Aria: Big Brother’s Watching… But Everything’s Broken!

Aria had already left for work, and Jose, hoping to have a shower and head out, got a cold shock.  Icy water spurted out of the shower head, then sprayed through the pipe connection, over the shower door to the floor, Jose let out a high-pitched scream as the water hit his bare skin. Drying himself off, and wearing nothing but his kiss me boxers, Jose tackled the shower with a wrench, replacing the rubber washer and tightening up the pipes. With brash confidence Jose decided to tackle the dripping tap, it responded stubbornly as it changed from an annoying drip to a fountain. Jose’s cocky attitude was replaced with frustration as he hit the faucets a few times, stepping back, soaked from the multiple showers; he tried to calm his fraying nerves. It took most of his day to repair and clean up the bathroom leaving him rushing to meet his article deadline. He disappointingly had to use some stock photos, resulting in his manager sent him an e-mail, reprimanding his efforts.

The two bed cottage was perfect until Jose’s job started to change, the amount of clutter encroaching on their living space, particularly the kitchen table. It was permanently covered in photos of upcoming styles, notes on new trends and idea’s for children’s stories. Aria’s growing collection of gym equipment had to be stored outside, not great when the rain came, and they were fighting against the wind to cover it with tarpaulin. They were both sleeping in her mother’s old room at the back of the house, leaving her old bedroom unused. Desperate for more space, Aria cleared out all the furniture, adding photos of her siblings, and their own wedding day. She purchased a treadmill and desk so that they could train and work together, freeing up their living room for all the Major Chord gatherings.

Aria would run for hours, listening to Jose talk about his latest article, or read excerpts from his upcoming book “The Clue of the Invisible Turnip”. He had taken up photography, trying to capture the world around them, his images inspiring him to write children’s books. This latest offering was linked to the vegetable garden Aria had created to the side of their house. There was very little growing in it, the odd neglected leaf sprouting up from the ground did not make for an appetising lunch. Aria joked it was work in progress, and that soon she would be filling their stomachs with homegrown produce and their future offspring would be happy and healthy because of it. Having quit the team Aria thought she would have more time to give to the plants, but being a personal trainer demanded more of her time as she struggled to build her client base.

One of her first victims was her brother Wesley, the catering industry was full of temptation and he had to experiment with the dishes, which meant consuming them as well. His once flat stomach was getting a slightly rounder, so he made the perfect guinea pig for Aria to practice her mentoring and motivational skills. They kick-started his health regime with a gentle mobility warm-up and a short session on the treadmill. Having upped her game on the punch bag, Aria took Wesley through a few rounds, shouting commands, interjecting tuck jumps, burpees and push-ups into the mix. Wesley pictured a big juicy steak, fresh steamed broccoli and carrots and a huge helping of roast potatoes, cooked in duck fat, fluffy crisp, delicious. Aria could see his distraction, pushing out an extra few burpees to make sure he earned his fantasy meal. Wesley moaned over the next few days about the heavy feeling in his arms, walking stiffly around the kitchen prompting weird looks from the other staff. There was no denying he was beginning to feel better, but perhaps Aria could pick on someone her own size next time she needed a client.

In three generations, the Grace family had remained single, marriage never seemed to have been on the cards for any of them until Aria. Their fathers were never a part of their lives and none of them ever knew why, Leonne had not spoken about them, although it was guessed Buffy-Anne’s father had been her real love, but had broken her heart, and Leonne failed to commit to anyone new. For Aria’s siblings, a man that not only wanted to marry their sister but raise a family with her came with amazement and confusion. Until the wedding, the siblings assumed Aria would give her life to just raising children like their mother, grandmother and great grandmother, but the love the young couple had was affecting and changing the whole dynamic. No-one was sure how to deal with someone outside the family, becoming a part of it for more than a brief moment. Wesley was nominated as the spokesperson for the family, pushed forward to discover more about Jose.

Wesley wanted to portray the concerned big brother, arming himself with questions about Jose’s intentions, can he support Aria once the babies start coming? after all, Wesley assumed they would have a large unruly brood. He wondered what Jose’s thoughts were on managing conflict, did they communicate or were they subject to whimsical fantasies that meant they never really dealt with what they were feeling? Regardless of Wesley’s questions Jose showed himself to be a genuine guy, he wasn’t perfect, he loved Aria and wanted to make her happy, they had some differences of opinion when they should do things, in particular starting a family, but everything was open for discussion. Jose pulled the conversation away from his marriage to discover more about Wesley as a person, they debated the use of paprika during cooking, and the delicate texture of the space tacos they were both indulging in. At the end of the meal Jose had Wesley in stitches; the waiters glanced at the men, regarding them with disdain at the disturbance. Still laughing they left the restaurant, Wesley forgot all about his fears for his younger sister believing that she had something good, a love that was making him and Tara envious.

