A jury of twelve Californians found Seve Feria guilty of three counts of attempted murder. Spanish authorities had been wanting to get their hands on him for the death of Nico Milian, but, as he was captured and convicted in the United States, Spain was pretty much told they had to wait their turn. The legal tug of war between the two countries was still going strong, nearly six months after the verdict was handed down.
As for Andres, his role in bringing Seve to justice earned him a pardon in the US by way of jury nullification. The jury for his trial believed that he had not been acting of his own free will, and only cooperated out of fear of his own life, and so, even though they knew him to be technically guilty of the crimes he committed on US soil, they returned a verdict of not guilty. He was free to go.
Zoe’s elation was short-lived, however. Andres informed her that, while he may have been freed in the US, Spain now wanted him extradited to face charges of accessory to manslaughter. She had been visiting Andres in prison every day while his trial was ongoing, looking forward to the day he would be set free, as she had every confidence he would be. To get him back, then, only to see him now deported back to Spain and possibly imprisoned for twenty years or so was unbearable to even contemplate.
Andres, however, was confident justice would be served. What he considered justice, Zoe was loathe to ask. So she prayed, every day and every night she prayed that the Madrid courts would be merciful, and that, no matter the outcome, she would be able to accept it with grace.
Zeb had been a huge help with keeping her faith in line and her spirits up. Somehow, though, he and Hector had come up with the idea that she and Andres were a couple, and they were always teasing her about how the wedding planning was coming along.
Grown men could be incredibly childish, she thought.
A knock on her door one afternoon changed all that. She shushed the German Shepherd Andres had begged her to adopt to help keep her safe. She had named him Grim, which was short for the German and Spanish name Grimaldo, meaning “powerful protector.” Andres and Hector had approved.
Grim sat at her heels as she looked through the peep hole. “Ah, Grim-grim, you know who’s here?” The dog’s tail wagged vigorously.
She opened the door to see not only Zeb, but Andres, too. Zeb grinned at his little sister’s surprise and joy, and stepped aside to let Andres go in first. Grim, taking his cue from her that Andres was allowed around her, sniffed him all over and then set to licking him half to death.
Only then did he even acknowledge Zeb. “Wanna go for a walk, Grimmy?” Zeb asked. Of course, the dog’s answer was a resounding yes in the form of butt-wiggling wagging and excited whimpering. Zoe gave them the nod and Zeb hooked Grim’s leash to his harness. “Be careful,” Zoe warned, “don’t let him knock you over.”
Zeb’s balance was getting worse and worse. She knew, from her own schooling and from talking with her brother, that it would steadily decline until the disease completely destroyed the delicate parts of his inner ears. He would regain his balance then, sure, but it would also destroy his ability to hear. “He won’t do that, will you, Grim?” Zeb replied.
Grim sneezed in response. “See?” Zeb said, laughing. He then mussed her hair up and, with the leash in one hand and his cane in the other, led Grim out of the apartment.
Then, she realized she was alone with Andres. She quickly smoothed her hair back into place. “Would you like anything to drink? I have rusty tap water and a couple of Cokes.”
“As tempting as you make the water sound, I think I’ll pass. On the Coke as well.” She watched him look around her tiny apartment, cringing with embarrassment. She had redecorated in the months during the trial to mimic as closely as possible the little cabin she and Andres had gone to. He gave her a knowing smile. “This place is fantastic,” he said, using her exact assessment of the cabin.
She hooked a piece of her hair back over her ear. “Umm, yeah, thank you.”
Then she got to hear that quiet laugh of his again. His expression turned suddenly serious as his gaze alighted on the wall clock. “I won’t be able to stay long,” he said, giving her a look that she interpreted as half apology, half something else that made her heart beat faster.
“Okay,” she said cautiously, bracing herself for the bad news he obviously was going to drop on her.
Instead, he crossed the few feet that separated them and took her face in his hands, kissing her. Surprise made her tighten up, and she felt him hesitate, but then she melted against him, kissing him back.
A moment later, he stepped back, keeping his hands on her face and in her hair. “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time,” he said.
“I’ll never hear the end of this,” she muttered.
He dropped his hands. “Sorry?”
