Tuesday, April 12, 2011
CHAPTER TWENTY: "How Can She Be Tempted?"
She tears the crust from a rounded slice of bread, begins nibbling on crumbs. She is having a war with herself, trying to decide whether to continue with the fabrication, or admit the truth.
The sangría is making her head spin. Señor Jerez looks up and smiles for the first time and she gazes back at him, wide-eyed. This man will think I have lost my mind. What kind of a fool goes around making up such a ridiculous story?
"I ...I have been lying to you señor," she whispers suddenly. She sets the bread down on top of the paella and pushes the pan away. Her face is flushed warm, and it must look bright pink. She doesn't care what he thinks. She lifts the sangría to her lips and drains the glass.
The man stops eating, stares at her in confusion.
"Jesús Becerra is my boyfriend, or...he was. He is not my husband."
"I see. But I don't understand, because I didn't know, I mean, as far as I knew he was alive.
He had been living in the United States but I had not heard that he was dead. Or married."
"He's not. Dead. Or at least I hope not. And that's why I'm here. To find him. To find out what happened to him." Ronda sighs and shakes her head. Then she covers her mouth with her locked hands. She is struggling against tears. "He went back to Spain in July to record a CD. And he..."
Ronda bites so fiercely into her lower lip that she tastes blood. Jerez pours her more sangria.
"Gracias." She takes another sip.
"He didn't come back. I don't know what happened to him. I found out a week ago that he was ill, this summer, he had some kind of emergency operation. But he...I'm not sure where he is OK or...whether..." She shrugs, lifts her eyes to his. "I'm very sorry I lied before. I was...it's just I didn't want to...it's because I feel so...so terribly insecure. Jesús and I were, are, very deeply in love. For more than a year now. And then he left and...I'm worried."
She looks up. "I'm sorry..."
"Yes, of course. Please. Say no more." He leans forward, takes her hand and encloses it in his own. "It wasn't polite of me to pry. To ask you so many questions. Forgive me. I have no excuse except to say that you are so lovely, I..." He brings her hand swiftly forward to his lips and kisses it once.
"Please, please don't do this," she says, her voice falling into a whisper again. "I miss Jesús desperately and all I want to do is find him." Tears are swelling in Ronda's eyes now. She is on the verge of breaking down, right in front of a total stranger.
He steadies his gaze on her. "Well, then, I hope you will allow me please to help you. It is possible that I may have contacts in the places where..."
"Oh no, no I couldn't," she says, knowing right away that she could and would.
Señor Jerez leans across the table. "Señora?" He reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out a starched white handkerchief. She takes the hanky and holds it beneath her nose. It has a fragrance like lemons or some other citrus. And in the corner is a set of scrolled initials, embroidered in red. "As I said, I believe I may be able to help you."
She looks up at him, numb. And immersed in feelings of complete humiliation.
"I don't understand."
"You see, one of my dearest friends, Julio Galvarez, operates a flamenco club here in Sevilla. I am scheduled to see him later this evening, for the show. If you wish, you could go. As my guest. Señor Galvarez is, as you would say in the United States, well connected. It is possible that he may know Becerra's whereabouts. Or at the very least, where to begin to look."
"But I don't think Jesús is anywhere here. Near Sevilla I mean. I believe that he is further south. Near Granada. I was told he went to a tiny village called Lanjarón in..."
"Señora," Jerez says, smiling mysteriously. "Entrust this to a Spaniard. Please. My friend is originally from Granada. And he maintains a small summer home deep in the Alpujarras, near Orgiva, one of the beautiful mountain villages on the southern flank of the Sierras. I assure you that if Jesús is anywhere in the Alpujarras region, my friend will know someone who knows his whereabouts."
Ronda sighs. Her head is swimming. She has trouble believing that she is actually talking to someone who might lead her to Jesús. It's too much to hope for. She reaches into her purse, her eyes clouded by tears. "I have only this," she says, clearing her throat. "It's a phone number that doesn't answer. In Lanjarón. But no address." Jerez puts on eyeglasses and reads the small sheet of paper.
"Who gave you this number?"
"I spoke to a man in Sevilla a week ago, when I called from the States, and he says Jesús gave him the number before he left. A month or more ago."
"I see." He hands her back the slip of paper. "I don't know anything much about Lanjarón.
Except that it is tucked into the Alpujarras. There are such beautiful whitewashed villages there."
"Yes, I am driving that way tomorrow."
Jerez studies her. Glances at his Rolex watch. "I have a driver here. I would be happy to put him and the car at your disposal tomorrow for as long as you..."
"Oh no, no, really. I couldn't possibly. It's far too generous of you señor."
"Señora. Please. You are in no condition to go driving off into the southern mountains alone. I will phone him tonight. That way, he might have the car here for you first thing in the morning." He looks up. "Meanwhile, will you be my guest at the flamenco show tonight?"
Ronda's face is hot. She is not in any condition to go out. And yet, if she does go, she will almost certainly get to meet the man who might know Jesús, and where he is.
"Please señora? You are guaranteed the best seat, as we are guests of my friend."
Ronda sifts her fingertips through her hair. Jerez is eyeing her steadily. "All right," she whispers. "I'll come."
He bows his head once, all the while smiling and maintaining his gaze.
Ronda blushes and looks away. Something about his eyes, something dark and unexpectedly attractive, sets a small shiver going up her back.
She looks away. How could she be tempted now? She has no idea how and she doesn't want to know.