Chapter 18: Birthday

Author’s Note: Two things to mention. The first is that this chapter was very rushed in writing because I wanted to get it out, so don’t be surprised if the quality leaves a lot to be desired. Second, I left out a lot of stuff that goes along with home delivery, so it is not perfectly accurate. But it has finally been written, and that’s the important part!

6-18-1

6-18-2

It was early morning on February 14th, Valentine’s Day, when I woke to find Pacifica standing by the window, rubbing her belly.

“Cici,” I said yawning, “is everything alright?” I started to close my eyes again when I heard her groan.

“I think it’s time, Edie,” she said, her voice strained. “I felt some tightening in my stomach about ten minutes ago. I think it’s a contraction.”

My eyes opened wide. “How long? How many?” I needed to know these details before I let myself panic. And Berry knows, I was liable to begin panicking.

“I only had the one. It last a couple minutes, but it stopped. Should we go to hospital?” She turned, her eyes big with fear.

I breathed a sigh of relief. “I don’t think we need to rush just yet. We’ll keep track of the contractions like the baby book said, and when they are closer together, we’ll head for the hospital.” There was no need to hurry. We would just end up spending the next several hours in a waiting room.

“Okay,” she said with a sigh of relief. She crawled back in to the bed beside me. “We can wait a little bit.”

That was the biggest mistake we could have made.

6-18-3

Four hours later, we had Pacifica’s bag packed and we were about to head to the car when she grabbed her stomach. I saw her face scrunch up from the pain of the contraction, before her eyes dropped in horror to the floor.

“Uh oh…” she said.

“What?” I asked, flipping out. I followed her eyes to the floor where a large puddle had appeared. Her pants were soaked, and I saw water dripping down her ankles.

“My water broke,” she said, whimpering in pain.

“I thought your water wasn’t supposed to break until right before the babies come,” I said, my voice becoming shrill.

She groaned. “Well, apparently the babies are coming, Eden!”

“But,” I said in a pathetic tone, “it’s only been a few hours! It’s too soon!”

She shot me an aggravated look. “I don’t know what to tell you, Eden. It would seem they’ve decided they want to come now!” She sucked in a breath, hissing with the pain of the contraction.

6-18-4

I went weak in the knees, trying to figure out the next step. Suddenly everything I had learned from the baby books and the doctors went flying out of my brain and I could feel an overwhelming sense of panic setting in. I grabbed at my hair, pulling it nervously.

“What do we do?” I said, the pitch of my voice reaching a higher octave. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do!”

“Go get the car!” Pacifica barked at me, obvious irritation visible in her pale blue eyes. “We already have the bags packed, now we need to get to the hospital.”

“Okay, okay,” I said, my breath becoming a little bit steadier. “Got to get the keys.”

6-18-5

Pacifica lowered herself onto the couch, wincing a little as she managed to reach a seated position. Her pants were soaked and I had a moment where I considered telling her to change clothes before we left. However, seeing the tears forming in the corners of her eyes left me unable to speak. My concerns for the condition of the couch – or Berry forbid, my father’s company car – were far outweighed by my concern for her well-being. Besides, dry clothes weren’t going to make her any more comfortable.

I stood staring at her for a minute or two, until she shot me a confused look. “Are you going to get the car?” She asked, bewildered. And perhaps a touch annoyed.

“Oh,” I said, grabbing my keys off the counter. “I spaced.” I took off out the door and…

6-18-6

6-18-7

I did not like what I saw. Or what I didn’t see, rather. I didn’t see the roads, or the car, or even much of the mailbox. The snowfall had accumulated to monstrous proportions. There was no way we were going to make it to the hospital in these conditions. I felt my chest begin to tighten, both from the icy air and the panic that was setting in at the realization of my dilemma. If we couldn’t get to the hospital, what were we going to do?

Shaking, I walked back inside to warn Pacifica.

6-18-8

My eyes must have betrayed my feelings, because Pacifica’s face dropped when I walked inside. Her brows knitted in fear, her mouth turning in a slight pout.

“Edie?” She asked hesitantly. “Are we-are we ready to go?”

I tried to answer, but just shook my head.

“What’s going on?” Pacifica asked, her lip quivering.

“The snow,” I started. “The roads are covered.”

“What do we do?” She asked in fear. “The babies aren’t going to wait much longer!”

6-18-9

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed 911. It wasn’t safe for me to drive Pacifica to the hospital, but hopefully an ambulance would be able to get her there. I knew there would be a charge, but it was an expense I was willing to pay to ensure that my children were delivered safely into our world.

“What’s your emergency?” Asked a male voice on the other end.

“My girlfriend is in labor and the roads are heavy with snow and we don’t know what to do and we need to an ambulance to get us to the hospital!” I was rambling, but I couldn’t seem to disguise the panic I was feeling. My chest was tight and the look of concern on Pacifica’s face was eating away at me.

“Whoa, calm down, sir,” the man said slowly. “Unfortunately, the roads are too dangerous to send an ambulance and the helicopters are out dealing with a multi-car pileup. How far apart are the contractions?”

I looked to Pacifica with wide eyes. “The contractions?” She held up six fingers. “Six minutes,” I told the man on the phone.

He was silent for a moment and I feared we had been disconnected. “I hate to say this, but you may need to deliver yourself.”

“What?!” I screeched. “But I – I don’t even know how to deliver a baby, much less two!”

“I’m going to walk you through it, but you need to take a few deep breaths.”

6-18-10

“The first thing you need to do is wash your hands,” he told me. I walked to the sink, turning the phone on speakerphone while I did so. I took another deep breath, trying to slow the feeling of powerlessness that was washing over me. There was doubt in my mind that I could this, and I knew that if I didn’t get it together, it could damage the health of my children.

Once they were completely washed, I asked what to do next. “You’re going to want to wet some towels in warm water for when the babies are born.”

I did what he asked and walked back to the living room.

6-18-11

6-18-12

I walked in to find Pacifica leaning against the couch, the muscles in her face flexed in an expression of pain.

“What are you doing?” I asked, startling her.

She groaned. “It’s the only position that seems to lessen the pain. The contractions are coming at three minutes now.” I heard her struggle to breathe and tears began escaping from the corners of her eyes.

“You’ll need to get her into something comfortable for the birth,” the 911 operator informed me.

6-18-13

I helped Pacifica get back into her nightgown. It took some effort because she was having difficulty standing upright, but we eventually got her dressed. It was funny to think that only hours before, she was eager to get out of her gown and into her clothes for the hospital. But there was no way we could have been prepared for the way the day was going to go.

“Lay some towels on the bed and have her lie on them, her knees up and her butt at the end of the bed.”

“Um, okay,” I said, helping Pacifica to the bed.

6-18-14

She whimpered as she lowered herself to the bed. I took off her wet panties and looked into her most secret place. I could see blood and I held my breath to tamper the nausea that had built up. I chanced another look and that’s when I saw it…a little tuft of hair. It was blue, like Pacifica’s. A sudden wave of courage washed over me. I could do this. I was going to deliver my children.

6-18-15

6-18-16

“You can do it, Cici,” I said. She started to sob, shaking her head. “You can,” I assured her again. “I can see the baby’s hair. We’re getting close.”

“I don’t think I can do it, Edie,” she cried. “It hurts too much!”

I rubbed her leg encouragingly. “Hey, I know this isn’t how we planned to spend Valentine’s Day, but at least it’ll be memorable.” I smiled down at her.

“What?” She asked in confusion.

