12 Months of Romance | 24 Reasons to Love: A Holiday Anthology sneak peek at Erleen Alvarez’s story, Begin Again.
Two years after her breakup, twenty-six-year-old Juliana Arevalo is still not ready to join the single-and-ready-to-mingle group on Valentine’s Day. She’d rather treat herself to a fancy dinner than get wasted at a club. But her plans take an unexpected turn when her ex-boyfriend shows up at the restaurant with his new girlfriend.
Good thing Angelo Hidalgo, Juliana’s attractive officemate, is there to rescue her. He’s single, charming, and he makes her forget the reason why she’s so guarded. Can one unexpected night change her mind to begin again?
“No wonder you’d rather spend Valentine’s with your parents. They’re so cute,” I tell Angelo as we eat our fettuccine Alfredo.
“Just them?” he says.
After I met Mr. and Mrs. Hidalgo, they asked me if I could let Angelo stay with me at my table while they had their Valentine’s dinner. Apparently, he has been joining their Valentine’s dates since he was six years old. They have been deprived of one-on-one dates for twenty years; who am I to refuse their request?
I keep telling myself that this is not a date. We’re just two people eating Valentine’s dinner and drinking wine together at the same table. It doesn’t have to mean anything.
“Cute is not the word I would use to describe you,” I replied.
“Then what word would you use?”
He tilts his head a little. “I was hoping you’d say good-looking, but unreal is okay, too.”
“I bet you hear that word a lot.”
“Not as often as you think.” He smiles. “Well, what do you mean by unreal, anyway? Does that mean I’m at the level of unicorns, dragons, and the Abominable Snowman?”
What I really mean is, he’s too good to be true. He’s charming, intelligent, and caring. He’s also family-oriented and still single. That last one still boggles my mind. I don’t think he’s gay, though. The way he looked at me earlier definitely had something in it. I can’t help but think he’s either a limited edition or a rare breed of the male species.
“Then I’ll take it.”
I turn my gaze away from him to watch his parents. They are having a normal conversation about the food, but they look like they’re having the time of their life. This must be what a healthy relationship looks like.
I wouldn’t know. I am a product of a broken family. I was brought up in a dysfunctional environment, and it became my norm. That’s probably why I stayed with Ryan for three years and took me so long to see what was wrong with that relationship.
Mr. Hidalgo offers his hands to his wife, and she gladly takes them. They stand and walk to an open space at the front, where a small dance floor is situated. They sway together to the soft instrumental music, their heads on each other’s shoulders. I think the other customers felt envious of the older couple, so they also take their partners and spouses to the dance floor.
My heart feels like bursting just looking at them. That’s what I want to find, the grow-old-together kind of love. But how can I find it? Will I recognize it if it presents itself to me?
“Would you like to dance?” Angelo says beside me.
My heart leaps. I don’t know if it’s because of surprise or because of an unknown reason. Well, it’s just a dance, I tell myself. No need to overthink it.
“Okay,” I say.
We follow his parents to the dance floor. I place my hands on his shoulders, still unsure of what I’ve gotten myself into. He holds on to my waist, and I gasp at the contact. He gently pulls me closer to him, and my hands drop to his firm chest. If he pulls me in a little more, he will feel the stampede happening inside my heart. The feeling is familiar yet foreign at the same time.
I can feel the warmth coming off him, and I start to relax. It’s weird how safe and secure I feel despite how close we are. I intertwine my fingers behind his neck and stare at him. He has a small smile on his lips as we slowly move to the music. He looks at me with solemn eyes, like he’s trying to see right through me. My strengths, weaknesses, imperfections, insecurities—all of it. I feel vulnerable in his eyes, but I don’t feel afraid. Not right now, not when his strong arms are around me in a protective and reassuring manner.
“It’s been a while since I slow danced with someone,” I tell him because I don’t know what else to say. “I think the last time I did this, I was still in college. I almost forgot how much I like it.”
“You haven’t dated a dance instructor, then?” he says.
I laugh. I didn’t know if he’s serious or he’s just being silly. “No…no, I haven’t. Have you?”
He starts telling me about the girl who taught Latin dances when he was in college and how he attended her classes despite having really uncoordinated feet. “She ended it after a year, but at least I learned how to dance the samba.” He grins, which makes me grin, too.
“Seems like you had a lot of fond memories about dating.”
He talks about his past relationship without any hint of regret or bitterness. I can tell he’s still glad he met her despite not ending up together. I can’t help but wonder how easy it is for him to open up to me. It takes so much trust to let other people in on your past—I would know.
“I’m sure you have those, too,” he says.
“Only a few, but I have had a lot of disastrous dates.”
“Is that why you don’t have a date today?”
“No, I’ve taken a hiatus from dating.”
“Since two years ago.”
“You haven’t been on a date for two years?”
“Well, I’d been on a date just recently, but it was set up by my sister and I don’t count it as a date.”
“Well, it’s like a call you get on your day off that says you have to come over to the office. You don’t like it, but you have to do it. That’s how that date felt like to me.”
“I get it. So when is your hiatus going to end?”
“I’m not sure. Why?”
“So that I would know when to properly ask you out on a date.”
“Oh,” is all I can say as I look at his face. I don’t feel the anxiety that usually sets in when I get into these situations. I don’t have the urge to push him away or shut him down like the rest of the guys who’ve tried before him. And for the first time in a long time, I actually consider it.
“I’m not sure yet,” I say, “but soon, maybe.”
What do you think? Visit my page again tomorrow to catch a sneak peek at Ella Banta’s sci-fi LGBTQ story about White Day. Gay alien + human lover + chocolates = Epic holiday event!
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Fantasy to explore. Romance to devour.