“Okay, sweetheart, the Treat-y of Versailles was signed in what year again?” I asked my daughter. A simple history question, but I could see her young eyes glazing over and I needed to keep her focused. Her exams were coming up and she needed to get a good grade for us to move on to the next grade level. She was fairly advanced as it was, but I knew she wanted to finish her schooling before her friends. An unexpected perk to being homeschooled.
“N-nine-t-teen nineteen,” she responded, struggling at first, but finishing strong. She smiled up at me. “Th-that’s an easy one, D-daddy.” History was her favorite subject, so I was glad to see her more alert.
I smoothed my hand over her hair, smiling. Shortly after her third birthday, December had been diagnosed as having a speech impediment: a stutter. The doctors weren’t sure what caused it. There was the possibility that she had suffered an unrecognized injury at birth, but there was no way of being sure. One thing the doctors told us was that a few years of speech therapy would do wonders for her. Unfortunately, her improvement had been very subtle. We had made the decision after her first year of school to homeschool December. It had been apparent that the school system was not equipped to deal with her condition and our exceedingly bright child had become frustrated in the classroom. With Pacifica and I working primarily from home, it was easy for us to take on the responsibility. Couple that with December’s intelligence and eagerness to learn, and there had been little trouble. She was still seeing a speech therapist twice a week, but we began to wonder if it was in vain.
Behind us, Pacifica created a soft melody on the piano. Her last client of the day had left about thirty minutes prior, so she was enjoying herself by providing soothing background music to her daughter’s studies. Pacifica had gladly exchanged fame for teaching piano and voice to teens and adults. It allowed her to get back to the roots of her musical abilities without the strain of the spotlight. She still enjoyed writing music from time to time, but it was reserved for the ears of her family, instead of an adoring public.
I had worried in the beginning that Pacifica would find herself missing all the excitement of living in the city and being a star, but she frequently exclaimed that she was a fool to think seeing her name in lights was the best life could offer. Being a mother was more important to her than any record contract.
We had become highly domesticated in the eight years since the girls had been born. Cedar had long ago moved toward sustainable living, with chickens and a vegetable garden, and it was his and Serene’s influence that had led us to make a lot of changes. We still enjoyed the occasional cheeseburger and fries, but we wanted our daughters to grow up eating a balanced diet.
The chickens were a fun and welcome change to our daily lives. I got up each morning to retrieve the eggs so I could whip up an omelet for my girls before they started their school day: December at home and Azurine at the local elementary school. The girls adored them, as well. Azurine had named each of them. I couldn’t tell the difference between Sapphire and Pearl or Diamond and Emerald…but my sassy child made sure to set me straight any time I got a name wrong.
Pacifica had found a passion in gardening that she had never expected. When we had made the decision to plant some vegetables, she had agreed grudgingly to help out. She quickly discovered that her time in the garden was better than meditation. It gave her time alone with her thoughts while bringing her back to the roots of what it meant to be alive. One tomato plant quickly turned into two, and suddenly we had berries and trees to go along with them. My love’s once perfectly-manicured nails were now constantly caked with dirt.
I heard excited footsteps coming up the stairs and I turned in time to see Azurine and her cousin, Amulet, bounce into the room. Cedar and Serene’s eldest was only two months older than our girls, so she spent a lot of time at our house. She and Azurine were in the same class at school, as well, so needless to say…they were joined at the hip. Pacifica and I appreciated that Amulet’s mellow personality helped balance the energetic Azurine.
“Hey Daddy,” my child said breathlessly, “Can Snow come play with us?” She had taken to calling her sister Snow when they were young. December reciprocated by calling her Iris.
“C-can I? Pl-please, Daddy?” December looked up at me with a pout. “I’ve d-done a-all my work f-for today.”
I looked down into my daughter’s big blue eyes, the same shade as her mother’s and sister’s. Her cheeks were mottled with some kind of bizarre rash, as if the poor child didn’t have enough to deal with. It had been present since her early years, but we hadn’t taken notice of it until it started to get worse in the past year. She was fluttering her eyelashes and sticking out her bottom lip in a dramatic show of desperation. I laughed.
“Yeah, you’ve done a lot today. Go on. Just make sure you guys are washed up and ready for dinner by six!”
December squealed with excitement and jumped up to join her sister.
“S-so what d-do you guys w-wan-wanna do?” December choked out shyly.
