I can't sleep.
Here I am, in the comfort of my own bed, snuggled in warmth with the fire cackling in the background, fighting the inability to sleep. I watch as the snow angrily taps on the window and the storm continues to brew. There is this air of sadness outside - the same air of darkness that I felt when I was once in that pit of darkness.
A slicing shiver runs down my back and I feel the envelope of arms tighten around me as I quiver. The temperature in the room must have dropped at least ten degrees and I pressed my body against his as a means of protection from the cold.
Even in sleep he knows when to squeeze my hand or hold me closer for there were many times when we could only save each other from holding on. Remnants of pain are still fresh in my mind. Quatre did an excellent job of taking the pain away, but the scars still remain...
I don't know what went wrong. I suppose we were born and raised in a hostile world where hundreds died every day. We lacked the nurturing children should receive from their parents. We were never given a chance to grow up thanks to the war. Every day, we had to face the fear of seeing death at our doors. At the time, the present day was a privilege and tomorrow is a blessing. None of us knew if we were going to be blown up or shot by a stray bullet.
It wasn't long until we both saw death as our friend. Death seemed less painful than having to endure uncertainty, loneliness and brutality. That world of oblivion was appealing.
I was in a fit of depression and Quatre was a suicidal maniac. He saw the good in others, but he lacked the ability to see the good in himself. He blamed himself for the death of millions and the death of his own parents. He could see no solution in paying back the debt other than paying forit with his own life. He had tried everything from drinking himself to a drunken stupor to cutting himself. Ironically, his "solutions" only destroyed him.
It was a coincidence, if not a blessing, that my room at the facility was adjacent to his. I had overdosed on sleeping pills and he was there because of a suicide attempt. He tried to down a bottle of sleeping pills and added alcohol along. Luckily for him, his servant has found his body in time to save him. I reached out to him. That was an act that continues to surprise me today - at the time I was in the bottom of that dark pit. I couldn't help myself, much less anybody. Perhaps it was out of curiosity or gratitude that led me to him. He opened my eyes in Libra -- I thought I would only be fitting to thank him for his efforts and see how he was.
As I opened door, I first saw his eyes. His wide blue eyes. I could still see the kindness in them, but the warmth had escaped them. Instead, they were brimming with desolation and helplessness. He had been in the harsh winter of his life too long for his soul to sustain warmth.
Hesitantly, I took a seat by his bedside and took his hand. His hand was icy to the touch. I almost pulled my hand away from the shock.
"Do you remember me?" I asked him as I squeezed his limp hand.
He licked his cracked lips and started to speak. "You are Dorothy Catalonia. From the war." His reply was merely a whisper. If I had not paid close attention to his mouth, I would've missed his reply.
"How are you feeling?" I managed to say.
My eyes started to sting. He smiled at me. His weak smile defined the size of his enormous eye bags.
"I guess I'm just hanging in there. And yourself?"
I batted my eyelashes gently and a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth.
"You know, the usual. Another overdose of sleeping pills."
He squeezed my hand weakly as a sign of concern, but he said nothing. He was hollow inside.
"I don't suppose that there will ever be a good time for this, but I want to start with I'm sorry, for almost killing you all those years ago," I started.
"Really, there is no need to apologize. Those were the effects of the zero system. And it was during the war. I suppose all of us had our crazy moments."
I opened my mouth to speak, but I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. I slowly turned my head to see an unhappy middle-aged nurse looking down at me. It was time for me to go. I turned back and squeezed his hand gently. It wasn't so cold anymore. I've warmed it up a bit with mine. I didn't want to say goodbye because I knew, I hoped, that we'd see each other again.
"See you soon, Quatre," I whispered.
We were allowed an hour outside for every day. The physicians believed that a bit of sun benefited the patients. It was already late afternoon when the nurses let us out.
The sky looked like it was splashed with a can of dark orange paint. The breeze blew infrequently, and the grass was dry and crisp. Usually, I just brought some cheesy romance novel to pass the time. I suppose a part of me only sneered at these books because I never could admit that I wanted a kind of sugarcoated life that ended happily ever after.
Instinct or coincidence, I'm not sure, but my eyes fell automatically on Quatre. His lonely figure sat on the bench. His kind eyes, as empty as ever, stared blankly into space, and his shoulders were slumped as if he carried a rock on his back. I walked over to him and a few moments passed before he acknowledged my presence.
