Any one want to name my novella? I kind of like Too Hot to Tango, as a lot of the story takes place in Latin America, but I don't want anyone to think this is a spicy book. Other thoughts:
Singing Out Loud
In a hazy room filled with flashing lights, throbbing music, and hundreds of beautiful people, Adrienne felt like a mallard surrounded by swans. And she longed for a peaceful bit of swamp. A woman in a silvery dress resembling plastic wrap pushed past her, leaving behind a stench of perfume. Adrienne sought out a corner where she’d be less likely to be touched or bumped into, but the best refuge she could find was a bar stool. She hiked herself onto it and checked her watch. Was it too early to go home? Meanwhile, a man wearing a floral shirt brushed up against Adrienne 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.
Adrienne 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 there. She didn’t know where he was. And she didn’t know why she’d ever agreed to attend this awful party. She slid off the barstool and weaving through the laughing and smiling guests, she made her way to the restroom.
In the hall, Stephanie snagged her wrist. “You’re not escaping.”
“This was a bad idea.” Adrienne 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?”
Adrienne’s phone buzzed. She scrambled to open her sequin clutch bag.
“Huh-uh.” Stephanie snatched the purse. “No! He doesn’t get to talk to you.”
“How do you know it’s him?”
“I don’t. But if it is, he’s the last person you should be talking to.” Stephanie turned her voice into a purr. “Come on, sweetie, have some fun. You don’t need him.”
Adrienne blinked back tears. “He’s my husband.”
“But he hasn’t acted like it in months…maybe even years.” Stephanie opened the purse and sighed when she checked the phone.
“It was him, wasn’t it?”
Stephanie handed the purse back to Adrienne and slipped her arm around Adrienne’s waist and tried to urge her back into the thick of the crowd. “Let me introduce you to my friend Geoff. He’s an artist, too.”
“No, video games.”
Images of bloody computer graphics flashed in Adrienne’s mind. A creature carrying an automatic weapon crashed into the room and began firing. Blood spurted. People screamed. Adrienne shook the visual from her mind. “I have to go,” she said. “I really need to talk to Sebastian.”
After thanking the hostess and following her directions to the room where the coats had been gathered, Adrienne stepped into the bedroom, closed the door, leaned against it, and battled tears. She took a deep breath and a glance at the coats and jackets heaped on the bed. Ninety percent of them were black—like hers. But wait, why was there a shoe amid the jackets? Two shoes. No, four shoes.
Oh dear, what was that couple doing on the bed, buried beneath the coats? And how would Adrienne ever extract hers without interrupting? She quickly left, sans coat.
Outside, away from the party’s crush of noise and people, Adrienne 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 Adrienne’s blouse and the mean breeze twirled around her legs. Why had she let Stephanie talk her into going to a party full of strangers? Because it was better than spending another evening alone.
On the drive home, Adrienne tried to rehearse all the things she needed to say to Sebastian, but instead, she choked on all of her tears.
Nick stared in horror at the computer screen. “How did this happen?” His voice, usually so deep and melodic, came out in a croaky 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 her what he hoped was a terrifying glare. She was like a sister to him. He had backed her when her parents had thrown a fit about her purple hair and multiple piercings. He had chased off her loser boyfriend. He loved her and thought the feeling mutual, but all of those warm fuzzy feelings were evaporating as he watched himself singing on the internet and realized she was the one to blame.
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 cocoa, 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 told himself that they weren’t laughing at him, were they? He glanced at the computer. According to the page views, so far about a thousand people had watched the video of him singing at his cousin’s Pedro’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, dressed in a tux, gave Nick his rapt attention, his big head swinging in time with the music. How had Nick not noticed this 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 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 guests as was typical for a Thursday afternoon.
He glanced outside at the weak January sun attempting to singe the edges of gray 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?
Adrienne gripped the steering wheel as she pulled up at a light and stared at the building in front of her. She had driven to 44 East Elm on auto-pilot. There, in front of her, stood the offices of Cavallero Land Development. Her eyes traveled to the top floor. Seb’s office. She imagined him sitting at his big desk. She could go in and talk to him. Confide her worries. Reveal her insecurities about how they rarely talked. How little they touched. When had he stopped calling in the middle of day? When had her company become an obligation or duty to fulfill?