Aria: It could be a circus: We’re getting hitched!

Aria continued to host gatherings for Major Chords; they even made Jose, who possessed no musically ability, an honorary member due to his provision of food to the group. Aria was the most proficient of the group, particularly on the violin, she would play for hours, losing herself in the rhythm, seemingly at one with the bow.  The group were captivated by her, hypnotised by the sound, as they tucked into Jose’s food, conversation lost between mouthfuls and music.

Inspired, Jose privately practised the violin hoping he could contribute more than full stomachs at these gatherings.  Music did not come naturally; his fingers fell clumsily over the strings as the bow screeched across them. Creative talents did not lend themselves to all the arts, setting the instrument down, he decided some talents were best admired and not imitated. The dream of surprising Aria with a beautiful serenade on their wedding day was tossed aside, opting to stick to fashion design and writing.

Aria refused to give up on her soccer dreams; she spent hours honing her skills on the pitch, whilst spending much of her remaining free time choreographing new routines. The previous dance captain had left the club after her relationship with the men’s teams star player broke down. During the warm-up, he turned his sights on Aria, inappropriately complementing her outfit, flexibility and off-hand comments about other her physical attributes.  Aria gave him a clear response that she was and never would be interested in him, a rejection he did not take too kindly. Rather than the crude compliments, the player issued derogatory commentary on the conduct and appearance of the head cheerleader, an effort to sully Aria’s good name and standing, making claims about why she was so prudish in public, yet he claimed in private he had rejected her less than subtle advances. Aria kept trying to shrug it off, she focused on leading the cheer squad. After the match Aria confronted him, trying to reason with him, to understand why he felt the need to make accusations and innuendos. He babbled some nonsense about his right to free speech and laughed as she struggled with her anger regarding his treatment of her and other cheerleaders. Calming down, Aria decided to take this to her manager, only the player beat her to it, laying down his story, backed by a couple of others on the team. She was discredited, her complaint viewed with suspicion that it was her as the jilted would-be lover. The manager threatened to have her dropped from the team if she didn’t stop harassing their top player. Aria focused her anger on the punch bag, imagining taking the star player down a peg or two, she finally understood why no-one stayed too long in the cheer squad.

Work was a great distraction from the wedding planning; Aria knew she should be excited about the whole process. She was worried about the numbers of people they would need to invite, family, friends, work colleagues, then there was the venue, the catering, not to mention the dress. What was supposed to be their special day felt more like a circus with hundreds of people staring at Aria. On the field it didn’t matter, most people were watching the game, plus she was one of sixteen, so she never felt the main focus, but a wedding, it was all about the happy couple. People she barely knew fawning over them, being expected to smile, to be polite and courteous. Aria nodded that it was all ok whenever she was asked how it was going; only Jose could see the strain she was under. He didn’t have family and most of his good friends were people he had met through Aria. Making a few phone calls Jose laid out the outfits they had worn on their first night out, the salmon shirt and that fitted orange dress. The church next door was cleaned up by Tara and Wesley, an arch decorated with flowers placed at the front.  Jose made a selection of dishes and a single tiered wedding cake.

In the evening when Aria finished work, Jose sent her a message to wear the outfit he had laid out then meet him in the churchyard. Waiting for her, dressed smartly in blue shirt and black trousers, was Wesley and by the door, wearing a white shirt, was Parker, for once not in prison. Aria was suspicious of their presence but linking arms with her brothers, she walked into the church, her eyes filling with tears as she realised Jose had arranged for their wedding to be quiet and private. Tara stood next to Jose as his “best man”, crying as Aria became the first in four generations to marry. It was perfect, a very intimate occasion, Aria beamed, her heart fluttering at the personal vows Jose had written just for her. At the house, her Major Chords group were there providing the entertainment, and laying out the food Jose made earlier. There was no need for unruly fights with the caterer or drunken outbursts at the bar, getting hitched it seemed did not need to be complicated, just a handful of people sharing the love Jose and Aria had for each other.

