Central City, Amestris
Gracia looked through half of the newspaper while drinking a cup of tea. Maes looked through the other half while drinking a cup of coffee. Four weeks had passed since the day Maes brought Gracia home and they already settled into a routine. On the weekdays, Gracia would make breakfast while Maes went running. They would eat together after Maes showered and dressed. Then he would take the car to work and she would walk. On colder days, Maes would drop her off. After work, Gracia would come home and make dinner. Maes would then come home and they would eat dinner together. After dinner, the couple would take a walk outside to digest. On severely cold nights, they would stay indoors, reading books or listening to the radio. On the weekends, Gracia would hunt for apartments while Maes completed his own errands. They would also do the laundry, clean the house, and on occasion, visit a museum or an art gallery. They were comfortable and content.
Except for the phone calls. Without notice or choice, Maes would get calls from headquarters demanding his request at any hour of the day (or night). This never bothered Maes before, but he wasn't attached to being home back then, either. The only thing that consoled him was that Gracia was waiting for him at home. Another thing that they both were not comfortable with was the divorce. They both wanted to stay married, both were in love with each other, and both refused to admit it. After all, they've only known each other for one month. Confessing to her would be crazy, right? Letting him know would be foolish, wouldn't it? Absolutely. Besides, it would be too late to say anything. They were getting divorced tomorrow.
Maes got up and went to the closet. He came back to the table with his camera. It was large and bulky and somewhat outdated, but the way Maes handled it made it seem effortless to work with. The sun filtered through the curtains to give Gracia a flattering a light. She was wearing Maes' old chunky cardigan over her dainty nightclothes. Her elbow was on the table as she rested her cheek in her palm. He never saw her lovelier. Maes took her picture. Gracia looked down where Maes was crouching, smiled softly, then returned to the newspaper. This was one of the many things Maes adored of Gracia. She didn't shy away from the camera, like other women he knew, nor did she hog the lens. She was a graceful subject, acting naturally unless told to pose.
"Let's go out for dinner tonight, maybe catch a movie before," Maes suggested as he snapped a few more shots. "Celebrate our last night of marriage."
Gracia's smile widened. "I'd love to. What's playing?"
"Not sure. I heard it's funny, though."
"Oh, good! I love comedies."
"Yeah? Do you cry with those, too?"
Maes shrugged. "Well, last week when you heard a sad song, you cried. Then you read a happy book and you cried again. And I know you were crying when you were listening to that self-help radio program."
"Inspirational," Gracia corrected him.
"Same thing. Anyway, you cry at everything, so I was wondering if you cry when you actually mean to laugh."
"I do not!" she objected as she threw a piece of dry toast at him. Maes easily dodged it and struck a victory pose. Gracia laughed and shook her head. "You're going to be late for work."
The soldier let out a sigh and went to the closet to get dressed. While putting on his boots, Gracia went over to the door to see him leave. "Be careful, okay?"
"Always, doll face."
They stood by the open door, green and turquoise eyes staring at each other for a moment. Butterflies fluttered in Gracia's stomach. She watched his eyes lower to her mouth. She self-consciously licked her lips. Maes slowly brought his mouth closer to hers.
And then he took a quick step back as he inhaled deeply. "I, uh, I'll be back soon."
"Yes, okay," she rushed out. She closed the door. Gracia once again pushed away the disappointed feeling that seemed to grow everyday. Oddly enough, Maes only kissed her in public. A few weeks ago they made somewhat of an inside joke by shocking their acquaintances of their marriage. It all started with Gracia arriving at Central Headquarters one day because Maes had forgotten his briefcase. When security asked of her reason to see Major Maes Hughes, she blurted, "My husband forgot his briefcase." For many reasons the soldiers did not believe her until coincidentally Maes spotted Gracia across the foyer.
"Gracia!" he called out.
"Oh, Maes," she sighed in relief.
He saw his briefcase in her hands. "Baby, you brought it! You saved my life!" He caught the back of her neck and planted a kiss firmly on her lips.
Gracia had beamed at the moment. She felt proud that she helped Maes and made him happy.
The other two soldiers looked dumbfounded and embarrassed at the couple's public display of affection. "Major Hughes," one solder began to ask, "is she really your wife?"
"Of course," he replied with nonchalance.
"It's just that she wasn't wearing a ring, and you're not wearing a ring, and we never heard of you getting married-"
"Check the files if you don't believe me. Now, if you boys will excuse me, I'm going to drive my wife back home."
