Jose found himself thinking of Aria too, feeling inspired by their growing friendship he pondered the stereotype of courting the girl next door. They met up at the Rattlesnake Bar, a quaint little place in Oasis Springs, he hoped a change of scene would be relaxing. The food wasn’t great, but the atmosphere was pleasant and unlike most bars in this region, it was clean. Both were very nervous about taking the next step in their relationship, Aria hadn’t initially thought of this early evening as a date, her approach to flirting was to playfully tease Jose, with childish and embarrassing results. She wanted the ground to swallow her up, her face burning and not with the heat of the evening’s sun. Jose smiled, her light-hearted approach was entertaining, tonight, however, even he felt awkward.
It was clearly just nerves; they could usually talk for hours about life and other nonsense. Rather than ending the date, Jose changed the pace to help Aria relax. They sat at the bar enjoying their juice on the rocks. Instead of letting Aria get carried away in her excitement, Jose made more gentle conversation, gradually building in the occasional compliment and flirtatious jokes. Jose saw the sweet gentle nature of the woman in front of him, her responses to his charm more subtle and natural. Aria calmed herself, the butterflies in her stomach, the tingling of her body, she had felt as if she was vibrating, the excitement of being with Jose had taken control of her sanity. What surprised her was he was still there, making the effort to get to know her better. The remainder of their evening went more smoothly and as if he was not already the perfect gentleman, Jose walked her home, kissed her cheek and left her at her front door
Aria bounced into the morning, dancing around the living area, enthusiastically telling her mother about her evening, the hopes and dreams she had for the future. The giddiness and laughter were infectious, Leonne could see her daughter was coming to life, her job, her music and a young man in her life, it was a relief, Aria was no longer overshadowed by her twin sister or her other siblings. Calming Aria, Leonne told her to just breathe, take each day and moment as it came and enjoy every minute. Aria laughed, she was ecstatic, practically running off to work.
It was the final piece of advice Leonne gave her daughter; her body felt frail and tired. Leonne showered, plaited her hair and prepared herself as death came to call. She saw him through the window, his tattered black hooded cloak, Leonne felt he should be lighter, more welcoming as she laid her herself down on the ground. There was no fear as the grim reaper reached her, head resting, she drifted into an eternal sleep.
It felt like she had been punched, a gaping cavity in the centre of her torso. Aria’s day had been amazing as she floated on air, encouraged by thoughts of love. Returning home her world shattered, she was alone. Aria sat tearfully on the bathroom floor, her sibling’s voices fading into the distance, at they talked at her over the phone. As the days past Aria was isolated in her grief, making all the necessary arrangements; her remaining family in Oasis Springs made no effort to come over and bring any comfort. Jose was supportive, bringing her home-cooked meals, sitting with her when she cried or listening to her memories, often making a late-night call when she couldn’t sleep. He wanted to take her out, get her away from the house for a few hours, but Aria made her excuses to stay put, her work and violin were her escape. Art was her connection to the grief she felt, losing her mother so soon after moving to Newcrest was the hardest experience she had faced in her life. Her art reflected the pain of losing her mother, with its childlike quality, it was never going to be a gallery feature, still, it gave her comfort.
Aria was resistant to falling back into step with life, there were only so many times she could refuse Jose’s offer of dinner at the ‘Chez Llama’. Over the months since her mother’s death, he had been her rock, more so than her siblings. Putting on a new orange dress and playing with her hair for a few hours, adding a couple of roses from the bouquet Jose brought, Aria felt stronger, ready to take on the world, or at least grilled fish. Jose had reserved a corner booth away from the busier part of the restaurant. He pulled off the salmon-coloured shirt \ black tie combo; his eyes studied the transformation of the woman beside him, out of sweatpants and looking amazing in a fitted dress. They hardly noticed that their clumsy waiter had dropped their original order and had to bring fresh food from the kitchen; they were completely lost in their own world and only had eyes for each other.
At the end of the dinner, Aria surprised both herself and Jose when he lent in for a simple kiss on the cheek and she turned her head allowing their lips to meet. They both blushed, having wanted to do that for so long, Jose took her hands, keen to ensure she was now his girlfriend, Aria tried to tease, saying – well maybe, but Jose saw straight through her pretence and kissed her tenderly again. They enjoyed several more dates at the restaurant, always reserving the same table, other times preferring to enjoy Jose’s homecooked meal and a good movie.
Waiting by the bar for their table, Aria couldn’t hold back, she had been pondering things for a while, believing she might burst with excitement. She loved him, she knew he loved her too, he had told her only a few weeks before, she had been too stunned and nervous to say it back. Now standing in the restaurant Aria felt silly, Jose surprised, embraced her, kissing her, smiling at the overenthusiastic nature. Over dinner they talked about their living arrangements, it was silly for him living next door, they were practically at her house most of the time anyway. It made more sense to move in together, after all, her home was larger. Arriving home Aria didn’t want the night to end, she pulled Jose into the house and her bedroom. It felt wild and crazy, but Aria felt it was the right move. Jose wasn’t objecting, he was smitten by her and ready for the next chapter of their lives together.