Find more from this author on:
About the author:
Amy Oliveira is the author of sassy and hilarious feminist romance novels like Ellis Montgomery and Unabashedly Yours. The Brazilian-born author is known for creating strong female lead characters who refuse to conform and look a little more like the genuine women she knows.
A hopeless romantic, Amy married the same man three times in three elaborate dresses and two different countries. If anything, that should be enough credentials to write romance.
After years of secretly writing romance in math class, her novels are now no secret to anyone who wants to read about remarkable women finding love.
Amy Oliveira lives in Northern Ireland with her husband, a healthy love for wine and for other people's drama.
What inspired you to write your book?
I wrote L:etters from Clara when I was nineteen. I printed the manuscript and took with me everywhere I went for eleven years.
I'm finally ready, and I know Bette and Darragh are too.
Here is a short sample from the book:
I felt my head pounding and my vision blurred. It was too bright and too dark. The blood rushed through my veins. I was getting sick on an empty stomach. My right eye started to twitch. Sweaty hands, wobbly legs. It was all so confusing, heart-breaking,… intense. I wasn’t able to make it bland or boring. Nope, it was all full of adrenaline, all so very scandalous.
One step backwards and then another, soon I was running to the other side as quick as my legs would carry me. I guess he followed, and of course he was way faster than I ever was. For example, I thought our relationship was getting a bit difficult, but he knew it was over.
Eric held me by my shoulder and I felt everything at once; his warm breath on my face, he had a chicken avocado sandwich for lunch. His scent, like the laundry detergent I got him. And then finally, I heard his voice, his excuses. He told me we were growing apart, that things had changed.
I think I nodded. Did I nod? I think I did. I knew of all those things. From my head to my toes, I knew we grew apart, but I also knew we grew together. I shared my play-doh with him when we were five; he shared his math homework when we were thirteen; and then after puberty, we start sharing other things too.
It’s hard to be sympathetic because I was the other half of that relationship. I was the part not doing it with someone else. I was the half making his chicken avocado sandwich.
But I nodded anyway, and I did so because it didn’t feel… sad. I was outraged on the first layer, because God knew Eric was a little a-hole who was so lucky to ever have the privilege to see my private area, thank you very much. But I felt this rush… and butterflies? Why did I have butterflies?
Deep down I was so disinterested in whatever Eric was saying. I caught him having sex with my boss in my own bed that we did not shared. What else was there to say? I left my ears ringing and they were able to muffle the sounds of his annoying rolls of excuses.
I wouldn’t even care he still insisted in going to my work, this time to visit his new girlfriend, if wasn’t for the shrinking sound of my best friend turning into a banshee whenever she saw him. Tara was a tiny thing, but she had long nails and never really liked Eric. Tara was waiting seventeen years for an opportunity to scratch the eyes out of him.
If I go back on that day, I see little Bette sharing the play-doh with Eric. That little girl with curly black hair and a scowl on her face just beside us, that’s Tara. She could smell his bullshit miles away. Didn’t matter that we grew up together and for years they both had the same amount of acres in my heart. Tara couldn’t stand Eric. I loved her for her devotion, and took time for her to understand that when I closed my eyes, I didn’t see Eric and Marta together in my bed.
No, I saw a movie of our relationship, a complicated one for that matter, that made me wonder why the most exciting thing about us was when I caught in bed with my boss.
Why the less boring thing about me was my ex-boyfriend was a pig and my boss and unethical. But I tried to see beyond that, at least for the following month.
So when it was our lunch time and I felt Tara’s body tense up beside me, I knew who she was staring. Of course, not a moment later she sighed and asked, “I don’t get it. Why don’t you quit, again?”
I looked over my shoulder to find Eric leaving the museum with a smug smile. He passed us, we were just in front having our lunch break on the garden, but he wasn’t man enough to play around with Tara.
I shrugged. “Because I don’t care enough.”
Tara followed Eric with her eyes until we couldn’t see his stupid hair anymore. “You should tell someone. She’s your boss.”
It wasn’t the first time she tired to get me on that road, but I always replied in the same way, “We can’t make decisions influenced by horrible people.”
Tara laughed because she knew me well enough to know that was some rehearsed line. “What about making any decisions whatsoever?”
I didn’t say anything because I knew what was about to come.
“Did you read the letter?” she pushed. “Any letter?”
I shook my head. “Nope”
She sighed. “Will you tell me when you do?”
“You’ll be the first one, sweets,” I said smiling and looking away, devouring my lunch in one bite. I stood up, squinting my brown eyes to shield them from the sun.
. I had a light jacket on. Right in the beginning of June, it was winter in São Paulo, but not cold enough to scare us away from having lunch in that beautiful garden.
I scrunched my nose at my best friend. She still wasn’t sure about my answers. I bent over and smacked a kiss right on her cheek. “Stop thinking too much,” I told her. “It doesn’t look cute on you.”
Tara laughed, and I dragged myself back to work, with a long sigh and a heart full of regret.
Maybe that’s why I had occupied my mind with nonsense about how I felt when Eric cheated on me. Because I knew with certainty, that year, I was the unluckiest girl in existence. And I knew I wasn’t supposed to make life changing decisions when I was desperate.
My “blessings” were always counted; I had a small studio apartment I overpaid every month. Thanks to Eric, I had one less best friend but an extra cheating boyfriend. The cherry on top of my miserable Sunday: right after Eric’s indiscretions, I had lost the only mother figure I’d ever known.
Auntie Clara. Tia Clara.
