Victor was my kryptonite. I might have considered myself a strong woman, if it weren’t for him. The pattern had been set so long ago that I didn’t try any longer. No, that was wrong. If I could do nothing else, I would turn around and run.
Actually, what happened was this: Angelica told him if he didn’t move his sorry behind and sit down as he was supposed to do, then she would politely ask him to leave. In an instant, he was gone, and his face was all I held in my mind.
Angelica carried out his breakfast.
“Don’t be sad, Ella,” said Pedro. “Angelica should have left at two. You know the way it is. But she’ll be ready to leave any time now.”
I couldn’t wait for “any time now” because, at any moment, Victor would find another way to talk to me. He would run around to the back of the restaurant, as I had done. I peeked around the kitchen door by the soda machine.
“Angelica,” I whispered.
Unfortunately, Victor caught me. He jumped from his seat. “Ella, I need to talk to you.”
“Call me, all right, Victor? My number hasn’t changed. Angelica, are you off the clock, yet?”
“I was off the clock an hour ago. Pedro says you’re staying with me, tonight. Hang on a minute and let me get my things. I bet you’re exhausted.”
“Ella, I mean it,” said Victor, who was leaning over the coffee counter with a look of appeal on his face. He really did have a beautiful face, with his straight teeth and clear eyes. He could appear so sincere, too. “I need to talk to you. And I know you. You won’t answer when you see my number on the caller ID.”
Angelica took off her apron and shook out her thick, black hair, as though she were ready to wear her superhuman uniform. “Victor, would you leave her alone? It’s just like you to show up at the worst possible moment. I’m taking Ella home so she can sleep. She’s been through enough tonight as it is.”
“I think you should stay out of this, Angelica. This is between me and Ella.”
“Oh, whatever, Victor.” I was beyond exhaustion at that point. I had come out the other side and was now buzzing a little from a new release of endorphins, my fight or flight response having renewed itself at the sight of him. “Like I said, my number hasn’t changed. Angelica, can we go?”
We disappeared through the kitchen. I had no desire to remain in the same building as Victor, not as long as I didn’t have to. Yes, I’d expected to marry him at one time and live happily ever after together with him in the same house, but that was then. I paused only long enough to give Pedro a parting hug.
Angelica lived in the neighborhood surrounding the university, as I did. Essentially, we both worked at our neighborhood diner, even if there were any number of restaurants and pubs around campus. Her house, although a bit too close to my own apartment for comfort, was pleasant, enclosed by a fence that sported a creaking gate, and protected by a mutt that looked and barked enough like a German Shepherd to scare most people away.
Angelica’s husband had turned the front yard into a rock garden with a pond and fountain, shadowed by an old walnut tree and a few apricot trees. Relief instantly descended on me as we entered through the gate. Even the wind soughed softly through the leaves of the trees, bringing with it the moisture trapped in the leaves. The rocks held the smell of the river they’d come from.
I’d stayed in Angelica’s spare room before, and so we didn’t bother with host-to-guest politeness. I gratefully washed my face with soap and water, brushed my teeth, and fell into the single bed with its smooth, clean-smelling sheets. I loved staying here; it was an enclave of soft sounds and comfort. The 1920s era dresser that sat by the bed held a gurgling fish tank. I drifted to the sounds of water, thinking of the river and the bosque that surrounded it, along with the high white moon.
As my body relaxed, my mind reached out to Anthony, letting him know I couldn’t abandon him at a time like this. There was something I knew that could help him. I had to help him, and it had nothing to do with Demetria. It had everything to do with me. But blackness descended before I could work out the details.
I don’t know what time it was that I woke, but it was bright outside, and there was an awful commotion occurring outside. My comforting enclave had been breached. The dog was barking, and I heard a ruckus of shouting voices. I dragged myself from bed and padded with sock feet to the dining area, which looked out over the back patio. Angelica was already there, looking outside, where her husband and Victor were shouting at each other.
“I’m calling the police,” she said. “Victor’s drunk.”
“Oh, please don’t. They’re going to think I attract trouble. Besides that, they’re only shouting. I’ve never seen Victor get violent—manipulative, but not violent.”
“Ella, I have never heard Dave shout, ever. Victor must have really ticked him off. I’m afraid for Victor, not Dave.”
I slid open the glass door and stepped onto the patio with my stocking feet. It was true: Angelica’s husband rarely spoke, let alone shouted. I probably looked like a wreck, which was always something I thought of when Victor was around, but I also didn’t think Dave should have to fend off my drunk ex first thing in the morning.
“What is going on?” I asked.
“Ella, go back inside. I’ve already told Victor to get the hell off my property. He’s stinking drunk.”
“Tell your mother to watch out,” Victor shouted. “I tried to tell you last night, Ella. I tried to warn you, but you wouldn’t listen to me. You’ve never listened to me.”