“You want to what?” I asked, not bothering to hide the look of concern that was clouding my face.
I had been here almost a week and Pacifica and I had gotten to know each other in ways far beyond the physical. That isn’t to say that we weren’t enjoying a lot of lovemaking, because I had certainly become accustomed to every curve and swell of her frame. But it was more than that, more than what you could get from a conversation, or a physical coupling. We were downright domestic. I now knew that she liked just a splash of milk on her cereal, and that she took extremely long showers. I knew that she only snored after making love, and that she occasionally smiled in her sleep. There was something so beautiful and close about our relationship. I knew it had only been seven days, but I felt like we had been together for a lifetime; I could barely recall the mornings where I had awoken without her by my side. It was amazing, but something about it left me petrified, afraid to take a step. And now she wanted to –
“C’mon, Edie, you’ll love the Valentine Resort!” She begged, pulling her knees to her chest in a moment of insecurity. “I mean, you don’t have to, but I think you would have fun.” She smiled at me shakily, waiting for my answer with bated breath.
“I –“ I didn’t want to let her down, no matter how anxious the idea made me, “I guess if it’s only for two nights.”
She squealed and jumped off the bed, throwing herself into my arms. “You won’t regret it, Edie, I promise.”
She wrapped her arms around my shoulders and I kissed her tenderly. A weekend trip, just the two of us. It shouldn’t have been such a frightening thought – after all, we’d been holed up together in her apartment for a week – but there was something so much more intimate about being alone together at a resort. More romantic than eating cereal together while watching television. Did this mean something for our relationship? Was this going to somehow change everything? Part of me wanted this to mean something; for it to push us into becoming more than what we were now. But the other part of me was afraid.
I pressed my face into her hair as her head came down on my shoulder. She smelled sweet, delicate. For now she was mine and I wasn’t going to let fear stand in the way. If she wanted a romantic resort weekend, I was going to give it to her.
“Go ahead and make the reservations,” I said, taking a calming breath.
We drove for three and a half hours to reach the resort, and the sun was dropping toward the horizon, tinting the world in a haze of orange and red. The building before me was nothing like what I expected. It was more reminiscent of an old log cabin than what I pictured for a resort. I’d had in image of a contemporary building, flooded with employees in white suits carrying champagne; something clinical. But the homeliness of the venue before me felt welcoming and warm. It eased my mind and raised my spirits. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Pacifica asked wistfully, her eyes sparkling with content.
I couldn’t help but smile as I admired her silhouette, bathed in the glow of the setting sun. “You sure are,” I responded.
She looked at me with shock, her cheeks flushing from the unexpected compliment. “Oh, Edie,” she said with a soft giggle. I opened my mouth to say something else, to extend the moment, but she took off toward the door.
She was an enigma. One minute she was doing everything in her power to seduce me, and the next she was running from me. I didn’t understand what it meant.
There was an elderly woman with pink skin standing behind a desk as we entered. She had a stern expression on her face while she studied what appeared to be an accounting log. She closed the brown leather ledger and looked up at us. For a moment, her sour expression lingered, and I had to resist the urge to step back slowly. But she quickly broke into a welcoming grin.
“Oh, you must be Tropical and Pacifica!” She said in a booming voice, one that contradicted the frailty of her aging form. “I’m Rosa Valentine, the owner of this lovely resort. I’ve been waiting for you!” She clapped her hands together excitedly.
She must have seen me raise an eyebrow at her enthusiasm because she quickly added, “You’re the first customers I’ve had all month.” She sighed sadly. “Ever since my husband died, I’ve been all by my lonesome up here.” Her smile quickly returned. “But now you are here, a young, beautiful couple. And that’s what’s important, right?”
My stomach knotted at the word couple. That’s obviously what we were, a man and a woman together for a romantic weekend – a couple – but there was some deeper implication in her tone that I wasn’t in the frame of mind to ponder.
Pacifica stepped forward and shook the old woman’s hand. “Absolutely,” she said in response to the previous question. “We’ll just be here for the weekend, but I’m looking forward to enjoying the amenities.”
Rosa wrinkled her nose and sniffed. “Well, we don’t have any fancy spas or couples massages or whatever new-fangled luxuries newer resorts are offering that takes away our business, but,” she smiled a bit, “we have a beautiful fireplace, a pool and a hot tub outside, and satin sheets to make your time together more enjoyable.” She gave a small wink and I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment.
“Thank you!” Pacifica said with excitement, bouncing a little as she spoke. “What room are we in?” She asked.
Rosa pulled a key from the drawer of her desk and handed it to Pacifica. “You’re in the Rose suite, of course!”
