Authors: Katie Devoe
by Katie Devoe
Barcelona, four years earlier
The salt air bathes my skin as I cut through the darkened streets of Barcelona’s Old City. I’m supposed to meet the girls from my study abroad program at a bar, but I’m lost, hopelessly lost and when I turn a corner, I notice music pouring from the opened door of a dimly lit bar.
For a moment, I forget the girls. The haunting guitar melody draws me in and I step inside, finding a seat towards the front of the small bar. On stage, a man sits hunched on a stool with a guitar on his lap, strumming away. His dark shaggy hair falls over his eyes as his fingers dance across the strings. I can’t understand the words. He’s not singing in Spanish. He’s singing in Catalan.
When he looks up, his eyes catch mine and for a brief instant, I think he might smile and I can feel a nervous flutter in my chest.
I never realized Catalan could be so beautiful. He thanks the audience and leaves the stage, hoisting his guitar over his shoulder. I get up to go. My friends are probably worried. I was supposed to meet them hours ago.
I feel fingers close around my wrist gently. “
A on vas?”
I shake my head in confusion. “
No hablo catalan
,” I say. I don’t speak Catalan. He smiles, dropping my wrist.
“You’re in Barcelona, you should learn,” he says with a quirky half-smile.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m meeting friends,” I say.
“Have a drink with me.”
He lifts one expressive eyebrow. “
Sisplau. Te invito
.” Please. My treat. For a moment, I hesitate. Why not? I’m only in Barcelona for the semester.
“There’s a bar around the corner. Let’s go.”
I follow him into the humid Barcelona night, my heart beating wildly. I know I shouldn’t be doing this, I shouldn’t be following a stranger out into the dark night, but I can’t help myself.
We have a glass of wine. Then another. When I tell him I should go, he asks if he can kiss me. When I say yes, I know I’m in trouble.
His name is Pep. He’s from Girona, a city up the coast. In two weeks, he is leaving for Lisbon. He tells me his passion isn’t music but writing.
Staring into his dark eyes, I don’t think about the past or the future and for a brief instant, the memories that drove me to Barcelona fade into the background.
For two weeks, we’re inseparable. When he leaves for Lisbon, he promises to stay in touch. I believe he means it when he says it, but we both know this isn’t meant to last. When we kiss goodbye, it’s the last I see of him.
The next morning, I sign up for Catalan classes at the university.
How could I have known that night would change everything?
“You’re late,” Dan grumbles, unlocking the door to let me into Gramercy Roasters, the Manhattan coffee shop where I work.
“The L train was late.”
“Don’t let it happen again,” he says and I roll my eyes the second his back is turned. Dan likes to act like I haven’t been working here just as long as he has.
I drop my bag and tie a clean apron around my waist. I’m not even supposed to be opening today. Usually I have Saturdays off, but last night at midnight, Sam texted asking if I could cover his shift and I reluctantly. When you live in New York City and work in the service industry, you can always use the extra hours. Even when it means putting off finishing your translation for another day.
I keep reminding myself this is just a job and not who I am. I’m a translator. And one of these days, I’m going to get a book deal and finally be able to quit this job, but in the meantime, there are worse places to work.
At least the coffee is free.
I start setting up the pastry case while Dan takes down the chairs. He may not be my favorite person, but at least we work well together.
When I glance up from counting the register, there’s already a customer waiting impatiently outside. You can tell just by looking at him that he’s irked we haven’t opened up early, just for him.
When Dan finally unlocks the door, the man barrels past him.
“A large extra dry cap, two shots decaf, one shot regular,” he barks without looking up from his phone, clearly ignoring the sign prominently displayed next to the register that says, No cell phones please.
Some people are just the worst. I’m not the least bit surprised that he doesn’t leave anything in the tip jar.
Within a half-hour, the Gramercy is packed. The hum of the milk frother, the music, voices. It’s the sound of a successful café. I barely have a chance to take a sip of my coffee, but I’m thankful that we’re swamped. Time moves faster this way. I slip easily into my rhythm, barely glancing up from the register as I ring people up. Behind me, Dan and Alice are pulling drinks and serving pastries.
“One macchiato and one decaf, vanilla latte.” The smooth masculine voice has just a hint of an accent and I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes. Why anyone would want a decaf, vanilla latte is beyond me.
“Eight-fifty,” I say, taking the American Express Black Card. The name on the card reads Sebastian Casal.
?” I ask, running the card through the machine.
Are you Catalan?
When I look up, I freeze, suddenly regretting my question. Towering over me is the most gorgeous man I have ever seen. Tall and dark and handsome with just the slightest hint of stubble across his well-defined jaw.
I look away, acutely aware of the coffee stains on my apron. Not exactly my best look.
When he stares wordlessly at me, I assume I’m wrong. Just because he has a Catalan last name doesn’t mean he’s Catalan. I notice the beautiful blonde standing next to him and I’m guessing the decaf vanilla is hers. Honestly, it would be hard not to notice her. She looks like a model. It’s the only excuse for being that attractive and that skinny. She gives me a pinched look, which I do my best to ignore.
