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Authors: Holly Tierney-Bedord

Surviving Valencia

Surviving Valencia

by Holly Tierney-Bedord


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not construed to be real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


Surviving Valencia by Holly Tierney-Bedord

© 2012

All rights reserved.




Part One
Chapter 1


I woke up this morning and thought that winter had returned. Yesterday was nearly sixty degrees. Still, anything can happen in March. When I pulled back the curtains I saw that it wasn’t snow, but a low, blizzard-white hovering of fog, weighty as souls, settling on the city. Adrian was still fast asleep beside me. “I thought it was snow,” I whispered. He didn’t move.

We were in his sister Alexa’s guestroom, clean blonde Scandinavian furniture with pale blue everything else. We switch houses with her for a few weeks whenever she and Adrian get restless, which is at least a few times each year and for longer stays each time. At this point we leave our shampoo and soap in the bathroom here since we know its next visitors will probably be us. I hate to sleep in when we’re in Madison. It feels like I am wasting precious time.

“Going out for a coffee,” I whispered to my sleeping husband.

There is a clarity that comes with being here, being anywhere north actually, something in the air that descrambles what Savannah does to my brain, and I need to get some of it. In a moment, I am on Alexa’s old bicycle, coasting downtown. Being here makes me feel young again, and free of all the layers that pile up over time and make us all so grubby. When I am in Savannah, I feel completely connected to Adrian and would never dream of leaving him. My lack of friends or roots there makes me cling to him. But here, I am stronger, more independent. Sometimes I feel like he and I have no connection whatsoever. And I like it. It’s like one less layer to weigh me down.

I know I am really just enjoying the freedom to pretend I am not satisfied. One part luxury, one part affliction, reserved exclusively for spoiled wives. I suppose you could call it the burden of having everything; Instead of worrying about paying rent and finding love and being fat, I daydream about being free.

I arrived at the coffee shop, locked the bike to a bench outside it, and went inside. Even though it was only eight o’clock in the morning, it was crowded. People were sitting around with their laptops, connected to something far removed and unknown. For a fleeting instant I felt jealous, until I remembered that it was most likely work they were connecting to. Yuck. “No woman of mine will ever have to work,” Adrian told some friends at a party once while he was drinking. (Normally he’s very refined, but people can be completely different when they’re intoxicated.) I pretended to be horrified at his tackiness, but in reality it’s no more embarrassing than my three-carat diamond ring.


I turned away from the people with their computers and caught my reflection in the mirror next to a coffee mug display. It reminded me to pull back my messy hair into a ponytail.

“What can I get you?” asked the boy behind the counter. He was probably about nineteen. He smiled, ignoring a woman in her fifties with a briefcase who looked like she was ready to order.

“Do you have any fair trade coffee?” I asked him.

“It’s all fair trade.”

“I’ll take the Kona blend,” I said after studying the list of flavors for a moment. I pretended not to notice the frantic tapping of the businesswoman’s heel on the floor or her irritated, exaggerated sigh.

“The Kona blend is our best seller,” he told me.

“Wait,” I said after he filled the cup, “I think I want the Arabian Mocha Java instead.”

“No problem. That’s my personal favorite, by the way.” He poured the first cup down the drain and got a new paper cup for me. He took care, nestling it in a cardboard java jacket, whistling a little ditty as he did so. At this point the tapping woman said, “Unbelievable,” and left.

I know, I know, that will be me someday. Old and having to work and not even able to buy a cup of coffee. I can see it coming like a big gray storm rolling in, even if no one else would ever suspect such a thing for me. That storm has been there since the day I got married, heavy and watchful on the horizon, perhaps waiting for me to lower the checkered flag, but willing to plow over me if I should forget to do so. It lingers and I live here in the sunshine just outside of the shadow it casts. So that is why I am taking advantage of the here and now.

The boy passed my drink to me kind of slyly, and said nothing of the total. I set a five-dollar bill on the counter and he pressed it back into my hand. His hand was hot and sweaty, very nineteen. Nothing at all like Adrian’s dry, smooth man hands.

“It’s on me,” he said.

It’s a good thing I didn’t have this thing, this aura or skill or whatever it is, ten years ago, because I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. I would have abused this kind of power. The way all the girls around me used to do, as if it was the God-given right of college girls.

I took a sip of the coffee and smiled. It was very, very strong.