"Ever wanted to lose yourself? Ever wanted to disappear into thin air, to become one with your surroundings?"
He turned suddenly to look at me with a hard, piercing stare. His enormous eyes pierced through my soul.
"Is that what you want?" My throat was dry.
Quatre shifted his gaze away and looked down on the ground. He chuckled bitterly.
"What do you think? What am I doing here? It's all I've ever wanted. But I can't get what I want. I always end up in places like this. They won't ever leave me the hell alone."
He was no longer the polite boy who took careful measures before speaking. He had grown bitter and detached from the living world thinking that he would somehow destroy the good all around him. He did not want to be given the chance to live. But somehow, death always escaped him.
There was nothing much that I could say to console him, but I wasn't about to agree. I found my hand turning his chin so he could look at me.
"You will not believe me when I say this, but perhaps there is a reason why you're still alive. If you say you've been rescued many times, then it can't be coincidence. You must have an unfulfilled purpose in life, Quatre."
"And what is that? To destroy the lives of more people, to destroy the lives of those I love, to destroy all the goodness that exists all around me? I don't deserve to live. I'm not like them. I'm scum."
I bit my lip, dropped my hand, and leaned back. My heart sank for him. His words were harsh and I was surprised that I was unable to come up with words to counter his.
He realized that his words were uncalled for, but he was unable to express how sorry he was and it was clearly too late to take his words back. Instead he looked at me apologetically with his sad blue eyes. Goose bumps spread all over my body as I saw my reflection in his eyes. I took a sharp intake of air. Neither of us would look away.
"I have to go," he quickly interrupted.
With a weak and jerky movement, he stood up. Unfortunately for him, I had quick reflexes and grabbed his wrist before he could take off.
"Quatre..." It was all I could manage.
There was no way I could take away all the pain and suffering he put himself through. Yet I foolishly hoped that I could mend everything.
"You can't help me. I don't need your pity."
He pulled his wrist back and walked away briskly.
Clara had fallen on the ground with a thump. She had been running too fast while playing tag with other children in the playground. Her knees gave out when she stumbled upon a rock. An angry wound formed on her left knee as Clara cried piercingly.
I had decided to devote some of my time to volunteering at the day care nearby. I wanted children very badly, but I wanted my children to grow up in a world shrouded by love and warmth, not the kind of unhappiness I grew up in. I had hoped that surrounding myself with busy work and children's laughter would bring me out of the pit that I was in. It worked. I became happier every day, yet the void in my heart grew for I was scared I'd never have the loving family I've always longed for.
I held the girl's hand and stroked her short brown hair as the day care nurse attended to her wound. A loose circle of children formed around us, and the children gave her knee curious stares. Clara's cried grew louder from the stinging pain as the nurse applied an antibacterial fluid to prevent infection.
When the nurse had finished bandaging her wound up, the girl was only sniffling, but her eyes were red.
"See? You're a brave girl! Do you suppose you could stand?"
The girl nodded valiantly and tried to stand. I helped her up and walked her to the building. The children went back to their playing and the nurse hurriedly put her supplies in her kit and caught up with us.
The glass doors opened to reveal Quatre. What was he doing here? I was too surprised to conjure up a pleasant expression and greet him accordingly. He spoke first.
"Miss Catalonia, may I have a moment with you?"
His tone made his request seem like a demand.
I didn't appreciate that or his coming here. Before I could say anything, Clara let go of my hand and looked up at me with her big, dry eyes.
"It's okay, Miss Dorothy, the nurse can escort me back."
"Clara, I--" I started to protest.
"No, Miss, please, this man looks like he has something important to discuss with you."
"All right then, thank you."
The nurse led Clara away and I looked at their retreating forms.
"This is rather untimely, Quatre," I said as I led him to one of the conference rooms.
I closed the door behind me.
"I'd like to apologize to apologize for being rude to you at the hospital a couple of months ago. I wasn't thinking very coherently and I felt bad about it right afterwards, but as you can see, it took this long to deliver you this apology."
Quatre was in a better condition compared to the last time I saw him. He still had large bags under his eyes and the same weary expression was plastered on his face. He was in usual shirt and khakis, the same style that he had when I first met him. He had the same innocent look on his face, but he matured from that scrawny boy to a physically attractive man.
