Dinnertime was set for seven tonight, though by five-thirty, I was restless and needed to clear my head from recent events; so I decided to leave the villa and slowly stroll towards the shore. The more my life went on, more disaster unfolded before my very eyes. It was beginning to look like a Greek Tragedy.
My father. Zara. Their wedding. Richard dying. This impending arrangement with Stella…
Without a doubt, my father’s betrayal was deplorable, yet somehow, deep down, I had sort of expected this due to knowing how controlling he was by nature as well as how emotionless he could be. Richard’s illness and the knowledge of him biding time until death finally made its last call, on the other hand, was killing me. However, Zara’s treachery went far and beyond everything else that had been put before me. Her unfaithfulness eviscerated me completely.
It was a lot to take, but it was what life had handed me.
I was losing people that were important in my life. They weren’t merely fixtures like my father, Zara and Richard were people that I considered my best friends, my family; those who were going to be there beside me through thick and thin.
Losing Zara to my own father had been quite enough; why must I also lose my best friend to cancer? I wanted to scream that he was too young to die, however it didn’t matter if you were young, fit and healthy. Cancer wasn’t picky. Once it staked a claim on you, you’d be fighting for dear life and, most likely, not just once; it would be a battle for the rest of your existence. Some got lucky and survived.
I barely made it back in time for dinner. Since I was too absorbed with my own misery, I hadn’t bothered to change for the occasion. My rugged attire would have to suffice.
Rounding to enter the dining area, I was momentarily struck the second I entered the room where I was met by still, clear, grey eyes with gold flecks; a long, wavy brunette mane; delicate facial features and the longest lashes I had ever seen.
Stella von Berg definitely had grown into a lovely woman. Well, lovely was putting it mildly.
Automatically, I strolled to her side, expecting an even greater attraction from her in close proximity. I was not disappointed, she was even more lovely this close.
“Good evening,” I murmured, slowly inhaling her perfumed scent as I kissed both of her cheeks. The scent was sultry yet not too intoxicating, simply enough subtle, sexiness to evoke the male senses.
“Callum, it’s lovely to see you again.”
Her voice was husky… definitely not the sixteen-year-old I remembered. This Stella was beyond mildly captivating. She paused while I cussed at myself inwardly. What was wrong with me? Richard was dying and here I was thinking about his sister’s scent and how husky her voice was? For fuck’s sake, I needed to get my head checked.
When dinner was served, I contemplated if I should bring up the subject now, or after whilst having a nightcap. I decided that it would benefit us both if we were in the salon. It was a serious matter to discuss and not some inessential subject that could be easily thrown about during lamb chops and veal.
“What are your plans for the future, Stella? Career wise.”
Stella carefully chewed her food before washing it down with a sip of her Sauvignon Blanc then delicately dabbed the sides of her mouth with the silk napkin. “My best friend, Lucia, and I are thinking of setting up our own PR firm. She and I are enrolled for a two-year course in London before we venture out in that area. It’s a competitive field, obviously; so even with the right amount of knowledge and wisdom, we both understand experience is vital in understanding the ins and outs of running a real firm.”
Impressive, she truly was. Most women with the likes of her pedigree were usually twits that cared about social stature and the bank account. Women who were born in wealth were usually groomed to marry a wealthier man and it was a given that one should know how to run a household. For example, which silver and china should be used to a certain party or how to mask things with fake smiles. This woman, who was sharing a meal with me, was the genuine kind. What did I truly expect? She was Richard’s sister, brought up levelheaded by both loving parents; one of the many things I had always envied about Richard.
“If you need help with looking for a PR company that could help you and your friend, do let me know. I’d be happy to help.”
Her smile was genuine as it lit up her sad face. For a few seconds, I let myself appreciate her beauty before I commanded myself to put it aside.
“One of my best friends, Mark, actually has a brother who owns a company and he gladly took us on board until we are ready to go out on our own, but thank you for the offer.”
Male best friends, such things were non-existent no matter how progressive a male proclaimed himself. It was either this Mark fella wanted Stella for himself or he fancied the other friend. Looking at her face now, I was hoping it was the latter.
Whoa! Hold it there, fool.
My sudden trail of thoughts was surprising to me. Was it because Richard told me to marry his sister? Yes, it had to be my protective side, nothing more. Of course.
We never spoke about Richard’s illness nor did we speak about the impending nuptials, instead Stella found lighter subjects to discuss. She was rather chatty. I doubt I had ever been that engrossed in conversation with an eighteen-year-old before. Eighteen! Christ, Callum!
Once we entered the salon, we waited until the staff served us coffee before I finally took the lead and talked about what was to come. “Have you spoken with your brother?”
Stella graciously stirred her sugar in her cappuccino then calmly placed the teaspoon down and took a careful sip. “Yes.”
She spoke like she had already decided. “And?” I pressed, needing to know her thoughts and opinions immediately.
“I trust his decision. If he thinks this is the wisest thing to do, then I will do it without question. The only thing I’m worried about is you. This will put a halt to your life, Callum. I mean, what happens if you want to marry in a few years?”
“I won’t,” I assured her.
Stella looked thoughtful a moment, measuring. “How can you be so sure?”
Because my father beat me to it, my brain blurted out; making me feel all the concealed hatred once again, afresh and volatile in my mind. Hell on earth had replaced my once fun, carefree, optimistic life.
“Let me tell you something about me, Stella. I don’t lie when it comes to important matters and I’m telling you now, I won’t be marrying anyone in the next few years or decade because I don’t want to. Marriage is a blasted farce, one I certainly don’t fancy. There was a time that I did, but all the inkling to marry has been undeniably lost on me, forever.”
Those sharp, grey eyes looked at me shrewdly and I didn’t back down from the heat of them. Finally, when she thought it was time to concede, she obliged. “This is very generous and truly kind of you to help us. I promise that I will stay out of your way. You won’t even remember I exist.”
I truly doubted that, really, because a man would be blind not to see her gentle beauty. One day, she would find her fire, and when she did, she would be fatal to any man.
Just like that, we made a silent pact; one where we would carry through Richard’s wishes.
Five days after I had arrived in St. Lucia, Stella and I took our vows in a tiny chapel on the estate grounds. I wasn’t even fazed when I was declared married, though Stella repeatedly apologized for being such a nuisance to my life.
She truly didn’t need to because I welcomed her nuisance. She might not have known it then, however I was more than happy to help. Even though I had only met Stella once before this whole thing happened, I had spent a great deal of time with her parents when they visited Richard in Cambridge. After my Christmas visit, her parents treated me like one of theirs and, for that, I would forever be truly grateful. It might sound odd, but I considered Ella and Richie von Berg like parents. Those two truly were the best couple I had ever met and, when they’d died, I mourned for months alongside Richard.
Yes, Stella might not be aware, but in my heart, her family had become my family long ago. This marriage had merely made that feeling more of a reality.
Life had made me see how helpless a mere mortal was against forces that were far greater than any of us; their strength and capacity were boundless, immeasurable. When those forces finally chose someone’s fate, one would always remember the battle because it was a battle where one’s survival was uncertain. It could leave rancid, ugliness in its wake as it slowly suctioned you down, cruelly breaking piece after piece of your armor until you were fully bare. From there it would lead you to unchartered territory, drawing you to the place where it had all begun. The circle of life would then be complete.
Everything we had was temporary. The joys of love and the gutting pain were a treasured experience that would be all too brief.
Your heartbeat, your thoughts, your love, your strength, your faith and your fight were all quintessential crumbs that merely led you to a path which paved the way to the battleground.