Friday, March 16, 2018

Chapter One of the Novella for Author's of Main Street Spring Box Set

Not Yet Titled

In the hazy room filled with flashing lights, throbbing music, and hundreds of beautiful people, Adriane felt like a mallard surrounded by swans. And she longed for a peaceful bit of swamp. A woman in a silvery dress that molded her like plastic wrap pushed past her, making her feel like an object in an obstacle course. A man wearing a floral shirt and a string of beads around his neck brushed up against Adriane and sloshed his drink on her.
“Oh, clumsy me,” he said, “So sorry!” After setting his drink on a nearby table and grabbing a handful of napkins, he patted her down.
Adriane shied away from the man with his lingering fingers and over-powering cologne. Silently she cursed Sebastian because somehow this was all his fault—even though he wasn’t here. She didn’t know where he was. And she didn’t know why she was here at this awful party. Weaving through the laughing and smiling guests, she made her way to the restroom.
Gail snagged her wrist. “You’re not escaping.”
“This was a bad idea,” Adriane told her. She pulled her wet blouse away from her skin and the warm scent of wine wafted over her.
“And you think moping at home is a better one?”
Adriane’s phone buzzed. She scrambled to open her sequin clutch bag.
“Huh-uh.” Gail snatched the purse. “No! He doesn’t get to talk to you.”
“How do you know it’s him?”
“I don’t.” Gail turned her voice into a purr. “Come on, sweetie, have some fun. You don’t need him.”
Adriane blinked back tears. “He’s my husband.”
“But he hasn’t acted like it in months…maybe even years.” Gail opened the purse and sighed when she checked the phone.
“It was him, wasn’t it?”
Gail handed the purse back to Adriane and slipped her arm around Adriane’s waist and tried to urge her back into the thick of the party. “Let me introduce you to my friend Geoff. He’s an artist, too.”
“Graphic design?”
“No, video games.”
Images of bloody computer graphics flashed in Adriane’s mind. A creature carrying an automatic weapon crashed into the room, began firing. Blood spurted. People screamed. Adriane shook the visual from her mind. “I have to go,” she said. “I really need to talk to Sebastian.”
Outside, away from the party’s crush of noise and people, Adriane breathed a little easier. The misty air blurred the headlights of the cars splashing down the black and shiny roads. Reflections of the store’s neon advertisements glistened on the slick sidewalk. The cold damp penetrated Adriane’s jacket and the mean breeze twirled around her legs. Why had she let Gail talk her into going to a party full of strangers? Because it was better than spending another evening alone.
On the drive home, Adriane tried to rehearse all the things she needed to say to Sebastian, but instead, she choked on all of her tears.
Adriane woke in the middle of the night to find Sebastian asleep beside her. Sitting up, she stared at his inert form and for the first time considered a life without him. He slept with his back to her, his dark head just poking up out of the blankets. Gray light filtered in through the slats of the window blinds and cut stripes across the rumpled bedclothes.
Picturing the bed empty was easy enough. Lately, Sebastian had been gone more than he’d been home. Traveling. Business. Even on weekends. How could she have been so stupid?
She glanced at the clock. Three a.m. Lying back against her pillows, she stared at the ceiling, and, like a chess master, she began to plan out her next move.
“What are you doing?” Sebastian mumbled.
“Leaving you.” Adriane rolled from the bed and padded across the room in the dark.
“You can’t.” Sebastian pulled the quilt over his shoulder. He didn’t even seem surprised by her pronouncement.
“Watch me.” She threw the words over her shoulder.
“It will kill Abuelo,” Sebastian said.
Adriane had thought of this, and while she loved the old man, she’d long grown tired of Sebastian’s family’s manipulating hierarchy. Inside her closet, she flipped on the light, pulled down her suitcase, and began to fill it. She glanced at her sweaters and jeans—Seattle winter wear—and instead chose shorts, T-shirts, and sundresses. She was going to find summer.
Nick stared in horror at the computer screen. “How did this happen?” His voice, usually so deep and melodic, came out in a whisper.
“Come on,” Steph elbowed him, “you have to admit this is amazing for business!”
