Micah flew me in his arms over the natural stone maze far below us. Centuries ago, water covered the area but slowly receded over time, revealing the deeply gouged limestone gorge.
I was silent, thinking of seeing my new home for the first time; a house Micah built for us. What would it look like? Micah refused to describe it, wanting me to experience it first hand for myself.
The detour to see the house was Micah’s idea. Four years had passed since I last saw my parents and my anxiety over confronting them was evident.
“You’re trembling. Are you still scared of flying this way?” Micah asked.
A couple hours of flying had alleviated my fear of him dropping me but the thought of reuniting with my parents was paralyzing. The detour was a welcome delay to the inevitable.
I looked over the wild beauty of the stone forest cut through by meandering paths not wide, straight, or long enough for even the smallest aircraft to utilize.
I pressed my lips to Micah’s cheek for the hundredth time, savoring its supple warmth. Four years I’d gone without that luxury and the miracle that I had it again amazed me.
Would he ever forgive me? Was I capable of forgiving myself?
“We can rest if your arms are getting tired,” I suggested.
Micah laughed and I felt emotional over the sound of it. Only the day before I was convinced I’d never hear it again.
After awhile, Micah nodded toward the distance and simply stated, “Home.”
I turned to look across the limestone gorge and saw the towering mountain Micah indicated. The land surrounding it looked gutted and treacherous and all passages were dead ends so access was impossible.
“Not very welcoming. How do earthbounds navigate that?” I asked.
Seclusion was obviously part of the location’s attraction for Micah. Gigantic rock formations dazzled with an array of impossible balancing displays; soaring stone arches, expansive natural bridges, and sculpturesque earthen figures littered the mountain. It was surreal, a private fantasy world for us to hide in until we were ready to face the real world.
“Micah, it’s beautiful,” I whispered in awe. But where was the house? There wasn’t a building in sight.
Micah landed and set me down on a ledge roughly half the size of a football field and I stared in disbelief at a gaping cave entrance that had been hidden from aerial view.
“A cave?” I exclaimed dumbfounded as Micah took my hand and led me inside.
“Home,” he gently asserted.
“We’re actually going to live in a cave? But you distinctly said a house.”
“This is a house; a stone house hollowed out of the top of a mountain.”
“Micah, you can’t be serious. Don’t tell me civilization nuked itself back to caveman days in my absence?” I teased but stopped in stunned amazement as we entered the cave. Cavemen never had it so good!
My preconceived notions of a musty, cold, damp, dark, unwelcoming space vanished; replaced by serene natural order.
I was enveloped by warmth despite the spaciousness. The vaulted natural ceiling was too perfect to be completely shaped by nature’s hand alone. The floor was smooth and level and swept of all debris. The cave walls had an iridescent glow and smooth rounded corners that invited exploration. I ran my hand along the muted glittering surface in speechless wonder.
The cave was divided into several rooms. Gently rippled stone furniture was chiseled right out of the bulk of the cave and draped with thick lush material for added comfort. Wood-carved furnishings were functioning works of art, each piece uniquely breathtaking.
“Earthbounds refer to it as living green but Sp.s have been living harmoniously with nature for centuries,” Micah asserted as he walked me through each room explaining the energy saving eco-friendly features of the cave. Like how the electricity-free thermodynamically designed structure maintained an optimal warm temperature that never varied more than three degrees out of range year round to alleviate any discomfort around my sensitivity to cold. He also pointed out how each room was designed to take advantage of natural light making artificial light unnecessary except after sunset. There was even a rain water collecting system that filtered and distributed water throughout the cave.
Each room opened into the next without doors. The living area was the largest space and the ceiling appeared to float without support over one side where the wall was missing, revealing a magnificent view. There were no guardrails or any kind of safety barricade; you could walk out of the room right over the edge and fall to your death.
“We’ll have to baby proof that. We can’t have children crawling around and…,”
Micah’s expression instantly silenced me and the intensity of his eyes caused me to awkwardly rush to explain.
“I’m not saying we start making a family right now! It’s just we’re at the top of a mountain and it’s only practical to consider the safety of our future babies.”
Micah smiled, easing my tension. He led me to the kitchen next. There were no modern appliances. He explained they weren’t necessary. The pantry room located deeper in the cave was a natural cooler, eliminating the need for a refrigerator. Instead of a stove and microwave, he’d built a raised fire pit in the center of the room and chiseled an open-face oven out of the stone wall for cooking.
“What about a dishwasher,” I asked, eyeing a strangely ordinary dish wrack next to a stunning stone basin.
Micah raised his two hands. “These should be sufficient.”
“I hate washing dishes so remember your hands volunteered, not mine.”
We came to four small rooms grouped together. Each room had a unique shape and they were all empty.
“What are these for?” I asked.
Micah’s face was unreadable and it slowly dawned on me; four tiny rooms, one for each year of my absence.