“Don’t you remember? You wanted us to go back to the Valentine Resort. It seemed like such a long time away when you said it. But now it seems like it was only yesterday.”

She smiled a little, but it came out as more of a grimace. “I guess things don’t always go the way you expect.”

The voice on the phone chimed in. “She’s going to need to push now. In ten second intervals, along with the contraction.”

6-18-17

It was time. Part of me wasn’t ready, but another part felt that I had waited my entire life for this moment. “Are you ready?” I asked Pacifica. She looked at me with fear in her eyes, but she nodded.

“Okay, push.” She took a deep breath and pushed as I counted to ten. She stopped. I could see the baby’s head moving further down, but it wasn’t quite there yet. “One more time, Pacifica,” I told her. She groaned.

With another big push, I was able to get the baby’s shoulders out. From there, it was smooth sailing.

6-18-18

A little girl. She had Pacifica’s skin and hair. She was absolutely beautiful. We named her Azurine Iris, after Pacifica’s favorite flower. It was a name we had spent a lot of time planning, and it was the perfect choice. She was a beautiful little flower, and she had bloomed just for us.

She wailed at the intrusion of cold air against her damp skin. I used the towel to wipe her off, before securing her cord to be cut. I wrapped her up tightly in the receiving blanket the way Serene had showed me, and I set her down on the bed while I worked on helping Pacifica with the next baby.

6-18-19

Within minutes, it was time for the next one to be born. Pacifica’s face contorted with the pain of the delivery, but she gritted her teeth and pushed hard.

It took a few more times before we were able to deliver our second child, which came as a surprise. Soon enough, our second little girl was brought into the world.

6-18-20

December Snow, named after the frigid conditions outside. Her skin was blue like her sister’s, but her hair was all mine. My heart swelled as I looked down at her perfect little face. Unlike Azurine, she made no sound to cry, simply looking around the room as she took in her surroundings.

I was a father. In the back of my mind, I had often wondered if the day would ever come, but here it was. I had two precious little girls, a beautiful woman that I loved, and a bright future ahead. It was everything I never knew I always wanted.

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Chapter 17: Just Give Me a Reason

6-17-1

As soon as Pacifica stopped crying, I called Serene and Cedar and told them they needed to come home immediately. They had been getting an ultrasound at the doctor, but all I could think was that this was a crisis that could not wait for anything. Of course, as soon as Serene heard that her darling cousin needed her, she was in the car ready to get home, with or without Cedar.

Serene found some clothing for Pacifica that was loose enough to grow with her as the baby developed. Baby. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of Pacifica swollen with my child. It was an image that I simply could not conjure in my mind, even though I knew it was inevitable. Soon, the oversized shirt and pants that Serene had provided would be stretched to their limit. Her lithe little body would be round and maternal. It was surreal.

6-17-2

“Oh, my sweet girl,” Serene said tearfully as she wrapped her arms tightly around Pacifica. “Why didn’t you call me as soon as you found out? I would have come to get you!”

Struggling to breathe against her cousin’s tight embrace, Pacifica responded, “I knew you were busy with your own baby plans and I didn’t want to bother you.” Her voice sounded meek, ashamed.

“Oh, honey,” Serene responded, her voice choking up, “you should never be afraid to bother me! You’re like my sister.”

Pacifica sniffled. “I didn’t want you to know I’d messed up again,” she said softly.

6-17-3

I stared at the exchange, barely processing the conversation taking place. My head was swimming with questions, concerns…fears. Pacifica and I were going to have a baby. I didn’t know what that meant other than that there would be a tiny human being dependent on the two of us. We were barely taking care of ourselves; how were we supposed to take care of a helpless infant? I was a frightened little ball of neurosis and anxiety, and Pacifica was a reckless party animal with no parents to act as guidance. That’s just who we were, there was no getting around it. It wasn’t exactly a recipe for a well-adjusted child. It was too soon; it was happening to fast. I needed more years of growth and maturity. I didn’t even know where we were in our relationship. Yesterday I was struggling to get out of bed, my heart broken and my life a mess. Today…I was a father-to-be. No. I wasn’t ready…

“How are we supposed to do this?” I didn’t realize I had said the words aloud until I felt Cedar’s hand come to rest on my shoulder.

6-17-4

6-17-5

“I know it’s scary, bud,” he laughed. “Trust me, Serene and I weren’t exactly trying to get pregnant. But here we are and we’re making the best of it.”

I looked to Pacifica to see if she was listening in, but she was deep in conversation with Serene. “I’m not ready for this, Cedar,” I said pathetically. “I’m not strong like you are.”

He smiled reassuringly. “Well, Mom wasn’t exactly equipped to be a single mother at eighteen, but I think I turned out all right.” He winked.

I let out a small laugh in spite of myself. “I guess you’re right. But I don’t know how to be a parent.”

Cedar shrugged. “One day at a time.” His expression became serious all of a sudden. “But you can’t do it here. There’s not enough room in this house for four adults and two infants. Have you thought about where you guys are going to go?”

“Oh, fudge,” I said. “I guess it’s time to make a phone call.” And it was not one I was looking forward to.

6-17-6

I’m glad I wasn’t there to hear my mother’s voice when my father told her I needed to take up residence in their beach house. I couldn’t afford to rent anything with two bedrooms, and since Pacifica had taken off and broken her contract, her record was unlikely to be released, which meant there was no income on her side. My parents had saved up some money and had the beach house built out of pocket, which meant there was no rent; only monthly utilities. I had called my father, begging him in the most desperate voice I could muster to please allow us to live there. He had promised to talk to my mom. A few days later, I got a call. My father sounded beaten down, which I only imagined was a result of my mother’s inevitable fit, but he assured me she was okay with it when she realized she was giving her future grandchild a roof over its head. I, of course, knew that she was going to hold this over me for the rest of my natural life…but I was willing to do what it took for our baby. Our baby. Oh, Berry.

The house was already furnished, so Pacifica and I packed up the few clothes I had, and the handful of clothes Serene was able to get for her, and we headed to our new home.

It was raining when we arrived, and I was anxious to get inside and get dry. The heat of July mixed with the moisture from the rain made the air feel like a sauna.

6-17-7

As I was unlocking the door, I noticed Pacifica wander off toward the edge of the cliff. For a moment, I feared she would walk right into the water below, but she stopped a few feet short. She stood motionless staring out toward the water, unspeaking. She hadn’t said a word to me the entire trip here. She had simply stared out the window, a blank look in her eyes. Thinking back, she had barely spoken a word to me since she had given the news of her pregnancy. I had held her as she sobbed about Valentino’s abuse, but I had seen almost no emotion from her since that moment. I had become so wrapped up in making new living arrangements that her behavior had escaped my notice. But now it was clear…she was increasingly distant.

I tried to understand what she was feeling, but I was so concerned about my own fears that I had no room left in my brain for trying to comprehend her emotions about having a baby. She hadn’t said a word about whether or not she was looking forward to the child. I hadn’t asked. I didn’t know what to say without revealing my own fears, and I couldn’t bear for her to see just how terrified I was.

6-17-8

I approached her slowly from behind, taking care not to startle her. She was mere steps away from the edge, and I didn’t want to take a chance on her falling over.

“Pacifica,” I said gently, “why don’t you come out of the rain? I’ll get a fire going and you can dry off.” I tried to sound as calm and reassuring as I possibly could under the circumstance. But, honestly…I hadn’t felt a sense of calm since she had walked back into my life. And now I feared I might never feel it again.

