The cobblestone street is barely wide enough for our taxi as we pull up to the party. People and loud music spill out a heavy wooden door. Inside, Santos starts a conversation with a pretty Aussie with white-blonde hair, and I walk through a dark hallway to the kitchen. A tub of sangria sits on the counter, and I help myself. Leaning against the sink, I drink quickly, trying to lose the voices in my head: my father’s anger and Santos’s low whisper. We are alone as we can be.
Behind me, I hear a sexy soft slur of local Spanish. I turn to match a face to the voice. A girl with bright green eyes talks to a greasy-looking muchacho who leans against the wall. Their words are coded; the sentences don’t make sense. The man turns and glares, and I realize that I am staring. Green Eyes gives me a look. I try to melt her ice with a smile, and she turns and walks away. I start to follow her, but then, I stop and watch her walk outside. Later.
I stay back in the kitchen, talking to the Australians who have just come back from Ibiza. Their eyes are pinpoints. They talk quickly, overlapping each other, but I am distracted by the girl on the patio. When she turns, I do not smile, but I do not look away. Her eyes stay on me for a minute. My heart quickens. I pour another drink. She wears a white dress that drapes over her thin body. Her skin is tan from the beach, I think, almost as dark as me. Small braids weave through her loose, dark hair. Her nails are painted grey. She pulls a cigarette from a small bag that hangs over her shoulder. Then, Santos is behind her, offering her his lighter.
She does not smile for my cousin either. Santos leans down to her ear. I should look away, but I cannot stop watching. They talk back and forth, only a few words in each exchange. She leads Santos back inside and down a long, high-ceilinged hallway. I see the door close behind them.
Is it that simple? I am amazed at my disappointment. This unsmiling stranger is just one more girl who will go to bed with Santos after a few words. The predictability of it darkens my mood.
Later, in the dark of my hotel room, I sit and smoke. Against good judgment, I wonder what Kate is doing right now. I pick up my phone and turn it over in my hand. My thumb runs over the smooth touch screen, acting on its own, first the country code, then her number. My thumb hovers over the END CALL.
She answers with a laughing Hello? I freeze for a half a minute, both of us breathing into the silence from thousands of miles away. Hello? she says again, quieter. And then, she whispers with a catch in her voice.
When I hear my name, I hesitate for one more second before my thumb drops on the END button. She is gone again.
Why? Why would she say my name?
In the morning, there is a barely legible note shoved under my door: fuck you. I assume this is from Santos.
I dress in the only clothes I have with me, throw on my sunglasses, and take two Advil. Sunlight is never my friend these days, but I am ready to work on the relationship. I find a shop in the Old Town and buy some clothes and a bathing suit.
When I return to the hotel, Santos is already at the rooftop pool wearing nothing but his black underwear.
“Please, cover it up, joto. You’re going to scare small children,” I say as I throw a towel in his lap.
“No one seems to mind.” He throws the towel back in my face. “You left me at the party last night. Thanks for having my back,” he says from behind his sunglasses.
“Seemed like you already had someone on her back,” I answered.
“How would you know? You left before the party got going.”
“I saw you get a room with that girl on the balcony, so I left.”
“Who, Lena? That girl in white? That was business.”
I spit when I hear his words. “Business? We’re supposed to be invisible.”
He shrugs. “You worry too much.”
“Thanks for spending your spare time finding new ways to get us killed, cousin.” Santos, always creeping back onto the darkside.
Still, no Lena for Santos. Good to know.
I walk away and jump into the water. Santos orders some food and beers. After eating, my head is clearer. “So what is this business, Santos?”
“Coke,” he says. Druga de dias.
“Are you selling or buying?”
“Buying, but just for me, just for fun.”
I make a noise and a face, and Santos laughs at me.
“What’s the harm, cousin? We have nothing but time and money. And, some really fast bikes. ” He grins.
“And La Familia?” I ask.
His face hardens. “They are not here. We are alone as we can be.” His mantra.
“How do you find trouble so quickly? We haven’t even been in Zaragoza for a day.” I drink the rest of my beer in one swig.
“Talent. And luck,” he says, lying back onto his lounge chair in his black underwear and sunglasses, his hands behind his head. Girls walk by, giggling, but their eyes linger as they pass. “Get some sun and some rest,” he orders.
I think about the green-eyed, dark-skinned drug dealer.
“She is a beauty,” I think aloud. Santos laughs under his breath.
“Lena?” he asks. I stay quiet. Still, he gets it. “Si, but she is cold as ice,” he says, rolling over onto his stomach. “Good luck with that one, cousin,” he adds before he falls asleep in the sun.
Cold as ice, I think. Just like me.
(Author: Julie K. Wise. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Andy Troc. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)