"I see you in my sleep."
After spending their time wandering around London and exploring each other’s minds and bodies in their homes, Mariana and Jace flew back to Austria the day before her flight to New York. Mariana was watching the sky bathing in orange, pink, and purple clouds as the sun slowly set down to the other side when Jace rested his head on her shoulder. He snaked his arm around hers and sighed as he stared at her legs.
"I hope you’re not tired," nestled Jace on the crook of her neck.
She smirked and faced him, running her hand in his bouncy honey-coloured waves. His left hand teased her by caressing her upper thigh underneath her skirt, and her breath hitched as he sucked the soft skin of her exposed neck. Biting her lips and moaning, she asked, ”Why? Are you ready for round three?"
"Yes," he murmured. ”But let’s save that for tonight. I want your energy saved up."
When they arrived in Vienna, Jace asked his assistant to take their luggage to Mariana’s hotel, for they have somewhere else to be. Confused, Mariana asked what he meant, but Jace only gave her a mischievous grin. Since the sun hadn’t set in Austria yet, Mariana once again watched the skies, mesmerized by nature’s beauty and grace.
"We’re here," enthused Jace as he gripped tighter onto Mariana’s hand.
She gazed up from the taxi cab’s window. ”Schloss Schönbrunn!" She gasped.
"Shall we?" offered Jace, sticking out his elbow for Mariana to take.
He led her to the beautiful garden. They meandered aimlessly, just talking and imagining what would happen next for their future. If only Jace hadn’t had works in line, he was sure to follow Mariana wherever her whims would take her. Though she would do the same, she knew her courage wasn’t up to the level as Jace’s. So, hand in hand, they promised to talk to each other online and surprise each other by showing up to their doorsteps whenever they could.
The sun was low and almost half onto the other side of the world when they reached the end of the garden. They climbed the steep walk path and headed to Café Gloriette.
"How peculiar," voiced Mariana. ”I have read in an article on the internet how this place is always booming with locals and tourists. And the sun has set already, so how come there’s nobody here?"
Chuckling beside her, Jace pointed to the glowing building, ”Technically, my dear Mari, there are."
Mariana squinted her eyes despite already wearing her glasses. The pavilion was shimmering in the low rays of sunset, and she saw servers lined up inside of the building. But there were no customers to attend. ”How...? Jace, did you make a reservation years ago?"
"I just phoned, my sister is a friend of one of the managers. Hence, it’s ours for the hour." He stretched his arms out, the other hand still holding Mariana’s. ”Surprise!"
Her mind ran as she gazed at the glass windows, ”I have no idea Jace Richardson’s name is this massive to the extent of having such kind of treatment." Bewildered, Mariana pulled him and planted a lingering kiss on his lips. ”You weirdo."
"I am your weirdo," he kissed her cheek.
He opened the door for her, and what occurred to her eyes was a grand spacious hallway. There were tables placed everywhere, but one only for two with lit candles was in the middle of the room.
"Jace?" she stammered. It felt like he was going to propose to her, and it scared her. Her inner fear was resurfacing from the darkest and deepest part of her sorrows.
Unaware of Mariana’s uncertainty, Jace led her to the table. On cue, a quartet started playing her favourite piece, Camille Saint Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals: The Swan, when they sat across each other.
"Mariana Lorraine Leighton-Greene," Jace started and enveloped his large hand atop hers.
"Why did he say my full name?" she thought, making her heart pump abnormally.
"For the past two months, you have made me the happiest man alive," he continued. But Mariana was drowning in her thoughts of ”WTH!" continuously running in her head.
"Oh, Jace, please don’t. I don’t think I can bear the look on his face if I turn him down." her mind swam deeper.
Jace took a deep breath and reached inside his blazer —
"What are you doing, Jace?"
He only smiled at her. ”My dearest...," and showed his palm; a small envelope appeared.
Her heart stopped, for she thought it would be an engagement ring.
