Orange Blossom Days
The AGM was in uproar. The clique from Madrid was protesting loudly at the attack on El Presidente.
“Standards are dropping,” roared a French owner from Block 3.
“Pets were not allowed in the original constitution. And it should be kept like that. I am not prepared to pay maintenance fees to be kept awake by yapping pom-poms and have the smell of their turds wafting across my balcony! Just because he”—a German owner whose visage was the color of a crushed plum pointed a shaking finger at El Presidente—“because he wants his dog coming on holidays with him. Probably too mean to pay kennel fees,” he added irately, wiping his dripping brow with a freshly laundered handkerchief.
“I want to know if El Presidente is prepared to pay, out of his own pocket, the money the community has been forced to pay, so he could appoint his smarmy little friend Facundo as a new concierge. How much of a backhand did he get for that?” Moira Anderson’s indignant Scottish burr rang out over the hum of the air-conditioning. The madrileños, led by El Presidente’s cousin, erupted in furious denial at this scurrilous accusation.
“Well said, madam, well said!” an Englishman from Block 1 applauded. “Answer the question, Mr. President. Or, even better, resign!”
Anna MacDonald felt the throb of a headache begin over her left eye and temple. The ruckus would put the Barbary macaques in Gibraltar to shame, she thought wearily as the noisy yakking increased in tempo.
She and her husband, Austen, had holidayed in the south of Spain since their three children were toddlers. Taking charter holidays with JWT, which they’d saved hard for in the credit union. She’d always loved when the holiday brochures came out every January, and paid particular attention to the complexes that offered children’s clubs.
As they became more affluent and their three children got older, they’d camped in France, explored Tuscany, and golfed in Portugal, but Andalucía’s charms—the Moorish cities and towns, the food, the hospitality and friendliness of the Spanish people—lured them back many times over the years, and when she and Austen had first bought their penthouse apartment in La Joya de Andalucía, they’d been over the moon with delight. They’d taken early retirement to enjoy their sixties and they’d envisaged spending the long, dark winter months in their idyllic paradise. Now, several years down the road, life had changed to one she’d never imagined. And community politics, a recession, and bad behavior had turned life in La Joya sour. “The Jewel of Andalucía” had lost its sparkle for sure.
This carry-on just affirmed that she’d made the right decision. Anna noted El Presidente’s cold, stern, and forbidding gaze. I’ve had enough of you, you little dictator, she thought as she glared back at him, knowing that despite the uproar he would most likely be reelected, because most of the owners couldn’t bear the hassle of taking on the responsibility the position entailed. And many wouldn’t travel to attend the AGM in August, due to the oppressive heat. The Spanish clique would have their way once again and
El Presidente would be king of his own little fiefdom. As autocratic as a Saudi despot. Yapping dogs were a new lowering of standards, maintenance fees would rise, and El Presidente would sit on his balcony, monarch of all he surveyed, while his subjects grumbled among themselves at the poolside bar, plotting his overthrow at the next AGM.
Would she want to sit here in this hotel, in the small town of San Antonio del Mar, this time next year and listen to the same sort of carry-on? Nope, Anna decided. The Spanish dream was over. It was time to face up to reality, mend fences with her family, and go home. She’d run away for long enough.
Sally-Ann Connolly Cooper watched the shenanigans at the AGM, amused in spite of herself. This annual event was always so entertaining. At other AGMs she’d attended, she would meet up afterwards with her Spanish lover and tell him all the news. After their lusty lovemaking they would laugh and chat as they always did, sipping champagne, before he would leave her. This year, though, everything was very different. Her lover was getting married, and circumstances had changed radically in her own life. At the wrong side of thirty, it was time she settled down, Sally-Ann thought in amusement.
Who would have thought things would turn out the way they had? She would be going home to Texas with her twin daughters, to a very different setup. A better, more positive situation for all of them. And she wouldn’t be saying good-bye to La Joya. She wouldn’t have to saddle up and move on from her Andalucían paradise.
From the moment she’d stood on the wide wraparound balcony of the penthouse and looked, in awe, across the shimmering sea to the mysterious, magical High Atlas mountains on the
continent of Africa, and seen the Pillars of Hercules stand guard over the narrow strait that separated the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean, she’d known that Andalucía was special. It had been her first visit to Spain. A business trip with her husband, Cal, who owned a successful holiday rental company in the States. Branching out in Europe was a relatively new development for Cooper Enterprises, but it was paying dividends in more ways than one.
Sally-Ann sipped her complimentary prosecco, surprised at how relieved she was at the decision she’d made about her relationship with Cal. A relationship that had brought moments of grief and joy in equal measure, and a family unit that had survived because she hadn’t let bitterness ruin her life.
Eduardo De La Fuente strove to keep his composure while he listened to the many complaints being hurled in his direction. What was wrong with these imbécils? Could they not see the improvements he’d brought to La Joya de Andalucía? The changes he’d wrought under his presidency had brought order and ease to the ungrateful owners’ lives.
