Fatima sat on the end of her bed, pulling on the black heels that matched her dress. She stood and grabbed her black double breasted jacket out of the closet, catching a glimpse of herself on the full length mirror. Her face was the picture of sorrow. Unshed tears floated in her eyes, making her eyes look a bright gold. Going to a funeral two days before her birthday was not something she had planned on. Her heart ached in her chest for the man who had raised her with so much love and devotion. Shane Hicks, her greatest hero, had died after his car had skidded into a lake. Unable to break loose from his restraints, he had drowned. There was a knock at her bedroom door and it swung slowly open. Lombard stepped in, dressed in all black.
“Are you ready Fatima?” He asked softly.
“Yes, I think so.” She wanted to smile at him, but she couldn’t muster it.
“You didn’t put on your sunscreen.”
“I’m sorry, I must have forgot.”
“Where is it?”
“Downstairs in the utility closet where all the bandages and stuff are.”
He left and she sat back down on her bed, unable to stand any longer. He returned with the bottle of sunscreen and crossed the room to her. He squeezed some into his palm and then used the fingers of his other hand to rub it over her exposed skin. He did her face and arms first then moved to her legs. She was ashamed of the way her heart beat at his touch, how it warmed her skin. She was supposed to be in mourning. He went into her bathroom and washed his hands before coming back out and grabbing her jacket. He held it up and she stood, slipping her arms into the sleeves. He buttoned it up and then gently grabbed her chin and tipped her head back so she had to look at him.
“Be strong, your mother needs you.” He said and brushed his thumb over her chin.
“Thank you.” She grabbed his hand and walked with him downstairs where her mother was waiting with the rest of the staff.
Lombard sat in the car next to Fatima. She held tightly to his hand like was the only thing keeping her from breaking down. Ruth sat on her other side, tears streaming down her face. His heart broke for both women. They had lost the most important man in their lives. He too felt the loss of a man who had shown him nothing but kindness. They drove into the cemetary, dark clouds hung over head. The car rolled to a stop behind the hurst and they all got out. The cook and two maids exited the car behind them. They walked across the grass, the pallbearers carrying the casket in front of them. There were so many people there, a testament to how great Shane had been. They stood next to the hole as a preacher began to speak. He was too busy watching the woman he loved to hear a word. A single tear slipped down her cheek, nearly breaking him. Shane was finally lowered into the ground and Lombard, Keith, and the cook filled the hole. Ruth clung to her daughter, bawling her eyes out.
Fatima helped her mother back to the car after the hole was filled. Her mother’s sorrow was the only thing keeping her on her feet. Lombard handed them into the car then slid in next to them. The minute the door was closed, the heavens opened up and rain fell from the sky in sheets. They rode in silence back home where they were holding dinner for everyone. She wasn’t hungry at all. She needed time alone to cry. The car pulled into the driveway and Lombard helped them out. Fatima walked her mother inside then handed her off to Lizzie.
“I’ll be upstairs if anyone needs me.” She said and hurried up the steps.
“Lombard dear, please go up there with her. She shouldn’t be alone.” Ruth said and he started to say he wasn’t sure that was a good idea, but couldn’t bring himself to do it.
“Yes ma’am.” He gave a slight bow and headed upstairs after Fatima.
Fatima kicked her shoes off and sat down on the edge of her bed. She stared at the picture of her and her parents sitting on the bed side table. Her father had the biggest smile on his face. Her door opened and her gaze jumped to Lombard’s face. He froze in the doorway and she ran to him. His arms wrapped tightly around her and moved into her room and closed the door. Her legs gave out and she found herself kneeling on the floor, him with her. She cried into his chest, her fingers gripping his shirt. He lifted her in his arms and carried her over to her bed, sitting down and cradling her in his lap.
“Everything’s going to be okay Fatima.” He whispered.
“It will never be okay again. It’s not fair.” She wailed and cried harder.
