It had been two weeks since Eddy had stormed into Sorority House looking for his pound of flesh, and she just couldn't hide in her room any longer. So she waited till after dark when everyone had retired to bed, turned off the backyard lights and snuck out the back door. The lake was the only place she could think to go, to ensure her the privacy she desperately needed to think things through.
The moon over the lake glistened on the surface of the water like tiny lights flashing on and off with the gentle rolling of the waves. The air was cool, but not so cool as to need a winter coat and mitts, which meant that Spring had truly arrived.
The fresh air smelled like wet grass, and carried along with it the fragrance of Spring flowers growing along the bank of the water. She stood there and stared at the water, grateful to be out of that room; a place she had so frequently shared with him. Maya had removed everything in her life she could that was linked to Eddy, and disposed of it in the trash, but the memories remained. They plagued her heart with guilt, shame and even anger, for the part she played in this whole tragic mess. She had yet to see any of the media coverage of the marriage scandal, and she was sure she had no desire to either. She couldn't think of a possible way to spin the story in her favour, to recover the already fragile reputation she had. She thought at this point that her life was officially over. What was she going to do now?
Heart heavy in sorrow and frustration, she laid back on the wet grass and stared at the stars.
She breathed the fresh Spring air in deeply, and stared at the stars, trying to clear her mind of all that had been weighing her down. She felt the stress begin to fade from her body with each breath and she focused on the beauty of the stars to calm her tattered nerves. Random thoughts of Ian entered her mind, as she recalled their night at the lake in Sunset Valley; and she smiled. However worry quickly replaced happiness, as she gave thoughts to his and Jin's safety. She hoped that they had managed to stay away from the media. Her room mates hadn't mentioned seeing anything in the news, so she she felt relatively sure that had been unharmed by the scandal. She knew that to be a frivolous thought, because ultimately they had been hurt. Hurt by her selfishness and desires. This new life she had just dived into, had been damaging on all sides. Just another reminder that Ian was better off without her.
Maya had never allowed herself to truly think or consider how this whole situation had affected Ian. She knew he would be confused by her leaving but she hadn't taken the time to consider just how he would feel waking up and finding her gone. She had been raised with the knowledge that women were property. If Maya had run away from Shen, he would have found her, dragged her back and severely punished her; enough so, that she would never think to do it again. Her father would have done the same. That was ownership; you didn't let go of something you owned. Yet Ian had let her go. Why? She had thought at first, that Ian didn't care to have her, or was happy to have her gone. Otherwise he would have at least tried to get her back. But since he hadn't, she pushed all concerns regarding Ian, to the back of her mind.
Maya was also raised to understand that men didn't love their wives. Shen had never showed it, nor said it. In all their years of marriage, he had never even kissed her, which she understood now to be an intimacy that directly displayed love. Her father never kissed her mother or told either of them, he loved them. She had, in her childish fantasy, fooled herself into believing he had to love her, because he was her father. She understood now, that was her way of trying to console herself for the lack of affection she received from either parent. Ian however, had directly said that he loved her and had written it in print more than a few times. She didn't know that men were capable of love; lust yes, but not love. When she chose Ian in China, she felt she was just exchanging one horrendous life situation, for a lesser one that would afford her the ability to get away and live her own life, on her own terms. When she arrived at the island, she was still in that state of flight or fight, and she didn't allow herself to see. She didn't fully understand what she was leaving behind. Ian, by not coming after her and dragging her back, had actually shown his love for her. He gave her the chance and the freedom, to learn on her own, the kind of life she truly wanted to have. She knew now that it definitely wasn't this one, but she also didn't want to give up on her dream of an art career. She didn't want Eddy either, for now she did fully understand what Nancy had been trying to protect her from. She didn't think, he would ever be capable of love. Which meant that a life with him would be meaningless, no matter how famous they were. With his life slowly falling apart, she didn't want to be used as a pawn to fix his life.
Lastly, all her life she had been thoroughly schooled in the brutality men were capable of. Her father's methods of discipline, should have been enough to break her spirit and create the demur, sub-servant wife he meant her to be for a husband. But Sun had been her saving grace. Just one day a week, had been enough to keep her spirit alive and give her hope for a new and better life. Had she been more schooled in the ways of the world and men, she would have known better than to get involved with someone like Eddy. That friendship was what kept her going through her marriage with Shen. For they both had a common goal-to stay alive and get out of China. Maya felt guilty that she had left her behind. She knew now that if she had asked, Ian would have found a way to get Sun out too. If she had known there were men in this world like Ian, she never would have left him. Perhaps she could have found a way to have all her desires fulfilled? Warmth filled her body as she thought about her few short months with Ian. A caress of her cheek, a hug from behind, the way his lips moved perfectly with hers. His smile when he laughed, and the way the corners of his lips curled just slightly even when he wasn't smiling. She was fascinated by his hands, for what reason she could not say. She just found them incredibly sexy.
