She woke up long before her alarm went off. The feeling of nervousness already installed in her body. Her head was a mess. She decided that the best thing would be to have breakfast, even if she didn´t have much appetite, then she would make the dessert she had planned, and finally she would go to the flower shop. She still didn´t feel safe with the plan she had chosen to officially introduce herself to Valentina's family as her girlfriend. She had even googled for suggestions to please her partner's relatives; the results weren't that helpful.
She had saved enough money to buy the necessary ingredients to cook a decent dessert and to buy some flowers that would be destined for the women of the house.
When she got to the “dressing” part of her to-do list, a renewed wave of anxiety washed over her. She did not know what to wear for the occasion, her old Converse would not be well regarded, she was sure of that. After an internal debate, she opted for a braided black sweater, which was secretly one of her comfort clothes, and a pair of cloth pants. It was something simple but appropriate for the event.
Alirio, the driver, had gone to pick her up to take her to Valentina. The whole trip she spent it imagining the words she would say when she formally met her girlfriend's relatives, practicing new dialogues that might come up. Unfortunately, what she imagined in her head was out of reality. For a moment, the idea of looking for an excuse to not attend had crossed her mind but imagining the disappointment Valentina would feel was unbearable.
Valentina, beautiful as always, was already waiting for her at the big door of the mansion. A dazzling and joyful smile adorned her face, her eyes were full of joy. She would jump from time to time to relieve the excitement. When she saw Juliana getting out of the car, with her hands full, she rushed to help her. Alirio was also carrying what looked like a tray.
-I'll take this to the kitchen, Miss Juliana-announced the man.
-Yes, thank you very much, Don Alirio.
Meanwhile, the girls had already moved into the corridor prior to the living room.
-How are you, my love? Are you ready or do you need a few minutes? - Valentina asked, who had in her hands some gift boxes that her girlfriend had brought.
-We'd better go now; I don't want to keep your family waiting. Besides, my stress level will increase if I stay still longer.
-Breathe, Juls. Remember that I will be here and if you feel any discomfort you tell me, understood?
To emphasize her words, she leaned over to kiss her gently.
They walked to the Carvajal family, who interrupted their conversation to welcome the girls. Juliana regretted not having foreseen the fact that she would not be able to shake hands with the others if her hands were busy. Valentina, noticing this detail, hurried to remove the items form her hands. The younger one of them thanked her with a smile.
-Family, this is Juliana, my girlfriend- said a smiling Valentina. -Love, let me introduce you officially Leon, my dad.
Juliana's heart turned over; she was still not used to seeing another person's soul in the body of Chino. She assumed that it would take time to get used to it.
-Juliana, I am deeply sorry for the way I behaved at first in Texas, the way I left you stranded with your mum in the middle of a hurricane. I really have no excuse to justify myself. I offer you an apology. I hope we get to know each other better, welcome to the family. - Leon, hugged her for a few seconds. The brunette's eyes filled with tears, however, she did not shed them because she didn´t want to cause a fuss about the fact that she had not yet learned to differentiate that the words that came out of the man who was physically her father, in fact, did not correspond to the real Chino, but to another human being who was much more of a good person than her father was.
She cleared her throat so that it would not sound broken by the longing for what never was.
-Don Leon, that is in the past. I admit that at first, I felt angry for the bad time you put us through, I understand why you acted as you did, so I accept your apology… Eeeh...I...I brought this for you. -She took a small box from the table, on which the gifts had been placed. -I-I hope you like it, I made it myself.
Her occasional stutter had come up, after all, it wasn't always that she gave a gift to a man who had everything materially speaking and who also had the shape of her father's body.
-Juliana, this is impressive, thank you very much, daughter. - I always pointed Guillermo the importance of always wearing a handkerchief. Valentina used to laugh at her brother because she said he was an old man.
-But not anymore, Dad. Since once Juls wiped my tears away with one of her handkerchiefs, I think it is a nice habit. -Valentina placed a kiss on her girl's cheek.
-I did not expect this. Did your father inculcate you this habit too, Juli? - asked the Carvajal’s' middle brother.
A genuine laugh was born from Juliana. Chino had never been a gracious man, much less interested in giving his daughter life advices.
-No, not at all. Valentina is quite a sensitive person, on many of our dates she cried over things like a commercial, a film, a song... so I thought it would be wise to always carry a handkerchief with me to offer her when she cried. By the way, I also made one for you, just like your father's, I put your initials on it.
The young man accepted it gladly, thanking her for the gesture.