Nick pulled his gaze away from the YouTube channel to give his cousin/assistant what he hoped was a terrifying glare.
Steph grinned back at him, wiped her hands on her apron, and pointed her chin at the line snaking around the counter of the Taberna de Música. “They don’t just come here for coffee, you know.” She patted his shoulder and practically skipped out of the office.
He watched her join Jon behind the counter and say something to the guy next in line who threw back his head and laughed.
Nick had to remind himself that they weren’t laughing at him, were they? He glanced back at the video. So far, about a thousand people had watched him sing at his cousin’s wedding. There had to be millions of amateur videos of people singing at weddings—why would a thousand people choose to watch him? Of course, it didn’t help that his cousin’s bulldog, Lester, was dressed in a tux and watching Nick with rapt attention, his big head swinging in time with the music. How had he not noticed that at the time? He replayed the video, curious about what else he’d missed.
Jon strode into the office. “Are you still obsessing over that?”
Nick shook his head, closed the laptop with a sharp click, and pushed away from the desk. “Nah.”
“I don’t know why you want to hide your talent beneath a bushel.” Jon was studying to become a youth pastor and liked to spout Biblical phrases. “You have a gift. You have to let it shine.”
Nick interrupted before Jon could start singing, This Little Light of Mine. “No, I don’t. What I have to do is keep this shop afloat.” Nick thought about going out and wiping down tables—his standard go-to when his accounts were all caught up—but the fear that some of the guests had seen the video froze him. He paced across the room.
Concern flashed in Jon’s eyes. “We’re doing fine, right?”
“Well, yeah.” Nick stopped and clapped a hand on Jon’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. We’re doing great.” In fact, they were doing much better than he’d projected when he’d opened the café. He’d patterned the shop after his uncle’s in Argentina. Like any standard coffee shop, they served hot beverages and a smattering of baked goods, but what set them apart from a Starbucks was their open microphone for musicians, poets, and comedians. They also sold vinyl records and vintage sound systems.
Nick’s thoughts drifted to his Tio Jose and he fought a wave of homesickness. But moments later, the sound of his own voice jolted him back to the here and now. He glanced at the closed laptop before bolting out of the office.
He halted behind the counter and stared at the TV screen in the corner of the room. All the patrons in the shop turned to stare at him before bursting into applause and cheers. Stunned, Nick backed away. Moments later, without any real recollection of how he’d gotten there, he found himself in the service closet wedged between a shelf of cleaning supplies and a hamper of dirty aprons. He pulled out his phone, sank into a squat, typed in the YouTube channel, and found the video of himself and Lester.
Five thousand views.
How is this happening? His head spun. There weren’t even five thousand people in his Tio Jose’s entire village. He let this process before he climbed to his feet. So, five thousand views. Everyone was watching Lester. Not him. And as Steph had said, this would be good for the shop. Publicity was publicity. He checked his reflection in the mirror and smoothed back his thick dark hair, before squaring his shoulders and heading back into the fray. The patrons had at least doubled. The shop had an occupancy capacity of three hundred, and while they were nowhere near that number, they still had twice as many people as was typical for a Thursday afternoon.
He glanced outside at the weak January sun attempting to singe the edges of gray rain clouds. The rain was good for business. But so, apparently, were musical dog videos.
A blinding light flashed, making Nick blink. Had someone just taken his picture?
Three weeks later
“What would you like for dinner?” Aubrey asked.
Adriene shrugged her response without looking up from her Argentina Now! Magazine. There was an article on Iguazu Falls, and Adriene promised herself she would go. Soon. Although, she’d been in Uruguay for one week already and had only left her sister’s apartment once.
Aubrey blew out a sigh. “Will you stop, already?”
“You’re an attorney, for pity sake. Arguing is what you do!”
Adriene tore her attention away from the magazine and stared at Aubrey who stood in the kitchen surrounded by terra-cotta pots filled with rosemary, basil, dill, oregano, and lavender. “You want me to argue about what we have for dinner?”
Aubrey shook her trowel at Adriene. “I want you to do something!”
