“…And we’ve put in a larger plot for the gardens. The guests have enjoyed being able to grow their own food – one of them said it’s given them something to work towards.” Estrella waved her hand out to her right, towards the large plot of tilled earth in the distance. “Everyone gets their own section, and we planned out what fruits and vegetables everyone’s growing. Mostly to make sure they’ve got room for everything, but also to make sure no one tried to take anything from anyone else.”
Cassandra smiled fondly as Estrella continued showing her around the resort. She was clearly proud of all of the improvements and modifications that had happened since she’d taken over. Vida de la Luz was as beautiful and peaceful as ever, but ever since Estrella stepped up to fill her mother’s job, the resort was even more vibrant and full of life than before.
Estrella reached behind her and tangled her fingers with Cassandra’s. “Come, let me show you what we’re working on in the greenhouses.”
“Lead the way,” Cassandra said with a grin and let herself be tugged along by her girlfriend. They passed by a group of patients, dressed in soft hemp and linen and moving through the motions of a yoga class. The mid-afternoon sun shone down on Vida de la Luz, casting the entire resort grounds in warm gold light. It also illuminated the gold necklace resting on Estrella’s collar; it was the only possession of her mother’s that she had kept, and she wore it always to remember her by.
Estrella pushed open the doors to the greenhouse; immediately, Cassandra was assaulted by the scents of dozens of flowers and herbs and the dark smell of loamy earth to top them off. Her brain whirred, automatically creating rows and columns to categorize everything she smelled, with little labels of both the scientific and common names for them. Roses and lavender and chamomile, mint and dill and sage, three kinds of lilies and – she sniffed. Was that basil? Another sniff to confirm and yes, that was in fact basil. African blue basil, if she wasn’t mistaken.
Estrella led them through the greenhouses, winding through and between and around the rows of plants and pots and misters. A couple of resort employees were there tending the plants, and they offered them polite greetings before returning to their work. The sunlight dazzled as it filtered through the glass walls, occasionally hitting at just the right angle to shine directly into their eyes. Cassandra had to squeeze her eyes shut and trust Estrella’s guidance to lead her through.
Estrella pushed open a door in the back of the greenhouses. On the other side of it was a laboratory, the walls and ceiling made of equal parts wood and glass, and the floor was packed dirt. It reminded Cassandra of Jenkins’ lab in the Library – it was just as cluttered, although Jenkins’ clutter was in the form of old books and obscure devices. The clutter here was dozens of cut flowers and leaves, some hung to dry, some on a dehydrator, some sitting in vases, and some just scattered haphazardly across the table and benches in the room.
“I’ve been particularly interested in roses lately,” Estrella said as she led Cassandra around the room. “I’d started with just experimenting with loose leaf tea blends,” she continued with a vague gesture over to one bench, “but then I just kept having more ideas. I began testing out different rose cultivars for variations of rose oil, and then how those could be used for aromatherapy, or for use in lotions and crèmes. Then I started making rose water for use in the food and drinks here for the guests – and rosehips! I’ve barely started with the rosehips!”
Cassandra grinned at Estrella’s enthusiasm. “I’m seriously impressed. You’ve done a lot of good work with this; not just the botanical work, but for the whole resort.” She knew that it had been a difficult transition for Estrella. With her mother and brother gone, she became the sole person responsible for running and maintaining the Vida de la Luz, handling the financial information, and dealing with the occasional legal issue, while still trying to find time for her own agricultural passions. The fact that she’d managed to balance it all was impressive. Cassandra was a little exhausted just thinking about it.
Estrella turned back around to face Cassandra with a chagrined look on her face.
“Look at me, just going on about myself the whole time.”
“I like hearing about your work,” Cassandra said. She reached out and grasped Estrella’s hands with her own. She watched her embarrassment morph into pride and happiness, then just as quickly into something impish.
“I did have a surprise for you, since it’s our anniversary.”
Right. Six months since they started dating, and six months of being tumour-free. Thinking about either fact still made Cassandra a little giddy. She hadn’t ever been in a romantic relationship before, long-term or otherwise. She hadn’t really expected to be able to, either, not with a personal doomsday countdown clock in her head.
“You didn’t have to go out of your way, or anything. Just being with you is enough.” Her voice was a bit higher than normal, but despite her flustered state she was genuine. She’d take just spending an afternoon with Estrella over any sort of fancy restaurant or grand romantic gesture. Estrella chuckled.
“Trust me, it was no effort at all, querida. Follow me?” She sent Cassandra a flirtatious smile over her shoulder as she led her back out of the greenhouse. Cassandra followed, stomach fluttering with excitement and nervousness in equal measure. Estrella led the two of them to the main house, through the double doors and passed the giant picture windows, the sunlight glowing golden against Estrella’s olive skin. Not for the first time, Cassandra was struck breathless by how beautiful her girlfriend was, and how lucky she was to be with her.
They climbed the stairs, warm and wooden, and Estrella walked them over to a closed door on the upper floor. She turned to look at Cassandra once more with a warm – if teasing – smile, and pushed the door open.
Golden light spilled in through open windows and caught on gauzy white curtains that drifted gently in the breeze. The hardwood floor glowed like liquid copper in the light. A giant four poster bed sat against the far wall, the white sheets and gauzy drapes that matched those on the windows illuminated by the sun. The real kicker was the pink and white and red rose petals, arranged in a wide trail along the floor leading to the bed and scattered atop the blankets.