I held my sniffles when I thought about her, and I thought about her a lot. Tia Clara was this huge, larger than life character and she filled all the parts of my heart. Furthermore, I had no sympathy to give to the scumbag that was Eric or how unprofessional was the boss I once admired. I had no love left because somebody else had it all.
Tia was the reason my name was Bette; she was a huge Bette Davis fan. Tia was the one who helped when I was hurt, and sat down with me at the kitchen table to help with homework. Tia was the one I loved the most in the world. She was happiness itself, so it wasn’t a surprise that when she left, everything else fell apart.
I wasn’t brought up like a normal kid. My mother died during labour and they said my father had no idea what to do to for me from day one. No one said anything; no one took me from my Dad. For all intents and purposes he was still my guardian… But he wasn’t.
Dad was sad when my mother died, and he withdrew on himself. It was fine. I mean, I don’t remember being fine, but it was expected. Anyone would be sad to lose a wife, right? However, instead of finding me someone suitable, the family decided to work together to raise baby Bette. All my aunties would help, along with all the families still living in the same town just in the countryside of São Paulo.
The thing is… Babies aren’t a fun thing to keep. And while everyone did put their weight in the first year, by the second it was clear that my father wasn’t interested in parenting. By then he was fine and ready to date. So that was what he did, in such a level of commitment that I can’t remember him during the first years of my life. I remember him coming and going and patting me on my head. For big chunks of my childhood all I could remember was a sporadic kiss on the cheek. That was about it.
Our raising Bette community started to wear out. One of my aunts had her first baby, and soon the others followed. Dad never came back around on the whole fathering thing. So in the end it was me and tia Clara, she wasn’t even a sister of my Dad. Tia was my great aunt who lost her husband before I was born, so no one was worried about her wasting her life for me.
Tia Clara and I had that in common. We had no one, so we should’ve stayed together and bothered each other. And that’s what we did.
No one noticed when I moved to her house. I was ten and I used to sleep over many times anyway. I never lived with my Dad so what was the point? I stuffed all my precious things in my Power Puff Girls backpack one afternoon. I opened her gate and let myself in, the door was always unlocked.
Dropping my backpack on her rug I announced, “I live here now.”
She nodded. “About time.”
As I ran off steam, I sat on the couch. “You think Grandma and Grandad are going to be mad I left?”
Tia Clara smiled. “I think we can ring them and let them know.”
“Won’t they be mad?”
“They will be sad to see you go,” she sat beside me and took my hand in hers, “but they know we’re best friends.”
I nodded, convincing myself. “That’s true, they know.”
I felt like that house was mine. I had a room there since I was a baby and I had my favourite person in the world living there too. The house with salmon walls and the scary image of Jesus with a teeny-tiny red light underneath glared at us from the hall. It felt like… mine. My childhood… My life. So when tia Clara was gone, I wasn’t expecting my things to be thrown without a ceremony.
Which they didn’t. But they kind of were. Tia Clara lived in a house that was technically the family’s. When she passed, Grandad had plans to clean it out, remodelled and sell it. Or rent it. I was told he wasn’t fussy. He asked on the phone if I wanted to keep my books; yes I did. Do I also want to keep VHS tapes? Yes. I wanted to keep it all, but I was living in São Paulo in a small studio apartment. So I kept one of each thing. Tia Clara’s yellow flowery dress, a fun blue hat. Her copy of Wuthering Heights, her favourite necklace and her wedding ring. The VHS of All About Eve.
For that first week I thought that was it. The whole family was mourning, I was reminded. It wasn’t just me. So I left our home town of Santa Barbara D’Oeste and went back to São Paulo because there I could mourn alone. I wasn’t a baby to be hopping in their houses anymore and my Dad was in Japan for business; he couldn’t make the funeral.
Tia’s things on my backseat, and my own things from my room in my car’s boot. I drove all the way back with a cry stuck in my throat, too scared I’d cause an accident.
Later Tara told me I was silly for dealing with my family alone and I promised not do it again, until I had no other option. And the moment arrived sooner than we all expected, when we were all summed to a lawyer’s office.
Grandad Antonio and Grandmother Laura, and their children: My father, also Antonio, Auntie Ana, Auntie Luiza and Uncle Roberto. And me. The only niece called in.
I moved uncomfortably in my chair when Uncle Roberto looked at me and huffed. I didn’t know what I was doing there either; it bothered me too.
I heard Dad sigh behind us. “Tia Clara had nothing in her name. The house she lived in it was my Grandad’s. I got that sorted.”
His strong baritone always seemed to surprise me, probably because I hadn’t heard that voice many times.
Tia Clara’s lawyer eyed my Dad over his paper and sneered. My Dad and Granddad were also lawyers, that was why they sounded exasperated. They weren’t nice people, and that was why they sounded arrogant.
“The will of Clara de Carvalho Menezes da Cunha,” the lawyer said ignoring my Dad, He focused his eyes on the paper in his hands and started reading to all of us, “I hereby nominate the constitute and appoint my lawyer, Heitor Villas, to act as the Executor of this my last Will and Testament. In the event that Heitor Villas shall predecease me or chooses not to act for any reason, I nominate and appoint Beatriz Dantas, his business partner, to act in his place.”
I heard my Granddad’s annoyed puff by my side. Heitor didn’t seem to care. Maybe he dealt with things like this too many times to care about a disrespectful family member. Or perhaps it was a small town and he knew all about Antonio Menezes.
“I give and bequeath to Antonio Menezes Senior, should he survive me, all personal effects from my current home.”