She thought she must be imagining it but all of a sudden, Ian was standing there with a bright light behind him, calling her name like a faint echo in the distance. At first she tried to understand where Ian had come from, but the more she listened, she gradually heard it change into another man's voice. She woke with a start, to someone shaking her shoulder and saying her name. Night had turned to day and Maya had spent the time sleeping soundly on the grass. She woke to the bright sun shining in her eyes and she raised a hand to shield herself from the light. Rising to a sitting position, she looked to the person next to her on the ground.
"Are you all right?" the man asked.
"Yes perfectly," Maya replied rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "I know you, don't I? I've seen you around the university campus."
"Liam," he said laying his hand on his chest. "Please, let me help you up," and grabbing Maya's arm, he gently pulled her to a standing position.
"Thank you. I appreciate that. Could you please tell me the time?"
Looking at his watch, he replied that it was nearly eight in the morning. Maya thanked him again and excused herself to return to the house. It wasn't until she had nearly returned, she realised last night, had been her first full nights sleep in weeks.
Hannah, had convinced her to return to her life and so she did, attending a few of her classes and working on her art. It was a difficult endeavour, as Eddy shared most of her classes with her. During school hours, he respected her wishes to be left alone, but the time spent in the same room was incredibly awkward, with reporters snapping photos inside and out of the classroom.
She had taken to dressing in non designer clothing, hiding her appearance and attempting to hide from the paparazzi. She hated all the clothes in her closet, as they reminded her of Eddy and all the times they shared. So she refused to wear them.
The paparazzi continued to print false stories about her mental decline, but the truth was since she had started to get back to her own life, she had begun to get stronger. She was enjoying being on her own and her thoughts were becoming more and more clear. Being responsible to herself for the first time in her life, brought her a new sense of happiness she had never experienced before. The feeling was liberating and it was like the sky was brighter and the air smelled sweeter. She knew that sounded corny, like something she read in a love story, but it really was true. It was as
if she had been carrying a load of bricks on her shoulders, and wearing a mask her whole life. Now, with the burdens lifted, she was experiencing things for the first time. She never wanted to go back to that feeling of darkness ever again.
Even in a slight disguise, Maya could never go far without being approached by people on the street hoping for an autograph, or just to chat.
She had been asked out on several dates, but she had politely declined, stating that she wished to be single for now. No one, other than the paparazzi, was bold enough to enquire about her husband, but she was able to kindly deny their requests for interviews. She was feeling so pleased with the way things were going, that she decided to venture out in public a little more. Most people were quite friendly but there was the odd few that felt the need to heckle her and make their sentiments known.
She thought it was interesting, that it was always people she didn't know, nor had ever met. Like this man who had been at the lake, the night she went. He took one look at her, was very unkind and ran off.
Not wanting to go out alone, Maya invited Paris and Margaret to the spa in Sunset Valley for the ultimate spa experience. They had a wonderful day, with Paris and Margaret getting a complete makeover from head to toe. They looked absolutely beautiful. Somehow the media had discovered they were there, for as they left the building, the press was there waiting.
The friends posed for pics, before heading back to Sorority House for a quiet evening in. Paris and Margaret kept thanking her profusely for the makeover spa day and she hugged them both, telling them they were very welcome. Back at Sorority House the girls spent the evening giggling over handsome massage artists, and things like the mud bath experience. They honestly had no idea they actually would be sitting in a tub of mud! But their skin looked and felt amazing, which made the experience well worth the while.
A couple of days later, Paris asked Margaret and Maya to go with her to her family horse farm, just outside of University Town. When they arrived, Maya, who had never spent any time around horses, cautiously approached the fence. Immediately, a beautiful black and white spotted horse named Midnight, came to greet her. He took to her instantly, nuzzling her continuously as a sign of affection.
Maya began by leading him around the field to get used to the size of this very friendly animal. With some encouragement from Paris, Maya climbed up onto Midnight's back and experienced her very first horse back ride. Midnight, being a jumping horse by nature, was patient with Maya as a new rider, but just couldn't hold back from doing what he loved to do best. Margaret caught the expression on Maya's face, as Midnight approached and jumped over the low jump for beginning riders.
