So there’s a HUGE difference (imo) between season 1 and season 2 of Sophia the First, and it goes to show you just how much good lighting can change things (granted they might have upgraded textures too, but-)
Animation has improved leaps and bounds too. Much more expressiveness and much less stiffness. Awesome job, guys.
A/N: Sorry for the wait, but this was a big chapter for this fic and wanted to get it done right! Hope you enjoy it! Here it goes…
Harry returned home from a long day of flight
training at the army base. His secured home on the base was small and quaint
giving him enough privacy at the end of a long day like today. Tossing his bag
in the entry way he kicked off his shoes hurling them unceremoniously into the
floor. Deacon, his other protection officer closed the door behind him.
Rounding the corner Harry walked into the kitchen
seeing Rip standing there with a file in his hand. Slowing his pace to a stop,
Harry eyed him suspiciously with a raised eyebrow. Realization hit Harry as to
what the file may contain; Rip’s findings of the blonde woman from the night at
the masquerade ball.
“Is that it?” Harry’s heart began to race in his chest
hoping he would finally learn the identity of the woman. Rip nodded slowly
keeping his eyes on the prince. He wanted to warn Harry of that he would not be
pleased with his findings of the woman, but felt it best for the prince to
reveal the information at his leisure.
Warnings: Terminal illness, Major Character Death, Self harm, Suicide, Blood (kinda)
After showing Sophia her new room and having dinner the three were sat watching winnie the pooh (Dan insisted). At some point Sophia had crawled into Dan’s lap and was now snuggling in as she fell asleep. “Poor girl.” Phil sympathised as he rested his head on Dan’s shoulder and rested a hand on Sophia’s knee. “I know,” Dan agreed “She’s had a busy day. She must have been so scared, moving to an entirely new house with practically new people.” Phil nodded in agreement and leaned down to kiss Sophia’s head “She’s my brave little lion.” “I love you.” Dan said and Phil pressed his lips to Dan’s sweetly. “I love you too.”
[AU in which Daryl & Carol meet at the victim center and Daryl convinces her to leave Ed.
May continue if I get enough response?]
He stands in the shadows of the welcome hall and he’s not sure why he’s out here with the others. Why is he even at the stupid victim center in the first place? Is he honestly so weak his father’s going to find him here? Oh, shit, WAIT, that’s right, he’s been here for years being nobody, being nothing. He’s been here since he was a little boy and his older brother had finally dragged him from his home and dumped his ass there so he could go light up on ecstasy and fuck himself up on LSD or what the fuck ever.
Ah, whatever. He can’t find any means to care anymore. Anyway, he’s been here so long now the staff was making him volunteer helping out, and while he was still a hermit, he was gradually coming out of his shell with the praise they were giving him, but barely. It didn’t seem his true self would ever be revealed at this point; the staff had given up trying to deal him through therapy for it years ago because he just got upset and left.
Until he met her.
This beauty, her hair graying from the stress of abuse, with a young girl clinging to her and chewing the back of her thumb anxiously, blonde hair and so innocent. Daryl was being forced to introduce the newcomers to the facilities and check them in. He tried not to keep stealing glances, feeling like a child, trying to ward off the blush beginning to creep onto his face. He cleared his throat, attempting to ask in a gruff voice, “Names?”
The woman shuffled forward nervously. She had nice curves, he had to admit, and he had never been with a woman but it didn’t stop him from looking. Come to think of it, he couldn’t say he had ever been attracted to anyone like he felt right now, like a moth to a flame. She was jumpy, and she eyed him suspiciously being he was a grown man in a shelter clearly stuck there, and he raised his eyebrows, nodding his head, trying to encourage her with an awkward, “Mm-mm?”
She started, looking down, saying in a voice of silk and an underlying streak of fear, “C-Carol P-Peletier… and Sophia Peletier…”
Daryl nodded, scribbling the names on the form before gruffly saying, “Reason for housing, anyone to look out for?”
“Um… My husband, Ed… Peletier…”
No surprise. But at the same time, it wasn’t every day in this housing a woman with a kid came in, so he was naturally drawn, hopping from the chair and bundling up a bunch of supplies. “C'mon.”
She didn’t move.
He was halfway down the hall when he stopped and turned around. He squinted at her, scowling a little crankily, before relaxing a bit, forcing himself to loosen up. He sympathized with what these people went through on some level. He sighed, saying softly, “I’ll show you around and help you get settled…?”
