Lillian looked around her. She was surrounded by height of glamour and she knew she herself was the brightest jewel of that glittering party. Yet she saw nothing but darkness. At 25, she felt her past had been nothing more than a wasteland of glamour, parties and pretention. And the future hinted at nothing better. She was sick of all this. Sick of the artificiality and the shallowness of the life she was living.
‘Small price of being an heiress, my love,’ her mother had told her. ‘People don’t care to know how you are feeling. They are only interested in noticing how you are looking and what you are doing.’
‘Posing. That’s all that I’m doing, mother,’ Lillian had replied. Posing to the extent of being a loving sister to a brother who was after her life.
An only daughter of a millionaire business tycoon, she had been brought up as a model of elegance and style, even when she was a kid. She had loved telling jokes and clowning around when she was little. But her mother’s strict training had silenced that propensity. And a lot more besides.
She was now a glamour goddess, a fashion icon. She had enjoyed that till three years ago. But then, her brother tried to take her life. The brother who was three years older than her and had been her favourite playfellow during childhood. She had always enjoyed his pranks and mischievousness and had even shielded him at times from getting into trouble with her father. But that same brother had tried to kill her in a fake road accident. That was when Lillian had looked at the duplicity and shallowness of her life. And the more she observed it, the more she hated it. She had started feeling like a robot living an artificial life in an artificial world. As if she was no longer herself. And she hated that. What can be lonelier when you are even prohibited your own company?
Her eyes scanned the party throng to find out Robert. He was her friend because his parents were her parents’ friends. And the two sets of parents were now encouraging Robert and Lillian to become more than just friends. Robert had already started behaving accordingly. But his actions, instead of pulling her closer to him, were pushing her away. Lillian felt that to him she was nothing more than a coveted glamour doll and an heiress of multi-million dollar business empire. That was sufficient for him. But it was not so for Lillian.
Her eyes spied Robert surrounded by his usual gang. And at least two girls in that gang were blatantly throwing themselves at him at every little opportunity. His smirk told that he was enjoying the attention.
But Lillian had had enough. She felt that if she stayed at the party for two minutes more, she might end up creating some ugly scene. And that would have been a disaster because several journalists were present at the party with their cameras. So Lillian hastened out of the party hall. She had been driven there by Robert so had no vehicle of her own. Going out on the main road to hail a cab was out of question. She wanted to be alone, not surrounded by a mob of screaming fans.
‘Beach,’ she told herself. ‘Maybe a stroll on the beach would calm me down. Then I’ll come back and join Robert again.’
She turned her steps to her left and within five minutes was tramping on the beach. But still, the beach house where the party was going on was much too near. She spied some big rocks intruding on the nearly perfect stretch of sand. They were neither too near, nor too far. Lillian took her high-heeled sandals in her hands and broke out in a run to reach the privacy provided by those rocks.
The run on the wet sand with waves bathing her feet and legs again and again felt exhilarating and liberating. She ran faster and faster. In less than ten minutes she reached the rocks. Her long lavender skirt was wet and glued to her shapely legs. Her silken curls had broken out of their artificial confinement and now framed her face in a reddish-brown glory. Her eyes laughed with joy and her breasts heaved with exertion and excitement as she threw herself down in the cool shade of the rocks.
‘Finally alone!’ she breathed out, throwing her sandals to her side.
‘Not quite,’ a voice rose up from her side, making her jump to her feet. She turned and saw a young man smiling at her. His expensive boots and jacket were thrown carelessly on a rock near him. His shirt sleeves were rolled up revealing nicely tanned, muscular arms.
‘David,’ Lillian exclaimed. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Escaping the party. Same as you. You can sit down, by the way. I don’t own this bit of land.’
The sun was still almost overhead so the shade provided by those rocks was limited to a little space. Sitting down meant being close to David. And she didn’t think it was quite a safe thing. He was the elder brother of the only girl in her circle whom she had had a public fight with. That fight had forced her to maintain a distance from David too, for fear of creating more media frenzy. But she couldn’t deny the fact the he had always made her heart skip a beat. His bright, discerning eyes, his easy smile and his carelessness to the mandatory high-society formalities had always tugged at her heart. And…she had often observed him eyeing her from a distance. A couple of times he had even tried closing that distance. But her restricted responses had pushed him away at both times. He had not tried again. Only, whenever they had been in the same place, she had felt his gaze trailing her.
Now, the distance was no more. They were both there, hidden behind rocks and cocooned in a small bit of land. Alone. The thought raised a warmth to her cheeks. She knew she should move away. But then he smiled at her, held out his hand. And her knees buckled.
The two sat together, staring at the sea. Neither of them spoke a word. But weirdly, it seemed ok.
The sun and wind soon dried the soft and translucent fabric of Lilian’s skirt. It fluttered gaily in the wind as she sat with her long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles in front of her. As a particularly strong gust of wind fluttered through her skirt, she heard David chuckle.
‘What happened?’ she asked.
‘I was just thinking that if a plane passed over us now, the pilot might mistake you for a mermaid with a shimmery lavender fishtail,’ said David.
Lillian smiled at that, then sighed. ‘I wish I were a mermaid. Mermaids are free.’
David eyed her for a long moment. ‘And you are not?’ he asked in a soft voice.
She said nothing, but her eyes staring into his gave her answer.
‘You are free, Lillian,’ he said, bringing his face dangerously close to hers. ‘You are free if and when you choose to be so,’ he said, cupping her cheek tenderly in his hand.
She did not pull back. A shiver ran through her at his touch. A shiver that didn’t escape his notice. He responded with an impish smile and inched forward.
He lightly touched his lips to hers. A slight contact that was over too soon and yet shook her up to the core of her being. Her eyes closed and she lifted her face to invite more lightening.
