*Muse’s Note: This week’s story is by our fabulous returning guest writer, J.M.Whitty. You can read her other stories here.*
Ana: ‘Big Brother’ by The Stephane Wrembel Trio (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Julia: ‘American Woman’ by The Who
Relationship: ‘L’Alba’ by Jovanotti
Julia paced on the sidewalk, stopping only to dig for her cigarettes in the bag slung across her shoulders. It was early, but she was desperate for the nicotine. She squeezed the filter between her nails to release the menthol and popped the cigarette between her lips to light it. She took a moment to enjoy the sunshine on her face as she found her lighter.
Light, for the love of God, light. This thought played over and over as she fumbled with the lighter. I really need to buy a new one. Please just light. Just as her thoughts transitioned to pure desperation, the lighter flickered its last flame and fizzled out. She took the cigarette from her mouth and contemplated putting it away. No one else was around to ask for a light. She sighed. Thoughts of coffee ran through her mind.
“I thought you quit,” purred across her shoulder. Julia felt the warm breath and familiar perfume of someone she hadn’t thought of for far too long. She turned around, holding her breath in anticipation even though she knew exactly who would be there.
The way she breathed out the soft ‘j’ at the beginning awakened long pushed aside thoughts in Julia’s mind, from the first time she’d heard it to the last. Julia tapped the cigarette on her hip, fighting back a long suppressed feeling that she couldn’t quite place. It was a mixture of annoyance and joy. She hadn’t seen Ana in months and months, which wasn’t unusual. But this morning, it annoyed Julia more than it had before.
Ana leaned forward and the two women greeted each other with a kiss on each cheek, a long-rehearsed action that neither of them second guessed.There was a moment of silence as Ana reached into her pocket and pulled out a silver case and a matching lighter. She reached out to light Julia’s cigarette and flicked open the silver case to take out one of her own. After a long exhale, Ana looked over at Julia.
“So, this is a little bit of a coincidence. No?”
Julia smiled. At least she’s breaking the tension with humour. Ana had always liked to draw conclusions out of nothing. Julia was a little amused that she started with this; it made the tension in her body release. But, she wasn’t ready to let Ana get away with abandoning her just yet, even if it was for the hundredth time.
“Coincidence? If you say so. What are you doing here anyway?” Her voice was stern.
“Running into you,” said Ana, with a slight smile. “On purpose, of course.”
Julia took a deep inhale and rolled her eyes. She blew the smoke over her shoulder and turned to face Ana.
“Seriously. What are you doing here? The last time I heard from you, or even saw you, was nearly a year ago in La Marsella. Then I never saw you again. You never answered any of my calls, emails, or messages.” That feels better, thought Julia.
“I know. There is nothing I can say to make it up to you, really. Is there? There never is.” Ana’s cigarette hung between her fingers, a long column of ash forming at its tip. She looked into Julia’s eyes and smiled as she said, “what if I told you I lost my phone?” She tapped her cigarette, the ash raining to the ground.
“Ana. This is not the first time you’ve disappeared and then come back into my life. Phone or no phone.”
“Julia.” Ana dragged out the ‘a’ and stepped closer to her friend. She leaned forward and looked into Julia’s eyes. Her gaze was serious and sympathetic. “You know me, I am a terrible friend sometimes. But I love you. And it is always so refreshing to come back to you. You are the sun in my life and today is a new morning.” She touched Julia gently on the cheek.
Julia’s lips went tense. She dropped her finished cigarette on the pavement and crushed it with her shoe. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to scream at Ana, cry, run away, or hug her. It took her a few seconds to just relax and let go. This was Ana after all—irresistibly irrational and captivatingly complex. They’d known each other for a long time, and she always came back and when she did, their friendship took on a new chapter. In a way, it was renewed every time she showed up. If only she brought coffee.
“Ana, you drive me crazy.” Julia’s tone shifted to amusement as she asked, “so, what was it this time?”
Ana flicked her cigarette into the grill of the storm drain. She looped her arm into Julia’s and stepped forward. “Hmmm…it is difficult to know where to start.” They started to walk down the street.
“Well, given that it’s usually the same story, maybe you could tell me his name.”
With a laugh, Ana said, “You know me so well. Maybe I should start with the fact that he’s an artist.”
Ah, so he’s still in the picture. Interesting. The two women strolled as Ana continued.