“Oh… Right.” She looked a little flustered and took Sophia’s hand, who looked terrified and shied closer to her mother, but at her reassuring words the little girl followed. He showed her around to the cafeteria and introduced her to some of the staff members before ambling through the halls to find the spare room listed on the sheet.
He opened the door for her, gesturing for her to go inside before following after. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her, for some reason he felt compelled not to look away but he didn’t want to intimidate her. He tore his eyes away, clearing his throat again and sniffing, unrolling the blankets and laying them on each bunk. He set up other basic supplies, handing her toothpaste and toothbrushes and other necessities. He tried to smile just a little to be polite; why was he trying so hard.
“You need anythin’ else?”
“I think I’m okay,” she said quietly, before smiling gratefully, “…Thank you.”
He felt like he had overstayed his welcome, glancing at the little girl, before suddenly starting, saying, “…Oh, hey…” He reached into his bag, pulling out a doll they put in each pack in the case a child did come in, stepping toward her. Sophia shrank a bit but he extended the doll toward her, crouching to her level, smiling. “Hey… Here’s for being so brave. I know what it’s like.”
His heart was in his throat and he didn’t know why he was acting so open. Maybe it was the kid. Nevertheless, he felt his heart burst when the girl gave a little squeak and took the doll, hugging it to her chest, whispering, “Thank you.”
He nodded, standing and turning to head out the door. He tied up the bag and began to make his way down the hall when he heard someone following him. “Sir…?”
He turned around at Carol’s voice, trying to look agitated, growling, “Daryl. What is it?”
He remembered himself after she jumped a little at his tone and muttered an apology. She looked a little shaken, and he waited patiently by staring her down until she finally whispered, “Do you have any books?”
Daryl’s face contorted into surprise, unable to hide it, a little taken aback, echoing uncertainly, “Books?”
She nodded slowly, looking more nervous by the second as if she had asked the wrong question. “Yes?”
Daryl shuffled, before beckoning her, leading her to the storage room and unlocking the door, holding it open for her. “Take your pick. I dunno what we got. Choose one.”
Carol looked around, and he noticed she began to tap a finger against her lip thoughtfully, before picking up a book from on the the boxes, holding it tightly to her chest. Daryl leaned against the wall on his heels, and Carol slowly turned back to him, smiling gratefully. “Th-thank you.”
“Mhm,” he replied, eyeing the back of the book. Treating Survivors of Childhood Abuse. He frowned a little. “Hey… Don’t tell me he…”
Carol flinched a bit and he gritted his teeth, knowing not to press any further. She murmured another thank you before scurrying out of the room like a mouse and he looked down at his shoes. Fuck.
At dinner, he spotted her by herself and came to settle across from her, offering Sophia his cookie, which she took and began to nibble on gratefully, smiling faintly. “I’d like to have kids someday,” he said softly, before snapping out of it, beginning to pick up his food with his fingers. “Sorry about earlier.”
He expected her to ignore him, so he was entirely puzzled when he heard her snort and begin to laugh. He looked up, frowning in confusion. “Didn’t anyone ever teach to eat with silverware?” she laughed, and he felt himself very pleased he had made that delightful, heavenly sound possible.
“You’re crazy! Silverware is for losers,” Daryl shot back, smirking devilishly and she laughed again, nodding acceptingly, and for once, he felt like he fit in at the shelter, continuing to eat his food with them in silence that was now more comfortable, beginning small conversation with her.
“What’s your name, Daryl?”
Daryl froze, his eyes becoming a little nervous himself, glancing at her. “W-why, do you know… one of them…?” he choked out, biting his lip.
Carol shook her head, replying, “Just a nice name.”
Daryl frowned but relaxed, not saying anything more on it so they dropped the subject. They discussed their ltheir interests, hobbies, small talk that all seemed to make sense when making friends. He thought maybe, just maybe, he had found someone that might actually make him enjoy it around the housing.
He bid her goodnight when it was time for everyone to go to their rooms, clambering onto his bottom bunk and sprawling out, staring at the ceiling for a while before drifting off to sleep. He had this crazy dream, a dream he couldn’t comprehend yet, that Carol might be the girl he finally wines and dines, warms her bed and gets a job to support. Actually, he thought it might be the best dream he’s had in ages, and he feels refreshed when he wakes up in the morning.
When he arrived in her room though to say good morning, he noticed her packing up what little she had brought and Sophia huddling in the corner of the bunk bed, looking unhappy. “What’re you doing?”