A Volkswagen behind her bleeped its horn. The light had turned green. When? How long had she been parked there—not really coming or going, stuck in neutral?
The Volkswagen bleeped louder and longer. After raising her hand in apology, Adrienne turned onto High Street, away from Seb. Irrationally upset, angry with herself for being overly emotional, she pointed the car toward her own office. But then she saw him.
Her husband had his arm flung around the shoulders of a tall dark-haired beauty wearing a cobalt blue coat and a pair of red stiletto heels. Who dresses like that to the office? The woman turned and answered Adrienne’s question. Therese Acosta dressed like that. Therese Acosta kissed Seb on a Seattle corner.
A Honda in front of Adrienne stopped suddenly, forcing Adrienne to slam on her breaks. The front hood of her BMW came dangerously close to the Honda. A large furry dog in the backseat of the other car stared at her. Adrienne’s heart hammered at her near miss. Had Seb seen the almost accident? Was Theresa laughing at Adrienne’s clumsy driving? Adrienne tightened her grip on the steering wheel and sped away to anywhere else.
Adrienne 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.” Adrienne 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.
Adrienne had thought of this, and while she loved the old man, she’d long grown tired of Sebastian’s family’s hierarchy and manipulating ways. 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.
Three weeks later
“What would you like for dinner?” Aubrey asked.
Adrienne shrugged her response without looking up from her Argentina Now! Magazine. There was an article on Iguazu Falls, and Adrienne 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?”
“What?” Adrienne stared at her sister. Despite their ten-year age difference, they were similar in appearance—tall, blond, willowy. Neither wore much make-up. The major difference was that Aubrey was usually spattered in mud.
“You’re an attorney, for pity sake. Arguing is what you do!”
Adrienne turned her attention back to the magazine and tried to ignore Aubrey. “You want me to argue about what we have for dinner?” she said after a beat of silence. When Aubrey didn’t answer right away, she looked up.
Aubrey who stood in the kitchen surrounded by terra-cotta pots filled with rosemary, basil, dill, oregano, and lavender shook her trowel at Adrienne. “I want you to do something!”
Adrienne 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?”
Adrienne 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,” Adrienne said.
“No, what you said was—” Aubrey mimicked her exaggerated shrug.
“Do you want me to go?” Adrienne asked.
“To the bookstore, yes,” Aubrey said, her voice softening, “back to Sebastian, no.”
“Thanks for letting me stay here.” Adrienne went to find her shoes.
“Of course,” Aubrey said, sounding contrite.
Adrienne 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 Adrienne knew she was lucky that Aubrey would carve a space out for her, but still, she secretly wished for a room less junglesque. Adrienne found her shoes wedged between a potted grapefruit tree and a 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?” Adrienne asked.
This time it was Aubrey that answered with a shrug.
“Well, then you might want to wash your face,” Adrienne said with a smile.
“Have you heard from him?” Aubrey asked once they got outside.
“No.” Adrienne 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.
“I don’t think she was the only one,” Adrienne said in a small voice.
“What makes you so sure?”
Adrienne’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 nodded. “Divorce rates show a trend in couples that, on average, divorce around seven years. Statistics say 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.”
Adrienne 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.”
“Hmm,” Adrienne muttered.
“Let me guess what she said, I told you so?”
Adrienne elbowed her. “You’re so smart.” Adrienne paused on the corner of Avenida Indepencia 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 as they walked down the street until they reached Avenida Sant Fe. Once they passed through the doors of El Aetona, Adrienne 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 and best friend.
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.” At least, he hoped so. 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 Adrienne?” 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.” Nick 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 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 first and his fists second.
“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 Adrienne 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 past 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 Adrienne 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 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 to stay married, you know, for the time being. I’ll be worth a lot more and the divorce settlement will—”
“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 understand his feelings on divorce.”
“You want to divorce Adrienne?” 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.
ONE WEEK LATER
Adrienne 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 old 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. Paint splattered his long beard.
“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.”
“It’s not only an unrealistic expectation, it’s also unfair.”
Adrienne 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. Adrienne 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,” Adrienne 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?”
