“Here we go again,” thought Maya with a sense of dread, as she placed her hand on the door.
Taking several deep breaths, Maya closed her eyes and wished for a sense of peace and calm to wash away her restless nerves. She placed a smile on her face, opened the door and joined the large crowd of guests on the second floor of the Gallery. Looking around, Maya was amazed at everything she saw; from the elegant formal wear, to the overflowing buffet, and in particular, the artists contributions for the evening; which were many, of every different kind. The walls were adorned with paintings large and small, of all differing textures, mediums and colors. Ceiling spotlights accentuated the array of artists sculptures on display in the middle of the room, highlighting their curves and edges enticingly to encourage a sale.
The guests were standing in groups pointing at the artwork with looks of delight and contemplation, while they discussed the pieces they possibly wished to buy. All the while the Gallery staff stood silently to the side, order pad in hand ready to write up a sale.
Bottles of juice were being expertly carried by waiters, who quietly went about the business of filling and refilling glasses, almost seeming to be invisible as they did so. In the background, Maya could faintly hear a piano playing the soothing sounds of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. She wondered if this kind of music was chosen for atmosphere, or if it had some effect on the artistic side of a person, creating the desire to purchase art. It had just the right touch of softness and excitement, all rolled into one piece of music.
The room was quite loud, which made conversation a challenge. Maya became increasingly impatient to find Nancy or the Meir sisters, who had promised to be in attendance that evening. She had just glimpsed the back of what she thought could only be Nancy’s perfect blond chignon hair, on the other side of the room. She began to subtly maneuver her way through the crowd in that direction. Maya herself was an hour late to the gathering, with hopes of arriving at a time the crowd would have thinned out for the evening. She was disappointed to find the event to be so busy at this late an hour. She knew several of the guests, many of whom wanted to speak to her about her art. Some had already seen her painting, and were generous with their compliments in the best manner. She herself couldn’t wait to see it mounted on the Gallery wall, and wished that the crowd would either disperse or move a little faster. When she finally did make it around the room, she was met by Nancy who obviously had been waiting for her to arrive.
“There you are! These gentlemen have been waiting for you to get here.”
“My apologies gentlemen. The room was just so busy that I could barely move. The artwork really is exquisite. I can see why the Gallery is so well attended this evening,” replied Maya.
“Thank you Maya. Now stand here,” said Nancy moving Maya into position “and allow these gentlemen to get their pictures for their newspapers.” Maya tried to relax her shoulders and portray a confident smile for the cameras.
“Thank you gentlemen,” Nancy said dismissing the men with a wave of her hand. Maya stood back and took a good look at her piece on the wall. Nancy stood with her.
“Very impressive dear. I love the shading! It completely baffles me how artists can do that and make it look so real!”
“Thank you Nancy! I will tell you, it’s not easy,” said Maya.
Nancy casually moved further into the area, stepping backward and watching Maya with a bemused expression on her face. Maya, noticing Nancy had moved on walked towards her but kept her focus on Nancy’s face, wondering what had become so amusing to her all of a sudden. Maya stopped in front of her and followed Nancy’s gaze to the wall. Maya gasped. There, Maya saw a beautiful painting done of herself mounted on the Gallery wall.
“I don’t understand,” Maya said more than a little confused. “Who? How?”
Nancy glanced around to see if they were alone, turned to look Maya directly in the eyes, and stated “It was painted by your husband.”
Maya’s breath caught in her throat. Panic began to build in her mind, and she became very aware of her surroundings like a deer, after the first hint of danger in the forest. Maya continued to look around the room, then back to Nancy, wide eyed and heart pounding in her chest.
“You have nothing to worry about, your secret is safe with me. I would never divulge it to anyone.”
Maya tried to calm her racing heart, and make some sense of all the thoughts running through her mind. “When did you find out? How did you find out? What does this mean,” Maya asked in a near whisper.
“I’ve known since before I met you. Ian and I have been good friends for quite some time now. It means my dear, that your husband has not given up on you. He still loves you and this is one way he has chosen to show you.” With a look of longing, Nancy said “I think you look most beautiful here. It’s a wonderful thing to be gifted someone’s true and honest reflection they have for another.” Nancy sighed.
“I almost don’t recognize myself. How did the painting get here?”
“Maya,” Nancy held Maya’s hands in comfort. “Ian has always known where you were. He brought the painting himself. He has been in Sunset Valley as long as you have.”
“Yes. In fact he just left the Gallery-“
Maya turned around and pushed her way through the crowd to make it to the top of the stairs. Racing down, she slammed into the glass front door and pushed her way through.
