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Chapter 3 Times Changed

  • After passing through the McDonalds drive-through and parking at the seaside to eat, chat, and catch up on social media, we went back to Steisy's so she could get changed out of her work uniform.
  • My grandparents had wished me a happy birthday, but no mention of stopping by to pick up money and a gift, and I had a few messages on Facebook from aunt Amara and other family members who I barely acknowledged, but that was it. Not even Aaron had sent me a message. This time last year I'd been on my way to Malaga to pick up the dress for my party. How times changed.
  • As Steisy got dressed and I lay on the sumptuously soft queen-sized bed in her room, my thoughts floated away to Aaron. He was twenty-three, had a Golf - like Jessenia - and his own flat, and Steisy and her guy Jairo had made us tag along with them on double dates until we just sort of started messing with each other. He was tall, which was important, wore nice clothes and always smelled good. My brothers thought he was too quiet and claimed I had him under my thumb because he never went out with them at the weekends.
  • We'd been together just over four months and for the time being, it was nice being with someone without all the emotional upheaval that Dani had wreaked upon me. But just nice. There was no spark. No chemistry. I didn't want to jump on his bones whenever I saw him. Wasn't this meant to be the fabled honeymoon stage?
  • And now I'd gotten off with Raúl, according to Steisy. I'd been on my best behaviour lately, but it was just one of those things that happened. And thinking it over, maybe getting off with Raúl had been a good thing. A twist of fate. He'd realize Jessenia was a nobody and that he deserved a girl on my level, a girl who didn't depend on him just to survive. She was using him and he was blind to it, but after last night, he'd definitely come looking for me. I was certain.
  • "Steisy?"
  • "Hmmm?"
  • I lit up and breathed in the cigarette smoke. "You think I cheated last night?"
  • Steisy burst out cackling while sliding into a Nike tracksuit. "You're funny. Kissing isn't cheating!"
  • "No?"
  • "No way. I got off with Adri too."
  • That was slightly disappointing. So I really hadn't cheated before then. But of course kissing didn't count, especially if I couldn't remember it. I'd just have to make sure Aaron didn't see the hickey when we were next together. It wouldn't do – he'd been getting the wallet out quite a bit lately and I didn't want to fumble things completely, at least not until Raúl popped back up in my life. There weren't too many rich, single, attractive and young drug dealers with no baggage going around town.
  • "Come on," Steisy snapped her fingers. "Go go go, I want to see who's out."
  • "Lend me some sunglasses," I stretched my legs, still sprawled out on the bed. "I forgot."
  • She tossed a Michael Kors pair over without looking, stuck hers on her head and then we exited her room.
  • On the way down, I noticed the house was totally silent. "Where're your parents?"
  • I just had to get some sort of gift from someone, anyone. It could be fifty miserable euros and I'd be ecstatic. Maybe I could persuade my uncle Juan.
  • "Went out for lunch, I dunno."
  • I sighed noiselessly and we got back into the Aixam after Steisy locked her house up. I plugged the aux cord back into my phone and drove.
  • We didn't even need to discuss where we were headed; the only place to go was the seaside along the east side of town. All the business took place there, and boys and men were always milling about in their designer tracksuits, my brothers and father included. That was a nuisance, but if I saw them I'd pretend they weren't there. Aaron would be sleeping his hangover off or just waking up, so there was no need to worry about him yet.
  • We rolled the windows right down and turned the music right up. Then I was struck by a lightbulb moment while Steisy hummed along to Romeo Santos. Just maybe, I thought with a sudden flash of inspiration, my father was out buying me a new Aixam so I wouldn't have to keep driving last year's model. That was the most logical explanation for his absence and it cheered me up enormously.
  • "Look at your Raúl," Steisy blurted out. I peeped without looking and saw him standing around by the old Marina restaurant with his gang. God, he was good-looking, ten times better than Aaron, to be honest. It was a shame about Jessenia, otherwise I'd be with him already.
  • "Cazorla," he yelled as we sped past, flagging me down. I lifted a hand without looking and we burst into giggles.
  • "You going to stop?" Steisy asked gleefully. I shrugged. Of course I was; I liked to be noticed and flattered and what Aaron didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
  • "A couple more spins and I'll stop and see what he wants," I said airily.
  • We made a pit stop at the gas station to buy some energy drinks and reapply our clear lipgloss. Then I opened the glove compartment and we wordlessly spritzed some Lady Million on us.
  • Raúl was still at the Marina smoking a joint with his comrades. We drove past again, everyone staring, and the third time I idled on the curb and waited for him to come over.
  • "What you want?" I asked casually, the picture of sophistication as I blew out a plume of smoke and sipped daintily at my Red Bull.
  • "You disappeared on me last night," he said, crouching and sticking his head into my window. "Where'd you go?"
  • "I had plans," I preened. Raúl was talking to me! Raúl was asking where I'd gone! I was a bundle of nerves on the inside, despite appearing cool and collected.
  • "What plans you got tonight, then?"
  • "Off to Havana," I shrugged a shoulder, "and Portobello afterwards."
  • "Then I'll see you there," he smirked. "And I don't want you running off on me tonight."
  • "It's my birthday," I teased. "You better make it worth my time."
  • "I'll make it worth your time," he promised, adjusting his Philipp Plein basketball cap. "Don't worry about that."
  • "Alright." I wanted to puff my chest out like a peacock, but instead I nodded my head and left.
  • Steisy smacked my shoulder. "You're a bad one!"
  • "Bad? Why?" I pursed my lips. "I didn't do anything."
  • "Yeah, yeah, I see you acting innocent, slut. I didn't know you still liked Raúl."
  • Steisy's simple mind would never understand that it had nothing to do with me liking him or not. It was just a question of hierarchy. Guys like Raúl should be with girls like me. I'd look much better on his arm than anyone else would, and his vision and personality was a world away from Aaron's tepidly indifferent life view.
  • "Actually," I half-smiled. "He is the one who likes me. Don't get confused."
  • So there it was; I didn't think Jessenia had many overseas vacations left. Maybe I'd be the one booking tickets to Cuba in the foreseeable future; stranger things had happened.