Deryl grinned to himself and used his thumb to blend the shadows on the sketch of Joshua proposing to Sachiko. After sticking around the hallway to make sure Sachiko ran to Joshua, he’d retreated to his room. They had to come by here before heading to Japperwoppy, where her family had planned the engagement party.
A knock on the door told him he’d overestimated the time they’d need to accept the congratulations from the staff—or maybe they were anxious to share the news with him? He felt something in him release and relax, and he had to close his eyes a moment before he shouted, “Like you have to knock!”
“Protocol must be followed,” Joshua replied as he and Sachiko entered. “Where were you?”
“Oh, like you’d have known if I were there! As a matter of fact, I found myself a good vantage point.” He turned the sketch for them to see, but pulled it back when Sachiko reached for it. “No way! I’m not done. You guys came here earlier than I’d expected—but come on! Where’s the ring?”
Sachiko plopped on the bed beside Deryl and pulled out the chain for him to see. He glanced from the simple silver band* to Sachiko’s sappy smile, then to Joshua, who held up his empty hand with a shrug. But he, too, had a happy, love-struck grin, and Deryl could feel the stretching in his own cheeks. How long had it been since he’d smiled so much? Impulsively, he threw his arms around Sachiko. “I’m so happy for you!” he whispered.
“I’m still not sure I believe it,” she whispered back.
“Trust him.” He gave her one more squeeze and released her. With a small giggle, she wiped her eyes. He found he had to take a deep breath, himself. “Oh, hey. Your clothes are hanging in my closet. Why don’t you go get changed while I tell your fiancé what will happen to him if he ever hurts you?”
“Fat chance of that. Wait—my clothes?”
Joshua pulled out the suit bag and handed it to her. “Your mom got them from your apartment for me this afternoon. She said either way, you’d want to come by the restaurant tonight—”
“My parents know?!”
“Honey, your dad’s one scary dude! Of course I went to him first!”
Her eyes widened, then she glowered. “He stuck a butcher’s knife under your chin.”
Joshua hesitated, then nodded. “Day we met. Didn’t stop me.”
“Arrgh! It’s like prom all over again!” Sachiko threw her arms into the air, snatched the suit bag and headed to the bathroom, griping in Italian about overprotective fathers.
“She’s got a temper. It runs in the family,” Deryl warned. From behind the door, Sachiko yelled, “I heard that!”
“Ya think? I can handle it.”
“How’d you handle Malachai?”
Joshua responded with a snort, and Deryl realized that whatever mix of scolding and innuendo the Chief Psychiatrist had used had gone right past him. Deryl glanced at the picture he was drawing, and again that wave of well-being washed over him. Was this joy? Yet, he also felt a funny kind of emptiness... He rubbed at the base of his skull, as if the pressure could fill it.
“You okay?” Josh asked, taking a seat in the same chair where just a few weeks ago, they’d faced each other off about his “friendship assignment.”
“Been quite a summer,” Deryl offered in lieu of an answer.
“Summer’s not even half over. You okay?”
“I... Well, don’t tell Malachai, but for the first time in a very long time, I feel... I’m not sure. Hope? I’m going to get out of here.” A laugh escaped him, and he pressed his fist against his mouth to stop it. “I actually believe I’m going to get out of here.”
Joshua just smiled—a little sternly—and nodded, but Deryl could feel the joy coupled with victory that poured from his friend like the heat of the sun. “Well, it’s about time. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do to convince the rest of the staff before you can come to my wedding.”
“Hey, I’m not waiting that long. End of summer. We leave together. Deal?” Deryl held out his hand.
“Deal.” Joshua took it, then pulled him into a quick hug.
“I think my mother knew what I was going to answer, ya know what I mean?” Sachiko stood at the door in a sapphire dinner dress and matching heels. She did a little spin and the skirt swirled around her knees. The joy that emanated from Joshua took on a different tone, one that made Deryl uncomfortable and...not jealous, but envious of his friend’s good fortune. He ducked his head and turned to his sketch to keep his friends from noticing.
“I think you look great,” Joshua told her.
“Thank you, but what does Mom think we’re going to do?”
“Dinner with your fiancé isn’t enough?”
She laughed. “All right. I got your point. Hey—you!”
Now that the moment had passed, Deryl was able to grin at her.
“You want me to bring you some diakufu on Monday?”
“Please! I mean, if your mom’s made any—”
Sachiko snorted. “I have the feeling that’s not the only thing she’s cooked up today.”
When the door had closed behind them, Deryl turned back to his sketchbook. For a while, he just sat, his eyes resting on the drawing, feeling nothing, or perhaps feeling too much.
He flipped back to an earlier page, let his fingers trace the lines of Tasmae’s profile. That empty ache sharpened, and he swallowed hard. He forced himself not to think about how he’d left her, about her terror at losing him; otherwise, he’d go running back to her before he was ready. He could not go back to her yet. He had to be healed. Strong. Sane.
“But I’ll come back to you,” he whispered. “I promise. Just hold on for me.”
*Joshua gave Sachiko his most prized possession--his great-grandfather's silver wedding band--as an engagement ring.