Everywhere Petra turned, someone was there to remind her of Jane.
Here in the lobby was Michael, the permanently perplexed detective, cluttering up the place in his bland sweaters, hoping to bump into Jane.
There was Rafael, distractedly wandering by. Not working, not doing anything remotely business-like but checking his phone constantly. All moody and pensive over his recent breakup.
What was so great about Jane Villanueva anyway, Petra pondered. Sure, she was attractive enough. She was smart, what with school and work and writing and juggling all those things. She was kind - she really was, Petra had to admit, incredibly kind. She didn’t hold a grudge, she saw the best in people… Okay, Petra had to concede, Jane had a lot going for her.
But this much going for her? Rafael had never been this cut up over his and Petra’s divorce, she thought with only the slightest hint of bitterness. Okay, maybe a bit more than a hint. But that was bitterness toward Rafael, not Jane, this shining embodiment of virtue. Well, now she sounded like one of Jane’s fans.
Petra was not idly keeping an eye on Rafael - they did actually have a meeting and one that she very much needed him to attend, so she tracked his progress through the lobby to make sure there would be no Jane-inspired diversions. His attention had been lax. Petra of course, she prided herself, had been on the ball, ready to step up and take control.
All that was about to change.
Up in his office, Petra was being no more than moderately hard on Rafael, certainly no more than he deserved, as she paced around his office and he sat quietly at his desk. Listing off the many slip-ups and errors that had occurred in recent weeks gave her no small amount of pleasure.
He did not seem to be sharing in that pleasure.
But while Petra simply enjoyed having Rafael on the back foot for once, and being able to show off her stunning and frankly under-appreciated business acumen, Rafael was about to throw a whole new spanner into the works.
“Is this about Jane?” Rafael asked.
“No,” she said, confused. “I don’t have feelings for Jane.”
“What? No, Petra, me being with Jane.”
“Oh, no - no of course not,” scoffed Petra. Because clearly this was not about Jane. Apart from all the parts that were, very much, in fact, about Jane.
Then something hit Petra: This was about Jane.
“Don’t be absurd,” Petra spat.
And who should she run into as she stalked imperiously out of Rafael’s office? Why, Jane, of course.
“Jane, hello,” she said, as coldly as possible out of instinct and a desire not to betray any humanity.
“Petra,” Jane said, wary in a way that from anyone else would give Petra immense satisfaction.
“How are… things?” she asked, clouding the unfortunate pregnancy that had unraveled all their lives in a clumsy euphemism.
“Great,” Jane said, unconvincingly. “Just great. Anyway, I have to get on.”
“Right, absolutely. Off you go.”
Jane looked at her with the highest degree of incomprehension and backed away.
At the same time, Petra winced, turned tail and fled to the elevator where she cursed her own name, and her mother’s for bearing her and all their mothers unto time immemorial. In which cursing she forgot to press the button and had not actually descended anywhere, least of all to the first floor and the safety of the bar. Now she had a chance to descend to a lower plane of hell when the doors opened and she again came face to face with a bewildered Jane.
“I came back up,” Petra blurted out. “I forgot something.”
“Oh. Do you want to go get it?”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll get it later. Are you going to the kitchen?”
“Yes, thank you.” No doubt Jane was surprised by Petra’s solicitous pressing of the button, but she did not show it.
“Are you alright?” Jane asked, as Petra faced forward and sculpted her face into something unmoving.
“Mm hm, yes, quite well.”
“Honestly, Jane, it’s fine.” She turned her head for just a moment but Jane was wrinkling her brow in an unnervingly adorable way, so she snapped back. Eyes forward, Petra.
“I was just going to ask if you wanted to go to the bar. No baby talk, no guy talk, nothing heavy. Just… girl talk.”
Petra squinted at Jane out of the corner of her eye. All signals were to run, to beat a hasty retreat and work out this crush - this whatever it was - on her own in peace, preferably with a lot of wine and constant room service.
But it was a crush, so she said yes.
AN HOUR LATER
Petra throws back her head laughing as Jane gesticulates her way through an anecdote.
