Bueno is the first book in the Cantabria American School series. Have you ever been in a work environment where your colleagues put stumbling blocks in front of you at every turn? Welcome to Harvey Jones’s world. Harvey goes to Spain to work as an interim headmaster at a small private school. They have only hired him for one year since he doesn’t have much experience. He expects to work hard to prove himself. He is also looking forward to getting to know the country that his brother loved, before he passed away. What Harvey does not expect is to be thwarted and sabotaged at every turn by teachers who are against him before they ever meet him. In spite of his escalating challenges at work, though, Harvey is really enjoying living in Spain. He begins dating Carmen, and soon they find that they have a tragic connection to ETA, the Basque separatist group. As the end of the school year draws near and Harvey’s love blossoms, he decides to try to convince the board to extend his contract, an increasingly difficult task as the board president that hired him has been ousted, replaced by a new president who makes it clear that she does not like Harvey. Set in the lovely city of Santander, on the Bay of Biscay, Bueno is an engaging novel with sympathetic and genuine characters that leave the reader wanting to find out what happens after the narrative has ended.
Below is an excerpt. I struggled to find one that would be representative of the novel. In the end, since the Bueno will be released the week before Valentine’s Day, I decided to go with a love scene, even though this only occurs in the second half of the book.
“Yo a ti te conozco,” she said sweetly as she came near his desk.
He looked up as she was handing him back his graded homework assignment. His teacher smiled and winked and then went on handing out the rest of the papers.
Harvey watched her walking up and down and among the aisles of his fellow students, other adults like himself, who were taking evening Spanish classes. He noticed, perhaps for the first time, that she wore her hair loose around her shoulders, and smiled involuntarily as the thought of kissing her neck crossed his mind.
He thought of what she had just said to him. What did she mean, “I know you”? How did she know him? He was just one more foreigner in this bustling city, just one more person captivated by this fascinating country and trying to learn how to communicate better.
Now, in his second semester at the CAS, Harvey was gaining more confidence when he had to converse with board members and parents who spoke little if any English, and it helped that most were very patient with his language handicap, although there were often little jokes and subtle innuendos that he missed because he just hadn’t yet developed enough of an ear for the language.
Harvey had been taking Spanish classes for several months, and was quite enjoying the opportunity to be learning and meeting new people on an entirely social level. In late December he had passed the quarterly exams and had been moved up to a new class which met every Tuesday and Thursday evenings. His new teacher, Carmen Mendoza Moreno, was frankly very beautiful, Harvey had to admit. She seemed to be in her late 30’s, close to his age, and her short dark brown hair was always immaculately styled. Like most Spanish women, she wore elegant, flattering clothing and generally seemed poised and confident. Although he had only been in her class for a short period, it was still early January, he had found out right away through the rumor mill that she was a single mom and that her husband had passed away three years earlier. As one of many students in her class, he had not really entertained the idea of her taking any special notice of him. It wasn’t that Harvey didn’t want to be in a relationship, he often thought, it’s just that with his job taking up so much of his time and energy, there never seemed to be enough left to go out and meet someone. When he had first arrived in Spain, well-meaning parents had tried to set him up with several nice women, but their romantic attempts had led to naught. He was unperturbed, however, and enjoyed his life as it was.
But what exactly did she mean, “I know you”? The words, “Yo a ti te conozco,” rolled around in his mind making it difficult for him to concentrate on the lesson. He waited impatiently for the class to let out so he could have an opportunity to speak with her. He felt like each of the forty five minutes stopped to have a cup of coffee and linger over the newspaper before bothering to tip the hands of the clock the tiniest bit. Now, finally, that was the bell! She gave them an assignment and walked back toward her desk.
Harvey gathered his writing utensils and closed his notebook, which normally would have been completely scrawled over with new words, phrases and grammatical constructs to practice, but which today had precious few notes. Having packed away his things in his satchel and risen from his seat, he began heading toward Carmen, still not sure what he would say to her. When he was about half way up the aisle he was cornered by Gary O’Brien.
“Are ye up for a beer, tonight, lad? Ya look like ye could use one.” Gary was an Irish businessman who had been living in Spain for fifteen years, but was just now getting around to improving his Spanish. He and Harvey had a cordial relationship, having met after class when Harvey first started at the Camara de Comercios and Harvey had joined him once or twice, but often he had declined Gary’s offers in order to get back to his apartment to have some time to read or catch up on some American football games via the internet.
“Sorry, buddy, can’t tonight.”
“C’mon ol’ mate, it’ll be a barmy good time,” Gary cajoled in his Irish brogue. Harvey did not want to be rude so he turned back toward his friend and grasped the extended hand and shook it, but again insisted that he could not go out tonight.
“Oh, all right, please yourself, then,” said Gary amiably, putting on his coat.
Don’t mind if I do, thought Harvey and turned back toward Carmen, only to see that she had vanished. That was quick! A tiny part of him was disappointed that she hadn’t made an effort to follow up with her remark to him. Why say it and then disappear as soon as class had ended? She didn’t even give a body a chance to ask her anything. Well, he wouldn’t just let it stand at that, would he?