“What do you say we go visit my mother for Christmas?”
Ray had been thinking about ways to drop that bomb, but he figured there was no right way to put it. Sky would be taken aback anyway. So he just blurted it out. And to say Sky had been taken aback was the understatement of the day. Her sapphire eyes widened in utter shock and she had stopped mid-chewing to gawk at him.
“Come again?” she swallowed against the lump in her throat.
Ray had been thinking about it for a while now. His mom was fairly insistent that he visited as often as he could before taking off to New York, and he found himself overwhelmed by the need to show off his love for Sky. He felt like containing it clawed at his walls and wanted to burst out in an explosion of colors and feelings. He wanted to rip this bond, this love, out of his very core and lay it on the table, in front of his mother, of his sisters, of his family; he wanted the people closest to him to tell him that it was real and tangible.
Although, clearly, he should’ve known better than to expect such thing from Sky.
“I may or may not have mentioned to my mom that there’s someone in my life,” Ray tilted his head sheepishly. “She wants to meet the girl who can screw with her son’s head like that. She claims to know I’m not that easy to impress.”
His attempt of a joke flew right past her, and by the look on her face, Ray could tell this wasn’t going anywhere.
He forced a smile.
“There you go again with the ‘Ray’,” he commented.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Sky crossed her arms over her chest, eyes narrowed.
“It means, Sky, it means that every time I try to take it one step further, you take two steps back. You ‘Ray’ me and I end up letting myself once again sweet talked into your ways. You always show up at night fall, always leave first thing in the morning. And I am having a hard time comprehending your methods.”
Sky looked as if she wanted to say something, but he was faster. He couldn’t let her shove excuses down his throat all over again. He crossed the room in a few steps and went to stand in front of her, cupping her cheeks in his hands and forcing her to look him in the eyes. Good Lord, he just hoped he had the strength to stare into those sapphire eyes himself without falling at her feet all over again.
“No, listen to me, Sky,” he spoke softly, and she did so. “I know you still feel like we need to conceal this thing that we have, for reasons I don’t understand and haven’t demanded. But, Sky… I could give you a million reasons why we belong in the daylight.”
She gently caught his wrists and removed them from her face, rubbing the back of his hands and averting her gaze. Eventually, she rested her hands on his chest and looked at him sadly.
“I don’t need a million reasons, Ray of Sunshine,” she whispered. “Just one. The right one. Just one strong enough to change my mind about how we belong on the night sky, like a constellation. But you don’t have that reason, do you, Ray?”
He sighed heavily.
“I wouldn’t know.”
She chuckled lightly at a joke Ray obviously missed.
“Guess you really wouldn’t.”
“Hey, mom. Yeah, no, I’m good. How are Lily and Sarah? Great, tell them I said hi. No, we won’t make it. Maybe I’ll drop by tonight for dinner. Yeah, I’ll try to be there, I miss you guys, too. Nope, just me. She said she can’t make it. Yes, mom, I know you wanted to meet her. I’ll see you tonight, okay? Okay, mom. Yeah, I love you, too.”
Sky turned up the volume of the radio in Ray’s car, moving her head in the rhythm of the song. Ray smiled warmly at her and at how childish she was and how efficiently she managed to find joy in every little thing, but still turned down the volume.
She turned to him, eyes narrowed in irritation.
“Any particular reason why you’re being a party pooper, Ray of Sunshine?” she hissed playfully.
Ray laughed whole-heartedly and made a left turn. They were on their way to the movies, after a whole argument that had ended in Sky calling him a wuss because he wasn’t a horror movies fan. So naturally, they were going to see the newest horror movie in cinemas.
“Yes, actually,” he answered her question. “Common sense.”
Sky dramatically rolled her eyes.
“Common sense,” she repeated in mockery. “That’s not a reason, that’s an excuse. What you, my friend, call common sense, I call boring. And what you call eccentric, I like to call having fun. You don’t happen to know anything about that, do you?”
Ray pursed his lips to hide a smile, not wanting to give her the satisfaction of being right.
But because Sky was Sky and no one told Sky what to do and because Sky was like a cat who liked to push glasses off the table just because she was told not to, she turned the volume back on.
“Watch and learn, Ray of Sunshine,” she raised her voice over the music, and Ray couldn’t resist the urge to roll his eyes.
