A telephone was ringing insistently outside her office. The sounds of cars and conversations drifted through the open window, creating a new rhythm as it mixed up with the music from the Itunes playlist she’d put on her laptop, while proofreading the articles that would come out in their next issue.
Her travel column would come out in the next issue and she’d already reviewed and approved the layout with the pictures she’d taken on her trip. While at the clinic, Julia had incorporated the details about the town’s celebration, though she omitted her near death experience from it.
The phone stopped ringing and she could hear Susan’s voice as she took the call.
It had been five days since she’d come back from La Providencia. Her life had gone back to normal or at least as normal as it was before La Providencia. Her ribs were still healing though she no longer felt any pain, and her face was bruise free.
The only difference now was she didn’t go home to an empty apartment. Well, most of the times. Julia and Danny were enjoying being roommates, especially since they hadn’t lived under the same roof since Julia had gone off to college. Danny was still working as a hostess at the restaurant. Only now, she was busy with rehearsals as she’d managed to get a part in an off Broadway play. Danny said it wasn’t the musical theater she wanted to do, but it would give her an opportunity to hone on her acting skills and it was a good beginning for her career.
The rest of her life though, was the same. She went back to work mode, dedicating her time to the magazine and to the launch of her next two books. Julia and Zack were in the final revision of her latest manuscript, her first romance novel. The first manuscript she’d sent to Zack while on La Providencia would also come out under her own name, though it would come out later, gauging the response of her first attempt at romance. Zack had suggested she might like to keep her pseudonym for her more dramatic stories.
The book was set to come out at the end of the year. It would be with that book that people would know who Kate Morgan really was. It made Julia anxious. Yet deep within, she was genuinely excited for this new chapter in her life as a writer.
Regretfully, work, time and distance were not doing a good job of keeping Damian away from her thoughts. Especially at night, when Julia would recall the way he had gathered her close, or how the world had seemed to stop when he made love to her. The memories hurt but unlike last time, she didn’t push them away. She simply let them accompany her in her sleep, leaving her drained and a bit shaky the morning after.
Though she rarely went back to that night at the warehouse, Julia still thought about Magdalena. After many failed attempts to reach her at her house, she’d emailed Sonia asking her about their friend. Sonia wrote back saying Magdalena had taken upon Sonia’s parents’ offer to stay in Italy for a while. Jim’s trial wouldn’t be held until the end of the year so her friend didn’t need to be around until then. Sonia also mentioned Magdalena would be testifying against Jim.
Guilt still sneaked up on her but Julia prayed that wherever she was, her friend would be able to rebuild her life.
The only thing she did allow herself to think about that night was what Jim had said about her father’s regret and the fact that he’d bought one of her books. With the help of Zack and Susan, she got her hands on another copy of her first novel and together with Danny, they had gone to the place where their father was buried. She had sat on the ground next to Danny and had taken them both through what happened in her life after leaving school and moving to Brooklyn. It had felt as though her dad had been there with them, and Julia got lost in her own recount, telling him everything she’d told Damian that night at the library. But she had also let the tears of anger fall when she recriminated him what he’d done to keep her apart from Damian and how he had used Danny to accomplish his scheme. In the end, Julia told her father that if things had gone differently and if he were still with them, she knew with time she would’ve forgiven him and moved on.
Both daughters had also started to send emails or call their mother at home. Though she still refused to talk to any of them, Julia wasn’t going to let things sort themselves out on their own like she had hoped would happen with her father. At least this time, if the relationship with their mother didn’t mend, it wouldn’t be for lack of trying from hers and Danny’s part.
And as for Jim’s dad, Julia did some digging of her own and found out her father had done nothing wrong. If only, he’d been incapable of keeping a guilty man from jail. Maybe what Jim’s dad had said about her father being distracted was true, but something in Julia relaxed when she knew for certain her dad, despite his many flaws, had remained a good lawyer until the end.
A knock on her door brought her back to the present. When she lifted her head from what she’d been reading, she saw Susan leaning on the frame with her eyes studying her intently, like she’d been doing since she’d come back from La Providencia. The same look Danny had given her when she’d arrived to their apartment and she’d asked what had happened.
Although Susan knew what had happened to her during the town’s celebration, Danny didn’t. Julia saw no reason why to worry her sister with something that hadn’t come to worse in the end. Only that neither her boss nor Danny knew the real reason for her coming back. All she’d said was that the paperwork had come through and she’d wanted to come back. That she’d missed her job, Danny and that her life was back here in New York. Unfortunately, Julia suspected neither women had believed her.
“Julia, there’s a call for you. It’s that notary from La Providencia.”
