Under the Promising Stars
When I first saw you, I knew.
I was the happiest girl in the world.
But, I knew this happiness had to end sometime.
Sadly, it came too soon.
"Kory?" I stood in front of a tall building right in the middle of a familiar place. I almost jumped as I looked up to admire the building I had not seen for so long. It wasn't the sound of my name that made me almost jump, but it was the voice who said it. It was a deep and soothing voice. I always thought of it as a calm voice, but now it sounded surprised, almost questioning. It was his voice.
I turned around to the source of the voice. He stood there, his perfect stature and all his features left intact since last time I saw him. It seemed almost surreal. I could hardly believe it. A small smile crept on my face as he took off his dark sunglasses. He always wore those dark shades, as if to cover up the real person hidden behind them. A perplexed look was well visible on his face and he took a few steps closer like he couldn't believe his eyes. Richard Grayson.
"Oh..um..I didn't think..didn't know that.." Mumbling, I looked away, unable to look into his mesmerizing ocean of baby blue eyes.
"Kory..come in, come in," he pleaded and quickly urged me inside. I followed him through the revolving doors and up the elevator that led to his lavish penthouse on the top floor.
I remember this place quite well. The twenty-fifth floor on the most modern building in one of Gotham City's most lavish districts. It was near the biggest shopping malls, restaurants with the most exquisite cuisines, and businesses with promising services that can benefit its customers. There were a few changes here and there across the town, but other than that, it's still the home I love and remember. I used to come to Richard's penthouse every so often. We would just watch movies or eat dinner or even just look over the city at night where the lights shone bright and the starts glistened with content. Those were happy days. And here I am again. Except, under different circumstances.
"Take a seat, make yourself at home." He motioned towards that same leather couch that we always sat on on Friday nights. I sat in the familiar spot and tried to relax myself. I took some quiet, deep breaths as Richard made his way to the kitchen. I hear the clanking of glasses and realize he is preparing refreshments for us. I squirm in my seat a little and start to play with my fingers. I hear him walking closer and with each step, I could feel my heartbeat race faster and faster. I take another deep breath just as he places the glasses on the table and sits by me. I look up at him and wait for him to speak.
"What brings you back to Gotham?" His casual tone strikes me.
"I just wanted to see you, I guess." My voice sounded more unsure than I meant it to be.
"It's been two years, Kory. Why now?" He sounded curious as he looked right into my emerald eyes. I was speechless. His beauty still amazes me. I thought I could face him and tell him, but now I just have goosebumps. I open my mouth to speak, but I hear the door creak open behind us.
"Babe!" Her voice is loud and shrill in a perky way, almost ear-piercing. We both turn to her direction and see her dancing her way through the door. "Oops. Who do we have here?" She stops dancing and walks towards us. I can tell her smile is plastic. Richard gets up and goes to her. What I see next will forever haunt me. He kisses her right there on the lips. I remember those luscious lips of his brushing up against mine, it seemed like forever ago.
I can literally feel my heart breaking into a million pieces. I wasn't prepared for this. I didn't even have the slightest idea this would happen. What should I do? Introduce myself? Maybe run out the door? I can't seem to think of the adult way to handle this.
"Babe, this is Kory. Kory, this is Kit, my girlfriend." I looked at both of them. So different, yet so alike. She was blonde with blue eyes, and a little shorter than me. She vaguely reminds me of a cheerleader. He has slick black hair and blue eyes. He's indescribable, yet the only adjective that comes close is perfect. How did this happen?
"Hi Kory. It's nice to meet you," Kit said as she held her hand out to me. I took it and gave her a half smile. I was unsure of what to do now. "Did I come at a bad time?" she looked at Richard apologetically.
"No, no. We were just talking," Richard answered.
"Well don't let me stop you," she motioned for us to continue our conversation, "Oh and you must stay for dinner, Kory."