Margaret nearly fell to the ground laughing, and couldn't wait to show Maya the pic when her ride was done. Margaret, who was a bit of a coward, took a little longer and a lot more coaxing to get up on her horse's back. In no time and some help from Paris, she was on the back of her horse, with the same terrified expression. Maya, of course, caught that in a little pic of her own.
A few days later, the girls headed over to the Grotto to play pool and drink a few rounds of juice. It was a fairly quiet night, which allowed them to play pool most of the time they were there.
Maya was able to converse with some of the university students, who were looking to blow off some steam over the stress of getting reading for finals in a month's time. She finally got to meet the all famous Jeffrey Dean. She had heard about him all over campus from the female students, but had never encountered him. Dark hair, beard, leather jacket and a smile she was sure, had won him many a bed play mate. He wasn't as handsome as Eddy but certainly just as charming. When he really started to turn on the charm, she bid him goodnight, grabbed the girls and headed back to Sorority House. I've been down that road once before she thought, and I never want to travel it again.
Everyone had been gracious and the girls all had a wonderful time. They returned early to the house, around ten in the evening but they were all feeling quite happy. They had drank many rounds of juice, although were still far from being too juiced. Maya, as the designated driver had come home sober, so she sent Paris and Margaret up to bed, following up the stairs behind them. She entered her room and stopped dead in her tracks.
There in her bed, was Hannah in the middle of a woo hoo with Eddy. Hannah peered over the covers, and gave Maya a look she could only describe as evil satisfaction. Eddy, on the other hand, was decidedly very juiced, and continued on unaware that Maya had even entered the room. Maya thought he appeared to be so juiced, she couldn't believe he was even conscious.
"Get out! Get out both of you!" Maya screamed.
Hannah crawled out from under Eddy, and stepped from the bed, holding her hands in mock misunderstanding.
"What's the matter Maya? Don't like what you see?"
Eddy turned and finally figured out what was going on. He began to reach for her, slurring Maya's name before passing out on the bed.
"You slimy little witch," Maya screamed at her. "Get out of my room!"
"Serves you right Maya! For not including me in all your little girlfriend outings. This will teach you to leave me behind and out of the fun!"
"Why on earth would I want to spend any time with a mean spirited, childish brat? Get out!"
The heated argument between the two women, brought the rest of the household to Maya's doorway. Paris as head of the household and concerned friend, pushed her way through the group to stand next to Maya. She looked to Hannah and then to Maya's bed and shoved Maya in the direction of the door. Which was a good thing because Maya was fighting the urge to grab Hannah by the hair and smack her silly. She didn't care that she slept with Eddy. But to do it in her bed was completely uncalled for! One by one the girls left Maya's room seemingly on a mission and the next thing she knew, Hanna was being marched out of the house, suitcases in hands, whimpering to Paris about where she was going to go. Eddy was also being escorted, but mostly dragged out, and was thrown into the back of a cab waiting at the street. Paris folded her arms across her chest and smiled a very satisfied smile. She looked at Hannah and simply said,
"You want him so badly, you can go live with him."
"I don't want him," Hannah screamed. "I just wanted to teach Maya a lesson!"
"Well" said Paris. "How does that saying go? Something about we all have our own made beds to lie in?"
Then she turned around, entered the house and closed the door.
Some of the girls began to laugh, but Paris gave them a very stern look which told them to be quiet, so they covered their mouths and walked away. Maya's body was pulsating anger as this nasty dialogue carried on in her head. She was grateful to all her housemates, but she secretly wished that Paris had just let her give Hannah what was coming to her. She wasn't sorry to finally see her gone from the house. Margaret entered into her room and sat down on the couch watching Maya strip her bed of all the bedding.
"You don't need to do that now. You could sleep with me tonight," said Margaret.
Maya blew out a big breath as she yanked the last corner of the sheet off the bed.
"Thank you Margaret. But I don't think I could even begin to sleep right now. I'm going to go outside and blow off some steam first. But thank you."
"Okay. But you know where my room is if you change your mind." She gave Maya a hug and left the room. Maya sat down on the bed resisting the urge to cry. "You will not cry." she told herself. So she grabbed up the bedding and took it downstairs to the washer. Everyone had gone off to bed leaving the house quiet, so Maya headed outside and stared at the bright stars in the sky. Funny how, the stars were always her calming embrace these days, like someone was looking out for her from above. She was never going to sleep tonight with this anger boiling inside her chest. If it were another place and time she would just lift her eyes to the stars and scream it all out. But not wanting to disturb anyone she went to sit in a lounge chair by the pool.
