Biographical Non-Fiction posted March 1, 2009 Chapters:  ...32 33 -34- 35... 


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Valerie finds love

A chapter in the book A Leaf on the Wind

Hugo

by S. Pumpkin



Background
Valerie goes back to school and meets a young man who treats her with kindness and respect. She falls in love.
There's a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over - and to let go. It means leaving what's over without denying its value.
Ellen Goodman

 


I moved in with Jackie and her husband, but after only three months, I moved back home. Unable to keep a simple job as a waitress, I woke up to the fact that living on my own was not as easy as I had anticipated.

Two months earlier, after another  fight, Daddy moved into a small apartment in downtown Seattle. Mom assured me, this time she wasn't taking him back. I did not believe her.

After several failed attempts to find, and keep a job, Mom convinced me to go back to school to get my high school diploma. I refused to go back to my high school and instead, registered at Edison Technical School in downtown Seattle.

The first time I saw Hugo my heart beat so fast I thought I would faint. He was incredibly handsome. He had the chiseled face of a Greek god, thick blue-black hair, and piercing black eyes that made mine water. Although born in Cuba, his English was impeccable and every word he spoke was deliciously flavored with his soft, rhythmic Spanish accent.

We met at a small cafe across the street from school. Hugo simply walked up to me and said, "Excuse me for being so forward, but I must tell you that you are a very beautiful woman."

I opened my mouth to say, "Thank you" but the words stuck in my throat. All I could do was smile.

While having a cup of coffee together, I discovered Hugo had come to America two years earlier. Despite already completing his basic education in Cuba, he decided to get a high school diploma. When I discovered we were going to be in several classes together, I felt a panic grow inside me. I knew it would not take long for him to discover I was just another stupid girl. We exchanged phone numbers, but I didn't expect to hear from him again. I was ecstatic when he called and asked me out on a date.

Getting ready for my date with Hugo required an entire day of preparation. I tried on every dress in my closet at least three times before finally choosing a blue paisley dress with a flared skirt that showed enough of my legs without being too revealing. Not wanting to tower over Hugo's five-foot seven-inch stature, I decided to wear a pair of white flats. I arranged my hair into large, soft curls on top of my head with a small rose barrette on the side to add an air of elegance. I borrowed Mom's pearl clip-on earrings and matching necklace; the same ones I wore the night Lee walked out on me. I stood in front of the mirror, staring at myself for a long time, wondering if I was over dressed or if my dress was too short. While debating whether to wear my hair down or leave it up, I heard a knock at the door. My heart skipped a beat and I felt a knot tighten in my stomach. I took several deep breaths before I found the courage to open the door.

Hugo stood in the doorway and smiled at me. He handed me a single white-rose bud and kissed me on the cheek.

"As always, you look lovely," he complimented.

The last thing I wanted was for Hugo to meet my family, so I quickly put the rose in some water and ushered him out of the house.

Terrified I would say something stupid, I said very little during the drive into Seattle. We arrived at the El Gaucho, a very expensive, high-class restaurant, at seven. I had never been to a restaurant that required reservations before and was unprepared for the elegant interior or the waiter dressed in a black suit and tie. I was unfamiliar with most of the items on the menu and was relieved when Hugo offered to order for me.

While waiting for our dinner he ordered a bottle of white wine. I watched in awe as the waiter opened the bottle with a corkscrew, poured a small amount of wine into a glass, and handed it to Hugo. Hugo took a sip, nodded at the waiter, who then proceeded to fill both our glasses. Despite being only eighteen, I was thrilled the waiter did not ask me for identification.

As soon as the  salad was onto the table in front of me, I fought off the urge to push the plate aside and say, "I don't like salad." Instead, I watched Hugo pick up the small dish of dressing and slowly dribble it over the plate. Not wanting to look foolish, I repeated the process with my salad. I took the first bite, and was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was. When I was a child, I was a very finicky eater. I refused to try anything new and often pushed away a plate simply because I didn't like the color or the way it looked. I was both surprised and pleased to discover that I actually liked lettuce, tomatoes, onion and sliced cucumber. The main course consisted of Alaskan Salmon, baked potato and fresh asparagus, a vegetable Mom had never been able to get me to eat. When Hugo asked if I wanted sour cream on my potato I smiled and said, "Yes." I had never tried sour cream before. The thought of putting something sour on my potato was not at all appealing but, like the salad, I didn't want to look foolish. And like the salad, asparagus, and sour cream, they were delicious.

