Dre had called sixteen times back-to-back. She wouldn’t not pick up. She knew he worried. All he could think of was the time he’d found her, sleeping out in the rain, oblivious to the storm that was raging overhead. He’d been terrified that she’d catch pneumonia. She’d promised him she would never do something like that again but he’d always been there to make sure. What if she’d forgotten? He shook his head, it was a beautiful day out and he’d spoken to her earlier in the day, she’d been fine. Well, she’d sounded tired, maybe even a bit more than usual, but otherwise, fine.
When he finally managed to get to the small island – picking it was the dumbest decision he’d ever made – he ran to the house and opened the door.
“Maya! Maya, where are you!” He bellowed, running through the house, taking the stairs two at a time up to the bedroom and adjoining bath before heading back down to the living room.
He stopped short, dropping to his knees in front of an unconscious Maya. He checked her pulse to make sure she was still breathing and took out his phone, calling the paramedics and giving them the needed details. Her pulse was faint and erratic. Once he knew airlift was on their way, he turned her gently onto her back and began CPR.
Sitting by Maya’s bed at the hospital, Andrei sighed. Wasn’t he just in a hospital a few months ago? Why were the people he loved always getting hurt? He stood and looked down at Maya. Yes, he loved her. More than he would have thought possible. It wasn’t fair, he needed more time.
Eva had just found something about rules and finding his wulfric. She was still searching but he’d been so hopeful. He’d come home a couple of days early so he could tell her.
“Maya, we are so close sweetheart. So close to finding a loophole to get me out of this mating thing. I just need you to stay with me a little longer. Then we’ll sign those papers, hell, we’ll get married all over again but for real this time. Please, just don’t leave me. Not yet. I love you, Maya. I love you.”
Someone cleared their throat and he turned to see Maya’s mother standing by the door. He recognized her from Maya’s photos. “Andrei, right?”
“Yes. Mrs. Charles?” She nodded and looked over to her unconscious daughter. “I’ll give you some privacy.” Andrei leaned down and gave Maya a quick kiss. “I’ll be right outside. Your mom is here now.”
He walked out and stood in the hallway. He didn’t want to go too far. His father said that when he was in his coma, he could hear everything people were saying, he just hadn’t been able to respond. Dre hoped it was the same with Maya. Once he got a chance to be alone with her again, he would tell her how much he needed her. Maybe she would hear and fight harder, if only to kick his ass for not keeping his promise.
He remembered that night, when she’d told him not to fall for her. It had already been too late. Dre closed his eyes and thought of Maya, his beautiful sun-worshipper. I love you Maya. He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that it took him a moment to realize the beeping sound was coming from her room. Not until a nurse brushed pass him did he snap out of his shock.
Samantha Charles walked out of the room in tears. “Mrs. Charles?”
“She’s gone. She’s just gone.”
Andrei felt the world tilt and he closed his eyes, trying to reorient himself. No, she couldn’t be dead. He wasn’t ready.
The doctor came out of the room and called Samantha over. Andrei stood there, feeling once again the rage he’d been harboring in his heart. He should be the one the doctor was talking to; he should be her next of kin. He should be her husband and they should have a home on one of those tiny islands. She would be the mother of his children and they would have a dozen of them. She’d be happy and healthy and loved. He would love her as only her mate could, with everything in him. Heart, body and soul. She wasn’t dead. She couldn’t be.
Not dead. Not dead. Maya…
“My heartbeat mocks me, my love. It says, ‘You’re alive. You are supposed to continue living.‘ But I don’t want to continue. I want to be with you, like we promised. I want to go to you and tell you I love you, one more time.”
Tony looked down at the urn where Maya’s cremated remains rested. She’d wanted to be sprinkled in the ocean in Isla. It was the last thing she’d asked him to do for her. She wanted to live on in the ocean that she loved so much.
He thought of going back to that small island without her and had to choke back tears. There was nothing there to go back to. The night she died, after they took her body away, he’d gone back to the house to pack up their stuff. Her mother would want the photo albums and her jewelry. He’d packed everything on the boat and then he’d burned the house down.
He’d started the fire in the spot where he’d found her body. He hated that fucking house.
Turning away from the urn, he went to greet some people. The small chapel was full of her family and friends, people he’d never had the chance to meet until today. He felt like he already knew them though. She had told him everything about herself.
Feeling dizzy, he went to sit down in one of the pews. As he passed by an alcove, he saw Eva speaking to Riley. He’d forgotten for a moment that his own family and friends were here too. It’s a good turnout sweetheart. You are loved.
It was while he was sitting, eyes closed that he heard the commotion. Turning around in his seat he saw a red face man staring back at him. Cinder’s father, which meant her mother would be –
“You have some nerve!” Ah, there she was, Mrs. Langston McDonough.