Gracia put her hand on Maes' arm. "No, dear, that's alright. I don't mind taking the trolley. I rarely get the chance to ride one and I rather like it."
"Alright then, I'll escort you to the stop. Gentlemen," he said to the still-shocked soldiers who saluted his departure. Maes and Gracia walked until they were well away, then burst into laughter. It was as though they just played a prank, which ironically was the truth. They took immense pleasure from people's reactions.
But in private, Maes did not kiss her. He barely even touched her. Only in the mornings did Gracia wake up in Maes' arms, but she was convinced he did that out of habit from sleeping with too many women, rather than him having feelings for her. Jealousy did not become Gracia, and she mentally chastised herself for bearing evil thoughts. Just forget about him. You're moving out anyway. You'll be nothing but a memory to him as of tomorrow. Gracia quickened her steps to work, allowing the chilly spring air to occupy her mind.
Maes was sitting at a bar that he frequented almost every night, until he met Gracia. It was a crowded place at lunchtime because it was also a popular restaurant, but Maes put up with it because it was the most convenient place to meet his friend. When he saw Roy enter the bar, he waved him over.
The Flame Alchemist quickly but steadily approached the soldier. "What is it? What's the emergency?"
"Sit down," Maes gestured. His friend obeyed. Maes inhaled deeply. "I wanted to show you something."
Roy leaned in and asked in a lowered voice, "About the conspiracy?"
"Close. I wanted to show you," Maes paused to pull something out of his pocket, "these rings!" In his hand were two platinum rings: one was slim with small diamonds along the circumference and the other was a wider simple band.
"I know they're rings. What do they have to do with the conspiracy?"
"Absolutely nothing. I'm going to marry Gracia and I wanted to show you our wedding rings."
"Rings? This was the emergency?" Roy's eye began to twitch. "You made me leave my office when I have hours of paper work to do just to show me a pair of measly rings?" He was worked up now. "I swear, Maes, if Riza didn't take my gloves away from me I would set your fucking face on fire!"
"Cut the crap, you pyro-freak. You're probably making Havoc do your work as we speak."
Roy deadpanned him. "Fine." He had no defense to that. "Gracia? You're still with her?"
"Of course, I am!" Maes said defensively. "I'm not like you, breaking innocent girls' hearts left and right."
"Oh, yes, I forgot. You only sleep with women who have no hearts to even want any sort of relationship."
Maes opened his mouth to object, but he now had no defense. "Yes, well, Gracia has a heart. A big one that she wears on her sleeve. There's nothing fake or pretentious with her. She's honest and considerate, and so kind to everyone. And her cooking! She makes breakfast in the morning, I've converted by the way, and packs me a lunch in a cute little bag, and has dinner piping hot for me when I come home. It's a shame you haven't tasted her cooking."
"You ate it all, remember?"
"You snooze, you lose. Anyway, she's the most amazing woman I've ever met. I mean, she's funny and goofy and smart and musical and –"
"Is she good in bed?" Roy interrupted.
Maes' smile disappeared. "Not that it's your business, but I haven't consummated our marriage yet."
"Consummated your marriage? What the hell, Maes, you sound like a legal document."
Maes took off his glasses to clean a smudge. "I'm waiting. I don't want to taint her while she's unmarried. She deserves better."
"Wait. Didn't you tell me that she was your wife? So you did make that up."
"No, she is my wife, but we married because . . . bah, it's a long story. I want her to know that I love her, and that she is worth waiting for, which is why I'm going to marry her again."
"You're crazy, you know that?"
"Crazy in love, my friend, crazy in love."
"That's the cheesiest thing I've ever heard."
"You just can't appreciate romance. Probably because there isn't much of it in your life. So, here's my plan," Maes said quickly before Roy could intercept with a comeback, "I've been making her think that we're getting the divorce. In truth, I never even called my lawyer. We've been living our regular daily lives. I even helped her look for an apartment to move out. Then tomorrow for our 'divorce appointment,' we'll take a nice walk to the 'lawyer's office,' and I'm going to suggest that we should take a break in the park. It's her favorite place in the City. And that is where I'm going to propose."
Roy stared at Maes before saying, "Alright, I'm saying this as a friend, okay? Maybe you should think about it."
"I did. I love her. I want to marry her."
"Yes, I know, but what about her? I mean, you barely know each other. And she's young. She's going to want some independence. Getting tied down with the ol' ball and chain probably isn't what she wants right now. Why don't you just date her and see if you want to marry her later?"
