Nate stood in the middle of the field, trying to extinguish the shadow of frustration that tainted his greatest triumph. He looked at the cheering masses, the gold confetti raining from above, his teammates celebrating with the cup. It was all so perfect, but he wished he could share this moment with Adelie. She wouldn’t even be able to watch it live, nor would she be able to see everything on TV. He wanted to kick something, but Jake’s heavy hand slapped his shoulder first.
“Don’t be sad. Look who’s here.”
“Huh?” He turned and couldn’t believe his eyes. Through a veil of gold confetti rain, a group of young women and men in Westerhaven Academy blue picked their way across the field. It couldn’t be, but one slender figure looked very familiar, and then she saw him and walked up to him. His face contorted into a smile while his chest wrangled with a sob of relief. Adelie! Adelie was here! And then she was in his arms, enveloped in the biggest bear hug he was able to deliver short of breaking her back. She held on to him just as tightly, hands grabbed fistfuls of jersey on his back. He buried his face in her hair, refreshing his memory with its scent. Adelie.
“Oh, how I missed this.” Her glorious voice.
He allowed for the tiniest amount of breathing space between them, still trying to understand how it came that she was in his arms. “How… why… what are you all doing here?”
She chuckled, her eyes full of mischievous sparkle. “The Academy Rugby Association decided it would be nice for the players to have their partners there after the final. So we got shipped here three days ago. They boarded us in an excellent hotel, gave us the full sightseeing tour, and we had our own box near the twenty yards line for the match.”
“You saw the game.” He still couldn’t believe he wasn’t dreaming.
She wound her hands around his neck, tilted her head backwards and smiled. “Yes, I saw the game. Everything. I’m so proud of you.”
“You saw my try!” Finally, his brain caught up with what she was saying. “So I did hear you yell! I didn’t imagine things!”
“Yeah, you probably did. I nearly killed my throat again that moment.”
He lifted her up and spun around with her. She squealed, and it was the happiest sound he’d ever heard. His Adelie, his little Spitfire. He put her down again and they hugged in a drunken state of dizzy happiness. Their eyes and foreheads met and the surrounding world went mute. Her soft palm cupped his cheek, her thumb brushed carefully over his bruised skin. “You look awful.”
“I know. Doesn’t hurt, though.”
“Wait ’til the adrenaline drops.”
“I don’t care. I have you. I finally have you back.”
“Hey champ, you left me… not the other way ’round.”
“Sorry, won’t happen again. No, sir.”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
He obliged because that was an order he could not resist, nor did he want to. Their nose tips rubbed against each other, her breath was warm on his skin, and no gold confetti could sparkle as beautiful as her eyes. A mutual sigh. Her hands moved into his hair, his tightened around her shoulders. The sensation of something getting loose that had been stuck before. Sound returned, and suddenly the colours were more vibrant than before.
Adelie marvelled at the view of the city spread out before her like a toy land. Shanghai Five was bathed in the pink glow of dawn, pouring in through the crystal clear hull of the dome that protected the city’s inhabitants from the planet’s harmful atmosphere outside. The morning’s first monorails zipped along their rails through the maze of high rises. Space was scarce, so Shanghai Five was a multi-storey town, with gardens and parks and bridges connecting the buildings on every level. Rumours had it that some people had not been to the ground in decades. Soft snoring made her abandon the view and turn around. They had just returned from a night of celebrating, and Nate laid on the bed sleeping. The state he was in though caused her to smile. He had managed to get off his shoes, jacket and dress pants, but then exhaustion must have overwhelmed him, and he had fallen asleep, legs still on the floor. Gently shaking her head, she stepped closer, the moss-green fabric of her evening gown rustling from the movement. Lovingly she lifted his legs up, pulled off his socks and draped the blanket over him. She had to find a way to get his shirt off later. For now, she needed to get out of the dress and into her own PJs too, maybe she could catch a wink of sleep before they had to leave in the afternoon to return to Westerhaven.
She stood in front of the large mirror over the desk next to the bed and pulled out the pins that held her hair up. One after the other, chestnut curls fell on her shoulders. Morning light streamed into the room, and she made a mental note to close the drapes before she’d crawl into bed.
“You look like a goddess. A goddess of the morning.” Nate’s voice was slurred from too much champagne, exhaustion and sleep, but it also had this rich, dark timbre that never failed to give her goosebumps. She turned around. He’d braced himself on his elbow, looking at her almost mesmerised.
“Sorry for falling asleep.”
“Don’t be, my mighty warrior.” This made him laugh, and he sat up to rub his hands over his face.
“Don’t feel so mighty right now, to be honest.”
“Darling, you had a very long and very exciting night. It’s allowed to feel like minced meat. A lot happened.” Adelie had finished hunting the hundreds of pins in her hair. She took a comb and put a least a little order into her hair, then she zipped open the dress to take it off. Nate sucked in his breath sharply.
“So that’s what you’re hiding under such a formal affair? Good golly, if I’d known this, I’d dragged you up here right after desserts.”
This made her laugh, and she climbed onto the enormous white bed, silk stockings and lace panties and all. He grinned, suddenly looking not so tired anymore. “Let me help you with this,” she said, tugging at his crumpled white dress shirt.
“Thanks. The shoulder is not happy,” he groaned. She gave him a peck on the cheek, then pushed the shirt over his shoulders and helped him free his arms. “You’re the best.”
“Do you need anything else?”
He shook his head. “No, besides you I don’t need anything.”
His arm wound around her waist, then he pulled her close enough to lean his forehead against hers. Nose tips brushed against cheeks, lips almost touched. The heat of his body radiated out to her, and she found his familiar scent on his skin, peppered with traces of champagne. He breathed tender kisses between her eyebrows, on the corner of her eye, her temple, near her ear. Her guts unclenched like a fist she’d balled without noticing as she answered him in the same vein, brushing her lips over all the battle wounds he’d suffered. The stitches over his left eyebrow, the cut on his cheek, the shadow of a fading black eye. Eventually, he softly cupped her chin, and they made eye contact. Sun-faded indigo once again seemed to fill out her vision.
“You know, after you’ve been underwater and come up, when you take your first gulp of fresh air?” His voice was only a quiet whisper.
“Yeah?” Hers too.
“This is how I feel right now. I feel like I’d held my breath for four weeks and only now I can breathe again. I missed you so much, in so many unexpected ways…”
Water welled up in her eyes, and she took his beloved face into her hands. “I love you.”
His knuckle caught an errant tear. “I love you too, babe. So much.”
“So we’re dancing on the rings of Saturn, laughing at gravity?” Her lips brushed along his, a sweet half-kiss, as his arms slid around her and she found herself down in the pillows with him. He chuckled while he contemplated her face with a loving expression.
“Yes, I’m laughing at gravity. You’re not afraid when you found your home in the arms of a great woman.”
“I’m your home.” She had no word to describe how happy this made her, but her broad smile probably told him anyway. He bowed his head and nuzzled the crook of her neck. She wrapped her arms around his massive torso and pulled him on top of her.
“Yes, you are.”
As she lost herself in his kiss, she realised that he was hers too.