Eva found it was becoming trickier to avoid Junior’s attention. He began driving himself to the law office more frequently so he could breakfast with Eva and Denise before leaving. Whenever his father was delayed, or absent with a client or a case in court, Junior would suggest that he and Eva go for a drive or the three of them go to a club or a movie or a restaurant. If he was nearby when Eva approached a door, he seized the opportunity to rush and open it for her while smiling his most captivating smile. He found countless excuses to touch her hand or her arm or put his own arm around her shoulder and kid with her about being “a little fox” or “quite the catch for old dad” or introduce her as “my gorgeous mom.” And Junior always complimented Eva on how lovely she looked “that morning,” “that afternoon,” “that evening”—her wardrobe, her hair, her jewelry, her skin all received approval.
Eva enjoyed the courtesies and appreciated the admiration. Mostly she was relieved that she and Junior were no longer in “open warfare.” At some point, they had reached an unspoken, unsigned truce. Nevertheless, Eva did her best not to encourage his infatuation. She never returned the compliments even though she found him exceedingly handsome and exceptionally charming. She finally took to not thanking him when he opened a door for her, hoping he would eventually forsake the gesture. (He did not.) Eva learned how to delicately move out from under the craftily slung hand over her shoulder without being rude or obvious.
Denise’s second trimester left her cranky from sleeplessness and uncomfortable with backaches, indigestion, and swollen feet. “You guys go without me,” she said that Saturday night, holding her belly while stretched across the couch in the living room. “I’ll be fine right here. I’m not going to move an inch from this spot. Teresa can get me anything I need.”
Albert Sr. kissed Eva goodbye and headed for a quarterly men-only smoker at the downtown Corpus Christi Lion’s Club, which focused on raising money to combat illnesses related to blindness, deafness, and blood disorders. That night they were hosting an auction: authentic, autographed sports memorabilia projected to reap thousands of dollars from well-heeled members and their male guests. Alcohol would flow in abundance to loosen their tongues and lubricate their generosity. “I’ll be late,” he announced to everyone in earshot, “so don’t wait up.”
Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, opened that night, and Eva and Junior both wanted to see it. Albert Sr. had proclaimed days earlier that he had no interest in a “fairy tale about little green men from Mars.” After the movie, they walked the five minutes to the Stony Creek Grill. Junior managed to sneak his arm around Eva’s shoulder and she left it. It’s only a short walk; we’re almost there, she told herself.
“Interesting movie,” he said after they’d been shown to a table. “Makes you think, doesn’t it?”
“About what?” Eva asked.
“Everything,” he said unflinchingly. “The whole universe, life on other planets, your own life, death, the afterlife, heaven, hell, God . . .”
“There is no God,” Eva said abrasively.
He paused and looked at her closely as if seeing a crack on the unblemished surface for the first time.
“You sound pretty sure about that,” he said.
“I am sure about that,” she answered, looking around. “Where’s the waitress?”
The girl arrived and took their order: cheeseburger, French fries, and a draft for him; grilled chicken sandwich, side salad, and Coke for Eva.
“Thank you,” Eva said smiling as she handed the menus back to the girl. “Make sure you give her a generous tip,” she said to Junior after the girl had left.
“Okay,” he said, mildly surprised. “Why’s that?”
“Because being a waitress in a place like this is hard work.”
“You sound like you’re speaking from experience?” he said with interest.
“I am,” she said, her face firm.
“Care to elaborate?” he asked.
Eva thought about it for a moment. “No,” she said, shaking her head, “not now. I don’t feel like talking about ancient history right now.”
“Okay,” he said. He carefully unrolled the napkin wrapping his silverware. “How about if we talk about current events or philosophy?”
“Which?” she said, sensing it might be a trap.
“Your choice,” he said. “Current events: we talk about our family relations strictly as ‘good’ step son and ‘gorgeous’ step mom, of course.” He grinned. “Philosophy: we talk about this ‘God thing’ you have; the bitterness. What’s with that?”
Eva’s face froze. “Either God doesn’t exist and that’s why both my parents were killed in a stupid, senseless car accident; or, he does exist and he killed both my parents using a stupid, senseless car accident. Which do you think it is?”
Junior eye’s opened wide. He was speechless.
“I happen to believe it’s the first,” she said. Tears brimmed in Eva’s eyes and in her vision Junior’s face dissolved into an out-of-focus, watery image.
