Apollo slept soundly while I remained awake, staring at the ceiling. Pulling my hand from beneath the blanket, I held it above me and stared at the ring. It was beautiful.

Engaged.

The thought brought a dozen hummingbirds, beating their wings, inside my chest. Taking a deep breath, I calmed myself back to reality, only to have it happen again when I looked over at him.

Good gods…how will I survive him?

A million other questions followed; one more complicated than the next, keeping sleep at bay.

We still had most of the day ahead before we needed to return home, and I wanted to focus on our time together before heading back to the Olympus fray. Like the turtles from the day before, I wanted to take things slow and appreciate all of the little moments. 

I rolled over and curled around Apollo, breathing him in and savoring his warmth. Melpomene had a way of extracting essences and bottling them, creating amazing and wonderful perfumes and colognes. I wondered if she’d create an elixir based on him.

Apollo stirred and opened one eye.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Appreciating you,” I said. “Is that okay?”

“Yes,” he answered, rising up on his elbows. “Why didn’t you wake me earlier?”

“I wanted you rested.”

“I slept for three hours…I should be good to go,” he said with a wicked smile.

I kissed him on the nose and jumped out of bed.

“Let’s go then,” I called as I scurried into the bathroom. “Get dressed!”

“Hey. Wait. I thought you wanted me ready…not ‘ready to leave.’”

Poking my head out of the bathroom, I saw his fake disappointment.

“Come on then,” I teased as I slid out of my camisole. “Help me shower.” Luckily, I didn’t have to ask twice.

Later, we drove back into town and had a leisurely breakfast. We wandered around the little shops and made our way into the art gallery to pick a couple of pieces to ship back home.

The sun felt so good against my skin, I almost did not want to go into the fragrance shop I’d spotted before. It was a small shop with darkened windows. It looked cramped and a bit on the sketchy side. If it wasn’t for my desire to find a gift for Melly, I would have skipped it, but I steered Apollo ahead of me through the little blue door.

Inside, the store seemed much larger, almost as if the front was just an optical illusion. Scents surrounded us…not in an overwhelming sickening way, but comforting and soothing instead. Apollo crossed to look at a row of bottles lining one wall. I looked around and saw a small display with different colored bottles. As I moved closer to inspect, someone came out of a back room.

The shopkeeper stood not much taller than the counter. She wore her salt and pepper hair in long waves to her waist. Her dark brown face broke into thousands of lines as she gave me a wide gap-toothed smile. She came to my side, limping a little as she walked. She swept my hand up in hers, patting it like we were old friends.

“Welcome. You finally arrived,” she said.

“I’m sorry?” I asked, confused.

“Two days I wait for you. Now you’re here,” she said.

“I think you might be mistaking me for someone else,” I replied.

Her brown eyes sought mine. “No. It’s you. I saw you. I knew you would come.”

I looked over her head at Apollo. He smiled and shrugged.

“It’s good, no?” she asked, squeezing my hand.

“What?”

“This. This,” she singled my finger out and took a long look at my ring. “So new. It’s good?”

I felt a blush rise to my cheeks.

“Yes. Very good, but how…”

“He is good, too,” she said.

“Yes. Definitely.”

“No question. A statement. I know he is good,” she said, her voice filled with conviction.

I raised an eyebrow at Apollo. He shrugged again and went back to inspecting the bottles.

The woman kept my hand in hers and walked me over to the counter. 

“Here. This is what you are looking for.”

She produced a small box filled with a dozen bottles of different colors.

“This is for you.”

Then she pulled out a jade green box with three vials.

“Your sister,” she patted my hand again. “Give this to your sister.”

Goosebumps appeared on my skin.

“How did you know…” I started.

“I told you. I wait for you.”

“You know my sister?” I asked.

“No,” she said, confusing me further. She busied herself with putting the two boxes in between layers of tissue paper.

“But…”

“A feeling. I have feelings about people. They are never wrong. Your sister needs this. Take. For her,” she said. She stopped wrapping the boxes and looked into my eyes. A wave of lightheadedness washed over me.

“Kardia, take a look at this,” Apollo called from the other side of the room.

The woman smiled, and the strange feeling left me.

“He found it,” she said.

He came to my side and pulled the top off of a small gold vial. “It’s called Rockstar. When I smell it, it reminds me of being on tour. It gives me that rush and that feeling that pulls at me before I go on stage.”