“Like it?” he asked.

“I do.”

His eyes were sweet and desperate. His neck was stubbly and I could just tell he would smell a little bit sweaty if I got a couple of inches closer. I breathed in deeply, trying to catch a bit of him, but only smelling coffee.

“It’s great, isn’t it?” he asked.

I nodded, but I wasn’t going to stick around. After all, I am a married woman.


I pedaled around, carefully sipping. If I spilled on myself I would become annoyed and the fun would be over. Girls in their early twenties, healthy looking and pretty like a J. Crew catalog come-to-life, were out and about, toting messenger bags and cute boyfriends. They had made the decision early on to be the sun, and not a planet or a moon or a strip mall on a planet.

They couldn’t see that I finally learned their secret language, so to them, I was nothing. Not a member of their team, of their sorority. No threat at all. Invisible.

How many free cups of coffee have you gotten lately, I wondered about the girl with the pale yellow hair nearly down to her waist. She was on her phone laughing, throwing her head back like a flip top cap on some whitening toothpaste. “Flip top,” I said as I pedaled past her. She looked up at me and glared.

“Is it really that funny or are you just trying to look happy?” I whispered. I was too far away for her to hear me. People are drawn to happy people. I could remember being at parties when I was younger and fake laughing with my friends over nothing at all. Not hysterically. Not like a hyena. Just like a happy girl. It always brought the boys over. That and making out with each other.

Back to flip top. She was walking down the street now.  Still talking, still laughing. She probably doesn’t even know they charge for coffee.

Stop being jealous, I told myself. Those girls will be lucky to be where I am in ten years. I doubt any of them will live like this.





Chapter 2
The way it was


In 1985 I turned ten years old. I had Cyndi Lauper cassettes (we called them tapes back then), an extensive collection of bells on the cream-colored shelves of my dresser, and an old stereo I inherited from the twins. The stereo played either records or something called eight-tracks, but no tapes at all. Nevertheless, I arranged my tapes in a neat, vertical stack, reading their accordion pullout lyrics religiously while I waited for the boombox I never got.

Not knowing the melodies, I sang the words to the songs that didn’t play on the radio to tunes I created in my head.
I’ll Kiss You
became a somber, religious wail.
Money Changes Everything
had a country twang and went to the tune of
Mary Had a Little Lamb

I was ugly and awkward and bored, like nearly everyone my age. Life varied between okay and gross, with little discernible difference from one to the other. I couldn’t wait to get older.


Valencia and Van had nothing in common aside from being twins, yet that did not stop their polygrip bond of togetherness. Sometimes I resented it terribly; usually I just accepted it as the way things were. I always wanted more though. I often went through the drawers of Valencia’s dressing table when she wasn’t home, reading her notes from friends and smearing her face lotions and perfume sticks on my arms. I was like a serial killer in training, trying to absorb something of her into myself. You would think that being her younger sister would be enough proof for me that I had some of that blood inside, but I usually couldn’t feel it. Smelling of her Avon Soft Musk and Bonne Bell Lipsmackers was a stronger reassurance.

Valencia was the most popular girl in her grade; every grade has that one. She achieved it with an effortless grace that, even from behind the scenes where I got to watch, I knew she deserved. She would have been the most popular girl in any grade, any school, anywhere. She was the real deal. She was genuinely elusive. Not a catty teenage girl trying to distance herself, but some tall, lovely person who landed in our lives by an error of fate. Placed in the wrong world, like those bells on my dresser I kept receiving as gifts but never could remember how the whole mess started. My mother knew it. I assumed my father didn’t notice, because it seemed that fathers never noticed much.

From the time the twins were born until they died, Van was closest to her. Like so many others who knew her, I once held aspirations of changing that, of becoming the one who mattered most to her.

Van was more ordinary. Tall and often kind though sometimes moody, and very good at basketball. We played checkers and watched
The Dukes of Hazzard
. Usually I annoyed him and he avoided me. I had a crush on every friend he ever brought home.

Van and Valencia were nearly seven when I was born. I think I showed up like an unexpected shipment of Tupperware might land on a front porch, a gift from some forgotten aunt for some holiday that had already passed. They waited until the box was soggy from rain, then eventually someone unwrapped me and took me inside to observe a family already in motion. I didn’t feel bad about it. It felt normal, and being a naturally lazy person, I enjoyed the low-pressure lifestyle that comes with being a forgettable afterthought. It would have been a satisfactory way for me to be, as long as the family had stayed in motion, as long as I had stayed out of sight, out of mind.