Maes looked quite serious now. "I thought about that. But I want to belong to each other. She makes me feel like I'm important, like there's purpose in my life, like life's worth living even though the world's going to hell. I don't want to her just to be my friend, or my girlfriend, or even a lover. I want her to be my wife. "
"And if she rejects you? Breaks your little romantic heart?" Roy asked sardonically.
"She's worth a thousand broken hearts."
The words were so cliché, but the way Maes confessed them moved Roy. He felt uncomfortable seeing his normally guarded friend so vulnerable. He wanted to say something sarcastic, but instead he said, "Well, good luck."
Maes' demeanor changed like the flip of a switch. He pounded Roy on the back and with a big smile said, "Thanks man, but I don't think I'm going to need luck. I'm irresistible to women." He got up to leave.
Roy smirked. "That line falls flat when you're talking to me, the god of love and sex." He winked at an on looking woman, who in return blushed and giggled, to prove his point. Maes shrugged and left the bar.
"Gracia! We need cream puffs! As fast as you can!" Joe shouted over his shoulder.
"Okay!" Gracia was sweating. It was very busy in the café today, especially in the afternoon. Gracia did non-stop work. Stirring, mixing, folding, kneading . . . She didn't even eat since she arrived at work and her shift was almost over. While she filled pastry with cream, her coworker loaded and unloaded the ovens.
"Hey, Gracia," Krina said, "Are you all packed and ready to move out?"
"Yes, I am," she answered without pausing from her work.
"Really? It would have taken me much longer than one week to pack all my crap."
Gracia looked up. "Well, I don't really have that much to pack. Just clothes and toiletries, really."
Krina let out a joyful cry. "You must be so excited to move out and finally start your own life!" Her mood suddenly changed to sadness. "Oh, you must be bummed out to be divorcing Maes, though."
"What?" Gracia scoffed, feigning indifference towards the subject. "Yeah, no, it'll be good. I mean, we agreed it was only temporary, and I can't depend on him forever. You're right, I'm excited to start my own life." She finished the tray of cream puffs and washed her hands to clock out.
Krina followed her to an open table. "You know, he's probably going to ask you out. After the divorce and all."
Gracia smiled at the absurdity of the idea. "I highly doubt it. Besides, we're just friends. So," she needed to change the subject, "tell me about cooking school."
"Oh! I applied last week and hopefully they'll accept me for their summer program. I'd really appreciate any tips or advice you have about baking."
"Honestly, baking's not my forte, but I'll try to help you any way I can."
"What? Baking's not your forte? Your pastries taste like heaven! Dear lord, what must your forte taste like? What is your forte? and, oh my god, twelve o'clock, there is an amazingly hot guy checking you out. Don't turn around! I'll tell you when to look." Krina's speaking pace was speeding up by the second. "He's wearing a navy blue suit with a white shirt, and he's wearing glasses and he looks DI-VINE. I think I've seen him around here sometimes. I know he drives a car so he's got to be rich, and – ohmygodmrhottieiscomingthiswaydon'tlookactcool." And her tone morphed into a casual, calm rhythm. "Yes, I agree that the word 'flour' can be confusing in a bakery slash florist shop. They should never combine the two."
Maes stood in front of Gracia and she looked up. He never took his eyes off of hers as he said, "Hi."
"Hi," she said back.
He leaned down and gave her a small peck on the lips. "Ready?"
"Yes." She looked over at coworker's mortified expression and suppressed her laughter. "Oh, Maes dear, have you met Krina? Krina, this is my husband, Major Maes Hughes."
"Gracia said so many good things about you. It's a pleasure to finally meet you in person, Krina." Maes shook the poor girl's limp hand.
"I'll see you on Monday, Krina," Gracia said with a devilish smile.
The couple left the café arm in arm and had a good laugh on the way home.
Maes paced the floor as Gracia was getting ready. For some reason he felt nervous, antsy. Maybe he was rushing everything. Maybe she didn't feel the same way. Maybe he was going crazy. Gracia stepped out of the bathroom and he stopped thinking. She wore a mid-calf length tulle skirt with a pale blue beaded cardigan. Her hair was done up and she wore a touch of makeup. She looked beautiful, and it was all for him. All thoughts of doubt vanished and he couldn't wait to tell her he loved her. "Ready to go?"
"Yes," she replied as she slipped on a comfortable but feminine pair of ballet flats. She grabbed her clutch and was ready to go.
Maes reached in front of her to open the door. "Gracia," he said before opening the door. She turned before realizing that he was literally inches away from her. Her startled blush pleased him. "You look great."