"Oh no, it's ok. I have to get going anyway. It was nice seeing you again, Richard, and it was nice meeting you, Kit." Seems more like well-rehearsed lines than an actually acknowledgment. I smiled once and saw that Kit's smile was genuine as she was ecstatic to see me leave. Richard, however, seemed a little pained. I hate that face he made. Same face when I walked out two years earlier. I turned and walked out the door and let out a long sigh before heading back to my hotel.
Back at my hotel, I sat by my windowsill looking out at the city. I held my phone in my hand and scrolled through the contact list. There was only one name I was searching for.
"Hello?" a voice from the other end answered. Her mellow tone is the same as it had always been.
"Kory?" she asked in a softer voice.
Later that afternoon, we met at a café in the shopping district. We used to come here all the time, gossiping while eating cake and drinking lattes. We met at our usual spot by the window. As she walked in, I could see there was not much change in her. She sat across from me and gave me a warm smile.
"It's been a while," she started.
"It has. Where to begin?" She picked up a fork and started poking at the slice of cake sitting between us.
"Start from the beginning," she bluntly said as she took a bite of the cake. I sighed and looked at her apologetically. I didn't know how to start or how she would react.
"I can't. Not now." She slowly nodded her head as if she understood why the timing was bad. I would tell her someday anyway. Just not now. She can't be the first to know. "So how are you?" I ask, breaking the tension between us.
"Same as always, trying to get through my every day."
"How is everyone by the way?" she looks at me then out the window. She sighs and I brace myself for the news.
"Broken apart. After you left, Richard was..well..a mess, emotionally and mentally. He almost let the company slip. Victor went off the other side of town and opened his own mechanic shop. I haven't heard from him very much. Garfield is still around. He's trying to get a degree in film, but he also travels a lot. As for me, I come and go. Every other weekend, I head off to an island somewhere to just calm myself and meditate. It isn't the same anymore." I considered her point of view on this as I listened to her explanation. She was caught in the middle; unable to go one way without thinking about the other.
We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting and gossiping. Soon our "catching up" talk turned into a "reminiscent" talk. We remembered the good old days when the five of us would hang out everyday together. The time when Garfield ordered ten large pizzas and he and Victor ate them all in an hour. The time when Richard ran into a tree trying to catch a football. The time Garfield pulled a prank on Rachel while her back was turned. The time Richard carried me all the way home because I sprained my ankle. Two years can seem like a lifetime.
We ate a quick dinner at a small restaurant before we went our separate ways. Catching up with Rachel made me feel a lot better. I always knew she was such a good friend. She always listened and looked at situations in a realistic point of view.
The next day, after much self argument, I decided to take a stroll through the city and revisit places I haven't seen in a while. With my camera in my hand, I was determined to take pictures to bring back home and hang on my wall. This would make her happy.
I went to the shopping district first. Inside the mall there was a dancing fountain in the middle. Thousands of pennies were glistening in the water as the clouds slowly flew by in the skyline above. I bought a few small things here and there before I went off to the business district. Tall buildings and skyscrapers were everyone. One building had the reflection of the horizon as it stood tall and strong. I headed towards the direction of the bay. I knew this familiar route by heart. Once I got to my destination, I felt a sense of relief. I can look in front of me and admire the calm blue ocean. I can look behind me and adore the scenic city. This was the perfect place; right in the middle of everything.
As if by instinct, I turned around to face those same baby blue eyes I had always looked in to two years ago. This felt like another surreal moment. I blinked harder to assure myself this wasn't real, but it was.
"Kory? Well, we meet again." A smile crept up on his face as he neared me to take his usual spot next to me like he did two years ago.
"It seems so." It seemed awkward now to be here again with him.
"How have you been?"
"I've been good. I'm into photography now. And you?"
"I'm still with Wayne Enterprises. I've moved up."
"That's good." I hate this. This conversation is so blunt and arid. This makes the tension between us so obvious and the direction of this conversation is going nowhere. I just want to stop and tell him what I came to tell him. But, it's not that easy. He has a girlfriend now and she already hates me enough as it is.