“Isn’t the water beautiful?” She asked. She never turned around and I wasn’t entirely certain she was aware of my presence. Her voice sounded wistful and shy. “I’ve always wanted to live on the water.”

I stood for a moment, looking at her through the curtain of rain. Her hair and clothing clung to her skin, but I don’t think she noticed. Finally, I rested my hand on her shoulder and she turned to face me. Her eyes were expressionless, and I felt a wave of sadness in my stomach.

“Why don’t we go inside, sweetheart,” I said slowly, as if I were speaking to a child. She just nodded and took off toward the door. I sighed and followed.

6-17-9

As soon as we entered, I got to work building a fire to warm up the cabin. Despite the steamy conditions outside, the inside of the house was drafty, which created a chill in combination with our wet clothing. It took a few minutes and quite a bit of cursing before the fire successfully took. The crackling of the flames was soon overpowered by the sound of running water from the adjoining room. I stood, looking around for Pacifica, and I realized that she was nowhere to be seen. I walked toward the sound.

6-17-10

6-17-11

I found Pacifica in the master bathroom. Her clothes were strewn across the floor and she was submerged in the bathtub, running water across her limbs. I stood over her, looking down at her naked form. Her breasts were ever-so-slightly fuller, but her stomach remained flat. If I hadn’t known better, I would never have known she carried a tiny baby inside of her womb. But everything would change soon. This body, the one I knew so intimately, was never going to be the same. Just as our lives would never be the same. Even after the baby was here, her hips would be rounder, her belly fuller, and her breasts more swollen. She would be different. As would I. We would be parents. It was a crazy thing to imagine, but it was happening.

I smiled softly as I looked at her, her beautiful form glistening with the moisture of the bathwater. She was beautiful. She was mine. And soon she would bear a child that was a little bit of each of us; a symbol of our love. I was terrified, but maybe…just maybe…I was a little bit excited, as well.

“Are you okay in here?” I asked her.

“Mmhm,” she said, nodding. “I think I need to lie down for a bit.”

6-17-12

As soon as she exited the tub, she redressed in her damp clothes and crawled into the bed, curling up in a ball. She looked so fragile lying there. There was something different about her, other than the pregnancy, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. And she certainly wasn’t volunteering the information. It ate away at me, the mystery, but I couldn’t push her. She had so much on her plate, I just prayed to Berry that she would come to me when she felt it was right and share her insecurities. It was the only way we were going to make it.

6-17-13

I stood at the window, looking out at the setting sun. The rain had finally stopped and the dim glow of twilight was visible on the horizon. I watched as the sun made its last journey behind the water, and the room was bathed in darkness. I thought about everything that had changed in just a week’s time. It seemed surreal to think that only seven days ago I had thought my life was off-track; that I had lost everything important to me. But now, Pacifica lay in the bed behind me, a child we had created nestled deep inside of her belly, and our lives were a new rollercoaster of unfamiliarity. I had wished so hard for her to be with me, but now that she was, I felt a sense of unease. Even though I found myself looking forward to the baby, in spite of my fear, I worried for Pacifica and what she was going through. I tried not to think the worst, but until she told me what was going on, I was left in the dark.

And it wasn’t a comfortable feeling at all.

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6-17-14

6-17-15

I was awoken at the first light of dawn by Pacifica’s feet, running furiously into the bathroom. I could hear a wretched vomiting sound, with small sobs on pain in between each agonizing heave. She was in there for at least thirty minutes before I ventured in cautiously. She was curled up around the porcelain seat, cradling it with both hands. Her face was streaked with tears and her mouth was crusted with vomit. I felt helpless as I looked at her, and I was afraid that this morning would be like so many others to come.

“Are you alright, Cici?” I asked frowning. I wanted to hold her, but she looked like she might not appreciate being touched.

“Do I look alright?” She responded, her voice irritable. She gave me a death glare and I backed away, nervous.

“I didn’t mean anything but it, I just…” I cut myself off as she burst into tears.

6-17-16

She stood, still crying, and clutched her stomach. “I’m sorry, Edie,” she said miserably. “I know it’s not your fault. I’m just in so much pain!” She started to cry again and I came forward to take her in my arms.

I shushed her softly. “Hey, it’s okay,” I said, trying to reassure her. “Do you think you can stomach a little bit of toast?” That was clearly the wrong thing to say, because she looked at me with wide eyes and dropped to her knees in front of the toilet once more.

This was going to be a long pregnancy.

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6-17-17

The morning sickness, thank Berry, didn’t last more than a month. The next big problem was Pacifica’s rapid size increase. By the time the morning sickness was over, her stomach had swelled much more than Serene’s had in that time. I was worried there might be something wrong with the baby, so we made an appointment with the same OB that Cedar and Serene had been using. What we found out was nothing we had ever expected.

Twins.

I probably should not have been nearly as surprised as I was to learn that we had two little ones on the way. I was a twin, as was my grandmother, and her grandmother before her. But I guess, on some level, I always thought it would skip a generation. Berry, was I wrong!

I hadn’t said a word as the doctor gave us the news. I stood, my mouth open in a dumb expression, and nodded as he gave Pacifica instructions for how to deal with the burden of carrying multiples. As we drove home, there was complete silence. I couldn’t even turn on the radio, because the noise in my head was so loud. I had managed to find a sense of excitement at learning we were having one child…but two?! All of those things that terrified me about being a father were now multiplied. If I screwed this up, there wasn’t just one life that would be forever changed, there would be two. Berry had a sense of humor, that was for sure!

6-17-18

Pacifica hadn’t said one word about the news after we left the doctor’s office, but the floodgates were released as we entered the house. She flung herself into my arms, shaking with uncontrollable sobbing. I was taken aback by the sudden change in her demeanor, but I wrapped my arms around her tightly, whispering calmly into her ear.

“How-how,” she was bawling so hard she could barely speak, “how are we supposed to handle tw-twins?” Her tears were flowing so heavily that I could feel the dampness through the fabric of my shirt. “I can’t-I can’t do it, Edie, I can’t.”

I realized in that moment that, as afraid as I was, Pacifica had to be my top concern. I was thinking of the obstacles we might face after the twins arrived, but Pacifica was dealing with the difficulties of carrying two babies, bearing them, and then trying to find the energy to be a good mother to them. I couldn’t let her see that I was just as unsure of our parenting abilities as she was, because she needed me to be her rock. For once, I had to be the one to put on the brave face and learn to deal with the challenges without faltering. Pacifica, not to mention our babies, deserved that much from me.

“Hey, we’re in this together,” I said, kissing her forehead. “And we’re going to be amazing!” I meant it.

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6-17-19

6-17-20

Three months later, on a cold snowy night in November, I woke to the sound of crying on Pacifica’s side of the bed. I rose slowly, rubbing my eyes as they became adjusted to the light, to see her sitting on the edge, her body shaking as she struggled to breathe steadily.

“Pacifica,” I said concerned, “is there something wrong with the babies?” The due date was three months away, and I feared the worst. She looked pitiful as she whimpered softly.

“The babies are fine,” she said, her voice broken. “It’s nothing, I’m sorry I woke you.”

6-17-21

6-17-22

She turned back over, curling up into a ball. I could still hear the raggedness of her breath as she tried to stem the flow of tears. I looked at her back for a few seconds, then reached out to rub her shoulders. She flinched at my touch and pulled away. I frowned, but I wasn’t deterred.

I wrapped my arm over her, resting my hand on her swollen belly. We had barely made any physical contact in the past several months, not counting her occasional bouts of hormonal tears, and I relished the sensation of her skin. I missed her. Missed being close to her.