Gracia shyly smiled and murmured a thank you. Maes ushered Gracia out of the apartment and locked the door. As he turned from the door to go to the car, it was his turn to be surprised by Gracia's close proximity. She still wore a shy smile while she nervously twined her fingers together. "Maes, do you think we could take the streetcars tonight? I know they're not that clean and that you'd prefer to drive, but it's just something I always dreamed of doing when I came to Central."
"But you rode the trolleys plenty of times," he said without bias.
But not with you. Gracia was fingering the hem of his jacket. She finally gave him her sweetest smile. "Please?"
The tip of Maes' mouth turned up, amused that Gracia was attempting to convince him with her teasing touches. She probably wasn't even aware that she was flirting. "Sure, let's take the streetcar."
Aqua eyes brightened. "Thank you!"
Maes watched her walk ahead with a hop in her step. He looked down and grinned, then followed her with his hands in his pockets.
They didn't wait long for a streetcar, as they ran frequently at this hour. Maes gave Gracia his hand to help her onto the streetcar. It was crowded. Claustrophobic, almost. Maes grabbed Gracia's hand and shoved through a swarm of people to reach the closest pole. Seeing Gracia being pushed around by others trying to move around the car, he put one arm around her to keep her from being carried away.
Gracia was too overwhelmed to be embarrassed by their closeness. Actually, she was grateful that Maes was holding her against him because she wasn't able to reach a bar or pole. She felt like she was one of the sardines in a can. The trolleys she rode were never this crowded. There was an odd smell in the air, something electric mixed with sweat. The walls were vandalized and the floor was dirty. She craned her neck to look up at Maes to see if he was discontent about it all, but he just stood there in his suit holding onto the pole with an extended arm as if this was his usual means of commute.
He felt Gracia's eyes on him, so he looked down, gave her a lopsided smile and said, "Hey, do you think it's crowded?"
Twenty-minutes later, Maes leaned his head towards Gracia's ear and told her that their next stop was coming up. He once again ushered his wife off of the streetcar and led them down a busy street.
Gracia had never been in this part of the city with hundreds of pedestrians and impatient drivers. This moment, with the busy streets and the crowds of people, was the exact image she had of Central while growing up, except this was better, because she was with a man she was very much in love with. She stopped. No, it's only feelings of romance. When he married me as a favor, when he saved me from my uncle, when he gave me my first kiss . . . I would have these feelings for anyone who did that, right? Right. He's just a kind man who would help anyone that needed it. I'm nobody special to him, and he's not special to me. This thought made her frown. But he was special to her. More than she could explain. More than she could understand. She cared for him, trusted him, respected him. "I love him," she admitted aloud, not realizing what she did until she did it.
Saying that was a rude awakening. Gracia realized she was standing alone with crowds of people walking around her, and Maes was nowhere to be seen. She looked around, left, right, in front of her, behind her, but she couldn't find him. "Oh no," she whispered. Gracia began to walk forwards, reaching up on her tiptoes to see above the throng of people. Surely she would be able to spot Maes for he was so tall. She still couldn't see him. Oh, why did she have to be so absentminded and lose him? What if she couldn't find him? How angry would Maes be once he found out she was lost? Was this neighborhood a safe area? What if she never finds him and gets lost in this unsafe neighborhood, and something regrettable happens? Panic began to set in when suddenly Gracia felt someone grab her shoulder. She let out a startled gasp.
It was Maes.
"Trying to run away from me, huh?" His mouth was smirking, but his eyes were filled with worry.
Relief hit Gracia like a wave from the ocean. "Oh, Maes." She wanted to hug him but didn't. She suddenly felt very shy and looked down.
"Come on," Maes said. He took her hand in his. "Now you can't get away."
Their first stop was the theatre. They saw a double feature. The first movie was a comedy. The second one, to Gracia's dismay and to Maes' infinite pleasure, was a horror movie. She clung to him like magnet to metal.
"You're a cruel man, Maes Hughes," Gracia said with a smile as they walked to their next location.
"What are you talking about? I didn't know it was going to be a horror film. Honestly." The smirk on Maes' face didn't convince her.
"Oh really? Then why weren't you scared at all during the movie?"
"I don't scare easily . . . and I saw it before."
"Ah ha! You knew it was going to be scary, yet you didn't warn me and let me fly at you in the most appalling manner. I would like, no, I demand an apology."
"An apology? Are you sure?" he asked with an arched brow.
"Yes, I'm quite sure."