Julia rolled her eyes up to the ceiling. Ever since coming back, Mr. Ruiz had been phoning her at work almost every day. He never said what he wanted just that Julia had to go back because there was a problem with the papers she’d signed. Julia refused every time, hoping the notary would desist and find some other way to fix the situation. But as Susan waited, she worried the notary wouldn’t give up that easy.
“Why can’t he just leave me the hell alone?” She groaned.
“I don’t know, but unlike the other times, he does sound like his life depends on it.”
“Fine. I’ll take the call here, thanks Susan.”
But Susan didn’t leave her office. She stayed where she was as Julia picked up her phone.
“Mr. Ruiz. It’s Julia.”
“Ms. Andersson. I’m so sorry to call you again, but please you must come back.”
“God, what the hell is wrong with you people? I have a job. I can’t take off just because someone forgot to put a freaking coma.”
Julia listened as the poor notary explained, vaguely, that it was imperative she go back to La Providencia. Because it did sound like he would jump off Whisper Mountain if she said no yet again, Julia let out a defeated sigh and agreed. When she hung up, Susan was still leaning against the door frame.
“Susan, I’m sorry but if I don’t go he won’t stop calling.”
“I just feel bad about leaving you on the lurch again.”
“Hey,” her boss and friend shrugged. “don’t worry. Besides, your piece on La Providencia was your best piece ever.” Another shrug of the shoulders, “I guess you were really inspired.”
Julia could see the challenge in her boss’s face as she wanted Julia to talk about Damian. Julia only smiled.
“I just have a personal tie to the town, that’s all.”
“Uhum.” Susan nodded, her lips curving upwards.
Julia ignored her and went back to the article she’d been reading. Susan left after she said over her shoulder. “Have a nice trip.”
It took Julia the rest of the afternoon to arrange her trip for the next day. Though she begged Danny to come with her, her younger sister insisted she couldn’t skip rehearsals or take time off from work.
This time, as she drove out from the sierra, it was still daylight. Julia had rented a BMW. Oh yes, she made sure she didn’t go cheap this time and rented a better car. She even made sure the woman at the rental company knew that if this car broke down on her, they would have to find a freaking helicopter to come and get her because she really couldn’t stay this time.
Her car cruised next to the house, with its closed gates, the overflowing flowers around the wall moving with the breeze outside, almost as if greeting her back. But she wasn’t back, she was going to get this over with once and for all.
Julia parked the car under the shade of a palm tree and stormed into the notary’s office ready to let him know she didn’t appreciate being dragged from New York to here on some legal technicality.
Mr. Ruiz was sitting at the same desk he’d been three weeks ago, though this time he swallowed when he saw her make her way furiously to his desk. He shook her hand, his a bit clammy and pulled out the same folder where the papers she had signed had been the last time.
“I really hope this is the last time you make me come all the way down here, Mr. Ruiz.”
“Yes, yes. It’s just you forgot to take your copy, and we didn’t want to risk losing it by sending it over by mail.”
“Excuse me?” Of all the things she’d been expecting to hear this was definitely not one of them. Her face must’ve expressed her confusion because the notary cleared his throat and opened the folder to where she’d signed. Her name appeared under the words owner.
“What the……..this is wrong. Oh, okay now I get it, I signed on the wrong spot, right?”
“N-n-no, Ms. Andersson. The property is yours.”
“But that’s a mistake. I mean how…….”
“Mr. Solis came by after what happened at the warehouse and asked me to make the change. The house is yours.”
Julia’s mouth opened and closed but no sound came out. She closed her eyes while she pinched the bridge of her nose before words were able to form.
“I don’t understand.” And she didn’t. Why had Damian made this sudden change when it was clear the house would be perfect for him and his family? Or was it part of his plan, to go back to his life in North Carolina and leave the house to her?
“Mr. Solis asked me not to say anything.”
“Did he now?”
Julia snatched the folder from Mr. Ruiz and stormed out back to her car. She drove out of town in the direction of the house.
Her tires shot a dust of dirt as she braked the car outside the gates, not bothering to go all the way in. The wooden gates were unchained and she went inside. Julia marched purposefully across the gravel path. She was halfway down the path when the front door burst open and a tiny person shot out in her direction. When Lucas reached her, he hugged her by the legs and Julia had to bend down to keep from falling on her back.
“Hey, Lucas.” No matter how upset and baffled she was about Damian’s decision, Julia hugged the boy back and stayed like that for a while. God, she’d missed him so much. And she said so. “I’ve missed you.”
“Me, too. Why did you go?”
“But you didn’t even say goodbye.”
“I………” but a deeper voice boomed behind him. “Lucas.”