Adriene looked back at her magazine and flipped through it until she found the pictures of the most luxurious bookstore she’d ever seen. “I’m going to go to El Ateneo Grand Splendid.”
Aubrey looked at her through slit lids. “When?”
Adriene swung her feet off the sofa and planted them on the wooden floor. “Now?”
Aubrey planted her fists on her hips. “And what about dinner?”
“I said I didn’t care,” Adriene said.
“No, what you said was—” Aubrey gave her an exaggerated shrug.
“Do you want me to go?” Adriene asked.
“To the bookstore, yes,” Aubrey said, her voice softening, “back to Sebastian, no.”
“Thanks for letting me stay here.” Adriene went to find her shoes.
“Of course,” Aubrey said, sounding contrite.
Adriene shared the guest bedroom with a shelf holding dozens of glass jars full of herbs and spices and pots filled with various trees. A warm light shone on a tray of seedlings in the corner. These plants were the love and passion of her sister’s life and Adriene knew she was lucky that Aubrey would carve a space out for her, but still, she quietly wished for a room less junglesque. Adriene found her shoes wedged between a potted grapefruit tree and watering can. She slipped them on before padding back into the living room.
Aubrey stood in the entry with her coat on. She’d removed her dirty apron, but she still wore a smudge of dirt on her forehead.
“Are you coming with me?” Adriene asked.
This time it was Aubrey that answered with a shrug.
“Well, then you might want to wash your face,” Adriene said with a smile.
“Have you heard from him?” Aubrey asked once they got outside.
“No.” Adriene turned her face to the sun. Although Buenos Aires was a much larger city than Seattle, they both sat on the water and shared similar climates. But they were polar opposites. When Seattle was gray with winter, Buenos Aires enjoyed the summer sun and vice a versa.
“Do know her?”
“I don’t think she was the only one,” Adriene said in a small voice.
“What makes you so sure?”
Adriene’s thoughts skittered over the years and lingered on all the prolonged business trips that had filled her seven-year marriage.
“Did you know some say that the seven-year itch is a real thing?” Aubrey asked.
“Divorce rates show a trend in couples that, on average, divorce around seven years. Statistics show that there is a low risk of separation during the first months of marriage. After the "honeymoon" months, divorce rates start to increase. Most married couples experience a gradual decline in the quality of their marriage; in recent years around the fourth year of marriage. Around the seventh year, tensions rise to a point that couples either divorce or adapt to their partner.”
“So says the woman who never married.”
“And never will,” Aubrey said. “Did you know that human cells are replaced every 7 years? So, it’s like you’re a brand-new person every seven years. Although the lining of your stomach and intestines are renewed much faster. Due to constant wear and tear from the process of digestion, these cells have an average lifespan of just 5 days!”
Adriene kicked a pebble down the sidewalk, thinking of how much her sister sounded like their father. “Have you talked to Dad recently?”
“No, have you?” Aubrey skated her a glance. “I assume you told Mom.”
“Mmm,” Adriene muttered.
“Let me guess what she said, I told you so?”
Adriene elbowed her. “You’re so smart.” Adriene paused on the corner of @ and stared at the University of Argentina. “Which building is the science building?”
“My lab is on the other side of campus. You should visit.”
“I think I will.” It felt good to change the subject. She asked about Aubrey’s work, her colleagues, and her sabbatical from the University of Washington.
They walked down the street until they reached Avenida Sant Fe. Once they passed through the doors of El Aetona, Adriene murmured, “I may never leave.” And she didn’t know if she was talking about the bookstore or Argentina.

Sebastian pushed through the doors of the Taberna de Música. If the crowded shop surprised him, he didn’t show it. Nick took a deep breath and braced his shoulders for the encounter with his cousin.
Seb waved to Nick. Like all of the Cavallero men, he was tall, broad, and handsome. And impatient.
Nick motioned for Seb to join him in the back office.
Seb nodded before attempting to weave through the patrons without spilling anyone’s coffee. “This place is a zoo,” Seb said. “Are you going to expand?”
“Nah. Things will calm down soon.” Nick took the chair behind the desk.
Seb settled on the cracked leather sofa. “What if they don’t?”