ANOTHER HOUR LATER
Lina regales a small crowd, including a rapt Petra, all leaning in low like children around a campfire hearing a ghost story, except the horror was her love life.
YET ANOTHER HOUR LATER
Petra builds a treacherous and teetering stack of napkin rings as the now much larger crowd of friends and hotel staff roars in excitement.
A MINUTE LATER
The tower wobbles irredeemably, Petra moves to catch it but it is gone, shattering on the floor. Instantly the crowd falls silent and all eyes turn to Petra. She is stock still for a moment while everyone holds their breath. She laughs. Everyone laughs and the merriment continues.
AN HOUR LATER
Security moves in to break up the party, now mostly dancing on the tables. Hauling away a struggling Petra she yells, “Do you know who I am?” and “Don’t touch her, she’s having my ex’s baby!” even though security do of course know who she is, and who Jane is, and are extraordinarily polite and deferential, asking only that she please not stand on the tables, for her own safety and certainly that Jane should not be.
Rafael, watching from the bar, tells the bartender to cut Petra off. He replies that Ms. Solano hasn’t had anything more than a Diet Coke all evening.
The next day Petra sought out Jane in the bowels of the Marbella. Any staff she encountered gave her a little smile before scurrying away as they usually did, clearing from her path.
Jane didn’t - Jane never had - she faced Petra smiling and open.
“I wanted to thank you for yesterday.” Petra was immediately beset by insecurities. Was that too bland, too formal, too small a thing to have come out of her way to say?
Jane didn’t seem to think so. She nodded. “It was fun.”
Petra took a deep breath and doubled down. “It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”
Now Jane smiled, all soft, and reached out a hand to touch Petra’s arm. “Me too.”
Though Jane turned and left, Petra found she could not move so easily. All her consciousness rushed to the spot on her arm where Jane’s touch still burned. She was rooted in place and couldn’t move - didn’t want to move. She would stay here forever, a monument to the benefaction she had just received.
Petra had it bad.
“Pull yourself together,” she muttered, and shook it off. She continued on her way, going about her business, but as she walked her hand crept to that sacred spot on her arm, and a smile crept over her face.
Later, as Petra sat in her office, ostensibly doing paperwork but in fact gazing out the window, watching the ocean breeze waft the window drapes and thinking of Jane’s hair, caressed by the same breeze, moving across her cheek…
That was quite enough of that. Here she was, mooning like some sort of teenager, when there was work to be done - money to be made.
PETRA’S LOST PRODUCTIVITY OVER JANE (SO FAR) = $172
Instead of picking up the phone - you know, to do some actual business - she leaned back in her chair, chuckling quietly over some memory of the night before.
When she corrected herself once again and sat up, rolling back her shoulders, she reached for her notepad.
Finally! Some work getting done around here.
She wrote ‘gift basket for Jane.’ Oh well.
The next day there was a knock on her door and Jane popped her head round, breaking Petra’s daily record of three consecutive minutes without pausing to think of Jane.
“Sorry to disturb you.”
“You’re not.” She really wasn’t.
“I just wanted to say thank you, for the hamper.”
“That’s quite alright.”
Jane stood, Petra sat, in limbo for a moment.
“So…” Petra started the sentence with no clear direction of where it was going, and panicked. “Are you free for lunch?”
There was a brief look of confusion on Jane’s face, taken aback for a second. Then, “Yeah, sure.”
Out on the terrace the sky seemed especially blue, the trees especially green today. Petra noticed the delightful smell of the ocean, the reassuring sound of its waves, all the backdrop she normally was oblivious to.
Turning back to her companion, she ventured that perhaps it was time to address the ever-present elephant lurking nearby.
“I’m sorry about you and Rafael.”
Jane stopped, as though shocked, but said, “I’m sorry about you and Rafael.”
“Well, I’m not sorry for Rafael. He was a fool not to hold onto you,” Petra continued. Was that too much? That was too much. Jane looked uncomfortable. “Are you seeing anyone else?” That was definitely too much.
Unsurprisingly, Jane took a moment to answer. “No. I mean, I’m not averse to dating, in general. But it’s been a crazy few months, so I’m not really going out of my way, you know?”