Adrienne blinked at him. “We have to work.”
“Is that why you went to law school instead of pursuing art?”
Adrienne made a noise that coming from anyone else would be a snort. Nick edged closer and a twig snapped beneath his shoe.
Adrienne 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…”
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 Adrienne could not. That Nick was, and always had been, completely in love with Adrienne.
Adrienne 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, Adrienne asked, “How is everyone at home?”
Her everyone, he knew, meant Seb. “Hmm, good.”
“And the shop?” Adrienne 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.”
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?”
“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 Adrienne’s.
Adrienne 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,” Adrienne 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. I need some guidance from my uncle. He doesn’t know I’m here. I’m going to surprise him tomorrow. Would you like to go with me?”
“I would love to, but if your business is as busy as you say, how can 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 Adrienne 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.”
Adrienne 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 Adrienne 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?” He would rather die than admit to his own weaknesses.
“I don’t think so.” Adrienne 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 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 Therese.” She skated him a glance. “Do you know about Seb and Therese?”
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 Adrienne’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.” Adrienne 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 Adrienne’s lips. “He would hate it if he knew.”
“Then we have to tell him!” He dug his phone out of his pocket.
Adrienne 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. He wanted to help Adrienne, but he also didn’t want to get seasick. “I can’t imagine anyone, even or especially you, hating you.”
The crowd surged up the gangplank and Nick and Adrienne moved with the tide of people.
“You’re sweet,” Adrienne 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 Therese.”
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 Adrienne pressed against the railing. “Would it be wrong if I just shouted out a whole bunch of naughty words at Mr. Bean?”
“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. Nick took a deep breath. For the moment, the boat held steady, but he knew that soon it would leave the harbor’s protection and the rolling tide would be more pronounced. Could he travel without getting ill? He would try, for Adrienne.
“Here,” he said as he handed Adrienne the napkin and a pen from his pocket.
“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. Nick swallowed the bile rising in his throat.
Nick sighed and rolled his shoulders as the Uruguayan coast loomed ahead. The palm trees swayed in the warm humid breeze. The stretch of beach welcomed him like long lost love. He could already smell his aunt’s budín de pan even though he was still miles away from his Tio Jose’s café. He gripped the railing as homesickness rocked through him.
Adrienne wrapped her hand around his arm and leaned against him. For a moment, he let his imagination carry him to a forbidden future, one that included Adrienne and their children, the beach, a warm tide, laughter. He longed to recreate for his own family the idyllic childhood that had been ripped from him with his parents’ death. And he wanted Adrienne to be a part of that…but she was his cousin and best friend’s wife. He edged away from her, frightened by his own hunger.
If Abuelo could read his thoughts, he would be hauled by his ear into see the priest.
If Abuelo could know of Seb’s infidelity, he would cut him off from the family and leave him for dead.
No matter. He couldn’t let Seb’s sins justify his own. He loved Adrienne as she loved him, as a friend. And nothing more. Someday, he would find a wife of his own and together they would bring their children to the beach to build sandcastles and bonfires.
“It’s such a relief to be here,” Nick told Adrienne.
“To see your Tio Jose?”
“Yes,” he replied, but he also thought, but mostly because no one here has seen those ridiculous videos.
After a few toots of the horn, the ferry landed. Nick guided Adrienne down the crowded gangplank and onto the sidewalk of Colonia de Sacramento. He spotted a taxi, hailed it, and placed his hand on the small of Adrienne’s back, urging her toward the yellow taxi.
Tio Jose lived in a small fishing village about twenty minutes north of Colonia de Sacramento. Their driver, Manuel, a middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache, knew it well.
“Your wife is very beautiful,” Manuel told Nick in Spanish.
“Yes, she is. Although she is not my wife, but my cousin’s,” Nick replied.
“Too bad,” Manuel said.
Nick cut Adrienne a sideways glance. “And she speaks Spanish fluently.”
Manuel glanced at Adrienne in the rearview mirror and gave her a flirtatious smile.
“Gracias,” Adrienne said.
“Tis’ but a truth,” Manuel said.
“Manuel, if you had millions of dollars, what would you do with it?” Adrienne asked Manuel.
@“We’re back to that?” Nick asked.