“They will,” Nick said with more certainty than he felt.
“Not if Steph has anything to do with it,” Seb said.
“Your sister,” Nick said, “is a Godsend.”
“But is she a plague or a blessing?” Seb asked, grinning.
Nick beat his fingers on his desk, waiting for his cousin to get to the point of his visit.
“Have you heard from Adriene?” Seb finally asked.
“No, why? Haven’t you?”
Seb frowned and looked out the rain-streaked window. “She’s gone to visit her sister.”
“Right.” He knew that.
“It’s been a few weeks…”
Seb leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “Abuelo can’t know.”
Nerves tingled down Nick’s spine and the palms of his hands started to sweat. “That she’s gone to visit her sister?”
“That she’s gone.” Seb didn’t fill in any of the blanks, but Nick’s thoughts rush to answer all the questions.
“She’s left you?” Nick tightened his grip on the pen he was holding, realized what he was doing, and set it down quickly in hopes that Seb wouldn’t pick up on his visceral reaction.
“Nah.” Seb stood and went to the window to stare out at Seattle’s busy sidewalks. “I mean, she’ll be back.”
Nick fought the urge to clamp his hand on his cousin’s shoulder and spin him around and pelt him with questions and his fists.
“How’s Tio Jose?” Seb asked.
Nick gripped the arms of his chair, feeling slightly dizzy and ill. The sudden change in topic didn’t help. “He’s good…aging, but…why?”
“Well, it’s just, you know Aubrey is in Buenos Aires on sabbatical which means that Adriene is also in Buenos Aires.” He paused as if waiting for Nick to connect the dots.
“You want Tio Jose to check in on her?”
“No.” Seb turned around and frowned at Nick. “I mean, it probably won’t come to this. She’ll be back…but I thought, maybe you could go and get her if Abuelo starts to ask questions. Maybe drop by and see Tio Jose, swing by Aubrey’s.”
Nick narrowed his eyes at Seb, trying to read him. They had been raised as brothers and had shared a room since Seb was thirteen and Nick ten. Instead of resenting a young, fresh from Argentina cousin foisted on him, Seb had taken Nick under his wing, made him his protégé, introduced him to his friends, coached him in sports. Nick had adored him. But their relationship changed the moment Seb had brought Adriene home.
“Come on, you know she loves you,” Seb said. “If you ask her to come back, she will.”
“Why would I do that?” Nick asked. “Why would I ask her to come back to an unhappy situation?”
“Who says the situation is unhappy?”
Nick folded his hands to keep him from strangling his cousin. “If she was so happy then why did she leave?”
“She wanted to see her sister?”
“And why would I need to persuade her to return?”
“Because I’m her husband?”
“That’s an argument that should be made by her husband. What are you not telling me?”
Seb pushed his fingers through his black hair, making it stand on end. “Abuelo can’t know.”
“Can’t know what?” Nick pressed.
Seb turned back to the window. “As soon as Abuelo dies, the company will be mine. But if he finds out…it’s in her best interest, too. I’ll be worth a lot more, the divorce settlement—”
“Divorce?” Nick stood. “You’re talking divorce?”
“Well, not until Abuelo is gone.”
“You make it sound like he’s going to the grocery store. We’re talking about the end of his life. And that business and his family is his life!”
“Exactly. You know how he is. You know his feelings on divorce.”
“You want to divorce Adriene?” He tried to tamp down the hope and incredulity in his voice, but he still heard the rise of timbre. Thankfully, Seb, always so self-centered, didn’t pick up on it.
“Not while Abuelo is alive. It’s not even an option!”
Nick choked back his questions.
“Look, I’ll pay for the flights.”
“You should go,” Nick said. “You said she loves me, but she loves you more. You’re her husband.”
Seb opened his mouth, but as the ground rolled, his face filled with astonishment.
Nick braced his feet and held onto the shaking desk. “Earthquake,” he murmured.
Commotion came from the next room—a woman screaming, a child crying, a dog barking.
“Did someone bring a dog in here?” Nick asked, astonished.
Jon ran in. “You okay, boss?”
“Yeah,” Nick said. “I better go and make sure everything is—” He cut his sentence short as another earthquake rolled through.