And then Sky continued to surprise him. She rapped.
The song was some ’90s kind of rap that he could never bring himself to listen to. But man, his girlfriend could rap.
I like big butts and I cannot lie,
You other brothers can’t deny
That when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist
And a round thing in your face
You get sprung,
Wanna pull out your tough
Cause you notice that butt was stuffed
Deep in the jeans she’s wearing,
I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring.
She clapped her hands rhythmically and went on and on, yelling ’Baby got back’ from the top of her lungs, ignoring Ray’s occasional groans.
“This song is offensive,” he stated simply as soon as the song was over, not bothering to question the fact that Sky knew every damn lyric of it. He had ceased being surprised by anything she did. He was just open like a poem waiting patiently for the next verse. With Sky as a muse, he thought, the analogy was quite accurate.
“That song, my friend, is an anthem,” she pointed a finger at him, that playful smile of hers lingering on her lips and Ray was dying to kiss it away. He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white and did the math, counting how many more minutes he had to live through before they’d get home and he’d hold her again. His fingertips itched so badly, he barely heard Sky talking. “That song is a statement. One does not simply judge that song, Ray of Sunshine. An anthem, ya hear me?”
Ray chuckled and realized that the current song on the radio was one of Taylor Swift’s. He smirked smugly and turned to Sky.
“If that’s a statement and an anthem, then what is this?” he prompted, and Sky chuckled.
“That’s our fun cue, Ray of Sunshine,” she wiggled her eyebrows at him, and launched herself into another round of karaoke, even more energetic than the previous one.
Ray stopped the car at a stoplight and simply looked at her. Just took her in. Her flushed cheeks, arms waving in the air, hair glued to her temples, eyes closed and the most delicious smile on her lips that he wished it could end on his lips as soon as possible. She was happy right now, and he wanted so badly to keep her so.
So he did the only thing he could think of.
He sang along.
And man, did he rock Taylor Swift. He shook it off like never before, and when Sky realized he knew every damn lyric do ‘Shake it off’, her eyes widened for about half a second before she threw her head back laughing. She joined him and they sang together from the top of their lungs, Ray growing happier with every note that he put that little spark in her eye, that he was the one she looked at with such love.
And then he looked slightly to his left and his performance came to an abrupt ending.
“What’s wrong, Ray of Sunshine?” Sky giggled at him. “Ready to admit your defeat to the queen of karaoke carpooling?”
Ray was fairly sure he’d blushed to the tip of his ears, and he buried his face in his hands before the light turned green and he drove away.
“The guy in the next car,” he explained, mortified. “He’s working at the law firm that hired me. He’s an intern, too. Oh God, please tell me I’m not gonna start my internship with the reputation of having Taylor Swift gigs in my car.”
Sky tried to keep a straight face as he spoke and groaned, but when Ray turned to her, suspicious at her silence, she just couldn’t hold it in any longer and burst out laughing.
“Oh, Ray of Sunshine,” she said between giggles, barely containing her laughter at his utterly embarrassed expression. “I certainly hope that’s exactly how your reputation’s gonna be.”
“I’ve always wanted to crash a wedding,” Sky giggled, turning her back on Ray for him to zip up her dress.
She was so excited it was contagious. And the red dress hugged her curves in ways that made Ray’s blood boil in his veins. But this was all part of a well-thought plan they’d come up with for an unforgettable night.
Loosely translated, making good use of an impulse and of that promise from the night Ray had told Sky he was leaving.
We’ve got three months to be whoever we want to be. We’ll be someone else every day.
Therefore, two hours later, they were crashing a wedding reception as random guests. Guests no one had invited, but those were just technicalities. They walked inside the restaurant hand in hand, stealing the attention of everyone in the room. A fine young man in a tuxedo, with emerald green eyes, with a bright smile and broad shoulders, and at his arm, his muse. And what a muse. Red dress and crystal blue eyes and blonde curls spread across her back. Both ready to be whoever the circumstances decided they needed to be.
They hadn’t discussed scenarios beforehand, hoping it would make things even more interesting. In fact, Sky had suggested a bet about who’d crack and laugh first.
Ray and Sky turned to the waiter wearing the most serene expressions on their faces.
“I’m afraid I may have misplaced them,” Sky spoke lightly. “You see, we’ve traveled a long way for this occasion.”
