Maya and Aubrey went home to change and call the rest of her friends. They agreed to meet at the karaoke bar across the street for drinks before heading to the festival. Aubrey was so smiley and excited, someone would have thought she’d never been out before. Well, hanging out with high school friends at arcades, parks, and bowling alleys didn’t count, so perhaps this really was her first time being out. Aubrey was a good sister, but Maya really hoped she didn’t embarrass her.
They were the first ones to arrive, so they sat and watched people stroll in. Every now and then, some brave soul fueled by liquid courage would take the stage and serenade whoever was listening with sharps and flats. Maya didn’t know how people willingly made fools of themselves like that–her sister included. She was too afraid, and now that she was well known, all she needed was for someone to record her and send it around cyberspace three times before she even sat down. Nope. She just would not let that happen.
Aubrey leaned over and whispered, “There’s a lot of cute guys here!”
Maya laughed. “This isn’t the library! And, you already have a cute guy. These are all mine.”
“Hey girl,” Penny said, approaching their table. “You been here long?”
“Nah, not really.”
“Oh good. Hey, how you doin,” she said to Aubrey. “She finally let you hang with us, huh?”
“Can I talk to you for a second?” Penny lead Maya outside. She looked nervous, yet excited.
“What’s going on?”
“Ummm…well, I want you to hear it from me before…well, you know how gossip gets started.”
“Geez, Penny. What is it?”
She took a few quick breaths. Maya wasn’t sure why she was so nervous. They were best friends. They didn’t have any secrets.
Maya gasped. “You’re pregnant!”
“Oh girl, please! At least, I better not be.”
Maya was practically jumping up and down, grinning, and clapping her hands excitedly. “But there is someone!”
Why would Penny hide her man from her? Did she not trust her? Maya wasn’t that kind of woman.
Penny’s smile said it all. Whoever it was, he made her happy, and it was probably the real thing. “Yeah…there is.”
“So tell me already!”
Maya gasped again.
“We’ve been talking for a while, and it’s getting pretty serious. We thought it was time to tell everyone.”
“What about Logan? Does she know?”
“Logan and Sven didn’t work out. And, no, it wasn’t because of me. At least not on my end. I’m surprised she didn’t tell you, but no, she doesn’t know yet.”
“Me and Logan don’t really talk like that, but now that you mention it, she doesn’t talk about him anymore. Gosh, Penny! You’re, like, glowing and stuff!”
She was happy for her…and a little bit jealous.
Penny blushed. “Yeah…I never thought someone like him would turn out to be my guy, but he is SO good to me!”
Maya embraced her friend. “I’m happy for you! I really am.”
“Thanks, girl. And, hey, don’t be mad and jealous. Your guy will come soon too. When you least expect it!”
She laughed. “Sven was definitely unexpected!”
They went back inside and found Aubrey on stage performing for whoever cared to pay attention to her. Maya snickered at how quickly her little sister seized the opportunity.
The rest of the friends had arrived by then, and Maya gathered them around the stage.
“That’s my sister! Come on!”
Maya was so proud of her. Aubrey looked so comfortable up there like she was having the time of her life. If only Maya could get over her fear of looking ridiculous in public, she would join her and also have the time of her life. The sisters had an interesting dynamic. Maya often threw caution to the wind, befriending strangers and kissing men she just met, yet she was afraid public of humiliation. Aubrey, on the other hand, was a very cautious person, meticulous in her all ways, but had no qualms about being silly. No one in the Pruett family could sing, so it’s not like Aubrey possessed some talent Maya lacked. It was definitely the fear.
Aubrey looked great too. She looked like a teenager, and there was no mistaking she was her little sister, but she looked great and Maya was not concerned about being embarrassed by her in that way. Aubrey’s style was different from her’s, but she did have style.
She and her friends cheered for her and sang along as much as they could. It was so much fun. Toward the end of the song, someone tried to get Maya’s attention.
“She looks like she’s having a ball,” a male voice said.
“She loves karaoke.” She turned to look at the stranger and was completely taken aback. He was a beautiful tall, brown, muscle-bound man with had a head full of thick, black hair; big, dark eyes like a black hole that drew her in; a silly grin enclosed in a set of perfect lips. She even thought his nose was beautiful. He looked like a god.
“Whaddaya say me and you go next?”
She opened her mouth to pass, but “ok” came out instead. How could she say no to such a fine specimen of a man?
He extended his hand to her. “I’m Ranveer.”
She took his hand. It was so soft and warm. “Maya.”
