Warning: Some language. A bit longer than usual but it’s been a while, so it evens itself out.
Maya rested against the lounge chair staring out into the ocean. This was the most beautiful spot in the entire world. She wished she could just lay there forever.
“Maya, there’s someone at the door for you. An Andrei?” Kraig Charles said.
She turned to look at her brother. Dre was here. She wasn’t surprised and if she was being honest, she was relieved. He was persistent and she knew he would come looking. “It’s okay. You can let him in.”
Kraig lifted an eyebrow but nodded and turned to let Andrei through the glass doors. Maya looked back out into the ocean. She didn’t want to see his expression when he saw her.
He sat down on the lounge chair beside her for a while before saying anything. She could feel him staring at her, but she was still too scared to look in his direction. Her treatments had ravaged whatever looks she’d had.
Sighing, she gave up. Sitting up and putting her arms around her legs, she turned and smiled at him. “Hey.”
“Whatever sad thing you’re about to say, don’t. I’m going to be okay. This is just a little bump in the road. I just finished my last round of chemo and I want to enjoy this beautiful sunset. We can talk after, okay?”
“Can I ask you one question?”
She studied him for a minute. “Okay.”
“The guy who answered the door. Is that your nurse?”
Maya laughed. “Sort of. He’s my brother. Don’t worry, I’m in no condition to cheat on you, hubby.”
Dre smiled, the first she’d seen since he’d sat down. “Well, in that case, scoot up.”
He got up and pushed gently on her shoulder. He settled himself behind her on the lounge chair and pulled her into him. She sighed. He was so warm.
They sat like that while the sun set over the water. For the first time in a month, Maya felt peaceful and she let herself drift into sleep.
“I just need to move around on something other than this rickety boat. Just for a few minutes.” Maya slipped off her shoes and lifted herself gently up and over the lip of the sailboat.
After Dre found her – she was never really hiding – he’d suggested going to a small island out of the way, just the two of them. She’d said yes immediately. She wanted to be with him. Her brother hadn’t agreed, but she’d finally managed to convince him.
She was seriously reconsidering her decision now though. She’d been hit with unbearable sea sickness ten minutes into the short boat ride. So she’d begged Dre to stop so she could just rest a minute without the incessant rocking.
She heard a splash and looked behind her to find Dre had stripped down to his shorts and was in the water with her. She swam around him, enjoying the fact that her stomach was calm again. She was not looking forward to getting back on that boat.
“Are you feeling better?”
“Yes. Much. I almost don’t want to get back on.”
“Is there something you can take? One of the pills you brought with you maybe?” He looked so worried.
She sighed. She might as well take one of her sleeping pills. “I guess so.” She didn’t make any moves to get out of the water though. A few minutes later, she suddenly felt exhausted. She closed her eyes, thinking that maybe she would just float for a little bit.
She was suddenly coughing and being held by strong arms. “What happened?” She asked in between racking coughs.
“I-I don’t know. One minute you’re fine, the next, you’re slipping underneath the water. What the hell Maya!”
“I’m sorry.” She turned to look at him, trying to calm her breathing. “I think I fell asleep.”
He gave her an incredulous look before calmly saying, “I think we should get back on the boat.”
She sighed. He was right. “Okay.”
When they arrived, the beauty of the beach house stunned her. It was a two story wooden house, elevated by poles. Probably to prevent flooding during high tide. It had a porch on the side facing the beach. It looked airy and light, just what she needed. “Dre, it’s perfect!”
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “I’m glad you like it. Come on, let me show you inside.”
He held her hand while giving her a tour of the place. There were two bedrooms upstairs, joined by a master bath and another bedroom downstairs with it’s own bathroom. If she was the dreaming sort, she could imagine that he was showing her their new home.
“If you don’t like any of the furniture or whatever, let me know and I’ll change it.” He looked at her anxiously. “I want you to be happy here.”
She had the startling realization that this was, in fact, their new home. “I might sometimes need to sleep in the first floor bedroom, when I can’t climb the stairs, but otherwise, I love it.”
He looked horrified. “I’m so sorry, I wasn’t thinking. We can stay in the downstairs bedroom -”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. I like the upstairs bedroom.”
“Are you sure?”
Maya nodded and walked away from him and into the kitchen. As long as she could spend the day on the beach and her nights with him, she would love living here.
Three months in and it was officially summertime. Maya lay out in the sand, happy to have some alone time. Dre was amazing but he was always around. It had been better the last few weeks though. He was finally letting her do things for herself, like putting toothpaste on her toothbrush. She cringed just thinking about that. He was overprotective and he coddled her. It had been their first argument.