“Yes,” Adrienne said. “I think that if God gives you the resources to do a tremendous amount of good, you have a responsibility to use it to make the world a better place.”
Manuel laughed. “I suppose I would send my children to the university and pray that they would do the world some good, but what if they didn’t? What if I paid for them to gain an education, but they did nothing more than become taxi drivers?”
“But would that be so bad?” Adrienne asked. “What if they really enjoy being a taxi driver? Shouldn’t they be free to choose a profession that makes them happy?”
Manuel snorted. “You’re right. I do not need a million dollars. I don’t want the responsibility.”
“That’s an interesting way to look at it,” Nick said as he watched the familiar landscape flash by his window. His thoughts drifted to his Tio Jose and the life they’d shared before Tia Martha’s death, before Nick had been sent to the states. For the millionth time, he wondered if that move had been to his benefit. His aunt and uncle had loved him, given him a good home, a wonderful education, a stable upbringing, but maybe, like Manuel’s children, he would have been just as happy working with his Tio Jose in Uruguay?
Manuel pulled the taxi alongside the curb in front of Jose’s Café. Nick climbed out and reached for Adrienne’s hand.
But once on the sidewalk, he froze. Immediately, he knew something was terribly wrong.
The sound of Nick’s voice floated through the café’s open windows. Adrienne didn’t even try to hide her grin.
“Oh no,” Nick muttered. He stood rooted to the sidewalk with a look of horror and shock written on his face.
“Is everything alright?” Manuel stuck his head out of the taxi window.
“Everything is just fine,” Adrienne told Manuel as she elbowed Nick.
Nick shook back to life. “Just peachy,” he growled, and ferreted his wallet out of so he could pay Manuel.
“Then what is the matter?” Manuel asked. “You look as if you have seen a ghost.”
“The ghost of the future,” Adrienne said.
“Not if I can help it.” Nick pocketed his wallet, slung his bag over his shoulder, captured Adrienne’s, and marched into his Tio’s café like a soldier ready for battle.
Grinning, Adrienne tripped after him. The café patrons burst into applause and cheers as soon as Nick passed through the doors. A handsome middle-aged man standing behind the counter threw down his washcloth and approached Nick with outstretched arms. A TV the size of a pool table stood in the corner playing the YouTube video of Nick and the dog Lester at Pedro’s wedding.
“What’s all this?” Nick asked before hugging his uncle.
The two men slapped each other on the back. Tio Jose kissed both of Nick’s cheeks.
Nick pulled away first and pointed at the enormous TV with a shaking hand. “When did you get that?”
“Don’t think that this is all about you!” Jose placed the palms of his hands on both sides of Nick’s face. “We have to keep your head from swelling! All this internet fame is bad for the soul, but good for the bank, hey?”
“Tio Jose,” Nick muttered.
“Who is the rubio you have brought with you?” Jose turned his attention from Nick to Adrienne.
“This is Adrienne, Seb’s wife?”
“Seb’s wife?” Confusion flashed in Jose’s eyes.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Adrienne said in perfect Spanish and offered her hand. “I happened to be in Buenos Aires visiting my sister. When Nick told me he was visiting, I jumped at the chance to come with him. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind?” Jose nearly shouted. “Why would I mind that a beautiful creature comes to my humble café? Come,” he took Nick’s arm. “I have to introduce my famous nephew to my friends.”
Adrienne settled into a chair at the bar and watched while Jose steered a clearly embarrassed and pained Nick around the café and introduced him to nearly everyone. It astounded her that Jose seemed to know them all by name. Despite his obvious discomfort, in time, Nick visibly relaxed and by the time he joined her at the bar, his smile appeared genuine and warm.
“Now,” Jose stepped around the bar, “how long can you stay?”
“Indefinitely,” Nick said. When he caught the surprise on Jose’s face, he added, “I hope that’s okay.”
“Of course,” Jose stumbled. “But are not…don’t you need to go back? Your café—it can’t run itself, can it?”
“Actually, yes. It is fine without me.”
“And you?” Jose turned his gaze to Adrienne. “Surely, you must wish to return to my other, less talented, nephew?”