“How about you?”
“Oh, no.” Why had she brought this up again?
Jane nodded. Their food came and Petra cursed herself, not for the first or indeed the last time, for being such an incompetent human being. If she could not make a very overt display of seducing someone it was like she could do nothing other than make a fool of herself. And Jane was neither seduce-able nor, more importantly, deserving of such an ignominious honor.
While Petra ruminated on her catastrophic inability to make friends and forge even the most basic of human relationships, spiraling into an abyss of believing she reaped exactly what she sowed in terms of stalker-boyfriends and divorces, Jane quietly sipped her water and waited for Petra to sort herself out.
In the meantime, while the continents drifted, a passing gull contrived to relieve itself on Petra’s plate, which replaced the ruminating with a lot of squealing and giggles.
“They say it’s good luck,” Jane said, checking over the rest of Petra now they were safely stood a few paces away.
“Who, the people who get dumped on? I wonder who invented that consolation prize?”
“No, you’re all clear,” Jane concluded her inspection of Petra’s person for any further droppings. “Not lucky after all, sorry.”
Petra felt very lucky indeed.
Her food was not so.
“Ask for another,” Jane said. “They’ll probably give it to you - I know the boss.” She leaned in and nudged Petra conspiratorially.
Petra faltered. “I should probably be getting back.”
“Oh, okay. You sure you don’t want anything else?”
Did Petra dare hope that Jane seemed disappointed? She was not sure she could bring herself to believe that. “I’ll see you around.”
“You should come over for dinner.”
“Why?” She couldn’t help herself.
“Because it’s been nice, hanging out with you. And we’re all connected in this weird thing.”
“I don’t think your family would appreciate me coming over.” That seemed to be putting it lightly.
Jane was not to be dissuaded though and waved it off. “I think my mom and abuela would like to see you in, you know, a bit more of a relaxed environment.”
“You mean they hate me.”
“No!” Jane rushed to say, a little too hasty, Petra thought. “I just think it would be nice for everyone to get to know each other without all the drama.”
TRANSLATION: THEY HATED HER
Petra was, rightly, unconvinced. As torturous as such a thing sounded: having to endure the forced civility and close quarters with Xiomara and Alba, with whom the feeling was something approaching mutual, but now made complicated by how desperately she felt about Jane.
“Really? That’s… that’s great.” Jane was as surprised to hear it as Petra was to say it.
As the event neared Petra was positively vibrating with anticipation and nerves. Fortunately she did not have long to wait as their
date meal was only the next evening.
These people make a lot of last minute plans. Do they not have other friends, other responsibilities?
Petra asked what the dress code would be, was told it would be ‘normal’. Should she bring anything? Nothing.
‘Normal’ was not really in Petra’s wheelhouse and she was not turning up to Jane’s with nothing. Goodness, she was not an animal.
So she appeared in one of her tighter though not too showy dresses, with a bottle of wine for Villanueva Senior and a bouquet of flowers for Villanueva Most Senior. For Jane, despite much brain-wracking and soul searching, she did indeed bring nothing, frozen as she was by the overwhelming importance of the decision.
“Petra, welcome!” Jane opened the door, as if she had been unsure Petra would actually arrive.
“Hello,” Petra said, stiff and unsure about a whole lot of other things.
“So…” Jane began as Petra stepped over the threshold, “due to a variety of totally non-life threatening but very annoying things happening today I have not managed to make what you might call ‘a proper meal’ but I have decided to look on the bright side and use this as a chance to induct you into a Villanueva specialty… the grilled cheese sandwich.”
Petra laughed. That was funny.
“I’m serious,” Jane said, laughing a little too.
Petra chuckled some more.
“No, really,” Jane said.
“I’m sorry.” Jane looked crestfallen and Petra felt suitably ashamed.
“No, it’s fine,” she rushed to say.
“But look at you, got all dressed up. You look really nice.”
“Thank you, I - you too. I’ve never had grilled cheese before.”
“Really?” That had Jane intrigued and she led Petra through to the kitchen. “Well in that case, you are in for a treat.”
