He didn’t go to her funeral, and that sparked some interesting gossip amongst friends and relatives on her side, the same friends and relatives who never accepted him as one of their own. They said he didn’t love her, never cared. They said he didn’t have enough decency to at least pay his respects to the one who passed. They said he was inhumane, a demon, the worst of the devils. They were all wrong.
He didn’t go to her funeral not because he didn’t love her. It was because he did, too much, in fact, that he couldn’t bear to see her – dignified, confident and regal even in eternal sleep – enclosed in a marble container to be buried six feet under. All that dirt and sand and mud – it was unnerving. He couldn’t bear to see her like that. He could not, would not, will never accept it.
He sat solemnly in their – his – apartment, looking out of the glass window, observing the city before him. He did not cry, for his tears had already dried up when she was dying in his arms, cold and pallid.
He cried out in agony.
“I will protect you, I promise.” He wrapped his arms around her, pressing her against his chest.
She looked up at him, fire sparkling in her eyes as she grinned. “Thank you, but no.”
He opened his mouth in protest, but she silenced him with a firm finger pressed to his lips. “I can protect myself, Connor. You know that.”
“But still – ”
“I don’t love you because of your abilities, Connor. I love you because you’re you, because you’re still here despite everything, because you never lost faith in me.” She smiled, reaching out to touch his cheek. “So no. Thank you, but no.”
He gave her a stern glance, and she giggled in response. “Alright then, if you insist.” She placed a hand on his cheek. “Connor, we’ll protect each other.”
“Eva…” Connor whispered. “I know…I know what you can do, and I know that of all the women that are important to me, you, who are most important, need my saving the least. But I do not want to take chances, Eva. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you…
He was throwing a tantrum. It was very immature on his part, but he felt like thrashing about. Besides, it was his home. It was his mess. He screamed and yelled and screamed again. Finally, when his voice sounded rough and parched, he slumped against the wall, and he dragged his limp body to the floor. He swore his tears dried up just a minute ago, but he sobbed again when he felt the loneliness haunting him in the atmosphere of their – his – apartment.
I will never be able to forgive myself, Eva…”
“Are you sure about this, Eva?” He arched an eyebrow, tilting his head towards his new wife as his hands busied themselves with carrying in the large boxes into his – their – apartment.
“About what?” She spun towards him, sporting her huge lopsided grin that he loved so much.
“About moving into this apartment,” he said. “Because – uh, compared to that penthouse suite your uncle suggested, this is pretty…well, run down.”
“But I don’t want that penthouse suite.” Her expression turned into a grimace. “Why? Do you want to move in there?”
“No, I love it here.” Connor shrugged. “But…wouldn’t your family make a fuss out of this?”
“I love this place,” Eva assured him, taking one of the boxes from his grasp and setting it on the coffee table. “And who cares what they think? I mean, it’s not like this apartment complex is in one of those ‘bad’ neighborhoods. This place is really decent, and I feel homiest when I’m here.”
“Homiest?” He arched an eyebrow again, smirking.
“Well, you know.” She could feel the blush forming on her cheeks. “I mean…it’s not like you living here has anything to do with it! This is just a really nice apartment!”
“I love you.” Connor grinned, his eyes softening, and Eva turned redder at the sudden display of affection.
He looked awful. He hadn’t shaved for weeks, and he stunk of alcohol. The apartment was a bloody mess with bottles and papers and scraps of everything all over the place. He didn’t cry as much anymore, but once in a while, a tear would silently slide down his cheeks.
He drank day and night. He drank to forget, to numb the pain, to make the hurt go away. It worked – for a while. Then he’d turn somber, and he’d remember, and he’d start drinking again. He fed himself with beer and scotch and vodka and gin and tequila. The only time he’d drag his behind out of the apartment was when he’d buy more alcohol from the nearest convenience store. He’d pass out on the bed, the couch, the floor, the bathtub, the closet or whichever furniture he could fit his body into. The next day, he’d drink even more to ease the hangovers and the killer headaches. This was his life now.
“What do you think the names of our children would be?” He asked casually as they lay beside each other on their bed.
She stopped typing on her laptop, a small smile on her face. She turned to him. “Why? Do you want to have children?”
“If you do.” He shrugged, grinning. “Nothing wrong with wanting, now is there?”
She giggled, closing her laptop after saving her file. She placed the gadget on the bedside table, and she laid her head on the pillows. “Stella.”
“I’d like our baby girl be named ‘Stella’,” she said sweetly.
“And if it’s a boy?” His eyebrow arched amusingly, his tone challenging.
“Caleb.” She rested her head on his shoulder and turned her head towards him. “What do you think?”
