I'd done it before, and all the warning signs had been there, so deep down nobody was too surprised when I upped and left in the middle of the night. I ticked all the boxes – bored, young, rich, and looking for an adventure.
Eventually the week turned into two and then a month, and by the time summer was over their annoyance probably gave way to anger – "that Kiara, a bloody nuisance and always looking for attention" – and eventually despair or grim resignation.
All sorts of wild theories were bandied about; I'd been kidnapped, trafficked off to another country, I'd run off with a rich Moroccan or a foreign businessman or a mysterious associate, I'd knocked myself up and was hiding out because the father was married.
When I turned up in the hospital bruised and battered with concussion, a broken wrist and blood all over, laughing and crying like a lunatic, the missing minors report was closed and filed away.
By then it was too late and I was destined to spend the last few months until my eighteenth birthday in a dreaded girl's home full of savages, what with everyone else being in prison, but don't let me get ahead of myself.
Did it start with Marbella? It did and it didn't, because that's where I first met Yunai, but thinking back the real catalyst was my seventeenth birthday. The first dominos began to fall then without me realizing it.
"I knew you were a girl," my mother always said, "because my ankles swelled right up and everyone said I looked worn out. Girls make you uglier."
I was the last child, because there was no point going through that again. She was seventeen herself when she had me and the family was completed – Jona came when she was thirteen, Darren two years later, and she never had much patience for children anyway. It was my grandmother Triana who reared us, disinfected our scrapes and cuts, bathed and clothed us, made our meals and baked cakes on our birthdays.
No cake on my seventeenth, because Triana was long gone from lung cancer which was diagnosed in its last stages and characterized by her coughing up black mucus, but I'd outgrown that sort of thing anyway.
The celebrations had begun the night before and would bleed over into this evening. My mouth tasted like an ashtray, my head was banging like Holy Week processions and the thought of vodka with Red Bull made me want to dry heave, but nothing that a shower wouldn't put right.
It was almost one o'clock, not bad going seeing as I hadn't slept until half-seven or later, and my phone was without battery. Bits and pieces of the night came back to me as I fumbled sleepily and found a battered pack of Camels in my Louis Vuitton shoulder bag. We'd gone to Havana, as always, myself and Saray and Steisy and Esme and Afri – the little crew I had back then – after a light dinner, had bought a bottle or two of premium Beldevere vodka, the sort that cost hundreds a bottle, and -
A blank. I let my mind drift and the boiling hot water wash over me. I rarely washed my hair more than twice a week, it was so thick, but it felt stiff and greasy from all the hairspray. Wrapping myself up in fluffy white towels, one for my body and one for my hair, I observed with faint curiosity a blooming purple mark on my chest. A lovebite. Perhaps Steisy could tell me who I'd got off with; I just hoped nobody else was there to see it.
Obviously, I thought to myself as I tightened the towel turban around my dripping hair and perused my wardrobe for a clean tracksuit, tonight wouldn't come close to last year. My sweet sixteenth had been the sort of party most girls in my town could only dream of. Everything had gone perfectly – the glittery pink custom dress which clung to my body like a second skin and cost a cool two thousand euros, a mountain of gifts from friends and family alike, my father leading me out and showing me my brand new Aixam minicar... Even the singer getting drunk and throwing up on his shoes hadn't put a damper on the celebrations. We'd all been so drunk ourselves that it just became a hilarious anecdote to bring up at barbecues.
I could expect a good few things today, though. Jona and Darren might slip me a fifty or a hundred if they were feeling generous, my mother would take me shopping, my father would have something up his designer sleeve and of course this year there was 'the boyfriend', Aaron to think about too.
No-one was waiting for me to sing happy birthday as I came down the stairs, which was disappointing but not surprising. My father was always away on business, which meant that he was at the bar on the other side of town talking to associates like his cousin Miguel or my uncle Juan, and Darren was never out of bed before two, but I'd thought my mother would be up, car keys in hand, ready to brush my hair and announce a girl's trip out in the city. What else did she want a daughter for?
No cake, no money waiting for me on the table. Not even a small token gift for me to open while I awaited everyone's return, something like the Gucci shirt I'd had my eye on for a while or that cute Moschino shoulder bag I'd seen at the designer store Deluxe last weekend. Clothes were the only passion I had – shopping, drinking and getting off with boys were my main hobbies, in fact, having dropped out of school last year. I had the nail classes with my aunt Paula twice a week but my attendance had been spotty at best since Christmas, which didn't matter much. It wasn't for me to slave away and learn how to shape and paint and decorate acrylics for the opportunity to make a measly fifteen euros for an hour and a half's work. I just wasn't cut out for that sort of thing. My form tutor Roberto had once said to my mother at a parent-teacher meeting, "I thought once that Kiara had potential despite her wilful laziness, but after two years I've come to the conclusion that she has neither work ethic nor the capacity to try and learn."