Julia had been too focused on Lucas, she’d missed his dad following him out of the house. She straightened and like every time she saw him, her heart beat with love and her entire body warmed up. Damian’s dark eyes stared at her, touching her very soul just like he’d done when they’d made love for the first time. It took a lot of strength not to forget the reason why she’d left and run to his arms. Instead, Julia let go of Lucas and waited for Damian to continue.
“Son, you should go back inside and finish packing your stuff. Your mom will be here shortly.”
Before running back to the house Lucas did something he hadn’t done. He pulled Julia back down and kissed her on the cheek. The gesture was so unexpected and so touching, Julia felt a tremor around her heart. She gave him another bear hug before letting him go back inside.
Damian simply stood there, a guarded expression on his face. Julia decided to go directly to the point.
“Damian, what is the meaning of this?” She waved the folder in the air.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t play games with me. It says here the house is mine, and that’s not what’s supposed to say.”
“Well, it is. It’s yours, Julia.”
“But you bought it.” She said, exasperated.
“I know. But I wanted it for the wrong reasons. I realized this house belonged to you, it always has.” He stepped closer, but he didn’t touch her.
“Damian, this is insane. I can’t have this. I don’t live here. I live in New York. I can’t possible take care of this place.”
“Is that why you left?”
His question threw her off guard. Because she didn’t want to tell him the reason why, she adopted a defensive attitude as she said. “That’s none of your business.”
“Just answer the question, Julia.” He countered, amused.
“You’re unbelievable. Here,” she shoved the papers at his chest, “I don’t want it. You keep it. I’m fine with you owning the place.”
“Oh, I know. You said so in that note you wrote in the book. Seems that’s how we like to end things between us. With a letter. But you still haven’t answered my question. Why did you leave?”
Julia didn’t have time for this. But judging from the unwavering scrutiny of his stare, he wasn’t going to let her go until she answered his question.
“I saw you, that day when I left the clinic. I saw you with Sophia and Lucas. I knew you’d decided to stay with your family. I get it, facing near death experiences makes you think about the things that matter the most. There, I don’t know why you wanted to hear something you already knew.” Julia let out a tired breath.
Damian lifted his hand and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. The simple touch made her eyes go wide, but she didn’t move away. He didn’t have to know he still affected her, he might feel bad for her or something.
“I can’t believe that after what happened to us, you would let assumptions get in the way.”
“No, this time no one said it to me. I saw it with my own eyes. Plus, you hadn’t gone to visit me at the clinic and when I saw you, I knew you’d taken a decision. I get it, really. You don’t have to worry about me. Just please, fix this.” She gave him the folder.
“Oh, well in that case.” Damian said, noncommittal.
“If you think you know everything.”
Damn him, why was he being so difficult? It had been his decision not hers. She’d just made the next logical choice and now he was giving her a hard time, even mocking her about it?
“I do. Besides, you just said Sophia is on her way, and by the sound of it, it looks you’re about to go away on a trip.”
“A honeymoon, actually.”
Unbelievable. Yes, there had been no hard feelings this time when she decided to leave but did he have to rub it on her face? And why the hell was he smirking?
“Oh, well, there you go.”
“I thought you wanted us to be together.”
“You’re unbelievable. You think just because I’m in love with you I would’ve agreed to be your honey on the side? Well, you thought wrong pal.”
“So you do love me?”
Julia felt like screaming at his deranged words.
“Look, Damain. Have fun at the honeymoon. I’m really happy for you. I am. I have to go now.”
But his hand caught her arm and made her turn around to face him.
“I don’t think Steve would like that.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Who is Steve?”
“Steve is Sophia’s husband since five days ago.”
It was like someone had kicked her in the stomach and had left her breathless. Sophia’s husband? But, but….
“But I thought…..”
“Like I said, you let assumptions get in the way. What you saw that day was Sophia happy because Steve had proposed. And Lucas was even more excited because Steve had promised to take him to Disneyland with Sophia, for their honeymoon. And well, because I had my own reasons to be happy as well.”
Damian paused, his hands now caressing Julia’s arms. There was something in his eyes she couldn’t read, it gave her goosebumps that exploded up and down her arms.
“I didn’t go back to the clinic because I had to travel to Guadalajara then to Mexico City, and then I had to go back to the States. I thought Esperanza told you.”
“She…..she did.” Julia could feel her face turning bright red.
“I was planning in throwing you a welcome home party the day you got out. Also, I was planning in giving you this.”
Julia’s mouth dropped all the way to the floor as Damian put his hand inside his pocket and took out a small black velvet box. Julia thought she was going to faint and could hear her heartbeat drumming loudly inside her ears.
“Oh my God. Damian…..”
He took her free hand and said.
“That day at the warehouse I did think about what was important, about my family. You’re it Julia, you and Lucas. I’m in love with you. I’ve been since that day I saw you across the town square and have been ever since, even when I thought I hated you. You’re the most amazing, intelligent, sweet, beautiful woman I’ve ever known. I want you to be my family.”
