The beautifully laid table, the steaming food in the white dishes and a candle in the middle of the whole composition - a wonderful sight for Ernestina, who certainly didn't expect to see anything like that.
"W-What...?" She walked away from the door jamb, approaching the table, speechless.
Victor, next to a chair, was holding his wrist with his hand, passing the weight from one foot to the other. He raised his head, smiling a little: "Surprise."
Ernestina looked at him, open-mouthed: "Victor, did you do all... this?" she asked, pointing at the table with a wide wave of her hand.
Victor tilted his head to one side, nodding, "I thought you'd like a class dinner, for once." He pulled back her chair and motioned for Ernestina to come closer: "¿Quieres sentarte a la mesa, señorita?"
She laughed slightly and sat down. "Where is everyone?" she asked, as he sat down in the chair next to her.
"There's a little party in the plaza tonight, so they'll be back late."
"Didn't you go with them?" she asked, surprised.
Victor shrugged: "I had to prepare dinner for you."
Ernestina lowered her head, feeling a bit guilty.
Since she had come out from under that bell and worked for the Riveras, she came out very few times. After all, who would want to go out when everyone you meet, recognize you and or insult you or look at you badly? Well, after what she had done, it was also understandable, but it wasn't pleasant anyway.
What an irony.
Before she was famous for her parties, while now she wasn't even going to the plaza in the evening.
But it wasn't this that upset her.
It was for Victor.
He had given up an evening with his family for stay with her.
This flattered her, of course, but also made her feel guilty... more now than she already was.
"You should have gone too. You were not obliged to-"
"No," he interrupted her, perhaps a little too abruptly. "It was something I wanted to do," he said, staring at his plate.
"Okay..." Ernestina murmured, unconvinced, as they began to eat.
Victor was acting strangely since two weeks. He was more serious, sometimes abrupt and even much more clumsy, and she couldn't understand why.
The dinner took place quietly. They talked about this and that, sometimes commenting on what had happened at the store in those days.
At one point, towards the end, Victor got up, took his violin, and began to play a sweet and quiet song. It was clear that he was the grandchild of his abuelos. Although he had started playing since a few months, the musical talent was indisputable.
After dinner, they moved into the yard, sitting next to each other on the bench near the entrance to the house.
In the distance it could hear the music that came from the party at the nearby plaza, with, in addition, the mass of indistinct voices of the participants. Two little alebrijes were chasing each other, flying among the houses. From the roof of the house, where Pepita slept peacefully, the faint light of her hair illuminated of purple and green the courtyard.
Ernestina leaned on Victor and he put his arm around her shoulders, looking at the dark sky.
Despite the many lights and the many bright colors of the Land of the Dead, the stars were still visible and could be admired very well.
Victor smiled and pointed to the sky. "You know, no matter how many stars there are, or how much they can shine, they will never be as bright and beautiful as you."
Ernestina widened her eyes, blushing furiously, and shoved him lightly. "Silly romantic!" she said, then covering her face with her hands. Despite this, Victor was perfectly able to see the intense sparkle of her marks. He chuckled complacently, and looked back at the sky.
After a few moments of silence, Ernestina, recovered from embarrassment, said:
"You know," she began, repeating what Victor had said, almost defiantly. "Although I met many men in my life, none of them were as handsome, sweet, gentle, wonderful and romantic as you."
She turned to him, clearly seeing from his reaction, that she had caught him off guard. Exactly as she wanted.
"Y-you're kidding, right?" he stammered, "Me?"
"Yes," she murmured lasciviously, getting closer to him. "You."
Victor's signs became brighter. "I-I am flattered, really, but... I'm not this great man..."
Ernestina put her hands on his chest. "I don't think so."
Victor gulped, backing imperceptibly. "Really, I-I am not." He looked away: "I'm not as strong as other men, rather, I'm very skinny... I'm not rich and I can't write songs. Yes, I'm smart but, actually, I'm just the shoemaker's grandson."
Ernestina shook her head. "I think you're discrediting yourself too much." She leaned over to him, close to his ear, whispering, "And you know what?"
She felt the man stiffen and smiled. "You're too cute when you're embarrassed like this."
"You think so...?" he asked, clearing his throat, uncomfortable.