He stood up and nodded to her. “Mrs. McDonough.”
“Wasn’t ruining my daughter’s life enough for you? You had to go after sweet Maya?”
He flinched at the sound of her name. Hearing it come out of this woman’s mouth was almost too much to bear. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Samantha Charles arguing with Cinder’s father and that made him angry. How dare these people come and upset her like this! “Mrs. McDonough, I know you’re grieving but this is not the time or place to have this discussion.”
She drew herself up proudly and hissed, “Everywhere you go, death follows. Stay away from my family!”
She turned around sharply and went to fetch her husband. He watched as Samantha tried to calm everyone the McDonough’s had riled up. Never a dull day, right love? That’s what you said to me when we were talking about that side of your family. Never a dull day.
Dre sat back down and closed his eyes again. For the next half hour, he made it a point to ignore everything and everyone around him. He had a long one-sided conversation with her, a habit he’d picked up in the hospital the night she died.
His father had said that he could hear everyone when he was in his coma, so Dre had talked nonstop to her while waiting for someone to come and collect her body. He hoped that her spirit heard him and that she knew how desperately sorry he was, for lying to her, for abandoning her when she needed him the most, for being too late to help her.
He was always too late.
He sensed someone sit down beside him and frowned. The person smelled like Tony – but different. He opened his eyes and saw his twin sitting beside him. “You smell funny.”
“You look funny,” Tony responded, his own eyes closed.
Dre cracked a tiny smile and felt his body relax the teensiest bit. “Thank you for coming.”
“Of course.” Tony opened his eyes and looked around. “Nice chapel.”
Shrugging, Dre said, “Her parents picked it out. Didn’t even know this place existed.”
“Isla Paradiso is a big place.”
Neither of his parents were religious people and he and his siblings weren’t raised under any religious dogma, but growing up he’d sometimes go to church with Caleb and Calli. There was something soothing about the rote of the Christian religion.
She wasn’t big on religion either but she’d been raised Baptist.
“You ever regret meeting Franco?”
Tony’s startled brown eyes turned to meet his. “Every day since I walked out that house.”
Dre sighed. He remembered how devastated Tony had been for those few months. Thank God for Riley. But he’d hoped for a different answer. Something to make his current decision easier. “I think after…all of this is over, I’m going to go back to Ariany for good.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I’m tired of running away from my problems. Maybe this is what I need, to focus on my pack.” He needed to be around other wolves right now and her pack was the only option. He couldn’t go to Caleb.
“You’re upset. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Tony turned back in his seat and closed his eyes again. “You don’t ever go back, remember? You said that to me.”
“I know what I said but she did those things out of grief. And honestly, the way I’m feeling now, I hate myself too.”
“Don’t be stupid Dre. Ariany is not a good replacement for Maya.”
There was her name again. “I’m not trying to replace her, I just think…look, what are my other options? Stay here and be forced to go back once a year? Go back to the way it used to be? I wasn’t happy then and I’ll never be free of Ariany. At least this way maybe we can learn to tolerate each other.”
Even as he said the words, he knew they were lies. He could never learn to do anything but despise Ariany. She was the reason he wasn’t home when he should have been. She was the reason he hadn’t been with…
“Well, you’re an adult. You can do whatever you want.” Tony stood up and walked away.
Eva was next but she didn’t say anything. They just sat in silence, both locked in their private thoughts. He was connected to his twin, mentally, emotionally, but Eva understood him better. She knew that words weren’t necessary, just her presence. They sat, shoulder to shoulder and just breathed together.
“Can I ask you a question?” He broke the silence a while later.
“Of course,” Eva said.
“Do you miss him?” He regretted asking the minute he saw her face.
“Every day,” she said. “There isn’t a moment that passes where I don’t wonder how he would have sounded, looked, lived.”
“I’m sorry Louey, I shouldn’t’ve – ” He started.
“It’s alright. I don’t mind.” She played with the necklace around her throat. “I’ve been going to therapy, with – with Matt. It’s helped.”
Dre glanced away; he didn’t know what to think about that. A part of him was happy that she was doing better but another part wondered why she would want to forget. He couldn’t imagine the pain ever going away.
“It never goes away, Dre.”
“How did you…”
She shrugged. “I will have to live with the fact that I lost my son for the rest of my life. That I can never get back that life. But I have another child that needs his mother. I couldn’t keep going the way I was.”
“I don’t have anyone now.”
“That is not true! You have me, Tony, mom and dad. You have your friends and family, Dre. Live for them. Live for her.”
He sighed. She even understood his aversion to hearing her name. Nodding, he said, “She would have loved you.”
“And I would have loved her, if for no other reason than you did.”