Paramedics tended to her and took her on a stretcher like the one that had taken Raul away, to the town’s clinic. They were pondering taking her to the city but the rib fracture had been minor and it hadn’t caused any serious internal damage. The pain was a bitch though, but Julia was put under pain medications and ordered to stay at the clinic for three weeks.
Much to her dismay, Esperanza made sure she didn’t move so much as a finger, as the cook took it upon her to babysit Julia the entire time. Which she appreciated, but the confinement was driving her crazy.
She gave her statement to Chief Ramos the following day, and with the evidence found at Magdalena’s house in Jim’s computer, plus the letter and the guy from the scorpions confessing Jim had approached him and given him money to do the deed, they had enough to put him away.
Julia didn’t let her mind wander to Jim. Whatever happened he would be locked away and would never hurt her again. Nor her friends. Raul had been discharged three days after the warehouse incident. Both he and Felix stopped by, first to pretend to be mad she hadn’t said anything about the threats, and second, to shower her with flowers and cards their kids had made for their auntie Julia. The endearing name with which the kids referred to her made her realize she could’ve taken their fathers away from those children. But Raul and Felix forbade her to blame herself for something that wasn’t her fault and that didn’t happen in the end.
The same couldn’t be said about Magdalena. Julia hadn’t heard nor seen her after the horrible event. She’d already tried her house a couple of times and had begged Sonia to ask her to come to the clinic. Part of her understood that Magdalena was going through a hell of a time, coming to terms with Jim’s sudden insanity that had pushed him over the edge. Just like Raul and Felix, another part of her couldn’t stop from feeling like she’d caused this as well.
Sonia did come to be with her, usually before opening up the restaurant, with contraband food like quesadillas, guacamole and tacos. They talked and Sonia recounted how unnerving those hours of waiting for news had been. She also gave her a hard time for keeping the threats to herself.
Even little Lucas came to see her during her second week at the clinic. Julia assumed his mom had brought him, but she didn’t come in with him. He was carrying one of the stuffed animals he’d won at the fair when they’d gone together. It was the first time Julia saw him hesitant and wary around her. She assumed it had to do with the IV-line hooked to her arm for the pain medication, plus the blueish spot next to her mouth where Jim had hit her, or just her pale parlor or the fact that he was freaked out she was in a hospital. Kids hated hospitals.
“Hey, you okay?” She asked, as Lucas had barely stretched his hand to put the stuffed animal on the bed, his eyes telling her he rather be some place else.
He nodded his head.
“This looks way scarier than it is.”
When the kid only stared down at the floor, she patted the space next to her on the bed and said. “You know what would be cool? A story. I’ve been able to come up with tons while lying here doing nothing. Maybe you’d like to hear one and tell me if it’s okay.” Julia waited, expectantly for Lucas’s response. Just when she thought he might just bolt from the room, he lifted his head and she could see tears shining inside his dark brown eyes.
“Hey, hey, what’s wrong? We could…we could do something else. I’m sorry….” Julia struggled for words but Lucas’s next ones surprised her.
“I don’t want to hurt you again.”
“What do you mean?” She asked, baffled.
“That man said he was your friend, and my dad’s, too.” Lucas’s lower lip quivered. Julia opened her mouth to say something but Lucas continued. “I told my dad he had to open the surprise after the fireworks, because the man said so.”
“Oh, sweetheart.” Julia didn’t want to cry. She swallowed back the tears of tenderness for Lucas, as he dabbed bravely at his eyes trying to dry his own tears away from his face. She moved to the other side of the bed, and patted the space next to her again. “Hey, come here.”
This time Lucas went to the empty side of the bed and climbed up using the chair next to the bed. He lay down and rested his head on her shoulder. Julia winced a little as her middle body was still a little bit sore, but used her hand to stroke his hair.
“What happened is no one’s fault.” Though her voice came out with conviction, she wished she could believe it herself. “Sometimes people make choices that end up hurting others. But they always end up paying for their bad actions. Neither you, nor your dad nor even I can control what other people do.”
“Is he going to hurt you again, or dad?”
“Nope. He won’t.”
“Okay.” One of his tiny arms came around her stomach and hugged her. Julia knew it was insane since she’d been with Lucas for a few days but she loved this kid already. She had known and part of her had resented his existence, yet now she felt a kind of unselfish love flow inside her. They stayed like that for a while. Julia kissed the top of his head and then said. “So how about that story?”