Eddy! She didn't care how juiced he was, if he had any feelings for her what so ever, he never would have allowed his actions to get that far. Oh yes, he cared for her all right! She wondered how many other women he had slept with since they official broke up; let alone the number of women when they were together. In all his pleadings with her to take him back, he said he needed her, but for what? For woo hoo? Apparently he could get that at the drop of a hat. He said they were good together, and he was right, they were. As a celebrity couple, who barely saw one another, they deserved the title Favourite Celebrity Couple. But she wanted more. This life was just too hard. Even with China's traditions and the way women were looked upon, she never felt as degraded as she did every time she was hurt by Eddy. In all his abuse, Shen had never treated her as badly as Eddy had in the five short months they had been together. Ian, with his beautiful heart, would never hurt her this way. Suddenly she missed him and wished he was standing right in front of her so she could throw herself into his arms and never let go. She pulled out her phone, thinking to text him, but realised how late it was and changed her mind. Covering herself with a blanket, Maya closed her eyes and fell asleep to fit full dreams.
A new day dawned and even though her night had been full of disconcerting dreams, she had among all the thoughts, made some very important decisions. It was time to take real control of her life. Time after time she had put herself in situations that only reinforced the mentality she had grown up with. That had to change, starting now. Time to take care of Maya, and forget about anything else. So Maya made a clear plan to do exactly that. She established a new, positive mental health routine.
She started her day by visiting the gym for a physical workout, then had lunch by the lake, before heading back to the gym to join a yoga class in the afternoon.
She had enquired in the mental health office, and found a counsellor to sit down and discuss everything that was going on in her life. She needed an outside person to help her sort through the mess, and help her achieve some clarity. In the evenings, she spent the time in her room focusing on her artwork by sketching or painting. Little by little she felt a sense of peace was over her, and she learned to forgive herself for the role she had played in allowing herself to be treated like she was unworthy. In doing that, she was able to forgive herself for all the wrong doings she had done to others. Through that she struggled, but found a way to at least begin to understand her parents. Forgiving Shen was going to take some time. For him she could find no excuse except bad traditions and horrendous parenting practises, for creating the man he had become. In her quest for forgiveness, she wrote letters to her parents and one to Sun. She didn't expect her parents would respond, but she did hope to hear from Sun.
The date for Ian's return was looming, with only three weeks left on the calendar. School was wrapping up and she had begun to prepare for her finals, which mostly consisted of painting projects. She was incredibly thankful for that, as it took a lot of extra stress off her shoulders while she prepared for the end of school and the beginning of her new life, whatever that may be.
Monday morning, Maya was preparing for her first morning class of the day, when an envelope was slipped under her door. Not again, she thought.
Dean Blue requests your presence
at his office
Monday 3:00 p.m.
Rolling her eyes, she recalled her last encounter with the Dean. She considered not going but as unpleasant that was, she did get an amazing opportunity out of the meeting. So she decided to go. She spent the rest of the day barely focusing on her classes, fully immersed in the memories of her last meeting with Dean Blue. By the time three in the afternoon arrived, she had wound herself into a state of tension for whatever he was up to now. This time, she didn't have Eddy as an excuse, so what would she say if he tried that tactic again?
The secretary opened his office door and Maya cautiously stepped inside.
"Maya. Thank you for coming. Please let me introduce Miss Megan Lightell."
"It's a pleasure to meet you Maya."
Maya shook Megan's hand, confused in what was going on.
"Maya, I don't know if you know who I am but-"
"Oh no, I do. How could I not. You are a very famous landscape artist from Paris."
"Well, I don't know if I would say very famous, but my work has gotten around. I'm a good friend of Dean Blue and he was kind enough to send me some of your work. You have real talent Maya."
Friend of the Dean? She wondered exactly what that meant. "Thank you very much. I've learned a lot from my professors at university," Maya replied.
"I'm sure that your time at the school has been enlightening in some areas, but your kind of talent Maya, that comes from within. I've seen it before. My guess would be that the amount of practice time needed for all your school projects would be responsible for bringing the talent more out of you."
Maya hadn't looked at it that way, but did have to agree that she could have a point. So she nodded.
"Listen, I want to pass something by you and see what you think. Every few years I take on an apprentise for one year. I would like to make that offer to you. A one year apprenticeship to come to Paris and study landscape painting. You will stay with me during that time, travel with me wherever I go, and continue to do your own painting. All your expenses will be paid for you. During that time I will help you get your paintings out into the world and assist you in making a name for yourself."