As we started to walk away, Rosa called after us. “You two should come on Valentine’s Day weekend. The snowfall up here in the mountains is so romantic.”
Pacifica smiled. “What do you say, Edie, should we come for Valentine’s Day?” I couldn’t grasp the idea. Valentine’s Day was still months away. It terrified me to imagine where we would be by then.
I swallowed hard. “We’ll see.”
As soon as we entered the room, Pacifica got to work building a fire. Although it was the last week of May, there was a lingering chill in the air that created an icy draft in the long-forgotten suite and left an ache in my bones.
“I can do that if you want,” I said with wounded pride. She should be relaxing and enjoying a moment of solitude, not doing a laborious task that I, a man, should have stepped in to complete long before she reached the fireplace. I didn’t want her to see me as weak. I wanted to impress her.
She turned to me and grinned. “Nah, building fires calms my nerves,” she said. “My daddy taught me how when I was barely walking.” My heart caught hard in my chest every time she mentioned her childhood. In spite of her constant chatter, her parents and her life prior to their death was a topic she rarely broached with me. I felt like an important part of her world each time she let me in.
Trusting her to finish the task without my assistance, and feeling secure in my role as a man, I threw myself backward on the large bed, landing with a soft bounce as the springs gave way beneath my weight. It was delightfully and surprisingly comfortable. I sighed softly with a feeling of serenity, leaning my head back against the satin pillowcases.
“Enjoying yourself?” Pacifica asked teasingly as she rose from beside the fireplace. She wiped from her hands onto her jeans and looked up at me with a smile, shaking her head.
“I sure am,” I said softly. I closed my eyes for a moment until I heard a rustle of clothing.
Pacifica had stripped out of her top and jeans, leaving only her silken bra and panties. “What are you doing?” I asked, rising up in the bed. Did she want to make love? Now? But we’d only just arrived.
“I’m taking a bath, silly,” she said, sticking her tongue out. She sashayed her hips teasingly as she crept behind a partition in the corner of the room.
“There’s a bathtub in the middle of the room?” I asked, raising my eyebrow. I’d never been in a hotel room that had a bathtub anywhere but inside the bathroom. Then again, this was technically a resort, so I didn’t know how things worked.
She peeked through the holes of the divider, making a heart with her fingers. “It’s just in case couples want to enjoy some together time and get clean all at once,” she said, sticking her tongue out. “It’s supposed to be romantic.”
I pondered the idea for a moment before jumping off the bed. “You know what’s even more romantic?” I asked, grinning seductively.
“What?” She asked with wide eyes.
I came around and swept her up into my arms. She tossed her hands around my neck with a little squeal. “Edie, what about my bath?” She asked, her pitch reaching a higher octave.
“You can bathe when we’re done,” I said coyly.
She laughed, snorting a bit as she did so. “So bold, Edie. I like this new side of you.” She nestled her head into my shoulder, looking up at me with longing in her bright blue eyes.
“Only for you,” I said in a hushed tone. And it was true. Pacifica brought out a strength in me that I had never before experienced; a feeling of stability that I had long wanted, even if I hadn’t realized it. Even in those moments where it felt like I was falling into an abyss, overwhelmed by some unrecognizable force, one glance at her smiling face put me back on solid ground. I wanted to be a rock for her, as well.
I laid her down gently on the rug before the roaring fire. I leaned over her, pressing my lips into hers, drinking in the sweet warmth of her mouth. I could feel the heat of her skin through my clothes and it was empowering. She was vulnerable, nearly nude beneath my fully covered form, but she continued to smile up at me. I made her feel safe, and that made me feel strong. I tangled my fingers into her hair, letting the silkiness of the strands weave a tactile comfort over me, which permeated my entire being.
“You have on too many clothes,” she said, pushing my jacket from my shoulders. I tossed it into a corner, then pulled my shirt over my head.
“So do you, my dear,” I said, gently tugging the strap of her bra off her shoulder. I pressed my lips softly against her collarbone, trailing kisses up across her neck until I reached her mouth. She moaned contentedly beneath the kiss, bringing her fingers up to caress my cheek.
Within minutes we were stripped of our remaining clothing, relying on the heat of the fire and the warmth of our respective bodies to rescue us from the chill in the air. We made love slowly, memorizing the sensation of our swaying forms as they danced in perfect harmony. We were like two pieces of a puzzle that had finally found their match, and we moved in a rhythm so divine that no bard could compose its beauty into mere words.
Soon we fell back against the rug, Pacifica’s head resting firmly over my beating heart. She drifted into sleep, and I listened to the soft sounds of her snoring like it was the answer to some unasked question.
