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Julio & Julia

by Micky Ferguson 11 months ago in humanity

An unforgettable summer in San Sebastián.

“What’s that?” Erica peaked at the package in my hand. We lived together in a small apartment in Los Angeles's west side.

I furrowed my eyebrow and shook my head, “I’m not sure. I don’t remember buying anything.”

“Does it say who it’s from?”

I scanned the parcel, but couldn't find a return address. I shrugged. “Maybe there’s a card inside.”

I ripped it open and let the contents spill onto the counter. A small, black Moleskine notebook and an envelope. I recognized the notebook instantly, and my hands began to shake as I flipped it open and read the first page.

Julia Reyes, 2011.

“Julia, are you okay?” Erica gently touched my shoulder. I looked at her and realized I had tears in my eyes.

“Yeah, it’s just...” I paused, trying to collect my thoughts, “I haven’t seen this journal in a long time. I thought I’d lost it forever.”

“What's in the card?”

I had almost forgotten about it. I opened the envelope and found a blank postcard from San Sebastián and a slip of paper. I examined the slip of paper and gasped.

“This can’t be right.”

Erica looked over my shoulder. “A twenty thousand dollar check!? Do you know who it’s from?”

“It doesn’t say, but I think I know.”

“Is it an inheritance? Did someone die?”

“It’s complicated. Can I have a minute?”

“Of course, just let me know if you need anything.”

I scooped everything into my arms and rushed into my bedroom to place it all on my desk. I grabbed my little black book and held it to my chest. I couldn’t believe it had found its way back to me. I flopped onto my bed closed my eyes, finally allowing my long-repressed memories to come flooding back.

***

We spent our summers in San Sebastian, where my mother had attended culinary school before meeting my father. She was originally from Madrid.

She met my father on a trip to Los Angeles in 1995 on a sweaty summer’s night in Clifton's Republic. My dad had that blind, unsubstantiated confidence that still runs through the veins of most men in LA. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, and she found his tenacity endearing. He swept her off her feet that night and took her hand in marriage soon after. He did not realize that she had left her heart behind in San Sebastián to a married man who could not risk losing his family. The trip to California had been a distraction for her. A hasty escape to ease her guilty conscience. Perhaps her entire life in Los Angeles was just that.

Our San Sebastián summers were filled with warm sea breezes, strong coffee, chocolate croissants, and salty pinchos. When I turned sixteen, my parents decided I was finally old enough to explore the city on my own.

The thought of being alone in my favorite city gave me an exhilarating headrush. I remember jumping out of bed on our first day in town, my brain in a hazy fog of jetlag. I loaded my backpack with water, snacks, and my black Moleskine notebook and snuck out for an early morning run through the sleeping town. I raced up Monte Igueldo to see the sunrise from the best view in town. But while I waited for the sun, I suddenly felt a heavy rush of fatigue – the sleep deprivation finally catching up with me. I dozed off for what felt like only a moment, but awoke to see the sun already in the sky and tourists buzzing around me. My heart sank. I missed the first sunrise.

I made my way down the mountain and stopped at a local cafe for coffee and a chocolate croissant. After placing my order, I realized with horrifying embarrassment that I hadn’t brought any money. My face flushed as I explained my mistake in broken Basque to the cashier, cursing myself for my inability to communicate properly.

Suddenly, a gentle voice from behind me came to my rescue. The kind stranger covered my meal, and I was pleasantly surprised to see he was a boy around my age. After thanking him profusely for his generosity, I found my way to a table outside and pulled out my Moleskine notebook to chronicle that morning’s adventures. Along with my narrative, I sketched the view from Monte Igueldo and the coffee and pastry. I wanted to sketch the boy as well, and when I looked up, I saw him reading the newspaper and enjoying his own cup of coffee. He caught my sudden glance, and our eyes met. He gave a polite smile and raised his coffee cup in a friendly toast. I raised mine as well, and he took it as an invitation to join me at my table.

I was grateful to learn that he spoke Spanish with a Castilian accent, the same dialect I was raised with, making conversation easy. His name was Julio, and he was a 17-year-old university student from Salamanca who was traveling with a family from Madrid as their son’s tutor. He asked about my journal, and I let him look through the pages. He complimented my drawings, but admitted that he did not understand English. I told him my struggles with learning Basque, and we agreed to tutor each other. I would teach him English, and he would teach me Basque. Our first lesson began right then. I wrote down some common English phrases in my Moleskine, and I gave him some exercises to do. When he left to tutor his student, we agreed to meet at the same cafe the next morning to continue our lessons.

Julio and I fell into an easy routine over the next few weeks. We spent every morning meeting at different cafes, our only rule being that we must have coffee before any lesson began. He would leave for tutoring, and then we’d reunite every afternoon.