Neither girl took notice of her impediment, listening patiently for her to finish before Azurine began chattering with excitement. “We could play tag in the front yard or we could go swimming in the lake or we could paint each other’s nails or I think we have some board games that we could play if you wanna do that instead…” Azurine barely took a breath in between each thought, bouncing the entire time she spoke. Pacifica and I often joked that Azurine had stolen December’s words in the womb. Whereas December struggled to get the words out, Azurine seemed to have an abundance of words. And she never hesitated to use them.
“Why don’t we go play on the slip and slide?” Amulet offered up. “I think I still have a bathing suit here from the last time.” Always the pragmatic one, not that I’d expect anything less from Cedar’s child.
As they scrambled out of the room, I shook my head, smiling. “Those girls,” I said softly.
“But they’re ours,” Pacifica chimed in behind me. I could hear the laughter in her voice.
I started to respond, but I was cut off by the sound of Pacifica’s phone ringing. I recognized the tone instantly: Cotton Candy.
“Hey, what’s up?” Pacifica asked. I couldn’t hear what Cotton Candy was saying, but Pacifica let out a little laugh. “Yeah, one year olds tend to do that, Cotton,” she said. Pacifica’s best friend had gotten married about two years after the twins were born, but she and her husband had had difficulty conceiving. Their infant son had just turned one and Cotton Candy was still getting used to the newness of being a mother. She called often to ask for advice.
“No, I’m not sitting down,” I heard Pacifica say with concern. “Should I be?”
There was a long pause. “Is everything alright?” I asked cautiously, but Pacifica didn’t seem to hear.
“Please, just tell me what’s going on, Cotton,” she said with frustration. There was a long pause before I heard the soft echo of a voice on the other end.
Pacifica began to sway. She hung up the phone without saying a word.
She stood frozen for a moment, but as soon as she got her bearings, she bolted from the room. I called after her to inquire about what was happening, but she didn’t hesitate in her quick movements. She took off down the stairs and all I could do was stare after her, worry growing deeper in my chest.
I tried to imagine what her friend had told her. The conversation had begun with talk of Cotton Candy’s baby, so I couldn’t imagine it had anything to do with her family. Pacifica’s parents were dead and Serene lived down the street: no possibilities there. As far as I knew, Pacifica didn’t have any other close friends from her time in Briocheport, so I was completely stumped at what was eating away at my girlfriend’s peace of mind.
I looked at the door where she’d fled for a few moments, trying to understand what was going on. Once I was able to shake the sense of panic that had set it, I managed to take a step forward. Then another. Next thing I knew I was following her path out the door, eager to discern what was taking place in her head.
I found her at the back of the house in the small gazebo we had set up for the girls. She stared off over the water, her spine straight with anxiety. I looked at her, not moving an inch. She hadn’t heard me approach, so I took a few moments to watch her.
I had never found the right time to propose to her. Life and my own personal fears had gotten in the way. Pacifica had taken to calling us “partners in life.” She never said anything about marriage and I had often wondered if she felt disappointed by my unwillingness to propose to her. She had never suggested any resentment, but I found myself questioning her feelings about the whole situation.
I stepped forward and she looked up.
I moved closer to her, feeling awkward as I did so. I didn’t know what was going on and I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. I rubbed my neck, looking for the words to comfort her…regardless of what had happened.
I didn’t have to say a word because she volunteered the information on her own. “Valentino is dead. Got himself killed in a car accident.” She said nothing more than that.
I felt my stomach tighten. Valentino? Truth be told, I hadn’t spared a thought for him in years. It was funny, considering how big a role he played in mine and Pacifica’s budding relationship, but since the girls had been born, I hadn’t had reason to even consider where he was or what he was doing. But apparently I was alone in that. Had Pacifica been thinking about him all these years? She seemed awfully dismayed by the news of his death, and that did not sit well with me. I thought we had something wonderful, but I found myself questioning everything our lives had been the past eight years. Did she lie in bed beside me each night thinking of Valentino? That was preposterous! The man beat her. Why was she shedding a tear over his well-deserved demise?
“I’m sorry,” I said with an edge in my voice.
She looked at me with surprise, before letting out a humorless laugh. “It’s not what you think, Eden. I’m not sorry he’s dead. Not by a long shot.” Her mouth curled into a snarl of pure disgust.
“But…why do you seem so upset?” I asked. It didn’t make any sense to me. For someone who was happy to hear of his death, her demeanor was awfully riled.