“I know it’s not, it never is, but you are so strong.” He leaned back to look at her. “Look at me.” She raised her eys to his face. “You are the strongest person I know and tough. It’s okay to feel sad, it’s okay to cry, but tomorrow you pick up the pieces and you continue to live.” He cupped her cheek and brushed her tears. He wanted to kiss those lips, to chase her sorrow away.
They just stared at each other and the room seemed to fall away. Fatima wanted to kiss him and could see he very much wanted to kiss her. They were close enough to do so, but neither of them made a move. He out of respect for her reputation and her out of fear that it was her sadness driving her. She didn’t want it to be because she was in mourning and needed to cling to something. She looked away, shattering the moment for both of them.
“Would you like me to get you something to eat?” His voice made things south of her waist clench. She nodded, afraid to speak. He sat her on the bed and stood, clearing his throat as he left her room.
Lombard made his way to the kitchen and went straight to the walk in freezer. The air cooled his burning skin and brought him a semblance of control. He needed her more than ever, her mouth sucking, biting and licking, her legs wrapped tightly around him as he made love to her and she was calling his name. He sat down and buried his face in his hands. Fate had been cruel to have her born into such a rich and powerful family. He could never bring himself to ruin her, to tarnish her family name. He loved her to much. He would stand by her side always and forever, never confessing his love. He took a deep breath and stood, grabbing a bottle of blood as he exited. He made Fatima a bowl of clam chowder then headed back upstairs. He kicked her door and she opened it, smiling nervously. She had changed into pajamas.
“Clam chowder and a drink.” He smiled and moved to sit them on her bedside table. He turned to leave and she grabbed his arm.
“Will you read to me?” She asked softly and he turned to face her. Her eyes were sad yet hopeful.
“Of course, do you have a book?” She nodded and pulled him to her bed. He sat down with his back against the headboard and she grabbed the book then climbed up and sat between his legs. She grabbed her bowl and snuggled close. He inhaled sharply and focused on the title of the book. It was a collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories. He flipped through the book until he found The Black Cat. It was one of his eeriest stories. He started reading.
He finished The Black Cat as she finished eating and sat her bowl down. He started another story and she turned on her side, one hand flat over his heart. She fell asleep before he finished reading The Tell Tale Heart. He knew he couldn’t move her without waking her and in all honesty he was glad he had an excuse to admire her without looking creepy. Even in her sleep it looked like her heart was broken. She had loved Shane more than anything, had hung on his every word and always took his advice to heart. There was a soft tapping on her bedroom door and his heart skipped a beat. The door opened and Ruth stuck her head in.
“Is she sleeping?” Ruth asked.
“Yes ma’am, I’m sorry. I don’t think I can move.” He was worried she would be angry, but she just smiled at him.
“It’s okay, just let her sleep. You should get some rest too if you can manage.”
She closed the door, leaving him there alone with Fatima. He sat the book down next to the bowl. He managed to get his shoes off and pull the blanket up over her. He switched off her light and wrapped his arms around her. “I love you.” He whispered and she shifted a little in her sleep. He froze, hoping she had not heard him. She settled back down and he breathed easy. He closed his eyes and fell asleep to her warmth.
Fatima woke feeling overly warm. She moved a little,p trying to find a better position and realized she was laying on someone. Her eyes snapped open and she raised her head. Lombard was sleeping soundly with his back propped against her headboard. She blinked, thinking she was dreaming. She tried to remember how he had got there. She had asked him to read to her. She had fallen asleep without meaning too or maybe she had done it on purpose. She wasn’t really sure anymore. She reached up and brushed her fingers lightly over his cheek and into his hair. She loved his hair and remembered how he would let her braid it when she was little. He was the only one besides her mother that wasn’t afraid of what she might do with his hair. She ran her fingers behind his ear and then down his neck. He grabbed her hand, making her jump. His eyes flew open and she could feel her heart slam against her chest.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.” Her voice was shaking.
“What time is it?” He asked.
“I don’t know, I just woke up too. Did you stay here all night?”
