THIRTY-FOUR – FUNERAL PYRE
Two weeks later, Jenni sat on the beach outside the A-frame as Tony lit the bonfire.
“You sure you want to do this?” she asked.
“Sure as I can be,” he said.
“Not all of them are bad,” she said. “Some of the first ones are quite good.”
“I know. But I dislike what they represent as much as what they are.”
She took a deep breath and sighed it out. “I just feel like… like we’re losing a piece of your life forever.”
Tony threw another canvas on the fire. “It’s a piece that’s better lost. I’d rather lose my life than lose you again.”
She blushed. “Really. If you wanted to hang on to just a couple, I wouldn’t mind.”
“Not even one.”
“I’m still not sure,” she mused, “if I believe everything you say happened to you.”
“I’m not sure if I believe it myself. Maybe you were right: She was just a confidence trickster with a clever plan and a designer drug.”
“But if what you’ve said is true,” Jenni continued, “then your art is all that remains of Gloriana Williams.”
Tony shook his head. “No. We have the memories. We’ll always have them—both good and bad.”
Jenni nodded and looked out over the lake. “Yes.”
Tony threw the last of the drawings on the fire and sat down beside her. Jenni continued to stare into the distance.
“She was really very beautiful,” Jenni said. “It’s all so sad.”
“The sad thing,” said Tony, hugging her, “is that I forgot, for a while, how much I loved you.”
She turned to him, and he kissed her. She put her arms around him and kissed back, their tongues intertwining in the warm darkness.
After a time, they melted apart. She smiled at him, and he saw the love he’d thought lost forever.
“I have something for you,” he said quietly.
He fished into his pocket and withdrew a small object.
“Close your eyes,” he said.
He cupped her hands together and slipped the ring between them.
She opened her eyes and smiled. The diamond glimmered warmly in the light of the bonfire and the setting sun.
“Oh, Tony…” she said, tears welling at the corners of her eyes.
“Well…?” he asked expectantly.
She wiped a tear off her cheek and shook her head. “It’s lovely, but….”
She leaned close to him and sniffed back another tear.
“Not yet,” she whispered. “Not now.”
“Someday?” he asked.
“Maybe soon,” she said. “We’ll see.”
Tony nodded. She handed the ring back to him.
“I understand,” he said. “I can wait. I’ll wait forever if I have to.”
She leaned against his chest and hugged him. He ran his right hand through her hair and kissed the top of her head.
With his left hand, he held the ring out before him. Despite the small flaws deep inside, the stone remained beautiful, the fire within it undimmed.
It was lovely.
Far more than he could ask for.
NEXT: Author’s Notes