It should be noted that there was a very good reason Petra had never had a grilled cheese sandwich: because she thought it sounded vile. But she was absolutely resolved to eat it now.
Xiomara and Alba received their offerings graciously enough. At least Xo was also dressed up a bit - though to Petra’s recollection she had never not been dressed up a bit. She sat and asked Petra a few benign questions about the Marbella, which Petra did her best to engage with because it seemed to be making Jane more relaxed to see her mother and Petra interacting nicely. Alba was in the kitchen, grilling cheese and putting it in a sandwich, Petra presumed.
The table was nicely set when Jane called them to it, with Jane’s eye for intricate detail evident. Petra tried to say as much, but ended up with, “The table is nice,” which did not do justice to anything at all.
Then Jane put a plate in front of her and sat down, looking encouraging.
Petra took her first bite but under the scrutiny of the entire table momentarily lost her swallowing reflex. Trying not to cough and lose grilled cheese all over the place she held it back, with the result that she looked in terrible pain.
“She doesn’t like it,” Alba said in despairing Spanish.
“I knew it!” Xiomara began.
Petra began to cough anyway, she couldn’t help it.
“No, it’s okay.” Jane tried to give Petra a thump on the back. Petra waved her off, managing to get the mouthful down.
“Sorry, a crumb,” she muttered quickly. “It’s very nice, it really is.”
She made a show of her next bite and worked very hard not to cough then either. “I see why people make such a fuss of them.”
Petra hoped she had won them over - and it wasn’t even an exaggeration.
“Maybe we will start seeing grilled cheese on the menu at the hotel,” Xiomara said.
“I don’t think -” Alarm bells started going off in Petra’s head - “Alba would want to work in the kitchen, and these are clearly the best to be had.”
It made Alba smile at least. Petra allowed herself to think that maybe her opposition was half-conquered.
Petra could handle this. She knew she could handle this. She had outwitted far worse foes - from back home, random men in bars, patronizing business associates… But this had her all spun around.
Another volley from Xo, “Really I think Jane should be looking for another job. It seems strange, all of you working there.”
“That would be a shame,” Petra replied. “Jane is…” she started to panic, “more than adequate as an employee.” Petra’s eyes widened in alarm which, in turn, made her look rather alarming.
Xiomara, in full view of Petra, pulled a face at Jane. Petra could only imagine the origins of that emotion, what previous conversations must have taken place, the views that had been aired before. We’ll save that little montage for another time.
“What I mean is that Jane - Jane is very important, to us all. Of course as an employee, but also - more so - as a friend.”
“And Petra… Petra’s part of the family now, Ma.”
Xo seemed to take that with a grudging acceptance. Petra recognized the admiration Xiomara had for her daughter - the admiration everyone seemed to share.
And maybe Xiomara recognized that in Petra too. With a small nod of acknowledgment she went much more gently on Petra and they passed the rest of the meal peacefully. Xo even made a little celebration of opening the wine Petra had brought.
And now, sitting outside on the famous Villanueva porch swing, Petra thought perhaps she could relax a little. She was wrong.
“I’m sorry about my mom. She gets a bit protective.”
“I get it. You’re a good person, Jane. You might just be the best person I have ever known…” She definitely was. And not just because Petra had mostly known terrible people.
“Oh, Petra! You’re not so bad yourself.”
Jane looked at her and Petra had never felt so vulnerable, not with anything else she had ever gone through - and she had been through a lot.
“No,” Jane said quietly. Petra almost believed her.
They stayed like that for a while. Although Petra was entirely focused on Jane, under her thrall, she was minutely aware of every detail of the scene. The blue cast of the light, the distant sound of traffic that could just as easily be the sea, that breeze that seemed to love nothing more than to play with Jane’s hair.
Then Jane put her hand on Petra’s, her thumb moving every so slightly.
Addled and tongue-tied, Petra, suffering agonies, could only sit, rigid.
“Petra, relax. Will this help?” And Jane leaned in, and up, her hands cupping Petra’s cheeks, her lips landing on Petra’s own.
That did not help Petra’s racing heartbeat and sweating palms very much at all. It helped a lot of other things very much indeed.