The last two weeks had passed in a blur. Every spare moment I had was spent majorly with Mila and her mother. We shared almost nightly “family dinners” as Mila’s mother would say. In those dinners, I had disclosed everything with them. They knew about the engagement like everyone else in this town, but they also knew things that were beyond the surface level. I told them about the psychological abuse my parents put me through including the isolation, the belittling of my accomplishments, and the constant insults of my appearance. Our “family dinners” felt like miniature therapy sessions and it made me feel like a thousand pounds were lifted right of my shoulders.
It made us all grow closer as we all shared our deepest concerns, Mila and I specifically. On a few occasions, I had nightmares. I dreamt that all the information I told them was leaked to the press and I was condemned by my father and the people of Calida. I woke up sweating and panting those nights. Thankfully, none of it ever leaked. Ms. Torres told me that what we talked about in her home was completely confidential and Mila agreed. I made her pinky promise that night.
“A sign of an unbreakable promise.” She had once said. I sure hoped so.
I got to spend more time with Mila now that she was no longer a part of the Journalism staff at school. I asked her about it, but she just waved it off saying she just could not work with Nick any longer. I felt like there was more to the story, but, Mila asked me to stop prying and that she would tell me when she was ready. Ava and Jimmy seemed to also be sworn to secrecy and solidarity as they both decided to leave the staff following Mila’s departure without a reason why.
However, it did not take them long to bounce back. With the help of Jimmy’s coding skills, the three of them went live with their website two days ago. The website, named simply “The Trio”, includes a blog composed of pieces from Jimmy, Ava, and Mila. Jimmy got to showcase his tech knowledge in his reviews where Ava focused more on upcoming fashion trends. Mila had written a couple of expository pieces highlighting the high rates of first-generation college students in this town. Their writing was so unique from each other, but somehow it managed to work. The website was still not as popular as Nick’s paper, but the word of mouth by a local prince had helped the website get more traction.
Tonight would be our last family dinner before the big plans of tomorrow that was the homecoming dance. Mila’s mom thought it would be great to invite Jimmy and Ava to this family dinner. I thought about asking Luke to come, but Ms. Torres just did not seem comfortable around him. It looked like they had unfinished business that I did not want to stand in the middle of.
The Friday school day had long passed and dinner time was creeping up. I jumped into the shower, washing away the sweat that came along with my evening workout. Mila had told me to dress “semi-fancy” for today’s dinner and I obliged. When I got out, I dressed in a white button-up shirt and tucked it into a black pair of trousers. I rolled up the long-sleeves of my shirt and paired the outfit with a black pair of oxfords. I styled my hair to the side as best as I could. It was time for a haircut, even though Mila mentioned that I should leave it longer.
Once I was ready, I jumped into the small car that Luke had rented. It became easier convincing Luke to let me borrow the car that I now named “Barry”. He knew exactly where I was going nowadays and left me to it. When my father would call Luke for updates, he always made up something regarding my whereabouts. I knew that my father would be furious if he knew how much time I had spent with Mila and her mother. I think Luke understood that which is why he always covered for me.
I arrived at Mila’s house ten minutes later and noticed Jimmy’s car parked outside of the home. If Jimmy was here then so was Ava, meaning the punctual Prince was late. I rang the doorbell, yet no one answered the door. I tried knocking and got the same result.
“At the door, where are you?” I texted Mila.
“Come through the back.” Mila responded immediately.
It was odd. There were no noises coming from the backyard as I approached the gate. Mila understood my hatred for horror films and yet I felt like I was right in the middle of one. I slightly kicked the gate open and tried peaking. Something was up and I wanted to be ready for it. Here goes nothing, I thought as I was fully absorbed into the darkness of Mila’s backyard.
Suddenly, I was met with a flood of lights and the screams of “SURPRISE!“.
Once my eyes adjusted to the recently lit string lights, the full image became clear. Right in front of me, stood Theo, Tommy, and Cassandra. Without thinking, I ran to them and pulled them all into the tightest hug. I felt like I was in a dream. They could not actually be here, could they? I pulled away and pinched Theo.
“Ouch mate, is that how you welcome people here in the states?” He laughed and I realized that he was here. Oh, how much I missed them all. It had been two months since I came to the U.S. and seeing them in video calls was nothing like seeing them in person.
“How is this possible? How are you all here?” I asked while taking all of the faces in. They all looked the same. I wondered if I looked the same to them.
“Mila reached out PJ. She told us you missed us. It just happens that we missed you too and could visit for the weekend. It took us a while to convince our pops, but Theo told him we were delivering a dress to a high client and had to do it in person.” Tommy smirked.
It looked like they all got the dress attire memo. Theo and Tommy were overdressed, as they usually were, in their tapered trousers and luxury brand sweaters. Theo paired his outfit with a fedora where Tommy decided to pair his with endless silver rings on both of his hands.
“And how are you here?” I asked Cassandra. Her hair was no longer in her usual braided crown but rather curled. She was dressed in a short-sleeve black dress.
She reached out and took my hands in hers. “My boy, Mila called me after the boys and told me about the surprise she was planning. She wanted all of us here. It was hard getting the days off at the palace, but the other maids stepped in and are covering me for the weekend,” She said. She gave me a warm smile and brought me into a hug “She is a special girl.” She whispered into my ear. I knew who Cassandra was talking about and I had to agree.