"How are you and Kit?" I asked although this question sends a lump in my throat. I suddenly didn't want to hear the answer.
"We're good. We're nearing our sixth month together." He didn't seem panged by this answer, but I most certainly did. I can feel the tears coming on but I hold them back. No way am I losing it this far in the game.
"How long are you staying in Gotham?"
"Just this weekend. I'm leaving tomorrow."
"We should have dinner and catch up," he suggests.
"Umm.." I'm a little unsure about this idea, but I had nothing else to do for the rest of the day anyway. "Sure," I agree. He seems ecstatic about this as his grin changed to a wide smile.
"I'll make the reservations. Pick you up at seven?" he seemed confident and overjoyed and I tried to act that way too. After all, this is what I wanted.
"Ok. I'm staying at the Gotham Grand."
I looked at her. She had on a beautiful floor length lavender dress. Her hair was pulled back so it didn't get in her face and it was accessorized with a matching barrette. Her make-up looked natural yet it brought a warm glow. She outdid herself and wondered if it was too much. Her reflection seems calm and collected, but in reality, it's quite the opposite. I'm freaking out. I look at the clock by the bedside and realize it's already 7:00. With a swift 360 turn and a last glance in the mirror, I grabbed my purse and headed downstairs. Many eyes looked back at me with astonishment and I couldn't help but look away. I got to the entrance of the hotel and Richard was already there waiting, leaning against his silver Ferrari. He stood in a full suit, the true definition of tall, dark, and handsome.
"You look beautiful," he complimented as he opened the passenger door for me. Of all the hundreds of times I've been in this car, there is never a change.
"I got reservations at Café Dior," he said as he got in behind the wheel. This scene is all too familiar for me. The picking-up, the formal and sophisticated attire, the reservations at fancy and expensive places, I feel overwhelmed.
We arrived at Café Dior and took our seats by the window overlooking the Bay. It was a calm and peaceful night and the waves were gently flowing with the current. The stars above were shining brightly as a jet, flying by, left its track across the still night sky. I looked at Richard who, in turn, was intently looking at me, examining my features. I blushed and looked away, unable to face him. As we placed our order, my scrambled thoughts seemed to die down.
"So how's everything?" I asked as I took a sip of water.
"Great. I got promoted to VP and I'm currently working on a deal with this big shot company in Europe."
He almost let the company slip.
"How is that going?"
"I still have a lot of work, but it's manageable. I'd rather be doing this than nothing. Well enough about me, anything new with you?"
"Well, I work at a photography studio. I take pictures in my spare time and hang them on my wall. One day, I'm going to have my own exhibit."
"What do you take pictures of?"
"Depends on the theme. Places. People. Anything eye-catching."
"I look forward to seeing your exhibit one day." At that moment, our food arrived and neither of us were hesitant to dig in. This was the Richard I knew; the one who wasn't shy and always did what he felt like. He was formal on formals days and casual on casual days. We may have been dressed formally but we always bonded casually. We could always see right through each other and practically read each others thoughts. We finished the rest of our meal, adding it with a touch of light conversation, both casual talk and laugh-ensuing. After our meal, we talked more about my job and my passion for photography.
"What's the eye-catching theme you want for your exhibit?" he asked me as he motioned to the waiter for the check.
"Love. Love it universal and can be shown in many ways. I've taken pictures of couples, friends, mothers and their children, even birds singing together in trees."
"It does. But, it needs something else."
"What is that?"
"An exhibit is not complete without a self portrait." I smiled and took out my camera from my purse. He smiled shyly too as he realized what was going on. The waiter came to clean off the last of the mess we made at our table and I asked him to take a picture of us. He backed up a few feet and I instructed Richard how to pose. We looked at each other, smiling, and acted like the perfect lovey-dovey couple in love who are on a romantic dinner getaway by the bay where the stars are in clear view. I thanked the waiter and gave him a generous tip. Then, we were off.