Carol jumped, looking up at him, chewing her lip, before looking down again. The shirt she was wearing made the bruises and the abrasions on her arms alone obvious. She glanced at Sophia, looking like she wanted to cry before murmuring shakily, “I’m going b-back to Ed…”
“Why the fuck would you want to do that?” He forgot to watch his language around the kid. Carol flinched, looking fearful and he realized a growl had inched into his tone. He pursed his lips before saying slowly, “Look… I was abused as a kid. If you take her back there, she’s going to get hurt… Lookit her, she’s so innocent. You wanna ruin that?”
Carol fell silent, looking down and fidgeting with her hands. She shrugged a little and he knew somewhere in his head she wanted to say that her little girl had already been ruined by what she had seen.
“You wanna go back and get beaten til your skin is black? Hit with a belt til he gives you a little mercy, please him so he don’t touch her?” Daryl’s tone had become steel, and she seemed to realize he was speaking partly from his own experience by his voice, which belatedly he realized had cracked a little. “You’re better than that. You’re not nothing without him. You could do so much better… You could live so much better. You could be safe here.”
Carol was beginning to look conflicted but at the same time terrified, murmuring, “What if he finds me?”
Daryl stepped forward, chancing to touch her arm just once awkwardly before straightening, his eyes blazing with determination. “I’ll protect you.”
“You don’t know what he’s-”
“Don’t even dare.”
She fell silent again and turned to him. Now she just looked pleading and desperate for approval like he had so many times over and somewhere in him he just wanted to take her in his arms. He chewed his lip before shuffling forward until there was less than an arm’s length between them, taking a leap out of his comfort zone, saying confidently, “Leave him.”
“…Why protect me, though?”
“Because you’re every bit as good as them, as us. Every bit.”
Chapter 14: The Reality of Magic is Illusion (What the Heart Wants)
I had to find an alternate way to post this since it was having issues, so unfortunately I think the formatting is a little off with paragraph breaks and stuff, but I just wanted to get this out to you guys because I feel bad for my technical issues making you wait so long after this was submitted to my ask. Enjoy!
Chapter 14: The Reality of Magic is Illusion (What the Heart Wants)
Chapter 14: The Reality of Magic is Illusion. (What the Heart Wants)
[The following chapter contains writing for mature readers]
Tanith and Maks pass each other in the middle of the rink, their hands slapping a hard high five. “How do you feel?” Tanith laughs watching him drift around the ice, his hands on his knees.
It’s the first time he’s successfully skated the complete dance. Maks runs his hand through his hair. “Girl… You know, the closer it got to the end, the more scared I was.”
“I could tell. That’s the way it usually is. Your lifts were stable, though.”
Tanith slides her hand into his and starts to speed up, beginning to circle the perimeter of the rink. “Do you know what made Davis and White so good?”
“Their artistry? Chemistry?”
“Nope,” Tanith shakes her head. “Put your arm around my waist. Take my hand like this.”
As he adjusts his hold, he realizes they are skating very fast.
“Of course, they developed their artistry as they matured …” Tanith starts incorporating short bursts of step sequences without slowing down. “… They were so much better than anyone else, because first they were very athletic. They skated with great speed, deep edges, soft knees, power. And they were fearless. They could have been pair skaters they were that fearless.
Maks lets go of Tanith, his legs burning. He glides to the wall, panting. More from the concentration it took to imitate her improvisational choreography at that pace than from the physical exertion.
She circles back to him. “The two lifts in our routine? Those are from one of their novice programs. They were only ten and eleven and they skated faster than we were just skating now.”
“Their, chemistry, as you call it, wasn’t what most people mean when they use that word. Especially, like it’s used on… Say ‘Reality TV.’” Tanith grins at him.
“They could barely hold hands or look at each other but they trusted each other absolutely, completely… From the very beginning. She trusted his strength and he, hers.
Maks listens, watching her lips move.
"Part of that trust was probably because they were so young when they started together. Kids don’t know how to distrust… But I believe it was also logical to them, even at that time.”
Maks turns and steps off the ice. Tanith reaches down, grabs the guards and hands them to him. Instead of taking them, his fingers wrap tightly around her wrist. “Why are you telling me this?”
Startled, Tanith looks up at him, confused. “Because… I’m trying to teach you how to skate with her,” she says. Then a different understanding comes.
“Everyone is rallying around,” Nicole says with a wide smile. The three of them are having their daily Skype. I think I have all the music, food, locations sorted out like we talked about.“
Meryl nods happily. Maks frowns.