Their second had been this morning.
A week ago, she woke up to him pressed against her, half-asleep. She’d been wondering when it would happen. When he would want to have sex. She’d lain there and tried to think of a nice way to tell him to stop. When his lips had reach the edge of her shirt, she’d panicked and had sat up in bed. Her sharp movements startled him awake.
“Maya? What’s wrong, sweetheart?” He turned on the bedside lamp and rubbed at his eyes. “What time is it?”
Trying to calm her breathing and slowing her racing thoughts, she didn’t immediately respond.
“Maya?” Dre asked sharply, concerned now. She looked down at her hands and just shook her head. He gently turned her so she was facing him. “Tell me.”
“I’m so sorry Andrei. The meds, they – they mess with my body and I just – I don’t feel like having sex.” His face blanched and he just stared at her. She felt her own face flush in shame. “I should have told you before we came here. I’m sorry. We – we could try. Or if you need to go…I would understand.”
She rubbed her cold hands together and waited for him to say something. When she looked up at him, he had tears in his eyes. “Maya, I would never – how could you even think…” He pulled her into his arms and lay back down with her cuddled in his arms. “I am so sorry for pushing myself on you like that. It will never happen again. But know that I find you irresistible Maya and I don’t want anyone else.”
It was what she’d hoped he’d say and she fell back asleep in his arms. She woke up while he was getting out of bed. “Where are you going?”
“For a swim. I’ll make you breakfast first though.”
She sighed. “Dre, I’m not an invalid. I can make my own breakfast.”
“I know.” She watched as he gathered some clothes and walked into the bathroom.
For the entire week, whenever he needed to change, he would go to the bathroom. He also started wearing full pajamas to bed instead of his customary shorts. He slept on the edge of the bed, rarely touched her except for quick kisses on the cheek, and he would disappear for about an hour every day.
This morning had been her breaking point. Neither of them had slept the night before, the tension was so thick between them it sometimes felt like she would drown in it. When he got up from bed at 3AM, she asked, “Do you regret bringing me here? Because I’m starting to regret coming.”
Dre paused for a second and then continued gathering his clothes. Today was Wednesday, so he would be going for a run. She imagined him grabbing shorts and his sneakers. Before he walked into the bathroom, he said, “I can take you back if you want.”
After he closed the door, she got up and started packing. She would not stay here with someone who stopped speaking to her because she wouldn’t have sex with him. If that was what he’d been looking for when he came back to find her, then he must be feeling extremely disappointed. By the time he reopened the door, the tears had blinded her so much, she’d had to stop. This was not what she wanted.
She felt arms wrap around her and she turned to bury her face against his neck. She didn’t want to go back.
“Maya, I am so sorry. I’m being an ass. Please don’t cry.” He rubbing wide, soothing circles on her back until she hiccupped and stopped crying. Wiping the tears from her face, he kissed her once on the lips. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I want to do everything right, but I just seem to cause you more pain.”
“Just be with me, Dre. That’s all. If I need you to do something for me, I’ll ask. I don’t want you to be my caregiver. Just be with me.”
“I’ll try. Would you feel more comfortable if I slept somewhere else?”
“Absolutely not. I’m a big girl, I can say no. And I trust you’ll listen. I like being held by you, I like kissing you. I just don’t feel like I can do more than that.” She placed her head on his shoulder again. “We can try though, if you want.”
“Maybe later, when you’re off the medication. I’m just happy I can hold you.”
“And kiss me.” She raised her head and waited.
Laughing, Dre gave her a soft kiss. “And kiss you.”
She woke up to someone shouting her name. Why was he shouting? “What?”
“Oh thank God. Thank you, God!”
She felt herself being lifted by strong arms and carried. She whimpered. The pain was all-consuming. Where were her meds? She opened her mouth to ask but all that came out was a strangled cry.
“You are soaking wet. Why were you outside, Maya?”
She frowned. It was Andrei. She felt him pulling her clothes away from her body. They were wet. Why were they wet? The jerking motions caused her body to spasm in pain and she hissed in a breath. He needed to stop. She needed to be still. The pain was too much!
“I’m sorry sweetheart, I know I’m hurting you, but I need to get you out of these clothes and into something warm. You’ll catch pneumonia if I don’t.” Pneumonia would be bad. She closed her eyes and let him jostle her. She couldn’t afford to catch pneumonia, but the pain…
“It hurts, Dre.” She sounded weak. She was weak. She felt heavy in his arms and she couldn’t understand why he wanted to be with her. Why would he want to go through all this suffering for her? What if he left her? No, anything but that. Please God, don’t take him away. “Please…”
“Fuck! I know Maya. Just give me a second and I’ll get you something for…” She felt herself drifting again but was jerked awake when he started to undo the wrap on her head.
