The woman raised the gun and fired a round of bullets at the guy who was cowering in fear before her, begging for his life and promising the woman the world in exchange for it. But Lucia wasn’t paying much attention to what was happening on television. Neither was Melina, who usually sat in the living room in the evenings in front of her laptop while Lucia sat in her favorite chair by the television from which she would cast an eye of concern in Melina’s direction every so often.
It had been six weeks since the attack, and the setback had been devastating for Melina. Lucia had found her laying on the floor, semi-nude and half-conscious, when she’d returned home from work, a frantic Ricardo left helplessly out in the backyard. Melina had apparently let him outside before the attacker came calling. They’d never caught the sicko either. Instead, they’d simply gone through the motions of treating, testing and questioning an already fragile Melina who was fast losing her will to live. For the first few weeks after the attack, Melina was afraid to be left alone. Then about a week ago she insisted on not letting the bastard win by scaring her out of the house when she couldn’t have Lucia there with her. And so Lucia had taught her how to shoot, much like the woman on TV, and told the girl to make sure she had the gun with her when answering the door alone.
Lucia studied the beautiful Melina. Physically, her cuts and bruises had healed. Emotionally, she bled like a river. And so did she, for she had failed to be home at the time to protect her little lady. She knew she wasn’t to blame any more than Melina herself was, but it was hard not to wish she could have protected her.
Then she thought of what she’d told Melina many times about not wasting time with regrets. Nothing could undo the past or wind the hands of time back to allow for things to be done differently. All she could do was be thankful that Melina was still alive.
Melina, whose period was a month late. Did she even realize this or had she simply been too traumatized and preoccupied to notice?
The week after the attack, Lucia suggested they get “married” so that Melina would have medical insurance. Italy didn’t allow gays to marry, but in some cases, it allowed for people to name others as beneficiaries, much in the way married people did. They kept and wore the rings from their previous marriages, and although Melina admitted it felt strange at first, and Rena was thoroughly against the idea, she appreciated the insurance just the same.
“Does it feel weird to you?” she’d asked her mother-in-law turned husband.
“No, not really. Besides, as soon as someone sweeps you off your feet we’ll undo it, even though I won’t like it. You know me, without abuse in the picture, divorce isn’t something I’m big on, even if it isn’t literally a divorce in the eyes of Italian law.”
“Yeah, I know, but you’re forgetting something.”
“What’s that?” asked Lucia.
“I’m never going to be with anyone ever again in my life. But you probably will be, though. You’re still fairly young, you look ten, fifteen years younger, and you’re a wonderful person.”
Lucia had laughed, though she doubted she would meet anyone else worth marrying.
Lucia’s eyes once again shifted to Melina. She was going from cute to beautiful now that she was a little older. Oh, she was still a little cutie, but it was evident that she was slowly trading in that girly look for a more womanly appearance. And it suited her quite well.
Melina shut down her laptop and stirred restlessly. Then she glanced over at Lucia.
Lucia smiled lovingly. “Here, come sit with me,” she said, arms outstretched.
Melina got up and snuggled into the cozy plush chair next to Lucia. They held each other as Lucia kissed the top of her head and ran her fingers through her long locks.
Melina focused on the last few minutes of the show Lucia had been watching. The subject was about a straight man who suddenly found himself attracted to another man for the first time in his thirty-something years.
“They say that everyone’s attracted to a member of the same sex at least once in their lifetime,” said Melina. “Do you believe that?”
Lucia thought about it a moment and said, “I suppose it’s possible. Have you ever been attracted to a man before?”
Melina nodded. “Once. Though it only lasted for five minutes.”
Lucia laughed again and then Melina both surprised and pleased her with a slight smile. She missed her beautiful smile and bubbly energy. Her energy had gotten on Ari’s nerves at times, but Lucia had no problem with it. She actually found it to be both soothing and uplifting and made her feel young again, not that she was that old yet.