“Junk,” huffed Grandad and got himself a slap on the ribs by Grandma.
Heitor Villas looked me in the eyes next and said:
“I give and bequeath to Bette Menezes, my favourite person in the world, all funds in my savings account and the sole ownership of Quinn Manor.”
I couldn’t hear anything, not my Grandad’s complaints or my own Dad’s insistent tsking. Nothing. It was Auntie Luiza with the smallest voice ever heard that said:
“What exactly is a Quinn Manor?”
For once in their lives, they all waited quietly; the air thick with tension, everyone had their back straight.
“Clara had a property in Ireland. It is now Bette’s,” he smiled at me and I returned one, weakly.
“Clara does not have properties in Europe,” Grandad argued. “She doesn’t have them here, you see. Why would she have them there?”
Heitor didn’t say a word. He wasn’t interested in my Grandad’s take, he was looking at me.
“We’re going to need further meetings for this Bette, but it's all here and all yours. She made sure to tick all the boxes.”
I nodded, but was afraid to say a word. I knew the people around me were ready to tear Heitor a new one, so I wasn’t crazy enough to ask questions at that point.
For the next half an hour all they did was shout. Hearing from my only living family how much they thought I didn’t deserve something was the high of my shitty month in my mediocre life. She isn’t mature enough to own property. She doesn’t have the ambition to make it profit.
It was Dad who pointed out that maybe I wasn’t even old enough. I was, but it made me wonder if he knew when I was born.
They shouted so much, they didn’t notice when Heitor passed me a letter from Clara herself, and then a wooden box with a bunch of other letters inside. They didn’t notice my pained look when I recognized tia Clara’s scrawl, or that my hands shook when I touched the box.
They didn’t notice we were two misfits, now they shouted and I was all alone.
Dear sweet Bette Davis,
I’ve just watched Some Like It Hot and I couldn’t stop thinking about you. She says “I’m turning twenty five in June. A quarter of a century makes a girl think”. I started to wonder if I would be here to see you turn a quarter of a century, but probably not. If I was, I’m sorry for the half empty glass kind of bullshit.
I don’t know how the rest of your life it’s going to be, child. I can’t tell how many loves you’re going to have or what kind of man will steal your heart forever. Unfortunately, I probably won’t meet your children, if you ever decide to have them, and I won’t be able to spoil them.
However, you’re my Bette and I can guess a little of your future. I know you will look at the mirror someday and will see everything I see from the moment I held you in my arms for the first time. You’ll see a fierce young woman with so many talents and so much promise. You’ll see a bad bitch. Oh yeah, I’ve said it.
Until then, I have a few tips;
Never let men underestimate you. And I’m not saying just about the boys that will come and go and mess with your head. I’m talking about your own Dad and Grandad and all other fuckers that come your way. No one can put a rock between you and where you meant to be.
Never stop feeling alive. Never do anything just because of habit.
Always wear clothes that make your breast look bigger.
Never forget of your good friendships. Always remember who is the person holding your hand during tough times.
Never drink too much whiskey. Never drink less, either.
Never stop yourself from crying. Cry all the time, of sadness, happiness and everything in between. Feelings are strength, feelings are divine.
And live, child.
Love from your completely senile tia.
Right on the bottom, with a different ink from the rest of the letter it read:
Ps: I’m sorry I ran out of time to explain about Yellow Meadows. Just read the other letters.
Now… What the hell was Yellow Meadows?
Another group of bored students arrived. I knew their school by the uniform, a São Paulo’s private school. For them our Museum was just around the corner from home and not worth the trouble.
In front of the house, I smiled to the group. Their pimpled faces did not smile back. ¬¬¬
“Let’s start here… a walk through the colony…” I enunciated and they followed me.
When I was their age, I loved all Museum visits. Mostly because being from Santa Barbara D’Oeste going to a big Museum like ours is a big deal. And our Museum… Oh… It was gorgeous. I didn’t think twice before applying to the job, even though the pay was rubbish I couldn’t seem to leave that place behind.
The Museum of Ipiranga was a dream to me. That staircase? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t see it and remember that scene from Beauty and the Beast. Or the beautiful hedge garden like the end of Anastacia.
I reckon that was the reason why Eric’s visits to my supervisor Marta, didn’t even register anymore. When he left her office and she let us know “The hurricane Eric has passed,” I celebrated with a woohoo and a laugh. I mean, I did care in the beginning. I would run to the bathroom, sit down and hang my head between my knees… and cry. I’d cry for me because I was pathetic, but sometimes I cried for us too, for our friendship and for the friendship bracelet he gave me when we were in second class.
Reading helped too. I’m an escapist to the core; I always find a way for not to be involved. On the week of our breakup, I read a book a day. When under pressure, I tried to remember quotes from books I read before in a silly attempt to remove myself from reality.
When they made their relationship public, and he gave me flowers and asked to leave things in the past, I reminded myself that Hurricane Eric was just a stupid scrawny kid from Santa Barbara with knowledge in maths and way too big of an ego.
Leave things in the past?
Two weeks is not the past, honey.
However, in the end, why would I have wanted that? Of all men, why would I have wanted Eric?
So I stayed and my favourite staircase and garden stayed there and he couldn’t touch it because I wouldn’t let him.
It was mid-afternoon when Tara poked me in the ribs as I was lost looking at my favourite painting; Maria Quitéria.
“Are we going to dinner tonight?”
“Yes,” I said at once. “I need to be fed.”
“Cool,” she said as she watched Maria Quitéria with me for a second. “So was it worth it today?”