"Don’t worry! No one has a clue this is about anything besides your birthday, Maksim… Okay, Teddy will pick you up at the airport. And Maks, find something to do with yourself for the first day. Meryl and I are going to be fitting for her dress and you know the tradition… I’m sending you an itinerary.”
The conversation must have gone on but Maks checks out. When he finally refocuses, Meryl is laughing, saying, “that sounds perfect, I can’t wait!”
After the call is over, Meryl grins happily at him. “She’s the very best, Maks.”
“I know. She is.”
“Will it give it a way if I wear your Mom’s ring?”
He chokes on the toothpaste, swallows…”Blech… ” He rinses his mouth.
“One, it’s your ring.” He lifts her fingers to his lips. “And two, I don’t know if it will give IT away but Mom will know I’ve asked you to marry me. Annnd, three, don’t get cornered by Sophia, because my grandmother will definitely figure it out.”
“I think I want your mother to know that I love you and that I said ‘yes’. It’s a long time since she gave this to you. I can keep our secret. She won’t expect us to rush, after everything? Right? And she’ll understand it’s private. Just our story… from your grandmother to her to me?”
This gift she is offering his mother touches him more than she can possibly know. “Meryl… Her search for you has been even longer than mine.” He shakes his head, imagining his mother’s reaction. “She will understand.”
Teddy meets them at the gate waving a huge, fluorescent pink handwritten sign stapled to a stick that reads MERYL ELIZABETH DAVIS punctuated by a large smiley face. When he sees them he tosses it to Maks and grabs her up into his arms. “Wait,” he says leaning away from her. “ARE you Meryl Davis?!”
“I think so!” She laughs with him. “Hi Teddy…”
He tightens his hold. “I am so happy to see you… You have no idea.”
“Ted,” Maks says folding the sign up, swatting it at him. “Did Nic…”
“Hells no, Maks… Of course not. She’ll kill me if she finds out. She said to be ‘diss-creeet’ but… Sorry,” he finishes as Maks gives him an amused glare.
He sets Meryl back down and runs his fingers through her hair. “I like this.”
“So I have a copy of your ‘ITINERARY’ here, Teddy rolls his eyes as he shoves the paper above the visor. "I’m to have you at such and such at precisely zero ten whatever. She’s crazy! Worse than usual… So if you want to do anything, tell me me now. I’ll help you make your escape!”
His unbridled joy is infectious. Meryl is still laughing as he pulls into the entrance to The Jewel. He retrieves the sheet of paper and studies it. “You’re in 1503. I have no idea why on earth you’re staying in a hotel. I mean, Larisa… She won’t be happy. But whatever. Better you than me! Um… You’re already checked in.” He fishes through his coat pockets. “Here are your key cards. I’ll let my sister know I have delivered you to your destination. I’d love to stay and visit but you should see MY itinerary! I’ll see you after lunch.”
Meryl looks at Maks and bursts into laughter as Teddy zooms away.
She walks to the window of their suite and takes in the view. The Rock… St. Patrick’s Cathedral. And tiny figures circling on a beautiful patch of shiny white ice. Her fingers trace small swirls on the glass, following their movements.
Maks brings her a red rose and a flute filled with bubbly liquid. “From Nicole.” He gestures back at the simple bouquet of roses sitting on the coffee table. Her note says she’ll be here by 1 o’clock.”
Meryl lifts her eyebrows at the champagne.
“Sparkling juice,” he says. “To us..”
“To all of us…” She clinks her glass on his.
As they stand looking out, their bodies relax into a most familiar embrace, his arms around her, her head leaning back on his chest. Her fingers wrapped around his wrists. Their bodies swaying. They are both transported back to that time, when they were just learning to hold each other, when their future was only ever a week, and a week was a lifetime… Lost in distant memories of their beginning.
“Maks? Do you think people can make magic?”
Her question is just odd enough to make him consider it before answering. “I think sometimes people can create magic…”
“Only I read a story long ago. And there was this part about when two people first fall in love, a special, natural magic happens… And then they live their lives using it all up. When that magic is finished, they start to try to make more but it’s too late… And it’s very difficult to make magic.”
He turns her so he can look into her eyes. “you are wondering about us, about our future?” He holds her face so she will hear his words. “For me, with you, it is not difficult at all. That story might be right but it’s also wrong. I have fallen in love with you so many times, over and over. If that is how magic is made, then I have enough already for this lifetime and the next.” He leans down to kiss her. “Even still today, I know something will happen and I will fall in love with you again.”
The immediacy and clarity of his response surprises her. There is so much more to know about him. The way his mind works.
