What does a woman think about in the absence of love? Does she reflect on what once was and could have been? Perhaps she turns her back on the past and looks to the future. Any man who has studied her behavior and broken her heart will confess that she will forever remain as mysterious as the origins of the universe and as lovely as the idiom of God.
It is in this innocent intrigue that men are inspired to pursue a woman’s heart, to kiss her lips, and to taste ambrosia. Aurelio Valentino embarked on this endeavor the moment he saw Arabella. Her light brown hair pulled up in a bun revealed the caramel complexion of her slender neck. She had a smile that could stop time, and the honey in her eyes leveled him. He approached the way one comes to the sea and introduced himself with an extended hand.
She observed him with indifference and turned away. But he persisted with the hope of learning her name, hearing her voice, and memorizing her smile. Her silence intended to dissuade him but had the opposite effect. For it is known that men want what they cannot have. He knelt before her as she remained seated on the bench and asked her name, but she did not reply. The two girls seated on either side of her watched, amused. It wasn’t that they doubted his intentions because they were familiar with the handsome suitor.
Aurelio Valentino, no stranger to the preambles of love had been popular among the girls in his social circle. A bolero who recited romantic poetry from memory and played matchmaker among his friends, because he believed destiny placed soul mates close enough to find each other, but just far enough to require assistance being guided to love.
And she, with her nineteen years behind her recognized the initial raindrops of courtly love. His persistence and his poetry impressed her, but it did not convince her of the genuineness of his intentions. Men, as she had observed both young and old, had a penchant for beginning their pursuits at a sprint without ever learning that they merely needed to proceed with patience. Though they hope to be granted access to a woman’s hearts, they innately craved the thrill of the chase.
In the case of Aurelio Valentino, his desire to win Arabella’s affections was not an endeavor undertaken in vain. She carried herself with a natural haughtiness, her chin up, her hazel eyes keen, her steps confident as her arms swayed elegantly. Everything about her presence the form of her full lips, her arched eyebrows, and her high cheekbones that she inherited from her mother and the softness in her voice epitomized what it meant to be a woman.
She had met the two young ladies at her side shortly after arriving on the island two months ago. Though they encouraged Arabella to leave herself open to the possibilities of love, she remained apprehensive about the stranger. She stood without revealing her name. Her accomplices followed suit. She led her companions through the crowd, and Aurelio followed. She quickened her pace around the parade, and the tables of the merchants selling trinkets, and the carts carrying fruits, and the sound of sizzling meats—the scent of seasoning intermingled with smoke—and the carnival rides flooded with children, still he followed.
Then, as the sun faded to the other side of the world, she joined her companions for the nightly walk during the festivities around the plaza. Women walked in groups of twos and threes, sometimes arm and arm, while men lined the perimeter of the walkway on both sides. Upon establishing eye contact, the men waited for another pass to approach. Aside from perpetuating the Old-World custom of letting men make the first move, his action became a public declaration of his intentions. For women, it became an opportunity to reveal her receptiveness of her suitor’s interest with conversation, or to politely decline with silence.
When Aurelio saw her disappear into the crowd of women circling the plaza with her companions on either side of her, he formulated a plan to get her attention in a unique fashion. He turned back and raced to the merchants. He found a woman selling flowers and quickly decided on a red Chrysanthemum. Though it symbolizes fidelity and optimism, the red one does convey love, he thought to himself as he handed the merchant a few coins. He returned to the plaza hoping to arrive at the same time she circled back around. He searched for her among the crowd of passing and approaching women, but she was nowhere in sight. Guessing that he must have missed her, he turned to the groups of women whose backs were to him, and he recognized her hair, her open shouldered top, and her doe’s gait.
Aurelio shouldered past the men beside him to get a clear shot, and like an expert dartsman he steadied his aim before launching the flower—stem first—at his target. He threw it past three rows of women, and it found its mark in Arabella’s hair. The men cheered. It landed just above her ear, nestled like a decorative piece he once described in a poem: I saw her once when she was standing there; she had the loveliest smile with flowers in her hair.
She glanced over her shoulder upon retrieving the flower and smiled.
Aurelio waited for her again, his anticipation building with each passing second. His heart skipped a beat when she turned the corner again. This time she stood on the far-right side of her companions. She held the flower with both hands and pretended not to see him. He stepped forward into the flow of women, a river of femininity carrying the hopes of men beneath the moon. Aurelio bowed and introduced himself again. She smiled without reply and continued past him. He turned on his heel with the deftness of a dancer and fell in step beside her.
“May I accompany you on your stroll this lovely evening señorita?” Aurelio gazed into her hazel eyes, but she stared straight ahead.
“No one is preventing you.” Her heart pounded against her breasts. A gentle breeze played with the loose strands of her hair. It was a peaceful night, the twelfth of December. Aurelio walked beside her, cleared his throat, and began to sing a song. He loved ballads as much as he loved books.
“Are you auditioning for a talent contest?” Arabella asked as she finally turned to meet his gaze.
Beside her, Aurelio saw her companions smiling, mischievous glints in their eyes.
“I am auditioning for your heart,” Aurelio interrupted his singing.
“I assure you I am not a contest.” She turned her chin up and followed the procession as it turned a corner.
“Ah, but would you kindly accept the compliment that your beauty is worth the effort of winning over?”
“I am more than just my appearance,” Arabella met his gaze.
“Indeed, you are,” he agreed, “and I want to learn everything about you before it’s too late.”
“Too late for what?” She cast him a perplexed glance.
“Before it’s too late to begin forever in this lifetime.”
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