My novelette In Barcelona With You is now available for pre-order on Amazon! I couldn’t be more thrilled to have my first solo publication out in the world. (Well, sort of!)
It’s been a journey, people. I debated pushing back this day so many times. At one point, I even—briefly!—considered scrapping the project altogether. But I didn’t. My friends wouldn’t let me, and ultimately, I wouldn’t let me. I’ve been sitting on the sidelines of the publishing game for too long! It’s time for me to play!
To celebrate this momentous occasion, I’m making the first chapter of In Barcelona With You available to read for free, for everyone, right here on my blog.
I hope you enjoy reading the first chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it!
As Luisa and Rosita took off running for the surf, Carmela spread her blanket across the hot, dry sand. The beaches of Spain’s Costa del Sol were bustling, but this tiny patch of coastline by the docks in front of the Moreno Muñoz household was always empty. This glorious morning, it begged for company. And their mother was begging to be left alone. So here they were.
The crisp, salty April wind greeted Carmela by whipping around her, threatening to steal the colored pencils and sketchbook right out from where they were tucked under her arm. Thankfully, they stayed put, and Carmela had the chance to settle down, cross-legged, facing the sea. Keeping an eye on her young twin sisters, she opened up to a fresh page and waited for inspiration.
And then waited a little longer.
Lately, inspiration was hard to come by. Even watching Luisa and Rosita play did little to stir her muse.
Rosita, breathless, placed a whole conch shell beside Carmela’s left thigh, then ran back into the waves. Luisa came right up behind her and dropped three pieces of sea glass—one teal, one pale blue, and one the same shade as the sea foam speckling the shore. She, too, scurried back, threatening to splash Rosita as she shrieked and stumbled out of the way.
Carmela rolled her eyes, but she had to admit that they seemed to be having more fun than she was. She hadn’t created a decent piece of artwork in months, and she couldn’t put her finger on why.
December. All I have to do is wait until December.
Again, Luisa and Rosita came sprinting and soaking wet, their small hands filled with seashells. Simultaneously, they released their bounty—scallop shells, clam shells, abalone shells, and half a dozen pieces of sun bleached coral.
Luisa inhaled, then blurted out in the span of one breath, “Can you keep all of these safe for us?”
Carmela sighed. “Luisa, sweetheart, you and Rosita have filled Lord knows how many jars with souvenirs from this beach, and you never do anything with them. They just sit on the shelves collecting dust.”
Rosita pouted. “But we like them.”
Before Carmela could respond, Luisa yanked on Rosita’s arm. “Did you see that fish jump?”
And off they went again.
Something about the way the shells landed drew Carmela’s eye. She pushed the conch shell closer to the larger of the two abalone shells. Then she arranged the sea glass from lightest to darkest in color. When the rest of the shells were placed just so, she pulled out a pencil and started sketching the curves, exaggerating the roundness, and shading exactly the wrong way.
Nothing Picasso would be impressed with, she lamented as she took to the page with an eraser and rubbed frantically, her brow furrowed.
“What are you doing?”
Carmela jumped an inch when Luisa chirruped over her shoulder. “What are you doing scaring me like that?”
Luisa shrugged. “But what are you doing?”
Rosita emerged from the sea sopping wet, waddled over, and plopped herself on the blanket. “Can I see?”
Carmela relented, turning the sketchbook outward for Rosita to see, but being careful to keep it out of reach of wet hands. Luisa walked around Carmela to sit beside Rosita and study the drawing.
They were both quiet for a long moment. Carmela half expected something mature and wise beyond their years to pour out of their mouths. Or offer advice that would open her eyes to her own untapped potential.
Instead, Rosita asked, “Why do the shells look so weird?”
“Well, I’m not finished yet.”
Luisa’s face scrunched up. “Yeah, but why do they look weird now?”
“Because I’m practicing making my art look like Pablo Picasso’s. You remember the pictures I showed you in my books, right?”
“Yeah,” Luisa said, “but his had people in them, and yours has seashells.”
Rosita grew wide-eyed. “Are you going to marry Señor Picasso?”
“No, Rosita, she can’t marry Señor Picasso,” Luisa rolled her eyes. “He’s old, probably.”
Rosita burst into giggles, and, succumbing to their silliness, Carmela set aside her art supplies and launched herself at the twins, furiously tickling them, one hand on each girl’s tummy. Rosita tried to wiggle out from underneath and slip her fingers under Carmela’s chin. Pushing the hand away with the side of her face, Carmela redoubled her efforts, and the little girls screamed with delight.
When all three of the Moreno Muñoz daughters were thoroughly exhausted, Carmela called for a ceasefire, asked the twins to fold up the blanket, and gathered her art supplies. “Clearly, it’s time for lunch,” she said between chuckles, “because all the seawater has rushed to your heads and made you two particularly giggly.”
Luisa and Rosita whined half-heartedly as they trudged up the sand behind their sister. Carmela tuned them out, thinking instead of seashells and other charms of the beach and her small town. The same charms she’d been sketching, drawing, and painting her whole life. They were fine, but she was ready for a change of scenery.
Luckily, a change of scenery was on the horizon. She only had to wait eight more months for her respite.
The Moreno Muñoz residence was perched on the corner of Calle Vientos and Calle Travieso. It looked much the same as the other houses on those streets—small, with a red tile roof and stucco walls—but neither Carmela nor the twins ever confused it with any other house because only theirs smelled so irresistible at mealtime. After kicking off their shoes by the front door, Luisa and Rosita ran straight to the dinner table. Set out before them was a spread King Alfonso XIII would envy: freshly baked bread, asparagus, rice, and a stew of potatoes, legumes, pork, and carrots. There was nothing special about the ingredients themselves, really, but something about the way Abuelita prepared them—she refused to say how even now, when gently reminded that her recipes ought to be passed onto future generations—made your taste buds sing her praises.