The old woman reached out a hand and took the vial. She wrapped it in tissue and fit it inside the box she’d designated as mine.

“I ship these home. Safer that way,” she said. She handed me a pen and notepad for my mailing address.

I pulled out my card to pay, but she waved her hand at me.

“I have to pay,” I stated with no uncertainty.

“No,” she said simply.

“I cannot accept that,” I returned.

“You pay later. You see the worth. Then you pay…if you want,” she said.

I opened my mouth to argue and she gave me a look that told me I should not say anything else or risk offending her (or worse).

She took my hand again and placed a kiss on the back of it. Her finger traced the stones of my ring as she admired it again.

“Remain good to each other,” she said. She patted my hand one last time before she turned and walked to the doorway to the back room. She made a shooing motion with her hands.

“Goodbye. Be safe.”

We left the shop in stunned silence.

“What was that about?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

I turned to look at the shop, wondering if I should go back. I had an empty feeling and so many questions. When I looked back at the door, the CLOSED sign was turned to the street. What little light we could see through the windows before was now gone and everything was dark.

We drove to our last official destination of the trip with the convertible top down, the wind breezing against us, and Apollo singing some of my favorite songs. As I watched him, the world seemed to brighten.

We reached the Crystal Caves and joined a tour group comprised mostly of senior citizens. Several white-haired women dressed in bold florals and rhinestones, along with balding men wearing visors, socks with sandals, and fanny packs…evidence for the stereotypes.

We trailed along behind the group, holding hands and admiring the wonders of nature. Shimmering pools of water, rough spires and etched hollows stretched throughout the caves. Tiny fossilized shells and animals could be seen on occasion, marking history. Stalactites extended from above, and stalagmites emerged from the ground. Single droplets of water carving works of art. Tiny beats of pressure, over time, changing the landscape forever. Beautiful.

I started to realize that it was a metaphor for my idea of a future with Apollo: millions of small moments creating something amazing and different. The shopkeeper had told me that we should be good to each other, and I could not imagine life any other way.

My daydreams were interrupted. Florence, a large woman with an even bigger personality, stalled a few paces in front of us, pretending to reattach the velcro on her orthopedic shoes. Finally, she couldn’t stand it any longer, and she introduced herself to us…well, mainly Apollo. Her freckled bosom nearly fell out of her low-cut halter top as she rushed over and fangirled over him like she was 16 instead of 86. She took his arm and walked him ahead of me, gushing about the concert she’d seen him perform in Singapore. She pulled him aside and snapped selfies with her friends, Esther and Ruth. Poor Ruth did not seem to have a clue as to what was going on. I couldn’t help but grin as he looked at me, pleading with me to save him from Florence’s grip.

I waited a few minutes before I stepped toward the trio of ladies, “Excuse me, ladies, but I really need to borrow him back.”

Florence did not want to let him go. Her thick fingers curled around his forearm. I smiled one of those no-nonsense smiles that let her know I would not take no for an answer.

“Sorry, Florence. I really need to get him back to the car.”

Florence raised an eyebrow.

“It’s almost three o’clock,” I lowered my voice. “Time for me to ravish him.” I winked.

Ruth sputtered. Esther burst out laughing. Florence huffed as I took Apollo’s hand and led him out of the cave.

We got into the car and left the parking lot.

“I thought you said you were going to ravish me,” Apollo said as we headed toward the villa.

“My bad,” I said. “I’m actually saving that for later.”

We arrived back at the villa and sat in the car, just looking at the beautiful home.

“I’m gonna miss it here,” I said. 

“Yeah, but we can always come back,” he replied.

I agreed, but knew it would never be the same.

We went in and packed our luggage and stacked it by the door.

“It’s a good thing you had the stores ship everything to your apartment. You wouldn’t have been able to fit any more in your luggage.”

Something in what he said struck me.

“My apartment…” I murmured.

“Yes?”

“It’s just. I…uh…” I started. For a second I was nervous as hell.

He cocked his head like he thought my brain was misfiring.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Well…are you moving in with me?” I asked. Before he could respond, I blurted in a rush of words, “I mean, I assumed you would, but the way you just referred to it as my apartment…”

“I thought you’d never ask. I will definitely move in with you,” he said, stopping my jittery spiel. He slung an arm around me, pulling me close and placing a kiss on my forehead. “Let’s go home,” he finished.

I sighed. 

We gathered our bags and headed for home. Our home. I liked the sound of that.

Urania (Kimberlee Gerstmann)
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