His eyes searched her face, looking for any signs of anger. He found none and didn’t know why he thought he would. “Yes, you fell asleep and I didn’t want to wake you. You had such a long day yesterday.”
“So did you. You kept me from falling apart in front of my mother.” She lay back down, savoring the moment. She didn’t want it to end.
“Tomorrow is your birthday, thirty years old. What would you like to do?”
“Nothing, I would be to sad to enjoy it.”
“Nonsense, I’m throwing you a party. If anything your father would want you to enjoy tomorrow. He only ever cried twice in his whole life you know. When his parents died together in their sleep and the day you were born. He wasn’t much for tears.”Â She laughed softly and it turned his heart over. He tipped her head back to look down into those bright amber orbs. He felt like they saw right through him, read every emotion that flitted across his face. It was odd to think that he couldn’t hide things from her. “Let me throw you the most amazing birthday party in the world, you deserve it.”
“Okay, if it will make you happy.”
“It has nothing to do with my happiness and everything to do with yours. Now, we should get out of this room before people start asking questions. I’m sure everyone on the house saw me come up here after you yesterday and not come back down.”
“I don’t care, let them talk if they must. You should hear the things they say about me hunting zombies. It’s like I should be some helpless thing constantly clinging to a man’s arm instead of a strong, independent woman. It’s irritating.”
“Your reputation is everything in this town and of you won’t care for your sake then care for your mother’s. Lets get breakfast and then you have to change into something appropriate, your fahter’s will is behind read this afternoon.”
Fatima ate slowly, still feeling sad. She stared at the chair her father used to occupy every morning, her heart wrenching in her chest. Her mother grabbed her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “How did you sleep last night dear?” Ruth asked and a blush reddened her cheeks.
“I slept fine mom, surprisingly.” She answered.
“It’s not that big of a surprise. Lombard stayed with you all night.”
“He didn’t really have a choice. I had him trapped.”
Her mother smiled and they continued eating. She couldn’t believe her mother knew. She must have come into her room to check on her and saw them sleeping together. “He had a choice dear and decided to stay with you.”
Probably because I had been crying. She thought as she finished her breakfast and pushed her plate away. She rested her elbow on the table and her chin in her hand. She didn’t want to listen to her father’s attorney read out his will. She sighed and stood, picking up her plate and carrying it to the kitchen. “Hey it’s the beautiful Miss. Hicks.” Rodrigo the cook said with a big smile. “To what do I owe the honor?”
“Just bringing my dishes to the kitchen.” She smiled back and put the plate in the sink.
“Usually Lombard brings that stuff on here.”
“I know, but I needed to do something. I’ve been feeling a little lost since daddy died.”
“Well, why don’t you help me make muffins. Cut me up some blueberries.”
She grabbed a knife and a cutting board then grabbed a bag of blueberries and a bowl. She stood next to Rodrigo and talked as she chopped. He smiled and laughed even when she thought she was bugging him. No one ever told her to stop talking and she some times wondered if they were afraid to tell her to shut up because she was a Hicks. “Can I ask you something?” She finished chopping and dumped the rest of the blueberries on the bowl.
“Am I annoying or anything?”
“Of course not, why would you even say such a thing?”
“Because I come in here, into your domain and just talk your ear off for hours while looking over your shoulder and watching you cook.”
Rodrigo laughed as he reached for the bowl of blueberries and dumped them into the muffin mix. “No you are not annoying. I actually enjoy the company. If I found you annoying I would tell you.”
“Good, thank you.”
“Any time Fatima. You should go and get ready for this afternoon. We’re all expected to be at the reading of your father’s will.”
She nodded and headed upstairs to her room. She could hear someone moving around inside and pushed the door open. “What are you doing in here?” She asked.
“Making your bed like I do every morning.” Lombard said as he straightened.
“Oh, I didn’t…I mean I’ve never seen you do that.”
“You’re always out so I’m not surprised.”
She blushed, not knowing why. “I need to shower, would you mind picking me out something that is appropriate for a will reading?”