I shrugged, but she poked me again.
“You said you loved this place. You promised everyday had to count. Did today count?”
I turned to my best friend and smiled. “Yes”
“One more please, Gustavo,” Tara asked, smiling sweetly at our waiter.
“Stop flirting!” I laughed. “You promised me movie night.”
Tara giggled. She promised to bring me to dinner and then watch a movie at her house. We were just at the dinner part but I felt I was going to lose to the waiter.
Suddenly she grabbed my arm, “You should totally do him!”
I barely had one look on the waiter, but the answer was on the tip of my tongue, “No, thanks.”
“Pretty please,” she asked sticking her lip out.
I laughed, “What a weird thing to ask your friend. No!”
Tara shrugged and started on the bread in front of us. I smiled, watching her. I was pretty sure we were made for each other.
There were no childhood pictures, or any happy memory, without Tara. She was my safe port when shitty people, like Eric, cheated and amazing people, like tia Clara, died.
“What you doing with your inheritance?” she asked after a big gulp of wine like it wasn’t a big question.
“Ai…” I whined. “I don’t know. Can we change the subject?”
But apparently we couldn’t.
“If you sell wouldn’t your family all come salivating for the money?”
“They can’t take money off me! Can they?”
She shrugged glancing at the menu. “I have no idea. I don’t understand any of this. Are they contesting the will?”
Since I refused to think about the subject, I simply cleared my throat and sipped the wine.
“If they are, maybe you can’t even sell,” Tara kept going, “I don’t know, Bette, I am not a lawyer. But I don’t think Clara would want you to sell.”
I scratched my cheek. I didn’t know what tia Clara meant by giving me the Manor. Actually, I was still not sure why she had that kind of place anyway. And why, of all places, she had it in Ireland.
“If she wanted ensure her vision about my future and manors in Ireland, she should have told me her plans.”
Just as I finished my sentence, our waiter came along and we ordered a supreme vegetarian.
“I just think Clara had a plan,” Tara kept going as the waiter left. “She was never the type to just do things for the fun. All those letters, a manor! Think, Bette. She could’ve sold it and left you the money…”
“She was old…”
“She had all organised for you. I just can’t understand why aren’t you more intrigued by this.”
“I am intrigued,” I shrugged. “A safe amount.”
Tara rolled her eyes. “Listen,” With a sip of her wine, she looked me dead in the eyes. “If she wanted to sell that place she would have. But she gave it all to you with a bunch of letters you refuse to read.”
“So, what do you want me to do? Go to Ireland?”
“Yes,” the bane of my existence deadpanned.
It was my turn to roll my eyes and be sarcastic. “Sure Tara. I’ll just leave it all behind and move to Ireland.”
“It’s super cute of you calling ‘it all.’ Your job is a joke, your family is contesting the will and your boyfriend cheated on you with your boss. The only thing going for you right now is… Me.”
I smiled. She got it so right.
“I still don’t want to go,” I said honestly. And I had no concrete reason behind it, besides the fact I was scared of everything. Especially new places and foreign accents.
She nodded. “I know. But you’re going anyway. If tia Clara wants you there, you’re already there.”
I bit the inside of my cheek and turned my head away. Tara, as usual, was right. Tia Clara never, once in our life together, stirred me in the wrong way. I knew she had a reason for leaving me the Quinn Manor. I knew I would understand better if I read her letters from the box… Still… I couldn’t.
I was a complete chicken.
Like Tara, tia had some extra-terrestrial ability to turn any crazy plan into the most logical argument ever heard. I was scared of that. I felt that the moment I opened the wooden box of letters, ultra violet light would come out of it and illuminate every reason why I should pack my bags and move to the only property I owned.
First, it was going to show my obvious problems: my job with an abusive boss and my entire relationship with Eric. It would show our years of friendship growing into a relationship and our first kiss when we were fourteen. Then, it would fast forward eight years and show me his first kiss with Marta. After that, in the most horrible film trailer ever shown, it will show tia Clara and our empty house with the relatives I could barely stand…
The only picture I had of my mother.
There were many reasons to leave São Paulo behind. It didn’t matter what way I looked. If not Ireland, I could try my luck anywhere. Literally anywhere.
“…when they are placed in circumstances requiring fortitude and strength of mind, if she have not resolution enough…”
“Persuasion,” said Tara, even though I didn’t finish the quote.
I nodded. She reached for my hand, giving it a squeeze.
“One of your favourites.” My best friend smiled weakly. “Don’t be anxious about it. Just read the letters. And buy a ticket.”
We ate our vegetarian supreme and I didn’t tell her not being anxious was an impossible task. Neither did I tell her, I thought about the letters every day of my life. It weighed on me, constantly.
The days after our dinner Tara wasn’t that insistent. She talked all around it but never about it. I went over to her house and we watched movies. She came over to mine and we painted our toenails. She told me about her latest dates; I mindlessly swiped through her Tinder while we chatted. It was life and ordinary as it was. We both went to work; I had my sandwich at the huge steps leading to the garden exactly at quarter past one in the afternoon, every single day. Sometimes Tara was with me. Sometimes I listened to an audiobook while I ate.
One of the audiobook days, I was sitting on the steps, opening a can of coke zero, when Marta’s assistant interrupted me.
“Is that ok?”
I took one of my earphones and tipped my face up to look directly at her. Bia had a small face and was always blushing. Always. This time, again, she didn’t let me down. I frowned at her and then quickly lowered myself to the can to have a sip before it spilled on my jeans.