It didn’t last long.

6-17-23

She pulled away, rising to stand by the window. She crossed her arms over her swollen stomach and sniffled.

“You don’t have to pretend, Eden,” she said.

“What?” Pretend? I had no idea what she was talking about. “What do you mean?” I elaborated.

“I never should have come back to you,” she said softly. My heart dropped into my stomach. She regretted coming back? She had sworn up and down that she loved me, that she wanted to be with me, but was that all a lie? We were having two little babies together. I couldn’t think of any better reason to be together.

“I don’t understand,” I said angrily, feeling hurt at the implication.

6-17-24

“You were doing just fine without me, and I came in and turned everything around,” she said. I couldn’t see her face, but I could tell by her voice that she was crying again. “You deserved to be with someone you loved. You deserved a chance to find happiness, but I took that away. I was so concerned with my own feelings, my own needs, I just…” she choked up. “I’m sorry, Edie. I love you…but you deserve better than this.”

I looked at her dumbfounded for a minute before I realized what she was saying. Oh, Berry. She thought I didn’t love her. She thought that I had taken her back out of obligation and that I was giving up something by staying with her. That was the reason she had been pulling away from me all this time. In retrospect, I had only myself to blame for this. She had come to me with her heart open and I had given no response. In my defense, she had also taken that moment to drop a bombshell on me…but I should have said something. She had been so distant the past few months and I was so certain that it was something with her, I hadn’t realized I was making it worse by keeping my mouth shut. Oh, Pacifica.

6-17-25

6-17-26

I rose quickly and scooped her up in my arms. She yelped, but her arms came around me as I carried her to the bed. I sat, running my fingers through her hair as she continued to cry softly. She had so much to deal with, carrying two babies, and I had been hurting her when she needed my love and support. I felt so guilty.

“You’re wrong, you know,” I said, kissing her on the top of the head.

“What?” She asked quietly.

“I do love you,” I said. Her head came up quickly and she looked at me with wide eyes.

“You do?” She asked, her voice somewhere between heartbroken and hopeful.

“More than anything.” I pressed my hand against her belly and one of the twins shifted beneath my palm. “You and our babies.” I sighed. “I should have told you, but I guess…I was afraid that it was all too good to be true. You loving me. The babies. I was afraid if I believed that…it would go away.”

“Really?” She said, chancing a small smile. “Oh, Eden! I thought-I thought I had ruined your life and I…” I stopped her with a kiss.

“There’s nothing in this world I want more than you and our babies, Cici. I love you.” It was the absolute truth. I was still afraid, sure…but I was getting everything in life I never knew I needed. And boy, did I need it!

6-17-27

I lay back, pulling Pacifica on top of me. After so much time being close, but never close enough, I needed to feel her touch. I needed to make love to her. She was hesitant at first, but she eventually leaned down and kissed me. I pushed the nightgown from her shoulders, exposing her breasts. They had grown exponentially since I’d last seen them. I pressed a kiss to one rosy tip and Pacifica blushed.

“I’m so big, Eden,” she said shyly. “Are you sure you want to…?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world. Even if you were as big as this house!” That earned a laugh from her.

She removed the nightgown, and I took off my boxers. It took some maneuvering, but we were eventually able to make love with her on top of me. It was beautiful. I didn’t realize how much I had been craving this intimacy, but I felt like we were in the right place.

I felt like everything could finally be the way it was supposed to.

Chapter 16: Wrecking Ball

6-16-1

6-16-2

I looked at the beautiful nursery that was once my garish bedroom, smiling at what a difference new wallpaper could make. Serene and Cedar were having a little girl and had tried to make the room as cheerful and feminine as possible. They had offered to set up the nursery in their bedroom, allowing me to continue to sleep in the guest room, but they had already done so much for me, I wasn’t going to let them make that sacrifice. A lesser person would have tossed me out on the street when I was at my worst, but they had given up their own peace of mind to make sure that I was safe and healthy. I could never fully repay them for that, but the nursery was a good start.

I had worked tirelessly over the past two weekends to help Cedar get the room perfect, and I couldn’t help but glow at the results. Just removing Gossamer’s terrible wallpaper choice was a feat, never mind the issue of putting up new wallpaper. But the satisfaction I got from tossing that grotesque nude over the bed into the dumpster was enough to make the effort worthwhile. Cedar and Serene’s little girl would have a great room to grow up in, and I felt really good about that. Even if my future wasn’t going as well as I would have hoped.

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Fortunately for me, Cedar’s sofa had a pull-out bed, so I was sleeping on that for the time being. It wasn’t the most comfortable sleeping arrangement in the world, but it was better than nothing. Besides, I wasn’t getting much sleep these days anyway. The nightmares were ceaseless, so I spent many of my nights watching television into the early hours of the morning. It was nice to be able to roam around or watch TV in the middle of the night without disturbing Cedar or Serene upstairs in their bedroom. I mostly lay around watching infomercials and talk shows, but anything was better than seeing Pacifica’s bloodied face every night in my sleep. I had come to terms with the fact that anything that might happen to her was out of my hands, but there were still slivers of guilt deep down inside that manifested in my dreams. On the surface, I knew that Pacifica would have to lie in the bed she had made for herself, but I couldn’t quite get my subconscious to understand that it was not my fault.

The lack of sleep was proving to be a hindrance in my work with my father, but I think he was too relieved to see me up and moving to say anything. Given the option between heartbroken drunkenness and slow reflexes, the latter won out with no contest.

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Two months after I’d lost Pacifica, I found myself digging through the fridge looking for a beer. It was only ten in the morning, but I’d slept just a few hours and the image of her face was fresh in my mind. I needed to numb the pain. Unfortunately, Cedar was on the ball as far as keeping any alcohol out of my reach, so there was nothing to be found. I was about to settle for a slice of key lime pie when the doorbell rang.

I jumped up, startled at the sudden noise. It was ten o’clock on a Thursday morning, and I didn’t think Serene and Cedar were expecting any visitors.

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I opened the door to see a purple-haired woman standing shyly on the porch, her face and body obscured from my view. I couldn’t even see the color of her skin, as she was wearing a heavy coat and stockings. I found the choice in clothing a little odd. It was the middle of July and sweltering outside. I was sweating just standing at the door. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for this young woman, bundled up in a wool coat, especially with that heavy head of hair she had. I stood staring at her for a moment, trying to understand her strange appearance.

“Um,” I said after a few minutes, “Can I help you, miss?” She didn’t move.

She shifted uncomfortably, as if she hadn’t heard me. I raised an eyebrow before asking louder, “Did you need something, miss?”

She jumped at my voice, before turning around.

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Pacifica. The wig and sunglasses hid her face, but I had no doubt that it was her. Here. In front of me after two months apart. She raised her hand tentatively in a half-wave. I couldn’t move, I was so stunned at her appearance. Why was she wearing a coat? Why was she so disguised? Why would she come back after everything that had happened? I felt bile rise in my throat, but I wasn’t sure if it was from anger or something else.

“What are you doing here, Pacifica?” I asked finally.

“I needed to see you, to talk to you,” she responded. She must have seen my look of confusion at her attire, because she touched the wig self-consciously. “I-I needed to come see you without Valentino finding out,” she said, dropping her eyes as she spoke.

“Valentino,” I repeated, a sick taste in my mouth.

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“Edie, it’s not what you think,” she said quickly, a look of desperation in her eyes.