Adrienne didn’t know how to answer, but finally came up with. “I’m here to visit my sister in Buenos Aires. She’s on sabbatical from the University of Washington.” She gazed around the room at the variety of potted plants that decorated nearly every corner. “In fact, she would be fascinated by some of your ferns.”
Adrienne sucked in a deep breath and decided she needed to make Jose her accomplice. Propping her elbows on the bar, she placed her chin in her hands. “I need your help.”
Jose’s eyebrows shot up. “My help?” He flashed a curious glance at Nick.
“Yes. You need to help me convince Nick that he needs to share his talent with the world.”
Nick pointed at the TV screen. “I am!”
“Willingly,” Adrienne added gently.
“Ah,” Jose said, “yes, I see that you do need my help.” He brushed his hands together. “Princesa, you have come to the right place. I am your man for this very difficult task. It will be hard. Nick has always been a shy boy, but perhaps together, you and I, we will coax him from his shell, no?”
“Yes!” Adrienne said. She wanted to clap her hands.
“No!” Nick shook his head. “Look, I don’t want to be a rock star. There are a million dogs chasing after that bone. Speaking of which, where is Huesos Viejos?”
Sadness washed over Jose’s face. “Gone to be with my beloved Martha.”
“Oh no, I’m sorry,” Nick said.
Jose braced his shoulders. “This is why I play your videos all day long. It’s to keep me company. Well, that and it’s also good for business. You really could be a rock star.”
Adrienne felt Nick tense, and she placed her hand on his arm. “Sweetie, you don’t have to be a rock star. Not that you aren’t terribly talented, but you aren’t cut out for a life on a stage.”
“I’m glad you see that,” Nick said, sliding a reproachful glance at his uncle.
“But you don’t have to perform in front of crowd,” Adrienne said. “In fact, I have a much better idea.”
“Whatever it is, I don’t like it,” Nick said.
“How can you know that?” Adrienne said.
“Because I don’t like the look on your face.”
“She has a beautiful face!” Jose said.
“Thank you,” Adrienne said.
“Of course, she does, but that doesn’t mean her ideas are as lovely!” Nick said.
“You haven’t even heard me out,” Adrienne said.
Nick cocked one eyebrow, which Adrienne interpreted to mean, go ahead, I’m listening, but I will dislike everything you say.
“I did a little research last night.” Adrienne leaned in and raised her voice because she knew many of Jose’s friends sitting in the café were interested in what she had to say. “One music-business source estimates that acts can make $1,500 per 1 million streams on YouTube via advertising. Top stars can make even more by signing up sponsors.”
“That’s a whole lot of streams for not a lot of money,” Nick said.
“But it’s passive income,” Adrienne argued. “You put it up and it works while you’re sleeping or surfing! Plus, look how many views your videos have garnered without you doing a thing!”
“She’s beautiful and brilliant!” Jose exclaimed. “How did Seb get so lucky?”
“Plus,” Adrienne began.
“Another one?” Nick mumbled.
She nodded. “I really like this idea, and I think you will too.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because this will be fun.”
“I like fun,” Nick said grudgingly.
“Then this is what we’ll do. We’ll travel to cool places in South America and you’ll sing—”
“Wait. No.” Nick stood, but Adrienne grabbed the back of his shirt as he turned away.
“Just listen,” she pled. “You don’t have to perform in front of a crowd.”
“Okay, so you’re saying we’ll just go to Machu Picchu when no one else is there? Like when does that happen?”
Adrienne grinned. “Midnight.” She shivered with anticipation. “It’ll be so cool.”
“Why am I doing this?” Nick asked slowly returning to his seat.
“Listen, I didn’t say anything at the time, but you should know, I really disagreed with Manuel’s answer in the taxi.”
“Who is this Manuel?” Jose asked.
“Our taxi driver,” Nick told him.
“Just because you don’t want or need money doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of others you can help who do.”
“This is true,” a man at a nearby table said. “My sister’s family lost their home in a fire last week. Her six children are now sleeping on my kitchen floor.”
“We could hold a benefit concert!” a woman at his table chirped.
Nick’s grip on the table tightened.
“But,” Adrienne said, reading Nick’s nervousness, “this is exactly what he can’t do.”
“But maybe we could do something like I saw on an old Flintstone episode,” Jose put in.