“Marta would like to see you,” she repeated herself when it was clear I hadn’t heard the first time.
“I’m on my lunch break.” I replied and, even though I was sure not more than ten minutes had passed, I still checked my watch to find that it was only twenty four pass one.
“I know,” Bia said fidgeting her hands, “but…”
She didn’t need to keep going, Marta had no time for that, she wanted things when she wanted things. Regardless of what was right. For example, that time she wanted my boyfriend.
Bia sighed in relief when I stood up, like I was ever one to pick a fight. I followed her up the steps, smiling at her cute navy dress and golden flats.
“How’s school?” I asked.
“Good.” She nodded. “I got that teacher…” Bia told me with almost no strength to her voice. “The one you said was really mean?”
She confirmed with a nod.
“Just keep your head down and do the assignments. He’s arrogant, but fair.”
Bia was attending the same University I once did. She was younger and less prepared than I was, but still had a better job and a bigger salary. The thing was, she was Marta’s assistant, it was obvious why I wasn’t a suitable option for the promotion.
When we reached the first floor, I said hi to the usual people around: the security guard beside the door and the other tour guide, Felipe. I watched him work for a second, he went on and on about the artifacts even though most of the school tour wasn’t paying attention. It was almost school holiday, everyone’s attention was the month free they had in July.
Bia and I went up the stairs I liked her a lot, her flats echoing the tap noise it made when they met the floor. I knew where Marta’s office was, but I let Bia lead me into it. When her delicate hands touched the door knob, she shot me a strange smile, which made me frown.
“What’s happening?” I asked quickly in a lower voice, but she never answered, instead, she jut nudged me towards the way and opened the door.
Marta Ferreira was a mean old lady.
Alright, she wasn’t old. But she sure was too old to be stealing boyfriends like a high school bully.
In her thirties for sure, Marta was gorgeous. Bouncy perfect blond hair, manicured nails, green perfect eyes. She smiled stiffly as I opened the door, and soon she made that face she always made when saw me; crisp lips, tight jaw, nose turned up like she just smelled poop. Surprise, surprise, she did not like me.
“You asked for me?”
Marta nodded and showed me to the chair in front of her desk, her massive beautiful glass table with no finger prints. How was it possible?
“I thought we could have a chat.”
I said slowly, lowering myself on the chair, watching her mouth twist when she saw my converse shoes through the glass. I was curling my toes inside the shoes when she fired, “Are you happy working here, Bette?”
Well, wasn’t that a super weird question?
Did I love the museum? Yes. Did I adore my co-workers and my very best friend who worked just few metres away? Yes. Did I love that my boss, the person I should’ve admired, decided to get on with my boyfriend? Nope, I couldn’t say I did.
“I like my job,” I replied simply.
Her head fell to the right side, like she was pitying a hurt puppy.
“But you must have ambitions. You must want more than the tours.”
I frowned at Marta. Why was she talking in circles? Of course, I had ambitions beyond my position but it was her that put a stop to that. She was the one to cross a line that should have never been crossed.
“Of course I do.” Again, it was the shortest of answers.
“Excellent,” Marta nodded. “I just feel… Bette, can I be honest?”
For once in your life? Yes, please.
“I think you have potential. You’re smart and I know Bia consults you on almost every assignment I give her.”
I carved my nails to my palm. So she knew. Martha knew her assistant wasn’t able to do most of her work alone and needed to come to me for help. It wasn’t Bia’s fault really. She was younger and still in college; she was going to learn due time, the same way I did.
But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that she didn’t know now. Bia didn’t deserve the position she had now, and Marta knew it.
“I know how smart I am, Marta,” I told her, trying to control my voice.
My tone didn’t end with the patronising speech of the year.
“That’s great. I have an opportunity for you.”
My eyes narrowed as I asked, “What opportunity?”
“A promotion.” She smiled and all the hairs on my arm stood. “Dr Benedito needs an assistant in acquisitions so I recommended you.”
“I would leave the Museum.”
Acquisitions was an interesting position, but meant to be buried in an office alone with Dr Benedito, away form the museum. It meant she would never see me again.
“It’s a step up,” she explained.
“Is it, though?” I challenged.
We stared at each other for the longest of times, longer than we ever did. I felt my mouth go dry at the possibility of being sent away, to work with someone I barely knew, locked up somewhere for her convenience.
Marta couldn’t fire me, but she just found a way to get rid of me.
“Bette, this is a great opportunity.”
I had never missed work. I gave one hundred percent of me when I was touring with the kids. I got along with everyone at work. I was flawed in many ways, but I wasn’t disposable.
“What are you trying to get with this?” were the chosen words I let out of my lips.
“Don’t be offended.” She laughed it off. “This is a reward…”
She was trying to gaslight the shit out of me while she was at it. I knew Marta had second intentions with this promotion of hers. Of course sending me away without firing me was the best-case scenario in her books, but I was exhausted from talking in codes.
I rested my cold palm to my forehead, breathing in and out before speaking again.
“Marta, let’s just talk honestly for a second, ok? Are you wondering why I didn’t quit, aren’t you? Why don’t you ask me.”
The woman in front of me was nothing but extraordinary; she was never underdressed, never had one hair out of place. Always had a face full of perfectly applied makeup. So of course, she could never ask the question everyone was asking.
Marta shook her flawless, wavy blond hair and deflected. Casting her eyes down the table, she started shuffling through papers, clearly went through my file. Talking nonsense, about when I started the job, and pretty much gave me a stellar job review. I was confused what we were doing, why I was sitting there.