Yes. Everyone came and visited, everyone except Damian. He stayed with her the first night, after the local surgeon had stitched up the cut above his eye. After that, she hadn’t seen him around. According to Esperanza he’d had to go to Guadalajara and Mexico City to oversee the opening process of Summers. He’d also been busy with meetings with the local farmers and apparently, he’d gone back to Charlotte to see his father.
However, two weeks had passed and she hadn’t heard a word from him. Part of her rationalized he was probably drowned in work. Besides, what did she know about running a family conglomerate?
But another part pushed doubt into her mind and heart. What if almost dying had made Damian see he had other things to live for and with? Like his son and the mother of his son?
The truth was he hadn’t exactly asked her to stay. He’d simply mentioned she would be free to head back to New York soon, since the notary had promised the papers to be ready the Friday after the town’s celebration. Of course, that had been two weeks ago. Julia had no idea what was going on outside the walls of the clinic, never mind if the Andersson property was one signature away from officially belonging to Damian Solis.
Julia sat on the edge of the bed waiting for Esperanza as the cook received last minute instructions from the doctor. Though he would’ve wanted to keep Julia here for a few more days, Julia was hours away from scratching the walls and pulling her hair out from pure boredom. Though what she’d told Lucas during his visit had been true. Her mind and her fingers had been busy with her latest story. Hours of doing nothing but sit in bed had produced more than one hundred pages which had been sent to Zack. Julia was still waiting for him to give her any feedback.
Julia needed to get out. Especially to sort out the future, at least where Damian and she were concerned.
Esperanza, who’d taken permanent residence in the room, appeared out on the hallway. Julia got down from bed and joined her. Esperanza tried to hook an arm around her waist but Julia shook her head. “I can walk, really.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. Really, let’s just get out of here. I’ll heal better up at the house.”
“Okay.” Esperanza sounded far from okay but guided Julia to the outside. The sun was high up in the sky, a fireball instantly warming her skin. The sky was a sapphire blue so bright and clear, Julia thought she could get zinged by its power only by reaching her hands out.
They walked on the sidewalk, past a few houses and small convenience stores, then down the street to the main square. At first it was like stepping into a whole new world. Gone were the small stands that had cluttered both the street and square. There were no colored papers hanging from the trees and the calm and lull around her made it possible for her to hear the sound of a radio being played far away. There were only a couple of people walking by with bags of fresh vegetables, cartons of eggs and gallons of milk, both of whom waved at her and Esperanza.
The cook stopped. Julia thought Joaquin would be waiting for them but was grateful for the opportunity to stretch her legs and reacquaint them with movement after two weeks of inactivity.
“I just remembered there’s nothing at the house.”
“Oh, well I don’t mind hanging out here.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Don’t tell her this but Sonia’s enchiladas are not as good as yours. Good food will help me recover sooner.” Julia winked at Esperanza and despite the bright day, her face was shadowed by doubt and worry.
“I’ll be fine. I mean, what are the odds there is more than one person wanting to kill me?”
Esperanza didn’t seem to find her comment amusing, so Julia placed one hand on the older woman’s shoulders.
“I’m kidding. You go and take your time. I’ll just wander.”
Instead of answering, Esperanza kissed her forehead and squeezed the hand on her shoulders. Then, the cook took off across the square and disappeared on the other side of the kiosk.
Julia lingered on the sidewalk some more and was about to cross the street to sit down on one of the benches around the kiosk, when the sound of laughter wafted through the ficus leaves and reached her ears. She recognized the sound and was about to make her way towards it, when the sight before her had her stopping on her tracks.
Rounding the other side of the kiosk from where Esperanza had disappeared, was Lucas’s head floating in the air. His body was perched on his father’s shoulders and his smile a beacon of happiness that rivaled the sun’s rays. His father, Damian, was as happy as his son the same as the woman walking next to him with her arm circled around Damian’s waist.
A single word popped into her head, the meaning of it not less harder on her: Family. There it was, a happy family. Just because hers was wrecked, it didn’t mean she had to go on doing the same to others. She’d already destroyed Magdalena’s, maybe not directly, but her choices were the reason the man Magdalena loved had gone mad. Then, there were Felix and Raul, and she, too, had almost destroyed their respective families. It was time she let go of stupid fantasies and grow up.
