Prologue (Part 2)

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Evelia thought that seeing her friends in the hallway of the fourth floor, where they were celebrating their own party hidden from the rest of the guests, would make her feel better.

She was wrong.

The familiarity of the conversation between six of her favorite people in the whole world, the spontaneous laughs lubricated with liquor, couldn't help but deepen the hole in her stomach. Could she have imagined what she saw on the balcony? Maybe. Of course, to clear up her doubts she would have to go out and look at the night sky. That idea alone drained the color from her face.

Without knowing what to say, she remained still, holding her empty glass. She felt dazed. Her mouth was so dry that she wasn't sure she'd be able to speak even if she wanted to. The sickening smell of beer, somehow intensified by the air conditioner, made her feel queasy.

Evelia crossed her arms. She dreaded seeing someone or... something lurking in the darkness, behind the large tempered glass of the empty offices. Even though the ample and unfurnished corridor looked the same as before, Evi felt that the fluorescent lights weren't enough even though the glare from the white walls was hurting her eyes.

"Did you see a ghost?" Ernest joked after taking a puff of his joint. His face was flushed with alcohol.

All of them turned to Evelia, except for Adam; he avoided meeting her eyes.

In that moment, Evi looked at her friends in more detail than ever before. The men, almost uniformed with versions of the same dark suit (cheap and rented) that didn't reflect their personalities at all, had managed to distinguish themselves in small ways: Ernest had rolled up his sleeves to show his tattoos, Adam was wearing sneakers and Santiago's starry tie looked the same as one Daddy Yankee had worn last year; only Chuo was dressing plainly, like a bank teller trying to blend in with the crowd. On the other hand, the dresses of her two girlfriends were at the opposite extremes of the decorum spectrum.

"Evi, are you okay?" asked Claudia, approaching her.

Claudia's stern features and piercing eyes made Evelia feel uncomfortable for the first time in years.

"Here you go, kiddo." Santiago offered her his own joint while dancing with Vera. "It's just what the doctor prescribed."

"Please! The day Saint Evelia smokes a joint will be a cold day in hell," said Ernest. "She's so pure and chaste that poor Adam is fasting until their wedding night, am I right? How long has it been since you had your banana in a fruit salad?"

Ernest moved as if to touch Adam's crotch. Adam recoiled, upset, while Santiago burst into laughter.

Evelia found the whole thing depressing.

"Your girlfriend is shaking," Claudia pointed out, ignoring both Ernest and Santiago.

Adam didn't move. Chuo, however, came closer to them. He obviously wanted to comfort Evelia by putting his hand on her shoulder; which proved to be impossible since he'd been playing the part of Ernest's drink coaster all night long and was holding a bottle of beer in each hand.

"M-maybe we can leave?" Chuo's voice, which didn't match his towering height at all, sounded weaker than usual. "I mean we've already shown our faces and it's not like we are below with the rest of them."

"We haven't shown our faces until the president sees us," said Santiago.

Vera drew Santi closer in her arms, pressing her pronounced cleavage against him without stopping her hips' movements to the beat of Juan Luis Guerra. The song playing on her stereo was drowning out the murmur of the music coming from the party downstairs.

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