The waiter didn’t sound too convinced, so Ray thought this might be a good time to step in.
“My name is Raymond Duchenne,” he said, the name rolling fluidly off his tongue, taking Sky aback with how accustomed he seemed to be with French. And with how insanely hot he sounded. “And this is my beautiful wife, S… Sylvie Duchenne. We caught the first flight from Paris to attend the holy unification of our distant relatives that we haven’t seen in an absurd amount of years. I guess we just happened to leave the invitations behind.”
“Yes, yes, indeed,” Sky confirmed. “You see, life with kids is never easy.”
Ray pursed his lips against a smile. He was gonna have such a hard time with that bet.
“In fact,” he continued. “Knowing our little Sophie, she might have stumbled across them accidentally and ate them. Toddlers.” He shook his head and saw Sky fight a smile with the corner of his eyes. “You can never be too careful with them. They’d shove anything in their mouth once their teeth start growing.”
Sky nodded, suddenly intensely serious. “Oh, and not only the toddlers. The twins Louis and Antoine are petite troublemakers at the kindergarten. Marie’s high school teachers call us in every week to complain about her grades. She and her sister Michelle are always giving the teachers a hard time.”
Ray faked a cough to cover his laughter. Now she was just making up French names, and he could see the waiter’s eyes widen as he was trying to do the math.
“But you know,” Ray played on. “As hard as it may get, I know I’m blessed having a woman like Sk… Sylvie by my side. She was an exotic dancer, you know, before she gave up her career and her freedom in order to raise our little ones.”
Sky snorted and the waiter’s eyes flew in her direction, but she cleared her throat to cover it up.
“Sorry, I think I might be catching a cold. The weather is not as mild here as the French climate,” she flashed a bright smile, then continued the discussion. “ And stop putting me on a pedestal, mon cher. It was nothing but a mother’s devotement. You’re the one who should be praised for running the family business and bringing the money home. Sure, running the casino is our backyard is often frowned upon, but we make no excuses for how we choose to live our life.”
The waiter’s eyes traveled back and forth between the two of them, clearly not knowing what to believe.
“How old are you?” he exclaimed eventually.
“25,” Sky answered proudly, then grabbed Ray’s arm, leaving the waiter gaping. “Now let’s go, mon cher, you promised me a dance.”
Ray nodded and kissed her temple, leading her on the dance floor. As soon as she was in his arms and they were out of ear sight, Ray let out a waterfall of giggles. Sky, however, kept her mask on.
“Is something the matter, mon cher?” she questioned so seriously, Ray could barely hold his shit together.
“Nothing at all, dearest Sylvie,” he answered. “I just miss the kids. I was thinking about some of the pranks the twins like to play on Marie and Michelle.”
Sky couldn’t hold it in anymore and hid her face in her shoulder as she giggled uncontrollably.
“A casino runner and an ex exotic dancer?” she questioned.
Ray simply shrugged as he swayed her flawlessly on the dance floor.
“Whoever we want to be, dearest Sylvie,” he said, and Sky shook her head and chuckled before kissing him senseless, not caring a bit that they were in plain sight at a wedding they had no idea whose was.
Today was not one of their best days, Ray thought. He could see the clouds of the fall out, of rupture, hovering on his sky. Over his Sky. She was slipping through his fingers like thin sand and he couldn’t bring himself to grab another handful. He was tired.
Sky was lying on his bed, her back turned to him, and Ray was lying by her side, face turned to the ceiling, hands rubbing his face. By the bed were a few empty bags that waited for him to pack his things into, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not yet.
“I only asked for a phone number,” he spoke with voice so lifeless, it made Sky’s heart shrink. “Or an address. Or an email. Hell, even a Facebook profile. Something to remind me you were real and that we had something and that wherever we are, I can find my way back to you.”
Sky sighed and got up from the bed, facing him.
“You don’t have to find your way back to me, Ray,” she said bitterly. “You have to find a way forward. To better things. To a bright future. I won’t hold you back. And I can’t ask you to keep pinning for a ghost.”
Ray stood up as well and went to stand in front of her, taking her hands in his and kissing her knuckles.
“But you’re not. Not holding me back, not asking me to pin for you. And you don’t have to. Because you could turn me around with just one word, Sky, and I’d stay. Hell, I’d stay for even the shadow of a whisper.”