I stepped back and looked around the backyard. I spotted Ms. Torres, Ava, and Jimmy before my eyes landed on Mila. She was smiling at a distance. She was wearing a mustard-colored dress that stopped right before her knees. She looked gorgeous. I walked towards her and pulled her into a hug. She was lifted from the ground from the force of my hug. Her sweet laugh echoed into my ear.
“Were you surprised?” She said once I put her back down.
I looked at her, “I have never been more surprised. I can not thank you enough for this Mila.” She gave me another soft smile and I felt my heart thud against my chest.
“Well come on mate. Let’s eat! We’ve been on a plane for 17 hours with nothing but bloody trail mix.” Theo’s voice echoed behind me. I laughed. I missed having the twins around.
Ms. Torres and Mila had transformed the small backyard into a full dining experience. There was a long table dressed in cloth covering set in the middle of the backyard with mismatched chairs. Each seat had been set with a plate, utensils, and a cloth napkin. There were string lights hung up across the backyard giving it a more cozy feeling. It was obvious that they had put in a lot of work. Thankfully, the weather was also perfectly cool tonight.
“Okay everyone, take a seat. I’ll go ahead and bring out the food.” Ms. Torres announced. The twins sat in front of Ava and Jimmy. I could already hear Tommy and Jimmy falling into a conversation about American customs where Theo and Ava talked about the fabric she had on. It looked like my worlds were finally colliding together.
I helped Ms. Torres with the food. She had gone all out for this dinner bringing in a variety of culture in her food. We brought out freshly baked bread, kale salad, a roasted chicken, mashed potato, boiled green beans, sautéed potatoes, and a traditional Calida desert named Lecta, similar to a Soufflé. It made my mouth water smelling all of that amazing food. We placed all the food down the table and took our seats. Cassandra sat next to Ms. Torres at one end of the table and Mila and I sat on the other end of the table.
Before we began to eat, Ms. Torres stood up, “Before we dig in, I would like for all of to hold hands and take a moment of silence. You can choose to pray, reflect, or just be thankful to be together during this silence.”
We all took our neighbor’s hand and remained quiet. I quietly gave a quick thank you to any high power that brought forth these individuals that sat by me. We all released each other’s hand and began passing the food back and forth. I never quite understood happiness like this. I cared about every single person that sat at this table and seeing them laugh and have a good time brought tears to my eyes. Mila grabbed my hand under the table and gave me a quick squeeze. This was all possible because of her. I took her hand and brought it my lips, giving a quick kiss to the back of her hand.
“So what time do we have to be ready tomorrow?” Tommy asked between bites.
“Ready for what?” I asked.
“Uhh, the dance? You didn’t think we would come all this way and not go to the party did you?” His eyebrow raised.
“Dance starts at 7. Be ready and meet here by 6:30.” Mila answered for me.
I was so overwhelmed seeing everyone that it has momentarily slipped my mind that tomorrow was the dance. It looked like I was going to go to my first American dance with all my best buds and the girl of my dreams. Nothing could bring me down from cloud nine.
After our belts were loosened and all of our plates were empty, we decided to call it a night. Ava and Jimmy went home right after dinner. Ms. Torres told the visiting guests that they could all spend the weekend at her home. Cassandra agreed, taking up the only spare room in the home. On the other hand, Tommy and Theo decided to bunk it with Luke and me at the apartment. Plus, I needed some more time with the boys.
I helped take Cassandra’s bags to the extra guess room where Ms. Torres finished helping her settle in. I thanked Cassandra for coming and Ms. Torres for hosting and cooking them before helping the twins put their luggage in the back of Barry. They jumped into the car, ready to head out.
Mila was waiting by her front door when I approached her, “You never fail to surprise me, you know that?” I told Mila hugging her by the waist. She looked up at me, her eyes glistening underneath the porch’s light. I could kiss her, right here, right now. I never wanted anything more.
“I just want you to be happy,” She said. Oh, if only she knew how happy I was.
I bent down, placing my forehead on hers. The smell of sweet lavender engulfed me. She tugged at the hair at the base of my neck, sending shivers down my spine. Her eyes fluttered closed. Her skin was hot against mine and suddenly I could not stop. I pulled her in by the waist feeling like she could not get close enough. My breath became more shallow. She was so close that I wondered if she could feel it too. My head tilted as she followed suit. I was taken back when her full lips met mine and my whole body was set into overdrive. I could feel both our bodies molding into each other, in desperation for a kiss that was long overdue.
The sound of a car horn broke us away, “Let’s go, Romeo!” Theo shouted from the car.
Mila chuckled, “Go, Romeo, don’t keep them waiting. I will see you tomorrow.”
It was a tender kiss, sweet and short-lived, yet set my whole body ablaze. I looked at her one last time, taking in that beautiful smile.
“Goodnight Phoenix.” She said before I let go of her and walked back to the car.
Theo and Tommy were fighting over what radio station to put on when I got into the driver’s seat.
“Is that lipstick Mate?” Theo asked in the passenger seat. I quickly tried to rub it off my lips, but it was too late. Theo and Tommy began taunting me and I realized how long this weekend was going to be.