“The Cascadia Subduction Zone.” Seb laughed, but still sounded nervous. “They say everything west of I-5 is supposed to break off into the ocean.”
“I’m good,” Nick said with a grin because his shop and home were on the Eastside.
“But I’m screwed.”
“Yeah, you are,” Nick said, and he wasn’t thinking about earthquakes.

Adriene sat at a waterfront café nursing a cup of hot cocoa while she watched an artist paint the sunset. “We’re in the same sort of field, you know,” she told the man wielding a paintbrush and wearing a beret. “We probably took the same classes in college.”
“I didn’t go to college,” the man told her.
“Oh. Well, you’re very good,” she told him. “I was in graphic design.”
“But now you’re not?” He didn’t look at her, but kept his attention flicking between his canvas and the fading sun.
“I’m an attorney.”
The man chuckled. “I didn’t go to law school either.”
“I wish I hadn’t.”
The man didn’t say anything but lifted his eyebrow.
“Have you ever wanted to change everything about your life?”
“No,” he said. “What do you want to change?”
“I just said, everything.”
“You cannot mean that. There must be people that you love.”
“Of course, but…not everyone I love loves me back.”
“Por supuesto. It’s unreasonable to expect them to.”
“Is it?”
“It’s not only an unrealistic expectation, it’s also unfair.”
Adriene blew out a sigh. “But if you’ve pledged your life to someone…”
“Ah, but that is different.”
Nick stood on the embankment near the Río de la Plata watching the fading sun. He had lost both of his parents to the river. The memories, long faded, were nothing more than a dull, gray ache. Of the actual accident itself, he had little recollection, and for this, he was glad. Everyone had told him his survival had been a miracle. Why had the freak storm that had capsized their boat not taken him as well as his parents?
Familiar laughter cut through Nick’s painful memories. He turned, searching the crowded plaza, then he spotted her bright yellow hair. Adriene sat at a bistro style table, her chin propped on her cupped hands as she gazed out at the dying sun. The light breeze ruffled the hem of her cherry strewn sundress. She appeared to be chatting with an elderly man who was painting the sunset. The sound of her voice reeled Nick closer.
“But you still love your husband?” the man asked.
“Of course, just because he no longer loves me doesn’t mean I can just turn off my feelings.”
Nick froze, unsure of how to approach her.
“I mean, it’s not like my emotions come with an on or off button,” Adriene told the man.
“But you’re happy here, now, without him.”
“Absolutely. But this isn’t real life. This is a vacation.”
“A vacation.” The man dipped his brush into a smear of blue paint on his palette and carefully drew a streak along the upper edge of his canvas. “But why must life be more or less than a vacation? Should we not be happy all the time?”
Adriene blinked at him. “We have to work.”
“Is that why you went to law school instead of pursuing art?”
Adriene made a noise that coming from anyone else would be a snort. Nick edged closer and a twig snapped beneath his shoe.
Adriene lifted her gaze and met his. Her cornflower blue eyes widened with surprise. “Nick!” She stood and launched herself into his arms.
He caught her and inhaled her vanilla scented shampoo. But there was something different about her, too. She was thinner, brittle, breakable.
She pulled away to look into his face. “Oh my gosh, what are you doing here?”
“My Tio Jose,” he began.
The worry lines around her eyes faded. “Of course. How is he?”
“He’s good. Aging…”
“Will you take me to see him?”
The man behind the easel pointed his paintbrush at Nick. “This man is not your husband.”
“No. This is his cousin, Nicolas.”
“Ah,” the man said as if he could see what Adriene could not. That Nick was, and always had been, completely in love with Adriene.
Adriene laced her fingers through Nick’s, abandoned her cup of cocoa, and gazed into his eyes. “I’m so glad to see you. I’ve been getting bored and lonely. When she isn’t cooped up in her lab, Aubrey spends all of her time talking to her plants.”
Nick squeezed her hands, knowing that this was his opening—where he needed to say, why not come home? But he couldn’t make himself say the words.
As if she had read his thoughts, Adriene asked, “How is everyone at home?”