She looked at him for a few seconds, then gently removed her hands from his and crossed her arms over her chest.
“I know you would. But I don’t think I can keep doing this.”
Two heartbeats and a half.
Right back to where it all started. It’s like they were walking backwards instead of moving ahead. It was as if every progress he’d made with her had been erased and he was back to elevator doors shutting in his face.
But he wouldn’t let her do this again. He wouldn’t let her shut herself away from him time and again.
He moved hastily and caught her cheeks in his hands, forcing their gazes to meet. It was surreal how after all these months, he still managed to get lost in those icy eyes, clear as blue skies and deep as oceans.
“Say it, Sky,” he whispered, his warm breath tickling her lips. “Tell me to stay. Ask me to stay and I swear I’ll drop everything for you. Ask me to stay and I’m yours for good. Not that it’s ever been otherwise so far.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head, but Ray wasn’t going to take no for an answer. He just couldn’t lose her.
“Maybe not right now,” he hurried to say. “Don’t give an answer you’ll end up regretting. Don’t give up on us, Sky, please.” He rested his forehead on hers and caught his breath. “Tomorrow morning. My train only leaves at noon, so I’ll be at the docks. All morning if I have to. Just… Be there. I’ll be waiting for you there. If you don’t show up, I’ll know and I’ll be on my way to New York. But—“ He swallowed hard before speaking again. “Show up.”
They stayed there, locked in a tight embrace, until Sky finally unfroze herself and got untangled from his arms. Then she walked away, leaving Ray behind with empty bags to fill and an empty silence screaming in his head as he nourished the hope that the girl he loved would grant him another chance to sweep her off her feet.
~Same night, a few hours later~
Derek was a few corners away from his apartment. He’d said his goodbyes to Ray and while he was gonna miss the hell out of his best friend, he was still glad he was facing the opportunity of his life. He just wished that opportunity didn’t have to be all the way across the country.
He noticed it was starting to rain, a few raindrops getting caught on his lashes, so he fastened his pace before getting soaked. Now, thanks to Raymond and his little girlfriend, every time it rained he couldn’t help but remember their little Nicholas Sparks moment in the rain. Moments, more like it. They did have this disgustingly sweet thing about rain.
But for the past couple of months, Derek did find himself daydreaming about disgustingly sweet. Okay, maybe disgustingly sweet was an exaggeration, but there had been a point that he couldn’t precisely name from which he’d started wishing he had something like that.
Lying to yourself much? his conscience scolded him. You know the exact same point when that happened. And you know exactly what something like that you want.
Yeah. He kinda knew. He just didn’t particularly want to admit it to himself. Because this was Cindy he was talking about and admitting that would’ve been like a car crash. Disastrous, mostly.
Ray had gotten him his blessing. Sort of. You could say that. Okay, maybe not per se, but it was implied. He said he could hardly wrap his head around it, and it was the most absurd thing he’d ever heard (huge exaggeration, in Derek’s opinion), but that Cindy was, all in all, a nice girl. And if Derek really wanted that, then who was Ray to veto his decision?
Which led to the real question. Did Derek really want that?
It didn’t matter anyway. It had been months. Ever since that morning in his apartment and that kiss on his cheek, Derek hadn’t heard from or seen Cindy. And he could not stop thinking about that kiss on the cheek, and that’s what unsettled him the most. It had been the most innocent interaction with a woman he’d ever had, and yet the one that had marked him the most.
Irrelevant, he told himself as he turned around the corner, only a few steps away from his building. Cindy was pretty much gone from his life with no signs of ever intending to show up again. He just had to stop thinking about her.
Derek stopped abruptly, suddenly oblivious to the cold rain making his clothes cling to his skin.
Maybe that was easier said than done, he thought as he took in the silhouette standing before him in the pouring rain, red curls dancing between the raindrops and shiny green eyes.
“Cindy,” Derek breathed.
She sniffed, and despite the rain on her cheeks, he could tell she’d been crying. She tried to speak, but her voice broke.
“I didn’t know where else to go.”
Derek sighed and his defenses took the highway straight to hell. He nodded and took her hand, leading her inside the building. This moment, he could precisely name. It was the moment in which she’d changed the pattern of the storm.