The HuffPost has revolutionized journalism by taking over the news business. Is fiction next? My new novel, Seeing Red, is being serialized three times a week on the Huffington Post. Here's the latest installment of the book. (Catch up with previous chapters at "Seeing Red on the HuffPost!")
Ronda blushed and Jesús bowed slightly. "I'm afraid I must go inside now. Otherwise, there is a bride who will have no music."
He reached down and only then did she notice the black guitar case beside his feet.
"Oh, of course," she said. "Of course. You are playing."
"Yes," he said, another disarming smirk crawling across his face. "I have enjoyed meeting you," he said. "My name is Jesús. Jesús Becerra."
He extended his hand. She took it, flushed.
"Ronda. Ronda...Cari. I am Italian." For months afterward, he would tease her about why she said that. Because, as he pointed out, she wasn't Italian, but American.
"Well, 'Miss Ronda Cari I am Italian,' I am pleased to meet you." His eyes left hers and the next thing she knew he was bending forward and she could feel his warm lips caressing her hand. He looked up at her, but she was unable to speak.
"Yes, me too," she said finally. She felt the strong pull of his hand on hers. "I'm going to this wedding too."
"Then you must walk inside with me." He offered his arm and she hooked her fingers inside the smooth suede of his elbow and wondered immediately whether there wasn't some way she could leave it there.
Her body anchored against his, they passed inside the chapel. And when Ben saw her, arm in arm with the handsome Spaniard, Jesús was leaning his head close to hers, so close that their hair was actually touching. And her face was burning because Jesús was asking her now how her name was spelled. When she told him, he gripped her hand even tighter and brought her fingertips again to his lips.
Then he whispered. "I just want you to know Miss Ronda Cari, that your name is very special to me."
She turned. "My name?"
"Yes. Because you see, in southern Spain, just a few kilometers from where I was born, there is an ancient town, a most beautiful town, perched hundreds of meters up on the edge of a cliff and it has the very same name as you have. Ronda. The same spelling exactly. And that is the place where I first fell in love with the guitar."
Ronda turned to face him. Her heart was gathering speed and two warm pink spots were blooming like hot flowers on her cheeks. She wanted to hear him speak her name again. Because most people rhymed the first syllable with pond. But this man rolled the R, and made the first syllable, "Ron," rhyme with "moan."
"I'm...my real name is not Ronda, but Gironda," she said.
But now he had dropped her hand and he was waving slightly and heading away. The best man, Frank Preston, was whisking Jesús to the front of the chapel to begin playing.
Head down, her face a study in red, Ronda scurried up a side aisle, and slipped into the seat beside Ben. Wiggling out of her coat, she realized that despite the brisk cold air, she was sweating; she was almost as wet as she was when she was dancing flamenco in señora Barranca's studio.
Ben was starting to say something, but Ronda cut him off.
"Kiss me," she said, smiling, looking directly into his eyes.
"That's what I said. Kiss me."
So he did. He kissed her. Ben tasted of white wine, but that was fine. Because even though she wasn't in love with her husband anymore, she was full of something absolutely new and delightful and that feeling was so strong that it had to go somewhere, had to spill over tonight. And it might as well go to the man she had married so many years before.
Up front, Jesús began tuning, and soon he started to play. And the music was the music she so loved. The play of strings, and now and then, a falseta followed by a series of explosive rasgueados. Enrico and his young bride, Mercedes, were waltzing up the aisle from the back of the chapel, both holding tall thin tapered candles, both enveloped in a single happy glow.
Ben leaned over Ronda's bare neck and whispered something about the guitarist having a ponytail. Ben's breath was warm, and it tickled her neck.
"I hadn't noticed," she whispered back. But she did now. She looked carefully at Jesús, up there in the front. He did indeed have a ponytail. But more importantly, he had that soft, coffee-colored face, the one she knew but couldn't place. The one that had already drawn her in. The one she saw and thought she had known her whole life.
Later that night, Ben had at least four drinks too many. As he prepared to dance still another time with Brenda, Jesús finally slid up behind Ronda, who was standing alone, and he slipped one strong hand into the small of her back. Smiling, he gestured and then guided her onto the dance floor.
