Leila woke with a start. It took her a while to fathom her whereabouts and then it all came rushing back. She was in Almanacarre.
She was in the bed she had shared with Marco only months ago. There had been long nights of passion and what she could only describe as some of the best moments of her life. Those nights when he had been so open and honest with her, when she glimpsed his heart and learned his love through his touch and kisses. When the whisper of words in a language she had yet to know but understood filled the silence between touches. When he’d only had to reach for her to feel she was where she belonged. In his arms. In his bed. Only now, she realised, as she spread a hand over the cold silk covers next to her, that it was empty.
The events of the night floated through her head as she tried to shake off the sleep. Calina had prepared an elaborate feast but Leila had only managed a few mouthfuls. Delicious though it had been, nausea prevented her from truly enjoying Calina’s culinary skills. She had staved off the intense looks she had received from both Calina and Mira and hoped the feeble excuses she made could sufficiently appease them. She was only grateful that Marco had not picked up on those meaningful looks.
Later, when she had expressed her wish to freshen up before they discussed the annulment, Marco had seemed somewhat relieved.
“I think that would be best,” he said. “Your room is ready and I’m sure Mira will find everything is in order.” His formal tone grated a little on her nerves. Yes, she had noticed the strain on his face and his genial politeness. And if she did not know him better she would have been offended. But she knew he was controlling himself. So he kept his distance. Only every now and then she would find him looking at her, and she was sure she could see relief and perhaps a hint of hope before the guard would drop and he would force the stoic façade back into place.
She had intended a quick shower and a change of clothes. The day had been long and she was exhausted. And it didn’t help that Mira had decided to broach her suspicions the moment they were out of Marco’s earshot.
“Princess, I am going to be very frank.”
“Mira, I’m tired and I really don’t want you to be frank right now. Besides whatever it is I am sure you’re wrong. We both know how you love going off on your tangents.”
It was not the first time she had been overcome by the bouts of nausea, but it was the first time it was this intense and in the presence of another. Leila pursed her lips it hit her. Then decided to take a deep breath. “I think I can take care of myself, you can go.” But getting rid of her pesky companion was not going to be an easy task.
As she felt a wave rise up, Leila hoped she could make it to the bathroom in time. She took another deep breath and hurried into the room Marco had insisted she use.
“If you are, in the … condition I think you’re in then I would …” Mira continued as she followed close behind.
“This is not the time Mira!” Leila almost ran into the bathroom and only just managed to make it to the basin in time. With every violent wretch, she thought she was slowly dying. She vaguely registered Mira at her side, supporting her when she felt her legs buckle from under her. Finally, when the wave had passed, she was able to sit on the tiled floor and lean against the vanity, her face wet with exertion.
Mira stooped to her level and placed a damp cloth on her forehead, her ‘I-knew-I-was-right’ expression was more than Leila could stand in that moment. She pulled the cloth from Mira’s hand.
“I don’t know why they call it morning sickness. It should be called all-day sickness.” Mira said as she stood up again.
“I don’t know what you’re on about.” Leila shook her head vigorously in denial only to have her head pound with each movement. She wished she could just place her head against the cool tiles, stretch out and just lay there forever.
Holding the damp cloth to her head, Leila picked herself up and concentrated on walking back into the bedroom.
“You have to tell him.” Mira was right behind her again.
Leila tried to pretend to look for something, careful not to catch Mira’s eye.
“Again. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You think Calina will keep it to herself.”
Leila stopped and finally looked up.
“She has guessed as well, you know. Women have a sense for these things. We know.”
Leila felt another wave of nausea hit her and she ran back into the bathroom.
After eventually getting rid of a frustrated Mira and then taking a long shower, Leila lay down on the bed. Still in her robe, she told herself that she would just rest her head for a few minutes before she went down to speak to Marco about the annulment. The sun had long disappeared but as summer had left weeks ago with a long sigh, the nights had grown longer.
She must have fallen asleep, she thought as she tried to guess the time. There was a deep silence, the silence that only sounded in the dead of night. The room light was a dim glow. She noticed a throw placed over her and a pillow at her side. Mira?
