Welcome back, all! Once again, apologies for my extended absence. What with me being busier than I have ever been in my life and my laptop giving me issues, I really haven’t had the chance to update. In fact, I’ve been working on this chapter forever and finally finished today. HOORAY! It’s at least long though to make up for the wait! Also, I just wanted to sincerely thank all of you for sticking by my blog even though posts are now few and far between. It means the world to me, seriously. Enjoy and please don’t hesitate to comment- I love getting feedback! =)
“Happy two week,” I said softly, smiling down at Jiang through the darkness of the room.
“You celebrated one week too,” Jiang commented. “Are we celebrating an anniversary every week?” he asked, smiling back.
“Perhaps. Or at least until I get tired of it.”
Jiang laughed and I followed suit, but we were both quieted once our lips found each other’s once more. I took this moment to adjust myself atop Jiang, deepening the kiss as my fingers wandered lower and grazed his abdomen. He took in a sharp breath of air, leaning into my touch as his tongue sought further contact. He tasted like mint leaves and tea. I loved it. I loved him. My kisses turned more purposeful.
“You’re making ‘slow’ very difficult to do,” Jiang murmured against my lips, then failing to suppress a soft groan when I moved against him.
“As far as I’m concerned, just waiting two weeks has been slow enough for me,” I admitted, encouraging his hands to seek other, more intimate pursuits. He laughed softly. I looked down at him, meeting his eyes seriously. “Don’t you want me?” I asked softly.
“More than I think you realize,” Jiang admitted, his hands on my thighs now.
Emboldened by his actions, I announced confidently, “Then take what you want,” and then pulled the elastic out of my hair, shaking it loose.
Jiang’s blush was apparent even in the darkness of our room, and for a moment I thought I’d scared him, but then he flipped us over, one hand still on my thigh and the other weaving between the locks of my newly freed hair. His lips found mine again. This time I let out the groan. Gods please say he’d continue, please, please….
“I just don’t want to ruin this,” Jiang finally whispered, his grip on me slightly tighter.
“You won’t. We won’t. We’re meant to be. Thisis meant to be.” His eyes met mine for a moment and then he slowly pushed my nightgown up. A flash of heat rushed through my entire being and this time it was my turn to blush. I kissed him hard before he could notice.
“I love you, Tamara,” Jiang said softly, his lips planting gentle kisses down my cheek and his hands engaging in less innocent pursuits.
“I love you, too,” I managed to breathe, leaning into his touch.
…and we spent the rest of the night proving this fact to each other…all desperate kisses, ragged breaths and sharp cries, all hands and gasps and above all, overwhelming, incredible love that blossomed with what felt like the force of the recreation of the very universe itself. It was all perfect and existential and god I loved this man…and the best part of it was, he loved me, too.
During these last few weeks that I’d lived with Jiang, I honestly couldn’t remember myself ever being quite so happy. Being with him made me feel complete in a way that no one else ever did. It even numbed my usually overwhelming desire to constantly be travelling, which really was saying something.
It’s important to understand, however, that living with Jiang, although it did make me happier than I’d been in ages, wasn’t all perfect and stress-free though. No, not at all. Yes there were momentsthat felt that way, but the fact of the matter was that Jiang’s life was currently still in shambles and no amount of distraction on my part could pull him entirely away from that. Not when it affected him every day of his life.
Now, Jiang’s romantic relationship with Jiannan was no doubt over, the divorce papers already signed (they’d been working on that for awhile), but he was continuously forced into having some kind of relationship with her, if you could call it that. If it wasa relationship though, then it was one based on bitterness, anger, and constant disagreement. Why? Because there was one thing, just one thing, that Jiang was not willing to give up…
And that, was his children. It was the only matter in the divorce that hadn’t yet been settled.
The roughest days were the ones where Jiang actually had to talk to Jiannan, which was typically on the phone. The call would start out calm and civil and end with the two of them yelling at each other in Chinese. I didn’t need to know the language to understand the frustration and anger radiating from both parties. Jiannan was trying to keep the children all to herself, claiming Jiang was an unfit father, while, of course, Jiang argued the same against her.
“How can she say that I’m an unfit father when she is pregnant with some other man’s children?” Jiang would rage, looking about ready to hit something. “And do you think Shen cares at all about MY children? No! It’s a toxic environment for them to be in! It upsets them!”
“I don’t know,” I said quietly that day, feeling at a loss for the right words. I paused for a moment and then wrinkled my face, realizing something. “Wait, Shen?” I asked. “You mean the guy who owns the General Goods Store now?”
