Knowing Vera (Chance for Love)By: Rachelle Ayala
Chance for Love #3
March 1991, San Francisco, CA
“Papa, are we there yet?” Seven-year-old Vera Custodio yawned and hugged her stuffed bear, Bing-Bing. The lights on the Golden Gate Bridge glowed orange in the night sky. In the distance, a foghorn bellowed like a sick cow.
Vera watched the rain dribble down the side of the car window. Her stomach growled and she shivered. Mama would have made her put on a jacket.
“Papa?” She picked crusted blood from her fingernails. “I wanna go home.”
“Hun-Hun, almost there.” Her father braked and slowed to a stop. Horns blared, and their car shook from the passing traffic.
“Why are we stopping on the bridge?” Vera tapped the back of the driver’s seat with her toe.
“There’s a small emergency. Will you be a good girl and stay in the car? Papa has to look at something.” He grabbed a backpack from the passenger seat, opened the door narrowly and stepped into the rain.
The motor was still running and the twin wiper blades jittered back and forth. Her father crossed in front of the car and lifted the hood. A truck barreled by on the left, its deep horn blasting.
Vera unfastened her seatbelt and pressed her nose to the window. Instead of fixing the car, Papa crossed to the pedestrian walkway. He walked past an emergency telephone and leaned over the railing.
“Wait! Papa!” Vera dashed from the car and chased after him.
He turned and held a hand out. “I told you to stay in the car.”
“But Papa, I love you.” Vera clamped her arms around his legs.
He picked her up and kissed her cheek. “I love you, too. Go back to the car. Remember, you didn’t see anything.”
“Is she dead?”
“Shhh. It wasn’t real. You had a nightmare. Sit in the car and wait for Mama.”
“I don’t want to.” Vera held on to her father’s neck. She peered over the rail at the dark water below. Wind whipped her wet hair into her face, blinding her for a moment.
“Let go.” He pried her arms and dropped her to the sidewalk, then slapped her. “I told you to stay in the car.”
“Ow, ow!” Vera gasped, not believing he’d hurt her. Hadn’t he told her she was his special girl? That he loved her best?
He swung a leg over the rail.
“Papa, I love you!” She grabbed his trousers, her stuffed bear dangling between them.
Heavy footsteps pounded toward them.
“Get off that rail,” a man’s voice shouted and rough hands pulled Vera from her father.
“Tell Mama I love her.” He dropped over the edge.
January 2014, San Francisco, California
I’ve never been in love. Serious like? Yes. But love? Not happening. Doesn’t matter if he’s sinfully hot or responsible for global panty warming. Or even if he’s the sweetest, most gorgeous man on the planet. I can still walk away. I have to.
Zach Spencer, scion of an Australian wine fortune, ambles slowly from the light-rail platform and waves. His swimmer’s physique, sun-streaked blond hair and audacious grin revs my heart every time. I can’t help but jump to my tippy-toes like one of those silly game show contestants. But today, I’m not going to run into his arms because I have to break up with him.
He steps toward me, oblivious of the crowd parting at the sight of his artificial leg. The muscular calf on his right leg contrasts sharply with the metallic rod and linkages of the other, ending with an artificial foot.
Until a few months ago he was a world-class athlete, a contender for the 2016 Olympic Triathlon team, but he lost his lower left leg in a jet ski accident while rescuing my friend Maryanne.
His magnetic blue eyes lock onto me as he wraps me in a toe-curling hug. Butterflies tickle my stomach and I want to disappear into his arms. How on earth can I end this without hurting him?
“Ready for the opera?” He guides me through the turnstile.
I tug at one of his oversized pockets. “Seriously, cargo shorts in winter?”
“I’m Aussie.” He kisses me with a loud smack.
“I suppose you’ll tell me it’s summer Down Under. Are all Aussie men so tough?”
“Dunno, but all Filipinas are gorgeous.” He winks and takes my hand, pulling me up the stairs and onto the crowded street. His smile raises the temperature a few degrees. “Shall we hop on a cable car or have dinner first?”