“Stop…don’t…” She flailed in his arms, panic superseding the pain for a moment. She couldn’t let him see her without her head wrap on. He would…
“Maya, it’s completely soaked through. It’s okay sweetheart, let me just – ”
“No!” She pulled away from him. She couldn’t let him see!
“Maya, please. I’ll replace it right away, but it has to come off. You’ll get sick if it doesn’t.”
She stood there, half wanting to run, half knowing he was telling her the truth. But she just couldn’t. “Right away?” She asked.
“Look, I’ll grab another one right now.” She watched him walk to the bedside drawer and riffle through the various scarves in there until one piqued his interest. “How about this one?”
She nodded. She didn’t care which one he chose, so long as he had one ready. “Okay.”
Dre walked back to her and carefully undid the knot at the base of her neck. “Ready?”
Maya nodded again. She wasn’t, but it was either this or pneumonia and she was getting tired again.
“Maya, you’re beautiful.”
She felt like hyperventilating. “Hurry up. The other please.” She couldn’t even look at him.
Dre sighed and picked up the new scarf and with deft hands, quickly tied a knot at the back of her neck.
“I’m sorry…” she began.
“Don’t be.” He kissed her gently and led her to the bed. “You look exhausted.”
She was. Unbelievably so.
She sat up in bed, screaming. It felt like her insides were on fire. She clawed at the blankets, trying to get them off her body – except they weren’t blankets. Andrei had wrapped his body around hers.
“Shh, Maya. It’s okay. Are you in pain? Do you need more of your meds?” Dre soothed her and reached for the bedside table, turning the lamp on. She lay back in the bed, trying not to tremble too much. It hurt everywhere. He turned back around with a few pills in his hand. “Here, sweetheart. Take these, it will help.”
She took the pills from him and swallowed them dry. He turned off the lamp and lay down on his side beside her, not touching her, but just watching. She stayed very still until the painkillers kicked in then rolled over onto her side, facing away from him and closing her eyes.
Maya opened her eyes and blinked. She was lying on top of a warm body. Andrei’s body. She stretched and her hand hit him on the chin. He hummed and turned his head toward her assaulting fingers; kissing them. Smiling, she reached out and scratched the stubble on his cheek.
His eyes opened and he wrapped his arms around her. “Morning beautiful.”
“Hi.” She pulled her hand away and tucked it between their bodies. “I’m sorry about last night.”
She watched as his eyes grew darker, more cautious. “Maya, why were you out in the rain last night?”
Frowning, she shook her head. “I wasn’t. I went out during the day when it was sunny. I must’ve fallen asleep.” At the look of relief on his face, her frown grew deeper. “Dre, you don’t think I would purposely harm myself, do you?”
“I know you wouldn’t. I think I’m just anxious.” He sighed and kissed her forehead. “I don’t know what I would do if I lost you so soon after finding you.”
Her heartbeat sped up. “Andrei?”
“Don’t fall in love with me, okay?” She wrapped her arms around him tightly. The last thing she needed was to worry about leaving one more person. Perhaps this trip was a bad idea.
He didn’t respond to her, but his arms tightened around her.
“Why? Why do you do this to yourself? You don’t even really know me.” She sat on the bathroom floor. She’d been throwing up all day. Exhausted and in pain, she just wanted it all to end.
Andrei wiped a damp cloth around her eyes, her forehead, and her mouth. He looked down at her, mouth smiling, but eyes sad. “Are we feeling sorry for ourselves again, Maya?”
She pushed him away angrily. “I want to know why! Why attach yourself to a dying woman? Do you think that by helping me, by being with me that somehow makes you closer to Cinder? What are you trying to atone for Andrei?”
The silence in the room was deafening and she knew she’d gone too far. But she was angry and scared and she felt unworthy of this beautiful, healthy, so alive man. It wasn’t fair! Why couldn’t she have met him when she was beautiful and healthy and full of life too?
He stood up and went to the sink, rinsing out the washcloth and filling a cup with water. Walking back and handing it to her, he said, “Drink.”
Contrite, she did as she was told. When the water was gone, he placed that on the bathroom sink as well.
“I’m going to lift you up and bring you to bed. Is that okay?”
Maya closed her eyes and sighed. “Dre, I’m so sorry…”
“Don’t worry about it Maya. Can I help you to bed?” Not trusting herself to speak again, she nodded.
