The party was even more fun than Julia remembered. Damian, with Esperanza’s and Joaquin’s help, had done an amazing job with the back garden. There were tables set all over the lawn; each had as a centerpiece blue blown glass cups with candles lighted inside set on black-wrought iron spidery legs. The pool looked like the home of fairies, with the candles dancing delicately with multicolored rose petals on the blue crystal water.
There were more torches outlining the gate that enclosed the pool. There was a bar set inside the small cabin next to the pool. Food stations had been placed on the terrace, where there was a wide variety of food like quesadillas, red rice, beans, salads, meat, pork, chicken fajitas, even shrimp, chilaquiles, enchiladas, and a table for desserts with a huge mountain of flowing chocolate and an assortment of marshmallows, strawberries, kiwi, among other fruits. There was also another platter of fruit: watermelon, papaya, mango, all from Damian’s fields. And finally, some pies, and local candy like the spicy and sour tamarind candies Magdalena sold at her café and had offered for the party. Some of the food had also been provided by Sonia and Stephan as well.
People were dancing, or strolling through the grounds. The sky was a gorgeous black blanket covered in diamonds with the moon so big and round. At times it felt it was getting closer to them.
The music was being provided by a DJ. Julia hadn’t stopped dancing and neither had her friends and respective spouses, including Jim. Though he didn’t exactly join in when Julia and her friends began singing at the top of their lungs “All my loving” by the Beattles. They even managed to get the other guests involved in their ridiculous dance moves, especially when the Macarena began to blare from the speakers set throughout the garden.
And every time, Julia was aware of Damain’s stare on her, only leaving her when someone approached him or he went around the tables making sure everyone was having a good time. Yes, she, too, was following his every move, unable to stop her pulse from skittering whenever he would notice her staring at him. Damian would only nod at her and either continue to stare at her or move along.
Sonia suggested they take a break and they all found an empty table where they sat down. Neither had eaten anything since the party had begun, so they decided it was time to do so before there was nothing left. All the guys began to get up to go get food for their wives. Julia rose to get something for herself when both Raul and Felix shook their heads and made her sit down.
“Don’t even think about it. We’ll bring you something, too.”
“But I can go, really.”
“Yeah, we know.” Felix winked an eye at her and then followed Jim and Raul over to the terrace, where the line to get food had thinned out considerably.
It took the guys two more trips before everyone was set and began eating. Julia relaxed and waved at some people from town. Esperanza and Joaquin were currently dancing as the music had mellowed a bit, and several couples were on the dance floor, their dresses glittering from the orange glow of the torches around them.
The night was cool, an almost noticeable breeze carrying with it the laughter and clinking of glasses around her. Joy. That was the word Julia could use to describe the atmosphere tonight. The setting and slow music also reminded her of another word, one she hadn’t thought about in a very long time: romance.
Magdalena and Jim were the ones in charge to go over to the dessert table and bring several slices of lemon pie, which Magdalena announced had been made with lemons from Damian’s fields. Thye also brought some slices of chocolate cake, tamarind candies, and some fruit. Julia had to have some of that flowing chocolate so she got up to get some.
In that instant, the song changed and many guests joined those couples already dancing on the dance floor. From where she was, she saw Sonia and the others wave at her as they signaled they were getting up to go dance. Julia nodded and smiled at her friend, all the while wondering if she should go sit down by herself at the table or just wander around, until something more lively came up. She didn’t have to be reminded that neither was she going to have romance tonight nor did she have anyone to experience it with. Automatically, her gaze scanned the garden for Damian and with a sinking feeling, didn’t find him.
Julia was about to take a stroll around the garden when she felt a hand on her shoulder. When she turned, it was all she could to do not to scamper away like a scared rabbit when Damian’s hand stretched out to take hers and guide her to the dance floor.
With her stomach in knots and her heart jumping up and down inside her chest, she said nothing and let herself be led. They reached the middle of the dance floor. Damian placed one hand around her waist while the other remained holding her hand. Julia put her free hand timidly on his shoulder and began moving along with him to the romantic and heart tugging tune from the song the DJ had chosen for this moment.
They moved fluidly, his eyes never leaving hers, while her mind took her back to all those times when they would be just like this, lost in each other’s stares, hidden by darkness, away from her family’s reproving eyes. But not today, not anymore. Some part of her was very aware of the stares from her friends and Esperanza and Joaquin, and some others in town, including Damian’s mother. When she chanced a quick glance at them, Julia saw them smiling.
When her attention was drawn back to his tender and soulful dark brown eyes, it dawned on her. They weren’t hiding anymore, they didn’t need to. Gone were the people who had disapproved of them being together. Around them were only friends who knew how hard it had been for Julia and Damian to be together. The decision was up to them, as it should’ve been from the start. He wasn’t married and she wasn’t the heartless snob he thought she’d become.
Her throat clogged by the rush of emotions set free all at once: regret, pain, redemption and finally love. Julia loved this man holding her, more than anything. She’d never stopped loving him. And for the first time since their talk two days ago, Julia was sure she wanted him, to feel him close to her and never let go. Just admitting as much brought such joy and freedom inside her, the final invisible bounds around her heart disappeared.
She let go of his hand and with both arms circled his neck and brought him closer to her body, every nerve ending aware of the flex of his muscles and the tautness of his chest, making her feel safe. It was as if he’d been thinking the same thing because he sighed next to her ear and whispered her name, the sound so full of want and regret for the time lost, it touched her more than anything ever had.
She hugged him tighter, in case this was all some dream and she would wake up at any moment. He sensed her fear because he held on tight and said in a low voice. “It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s just us.”
The last notes of the song were disappearing high into the sky, and before the song was over, Damian brought his hand up to grab her chin and without lingering, lowered his head and kissed Julia. Her whole body opened up to the feel of his lips on hers, and of the way her body fit so naturally against his.
Everyone and everything vanished. For a second, she believed they were completely alone and not surrounded by guests. But the romantic spell lasted so little. As Julia continued to feel her body go limp in Damian’s arms, she felt him still and mutter as he parted from her. Only then did Julia notice Joaquin, who’d walked over from where he’d been dancing with Esperanza and was whispering something into Damian’s ear. When he looked at her from behind Damian, he winked at her and Julia felt the color rise in her cheeks.
“I’m sorry, but I need to go see to this.”
“Okay.” She replied, sad he was going to leave her alone.
He gave her another mind blowing kiss.
“This isn’t over.” He whispered in her ear before following Joaquin to the front side of the house.
Julia was still in a daze when her friends joined her. Though she felt Sonia’s and Magdalena’s curiosity jumping like a bunny inside them, her girlfriends asked nothing and just let her enjoy this state of bliss she was in.
Unfortunately, as the party wore on, she never saw Damian again. And her self-doubt made her wonder if Damian had decided they’d moved too fast or if maybe he’d just been carried away by the setting and the song, and not by what Julia still felt pulsing inside her: love.
Julia was too preoccupied convincing her wary romantic sceptic self that Damian was probably tied up with other guests, that she failed to notice the two flashes directed her way as she stood alone, looking out at the tiny yellow lights from the town. Nor did she notice the man who’d been following her every move all throughout the party.