If someone asked me to describe home, my thoughts would go to her. The golden color of her hair, the angelic sound of her voice, the taste of her lips, and how soft her skin is under my palm. Even if it was a place that they wanted me to describe, she was my home.
I wanted her in every way that agonized me to the bone. Like a primal, wild animal, I wanted her in all the untamed ways one could imagine. But then I wanted her so tenderly, in a way that was pure and chaste where just the color of her eyes could send me to my knees.
Deep in my chest, I felt her absence like an ache within my soul. These feelings were unfamiliar to me, and it was nothing short of torture to want her and she was… She was gone.
Stella wasn’t even here, yet she was haunting me. Everywhere I looked in the suddenly cold confines of my home, there were traces of her. I couldn’t turn a single corner without seeing something that made me think of her or worry about her and her current wellbeing.
There was a dishtowel next to the sink in the kitchen that I know she left there. I picked it up, wishing it were her hand in mine instead.
When I looked in the dining room, I saw the vase of flowers on the dining table I got for her a while ago. The flowers were wilting, and a few petals aimlessly inhabited the center of the table. I couldn’t help but remember the nights we ate dinner together here and the smile on her face lighting up the room.
The blanket she liked to curl up with was sprawled across the couch in the living room. Picking it up, I felt the coldness in the fabric since now it had been days since she was here.
My bed was empty. The pillow she slept with still smelled like her, that delicious floral scent that followed her, but it was fading. At night when I laid down, I held the pillow to my face and inhaled the last traces of her smell.
She had clothes and minor items all over the place. A load of laundry left behind in the dryer. Random shirts in my closet. Her robe and all the things I bought her left behind in the guest room.
I didn’t stop calling her, texting her, or leaving her voicemails. She was avoiding me, and I didn’t know why. It pained me to think that I had done something wrong, that maybe I upset her. Yet when I thought of that phone call she received, I just couldn’t imagine what happened. Even if it wasn’t because of me, something was keeping her away.
All I wanted to know was that she was alright. Was she eating enough? Was she sleeping enough? Was she safe?
Would she come back?
Everything in my life felt pointless now without her. Work was aimless. Anything that interested me before was meaningless. My money was worthless.
Stella Sokolov was who I wanted, and if I didn’t have her, then I had nothing. I passionately desired to have her with me again. But what I could to bring her back if she was ignoring my attempts to reach out?
It’s been four days without her. The despair clawing a hole in my chest was causing me to become a shell of the man I was. I haven’t gone to work, I’ve barely gotten out of bed, and I didn’t recall the last proper meal I had.
It was no wonder how she left such a mark on me. Stella was glorious. The brightest star in the night sky that I could have devoted my life to. I would willingly go blind just to see her light one more time.
Halfway through Tuesday, I laid in bed staring out the window with no purpose. The sun outside was blazing, and the sky was deceptively clear when the weather forecasted more rain by the end of the day. When I heard someone incessantly ringing my doorbell, it interrupted my pointless thoughts about the weather.
My heart lurched through my chest, and I flung myself from the bed. The thought that maybe she came back to me pushed me into action as I propelled myself down the stairs.
Jerking the door open so hard, I almost pulled it from the hinges. I deflated like a balloon when I saw my aunt standing on the stoop to my front door. Her eyes took in my disheveled state, and a deep frown pulled her features down as she looked at me with sorrow.
“She is still gone?” Annika asked.
“Yeah,” my fingers strained on the door with my tight grip, but I let it swing open, “she’s still gone.”
My aunt walked inside, sweeping past me to the kitchen where she made tea. I sat on a barstool at the kitchen island watching her, feeling like a kid again. It wasn’t a good feeling on top of the chasm of loneliness in my chest.
“Your uncle tells me you haven’t been at work this week.” Annika’s tone was neutral as she set the water to boil on the stove.
“I’m allowed to use my hard-earned vacation days, aren’t I?” Instantly I cringed at the snip in my short words. Annika didn’t deserve it.
“Of course you are, Viktor. Jameson knows that.” She fiddled with the tea bags on the counter before looking up to face me. “You know, we are just worried about you. I’ve never seen you like this before.”
“Well, I’ve never felt like this before.” My head fell into my hands hearing myself say that out loud. A massive sigh escaped my lungs, and I wanted to sink into myself.
“Hm,” Annika hummed, tapping her nails on the edge of the counter. “Why is love intensified by absence?”
“Why indeed!” I shouted and pushed away from the counter. Facing away from Annika and her sympathetic gaze. My hands ran through my hair, pulling the edges.