“Beautiful.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder, bringing her closer to him and kissing her temple.
“What are you doing here?” He glared at the newcomer who stared at him for a while then sighed.
“Just checking up on you,” she said, looking around, slightly miffed with how messy his apartment looked and even more so with how unkempt his appearance was.
He noticed her pursing of lips and glared even more. “The hubby not with you?”
“You know that Luke is busy these days…after...” She looked tired, so tired, with eye bags haunting her eyes. She looked old – older than he remembered. Too old to be less than thirty. “I had some free time in my hands, so I decided to check up on you.”
“Thanks,” he said sarcastically.
“Connor, it’s been five months – ”
His eyes were like daggers, and his nose flared up. “Stop! Don’t tell me what to do and what to feel! You’re not the one who lost everything!”
“She was my best friend, Connor!” She yelled exasperatedly. “She was like the sister I never had, so don’t think for a second that you are the only one who lost someone important! Because I did too! Luke too! You lost your wife, but Luke and I lost a sister!”
Connor’s eyes softened. “Kyra – ”
Kyra covered her face with both her hands, sobbing uncontrollably. She sat on the floor, shaking her head, and Connor noticed the swelling of her stomach. She looked up to him. “I was supposed to tell her that day…I was supposed to take her out to lunch…ask her to be the godmother…and to…to name our child…but then – but then – ”
“I’m sorry.” Connor staggered to his friend, collapsing on the floor beside her and wrapped her in an embrace, trembling all the while. “I’m sorry…”
“It’s a girl…” Kyra sniffed loudly, clutching her bump. “It’s a girl…she would’ve loved a goddaughter…”
“She wanted our daughter to be named Stella.” A tear slipped down Connor’s cheek, and Kyra nodded before succumbing to her tears again.
“You’re not regretting this yet?” He leaned in, whispering in her ear as they swayed in the middle of the dance floor.
Eva scoffed, an expression badly suited with her exquisite white gown and the countless flowers adorning her head and arms. “Please, this is the best decision I have ever made – well, sans the whole extravaganza.”
“I can’t believe you’re still complaining about the make-over.” Connor chuckled. “You’re not going to make an exception for our wedding?”
“My tolerance level has a limit, you know,” Eva answered cheekily. “And besides, I’m sure you’d be very satisfied with me in just a plain sundress.”
Connor nodded, and then sighed. “Your…side of the family is staring.”
“They’re kinda glaring, actually,” Eva pointed out, amused.
“You’re making light of my situation, Sweetheart?” Connor narrowed his eyes at his bride.
Eva rolled her eyes then. “One would think that you would’ve ignored them by now. You know the only reason they’re here is for formality’s sake, right? If I were to have my way, the wedding ceremony would have you, me and the minister with Kyra and Luke as the witnesses, and the reception would be dinner with just our friends.”
Connor chuckled. “I’d like that.”
Eva sighed. “Why can’t they all be like Luke? If Mom and Dad hadn’t died so early, everything would be much easier then without this brouhaha.”
“I guess twin siblings understand each other more than any other blood related relatives,” Connor said thoughtfully, bringing Eva closer to him, his eyes landing on his now brother-in-law, Luke and Luke’s wife, Kyra.
“Connor, hey, can you hear me?” A man’s panicked voice was on the other end. “Hey, answer me, please.”
“Shut up, Luke,” Connor slurred, the phone barely touching his fingertips.
“Kyra – Kyra told me…” Luke started. “She told me the state you’re in. Connor, you need to stop.”
“What do you care?” Connor felt angry all of the sudden. He gripped the phone tighter and brought it to his ear. “You don’t know anything!”
“Connor, I do! Don’t you see?” Luke pleaded. His voice was shaking. “Please, Connor. Stop this. Eva wouldn’t want you to be like this!”
“Eva…” Connor felt like a vortex opened, and it started to suck him into a dark eternity. “Eva…”
“Connor, please listen to me,” Luke said. “I know that she’s your wife, but she’s my sister too! You’re my best friend, Connor, and I can’t just let you go on like this. Let me help. Let me and Kyra help. We’ll get through this, Connor. We will get through this together.”
But Luke’s words fell on deaf ears.
“Eva…” Connor whispered, his voice all choked up. He let the phone fall from his fingers.
“I’m sorry I’m not like Kyra,” Connor said as he wiped his chin with a napkin. They were at a dinner party with his wife’s side of the family, a dinner party which they were required to attend.
“Like Kyra?” Eva snickered. “Do you think I’m gay or something?”
