Sylvia Mendoza's - Serenade
.......The salsa music wasn't loud enough, even though the floor vibrated beneath Julia Rios' high-heeled sandals. She closed her eyes and smiled, not minding one bit the way the backs of her thighs stuck to the uncomfortable folding chair. She breathed in deeply, taking in the beat until her body surrendered to it, and the muted chattering and laughter around her faded clean away.
.......This was bliss. If she could have, she would have cranked up the CD player even louder. As long as the rhythm ricocheted off the stuccoed walls of her aunt's dance studio, she was safe from any questions about her breakup with Francisco Cisco Valdez, one of the most eligible bachelors in town.
Certainly no one in their right mind would approach her at this decibel level.
.......She opened an eye a fraction to take a peek, then quickly shut it. "Lord, help me," she murmured.
.......The room was quickly filling. When word had leaked that she had enrolled in her aunt's salsa classes, enrollment had doubled. Julia had dragged juicy scandal, a real live soap opera, right to their front doorstep.
.......The youngest in the room by thirty years, Julia was surrogate daughter to the students streaming into the quaint room. They were more like an extended family of aunts and uncles. In their eyes, she had to answer to them.
.......Julia didn't have much hope for keeping them at bay for long. Her smile disintegrated at the realization.
.......As soon as the music stopped, they would demand details of her sorry love life, an added perk for their money. They expected explanations and the right to comfort her, swearing to help her find justice. All in the name of love, of course.
.......Elvira was ecstatic. Not for Julia's misery, but for the first time in years, a waiting list had formed. Julia was the best thing to happen to the studio since the Perez twins had actually met the actor, Andy Garcia, at Lindbergh Airport three years before.
.......Glad that business had skyrocketed for the studio yet again, Julia resigned herself to being the ultimate advertising campaign for her aunt. Elvira needed the break financially.
.......For the twentieth time, someone patted Julia's head.
.......Julia reluctantly opened her eyes. "Oh. Hello, Lorenza," she mouthed at the elderly woman who lived across the street, her aunt's eternal student and best friend.
.......The only one to brave the music, Lorenza leaned close to Julia's ear and shouted, "Did he dump you?"
.......Why had Julia thought a little loud music would deter anyone like Lorenza? Julia expected everyone in the room to lean forward for her answer. When no one else reacted, she pulled Lorenza's wrinkled hand off her head and held it. She shook her head, unwilling to shout back a response, because with her luck, the music would stop smack in the middle of her feeble attempt at explaining.
.......The sympathetic look in Lorenza's dark eyes,highlighted with fluorescent blue eye shadow today,said it all. She didn't believe Julia.
.......She took Julia's face between her hands and kissed her forehead. "Poor baby. Her whisper seemed as loud as her shouting. "That scumbag! If he wants to be mayor he better clean up his act. None of us will vote for him if he hurts you."
.......She yelled again. "I want to hear every detail!"
.......Julia nodded. Her time had run out
.......Lorenza bade her good-bye and paraded before the row of occupied chairs, her short party dress swishing around full legs.
.......She greeted everyone along the way with smiles and touches and hearty embraces. She found a seat at the end of the row and stuffed her white patent handbag underneath it. Immediately, several older gentlemen surrounded her, nobly ignoring the loud music to attempt conversation.
.......A stream of blue-haired ladies approached Julia and patted her head before making their way to the few remaining seats. Julia gave up trying to fix her hair. All those gestures of sympathy had reduced a sleek and professional style to a nestlike tuft on the top of her head. She shrugged. Small price to pay for a few more minutes of self-imposed solitary confinement
..............Her reverie crumbled when she caught Elvira's dour look, aimed, she was sure, at her. Maybe Julia had cranked the music up a little louder than bearable. She glanced around and discarded that thought. She and Elvira were probably the only two in the room who didn't need hearing aids.
.......Julia blew her a kiss. Elvira wagged a finger at Julia and smiled.