“Tell me,” he asks, “is it not the same for you?”
“I…” Her eyes blur as she searches for an answer. Something besides, “yes…me, too.”
She stretches up to kiss him, abandoning her loss of words. He tastes sweet and bitter. She pulls away with recognition. “Hey! Yours isn’t sparkling juice,” she says, her tongue licking his lips.
“A little won’t hurt,” he says, lifting his glass. He tips back his head, swirls the liquid in his mouth like a sommelier. He swallows, his eyes teasing as she waits.
“Maksim!” Chef Yuhi Fujinaga steps away from the line as his three guests are led into the kitchen of The Sea Grill.
After an embrace and an exchange of bows, Maks presents her, “This is Meryl Davis, my…um… Meryl, Chef Yuhi Fujinaga.”
“Sore wa anata o mitasu tame ni kōeidesu,” Meryl says slowly and perfectly, bowing.
“Arigatō.” Yuhi smiles at her greeting, returning her bow. “The honor is mine… You are my daughter’s inspiration.”
Is your daughter a skater, too?”
“No! Not like you, although she has seen you and Charlie skate many times in Japan.”
Meryl manages a gracious, faltering, smile. Maks’ arm tightens around her waist.
“Please.” Yuhi has set the ‘Chef’s Table’ for three. He gestures to the table set in the corner of the busy kitchen. “Nicole, come… have a look at the dishes.”
“Yuhi… Bro. That was unbelievable,” Maks says leaning back from the last course.
“Everything is perfect. Arigatō ” Meryl agrees. The chef acknowledges their appreciation by lowering his head. “And for bringing us into your kitchen! Amazing! I’m a terrible cook, so watching you and everyone here has been very inspiring!”
“Please…” Yuhi stands taking Meryl’s hand. “Come, let’s cook.” He leads her to the prep line, signals to the plongeur. Meryl’s eyes are wide with surprise as the young man wraps her in a white apron and places a white cap on her head.
Nicole and Maks laugh as Meryl turns back, excited and asking for rescue both.
While Meryl cooks, Nicole and Maks study a small floor plan of the restaurant. Table arrangements and the access to the rink are diagrammed. “We’re still trying to do this, right?” Nicole asks
“Tanith says I’ll be ready. I just don’t know how to get her out there, and everyone else, too?”
“Here’s my idea…” Nicole goes over her plan.
“It’s too complicated,” Maks frowns.
“Well, of course it is,” Nicole exclaims. “What did you expect? You’re trying to have a surprise wedding, with a hundred guests, and on top of that, surprise her, too!… And in less than two months now.”
“Eighty five, he corrects her. He sees Nicole’s exasperated expression. "I know, I know.” Maks puts his hands on Nicole’s, trying to placate her. “Thank you, babe.” He glances over to see if Meryl is aware of their conversation. She’s bent over her work, concentrating on following Yuhi’s instructions.
Nicole watches Maks relax as his eyes follow Meryl. He has never been good at hiding his feelings. There is adoration, surprise, joy, desire. She waits to see if the worry she thought she saw in Michigan will emerge, relieved at its absence.
Aware of her studying him, Maks smiles. Nicole nods.
Meryl brings her creation to them for approval. “Norwegian Salmon a la Plancha!”
“She’s a natural,” Yuhi pronounces.
Meryl offers Maks a bite. “Mmmm, babe. Delicious.” He spins her into his lap. “See,” he whispers in her ear. “Like I said…More magic.”
“Nicole,” Meryl protests as they wait for Teddy to pick them up. “There’s no way I can go for a dress fitting in this condition!” Her hands pressing her full stomach.
“I have to say, and I’m serious about this, I am very depressed not to be involved here,” Maks says.
“Maksim,” Nicole says with equal seriousness. “There is no way you are coming with us. I have studied the dresses you have chosen. You will not be disappointed.”
Meryl’s raises her eyebrows as he pushes out his lower lip.
“So, I suggest you go to your parent’s. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and all hell is breaking loose in that house, you can imagine. It will definitely keep you occupied for the rest of the day.”
Maks scratches his head, considering the suggestion. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea. They’ll be wanting you.” He looks at Meryl. “I’ll have to come up with…”
“Oh for heavens sake… Blame it on me,” Nicole says. “I insisted on taking Meryl… And… You’ll figure it out. If you can’t, then just go to the studio and hang around there until we’re done.”
“Well, when will THAT be, he asks plaintively.
"Maks!” They exclaim in unison.
“Tell me everything.”
