Chapter 21: The Empress
The Empress gave her strength and encouragement. From the first moment she saw that stately woman, visibly pregnant, enthroned regally on a chair adorned with pomegranates, Rosemary knew everything would be all right. What she didn’t know was when or how the situation would work out. Just as The Empress must wait, cradling the mystery of her unborn child within her, and the unknown circumstances of its impending birth, Rosemary bided her time.
She went to the Seattle Art Museum every day. Somehow, she felt certain that this would be where she and Fabricio reconnected. Throwing all her reservations out the window, Rosemary spoke to her boss about going to half time, with the view to quit as soon as her college plans were in order. Although unhappy, the boss worked it out. Rosemary’s daily routine became four hours at the daycare in the morning, and the rest of her time at the SAM.
Day after day, she grew reacquainted with the collections. Through the hours, she fell into the abstract wonder of Aboriginal designs, until she felt as if she could travel along the hidden trails within. Each pale-skinned Madonna from the European section became a personal acquaintance, as Rosemary traced the lines of their painted faces, their expressions of wonder or grief, tranquility or terror. Once, she began to cry before the intricacy of a carved salt cellar, a masterpiece of African art over three hundred years old. She saw herself in the scene of lovers in a garden—a Persian miniature—and it seemed to her a version of paradise, for the man stroking his lady’s cheek was, in her mind, Fabricio. On another occasion, she spent an entire hour staring at one of the American landscapes: a view of the Puget Sound in a storm, bursting with light, its clouds and water so richly painted Rosemary could feel sea spray on her skin. As she spent more and more time at the museum, she began losing herself in it.
Meanwhile, Rosemary’s mailbox took care of several grand questions. She got two definitive refusals from other universities, leaving her with one acceptance—which she declined—and two sure “no’s.” None of that mattered, because she hadn’t yet heard from Indiana. It was almost three weeks into her art museum pilgrimage that Rosemary finally got a letter from them. She opened it with trembling fingers, her heart thumping with anxiety and hope, as she read:
Thank you for your application to Indiana University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program. At this time, we are no longer accepting students for the Fine Arts program. However, we will keep your application on file and offer you conditional acceptance for a later term. Please contact the Admissions office starting on November 1st, for more information about conditional acceptance and next steps.”
This certainly wasn’t the news she had been hoping for, but it was a start. Rosemary carefully filed it away. Drawing on The Empress’ confidence, she told herself everything would turn out. All she had to do was wait, and not allow herself the possibility of defeat.
When it all came together, it was the last week of May. With later reflection, Rosemary shouldn’t have been surprised at where they ended up. After all, it was the very same place they had begun: in the Northwest Native art exhibit, admiring a Kwakiutl Thunderbird mask.
He was sitting there, making notes in a handheld pad like a reporter, when she saw him. For a moment, Rosemary watched in silence. His hands were strong and graceful, holding the pen and paper firmly, yet gently, as if it was a bird. From her perspective, she had a three-quarter view of his face: eyes fixed on the wooden mask, his long lashes sweeping down and up as he glanced from his writing to the art. His sharp cheekbones stood out beneath the curling fringe of his hair; he’d let it grow long since she had seen him last. Though he didn’t speak, his lips occasionally moved silently, forming thoughts without voice. Seeing him again, admiring the beauty of is features and the quiet security of his body, made Rosemary ache with love. Every atom of her body leaned toward him, as if they were magnets drawn together across the expanse.
Quietly, purposefully, she walked over to him.
“Hey,” she said.
He looked up. His eyes met hers, and the intensity of their connection knocked the breath right out of her lungs. He did not look surprised; rather, his expression was one of mindful acknowledgment. “Hey,” he replied.
Now that she was here, Rosemary wasn’t entirely sure how to proceed.
“I’ve missed you,” she said at last.
Fabricio’s mouth twitched, an almost-smile. He folded up his notepad and tucked it into the strap on his chair.
“Graduation is next weekend,” he said. “Mom and Dad are coming in, and all the sisters and brothers. Maybe a few cousins. My aunt and uncles. It’s going to be a pretty big deal, I think.”
“It should be. Graduating college is a huge accomplishment.”
This was small-talk. Rosemary felt them bobbing on the surface, avoiding the dive they must make to reach one another again. She fell silent again, wondering what to say. The Empress’ serene expression came to her; what would that wise, regal woman say? Rosemary knew The Empress was not coy. She was direct, confident, sure of herself and the justness of her cause. That’s how I have to be, she decided. I need to tell him everything, exactly how it is.
“I’ve been here at the SAM every day,” she said. “For two weeks.”
Fabricio’s eyes widened with surprise. He cocked his head, frowning slightly. “Why?” he asked. “There’s no new exhibits. And you probably have the permanent collection memorized.”