Whatever. I knew how to read and write and do sums, more than most people in my family, and I had bigger fish to fry. Once I'd been six or seven years old and stumbled over my books while Triana, who remained illiterate all her sad life, listened on, but then my mother had complained. "You shouldn't encourage her," she'd said. "It's not like school ever did anything for us."
And it hadn't. Steisy was the only one in the family who'd finished her secondary education so far, but that had nothing to do with her getting a job at Deluxe. My father and uncle knew the owner and that was why she was now folding designer shirts and jeans and doing inventory at the finest money-laundering store in town for a pathetic eight hundred euros a month. Life was about who you knew, not what you knew, and even though we weren't quite yet on the scale of the Hernandez or the Varelas or the Curros, everyone knew and respected my father and consequently my whole family.
My whole family, which right now was absent. I plugged my phone in, waited for it to switch on and called my mother. There weren't many places she could be on a Saturday morning. The food shopping was done every other Monday, a drawn-out affair which took two hours in Carrefour and required my presence to lug the trolley around and load everything into the Audi. Her highlights had been fixed last week and she only went to the gym when one of her friends called her.
"What is it?" Finally, she took my call. Hustle and bustle could be heard in the background. Orders were being shouted.
"Where are you, Ma?"
"An emergency came up and I'm at your aunt's place. What do you want?"
"I thought we'd be doing something today."
"Ma, it's my birthday!" This was too much. If being seventeen meant I could get used to this sort of behaviour from my own blood, I'd rather be sixteen again.
"Hang on a minute." Shuffling noises ensued. "Do that nail in pink. Put some decoration on it. What were you saying?"
"Nothing," I snapped. "I'll be out."
"Your aunt says -"
Typical, I thought as a bubble of anger rose up in my chest, of her to claim an emergency when really she was in aunt Paula's salon getting her nails refilled. It was quarter to two already and it looked like everyone would be doing their own thing today. I had my Aixam waiting faithfully outside and a couple of hundred euros, scant change, not much I could do with that. I'd expected to show off my new threads and hear all the girls compliment me. How could I meet up with any of the clique to strut around town dressed in an old tracksuit?
Saray was out of the question. She'd wormed her way into the tight friendship group by virtue of being a cousin of Dani, my ex, and even though I hadn't seen him for almost two years she was still there like a particularly persistent toothache. And like a bad molar which wasn't worth taking out, it wouldn't do to cut Saray off. She had too much dirt on all of us.
Malu, Jona's girlfriend, would be at the house with baby Neizan, but I didn't fancy spending my special day running around after my nephew at the kiddy park. Last time I'd been there, I'd almost fallen asleep watching cartoons, and then there was the fact that an afternoon with her was like watching paint dry. My mother was still lukewarm towards Malu, thinking that she'd 'trapped' my brother with a baby, but it seemed to me the other way round. Malu was as much a prisoner as a bird in a gilded cage. Her idea of a day out was drinking a Fanta in the city centre and buying baby clothes.
Afri and Esme were weekend and late-afternoon friends only. Esme's mother and mine went way back, seeing as she'd been messing with my uncle before ensnaring her current husband, and Esme was the sort of girl I called to hit the shops with or to fill up a booth in Portobello on Saturdays. She had her own Merceedes which came in handy for when we wanted to go somewhere, and money for days, but had been dumb enough to pop a baby out and spent most of the day changing nappies or trying to foist her unwanted daughter on some elderly relative. As for Afri, she was just an extension of Esme.
Steisy it was, then. I'd pick her up at Deluxe and we'd plot and plan on how best to spend the day before Portobello opened. I was a magnanimous leader, especially with her being family, and I'd invite her for lunch out too. God knows she needed it after spending all morning toiling away. But I couldn't possibly go out looking like a crackhead. Today was all about me even if it didn't feel like it, and I had an image to maintain.
Going back upstairs again, I slapped some makeup on, untangled my hair and dried it a bit, dry-swallowed two painkillers for the hangover and changed into a Puma tracksuit and trainers with a matching waist bag.
I observed myself critically, doing a 360 turn in my full-length mirror. Did my ass look big enough? Were my shoes slightly creased?
Then I flashed a perfectly even and white smile. I was Kiara Cazorla, 17 years old today, young and beautiful. When had I ever looked bad?