“They’re beautiful. Very beautiful.”
“Well… It’s your birthday party. And our wedding. Sooo? A few costume changes are necessary.”
This is all I get?”
“They are very, VERY beautiful…”
“You are. Very…” He kisses her forehead. “Very…” He kisses her neck. “Very…beautiful” he kisses her lips. “I missed you.”
“Tell me everything.”
“Larisa is not happy. At all.”
“Teddy didn’t help?”
“He did NOT help.”
“I can’t wait to see everyone.”
“Believe me,” he says with a grimace. “Everyone cannot wait to see you. I barely got out of there alive.”
“It’ll all be okay tomorrow…”
“So YOU say. I had to promise one thousand times that we would be there early.”
“How early is early?” She moves out of his arms and walks to the window.
“5? 6? It can’t be soon enough.”
“Hmmm. That is quite early.”
“Poor Ted. He also had to promise to bring us very… Early.” He joins her. The city lights shine in her eyes. Her fingers lace through his.
“I take it you’re not hungry.”
“Are you kidding? I think I ate the entire Thanksgiving dinner a day early.”
She raises his hand to her lips. “Yeah. I’m not hungry either.” She turns slightly, and brings his fingers to the line of tiny pearl buttons that run down the back of her dress.
She releases his hand, feeling his palm rest on her neck. Her arms swing down, her fingers reaching back, lightly curling around the back of his thighs.
He clears his throat as he releases the first pearl from its responsibility.
“I felt bad about your disappointment. Not being with me today,” she says as she feels his fingers travel from the second pearl to the third. “I kept something here so you would know I was thinking of you.”
As the cashmere falls open, lines of silk ribbon criss-crossing her back shimmer.
She lets the soft wool fall off her shoulders to the floor, exposing a thin silk corset that just covers the sides of her frame, laces completing its form over her bare skin.
“Well,” she whispers, turning to face him.
The bodice is as sheer as a spider’s web. The combination of her almost naked body, her legs, still covered with thigh-high tights disappearing into supple leather boots, is irresistibly sensual.
He moves with a sudden urgency then, bringing her body into his, his lips on hers.
“Tell me you love me, Meryl,” his voice breaks with fear she mistakes for desire. “No matter what.”
“I love you.”
“No! Say it. No matter what!”
“I love you… no matter what.”
From where his request comes, she does not know, but she pulls him to her, trying to desperately answer it. She stumbles backwards until the cold glass catches her. She reaches to unclasp his belt. His fingers slide across her stomach. He lowers his shoulders, pushing her panties to the floor. As she steps free, he rises quickly, pausing only once to open her with his tongue before standing and lifting her up, cupping the curve of her ass as her thighs wrap around his hips.
“Babe,” he exhales as he presses her into the New York skyline. Her fingers fumble in the small space between them, trying to release him. Finally, she manages to push away the clothes that separate his desire from hers. Her fist holds him as she arches her back trying to find the angle of entry. He lowers her slowly, feeling her open to take him into her body. As his hips push upwards, his fingers splayed on the window, he opens his eyes. The city expands below them and he feels a sense of vertigo, of falling through space, that takes his breath away. “No, fuck” he pants, gritting his teeth, realizing that he cannot stop himself from coming. He thrusts faster trying to hold on, to give her what he can so they will release together. “Now,” she whispers, her hands tight around his neck. When he feels her start to pulse he pushes her hips down hard and feels the rush of exquisite pleasure.
They stay in this position waiting for their bodies slowly stop throbbing. He doesn’t want to release her but he realizes that his ankles are trapped by his half removed jeans. “Hold on, baby,” he says pressing her hips into him as he tries to extricate himself. She is smiling into his eyes, her legs locked around him. Finally he manages to kick free. He carries her into the bedroom. He turns to sit on the edge of the bed. She is still straddling is body. Face to face this way, he reaches behind her and tugs at the ribbons that will release the silk from her body. As the corset falls away from her breasts, he touches her with wonder.
“I love you,” she says. “More than I can say. More than I ever imagined was possible.”
Maks loses her the moment they step through the door. Larisa and Sophia and Jhanna pull Meryl into their arms, turning her through the foyer and into the kitchen. Maks follows them, finally catching his mother’s eye. “You’re late,” she says, pecking him on the cheek.
“Here babe,” he says, easing her coat from her shoulders and accepting her hat and scarf and mittens.
Uncovered, the women finally see her. Of course he had tried to prepare them, but how could they have been ready?