And he could only gather the courage to apologize now? I wanted to say.
"Well, I'm glad, and I accept your apology," I said instead.
Part of me had hoped that this would be settled and my association with him would be over, for I did not want to feel anything for the heir of the vast Winner Empire, but part of me wanted to fill that void. It was amazing how it was so easy to drift to the thought of a romance.
"I can't just go without proving to you how sorry I am. It would delight me if you would agree to go to dinner with me tonight," He said to me, while looking into my eyes with that intense blue gaze.
I was quickly fixated as I looked at my reflection in his eyes. I immediately surrendered myself to his sincerity.
"Why yes, I'd be happy to."
I forced a smile.
He sent me flowers the next day. A dozen of beautiful pink roses. I was pleasantly surprised as I received them the next morning. Dinner and his company had been more than good enough, but I suppose he didn't believe so. At dinner, I got him to promise me that he'll never commit suicide again. I promised myself that I would never let him do that to himself. The card simply thanked me for a wonderful evening, to which I agreed was.
We kept our friendship going on after that. The gifts, the flowers, the cards never stopped coming. He would take me to dinner to the most extravagant restaurants and would take me to see private screenings of movies, and operas and fencing matches...everything. The public had acknowledged our association, but I guess it was of no importance to us, at least for me, it didn't matter.I had never been so happy in my life. We were quite content in each other's company to ask for anything more. The next three weeks we had so much fun that we didn't actually think of what we were starting to feel. Then it just happened one night.
We were in one of his condominiums one night after dinner at this French bistro. He had sent his servants and bodyguards home so that we could be alone. Only a small lamp illuminated the room. I had asked him to play his violin for me. I sat on the sofa, consumed by his playing. He played with such depth, such sincerity...I was surprised that he had retained those qualities. I thought he had lost all of that due to his depression.
As he finished the short piece, I applauded. He joined me on the sofa, and we were, for the first time, presented with awkwardness. To try to alleviate the tension, I tried to look for something to talk about. My eyes fell upon the grand piano. He followed my gaze.
"Do you play?"
I cast a sideways glance at him. We were sitting very close. Too close for comfort. Holding his gaze, I shook my head.
"Would you like me to play for you?"
He was looking down at me with that intense blue gaze again. My soul felt bare and open. He could always see through me because I let him.
"Yes," I said breathlessly.
He offered me his hand and made me sit next to him on the seat. I could feel the heat of his body as his clothed thigh touched mine. He was good at the piano as he was with the violin and I was once again quickly consumed as he worked his magic on the keys of the piano. His hands had the dexterity of a professional pianist. When he finished, he looked at me once again, torturing me, for tonight, I could barely find the words to say.
"Did you like that?" he asked.
His hot breath tickled my skin.
"It was very beautiful."
Instead of thanking me, he looked at me curiously. The gentle light played with his hair to create a soft halo about his face. The soft glow played upon his features and I found him simply irresistible. His hand reached to push my hair behind my ear. My skin was sensitive to his touch. Our gazes were locked on each other, and he touched me gently, lovingly, that I could not find the strength to protest. I knew I wanted this and there was no use in trying to deny the heart.
"You are beautiful, Dorothy Catalonia. Has anyone ever told you that?" he asked very gently.
His hand continued down to my neck.
"Not the way you just did, Quatre Raberba Winner," I breathed.
He smiled as his hand traveled to the back of my neck. I came to realize that the rest was inevitable. His hand guided my head to meet his. Still looking into each other's eyes, our noses touched. I finally closed my eyes in surrender. His soft lips captured mine and the kiss immediately deepened. I wrapped my arms around him as his tongue sought entrance. Our tongues dueled fiercely as we put all these months longing into this kiss. His hands traveled gently up and down my back, contrary to the way his lips devoured mine.
I felt complete.
We never really discussed our feelings for each other after that. The soft caresses and sweet kisses were there, but the words would never come. I would come to find out later that Quatre was fighting an inner battle inside, fearing that his condition made him unworthy of me. He predicted that he would hurt me and destroy me, the way he did with he others whom he loved so deeply. I couldn't help the way I feel, he made me feel complete. That's all that mattered. He made me very, very happy.