“No, of course not.” Connor rested his chin on top of his clasped hands, observing Luke and Kyra talking to some of Eva and Luke’s relatives. “It’s just…I’m sorry my family background isn’t as…clean…as Kyra’s.”
“I don’t care about family backgrounds…if you think I married you because I knew it would spite those crazies regarding your background, then you’ve got a twisted sense of marriage, my dear husband,” she arched an eyebrow, following his gaze to her brother and sister-in-law. She tilted her head, “Besides, I doubt Luke married Kyra for her family background.”
“I guess you’re right.” Connor sighed, resting a warm hand on Eva’s. “Still…”
“You know, you should really stop being so conscious about everything. If they can’t accept your past, then screw them. The only acceptance that matters is mine, isn’t it?” She stated pointedly. “And for the record, just because you can’t change your past doesn’t mean that your past can change who you are inside. You’re Connor, the man I love, the man I married, the man who will forever be my husband.”
A moment of silence between them ensued, and Eva continued, “Connor, you are the kindest, bravest, most loyal man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, and I love you. Whatever happened before was never in your hands, but still you overcame your demons, and I’m so proud of you for that. They’re just too immature to see through that darn past like I do. Like Luke and Kyra do.” She gave him a reassuring glance, caressing his cheek. “So don’t mind them. They’re not important.”
“I’m not Luke, and I’m not Kyra, so I ain’t gonna give you pity.” A leather jacket clad man crossed his arms. “Look at you – pathetic.”
“If you’re just here to insult me – ”
“Give me some credit, Connor.” The man rolled his eyes, placing a sealed envelope on the kitchen counter. “The boss didn’t accept your resignation.”
Connor only stared.
The other man in the room gave a sharp sigh, “Look, what’s done is done. She’s gone. Eva is dead. There’s no point mulling over it.”
Connor glared at him, and he started to open his mouth.
“I lost my fiancée too, if you haven’t forgotten.” The man narrowed his eyes.
Connor swallowed, and he looked down at the floor, closing his eyes. “I just…Finn – ”
“Come back to work,” Finn said, placing a firm hand on Connor’s shoulder. “You can’t change the past; you can only move on from it.”
“My mother died at sunset,” she said, her eyes focusing on the dark horizon. “That’s why I look at the sunset as an end.”
Connor intertwined his fingers with hers. “So, that would mean that you look at the sunrise as a beginning then?”
“Yes,” she whispered into the air, a ghost of a smile gracing her lips. “It reminds me that no matter how dark everything is, there will always be light. There will always be hope. There will always be a tomorrow to look forward to.”
She turned towards Connor. “Tomorrow. We will always have a tomorrow as long as the sun rises every day. Always remember that.”
“Tomorrow, huh?” Connor wrapped his arms around her shoulders, resting his head against hers.
The word sang in his subconscious mind, and his head ached in pain and loneliness.
What tomorrow was he to look forward to, when the one sole reason he was still living was now gone?
“What else do I have to live for, Eva?” He yelled. “You’re gone…you’ve left me alone. There’s nothing else for me to live for!”
“A necklace? I’m a guy, Eva.” Connor arched an eyebrow, amused as Eva brought out a maroon amulet hanging on a very thick string.
Eva gave him a “whatever” look, and she rolled her eyes. “It’s a pendant, you dolt.”
“And again, I’m a guy.” Connor teased her with that annoying smirk of his that Eva always found endearing, until now anyway.
“It’s for luck,” Eva said knowingly. “For the marriage, and for my husband-to-be who isn’t in the room, I’m afraid. Have you seen him by any chance?”
“Haha, very funny.”
“You started it.”
“Fine, I’m guilty.” Connor raised both his hands in exasperation but then lovingly wrapped them around his fiancée’s waist. “So, what’s with the pendant?”
Eva smiled. “It’s supposed to bring luck to whomever wears it, and it’s kind of like tradition that the heiress give it to the one she is going to spend the rest of her life with. You can say it’s a family heirloom of sorts.”
“For luck, huh?” Connor grinned. “I don’t think I need any more of that. I’ve got you now, don’t I?”
“You never know,” Eva pointed out, almost scolding Connor. “Mom gave this to Dad before they got married.” Eva released herself from Connor’s grip and lovingly placed the pendant around his neck, caressing his cheek afterwards. “Now, it’s yours.”
“Thank you.” Connor held her hands in his. “This means a lot to me.”
“Keep it with you always,” Eva whispered, bringing her lips close to his. “And remember that I will always be with you and love you…”
“Always,” Connor whispered back before kissing her.
“Luck?” Connor said scathingly, ripping the pendant from his neck, throwing it to God knows where. “What kind of luck is this?!”