.......Elvira's ever-elegant ballerina body glided across the scarred but gleaming wood floor to the CD player. She barely turned down the music. The buzz of countless conversations grew loud again. She opened a folder and leaned over the table, studying its contents.
.......At sixty, with her hair pulled back into a sleek chignon, she sometimes looked younger than Julia's mother. She certainly was more approachable and less likely to stay disappointed in Julia's fiascoes or shortcomings than her mother.
.......Not only had Julia broken off her engagement to Cisco,the charismatic, front-runner for the upcoming mayoral race,she'd also left his father's prestigious public relations company. Many would call her a fool
.......Julia glanced around and sank into her seat. If there was one place she could melt into the woodwork, it was here in the studio, her home away from home. Her aunt's students would let her get her shaky self standing again. Then they'd smack her on the butt and tell her to get back to the task of living.
.......She looked up and her spirits instantly lifted. She couldn't help but smile and wave at the gentleman approaching.
.......Her grandpa returned the wave and walked toward her, his steps long and sure. His smile reached his eyes, twinkling behind the horn-rimmed glasses. His silver hair, slicked straight back from a high forehead, was never complete without the one Elvis Presley lock falling forward.
.......Julia reached up and grabbed his hand. "Save me, grandpa."
......."Ah-ah-ah. You had to know it would be like this, mi hija." He pulled around the chair she'd been saving for him so that he could face her.
.......She held his hand tightly, and leaned forward until their foreheads almost touched. "I did the right thing, Grandpa, I know I did. Everyone thinks I'm a fool, giving up Francisco's name and fame, but it wasn't important. I wanted that all-consuming love. Passion, friendship, respect. Everything.
.......>"Everyone thought you had that.".
.......She sighed. "So did I. Francisco is a great guy, but there just wasn't that spark. Besides, I would never have been as important to him as his next campaign. I want to love somebody the way you loved Grandma, and have somebody love me back just as much."
.......His eyes misted. He slowly rocked back and forth, memory taking him far beyond Julia, even though it had been years since Grandma had passed away. "Ah, yes, mi hija. That once in a lifetime love that makes you thank God daily and often times, count the hours until you're in each other's presence again." He closed his eyes and rocked again. "Yes, yes. But that's a gift, Julia. Just wanting it will not make it so."
.......Julia wanted to kick herself for changing the mood so drastically. "I guess I'm not ready then. Setting up my company is taking most of my time these days."
.......He shook his head. "Chiquita. Timing has nothing to do with when you fall in love. It's not something to be negotiated or planned out."
......."I know." Julia patted his hand. "I know, Grandpa. For now I just want to forget everything for four hours a week, right in this room. Promise you'll be my dance partner."
.......>He chuckled, the sparkle returning to his eyes. "Your aunt wouldn't allow that. Nor would I. You're going to have to face them all sooner or later."
.......He tucked her hair behind her left ear, his gaze sweeping over the top of her head. "I see they've tried to get you to talk already. Did they use the old torturing device"pulling your hair out one by one?"
.......Julia slipped her hand from his and crossed her arms. "Whose side are you on, anyway?"
.......Laughing, he managed, "Did they get anything out of you?"
......."Just Lorenza. A morsel."
......."Oh-oh. A morsel isn't a morsel to Lorenza. Anyone else?"
.......Julia shook her head.
.......>"You're safe for now. You'll feel better when you help your aunt. Dance with everyone here. Switching partners is what makes this fun." He leaned forward in his seat and waved at a tiny woman in a flowered dress at the end of their row.
....... >"I can see I'll get a lot of sympathy from you, grandpa."
......."Not in this room, with this music. But come on over for coffee and your uncle's pan dulce afterward, and I'll let you cry on my shoulder as long as you need." He glanced at his watch. "Well, until the early bird special at Denny's tonight."
.......He patted her cheek. "If you feel you did the right thing, you did the right thing. Marrying the wrong man for the sake of a name would have taken years off your life. Now just dance."
.......He kissed her, rose and walked toward the woman in the flowered dress....