Dropping my hands, I evaluated them and angled back to my aunt without looking up. “It drives me mad how I am just meant to hold her. When I hold her hand, our fingers perfectly lock together, and when we hug, her face fits perfectly in the crook of my neck while the curves of her body meld against mine.”
Both hands curled into tight fists, and I looked up at Annika, watching me intently. “My hands cup her face as if that’s what they were designed to do. It can’t be a coincidence that my body is capable of holding Stella so perfectly, because I was created to love her.”
There was a long beat of silence. As if Annika were letting me stew in my own words. Listening to what I said and analyzing it as I did the same.
My purpose on this earth was to cherish Stella, but she wasn’t here.
“Then love her, Viktor.” My aunt said it so plainly. Like it was the obvious answer. The solution to everything.
Sweeping my arms wide, I gestured at my desolate home. “Well, she’s not here, Tetya.”
“Bah! Glupyy mal’chik! Then go to her!” Annika’s words slapped me the same instant the tea pot began screeching from the stove. Annika whirled around without another word to me as she removed the water from the heat, letting me soak in what she said as she steeped the tea.
“I don’t know where she is, and she’s been ignoring all my attempts to reach her and has been for days.” I huffed and accepted the mug of tea my aunt slid across the island counter. It was chamomile. Stella’s favorite. “My best guess would be that she went back to her apartment, but that’s somewhere across the city.”
“And we have ways of getting information and finding people, don’t we?” She didn’t meet my eyes after saying that, only sipping elegantly at her tea.
Annika was talking about the underbelly of the Novak family. While we had a clean business on top, there was a darker side that Jameson Novak brought back with him from Russia. He did his best to keep me out of it, but as his nephew, it was unavoidable.
“I’m surprised you’re suggesting it. I know you don’t like it.” Annika had been more than happy to escape her life in Russia after falling in love with my uncle. Jameson brought us both back to the U.S. and gave us better lives than we would have had in our homeland. But she preferred to turn a blind eye to the darker side of the family.
“Normally, yes.” She set her tea down. “But you are distraught and pretty girl might need your help. I am also worried about her.” The crease in her brows told me that already.
“Okay.” I rubbed my hand over my face, swiping away the visible traces of my misery from my features and replacing it with determination. “I’ll have someone check on her for me. But if she’s fine, if I think she doesn’t need or want me, then I’ll let her go.”
“Brave thing to say, Viktor, but I know she needs you. Wherever Stella is and whatever she’s going through, even if she doesn’t realize it, I know she needs you at her side,” my aunt said, reaching across the island to take my hand. “There is no recovering from the intimacy you’ve fallen into with her. Love like this is rare, and you can’t let it go.”
“I won’t,” I squeezed her hand back, “I won’t let Stella go.” Suddenly I felt ten feet taller with that simple decision.
“Good.” Annika nodded and pulled her hand back. “Now go take shower and make phone call. You smell like kakat’.”
“What? I do not…” I stopped short after lifting my arm. “Fine. You can stay if you want, but I’m going now.”
“Net, I’ve accomplished my task. Just let me know when you find her.” Annika took one last sip of her tea before putting the glass in the sink.
“I will.” Even though she held her breath, I gave my aunt a hug on her way out. She lit a fire under my ass, and I was intent on knowing what was going on by the end of the day.
Rushing back upstairs, I turned on the shower. I grabbed my phone while the water heated and called someone I hadn’t talked to in over a year. I hadn’t needed to.
Anton Fitzgerald was a man who worked closely with my uncle for the Novak family, but he wasn’t an employee at Novak Incorporated. There was no doubt in my mind Anton also knew of Dax and his family, if that was necessary information. Whatever the situation, I knew he could find out at least what was happening with Stella.
He didn’t answer the call, as I expected, so I left him a message. That’s how Anton preferred to work, since he hated talking on the phone. He was nice in person and good at accomplishing whatever was asked of him, no matter how shady.
My shower was quick but thorough as I scrubbed away the layer of sadness and despair weighing me down. There was a new hope blossoming in my chest that made me feel better as I thought of finding Stella and finally seeing her again.
After my shower, I had nothing to do but wait. So, I got dressed and had my first actual meal in days. Every bite tasted like cardboard as my worry for Stella and anxiety to get a callback pinched my heart.
I should have known I wouldn’t get an answer immediately, but it still disappointed me as time passed. Outside, the sun was aiming for the horizon as dark storm clouds chased it away. I was on the verge of pacing a hole in my dining room floor as I watched the first signs of rain fall on my back patio.
When the sprinkles of rain turned into a steady drizzle and a crack of thunder shook the city, my phone finally rang.
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