He reached down and scooped her up, walking back into the bedroom and placing her in the middle of the bed. Once her body touched the sheets, she scooted over and curled into a ball. She watched as he took his clothes off and changed into pajama bottoms, telling herself, “Don’t fall in love Maya, do not fall in love…”
“I have so much to tell you.” Dre laughed and passed her a strawberry, followed by a kiss. She was cuddled on his lap, his body heat warming her normally cold limbs. Yesterday had been her last day of chemo. No more little blue pills. To celebrate, they were gorging on fruits, nuts and veggies. Her appetite wasn’t back to normal yet but she wasn’t complaining.
She smiled back and said, “I want to know everything.” They had spent the whole day talking about their pasts, their families, old loves, their dreams, their fears and their hopes. “Wasn’t it weird, being the only one different in your family?”
Andrei looked down at her and smiled. “No. In my family, the only weird one was Tony. And even that didn’t last. My sister and mom are witches; my dad is a wolf like me. Tony was the normal one – at least until he started turning into a ghost.”
It was Maya’s turn to stare at him. “Wow.”
Laughing, he gave her another kiss. “Yeah, I know.”
“Alright, first love?” She asked. He gave her a sad smile and shrugged. Oh right, Cinder. “Well, mine was Oscar Bellefonte. He was in my art class in junior high. Dumb as rocks but cute!”
“Oh, is that how you like them then?” Dre teased her with another piece of fruit.
She snatched it from him and ate it. “My tastes have clearly matured. I like you, don’t I?”
“Yes and I like you too.”
She grinned but a part of her felt sad. She could have loved this man. If things were different.
At some point, Dre moved Maya to the bed and stretched out beside her. When she reached up to scratch underneath her head wrap, he looked at her questioningly, “Maya, do you want to take that off?”
She was both startled and scared. After everything they’d just shared, she was feeling very exposed.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to,” he began.
“No. No, it’s alright. I do want to remove it, it itches after a while.” She said the words, but she made no attempt to remove the scarf.
“Should I?” He asked.
She nodded once. “Yes please. I can’t seem to move my hands.”
Smiling gently, he gave her a soft kiss and reached up to begin unwrapping. He moved slowly, giving her ample time to change her mind. She didn’t; she just watched him, keeping her eyes locked on his face. When he was done, he leaned back and looked at her.
“You are beautiful Maya.”
It felt like her heart might burst at any second.
“Maya, you awake?”
Maya felt a gentle shake and she was suddenly being dragged from sleep but it was okay because it was Andrei and she loved waking up to his gorgeous face. Yawning, she smiled. “I am now.”
“Good morning beautiful.” He gave her a small kiss and sat back.
She opened her eyes and looked at him, he was up to something. “Good morning.”
“Would you like to go down to the beach today?”
“Yes. That would be nice.” She waited.
“Remember that festival we crashed a year ago?” Dre looked nervous but excited.
“Has it been a year already? Wow.”
“Yup. A year as of today. If we’d signed those papers, this would be our anniversary.”
She sat and stared at him while her heart broke. A whole year. While today signified a joyous occasion for him, all she could think about was the fact that a year ago today was the last day she’d been a normal person and not a cancer victim.
She sighed before giving him a weak smile. “Do you have a gift for me then?”
“Yes.” She was surprised by his answer. There was no way he’d bought her something. They hadn’t left the small island since they got there ten months ago. Because of her seasickness, she didn’t want to get back on a boat, so her doctor was making bi-weekly house calls. Dre demanded the extravagance and he was covering the tab.
She had learned a lot about him, including the fact that his family had an almost unlimited amount of resources at their disposal. Something about being a descendant of a royal line. She was a bit surprised since he didn’t act like someone who came from old money. He lived on a houseboat – albeit a very nice one, he didn’t own a car or a plane or anything else that a rich man would. He was just so down-to-earth.
“Gimme,” she said.
He pulled her off the bed and led her outside onto the sand. A few feet away was a beautiful wooden gazebo. He’d placed the lounge chairs underneath and had added a floating chair, a couch and an ottoman. She turned and looked at him. “When did you make this?”
“Well, I just put it together. I had it made and brought over. Last night after you fell asleep, I put it up. I know you like to be outside in the breeze and that you tend to fall asleep in the rain. I thought this would be a good compromise.” He looked at her nervously. “Do you like it?”
She turned and hugged him. “I love it! Thank you.” Maya went and sat down on the floating chair. It was perfect. Dre was perfect. She looked at him and knew she was in love with this man.