"Alright then." Maes went down on one knee and grasped Gracia's hand in a most dramatic manner. "Do forgive me, fair lady, as I have wronged you and bore ill will against myself. In the future, I will warn you of all treacherous and horrid things to come, whether it be in cinema, book, or newspaper. Maybe even in radio if I heard the program beforehand. Anyway, I beg the deepest of pardons, and if it is not bestowed unto me, I will swear myself to misery and solitude." He kissed her hand and stood up. "Satisfied?"
"Excellent. Let's get to Palisades before it gets too crowded." Maes offered her his arm, which she took, and they walked three blocks down to the popular club.
The club was dim and smoky, but very alive. A jazz band blared its upbeat music while a tall, dark woman sang as accompaniment. The club was small and very crowded. Maes took Gracia's hand so he wouldn't lose her again. They pushed their way through until Maes found the owner of the club. When the man saw Maes, a big grin broke out on his face.
"Maes Hughes!" he shouted over the music and noise. "I thought you turned dead on me, man."
Maes scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, it's been a while, hasn't it?"
"You've been taking the ladies somewhere else? Or is it finally dry season in the land of Maes?"
Maes grit his teeth at the mention of his other dates in front of Gracia. He was about to say something but the owner wasn't finished.
"Speaking of ladies, aren't you going to introduce me to the beautiful lady by your side?"
"Oh, sure, where are my manners? Gracia, this is my friend Brent Gaske, owner of Palisades. Brent, this is Gracia, my wife."
The man's jaw dropped. He stared at Gracia, then at Maes, then back at Gracia. Gracia smiled. "You have a lovely club, Mr. Gaske."
Brent then remembered his manners and stopped staring. "Um, thank you. Thank you." Then he laughed. "Well, hot damn. Maes Hughes has a missus. Congratulations, both of you," he said heartily as he clapped Maes' shoulder and shook Gracia's hand. "Come, let me give you the best table in the house!"
Gracia felt Maes take her hand again and followed Brent through the club. She looked up at Maes. He was grinning, and she realized that she was grinning too. "Doesn't get old, does it?" She was referring to his shocked friend.
"Nope! Never does," he replied, winking at her with a smile.
They were seated at a small round table with a black tablecloth over it adorned with a single rose and candle. They were in the center of the noise and music. Maes pulled out a chair for Gracia and tucked it in as she sat down. He sat down himself and saw Gracia say something but couldn't hear what she said. "What?" he shouted.
"It's very loud," Gracia shouted again.
"Do you want to go somewhere else?" He couldn't hear her response. "What?"
Gracia leaned in very close. Her lips brushed against his ear as she said, "No, I like it very much."
The light contact left his skin tingling and he had to fight the urge to pull her onto his lap by asking, "Is this your first time at a club?" He saw her nod. "What do you think?"
"It's exciting and wonderful and I love the music," she answered with a bright smile. She turned her attention the saxophone player who was doing an improvisational piece, wild, scattered, yet completely controlled. A waiter came to take their order. Dinner was filled with interesting food, a bottle of good wine on the house, laughter, and much applause for the band in between. Towards the end of their meal, Maes hung his jacket over the back of his chair and offered Gracia his hand. Aft first she was confused, but when she understood that Maes was asking for a dance, her eyes lit up and she eagerly put her hand in his.
The rhythm was fast and catchy. They were both delightfully surprised at how well the other danced. She was very responsive to him. A light touch on her hip and she spun out. The slight release of his hand and she gave him the other. Their dance wasn't perfect, however; Maes would step on her toe, Gracia's hair hit Maes' face, Maes accidentally spun Gracia in another couple, Gracia vengefully spun too hard back into Maes. They made an excellent pair.
After three songs, the band changed the rhythm to a slow, soothing song to cool off the dancers. Maes decided to take this opportunity to use the restroom. "Save a dance for me," he said as he walked Gracia back to their table.
She was about to sit down when she felt someone tap her shoulder. She turned to see Brent with his hand out. She smiled and followed him back to the dance floor.
"So," Brent said with a suspicious eye, "you're really married to Maes."
"Yes, I am."
"And why wasn't I invited to the wedding?"
Gracia's eyes smiled as she said, "We eloped. Hey, I have a question. Why is everyone so surprised when they find out Maes is married?"
Brent laughed. "Come on, you know Maes. He's not the marrying type. Before you, of course. To be honest, I don't think he's ever had a relationship longer than three weeks. How long have you known Maes?"
Gracia gave a nervous laugh. "Longer than three weeks, I'll tell you that." But not much longer.
"That's good to hear. You know, I've never seen Maes this happy before. You really must be special. What was he like when you guys first met?"