She sighed after going on for five minutes straight, “Of course, we can keep you here. But Felipe is mostly able to handle the tours during Summer on his own…”
Initially, she made it sound like it was an opportunity, but now she wanted to sell it like it was my only hope since Felipe could take my job completely? I stretched my sweaty palms over her immaculate glass table. Marta winced. I looked her in the eyes, feeling so disappointed, so tired of the games she had me put me through.
For weeks, since I saw Marta with Eric, I made myself believe she was this evil character to my Disney princess. She was the Miranda Priestley to my Andie.
Yet, there she was. Unable to speak one sincere word, tip toeing around the same twenty-two-year-old that she squashed not that long ago. I was the cockroach who refused to die.
“This is ridiculous, you know that?”
“Sorry, I was j-?” She stopped mid-sentence.
“You don’t need to do this. I don’t care about you and Eric. I won’t tell on you. It’s that why you are scared?”
Marta closed her mouth with a snap. Frowning she refused to look me in the eyes. “I offered you a promotion because I think you deserve it…”
I shook my head. “You want to bury me somewhere so you don’t need to deal with me. But you don’t need to do that. I told everyone to keep it quiet. I can’t stress enough how much I don’t care.”
It was true. If I cared enough, I would have been angrier; I would have left the Museum. I would have done something… But I didn’t. I stood frozen in time like the art work I loved so much.
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are,” I whispered.
I looked up at her. “That’s E.E. Cummings,” I shook my head as I made a decision, the first of many. “I… Oh God.”
I took my hands off the glass, leaving a big stain behind. Marta and I watched in silence while the hot marks of my palms disappeared slowly from the glass. “Marta, I am never going to be anything while you’re my boss, and I won’t let you bury me in a department just so you can sleep with Eric guilt free. But mostly…” and for that one I looked into her green eyes, “I’m going because it’s not worth it anymore.”
She open and closed her mouth quickly as I stood up tall. “I never left because I wasn’t that hurt,” I told her even though she never had the courage to ask, “I wasn’t that bothered, I guess.”
Those were big words. But I wasn’t lying, I had to face the fact that if losing Eric was indeed so much pain I would have never stayed and watched.
I ran my way down the stairs, skipping happily. Felipe looked at me with curiosity when I waved him goodbye. He was nothing but a professional. He waved back at me but kept talking to the kids.
I crossed the museum, ahead to my right where I found the gift shop and at the till, the most bored looking woman: Tara.
Her eyes lit up when I came in, barely at the door I called, “Ok, then. Let’s go.”
She had a stupid green visor on top of her head, which she took it out with a flourish tossing on the floor.
And we were out of the building.
“Are you wearing red panties?” Tara asked me.
I buckled my seat belt and frowned at her.
“You get wild when you’re wearing red panties.”
Without my permission, as she would, Tara reached over trying to lower my jeans enough to see the colour of my panties. I laughed, slapping her hand away and turning the key in the ignition.
In an almost empty parking lot, aside from a van, a school tour bus and the staff’s car, everything looked normal, even though inside my vehicle there was nothing but happiness. I was giddy. Tara was beyond herself.
I turned right out of there while she was choosing the best song. “Something cool, something brave,” I laughed again, what else can a girl do?
Everyone heard a quitting story before, and we all love those. I told my boss to shove it and walked away, I left in the middle of a shift. Sounded like a fairy tale.
I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I would have a quitting story to tell. Not one as bold as this; not someone as boring as me. Tara was having a fit for a reason; she dreamt, her whole life, that her best friend would have the balls.
We decided on going to Santa Barbara D’Oeste and there was little reasoning behind it. The loud music in the background was enough to muffle most of my stupid inner monologues. Why would I go to Santa Barbara? I didn’t know. Neither did Tara.
She watched me intently when I threw it out there. “It’s my Grandmother’s birthday anyway, so I was going to have to make the trip.” Tara nodded when I asked if she wanted to come with me, but I knew the answer would be positive before I even asked.
We drove away while my heart sank. What the did I just do? Like reading my mind, Tara asked me exactly that.
We were still two hours away from our destination. I couldn’t simply brush it off as a long tale. We had plenty of time for long tales.
“I don’t know,” I breathed out.
“Something must have annoyed you.”
I frowned at the road ahead. “I thought it meant something. Marta… Eric, the museum. But then it clicked, you know?” I turned to my best friend quickly. “It doesn’t mean anything. Eric is horrible and Marta… god… She was a little intimidated by me.”
That made Tara laugh. A big ass loud laugh. “Isn’t that amazing?”
“It kind of broke the spell on me. She was this amazing, powerful woman who had my dream job and stole my boyfriend… I felt kind of sorry for her.”
“And that did it?”
I chuckled. “What do I always say about a room?”
Tara shook her head amused, “If you’re the most intelligent person in a room…”
“I’m in the wrong room. How can you learn if you’re ahead of the game? Who is going to teach you?”
“Alright, alright… I wanted something more dramatic, I guess.”
“Tara… I just walked from my job in the middle of a day. That’s as dramatic as I get.”
“I guess it is.” Tara looked out the window for a second. “I’m glad we’re out.”
Over the console, I reached over for her small hand, about fifty colourful bracelets dangling from her delicate dark brown wrist. I brought her hand to my lips and gave it a kiss. “Me too.”
I guess in a way I honoured our agreement. A week after I caught Eric with Marta, I went to work like nothing had happened. Tara was angry; she asked me why a dozen times. Such a loaded question. I had no idea why. I was lost and losing a job on top of everything sounded dumb. But after a couple of days—days that showed Marta had no regrets and Eric was officially dating her now—Tara pleaded with me to leave.