He let out a muffled sob, and he buried his face in his hands, curling on the bed into a fetal position. “Eva…Eva…Eva…”
He opened his eyes and gasped. “Eva!”
She was there, lying beside him on their – his – bed. She was smiling at him, her face radiant – not that she wasn’t radiant before. It’s just, now, she was shining and glowing; she looked like an angel. She is an angel, Connor realized.
“Shh,” Eva whispered, bringing a hand to his cheek. “I’m here, Connor.”
“Eva – I love you.” Connor’s eyes watered, and he swallowed a gulp. “Don’t leave. Please.”
“I won’t.” Her voice was so soft, so comforting. “I’m here, Connor – I’ll always be here.”
“Sleep, okay?” Eva said. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”
Connor jolted awake. Eva…
He was gasping, panting for breath. He felt his chest for a familiar pendant, and he found it gone. He searched for it frantically, “Eva, Eva, Eva…”
When he finally found it under his desk, he wrapped his fist tightly around the pendant his late wife gave him, and he sat at the edge of the bed. A tear slid down his cheek as he faced the window where the golden sun started to rise from the darkness. He felt someone sit beside him on the bed, a head gently resting on his shoulder.
“I’m here…” she whispered.
“What else do I have to live for, Eva?” Connor asked brokenly, sobbing. He closed his eyes. “You’re gone – there’s nothing left to live for.”
“Live for tomorrow,” she told him. “Remember tomorrow?”
Connor clenched the fist holding the pendant until his knuckles turned white. “What tomorrow?”
“It’s the future, Connor. A new day, a new hope.” Eva gently turned his face toward hers with her hands. “Tomorrow.”
“Will you…will you be there with me? Will you stay with me?” Connor asked her, his voice nothing more than a murmur.
“Always. Just remember, my love – tomorrow.” Her voice was a whisper. She placed a hand on Connor’s clenched fist, easing it to relax, and she repeated the last word over and over, her voice fading in the still room, until it disappeared completely.
Connor slowly and hesitantly stood up. He slumped back down on the bed. It seemed like something was holding him back, but finally, he was able to stand his ground. He tied the pendant around his neck, and he felt the cold metal lying against his skin. It was a familiar coolness on his warm flesh. He closed his eyes. “Tomorrow,” he said.
He opened his eyes, looking towards the rising sun, looking towards tomorrow.
He felt someone bump against him, and then he felt something really hot soaking through his shirt. He bit back a curse, and rightfully so, as the culprit was a beautiful woman with big round eyes and an angelic face which looked quite stricken with what she’s done.
“Oh my!” She exclaimed. “I am so sorry! I didn’t mean to – I didn’t see where I was going!”
He was transfixed by her beauty then. No, it wasn’t her beauty that entranced him. It was her innocence, her naivety. Living in a cruel and harsh reality, he learned to appreciate the good things in life, the innocent and the pure things. She was one of the innocent and pure things in his life, he’d later realize – the most important of all the innocent and pure things, rather.
“Uh, n-no…I – I didn’t see…either.” He managed to stammer out.
“I’m really, so very sorry!” The woman took out a handkerchief and started dabbing the cloth at his shirt. “God, I’m such a klutz! Oh, it’ll stain!”
He was getting really flustered at this point, having taken note of the fact that they were on a sidewalk where people were gawking at them. He caught her wrist in his hand, and a tingle ran up his spine. He paused, and he stared at her. She stared at him too.
It was an awkward moment.
“I – uh,” he started. “It’s fine. No harm done.”
“B-but…” the girl stuttered. “Let me make it up to you! At least let me do that!”
He released his hold on her. “It’s okay. It’s no big deal!”
“I insist! Please?” She looked like a lost puppy. That did him in.
“Then why don’t you treat me to coffee tomorrow?” He told her.
“Huh? Coffee?” She asked in surprise. “You sure you don’t want me to buy you a new shirt?”
“Just coffee will do.” He smiled at her tenderly.
“Oh, okay.” She nodded enthusiastically. “Why don’t we meet here tomorrow then? At three in the afternoon?”
“Sounds good to me.” He grinned.
“Alright then.” She took one step backward, and he noticed the fire in her eyes, the fire he’d grow to fall in love with. “Oh! I’m Eva, by the way. Eva Brandon.”
“Connor Lincoln.” He took out a hand, and she grasped it in a firm shake. “A pleasure.”
“Well then, Connor.” Eva smiled the smile Connor would learn to love in the years to come. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Connor nodded, amused with the whole situation. He smiled the widest he’s ever smiled in the longest time. “Tomorrow.”