Our schedules were tight, but we managed somehow. He skipped a few meetings and I canceled a few assignments. I spent less time at the day care. I suppose we lost what little friends we had because we no longer wanted to spend time with anyone else but each other. Quatre almost filled the void in my heart with joy. It all fit into place, but I had this longing for that missing piece. That one very important detail. But I wanted to hear it from it first. And I didn't dare ask for it, either. It was too good to be feeling something real. I wanted him to convince me that it was.
I had arranged a quiet evening at my house one winter night. The sky was veiled by a thin film of purple. The rain, not quite cold to freeze, and turn into snow served as the background. Lobster and my finest wine were served in silver platters, china and napkins strategically placed, and thecandles created soft light. I didn't know that there was a disaster brewing near.
He kissed me and it was no longer deep or sincere, but distant, like he was that night. I struggled through dinner making idle and light conversation with him as every sentence was followed by a slicing pause. We no longer shared the intimate discussions about our broken childhood and the damaging war, and I didn't have the contentment of having him look at me lovingly with stars in his eyes. His eyes averted mine. As I strained to find some other things to say, he abruptly interrupted.
"We can't do this anymore, Dorothy," he said, sighing afterwards.
His eyes lowered to the table to examine his silverware. There was a wall between us.
My evening had been ruined. I couldn't say anything.
It was too good to last. I had run out of my ration of happiness.
"You are very beautiful and I have enjoyed the time that we have spent together, but this has to end...we're very different people who have run out of stolen, borrowed time. I have my obligations set elsewhere and you have your own responsibilities. I can't stay here and I can't take you with me, so, I've decided that this has to be it."
I clung to the seat desperately as my heart sank. I battled the tears that threatened to pour down. I refused to cry for him, in front of him. He didn't care for me. I was just something that diverted him from his depression, nothing more. I felt used and emptied.
He was giving me something neither of us wanted me to have: my freedom.
He let me go even though he'd hurt me and lose me somehow, but ironically, he hurt me from trying to save me from him.
I put on the face that my grandfather had taught me to fake, the face I put on as I toyed with the emotions of people. My stomach twisted as I forced myself to look away from him.
"You should probably go now," I finally said, my voice low.
He slowly rose from his seat and I stared at the lobster platter.
"Yeah, I probably should."
He moved towards me and leaned in for a goodbye kiss. The smell of his cologne tickled my nose,and it seemed so easy to draw him to me and put my arms around him, but I looked the other way.
He had the nerve to try.
He sighed, giving up, and stood there for the momentlooking down at me. I hoped that I had enough strength to hold back the tears long enough for Quatre to leave so he wouldn't see them. I felt like an old toy that had just been disposed of.
"You know where the door is, good night."
"I'll call you as soon as--" he started to say.
"Don't call me anymore," I interrupted.
Without saying anymore, he quickly walked to the door and left. As the door softly closed behind him, my arms wrapped about my stomach tightly. I let the tears crash down my cheeks.
I spent the next few weeks at the day care, fending for children. The children were the only ones that I could depend on, and I concluded that I could give them my love and be adored in return. I was able to sleep thanks to sleeping pills and my dependency on them was heavier than it was before. I engaged myself in other activities such as charities and more volunteer work. Despite my busy schedule, not a day passed that I had not thought of Quatre.
I was working at the day care when one morning, I received a distraught call from Rashid asking me to go to the hospital right away. Quatre trapped himself in a garage, while allowing himself to breathe in the accumulating carbon monoxide from his cars.
I quickly dropped what I was doing and rushed to the hospital he was in, completely forgetting the damage he had done to me. When I reached the hospital, Rashid had convinced the doctors to let me see him. I rushed to his side and took his hand in mine. He had recovered and was sleeping.
"Quatre," I murmured through stinging tears, "you promised me you wouldn't do this again. You promised."
I held his hand tightly, so tightly my fingers turned white. I didn't want to let go. I didn't want him to let go, either. I needed him too much. Then and there it hit me that I was in love with him, even though he broke his promise and broke my heart.
I needed somebody to love me. I didn't think it could get any worse, but it did when another shot of reality froze my veins. I couldn't give or receive that kind of love from anyone other than Quatre.
"Oh, Quatre, you know I love you. You can't just leave me behind."