Sophia and Jhanna speak over each other in rapid Russian. “But you must eat!” His grandmother says, while Jhanna starts preparing a breakfast plate. Larisa doesn’t move. His mother’s eyes are bright as she studies Meryl’s face. Meryl steps back bumping into Maks. Her hands reach up as his arms encircle her.
They smile together as Larisa comes to embrace first her son and then the woman she has known will be her daughter. Still she has to ask, “правда ли это?”
“Yes,” they nod, confirming the truth.
“Very, very happy,” Meryl whispers.
Maks looks down at his wife, averting his own eyes from his Mother’s.
Meryl stays close to Larisa as the house begins to fill with friends and family. In search of her, Maks pokes his head into the kitchen, sees Meryl carefully stirring as his mother drops rounds of dough into a large simmering pot. Looking over his father’s shoulder, he watches the two walk to greet new arrivals, their hands slipping together as Larisa whispers something in Meryl’s ear. He turns, hearing Meryl’s laughter, sees his mother nodding conspiratorially.
When Val finally arrives, sullen, making his first appearance home since being voted off, they are nowhere to be found. When they reappear, their arms are are linked, their faces glowing.
Then she sees him. “Val!” Meryl runs toward him, arms wide, stops, stands still in front of him, steps back, acknowledging his recent disappointment.
“Meryl,” Val says, finally fully present. When he last saw her, she was just emerging from her deep sleep. Now here she is, so alive, so stunningly beautiful. His perspective shifts as he reaches to bring her to him. “I love you,” he laughs as she jumps into his arms. Maks smiles into his brother’s eyes as he holds her…
And then they all sit down to this feast of thanksgiving, celebrating family, acknowledging their love for one another, grateful for so much.
The rest of the day is Meryl curled up. Every time he looks to find her she is curled up… in someone else’s embrace. Huddled together on the sofa with Nicole. Then locked in Tony’s arms. Folded into his brother. Held by his grandmother. Laughing with his father. Long, long moments holding Alex’s hands as they whisper together.
“It’s my turn,” he says displacing Teddy. She relaxes into his chest, closing her eyes. fighting against fatigue, trying to join the cheers that erupt as the football game intensifies.
“Just stay here,” Larisa asks, seeing Meryl asleep, curled in her son’s arms. “It’s going to be terrible already for the day after Thanksgiving.”
“Well…” He almost agrees before catching Nicole’s head shaking adamantly in the background.
“We have a lot to do in the city tomorrow.”
When Meryl lifts a small bundle of embossed thank you cards from her desk drawer, a square orange envelope, buried below, catches her attention. It is addressed to ‘Maksim Chmerkovskiy.’ The Japanese characters in the postal stamp and return address are clear. She picks it up, opens the flap. Empty. But the bubble wrap lining retains the subtle deformation from its missing contents. She studies the writing carefully, checking for a postmark date, her fingers tracing the slim square outline. Slowly she guesses what was there but is gone. Her understanding is first exhilaration and then disbelief and then awareness… Followed by anger that builds into rage so full of suspicion it calms her into certainty. Then only one thought remains. She will have the proof of her truth and when she does she will set Charlie free.
She yanks the drawer out of the desk, falling to her knees, hands spreading its contents across the floor. Sitting back on her heels she bites her lip hard, squeezes her eyes shut in frustration. She springs up… Running through the hall. The tray glides open. One by one, five silver disks fall from her shaking fingers, each denying her silent pleas.
She sits waiting. Her eyes closed. Her body tense, ready to run. She hears his key in the lock.
Maks slides the pizza box on to the kitchen counter. “Sorry I’m late… I stopped to pick up…” He starts to explain as he moves toward the stairs to throw his gear into the wash. He catches sight of her in the dark dining room, drops his bag on the floor and walks toward her. And then he sees the terrible thing sitting so innocently in middle of the table.
There are only two places a human can be to survive if the earth were to suddenly stop spinning. One is at the top of the world, the other at the bottom. Even if you are fortunate enough to escape the devastation that will erupt in between, it won’t be for long. Your best and only hope is that whatever failed in the physics of the universe, is for it to be countered by the intervention of some other greater force. When his stopped spinning, he had been on top of the world… and she… she was as far away from him as she could possibly be. As far away as he could have sent her. At its very bottom.
A perfect, hideous stillness snakes around his body. It holds him from going to her. Oh god oh god oh god… Not like this…
“Meryl…Please…” His voice shaking. There is something so dim about her. He moves his palm across his eyes trying to clear the light.