"I can't believe how cheesy you were," I laughed as we reminisced on old memories of when we used to hang out.
"Roses were your favorite flowers so I had to spread it out somewhere," he excused.
"But all over my car? I think I smushed some when I stepped on the gas pedal."
"And you left me with a bitter-sweet voice message!"
"I remember that! I was saying something like 'Aww that's so sweet of you but I got dizzy from the scent. This is my favorite flower I love it, but every time I made a sharp left, one would hit my head.' Ahh, good memories." The silver Ferrari stopped in front of the Gotham Grand and I knew this was my cue to get out because our night together was over.
I turned and grabbed the handle. I was just about to push the door open when I felt his hands lightly grab my arm. I turned to look at him and the expression written on his face was one of pain. It was like all the colors were washed clean out of him and it was replaced with the sad color of gray. I felt guilt. Confusion. Regret.
"What happened to you, Kory?" This seriousness in his tone took me by surprise. "Where did you go?"
I knew this question pained him and he's been wondering the answer ever since I left two years ago. I came to Gotham so prepared to answer this, but the right words just can't form in my head. I can see right through his guise. He wants answers and he can't wait any longer. I eased my hand off the handle and placed it on his cheek. This was sign of reassurance; I always did this to him in times of trouble.
"I had to go," I started explaining.
"But why? Why did you leave me? The team fell apart without you." I tried to keep my voice firm as I answered him.
"It was for the best."
"You're being vague. Just tell me the truth." Emotion took control of his voice. He was losing his patience and it sounded like he was on the verge of sobbing. I sighed. This is, after all, what I came for.
"We made so many great memories, good and bad. We had a love that was infinitely everlasting, but things got complicated so quickly. Bruce was entrusting you with his company and you were always away to train for the job, meeting clients and pushing deals. You had a good thing going with a promising career. I didn't want to take that away from you…"
"Why would you take that away from me? I loved you. I wanted to marry you. You left before I could propose to you."
"Because it was the wrong time! We were so young and so naïve…"
"But we were in love and that's all that mattered."
"But we lived separate lives. You traveled and help build up the reputation of Wayne Enterprises while I was left behind waiting for you. We couldn't settle down."
"We didn't even try!"
"I needed to make a change."
"So u left me?"
"It was for the best." I was crying now. Tears were freely falling down my cheeks and making small stains on my dress. I realized I wasn't strong enough for this. We've been through so much and after all this time, we only acknowledge it now.
"Stop saying that. You don't know what's best for me," he argued.
"It had to be done. I didn't want to be selfish."
"But you were. When you left, did you realize how much I was hurt? How Rachel, Garfield, and Victor were affected? How all the color in the world seemed to fade because of your lack of presence? How the ring I bought you just lay in its box in my drawer because it had no finger to settle on? You killed me, Kory." His eyes watered up and I saw a single tear fall down his cheek. I wanted to stop it, to wipe it away. I wanted to reach out my hand and pass on my warmth to his cold, colorless cheek. But I couldn't. So I just cried.
"You were my everything," he continued, "I was ready to take on the world with you by my side. Did you really think my career was more important to me than you?"
"I loved you so much, but you couldn't be there."
"I would have dropped everything in a heartbeat for you."
"Don't say that. Yes, our love was real and I thought it would overcome anything. You know I would have done anything for you. But it was bad timing!"
"What was bad timing?"
"I was the happiest girl in the world before it happened."
"What are you talking about?"
"I freaked out. It was too much for me and I didn't want to drag you down with me. I knew I could do it on my own. I just had to be strong…"
"I've never been so scared and unsure in my life when I looked at those two pink lines." Looking at him made me feel so uneasy. I wasn't ready for his response and it seemed that even all the gray faded away.