“Of course and I’ll be sure to get your sunscreen. Your mother wants the curtains open for the attorney, to let in some natural light.”
Lombard stood in her closet with his back pressed against the wall, listening to the sound of the shower. He took a deep breath, but still felt like punching the wall. The places is mind went were inappropriate. He’d love to lick the water off her skin. He shook his head and started going through her clothes. She had many dresses, some were for parties, others for clubbing and then some were summer dresses. She would want to look nice. He picked out a baby blue summer dress with a flower on one strap. He found her a pair of white flats and carried them out to her bed. He laid them out and then headed downstairs to retrieve her sunscreen.
Fatima stood under the water long after she was clean with her forehead pressed against the wall. She was so tired even though she had had a full nights rest. She wanted to curl up in bed and listen to Lombard read some more. He had the most wonderful voice. It always sounded so warm and loving when he spoke to her. She didn’t even think he knew how he sounded. It made her happy that he saved that part of himself for her. She would never point it out. He would have to do it himself. She turned off the water as it started to turn cold. She stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around her head and then grabbing another to dry her skin. She wrapped it around herself and stepped into her room as Lombard entered with her sunscreen. They both froze, staring at each other.
She recognized that look in his eyes. She had seen it on the faces of many men as she was growing up. She swallowed, her heart thundering her chest. She wanted him, needed him. She clutched the towel to herself, telling herself he would never let her have him. He was too polite and proper and looked after her reputation like it was some sort of expensive artifact. “Is that my sunscreen?” She asked and he looked at the bottle then held it out to her. “Thank you.” She looked at the dress on the bed and frowned.
“Something wrong?” Her eyes jumped back to his face and she sighed.
“Baby blue? You know how I feel about baby blue.” She said.
“You look good in baby blue.”
“If you didn’t say that I would probably throw it away. Alright, baby blue it is. You should probably leave so I can get dressed.”
“Yes, of course.” He left quickly, going to his own room for a cold shower.
She dressed quickly and rubbed her sunscreen on. She decided to let her hair dry and curl on its own. It always looked nice that way, at least she thought so. She checked the clock on her wall and opened her jewelry box, pulling out the dragonfly necklace and putting it on. It was her favorite piece of jewelry, but anything Lombard gave her was her favorite. He had brought her so many trinkets over the years. Every time he went to a new place he found something that suited her, a new coat, a small statue, or a book she had never seen in a language she didn’t understand so had to learn. It was his way of making her learn something new to get what she wanted. She loved him for that, for making her mind work. She hurried downstairs and into the library where they would be having the meeting. Everyone else was already there, waiting patiently for the arrival of her father’s attorney.
There was a loud knock at the front door and Lombard jumped up and let the attorney in. He came back and sat down next to Fatima who grabbed his hand in hers. She smiled at him as the attorney sat down at the head of the table. He had a file in his hand. “Today I will be reading the last will and testament of one Shane L. Hicks. He expressed that all of you here were his family. First I would like to say how sorry I am that he passed, he was a great man that I respected very much.” He flipped the file open. “The will states: To my one and true love Ruth, I want you to travel the world like you always wanted to. We never got the chance while I was still alive and that greatly saddens me. I want you to take as much money as you need and go. Fall in love again, but an entire art gallery, do whatever it takes to keep smiling. I love you and know that my last thoughts were of you and our daughter.” Ruth started crying and Fatima held her hand.
“To Lizzie, May, Rodrigo, and Keith thank you for all the hard work I leave you two million a piece. Have fun and never stop moving forward.” All three of them looked so shocked and hugged each other. “To Lombard, my ever faithful butler and closest friend. You were the best man I knew and the most faithful. You took care of us with everything you were and never once complained. Take care of my little angel, never leave her side no matter what happens. Protect her for as long as she lives, treat her wounds, and show any man that tries to hurt her what a real zombie is made of.” Lombard smiled and then laughed. Shane’s sense of humor was always the best and had rubbed off on his daughter. “Lastly to my angel Fatima. You have grown into the such a beautiful and strong woman. I am so proud of you and the work that you do. No matter what anyone says you are bringing honor to the family name. I leave you the house, the business, and my money. Most of all I leave you my love. Stay strong my little princess, keep your head up and if I am not there happy birthday, merry Christmas, and if you decide to get married congratulations. I love you all and I will see you again.” The attorney finished and closed the file. Fatima felt tears slip down her cheeks and hugged Lombard. He rubbed her back and shushed her softly.