I lay there, staring into the dying flames of the fire, trying to empty my mind of the conflict that was overwhelming my senses. I was happy, but there was another emotion there. It was an emotion I couldn’t name, or perhaps didn’t want to name. I knew that I wanted to hold Pacifica forever, safe in my arms, until we took our last breaths. I wanted to spend every evening with my body entwined with hers, to wake each dawn with her enchanting face smiling up at me. The desire burned in me like a fever that I couldn’t control. It was an inferno, creating doubt and turmoil, making promises that I couldn’t guarantee would come true. It was dangerous. I knew enough about fire to know that it ended in one of two ways: it burned out, or it engulfed everything in its path, leaving a trail of destruction. And neither possibility was promising for our future.
I closed my eyes against the uncertainty that stood as an obstacle to my sleep. I focused on the beat of Pacifica’s heart against my stomach; on the rise and fall of her chest as she slept; and on the last traces of warmth from the fireplace. Eventually I fell into a restless sleep.
The next day was fun, but relaxing. It was a welcome diversion from the constant battle of doubt and bliss that raged inside of me. We spent the day lying by the poolside, taking in the rays of the sun. It was still too cold to swim, but the afternoon was thankfully bereft of any icy wind, so we were able to enjoy the weather from the pool chairs.
We spent the evening unwinding in the hot tub. The night air was brisk and cool, so we huddled together beneath the scalding water, submerging ourselves up to our necks in an attempt to keep warm.
Afterward, we curled up beneath the blankets of the glorious bed, making love into the morning. It was completely physical, devoid of emotion. I needed to separate myself from the feelings inside of me that I couldn’t fully comprehend. I cared for Pacifica, needed to be close to her, to be intimate, but I also needed to turn off my heart for a little while. I don’t know if she noticed. She never said a word, snuggling into the crook of my arm as we fell asleep.
Pacifica barely spoke the entire drive home. Nearly four hours of complete silence. She fiddled with the radio, eventually settling for the off position. The only sound was the hum of the engine. I tried to catch her eye once, smiling as I did so, but she continued to stare out the window at the passing landscape. I wanted to say something, to reassure her, but her posture told me that any words of comfort would be unwelcome.
When we arrived at her apartment, she stomped ahead of me up the stairs, saying nothing as she passed. She began to place her key into the lock, but stopped abruptly. She stepped back suddenly.
“Pacifica, what’s wrong?” I asked with concern.
For a moment I feared she wouldn’t respond. She stood frozen, staring at the door. I opened my mouth to ask again, but she quietly said, “The door is unlocked. I know I locked it when I left.”
I felt a shiver of alarm creep up my spine. “Does anyone else have the key?” I asked, my voice shaking.
She looked at me with terror in her eyes before rushing through the door.
I followed behind her, nearly colliding into her back as she halted, a frightened gasp escaping her lips. There was a man with red skin and hair perched on Pacifica’s couch, as if he belonged there. There was something about him that was familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“Valentino,” Pacifica said, her voice breaking on the name. Valentino. I remembered now. This was the man that had terrorized Pacifica, beaten her and left her with a ruined reputation. I could feel the bile rising in my throat, my stomach turning with anger at his unwelcome presence.
“Hey, princess,” he said in a velvety voice. Despite the sickening sweetness of his tone, I could sense a cruelty beneath the words. An evil. “I’ve missed you.” He rose and moved toward us. “Who is this? A friend, I presume?” He phrased it in a question, but it will clearly meant as a threat. Because a man like him couldn’t imagine that any woman would fall in love with another. He truly believed himself to be some prize. It was disgusting.
He moved toward Pacifica, coming to rest his hands on her shoulders. She stiffened, her bottom lip quivering in fear. She dropped her eyes, trying to pull away, but his grip wouldn’t ease.
“We were so good together, Pac,” he said softly, pressing his lips against her cheek. My eyes burned hot with the rage that swept through me. “Why did you leave me? For him?” He gestured at me with a snort.
“Please, Valentino,” she said, and I could tell she was trying not to cry. She looked at me for reassurance. That was all it took for me to act.
I gently swept Pacifica out of the way before shoving that…pretty boy monster. I used all of my might to hurl myself forcefully into his chest.
“Leave her alone!” I screamed, my face distorted with rage and disgust. “She doesn’t want you here!”
He looked startled for a moment, but eventually he laughed. “Oh, please, Pacifica adores me. Do you really think you have what it takes to make her happy? You’re a loser!”
I brought my hand back to punch him in the face, but his reflexes were too quick.
