Maya sat and ate her spinach roll. She’d been sitting at this table all day, feeling that this is where she was supposed to be. The owner of the place had taken one look at her and had told her she could wait as long as she wanted.
She was grateful. For the last three months, she’d counted on the kindness of strangers to survive. She’d woken up on an island in the middle of nowhere with no way to call for help. A week in, a rowboat passed by and found her. Gail had taken her to shore and from there it was one kindness after another as she made her way to the East Coast.
When she finally made it, the first thing she did was walk to the beach and stand in the surf. She’d changed into the dress she’d woken up in, her wedding dress. It was the only thing in the world she owned and she’d kept it bundled and safely tucked away, for when she would get to see him again.
But she’d been scared. Too scared to go any further, so she’d walked into the first café she’d seen and had sat there all day.
As she contemplated what she would do once the place closed, she heard him. His laugh was as distinct to her as her own was. She gasped, he was here!
Afraid to turn her head and confirm it, she sat still and stared straight ahead. Was she ready for this, was he? Would he turn her away? Oh God, what if I horrify him?
She stared down at her plate and tried to get her suddenly too rapid heartbeat under control. She could do this, she was ready. She loved him so much, she didn’t think she could bear it if he rejected her.
But he wouldn’t. He’d given her his soul, he was the reason she was here. She would get up and approach him, casually. And say what, exactly?
Before she could come up with a plan, he was there, by her side, pulling a chair out and sitting down.
He didn’t look at her at first, just stared straight ahead. A look of shock, fear, and need swirling around in his eyes. Maya took some strength from that. She could just imagine how she must look.
She opened her mouth to say something but a vaguely familiar woman stepped up to him and said, “Dre, do you want me to order – oh!”
Maya looked at the woman’s protruding stomach and felt her heart sink. Was she his wife? She looked down at his hand and saw a wedding band. Oh.
“I’m sorry, we’ll talk some other time,” The woman murmured and seemed to hesitate for a moment, then she placed a hand on his shoulder before turning and walking out of the café.
“Congratulations?” Maya smiled weakly, trying not to show how much this moment was hurting her. In all the scenarios she’d envisioned, she’d never once considered that he hadn’t waited…that he had moved on. “I guess I should have phoned first, huh?” She gave a hollow laugh that ended in a slight coughing fit. Her throat was suddenly dry.
“You’re barefoot.” He turned and looked at her for the first time.
The words didn’t penetrate at first because she’d forgotten just how mesmerizing his gaze could be. She stared into them and forgot everything for a moment. It would be okay. No matter what, she would forever be grateful that he gave her this second chance. I’m mentally preparing myself for goodbye, so not how I saw this happening!
At his raised eyebrow, she shook herself and said, “Err, I was on the beach, I must have left them there.”
Dre took in a shuddering breath. She was just how he’d remembered, right down to the bare feet. He frowned. No, not quite… “Your eyes look different, greener, somehow.”
“Oh.” She reached up to touch the skin underneath her right eye. “They said that would fade after a while. Something about the fairy leaving her mark.”
“They?” He asked. He wanted to know where she’d been. Who were they? He wanted to pull her up in his arms to prove she was real and solid and…dear Goddess she was back!
She shrugged. “A woman and a man. They were…like me. The man looked just like you, except his hair was a different color, a reddish-brown I think.”
“I see.” He didn’t see but it didn’t matter. She was back.
She smiled slowly, sadly. “Am I too late?”
She hadn’t aged a day. Did he look very different? He didn’t think so but he’d had twelve years to grow accustomed to his appearance.
“To…to be with you again. You’re wearing a wedding ring and that woman –” She shrugged, unable to finish the sentence.
“That was – no, there is no one else.” How could there ever be anyone else? “You were – are – the one.”
She placed a hand against her heart. “You gave me your soul.”
“You’ve had it for a while.” He reached over to brush a stray tear off her face. Their first touch in over a decade. His fingers tingled as he pulled away, as if his very skin knew who she was and was protesting the separation of flesh. “Let’s go home.”
Later that night, as he slipped into bed, he reminded himself to call Siobhan and tell her the news.
He sat and watched Maya sleep for a few moments, again wondering at the sheer magic of it all. She was healthy, happy and she would safe here with him. He would protect her with his life.
As soon as it was feasibly possible, they were going to mate.