Everyone, he knew, meant Seb. “Hmm, good.”
“And the shop?” Adriene pressed. She had helped him navigate all the legal documentation and permits when he’d first opened the Taberna de Música, so she had a vested interest in it. She hadn’t let him pay her, so unbeknownst to her, he deposited a small percentage of his monthly earnings into an account Seb had set up for her for just this purpose.
Nick ran his fingers through his hair. “It’s…crazy.”
“Crazy, huh?”
So, she hadn’t seen the YouTube videos. He swallowed, debating on whether or not to show them to her.
Concern flashed in her eyes. “Is something wrong?”
“Define wrong.”
“Nick, what’s going on?” Panic tinged her voice. “Did you really come here just to visit your uncle, or is—”
“Business is booming.”
She breathed out a small laugh. “Good.”
He made a decision and dug his phone out of his pocket. “In fact, I have to show you something.” After pulling up the video of him and Lester, he scooted his chair so close that his shoulder brushed against Adriene’s.
Adriene watched, clearly enchanted.
“Almost a million views,” Nick said.
She laid her head on his shoulder. “I always forget how talented you are.”
Nick bit his lip to curb the urge to kiss her hair. “There’s more.”
“It seems that Steph has been secretly taping me perform for a while.”
“Whoa,” Adriene breathed.
Nick sniffed and scrolled to the next video. “Not only did she tape me, but she had the videos professionally edited.” He swallowed. “They’re actually pretty good.” He handed the phone back to her and watched her face. The sound of his songs filled the air.
She squeezed his arm and blinked back tears after the second video ended. “That was beautiful,” she said, her voice thick with emotion. “There’s more?”
He nodded. “Quite a few more.” He cleared his throat. “To quote Steph, I am an internet sensation. I had to leave.”
“Leave?” She twisted so she could see his face. Her nearness took his breath. “Why would you need to leave?”
“The tavern is…as I said, crazy. Standing room only even during the mid-day when we should have a lull.”
“If it’s as busy as you say, how could you afford to be gone?”
“I hired three more people. Steph and Jon can run it as well as me.”
“So, you’re hiding?”
He had come to seek advice from his uncle and to see Adriane but he didn’t feel the need to share the former of those things. He decided to turn the tables on her. “Are you?”
“Ah.” She pulled away from him as if he’d stung her, and then changed the subject. “How is the family?”
Should he tell her about his conversation with Sebastian? No. “Abuelo is as crazy as ever. Tia Maria’s Sofia died.”
“I always hated that cat, but Tia Maria must be sad.”
“You would think, but within a week she replaced Sofia with a really mean chihuahua she picked up at the shelter.”
Adriene wrinkled her eyebrows. “Why does she like mean animals?”
Nick shrugged. “Why do we love who we love? Who can say?”
The man with the paintbrush raised his eyebrows and met Nick’s gaze. Nick looked away, afraid to let his feelings show.
Tio Jose still lived in the apartment behind his beachfront music café. Every evening, guitarists, mariachi bands, and solo vocalists gathered for their chance to perform on Uncle Jose’s makeshift stage, but the afternoon—especially during the siesta hours—were quiet. Nicolas was counting on this.
He picked Adriene up from her sister’s apartment the next morning. “The ferry to Colonia de Sacramento is less than an hour,” he told her. “And the crossing should be calm, given the weather. Do you get seasick?”
“I don’t think so.” Adriene cast a glance at the blue, cloudless sky.
Nick’s thoughts skittered back to Seattle, where it would be gray and drizzly. “Do you want to bring a sweater, just in case?”
She shook her head and wrapped her hand around his arm. “I’m loving this weather. It’s like I was so cold and lonely in Seattle, but here…I’m finally beginning to thaw.”
He put his hand over hers. “I’m glad. Come on,” he urged her to move faster down the sidewalk, “we need to be at the dock an hour before our boat leaves.”
She wore a pair of espadrilles and an embroidered sundress that skimmed the tops of her knees. With her hair pulled back in a ponytail that bounced when she walked, she looked like a different creature than the black-suited attorney she’d morphed into after she’d graduated from law school.