I felt my temper flare at the use of that nickname. After all this time, she thought she could come back and pretend like nothing bad had happened? That she hadn’t completely obliterated me? “Don’t call me Edie,” I said with venom in my voice.

Her eyes widened, hurt. “I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” her lip quivered for a moment, but she quickly hid the emotion. “Can I please come in, Eden? I need to explain…”

I didn’t give her the chance to finish her thought. “Get out of here, Pacifica,” I said, turning around to go back in the house. It took every ounce of will I had to turn away, but I wasn’t going to let her manipulate me again.

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She grabbed my arm tight, pulling me back. Her voice broke as she said, “Please, Eden.” I stopped in my tracks and crossed my arms over my chest defensively. She stepped back, looking up at me reluctantly. She tried to muster a smile, but couldn’t quite get it to her cheeks.

“You have to know that I never meant to hurt you,” she said. She started to open her mouth again to speak, but I stopped her.

“Why are you back, Pacifica? Didn’t you do enough damage to me? I’m doing fine without you, so whatever guilt you’re trying to assuage, you don’t need to. You can go back to Valentino and live happily ever after in the life of luxury you’ve always wanted.” I started to walk away again.

“You don’t understand, I…I missed you, Eden.”

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I swung on her, my rage boiling over. “You missed me?! No, you don’t get to miss me, Pacifica!” My chest was so tight I could barely breathe, but it didn’t stop me. “Do you have any idea what it’s been like for me the past two months? I gave you everything I had, Pacifica, and you threw me away for a monster!” I was shaking at this point, my eyes clouded with red anger. “I don’t want you, Pacifica,” I lied through my teeth. “I don’t need you. I don’t…” I started to tell her that I didn’t love her, but that was one lie I couldn’t quite force through my lips. Because I did love her. And I hated every second of it.

Her eyes widened and I could see tears forming in the corners. She stood motionless, staring at me for a moment. It felt like an eternity.

“Are you going to say anything?” I asked finally, making no attempt at patience.

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“Eden, I…” she began to speak. She shook her head, her arms in front of her defensively. “I didn’t have a choice. I had to say those things. He didn’t give me a choice.” Her voice sounded strained, the words coming out of her with great difficulty.

“He made you choose an acting career over me?” I asked, scoffing. “Don’t lay the blame at his feet, Pacifica. You made your own choice.”

“I had to protect you, Eden.” Her voice sounded so small; broken.

“What does that even mean?” I asked, the last traces of my patience wearing away.

She turned away.

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“He was going to kill you, Eden. He had already come so close and he…” she stopped, a sob escaping her throat.

“You’re not making any sense, Pacifica,” I said quietly.

“He told me that if I didn’t come back to him that he would kill you, Eden. And he would have done it, too. You don’t know what he’s capable of. I couldn’t-I couldn’t risk losing you.”

“Why didn’t you trust me to protect you?” I asked, feeling wounded by her lack of faith.

“He wasn’t going to do anything to me, Eden, and I knew that. There was nothing he could do to hurt me more than taking you away. If I hadn’t gone with him, he would have hunted you down. I could live without you if I knew you were safe. But if anything had happened to you, I…” her voice broke. “I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself.”

“Why?” I asked dumbly. “Why does it matter so much?”

She paused. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if she would answer. “Because I love you, Eden.”

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I should have felt elated. I had waited so long to hear those words, wanted them with every fiber of my being. But as she said them, I felt a pain in my chest. She didn’t even trust me to keep us safe from Valentino; to fight for her. I was a loser, pathetic. Even the girl claiming to love me didn’t believe in me. What did I have to offer?

“Why, Pacifica?” I asked finally. “No one could love a loser like me.” Tears stung my eyes and I quickly whisked them away, ashamed at their presence. Just another reminder of how pitiful I truly was.

“Oh, Edie,” she said, turning around suddenly.

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She grabbed hold of my hands, looking into my eyes with a smile on her face. “When I first met you, I thought you were the most awkward guy I’d ever encountered. You could barely speak to me without getting flustered. You were so serious and uptight,” she laughed as she spoke. “You were everything in this world I was sure I never wanted.”

I bristled. “Is there a point to all this?”

She took my hands. “But you are also the kindest, gentlest, most wonderful guy I’ve ever known. I know when I look into your eyes that you mean everything you say. I know you wouldn’t hurt me, or hurt…” she cut herself off, her cheeks flushing. “I thought when I lost my parents that fame and fortune would give me everything I didn’t have in the world. I wanted the big city, my name in lights, for everyone to sing my songs!” She frowned. “But with you…I want to be unknown, to live in the suburbs away from all the glitz and glamour. Being with you…I know the love that my parents had and I would give up everything else to spend the rest of my life with you.” She smiled expectantly.

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I tried to absorb everything she was saying: her declaration of love, her desire to be with me. It was so much to take at once. I wanted so badly to give in, to tell her that I loved her more than words could describe…but something stopped me. Fear, apprehension…maybe just plain old cowardice. I couldn’t give myself over to her after everything that had happened. I couldn’t risk losing her again. It had nearly broken me the first time, and I knew it would kill me if it ever happened again.

I shook my head, pulling my hands away. “I want to believe you, Pacifica, I do, but…I can’t.” I stepped back.

She dropped her eyes, disappointed. “I understand,” she said, her voice sorrowful. “But there’s something you need to know.”

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She pressed her finger to her mouth, biting it nervously as she thought about what to say next. I watched her, not pushing her. I was curious, of course, because I had no idea what to expect, but the look of fear in her eyes was stark.

“What is it?” I asked her in a gently coaxing voice.

“You have to know that I wouldn’t have come here…wouldn’t have disturbed you, but,” she stopped suddenly, and I could see the wheels moving in her head. “I’m pregnant, Eden,” she finally blurted out.

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In that moment, the whole world disappeared. She was pregnant. With Valentino’s baby. The image of his child growing inside her…of him making love to her…it sickened me. Violent thoughts flooded my brain. I wanted to find him, to tear him apart. I felt nauseous at the realization. She said she loved me, but all the time I was falling apart, she was in his arms. They had made a baby. A baby.

“What?” I asked angrily. “So you thought that you would come to me now? All those words of love…I almost believed it.”

Her eyes widened with hurt and confusion. “Eden…what?”

“Did Valentino not want the baby? Of course, you figured I was the perfect sap to take you in when he discarded you. Berry, I’m so stupid!”

Her eyes widened when she realized what I was saying. “Oh, Eden, no!”

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She bit her lip, her eyes filled with anguish at my accusations. “You think I would let him touch me? After everything he did, what he put us through? Do you really not think better of me, Eden?” Tears began to spill onto her cheeks and I could hear her struggling to breathe normally.

“Whose then?” I asked with irritation. Berry only knew what she had done these past two months; who she had been with.

She shook her head, looking at me like I was the dumbest man on the planet. It occurred to me later that perhaps I was. “It’s your baby, Eden. Yours.”

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I thought that at any moment the earth would collapse beneath me. She was having my baby. I had never thought that we could…a baby. Everything I had ever learned in health classes taught me that making love to a woman could have consequences, but they had never even crossed my mind all those times that we…how did this happen? No, I knew how it happened. It was recklessness, carelessness. We were so caught up in the whirlwind of emotion that we never thought to use protection. She was having a baby. My baby. These months of missing her, of wishing we could have a future together, like Serene and Cedar. And here she was…having my baby. It was what I had prayed for, if not in so many words. But now it was real and I…

“Eden,” she said, rubbing at her coat, “can I come in now?”