The courtyard was so dark, but she could just make out a figure of a man about to step onto the sidewalk.
“Ian?” she yelled.
The figure stopped and slowly turned around. She didn’t know if it truly was him, and she worried that perhaps she had missed him leaving.
The sound of his voice startled her, and she felt a thrill in her chest knowing that it was him. She ran down the steps and across the courtyard to him, almost in tears. He stopped her from throwing herself into his arms by taking her hands.
“Ian,” she said whispering his name. “I’m so happy to see you! The painting is beautiful. I love it! But I don’t understand. What does this all mean?”
“It means Maya, that I have decided to fight for you. In China you said to me that you would always be mine. I’m going to show you that was the best decision you ever made. We are going to start, by going on a date. I’m going to take you out and court you the way I should have done in China.”
“A date Ian? But I can’t. I can’t go out with you!”
“Because Ian. I’m a level five celebrity. If we go out, people will start to question who you are. The paparazzi will have a field day with the story and never leave you alone.”
“I’m your husband Maya,” Ian stated in a firm voice.
“Not to the rest of the world.” That statement hung in the air between them. “To the rest of the world I am Miss Maya Wang, girlfriend to Eddy Mullins-“
“I don’t want to talk about Eddy!” Ian growled loudly. Taking a big breath to calm his nerves he closed his eyes and waited till he felt a little more calm.
“Fine. Then we will go out in a less public manner. But I have a few rules when we do. First off, there will be no talk about Eddy Mullins. You can talk about school, painting, or China. But I don’t want to hear about anything that has anything to do with Eddy.” He paused to take a breath. “If that is agreeable to you, then meet me at my house tomorrow at one p.m. Nancy knows the address.”
With that Ian dropped her hands and walked away. Maya was left standing there speechless. Not once had she ever seen Ian frustrated let alone angry. He was definitely both! Not only was Ian very aware of Eddy, but by his statement, she surmised that he knew about a lot more in regards to Eddy. Had he been keeping tabs on her? Maya cringed at the degrading memories of everything that had been in the media, in the past four months.. She was entirely embarrassed, and yet completely surprised that he even wanted to see her. ‘I’m going to fight for you’ he had said. The statement set her heart to racing in anticipation of all that it meant. The flowers after the fashion show, the necklace with Jin’s picture for Christmas. That was what it all meant. She couldn’t wait to see what Ian had planned for a date! She knew that she shouldn’t even start down this path of thinking. She wasn’t good enough for Ian, wasn’t worthy of his love. She just didn’t know why he didn’t understand that. He was too good a man, and if she was a decent person, she would tell him to find someone else that was worthy of fighting for. However, the prospect of seeing Jin, almost brought her to tears! So she would go through with the date, and then help him to understand.
Maya arrived home to find Nancy waiting for her in the foyer, wringing her hands in worry.
“Maya, I’m so sorry! You must think I am a terrible, deceitful person! I was only looking out for your best interests. I wanted to tell you, but I just couldn’t!”
“Nancy relax” she said. “I totally understand. I’m just so appreciative of all you and Geoffrey have done for me. Coming here to Sunset Valley truly was a good thing for me. I feel like some sort of heavy load has been lifted off my shoulders and it’s a good feeling. Seeing Ian was a good thing.”
“What did he say, may I ask?”
“Oh nothing much really. But I really must get to bed, because tomorrow I have a date and I really do want to look my best.”
At the word date, Nancy squealed in delight, ran over and snatched Maya up in a big hug.
“I’m so happy for you!” she cried.
“Okay, okay. Save all this giddiness for tomorrow. Let’s just see how it goes first. Goodnight Nancy.”
Maya casually walked upstairs to her room and when she was out of sight, she ran the rest of the way and jumped onto her bed. Giddy was a good word, for as giddy as Nancy was at hearing the word date, Maya was even more so. Just the prospect of spending time with Ian had her dreaming all kinds of scenarios. She had no idea just how much she had missed him until Nancy had said he was here. Then all she felt was this desperation to get to him as quickly as she could. Just hearing his voice was like medicine to her aching soul. She wondered what the patrons at the Gallery thought about her very hasty departure! She just hoped that no media had followed her out and witnessed the scene with her husband. She knew how much he valued his privacy. “Ian,” she whispered to her empty room. I shall never sleep tonight!