During dinner, Hugo talked about his life in Cuba; how difficult it was to leave his family behind, and what he wanted to accomplish in America. Feeling the effect of two glasses of wine, I felt surprisingly relaxed. Usually shy and withdrawn, I found myself eagerly contributing to the conversation. I even asked questions.

"Do you have any brothers or sisters?" I asked.

"No. I am an only child. I was raised by my grandmother after my mother died."

"How old were you when she died?" I could not believe I was asking such a personal question, and before he had a chance to answer, I asked another.

"What did you mother die of?"

"My mother died of a broken heart. I was just eleven years old."

Before I could ask how someone could die of a broken heart, Hugo said, "My father left her for another woman. It was like she died that day. Abuela, my grandmother, told me, she just lost her will to live."

I felt tears begin to well up in my eyes. Before I had a chance to wipe them away, Hugo picked up his napkin and gently dabbed the corners of my eyes.

"Don't be sad, lovely lady. It was a long time ago, and my heart has mended."

The hole in my chest opened and the warm, comforting feeling of love that I had long ago forgotten, returned. All I could do was smile.

At the end of the night Hugo walked me up to my front door, kissed me on the cheek and said, "I'll call you tomorrow."

From inside the house I watched him climb into his car and drive away. My first real date had been a complete success. When Mom asked me how it went I simply said, "fine" and went straight to bed. My night with Hugo was not something I wanted to share with anyone. It belonged to me.

***

After spending the day together in school, Hugo and I spent hours talking on the phone at night. We were inseparable. Over the next two years, he introduced me to the world and all its possibilities. In Cuba, he had been a professional dancer and an accomplished painter. He taught me to dance and I loved watching everyone stare at us when we were on the dance floor. Often, the other dancers would stop and form a circle as Hugo and I literally, took their breath away. Dancing became a way for me to let go of my shyness and without having to speak, I could actually enjoy being the center of attention.

Hugo's determination and enthusiasm for learning was inspiring and infectious. For the first time in my life, I thought about the future. I decided that it was not enough to simply get my high school diploma, I retook all the courses I had failed or done poorly in. Both Hugo and I graduated with honors. I received a letter from the Superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools praising me for my outstanding work.

Over the next three years, our relationship grew from mutual respect, to admiration, and finally to unequivocal love. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I no longer saw an unattractive wallflower; I had become an intelligent beautiful young woman.

Despite how we felt about each other, Hugo and I never kissed or showed our affection publicly or privately. He made it very clear that in Cuba a man never kissed a woman unless they were engaged. He treated me with the utmost respect and I welcomed the fact that sex was not the basis of our relationship.

Despite all the positive attributes of our relationship, Daddy's shadow hovered over me like a dark cloud ready to burst. Almost every night I relived the horror of what he had done to me through vivid , terrifying nightmares. I often woke up in the middle of the night from a dream in which I saw shock and disgust in Hugo's face, after he discovered what I had done. In the dream, I would burst into tears and beg Hugo to forgive me. But the revulsion he felt for me was so great he wanted nothing more to do with me. The fear that someday Hugo would find out what Daddy and I had done, petrified me.

One evening we went out for dinner. Hugo took me to the same restaurant we had gone to on our first date. We ate dinner by candlelight and drank expensive champagne in elegant crystal glasses. After finishing our meal, Hugo raised his glass and said, "Valerie, will you marry me?"

I had thought about this moment for the past three years, but hearing the words filled me with a terrible sense of foreboding. Hugo was my knight in shining armor. He had rescued me. The moment I had planned and prayed for my entire life had finally arrived, but tears streamed down my cheeks as I realized I could not marry him. I felt my life, and future, slip away from me. I loved him with all my heart but I could not bear the thought of him learning that I was not a virgin. I would rather lose him than have him hate me.

Feeling a pain in my chest unlike anything I had ever felt before, I excused myself from the table on the pretext of going to the lady's room. I sneaked out of the restaurant and took a bus home. Hugo called me every day for a month but I refused to speak to him. Finally, he stopped calling.

In books you often read that time heals a broken heart, but believe me when I say it is just a fairy tale. In real life, it just isn't true.


Earned A Seal Of Quality


The choice between love or possible rejection proved to be one of the most difficult choices Valerie ever made. Not a day goes by that she still does not think of her knight in shining armor.
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