Gracia automatically thought of Maes trying to strangle her that day in the park. "Oh, he was wonderful. Very charming."
Maes was walking back to the table but noticed Gracia wasn't there. He scanned the room, looking to see where she might be. While he was scanning, another pair of eyes caught his. They belonged to a beautiful woman in a bright red dress with lips to match. Her eyes were smoky, alluring, inviting Maes to join him for a drink. One month ago he would have smiled and bought her another drink. Or he would have lured her to come to him instead. But tonight his eyes barely stayed with her and continued to search for Gracia until he saw her dancing with Brent. He imagined Brent telling her stories he did not want shared, and he immediately went over and interrupted their dance by tapping his friend on the shoulder. "May I cut in?" The suaveness in his voice disguised his slight panic.
"Sure." Brent bowed his head to Gracia and left.
Maes took her in his arms and they automatically fell into a hypnotic sway. Gracia's hand was in his hand, while her other hand rested lightly on his chest. She could feel his heart beat, strong and steady. He was looking in her eyes so intently, so deeply, she felt like she was in a different place, not Palisades, not Central, not Amestris, but somewhere else, and Maes was with her.
"Hello," she said softly.
"Hello," he murmured back. She had an enchanted look in her eyes, as though he was all she saw. He wanted to kiss her.
"Maes," Gracia said before he could.
"What happened to 'Maes dear'?"
"What do you mean?"
"I like it when you call me 'Maes dear'."
A slow smile spread on her lips. "Maes dear?"
He gave her a crooked smile. "Yeah, babe?"
"Why don't you wear ties?"
"I don't know. I guess I don't really like them. They're so . . . strangling."
"You know, now that I think about it, it matches your personality that you don't wear ties."
"Yeah? Why's that?"
"Ties seem a little preppy or uptight. You're more carefree and relaxed."
"I'm glad you think so," Maes said as he drew Gracia closer to him. He heard a soft sigh against his ear.
Everything was perfect. The gentle music, the low lighting, couples dancing . . . it was all too romantic. Her cheek was pressed to his while his hand slowly stroked the length of her back. This was a perfect moment for her last night with Maes. Perhaps it was the smoke, or maybe she had too much wine, but she had the sudden urge to tell him she loved him. She was going to do it. Without thinking of consequences, Gracia pulled away slightly. "Maes."
He looked down.
"Thank you, everybody!" the bassist shouted as the song ended. A roar of applause followed.
"You what?" Maes shouted over the noise.
Gracia felt foolish. The moment was over, the spell was broken. "I, I have to use the ladies room."
"Go ahead. I'm going to get another drink. Do you want anything?"
"Something with berries, please." She gently touched Maes' arm in thanks. She grabbed her clutch and went to the ladies room. She slumped into a chair in front of mirror. "Gracia, what's wrong with you," she said to her reflection. Then her eyes widened. She thought she looked frightening. She lipstick was gone, her skin was shiny from evaporated perspiration, and her eye makeup smudged. She quickly fixed herself as best as she could until she deemed herself tolerable to be looked at. She gave herself a last look-over and told herself, no more foolishness. Gracia walked out of the powder room and accidentally bumped into a man, causing him to spill his drink. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" Gracia immediately searched for something to dry his shirt.
The man would have been annoyed, but he found this woman to be rather attractive, so he let her flutter about and worry over the spill. "Don't worry about it," he said in a most charming manner. "It's only my favorite shirt."
Her eyes widened in embarrassment. "Oh dear! Oh! Please forgive me. I know how to get stains right out. I could take your shirt home and wash it for you and it'll look as good as new!"
The man arched a brow and smiled his sexiest smile that would have made any woman swoon. "Do you want to go right now?"
Gracia gaped for a moment. "Oh, no, I mean, you give me your shirt and I'll deliver it to you, oh no, that doesn't make sense because then you'd have no shirt to wear right now, but then-"
The man laughed. She was too adorable. "Listen, don't worry about the shirt. Why don't you dance with me and we'll call it even?"
Gracia smiled in relief. "Yes, alright." She was led to the dance floor and taken into the stranger's arms. She made sure she kept an appropriate distance, but noticed her partner was an impeccable dancer. Light on his feet and very smooth. "You dance very well," she complimented the man.
"Not very," he returned as he spun her out and spun her back in with ease.
Gracia laughed. "Yes, very."
The sound of her laugh made the man feel warm. "Do you like this kind of music?"
