As the sun began to set over the beach, and our date came to an end, Bruno and I walked slowly along the boardwalk, the warm summer breeze blowing gently through my hair. We hadn’t stopped talking since we left the house, about everything from where we grew up, to why we both chose LA as home, to how his meeting at Motown Records went. I remembered his excited chatter in the drive to lunch…
“I don’t know,” he questioned, confidence oozing out of his every word. “I think we nailed it babe.”
We talked about our families - his big family, his Hawaiian upbringing … and my humble beginnings in Fresno. I tried my best to avoid discussing my father, but as we slowed and sat down on the pier to watch the sun disappear, he turned to me and hesitantly brought the topic up.
“Val, those dreams.. What happened? I wanna help.” He said slowly, his eyes fixed on the calm water below us.
I hugged his arm closer to my body and rested my head on his shoulder.
I let out a huge sigh as I said, “I’d call them nightmares.. They were about my…” I paused. I always found it difficult to say that word, maybe because saying it only brought feelings of distress. “…My father.”
Bruno hugged me closer as I continued to speak.
“He left my Mum and I for another woman when I was seven. I never thought he’d leave. He told me he’d be back. But he never came back. No phonecall, no nothing. I hadn’t seen him since.” I closed my eyes tight as the tears began to come again. As a single tear fell onto Bruno’s hand which was resting on mine and he twisted his body around to face me. Lifting my head up gently, his eyes met mine and I managed a weak smile.
“Val … I’m sorry, I ..” He stopped and smiled at me, wiping my cheeks dry with his thumb. “He doesn’t know what he lost, Val.” He finished. Grabbing my hands, he began to pull me closer into his arms.
I froze and pushed my hair back, looking back into his big, brown eyes. “He came back last night. After you left.” I said suddenly, and Bruno’s eyes widened. My bottom lip began to shake as I struggled to get the next sentence out of my mouth.
“And.. It was his car I saw when you picked me up.” I burst into tears, fear coming over me as I collapsed into his arms. “He was watching us Bruno!” I cried into his shirt, unable to control the intense emotions that were taking over. I was scared.. And I had too many questions running through my mind.
Why did he come back when he did? Where was his other woman? What the hell had he been doing for thirteen years? And why … was he parked on my street, watching me as I got into Bruno’s car? That’s what scared me most. He wanted something. I got a sick feeling in my stomach when I thought of why he might have come back. I wanted it to disappear. I wanted him to disappear.
Hugging me tight, Bruno pulled me to my feet and began to walk me back to the car.
“He won’t touch you Valeria.” He said firmly through his teeth, staring ahead.
As I opened the door to get into the car, Bruno stopped and began to turn and walk the other way. He turned his head back to me and smiled.
“I needa take a leak…” He laughed, nodding his head in the direction of the public toilets on the other side of the park. “Wait for me?”
I rolled my eyes and pulled a cheeky grin at him before waving him off. I watched Bruno disappear amongst the trees and into the toilet block then sat back in my seat, closing my eyes and smiling at how happy I felt with him. As I slowly brought my mind back to reality, I heard heavy, slow breaths coming through the open window on the driver’s side. I snapped my head up and took a sharp breath in as I turned to see my father leaning against the car, his eyes burning with ferociousness as he stared at me. The strong stench of alcohol filled the car and I held my breath as I pushed myself up against the car door.
“Hi Val. What’s wrong?” He whispered, bearing a sickening, alcohol fuelled smile. “I just … want.. to talk, I told youuuu.” He stammered, struggling to get the words out. Looking at him like this made me disgusted. He was beyond drunk, and he scared me. My breaths became quicker and shorter as he reached inside the car, begging me to relax and come closer so we could ..talk. I pushed myself as far away from him, my hand behind my back, searching frantically for the door handle to get out. Bruno will be back any second. Any second.
“I told you to go.” I said firmly, trying to be brave. I didn’t know what he wanted from me, and I was beyond frightened of him. The look on his face was enough to make me think he was crazy. This was not my father - he was a completely different person. “I don’t want to talk to you.”
He quickly grabbed my arm, and tightened his grip as he tried to pull me toward him. That was when I let myself go. I threw my legs at him, kicking and screaming for him to let me go, but he kept his hands firmly on my arm.
“Shit Val just calm down!” He screeched at me, his bloodshot eyes fixated on me. I was still searching for the door handle behind my back, desperate to get out of the car, away from him when suddenly the door disappeared from behind me and I fell toward the ground, landing hard on my back. The wind was knocked right out of me - I couldn’t breathe and the tears came quickly as backed away from the car, trying to pick myself up. I heard Bruno’s screams from the other side of the park, getting louder and louder as he rushed to my side.
“What the fuck!” He screamed, watching my father scramble out of the car and down the street.
Bruno knelt down next to me and cradled my shaking body as I completely lost it. I clutched his shirt and cried hard, my tears soaking his clothes.
“Val..” he began to speak, rubbing my back in an attempt to calm me down. “Do you know who that was?” he asked, his voice cracking with concern. I wiped my face dry with my sleeve and looked at him, my eyes stinging from all the crying. I’d never felt more vulnerable. I took a long, shaky breath and closed my eyes as I began to speak.