“I’m not…upset. I’m…relieved.” Relieved? “You don’t understand, Eden. He’s been…this albatross over our lives for so long. I was always so afraid that he would come back. That he would hurt you or the girls. And it’s stupid that I would believe that because he was in Briocheport living a life of fame and wealth. What possible reason could he have for wanting to mess with me? But the feeling was there…the fear. He had worked so hard to punish me for loving you, then he tried to hurt me when he found out I was pregnant, I just…” she cut off, shaking her head angrily.
I watched her for a moment, waiting for her to finish her story.
“Now he’s gone and this cloud is lifted. He’s not going to haunt my nightmares anymore, Eden. I feel…free. We’re free.” She laughed, this time with feeling.
And it was at that moment that I knew. I knew what I had waited so long for, even if I hadn’t recognized it. This was our time. Our lives were going to start. All I needed to do was hide my anxiety and do what I should have done years ago. I took off running toward the house, not bothering to say a word to Pacifica.
“Eden, wait!” She called after me. But I didn’t stop. I had to do this before the fear came back. While the relief was still fresh.
There it was. Hidden in the same spot it had been for years. I had looked at it periodically in the time since I had bought it, but the ring remained trapped in the back of my drawer, waiting for the day it would come to rest where it belonged: on Pacifica’s finger. I couldn’t believe I had allowed myself to go this long without making her my wife. It suddenly seemed insane in retrospect. The fear felt foolish and childish. I knew that this was the perfect time to propose.
When I walked back outside, Pacifica was standing at the edge of the cliff looking over the water, her arms resting at her sides. I was struck by how beautiful she was. I closed my eyes and remembered this very spot over eight years before. It was our first day here. Pacifica had been pregnant. The rain had been coming down in torrents. It was amazing to think of all that we had weathered in these years. If someone had told me at the age of 25 that this is where we would be now, standing in this very spot…I don’t know that I could have imagined it. Pacifica had changed slightly in that time. Her hair was shorter, curled more at the edges. Her waist and breasts had become fuller in her time as a busy mother. She had subtle lines creasing her forehead from too many exasperated expressions. But she was still every bit as stunning as the first time I’d laid eyes on her. That over-done, super polished young woman had grown into a strong, earthy mother, and I loved her with every beat of my heart. She was perfect. She was the strong, beautiful force of nature that had come into my dismal life and made it bright.
I walked up behind her, wrappings my hearts around her shoulders. She jumped with a bit of start at first, but she relaxed into my embrace after a moment. For an eternity, we stood there, letting the salty breeze from the water below wash over us. Her hair still smelled like apples, with a hint of dirt and springtime sweat clinging to her skin.
“Where did you go?” She asked finally, her voice just above a whisper.
“I need to do something,” I responded.
She turned to me, her eyes wide. “Oh?”
I took a deep breath, trying to think of the right words to say. “It’s something I should have done years ago. I guess I was waiting for the right moment.” I chuckled, feeling a little bit nervous about the whole thing.
Finally, I dropped to one knee.
“Pacifica Ocean, I think I have loved you since the first time you walked into my dad’s office. It took some figuring out, but once I realized how much you meant to me, I knew I could never let you go.”
Her eyes welled up with tears and she nodded, waiting for me to continue.
I took a big gulp of air. “We have two beautiful daughters together, a home, and a life more wonderful than I ever thought possible for myself. I love you.” This was it, the big moment. “Will you…marry me?”
She squealed. “Of course I will, Edie. I love you so much!”
I placed the ring on her finger and she gazed down at it, a big smile on her face. “What took so long? That ring has been hiding in your drawer for years.”
My eyes widened, but I laughed aloud. “You mean, you knew?” I couldn’t believe it. All this time I thought it was some big secret and she had known of the ring’s existence all along.
“Of course. I do a large portion of the laundry,” she said, grinning. I could see the laugh lines creasing her cheeks, but that was just another thing about her that I loved. “I didn’t say anything because I knew you would propose when you were ready.”
I pulled her close, dipping her into a kiss. She squeaked, but she returned the kiss. I held her tightly in my arms, relishing the feel of her soft flesh beneath my hands.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting so long,” I said.
She smiled wistfully at me. She reached out to touch my cheek and whispered, “For you, Eden, I would wait forever.” I kissed her again.
I wrapped Pacifica tightly in an embrace, where we stayed for a long time. Looking over her shoulder, I could see the lights on the beach below. I recalled our first kiss that day after we swam in the ocean. So much had changed. Not just my life, but me. I had changed. I had a beautiful woman that I loved who loved me, and we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. We had two precious daughters. My life was complete. Everything I never even thought possible had come to be. I was truly and irrevocably in a state of happiness.
Life was perfect.