The next day, Maya arrived at Ian’s house promptly at one. She had never been down to this area of town, but the houses in this block were really quite nice. This particular house was a little brighter colour than she liked, but had a Spanish style to it, she found very appealing. She was standing at the front door waiting for him to answer, but after a few minutes Maya gingerly let herself in. She called out, but other than some movement upstairs, she didn’t hear a thing. Figuring he must be busy with Jin, she walked around taking a look at where they had been living. Evidence of Jin was everywhere in the house. Toys, books, a potty, and baby food in the kitchen. Ian obviously hadn’t had time to clean up after lunch, so Maya set to cleaning the dishes and wiping down the counter.
At the sound of his voice, Maya turned in his direction and stopped.
“Hi,” he replied.
Standing before her was not the husband she had known. She could still see the remnants of the Ian she knew, but he was thinner, more muscular and very, very chiseled. He had changed his hair to a longer more appealing style, and grew a very slight beard. He was a truly beautiful man! She looked him up and down admiring what she saw, and came back to those beautiful brown eyes.
“Hi,” was all she could manage to say back.
“So you found the place I see. Sorry I didn’t answer the door. I was busy getting Jin down for nap before the babysitter got here.”
“Really? I was hoping to see him!”
“Not yet. Today is for us. I just need to get changed and I will be right down.”
Ian took Maya to a slightly secluded park up in the hills for an afternoon picnic. The weather was perfect for such an outing, with a lower temperature and a slight breeze to keep them cool. Ian had packed some small items to nibble on like crackers and cheese, veggies and fruit and for a dessert treat, a small apple pie from the bakery. They talked about the time they had missed together, for the past four months.
Maya told Ian about her dorm mates with all their quirks and challenges, and the new painting skills she had learned in her classes. Ian told her a little about some of the new clients he had gained in the art world, and a lot about Jin. When the conversation became quiet between them, Ian asked Maya if she could tell him more about growing up in China. She sighed and considered what she should and shouldn’t tell him. Deciding to get comfortable, she rolled to her stomach and started from the beginning.
“My parents could only afford to have one child. My father was really disappointed when I turned out to be a girl and because of it, he mostly just ignored me. I was pretty sure that he loved me, but even at an early age I understood he was missing out on having a son to raise and carry on the family line. My parents were matched in an arranged marriage, like I was. It’s funny because when I was little, I thought my mother was a very loving, devoted wife. It wasn’t till I reached the age of eight, that I began to have a true understanding of my parent’s marriage. The age of eight was when I started my training to be a wife. It was then I discovered that my parent’s didn’t marry for love, and I would also be matched with a man. Actually at the time I didn’t think that was too bad, because the boy I was originally going to marry, I knew. He would come and visit me, bring me candies and take me for walks. He died while on a fishing trip with his father, at the age of fourteen. He was four years older than me. Our parents were somewhat friends, if that is what you can call it. In China, couples aren’t friends in the same sense as they are here. It’s more for mutual benefit than friendship. Anyway, he died and my parents had to find another match for me. Then, my parents were approached by the matchmaker, on behalf of Shen, with the request to go through with the marriage process. At the time there really were no other suitable matches from our social standing, so they went through the birthday matching, to ensure our compatibility. When that went through, my parents received the first betrothal gifts and the betrothal letter. I was too young, so they accepted both on my behalf. Once that was done, I was engaged to a man I had never met, at the age of ten. Even though the rest of the betrothal gifts usually don’t arrive till a few days before the wedding, my parents insisted that they be paid up front. So he paid them in red beans, lotus seeds, wine, and a money box. To this day, I still have no idea how much money was actually in it, but it had to be substantial. I know, because my mother commented more than a few times, how valuable I was and how important it was, that I learn to be the perfect wife. Imagine being told at the age of ten that you had essentially been sold to another person? How degrading that makes one feel, even at such a young age, to know that you have a worth, and that worth actually has a price?”
Ian was shaking his head in disbelief, but didn’t say a word.
“It was then that my training really began; cooking, cleaning, sewing, and gardening. That was when I became important to my father, but his form of attention turned from disregard to discipline. If he thought I stepped out of line, if he felt I wasn’t trying hard enough, or if I made a mistake, I felt his regard well.” Maya shook her head at the memories of her father’s discipline methods.