“Sir, I don’t know if you know, but did my father have a man set aside to manage his business?” Fatima finally managed to say. “I’m not very good at running a business, I’m a zombie killer.”
“Yes ma’am he did, a Donald Rutherford I do believe.”
“Donnie? That’s a good man to have working for him. Could you tell Donnie that I want him to run the company for me and that I will only come in from time to time to check on things?”
“Yes ma’am, I shall have it arranged right away. There will be some paperwork that we’ll have to go over and that you will have to sign.” He stood and straightened his coat.
“Thank you for coming and reading that to us. I look forward to your next visit.” He nodded and then headed out.
Ruth and the others left the library so it was just Fatima and Lombard. She had her arms around his neck and her forehead resting on his shoulder. She had finally cried herself to sleep. He sighed and managed to lift her into his arms. He carried her upstairs to her room and lay her on her bed. There were still tear tracks on her face and he gently wiped them away. He pulled her shoes off and covered her. He wanted to climb in next to her and hold her until she woke. He leaned in and kissed her cheek then forced himself to leave her room. He still had to plan her party. He would need everyone’s help. He hurried downstairs and into the kitchen to talk to Rodrigo.
“I need to talk to you about tomorrow. It’s Fatima’s birthday and I want to do something special for her.” He said.
“You’re falling hard for that girl aren’t you?” Rodrigo replied and he almost took a step back. “Don’t worry, you’re secret’s safe with me. So her birthday party?”
“Uh yes, I want you to make her favorite strawberry cake with cream cheese icing for after dinner. Since these passed couple of days have been hard on her I would like to give her breakfast on bed.”
“I’ll make my blueberry pancakes with whipped cream topping. For lunch I’ll make clam chowder and then for dinner steak with mashed potatoes and salad.”
“Sounds good, thank you. I have to go talk to the ladies now. Wish me luck.” He patted Rodrigo on the back and headed to the garden where he could hear excited chattering. “Sorry for interrupting, but may I speak with you?”
“Of course.” Ruth motioned to the remaking chair and he sat down.
“I need help with Fatima’s birthday party.”
“I’m surprised she even wants one.” May said, leaning back in her chair.
“I’m not, I bet Mr. Blue Eyes here told her he was throwing her one and she agreed. Look at his face, he’s trying to hide his feelings for her.” Lizzie said with a smile.
“Does everyone here know how I feel about her?” He asked, frustrated.
“It’s not that hard to see dear. The way you say her name, the way you look at her. Women tend to notice these things. What do you need help with?” Ruth said and patted his hand.
“Decorating. Baby blue everywhere.”
“Doesn’t she hate baby blue?” May asked in confusion.
“Yes, it’s supposed to be a joke. I want the table cloth and the curtains and the balloons and even the wrapping paper to be baby blue. Could you and Lizzie go to the store in a bit and pick everything up for me please?”Â Lizzie and May looked at each other and nodded. “Great, thank you. Mrs. Hicks, I need you make the guest list and call everyone.”
“I think I can manage that.” She replied, smiling at the effort he was making.
“Give me a list of what you would all like to get her and I will go out and get it. I have to get Rodrigo to do the same.” He jumped up. “We’ll start decorating after we’re sure she’s down for the night.”
“Sounds good to us Lombard.”
