Everything happened in a blur, as if my entire life passed by before my eyes when less expected, reminding me of forgetting about what I would do tomorrow and, instead, focus on what could be happening now and what I could do. Making me think ‘what did I do wrong to deserve this shit’ or ‘I always fuck things up’.
But before that, my day had been one for the books. It was 16th September, exactly six months since Agustina and I had reunited after a few years that felt like an eternity –long story short, after that reunion at La Cafeteria de La Paz, we had been spending much time together and, eventually, our old feelings for each other started claiming their place. As a gift or celebration for our new monthiversary, my parents had decided to close their pizzeria, just for the two of us to have a private and very romantic dinner. We were having a really good time, eating the best pizzas in the world, laughing, telling embarrassing stories, talking about plans for the future, enjoying each other’s company...
“This is how I want nights to be in the future” she said, squeezing my hands softly. “Only your company.”
“Well, we’ll definitely have this kind of nights quite on a daily basis after moving in together, won’t we?” I answered while slowly bringing her hand to my face. “I hope you don’t get tired of me quickly.”
We burst into laughter. God, even in the cheesiest moments we’d never lose our one-of-a-kind sense of humour.
“And miss your crazy stunts?” It looked like the round of laughter had left her breathless. “Never in my life.”
Quickly, I stole a glance at Agus’ outfit. It was a simple choice, but her red floral shirt, leather jacket and knee-long black tight skirt would really make her stand out in a crowd. Of course, dressed like that was a marvel to my eyes.
“What?” she asked, obviously aware that I was checking her out.
“Just that you look lovely and daring tonight, Agus.”
And there it was, her smile lighting up the whole room. How could I’ve survived for so long without seeing it?
“What?” she repeated. “If you want to kiss me, just do it.”
Say what? She got me there.
“Uhm...” was everything I could say. She was enjoying it.
And that’s when she was the one who pulled me close for a kiss that I had been longing for all the evening. It was a mixture of gentleness, intensity, desire and love.
“See? It wasn’t that difficult” she says, giggling.
“All right, point taken” I answer. “You win.”
She laughed harder and harder. And I was happy to see her enjoying herself. That moment with her, it was simply lovely.
"I love you" she said in a lower voice, as if she intended for me only to hear it. "You know that?"
I reached out for her hands across the table. Hers met mine halfway.
"I know it, mo chuisle" I answered, never letting go off her hands and her gaze. "Rest assured that I love you too."
And so we spent the next twenty or thirty minutes talking nonsense, laughing, listening to some romantic songs my parents would play on YouTube…
Until it was time for the monthiversary presents.
"So I got this little thing for you." After she gave me her present, I opened it faster than when in my birthday. It was a MIY bracelet with my name in small letter cubes and small coloured balls around the nylon string.
"Oh, Agus." I was speechless. It was just the most genuine and simple gesture represented in a present. "It's so beautiful. Just like you."
She smiled at me again.
"I have something for you too, min skatt" I said.
She smiled like a kid told to open their Christmas presents. My heart was melting at her enthusiasm while I was looking on my purse for my gift for her.
But I couldn’t find it. And somehow, she noticed that.
“Hey, don’t worry about it” she tried to reassure me. But how could I not worry when I knew this day was so important for us and yet I hadn’t remembered to put the present on my purse? God, she was much hyped a few seconds ago, and I didn’t want to break it to her like that.
“Look, I’m coming back in five or seven” I said, almost breathlessly. And then, a quick kiss on her cheek. “I’m sorry.”
I knew she was looking at me in discomfort, but then she realised my sudden departure was for a good cause: saving the monthiversary.
As soon as I got home, I rushed to my bedroom. After taking a look in my room for my present for what seemed like three minutes, I found what I had been looking for. It was something elegant yet simple, just like our relationship. ‘In my way back to you, elskede’ I said to myself before stepping out of my house.
But as I was heading back to the pizzeria, I sensed some footsteps right behind me. And before I could’ve realised, someone took me by behind my back a block away from home, tied my hands, covered my mouth with adhesive tape and forced me to get into a car. By the smell of his scent, I knew who he was, and fear embraced and suffocated me, because I knew things would go in the wrong direction for me. And it had had to happen on a 16th.
“We’re gonna spend a very good night, Valentina” Javier said in an unusually soft voice. “Soon you’ll forget about that chick Agustina.”
Long story short, Javier and I dated for almost a year back when I was living in Santa Fe City, but as he became more possessive and violent towards me and my family, I decided to run away back to La Paz, Entre Rios, my hometown. For me, it was the safest option... Little did I know I’d be wrong, again.