Jiang made a sound of disgust. “He doesn’t own it. Jiannan’s father owns it and as soon as she even hinted at the word ‘unfaithful’ he had me tossed out of my job faster than I could say ‘unfair.’ Then, of course, not even a month later, Shen’s the new manager of the store and Jiannan is five months pregnant with twins. And he has the nerve of talking to ME about being unfaithful.Tiang ah!”
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, once again unable to think of anything else to say.
“If you’re going to feel sorry for anyone, feel sorry for my children. They’re the ones suffering in this,” he muttered bitterly, finishing off his third glass of wine and setting the glass down on the table. “I can’t stand it.”
“I wish I could do something,” I mumbled, taking him in my arms and resting my head against his shoulder. He sighed, giving me a kiss on the top of the head.
“You already are. If it weren’t for you, I’d have probably gone insane by now,” Jiang admitted, rubbing my arm comfortingly. He groaned then, resting his forehead against my shoulder. “Ugh, my head. Too much wine. See what this all is doing to me?”
“I see it everyday,” I responded sadly. I shifted slightly in his arms then to kiss him, and he kissed me back a little harder than usual. A little more…desperately.
“I really do love you, you know that?” he asked then, pulling away slightly to look at me. His hands remained on my waist.
“I do,” I murmured.
“And…and I want you to be my wife, Tamara,” he entreated quietly. I practically jumped at his words, looking up at Jiang in shock and surprise. That had come out of nowhere. Goosebumps rose upon my skin. I could barely breathe.
“This isn’t just the wine talking, is it?” I asked half-jokingly once I’d regained some control over myself. I smiled nervously.
“No. I really am asking. I know it’s fast, but…I’m asking you to be my wife, Tamara,” he said seriously, his eyes never leaving mine. “Will you? That is…will you marry me, Tamara Winters?” Tears came to my eyes unbidden and my throat felt tight. Despite the unexpectedness of his proposal and just how incredibly fast it was all going though I found myself nodding, the answer the same as it probably would have been the first time I ever laid eyes on him.
“Yes,” I answered quickly, my eyes meeting his. “Yes, I’ll marry you. I’d like nothing more.” Jiang smiled down at me and then kissed me ardently, his arms wrapping around me and holding me close. And he kissed me…and kissed me…and I melted into his arms…and right into his bed once more.
Yes…being with Jiang definitely made me the happiest I’d been in years.
Whenever Jiang was caught up in court and other various legal proceedings though, I found other ways to keep myself busy, either honing my martial arts skills, or journeying deep into tombs where I’d find all kinds of treasures.
I even followed the trail of a truly mystical story regarding the curse of the Dragon Cave. The woman who had sent me seemed convinced that I could end the curse, but that isn’t really why I went. No, I mostly went because it sounded interesting, and because this journey took me to places within the cave that I’d never been yet.
Once I got to the end of the cave though I was attacked by what I’m pretty sure were a bunch of idiots dressed in mummy costumes. They even had the nerve to try and beat me up! So this was the so-called curse the old lady had talked about—a couple of pranksters! I easily showed them that they had just messed with the LAST tourist though, thoroughly beating each and every one of them in a fight. They were strong…really strong, but my martial arts training gave me the extra edge.
When they disappeared in a cloud of sand and dust though, I got nervous. How in the world had they done that? Were they okay? Was there some kind of trap door or something I didn’t notice? And how had they imitated the stench of decay and death so well?
Needless to say, I got out of there quickly, my heart practically pounding. Sometimes these journeys led me places I simply didn’t want to go.
“So I think I ended the so-called ‘curse’ you were talking about….”
“You defeated the mummy of Dong Huo?” the woman who sent me on the quest responded in a low hiss, her face pale.
“Err, mummies, actually. Seeing as there was more than one, but I’m pretty sure it was just some idiot guys in suits trying to scare tourists off. Anyway though, I don’t think they’ll be quick to scare anyone else for awhile. I told them that if they even dared bother anyone again I’d be back, and this time with the police.”
“You don’t believe…do you?” the old woman asked, lines of sadness crossing her features.
“Believe what? You mean…in mummies?,” I asked, stalling for time. Flashes of my time in the Dragon Cave came unbidden in my head…as well as that strange day in Egypt when I was a teenager…what’d I seen. I shook my head and stammered out a response, “Well, I mean…I mean it makes a lot more sense that-”
“Tell me exactly what happened,” she interrupted, her gaze on me fierce. It made me uneasy all over again, but I told my story about going into the cave, being sure to leave nothing out since it all seemed so important to her. When I got to the part of fighting the “mummies,” she paled, her eyes wide with fear, and then grabbed the front of my shirt, shaking me. “Are you sureyou defeated them all?” she asked in a low hiss, her face much too close to mine.
