In this chapter, we meet one of the main characters, Julia Lafferty. Have a great weekend, everyone!
CHAPTER TWO – JUNE 1
Julia tossed her keys into the basket she kept next to the front door so as not to lose them, a trick she had learned years ago. Well, that was the hope anyway, although they still managed to show up in the oddest places: in laundry askets of clean clothes, on the back of a toilet, or even the refrigerator.
She felt invigorated after a quick match at the tennis club. The activity gave her sun-kissed face a warm glow and brightened her eyes. Although in her late forties, she still turned heads and enjoyed the fact that she did. Periodically, Julia used a touch of Botox® around the forehead and eyes, “just to freshen up a bit.” Where was the harm in a little nip and tuck from time to time? After all, looking young helps one to feel young. She hadn’t gone under the knife yet, but “the girls” might need a little lifting soon.
The phone rang. She dropped her Burberry metallic leather bag, overflowing with everything she needed and many items she didn’t, with a thud onto the kitchen counter, and grabbed the phone. Glancing at the caller ID, she said, “Hi, Lisa, how are you? Hey, sure, I just got back. How about tomorrow, ten o’clock? Then we can have lunch at the club. I think a martini is calling my name. Sound good? Great, see you then. Bye.”
With tanned hands and manicured fingernails she grabbed the mail, and sat on the patio where she could enjoy the garden. Rows of white, pink, and fuchsia rose blossoms filled the yard with whimsical color and soft scents. A team of landscapers kept the lawn and gardens in symmetrical perfection. A ceiling fan that resembled palm fronds circled lazily above.
Julia had always planned to care for the flowers herself, but her husband Larry just laughed at her. “Don’t ruin those pretty hands,” he said. Sometimes she ignored him and worked in the dirt anyway, happy as a child making mud pies. He was gone so much anyway, he didn’t have to know.
As usual, most of the mail was junk. A few political ads set her teeth on edge, because that signaled the coming influx of annoying robo-calls, trying to get her vote. She put the grocery ads aside, not that she ever actually looked at them, but she always meant to. She tore the credit card solicitations in two, and set aside Larry’s mail.
She almost discarded the flyer for continuing education at Houston Community College, but she found herself holding on to it, unable to let go. “Hmm,” she said aloud. Feelings of excitement mixed with self-doubt crept in. She had never been a great student, not because of a lack of intelligence, but more because she had a social life to maintain.
Still, recently she had thought about wanting “more,” though the desire had remained, to date, a vague, amorphous feeling. She already had so much, she couldn’t imagine what that meant, but it nagged her anyway. She leafed through the brochure as though looking for clues. Religions of the World? Nah, too heavy. Starting Your Own Business? She thought about that one for a moment, then shook her head. She knew entrepreneurs who poured all their energies into getting a business up and running. Worse than a job.
“What are you looking at so intently?”
Julia jumped. “Larry!” she cried with delighted surprise. “What are you doing home?”
He leaned over and gave her a lingering kiss, which she returned eagerly. After nearly thirty years together, his lips still set off electric shivers in her body.
“Packing. I’m off to Paris again. Want to go?”
“Hmm, sounds tempting. How long will you be gone this time?”
“Not long. I’m sure not more than a week or two.”
She laughed. “As great as that sounds, not really.” For years she had jumped at all their impromptu trips, especially to Paris.
“You’re not worrying about the Parisian women again, are you?” he asked. “Because there’s plenty of great shopping there, at least so I’ve heard.”
“Ah, oui, oui, mon mari,” she said in her best French accent, complete with the remains of an East Texas twang. She had once shared with Larry that she felt inferior to Parisian women, who all seemed to exude slim magic and sensual mystery. He insisted that he found the women to be overly consumed with their appearance and even those of their favorite accessories, their perfectly puffed and coiffed little dogs. Julia, however, had found French women to be beautiful, friendly, and engaging. Larry insisted that he saw none of this, but it didn’t remove the unease Julia felt each time he left. She had come to accept it as her only real insecurity. “The shopping sounds lovely, but I really want to stay home.” She ran a hand through short, spiky brown hair. I need a new coat of paint, she thought to herself. She had seen bits of silver at her temples again, and her trips to the hairdresser had increased in their frequency. “But what’s up?”
“Arthur wants me to look at some apartments over there. We’re over there so often that he thinks we’ll save money on hotels. Plus, it gives us more of a presence there. I’m not so sure I want to deal with Parisian bureaucracy, but I’m a good foot soldier, you know.” He sat next to her and took her hand.