Ernestina nodded. "Yes. You're like a cute embarrassed mess."
"I'm not cute."
Ernestina chuckled, moving away. "Oh, trust me. You are."
Victor shrugged, with a smirk on his face. "Well, if I'm cute then you're really adorable."
Ernestina blushed. "W-what...? Wait a moment! We were talking about you! Don't you dare-"
This time it was Victor who approached, while his little smile growing. "You're so adorable when you're flustered."
The woman backed away. "S-stop! Don't use my tricks against me!"
Victor laughed softly, bringing a hand under Ernestina's chin. "Is it annoying when they overturn the situation, isn't it?" He took her hand: "Tango?"
Ernestina smiled. "I'm sorry, I prefer bachata." She gripped the collar of his blue shirt and pulled him closer to kiss him.
Victor, at first surprised, approached, willingly returning the kiss.
Ernestina broke off first, but remained very close to his face. "I see you've become braver... before, you took a while to kiss me."
"Before I was afraid that if I had kissed you suddenly or too fast, it would have been strange for you and..." Victor looked down. "And you would have been disgusted by me."
Ernestina looked at him in shock, not knowing what to think. "Disgusted? By you?" The situation was so absurd that she giggled, incredulous. "You stupid shoes-head! How could I ever be disgusted by you? I told you only a little while ago how precious, cute and sweet you are!" She leaned towards him, kissing his cheekbone. "I could never be disgusted by you."
Victor sighed, shrugging. A small smile, not at all happy, formed on his lips. "I don't know... It's just that, every day, when I look at you, I can't help feeling like I'm not enough for you. No matter what you did in the past, you deserve better than a Shoes-Head like me..." The smile disappeared, and his shoulders collapsed. "You deserve someone who is able to write songs to dedicate to you, a true musician, with a voice better than mine. Maybe a famous actor, as you are. Someone who is stronger and bigger than me, someone who is your same age, someone who can make you feel like a woman, and not an abuela with her nieto..." he mocked himself, with a bitter laugh, then quickly turned serious. "Someone that's not me."
Ernestina listened to everything with wide eyes. A strong sense of unease and sadness enveloped her and she felt guilty again. Guilty for not realizing how Victor felt, guilty for not doing anything to prevent him from thinking about these things.
Then, Victor's images in those days, came back in her mind. All those moments when seemed strange to her, when he behaved differently and totally not Victor. Even just as he had behaved at the beginning of the dinner. Now finally everything made sense.
"Is that why you acted like this in these days?" she whispered. "Because you have all these things on your mind?"
Victor nodded, still looking down. He was ashamed for had letting all that escape and for not being strong enough to solve his problems alone. What kind of man was he?
Ernestina shook her head. "Victor, you..." she clenched her fists and hugged him, holding him tight. "Do I really have to tell you again? To say you're fantastic is a euphemism. You are very good at playing the violin, although you have just started. Your voice is beautiful and it doesn't matter if you can't write songs! I can't either! I don't care if you're not a famous actor. I don't care if you're not strong. You are perfect as you are and I don't understand how no one have never married you in life! You're incredibly sweet! You gave me another chance, even after all the sadness I caused at your family. And, to be honest, I should be the one who doubts about our age... you're so younger than me..." she added in a whisper. "But believe me, Victor." She turned away, so that she could look him in the eyes. "You make me feel like the luckiest woman in the world."
Victor looked at her with languid eyes, then smiled moved. "And you make me feel the luckiest man in the world, Ernestina..."
The woman smiled, pulling him back towards herself for a kiss. "Silly shoes-head..."
Victor hugged her tightly, tightening her jacket between his fists and resting his head on her shoulder.
Ernestina passed her hands on his back, in a slow and soothing movement. "You will not cry after all the love I gave you, right?" She asked, with a small smile. "Because I would be forced to give you more."
Victor chuckled softly. "No, of course not," he murmured, sniffling a little. "I'm just... I'm just very happy to have you here. I never thought you could make me feel so good..."
Ernestina came back serious, tightening her grip on him and looking at an indefinite point in the void. "Never say again that you are not enough. ¿Prometes?"
Victor closed his eyes, leaning into her touch and nodding slowly. "Lo prometo."