Before I knew what hit me, he had spun me around and thrown me backward into the wall. For the brief moment I was in the air, I saw my life flash before my eyes. I saw mine and Gossamer’s fifth birthday party, where I learned I was afraid of clowns. I saw myself crying at the foot of a bully – who later became one of Gossamer’s boyfriends – as he kicked sand in my face. I saw my mom and dad walking in with Aqua and Hummingbird three days after they were born, my mother’s face shadowed with exhaustion after a hard labor. I saw Pacifica, giggling at my awkwardness that first day that we met. It hadn’t been a terrible life, but it had been an unremarkable one. I wasn’t ready for it to end just yet.
I hit the wall with a loud thud, before crumbling to the ground.
There was a moment in time where I lost all sensation. I couldn’t see, or feel, or hear. But I was brought back to reality by the sound of Pacifica’s anguished cry, “Eden!” I groaned, attempting to rise, but not succeeding. I could taste copper in my mouth: the blood of the fallen. Valentino had me beaten and there was nothing I could do.
“Is this the kind of guy you want?” I heard his cold voice say, presumably to Pacifica.
“Please, Valentino, leave him alone,” she said, trying to sound resolute, but there was still a tinge of fear in her tone. “He’s just a friend.” My heart fell in my chest. I knew she was trying to protect me, but the words stung nonetheless.
I managed to raise my head and I saw tears in her eyes as she looked down at me. I didn’t want to be the reason for those tears.
Valentino came up behind her, whispering into her ear. I started to speak, to tell him to leave her alone, but I couldn’t manage the words. I coughed against the pain in my chest, which had spread throughout my entire body. I tried to hear what he was saying to her, but they were too far away.
“Please, Valentino,” she said, her voice sad. “No,” she added.
He spoke to her more, running his hands up and down her arms, which left me bristling with irritation. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t hear his words.
After a few minutes, Pacifica responded, her voice cold and hard. “You promise?” She asked. He nodded. “Fine.” I had no idea what was about to happen, but the arctic chill in her eyes as they came to rest on mine left me feeling uneasy. I finally managed to stand up, albeit with great difficulty, and I moved toward her.
“You need to go, Eden,” she said, before I could wrap my arms around her. I stepped back.
“I don’t understand,” I responded dumbly. And it was true. I didn’t know what was happening. Why did her voice sound so distant?
“Isn’t it obvious?” She asked. Her voice sent a nasty chill throughout my body. I had never felt so sick in my life. I shook my head. Her eyes came to rest on mine and they were stone-cold. “Valentino and I are getting back together. He’s promised to introduce me to some of the best agents in the business. I’m going to be an actress, Eden. It’s everything I ever wanted.” I thought I heard her voice break on the last sentence, but the look in her eyes told me I had imagined it.
“I-I don’t believe this,” I said, trying to hold back tears. I had fought for her, cared about her. How could she do this? It had to be a trick. “He’s making you say these things,” I insisted.
“No, Eden,” she said, taking a deep breath. “He’s not.”
I stood frozen for a moment as she went to stand by Valentino. He put his arm around her shoulders and I lost it.
“No,” I screamed, trying to pull her from his grip. “It’s not true, Cici.” She cringed on the use of her pet name, but I didn’t back down. “I know that what we have is real. Don’t let him take that away!”
Valentino laughed cruelly. “Oh, Berry, how pathetic can you be?” But I refused to look at him, to show him any reaction. I kept my eyes trained on Pacifica.
“I thought you loved me,” I said, my voice cracking with emotion. Her eyes widened for a second and she bit her lip. She shook her head and turned away quickly.
“We had fun, Eden, but that’s all it was,” she said softly. I could feel a sharp pain in my chest at her words, and I knew it wasn’t from Valentino’s attack. How had everything fallen apart? Was it because of how I had been the night before? I would take it back, tell her I didn’t mean it, anything to make this all go away. But I knew there was no point.
Valentino grabbed my overnight bag and shoved it into my arms. “Get out of here, loser,” he said with a harsh laugh. “Pacifica doesn’t want to see you anymore.”
I chanced one more glance at Pacifica, waiting for her to say something, but she kept her head turned away. Her eyes were expressionless, cold. It was all over. And there was nothing I could do about it.
I slunk down the stairs, feeling my heart break into little pieces with every step I took. The pain was unbearable; the aching in my chest was intolerable. I never looked back. I refused to let them see the tears that had begun to stream down my cheeks. I finally understood heartbreak. It wasn’t just emotional. It was physical. Every breath I took burned, every heartbeat felt strained. I was still alive, but I didn’t know how. I realized in that moment that I loved her. I loved her. But it was too late. There were no moments left for us. She would never hear the words. I felt the anguish turn to anger. I felt used and discarded. I felt broken. I grieved for what could have been, had I only had the strength to say the truth. Would it have mattered? Perhaps I had imagined it all: the tender looks, the sweet words. I had only myself to blame.
Edie, I love you.
I was a fool.