“Y-y-yes,” I stammered, taken aback. “They were just idiots in costumes. I mean they were strong yeah, but-”
“And what happened once you defeated them? What?”
“They…they…” this was the most unbelievable part. For a moment I worried that the old lady would think I was crazy if I told her the truth, but then I took note again of her hand clutching my shirt and her wild, wild eyes, and I realized that of all people to worry about sounding crazy to, this was not one. “They disappeared,” I finally managed. “Just…vanished. In a swirl of dust and sand. They even left behind some ashes.”
“Good. That’s good. And you’re sure you weren’t cursed?”
“Yes, silly girl! Cursed! Mummies can do that you know. Do you feel alright? Not clammy or sick or anything, right? If so, you have to go to Egypt. To the Sphinx. As quickly as you can possibly make it or else-”
“I feel fine,” I quickly interrupted, taking a step back away from the lady. She let go of my shirt.
“Yes, I’m positive. Now if you’ll excuse me….” I said, but the old woman seemed lost in her own world now, muttering and smiling about the curse being broken and Dong Huo’s spirit being trapped. Taking advantage of this opportunity, I immediately fled, my heart pounding. Some people here just took magic way too seriously.
I came home ready for a nice long bath, especially after having spent the night in an ancient tomb. I felt gross, all sweaty and musty smelling with who knows what clinging to my skin and clothes. As I walked through the door I took off my hat, setting it down on the counter and making a beeline for the bathroom.
I stopped in my tracks though when I saw Jiang on the couch, head in his hands and looking completely miserable. “What’s wrong?” I immediately asked, all thoughts of bathing leaving my mind. Jiang jumped slightly, looking startled. It looked like he hadn’t even heard me come in. Oh god, what’s happened?
“Oh, hi. I didn’t see you,” Jiang replied, looking up at me and forcing a small smile. “I’m glad you’re back.”
“Me too,” I responded. It got quiet and I began to feel nervous, rocking back and forth on the balls of my feet. “Is…is everything okay?” I finally asked, it seeming clear that Jiang wasn’t going to say anything else.
“Yes…no. I mean…no it’s fine…it’s just…” his voice trailed off for a moment and he got a pained looking expression on his face. “It’s just…I’m worried Jiannan is going to win this custody case.”
“What makes you say that?” I asked, approaching Jiang and taking a seat beside him on the couch.
“It seems to be leaning in her favor. She’s their mother. It’s a more stable home. Shen and her are married now…and he has the business. I…I have nothing right now,” he said, his voice cracking. He fell silent again, his eyes staring at nothing and his jaw clenched. He looked like he was falling apart from the inside out. I didn’t think anything I said would help him, but I tried.
“I mean, it’s not like yours is an unstable home anyway. And she can’t just take the kids away entirely. You’re their father,” I pressed, and then paused for a moment, thinking. “What do they want? Your kids, I mean.”
“For us to get back together and be a family again, of course,” Jiang said with a heavy sigh, massaging his temples. “But I think they’re realizing that that’s just not going to happen. They don’t like Shen, but they don’t want to leave their mother. But then also, they don’t want to leave me either. They’re upset. And I don’t think it’s helping that they see me with someone too,” he admitted, glancing over at me apologetically.
“No, it’s okay,” I said quickly, brushing it off. “I understand.” And I did—I really did. In fact, I was surprised Jiang’s children were even showing me the respect that they did, seeing as how I was the “other” woman in their father’s life. I mean…they didn’t seemed to particularly likeme either, but they were polite and sometimes even asked me some questions. Mostly they kind of avoided me, but I was trying. I really was. I figured they just needed their space, so I didn’t push…merely trying to show them that I wasn’t a “bad guy.” “Is there anything we can do?” I asked then, meeting Jiang’s eyes again.
Jiang shrugged, still looking miserable. “I just have to keep trying. I think I’ll get them weekends. Maybe school breaks too,” he finally whispered. “I just hate the thought of not-” his voice broke again and he looked up at the ceiling, his eyes overly bright. He took a deep breath. “Of not seeing them everyday.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. Even though I didn’t actually have any children of my own, I could imagine that this was tearing him apart. Hell, I could see it tearing him up, and even I felt a bit upset about it. The truth was, I was kind of…well…looking forwardto being a mom to them. Or at least a good friend, since I really wasn’t sure if I was “mom material” anyway.
