It was Christmas day in the late afternoon and she was on her way to her sister, Loraine’s home for dinner. There was going to be the five of them. Loraine, her husband, Manolo and his younger brother, Raoul and his girlfriend, Galena. Raoul. Her heart begin to beat faster at the thought of seeing him again. The last time they saw each other it was in the summer at Manolo’s and Loraine’s barbecue.
He showed up alone. His girlfriend, Galena was visiting her family in Barcelona. He met her at a bar where he and a couple of his colleagues went after work one Thursday evening. She was there with her friends. His colleagues invited them to join them. He and she struck up a conversation and went on their first date on the Saturday evening. They had been dating long before Valentina and he met.
She never met Galena but had heard from Loraine how stunning she was and from Manolo what an attractive looking couple she and Raoul were. This evening she was finally going to meet this Spanish bombshell. Who could compete with that?
Sighing heavily, she walked up to the door and rang the doorbell after paying the cab fare. Manolo opened the door. He smiled when he saw her. “Hello, Val.” They hugged. “Come in. Let me take your coat. Loraine’s in the kitchen.”
“Something smells really good,” she remarked as she took off her coat and gave it to him.
“Yes. May I get you something to drink?”
“Not right now, thanks. I’ll go and see how Loraine is doing and if she needs any help.” She excused herself and went to the kitchen.
Loraine had just finished checking the turkey in the oven. She turned and smiled when she saw her younger sister. “Val,” she said, holding out her arms.
They hugged. “Do you need any help?” Valentina asked.
“Not right now. Everything is almost done. I’ll need you help taking the things into the dining-room.”
“All right. Here’s the Holiday Honeycrisp Salad which I whipped up a couple of hours before coming here.”
Loraine took the bowl from her. “This looks amazing,” she exclaimed. “I will put it in the fridge until we’re ready for it.”
“So, what’s for dinner?”
“Besides the turkey with stuffing, we have Mashed Sweet Potatoes, wild-rice, Cider-Roasted Root Vegetables and Smoky Spanish Dinner Rolls.”
“Smoky Spanish Dinner Rolls?”
“Yes. Raoul made them. They look really, really good. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into one. He brought the wine too.”
“Yes, he’s in the living-room with Manolo.”
She wanted to ask if Galena was there too but decided not to. “I can still remember the Barbecued Galician Sirloin Steak with Chimichurri Sauce he did.”
“Yes. Raoul is an excellent cook. The woman he ends up marrying will be very lucky.”
Valentina turned away. “I guess I’ll go and say hello. Shout when you need me.”
“All right.” Loraine watched her. It was so obvious to her that she was in love with Raoul. She shook her head. If only Galena weren’t in the picture…
Valentina walked into the living-room and her heart skipped a beat when she saw Raoul sitting on the accent chair. He was alone. He looked ravishingly handsome. She could hardly take her eyes off him. And the way he was looking at her…”Hi,” she said, trying to sound and act nonchalant.
A slight smile tugged at his dreamy lips. “Hi.”
Ever since they met at Manolo’s and Loraine’s wedding two years ago, there had been a kind of tension between them. Something was brewing just below the surface and it was only a matter of time before it exploded into something.
“So far, we have been having a mild Christmas,” she said as she walked over to the fireplace and stood facing him.
“You sounded disappointed.”
“Well, I was hoping for a white Christmas.”
“I don’t think we’ll be getting those anytime soon.”
“I guess growing up you were used to mild Christmases.”
“I never had a white Christmas growing up in Madrid. There was snow now and then, especially in late December but Madrid wasn’t what a snowy city.”
“What was Christmas like in Madrid?”
“Well, there were lots of beautiful lights and decorations, nativity scenes and we ate churros with chocolate.”
“What are churros?”
“A churro is a fried-dough pastry. It is a traditional treat in Spain and Portugal.”
“Sounds interesting. What other treats did you have?”
“Turrón which Nougat Candy and Roscón de Reyes, the Spanish King’s cake. It’s a cake made in the form of a crown and it’s a traditional Spanish holiday dessert served the night before or the morning of Reyes which is also known as Epiphany on Jan. 6. Reyes refers to the Three Kings or the Wise Men who brought the baby Jesus gifts on the 6th of January.”
“So, January 6 is a special day in Spain.”
“Yes. It is the big day for presents to celebrate the Three Wise Men.”
“Do you miss celebrating Christmas in Madrid?”
“Yes. I do.”
“I’ve never visited other parts of Europe but Spain is on my bucket list. I’m sorry I couldn’t go with Loraine and Manolo when they went last year. Loraine couldn’t stop talking about the boulevards and parks in Madrid.”
“Yes, Madrid is a very elegant city, a financial center and it’s home to two world-famous football clubs, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid.”
“Did you play football when you were in Madrid?”
“Yes. Manolo and I played growing up but we played it recreationally not competitively.”
“I’m a big fan of football. I look forward to the Euro and World Cup tournaments.”
“Are you dating anyone?” he asked, getting up from the chair and walking over to her.
She was taken aback by his question. One minute they were talking about football and the next he was asking her about her love life. “No,” she replied. “Where’s Galena?”
“She’s having Christmas with her family.”
“Oh. And doesn’t she mind you having Christmas here with us instead of with her?”
“I don’t see why she should mind. Like her, I wanted to spend Christmas with my family.”
“I’m sure Manolo and Loraine are happy to have you here.”
“And what about you?”
“What about me?” she asked, her eyes wary as he got closer.
“Aren’t you happy that I’m here?”
“Yes,” she admitted.
“And I’m happy to be here too.” He was staring at her in a way which made her body do crazy things. Was it her heavy breathing she was hearing or his? It was hard to tell.
Just then, Manolo went into the living-room to tell her that Loraine needed her help. She scurried out of there as fast as she could.
Dinner was ready. The table, covered in a floral Christmas tablecloth was laden with food. After saying a prayer of thanksgiving, Manolo poured the wine. They made a toast. “To our parents,” Loraine said. “We’re sorry that you can’t be here with us. Rest in peace.” They raised their glasses. Then, Raoul carved the turkey.
Then, everyone dug into the feast. In the background, traditional Christmas songs were playing. Lit candles were on the table giving the dining-room a very cozy feel and look. Valentina was sitting opposite Raoul. They exchanged furtive glances all evening. She was glad that Galena wasn’t there.