“Dinner should be done soon by the way. I saw Rodrigo hard at work.” He went back inside and popped into the kitchen to tell the cook the rest of his plan. He realized he needed to eat so grabbed something out of the freezer and popped it into the microwave to defrost it. He ate quickly once it was done and then went upstairs and brushed his teeth. Tomorrow was going to be fun, he would make sure of it. He wanted Fatima to smile. He hated seeing her cry. It broke his heart to see tears slipping down her face. An hour later Rodrigo had finished dinner so he went to wake Fatima. She smiled when she saw him and it made his heart stutter. He loved for that smile.
“What time is it?” She asked sleepily.
“Dinner time, would you like to eat up here?”
“That would be great.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Lombard made her a plate of pasta with garlic bread. He poured her a glass of milk and hurried back upstairs. He toed her door open and handed her the plate while he sat the glass on the table. He turned to leave and she asked, “You’re not staying?”
“I have some business to take care of.” He answered with a smile.
“Important business. Eat and I’ll be back before you know it.”
He left before she could further protest, closing the door behind him. He gathered the lists from everyone and practically ran out the front door. Keith was waiting patiently for him and opened the back door so he could slide in. The driver was going to help him with the shopping. Fatima watched as the car pulled away and wondered what he was up to. He never hid things from her. She wondered if maybe she had done something wrong, of she had angered him in some way. She ate slowly, thinking on everything she had said and done with over the past few days. She had no ignored him. On fact she had clung him, needing him close after her father’s death. Maybe her clinginess had been to much and he needed a little alone time. She sighed, feeling suddenly depressed.
Lombard shopped as quickly as he could, making sure he got everything on the list before having Keith help him carry it out. They had made sure that everything was in paper bags so Fatima could not sneak a peek. They hurried home. Fatima’s bedroom light was still on when they pulled into the driveway and he watched the window the whole time to make sure she wasn’t watching. Lizzie and May had already gone to get the decorations and wrapping paper and were putting things up. Ruth hurried over to him and took the bags out of his arms.
“You should go upstairs and keep her company tonight while we do the decorating and wrapping.” She said softly.
“You shouldn’t have to do all the work.” He whispered back.
“Get upstairs, that’s an order. Go on, get.”
“I’m not a dog, you don’t have to shoo me.”
“Don’t make me get the newspaper.” He shook his head and did as he was told.
There was a light tapping on her door and she got up, pulling it open. Her heart did a little flip flop when she saw him standing there with a smile on his face. “May I come in Fatima?” He asked and she nearly combusted.
“Yes, please.” She stepped aside and he walked in. “Did you finish your business?”
“Almost. I wanted to know if you would like me to read to you again. I know this week has been hard on you.”
“You don’t have to do that. I can get to sleep on my own.”
“You mean eventually after you’ve cried yourself to sleep?”
She looked at her feet. She had prepared to cry herself to sleep, but it was over worrying about him wanting to be away from her. “Have I been to clingy?” She asked nervously.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’ve held onto you since finding out daddy died, fell asleep on you because I was afraid to sleep alone.”
He smiled and tipped her head up so she was looking into those very unique eyes. “No Fatima, you have not been to clingy. I am and will always be your friend, plus your father wanted me to be there for you so I shall be. Now, do you want me to read to you or not?”
“I would love for you to.” She pulled him over to the bed and they sat like they did before. She handed him the of Edgar Allan Poe and he started reading The Raven. She decided that poem was made for his voice. She found herself being lulled asleep by the beating of his heart.
Fatima woke up the next morning alone. She sat up and looked around, wondering where Lombard had gone. The most delicious smell filled her nose and she spotted the tray sitting on top of her chest of drawers. She got up and walked over to it. Steam was coming off the pancakes and coffee. Her door opened and she smiled at Lombard who was holding a bottle of blood in his hand. He closed the door behind him and crossed the room so he was standing close to her. He bent down and kissed her cheek, sending warmth coursing through her veins. His breath smelled minty.
“Happy birthday.” He said sweetly. “I was hoping you would still be asleep. Breakfast in bed.”