Carmela placed her sketchbook and art supplies on the sofa. She returned the blanket to the basket by the doorway and joined everyone at the table. Her aunt, Beatriz, had already come out of her room with baby Betito in her arms. Abuelita was fussing over the girls’ first instinct being to tear into the bread while giving them both second slices, and Carmela’s mother was just setting down the last of the drinks when Carmela’s father tramped down the stairs.
Every mouth pressed into a thin line. Carmela bristled, ready for bad news or admonishment, but no one said a word. Instead, he held hands with those on either side of him—Tía Beatriz and Carmela’s mother—and led them in the Lord’s prayer. His consonants were razor-sharp, with none of the usual swallowing of syllables he took to when he was feeling anything but irritated.
Carmela kept her eyes closed slightly longer than necessary. When she opened them, every gaze was fixed on her. Her father tossed two scraps of paper onto the table.
She recognized them instantly. One of them was a train ticket. By itself, that might not have evoked such ire, but the second piece of paper was a ticket to the Barcelona International Exposition.
Both of them were for a party of one.
“What are these, Carmen Alicia?” Carmela’s father said, his diction as crisp as an apple.
Carmela paled. Her parents only used her double-barreled first name when she was in trouble. “I just purchased them yesterday. I was going to tell you all tonight that I’d made plans to go.”
“I didn’t see any tickets for the rest of your family on top of your dresser.” Carmela’s father picked up his fork and pierced a piece of asparagus. “Can I take that to mean you think you’ll be traveling a thousand kilometers alone?”
Carmela’s face flushed. She swirled the chunks of pork in her stew with her spoon. “Well, I didn’t figure you all would care to go, and—”
“That we would care to go?” Carmela’s father tossed down his fork. “Did you think we’d suddenly stop caring about where you were as well? Not only where you were, but how you were going to get there, how you were going to afford to get there and back for that matter—”
“But you don’t have to worry about any of that, Papí. I’ve been saving up since they announced Barcelona would host an expo back in ‘28.” She focused her eyes on the painting hanging above her father, above his head. Four too-red, too-large apples in a too-blue bowl. She’d painted it when she was seven or so, after seeing a similar painting in a book she thumbed through at the library. She’d also hung it herself without asking permission, much to her parents’ and Abuelita’s chagrin. “And besides, I heard a rumor that Señor Picasso might be—”
Her grandmother tsked, and every head turned in her direction. “Are you on that again? Just because you’re both from Málaga doesn’t mean you were birthed with the same talents.”
That stung. Carmela looked to her mother for help, but she said nothing, her eyes studying her plate a little too thoroughly. Betito was the only one who dared to make any noise—just babble, mimicking the conversation he’d just heard—and that was only because he didn’t know any better.
Luisa broke the silence. “May I be excused? I’m full.”
Rosita nodded. “Yeah, me too.”
Their mother and aunt exchanged frowns and a discussion no one else could hear. Then Beatriz said as she rose from her seat and shifted her baby to her hip, “Come with me, girls. I’ll bet you’re not too stuffed to split one of those peaches left in the kitchen.”
The twins scraped their chairs across the tile floor and made a beeline for their treats. Carmela watched them with envy.
Her father picked up right where he left off. “You are absolutely not permitted to go zipping all along the country. What’s next, a holiday in France?”
Carmela fought the urge to roll her eyes. “At twenty-six years old, I think I’m old enough now to travel alone. I’m no ingénue.”
Maria Alicia—perhaps emboldened by her younger girls’ absence, Carmela couldn’t be sure—piped up. “I was traveling without a chaperone when I met you, Luis.”
Carmela’s father gestured to her. “You see? Your mother supports my view. She snuck out at sixteen to go to a bar, and look at the mess she got herself into while no one was around to give her a warning.”
“But Papí, Picasso could be there. You know meeting him would be like a dream come true for me.”
Abuelita scoffed. “Exactly. It’s a dream, and it should stay that way.”
Maria Alicia reached across the dinner table to put her hand over Abuelita’s. “A girl is allowed to have dreams, and even intentions to pursue them, don’t you think?”
“Why? Look where all that got you! You’re no famous flamenco dancer, are you? You’re a fisherman’s wife, and you’re lucky to be that! My fool husband and I wanted a restaurant, and look where that got us!”
Maria Alicia winced, and once again, everyone else at the table was stunned into silence. Carmela watched tears gather in the corners of her mother’s eyes and suddenly felt like crying herself.
“You can go.”
Carmela’s eyes snapped to meet her father’s, but he was looking at her mother.
“Really? Oh, thank you, Papí! I promise—”
Abuelita balked. “You’re just going to let her go? After she went behind all of our backs?”
Luis shrugged at his mother.
“Alright, fine, don’t listen to your good sense. But think about this, mijo—she could get hurt, she could be stolen away, she could be swept into some rundown hotel room on the side of the street and—”
“Alright, alright!” Carmela’s father rubbed at his chin. “You have a point.”
Carmela held her breath.
“Well, I suppose you could still go. If you can manage to procure tickets for Víctor.”
Carmela could live with those terms. Víctor was their neighbor, a childhood friend who now worked alongside her father as a fisherman. Everyone thought of Víctor as the knight in shining armor to her princess—always had, even when they were little. They weren’t engaged, but everyone assumed they would be soon enough. She’d never seen him in such light, but if it meant she might get to breathe the same air as Pablo Picasso? She’d entertain the notion. He’d keep her safe, at least, if a little suffocated.
Would this be the magical solo trip she imagined for herself?
No, but this was as close as she was going to get.
“I’ll take that deal.”
So, what did you think of this In Barcelona With You preview? Do tell me in the comments!
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