“Oh!” I said, stepping back to let her enter. A baby.

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She brushed off her coat and wig and I caught sight of it. A bruise over her eye. And another on her arm. The daze of confusion I had been in only moments before faded away, replaced by protective anger.

“Did he do this to you?” I asked, my voice booming with rage. “I swear I’ll kill him!”

“No,” she said suddenly. “He’s not worth it, Eden. I’m alright, I promise.” She tried to smile, but I could see how she winced as she tried.

“What happened?” I asked, resisting every instinct that told me to grab my keys and track Valentino down: to kill him.

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She turned away again. “He found the test in the trash. I was so stupid for leaving it there, but I was so surprised, I just…I didn’t think. But he knew the baby wasn’t his because we hadn’t…you know.” She sniffed. “He became so angry. He told me to get rid of the baby, that he wasn’t going to let me carry some other man’s child. I told me him no and he…” she broke off. “He grabbed me by the arm and tried to throw me down the stairs. I fell into the wall instead and hit my eye.”

“Oh, Cici,” I said, my heart breaking for what she had suffered. The fear she must have felt.

She turned back to me. “He wanted to hurt our baby, Edie.” Our baby. “But I didn’t let him. I hit him as hard as I could with a lamp and he fell down. I took off running as fast I could. I ran to Cotton Candy’s and she got me the disguise and the coat and she paid for the cab to get here.” Tears began running down her face. “I couldn’t let him hurt the baby,” she said in a whisper before breaking down sobbing.

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I took her in my arms, pressing my lips against her forehead. “Shh,” I said. “He’s not going to hurt you or the baby. I promise you.” She pressed her body against mine as she continued to cry, unable to hold it back any longer. I felt her flat belly as it came against mine and I was flooded with images. Soon she would be swollen with pregnancy, her tiny belly multiplied in size. And then there would be a child. A little boy or girl that was uniquely ours…a little piece of each of us. It was surreal.

We were going to have a baby.

Chapter 15, Part 2: Marry the Night

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I tossed and turned for over an hour before I stumbled into a restless sleep, my mind raging against the thoughts and feelings that had overwhelmed my entire being…

My bare feet were chilled by the wet grass beneath them as I felt my way through the dark woods. Tree branches came down, scratching my face, and the cool breeze caused goose bumps to rise across my naked skin. I didn’t know where I was or how I had gotten there, but for some reason I didn’t try too hard to think about it. I just let my legs take me wherever they thought I needed to be.

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I came to a small pond surrounded by trees. There was a glow that settled over the small body of water, illuminating the landscape. I raised my eyes to the sky in curiosity, but no moonlight was able to permeate the thick curtain of tree branches that crisscrossed over my head. My confusion was quickly deserted as the source of the light slithered out from behind the safety of a large tree trunk.

The wings were the first thing that caught my eye; a fairy. Her silvery-blue skin was made ethereal by the glow of her pale blue wings. Her body was mostly bare but for a few strategically-placed vines that were woven across her limbs. Her softly curled hair flowed down over her plump breasts, all but hiding their familiar shape. Familiar…

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“Pacifica,” I whispered in a surprised tone. She was here, before my eyes. A fairy. Beautiful and delicate, a mysterious smile touching her lips as she fluttered into the air before me.

I stood transfixed, unable to tear my eyes from the dazzling creature before me. I was amazed to see her there, standing in front of me like nothing had happened. I felt a sense of happiness that I hadn’t felt in a month. It was magical.

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“Edie!” She squealed with excitement, fluttering high into the sky, doing a little dance over my head. I laughed at her innocence and her beauty. She was a truly magnificent being, her hair floating around me as she swooped down once or twice. She was a little tease, but for this moment, she was for my eyes only. No one else could come between us; take away the love we shared. It took my breath away and I never wanted it to end.

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She came down before me, not allowing her feet to touch the ground. She pressed her lips into mine, gingerly, with hesitation. I ached to kiss her back, but something stopped me. I could feel no sensation. I could not taste the sweetness of her kiss. It was as if she were an apparition, taunting me with what could never be.

“Pacifica, I…” I started to speak.

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The scene changed before I could finish my thought. I was now on a beach, my booted feet sinking into the soft sand of the shore. The moon was bright in the sky, brightening the horizon and creating delicate sparkles in the water as it ebbed and flowed. I could smell the decay of fish and the sting of salty water as the wind tickled my nose. I shivered, wrapping my arms around me to ward off the cold.

I saw a figure in the distance, but I couldn’t quite make her out.

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She came closer. Pacifica. Her silhouette was unmistakable as she moved along the edge of the water. She wore a beautiful, gauzy dress of light blue, which tangled around her legs as she moved against the breeze. Her hair brushed against her shoulders, the strands around her face flying wildly, without restraint. She was intoxicating; every essence of her being. My mouth dropped at the sight of her.

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She moved toward me with painful slowness, the heels of her flowered shoes leaving small indentations in the white sand. I watched each step she took, unable to move, but wanting more than anything to reach out and take hold of her. But my arms wouldn’t listen to my heart, no matter how badly I needed her, needed to touch her…to feel her heart beat against mine.

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“Do you remember the last time we were here?” She asked in that soft melodic voice that I loved. “I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so happy as I did that day.” Her smile was wistful, but her eyes seemed sad.

I frowned. “You left me,” I said pathetically, unable to find any other words to describe the pain I felt inside. She said she was happy here with me, so why would she leave? I couldn’t understand. It didn’t make sense.

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She threw herself into my arms and my hands reached across her back of their own accord.

“Oh, Edie,” she said, her face stained with tears. “Why couldn’t you see it? Why didn’t you understand what was happening?” Her voice broke on the last sentence and she began to sob softly into my shirt, her tears ice cold against my skin.

I was confounded by her words. “What do you mean?” I asked desperately. “Tell me.” But she was gone.

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In another moment I found myself standing in a glittering ballroom. I looked down to see myself dressed elegantly in a tuxedo. I hadn’t worn such nice attire since my senior prom. Is that what this was? Prom? No, it felt different than that. More formal. More…important.

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And there she was. Pacifica. Breathtaking in a satin ball gown. No…a bridal gown. Her hair was knotted in a bun at the back of her head, with a few rebellious tendrils coming down around her softly-lit face. The necklace I had given her was perched between her breasts, which were lifted up seductively by the hard boning of her corset. She smiled at me uneasily.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t come,” she said, biting her lip. “I thought maybe you had gotten cold feet.”

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“Cold feet?” I asked in confusion. “About what?”

She laughed aloud, her voice echoing across the elegant room. “The wedding, of course,” she said. “Silly Edie.” She came toward me.

“Wedding?” I asked dumbly. A marriage, between us. I couldn’t imagine it, even in my wildest dreams. It was too good to be true.

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She grabbed me by the hand, pulling me toward the dance floor. “Waltz with me, Edie,” she said with a grin. “It’ll be good for you to loosen up before we say our vows.”

I said nothing, taking her into my arms and spinning her around with ease. She glided like an angel across the marble tile of the ballroom floor, her shoes making only a slight clicking sound. I don’t know how I knew what to do, but somehow the moves came naturally. I led her around the floor, twirling her into circles and bringing her back into my arms. She sighed with contentment.

“This is how it should have been,” I said, before I could catch myself. She looked up at me suddenly, her eyes filled with sadness.

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“I’m afraid I’ve grown tired, Sugar,” she said, pressing her forehead into mine. “I believe I need to lie down for just a moment.”

