in turn would ravish their homes, giants who would take young fair maidens hostage and keep them captive inside giant glass boxes. They vanquished them all.”

Julia paused. This was usually the part where a dashing new man came into the Princess’s life, making her fall in love again and end the story. But her brain veered into a brand new path opening up inside. The words just flowed out of her mouth, her own surprise making her stumble on this unknown and still uneven path at first, before she simply let this brand new story take the lead.

“One day, word got to them that after the King’s death, an evil sorcerer had taken hold of their kingdom’s castle and was destroying everything around it.”

She turned to Lucas who was watching her intently, apparently unaware she was also hearing this part of the story for the first time. His eyelids were starting to droop. He yawned and shook his head, willing his attention not to succumb to sleep. Julia simply went on.

“The Princess decided to go back alone, to the place where so many painful memories awaited her. Her army would join her when they had gathered more men to fight the evil sorcerer. The journey back was long and filled with dangers as the sorcerer had seen her coming back and was making sure she didn’t make it back to the castle.

“One time he made fireballs fall from the sky, other time he enchanted the trees to chase after her, but each and every time the Princess’s intelligence gave her the advantage to win. Finally, she reached the forest surrounding the castle and she knew the sorcerer would be waiting for her there.”

Julia was so engrossed in her storytelling she didn’t notice when Lucas got closer and rested his head on her lap. He was fighting so hard to stay awake. Absentmindedly, Julia pulled away a few strands of rebellious hair from his face and continued despite her one audience member about to succumb to sleep.

“The sorcerer stood with his dark hair and dark cape billowing in the air, and the Princess knew that this could be her last battle. He sent curse after curse after her. He made the skies bend to his will and cry with a rain so fierce it cut through her skin as it fell down upon her. The Princess and her sword failed to get the sorcerer. As the battle wore on, she grew even more tired until she was sure it was the end.

“Then, the sorcerer transformed into a deadly and gigantic dragon, spewing fire, missing her by inches as she ducked behind trees and rocks while she thought of a plan of attack. The dragon blew from his scary mouth and sent her flying through the tempestuous air. She fell so hard she could hardly get up. Just as she was sure the dragon’s claws would get her, the earth began to vibrate and soon, the sound of distant hoofs amid the pounding of rain and thunder, became audible. She heard the dragon shriek in anger and she saw her warrior as he charged in his black stallion into battle.

“Part of her was relieved for the reinforcement, but another part was mad because seeing him again brought back the anger, resentment and heartbreak. But there wasn’t time to dwell on past resentments. She took the hand he offered and together they galloped to finish this battle. The warrior threw his own sword at the dragon and using that distraction, the Princess launched herself and hit the dragon in the heart, bull’s eye. There was a shattering scream. Then, as soon as it had come, the tempest subsided allowing the sun to shine once more through the forest.”

Lucas was fast asleep on her lap, but Julia continued to caress his head. She carried on because she wanted to know how the story ended.

“The Princess was angry. She didn’t want to hear to what the warrior had to say. Finally, the warrior explained that someone from the castle had told him she’d married one of those Princes her father had chosen for her. The Princess remembered how her father had locked her up, keeping her from seeing him, only to find the warrior gone when she escaped the castle. But now they knew the truth and they could continue their lives together.

“The warrior though, had not come alone from his wanderings. With him was a small boy whom he’d saved from one of the ravaged villages. The Princess was hesitant because she could see how the two of them cared for each other and she wondered if maybe things would never be the same with her beloved warrior. But as the little boy extended his hand to her, the three of them reclaimed the castle and made it their home. She had the firm intention of showing the little boy how much he already meant to her and to revel in the love of her one true love.”

Julia sighed and stared at the boy sleeping on her lap for a while. She was afraid of moving for fear of disturbing his dreams. Just as she was debating the best way to get him to Damian’s, her senses prickled and she knew he was standing there. When her honey colored eyes landed on the entrance to the study, they saw Damian leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest. It looked like he’d been there a while.

“You sure tell better stories than me.”

“So I’ve been told.” Julia barely raised her voice so she wouldn’t wake Lucas.

Damian walked to stand in front of her, but Julia wasn’t sure what he thought of the scene before him. He only offered. “Here, why don’t I take him to bed?”

Julia saw how Damian’s arms got hold of his son, before he turned around and left the study. She sat up quickly and turned off her laptop and the small desk lamp she’d been using and made a dash for her room. When she reached her room, she heard the soft murmurs of Lucas’s sleepy voice and Damian’s affectionate ones before closing the door to her room.

She made sure her bed was clear of unwanted companions. Julia was just putting her head on the pillow when a knock sounded on her door. She got up and without bothering to turn on the lights, she opened the door.

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