“What? No, I just meant Zeb and Hector,” she waved a hand in embarrassed dismissal. “They’ve been teasing me, about…us.”
“Us?” he asked, a grin stealing over his mouth. “Let them,” he said, kissing her again.
She was the one to pull back this time. “Why can’t you stay?”
“You said you can’t stay long. What’s going on that you’re suddenly kissing me?”
He sighed and stepped back, leaning his back against the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. “I’m being deported tomorrow.”
She reached backward, searching out the closest thing to sit on, finding an ottoman and sinking onto it as her knees buckled. “Tomorrow?” Tears pricked at the back of her eyes and she put her fingertips to her mouth.
He knelt in front of her, wiping away a tear that had managed to free itself to slide down her cheek. “It’s going to be okay,” he assured her. “Dios que de la llaga, de la medicina.”
God who gives the wound, gives the salve…”Since when are you so full of philosophies?”
“I’m much wiser than you give me credit for,” he said with a mock stern expression. Zoe refused to smile. His expression softened and he stroked her hair away from her face. “Zoe, it will be okay.”
“Even if they sentence you to twenty years?”
“Even if they sentence me to twenty years.” He said it with complete conviction. However, she thought she detected a hint of fear in his eyes that made her feel suddenly very childish and selfish. Here he was comforting her, when it was his life that was hanging in the balance.
She leaned forward, resting her forehead in the space between his jaw and shoulder. “You’re right,” she said, forcing more confidence into her voice than she actually felt. “Of course, you’re right. God will never lead us to anything He won’t lead us through.”
Andres chuckled. “Now who is philosophizing?”
She smiled, despite everything. They slipped their arms around each other and just sat there like that for a few minutes. She then sat back and took a long moment to drink in every detail of his face, to store up until she would see him again.
He seemed to be doing the same thing. “I pray for you, every day and every night. I just want you to know that,” she told him.
He hitched up one corner of his mouth. “I pray for you as well, every day and every night. That and with Grim and your brother here, you will be more than okay while I’m…gone. That’s all I need to know.”
He seemed to be wrestling with whether or not to say something. “What’s wrong?”
“Would it be too teen soap opera-y and melodramatic if I ask you to wait for me?”
“As in…” He trailed off, then a look of determination solidified in his chocolate eyes. “As in, I’m going to ask you to marry me when I come home. When all of this is behind us and we can go on from a new starting point. I will ask you then, Zoe Martin.”
She sucked in a shallow breath. “Then it had better not be in twenty years or you just might change your mind when you see me again,” she finally said.
“I’ve met your parents, you will still be beautiful.”
“When did you meet…?”
“They came to your brother’s house today.”
Zeb had opened his home up to Hector during this whole ordeal, and, now that Andres was out of custody, he was staying there as well. Zeb was still able to teach, for now, but as his disease was progressing, she was glad for him to have someone else around in case of another attack.
“I guess that means I need to meet your mother now,” she said, “so I know what kind of mother-in-law I’m agreeing to end up with.”
His eyes lit up, as did his beautiful face. “I love you,” he said slowly, as if tasting the words.
She began to cry and laugh at the same time. “I love you, too.”
She kissed him. But then Zeb made an all-too-obvious jingle of the keys before he inserted the key into the lock on her door. He opened the door and Grim came bounding in, running right up to Zoe and nuzzling his nose up under her elbow, effectively killing the moment.
She flicked a look over at Zeb, who made an apologetic face at her. She wiped the back of her hands across her eyes and got up. She took Grim’s leash from Zeb’s hand and hung it up on the hook by the door. Zeb caught her elbow as she started to turn away. You okay? he mouthed to her.
She nodded, but joy, fear, grief and elation all wrestled each other in her heart. Then her lower lip quivered. “In a word? Not really,” she whispered.
Zeb squeezed her elbow playfully and reassuringly said, “That’s two words.” He flashed her a grin.
She laughed. “Now I see why you’re the teacher.”
She was able to convince the two of them to stay long enough for her to fry up some cheeseburgers. They ate, talked and laughed together like it was a holiday, or a celebration, and she was taken by surprise how comfortable and at home with each other Zeb and Andres seemed.
Maybe he and Hector had been right all along: everyone had seen where her and Andres’ relationship was headed except them… Until now.