“I do,” Rosemary said, grinning in spite of herself. “That’s not why I came.” Taking a deep breath of courage, she went on, “I came because I knew I would find you here, one day. I needed to find you here. Fabricio, I… I need you.”
He turned away quickly, but not before she noticed the flash in his eyes. From that brief glimpse, Rosemary couldn’t tell whether the expression was one of pain, or relief.
“You don’t need me,” he mumbled, his face turned aside.
“I do,” Rosemary insisted. “I do need you. Don’t you think I’ve thought about it? Don’t you think I may have already played out all the scenarios? Without you, I’ll stay exactly as I am. Stagnant, just living one day to the next, with no real direction, no one to anchor me. With you… with you, I have everything.”
She paused, took another deep breath, and pressed on. “I didn’t want to believe it when you told me we were made for each other. For a long time, I ignored the obvious. But Fabricio, it’s true! And if we really are a perfect match, and the Universe keeps pushing us together, don’t you think we need to acknowledge that?”
“And more to the point, I love you.” By then there were tears in her eyes. She angrily wiped them away. “I love you, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it work for us.”
Fabricio stared at her. She locked eyes with him and didn’t let go. For what felt like endless minutes, she held his gaze, studying the intricacies of his dark brown eyes, the subtle gradations in color and the shape of his pupils expanding and contracting slightly in the museum light. Rosemary had looked in his eyes before, of course, but never with this much focus. The intensity of their connection was astounding. She remembered, then, something she’d read somewhere: a scientific study finding if two complete strangers stared into one another’s eyes for just two minutes, they would fall in love. How long have I been looking into his eyes? How long has he been in mine?
“You’ll do whatever it takes?” Fabricio said at last. His voice was soft and measured.
She nodded wordlessly.
“Even move to Indiana?”
“Of course. I’d already planned on that. If it’s a crappy apartment, or a dorm room, or Hick-ville, I don’t care. Just so long as I come home to you.”
“How does married student housing sound?”
He said it so casually, at first Rosemary didn’t register what he’d just said. She shook her head, to clear it. Her mouth was open, about to say “What?!”, when she glanced down and saw what he was holding in his lap. A small velvet ring case sat open on his knee. Inside was a slim gold band, inset with a tiny, sparkling diamond.
For a moment she just stared at the ring. As the implications of it finally arose, she lifted her head abruptly. Fabricio was watching her, obviously nervous.
“Fabricio, are you… proposing to me?”
“Well, yeah,” he said, rather sheepishly. “That is, if you can forgive me for being such an ass. I needed all that time to figure out that, actually, I need you, too.” He sighed, then added, “Plus I had to find a ring. This one’s small, I know, but I promise I can buy you a better one once we’re settled, and have an income…”
“So are you proposing marriage? Is that what’s happening right now?”
By this time some curious patrons of the museum had caught sight of them, standing there in front of the Thunderbird mask, obviously in the middle of a life-changing decision. A few people nudged one another. They glanced over, smiling and hopeful, waiting to see how this would play out.
“Yes. I mean, I’m trying to…” then, pausing, he seemed to snap back to himself. “No, wait.”
He rolled right up to her, propping the ring box on his lap. Reaching out, he took both her hands in his and looked up into her face. He was smiling. Rosemary’s heart was thumping; she sensed what he was about to say, and it made her knees tremble. All her dreams and hopes, all her visions of how this moment in her life might happen—and with whom—came to a sudden pinnacle. She waited, tense and breathless.
“Rosemary Miller, will you marry me?” Still holding her gaze, he smiled, and added, “Just imagine me on one knee… in a way, I’ll always be on my knees, in front of you.”
Tears gathered in Rosemary’s eyes. Her hands began to shake, but they were held fast in Fabricio’s firm, warm grip. Although her throat was tightening with emotion, she managed to gasp out the inevitable answer: “Yes! Of course I’ll marry you!”
Fabricio’s smile widened like he’d just won the lottery. He reached for the ring again and gently slid it onto her finger. The small diamond winked as it slid past her knuckle. With the ring in place, Fabricio raised her fingers to his lips.
Everyone in the museum clapped and cheered. Rosemary could barely see through her happy tears. She couldn’t think of anything just then; her mind was awash with emotion, so bursting with happiness no thought was possible. Fabricio pulled her, laughing, into a kiss.
Later, when she was able to reflect on it all, Rosemary realized that was the single most perfect moment of her life.
As soon as they escaped the crowd of congratulations and well-wishers, Fabricio and Rosemary hurried back to his dorm. They didn’t talk much on the way. Somehow, it didn’t seem necessary anymore. Rosemary glanced down at her hand often, each time freshly delighted to see the engagement ring. It’ll take awhile to get used to. But I love seeing it there. Every time, it’s a reminder of him…
Without conversation, they slipped into their old habits. She undressed slowly, watching him the whole time. Fabricio simply sat, his eyes traveling across her body as she revealed each patch of skin. When she stood before him, perfectly naked, he took off his clothes, too. Rosemary admired his strong chest, muscles tensing as he pulled off his shirt. It was amazing to watch how he handled his still legs, lifting them with the strength of his arms so he could untie his shoes; roll down his pants. He was methodical and practiced, working with a steady calm that tugged at Rosemary’s core. That was one reason she’d fallen in love so fast.