There were so many things going on inside her Julia couldn’t make her brain do its part and produce a decent answer to what she’d just heard. He hadn’t gone back to Sophia and he loved her. God, was this really happening?
“I’ve been apart from you for far too long. I don’t want to be anymore. This time it’s just us Julia, we decide.”
Damian opened the box and took out the ring with a single square cut ruby which rested on a white golden band. It reminded her of the necklace he’d given her. It was bright red, and just as intense and unique as her love for him was. It was the color of her heart, the heart that had always belonged to him.
“I want to marry you, Julia Andersson.” He gave the box to her. When Julia continued to stare like an idiot at the ring, he whispered. “You might want to give me an answer now. Esperanza, Joaquin and Lucas are about to break the window from pressing their faces too hard, and I’m pretty sure Esperanza has Sonia on the phone waiting to tell her your answer.”
Julia lifted her head and indeed, saw three faces staring at them from inside Damian’s office.
“You mean they all know you’re…….I mean that you want to…..”
“Of course. I thought you would come back on your own. But if you hadn’t done so today, I would’ve gone to New York and made you see reason. I’m afraid I might’ve been a bit harsh on Mr. Ruiz, annoyed he hadn’t made you come back. I guess I was more annoyed you hadn’t done so on your own.”
“Oh my God.”
Her world was reeling. A damn of joy overflowed inside her. She was shaking and she wanted to jump up and down. She’d gone back in hopes of rebuilding her life, but the truth was her life was here with him, or anywhere as long as he was with her.
“Julia?” It was cute to hear the tremor in his voice.
“I wanted to come back. God, I dreamt of you and this place every night. Nothing felt the same, whatever had brought me joy before didn’t, it all felt empty, dull.”
She saw the question in his eyes, the anxiety that made her smile before exclaiming. “And yes! Yes! I want to marry you, too. I love you.”
Julia let him put the ring on her finger and from inside the house they both heard the shouts of victory.
He kissed her with such passion and need, Julia felt the papers drop to the floor. When he broke the kiss he grabbed her face with both hands and said. “I can’t promise you happily ever after, because I’m sure I’ll want to bang my head against the wall because you, Julia Andersson can also be very stubborn. But I promise you it will always be us.”
“And that’s what I want.”
And she did. As she let herself be kissed again by him, Julia thought what she wanted from Damian was only ever after. The happily would be up to them to achieve, but as long as they had each other, Julia knew they’d get it as well.
“Damian, Damian! It’s here!”
Julia screamed through the open living room doors before heading out to her bench near the edge of the garden. The town of La Providencia was majestic, quiet, and gleaming like a jewel as the sun caressed its rooftops and the church’s dome. It didn’t matter it was December, the sun never failed to come and brighten life in this town.
She ripped the package and placed the discarded wrapping on the side. She read the note from Susan and Zack as they told her they missed her, and that the magazine was not the same without her. Julia still wrote certain pieces for it, and had to travel to New York occasionally. Only her traveling days were behind her, especially now.
They also mentioned they had loved the way the book had been done and were sure it would be a success once it went out before Christmas.
Julia held the hardcover in her hands and smiled as she saw her name Julia Andersson, and above, the title to her first romance novel, Whispers from the Mountain. Thanks to the pictures she’d used for her article on La Providencia back in August, the cover artist had made a sketch of the outline of Whisper Mountain, and had inserted the figure of a woman in a white dress, the wind lifting up the skirts of her dress, with her hair billowing in the back, as she stared out at the horizon.
It was beautiful.
“I hope you autograph the first copy for me.” Damian circled around the bench and sat next to her. Julia shifted her body so she could rest against his chest, while she stretched her swollen ankles, and caressed the small bump on her belly. Julia and Damian were expecting their first child. She was pretty sure she conceived the day when he proposed back in September.
“I did something better, here.” She gave the book to Damian. He read the words written on the second page:
To my husband, the love of my life and why I have a reason to write about love.
“You never told me.”
“I wanted to surprise you.”
He kissed the top of her head, then turned the pages all the way to the back where her picture, with the town of La Providencia and Whisper Mountain in the background, accompanied her author’s information.
When Susan and Zack had come down for the wedding which took place a month after Damian proposed, days before her twenty-ninth birthday, they had the idea of using the town that had inspired her story to shoot her author’s picture.
Under it, it said:
This is Julia Andersson’s first romance novel. Though, she’s been around the book scene writing under the name of Kate Morgan, responsible for bestsellers such as Tears of Despair and Before You Left. She’s also a writer for Mirage Magazine.
She lives with her husband, and son, in the small town of La Providencia, in Mexico.