January 14, 2013 by Vee Villarreal
It was refreshing to be outdoors and away from the classroom for a few hours and Miranda found she enjoyed gardening once she got past the idea of spiders and other creepy crawlers lurking under every leaf. The only thing that kept her from completely relaxing this afternoon was the diligent and brooding presence next to her. Things had been tense between her and Kai since that day in the treatment room and there was still so much left unsaid between them even though they had made amends. Kai was silently working the rows to her right, she passed him a glance every so often, but he didn’t seem to be paying her any mind. Miranda closed her eyes and let out a heavy sigh, trying to focus on the sounds and smells around her; anything to distract her thoughts from the unspoken tension that kept her from making normal small talk with her friend. A few bees hummed a pleasant melody around the little garden and the pungent scent of blooming medicinals and musty earth mingled together. As if on cue, Miranda caught sight of someone walking up the path toward them. She looked up, shielding her eyes from the sun, to find Max approaching. Handsome as ever, in a bright blue T-shirt and faded tan cargo shorts, he flashed her a brilliant smile. Her stomach immediately began a gymnastic routine fit to win a gold medal and she quickly reminded herself that they stopped dating for a reason. It was always hard to remember why things didn’t work out with her exes when she was confronted with them again sometime later. Why did he have to look so good? Max’s boots stopped on just the other side of the short fence that bordered the garden.
“Hey there, Miri?”
“Good afternoon, Max.” Miranda responded coolly as she set down her tools and looked up into his dark and well sculpted face, replying with the same familiarity that he had addressed her with. The corner of his mouth perked up even more into a wide, but crooked grin.
“You’re mother informed me you were instructing students at the school, I didn’t realize you worked double duty as the gardener,” he joked.
“We all have to pull our weight around the grounds until we can hire more helpers.” Miranda replied. Max squatted down so that his face was level with her own and reached out his hand to cup her face lovingly. The unsolicited touch surprised her and she nuzzled against his fingers before she could stop herself.
“Such a pretty flower shouldn’t have to dig around in the dirt.” Max spoke in a low and sultry tone, almost a whisper, making the picture seem so much more intimate even though it played out in front of an audience. Miranda pulled herself away from his spellbinding eyes to find Kai watching them from just a few feet away. He turned slowly at her discovery to return to his work. Miranda blushed a deep red, knowing that Max’s tactless advances were making Kai uncomfortable, but even more embarrassed that she was enjoying the attention.
“Max, you’re forgetting that flowers grow from the dirt,” she quipped and he chuckled in reply.
“So I have. Well, dirty little flower.” He smiled cunningly again, melting her willpower instantly. “I’m all settled in and I was wondering if you’d accompany me to dinner tonight. You can show me everything I have to look forward to in the Pacific.” He lifted one eyebrow in inquiry to her and she felt dumbfounded. She’d expected Max to make an advance toward her, but not so soon and she’s been planning on having the inner resolve to tell him no, but now, looking into his confident and entrancing brown eyes she felt lost for words.
“I’m afraid there’s not much,” she muttered, transfixed by his stare.
“Regardless, it would be far more enjoyable with you as company, don’t you think?” He tilted her chin up so that she couldn’t look away from him, making it all the more difficult to remember why it was she wanted to say no.
“Y-yes,” she stuttered breathlessly.
“Excellent, I’ll see you tonight, baby doll.” Without a moment’s hesitation he leaned forward, clearing the distance between them, and pressed his lips to hers in an inappropriately intimate goodbye, one that left her head swimming. Before she came to herself again, Max was half way back to campus. Her cheeks flushed anew as she braved a glance over her shoulder at Kai, who was focused on transplanting some seedlings into freshly dug cavities in the soil; almost as though he was avoiding looking up at her on purpose. She knew he was probably wondering why she would agree to see the man after the way he’d behaved at the dock and after she’d gotten so upset at him she’d nearly yelled at Kai over it, and she was wondering that herself.
Another tense half hour passed before Kai stood up and made to excuse himself. “Kai, wait a moment, I’ll head back with you and we can begin your massage therapy.” Miranda stood slowly, stretching out her back and brushing off her knees from where she had been kneeling.
“I’m not in the mood today, I’m heading home.” He was being uncharacteristically aloof.
“Are you sure, you’re always so tense when you miss a session? I really think we should continue as scheduled.” Kai looked at her for the first time since Max’s visit, and there was a darkness in his features that she hadn’t seen before.
“I said not today.” With that cool response he left her alone, it was a first in all the time she’d worked with Kai that he left her unescorted.
