Raina felt the thump thump of her heart as well as the warmth generated from her tensed muscles. Hell, she didn’t have to look down at her arms to see the goose pimples which formed themselves there. She knew this much, Jordan was up to something. Anytime he initiated a trivia game, which was definitely unlike Trivia Pursuit, she knew she was in for some kind of trouble. But it was usually trouble of a good kind. It was just that he liked to keep her off balance, off her game, a bit. And though she’d admit to herself she loved it most of the time, it was not as much as how much she loved him.
Raina couldn’t believe how her life transformed since she met Jordan. Anyone who knew her during her pre-Jordan years saw the transformation. Jordan was the catalyst for helping her feel comfortable in her own skin. The beauty about keeping fit was that since she moved into Jordan’s home a year ago, a gym was just a room away, and her gym partner, Jordan, was available 24/7. No way was she ever going to be a size six or even a size twelve, but she thoroughly enjoyed rocking the body she was in. Releasing the excess baggage of her past with her ex was another thing which made her feel lighter. No longer did she fear him, or have thoughts of him belittling her. She simply felt at peace.
Of course, Raina didn’t know Jordan before the plane crash, but the man, the sad man, she met two years ago, the man who had given up on life and resigned himself to feeling responsible for his fiancee’s death, was no longer there. In his place was a man who embraced life, who laughed a lot, and appreciated the simple things. A man who reconnected with the people who’d almost become his in-laws. Raina had accompanied him at the reunion and it was emotional for all who were present. She remembered Jordan telling her how much he was grateful that the last thing he and Shannen had said to each other was ‘I love you’. So it didn’t surprise her that every single day Jordan told her how much he loved and appreciated her. Sometimes he told her in words, or with sticky notes she’d find in places where she least expected it, or just through his acts of kindness. Oh, how she loved him!
“Come here, pet.” Jordan reached for Raina’s hand as they walked under the warm, tropical drizzle. Hand in hand, they strolled along the Royal Botanic Gardens, north of Port-of-Spain. This time together after the revelry, so much a part of the Carnival season, was a soothing balm. “Carnival trivia this time.” Jordan’s smirk was unmistakeable. “Favorite masquerade?”
Okay, I was overacting. It’s just a little, harmless fun. Raina let out a huge breath at the same time she felt all the tension leaving her body. “Traditional carnival characters.” Raina anticipated the part B of his question, so she rushed on. “I loved the Moko Jumbies. There’s nothing more frightening, yet mesmerizing, than seeing the stilt walkers on stilts, fifteen to twenty feet high.” Raina shook her head as she remembered watching the masqueraders. “I was nervous. I kept thinking they’d fall… but they didn’t.”
Jordan and Raina paused for a moment and admired the array of orchids They read on the plaque that the orchids in the gardens represented a relatively small medley of the seven hundred species which were indigenous to the island. But the fact the gardens were founded in the early 1800s and the foliage was collected from every single continent were probably two of the most interesting pieces of information they’d learned about the gardens.
They were briefly distracted by loud squeals of delight, which shattered nature’s calm. It was not difficult to figure out the noise came from a bridal party. The shrubs and cabbage palms were a backdrop for the pictures which were taken by an assortment of photographers and the party arranged themselves in a hodgepodge of poses, some formal while others were simply hilarious. Lots of picnickers with baskets over-spilling with edible goodies were also scattered throughout the grounds. And there were people who luxuriated in the sunshine and soaked in the colorful fantasy gardens.
“Okay, Jordan, your turn to answer my question. What did you think about the music?”
“Loved all of them: calypso, chutney, soca, rapso. Don’t know which of them I liked best.”
Raina smiled as she remembered how the artistes jumped and waved their flags, rags, toilet tissue, napkin, newspaper and just about anything they could get their hands on. “I’m still trying to figure out how the artistes were able to get the crowds to behave the way they did. It was like the soca artistes were the puppeteers and the crowds were the puppets. All they had to do was manipulate their strings and the crowds just did their bidding.”
“And the throngs were unbelievable! Literally tens of thousands of revelers, all in one stadium.”
“Reminded me of the Bon Jovi concert we went to last year.” Raina believed she could still hear the rhythm of the music ringing loudly in her ears, long after they were ensconced in their hotel.
“But as much as I like to hear the soca artistes, I prefer to listen to steel pan music. It’s the reason why I think the highlight of my trip during the carnival festivities is Panorama.” Raina certainly would never forget the scintillating melodies emanating from steel drums. How a variety of music, from classical to folk to lullabies could come from such an instrument still amazed her, even after having the opportunity to listen to the steel bands play live.