He lay down next to her and leaned in close. They’d held hands as they’d walked along the boardwalk, heading to his condo. It was actually Ariany’s home but when she’d decided to move out, she’d signed the deed over to him. It would be their home, if Maya wanted it to be but now that she was back, he was hopeful they could go somewhere else. Somewhere with a lot of sun, so she could sunbathe. Maybe Sunlit Tides. Someplace quiet, private, but not remote. He would never isolate them again, he’d learned from his mistakes.
With that thought, he fell asleep, arms wrapped around her slim but healthy body; Maya’s soft breathing was the best lullaby he could ask for.
Maya woke up the next morning, momentarily confused. She looked over to the other side of the canopied bed she was on and saw Andrei. He was on side, facing her, his hand only a few centimeters away from her own, as if ready to grab her in case she decided to fly away in the middle of the night.
Easing out of the bed, so as not to wake him, she dressed in her one outfit and padded, barefoot, down to what she thought was the kitchen. Smiling at herself for getting it right on the first try, she made herself some cereal and ate it quickly. It was a habit she picked up from her travels, you never knew when your next meal might be or how long the peace and quiet would last, so you ate quickly and you ate a lot. But she’d also become a picky eater. She couldn’t stomach meat anymore.
Maya was just finishing her breakfast when Dre came into the room.
“Oh.” He said.
“Hello.” She responded, shyly. He looked almost as though he hadn’t expected her to be there.
“When I woke up to an empty bed, I thought I’d imagined…” He paused, frowning, “you’re wearing the same dress.”
She blushed, playing with the now frayed hem of her clothes. “It’s all I have. Sorry.” How embarrassing. He’d given her his football jersey the night before to sleep in, the old familiar red shirt comforting. And she’d used his washer and dryer to clean the dress, so at least there was that.
“We’ll see if we can find something and then we can go pick up a few things.” He walked to the fridge and opened the door. “Jesus! These kids don’t ever throw anything away!”
As he grabbed a trash bag and began dumping containers of old food away, she asked, “Kids?” He’d told her last night there hadn’t been anyone else. Was that a lie?
“My nieces are staying with me…again. It’s become some kind of ritual or something. Two weeks of torture.” When he turned to look at her she saw that he was smiling. Oh, good. For a moment there she’d worried.
She liked children, had wanted some of her own one day but the chemo…anyway, she was glad he enjoyed the company of his family. “Are they here now?”
She hadn’t seen anyone but she hadn’t been looking.
“Probably still snoring away in bed. Proper ladies do not wake before noon.” He smiled at her and headed towards the garbage can. “They don’t clean or cook and Goddess forbid if you want to go fishing!”
Laughing, Maya placed her bowl in the dishwasher. “Sounds about right.”
As predicted, at noon the sound of feet could be heard running down the stairs. “Here they come.”
Dre watched as Maya braced herself, taking a seat at the kitchen table, her goopy carbonara untouched. He walked over to her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, they’re good girls.”
He sat at his own place at the head of the table and began to eat.
One by one, his nieces came in and grabbed a plate of food. Soon everyone was eating except Maya.
Clearing his throat, Dre made the introductions, “Girls, I’d like you all to meet a very special person. This is Maya.”
He left it at that because he didn’t know what to call her. She was more than his girlfriend but he wasn’t sure if she was okay with him saying soon-to-be-mate. He’d have to ask.
“Maya, I’d like to introduce you to Stephanie, Emma and Grace.”
Steph and Em both made very un-ladylike grunts and mumbled hello as they kept on eating.
Gracie, however, put her fork down and stared at Maya. She tilted her head to the side, the same way Tony did when he was studying something he found weird but interesting.
Finally, she straightened herself out and said simply, “Hello.”
Maya smiled at the child in front of her and said hello back.
Dre looked at her and said, “Well, that went well.”
Steph rolled her eyes but giggled when he pulled a lock of her hair.
“Are you going to live with Uncle Dre now? Are you going to be our new aunt?” Emma asked. “I already have an aunt, you know, and two uncles. It will be nice to have an even number though. Yup.”
She didn’t wait for a response but went back to eating. Dre just shook his head. “I’m surrounded by women! Gracie, when does Al come by?”
Grace’s face lit up. “Tomorrow at one o’clock. We’re going to the museum.”