“That was my …” the knot in my throat got tighter and I found it hard to breathe again. I couldn’t say it. “He’s my .. f-fath—”
”That?! That was your … Father?!” he almost shouted, looking right at me, rage filling his eyes. He began to breathe heavily and I felt his hands curl into tight fists behind me. I nodded quickly and collapsed again into his arms, his bursts of anger and frustration becoming nothing more than a muffled sound in the back of my mind. I was consumed by my own thoughts, too many questions circled around my head.
What does he want from me? Has he gone after mum too? Was he watching Bruno and I since we left the house?
I pushed myself off the ground, leaning on Bruno as he picked himself up off the ground too. He hugged me close, then pulled away, moving his hands to my shoulders and holding them firmly. He brushed my hair out of my face and behind my ears and looked me in the eye.
“Babe… You have to report him! Go to the pol—” he stopped mid sentence, examining the look on my face. He looked puzzled. “You don’t want to?”
I shook my head and made my way to the car. I slouched in my seat, keeping my eyes fixed on my hands as Bruno got into the car.
“Why not?! What if next time he really hurts you? Or your mum? What if you’re alone Val? What then?!” His voice got louder as the questions kept coming, his every word filled with every emotion possible.
“I can’t do it.” I muttered, keeping my eyes down.
“I won’t do it.” I said firmly, and Bruno sat back in his seat, rubbing his head. He slammed his hand down on the steering wheel in frustration, then brought his head down to rest on his hands.
“Damn it Val.” He paused before turning his head to look at me, an eagerness in his voice, like he couldn’t wait to say what he was thinking. “I promise you, he won’t touch you.” He repeated what he had said earlier, again through gritted teeth. He then stopped moving, snapped his head up and reached behind his back.
“What’s this…” he murmured under his breath to himself, but still loud enough for me to hear. He slowly pulled out a small sachet of white powder.
“Shit,” he whispered. “Val.” As I slowly brought my eyes up to look at him, he waved the sachet at me. My eyes widened and I froze as a million more questions started to flood my mind. So now my dad’s an addict? I didn’t even want to know. I just wanted to forget. I remembered looking into his bloodshot eyes and gasped. “Bruno, he was drunk.. and high. On this.. Must’ve fallen out of his pockets or something.” I sighed heavily before continuing. “Get rid of it. I don’t want it anywhere near me.”
Bruno got out of the car and walked quickly to the rubbish bin on the other side of the road, turning his head around and looking at me every few steps to check that I was still sitting in the same spot.
We drove home in silence, both of us staring ahead at the road, still in shock at what had happened just an hour before. I couldn’t bear the silence between us, so I broke it.
“I saw him today. When you picked me up. He was watching us then too.” I whispered quietly. Bruno slowed the car down and turned to look at me.
“That’s what was wrong? Why didn’t you say anything?” he asked, sounding a little hurt that I didn’t mention it to him before.
“I didn’t want to ruin your afternoon babe. And I didn’t want to think about him. Anyway, I would have preferred to talk about your amazing morning at the label. I’m so proud of you.” I said, managing a smile.
“Yeah. I’m happy too, so proud of the boys, but please.. Don’t change the subject.”
“Why?! What else is there to talk about Bruno?”
“I’m worried about you Val! He can’t keep you feeling like this..”
I said nothing in reply, hugging my knees to my chest as we pulled up in front of the house. Turning the ignition off, Bruno turned his body to face me and placed his hands on top of mine.
“Look at me.” He asked, almost begged, moving closer to kiss me on the cheek. I slowly pulled my head up to see his comforting smile, my hands still intertwined with his. As he began to move away, I pulled him back towards me and brought our faces close together. I felt his warm, heavy breaths against my cheeks as I whispered softly, “Thank you.”
He brushed my hair back and I kissed him deeply as I felt his warm hands slip around my neck, tangling his fingers in my long, thick hair. I reluctantly pulled myself out of our passionate embrace, leaning backwards and giggling when he moved forward for more. Didn’t think I’d be laughing for a while after my encounter with my dad, but being with Bruno made me truly happy. I couldn’t help but genuinely smile when he kissed me.
“Keep smiling…” I heard him whisper under his breath as I giggled again, blew him a kiss and got out of the car. I stood upright and straightened my clothes out before leaning back down to put my head through the car window. He reached out for my hand, softly running his fingers over mine, his other hand gripped tightly on the steering wheel.
“I don’t want to leave you. I don’t want you to be alone.” He said, slowly looking up at me, his big brown eyes putting me in a trance.
I bit my bottom lip and tilted my head. “So stay.. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping tonight anyway.”
As we walked through the door, our hands still glued together, Isabel and Kenji turned around and smiled at us both.
“Don’t tell them..” I whispered in his ear, faking a smile back at the happy couple. He nodded and fell onto the couch beside Kenji. Isabel got up and nodded toward the kitchen.
“I need to talk to you…” She whispered, a hint of seriousness in her voice.