The doctors let me stay in his room all night. I held his hand the whole night through and fell asleep sitting by his side. The next morning, I was happy to see that Quatre was awake. I pulled my hand away and folded my hands across my lap.
"You promised me you wouldn't do this again. Why?" I started.
He looked at me stubbornly and shrugged his shoulders.
"I have my reasons," he replied.
"I see." I was still hurt that he offered no apology about the night we last saw each other.
"Can't you see? I want to be alone. I'm happier this way...this way I can't hurt anyone."
"By hurting yourself? Are you saying you're happy when you're unhappy?" I bit back.
"Yes," was his stern reply.
"Did it ever occur to you that when you hurt yourself, the people who care about you are hurt, too? Your family, your people care about you. I care about you, Quatre. Can't you see that this is damaging us, too?"
"They don't care about me. They just want my money. If I died, they'd get more, anyway."
I didn't need his money. None of them need his money. He was the hero of the Great War, a role model of his colony, the head of his family, the once caring boy who sacrificed his childhood for peace...the money wasn't important. He's the man I love.
My heart sank and I looked at his face with disgust. I had told him I love him and he didn't show any signs of returning, or at least, appreciating my feelings for him. There was no sign of reciprocated feelings there. It was simply rejection.
I quickly gathered my bearings and planned on leaving. I plastered a smile on my face.
"I must be going. I'm glad you're well, now, even though you are not."
I grabbed my purse and started to leave.
"We'll see each other again, won't we?"
I sighed and licked my lips as I looked back at him. He looked so pale, so old, so tired, almost desperate that moment. I thought I sensed some kind of regret or longing there, but I chose to attribute his physical appearance to his disease. Although I loved him, I couldn't bear to see him again. I would just make a bigger fool of myself. Especially now that he has stated his wish to be alone. I was going to have to respect that.
"I doubt it."
Without looking at him again, I turned on my heel and left his hospital room.
"Miss Dorothy? Your have a visitor. He says his name is Quatre Winner, Miss."
I was in the art room, helping the children make paper kites. It was a busy day, paper and string were scattered everywhere and laughter was in the air -- the children were having fun. I blinked once, twice as my heart was caught in my throat, unsure of what to feel or how to react.
John just came back from the bathroom, when, I assume, Quatre stopped him to ask him a favor. I wondered how he got through the doors of the facility, but I quickly assumed that no one would dare refuse the ex-pilot and richest man in the universe.
It had been more than a year. I practically lived in the day care. I devoted my time to these children and they kept me busy and happy enough that thoughts of Quatre no longer drove me to tears. I taught myself how to be content with the brief happiness we shared and to be thankful forthe chance for me to love someone when I once thought I was incapable of giving love. I no longer depended on sleeping pills. I found myself new friends and dated prominent men who showered me with compliments and adoration. None of them could ever fit in Quatre's shoes, and I could not bring myself to feel anything for them, but I told myself over and over again that Quatre was the man I could never have.
I had become independent without him, but still longed for him. I still would've preferred to have him be in my life, but he clearly stated that he wanted to be alone. He had given me my freedom, after leading me to believe that he felt the same way, just to take it all away in the end. That was reason enough to believe that he didn't love me. I told myself that I was more than that, even though deep inside, I berated myself for deserting him.
"Miss Dorothy?" John's voice knocked me out of my trance.
"He says that he insists on talking to you and he'll wait here all day if he has to."
I stooped down to mess John's hair. I gave him a smile. Quatre always interrupted my time at the day care and I disliked him for that, but I didn't have a choice. I couldn't avoid him forever.
Quatre was waiting in the main corridor. When my eyes fell uponhim,it was as if I fell in love with him over again. I didn't know if I should walk away now or face him and finally get some kind of closure. He had his hands stuffed in his pockets. He looked handsome and healthy as ever, yet the same weary expression on his face remained. When he saw me, he anxiously ran a hand through his hair.
I stopped when we were a mere few centimeters apart. I was out of breath. After a moment of looking at me, he gathered me in his arms.
"I've missed you, beautiful," he said gently.
I simply stood there, my arms rigid and my body frozen. Even though goose bumps formed all over my body, I refused to put my arms around him.
Realizing that I didn't return the embrace, he pulled away.
"We should outside, to the playground. You can talk there," I said, forcing a smile.