“Nursery,” I guessed.
“Working on these rooms gave me hope that you would return someday. It comforted me… dreaming of the family we’d create together.”
It was hard to face but it was my fault that we’d lost all those years. “I wish I could go back and change all the mistakes I…,”
“We both made mistakes,” Micah interjected as he pulled me into a hug. “So don’t claim all the blame.
He led me past the four empty rooms.
We had to duck as we entered the next room but once inside we could stand up straight in the cozy space. There was a stone overhang above but we were basically outside on a balcony sized ledge overlooking a scenic view. Warm steamy air gently puffed at my face as it rose off of a circular body of water contained in a shallow pit dug into the floor.
“Is this the bathtub?” I asked.
“No; the hot tub. The bathroom is this way.”
He took me to a room that had an actual waterfall in the center of it! The water pooled at the bottom of the waterfall but didn’t overflow the sides.
“The water is on a circulating system to cut down on waste. Filtered rain water is heated by O-rocks and then it flows from above spilling into this bath pool. Then the water is drawn through those cleansing filters and the sanitized water is pumped back up above to start the process all over again.”
I immersed my hand in the hot water, luxuriating in the feel as delicious warmth crept up my arm.
“A water fall bath! Pretty impressive, Micah.”
“Would you like to take a bath now?” he asked.
I bolted upright self-conscious and suddenly highly sensitized to Micah’s masculine presence. There wasn’t a door or shower curtain in sight; all modesty completely abandoned. The thought of showering in front of him was unnerving.
“I’ll give you your privacy if that’s your concern,” Micah offered, making me feel immature.
“No…, no…, I’m being ridiculous. We’re both adults. Right? And we’ve been engaged for over four years now so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Adisa,” he sighed then leaned in and placed his forehead against mine; his hand rested lightly on the back of my neck in a familiar gesture. “You’ve been through a lot and you’re exhausted. You really don’t need me chasing you around the bath pool right now.”
I giggled at the image. “I’m sure you’d have no trouble catching me.”
“You’re a lot faster than you think.”
I smiled, shyly meeting his eyes. “Are you sure you don’t mind? I mean, I’m twenty one now, mature enough to…,”
“Believe me, I’m well aware of the fact that you’re twenty one physically but emotionally you’re still only a teenager. Cyrus kidnapped you on your seventeenth birthday and used his mindbending skills to hide the passage of time from you so he could keep you indefinitely. Four years were stolen from you but you’ve only just discovered that. You have to adjust to this… this strange new reality. I can wait, Adisa; we still have time.”
His sensitivity to my experience melted my reserve and I was in Micah’s arms, kissing him, trying to erase the four years of separation and transport us back to when we were in high school together. But this was no longer a teen boy I was kissing. Micah was a man now and he kissed with the authority of a man. At first it was staggering but then I felt our hearts begin to beat in sync and everything changed.
Desire smoothed out my jumbled emotions and for the briefest moment, I waivered on the brink of dragging Micah into the waterfall with me but then he pulled back, his hazel eyes searching my face.
“After you disappeared, I spent days here, trying to escape the thought that I’d never see you again. Now you’re here, and it’s a miracle just to hold you again. I don’t want to mess things up by doing something you’re not ready for. So enjoy the waterfall and I’ll join you another day when you’re not so… vulnerable.”
Just hearing him say that left me defenseless. I didn’t argue the point; he was right. I felt raw; incapable of making any permanent decisions. I needed time to adjust and process what had happened to me.
“Towels, soap, shampoo, clothes, and more are on the shelves and if you need anything else just call out and I’ll hear you,” he said, holding me at arm’s length. Then he slowly released me and I watched him go.
“Micah, I almost forgot,” I called after him. “Where’s the… umm… the uh… the toilet?”
He looked at me and I squirmed, embarrassed over ruining the moment. But it couldn’t be helped; I had to go.
“It’s through that corridor. Careful you don’t fall in,” he said grinning mysteriously.
Of course as soon as he was out of sight I headed down the corridor. At the end of it there was a bench chiseled out of the stone wall. A hole was in the center of the bench. I leaned over and carefully peered inside. It was a steep drop down to a body of swift flowing water far below.
I burst out laughing. I had to try it. The hole wasn’t big enough for me to fall through but it was a little drafty so I was tense as I nervously perched over it. When I was done, I looked around for a roll of paper but all I saw was a pile of leaves neatly stacked to the side.
Oh no he didn’t!
I started cracking up all over again. But to my surprise, the leaves were just as effective as paper.
There was a basin carved out of the wall obviously for washing up however there were no knobs or levers to release the water. I hesitantly extended my hands over the basin and warm water poured out of a spout mounted into the wall. Motion activated! I was beginning to feel as if I was at some exotic African spa.
I raided the shelves for bath supplies then quickly stripped and jumped into the hot pool of water. Words couldn’t describe the incredible sensations vibrating through me as I was completely engulfed in liquid Heaven.
