Wednesday finally arrived and with it a certain anxiousness in the air. The town was preparing for the midday parade with all the farmers and their tractors, and the fireworks, which Julia had never missed during the years she used to come.
Since it was also a religious celebration for the town, there would be a number of masses throughout the day. So, those who wanted would be able to enjoy the night party without forgoing their religious duties.
Like most Mexican towns, this party coincided with the celebration of either of a saint or in this case, one of the many of the virgin patrons, which looked upon the people living in La Providencia. Mexico, in general, was a very religious country. One of its main holidays was the virgin of Guadalupe festivity, which took place every December and which attracted huge masses from around the entire country.
As a means to honor the patron of this town, all the farmers and store owners organized a small parade that covered the main streets around the town square, ending in the church, where a mass was always held afterwards. The parade was a colorful display of farmers’ tractors adorned with balloons, ribbons and flowers, all following a wooden-wheeled cart pulled by another tractor – there was generally a kind of raffle to see which farmer got the high honor of pulling the cart with the human representation of the virgin patron – which was also adorned with flowers. The virgin was always played by one of the teenage girls from the town, dressed in light blue silk robes, with embroidered edges done in silver.
Julia had always enjoyed said procession from the comfort of her favorite bench on the edge of the garden up at the house. Though the one time she’d gone down with her friends, she’d been amazed by how the whole town had ceased all activities and had joined in the solemn pilgrimage to the church. Stores closed and everyone left their houses to attend the procession and subsequent mass. It had been as if the whole town had taken a momentary break from all the madness the founder’s celebration entailed.
Unfortunately, the event was always held in the middle of the day, when the weather was unbearably hot. Which was why, she assumed, this year she would go to her beloved bench and watch the whole event from where the wind would keep her company.
It was the clamor of the church’s bells, calling to one of those many services, which woke her up. This time she wasn’t alone but with Damian by her side. Lucas had spent the night down in town with his mom. When she looked at the time on her Iphone she groaned and put the pillow over her head. It was six in the morning. It was unholy to ask people to attend church this early, not even God was awake at this sinful time of day.
Damian stirred and when his hand reached for her face, he found the texture of a pillow instead and lifted one eyelid open, only to see Julia’s head buried under it.
“Isn’t it too early for you to want to smother yourself?”
“It’s the damned bells.” Her voice sounded muffled from under the pillow. When she sat up, Damian lay on his side, his face sharing her thoughts on the bells.
“I forgot about that.”
Julia sat next to Damian until the raucous in town subsided and all was quiet again. When all that was heard were the crying sounds of a donkey somewhere in town, Julia settled down in bed and welcomed the familiarity with which Damian’s arms pulled her to him, her cheek resting on his chest, as they needed nothing more but this still and undisturbed moment.
The orange glow of the sun woke up every other living creature around them, its bright rays bringing about the anticipation of tonight, teasing out the brightness of the bougainvilleas and the fresh, green smell of grass.
“Today’s the big day.”
Damian’s announcement broke through her cocoon of comfort.
“Yep. It’s bound to be pretty crazy today at the restaurant. Sonia is putting up extra tables out on the sidewalk. And we’re all heading dancing after she closes at twelve. Remember that courtyard two houses away from your mom’s?”
“Well, it’s Sonia’s and Stephan’s now, and they’ll be organizing the party after the fireworks tonight. Of course, will be splitting our time between serving drinks and dancing but it sounds like fun.”
“It does.” Damian’s short reply made Julia sit up again and gaze down at him. His stare was fixed on her, the conflict radiating from it making her nervous.
“I heard from Mr. Ruiz yesterday while you were at Sonia’s. He promised that they would have the papers ready on Friday.”
“Oh.” She’d completely forgotten about that. It was the reason she was here, after all. However, so much had changed, Julia felt that horrible first meeting at the notary’s office had happened to another person. The papers coming through meant one thing, one she didn’t want to think about now.
“I suppose you’re eager to go back home. See Danny.”
When they’d driven back last night from the restaurant, Julia had told Damian everything about her call to Danny and her career move, and that she was now living in her apartment. The few texts her sister had sent implied all was going well.
“Yes. I…..am. I do miss Danny.” Which she did, but did she miss the rest? After all, she’d been able to work just fine from here. Maybe she’d finally found her place, and her home. Only it wasn’t, as of Friday it would be Damian’s. Did he still see owning this house as a way to get back at her father?
“I’m sure she misses you, too.”
Damian was circling around what mattered. Julia hadn’t said what her plans were after the notary called them into town to sign the final paperwork of the house. As her attention wandered around the sunlit room, he felt a sudden emptiness inside his chest as he thought of the day when she had to go back. He didn’t want to lose her. Not again.
Then why was he having such a hard time saying so?
He opened his mouth to tell her just that when he was distracted by the sound of bells, though these came from the entrance of the house, announcing they had a visitor.
Esperanza must’ve been up because he heard the front door opening. Julia saw his neck tense and his jaw clench.
“Damian, I doubt he would ring the bell to come into the house and kill me.”
He said nothing but remained still in bed, wondering who the hell was out there at seven o’clock in the morning. Minutes later, there was a light knock outside Julia’s door.
Esperanza called without opening the door.
“Julia? Are you awake?”