Grace and Alistair had a weird dynamic duo thing. They had a standing date every Wednesday. And he showed up, without fail each time, no matter what part of the country Grace was in. When he couldn’t make, he let her know in advance.
“Stephanie, I hope you don’t mind, but I borrowed some of your clothes. But I will clean them and place them back where I found them later today.” Maya told the older girl.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Stephanie said, standing up. “But what happened to your clothes?”
Maya blushed and Dre looked over at her. “She only had the one dress. But we’re getting some more today.”
Steph’s face lit up. “Shopping? We’re going shopping?”
“Err, well, I was hoping you’d stay with the girls…” he began, but she wasn’t listening.
“Okay you two,” she said to her cousins, “shower and change in ten minutes.” Steph grabbed her plate and whirled towards the dishwasher. “We’re going shopping!”
Dre groaned but stood up. There was no point arguing. “I’ll go start the car.”
He could hear Maya laughing as he walked out the kitchen.
Then he realized. Every day. He wanted to hear that sound every single day for the rest of his life.
They walked into Black & White two hours later and Dre held the door open for a little girl as she ran out. As they walked around, Dre studied Maya closely and could have kicked himself. He’d brought her here because it was the most expensive and chic boutique in town. But it definitely was not Maya’s style, it was Ariany’s.
He watched as one of the sales representatives eyed his nieces before turning her critical eye to Maya. He frowned and called the woman over.
“Welcome to Black & White. Were you looking for something in particular or are you and your…family just browsing?”
He didn’t like this woman. “Actually, we need whole new wardrobes…for my entire family.” He could see her perk up. “There is no budget.” He pulled out his wallet and handed her his black card. He made good money as a diver and he was lucky enough to come from money. And at times like these, he had no problems flaunting that fact.
She immediately straightened and gave him a megawatt smile. “Of course Mr…” Looking down at the name on his card her eyes widened. “Mr. London, I think we may already have your information on file.”
She glanced at Maya again and he inwardly winced. This store was Ariany’s style and for a while, he’d been footing her shopping sprees. Of course the rep would recognize the name.
It was getting dark. Dre turned to look at Stephanie. “Do you want to bring the girls home? Emma looks exhausted.”
His niece wasn’t really into these kinds of things, she’d much rather build things that she could then destroy. Grace on the other hand was sitting at a table, drinking the tea and nibbling on the sconces that another sales rep had provided.
“Yeah, sure. I want to go try on some of this stuff anyway.” Stephanie – by herself – had made a huge dent in his checking account. But she’d also been very helpful with Maya, explaining the latest fashions, the big name designers and such. For Maya, a fashion designer herself, this was the best gift the girl could give her. A decade was a long time in the fashion world. It was a long time, period.
Rounding up the girls, Dre said goodbye and put them in a cab.
When he came back up, Maya was having a quiet conversation with the rep. She looked up when he approached and smiled and his heart did a sort of flip-flop in his chest. Goddess, she was beautiful.
He sat back down and watched her turn this way and that, deciding if she liked the dress. He saw her eyes briefly rest on a dress to his left and turning his head to look at it he could see why. It was a beautiful wedding dress.
Maya stood in front of the mirror and glanced at the dress again. It was stunning. She smoothed down the outfit she had on. She hadn’t wanted to hurt Dre feelings so she’d allowed the sales girl to dress her up and parade her out to him for the last two hours. But honestly, this place and the clothes didn’t really appeal to her tastes. Yes, these were the kinds of dresses she’d had in her own shop but she loved color. And so the dress on the pedestal, the one bright thing out on display – the sales rep had to forage for what she was wearing now – held her attention. It would make such a lovely wedding dress.
On that thought it occurred to her that she hadn’t considered what would happen when she made it back to him. He seemed, happy, with her presence but wary at the same time. And in fairness, she was sure she was a bit restrained with him to. It’s not every day one came back from the dead.
In her trek back, she’d envisioned all kinds of reunions, several of which ended with them getting married. But so far, he hadn’t so much as touched her in an amorous way. A peck on the cheek, a slight squeeze on the shoulder…he showed more affection than that towards his nieces. At that thought, she flushed in shame. She should not be jealous of those girls. He loved them and from what she could tell, they loved him back.
She thought of the people she’d met right before she came back to life. They’d urged her to find him, had explained why she was going back and told her to hurry. But no one had told her what she should do once she did find him. She couldn’t very well go back to her old life, now could she?