Valentina, continued with the introductions, although Juliana had already told her that she had met her stepmother some time ago, the youngest of the siblings did not care, explaining that they were now girlfriends and it was imperative that the introductions were made in this way.
Juliana gave Lucia a solitary flower she had bought along with a decorative embroidered ring, the design consisting of a sunset.
-I apologize for the simplicity of my gift and the flower. I didn't... -Juliana stopped her apologies when Lucia hugged her and kissed her on the cheeks.
-This is perfect, my dear. Thank you very much. You didn't even have to bother giving us things.
By this point in the conversation, Juliana was completely flushed.
-Last but not least, this is Renata, my grumpy brother's girlfriend.
Juliana proceeded to give her the flower designated for her along with another embroidered ring, the difference being that she had embroidered Renata's cat.
-This is beautiful, just what I needed! I loved it, Juliana! - More hugs for the person less given to displays of affection, who was beginning to feel suffocated. -How did you know what my kitten looked like?
-Valentina, she's always showing me pictures of your cat, it's her way of telling me she wants one.
The laughter of everyone flooded the room, often Juliana did not consider herself a funny person, but she had noticed that the people around her used to laugh at her comments, even if they were not made with the intention of amusing.
Valentina's characteristic sad eyes made their presence felt, leaving Juliana confused by the sudden change of mood.
-Is something wrong, Val?- she asked.
- And my gift? - her lower lip curling even more.
Another laugh from the group could be heard. Lowering her voice, she replied to her girlfriend so that the others would not hear.
-It's for later...
Unfortunately, the rest of the people present heard it and laughed again.
Fortunately for the young women the moment was over when Silvina announced that the meal was ready. Juliana hoped that, just for this once, they would not serve a dish with a name that was difficult to pronounce or that needed to be eaten with chopsticks, but the biggest concern was that the complements would not be put together, for her this could be unpleasant.
-I asked them to prepare something that you like and to serve the vegetables and mashed potatoes in different dishes. -Valentina whispered in Juliana's ear, because she knew that, although the young woman didn't say anything about it, she was hypersensitive to certain aspects, one of them being the texture of the food.
During lunch, the conversation was pleasant. Juliana tried to be friendly in her answers when she was asked questions about her life. Usually with monosyllables or short sentences. Lupe had scolded her on few occasions for her "sharp" way of answering. Valentina, on the other hand, had made her see that her expressions were right, although on some important subjects, she needed to speak more deeply. Juliana agreed.
-Next summer I start classes at the fashion school, Mr. Carvajal. -Juliana answered one of her girlfriend's father's questions.
-And you are going to be the best, my love, I have no doubt. - Valentina gave her a little kiss on the lips, making the youngest one blush.
-What happened, honey? -Everything okay?
-We´re in front of your family.
-I promise you there's nothing to be ashamed of, with my other boyfriends I...
Valentina gave herself a mental slap when she realized that mentioning her past partners was not the best thing in this circumstance, she could feel the silence that had established in the dining room. Juliana's neutral gaze, which did not allow her to see what she was feeling or thinking.
-Juls, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to...
-It's okay, Val, there's nothing to apologize for.
The conversation went ahead without further delay. Even so, Valentina was not sure if she had hurt her girlfriend in any way, she needed to be alone with her to talk about what had happened.
For her part, Juliana took the opportunity to help Silvina to serve dessert, to have some time to gather her thoughts. Unfortunately, the housekeeper had started to talk.
-You're not in a bad way anymore, are you?
-I know that your father used to be a hitman and that behind your family there was a gang of bandits. The last thing I want is that the Carvajal and above all my girl Vale, be hurt by it. What would happen if your dad goes back to his ways?
Juliana was outraged by the woman's words, however she preferred to keep silent about what she wanted to say for fear of offending her girlfriend in some way. After all, prejudice or not, this person had been an important figure for Valentina.
-I'm still not completely sure about your relationship with Vale, I think you can still bring her dangers. I hope for her sake that my intuitions are wrong because otherwise...
-Silvina!- it was the first time Juliana heard her girlfriend call the housekeeper by her name and not by her nickname. She had her arms around her waist, her eyes sparkling with anger. -Please, don´t talk Juliana in this way anymore, she is my partner, she deserves all the respect in the world. Her presence in my life brings nothing but happiness, if anyone represents a danger, it's me.
And for Valentina it was true, she believed that her habits with alcohol and even what her surname entailed could cause some bad impression to her girl.
-Can you take the dessert to the others? I need to talk to Juliana. - Valentina ordered.