“After our evening at La Marsella, I woke up the next morning with a very, very bad headache. So naturally, I went to get a coffee and something to eat. I was in a terrible state. Sunglasses hiding my dark circles, hair a mess.”
Yeah, and probably looking a hundred times better than any normal person, thought Julia.
“And of course,” Ana continued, “this is the moment I met the man of my dreams. My card did not work and I was explaining to the waiter that I would go back to my apartment to get some cash. The artist overheard me and offered to buy my breakfast. He joked to the waiter that I was clearly too hungover to come back. The only catch was I would need come by later to see his new gallery.”
“These things only happen to you. You live in a film.”
“Ha! Maybe so. But then again movies are also inspired by real life. Drama is everywhere you look.” She paused. “At the time I was too desperate to go back to bed I didn’t even notice my part in the plot. Shame.”
A little pang of jealousy hit Julia. No guy wants me knocking around his door right now, gallery or not. She realised that she had really missed her friend.
“So, let me get to the good part.” Ana explained that a week or two later she felt so guilty for blowing this guy off, she hadn’t even returned to the café where she’d originally met him in case he would be there. So, she decided that the only way to lift her guilt was to visit his gallery, at least to pay him back. She didn’t really remember where he said it was, but knew that it was nearby in Gràcia.
After she had wandered around for what seemed like forever, she told Julia that a small gallery caught her attention because the paintings in the window all had the same subject. It was her.
“What?” said Julia. “That’s incredibly creepy.”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly me. Not a portrait or something like that. It was more like glimpses of that morning. They were images of the rising sun shining on the tables at the café, the xuixo I ordered, a cup of coffee held between hands that only could have been mine. I can’t explain it. I just knew.”
“Wow. Okay. You certainly made an impression on the man, but all of that is still weird.”
Ana laughed. “Weird, maybe. I thought so too at first. In this case, it somehow made sense.” She paused for a moment. “When I entered his eyes lit up when he saw me as if he thought he would never see me again.”
I know the feeling, thought Julia. Their stroll had led them to a small park, where they located an empty bench and sat down in the sunshine. Julia wished they had stopped at a café. The thought of the xuixo had made her mouth water and she was hungrier than she thought. Maybe I’ll convince Ana to buy me one after.
“Without the headache I felt like I saw him for the first time, really saw him. I felt drawn to come to the gallery, but didn’t understand why until we were face to face. He was so handsome. Is handsome. Charming too. He refused my money and asked me to repay him by joining him for a coffee, my treat. What a joker. That was the beginning, he took my breath away.”
The look in Ana’s eyes as she spoke was unexpected. Julia couldn’t really place it. She was sceptical. Ana was an incredible woman. Beautiful, untameable. Plenty of lovers had consumed her time since Julia had known her. She had thrown each of them away before coming back to Julia, heart ready for the next passion. No turning back. She always came back to Julia ready for new possibility. But this was much different, a new level. Julia wasn’t sure what to think.
“So, you’ve been with him this whole time?” Julia couldn’t think of anything else to say. Part of her waited for the story to take a turn for the worse. But, she couldn’t shake the idea that this had a happy ending.
“Yes, of course. Everything is going very well. In fact, I came here to ask you to come join us for dinner sometime this week. I want you to meet him.”
Julia was surprised, her eyebrows revealing this to Ana.
“Your face never lies, you know,” said Ana, looking amused.
Julia laughed. “Well, this is certainly a first. You’ve never asked me to meet anyone before.”
“I know. But you will see. This one is worth it. I hope you are not too mad at me.”
“I’m not. But you need to buy me a coffee. And a pastry. And tell me all about him. After that, consider your debt paid.”
Ana stood up and held out her hand to her friend. “I know a place.”
“Does it come with a good-looking artist for me too?” Julia took Ana’s hand and they started to head out of the park.
They both laughed. “Probably not,” replied Ana. “But if there is, let’s hope he doesn’t scare easily. Somehow you have this effect on men.”
“Oh shut up, I do not.”
“What is that song? Something about American women?”
“Oh no. If you start singing that, I will be the one to leave you alone for a year.”
“Haha, let’s get you something to eat. First, another cigarette?”
“No thanks. I quit.”
“Again? Are you sure?”
The two women laughed and their conversation trailed off as they walked down the street. The new morning sun shined down on them, warming their hearts as if they’d seen each other only yesterday.