Cassandra felt her face go beet-red. If she was inexperienced with romantic relationships, then she was utterly out of her depth in regards to sex. The butterflies in her stomach whirled to a fever pitch, and she felt her fingers grow shaky with anticipation.
She closed her eyes, suddenly overwhelmed. The scent of roses filled her nostrils, and in an instant spirographs bloomed in her mind, layers of hypotrochoids and epitrochoids forming in glowing lines of pink and purple, becoming more and more complex with every second. She muttered the equations under her breath, radius and diameter, sine and cosine blurring together. Her breathing grew rapid and shallow as she began to panic.
“Cassandra? Corazón?” Estrella’s concerned voice cut through the haze. Cassandra’s eyes flew open. Estrella had moved around so that she stood directly in front of her and was cupping her face in both hands. “Are you alright? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have sprung this on you –”
“No, no, it’s not your fault,” Cassandra babbled, still a little anxious but now more embarrassed that she’d freaked out like that, and guilty for ruining Estrella’s plans. “It’s fine, we can still –”
“Cassandra,” Estrella said, firmer this time. “It’s not fine, not if you reacted like that.” She dropped her hands from her face and twined her fingers between Cassandra’s. She led her towards the bed, but just so that she could sit down on the end of it, still looking up and Cassandra. “What happened?”
Cassandra’s face grew even redder. She felt utterly foolish – she was a thirty-six year old woman in a serious romantic relationship! There was no reason for her to get that freaked out about sex! She bit her lip and dropped her eyes to the ground. She felt Estrella’s thumb rubbing circles into the back of her knuckles. The sensation helped ground her in the moment, and it drove the scent of the roses away, at least a little bit.
“We don’t have to do anything. Just as you said, I’m happy just to be with you.”
Cassandra felt tears stinging the back of her eyes, and she bit down harder on her lip to stop them from spilling. She didn’t know what she did to deserve this wonderful, perfect woman. She stumbled forward in tiny baby steps and sat down heavily beside Estrella. She had to drop one of her hands, the angle too awkward and the reach just a bit too far to be comfortable, but she gripped the other like a lifeline.
“It’s so stupid…” she said, her voice thick as the tears began to fall. Estrella’s free hand brushed through her hair, gentle and soothing.
“My mother used to say that if something makes you upset, then no matter how insignificant it might seem, it’s not stupid.”
“She sounds wonderful. I only got to meet her briefly when we first visited – I wish I could have known her better,” Cassandra murmured. Her gaze dropped to Estrella’s necklace as she superimposed the image of Sofia wearing it over top of the vision of the woman before her.
“She would have loved you,” Estrella said. “You know why? Because you are beautiful, and clever, and so very kind.” Estrella booped the tip her nose with a finger, making her scrunch up her nose in response. She couldn’t help but smile, however, and if Estrella’s matching smile was any indication, that was her goal all along. “But most of all, she would love you because you make me happy. In whatever way you’ll have me or want me, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re by my side.”
Cassandra’s face crumpled under the onslaught of Estrella’s love like a house of cards before a tidal wave. She hiccoughed out a sob as she buried her face in the crook of Estrella’s neck. Her fingers continued to card through her hair and her nails gently scraped her scalp as she held her through the storm of emotions ripping through her.
She wasn’t sure how long the two of them sat there, arms around one another as both comfort and anchor. The sky out the windows had turned from gold to pink as the sun began to set. Cassandra pushed away from Estrella but didn’t leave. She wiped her eyes and sniffled.
“I’m sorry I ruined your plans,” she said in a tiny voice.
“Don’t be, querida. I’d rather my ideas not come to fruition than to make you uncomfortable.” Estrella leaned forward and brushed a kiss against Cassandra’s forehead. “We can plan for this, together, for another time, if you’d like. Or we don’t have to do this at all.”
“No, I want to have sex with you!” Cassandra blurted out. Her face flushed red in embarrassment as her mind caught up to her mouth. “I, I mean – not now, obviously – generally speaking – ugh.” Mortified, she groaned and dropped her head into her hands. “Kill me,” she moaned, muffled into her palms.
She heard Estrella chuckle from above her. She kissed her neck, and as she released the kiss Cassandra could feel just the hint of a fang. A shiver rolled down her back.
“That could be arranged,” she purred, dark and seductive. In just a blink, she pulled back and dropped the sexy voice, and was back to just sweet and wonderful Estrella. “But I don’t think that’s really what you want.”
She kissed Cassandra on the cheek, then kicked her sandals off and scooted up the bed. She patted the space beside her.
“Come, lay down with me. Nothing else, I promise.”
Cassandra slowly toed her shoes off, still a little hesitant and shaky, emotionally speaking. She crawled up the bed and flopped down heavily beside Estrella, wasting no time before burrowing into her side. Estrella giggled and pulled her even closer to her. She nuzzled into Estrella’s neck, the cool metal of her necklace pressed against her warm cheek like a soothing balm.
She began to drift off, exhausted but content. She didn’t feel any safer or more protected than she did when she was wrapped in Estrella’s arms. As Estrella tangled their legs together, she knew the two of them would be just fine.