This night reminded me of the first time we’d come into the garden. The wind was peaceful and the lanterns cast a romantic glow over the place. Ida took me to the bench again, gesturing for me to sit. I did, grateful to be off the heels for a minute. She sat beside me, taking in a deep breath of relief. We were silent together, enjoying the hum of insects and the distant chatter of the party. Ida took my hand, resting it on her knee.
“Last time we were here,” she said softly, “you turned me down. I’m glad that you’ve changed your mind since then.” I wanted to say something, but felt a seriousness fall over us, so I kept silent and let her continue.
“This garden is one of my favorite places in the world,” she admitted. “The thought of leaving it was unbearable. But I realized that the thought of leaving you was even worse. I thought, ‘How could this girl, this person that I barely know, get so deep under my skin?’ And then it hit me: you were no ordinary person. This was no ordinary circumstance. Something extraordinary was happening, had happened. All I had to do was have the courage to take advantage of it. So I told you how I felt over and over again. When you finally accepted me…well, it was the happiest moment of my life.”
At this, she slid from the bench and knelt in front of me, her hands on my knees and her eyes looking right into mine. I held my breath.
“Lily, I know you turned me down last time, but I’m really hoping that you won’t do that this time. I love you immensely. Unlike I’ve ever loved anyone. And I don’t ever want to leave you. I don’t want you to ever leave my side. So, Lily…”
She reached just inside the top of her dress and pulled out a small ring. The diamond captured the low lights around us, amplifying them into something new and brilliant.
“Lily, will you be my wife?”
A thousand emotions typhooned through my body and I started to cry. I leaned forward and kissed Ida, whispering, “Yes” over and over again on her lips, my voice filled with excitement and disbelief. She stood and pulled me up with her, wrapping her arms around me and kissing me passionately.
When she broke away, she said, “Oh, thank the gods.”
She kissed me again, her hands insistent on my back as she pressed me impossibly close.
Then, she was just holding me, rocking me gently. I felt wetness on my shoulder and realized that Ida was crying. A bit in shock, I pulled away from her slightly, letting my hands move up to her jaw. I turned her face toward me, wiping away her tears with my fingers.
“Oh, my love,” I said gently, “I thought I’d never see you cry.”
“Well, I guess there’s an occasion for everything,” she said, laughing through her tears.
I floated through the rest of the night, laughing and drinking and chatting without a care, before finally settling into Ida’s bed.
She seemed insatiable that night, kissing me until I was breathless and had long lost the ability to think clearly. She just kept gathering me closer to herself, her hands insistent on my waist, on my hips, on the small of my back. I found purchase on her body wherever I could, pulling her close to me as I fervently returned her kisses. All the while she watched me intently, searching my eyes for a hint of protest. I gave her none.
She slowed somewhat and her fingers traced the lines of my legs, dipping slightly under my short nightgown, and reverently meandered across my collarbones. Her hands kept exploring, careful and curious. She mapped the inches of my exposed skin first, finding unexpected places to leave the gentle pressure of her lips. Their softness ghosted down my neck, along the rise of my shoulder, against the crook of my knee.
Her dark eyes, half hidden by the equally-dark fringe of hair that fell across them as she leaned over me, were mysterious and exciting. More than a few times, I caught that inexplicable light of love and, other times, I saw some sort of lust cloud them. Either way, the sight made me kiss her again.
Now I was the one who took risks. My fingers pulled at the end of her sleeping shirt, right where it met her shorts, and then journeyed beneath, touching the soft skin of her bare torso. I let my hands drift up and down her back, finding the strong muscles of her shoulders and the toned lines of her sides. She stopped for a moment, looking down at me in shock, and then she smiled. She put her mouth on mine, her tongue playfully grazing my teeth. I kept my hands on her sides, pressing into her.
When she tired, she laid beside me, playing with my hair and kissing my fingers. We admired my ring, which had been Ida’s mother’s and fit on my finger perfectly, and we admired each other long into the night.
Five Years Later
I was grateful for the air conditioning in my father’s two-bedroom apartment, the buzz a comforting sound as the summer sun beat against his third story window. I could imagine this place transforming into a hot box, powerful enough to cook eggs on the floor, without the presence of modern technology.
I sat on his worn couch, fighting the urge to pick a scab off my wrist as I listened to the calming rhythm of Lily’s voice. She was filling in my father on our latest activities, sitting beside him on the carpet with our one-year-old Cassie between them. The toddler was smiling and hitting her mother’s leg with her chubby hand. I smiled at the baby, who was looking in my direction, and Lily looked over, too, and I was struck for the thousandth time at how they had the same exact eyes. Cassie let out a little gurgle of a laugh, which only made me smile wider.
“Ah, Ida,” my father started, “I didn’t know you did that anymore. Smile, I mean.”
I shook my head at him, pretending annoyance.
“Well, Grandpa, just because I spend all of my day doing army drills, it doesn’t mean that I no longer have a personality,” I replied, teasing him with his new title. He pretended to hate it, but I knew he secretly loved it.
He scoffed, as I expected he would, and turned back to his granddaughter. He let her hand curl around his finger as he said to her,
“Well, you smile enough to make up for your stoic mother, don’t you?”
I rolled my eyes and Lily smiled at me, a clear and pure happiness shining in her pretty eyes. She reached out to touch my leg, her fingers welcome against the sore muscle of my calf. I half-smiled back at her, grateful to see her adjusting so well to everything. The people loved her, as I knew they would, and even my father harbored a huge affection for her. I really couldn’t think of anything in the world that I could want.
An hour later, I leaned against my Ferrari as I watched Lily buckle Cassie into her carseat in the back. As she struggled with the clasp, she commented for the second time that day,
“You know, this car really isn’t suitable for children.” Her voice was muffled by the sound of the running engine and the blast of the air conditioning, but I could hear the teasing in her tone.
“Hey, if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for the kid,” I answered. “Besides, she needs to start young, riding in style from the ripe old age of one.”
Lily extracted herself from the back, turning to face me instead. She smiled and I knew what she was going to say. As predicted, she began,
“You know, we should look into—“
“No minivans,” I insisted, reaching for her hand and pulling her toward me. “We might as well sign the death sentence to our sexiness if we do that. I refuse.”
“Impossible,” she replied, standing so close that our thighs were touching. She kissed my chin, saying, “You’ll die before you stop being sexy, minivan or otherwise.”
I shook my head, but I smiled at her words, resting my hands on her hips to keep her close.
“You are too good to me,” I said.
“No, you have that backwards,” she replied.
I kissed her, leaning back against my car and thinking that things couldn’t get any better.
I reluctantly pulled away when I heard Cassie making sounds of worry from inside the car. Lily leaned over to peek through the window, her body still in my hands.
“Ah, someone wants to go home,” I said. “But,” I added, my voice lowered, “when we get there, we’ll finish this.” Lily nodded eagerly, saying,
“Thank goodness for E the babysitter.” She kissed me once more and then disentangled herself from my grasp, heading toward the passenger seat. I jogged around the back of the car to get to the driver’s seat, jumping inside and turning to Cassie in the backseat once I was there.
“Alright, kid, you ready to go?”
She just clapped her hands in response and Lily laughed lightly, saying,
“I guess so.”
I put the car into drive before reaching across to take Lily’s hand. Our joined hands rested in her lap and I relished the feeling of her skin against mine. I didn’t think I’d ever grow tired of it.
I glanced up at the rearview mirror to check for traffic and caught sight of my daughter. I smiled, saying,
“Ok, Cassie, we’re going home.”