Chapter 36 | Hard Questions
The sun was setting and its bright rays slowly overthrew the shadowing of the clouds passing by. Everyone was going home from work, excited to see faces of family.
That wasn’t the case for Elizabeth. As soon as she exited Brick, she had this feeling that home was too much of a lonely place for her to think.
Now, as she had the slight freedom to walk around the streets, she did so as she cleared her mind. The wind breezed through her as she chose path where no one really crosses, avoiding the path of the rush hour.
A random bus ride to the outskirts. With mindless walking all throughout different streets and a couple of provincial bridges, she found her way to a park by the river.
There were people, but not too many, all mostly admiring the sun setting reflected on the vast river before them. The scene was serene and beautiful. There, Elizabeth believed, was the best place to relax her mind as she waited for nightfall.
She walked into the park lined with trees and laid on well with naturally growing lush grass.
Between the lines were simple and aged wooden benches. Some were empty, some had flowers growing, and others were sat on. A couple of old couples, simple families, and other people who wanted to spend the sight of nature.
She sat on an old bench in front of one tree closest to the river. In this part of the park, no one really was around. So she laid her bag upon it and calmed herself.
She breathed in the fresh air and watched the sun slowly go down on the horizon.
There, Elizabeth thought about what Hayden said and the whole situation with Mark and all. She really wanted to bother Megan and talk about it, but she knew she was busy since the fashion show she was going to hold was final in preparations. She was busy. So she controlled the impulse.
As she placed her gaze on the orange horizon, she slowly closes her eyes in relaxation. The lights slowly turning dark as she fell into a quick nap.
Mark cleared his mind and conditioned himself for the upcoming semi-finals. He donned his usual workout outfit along with his running jacket, in it his gloves, in case it got cold that night. He brought with him his earphones and wore sun shades who had tinted as dark as black, covering his eyes.
He jogged that afternoon as the sun slowly went down into the lines of the faint horizon across the river. The sight mesmerized him as his feet took him back and forth across the whole vicinity of the neighborhood park.
He could feel the sweat slowly dripping down from his brows to his cheeks, but he didn’t care and constantly wiped it off with the back of his wrist while he continued running.
He looked at his watch and saw that it was nearly 5:00 P. M, which meant he had been running for already about half an hour when he arrived at nearly 4:30 P.M.
Mindlessly, he stopped by a nearby tree to lean on as he took the bottled water he hung on his waist and drank to his heart’s content. It was refreshing as his eyes continued to gaze into the orange sky. He was panting as he smiled, happy he got to see this moment. Though sun sets happen almost every day, not nearly as much does he see it. There were constant indoor practices, early meals, post-practice showers, and just business. Now, finally, he could admire it in peace.
He has been so stressed these past few days that he couldn’t really celebrate their win in the quarter-finals as much as he expected to. His mind was in the gutter thinking about his careless actions that day. He didn’t care at all about the media covering the whole damn thing. The only thing that was worrying him right now was the pressure he didn’t think he would give upon Elizabeth.
It was too selfish of him to confess like that out of the blue, and in public, no less. He was angry. Angry at his self for acting like a lovesick teenager falling in love for the first time. He was twenty-eight for God’s sake and pulled off a cheesy, immature, and anxious confession like that.
Where has his grown mind gone to? Probably buried by the feelings of his heart. For no matter what you’ve gone through in life, love always somehow makes you crazy.
He sighed as he remembered the look on Elizabeth’s face when he said it. She was shocked and clearly didn’t know what to think. He criticized his mind for forgetting why he thought confessing to her was a good idea. It clearly wasn’t.
Maybe he thought she would say yes. With all the times they have seen each other these past few months, they were always so happy together.
With the moments spent with her in the past, he believed she was a blessing that day seeing her in the park.
And after a few years away, he was nervous to think they could click again, but fortunately, they did. And he was happy they did, for he got to remember how much of a cheerful, beautiful, and kind woman she was.
Seeing how far she had come from the abuse and chaos of her past, she was inspirational. And he was drawn to her, so much that his heart couldn’t stop beating every time his eyes laid upon her.
She grew up well. She never was a girl, even before. She was strong and independent. Her presence was captivating, and he couldn’t help himself. He chuckled to realize how much of an idiot she made him to become.
Maybe he really was crazy in love. But he didn’t care as long as it was her. Dangerous passion. He wanted it with Elizabeth. His career could be thrown away for all he cared, as long as he had her.
Every time his eyes locked on hers, he believed she wanted him too. There was no denying the momentary chemistry between them. And he was there to accept it all.
He loved her.
With his water now all emptied, he closed its lid back on and looked around for a trash bin where he could throw it. As his eyes wandered, he found a familiar sleeping figure on the bench just a few steps beside him.
Hair was covering the person’s face, so Mark was unsure of who it was. Sleeping upon such a wonderful sunset felt like a shame, so with little thought, he approached her and laughed after seeing a clear look.
He knew she was familiar. It was ironic since he was just thinking about her. A couple of moments ago. Without a doubt, he could spot her familiar frame and sense of fashion clearly.