"Neither of us were ready, but it was too late when I realized that. I had to leave and all I could do was wish you a happy life. I wasn't sure if you would still be happy with us around and I didn't want to take that chance. Leaving you hurt so much. We made a long journey together and I had to continue the rest of it by myself. I never stopped loving you. But, I see you have a happy and fulfilling life now and I'm so happy for you." I wiped my tears away but they still continued to fall. "Please continue to be happy." And with that, I pushed open the door and ran. I didn't look back at him. I finally got it over with. That's the end of that. Now, she's waiting for me back home. I'll let the tears all fall tonight and go back to her tomorrow with a smiling face, like everything is alright.
"Yeah, that's what happened," I said over the phone to Rachel as I explained to her everything. I told her what happened two years ago and why I left and what I told Richard last night. She was left speechless and shocked.
I gathered all my bags together as I held the phone up to my ear. Making sure I had everything, I made my way to the elevator and down to the lobby where a cab was waiting for me outside.
"I can't believe all that, Kory," Rachel finally said. "Where are you headed off to now?"
"Home. Life goes on doesn't it? I'm glad I came though; I got to catch up with you."
"You're coming back soon right?"
"Maybe not soon. But I will someday. I promise. I have to go, Rachel, I'm going to the airport now. Call you later?"
"Yeah." We hung up as the taxi driver loaded the last of my bags. I'm really going to miss this place. Good thing I took some pictures to bring back home and tape to her wall. She loves pictures.
At the airport, I immediately checked in. They would begin boarding soon and I would love to get away from Gotham as soon as possible. I was about to walk through security when I heard my name.
"KORY!" I turned around and there was Richard running my way with flowers in hand. He was panting by the time he reached me.
"Please, don't leave," he pleaded, holding out the roses to me. "I love you, Kory. I don't want to lose you again." I smiled. This was touching and sweet, but I knew better.
"Give those to your girlfriend. She would love to get those," I said. "I can't stay. We have to continue with our separate lives. We have to keep smiling."
"I want us to smile together." The hurt on his face was clearly visible.
"No," I said in my gentlest voice. "Nothing can change. You made me happy, but now it's Kit's turn. I'm not taking you away from her."
"Don't you see? I've loved you all along."
"I love you too, but we can't be together.
"I'm sorry." I backed away from him and headed toward my gate. I turned to look at him and he stood there motionless, hurt, and heartbroken. "Her name is Robyn. She's one and a half. She has your eyes," I called out to him. Just like that, my journey was over and I'd be going back to the place where I belong, back to Robyn.
One year later…
Finally, my dream come true. I look around this once empty space and see how beautifully it was transformed. My hard work finally paid off. Pictures, taken by me, hang around every wall and every corner of this studio, filling it with boundless possibilities open to limitless imaginations. I smile at my work and so does my daughter. She's learning how to walk, but I still carry her around in my arms. I show her the whole exhibit and there are even a few pictures of her in there. She giggles with every new picture. In a few minutes, my exhibit will open and people will be wandering in and about looking at all the different images and concluding their own interpretations of each. However, each picture draws a different interpretation to me. It brings back memories and makes me wonder about everyone else's point of view in life. There are no wrong answers to things like love. This is the one theme that stands out most to me. As I show my daughter this, she giggles even more and I cannot help but smile. This precious little jewel has brought me more treasure, one that I can be proud to show freely in an exhibit full of my art.
People start walking in and are eagerly looking at each image presented. I wander around talking to some people as they ask me what inspired a certain image and what it means to me. It means many things. Each one is special in its own way and I cannot describe it very clearly. There is a bong between a photographer and her camera and what pictures are taken are the result of imagination and life running its full course. It's a beautiful thing really.
I get many 'ooh's' and 'aah's' along with some 'great jobs' and 'congratulations'. Some take my business card for future propositions, meaning I think I did a pretty decent job on this exhibit. People come in and out and they are ultimately impressed with what they see. Even Rachel came.
"I love it," she says after she had walked around and carefully examined everything.