But it wasn’t fair. They didn’t get the museum too. They didn’t get to win. It was my museum. It was where I felt connected the most. It was my life and they didn’t get to mess that part up.
Tara asked me once if my loyalty to the museum was enough. She wanted every day to count. Apart from Eric, apart from the fact that under Marta I was never going to get a serious job, I would never be anyone.
Everyday did count. Until it didn’t.
I pushed through. The car was eating the asphalt. Tara sang songs softly under her breath. By the time we reached Santa Barbara D’Oeste, the sun was setting and I had no idea where to go. My car found the way along the streets I knew so well. One street after another; one lamp post after the other.
I had no home.
A deep sigh from the woman beside me sealed my faith.
“Go to my parents. We can go to your grandma’s birthday together tomorrow.”
I gave her a curt nod, turning to my left and driving up her parent’s street.
Gloria, Tara’s mother, came to the door the moment my car parked in front of her beautiful yellow house. She was small and petite like Tara, always wearing something bright with fierceness in her eyes. She looked at both of us with a smile on her lips.
“Alright,” Gloria said when we stood in front of her. “Come in then.” She simply told us, cocking her head towards the front door.
Next day I was glad to have Tara beside me. I was sure otherwise I would’ve blown up. I was one hundred percent expecting to blow up like a rogue balloon. But Tara kept me calm. We were in Grandma’s house. I had a nice dress on for the first time in months, thanks to Gloria who was able to find something that fit me in her closet. She was also nice enough to plait my hair and lend me some mascara. I looked fine. I looked like a girl, tia Luiza said, surprised, right when we arrived.
I was a girl; it didn’t matter what I was wearing. It angered me that something like that needed to be said. The fact that I seemed to be tongue tied where my family was concerned, angered me more..
Tara looked stunning as usual, a bit more like herself than me, since she actually had clothes at her parents’ house. My relatives had always turned their noses to Tara and her family. A fact that did not surprise me in the least.
Tara’s parents, Gloria and Jose, were honest, kind people, so of course they had absolutely nothing in common with any of the Menezes. Tara had an older brother, Lucas, who lived in the north. He was incredibly smart, a mechanic engineer, hardworking like his parents, so again, no parallels were made.
“It’s fine,” Tara said to me when she passed me a glass with orange juice. “Fix that face.”
I looked at her, turning my face into a real scowl, making her laugh. “Stop!” she said. “Didn’t tia Clara say if you made faces you would end up like this forever?”
I giggled. “Yes, she said an angel would come and blow on my face, leaving it in a scowl forever and ever.”
“See.” Tara nodded like she made her point. “I won’t be your friend if you end up with a forever scowl.”
We were laughing in the corner of Grandma’s house, ignoring the coming and goings of my relatives, those who openly disliked me and those who at least had the decency to pretend. Grandma’s house was big. The huge open kitchen was now full of food she ordered to cater specially for her day.
My tias talked loudly around the house, fanning over the guests, grabbing glasses and starters for everyone, asking if we were all comfortable. My tios were drinking beers with Granddad; they were talking football and law and mostly a mix of both, laughing openly every time one of them made an unfunny joke.
The cousins were somewhere. We weren’t a big family. I was the oldest cousin at twenty-two, then we had tia Ana’s oldest kids: Nathalia at twenty-one, Frankie at twenty, and Alice who was just sixteen. Tia Luiza’s oldest, Victor, was seventeen and his younger brother Pedro, fifteen. Leaving the family baby, Tio Roberto’s only daughter Julia, the eleven-year-old.
I wasn’t close to any of them. I liked Frankie, Nathalia and Victor ok; they were the closest in age to me, but I never truly got a full relationship with them. I was the one with no mother, why would they get me for a play date when I had no mother to repay the favour?
Until I was ten, living at Grandma and Grandad’s, it was a fair game, though. Tia Ana dropped Frankie and Nathalia over enough times, expecting me to be around and entertain them. Maybe that’s why from all the bunch, I didn’t feel so awkward around them both.
And maybe that was the same reason, when Frankie passed us, he almost did a double take on our presence, He stop and asked why we weren’t sitting with everyone.
“The cousins,” he answered confused, and turned to Tara. “Hi, I’m Frankie.”
“I know who you are,” said my savage of a best friend. “Let’s go sit with the cousins, Bette.”
I turned my nose.
“Let’s go sit with the cousins,” Frankie mimicked, a sly smile in Tara’s direction.
My lips went thin. I wasn’t being difficult. I wasn’t. It just… what was I supposed to talk about with those people? Were they all sitting in a circle and…
“Bette…” Tara laughed. “Let’s sit. Plus, your tia keeps coming around and looking at my bracelets and my hair and… Man, it’s bugging me.”
I didn’t have to ask which tia it was. Could be any of them, really.
I dragged my feet following Frankie, he smiled excitedly at Tara when I groaned but started to move. Tara, being very much like herself, only frowned at him, confused why he was wasting such a bright smile on a sour pants like her.
Behind the sitting room, was Grandma’s sun room. For years it was my favourite room of the house. Grandma made the rule early on of using it just for reading, which was supposedly to keep the kids out. That did not work with me. Firstly, because I adored reading and it was a gorgeous room with perfect chairs for it. But later I was allowed to read in the sunroom. I had a thing of reading Pride and Prejudice and walking around, like Lizzie once did, going for a walk around a room.
My cousins were sitting in a circle, in a much more relaxed manner than I had imagined. They were part talking and part ignoring each other with their phones in hands, cans of coke making water rings on Grandma’s precious furniture.
“Bette and Tara are here,” Frankie told no one in particular, but it was Nathalia that looked from her phone first.
“Hey, Bette,” she said quickly, but never gave me a second to answer. I knew she wasn’t paying attention anymore.
I smiled shyly at everyone and no one, pretty uncomfortable for someone who had grew up in that very same house. The opposite of me, Tara, did not care much, she simply threw herself in a chair, relaxing, and then cocking an eyebrow up to me.
I rolled my eyes. I wasn’t being uptight. I wasn’t being anything. I was simply…
“Are you still in São Paulo, Bette?” Frankie asked.
I turned to him, leaving Tara and her faces aside. “Yes, I guess I am.”
Was I? Because from yesterday I had no job anymore. Dang.
“When are you going to Ireland?” Alice, Frankie’s younger sister asked surprising me. She was at the corner, I barely noticed.
“I…” I started confused.
“Do you have pictures of the house?” It was Nathalia’s turn to ask.
Again, confused as ever, I found myself speechless.
“Mom says it’s a mansion,” Victor said from the seat closest to the window.
I shook my head at the same time Tara decided to reply. “It’s a manor. Isn’t a manor a mansion for fancy people?”
“I thought mansions were houses for fancy people,” insisted Frankie.
Tara shrugged. “It’s big.”
I whipped my head on her direction. “How do you know?”
“Cause when properties have names… you know it’s fancy.”
“What’s the name?” Alice asked.
“Quinn Manor,” Tara answered, making me madder by the second.
That was the opposite of what I wanted, and Tara knew. The interest in tia Clara’s will was something I did not want to deal with. Forget big manors, forget Ireland. I wanted to make myself smaller and smaller until they couldn’t find me anymore.
“Don’t make that face. What’s wrong? They are just curious.” Tara said reading my mind as usual, but we had an audience this time.
“You can tell us shit, Bette,” Frankie confirmed.
“I know…” I shook my head to myself. “I’m not saying…”
“So do you have pictures?” Nathalia asked again.
“No,” I said turning to her. “I don’t know anything about it.”
“But you met with the lawyer, right? It’s legally yours?” Frankie frowned at me.
I nodded. Yes, I had, because that was what tia Clara wanted. So I met with Heitor and I signed what needed to be signed, but that didn’t mean I was much interested, or even that I touched the money that was left for me either.
“Aren’t you… curious?” Nathalia was clearly confused.
“I…” I thought for a second before shaking my head to my cousin. “I don’t think so. I was just… Sad.”
“I’m so sorry about tia Clara, Bette,” Frankie offered. “She was awesome.”
Alice nodded enthusiastically while Nathalia scoffed. “Isn’t hard in comparison.”
And they all laughed like they had a secret, I looked over at Tara and she had a goofy smile on her. Hmm.
“She was everyone’s aunt,” I said back to my cousins. “We are all mourning.”
No one said anything to that. It was true, even though right in my heart of hearts I knew she was mine. And only mine.
It turned out to be an ok afternoon once we all had a place to hide. I never thought about hiding in a group before. Not that my aunties didn’t know where we were. They knew; they dropped by once or twice to say something to their kids, but they left quickly, never giving me a second glance.
It was when things were dying down, I found my Grandma outside, sneaking a cigarette like I knew she did for years.
She saw my shadow coming out, looking guilty and then relieved when she realised it was only me.
“Thank god,” she said, “I thought it was Luiza.”
“No, just me Grandma. I came to say bye.”
Grandma Laura looked me up and down, dangling the cigarette from her lips. “Where are you sleeping then?”
“At Tara’s,” I informed her.
I nodded, and she nodded too.
I came over for a quick hug, she patted me on the back.
“Are you ok?” Grandma asked for the first time since the funeral.
“I’m alright, thanks.”
“Where’s Dad?” I asked, for no reason than just because if anyone would know, it would be her.
“São Paulo.” She told me taking a drag. “He started a job there a couple of weeks ago.”
The dagger of knowing my own Dad was living in the same town I was without even asking me for dinner wasn’t as big as one could imagine. He lived in the same, and much smaller, town as me before without showing the slightest interest in me.
“Some people are different, uh?” Grandma said, taking my silence for something else. “Your Dad is your Dad. He’s like that and we love him that way, right?”
I found myself nodding. I knew little about my Dad. I couldn’t tell how he was made, what his strongest suits were. I knew the last time we were in the same room was the day of the will. I knew that before that it was Granddad’s birthday. I knew what colour his eyes were: dark brown like mine. I knew his profession and, occasionally, I knew what part of the world he was in. Nothing but that; nothing beyond the basics.
But I was supposed to love him like he was.
“Come around tomorrow,” she said with a smile. “Your granddad will fix Clara’s thing for you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, fanning myself away from the smoke.
“Clara’s nonsense, love.” Grandma told me, flickering the cigarette further to the garden. “Come around tomorrow, he wants to have a talk to you.”
Turning to me, my grandmother took her cigarette-smelling hand to my face, touching my cheek in what was to appear to be a loving way.
“I’m sorry you got caught up in all this. Clara…, I loved her so much, but she was a mess. I’m sorry she just threw it all on you. Granddad will fix it, uh? Just call in tomorrow.”
With a pat, she passed through me, leaving me alone in the garden, watching the darkness on my own.