The night before, I fell into bed without a single thought in my head. I was drunk on Declan, flying on the feeling of his lips on mine and his hands on my body. But the morning always comes too soon, with bright light and a little face in mine and her voice calling, "Mama, get up! Get up!"
As I fumble through the morning, making Ivanka's breakfast and getting her dressed, getting myself dressed, last night feels further and further away, like a really good dream that fades the longer I'm awake. Even the evidence I see in my mirror, my lips slightly swollen and the faint red scrapes on my neck from his stubbly face, don't convince me that it was real.
I look up from buttoning my shirt to see Reza lounging in the bathroom door. She's smiling like a cat who ate the canary.
"It looks like someone knows how to kiss a girl properly," she smirks.
"What?" she laughs. "You are a mess. And that's a good thing."
"You like seeing me so confused?"
She pushes off the door and drops her hands to my shoulders, looking at me in the mirror. "Yes, I do. I think it's good for you. He's good for you, if you would only relax and let yourself enjoy him." She flicks the collar of my shirt with one finger. "Is that a hickey?"
She just laughs.
"Mama!" Ivanka shrieks, darting into the room and barreling into my legs. "Babička říká—"
Ivanka sighs. "Grandma says you need to brush my hair."
"Oh, she does, does she? Turn around." I start working a brush through Ivanka's tangled hair as she whines and fusses.
"Is he coming today?" Reza asks.
I nod, although I can't begin to reconcile Declan and me last night with myself today, late for work and trying to brush my daughter's hair. I don't know how he will, either. I finish tying back Ivanka's hair and she's off like a shot to the other room. Reza puts her hand on my shoulder again and turns me to face her.
"Dusana, listen to me. Stop thinking. Stop trying to talk him and yourself out of this thing."
"No buts. Just be with him, and see where it takes you. You have earned this happiness in your life. Just take it, for once. Please?"
I close my eyes and nod, still not entirely convinced. Reza mutters to herself in Czech before kissing my forehead and leaving the bathroom. Alone again, I turn back to the mirror to look at myself. I still look young. So very young, even though my eyes look older and my soul feels ancient.
I am tired. I feel like I have spent my whole life being strong, being brave, being someone's wife, someone's mother. I stepped foot into adulthood and went right into battle, and I've been fighting ever since.
Maybe Reza is right. Maybe this is my turn, my time. I keep holding back, afraid to let myself feel this happy for fear it will all go away and I'll be hurt. But it's too late. I already feel it. I feel so much. I have felt it ever since I met Declan, ever since he played for me and we played together. I feel and I've hurt without him. Maybe, if I can be brave one more time and reach out for him, I can hang onto this thing we have. Maybe it's time to finally win.
When Dusana opens the door for me, I reach out for her and pull her into the hallway before she can say a word. She's just opening her mouth to protest when I shut her up with a kiss. Her hands flutter at her sides in confusion for a second before she gives in and grabs hold of my shoulders. I don't stop until she's relaxed and kissing me back.
Finally, I pull away. "Hi."
"Hi," she breathes, eyes still half-closed. "What was that for?"
"I knew you wouldn't let me kiss you hello in front of Ivanka or anyone else."
"Oh. You're right."
"See how well I know you?"
She laughs a little and starts to pull me inside, but I stop her. "It's a beautiful afternoon. Come for a walk with me? I mean, if it's okay to leave Ivanka."
Dusana thinks about it for just a moment, and I can see her weighing something in her mind. Then she says, "She's watching that police show with Švec. She won't even notice I'm gone."
I smile and take her hand in mine.
We go back to the little park near her flat, but we sit on the benches in the shade of the trees this time, since Ivanka isn't with us. I set my guitar case by my feet and we hold hands for a bit, watching the traffic go by out on the street.
"Hey, I wrote a little something this morning. Can I play it for you?"
She nods, so I get out my guitar. I play the little bit of chorus and bridge I came up with over breakfast. She chews on her bottom lip, thinking and watching me.
"Hmmm, I like it, but do that second part in a minor key instead of major." She hums what she means and I play it again. It's better.
"Any words yet?" she asks.
"Just some sappy stuff about a pretty girl," I reply with a smile. She nearly blushes as she smiles herself.
"Well, maybe I can help with that part."
I lean across my guitar to kiss her briefly. "You are that part."