"Thanks," I smile.
"You know, Kory, Jump City may have been your physical home, but Gotham city is your true home."
"I can't go back."
"Then I guess your true home has to come to you." She stalks off to the refreshments and leaves me there puzzled. I continue to walk around and socialize with everyone all the while with my two year old daughter still in my arms.
"Excuse me, miss, I am beyond impressed with the work you have shown here," a voice calls out behind me.
"Thank…" I turn around and find the person I least expected to find here, especially in Jump City, which was a good 300 miles away from Gotham. "You," I finish.
Richard stands there, tall and decent, and pulls out roses from behind his back. He hands them to me and I accept them. He hasn't changed a bit since I saw him a year ago; same hair, same posture, same smile. He looks at Robyn and his smile becomes tender and loving. She looks back up at him and reaches her arms out, as if she knew who he was. He holds out a finger to her and she eagerly takes it. They both smile their heartwarming smile; like father, like daughter.
"Robyn…" he begins saying.
"Kory, I don't want to miss out anymore," he looks at me now. "I love you so much and out of that love came a beautiful and perfect little girl. Even though I just met her, I love her too, ever since the day you told me she existed. I've been trying to track you both down, but who knew you were this close to me all along. I want to be there for you and for our daughter. I want to see her grow and I want to always be by your side. Don't push me out of your life anymore, I'm begging you. And your assumption that day was wrong, I can be happy with you two. In fact, I'm overjoyed right now just seeing you both. I want to live up to my responsibilities and care for my family." I look at him and see the patience in his eyes. He truly believes we can be a happy family. With a little effort and a lot of love, we probably can be.
"What about Kit? And Wayne Enterprises?" I ask hesitantly.
"Kit is long gone and Wayne Enterprises is just going to have to find a new VP. I know where my loyalty belongs to." The sincerity in his voice moves me and I am deeply touched. He must care a lot to leave behind so much. He looks deep into my eyes, and I know in my heart that his words are true.
"I want to show you something." I grab his hand and drag him to yet another corner of the exhibit. This wall is themed 'Love' and there are many depictions of many different displays of affection. There is one of a little boy giving a flower to a little girl. There is another of an old couple taking a stroll through the park, hand in hand. There is even one of Robyn hugging the teddy bear I had given her for her birthday. But one stands out the most. It is on a much bigger canvas than the rest and it also has more personal meaning. It is the one where Richard and I are staring into each other eyes that day in the restaurant. The picture turned out beautifully, capturing every essence of that perfect night. Although we were only just posing, love was evident in both our eyes. Even though we didn't admit it that day, we both knew it was there; a hidden spark of love just waiting to come out again. I looked at Richard as he smiled so sweetly at the delicate memory carefully painted in our heads, purposefully laid out in front of our eyes for all to see.
"I call it 'Under the Promising Stars' because as looked into each other eyes, the numerous stars above us symbolized all the love we had and all the love we will continue to have. The possibilities and opportunities for us are endless just as there are innumerable stars in the sky," I explained.
"Kory…" He began as he knelt down on one knee and took out a little black box. He opened it and my face lit up as I saw a diamond ring that was carefully cut in a heart shape. Little rhinestones surrounded the band and inside was engraved 'I Love You'. I was on the verge of tears and even let a few of them fall out.
"Will you marry me?" The million dollar question I've been waiting a lifetime for is finally here.
"Yes!" I squeal out. He slips the ring onto my finger and we kiss passionately, for the first time in forever. His sweet and tender kiss not only brings back precious memories, but it also assures me of future memories we will make together as a family.
"I love you," we both say at the same time. The baby in my arms is squealing in delight and clapping her hands together. Everyone else around us is clapping for us due to the proposal they just witnessed. Big smiles are plastered on everyone's faces as they all congratulate us. I hand Robyn over to Richard and he's ecstatic about holding her for the first time.
"Hey, honey, daddy's finally here."