“We should go,” Jiang finally said abruptly.
“Away. Somewhere. Get away from it all. …just for the weekend. I can’t-…I can’t sit around here like this. I know a place. Up in the mountains. It’s quiet.” Jiang sighed, rubbing his temples again. “I can’t deal with this,” he whispered.
“Yes, you can,” I said vehemently, turning toward Jiang and taking his hands in mine. “We’ll go away for the weekend and we’ll come back and you’ll take this head-on! You’re going to get through this, and everything is going to work out. I just know it.”
Jiang looked at me for a long moment and then slowly nodded, a small, hesitant smile crossing his features. I wasn’t sure if he looked entirely convinced about it, but he was certainly convinced about this trip, and so it was settled that we’d essentially go camping for the weekend. I was excited about it…and I think after awhile Jiang was feeling pretty happy about it too.
And although I may not have actually been 100% sure everything was going to work out, I did know that I was going to do everything in my power to make this weekend great for him.
What with all this crap going on in Jiang’s life, it just had to be….
And it was, to be honest. Jiang and I went to the hot springs…
Talked around the campfire late into the night…
And partook in other, er, enjoyable activities
All in all it’d been such a wonderful weekend, that when I woke up that Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but feel at least a little disappointed that it was over. Of course, I couldn’t dwell on this thought for too long because it was soon after that I realized Jiang wasn’t laying beside me.
Confused, I crawled out of our tent, clambering onto my feet and squinting in the brightness of the sun. “Jiang?” I called out, blinking as my eyes adjusted.
“Oh good, you’re awake,” I heard from somewhere over to my left. I blinked again and my eyes came back into focus only to see Jiang looking at me ecstatically and carrying a decent sized box with a giant bow on it.
“What’s this?” I asked curiously, gesturing toward the box.
“A present. For you,” he said, looking suddenly nervous as he held the box out to me.
“Just open it.” Raising an eyebrow at Jiang, I did as I was told, removing the ribbon from the package and hastily unwrapping it. Jiang looked about ready to burst as I finally got the box unwrapped, sliding my finger into the crack to pull up the cardboard lid. My eyes widened as I caught a glimpse of what was inside.
“Jiang…?” I asked in small whisper, removing a long, intricately decorated red gown.
“Marry me, Tamara?” Jiang responded in an anxious whisper, giving my hands a squeeze and pushing the gorgeous garment toward me. “Here. Today.”
“Today?” I asked incredulously, feeling stupid that I suddenly seemed only able to speak in questions. Jiang laughed softly and then nodded before gesturing out beyond our campsite.
“What better place, honestly? The waterfall…the sun…the trees…you…it’s all I need. It’s all we need,” he paused, taking my hands in his. “I love you, Tamara, more than I can ever properly express, and- and I’m pretty sure you love me too, I mean-”
“Of course I love you,” I interrupted, looking at him seriously. “And yes…I’ll marry you here…today. I’d like nothing more.”
The smile I received from Jiang at my words was brighter than the day.
And so it was that Jiang and I got married, on that warm, beautiful day, with the waterfall rushing beyond us, the sun kissing our faces, and the sweet scent of cherry blossoms soothing our senses. It was everything I could have possibly dreamed of, and as Jiang slipped that ring upon my finger, I knew that it was possible for reality to be better than dreams.
And as Jiang playfully scooped me up in his arms, successfully enveloping me in his warm, gentle touch, I seriously couldn’t imagine ever feeling so happy again for the rest of my life.
And to be honest, I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.
So when I received a phone call from home a little later that day, I only got more excited.
“Hey, Dad! I was actually just going to call—I have wonderful news!” I gushed as soon as I answered the phone, happiness entwined with every word I spoke.
“Tamara…it’s your sister, Catherine,” my dad answered quietly, the weight of the world settling upon his every word.
“Hey honey, who’s that? Did you tell them the great news!?” Jiang suddenly cried. I couldn’t even find the words to reply to him, frozen in place. The smile faded from Jiang’s face as soon as he noticed my reaction and he asked me what was wrong, but I ignored him. I had to hear what Dad said next…and yet, I never wanted to.
“What’s wrong?” I somehow managed to whisper into the phone, my heart sinking so low in my chest that I thought the very ligaments and tissues that held it in place had broken.
“She-…” his voice broke, and tears beaded in my eyes before I even heard his next words. The words that would change everything.
“She has cancer.”