Breathless in His Arms
Mateo was raised knowing all of the old Avaloran dances, compliments of his mother. When Elena finds out, she insists that he dance with her. In doing so, she discovers a side to her friend that she didn’t know existed and finds herself eager to learn more.
Note: This was a collaboration project with @lovelyrugbee!!!! She provided the story prompt idea and the stunning artwork!!!
Elena was nearly bursting with excitement when she arrived at the Old Square and saw with her own eyes that no effort had been spared on the preparations for the newly reinstated Avaloran Heritage Festival. The square was so festive with the colorful banners and garlands that had been draped along the tops of the surrounding buildings. Strings of lanterns had been strung across the square, which further transformed the area with their intimate glow as they flickered and burned in the twilight. Her mouth watered as the spicy scent of pozole and the sweet smell of freshly baked pan dulce mingled together, tickling her nose as it wafted through the air.
But what really caught the princess’s attention was the music. She adored music of all kinds, but traditional Avaloran folk music truly had a special place in her heart–– perhaps it was because it was the music of her childhood nearly half a century ago. The rhythm and the syncopated melodies had her toes tapping in time to the music and sent a surge of uninhibited joy spiraling out from her heart and into her very soul.
She wandered closer to the center of the square, looking around for the one she had been most looking forward to sharing the festival with–– her dearest friend, Mateo. She hadn’t had a chance to see him yet since his mother was the head of the festival committee, and he had been helping her with festival preparations all that day. As she stood on the outskirts of the crowd, she took a moment to smooth her dress and check that the flower garland she’d woven into her hair was secure. She was especially excited about her new dress–– she’d had it made especially for the festival. It was a traditional Avaloran folk gown, with a ruffle draping her slender shoulders and a full circular skirt gathered at the waist–– perfect for spinning and twirling. She had selected a lightweight white fabric with swirling vines of red roses embroidered around the hem of the skirt and a simple red border embroidered along the edge of the ruffle about her shoulders. Her hair was styled in its typical ponytail but with a wreath of red, pink and yellow roses encircling the crown of her head.
Once satisfied that everything was in place and secure, she carefully made her way through the crowd towards the open area where the musicians and dancers had gathered. As she passed by, several people called out greetings to their crown princess, which she cheerfully returned while still keeping her focus on her end goal–– finding Mateo. Finally, she edged through the crowd and saw the dancers in the square. A little past the dance floor, she spied a group of teenagers sitting on a pile of crates that had been set aside for who knew what purpose. She grinned as she spotted Mateo lounging lazily on a tall crate, laughing at something one of the other boys had said and shaking his head in protest as another boy gave him a friendly punch him on the shoulder.
Elena bounded around the edge of the dance floor and ran straight for the group of teens, waving enthusiastically as she called out her greeting, “Hey Mateo!”
Upon realizing that the newcomer was the crown princess, every one of the teens in the group–– except Mateo–– scrambled to their feet and fell into hasty bows and curtseys followed by a chorus of “Your highness!”
Mateo didn’t move from his crate, he just grinned at Elena knowing that she didn’t care for the formalities.
Crossing her arms and cocking a hip to one side, Elena said with a cheeky grin, “Thanks everyone, but you don’t have to bow, really. It’s ok, you can stand up!”
They all straightened and looked at one another somewhat awkwardly, as if somewhat unsure of what to say next. She just smiled at them and said, “What were you talking about before I interrupted? It looked like something funny.”
One of the girls piped up with a giggle, “We were just trying to convince Mateo to get out on the dance floor and show us his moves!” Several of the other teens cheered and whistled for Mateo who was blushing scarlet and rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment.
Elena beamed at Mateo, surprised delight twinkling in her eyes. “What?! I didn’t know that you danced!”
“I don’t!” he protested, “Not really. It’s just that my mother taught me all of the traditional Avaloran dances growing up. You know, the sambarosa, the merengue, the salsa, the rumba, the malagueña…” he counted off the dances he knew on his fingers. Elena was impressed.
“Well, now I have to see this! Come on, I’ll dance with you!”