"I love it! It's so beautiful and alive. Even the slow songs. The lyrics are what make the songs wonderful. Sad, happy, love, hate . . . There is a connection with the melody and the words that give the songs soul."
He didn't really care about music, but she said it with such conviction and passion, he couldn't help but blurt, "You're enchanting." There was too much vulnerability in the way he said it. He would have regretted the words but she smiled so gracefully at him, he didn't care. He could tell she wasn't the love em' and leave em' types, and oddly enough he could imagine himself falling in love with her; but he had to take it slow. "Have dinner with me."
"That's very kind of you, but I have to decline."
The man put his hand over his heart and made a pained face. "Quick and painful. Tell me why."
"Because I'm married," Gracia answered, forgetting her divorce tomorrow.
"Really?" He looked at he left hand and saw no ring. "I'm willing to overlook that."
Gracia laughed and shook her head.
She looked around but couldn't see the voice calling her. "I hear my husband calling me, but I can't see him." She didn't realize she released the stranger as she reached on her tiptoes to spot Maes. Then she saw him coming towards her.
"Gracia!" Maes said when he reached her. "They don't have any berry drinks tonight. They ran out."
"Oh, that's alright, dear. Forget about the drink. Speaking of drinks, I spilled one on this poor gentleman and he said that if I dance with him, that would count as reimbursement. Wasn't that kind?" She turned to introduce the man to Maes, but he was gone. "That's odd. He was right here." She looked around her but couldn't see him in the crowd. "Oh well. Maybe you scared him off."
"Maybe," Maes said without thought, "Hey, are you tired?"
"A little, now that I think about it."
"Okay, let's go. I think it's going to rain soon anyway." Maes paid the bill, grabbed his jacket, and entwined his fingers with Gracia's. The smell of rain was heavy when they walked outside, though it was still dry. "Taxi or trolley?" he asked.
"Trolley, please," she replied, delighted that he gave her the option.
They hopped on the next streetcar and sat in comfortable silence. Both of them were aware that they were still holding hands, but neither withdrew. A bright flash of lightning, then a boom of thunder, and not long after did the rain start to pour. Gracia loved rain. She watched it pour heavily, the fat droplets hitting the window and creating streaks. The air became colder and she shifted closer to Maes. "Do you think we'll still see each other? You know, after . . . tomorrow?" she asked after a while.
"Sure, sure," Maes answered as casually as possible. He didn't want to give any hint that he was going to ask her to spend the rest of her life with him. "We're still friends, right?"
"Yes, of course," she said, trying to hide her disappointment. We're just friends. Friends who hold hands.
"You must be excited to have your own place. No more living with a smelly old man, no more extra cooking, no more sharing a bathroom." Good job at convincing her to stay, you douche bag.
"I didn't mind the cooking or the sharing. I'm probably going to have to get a roommate anyway. You were good a good practice roommate." She flashed him a mischievous smile.
"Practice? Baby, I'm as real as it gets."
The trolley lights flickered and went out. The car stopped. Passengers murmured in confusion and some began to panic.
"Don't worry folks," the conductor said as calmly as possible, "it's just a black out. We should be up and running soon, so sit tight."
Gracia looked out the window. She turned to Maes, excitement in her eyes and she bit her lower lip. "Let's run."
"We're only a few blocks from the apartment. It'll be fun."
"You'll get sick."
"I know I won't."
"How? You got a fool proof method for that too?"
Gracia playfully hit his arm and asked the conductor to open the door. When she stepped off of the trolley, she was initially shocked out how hard it was raining. They began to run. She was laughing. She couldn't stop laughing. The cold was piercing to the bone, but she didn't care. She felt free running through the pouring rain with no source of shield or protection. Maes was running behind her, laughing as well, but worried at the same time that she might slip and fall or die of pneumonia from the cold. Her skirt was practically transparent when it was wet, and it clung to her long legs even as she ran and jumped over puddles. Gracia looked back and saw Maes, and she felt inexplicably happy. They were being silly, she was being silly, but mostly he was being silly for her. She loved him.
They carefully ran up to the apartment. They were both freezing. It took a moment for Maes to open the door because his hand wouldn't stop shaking. He finally unlocked the door and led Gracia to the bathroom. It was dark and cold inside too. He felt around the room, found a candle and lit it. He turned the radiator to warm up before he went to the bathroom. He could hear her teeth chattering as he reached for her in the dark. "Come on," he whispered, his own voice restricted by cold, "you have to get these wet things off."
"Mm-okay," she managed to say but wasn't quite able to do.