Before I could answer, her legs collapsed beneath her. I caught her around the waist, laying her gently on the ground as she struggled against each breath.

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I looked at her face and saw bruises and blood. Her breath was raspy, and she coughed in pain.

“It was never supposed to happen this way, Eden,” she said. A few years slid down her cheeks as her eyes closed. “We were supposed to be together.” The last words were spoken barely above a whisper. I was unsure at first that she’d even said them.

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“Pacifica,” I cried, my voice quivering. “I’m so sorry.” I didn’t know why I was apologizing, but something in me told me that this was my fault. That I had let this happen. I loved her with every fiber of my being and here she was, lying broken and bruised in my arms. I should have saved her, I should have stopped him, I should have…

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The image of Pacifica as a bride faded and was replaced with the Pacifica I had known; her flowing hair, her overly made-up face, her daring clothes. It was the Pacifica I had fallen in love with…and the one I had lost. I broke down, sobbing at the image of my dying love.

Her chest ceased to move and I knew that she was gone. My one true love. “Oh, Pacifica,” I said, pressing my lips into her hair.

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I rose suddenly, the sun burning my eyes. I didn’t know what time it was. It was clearly hours after I had fallen asleep, but my body ached with grogginess and I felt as though I had achieved no rest. The images of Pacifica were vivid in my mind, and I rubbed my eyes to try and chase the memories away. All I had wanted was a night of dreamless sleep, but the pain was more palpable this morning than it had been in weeks.

She had run from me, into the arms of a monster. He had raised his hands to hurt her and somehow, in spite of everything, he was the one she wanted. How was I supposed to compete with that? I couldn’t make her love me, and I couldn’t save her. But the fear and the guilt filled my soul; feelings I hadn’t realized before were even there.

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My legs could not seem to hold me up as I brought them to the ground. I crumpled to the hard floor with a sob. Broken and beaten down, I cried out, letting the tears spill down like they never had before. All of the pain, the anger, the pure anguish, came out of me in waves. I sobbed in agony, not caring who heard as I let every ounce of hurt and frustration burst from within me. I cried for Pacifica, for the danger she had placed herself in. And I cried for myself, for the loss I had experienced. I cried for the newfound love that was gone before it ever had a chance to grow. I cried because I didn’t know how I managed to breathe, or how my heart continued to beat. I ached in every inch of my soul, with such powerful misery that I could feel it in my pores. I could not comprehend her choice. How could she leave me for him? I would have given her everything I had, even if I hadn’t known it at the time. She was my chance at happiness, and I had lost her.

“Pacifica,” I said, her voice tearing from my throat with a pitiful wail. “Why?” I asked, as I continued bawling. Why?

Chapter 15, Part 1: Bad Romance

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A month had passed. A full month. In a lot of ways it felt like time had stood still, never passing, simply locking me into a perpetual state of hopelessness. And then in some ways…it was like years had already flown by. The face I saw in the mirror seemed aged; drawn. My eyes held bags beneath them that never wanted to fade: a reminder of my agony. I tried to remember Pacifica’s face, the scent of her hair…the taste of her skin. But each day it eluded me more. Perhaps this was for the best. The sooner I could forget her, the sooner the pain would fade away. And yet here I was, barely breathing, struggling to stand in the mornings. Each day the sorrow felt more prominent. It consumed every part of me. I had taken to drinking more than was healthy. I wanted anything to dull the pain and put me into a dreamless sleep. Most nights I lay awake hearing the coldness of her voice as she sent me away. There seemed to be no chemical in this world that could wipe away that memory. And I hated it.

So here I sat, trying hard to appear as composed as possible, on my parents’ couch. Serene and Cedar had called a family meeting to discuss something important. I assumed it was about the wedding, but truth be told, I had been so absorbed in my own despair that I didn’t know what was going on with them.

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I looked at Aqua, reading another of her romances. She was the only other sibling that had bothered to show up to this “family meeting.” Gossamer was on a cruise with her boyfriend, and there was really no telling where Hummingbird was. I didn’t bother to ask.

I looked at my beautiful sister’s face, smiling softly every few minutes, presumably at the words of her novel’s hero as he wooed the princess or maiden or whoever else was playing the clichéd role of heroine.

I envied her innocence. Her belief in true love. She was naïve, but I didn’t have it in me to say anything. I knew one day a man would break her heart, as mine had been broken…but I was willing to allow her a few more years of peace.

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I looked at my mother, who had made a valiant effort to dress up. Despite her curled hair and meticulous makeup, the lines in her face were unmistakable. I ached a little for the mother I knew when I was a child. So vibrant and youthful. Here she stood before me as a testament to the ravages of time. I wondered where I would be at her age. She had led a fairly good life, with a loving husband and five children, but still she had been unable to escape the violence of aging. I had nothing to show for my life in my nearly twenty-five years. By the time I reached my fifties, I couldn’t imagine I would look any better than my mother did. I half-wondered if I would even be alive at that point. Berry knows that waking up each day was already a hassle. I shook my head, trying not to picture this agony multiplied by twenty-five more years.

“Okay, everyone,” my mother said in a tired voice, “Serene and Cedar have something they want to tell us!” She added quickly under breath, “And it better be that they’ve chosen a wedding date.”

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Cedar laughed at the last comment. “Actually, Mom, we’re putting the wedding on hold.” He wrapped his arms around Serene, gazing into her eyes with a look of pure love, which caused a vice to tighten around my heart.

“What?!” My mother screeched. “Is there something wrong? Don’t tell me you have cold feet! I already have my dress picked out.” She sounded whinier than a woman of her age should, but it wasn’t anything we weren’t used to.

“And I’m sure you’ll look beautiful in your dress when the wedding does take place,” Cedar said soothingly. “But circumstances have changed and, well, do you want to tell them?” He directed the last part to Serene, who smiled widely.

She pressed her hands against her stomach, grinning. “We’re pregnant!” She exclaimed enthusiastically. “About four months along.”

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I leapt from my seat. “Pregnant?” She was pregnant? I had been living under their roof for months and I’d had no idea. I was floored. I was ashamed. I was…jealous. There was a war of emotions taking place inside of me and I pressed my hands to my head to try and make it stop. I felt like the worst brother in the world, not knowing what was going on in Cedar’s life. He and Serene had been nothing but amazing to me in the past month, making sure I ate, and giving me space when I needed to be alone. But all this time they had something wonderful going on that should have been their only focus and they were concerned about me. And I hadn’t even bothered to notice what was happening in their lives. I felt so ashamed, so overwhelmed. I was selfish.

But I was also filled with sadness and jealousy. I should have been happy for them. I was happy for them. But I couldn’t help but think about Pacifica, and the future I hadn’t realized before that I wanted with her. I wanted this to be us, holding each other lovingly, talking about our future family. But it wasn’t meant to be.

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Aqua squealed with excitement, doing a little dance. “I’m going to be an aunt!” She said in a sing-song voice. “It’s about time!”

“This is wonderful,” my mother said, “But…four months? Why didn’t we know sooner?” Leave it to my mother to focus on the negative. My father laid a hand on her arm, both in a gesture of love, and of warning.

“Now, Briar, I’m sure they had a very good reason.” He said, smiling tightly, hoping my mom would get the hint.

“We wanted to wait until we knew the pregnancy was viable,” Cedar said, wrapping his arm around Serene’s shoulders. “And Serene had to tell her mother first.”

“But,” my mother said. My father shook his head and she closed her mouth. “Fine. Do you know yet what you’re having?” She said, forcing a smile.