Chapter 3


I arrived back at Alexa’s and found Adrian still asleep. The cool, watery light filtering in from around the curtains made the room seem colder than it really was, and I found myself wanting to get back into bed. I carefully settled in, sipping the last of my coffee, and pulled the duvet around myself while he continued to sleep, obliviously. It sometimes struck me as creepy how soundly he slept. I kissed his forehead and his hair, and his scent made me fall in love with him again. The coffee shop boy and the yellow haired girl disappeared and I felt like my reality was once again secure. I reached carefully across his warm body and set my empty coffee cup on the window sill, and then curled myself around him. He really has some spell over me. I am positively wrapped around his finger.

We lay like this for a while, until his rhythmic breathing became boring to me and my mind wandered back to my bike ride. Sleeping too late makes me restless. Not when I do it; when Adrian does it, I mean. It’s as isolating of a feeling as being the only sober one at a party.

I wandered around Alexa’s house, no longer interested in snooping since it was more a second home to me than her house any longer. I found myself upstairs in the loft, a bohemian kind of place with bean bags and guitars and bongo drums. I stretched out on a yoga mat and did some halfhearted crunches until the soft sloshing sound of coffee in my belly became too disturbing for me to continue.

From up here I can look down into the bedroom and see the corner of the bed, watch Adrian’s bare foot twitching like a dog as he dreams. It gives me that strange
Gulliver’s Travels
kind of feeling that I loved as a child. And now, when I look at Adrian’s foot, I am not a giant, but he is a tiny little man in a tiny little bed. I could wrap him in a tissue and put him in my pocket. If I had another cup of coffee, and if it were not too terribly hot, I could dunk him in as though it were a tiny Jacuzzi just for him. I wish I really could, make a little bed and put him here beside me as I go about my morning. He hates it when I talk like this.

Adrian and I met seven years ago when we were working together at Border’s. We were already in relationships. That is really an understatement. Adrian was married and I was living with a guy named Sam. But Adrian and I started having an affair and, just like that, we ended the relationships we were in and got engaged. It was almost too easy. One day we were having lunch together and I said, “Let’s do it. Let’s break up with Sam and Belinda!” and he said, “And let’s get married!” No one had ever said anything like that to me. We were giddy over the harm we were about to inflict.

Now life is good and easy in a way I am still not always used to. No more stress about paying bills. No more wondering Will I ever get married. I never realized what a concern it had been until I no longer had it to worry about. Ta da. I am no longer a work in progress. I have arrived.

That is what being married kind of says to the world.

But what no one tells you, is that there is a badness that comes with marriage, a sort of boringness of feeling like you no longer have any surprises in store.

I guess that is just my immaturity talking. I have always been very immature. That is what my parents told me, anyway.

I’m trying. Really trying. To just go with it. To plan for a future the way everyone else who is married does. Luckily, Adrian seems unaware of my doubts. I have always been good at hiding things. And the doubts are very back burner. I can carry on huge conversations while having an entirely different conversation alone in my head. For the most part, I am truly doing this. This marriage, I mean.

The changes are not all bad, really, and the back burner is not always even hot. Sometimes there is just a tea kettle back there, a tea kettle of tiny secret worries, and what is one little tea kettle when it’s on a Wolf gas range in the middle of a great big wonderful life?

So yes, there are good things. Great things. The kinds of things I tell my friends, my eyes bright and glistening with emphatic sincerity. How the biggest difference is this feeling of wholeness. I think I was transparent before, and now, finally, I am solid. I can be seen by him, my words can be heard, I have weight and mass. Before, I thought it was normal for me to be the wispy compilation of other people’s opinions of me, and nothing more. I was only alive when someone spoke my name. But now I feel I stand alone as an actual human being. Or perhaps it’s just that I really am so much to Adrian, and I am feeling that.

I really do feel this way sometimes. And it feels amazing. I think this is something like it must have felt to be Valencia.

I lie awake at night and try to envelop myself in this feeling, pulling Adrian’s sleeping body around me, trying to save this goodness and trying to push out all the doubts. Sometime it almost works, and then I wonder how long it will last.

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