She sat on the edge of the bed and he rolled his chair toward her. Their lips met; the kiss was deep, long, rich without any rush or overeager intensity. Rosemary’s arms snaked around his neck, her hands playing across his back as his lips enveloped hers. Gradually, so she hardly realized it was happening, Fabricio moved them lower onto the bed. Lost in their kiss, Rosemary wasn’t aware of their movement until she lay flat on her back, Fabricio leaning over her. To her amazement, he kept going, pulling himself up and above her, dragging his lower body across hers with the force of his arms. His narrow hips fit between hers like a jigsaw. The thin, motionless stems of his legs made her heart ache with tenderness. That he could be so strong and virile, yet delicate at the same time, was a constant amazement.
He was hard; she felt his erection pressing against her thigh. Fabricio gazed down at her, holding himself up with his forearms on either side of her shoulders. He rocked, pressing his cock into her leg. Rosemary got the idea. Smiling luxuriously, she slipped her hand down between them and curled her fingers around his erection. Tipping her hips to find the perfect angle, she guided him inside.
Fabricio set the rhythm, pulling with his arms to thrust and release. With her hands on his shoulders, Rosemary felt the bunching of his muscles, hard like wood beneath her fingers, and marveled. Deep inside, she felt him moving within her, rubbing in a way she hadn’t felt before. It was all him; she did nothing but hold on, letting him make love to her the way he wanted. His eyes bore into hers, deep and as dark as the sea.
Heat rose in her core as he kept up his steady pace. Rosemary began arching up into him, her body twisting in the mindless search for pleasure. Her eyes fluttered and a moan escaped her lips. Fabricio watched her with a serious expression on his face. Her hands rolled over his back, arms, and chest, working their way downwards. When her fingertip slid into his navel he grunted, faltered briefly in his tempo, and then took it up again. In a blissful daze, lost in the indefatigable rhythm, steady as a drumbeat, as a heartbeat. Her hand wiggled between their pelvises, squeezed between her softer belly and his hardness, seeking the missing puzzle piece. At last, her fingers found the tender button of her clit, and in seconds she was there, thrashing and gasping her pleasure. As her inner muscles throbbed with orgasm, Fabricio tightened his brow and gasped, too, joining her in the moment. Time stopped.
Afterwards, Fabricio lowered himself with exquisite care, giving her just enough of his weight. Rosemary knotted her fingers in his hair, stroking his lower back with her other hand. Their hearts galloped in tandem, slowing as they came around the home stretch; their breath steamed on one another’s cheeks. Fabricio shivered deliciously as her fingers played along the edge of his sensitive zone. Rosemary relished the heaviness of him, feeling that she could lie there forever with his chest pressed close to hers, his hips cradled between her thighs, his heart beating into her, as if feeding the course of her own blood.
No doubts existed in that moment. Nor, she was sure, would doubts ever overpower their love again. Tilting her head, Rosemary caught a glimpse of her left hand. The diamond twinkled there, and she was hit with a sudden rush of wonder: How could this wonderful thing be possible? How can my life really be this good?
“Hey,” Fabricio murmured. His breath came warm and soft against her ear.
“Hey,” she replied. With a contented sigh, she snuggled deeper under him.
His arms tightened around her. Soft, moist kisses landed on her neck, her collarbone.
“So,” he said, slow and easy, “Do you still want to be Mrs. Fabricio O’Connor?”
The vision came to her then: Fabricio as The Emperor, sitting tall in his throne-like chair, always solid, reliable and just in his authority, essential as the sun. At his side sat the fecund Empress, her Mona Lisa smile understandable now, as she was the missing half of the scene, the yin to his yang, the balance, the mate. Now, The Empress wore Rosemary’s face, and all of it—the Tarot; the convolutions of their relationship; their inescapable love—it all made sense.
“Oh, yes, I’ll marry you!” she said, laughing as she pulled him into another kiss. “Now, and whenever else you like. Forever.”
His tongue darted playfully into her mouth, and they tumbled together in a heady rush of passion. Rosemary was gasping for air when he finally released her. She nipped his bottom lip in retaliation, and he chuckled. His arms lay heavy across her waist, one hand playing with her nipple in an absent-minded way.
“So, I guess the most serious question still remains,” he said. His voice was deadpan.
“What?” asked Rosemary, surprised.
Fabricio’s smile wiped away any veneer of severity. “When do we tell our parents?”