“Even though ours is a marriage of convenience so I can be insured, it must seem strange to you to be married to a woman and not even be gay. Have you ever been attracted to another woman?” Melina asked, focusing her big blue eyes on Lucia’s dark ones.
Lucia smiled. Wow. This little lady was really full of surprises, wasn’t she? “Well, I’m sure just about anyone on the planet would be attracted to you.”
Melina laughed, apparently thinking Lucia was joking.
The phone rang before anything more could be said.
Melina lay in bed next to Lucia. It was well after midnight and Lucia was fast asleep and snoring softly. She tried not to think of Ari. It only made her depressed. How she longed to be in their home and in her arms! Instead, she was in Lucia’s house and laying next to her in her bed. It wasn’t that she didn’t love Lucia or appreciate all she’d done for her. Lucia’s home was her home now and she knew it. But it wasn’t supposed to be that way! That wasn’t what she came to Italy for. She came to be with Ari and they were supposed to have a child together in two years. Instead, she was pregnant with the seed of a rapist, so she learned earlier in the day.
Melina wanted an abortion. No doubt about it. Yet much to her surprise, Lucia had urged her to think it over first.
“Think it over? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“But this is a chance for you,” Lucia said.
“A chance to what? Have a rapist’s child? I don’t think so!”
“Maybe once it was born and you saw it you wouldn’t think of it that way.”
“Or maybe I would. Besides, who will I raise it with?”
“With me, of course.”
“But you’re in your fifties now. And while you may not exactly be on your way out anytime soon, would you really want to deal with a kid all over again at your age? It would be living with us till you were in your seventies. At least.”
“That’s fine. I loved every minute of being a mom. It kept things fun and interesting.”
“Well, it may have been fun and interesting for you, Lucia, but all I see in it is a burden and an expense.”
“Is that what you would have told Ari when the time came in which you agreed to start a family together?”
Melina shrugged and said, “I don’t know what I would have told her. I only know two things. One is that the sperm donor would’ve been some anonymous being and not some rapist. Two is that I’ll never know for sure what I would have told her and what would have happened because Ari’s dead, and she’s never coming back and…”
Melina had collapsed on the floor in a heap of tears. Lucia dropped to the floor beside her, gathered her in her arms, and rocked her back and forth until she had strength enough to pull herself upright.
“We didn’t even get to pick out her birthday present,” Melina cried.
“I know,” said Lucia, embracing her once again. “And as terrible as that is and as much as we’ll always miss her, she’s looking down on us right now. She wants you to move on and be happy.”
“She probably can’t believe we got married,” Melina added.
Lucia gave a quick, half-hearted chuckle and said, “Yeah, I suppose that one might have come as a surprise. But at the same time, I’m sure she understands why we did it and is very happy for us.”
“I really did have a crush on you, you know,” said Melina.
“Yeah, I know,” Lucia smiled. “And what you didn’t know was that I felt the same way and always loved you very much.”
Melina’s eyes widened in shock. “You’re kidding?”
“Nope,” Lucia said, shaking her head. “It was something that evolved over time. One day I realized I was attracted to you in ways I hadn’t always been attracted to you when you first came here. Ways I’d never even been attracted to another woman before in my life. And seeing that you’re such a wonderful person, what’s not to love? It’s easy to fall in love with someone who’s not only so beautiful but so intelligent and warm-hearted as well. There are probably a lot more people out there that feel the way I do and the way Ari did than you realize.”
“Wow. Just wow. I really had no idea. I knew you knew I liked you, but I had no idea you felt the same way.”
Lucia laughed more jubilantly and said, “Well, it’s true. And I would love to have a child with you. We can certainly afford it, and between the support of friends and family, I’m sure you won’t be overworked or overwhelmed in any way.”
“Bad genes are often inherited, though,” Melina said. “This baby’s father was a madman and the chances of ending up with one seriously screwed up kid, no matter how much love we give it, goes way up in this case. Let’s abort this one and maybe consider artificial insemination in a year or two from now.”