As he mentioned her name that disparagingly, my blood started boiling hot. And then, it hit me: she was still in the pizzeria, waiting for me to come back, and now that I couldn’t let her know what was happening or where I was, knowing that she would eventually ask herself those questions and worry about me... It slowly was breaking my heart into millions of small pieces, and I couldn’t do or say anything, not when it comes to this man.
“Aw, you want to cry because your little girlfriend can’t come to rescue you?” he said as he saw me holding back my tears. “Hombre, this is better than expected.”
Before I could hardly take a deep breath, the car stopped, and my head hit against the rear right door. Then, a pair of hands landed on my waist, pulling me out of the rusty old vehicle. As I opened my eyes, I wondered where I was, if it was near the city or far away, in the middle of nowhere... My mind was racing faster than light, and I couldn’t help but think of Agustina. What would she be doing now that she had probably noticed my long absence there? What about my parents? My friends?
‘Don’t worry too much, Val’ my inner voice said. ‘They’ll come for you. And you know what? This man doesn’t stand a chance against you. You got this.’
And so, before Javier violently pushed me into an abandoned building, I made peace with my mind and went along with whatever was in store for me, putting on a true brave face. Maybe he could be a living nightmare for me, but not anymore after tonight, whether I left this building alive or I died trying to break away.
I didn’t know what to think of all of this. Until one hour ago, I had been having the time of my life with Valentina on our sixth monthiversary of our once-and-forever reunion after a few years apart. But after she went back home looking for something she had forgotten to bring to our dinner... Well, I had told her not to worry too much, but deep inside I knew how important her gift to me was for her. But then, she didn’t come back.
I wasn’t sure what could’ve possibly happened that would have made her not show up yet, and the thought of something sinister was eating me inside. The thought of losing her, again...
So after a while vainly waiting for her, I started asking almost every single person we both knew (our best friends, some school partners, teachers, family members) if they had seen her recently or if she was at their places. The more hopeless replies filling in my messages inbox, the more lost, desperate, worried and angry I was getting. Her parents, Jorge and Estefania, obviously noticed that and decided to stay by my side during the next half an hour until getting some clue of what could’ve happened or where she could be at.
“Hey, everything will be OK, dear” Estefania tried to calm me down. “If something we could be sure of, is that Val knows how to defend herself. Of course, it’s alright to worry about someone you love, and we can see that you love our daughter by the look in your eyes when you think or talk about her or in your determination to find out what is happening to her now that she’s probably missing... But worrying too much will drive you insane and, therefore, it’ll cloud your judgment.”
I took a deep breath. Maybe she was right about it, but I still couldn’t manage to calm my nerves.
“Hun, I know what you’re thinking” Jorge said, slightly startling me. “I know it’s very hard, believe me. But as my wife said, worrying more much than we should isn’t healthy and will drive us nowhere.”
“I know it” I doubtfully answered, “but I’m afraid of losing her again. Believe me, if that son of a bitch is somehow involved in her being missing... I won’t rest until giving him a piece of my mind.”
I didn’t know what came over me, but as I was saying that, it hit me: Valentina could be in real danger if Javier, her ex-boyfriend, was wandering around the city. Her parents looked at me, startled at first, but then I thought of something... very risky.
“I know what we should do” I said convincingly. “Let’s call Valentina’s phone. I know Javier fears me to death, despite talking shit about me behind my back, so I’ll be the one talking on the phone. I won’t need to pry too much to get to talk with Val. Do you have a way to track her location?”
They nodded in agreement, though I could sense how worried and terrified they were by the look in their eyes.
“Well, I want to do this for her, but it’s alright if you think otherwise” I added, trying to consider their wishes too.
“It’s your call, love” Estefania answered.
“We’ll support you, Agus” reassured Jorge, patting me on my right shoulder.
I thought of all the possibilities and outcomes of this sudden plan, the pros and cons... Everything. It was a huge risk to take, but I couldn’t stand being here doing nothing when my girlfriend was still missing, her life possibly on the line.
“Well guys, let’s do this” I said, determined. "Let's start getting Valentina back."
One hour and a half of desperation. Ninety minutes of pain. Over 5,400 seconds of constant physical and psychological violence. At this point, I felt defenceless, worthless, fragile... Like my body and mind had already given up. I had reached my lowest point.
“Now you look like a real woman” Javier whispered in my ears, sending shivers down my spine.
As he continued punching and kicking me as if I was a box bag, my thoughts were on the people that mattered the most to me: Agustina, my best friends from La Paz and Santa Fe City, my family, my neighbours... But only thinking of the girl that held my heart and kept it safe gave me hope that I could make it alive from this frightening situation. Suddenly, a soft warmth embraced me completely, spreading itself along my skin. Giving me the strength and courage I needed. Making all my worries and fears vanish.