Aria: Love is… Burnt Eggs on Warm Bread

Leonne always seemed to have it together, even with five unruly children running around, the house was always clean and tidy, the food was amazing. Aria couldn’t understand why her attempts at domestic life always seemed to head very quickly towards disaster. She wanted to surprise Jose by cooking up some breakfast before work, nothing too fancy or challenging. Her usual breakfast had always been cereal or a ham sandwich, anything that didn’t involve turning on the oven. Anxiously she pulled out the frying pan, today’s challenge was to be scrambled eggs on toast. It should have been so simple, crack a few eggs into a pan, mix them around until they are fluffy lumps. Unfortunately, the combination of a hot stove and too much oil created a brief emittance of fire. Panicking Aria hit the flames with her spatula, hoping that she and the kitchen were not going to be set alight. She stared at the pan defeated by the effects and the half-burnt offerings, her head and shoulders slumped as she carefully placed the better chunks of egg on the warmed bread. Jose bit his lips, before smiling sympathetically, his eyes full of love and admiration for the effort she was putting in. Despite knowing the food was awful, Aria watched him polish off the meal minus a few bits of eggshell. Jose thanked her as he cleared away the dishes, he knew she wanted to apologise for how dreadful her cooking was, but Jose was already suggesting she should cook breakfast more often. Aria knew he was teasing, and she vowed to surprise him one day.

Aria trained regularly, more competitively in her role, catching the attention of the head coach. The soccer try-outs were her chance to shine outside of her crazy dance routines, to show she was not just good at cheering, but a spontaneous team player. Aria’s physique had always been slender, easily lending herself to the flexible demands of the dance routine. Her interest in weight training and boxing had defined her muscles, the combination provided a great basis for the skills she needed on the field. She could already outrun most of the other players, what held her back, was indecision. There were choices on the horizon, they affected her potential career path and her private life. Competitive sport was the path her current role was taking, it was a shorter career path, but one that could see her delaying aspects of her personal life since Jose was keen to start a family. On the flip side, Aria loved the weight training, the strict discipline of diet, exercise, sleep and life, the routine had been so rewarding. It was a path that came with a more self-satisfying incentive, a career with longevity which included inspiring the next generation of budding athletes and normal folks to be the best version of themselves. Both paths would be a challenge and it was one she had to decide on very soon.

Settling into a rhythm Jose felt his career as a style influencer was beginning to show signs of progression. He kept writing about the latest designs and commenting on what was trending on the catwalk. The last promotion gave him a digital sketchpad to start creating his ideas, he took it with him to watch Aria lead the cheer squad. He could tell, behind the big flirtatious smile, Aria was disappointed not to make the cut this season. She knew to move from Cheerleader to team play was a big change, the work she had put in just seemed to have been for nothing, and all the praise from the coach, were they merely patronising her, not taking her seriously?

In Willow Creek it was perpetual summer, the lush green park with an array of purples, pinks and oranges scattered around, filling the air with fragrant scents. Jose was a little distracted on the drive over, his mind wandering over the time he had known Aria, the future he wanted to share with her. They walked around the pond looking for frogs, Aria giggled as Jose attempted to catch some fish to grill, almost falling in! In the end they settled on the hotdogs Aria had packed just in case.

School was still in session as they wandered over by the playground, Aria recalled the spaceship she and her sister used to play on when they were young, and how she wished the hard sandy ground would suddenly soften, becoming cloud-like, carrying her away to a real adventure. Jose was always slightly jealous of Aria’s family-orientated life, the orphanage had a broken tree house and a ball between twenty of them, he quickly dismissed the thought, today was about the two of them. Never one to shy away from showing affection or his love for Aria, Jose spun her around, dipping her into a kiss.

Aria was far more discreet with her emotions, turning pink as onlookers smiled at them. Jose had so much to say, about his love for her, the quirkiness of her personality, the enthusiasm with which she played the violin. Pulling out a notebook, Jose had practised his poetry to emphasis the words, to tell his already embarrassed girlfriend, of his eternal love for her. Dropping to one knee, his poem concluded with his intention, the reason for the trip to Willow Creek in particular. Aria gazed at the single set diamond ring in his hands, heart skipping a beat, breath caught between in and out, as she nodded offering her left hand. 

Aria: Lost and Loved

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.

Aria: The Man Next Door

Aria struggled to make friends, having only really spoken to her siblings, or herself in the mirror. It took a lot of courage to seize any opportunity to make new friends. It was through her love of music that Aria was able to make her first friends via a club called Major Chords. Although she had taken her mother’s advice and got a job as a team mascot, through her new friends she was still able to pursue her passion for the creative arts by learning to sing and playing the violin.

Finding time to spend with her favourite brother Wesley was difficult; aside from their jobs, Del Sol Valley, a city the size of LA separate them, travelling took hours. Since Aria’s confidence was growing from both her new social life and her job, she found talking to Wesley and her siblings far easier, she also took less of their nonsense. Wesley was still trying to earn enough money to start his own restaurant, but it was tough. Tara was between jobs and Parker had landed himself in trouble again. It was typical family life, just without Buffy-Anne, from whom no-one had any contact

One of the best things to come out of the move was the hot neighbour, Jose Rodriguez. He worked as a Style Influencer for a local magazine but was trying to make a career from writing Children’s books.

Things were a little awkward at first, Aria, had only socialised with her siblings and hadn’t quite grasped that she needed a little more reserve with others, her music friends were as quirky as she so it never occurred to her that the rest of the world might not be so kind and friendly. Nonetheless their friendship grew through the enjoyment of simple things such as cloud gazing and chatting about everyday things. Like her ancestor, Jose had no idea where he came from, having been brought up in an orphanage, he felt lucky to have the life he now lived and was a little reluctant to let Aria into his life. Jose was only trying to protect himself, a fear of abandonment he had felt all his life.

Aria wanted to know Jose better in every sense of the word. Grabbing her sister Tara, the three of them headed to San Myshuno, to experience the flea market and maybe find a bargain or two. It was brilliant and very relaxed, even the street performer was good. There weren’t any eye-catching bargains in the city that day, but Aria had certainly Jose’s eye, as much as he tried to deny it. Heading home they stopped off in a park. Tara struck up the barbecue while Jose and Aria played chess. Their game was full of distractions as their mutual attraction turned each move into a series of little flirtations. It wasn’t their intention to make Tara feel left out but seeing Aria so happy made Tara storm off. Aria chased after her, Tara explained that Aria shouldn’t need a chaperone to go on a date, despite Aria’s protests that is wasn’t like that at all, Tara still felt like a third wheel. Jose didn’t want to come between the sisters so he and Aria dialled back their feelings so they could all continue enjoying the beautiful afternoon they had been blessed with.

At work, an opportunity to advance was too good to miss for Aria; she was tired of being the mascot, it was no fun being dressed as a Llama for several hours a day, it was summer, and as she left work in desperate need of a shower, she knew she needed a change. Alongside dance lessons, Aria got to the gym more often; she saw an opportunity to move to the cheer squad which required strict discipline. She roped in a friend to help her train. Although her thoughts wandered over to Jose, she had to put him to the back of her mind long enough to secure this promotion. It worked, Aria ditched the oversized costume in favour of some Lycra and a financial bonus

Aria: A Fresh Start

Leonne Grace (front, centre) was the third generation of her known family. Her grandmother Athena Grace was brought up in an orphanage just outside Oasis Springs. Nothing is known about where she came from or why she found herself alone in this world, but she chose a life that would influence daughter and granddaughter. It was one that revolved around her family, something Athena had craved her whole life. She never married but had several children who she inspired to follow their dreams. Leonne’s mother Joanna shared the big family dream which only Leonne followed and neither of them felt like settling with a husband, only the desire to have children.

Buffy-Anne (back, centre) had been ill most of her life. It was fitting that when she came of age, she jumped at the chance to travel. Her ticket to the world outside was through medicine as she pursued her career as a doctor. She travelled to far flung places where contact with the rest of the world was often difficult. It wasn’t long before she seemed to have all but vanished from Leonne’s life. It devastated her not knowing where her daughter was, or if she was alright; this made her far more protective of her younger children.

The younger siblings were sets of twins, Parker (back, right) and Wesley (back, left). Parker hated being told what to do, having been a straight A student in school, Leonne had high hopes for her son. He had genius, wit and excelled in whatever he set his mind to. He was however unkind to his youngest sister Aria due to her shy and quiet demeanour. He also fell in with some bad people, his first crime, saw him let off with a warning, something Leonne hoped he would learn from; unfortunately, this was not the case. He was clever, learning from his errors, he became a master criminal in no time, and this devastated his mother, Leonne, to the core, how could she be failing her family. His twin Wesley was far more settled, he had watched his mother in the kitchen, helping her bake, and prepare food. She had inspired at least one of her children to cook and enjoy the experience. Wesley had big dreams of owning and running his own restaurant, but for now he found happiness working in someone else’s kitchen.

The youngest twins, Tara (front, left) and Aria (front, right) were also polar opposites. Tara was outgoing, outspoken and wanted to experience everything the world had to offer. She never remained in one place for too long; she didn’t like to put down roots. Once she understood the basics of something or someone, she moved on to the next challenge. Leonne found this sad, because her daughter could achieve so much if she just persevered, but she also found it amusing, as Tara always became so animated when she started her next venture.

Aria Grace was a quite child, she loved to draw and play the violin. Although Wesley and Tara adored her, neither spent much time with her so Aria always stayed close to their mother. Leonne could see so much of herself in Aria, but she wanted to break the chain of simply focusing on a life around children. Leonne entrusted the family home to Wesley and took Aria from the desert lands of Oasis Springs to the lush green space of Newcrest, hoping the change of scenery and the distance from her siblings would draw her out of her shell. Leonne actively encouraged Aria towards an active career path, something more stable than being an artist