He gently squeezed her hand. “Great to meet you.”
She couldn’t stop smiling. “Yeah…same here.”
When Aubrey’s song was done, he gestured toward the stage. “After you?”
She walked up in a dazed-like manner with him in tow. She was too stunned to be nervous.
Aubrey looked at her and the cute stranger perplexed. “You’re singing??”
All Maya could do was smile and shrug.
Aubrey looked directly at Ranveer. “You are a miracle worker!”
He laughed. “I’ve been called many things, but that’s a first!”
“I don’t know who you are, but you two need to be friends!”
“What? Maybe he can–”
“We’re singing now, Aubrey…”
“Ok, ok. I’m going!”
Ranveer scrolled through the duets. There weren’t that many of them. “Do you know any of these songs?”
“Not really. Well, I kinda know that one.”
“Hmm…I heard it before too. Well, I guess if you know it too well, that might be cheating!”
She laughed. “I never thought of it that way.”
“Since I dragged you up here, I suppose I should start, huh?”
She simply smiled.
He was even cuter when he sang! And, he wasn’t the best singer, but he sounded way better than all the guys who went before Aubrey. His dramatic interpretation was hilarious. She couldn’t stop laughing and felt 1000 times better. She simply could not leave him hanging and pushed her nerves aside and joined him in the fun.
They were electric, and the crowd must have felt it too; they went wild. Before Maya even had time to thank her partner and celebrate with him, Aubrey was dragging her off the stage.
“The romance festival! It’s the romance festival! Come on!”
“But…” She looked behind her and waved at her beautiful stranger who was quickly disappearing from view.
Aubrey didn’t stop running until they reached the Sakura tea fountain. Just as she was about to pour a glass, her face went blank. “Don’t tell mom!”
She was so funny. Like a happy puppy who had never been outside before.
“Have you even had juice before?”
Aubrey smiled and walked away, sipping her tea happily. Maya caught a glimpse of Cousin Derek and OJenn enjoying each other’s company with the soft glow of the tea around them.
The romance festival made everything look so beautiful bathed in soft pink. Everyone treated each other well and were on their best behavior. It was such a good time. She couldn’t wait to attend again in the future with the person she loved…if she ever found anyone.
Maya had been drunk many times before, but she’d never been under the influence of this powerful tea. She heard about what it made some people do and was a little bit excited to experience it and a little bit scared. And what of Aubrey? She’s probably never even had Juice on the Rocks. She was a responsible kid though. At least Maya hoped she could handle herself. She needed to find her beautiful stranger.
Scanning the park, she didn’t find him, so she poured a cup of tea with a pathetic sigh and headed toward wherever her sister went. On her way there, she heard his voice singing their song. There were people everywhere, and she couldn’t see him. Still, she smiled and kept walking toward her seat. Finally, she saw him. He had a cup of tea in his hand and appeared to already be completely under the influence. A fun night was definitely on the way.
“This is the start of something new. Hey! There’s my little songbird! I feel so right, and so brand new, ooooh!”
Maya cracked up at his rendition of the song and considered quickly taking a few gulps of her tea so they could be on the same level. But, she decided not to. She thought about how cautious she had been lately and recognized that her rash behavior was mostly the cause of her being unlucky in love. That and her knack for picking the wrong guy. From now on, she would be more reserved in the beginning, observing them from a comfortable distance before jumping in.
He sat next to her, giggling like a happy drunk and drinking in her beauty.
“So, Ranveer, do you do karaoke with strangers often?”
“You know my name. We’re not strangers.”
She smiled. “Touché.”
“And, I only do karaoke with beautiful women who like to have fun.”
“Heh, you certainly got me there.”
He nodded past her. “Your sister…she loves you.”
Maya looked over her shoulder and saw Aubrey quietly watching them. She really was a sweet girl. Fiercely protective too. Maya knew she just wanted her to be happy and was on the lookout to save her from herself if Maya went over the top. Little did Aubrey know that Maya had resolved to be more responsible just like she was.
They sipped their tea some more.
“Do you have a sister? Or a brother?”
“Nah. It’s just me, mom, and Baba.”
“My dad. That’s how we say it.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Newcrest, but my parents are from India.”
“Oh how cool!”
“My parents moved back there a few years ago, so it’s just me now.”
The way he said that made her heart break. He must have been lonely. “And me!”
He smiled. “Is that right?”
She nodded. “You heard my sister. We have to be friends.”
He began giggling and singing again. “We’re heeere toooonight, this is the start of something neeeew.”