“I can get back in bed if you want me to.” She replied and he nodded. She crawled back in bed and he carried the tray over to her. She ate slowly, savoring the delicious blueberry pancakes. She sipped her coffee, loving the hazelnut flavor. “This is so great, thank you.” He handed her the bottle and she drank the blood quickly so she could finish her breakfast.
Lombard loved watching her eat. The way she used her teeth to slide her food off the fork was unreasonably sexy. A small drop of syrup stayed on the corner of her mouth and he resisted the urge to lean in and lick it off. Instead he grabbed the napkin off the tray and wiped it gently away. She smiled, lighting his whole world. “Would you like a bite?” She asked.
“Sure.” Was all he could say and she lifted some to his lips. He ate and she stared at his mouth. She found herself wondering what else he could do with it. She blushed and looked away, eating the last bite. He took the tray and sat it back on top of her chest of drawers. “I have a surprise for you, but you have to come with me downstairs and ou have to keep your eyes closed.”
“What of I fall down the stairs?” She said with a grin.
“I would never let that happen.” He held out his hand and she took it. Out in the hall she closed her eyes and he guided her. He made sure she took every step and they stopped at the bottom. He had her face the large entry way that they used for parties. “Open your eyes Fatima.”
She did and jumped back when everyone yelled surprise. Her hand went to her chest and she grabbed onto him to keep from falling. All of her friends were smiling at her along with her mother. She also noticed that everything was baby blue. She looked up at him and he grinned. “Baby blue?” A smile tugged at her lips.
“Of course, your favorite color.” He laughed and she hugged him.
She hugged everyone, excited that they had put forth so much effort to throw her a party. Donnie was there and she squeezed him in a tight hug. He held her to him for a long time and then kissed her cheek. He was as handsome as ever. He looked at her like she was the most beautiful creature in the world. “How have you been Donnie?” She asked.
“Oh fine I guess, getting married soon.” He answered, looking a little sad. “I need to say something really quick before you get swept away. I am so sorry I hurt you. I really loved you Fatima and the truth is I still do. I regret ending things, but…” She put a finger against his lips.
“I was never mad at you Donnie. I knew you did it to protect me and ai never thanked you for that. I want you to be happy okay. Promise me you’ll love her, whoever she is.”
“I promise.” She kissed his cheek and moved on to the other guests. She talked and laughed with everyone until lunch time. Everyone sat down and ate together. After lunch they brought out her cake and sang happy birthday. She closed her eyes, wishing that Lombard would just tell her how he felt, and blew out all thirty candles. Everyone had a slice of Rodrigo’s strawberry cake and then it was time for presents.
Most of her gifts were books or jewelry which excited her very much. She could never get enough books and she had learned to love jewelry after Lombard had bought her so much. She finally came to his present. She tore it open and stared at the framed picture of her and Lombard posing after archery practice. She was winking at the camera and he had a proud smile on his face. Her father had taken this picture when she was fifteen. She had hit the bullseye thirty times in a row, a personal best. She started to tear up, but cleared her throat and looked up at everyone.
“Thank you for coming today. After such sadness, you have all brought me joy. Thank you.” She said softly. Her mother hugged her then kissed her cheek.
Dinner time rolled around and with it the night. They ate and chatted happily, reminiscing on fun times. Afterwards her guests hugged her and wished her another happy birthday. She stood on the front porch until the last car pulled out of the driveway, holding the picture in her arms. She went back inside and everyone was already cleaning up. She yawned and her mother told her to go to bed and not worry about the mess. Lombard was waiting for her at the top of the stairs and she yawned again. He lifted her on his arms and carried her to her room. He sat her down and took the picture from her, sitting it on top of her chest of drawers where she could see it when she woke.
“Is it okay if I read to you?” He asked and she nodded. He pulled off his shoes then found his place on her bed and she crawled in after him. She listened to his heart beating strongly beneath her ear and to the wonderful sound of his voice and let it carry her away. She slipped into a place where it was only the two of them and they were happy together. Her last thought as she fell into oblivion was that she hoped her wish came true.