It was imperative that he be elected to continue his raft of improvements. But he knew too that he could not face being deposed in front of Beatriz, the woman who had reared him after his family had moved to New York. Her immense pride in his elevation to the position of president of the community had been heartwarming. At last he’d truly achieved something, in her eyes. Not even his position as a notary had given him this much satisfaction, Eduardo admitted ruefully.
And very soon he would be exchanging his third-floor apartment for the much-sought-after penthouse apartment he’d long desired, from the moment he’d set foot in the luxurious apartment complex. The closing of his property purchase was occurring in
the next hour, in a notary’s office in Marbella. That acquisition would be his crowning glory. Beatriz would not be able to tell him ever again that “second best is not good enough.” For the first time in his life he’d taken a risk and it would be worth it.
He hoped his wife, Consuela, would be pleased. Since she’d started her menopausia she’d become more forceful, less pliant to his needs and wishes. Sometimes she was uncharacteristically stubborn. And as for all this New Age stuff she’d got into with her cousin, this so-called Renewal of Divine Feminine Energy she was embracing—such nonsense!
Eduardo refrained from rolling his eyes in derision. Consuela was seated in the audience, looking into the far distance, a million miles away in spirit, from the AGM and him!
How he looked forward to moving into his new abode. His aerie, from which he would be able to overlook everything and everyone in the community. Knowing that the owner who was selling up was a fierce opponent of his and would never have sold to him, Eduardo had bought the penthouse through a third party. A sly move but necessary. A faint flush tinged his sallow cheeks as a memory surfaced. This was not the time or place to think of her or that!
Eduardo turned his attention back to the business at hand, noticing the Irishwoman who had been elected to the position of secretary at the first AGM was glaring at him. She was very friendly with Constanza Torres, the concierge, another thorn in his side. He stared back coldly at Anna. Soon he too would be a penthouse owner and she could keep her glares to herself, as could the rest of the plebs with whom he was not in favor. He had his loyal supporters and today they would keep him—por favor, Dios—in his post as El Presidente of La Joya de Andalucía, a position in which he rightfully belonged.
Consuela De La Fuente prayed fervently that her husband, Eduardo, would be reelected to the position of president of the management committee so she wouldn’t have to live with his gloom and ire if he was rejected. Who would have thought Eduardo would turn this heavenly place into a . . . a . . . combat zone, she thought irritably. It was her own fault. She’d always adored the south and the sea. Coming down to the Costa reminded her of childhood days when her dear papa would drive the family from Madrid to spend a month with his brother and family in a house with blue shutters and a shaded, cobbled courtyard two minutes from the sea, in La Cala, further up the coast. Eduardo had had no such treats. A week in a village in the Pyrenees with Beatriz’s cousin had been his annual childhood holiday. The highlight of which was a trip to Girona.
When Consuela had introduced him to the delights of La Cala and Andalucía, Eduardo had taken to it immediately, and from the first year they were married, he’d always spent most of August playing golf, enjoying the reviving sea breezes and laid-back lifestyle and escaping the scorching heat of the capital. It had always been a relaxing holiday, until they’d bought their own apartment. Or rather he had bought the apartment without telling her . . . to “surprise” her!
Sometimes, especially at AGM time, Consuela wondered if it was more trouble than it was worth.
Jutta knew her window of opportunity was limited. She had to stay calm and make the most of the AGM at La Joya that was, very fortuitously for her, taking place right now, giving her some
leeway to get on with her business. She felt sick. Nerves, she supposed disconsolately. She still couldn’t believe all that had happened in the space of six weeks to turn her life upside down.
Her phone rang. It was Felipe, her husband.
“Did you get the tickets?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said coolly. “I printed them out.”
“OK, good, see you soon.” He hung up.
Jutta sighed. Felipe, the love of her life. And this was what he’d brought them to. Perhaps her father had been right about him. Her papa had always had his reservations about his son-in-law.
A tear coursed down Jutta’s cheek. Angrily she wiped it away. She didn’t have time for tears or regrets. She had work to do. She glanced at her watch. The AGM was well under way. Would Eduardo De La Fuente be reelected? He was a very complex man, very power hungry. It would be a huge disappointment for him if he wasn’t voted back in.
Jutta always enjoyed getting the gossip from Constanza. What would the concierge and Anna, Sally-Ann, and all her other clients say about her when they heard the news? To think she’d once dreamed about buying a penthouse in La Joya and becoming neighbors with the people she worked for. And it could have happened. In her mid-thirties now, she’d achieved far more than she’d ever expected out of life and been well on track to realize her dreams, she thought bitterly.
“Oh, just stop feeling sorry for yourself and get going,” Jutta muttered irritably. She had to feed her young daughter as well as everything else because her au pair had left her in the lurch. What did she care about the owners in La Joya de Andalucía and their drama-filled AGMs? She’d enough drama in her own life.