What Lies Beneath(10)

By: Andrea Laurence

“Keep wearing it for now. This is our business. We don’t need anyone offering their two cents, especially our families. This is a decision we have to make ourselves.”

Forgiving her was the right thing to do. Cynthia nodded, a faint smile curving the corners of her full, pouty lips. Her eyes were devoid of tears now and lit with the optimistic excitement of new opportunities. After weeks of seeing her so battered and beaten down, she was almost glowing. She did truly look beautiful, regardless of what she thought. So beautiful that he was filled with the undeniable urge to kiss the smile from her lips.

He leaned in, pressing his mouth gently against hers. It was little more than a flutter or brush across her abused skin. A silent reassurance that things would be okay even if it didn’t work out between them.

At least that was the idea. In an instant, his whole body responded to the touch of her, and he knew the reaction at the hospital had not been a fluke. He’d felt a surge there but had convinced himself he’d just gone too long without sex. Maybe that was still the case, but every nerve ending urged him to cup her face and drink her in. But he didn’t dare. For one thing, he didn’t want to risk hurting her, since she wasn’t fully healed. And for another, it was the first step down a rabbit hole he’d be unable to crawl back out of.

“Think about what you want your life to be. And what you want us to be,” he whispered against her mouth. Then he pulled away before he changed his mind and did something he’d regret.

* * *

Cynthia didn’t feel beautiful. She didn’t care what Will said. That kiss was likely just out of pity. To make her feel better for realizing she’d been a miserable, beautiful woman once and a sweet, broken woman now. She could tell he was uncomfortable about it. His cell phone rang, and he immediately took the opportunity to disappear into what she supposed was his home office. She was left to her own devices to make herself comfortable and get used to her new, old home.

The problem was that it didn’t feel much like home. The whole space had an institutional quality about it. She appreciated the clean lines and indulgent fabrics, but it was too modern for her taste. There wasn’t a single piece of furniture that called to her to come and snuggle into it. The couch was firm, cold leather. The chairs were wood or metal without much padding. After poking around, she settled into the bedroom to watch television. The large, luxurious bed was perfectly comfy and the ideal place to lose herself in some mindless entertainment.

When that lost its appeal, she decided to take advantage of her bathroom and take her first real shower since the accident. She undressed and gently removed her arm brace, making a face when she saw how skinny and pale her arm was underneath. Then she stood languishing under the multiple streams of boiling hot water for a good half hour. The shower made her feel more human, more normal, but once she sat down at her vanity, normal disappeared.

They’d kept mirrors from her the first few weeks. Pauline—er…her mother—had insisted on it. She didn’t want Cynthia to get upset. Cynthia didn’t know how she was supposed to look, but it didn’t take a mirror to realize there had been a drastic change, and not for the better. The pained expressions on the faces of those who knew her were enough. So she hadn’t asked for a mirror.

Then one day Dr. Takashi removed the last of the bandages and brought a hand mirror with him. Cynthia hadn’t wanted to look at first. She had no idea what she would find. Her mother was an attractive older woman, and her younger sister, Emma, was cute in an awkward, teenaged way, but she had no assurance she didn’t take after her father. George was a regal, commanding man, but she wouldn’t say he was handsome. He had a nose like a hawk’s beak and eyes that appeared cold and beady when he focused unhappily on hospital staff.

Looking in the mirror that first time had been hard, but it had gotten easier. Every time she saw her reflection she looked better. The expressions on her family’s faces were encouraging. But the one thing no one had done was bring her a photo of how she looked before the accident. Her mother had brought in a shoebox of pictures, pointing out different people for her to try to remember, but not a single one had her in it.

Returning to the apartment, one of the first things she was greeted with was a large canvas photo of her and Will. She was almost startled when she rounded the corner to the living room and came face-to-face with her former self.

It looked like the kind of engagement portrait that would go in a newspaper announcement. Her long, dark hair was swept over her shoulder, revealing large sapphire earrings that complemented the royal blue dress she had on. Will was looking handsome, yet casual, in khakis and a light blue dress shirt. They were sitting together under a tree.

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