It’s 1988. I’m living in Madrid. My friend and apartment-mate Rosario is dating this French guy, Henri, who runs an exotic tour business. When Henri is with us we go to the big clubs: Pacha, and in later years, Archy. One night, my friend Lynn and I meet up with Rosario and Henri at Pacha. When you are with Rosario in her ice-pick-heel boots and her honey curls cascading down to her ultra-cool low-slung belt, you always get to go to the head of the line.
We trot up the steps and into the smoke and dim light. People are all bent up about second-hand smoke these days, but it sure makes for great atmosphere. Henri leads us to a square bar with flat, round neon lights like a transporter dome from Star Trek. We order drinks. Lynn and I are sipping dark rum with lemon soda, Ron Negrita con KAS de Limón. KAS is the best lemon soda in the world, tart as a real lemon with a sweetness that bursts in your throat as you swallow.
The DJ is spinning a Prince song so Lynn and I head to the dance floor. Lynn’s thick brown hair swings back and forth in front of her day-dreamy face. The cool blue neon lights seem to illuminate me from the inside. The crowd is pretty dense and my gyrations are limited, but despite my short height, I feel vibrant and strong.
Suddenly a space is made and a super tall, super cute guy is on the dance floor. He looks vaguely familiar and I smile up at him - way up - he’s got to be six-six. He can’t be from the neighborhood. Someone that tall and cute would have been on my radar. He smiles down with a sparkle in his blue eyes, and we mirror-dance each other.
“Cool beans!” I think. “This guy can be silly.” We are having a good go of it until this tall blonde comes right up to him - like right up to him - and puts her hand on his shoulder and starts whispering in his ear. He is looking at me, and I still see the spark in his eyes. But I am no idiot. I can’t compete. I shrug my shoulders and walk off the dance floor.
Prince stops singing and Lynn follows me. As we close in on our friends, Henri looks about to burst.
“¡Nena! Do you know who you were dancing with?”
“Yeah, that tall guy.”
They wait. They are both enjoying my dullness.
“But he started talking to that leggy babe over there.” I point, which is not considered rude in Spain.
Rosario does a spit-laugh then explodes with, “That is the Infanta Cristina!”
“¡No me jodáis, tíos!”
Henri and Rosario are all over themselves laughing.
The realization is slowly seeping in. I look over the dance floor, and maybe it’s the blue neon light, but suddenly there is the Prince of Spain as he looks on the blue ten-thousand peseta bill (not that I see a lot of those).
And he appears to be coming right toward me.
“Lynn!” I urge. “You have got to go talk to him. I mean, how often do you get to talk to a prince?”
“Oh no! I’m not going over. You do it. Look.”
The Prince sits on a padded seat near the bar. There is a spot next to him. How convenient.
I try to walk with confidence through the crowd. What am I ever going to say to the Prince of Spain?
He is tracking me with his eyes, smiling, so I smile brightly back and decide, as the politically incorrect and delightfully direct Spaniards say, to “play Swedish.” I widen my blue eyes, flash him teeth so straight they make dentists sigh, and say, “You look so familiar! Are you from Canada? You aren’t related to Camille Cooper, are you?”
“Nooo, I am from Spain.”
I kind of smile and interrupt him and say, “Because, you know, you look an awful lot like her brother. Camille and I competed against each other in the Equitation and Junior Division. Are you sure I haven’t seen you at horse shows?”
“No, my oldest sister rides though.”
“I knew it! Has she shown in the Northeast or in Canada?”
And so we chat a while about not knowing anyone in common. And then he asks where I am from.
“Um…Rochester, New York.”
“I have always wanted to go to Rochester,” the Prince of Spain says smoothly.
Sure, like, who really wants to go to Rochester?
He leans forward and looks me squarely in the eyes and adds, “Your eyes are very blue.”
As I look into his pale blue eyes, I see him and the weight of history that he carries, and I see that he is still more boy than man, and I start getting an urge to leave, a panic, like my mask is slipping. I know I cannot maintain decent banter much longer, and I don’t feel like being brushed off. I have appearances to maintain.
I hedge. “Hey, I have to get going, but if you are ever in Rochester, look me up. Just ask for my dad and you’ll find me. Ciao!” Big smile, vague hope, and I am out of there.
I make a crazed face as I walk toward Lynn, Rosario, and Henri. “Let’s go, let’s go! I can’t stay here. Go, go! Please!” My Cinderella façade fading to pumpkins.
We leave Pacha, maintaining a veneer of dignity until we are safely in a cab.
And that, I thought, was that.
Until late one night, I am with a guy I have a crush on, Iñigo. We are on the mattress that serves as my couch, sitting close, reading one of my mother’s lavender letters, talking about our families. Suddenly Rosario comes weaving down the long hallway, her heels making clicking noises. “Mar, Mar! Are you home?”
I hush her so she won’t wake the neighbors. “Yeah, I am here, so’s Iñ, come on back.”
She pushes into the room, eyeballs Iñigo, steps her right hip out, and flips her Midas-curls over to one side of her head. “You! You should be so happy to be here with her!”
Iñigo lets his slow smile spread over his lips, and raises his eyebrows lightly, “Yes, in fact I am happy to be here with her.”
I draw my knees up to my chest and set my chin on them. “So, what’s up, Rosario? I thought you were out with Henri?”
“Oh, I left him parking the car, he’ll be up in minute.”
And is if by cue, Henri appears, his hair making a near perfect fan around his smiling face. “Rosario! Did you tell her? Did you tell her what happened?”
Now Iñigo and I are both leaning forward and Rosario and Henri rush forward and sink to their knees in front of us.
“Well,” she starts. “Henri and I were out and you know how cute we are together? Well these guys started talking to us?”
Henri interrupts, “And they turn out to be bodyguards to the royal family!”
Rosario races on, “¡Tía! I told them, ‘Oh, if you are the Prince’s bodyguards, then you must know my apartment-mate. She danced with the Prince at Pacha a couple of weeks ago.’ And GUESS WHAT?”
Iñigo and I shake our heads in slow unison.
“They asked me, ‘Is she a short, blond, American who smiles a lot?’ Well, I knew that was you, so I said, ‘Yes, yes! That is my friend!’ And they say, ‘Well, we have been looking for her for the last two weeks.’ ¡Tía! can you even imagine?”
Iñigo cocks his head and asks, “So, did you tell them where she lives?”
There is a slow look of “oh, no” coming over Rosario’s face. “No, no, tío, as soon as I heard they were looking for her, I grabbed Henri, got up, and came right home to tell you.”
“Do they have your names?” I ask.
Henri shakes his head. “Let’s go back and find them.”
“No,” I say. “Sometimes it’s better to stay a mystery, even if it’s a small one.”
And I let my shoulder rub Iñigo’s as I relax my back against the wall.