They sat in the restaurant for over two hours while Eva unburdened herself. Junior drank three steins of beer and she had two glasses of wine while she related her parent’s accident, Aunt Loretta’s pathetic life, Dwayne, leaving Tina at the hospital, her getaway to Las Vegas, Melanie, Alex, the Blanco’s, and finally escaping after enduring five years of suffering, torment, and sexual humiliation. She mentioned Rafael only once: his help fleeing through the tunnel. She chose not mention the duffel bag of money at all.
“Incredible,” he said, awe-struck, when she’d finished. “What an absolutely horrendous nightmare. How did you handle all that? I’m not sure I could have handled all that.” He reached over and took Eva’s hands in his. “You’re some remarkable woman, Eva; a remarkable and beautiful woman. I had no idea that you’d lived through a horror movie like that.”
Eva dropped her eyes to his wristwatch. “Oh, my God. Look how late it is! We have to go.” She stood up and grabbed her purse.
They were silent throughout their brisk walk to the parking garage. Junior had borrowed Denise’s car rather than use his Jeep, and he opened the passenger door for Eva.
“I meant what I said in there,” he said, scanning Eva as if seeing her for the first time.
“What? That you thought the movie was interesting.” She smoothed her sleeveless blue dress and smiled.
“No,” he said. “That you’re a remarkable woman. I’ve never known a girl—anyone actually—as strong and determined as you are, and … and yet at the same time you’re … you’re soft and feminine and beautiful. You’re an amazing person, Eva.”
“Thank you,” she said modestly. “You just do what you have to do, I guess.”
“I don’t want you to marry my father.”
“Oh, Albert,” she groaned. “Are we back to that again? I thought you’d moved past all that. I’m not going to spoil any of the plans your father has for you. I’m not going to interfere with your future in any way.”
“It’s got nothing do with my future,” he said, staring raptly into her face. “Well, I take that back. It is my future I’m thinking about—and yours.”
“What do you mean, Albert?” she prodded gently.
“I want you to marry me, Eva. I love you. I’m the Bennett you should marry not my father. I think about you constantly: how you look, how you walk, what you’re wearing, wondering if you ever think about me. Do you ever think about me, Eva?” He reached over and took her hand.
Eva stared at him dumbfounded. She had badly underestimated the extent of his feelings for her. Was I wrong to befriend him? Did I encourage this?
Suddenly, Junior was holding her. His lips were full on hers and she felt her resistance begin to melt away. His kiss grew stronger and more passionate and she realized she was now returning it. “I love you Eva; you’re so beautiful, Eva” she heard as he whispered into her ear and moved his lips down to kiss her smooth, white neck and bare shoulders. Eva closed her eyes and fleetingly pictured a handsome, masculine Rafael adoring her, holding her, touching her, kissing her.
Junior’s tongue found its way to Eva’s, and he moved his hand to her breast while slowly slipping his other hand under her skirt. Eva tingled as his fingers crept up her thigh toward her panties; suddenly, his fingers found her nipple and a bolt of excitement hit her like an electric shock.
“Wait,” she cried out, shoving him away. “Stop it!”
“What’s wrong?” he said, looking around as if they’d been discovered.
“This is wrong,” she said, folding herself in her own arms. “I can’t do this. I’m going to marry your father.”
“But you want to do this,” he said, his eyes afire. “I can tell you want me as much as I do you. I’m hungry for you, Eva! Ever since the moment I first laid eyes on you I’ve wanted you. I adore you!” He reached again for her hand, but she pulled it away.
“Stop it! I won’t betray your father this way. I won’t!”
“Eva,” he pleaded, “don’t be silly. You can’t marry him. He’s old enough to be your father, your grandfather!”
“So what?” she said, suddenly glaring at him. “So what if he’s older? He’s been good to me, kind to me, generous, like a father to me, okay? What’s wrong with that? I lost my father growing up; now I have a second chance!”
“Eva,” he protested, “that’s crazy. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t recapture your childhood. Granted it was stolen from you, but you can’t reclaim it like this. It’s not possible. And my father! He’s making a fool of himself chasing a girl less than half his age. Everyone at the firm is laughing at him behind his back!”
“Your father loves me, Junior,” Eva spit out definitely. “I know he loves me, and I love him. That’s all the matters; that’s all either of us care about. Now take me home! Take me home this instant!”