“My parents wanted me to put everything else aside, and from that point, my childhood ended. But I wasn’t ready to give up on art either. So Sun kept all my supplies at her sister’s house, and one day a week, I was allowed a day off from training to visit her. We spent that time dreaming about different lives. A life away from China, where we could be free of the bonds of Chinese traditions. She in turn was my first and most used model for sketching. I wish I had brought some of those sketches with me. What I wouldn’t give to have those with me now. Anyway, I managed to convince Shen to let me wait till the age of eighteen to marry. Which was not easy considering he was much older than me. He was thirty when we married. Shen was such a stern man. I was lucky to get more than ten words out of him in a day; all of which were just directives for running his house. He didn’t care about having a wife. All he wanted was someone to cook his meals, clean his house and keep his bed warm at night. Which was something I lived through and was discretely trained never to enjoy. It was like he looked at me as a servant, something he paid for and beyond that, didn’t care for at all. I couldn’t repeat my parents cycle. Not with him. Not with anyone. I wanted a better life than that, even if deep down I wasn’t sure if I really deserved it.”
“Maya,” Ian said to her kindly, “you deserve better than what your parents did to you. Better than a marriage with no love in it. You should want to have a relationship with mutual respect and love. I feel bad for your parents and the generations before them. For accepting such a bleak life. Everyone deserves love and to have their dreams come true. But I think you have all of that mixed up in your head. You want to be an accomplished, famous artist. There is nothing wrong with that. But it’s the version of famous you have been dreaming about, and living for the past four months, that you seem to have confused with happiness.”
Maya didn’t know what to say to that. Primarily, because she didn’t know for sure if he might be right. How many times had she thought to herself in the past four months, that celebrity life was not what she thought it was going to be? So together they laid quietly watching the fireflies over the pond, their blinking lights like tiny fireworks reflecting on the surface of the pond. It was almost completely dark when they packed up for Ian to take her home. Ian dropped her at the gate to the Landgraab estate and said goodnight, but not before making plans to see her the next day. Maya stood at the curb watching him drive away, missing him already and praying for the hours between then and the next day to pass quickly.
By noon they had caught a few rainbow trout, so he put the poles away and set to the task of cleaning the fish, while Maya put together the rest of the meal. They spoke very little during the meal and he watched Maya nervously look around at everything in the room, and down at her plate, but never at him.
After cleaning their plates, they retired to the couch with a couple cups of coffee. Ian decided to start the conversation by telling her about some of the demanding art dealers he had met over the past four months. They talked about everything she had been doing during her time with the Landgraabs. Most he already knew, but feigned ignorance, so he could hear it all from her point of view. She had really enjoyed her vacation in Sunset Valley, which strengthened his resolve that bringing her here, had been the right thing to do.
“So are you ever going to tell me about this transformation of yours?” Maya asked.
Ian just grinned. “What transformation?”he asked. Maya gave him a look.
“Ah, well, when you left I took a long hard look at myself and decided I wasn’t happy with what I saw. Growing up on the farm had made me strong, but I was carrying around hidden weight under that muscle. So I changed my diet, bought myself some gym equipment and started working out. I guess this is the result.”
“You look amazing. I almost didn’t recognize you!” replied Maya.
“You look great too,” said Ian.
“Yes well, all I had to hear was two words; fashion show. That had me so freaked I started hitting the gym myself. I still have a bit more to lose thought.”
“No, you don’t.” Ian firmly stated.
Maya was staring into his eyes and he could feel himself being drawn into that gaze, leaning towards her. On Maya’s face he saw the soft look of passion and she tilted her head to receive him with a kiss. Realizing what he was doing, he cleared his throat and immediately stood up to gather the coffee cups.
“I should get home. I’m sure Jin is wondering where I am.” Maya anxiously stood up.
“Jin! When can I see him?”
“Tomorrow. I thought perhaps we could spend some time at the house.”
“Really? All day?” asked Maya
“If you like.” replied Ian.
“Yes! Yes I would!”
Ian dropped Maya off at the Landgraabs, and drove home mentally kicking himself for the near miss. It would be so easy to fall back into bed with his wife, and so easy to get her there. But it wouldn’t change anything and he knew it. The timing had to be right and when it was, they would both know for sure.
The next morning Maya arrived at Ian’s house for nine, all nerves in happy anticipation of seeing her son for the first time in four months. Ian opened the door and she stepped into the foyer looking for Jin. Ian pointed into the room on the right, to where Jin was sitting on the floor playing with some toys.
“Jin, Mommy is here.”
Jin turned to look at his mother, got up and came running toward her.
“Mommy!” he cried.
Maya knelt down to receive him into her arms, but he suddenly stopped a few feet in front of her and looked unsure.
“Jin, Mommy could use a hug.” she told him softly.
Jin’s face brightened and he threw himself into her arms. She gathered him to her and hugged him as if she had just received back her very own heart. She kissed him on both cheeks and his forehead, telling him how much she loved and missed him.
“Mommy, come play,” he stated.