“That you are, my love.” She had met Larry in college and knew right away he was a go-getter, but she hadn’t imagined a life of travel and every luxury, from a spacious home filled with art to servants at her beck and call, a life where she was willing to turn down a trip to Paris because she had been there so many times.
“I’ll miss you,” he said. He sat next to her and stroked her arm. “I have a little time before I head to the airport. How about giving me a special good-bye?”
“Larry, you are such a bad boy,” she said, laughing, and crawled onto his lap. She buried herself in their embrace, knowing that their servant Luisa had headed off just a few minutes before to the store, so they would have time. She gave his ear a little nibble and said, “How about right here?”
“Sounds good to me,” he said, and they made their way to the floor without letting go of each other. In the heat of early summer, the tiled floor felt cool. Their bodies danced together as those of a long-married couple who know everything about what gives each other pleasure. Julia didn’t know if that was good or bad; sometimes, as now, it felt a little mechanical, as though Larry’s mind was somewhere else. Still, she felt close to him in these moments, and contentment flooded her, leaving her warm and soothed. She nestled in his arms, and they spent a few more minutes murmuring their love. Then he shifted to face her, running a hand through her hair and kissing her forehead. “By the way, have you thought any more about the Belize thing?”
The “thing,” as they called it, was his offer to buy them a place along the coast of Belize. Larry’s firm handled a lot of commercial real estate there, so he had suggested they find a nice second home. “Mmm,” she said, her eyes almost closed. She imagined the sun and surf as she lay on a lounge chair, soaking up tropical rays. Surprisingly, she felt…nothing. “I don’t know. Larry, it sounds wonderful, but so does staying home. I don’t know if I can keep up with all this running around.”
He laughed, flashing the boyish grin that still melted her after all these years. “Crazy, isn’t it? But exciting though. Think about it. Remember when we stayed at the Four Seasons? Remember the water, how turquoise it is?”
“Oh, yes, beautiful,” she said, not wanting to let go of her afterglow. To her, Belize meant massages and seafood salad lunches with the other wives, giving Julia many much-needed opportunities to socialize. She loved the ocean breezes, the beaches, the refreshing seaweed shakes with rum that arrived at her chaise longue with only a glance needed from her. It was tempting.
Still, the word “more” crept into her brain again like a pesky fly. She didn’t even know what that meant, especially since she already had more than most people she knew, and “more” felt selfish and greedy. She had more than anyone she knew; what else could there be? She sensed thoughts and feelings, all jumbled up and trying to come to the surface, but still separate bits and pieces that hadn’t found each other.
“Jules, where did you go?”
His words jarred her back to the present. “Yes, sorry, love, I guess when you mentioned Belize I started thinking. You know, I saw an ad for a Spanish class, and I’m thinking about taking it. It would probably help if we decided to get a place there.”
“You don’t need to take Spanish. Wherever we go, everyone knows ‘Visa’ and ‘MasterCard.’”
“I know. But I might want to. You know, just to talk to people in their own language. It might be nice.” She heard his disappointment as clearly as if he had shouted at her. She knew he wanted her to just go along with him, for them to have their adventures together, but in reality, he spent most of their travel time working while she looked around for people to talk to. She had found herself turning down his trips, preferring to stay home, play tennis, and putz around in the rose garden.
“Tell you what, Larry, I’ll think about Belize. Just let me look into this language class.”
“Okay, I can live with that,” he said. “I know it’s hard on you, hanging out while I work, but maybe if we have a place of our own there you could make some long-term friends, not just the tourists passing through. Lord knows you’ve never met a stranger. And you could have two gardens, one in Houston, the other in Belize.”
“That’s true,” she said, laughing.
“I have to go,” he said, gently untangling himself from her. “I may be there for a while this time. You can still change your mind, you know.”
“I know,” she said. She watched as he walked away, his physique still trim and strong. Only his hair, graying and thinner than it once was, broadcast his age. She wondered if she was making a mistake not going. It had never bothered her before to say no, but now, uneasiness wrapped itself around her like a corset. She stood and shook the feeling away. They had a life together that most people only dreamed of, and there was nothing to worry about. Best to go help him finish packing. Then she would sign up for the language class, where she would have something to keep her occupied so she wouldn’t worry so much about nothing.