Maya was stunned. Everything she had ever dreamed of had just been dropped into her lap.
"Are you serious?" Maya asked, heart pounding in her chest and a little breathless.
Megan just smiled this big smile and nodded her head.
"But I want you to understand that this isn't a fun vacation. It will be hard work and I will expect only the most professional behavior, or I will end it immediately. I have a very grueling schedule for the year ahead, with many commitments already laid out. There will not be much time for fun. But at the end of the year, I will guarantee you will have learned what I can teach you, and I will get your name out into the art world. What you do with that assistance, will depend on you."
Maya was overwhelmed with so much emotion she didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The thought of studying under a famous artist like Megan and travelling around the world was more than she had believed she would ever achieve since the scandal! That would give her a whole year to figure out her life and perhaps get her set up into something amazing. She could make a name for herself and wouldn't Jin be so proud of his mother then.
Jin! The minute Jin entered her mind, all the excitement came crashing down.
Megan, who had been watching the excitement of the prospect light up Maya's face, then saw sorrow. She asked Maya if everything was all right.
"Ah, yes. Do you need an answer right now?" Maya asked.
"No. No. Take some time to think about it. Would two weeks be enough time?"
Maya nodded yes and rose from her chair. She shook Megan's hand and thanked again her for this wonderful opportunity. She then left and walked to Sorority House in a daze. Opportunities like this just don't come around every day, she thought to herself. You need to grab these moments while you can! 'This is your last chance,' Ian had said in his letter. Her dream was right there, completely within her grasp. 'You can reconnect with Jin again when he turns into an adult, but not before,' Ian had said. This should be an easy choice Maya, she said to herself. Make the right one.
Maya had studied Megan's paintings in one of her classes, but beyond that she really didn't know anything about her. She found a quiet, shady spot in the quad and pulled out her laptop to do some checking up on her. She was trying hard not to let negative thoughts get the best of her, but this all seemed a little good to be true. Normally a recommendation from the Dean would be reassuring, but considering how she felt about him, she didn't find it reassuring at all.
From her research, Maya determined that Megan did live in France. She owned quite a large ancestral yellow brick home that was surrounded by beautiful rolling fields. The house sat up on a hill, and from the pictures, the view from her front door took your eye down small rolling hills and across the water. She could see one of those views in one of her most famous paintings. The artwork displayed on her home page was truly stunning, but one of the things she liked the most, was that she had prints made for those who couldn't afford her paintings. To Maya that meant she cared for those who admired her artwork. From the articles written in several reputable art magazines, Megan had in the past, taken on other artists for apprenticeships. She managed to locate one online, and sent him a message on his page. She hoped he managed to get back to her soon, as two weeks was not a lot of time to make this decision. She closed her eyes and dreamed about standing in the middle of one of those rolling fields and she could almost feel the wind on her face and the heat of the sun on her head. She wondered if Paris had a winter season with snow. That question prompted many more.
By the time she finished researching Megan and the city of Paris, it was getting dark and she decided to head back to the house. Closing her laptop she felt the sharpness of a nasty headache that was making her feel nauseous to her stomach. She got into her car and drove home, but by the time she got there the headache was worse. She climbed the stairs to her room with every intention of crawling under the covers to sleep it off. When she opened the door, she found a large white box sitting on her bed. Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves and her tummy, she pulled the ribbon off the box, opened the lid and froze. Pulling back the fine tissue coverings she lifted the item from the box and held it in front of her. It was amazing! She was totally confused where it had come from and searched for any letter or card.Looking down, she saw an envelop tucked under the box and she sat down to read it.
I hope this letter finds you well and safe. I know this past month must have been challenging for you and although I feel terrible for leaving you, this time apart has probably done both of us some good. Being away from the world, has really given me time to think,clear my head and put things into perspective.
I feel that my last letter to you was a little unfair and harsher than it needed to be. Asking you to make the choice between seeing your son and waiting till he was an adult, was in response to seeing his reaction to having you leave. In retrospect, I have come to believe that his reaction to missing you as a toddler, would not be the same as it would if he were a child, and certainly not as a teen. Jin needs you in his life and if that means it will only be on a temporary basis, than that is better than nothing at all. If this is truly what you want, then together we can make it work.
However if you choose to return to us, then I want to make the first step in changing the course of our future life together. It will be a new life, with the last eight months forgotten and left in the past. I feel that this is the right way to start over and make everything right between us. So Maya,
(Turning the page, she found:)
WILL YOU MARRY ME...AGAIN?
I will wait for you at the altar and if you don't come, I will know I have your answer.
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