When I opened my eyes, I was lying on the bed in our room, and it was dark with the curtains closed, but light came from the living room. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. Erik was sitting on the couch in the other room, reading a book.
“Good morning, sleepyhead.”
“Morning? I slept all night?”
“No,” Erik said as he set down his book and came to the bed. “It’s just an expression.” He lay down next to me and propped his head on his hand. “Are you hungry?”
“A little. What time is it?”
“Not quite seven. I got something from room service. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not,” I said, getting off the bed. He watched as I went into the adjoining room. On the table was a platter with fruit and cheese and meat and bread. I looked back at him. “Aren’t you coming?”
“No,” he said as he sat up and rested against the headboard, his hands behind his head, “I already ate. You go ahead.”
The food was delicious, fresh and light, but I felt a little uncomfortable eating while Erik just watched me. He must have noticed because he had a small smile on his face that said he was amused. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I put down the pineapple in my hand.
“Erik, stop staring at me!”
“Why? I love looking at you. It’s like studying a living, breathing, perfect work of art.”
I rolled my eyes at him, and he only raised his eyebrows.
“What? You don’t agree?”
“I definitely wouldn’t agree with perfect,” I said.
He got up off the bed and came to stand behind me. “You are perfect for me, Sarah,” he said, resting his hands on my shoulders. “You told me you wouldn’t change anything about me, and the same goes for you. You are perfect, and I love you.”
“I love you, too, Erik, but what happens when I do something that isn’t so perfect?”
I huffed. “I don’t know. Something that makes you mad at me.”
He squeezed my shoulders. “Angry or not, Sarah, nothing will ever make me stop loving you.”
I tilted my head back, looked up at him, and sighed. “I just hope I can live up to your expectations.”
“I have no expectations. I didn’t expect to ever find love, and certainly not with someone like you. I never expected to be a father or to have friends I can rely on for anything.” He inhaled deeply, and his voice shook slightly when he continued. “As a child, the only thing I expected was pain and confusion as to why I was experiencing it. Even right before my father almost killed me, at sixteen years old, that’s all I expected. I never knew there was anything else. We had no neighbors that I was aware of, and obviously, no one ever came to the house. I never even knew there was a town nearby. I thought that the entire world consisted of my father, my mother, and me in that horrible little shack.” His voice caught, and I turned around and knelt on the couch. His eyes were open but staring at nothing, and he was breathing rapidly.
“I thought I knew what pain was,” he said, his eyebrows coming together. “I’d had broken bones and welts and bruises and God knows what else, but I never hurt as much physically as I did inside when my father killed Doctor Clark and forced my mother to suicide. I thought I was going to die from that pain; I wanted to. If it hadn’t been for Sebastian, I probably would have killed myself. I was seventeen years old and knew absolutely nothing about how the real world worked. I was suddenly a millionaire, and all I knew was that I just wanted to see my mama again. And all the money in the world can’t make that happen.” A tear trickled down his cheek, and I got off the couch and hugged him tightly. He pressed me to his chest almost desperately.
I didn’t say anything. I knew, of course, that his parents were dead, but I had never heard this story from him, and I didn’t want to interrupt.
“I don’t even know how she died, Sarah. My father never said anything before I…before he died. I don’t know if she suffered or if it was quick. I don’t even know if it was suicide. For all I know, he killed her, too.”
I was crying at this point, and Erik’s arms tightened around me.
“I have no grave to visit, nothing of hers to pass onto my children, nothing of hers to remember her by.”
I looked up at him, my face wet with tears. “You have your memories.”
He frowned and clenched his teeth but still didn’t look at me. “That’s all I have; that and the things I create so that I don’t forget her. I’m so afraid that I’ll forget what she looked like, what her voice sounded like, how beautiful she was the rare times she smiled at me. That’s part of the reason I made that bust of her, you know. So I won’t ever forget her face. So I can tell our children about how strong she was. So they can know what she looked like.”
Abruptly, he let me go and spun around, his hands clenched and his shoulders hunched. “I hate him so much, Sarah. He’s dead, and every day I wish he wasn’t so that I could terrorize him again and again and again until he knew what we went through every day. Every single day that I can remember!” He took a deep breath and stood up straight, but he stayed facing away from me. “I can’t remember a day when there wasn’t at least a punch or a slap or a shove into the wall or across the room. And I still don’t know why! What did we do to make him so angry at us?”
“You did nothing, Erik,” I said. “He was an evil, sadistic man who conveniently had you and your mother as available victims for his torture. Just as my mother was evil.”
Erik walked to the open veranda doors and rested his forearm on the doorjamb and his head on his arm as he stared out across the water.
“I miss her, Sarah. So much. Every time I think it won’t hurt so much to think about her, I find out that I am wrong.”
I went to him and wrapped my arms around him. “I wish I could tell you that it will get easier, but I can’t. I don’t know if it will or not.”
We stood there silently for a long time, watching the sky change from blue to orange to red to black. When the stars filled the sky, Erik gently kissed my forehead and, without a word, got ready for bed. I watched him as he climbed into bed, and my tears came anew when I heard him sob. I hurried to the bed and sat down next to him. I tried to take his hand, but he moved so that his head was in my lap. I gently stroked his hair as he cried himself to sleep, thinking once again that my husband was still, in many ways, just a scared, broken little boy who wanted his mama.