Nick sucked in a deep breath, and Adrienne feared he was gathering steam before exploding.
“Barney Rubble couldn’t sing in front of crowd—he could only perform in the shower,” Jose said, “Maybe you could try singing in the next room. We could set up a microphone so everyone could hear you.”
Adrienne watched indecision flicker through Nick’s eyes.
“It would be pretty cool to go to Machu Picchu at midnight,” he said.
Jose slapped his hand on the table. “Let’s try it!”
“Machu Picchu?” Nick asked.
“No!” Jose stretched across the table so he could slap Nick on the side of the head. “You sing in the next room.” He nodded in that direction. “Everyone will listen out here.”
“I don’t know…” Nick drew out the words.
“One song,” Jose wheedled. “A short one,” he added when Nick didn’t respond right away. “Two to three minutes tops. Anyone can do anything for two minutes.”
“So not true,” Nick said. “You can’t hold your breath for two minutes. You can’t stand in a fire two minutes or swim in icy waters for two minutes. Did you know that if it’s twenty below and you spit your spit will freeze before hitting the ground?”
“No one is asking you brave fire or ice,” Jose said.
“The café will be less crowded than the weddings where you have performed,” Adrienne said. “I’m wondering what’s the problem.”
Nick swallowed and shook his head. “You’re right, it shouldn’t be a big deal.”
“Hooray!” Jose exclaimed, “I’ll set up the microphone!”
“And I’m going to the beach.” Nick pushed to his feet.
“Fine, but be back here at eight,” Jose said before standing and announcing to the crowd, “All of tonight’s proceeds will go to the Hernandez family!”
They spent the day playing at the beach. Several times, Adrienne felt like pinching herself to make herself wake from an amazing dream where there was nothing but warm water, hot sand, and a clear blue sky. It was as if Seattle and Seb belonged to a different world—a soggy and rain-drenched universe where she had to wear black suits and make arguments for other people’s problems while her own concerns festered beneath the surface.
She watched Nick swimming in the tide, moving away from her with strong, sure strokes. The first time they’d met, she’d been twenty and he sixteen—almost seventeen, but still just kid. He looked like Seb, but less confident, less substantial. He’d been wiry then, with a shock of dark hair that fell over his forehead. He’d jerk his head back to keep it out of his eyes. He’d been quiet, watchful, reserved, but had been a surprisingly fierce competitor when it came to a game of any kind—cards, soccer, or basketball. Not that she had ever played the later two with him, but she’d seen him go toe to toe with Seb many times on the basketball court. Seb, being bigger and stronger, had usually won, but Nick had put up a challenge. Idly, she wondered who would win if they should play today.
A shudder passed through her as her thoughts turned to Seb. She had promised herself and Nick that she wouldn’t think about him, but at some point, she would need to reach a decision. She couldn’t hide out at her sister’s indefinitely. Briefly, a cloud shrouded the sun and the air cooled. Could this phase of her marriage be like the passing cloud? Cold and dark momentarily? Sunny and warm in the future? Or would there always be another Therese on the horizon?
Adrienne dove into the tide and tried to let all thoughts of Seb go. Closing her eyes, she swam hard, enjoying the rush of water against her skin. She stopped when she bumped into someone.
“Hey,” Nick said. “I caught you.” He stood before her, the water glistening off his tan skin, his hair slicked back, his dark eyes shining.
Adrienne’s feet sought solid ground, but she couldn’t find it. Nick reached out, snagged her wrist and pulled her closer to the shore.
“I’ve been thinking about your idea,” he told her. “Come on, let’s go back to the café and make it happen.”
Nick set up his laptop while Adrienne took a shower. Because Uncle Tio lived in a second-story apartment above the café, Nick could hear the shower running while he waited for his computer to boot up. He steered his thoughts away from Adrienne. That way lies madness, he told himself as memories of the slippery smoothness of her skin as they played in the tide tormented him.
His phone buzzed and he pulled it from his pocket. Seb. “Hey, I was just thinking about you,” he told his cousin. In a round about way.
“How’s it going?” Seb asked. “Are you two coming home soon?”
“In a round about way,” he said, echoing his thoughts.