Maya spent the morning playing blocks and cars with her son. He was very proud to show her his new toy he had gotten from mommy and daddy for Christmas. They read every book on the shelf, and when they were done, he grabbed her finger in his little hand, and pulled her outside.
Ian had bought a new rocket ride on toy for the owner of the home, as a thank you gift for giving him a home during his stay in Sunset Valley. It was red, white and blue, played music and lit up while the child rocked back and forth and in circles. Jin loved the ride on toy, and Ian figured that meant he was going to have to buy the exact same one, for their home on the island, before he left town.
They were having so much fun outside, that Jin didn’t want to come in for lunch. Ian had planned for a photographer to come by and take some informal family photos of the three of them, just after lunch. Jin was starting to get very tired from all the excitement of the morning, and was a little silly, but they managed to get it done. Ian only hoped they turned out well. He thanked the photographer for his abundance of patience and paid him well for his time.
When Jin went down for his nap, Maya was happy to have a little bit of private time with Ian. She couldn’t believe how easy it was to be with the two of them. Almost like she had never left, and life had carried on as normal.
But it wasn’t entirely the same when they were alone. There were all these unsaid words and truths they had intentionally avoided. Topics, that Ian had been very clear, he didn’t want to talk about, but time was running out. Maya had to return to University town the next day to resume classes for the semester. If not now, then when? Maya had all these emotions warring inside her, and she was so conflicted, she couldn’t tell what she really wanted; what was best for both of them. They spent that time in the hot tub, talking about generalities, and glancing at each other, when they both thought the other wasn’t looking. It wasn’t long before Jin woke from his nap, and they spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the pool.
(Uggg rendering issues!)
Together as a family, they felt more at ease with one another, and they had a lot of fun, trying to teach a very nervous Jin how to swim.
When suppertime came, Maya went in to make them dinner, all the while watching Ian and Jin through the kitchen windows.
Oh, how much she loved these two people. So much so, that she truly began to question everything in her life. She only wished she knew exactly how Ian felt about her. She wondered what he knew about her life for the past four months. Had that changed his opinion of her? Did he only want her back for Jin’s sake? Had he planned to ask her to stay and would she, if he asked? He hadn’t tried to touch her at all for the past three days, and had very deliberately gone out of his way not to. What exactly did that mean?
Dinner came and went and before long it was time for Maya to put Jin to bed.
Ian waited for her in the living room downstairs, giving Maya time to say goodbye to their son. Then, they sat together and talked about how amazing their son was growing up.
“Well, its getting late,” Ian said out of the blue.
“Yes I suppose you are right.” Maya waited. Waited for him to say anything in regards to her staying, but he just stayed silent. So she stood up and made her way to the door, each step causing a sense of panic to build inside her chest. Leaving Ian was causing her heart to hurt and she didn’t want to go. When she reached the door, she turned around and looked him in the eyes, trying to gauge any hint of what he may be feeling.
Slowly she reached up, touched his face and rose on tip toes to gently kiss his lips. Ian didn’t respond at first but then, he growled, took her face in his hands and began to kiss her passionately. Backing her up against the wall, he grabbed her hands and raised them above her head. Maya responded by pressing her body suggestively against his, relishing in the feel of his new muscular body. Maya’s response to him was like ice water poured over his head. Taking Maya’s hands, he pulled them behind her body and very firmly said no.
“But why? I want you Ian. You want me. Why?”
“No Maya,” Ian said shaking his head “No, nothing has changed. Tomorrow you will leave Sunset Valley and go back to university. You will go back to him.”
“What if I wanted to stay?”
“If that really is what you wanted, then I would be very happy.” Ian said to her firmly. “But if you come back to me before you know for sure, you will regret it. You need to know for sure. So you will go back to university and do everything you need to do, for you. I will not sleep with you until you finally come back to me. When you do, I will never let you go. Never again! Now go.”
She made it around the side of the house before the tears began to flow.After she had a good cry, she got in her car and hurried back to the Landgraab’s house. She was so humiliated, that she couldn’t stay there any longer! She packed her bags, said a hasty good bye to Nancy and Geoffrey and hit the road back to University Town.
Ian closed the door and watched as Maya ran out the courtyard and down the sidewalk. He felt as if he had been strongly punched in the gut.
All he wanted to do was pull her into his arms and never let go. Just carry her up the stairs and make hot, passionate love to her. But if he made a mistake, if he changed the plan based on lust, he would lose.
His one hope, was that he didn’t just blow his one and only last chance, to get her back.
CC Used In This Chapter
Ian’s house in Sunset Valley built by me
Cabin by the pond built be me