"It’s the finished song I had worked with a songwriter I know," he smiled sheepishly. ”I’m no artist like you, my dear, and no way near good at writing poetry. But I hope with this..., you’ll know how my world turned upside down." He chuckled.
Mariana sighed in relief as tears formed in her eyes. ”Oh, Jace, no one has ever done something so sweet to me," she whispered happily, squeezing tighter onto his hand. She took the envelope and cradled it on her chest. ”I will cherish this forever, Jace."
Jace lit up, brighter than the glowing lights of the pavilion. He took a deep breath and interlaced his fingers in hers. ”I love you, Mariana."
The tears fell from her eyes as she gasped, for it was the very first time she heard it from someone sincere other than her family. ”I..." she stuttered and closed her eyes, breathing it all in. When she looked at the man who was patient enough just to be in her life, her lips upturned, and she reached for his cheek, and he leaned onto her touch. ”I love you, too."
Jace chuckled, his eyes twinkling in delight.
"For a moment, I thought you were gonna propose," she admitted as the waiters served them a cup of tea and pastry.
With an amused grin, Jace shook his head. ”I know you’re not ready for that, my dear. But we’ll see how everything goes, yeah?"
Blissful and in cloud nine, Mariana caressed his leg with hers as she dreamily nodded at her cheesy boyfriend.
Later that night, the couple wrapped in each other’s embrace and warmth as if it would be the last time they’d be together after the foreboding separation.
And indeed, it would be their last, for the Heavens had another plan awaiting for the ornery Mariana.
Starting the last school year of her life, Mariana and Jace tried their best to keep the magic alive through Skype, Snapchat, and all the other online social media every time they were free. But with the different time zones and loaded schedules, the pair couldn’t find the right time to communicate with each other.
If Jace was free from photoshoots or filming and ready to talk to his beautiful girlfriend, Mariana was in the middle of a lecture or doing projects for her classes. If she was free, he was busy with filming or catching up on his sleep. And when they finally had chances to talk to each other, the only thing they did was argue, and it was getting out of control.
They miss each other, their physical touch and emotional understanding. But what Mariana and Jace had back in Europe was fun and vibrant, and not having that physical connection every day was driving them mad. Though they wanted to visit each other, they didn’t have much time to spare.
And the longer their argument went, they also felt like growing apart.
Mariana wished she had ended their relationship during her last day in Europe, ”So my memory of him is the most pleasant one, not us arguing all the time."
When they couldn’t take it anymore, Mariana decided to phone him. ”Hello."
"Hey," said Jace, his voice tired and plain. ”How are you doing, dear?"
It stung her, and she let her teardrops fall. ”Are you still happy with me?"
She could hear him shifting and was surprised to see that he wanted to have a video call with her. Before accepting it, she wiped her eyes and tried to show him a cheerful smile.
"Why are you asking me that, Mari?" his voice cracked, and his eyes pleading. ”Aren’t you happy with me?"
She put her mobile down so he couldn’t see her crying her eyes out.
"Mari? Please talk to me; we can still fix this," his voice roared from the electronic. ”Please, look at me."
"Can we really?" she asked, and when Jace couldn’t find the correct answer, Mariana smiled wistfully. ”See? I’m sorry, Jace, I love you so much."
"And I love you," Jace lowered his head. ”Perhaps, in the future, when time is more generous, we could be together again."
Mariana nodded. ”Perhaps. I think we rushed into our relationship."
Jace couldn’t agree or disagree, for she was the best thing in his life, and so it was to Mariana. He saw her even if she was the most invisible wallflower and the most hard-shelled he had ever met. ”We can stay friends." He suggested. ”You’d get to boast to anyone, you know me," a playful smile spread across his gorgeous face.
"I’m not sure," she shook her head. ”That would be torture. What if you move on, and I get to see how happy you are with someone else?"
If he could hold her in his arms and reassure her ambivalence will never happen, he would. But they didn’t know what the future held for them.
"Please?" Jace reached his hand on his screen, wanting to caress her soft skin. ”To me, not having you in my life would be torture."
"I love you, Mariana."
"I love you, too, Jace."