“We definitely have to make some quick purchases at the gift shop in Piarco International. Some CD’s portraying steel pan music are on my must-buy list.”
“C’mon, Jordan.” Raina tapped a foot against the lush grass. “What’s with all the questions about carnival? Trying to figure out if I were paying attention?” When Jordan continued to smile at her mildly she decided to continue to play along to see where this was going. “Fine. Ask me your question.” Raina planted her hands on her hips. Her glare was ineffective, since Jordan ignored her. It didn’t surprise her though, because he knew she couldn’t stay mad at him for long – okay, at least for some of the times.
“The food. Which foods did you like?”
“That’s a tough one.” Raina contemplated her answer. “I think I loved the less exotic foods.” She used air quotes over the word exotic. “But callaloo, served with cornmeal coo coo, dumpling and curried crab were… mouthwatering.” Noisily she smacked her lips together as she remembered the delightful lunch she had at a quaint restaurant which only served local cuisine.
“Give me some good ole pelau. Loved the combination of rice and pigeon peas. The coconut milk gives it a distinctive flavor, though.”
Raina felt herself warming up to the game. It was just like Jordan to inveigle her into doing something she didn’t particularly like and then she would begin to enjoy it herself. “My question now. Which competition you liked most?”
“Kaisorama was by far the best one for me, especially the extempo competition Boy was that tough! I wouldn’t want to be in the contestants’ shoes, at all.”
Of all the competitions they’d witnessed during the season, Kaisorama was by most grueling as far as Raina was concerned. The contestants were given a topic on the spot and they had to think quickly on their feet because they had to compose the lyrics right there.
“I have to admit that even though most of the times the songs were witty, they were a bit difficult for me to understand.”
“Only because you’re not au fait with what’s happening here. As much as I love to say, ‘I told you so,’ you’ve got to follow the news, baby, understand the nature of the politics, the people’s culture. You can read their online newspapers.”
“Blah, blah, blah.” Raina hated when Jordan was right. Pretending to juggle her memory, she snapped her fingers. It was a ruse to get the topic back on track. “I liked that they had to sing to a particular melody. What was it called again?”
“Santimanitay.” Jordan smirked.
Raina knew she didn’t fool him. “Yes! That’s it.” She tried to hum the melody herself. Eventually she gave up as she couldn’t get it quite right.
“I’ve go one more question to you, Raina.” The smirk was wiped off Jordan’s face. He got down on one knee. His slightly trembling palm opened.
Raina’s heart sounded like the earsplitting music springing from the trucks on Carnival Monday and Tuesday in her ears. Her breath burst out in rapid spurts. If she wasn’t so excited when she and Jordan prepared for their trip, she would have figured out long before now, that Jordan planned to do this. Now she sensed what he was about to do, so she was able to put the pieces of the puzzle together. For weeks it seemed as if Jayce was distracted and secretive. Whenever Raina happened to visit the office of Cooper & Morrow, Jacye always seemed to be locked in meetings – correction, so called meetings – with her bosses Jordan and Caleb. The little rascal! Jayce was so going to definitely pay for .. pay for.. Okay, Jayce was only being a good friend, but… but…
As much was Raina wanted to ,she couldn’t contain her grin.
“Raina, since that evening we met two years ago, you’ve been my world. I never thought I’d have a reason to really live and to feel complete again. You’ve given me those reasons. Raina, will you marry me?”
“I’m very… very happy now, but I’ll be the happiest woman in the world when I say, ‘I do’.” Raina dropped to her knees and looked up at Jordan. “Yes, I’ll marry you.”
Jordan slipped the ring on her finger amidst loud cheers and whistles. It was then Raina realized she and Jordan drew the attention of the people in the gardens, even the bridal party, who were busy enjoying their own celebration. Raina caught the bride’s conspiratorial wink and cheerful wave, and she smiled in return. Soon, she’d be celebrating her own nuptials, but right then and there she focused her attention on Jordan as he slowly raised himself to his feet and pulled her into his arms.
“God, I love you, baby. I love you.” Jordan held Raina’s face in his palms and looked deeply in her eyes.
Raina buried her face against his cotton clad chest. The last thing she wanted to do was to make a complete spectacle of herself by bawling her eyes out in front of perfect strangers. But hell, this was her day, and she’d cry if she wanted to. With deliberate slowness, she raised her head and looked at Jordan’s precious face. “And I love you more than anything in the world. The last two years were the happiest in my life.”
“And I’ll do my damnest to make the rest of your life just as happy.”