I walked in front of him so that we didn't have to look at each other. I didn't want to cry in front of him or say anything stupid.
When we finally reached the playground, I sat on the swing and buried my shoes into the sand, not caring if they would get soiled or not.
He stood in front of me and sighed.
"Remember that one sunny day at the hospital gardens?"
"Quatre, you really need to stop interrupting my work here, your coming here can compromise my position," I said instead. I wouldn't let him touch my heart and cause more pain.
"You told me that I had a purpose for living. I didn't believe or understand you then, but I see why I'm still alive," he continued.
"And what is that?" I asked. I was getting very tired of dealing with him. I gripped the chains of the swing and steeled myself for whatever lame answer he would come up with.
"To take care of you, Dorothy."
I groaned. My chest tightened and tears threatened to crash down my cheeks. He made me angry. I just wanted my dignity.
"I can't let you do this to me. I can't just let you walk into and out of my life whenever you please. I can't just let you turn your back on me when I need you."
I bit my lip and sniffled. I batted my eyelashes angrily and refused to look at him.
"This past year, I've done a lot of thinking. You see..."
"No, I don't! I can't waste my life waiting for you when you can't even give me the time of day! I'd rather be alone than play the fool, Quatre."
I got up from the swing and started to leave. My white skirt swished back and forth, gently whipping my legs.I covered a good distance as I walked away quickly before I heard his voice.
"Must we be miserable because we simply cannot act on our love for each other? Must we deprive ourselves of each other and the chance of happiness, too?" He said, fighting back.
I stopped in my tracks and turned to look at him.
"I acted on my love for you, Quatre. It was only you who turned your back on me when I needed you. I don't suppose you can call that love."
"But don't you understand?" he asked as he started walking towards me. "I'm better now. It's becauseI've spent this last year thinking of you andand how to make myself worthy of you. That last time I tried to commit suicide was because I had lost you thanks to my own stupidity and I didn't know how I could get you back in my life when I knew it was better that I didn't ruin your life. I heard you when you told me you loved me but I didn't know what to say because I was ashamed of myself. I was sick and pathetic then and I only turned away from you because I made you unhappy with myself and the state that I was in...You didn't deserve that," he explained.
"That was not for you to decide," I spat back angrily. I buried my face in my hands.
I was now freely but silently crying. He strode quickly towards me, closed the gap between us, and pulled me close against him.
"That is the one mistake that I'll regret for the rest of my life."
I closed my eyes, pushed my face against his chest and formed a loose circle of my arms around his waist.
"Will you forgive me for the wrongs I've done to you in the past? There hasn't been a daythat I haven't thought of you and thought that I love you more than you'll ever know. I could not find the words, the way, or the face to admit this to you, but every day I became more determined to let you know, as the fear of losing you to someone else grew. And now you know the truth. I hope you'll find that I am deserving of you."
How could I resist?
"You've earned me ever since you spared my life that night on Libra. How can I not forgive you?" I breathed.
I don't think I could ever forgive myself if I drove him back to unhappiness again.
He tilted my head up from where it was resting on his chest. My eyes opened and I could see the eyes, the look that I've longed to see for a long time. I could see though his soul like he could see through mine. I saw that our souls were clasped into one, and without the other half, the remaining is helpless and empty.
I raised my head up and allowed him to kiss me. The last piece of the puzzle was finally placed.
I felt his lips gingerly brush against my ear. His fingers crawled from my shoulder to my hand where I automatically entwined my fingers with his.
"You've been shivering," he murmured, half asleep.
"It's snowing outside and the fire has died," I replied.
"You don't need the fire to keep you warm. I'll always be here," He squeezed my fingers gently.
"I'm guessing you've learned your lesson...hmm?"
I turned around to face him and ran a hand down his neck. He pushed his face so that our noses could touch.
"I don't see how I got through without you. There wasn't a minute that passed that I wasn't worried sick that you didn't love me anymore or that you were in the arms of another. But I had to take that risk."
I smiled and brushed his lips with mine and wrapped my arms around his neck. I would've been lost without him.
The storm still brewed outside, but the cold could no longer break my soul. But the unhappiness is still fresh in my mind…I could still remember, never forget and see this as a reminder of how lucky I am to be given a second chance in life, love and happiness.