If it was possible, Mateo blushed an even deeper shade of scarlet as he fidgeted where he sat, running his hand through his already messy hair. His friends were laughing and taunting him, trying to convince him to dance with the crown princess.
Finally, he got to his feet and stepped over to his best friend as he grinned sheepishly at her. “Ok! Fine! Sure, I’ll dance with you Elena.”
Elena bounced on her toes, clapping happily as she said, “Yay! Ok, come on!” and she grabbed Mateo by the hand and took off running, dragging him through the crowd, to the edge of the dance floor. Glancing sidelong at him, she asked, “So, which dance would you like to do?”
He thought a moment before responding. “How about the malagueña? Do you know that one?”
She grinned. “Of course I do! I love that dance, it’s so fun and full of energy!”
So Mateo stepped over to where the musicians were gathered and placed their names on the list of dancers along with the song they would like to dance to. As they waited their turn, Elena examined her dance partner from head to foot, noticing his neatly embroidered black jacket and how well it went with the red sash about his waist. She said, “Hey, you look great tonight, by the way. I love your new jacket! It suits you.”
She thought she saw a hint of pink returning to his cheeks before he answered, clearing his throat, “Er, thanks Elena! You look beautiful tonight. Is that a new dress?”
“Yes, it is and thank you!” She grinned at her friend.
Soon it was their turn and they walked arm in arm out to the middle of the dance floor, where Mateo knelt on one knee and smiled shyly up at her. Elena took a few steps back, gathering her skirts and smiled back at her dear, sweet friend as she waited for the music to begin.
The first few chords washed over her and she allowed herself to become one with the music and the dance. In that instant, her world had reduced itself to three things–– Mateo, the music, and herself. Nothing more mattered. She held his gaze as she slowly danced towards him in time to the music, twirling and swishing her skirts as she approached, slowly at first and more quickly as the music gradually increased in tempo. When she reached him, their gazes locked, and he never broke eye contact as she circled him. Her heart skipped a tiny beat as she thought she saw something burning deep within those eyes, slowly working its way to the surface–– her breath caught in her throat–– was that confidence she saw?
As she finished circling her partner for the second time, he fluidly rose to his feet and reached a hand out to her. Grinning, she took his hand and was taken aback by the electricity that coursed between them upon contact. With a flick of his wrist, he had her twirling into his arms where they stood for the briefest of pauses, her hand cupping his cheek as she looked up into his eyes once more–– her sweet friend was still there but he looked back at her with an air of confidence that she had never associated with Mateo before.
With another precise arm motion, he had Elena spinning and twirling around him, ending in a practiced dip that took Elena’s breath away. This was not the typical charmingly awkward and slightly clumsy Mateo that she knew. This Mateo had apparently taken his dance lessons as seriously as his study of magic, perhaps even more so, for this was a new, suave, take charge kind of young man who held her confidently in his arms.
Elena had danced the malagueña many times before, but never like this! The music picked up in tempo and intensity, and along with it rose her heart rate as she danced with her best friend–– his gaze sparking with intensity upon her as he stepped away to circle her while she clapped in time to the music. His moves were practiced and precise, adding just the right amount of personality and flair to the traditional dance. When he stopped in front of her and reached for her hand once again, she was slightly more prepared for the electricity that flowed between them as he took her in his arms and led her across the dance floor, the pair of them dancing and spinning as a single unit in perfect harmony with one another. With every twirl and dip, the intensity in his eyes grew and she felt utterly intrigued.
They broke apart, and circled each other in time to the music, clapping and twirling around one another, their eye contact never wavering for even a second. Elena stared through those eyes into the depths of his soul and liked what she saw there–– what he hadn’t quite grown into yet. That sweet, kind, and gentle boy who was brave and had so much potential if he could just harness that inner strength she had always known was deep within him.
The pair came together once more and burst across the dance floor, Mateo deftly guiding the princess through a flurry of twists and spins that completely took her breath away. And as the final refrain echoed into the night, Mateo held Elena, breathless in his arms, her back arched in a graceful dip–– she looked into those warm hazel eyes she knew so well and found herself eager to learn just how much more there was to this wonderful boy who she was lucky enough to call her best friend.