I didn’t stay long enough to find out. I needed to be alone, in a safe place. So I fled to my old bedroom, tears stinging my eyes. I forced them back.

6-15(1)-9

I both relished and despised the familiarity of my childhood bedroom. Besides the loud-print bedspread my mother had chosen, it looked more or less the same as it had the last time I was here. It smelled the same, like men’s deodorant and laundry detergent. I threw myself on the bed, remembering a time long past, when coming home to this room felt like routine. I would come in, toss my backpack on the floor, grab my homework, and sit on the bed working. Then I’d hop on the computer and play games until my mom called me to dinner. It had been years, but in a lot of ways it felt like time had never passed. Or maybe I just wanted to believe it had never passed; that I was still young with nothing but good things in my future. Those were the memories I relished.

And yet, I despised the realization that somehow I had ended up back where I started. Granted, I wasn’t actually living here, but as I lay in my old bed recalling images from the past, I realized that everything about my life that was new, different…was gone. Pacifica had made me something different; better. She had taken me out of my shell and given me a reason to believe in myself, and I had fought against her. I had fought the strangeness of the emotions she made me feel, tried so hard to hold on to the person I was before…and I hated myself for it. Now that she was gone, I missed the person I was when she was near. I craved the anxiety and the uncertainty and the rush of complicated emotions. I missed the love.

I missed Pacifica. With every beat of my broken heart.

6-15(1)-10

I heard the door creak open, but I didn’t bother lifting my head.

“Eden?” I heard Aqua’s voice say, soft and sweet. “Are you okay?”

I didn’t answer. I attempted a shrug, but even that much effort seemed like too much.

“We missed you in there. Cedar and Serene are talking to Mom about some potential baby names,” she laughed, “and you know how she can be about getting her way.” On a happier day, I would have managed a giggle, but I continued to lay there in silence.

6-15(1)-11

I felt the bed creak as Aqua sat down on the edge. I closed my eyes, hoping she would go away and leave me to my misery. I loved my sister dearly, but I didn’t feel like opening up to her. She was innocent and naïve, excited to live her life; and I was no longer any of those things.

“I know about Pacifica,” she said in a sympathetic voice. “Cedar told us about it.” I saw her turn to look at me in my peripheral vision, but I couldn’t find the strength to look her in the eye. “I’m worried about you, you know. I know you’re probably hurting, but I promise it’s all going to work out in the end.”

That earned a snort from me. “Thanks, sis, but you don’t know anything about love that you didn’t learn from a novel.”

She scoffed indignantly and jumped up from the bed.

6-15(1)-12

6-15(1)-13

“For your information, I happen to be in a relationship with a very nice man!”

I rose quickly. “What?” Was I really this out of touch with what was going on in my family? First Cedar and Serene were having a baby, and now my little sister had her first boyfriend…and I didn’t know about either. “Since when? Who? Why didn’t I know about this?” I blurted out a string of questions, my eyes wide.

She laughed. “Since a month and a half ago. His name is Drizzle and I met him at the park playing chess. I was sitting on a bench reading and he was taking a break in between matches and…well, we discovered we have a lot in common.” She smiled wistfully. “I didn’t tell you because I knew you had a lot going on. It didn’t seem important.”

“Not important?” I asked sadly. “You’re my little sister and you have your first boyfriend. You should have been able to come to me about it.” I sighed. “Is he treating you right, at least?” Because if he wasn’t, I was going to do something about it. I didn’t share that last thought with Aqua, however.

She laughed softly. “Yes, Eden, he’s been nothing but gentlemanly. I think – I think I may love him.” She bit her lip.

Love. I remembered what it was like to be in love. Too bad I hadn’t realized it at the time. Maybe if I had…Pacifica would still be in my life.

6-15(1)-14

Aqua must have seen the look on my face, because she wrapped her arms around me in a big hug. Despite my assertions about wanting to be left alone, I felt a sense of peace as my sister shushed me in a calming voice. I felt loved and understood. I guess I should have expected that if anyone in the family could appreciate my pain, it would be Aqua. We had always been a little different from the others.

“It’s going to be okay, Eden,” she said in a whisper. “I promise.”

“How do you know?” I asked, skeptical. “Did one of your books tell you that?”

6-15(1)-15

She stepped back, pressing her hand over her heart. “No, I know it in my heart,” she said with an encouraging smile. “I can’t explain how, but I know that everything is going to work out in the end.” She let out a small laugh. “Maybe I’m psychic,” she added.

I wanted to believe what she was saying, but there was no part of me that truly believed that things would work out. I felt hopeless; empty. I’d had one opportunity for love and happiness and it had all fallen apart. I didn’t know it was something I did or if fate had frowned upon me, but I knew that nothing in my life would ever be right again.

I just smiled, not letting her see the doubts running through my head. “Thanks, sis,” I said. “I hope you’re right.”

6-15(1)-16

I crawled into my bed later that night, experience a tangle of unpleasant emotions swirl through me. The guilt I felt over not knowing Serene’s situation was eating at me. And the never-ceasing melancholy of losing Pacifica played its perpetual melody in my brain, reminding me of everything I would never have again. I just wanted peace. To sleep soundly, comatose.

I prayed to Berry for dreamless sleep.

Chapter 14: Not Over You

6-14-1

Dreams, that’s where I have to go
To see your beautiful face anymore
I stare at a picture of you and listen to the radio

6-14-2

Hope, hope there’s a conversation
We both admit we had it good
But until then it’s alienation, I know
That much is understood
And I realize

6-14-3

If you ask me how I’m doing
I would say I’m doing just fine
I would lie and say that you’re not on my mind
But I go out and I sit down at a table set for two
And finally I’m forced to face the truth,
No matter what I say I’m not over you, not over you

6-14-4

Damn, damn girl, you do it well
And I thought you were innocent
Took this heart and put it through hell
But still you’re magnificent

6-14-5

I, I’m a boomerang, doesn’t matter how you throw me
I turn around and I’m back in the game
Even better than the old me
But I’m not even close without you

6-14-6

If you ask me how I’m doing
I would say I’m doing just fine
I would lie and say that you’re not on my mind
But I go out and I sit down at a table set for two
And finally I’m forced to face the truth,
No matter what I say I’m not over you

6-14-7

And if I had the chance to renew
You know there isn’t a thing I wouldn’t do
I could get back on the right track
But only if you’d be convinced
So until then…

6-14-8

If you ask me how I’m doing
I would say I’m doing just fine
I would lie and say that you’re not on my mind
But I go out and I sit down at a table set for two
And finally I’m forced to face the truth,
No matter what I say I’m not over you

Not over you

6-14-9

Not over you

6-14-10

Not over you

~*~*~*~*~
“Not Over You” by Gavin Degraw

Chapter 13: Falling Down

6-13-1

6-13-2

“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.”

6-13-3

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.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

6-13-4

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.

6-13-5

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?”

6-13-6

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.”

6-13-7

6-13-8

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.

6-13-9

6-13-10

“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.

6-13-11

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.

6-13-12

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.

6-13-14

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.

6-13-15

6-13-16

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.

6-13-17

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.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

6-13-18

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.

6-13-19

6-13-20

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.

6-13-21

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.

6-13-22

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.

6-13-23

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.

6-13-24

6-13-25

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.

6-13-26

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.

6-13-27

6-13-28

“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.”

6-13-29

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.

6-13-30

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.

6-13-31

Edie, I love you.

I was a fool.