The pages of my notebook were filling up with our lessons and my tales of each days’ adventures. He told me about his dreams of one day opening up his own restaurant, and I told him about my dreams of becoming a graphic artist. The summer was escaping us, and I couldn’t stand the thought of saying goodbye to my new best friend.

One August afternoon, we hiked to the top of Monte Urgell and I drew a sketch of him. I admired the way the pink sunset cast a gentle glow on his face. I captured his round eyes and long lashes. His dark, messy hair and the gentle freckles across his nose. He smiled at the finished product and asked if I could draw a picture of myself for him, so that he could have something to remember me by. The thought of us parting ways put a lump in my throat. I placed my head on his shoulder and wrapped my arms around him.

“I don’t want to have to say goodbye to you.” I whispered.

He kissed the top of my head, and I looked up to meet his eyes. We stared at each other for what felt like an eternity before his lips finally met mine for the first time. I smiled at the new sensation, and I felt him smiling back.

When he walked me home that night, we ran into my parents on the street. I saw the curiosity in my father’s eyes and the subtle, knowing grin on my mother’s lips. Julio instantly recognized them from a drawing of mine, and he was quick to introduce himself. I was impressed by his manners and how much his English had improved. I could tell my parents approved.

One morning, Julio introduced me to the family he was working for. They were staying in a spacious hilltop home with window walls and stunning bay views. The boy he was tutoring, Manolito, greeted me with open arms. Manolito’s father had a familiar smile and an engaging personality. His name was Carlos, and we exchanged a few pleasantries before he offered to take us all out for ice cream. We took the long way, walking along the beach and admiring artwork that had been sketched into the sand.

Carlos told me that he used to teach culinary courses in San Sebastián. I was about to mention how my mother had attended culinary school here, when something grabbed his attention. I followed his gaze and was startled to find my mother. Her face was pale and unreadable. She rushed over to me with sudden determination.

“Julia,” her voice was gruff. “We have to go.”

“What’s wrong?” My voice was shaking and I began to panic. “Is Dad okay?” She snapped her eyes away from Carlos and met my eyes, her face softening.

“Yes, he’s fine.” She reached out her hand, and I took it. “We just have to leave right now.”

I looked back at Julio. This could not possibly be goodbye, could it? His eyes were full of concern.

“Julia,” Carlos suddenly spoke. “How old are you?”

“Don’t answer him,” my mother muttered in a tone I could not recognize. “Just keep walking.”

I did as I was told. The next day, we packed our things and left for Barcelona. It wasn’t until after we boarded the train that I realized I had left my little black notebook in Carlos’s home.

I cried throughout the rest of our trip. I had lost the purest love I’d ever known, along with my Moleskine of memories from the summer. Just like that, my first love washed away like an artwork in the sand.

***

It took years for me to fully understand what had truly happened that summer. A DNA test led to me finally confronting my mother and understanding her past. If I had known the truth at the time, I could have instantly cleared up my mother’s misunderstanding of Julio’s relationship to Carlos. A decade had passed and the memory still put a pit in my stomach.

I knew the package had to be from Carlos, my biological father.

Had he died? Did he leave me that money in his will?

I heard a knock at my door.

“Julia? Are you awake?” Erica’s voice was gentle, cautious.

“Yes, I’m up.” I sat up and stretched.

“Good, there’s someone at the front door for you. Did you order a meal?”

“Oh my gosh, yes!” I jumped to my feet. Earlier that day I had pre-ordered dinner from a new restaurant I wanted to try.

The food was already on the counter when I entered the kitchen. I made my way to the front door where the delivery man was waiting patiently.

“Here you go,” I said, handing him his tip. I met his eyes and froze.

“Julio?” I heard myself ask.

He gave me a warm smile. “I hoped it would be you.” His voice still felt so familiar.

“You work at La Concha?”

He nodded, “I own it. When I saw your name in the order, I knew I had to see you. Did you receive the package?”

“It was from you.” I whispered. I gestured for him to come inside. “You were too generous, I can’t accept it.”

He shook his head. “You must. Your English lessons were invaluable.”

“I can’t believe you found me.”

“Technically, you were the one who found me,” he grinned. He still had that boyish smile that made my heart swoon all those years ago. He caught my gaze and we stood in silence, a decade between us.

“Do you have to get back to the restaurant right away?”

He shook his head, “I actually took the night off.”

My phone lit up with a text from Erica: I snuck out. Visiting my parents for the night. Tell me everything tomorrow.

I smiled to myself and looked back at Julio. “Would you like to join me for dinner?”

He grinned, “Only if we have some coffee first.”

humanity

Micky Ferguson

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