She sighs and I set my guitar to the side. I scoot closer, pulling her into me and bending to kiss her again, for real. Everything about Dusana is tiny. The back of her neck where my palm rests feels as thin as a blade of grass. But there's also this fierce strength in her, just under the surface all the time, like steel in her veins. She's one of the strongest people I've ever known. I don't know why that makes me touch her so gently. I want her to know she can be soft with me. She can need me.
We lean back on the bench, my arm around her shoulders. She feels perfect tucked into my side.
"So," I begin, "I thought I might look for a flat. Of my own. Maybe near here."
She's silent as she absorbs that. "So you're staying in Dublin, then?"
"Yeah, I am."
"Is that okay? With your music? Your career?"
I shrug. "I'll make it work."
"Don't stay for me."
I crane my head back so I can look down at her. "Of course I'm doing it for you." She opens her mouth to protest, but I reach up to put a finger over her lips. "But I'm doing it for me, too. I'm from Dublin. It's who I am. It's in my music. I don't want to live anywhere else. Besides, you're in my music, too. It's not the same when you're not part of it."
She sighs. "Declan…"
"I mean it, Dusana. This is important to me. Really important."
She twists her fingers together in her lap. "It's important to me, too," she says in a small voice.
"Good," I say, putting a finger under her chin and turning her face up to mine. "Now we've got that sorted."
"I don't want you to limit yourself to be with me. It's not fair."
"I don't see it that way."
"You have so much potential, Declan."
"So do you. Dusana, why are you trying to talk me out of this? What are you so scared of?"
She closes her eyes and sighs. "You. This. It scares me. It scares me because I want it so much and I'm afraid I can't make it work."
"It's not all on you to make it work. It's up to me, too."
"My life is very complicated. It will be hard."
"Is that all I can be? Another complication in your life?"
She shakes her head quickly. "No. Not just a complication. But you will complicate things. It can't be avoided." She's holding my hand between both of hers now, tracing the veins on the back with her thumb. I'm beginning to understand her now. Her words might be all uncertainty and doubt, but the way she's touching me, holding on to me, tells me she wants me. She just doesn't know how to reach out for me. So I'll do the reaching for now.
"Dusana, I know it will be hard. And you know that better than I can right now. But I'm here. I want you. I'm not leaving. So we'll have to figure it out. I just hope you feel like I'm worth the work it will take."
At that, her head snaps up and her eyes blaze. She reaches up and takes my face in her hands. "You have always been worth it. Always. Declan, you are a miracle to me. A dream. Dreams are just hard to hold onto in the daytime."
I reach up to hold her face, too, leaning down to her. "Listen to me. We are real. What we have is real. Your life and Ivanka are reality, but last night, playing with me in front of those people, being with me afterwards, that was reality, too. It can be your reality. Just hang on to me and we'll do it. We'll take the leap together and we'll figure it out. Because I love you. I don't know about the rest, but I know that. That's what I believe in."
Her eyes are brimming with tears and she can't speak, so she just nods. I lean in and kiss her, and it's a little harsh and messy, overflowing with all this emotion we haven't yet sorted through. But she hangs on to me and kisses me back and I know− I know− that we'll be okay.
She pulls back a little, running her hands down my neck to my shoulders and back up to my face again, like her fingertips are memorizing every inch of me. "Do you remember, last year, the night we went up to the hill?"
I nod, smiling. That night with her, staring out at a darkened Dublin, was when I knew that something had started between us, a fire that would be hard to put out. Impossible, it turned out.
"Do you remember when you asked me about Marek? You asked me how to say 'do you still love him' in Czech?"
"Yes, I remember everything about that night."
"I lied to you. When I told you how to say it, that's not what I said."
"What did you say to me?"
"I said, 'I love you'."
"Dusana…did you mean it?"
She nods and the tears finally spill over, streaking down her face. I brush them away and then smooth her hair back out of her face. "I couldn't feel that way about you. It was impossible. But I did. I do."
"Believe in that, Dusana—the way you feel. It was impossible, but it happened anyway. That should tell you something."
Our faces are so close together that I can feel her breath on my lips. She's got one arm behind my neck and she's tracing my lips with her fingers. "Reza says we share the same soul, you and me."
I smile against her fingertips. "I think Reza's right about that."
"That's why it hurt so much when you went to America. You took half my soul with you."
I shake my head. "No, I left mine here with you. That's why I came back. And it's why I'm not leaving again. Not unless you come with me."
I kiss her then and it feels right. More real and right than anything has in my entire life. She's my truth and my spirit, she's the heart that beats inside every note I play. She's right—she's my soul.