Julia scrambled to her feet and went to open the door, just barely.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
Esperanza said in a confused voice. “Chief Ramos is downstairs. He says it’s important. He wants to talk to you and Damian.”
“Oh……we’ll be right down.” She winced when she gave away Damian was in the same room, but Esperanza seemed more preoccupied that the town’s chief of police wanted to see her at this time of day.
They both dressed quietly and went downstairs. They found Chief Ramos in the living room, a cup of coffee on the table in front of him, with a worried Esperanza smoothing the wrinkles on her apron and Joaquin’s hands wringing his straw hat. The three of them looked up when Julia and Damian entered the room.
“Ms. Andersson. Mr. Solis. I know it’s quite early but I wanted to let you know we found the person responsible for the scorpions.”
Julia heard Esperanza’s gasp and scolded herself for not telling the woman sooner. Joaquin’s face only creased with bewilderment, and as his eyes searched both she and Damian, she could see the dismay making his fragile and bony shoulders sag.
“You found who did it?” Julia glanced at Damian who mirrored her skepticism.
“Yes. I was able to track down the men who helped you with the pool and the garden. It turns out one of the gardeners did it. He confessed he had some issues with your father and thought he would take it out on you.”
The name meant nothing to Julia. Damian placed a protective arm over her shoulders. He, too, had no idea who that person was. Esperanza turned to look at Joaquin then at the other three people in the living room. Her face had gone pale and her voice trembled as she said.
“I….oh, Dios Mio. I let him into the house. He asked me for a glass of water. I…..had some clothes in the washer and I stepped out. He asked if he could stay inside for a while since he wasn’t feeling well. But when I came back he was no longer inside and when I tried to find him outside he’d already left.”
Julia went to the woman’s side and squeezed her hand.
“It’s okay, Esperanza.” She reassured the cook.
“But what if…….”
“Nothing happened, just some huge scare.”
“But I don’t understand. Why is the police looking into this?”
Joaquin spoke for the very first time, his voice like steel though he looked more fragile than Julia had ever seen him.
“Is that why you asked me about the men in the house the other day?” His stare never left Chief Ramos. The chief only nodded his head.
Neither spoke for a while. Then Julia began telling Esperanza and Joaquin everything about the day of her run, the letter, the scorpions, the email and their visit last Sunday to the station in town.
After several Dios Mios and oh my Gods from both people she loved as if they were her own parents, Damian got up and started pacing up and down. His furrowed forehead reflected he was mulling this new piece of information inside his head. After a few more paces, he stopped.
“It doesn’t make sense. How could’ve he known about her books? That letter Julia got, it mentioned her as a writer.”
Chief Ramos’s hesitation was enough for Damian to figure it out. “You don’t think they’re connected.”
“It could be a nasty string of coincidences, Damian. We still haven’t found anything on the truck, the letter was sent by someone who knew for sure where Julia lives and Mario García had no idea when we asked him. The emails can be someone’s idea of a good laugh at your expense.”
“That’s bullshit.” Damian’s reaction sent chills down Julia’s spine.
Chief Ramos ignored his angry outburst and said to Julia. “Ms. Andersson, it could be your father had more than one enemy.”
“Yeah, maybe. The only problem is I hadn’t spoken or seen my father in several years before he died. So I have no idea if he had more than one person mad at him.”
She lowered her head to her hands and felt Esperanza’s arm on her back. Why such a nice day had to be spoiled by this absurdity? She wasn’t her father. Why did they want to hold her accountable for whatever he had done?
Chief Ramos rose.
“We’ll have Mario locked up for a few days. Unless you press charges, we’ll have to let him go.”
The chief excused himself and Joaquin walked him to the door and then outside to the entrance gate. Esperanza offered to make all of them some breakfast, leaving Julia alone with Damian. When he went to her, she closed her eyes.
“I don’t think that guy is behind it all.”
“I don’t think so, either. But there’s nothing more we can do today, apart from going down to the station before you go to Sonia’s. Not that it’ll do much.”
“No, it won’t.”
Damian kissed the top of her head.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Julia gave him a weak smile but didn’t feel reassured by his words. Not only was a madman still out there, waiting to strike, but if this didn’t come to an end before Friday, she might have to deal with it on her own back in New York.
What was worse, from their conversation this morning, Damian hadn’t precisely asked her to stay. He’d only informed her she would be free to go after Friday, but nothing more. The unease that she felt at thinking about leaving La Providencia increased when later after lunch, one of the mechanics from town brought her car, fixed and ready for its journey back to Guadalajara. It looked like she was ready to go back.
Maybe the fairy tale was about to come to an end and real life awaited Julia back in New York. With a heaviness inside her heart, she got dressed for work in the same attire as yesterday and packed a small bag with a change of clothes for the after party.
Damian gave her a lift down, since today she was expected to be at Sonia’s an hour earlier, at five o’clock. They had agreed to meet at midnight to see the fireworks with Lucas, then Damian would join Julia and her friends for the party, while Lucas stayed the night again with his mom. They also decided to stop by the police station after the party, on Thursday.
Julia wondered if it was her imagination, but as she crossed the square to the restaurant, she had the crawling feeling on her back that someone was watching her. After giving the boisterous main square a final full scan, she went into the restaurant and lost herself in the hurried pace of the place and the excitement of the day. In between food and drink orders, the occasional chat with a fellow American or some European tourist or one of the local families, Julia forgot momentarily about her problems.