She turned to face him and immediately his hand dropped, and his fingers spread and straddled low across her spine, as if she had strings, as if she was the guitar, and he was preparing to play her. She had the sense that her head was lifting, turning, and that soon she would be impossibly dizzy.
"Is this OK?" he whispered. She nodded and he pulled her tightly to his chest, so close that she might have been his leather glove. Embraced this way, they stood there, barely moving on the dance floor.
Slowly, her chin grew limp and came to rest on his shoulder. She wondered if she would be bold enough at the end of the evening to scribble down her phone number, slip him the piece of paper.
She grew warm, the warmth spreading quickly; soon enough it was so late that Ben was there, holding her coat, waiting. She had to go.
When the fog lifts, and she is fully awake, she is still in the hospital bed, and the light is low and creamy yellow. Jesús is nowhere to be seen. Instead, on the floor beside her, where the chair had been, there is a strange bulky shape. A body. Ronda's eyes, slowly focusing, take in a pair of blue jeans, a set of knees, scuffed boots that look familiar.
"Jack?" she cries out, forcing herself up onto one elbow. "Honey is that you?"
The shape comes to life. Jack pops up, eyes shut tight. His ebony-colored hair, the same shade and wavy texture as her own, is a tangled nest. Yawning, he runs both hands briskly over his face, and in that rapid up and down motion, he is suddenly the boy he used to be at age nine, waking up for school.
"Jack, what are you doing lying on the floor?" She sinks into the bed again.
"I was sitting in the chair for a long time, but my back was killing me."
His mentioning the chair makes Ronda wonder vaguely again about Jesús, about whether he's left the hospital and gone back to New York. She dare not ask Jack, because Jack has met Jesús only once, earlier this summer, and it would seem odd to him that Jesús would visit her in the hospital.
"How long did I sleep?" She's got a feeling like cotton filling her head.
"We brought you last night, and you've been sleeping all day. I think you've got to stay one more night at least."
There is a fluffy sensation, and a flutter, right in the tender part of her stomach. Something like a hunger pang centers itself there too, and gurgling, but accompanying those sensations is also a slight roll, a feeling she had once when she stepped into a sailboat and it pulled too quickly away from shore. Maybe because of the IV, she feels like she is awash in fluid, her insides running like a river of cool liquids.
"Did you speak to the doctor?" As soon as she asks the question, she thinks she shouldn't have. The question, and what it implies, is totally unfair. What right did she have to impose this responsibility on him? Why should her 17-year old son assume the role that his father had once played, that of Ronda's partner and protector? No, she decided, she shouldn't do that to Jack.
And yet, gazing up at her son, at his lean six-foot frame, she knows that there is nobody better, nobody she would rather have by her side in a crisis. This is the same boy, after all, who at age four, when her grandfather, Papa Aldo, died, and she was sitting on her bed, crying, came to sit beside her and patting her hand said, "Don't worry, Mommy, I'll be your grandpa."
A low pinpoint of orange light is shining right in Ronda's eyes now, so bright she can barely see. Without being asked, Jack moves to the window to adjust the shade.
"No, I didn't see the doctor. I've only talked to the nurses. I asked them what they're going to do to help you."
"Well, I guess one thing they definitely won't do is give you anything to eat. Not for a while, anyway. All you get is that clear slurp through the IV."
She chews into her lower lip. She isn't nauseous now, not exactly, but there is that awful gnaw in her stomach.
The agony reminds her. She has to make a decision. She has to make plans. And she can't take forever deciding.
Only, she can't do any of this without first seeing Jesús, without confronting him. Without hearing what he has to say when she asks him how a child, their baby, might play into his life.
Clearing her throat, she pulls herself up to a sitting position. "I wonder, honey, if I could ask you a favor?"
"Sure, Ma," Jack says, getting up from the chair. "What?"
"I wonder if you would get the nurse. I want to...I need to use the bathroom and I don't think I should get up on my own. I feel dizzy."
"Sure Ma. No problem."
As soon as Jack leaves, Ronda picks up the phone.
She knows for certain when she got pregnant. And she knows exactly where she was.
READ THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF SEEING RED on Sunday, February 20, 2011. To catch up on previous chapters, go to Seeing Red on the Huff Post!
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