Women are infuriating. It seemed to him to be just that simple; women were all out to confuse the daylights out of men. Well at least Kai, men like Maxwell Cooper seemed to fare just fine; which was equally upsetting. It was bad enough that he’d spent ten years of his adolescence sheltered behind concrete walls only to come out a man grown with no idea of how society functioned or how to interact with people, let alone find employment and meet a nice girl to woo and make his wife. That seemed to be what he was expected to do, but he never could quite figure out how that was supposed to work. He’d tried, a lot when he was younger, but after a few catastrophic experiences and seeing his brother barely survive his own family tragedy Kai had sort of given up hope. Now he’d finally found a woman that interested him, that made the effort seem worthwhile, and she left him feeling empty and confused.
Hadn’t she run off in a huff the last time she was confronted with that pompous flirt? Hadn’t she vehemently sworn not to get involved with him again after he made a spectacle at the harbor? Yet not a week or so later she’s willingly accepting his invitation to dinner. Why did women always seem to say one thing and then do another? It didn’t make any sense. Kopi was fuming to himself as he stalked home, kicking up a large cloud of dust in the road that settled into his clothing and stuck to the inside of his mouth as he panted, leaving him parched and just adding to his growing frustration. He was so wrapped up in his inner musings that he almost collided with one of the girls from town speeding up the road on her bicycle. Kai managed to dodge at the last moment, giving both of them a bit of a fright. He shouted out a rushed apology, but continued to storm toward their house. He knew he shouldn’t have left without attending the session that he and Miranda had scheduled, but he was done with work for the day and he was too irritated to relax, not to mention face Miranda .
He needed to cool down, clear his mind and get the woman out of his head for a while. She’d managed to wickedly plant herself in his thoughts and hardly an hour went by when he didn’t think of her. It was becoming tiresome, and what was worse, he had no idea how to make it stop. The porch steps creaked loudly under his feet as he stomped into the house. Once inside he found the atmosphere inside too stifling for his current mood and leaving his boots by the door he took off towards the shore. A long swim would help him clear his head and forget the whole afternoon ever happened. The beach was a short walk from their home; Kai had chosen the location just for that reason. This way he could go for a swim every day without it getting in the way of his chores and other responsibilities. The ocean calmed him, just hearing the quiet lap of the waves against the shoreline was like walking into a lover’s embrace and his heart immediately slowed allowing him to regain some control over his current emotions.
He shed his clothes and left them carelessly strewn in the sand as he strode out into the waiting waves. He walked until the water lapped around his waist, then he relinquished himself to the sea; slowly letting go and drifting under the cresting waves until all he could hear was the fullness of the ocean and the soft thrum of blood rushing through his veins. Life became so much simpler in moments like this, when it was just him and the water; here he had no demands and no questions, he didn’t even have to breathe. Under the surface he could give himself to his element and pretend for a moment that this was all there was to the world. There were so many times, especially in those few years just after their escape when learning to be human again taxed him to the point of breaking, he would join the sea and lose all track of time. Day would come and go and night would fall before he would emerge and make his way back to the house. Today, however, was not one of those days, even enveloped in the tranquility of this space, thoughts of Miranda slipped into his mind. Bristled again, he made his way back to the shore and donning just his canvas pants returned to the house.
Something drew him to the old photo album hidden away on one of the shelves in the living room. He hadn’t looked at it in over a year, and only rarely before then, always when Kopi was away from the house or fast asleep. No matter how hard Kai tried, he couldn’t get his brother to look at them, it was still too painful, but for Kai, those familiar images lifted his heart and helped those he loved seem almost alive again. Easing the book out with his index finger he opened it and settled the book across his lap as he slumped into the worn arm chair. The first few pages were images of him and Kopi when they were first freed, looking startled and distant, more like caged beasts than men. After that there were photos that he himself had taken. Some of Auntie and the home they’d shared with her and many of Lucy. She was always smiling; there was not a single picture of her where she wasn’t beaming with childlike innocence and life. Without thinking his finger traced the outline of her face in one faded photograph. It was a relief to not be thinking of the events of the last week, but the unease was now replaced with a familiar ache that was hardly better.
Looking at her now, Kai found that in many ways Miranda was not so unlike Lucy. She was older and worldlier for sure, but there was that same light in her eyes, that same joy for life and people that had helped bring Kopi and Kai back into the world. Miranda had an ease and a grace about her that was captivating and so many times he’d caught himself staring at Lucy as she flitted about the house, humming and dancing as though the world were a stage and her life was a never ending performance. Lucy had astounded him too, in that she often said she was going to do something, and then somewhere along the way she would change her mind without letting anyone else know. In the end perhaps it had been for the best that her plans had changed, but either way she was gone now and all that left Kai with was more questions left unanswered.