And as if fate had received a call to intervene to my favour, my phone, which Javier had taken away from me, started ringing. As I couldn’t still speak, I glanced at him to convince him to pick it up. After long twenty seconds of doubts and swearing words, he finally accepted the call. But even though I was expecting her to call, I wasn’t prepared emotionally for that yet.
“Listen to me, buddy!” said Agustina, determined to get what she wanted. “Whether you like it or not, you’ll do as I say! Now put Valentina on the phone, and don’t think of doing otherwise! Understood?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My girl, full of renewed confidence, was speaking so clearly and naturally to my assailant... My heart was beating faster and faster so that it could jump off my chest anytime.
“Be quick, bitch” he answered in a tone that screamed disagreement. Then he uncovered my mouth so that I could speak.
He turned on the loudspeaker mode so that he could listen to our conversation too.
“Agustina!” I cried out loud, failing to hold back my tears. “I’m so sorry for letting you down.”
"Ko'u aloha, none of this is your fault” she reassured me. “Look, I don’t have much time, so I’ll say just one thing more before hanging up: keep fighting as best as I know you can, because I will fight for you as well as I could. I love you so much, Val, and I’m sorry I can’t do much to help you.”
Even though I felt a bit disappointed because of what she said, just hearing her voice and knowing that she was alright was enough for me. I smiled for the first time since I got here.
“I love you with my entire life” I answered. “I promise to keep fighting, for us. You promise too?”
“Cross my heart” she said. And then, she hung up. Although I wasn’t sure of seeing her again, I had hope of breaking away safe and sound. I just had to fight a little more.
“And we got you, motherfucker!” Jorge exclaimed seconds after hanging up the phone. Then, he showed me and his wife Val’s exact location.
“Well, it’s not so far away from the city, but it looks like a deserted area” I commented, shaking my head. “It wouldn’t surprise me if Val felt terrified when she found out of her surroundings.”
Even I felt a shiver down my spine, just thinking about it.
“Hey, I have a crazy idea that might work” I suddenly said.
And so I explained everything I had in mind. First, I’d go back to my house to change into safer, stealthier clothes and arm myself while they’d call the police and fill them in with the details of the events. After their call and the police arrival at the pizzeria, Val’s parents would ring my phone and give me green light for riding south, toward the location. When I reached the road in the outskirts of town, I’d tell them to depart along with the police and drive behind me. We’d be supposed to meet three kilometres away from the building and exchange intercoms to keep in touch with each other during our operation. Then, we’d continue the journey together until arriving at our destination. I’d take the main risk by getting into the building alone, though I’d be in constant communication with the others by the intercom. The main idea was to make Javier incriminate himself for domestic and gender-based violence for the time of one year, and harassment since Val's report on him before leaving Santa Fe.
“Wow, you do have such a crazy mind, Agus” commented Val’s mother in awe. “I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t need to say any other than ‘I’m in’, because indeed I do sign up for this operation” Jorge agreed with the plan. “Count me in, girl.”
Knowing that they were up to my insane idea for saving Val warmed my heart and filled it in with renewed energy. Nothing, absolutely nothing, would stop me in my way to get my girl back to safety.
“Keep fighting, elskede” I said, my hands on my heart. “We’re coming for you.”
Forty minutes had passed since her call, and things went on uneventfully, to say the least. I was still tied to the chair, my mouth covered again, while Javier kept pacing back and forth and then sitting on the floor and, again, pacing, and sitting...
“What a pity that your so-called girlfriend won’t come because she doesn’t even know what this place is” he said in a soft voice. “And what’s worse, she claims she loves you when she actually wouldn’t move a finger to save you.”
What a shame that the only thing he kept saying was that Agustina didn’t love me at all. Of course, I tried to ignore those comments, but he had a point: the chances of her getting to this spot were rather low, and it got me worried. I didn't expect her to risk her life to save mine, but still… Anyway, as I promised to her, I got to keep strong. If somehow helpful for me, she did believe in me, and that was enough for me. 'Yes, as if you loved me, sucker. She's way better than you.'
As I defied him with just a cold stare, Javier would hit me wherever he wanted, expecting me to look down to the floor. At first, I could stand it, but every minute that passed by I was getting weaker and weaker, and the fact that literally nobody else knew where I was felt like an extra weight on my shoulders.
My body had already given up, as I couldn’t get my eyes open, for example. I was defeated by hopelessness and fear. I broke the promise I had made to Agustina... Tears of anger, sadness and pain eventually started pouring down as the heaviest of rains. ‘I’m sorry, min skatt, I’ve failed you.’
And then, out of literally nowhere, I heard a loud sound, like an explosion or glass windows breaking into little pieces, scattering around the dark cold ground.
“You haven’t failed me, kærasta” she said, confidently stealing the show. And then, she glanced at Javier and added: “guess you weren’t expecting me to actually come here, were you?”
I couldn’t believe that she really came. But how the hell did she know about this place in the first place? Anyway, her presence embraced my whole being with the kind of warmth that I’d never want to let go. Right now, I needed her to hold me and bring me back to life again. God, I hadn’t seen her for a few hours but never missed her so madly.
“I’m here, Val'' Agustina said, wrapping me in her strong arms. The way we talked to each other even without saying anything at all... I wouldn’t trade it for anything. “I promise we’re getting through this, together.”
After long sixty seconds being in her arms, feeling her warmth and soft lavender scent, she pulled away and turned her look to Javier, her expression changing into one more serious, cold, emotionless.
And so she started asking some questions in a casual way, almost inviting him to talk with her as if they were friends (how strange would be that). And he spoke to her almost naturally... But I could sense he was very afraid of her, and she seemed to know it all too well. She knew what she was doing. She knew where she was hitting a nerve as she was questioning him. This woman would never cease to amaze me.
“So that’s why you took the job to leave everything behind and move to La Paz?” she asked in her unusual yet attractive serious voice.
“I... I came here because I couldn’t bear the fact of her leaving not only me, but also the city I grew up” he answered, a little nervous. “I wanted her to know that I would never give up on her, even if I have to do some crazy stuff to keep her by my side.”
“Including taking her away from the people who love her, against her will?” she pressed on him.
“She somehow has to know where she really belongs! And if that means leaving marks on her to prove that point, then it will be that way.”
While Javier was about to lose his temper, Agustina kept her cool effortlessly.
“So that’s why you used to physically, mentally and emotionally abuse of her when you were a couple, so that she could never dare to stand up to you” she insisted.
“I... How do you...?” he stopped to turn his face toward me. “How could you, bleeding bitch!”
“Do you love her?”
He quickly turned to her.
“Yes, I love her. And I don’t like the fact that she’s dating another woman. Why the fuck is that allowed? And what’s worse, this woman’s mother’s father is black, and I hate them.”
Alright, that was quite uncalled for, man. Poor Agustina. She had been dealing with so much drama right now, and Javier talked shit about she and I being in a relationship, as if it made us less human beings. But worse, he made a disrespectful, hateful comment about her family and roots. I couldn’t imagine how hurt she might feel deep inside.
“But if you love her, why would you keep insisting on taking her back instead of letting her go?” she asked, trying to hide her pain.
“Because I can take her back and I will do it as well” he severally answered. “I would never allow her to be under the influence of a black lesbian who hides her straightness because she hasn’t met the right man yet.”
'Oh, no. You didn't say any if this, son of your fucking mother.'
I could sense the way she was looking at me, knowing what I was thinking about all this racist and homophobic behaviour. She knew I madly wanted to teach him a lesson, but at the same time she knew that I wouldn’t do it in the middle of whatever she was up to.
“You know what? If she doesn’t want to be with me, I’ll make sure she’ll never be with someone else” he stated. And I was shocked.
As I was seeing him coming to me holding a gun, as venomous as never before, I tried to cover my face with my arms... Little did I know that I could actually move my arms! How the hell had they been untied? Anyway, there was no time to think as the man that had been making my life miserable for years was approaching me. What should I do now?
I couldn’t believe this man. I just couldn’t. Yeah, I knew he was a piece of garbage of a person, just by the way he had been treating Val for years and, God forbid, many other girls before her... But how could he have dared to talk shit about not only about my sexuality, but also my ethnic roots? But I couldn’t show how much I was hurting deep inside. Not in front of this trash. I had other things in mind, and getting Val back to safety was my main priority.
God, what had her done wrong for him to have put her in such a miserable, painful situation for so long, everywhere? How could someone be so cold-hearted to have hurt this angel? How could he be so blind not to have seen what a wonderful person she was? How could he be such a fool for not having treated her the way she actually deserved? Not to sound like I was referring to Val as someone fragile, because she was actually so far of being that... But why had she suffered this much during her staying in the big city, with her family so close to her? God, I could’ve done anything to be by her side back then.
All this loud thoughts (which she probably had already read) raced throughout my mind as Javier was approaching her, a gun in his right hand. Fury poured down his whole being, as if he was betrayed by his best friend or whatever and wanted to get rid of them.
He was so near of her, his weapon pointing right towards her head. His index finger, about to pull the trigger...
But instead of hearing the gun banging against Val, I saw her nudging it elegantly, making it slide out of Javier’s hands and land a few metres away from their spot. He was contemplating the scene in disbelief. Taking advantage of his distraction, she threw a powerful punch on his jaw, and then another one, and then a nudge... And not until he fell to the cold ground had she stopped throwing strike after strike.
I had never doubted of her superior ability for fighting, but it still surprised me that she could manage herself so well under so much pressure of all kinds. Exhausted, injured, dehydrated, weakened, hurt... But she did it, even if she had ever thought she could’ve not.
“Guys, the man is yours” I told the police officers outside the building through the intercom. Then, I ran towards Val, who was looking for me with her eyes.
“What have I done in my life to deserve such an amazing girl like you?” she said, her eyes full of tears as she looked at me. I could see her pain, sadness and hopelessness. I could feel all of her feelings. As I wrapped her in my arms, I could feel the tension, the fear, the torture she had faced tonight.
“Enough for me to make me fall in love with you more and more every single day” I answered over her shoulder. I could sense my heart beating faster and skipping some beats.
“I’m so sorry for worrying you and bringing you here, Agus” she apologised, her voice broken.
“Elskede, you don’t need to apologise to me. None of what had happened tonight was your fault. The only one here to blame is the one who has always been afraid of letting you go that he’d do these awful things to you.” I placed my hand on her chin and lifted it gently.
“You’re so crazy, you know it?” she teased me playfully. God, I was glad she hadn’t lost her sense of humour.
“I’ve learned from the craziest one” I replied, giggling back at her.
Without hesitating, she cupped my face in her hands and softly pressed her lips on mine. It wasn’t a hungry, desperate kiss. Instead, it was one full of love and affection we both felt for each other. We showed all of our feelings in that simple gesture.
“Thank you, Agus” she softly said. “Thank you for loving me the way you do.”
“Aw, kærasta, no need to thank me” I gently answered. “I’ll never stop loving you.”
We shared the most sincere and pure smiles ever. God, she lighted the whole room with her smile. I could die right here...
“How are you feeling?” she asked me as I was helping her stand up. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know he was worse.”
“Honestly, I’m a little hurt” I answered, “but it doesn’t matter now. I didn’t expected such comments as well, but I let them slide, you know. You were my number one priority.”
I knew she was hurting as well because of those racist words, so I let her pull me towards her as we were walking to the outside.
And when she saw her parents waiting for her besides their truck... Lord, she was glowing even more. We walked together toward their spot to meet them and fill them in with the events of the night and I let them have a moment alone with their daughter. After all, they were worried about her as much as I was.
It was over. It was finally over. We could bring Val back to safety. We were able to take who-should-not-be-called down redhanded. We got his confession. We did it.
As I sat on an old pine trunk, I looked at Val and her parents. I could sense their fear and worries were little by little fading away as they talked. My heart filled up with a warm feeling, and I was so happy to see them loosen up a little after everything.
"... thank you for coming here, guys" Val was saying to her parents as I approached them.
“Don’t give us any credit” said her mother, looking at me. “She’s the mind behind the operation ‘saving the monthiversary’.”
“Hey, but then who got the exact location of this creepy place?” I asked sarcastically, pointing at Jorge.
“Yeah, I saved the day” he said, making all of us laugh. “But in all seriousness, you were the one that suggested her ex-boyfriend could’ve been behind this, and you were damn right. You organised this operation, planned it step by step, and it was a success. The man is going to the place he deserves and our girl is coming back home, safe and sound, all thanks to you.”
I couldn’t hold back my tears anymore. It had been such a crazy night for the four of us.
“I’d do this again and again if that means saving not only her but a lot of people at the same time” I answered, whipping my tears.
“And that’s my cue to hand you this, mo chuisle” Val said as she looked for something in her jacket pocket. “I hope you like it.”
I took the package in my hands, carefully opening it... Oh, what a sweet girl she was!
“Photos of us since we met” I said, looking in awe at the pictures. “Wow, you saved pictures of our nights outdoors.”
“I treasure those moments deep inside of me” she answered, holding my hand. “Because I got to share them with the girl that holds my heart.”
And unannounced, she kissed me. I immediately pulled her close and kissed her back. All of our emotions were shown in that kiss.
“Happy sixth monthiversary, Agus” she said after breaking the kiss.
“Happy sixth monthiversary, Val.”
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