No, Marco! With her eyes now accustomed to the semi-darkness, she could see him uncomfortably stretched out on the chaise longue. His head was lolled onto one side, asleep although very awkwardly. She found herself smiling and then touched by his presence. Perhaps he did care for her after all.
She shifted and rose from the bed. The slight movement seemed to have brought him out of his repose.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” she said.
“I was barely asleep.” he lifted his legs off the longue. “This ridiculous piece of furniture was not built for comfort.” He pulled himself up and stretched.
“No.” She laughed.
“Rested?” He asked as she came toward him.
He ran a hand through his hair. It was longer than usual, dark curls whirled around the sides of his face yet his fingers glided through it easily.
“You should get back under the covers. Rest.” He reached for her, then decided against it.
She wondered if she’d ever seen him this unsettled before. “I’m fine. We can talk.”
“Maybe in the morning, mmh?” He was up, moving around her toward the door.
She would have let him go. Let him walk out the door. Allowed the chasm of uncertainty to grow even further between them. But something stopped her. She placed a hand over the slight flutter in her belly and called out to him.
“Don’t go. Please.”
He hesitated and then turned toward her.
“This can’t wait.” The large glass doors opened onto the balcony. Leila crossed the room. The curtains were drawn but she stood there anyway, her back to him, her mind seeing the view imprinted in her memory. She pulled the robe tighter about her, suddenly cold.
“Leila. I know what you want to say.” She could hear he had come closer.
“You do.” For a brief moment she wondered if Mira was right. Did Calina guess her secret? Could she have told Marco?
“You want a divorce. Instead of the annulment. And if that is what you want then that is what you will get. Just write down a figure. I will settle no matter how much.”
“You think I want money!” She spat out the words.
“No I don’t think that. I really don’t know what to think. I’m stumbling in the dark here, Leila.”
For the first time Leila could see that Marco was frazzled. He threw both hands in the air and said, “I just want to give you what you want. You didn’t want this marriage from the beginning. So if it is a divorce or an annulment…”
“Neither! I want neither of those options, Marco. I am sick and tired of you doing as you please. Making decisions that affect me without even once asking me if it’s what I want in the first place. You assume and then unilaterally decide what’s best for me. No more!”
“Leila, what are you saying.” Marco took a step toward her.
The floor felt unsteady and Leila quickly reached out a hand and grabbed Marco. He pulled her to him, fiercely. She lay her head against his chest. His heart beat raced against her ear and soothed her. “I have to tell him,” she thought. “this has gone on long enough.”
Marco closed his eyes as his arms encircled Leila. How many times had hoped for just this very moment? He unconsciously stroked her hair as she settled into him.
“This feels so right, Cara.” He realised he said it out aloud but he was damned if he cared.
“Leila, I don’t want us to go our separate ways.” He felt the rest of the words stick in his throat but he knew he had to say them. “I’ve railroaded you into a marriage you did not want. I practically forced my way into your life. I should have done things differently. I can’t begin to tell you how I regret what I’ve put you through…” He pulled her closer and realised he may never be able to let her go.
“You regret us?” she pulled back until her eyes could meet his.
“No, no! I… I could never regret being with you. You have been the single most wonderful presence in my life.” He kept her within his arms when she tried to move away. “Cara, I cannot imagine my life without you. But I have perhaps gone about loving you in the wrong way.”
Her quizzical expression prompted him to further say, “I regret how I’ve done things. But it was done out of love.” He sighed then. “And I know I have to let you go. It’s the right thing to do.”
He did not expect her reaction. He had hoped for it, in the small corners of his heart and soul. He had prayed for it in those dark moments when all he could do was long for her in the deep never-ending nights they had spent apart.
“No Marco! You do not decide for me! Not anymore.” Her eyes held that new determination. A fire he had glimpsed earlier. She flattened both palms on his chest. Her eyes closed momentarily and she drew in a deep breath. “I do not want to be let go. I do not want a divorce or an annulment. I want to be with you. I love you, Marco!”