Maes didn't hesitate to undress her. For her health's sake, of course. He pulled off her cardigan, and then unclasped her bra.
"You know," she said through chattering teeth, "I c-could easily say you-you're t-taking advan-vantage of me."
Maes smiled. "Then you better be glad that I can barely see a thing right now." He peeled off her skirt then wrapped his bathrobe around her. He quickly got out of his own soaking suit and brought Gracia to the still cold radiator. "Damn it," he muttered, forgetting that the radiator used electricity. Gracia wasted no time and was already under the comforter. Maes joined her, lying on his side and gathering her in his arms. They smiled at each other, making shivering noises and warming each other's feet.
"S-See?" Gracia said, "Fool proof."
Maes laughed. He kissed her forehead. "Gracia, you make me so happy."
"Yes, baby," he kissed her eyebrow, the bride of her nose, "you do." He stared into her turquoise eyes before he kissed her lips tenderly. She was soft and so warm. He kissed small nips until Graica opened her mouth to him. Slowly, his tongue stroked hers, gently touching, caressing. His hand held the back of her neck, tilting her head so that he could deepen the kiss. Still gentle, his tongue curled around hers and slowly drew back. He repeated this twice more before capturing her tongue between his lips. He suckled gently on the very tip and felt her moan. She tore her mouth away.
"Stop it," she demanded hoarsely. There was fire in her eyes. Maes bent his head to kiss her again, the need stronger than before. Gracia struggled to free herself, pushing and kicking, but he was too strong. He pulled her body against his so tightly that all her movements were restricted. After a second, she calmed down. There were tears in her eyes when she looked at him. "We can't keep doing this."
"Because I want to do what we're doing only with my husband,"
"I am your husband."
"Yes, but we're getting a divorce tomorrow and I don't want to get a divorce and my heart is breaking just thinking about divorcing because I lo-"
Maes clamped his hand over her mouth. "I want to be the first one to say it." He removed his hand. "Gracia, I love you."
Her aqua eyes were large with disbelief. Words were beyond her at this moment.
Maes sat up, bringing Gracia up with him. "I like coming home to you. I can get through the day of being around fucked up shit knowing that you're here waiting for me. I'm sorry for not telling you sooner and for causing you any grief. I wasn't always sure how you felt. You were looking to move out almost everyday and finally found an apartment. I thought you wanted to be independent and grow on your own. I know I'm being selfish, but I can't stand the thought of you leaving me, no matter how much you want to."
She cupped his face in her hands. "Oh, Maes, I never wanted to leave you, not even to work, not even for a second. I don't want to be independent. I've been living for myself for four years. All alone, all by myself. I'm ready to belong to someone. To you."
Maes got out of the bed and went into the closet. He returned with a sachet, kneeling in front of Gracia. "I wanted to do this tomorrow before the appointment." The corner of his mouth tipped up. "I thought it would be more dramatic." From the silken bag, he took out the two rings. "Gracia, will you marry me?"
Gracia held a trembling hand to her mouth. She was beginning to cry again. "Yes," she managed to say. She threw her arms around Maes' neck. "Yes, yes, yes." After a moment Gracia sat up and wiped her tears. "But we're already married."
"Legally we are, but I want to marry you for love, not for money or a deal or a bargain. Marry me, Gracia, because I love you."
She smiled. "Yes. Yes, alright. Yes!" She threw her arms around Maes' neck. "Oh, Maes, I love you so much. I know I haven't known you that long, but I do love you. I really do." She dried her tears. "When do we get married?"
Their wedding had only a single candle as their decoration and rain against the windows as their music. An old bathrobe for a wedding dress and old sweatpants for a tuxedo, the couple kneeled before each other on the bed. They held each other's hands as Maes commenced the ceremony.
"Gracia Jones, I love you. I love you so much. I can't imagine my life without you, and I want to spend the rest of my days with you forever. You make me happy," he felt his throat close, "you make me strong. You're the only thing that keeps me going in this corrupted world." Tears streaked Maes' face. He squeezed her hands. "I swear to protect you, take care of you, love you, and do my best to give back to you what you've given to me, for as long I live."
Gracia was now crying, too. Her speech was broken. "Maes Hughes, you are my home. You're my best friend, my inspiration, my hero. Wherever you go, I will follow. You make me feel safe. I promise I will respect you, cherish you, and love you for as long as I live."
Maes held Gracia's left hand and slipped on a ring. Gracia took the other ring and put it on Maes' left hand.
"I love you," Gracia whispered.
"I love you."
And the groom kissed the bride.