Emmalina stroked her brush over the canvas, lost in a world of her own somewhere between memory and fantasy. Yet again, her subject was Kayne. She hadn’t been able to get him off her mind since he’d left.
It had taken her hours to mix the paints for his eyes just right; the last time she’d painted him, they’d been much too dark. But this time – perfect. She’d never seen someone with eyes like his.
I’ve never seen anyone like him – period.
She’d focused on his face this time. The hardest part had been his scars. They could sometimes give his mouth such a cruel edge, but, oh, the wicked and wonderful things it had done.
She put her brush down and pressed her hands against her burning cheeks at the memory. It had been three weeks, but she could still feel his hands on her body. She couldn’t believe she’d had sex with him. She’d known him for a day! When her mother had told her years ago about sex, she had told Emmalina that it was important to wait for the right person; she said that she hadn’t had sex with her father until their wedding night.
Strangely, though, she didn’t feel as if she’d done something wrong. That night had been magical. Emmalina couldn’t imagine a more special experience than that.
Yet…She’d been crushed to discover that Kayne had left without even a goodbye the next morning. At first, she’d worried that what they’d shared hadn’t meant as much to him, but, then, she’d tried to imagine their roles reversed. She could never have parted from him if he’d been awake to look at her with those eyes of his. I probably would’ve begged him to stay, too.
“You’re thinking about that boy again,” her mother, Maria, said as she shuffled into the room.
Emmalina started and rushed over to help her to the couch. “Mama, you should be in bed.” Her stomach twisted at how thin and frail her mother had become.
Maria shook her head and smiled wanly at her daughter. “I’m tired of being in the basement.”
“Then let me get you something to eat.”
She started towards the kitchen, but the older woman caught her hand and patted the seat next to her. “Just sit with me for a bit, Emmy,” she said, using the nickname Emmalina had had since she was a little girl.
For a few minutes, they said there quietly, watching the light and shadows play on the landscape outside. Finally, her mother asked quietly, “How is work?”
Emmalina shrugged. “It’s okay. My boss is nice.” It was boring work, requiring little creativity, but it was also kind of amazing. She’d never left their zone before, and the city zone was like a completely different world.
“I hope they treat you well there.” Maria sighed. “I hate that it’s all coming down on you now.”
“It’s alright, Mama,” the young woman said quietly. “You’ll get better and then you’ll go back to work.”
Maria just patted her arm and returned to admiring the scenery. “I always loved this part of Oasis Springs. It’s so beautiful. That’s why your father built this bunker here.”
“I miss him,” Emmalina admitted softly, her throat tight.
“Me too.” Maria’s bony hand closed around Emmalina’s, squeezing tight. “I hope that boy comes back. He’s put stars in your eyes.”
Emmalina smiled a little but shook her head. “He’s not going to.” As much as she wished that he would, she could feel it in her gut; he would never come back.
“Still, I hope he does. I don’t want you to be alone.”
Emmalina’s heart went still in her chest and a sick feeling took over her body. She swallowed hard. “Alone? But, Mama, I’ve got you.”
“Oh, my darling Emmy.” Maria looked at her sadly. “I wish that I was going to get better. I thought I’d have so much more time.”
“D-don’t say that, Mama. You’re going to be fine. I’ll try to get you some medicine when I go to work tomorrow.” I can’t lose you too!
“There’s no medicine in this town that can help me.” Her voice was thin but firm. “I don’t want to leave you, but there’s nothing we can do.”
Tears spilled down Emmalina’s cheeks. “Mama, no. You don’t know for sure. You’re going to be okay.”
“I love you, Emmalina.” She said it as if she were saying goodbye, making the girl cry harder.
“Mama,” she said brokenly.
Her mother wrapped her thin arms around her body and held her close, just as she’d done when Emmalina was a little girl. Emmalina held her tightly and pressed her face into her mother’s neck, breathing in the familiar scent that was unique to her mother. It will be okay, she told herself over and over.
If only she believed it.