With those words she knows her judgement is true. Her lips purse slightly, like she is blowing small kisses as she exhales and exhales.
“Give it.” Her breath flows out, swirling particles of oxygen into a tiny turbulent curl. “To me.”
He tries to pull enough air into his lungs so he can answer her. “Baby, please… I…”
“Don’t…” Her voice comes from very far away. “Speak.”
But he must speak if he is to answer her. “I don’t have it,” he pleads.
Her eyes fly open, assuming his final, complete betrayal.
“No! No!” He yells, trying to stop her accusation. “It’s, I… It’s with Tanith…”
“Tanith?” She pauses only for a second. “And Charlie?”
She cocks her head slightly as if listening for something, her arm reaches out, catching up the envelope between her fore and middle fingers. Her movements are like a robot preparing to assemble something intricate. She stands up, then. Moves through him. They are in two separate dimensions as her body passes his. The speed in his is too slow for his arms to catch up with hers.
When she opens the door, his muscles finally unlock. Beyond her he sees a taxi pull up to the curb. She had already prepared to leave him.
"No… Meryl… Please…He grabs her. Holds her too tightly. Her body is rigid. He will not release her. He will find a way to explain. "Please. No matter what,” he whispers, trying to remind her. Then he feels her soften in his arms. In his relief, he relaxes his hold. There is just enough space for her to escape. And she is running from him, her bare feet silent on the cold sidewalk. And she is gone.
Oh fuck. Oh god.
His brain cannot think. His heart does not beat. His lungs cannot breathe. His muscles are frozen. His eyes focus and refocus, traveling with her as she disappears.
Charlie answers the string of impatient knocks. “Hey!” He says. The movement of her eyes across his face smears his smile, turning it into a lopsided grimace.
“Meryl?” His hand returns her grip as her fingers tighten around his. “What’s happened? What’s wrong?”
Meryl’s gaze shifts beyond him. “Tanith…” She moves forward without releasing Charlie’s hand. “Where is it?”
Tanith stands still. Her view collapses, taking in only their hands locked together. Then to a bit of motion from a small paper thing fluttering to the floor.
Charlie looks down at the envelope. “Tanith?”
Tanith pivots away immediately, escaping his question, to retrieve what Meryl is demanding.
Charlie stares at her as she hands something to Meryl…trying to comprehend what it is.
“Charlie,” Meryl says, gripping his fingers, “come with me. We have to go.”
His confusion is fading. He stares at Tanith trying to understand her complicity in this. She shakes her head, arms limp at her sides. “Charlie… I didn’t…”
“Charlie!” Meryl’s whisper is a scream.
If he goes with her, he knows only pain will follow. He grabs his coat and takes Meryl’s arm. “Okay.” He looks at her naked feet. He bends down, grabs the envelope and a pair of Tanith’s boots in his free hand. He doesn’t look back.
They are racing away. “Private Idaho,” Charlie says, as he drives.
She nods, her eyes forward. Their hands find each other’s, holding on.
Maks is desperately trying to type in Meryl’s login and password. His fingers cannot get through the string of characters without error. “Fuck!” Pounding his fists against his temples. He slams his phone on the counter, looks at the fractures with panic. He tries again, typing slowly. It still works. Finally her phone appears on the screen. He hits refresh, refresh, refresh, watching it travel along the map. “Where… Where?!” He whispers as he watches her route. Fuck! He didn’t need this to tell him. She is going to Charlie.
Refresh. Watching her phone move toward her destination, he presses down on the gas pedal. Green turns to yellow. He accelerates before finally braking hard. He breathes deeply, willing the red light to turn. He stares at her location before pressing the button. “Call Tanith.”
He doesn’t hear the sirens converging, doesn’t notice as the other cars peel away, clearing a path behind him. “Come on, Tanith” He pleads. “Answer the phone. Pick up, pick up.”
The impact sends him fishtailing into the intersection. As his head whips backwards he sees a flash to his left and all the color around him disappears into blinding white light.
Tanith races toward the sound, her fingers trembling, desperately disappointed as she sees Maks’ name, swipes. “Maks!?” The line is dead. There is nothing but silence.
[“When two people meet and fall in love, there’s a sudden rush of magic. Magic is just naturally present then. We tend to feed on that gratuitous magic without striving to make any more. One day we wake up and find that the magic is gone. We hustle to get it back, but by then it’s usually too late, we’ve used it up. What we have to do is work like hell at making additional magic right from the start. It’s hard work, but if we can remember to do it, we greatly improve our chances of making love stay.” - Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker].