Aria: Is there such a thing as too cosy?

Their tiny home was perfect for raising toddlers, nestled in their nursery the twins were close and played together without incident. Flash forward into childhood and nothing could be further from the truth. Rylan was wild, he had been active as a tot, now he was a rambunctious scamp, when he couldn’t get to the park he was tormenting his sister or driving his parents crazy running around the house, trampling mud throughout. His latest pleasure when he was sent to their still shared bedroom was shaking paints all over the floor. Jose warned him several times about this, but it fell on deaf ears with tantrums and complaints.

Ziva they believed would be a social butterfly, surrounded by friends, a child they would worry less about getting into trouble. Although it was true Ziva made friends easily, she preferred those who liked to play chess, read, and study. Academically Ziva excelled from day one, unlike the creative nature of her parents and brother, she was bound by numbers, logic and a desire to learn in a more structured way.

Jose could feel the years no longer creeping but catapulting him into old age with all the typical signs, grey hair, aching back and trousers that seemed to fit yesterday, having suddenly shrunk by an inch or two around the waist. Blowing out candles on yet another birthday cake made him wonder more about the future, he imaged Ziva being a politician or in public relations, with Rylan either joining the military, police or even following in Aria’s footsteps, as long as it kept him out of trouble, besides he could use the discipline. Jose was the go-to guy for all the random, often silly questions the children came up with/ When Rylan was miffed about a birthday present he received, Jose told him to be grateful, since it was the thought that counted. Rylan shrugged, threw it on the table and went off to watch some TV. Ziva excelled in debating everything including the benefits and the lack of nutrition found in dirt, in the end, it was a question of whether she should eat it because a girl at school had done. It was all urgent, Aria rarely got these, she was their go-to for homework assistance.

Packing up their home took ages with Rylan unpacking things, his bad temper putting a bigger strain on his already stressed parents. They had found a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, with a large kitchen diner, perfect for hosting and keeping Aria’s weight machine. The garden was large enough to buy a spaceship for the children to play on and Jose insisted on buying a barbecue for those summer parties. All the excitement of the move was overshadowed by the death of Wesley, having passed silently in the night leaving Tara alone in Oasis Springs. Aria tried to persuade her to move to Newcrest, but she insisted everything was fine and that she was fine on her own.

Rylan it seemed was hitting the moody teens early, coming home from school he slammed his bedroom door, refusing to come downstairs. They looked to Ziva who dropped her head muttering about needing to do her homework. Over the next few weeks, Jose tried to get Rylan to open up about what was happening at school, but Rylan lashed out, calling his father names, at the weekend this rage was targeted at his sister. Things got worse when Rylan found a love letter Ziva had written to their teacher Mr Sargent. She was doing so well in his class, her books were covered in equations and hearts with his name in it. Whilst inappropriate, Jose didn’t see the harm, he confiscated it and gave her a new book to work from

Aria: Tots Know How to Party!!

All this quality time as at home had enhanced Jose cooking skills; experimenting with new flavours and textures. It wasn’t easy, every meal was being criticised by two toddlers with very discernible taste buds. For some reason, it made Jose nervous when his brother-in-law visited. Wesley, although retired was still serious about food, although he never complained, Jose felt his dishes were still under scrutiny, making him almost too afraid to ask if it was enjoyable. Aria thought he was being silly, the Major Chords would not continue to meet here if the food on offer was poor. Besides, surely his children’s opinion was all that mattered.

For Ziva, the abundance of guests was exhilarating, Aria and Jose struggled to put her to bed, she wanted to stay up, talking to everyone about princesses, mummy’s plants and Rylan playing in the potty, the latter making Jose cringe. Rylan was less keen on the number of people, however, he loved listening to music, he would bop along for hours, for what he lacked in communication skills he made up for in boundless energy no matter how much sleep he had. They had to surrender letting them both stay up past bedtime, Ziva would fall asleep first curled up on a chair or in Wesley’s arms, Rylan would bounce until the guests started leaving, then out like a light when his head hit the pillow.

Birthdays were coming around so quickly, they had checked out the local school, even taking the twins to have a look around at where they would spend the next few years. The twin’s bond would certainly be tested, Ziva they felt would be fine since she was vocal and outgoing, but Rylan hid behind Jose as they toured the classrooms, not keen on the idea of the bigger children

The Newcrest Bowling Alley had finally opened its doors, the timing couldn’t be better. Jose remembered playing there as a teen, it was a fair few years ago, he hoped he still had some moves to show off. Taking the lead, he lined up with the right-hand side pin of the second row, he dropped to a curtsy as he swung the ball back, stepping forward as he launched the ball down the alley. The bowling ball veered off to the left falling into the gutter. Jose rolled his shoulders and stretched out, it was a bad shot, but he needed to brush it off as a practice shot.

Aria was up next, she had been observing the lane on the other side, she took a few strides towards the lane swinging her arm back then dropping into the throw, it shot down the alley taking out a few pins, she wasn’t able to clear any more with that turn, but it was a technique that worked for her most of the time.

Rylan started with relative confidence, the ball, however, was heavier than he thought, he tried desperately to hold it, then as he moved forward, the silly gripless shoes slid on the smooth wooden surface, the ball bounced off the bumpers and down the lane taking out a couple of pins. Rylan landed on his bottom, falling back and staring up at the ceiling. He cringed with embarrassment, knowing there were a few children around who would be at the school on Monday. It was Ziva who took the win for their first night out, by copying her mother’s technique, and with the help of the bumpers knocked down most of the pins each turn. She was very proud of herself, excited about school and figured life was pretty awesome

Aria: Broken toys and Temper Tantrums

Jose made the most of every second he had with his twins, they would not be this small and cute for long. Aria preferred it when they were asleep, she would sit and watch them for the few hours they were quiet. Taking time for themselves and each other remained important, Wesley was away travelling a lot, gathering recipes for his new restaurant, leaving Auntie Tara gushing over them when Jose and Aria needed their alone time.

As toddlers, Rylan showed himself to be very independent. He was fascinated by the world around him, everything around the house needed to be handled, tested and if his parents were not watching, dropped on the floor to see if it would break. Getting out of the house meant more excitement such as inspecting Aria’s poor quality vegetables and attempting to eat worms; all perfectly normal in Rylan’s mind. Ziva was his opposite, she was angelic, certainly the one the Major Chords enjoyed meeting the most. What she hated more than anything was when her mother left for work, she would run out the front door, along the path, her eyes filled with tears, Jose following carrying Rylan, trying to stop her.

The bond between Rylan and Ziva was growing stronger with each day, there was no squabbling over toys or hair pulling, they each had their interests. Rylan liked solid tangible objects, his building blocks and toy box. Ziva, although she enjoyed her dolls house she preferred the tablet; given the chance she would never put it down, pouting whenever the battery died or she was told it was time for bed. Their similarities evolved around their love of food, particularly fish, with the TV on the twins preferred the sofa to their high chairs, enjoying their dinner, babbling about bananas.

When it came to learning their manners, Ziva acted up, rhyming her name to Diva, stomping her foot and running off, back to the games and videos on her tablet. Jose was forced to confiscate the device, her screams and tears giving him a headache; he let her pout, arms folded on the sofa whilst he played the same game with Rylan. The curious nature of his son meant he seemed interested in the concept of games, his head tilting side to side, in reality, Rylan just loved listening to his father’s voice. Jose could be telling him about the contents of the bin, Rylan didn’t care, as long as dad was talking he would focus on that sound when the lesson ended, he toddled off looking for mischief.

Their personalities were starting to assert themselves, as were their skills, despite her love for the digital, Ziva excelled in communication, imagination and movement, being the first to be independent with the potty. Rylan was slower in his skill-building, although he was always thinking about the world around him, it was clear it was more focused on what trouble he could get into or cause. He flourished creatively and loved bopping along to the stereo. He wasn’t much for talking, his silence worried Aria as it generally meant mischief. There was often flour or paints being thrown about or something broken. Afterwards, he would run into the lounge staring at his parents, giggle, then run off to hide.

Whilst Jose chose to let his career take a back seat to his family, his progression remained steady. The interest in trends waned as Jose’s joy was painting and spending his time with his family. Aria felt supported to keep driving hers forward. Having had two babies did not make her life easier to maintain her shape, there was often a lot of snacking, treats and munching on leftovers, but as the competition got closer her efforts to get fitter and more toned were tripled. Aria wanted to show her daughter a strong, positive role model, and being finally placing first in the amateur bikini comp was all she needed to take her position with the pros.

Aria: Wondering if we are ever going to get it all figured out?

Aria was fed-up of her long hair feeling greasy, getting in the way when she trained. She had very little time to put into caring for it, those long black locks spent most of their time scooped up off her neck. It was time for a radical change, without warning her husband Aria opted for a very short feathered style, highlighted mint green, it was far easier to manage, and gave her pretty much a wash and go look. Jose was stunned, almost chopping his finger as he diced the carrots for his stew. If beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, he was certainly enjoying the view, although the look gave her a more mature image, it complimented her still very youthful face.

Jose wanted to get a head start on the nursery, although they had not started trying for a baby, he made plans to add a small room, just off their bedroom for their future little one. Letting his inner artist create pictures to amuse the child as they grew up. Not wanting Aria to feel under any pressure, he purchased books on parenting, keen to get ideas on how to hold, comfort and wean the newborn. The books were kept hidden, although the work on the additional room, was not very convincingly looking like the on-suite he told Aria about. Not that she really mind, Aria smiled, playing along with Jose less than subtle approach. She ponders their future, the chaos that a baby would bring, unpredictable but so much more love. She was still struggling to break into the professional Body Building competitions, she missed out on qualifying so many times initially in the Bikini open, then in the figure, the amateur competitions were tough, coming so close to placing was frustrating. With another figure comp lined up, Aria decides regardless of the outcome she can’t put off a family much longer.

Aria managed to place third, giving her the confidence to believe she could make the move to the professionals, that however was something to be put on hold, she had made herself, and Jose a promise. Jose took her for a romantic meal, the new restaurant had a rooftop dining area with stunning views of Newcrest. They knew their home was green, but seeing it from so high up, with the stars, it was impressive. As Jose gazed into Aria eyes, he realises in that very moment he has found his soulmate, no matter what happens in their life from this moment they would be always together, tonight was perfect.

Over the coming months, in between writing his 6th children’s book ‘Light in the Mountains’ Jose continued working on the nursery. His excitement tripled as Aria started to show, her petite athletic figure remained with the growth completely focused on her stomach. Aria worried that she would never return to her slender frame if she kept growing at such a rate, surely a baby did not require so much space?

Parker was on the run, Wesley doubted they would be seeing him again, leaving him and Tara to fuss over the expectant little sister. They had so many name suggestions, parenting tips and were offering to babysit often. Aria rolled her eyes, the thought of her brother and sister trying to juggle their lives around spending time with their niece or nephew every week, it was highly amusing. Jose enjoyed the interaction, jokingly suggesting they should prepare themselves for baby number two, he’d quite like to know if this sibling dynamic was inherited. Aria sighed, she had yet to master domestic duties, one baby was plenty, especially at the rate they were currently growing!!

Aria had been dreaming as her body moved into the first stages of labour, curled up in her bed, Jose rearranging the numerous cuddly toys he had bought. A green spectral figure, long blonde hair pulled on top of her head, her doctors coat buttoned up, the face familiar, Buffy-Anne. The image, words of comfort, stayed with her as she pushed through the pain. Buffy-Anne looked so happy like she had had the most amazing life, she had apologised for not being there, but would always be by her side as the next generation came in the world. Aria, like her mother and grandmother, was the youngest her Grace generation, the strongest, they always made the best mothers. The spasm from her stomach, her waters breaking, Aria jolted, her cry interrupting Jose’s focus, teddies flew as Jose switched into panic mode, grabbing her hospital baby and almost forgetting to call the taxi.

Jose discovers very quickly he was made to be a hands-on dad immediately taking to his son Rylan, whilst Aria got to grips with the reason her stomach had been so big. Twins run in the family, Rylan’s twin sister Ziva made their little family complete. Fussing over two very demanding babies who had their own sleeping patterns made for a very interesting time. Luckily Jose continued to work from home, enabling Aria to continue training her clients, and pushing the limits of her body. The biggest distraction from her training was spending time wondering what personalities were currently sleeping in their cribs.

Aria: Oh No! I have Grey hair!!! Seriously, this is my mid-life crisis

Since the wedding, their work/life balance seemed to be hard to manage. Aria was busy building her client base at the local gym. It was a small venue, a pool and changing area on the ground floor and a large open space area upstairs divided into three sections, boxing, cardio and weights. Aria thrived on the boxing side of the gym with her clients but focused her own training on the weights. She planned to enter a bodybuilding competition one day, which had started to create some friction in her marriage. On the social side, Aria was nominated as group leader for the Major Chords. She and Jose hosted the majority of their gatherings, with Wesley, Tara and occasionally Parker, in attendance. It was essentially starting to feel more like a Grace family gathering with less emphasis on playing music and more dancing, eating and conversation.

Jose could feel the months turning into years, glancing in the mirror he noted the increased wrinkles forming around his eyes, the furrowing of his brow, and the tired aching of his body as he struggled to keep up with Aria’s late nights and early mornings. He was the wrong side of 40, a little plumper and still struggling to break away from writing about trends and into generating them. Friends and in-laws warned him how quickly time seemed to slip away, the flecks of grey were barely visible at his temples, yet he could see them, even if Aria pretended not to. Jose desperately wanted to start his family before it was too late, it was a shame Aria was so distracted. He loved how confident, outgoing and vibrant the freedom of personal training had made her, although sometimes he did miss the quiet quirky woman he had initially met.

It came as a shock when Jose turned up at the coffee shop where Aria had her lunch with some exciting news. He had finally been recognised, now all he needed to do was decide how he planned to tell others how to dress. Jose felt that simply working with one person at a time was too slow, it was great to improve peoples images but he had bigger plans. Tt involved gathering impressions and inspiration from the world around him. Jose was not just going to advise others what to wear, he was going to create styles and looks that they wanted to wear, a true trendsetter with an amazing and unique style.

It was certainly a time for celebration, for the briefest of moments Jose felt the way he had when they were young, in love and the whole world lay at their feet. They maintained a strong social presence, Jose feeling revitalised by his promotion, he started to spoil Aria with a few more trips to Chez Llama in Oasis Springs. In a new pink dress, Aria paused their flirtatious conversation, her silence intriguing Jose. She had secretly been practising her singing, mainly enjoying the acoustics of the bathroom, opening her mouth, Aria erupted into song. The beautiful, soulful voice captured the attention of the other diners, Jose felt adored, sitting in the middle of their favourite restaurant, he couldn’t believe he was married to this amazing woman.

The remainder of their evening was quieter, Jose planned to discuss their future, with their careers, they continued to embark on advancements, socially they had a wonderful group of friends, but Jose wanted more, he wanted children with Aria. She was merely days away from her birthday placing them both halfway between the throws of youth and the golden age of their elder years. It was a potential turning point, a time to make that decision, Aria was still avoiding it, clinging on to her youth and confidence as though a baby would steal that away from her. Not to be misunderstood, Aria wanted children, she just hoped she could achieve one more goal before, to take her bodybuilding to a professional level.

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