-Yes, my child, and I apologize for the inconvenience of my behaviour.
Being alone, Juliana could notice that behind the fury in Valentina's blue eyes, there was a hint of sadness and disappointment. She seemed to have found out that her favourite series had been cancelled.
-Morrita, what's wrong?
-I'm sorry for this bad moment, Juls.
-It's not your fault. Besides, I'm used to it. Now tell me, why the sad face?
-I'm not sad.
Juliana sighed; she would have to use her special techniques. She took the girl's head delicately and positioned it on her neck, then hugged her tightly, rocking her slightly while her nose caressed Valentina´s hair.
-This is your safe place; you can tell me anything, my love.
-I remembered that time when you told me that Chivis didn't like you and I naively replied that she was just overprotective. Forgive me for not realising before that some of the people around me have treated you badly, if I had not been so blind, I would have stopped this before.
-I understand why you didn't realise, and I don't blame you.
-I am also sorry about earlier, it wasn't even meant to be a comparison, but I ended up doing it unintentionally.
-It's all right, Val.
However, Valentina could feel the tension that had appeared in the other one's body.
-What do you feel?
Valentina came out of her hiding place and looked for the Juliana's glance, trying to let her know that she knew something was troubling her.
After a few seconds, Juliana finally succumbed to some penetrating crystalline eyes.
-Would you like me to be more open in public when it comes to displays of affection?
-That's what I understood from your comment, but I don't want to assume anything based on it. You'd better answer me if you'd like that.
-Juls, I feel good about the way we've been handling things so far. I don't want to rush anything because I know this is new to you. The last thing I want is for you to feel uncomfortable.
-Sometimes I'm still a little afraid of being vulnerable in front of new people, and you with your beautiful ways of loving me leave me defenceless. Today when you kissed me and your father was looking at us, for a moment I thought he was Chino, ready to humiliate me and to hurt you.
It was Juliana's turn to be comforted, so Valentina hugged her and gave her many kisses on her face to make her smile.
-I'm proud of you, I swear my family was fascinated by you.
They kept kissing for several minutes, until Valentina remembered that her girlfriend owed her a gift.
-I think it is time for you to give me my present, Juls, is over. Can we see it now?
-But your family must be waiting for us.
-I told them we'd probably see them in an hour, so we have plenty of time.
-My bag is in your room? That's where I left your gift.
Once in Valentina's room, Juliana made her sit on her bed. With uncertain movements she handed her what looked like a handmade booklet, the cover consisted in two sunflowers, one taller than the other. When she opened it, the first page consisted of a grid in the style of comic books, the drawings were a Valentina who looked nervous, walking from one side to the other, giving orders so that things in the house were clean, even a scene in the kitchen explaining to Chivis how she wanted her to make the food. Until a conversation balloon that didn't show who was talking interrupted her frenzy. The dialogue was: Come here, daughter!
The second page was Valentina having a conversation with a person who did not appear in the painting, only what she said, and her gleaned shadow was visible. The secret person was trying to reassure Valentina, telling her that everything would be fine and that they would do their best to give Juliana a warm welcome.
On the third page, Valentina was on her girlfriend's arm, with a huge smile, she took her into the garden´s mansion, telling her how excited she was that they would finally be introduced as official girlfriends. Once in the garden, a woman with her back turned to look at those who had arrived. Her face had finally been revealed, she looked like Valentina but more mature.
On the last page the woman introduced herself as the mother of the Carvajal brothers, she received Juliana with a warm hug and told them both that she was very happy with their relationship, that she could not wait for their wedding to come and thanked the fact that since Juliana came into her daughter's life, she was doing nothing but smiling. The last box was the three women in a hug.
-I thought it would be good for you if I did something to symbolize your mum and me finally meeting, I know in your heart you longed for this. I could see it when your face was filled with yearning remembering that your mother could not know about us. Forgive me if this is too much.
Valentina, since she arrived at the page where her mother appeared had started to cry, she threw herself into Juliana's arms, while thanking her again and again for her kindness. Between sobs she tried to express how much this gift meant to her, which was something she needed, but she did not know how to put it into words.
-Juls, I love you so much, you leave me speechless. It's just that you tried so hard to give me a good time with my family. Thank you so much for everything you did today, love.
They kissed with passion, clinging to each other. Valentina's heart was full, she lacked the necessary adjectives to describe how she felt about the girl she held in her arms, that girl with a dimple on her chin and her shyness, her Juliana who was so kind to everyone, the one who had given away a part of her savings to make each member of her family feel special. The one and only; Juliana.