“It’s your life and your body, so it’s up to you, babe.”
And then Lucia had told her one last thing she hadn’t yet considered.
“You should keep something in mind, Melina.”
“What’s that?” Melina asked.
“You said it yourself. The sperm donor is just some anonymous being.”
“So how do you know they too, wouldn’t be some rapist or maybe even a murderer?”
She didn’t know. But the odds went down a bit, didn’t they?
She rolled over in the darkness and faced Lucia, amazingly strong for having just lost a daughter. The woman made her seem like a first-class wimp. She scooted closer to her and put an arm around her. Lucia stirred slightly but continued breathing rhythmically.
Melina was just drifting off to sleep a short while later when she felt Lucia’s own arm slip around her in a warm embrace.
Melina entered Nara’s house for the first time since losing Ari. “Don’t you dare go by the house,” she’d insisted on the way over.
Melina stepped into the living room and gazed around as if seeing it for the first time.
“You ok, hun?” Nara asked.
“It’s just a little hard knowing the house is only right around the corner,” Melina said, turning her sad blue eyes upon Nara.
“I know, sweetie,” Nara said softly, sweeping her into her arms and hugging her. “But it’s still nice to have you here again.”
Melina hugged the tall, big-boned woman back and lost control of the tears she’d been trying not to shed. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed.
“Oh, it’s ok, sweetie,” Nara said, squeezing her tighter.
Melina felt safe and loved in Nara’s strong arms as she did with Lucia and she had with Ari.
“Here, come on. Let’s sit down and make ourselves comfy. Would you like something to eat or drink first?”
Melina shook her head and they sat together on the couch.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” Melina asked, head resting upon Nara’s shoulder. “You know, that the house is right around the corner?”
“Yeah, it feels weird sometimes. Out of habit I’m tempted to walk over there every now and then, and well, she’s not there and she’s never going to be there again, and it hurts like hell. Ari and I were different in a lot of ways and only half-sisters who didn’t see much of each other during our earlier years, but she was a hell of a person. We always got along really well. It’s hell in school knowing that she should be in the room next door like she had been for years, then stepping out in the hall at lunchtime just to find some other teacher’s now in that room.”
Melina cried some more.
“Time, honey, it’s going to take time. The first year after we lose someone is always the hardest.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
“And now you’re pregnant, and that’s going to really mess with your emotions for a while on top of the loss of Ari and then the attack.”
“I don’t know that I want this baby, but Lucia does.”
“Yeah, she told me.”
“She’s not pressuring me or anything. She said it’s strictly up to me and I appreciate that. But still, I hate to let her down. She’s had enough letdowns in life.”
“Yeah, but it’s ok to think of yourself in this case. You’re the one carrying it.”
“Does it bother you?”
“Does what bother me?”
“That she and I got married.”
“No. Why should it? It’s your lives.”
“Well, Rena sure feels pretty weird about it.”
“Yeah, but that’s just Rena, and you know how she is.”
“I keep telling myself it should feel weird to me. She was my mother-in-law for God’s sake. And while there isn’t a thing I wouldn’t do to bring Ari back if I could, I do love Lucia dearly and all she’s done for me. And I love you too, you know, for being so damn cool and not half bad looking yourself.”
“Aw, thanks. That’s so sweet.”
“Just wanted you to know that. Had things turned out differently, who knows what may’ve happened between us. I just hate to see such a nice person like yourself alone. I mean, I know you’ve dated some guys and some chicks here and there, but none of them ever seem to last long.”
“I’m just a picky gal,” said Nara. “They say, however, three time’s the charm. I’ve had one serious boyfriend and one serious girlfriend. So maybe the next person will be Mr. or Miss Right.”
Maybe, thought Melina. And maybe Ari and I will be together again someday in the afterlife and I’ll have a miscarriage until then so I won’t have to struggle with whether or not to have the child I’m carrying.