This time, he didn’t hold himself back. He had been holding himself back for far too long. Holding himself and yearning. But he had understood why she kept distant from him. He knew well what it meant to be perpetually in the media glare and the restrictions it imposed. He had respected Lillian’s wish of maintaining a distance between them. But now, he understood her need. And his own need for her broke free.
His lips touched hers again, this time pressing harder. Lillian’s toes curled up with desire and a soft moan escaped her. She chided herself for it. But she already knew that things were no longer in her control. His lips urged hers to open up. She was beyond resisting already.
‘Do you feel free now?’ David whispered, moving his lips just a hair-breath away from hers. His fingers traced a burning path down her neck.
‘If you want more freedom, I can help you with that,’ a rude voice jolted them apart.
‘Sam! What are you doing here?’ Lillian exclaimed. The eyes of her brother were glaring down at her. And they shouted clearly enough that he was there for no good.
‘Just taking advantage of an opportunity, sis,’ Sam replied. He bent down for a moment and pulled out a pistol from his socks. The next moment, that pistol was aimed at Lillian.
‘You can’t do this! She’s your sister,’ said David, jumping to his feet.
‘Sister who is to inherit all of our father’s property,’ said Sam.
‘You would not have lost your share of property had you not disgusted Daddy with your sick ways,’ Lillian said. ‘Daddy loves you too but you have hurt him and his reputation. If you mend your ways, I’m sure he will change his will.’
‘Or if I just kill you, I can have it all. My share and your share. Dad will have no choice then. That sounds better to me. I’ll kill you, dump your body in the ocean,’ Sam said, pointing towards the roaring ocean. ‘And then I’ll tell everyone that I had seen you with David, your enemy’s brother. Press will do the rest in proving him guilty of your murder,’ said Sam.
Lillian knew he was not joking. And his plan had all the likelihood of getting successful. She had not been too pleased with her life in the past few years. But as its end seemed near, the desire to live throbbed hard in her breast and fear rose up spiking her every pore.
‘That sounds like a good plan,’ she said, staring into the eyes of her brother. Her mind raced to find a way out of the situation. She knew her life was in danger. But she was not going to plead for mercy. ‘Just one thing, I have heard that even the best plan has a loophole. Are you sure yours has none?’ she asked, still maintaining the eye contact. She saw her brother waver in doubt.
The doubt lasted for only a moment. ‘Don’t try to kid me, sister. The plan is foolproof,’ he declared, aiming the pistol at her.
Just then, from the corner of her eyes, Lillian saw a sudden movement. It was David. He moved quickly and a sort of cloud rose up from his hand. Sam shouted out in pain as the sand David had thrown at him entered his eyes.
‘Damn you!’ he shouted, pressing the trigger of his pistol. But he had fired blindly and the bullet zipped safely past as Lillian and David ducked.
While Sam blinked his eyes and tried to clear the sand away, David hit at his hand and made him drop the pistol. Sam bent down to recover it but Lillian snatched it up first and lifted it in her handkerchief.
Meanwhile, David had stepped closer to Sam and wrenched his arms behind his back. ‘Move,’ he ordered. Sam had no option but to move. He was a strong young man, but no match against David’s toned and well-muscled body.
Lillian followed them as David led Sam back towards the beach house.
The gunshot had alerted other guests at the party. When David and Lillian came out from the shadow of the rock and crossed over to the other side, everybody from the beach house was already out and wondering who had fired.
David raised his hand and waved at them. ‘Keep quiet and let me handle this,’ he told Lillian as the crowd at the beach house started running towards them. She had no objection to it.
Two press reporters were the first to reach them. One had the camera focused on them, the other was shouting into his phone as he ran. He cut the call upon reaching David and Lillian and looked at them with glee. Both knew what he was thinking, ‘Breaking News!’
But before the reporters could begin their questions, David was ready with his story.
‘Lillian and I were strolling on the beach. Sam came a few minutes later, with this pistol in his hand,’ David said, pointing at the pistol that Lillian held. ‘He threatened to kill her and said he’d frame me for her murder. He even fired a shot but missed, fortunately.’
‘You and Lillian were strolling on the beach together? Behind the rocks?’ the reporter asked, hunting for the juiciest bits of the scandal.
‘Yes,’ David replied, without a shade of hesitation in his voice.
‘But Lillian had a fight with your sister. Twice. They hate each other. And Lillian is engaged to…,’ the reporter said.
‘Lillian is not formerly engaged to anybody,’ David interrupted him. ‘And the fights between her and my sister is old news now. They don’t hate each other anymore and I’m sure they’d be friends again if they meet more frequently. And they would, if Lillian approves to what I have to say next,’ said David, beginning to smile.
‘What?’ Lillian asked, although the joyous dance of her heartbeat had already started celebrating.
David stepped over to her, took her hands in his and looked into her eyes. In a moment his eyes had asked the question and hers had responded. But the world needed words. So he let them out.
‘Lillian, do you think I’m good enough to be yours? Forever?’
Lillian laughed at his words. And then nodded as tears welled up in her eyes. This, finally, was something that was true. His love for her. And her love for him. Broken free from the barriers of artificiality and restraint.
‘I love you, David,’ she breathed out. She had finally realized that. Maybe that’s why Robert’s nearness had irritated her so much. Her heart had already flown over to another.
‘And I have always loved you, Lillian,’ he said, smiling at her. The next moment, his arms encircled her and he pressed her close to his heart.
And in that instant, Lilian knew she had found what her soul had been yearning for. A home in a loving heart that wanted her for herself, and wanted it with a passion that she had neither energy nor desire to resist. Finally, the world felt complete. She too wrapped her arms around him. She knew cameras were flashing around them and people were talking. But she only heard the music of her heart beating with his. Nothing else mattered. She was free. David had freed her by binding her in his love.