“What does that mean?”
“It means we’ll get there, eventually.”
“What do you mean?”
Seb cleared his throat. “Listen, I know I told you that I wanted you to bring her home, but I was wondering…”
Nick’s throat tightened and his breath caught. “Spit it out.”
“Well, do you think you could try and keep her down there for a while?”
Seb grunted. “Abuelo is going to Rome for a month.”
“Rome? That doesn’t sound like something a dying man would do!”
“He said he wants to see the Vatican before he dies.”
“Okay, but what does that have to do with Adrienne, or me?”
“I have some things I need to work out. They require some…finesse.”
“What sort of things? Therese-type things?”
“Ah, so you know about her?”
“I think everyone does.”
“Not everyone,” Seb said grimly.
“Seb, tell me, if it wasn’t for Abuelo and the business—” Nick had a dozen questions he wanted to ask, but he pressed his lips closed when Adrienne appeared in the doorway, backlit by the afternoon light. Even with her hair wet and her face scrubbed clean of makeup, her beauty took his breath. A faint sunburn touched her cheeks and nose. Her dress clung to her damp skin. “I gotta go,” Nick told Seb in a strangled voice.
“Wait, will you keep her down there?”
“It might be expensive.”
“Whatever it costs.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Nick said before ending the call. He turned his phone to silent and put it back in his pocket.
“So you’ve come up with a plan?” Adrienne settled into the chair across the table from him.
“Iguazu Falls, Machu Picchu, Punta Arenas--”
“It’s near Antarctica. There’s a penguin colony. Patagonia. The Glacier National Park.”
“Wow. This sounds expensive.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I can’t let you pay for me.”
“Why not?” He grinned. “Consider it a business expense.”
“I’m going to video tape you singing in all these locations?”
“Hmm, I’ll be a where’s Waldo with a guitar.”
“I love it! But…”
“I need to start thinking about going home.”
Her eyes welled with tears. “Oh, Nick, what am I going to do?”
“You are going to travel South America with me.”
“I’m going to make you star is what I’m going to do,” she said, “but we don’t need to travel to do that.”
“But it’ll be more fun this way,” Nick told her.
She tipped her head, hiding her eyes. “True,” she murmured. When she looked up, she looked more hopeful. “Where do you want to go first?”
“I thought we’d make a circle,” he said, turning his laptop and showing her his proposed map. “Iguazu Falls, Machu Picchu, Patagonia, the glaciers.”
“Why not Brazil?”
“We’d need to get a visa, but we could stop in Venezuela, maybe Costa Rica and Cancun on our way home.”
“It all sounds so…incredible.”
Nick wanted to tell her that the most incredible unbelievable part of the whole thing was that Seb, always so smart, had turned into an idiot of a husband. “But it’ll take a few days to get our flights set up, so until then, tell me—are you afraid of ghosts?”
“I want to sing in the Recoleta Cemetery before dawn.”
“Did you say ghosts?”
“Quite a few, actually,” he said.
He nodded. “They say Rufina Cambaceres had mistakenly been buried alive near the turn of the last century. Local workers heard screams a few days after her burial, and when her coffin was disinterred, they found scratch marks on her face and on the insides of the coffin. It was later thought that she had been in a coma.”
“That’s terrible, but what makes you think she haunts the cemetery?”
“Well, I would if I were her.”
Adrienne snorted at this logic.
“There’s more. David Alleno worked for years as a grave-digger, carefully saving his money for his own plot and a statue of himself. It is said that as soon as the architect he had commissioned for the statue had finished the work, Alleno went home and killed himself. Apparently, you can still hear his keys jangling as his ghost walks the cemetery’s narrow pathways at dawn.”
“And that’s when you want to go?”
“I can’t think of a better time, can you?”
“Is it open?”
“We’ll sneak in with the gardeners.”
Adrienne laughed and shook her head.
So are you, he thought, battling back the images of Adrienne in her swim suit.
She cocked her head, studying him. “You’re willing to break into a cemetery, brave security that may possibly be armed and ghosts, and who knows what weapons they wield, but when it comes to singing in a crowd, even though you have an amazing voice, you want to hide out in the next room.”
“That’s right,” Nick said without hesitation.