Note to self: stop engaging with customers. In fact, just stop talking.
“Grab us a table,” he says to her, taking the receipt from my trembling hand.
Okay, I officially feel like a total idiot. But man is he gorgeous.
When I look up, he’s watching me, one eyebrow lifted in amusement and I feel myself blushing. Something about the way he’s looking at me makes me want to crawl under the counter and hide. That or run away with him.
Either way, not great.
, Danielle,” he says, pushing the signed receipt across the counter at me.
See you soon.
It takes me a full minute after hearing the way his smooth voice caressed my name to remember there’s a nametag pinned to my apron.
“Danny!” Dan hisses behind me and I try to shake off my jitters. Right, work. Will not fantasize about sexy Catalan man.
I barely pay attention to the customers, because out of the corner of my eye, I can see Sebastian Casal and his model girlfriend sitting at a small table by the door. Sebastian Casal has his legs crossed, one ankle resting casually on his thigh. Everyone seems to be looking at him. He’s got that type of presence. Unmistakable and unavoidable.
When I notice he’s looking right at me, I nearly drop the pen I’m holding and look away quickly, embarrassed to be caught staring at him. But not before our eyes meet, and for that split second, I watch his lips curl into a mischievous smile.
It’s the type of smile you can feel in your gut.
I think I’m going to be sick.
“Did you see that fox?” Annie whispers, reaching around me to get a chocolate chip cookie from the jar on the counter.
“Yeah,” I mumble. How could I have missed him?
“He’s staring at you,” she whispers, before bouncing down the counter and the pit at the bottom of my stomach only grows.
The rest of the day passes in a blur and I’m relieved when it’s finally time for me to go home.
My roommates are both out by the time I get home. I have a small, windowless room in a surprisingly large three-bedroom apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that I found through a friend of a friend almost two years ago. The location is fantastic, just a block from the Grand stop on the L train, and other than the hideous linoleum floors in the kitchen and the fact that my room is pretty much a glorified closet, I can’t really complain. Would it be nice to wake up to sunlight instead of the beeping of an alarm clock? Obviously, but this is New York and beggars can’t be choosers and all that.
I grab a wine key and a mason jar from the kitchen and settle into the couch. I pour myself a glass of wine, trying to think about anything other than the gorgeous man from this afternoon but no matter what I do, I can’t seem to stop. Anyone who knows me would say I have something of a Catalan fetish, but it wasn’t that.
No, it was the way he looked at me. Like he was actually seeing me.
I sigh. I’m sure I’ll never see him again. But God, what I wouldn’t do for a night with that man.
I’m out of bed and pulling on leggings and a sports bra before my alarm is set to go off at eight. I started doing yoga several years ago when my mom got sick and I’ve kept up the practice ever since. It helps me clear my head. Occasionally, I’ll splurge and go to one of the studios in the neighborhood, but more often than not, I just unroll my mat in the living room.
It takes several rounds of sun salutations for my muscles to warm up but by the time I’m done, forty minutes later, my mind is clear and my body buoyant and calm. I take a quick shower before gathering my dictionaries, a notebook and the book I’m translating,
, and settle down at the dining room table with a large pot of coffee. My roommates won’t be up for a few more hours and I want to do as much as possible before they wake up, breaking my concentration. I slip in my headphones and turn on some classical music.
I discovered Marc Serrat’s hauntingly beautiful prose poems the summer after graduating from NYU. I studied Spanish and Catalan all through college, the result of one bittersweet trip to Barcelona with my mom when I was eighteen. When I graduated, I was lucky enough to get a grant to study Catalan in Barcelona from the Institut Català. It paid for a ticket to Spain, the rent on a room in the Old City and intensive classes for a month.
It was a dream come true.
Every morning, I took classes at a language school in the Raval neighborhood of the Old City. The students were a diverse group from all over the world and we were brought together by our shared interest in Catalan. When we finished for the afternoon, I’d wander the city, taking in the amazing Modernist architecture, the chamfered corners of L’Eixample, the dreamlike Gaudí buildings, the small leafy plazas of Gràcia. I’d spend hours at the La Central bookstore in the Old City, pouring over books. I knew I wanted to be a translator, I just needed to find the perfect book to translate before going back to New York.
I always assumed I would translate novels, but one afternoon, everything changed. I found my book. The one I’d never forgive myself for passing on.
a slim volume of prose poems by an author I’d never heard of. I went to a café across the street and sat at a table outside beneath the jacaranda trees. There, I drank coffee after coffee and read. By the time I finally left, dusk had fallen and I knew that Marc Serrat was my writer and
Flash forward two years and I’m still working on it. Every word needs to be perfect and perfection takes time. When I took the job at the Gramercy, I thought it would be temporary. Something to pay the bills until I found a publisher willing to take a chance on an inexperienced translator and a poet no one had heard of outside Catalonia.
I still can’t believe how naïve I was.