Nick didn’t want to talk about their life in Seattle, but curiosity drove him to it. “What’s happening at Crenshaw and Meeks?”
“I had just finished up a big case and told Crenshaw that I needed a leave of absence.”
“And he just let you go?” That didn’t sound like the Crenshaw Nick knew.
“I think he knows about Seb and Teresa.” She skated him a glance. “Do you know about Seb and Teresa?”
Nick stopped at a flower cart and without saying a word, he purchased a bouquet of wild flowers and handed them to her.
“I don’t want your pity!” She pushed the blooms away.
“Well, if you won’t accept these, will you please just hold them?”
“Why should I?”
“Well, for one thing, they match your dress, and for another, I feel it’s a slight to my manhood to carry a floral bouquet.”
“That’s silly.” But she took the flowers while he paid the florista.
“Not as silly as Seb having an affair.” Nick draped his arm around Adriene’s shoulders. He was wading into dangerous waters by trying to comfort her without exposing his heart. “Any man who would choose another over you would be…silly to the extreme…like Mr. Bean.” Adriene loved British comedy, but Seb hated it. “Right now, I’m so mad at Seb I can’t even say his name without feeling incredible rage, so I have a suggestion.”
She slid him a glance. “What’s that?” she asked, her voice full of suspicion.
“We will not say the name of…your husband, my cousin. From now on, his code name will be Mr. Bean.”
A smile tugged on Adriene’s lips. “He would hate it if he knew.”
“Then we have to tell him!” He dug his phone out of his pocket.
Adriene took his phone from his hand. “Hmm, not yet. Maybe when the thought of him no longer hurts.”
“Do you think you’ll get there?”
They arrived at the dock. A cluster of people crowded around the gangplank. Nick pulled his wallet from his pocket and went to purchase the tickets.
“You’re helping,” she told him as soon as he returned. “Before you showed up, I was just hanging out at Aubrey’s watering the plants—not with my tears, but a watering can—okay, sometimes with my tears…I was beginning to hate myself. No, stop. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I’ve been hating myself for a while.”
As if to argue, the ferry blew its horn. The sound struck a chord in Nick’s chest. “I can’t imagine anyone, even or especially you, hating you.”
The crowd surged up the gangplank and Nick and Adriene moved with the tide of people.
“You’re sweet,” Adriene said. “And you’re only saying that because you’re such a good person you can’t hate anyone.”
“Right now, I’m hating S—Mr. Bean for making you feel that way.”
She lifted a shoulder in a defeated shrug. “He fell in love with Teresa.”
Everything that sprang to Nick’s mind couldn’t be said. “I’m sorry,” he told her. “I can only think of profanities right now.”
They made their way to the deck and Adriene pressed against the railing. “Would it be wrong if just shouted out a whole bunch of naughty words at Mr. Bean?”
“Right now?”
She nodded.
“I’m not sure if it would be wrong, but I don’t know if it would help. Not really.”
“Then what would you suggest?”
“Not thinking about him. Let’s pretend he no longer exists.” He held up his finger. “I have an idea. I’ll be right back.” He went back into the cabin, pulled a napkin from the dispenser near the snack bar, and returned to the deck just as the boat pulled away from the dock. The horn sounded again. “Here,” he said as he handed Adriene the napkin and a pen from his pocket.
“What’s this?”
“Write down Mr. Bean’s real name—and any other name you want to call him.”
She looked at the napkin in her hand and hesitated.
Nick turned his back to her. “Use me as your hard surface.”
“What if the ink leaks through onto your shirt?”
“Then I’ll take off my shirt and toss it into the sea as well,” he said without looking at her.
“Are you sure?”
She held the napkin against his back and scribbled for a few minutes. When she stopped, he turned asked, “Are you done?”
She gazed at him with tear-filled eyes. “I’m not sure I’ll ever be really done.”
He placed a finger under her chin. “You will. I promise. Now, throw him away.”
She tossed the napkin in the air. The wind picked it up and carried it toward the Argentina coast. It fluttered and swooped before hitting the water. It disappeared in the boat’s churning foamy wake.
Tio Jose—his youtube clips are on the TV.

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