Despite the circumstances that had given them the opportunity to be together, Damian’s and Julia’s time had passed. Many things had transpired in between to ignore them, no matter how right it had felt to be in his arms again and let herself be swept away by the love she’d never stopped having for him. There would be no hatred this time, no lies, just reality.
The picture before her eyes made something in her heart break, but it gave her the answer to the question she’d thought about at the clinic. Damian had already decided what to do with his future and that included his family. There was no room for her, and she accepted it, though it didn’t make the pain of it less strong. He would dedicate himself to his family just as he’d been doing for all this time. Only now, it looked like he would try and give his son the complete picture, his mother and father together. Almost dying had changed his priorities and now Julia had to focus on hers.
With what she had to do next flaunting its nasty face before her eyes, Julia stepped inside one of the open stores and waited until Damian and his family crossed from the square and reached the corner of the street where she was, before they disappeared down to Damian’s old house.
Julia walked perpendicular to where she was, and didn’t think twice when she went inside the notary. Mr. Ruiz sat at his desk, talking on the phone. When he saw her he motioned for her to take a seat. Five minutes later, he was walking around the desk and shaking her hand.
“Ms. Andersson, it’s good to see you are all right.”
“I’m sorry for what happened.”
“Yeah, well. I’m okay and that’s all that matters.”
“May I offer you something to drink or…”
“No.” She interrupted him. “I don’t have much time. I understand the papers are ready, Damian said they would be after the town’s celebration. I know he requested he be here when I signed them but I must go back today. I’ve already stayed more than enough. So, if you could just give them to me so I can sign them and be on my way.”
“Maybe I should call Mr. Solis.”
“There’s no need. All that’s missing is my signature. You can attest that it was me signing. Please, Mr. Ruiz.”
The notary looked worried but went back behind his desk. He pulled open a drawer and a folder with the paperwork. Silently, he passed the pages and indicated where Julia had to sign. She didn’t bother to read, she just moved the pen across the paper, the scrawling of the pen like the ripping of the few hopes she’d harbored about herself and Damian.
When she was done, she thanked Mr. Ruiz and headed out without one backward glance.
It was as if destiny itself and this town were ready for her to leave. Against doctor’s orders to take it easy and rest, she went up to the house using the shortcut, and though it took her longer than normal to walk up and around the hill, there was no one when she got home.
As she crossed the gravel path to the main entrance, she saw Damian’s truck and tried to ignore the pang of hurt at remembering their day at the river. Giving no room to second thoughts, she went upstairs and pulled out the bag she’d brought with her several weeks ago and packed only the clothes she’d come with that day. There was no time nor space enough for her to take the rest. She took out the necklace Damian had given her and left it on the dresser.
On her bed, just as she’d asked Susan, lay a package. The day after the party, Julia had written to her agent and asked her if she could send her a copy of the first book she’d ever written. When she opened it, a sense of longing enveloped her; she would’ve loved to see his expression when he found it. She went over to the wicker chairs after grabbing a pen from her laptop case. She opened the book and wrote:
I thought you might want to have this, hope you have time to read it.
Julia’s hand hesitated on the paper, before she continued writing.
Thank you for everything you did for me, for saving my life. I’ll be forever grateful. I know you’ll take care of this house. It needed someone like you. I’m glad it was you who brought it back from forgetfulness.
Tell Lucas I’ll miss him very much.
She dried the tear from her cheek before it stained the paper, then she concluded her letter by writing:
Take care, Damian.
God, she wanted to say with love, but this was better. At least this time the letter had been written by her and she spoke nothing but the truth. Well, part of it anyway.
She went to Damian’s room and put the book on his bed, along with the necklace. Afterwards, she packed her laptop, found her passport and her bag. With one final glance and sigh that ached around her heart, Julia closed the door to her room and went down the stairs.
The keys to her car were in the kitchen on the counter next to the keys to Damian’s truck.
Julia put her stuff in the trunk and got inside the car. The house was no longer hers, it was already official, and she experienced a mixture of nostalgia mixed with gratitude as she surveyed the white walls and bougainvilleas adding splashes of color all around. Whatever happened, and wherever she was, this house would always be in good hands.
She backed away from the garage and drove through the open gates. Julia got down, closed the gates and with tears in her eyes, she left La Providencia, hoping this time around distance would help her move on. Even if that meant always loving the man and the land she was saying goodbye to.