He smiled as he thought about how coincidental the whole thing was and thought to himself it might actually some sort of step in destiny. He chuckled at his cheesy thoughts.
He didn’t want to wake her up, but he also didn’t want her to miss the awfully beautiful sunset in front of them right now. It was just a couple of minutes away from being fully set.
“El?” He called as he tapped her shoulder multiple times. She didn’t wake up the first try, but after louder calls and stronger taps, Elizabeth woke up.
“Mark? How are you here?” She asked as she stretched and wiped the sleep from her eyes.
“You really shouldn’t be sleeping in public like this, you know? It could be dangerous.” He said, trying to act nonchalant about the whole thing while he tried to relax the slowly rising tempo of his beating heart.
“I was just tired, I hoped for just a quick nap.” She softly replied, as if she didn’t want to break the serenity of the view.
And it sure was serene. After that, without another word amid awkwardness, they watched the sunset in silence. Slowly dipping down into the lines of the horizon. Elizabeth unconsciously smiled at its beauty, which Mark caught, making him smile at her too, happy to be sharing this kind of moment with her.
As it finally set and a few rays of light only escaped, causing the skies to dim. Mark tried to converse,
“I was just jogging around here. How have you been?” As if everything had been normal about the two people.
“It was just work this week.” Elizabeth answered, once again closing the topic with no open ending.
Even though she didn’t ask, Mark answered, “It has been the same for me as well, drowning myself in practice.”
Mark didn’t know what to think anymore, so he took a deep breath to calm himself in the anxious, heart beating atmosphere, hoping there was going to be a flow to go with.
Today, he decided, with that calming breath he took, he was going to get an answer out of her. A proper answer, as one would call it. He was selfish, he knew, for wanting one in such a short amount of time for thought. But he wasn’t one for climaxes without proper endings, whether it be good or bad, as long as he knew what she truly felt about him. An ending to his love, good or bad.
Elizabeth bounced her knee up and down as they both silently sat on the bench in anxiety. She didn’t know how to continue the awkward conversation and she was mad at herself for the shitty answers she had been answering him, even with simple questions like how was she.
She even wondered how amazing it was to be at the same place. It was weird to think it was fate, but too coincidental to be a coincidence. Maybe she was just over-thinking, and it really was just that, a coincidence.
At the moment he took the seat beside her on the bench, her heart pounded really bad. She was afraid that maybe he could hear it while they were side by side. Right after the sunset, she was suddenly consciousness of his presence and tried to fix her hair back in place with slow, hopefully unnoticeable movements of her right hand, patting it all back into place.
She looked at him as they sat in silence. She noticed his brows furrowed as he stared off into the ground. “Congratulations... For winning, I mean.” She said. A stupid statement, she thought to herself, but it did the trick.
“Thanks. It was a good game.”
“Yeah, the plays of the team were great.”
Another closed ending. She internally sighed and wondered why she wasn’t blessed with great socializing skills to keep conversations going.
With more minutes of silence between them, Elizabeth then heard Mark exhale deeply before he turned towards her. The aura was serious. Elizabeth looked at him, scared and a little anxious about what was to come.
“I’m sorry!” She suddenly said, seeing the look in his eyes. “For causing... All the trouble with the media I mean and... And not answering you properly there. Sorry.” she said as she looked down into the wooden patterns of the bench, scared of what he was going to say.
That declaration shocked mark when he was finally ready to ask for her answer, he replied,” It’s no problem El, you don’t have to apologize. ”
“I do. It’s caused you damage to tour reputation, the team and lots of unnecessary coverage on media.”
“El, I decided to do it in the first place.”
“Mark, no... I’m sorry.” Elizabeth said.
They were stupidly apologizing for the sins that weren’t really that bad at all. Maybe it was just the tension or the awkwardness.
But Mark took this as an opportunity. Just like a teenager, he wanted to know, yes or no. This was the time.
“El...” He called out, “El, look at me.” He said, which made her look back up and face him. “Well, what do you say then?” It was an idiotic way of putting it, he knew, but that was that.
“Huh?” Dense at the moment. She was confused by his vague words.
With a deep breath, inhaling the pure air. Mark conditioned his mind to say it once again, for it was much more nerve-wracking than any other competition he joined in. Saying it, with her close to him, he needed pure courage.
“Elizabeth.” He said her name, making the butterflies in Elizabeth’s stomach rampage with the sheer seduction of his voice. “Remember what I said that day?”
She didn’t answer him. He looked intently into her captivating eyes, searching for an answer, for which there seems to be none. In this moment, Elizabeth was speechless, not knowing what to do or say. She remembered, and she didn’t know what to feel.
” Elizabeth, I like you.” He finally said it once more. As if a boulder was dropped from his shoulders, he relaxed.
Elizabeth was turning red as the heat of the moment rising to her cheeks. She could feel it, the butterflies dance in her stomach and the pounding of her heart.
“What do you say?” He added in hopefulness.