After swimming around for awhile, I washed every inch of my body then I took down my braids and stood under the waterfall and washed my hair. I was shocked to discover it had grown well past my breasts. I tried to comb out the tangles and nearly snapped the comb in two. I loaded my hair with conditioner then rinsed after a few minutes as the bottle instructed but I still couldn’t get the comb through my kinky hair. Frustrated, I just pulled all my hair back and tied it up into a giant messy puff at the back of my head.
I found a comfortable place to recline in the pool and finally allowed myself to think of my family and what changes four years might have brought them.
My dad and I weren’t on best terms when I last saw him but I would ecstatically endure one of his paternal tirades just to hear his voice. My mom was over-nurturing, at least that’s what I used to think until Cyrus kidnapped me. Now all I wanted was to lose myself in one of mom’s suffocating embraces.
My older sisters, the twins, wouldn’t believe how much I missed them. I’d suffered the usual taunts and pranks older siblings played on younger ones but we were close despite this, even after we discovered I was actually their cousin, not their sister; our mothers were sisters.
When my family memories became too painful, I dried off, got dressed then went in search of Micah. He was in the kitchen cooking over the open fire pit.
“Were the facilities to your satisfaction?” he asked.
He flashed his gorgeous grin. “They’re a highly absorbent fiber, environmentally safe, and they’re surprisingly gentle on your…,”
“I’ll research other options,” he quickly conceded.
“Barring the leaves, how was the rest of it?”
“Incredible, absolutely incredible. Did you really build this place all by yourself?”
He nodded absently without a trace of conceit as he busily tended the pots over the fire.
“That smells wonderful. What is it?”
“This is Loubia, a Moroccan white bean dish,” he said, stirring a pot of beans. “Wild game birds are roasting in the oven and…,”
“Wild game bird?”
“Yes. I caught them while you bathed,” he said.
When I realized what he was really saying, I had to confirm. “Do you mean you chased down birds in flight!?”
Micah nodded as if it was common practice to hunt down birds in flight with his bare hands.
“That’s sticky rice and vegetables steamed in banana leaves,” he continued. “And I uncorked a Riesling to toast your return.”
“Micah I’m not old enough to drink,” I said, my mind still stunned with the image of him flying after our meal before I remembered my strange new reality.
“Oh! I am old enough so… scratch that; wine’s fine. You’ve been busy doing all the work. Want me to take over so you can bathe?”
“No, I already cleaned up. I want you to go sit out on the terrace and relax and I’ll bring everything out to you.”
I did as I was told, staying well clear of the treacherous edge, and Micah soon joined me with the food and wine. After everything was set up, I reached over and took Micah’s hand and said grace. I had a lot to be thankful for.
Micah started our meal with a toast. “To you, Adisa; welcome home.”
We clinked glasses and then I took a tentative sip. It was sweet and had a light burn going down that warmed pleasantly.
We didn’t talk much as we ate, just sat back and enjoyed the view. Micah’s cooking was even better than I remembered. When he brought out a batch of dalasini mipira for dessert, I tried to suppress the giggles the familiar pastry always induced. The treats were so delicious I was popping them in my mouth, one right after the other.
“I’m glad to see you’re still partial to my cinnamon balls,” Micah dryly noted and I nearly choked I was laughing so hard.
After dinner, we cuddled up under a pile of covers on a giant chaise lounge and watched the fiery setting of the sun.
My new home surpassed anything I could’ve imagined. Micah had designed it with precision and care for my comfort and wellbeing.
“Thank you for all of this, Micah,” I drowsily sighed. “It’s paradise.”
Micah’s smile was my last conscious view before I drifted off.
Deep asleep in my restless dreams I was reminded that paradise contained a serpent, forbidden fruit, and the loss of innocence.
END OF CHAPTER 1: CLICK HERE to post a comment or question
[ASCEND Excerpt: Adisa and Micah return to Micah's home in Atlanta to find Victor holding a training exercise in the backyard.]
When I stepped outside the back door, I was awed by a white winter wonderland. A thick blanket of snow covered the entire back yard and Victor, Micah’s super twin, stood in the middle of it with a young preteen boy who obviously had his shield up.
Frosty fingers of frigid air scraped over my exposed skin, stopping me in my tracks. How could this be in the middle of Spring?
“Jason, what are you doing here with him?” Micah said and that’s all I heard as I did a double take.
Jason! Micah’s brother was no longer the little mischievous seven year old I remembered but a lean and stoic eleven year old.
“I’m his Lead,” Victor was saying to Micah but his dark frigid eyes never left my face.
“His Lead!?” Micah looked at his little brother as if the boy was lost to him.
“What’s a Lead?” my voice shivered from the cold. I wondered if Victor had some kind of ownership over Jason. Hadn't he tried to take control of me through the Sp. court after he kidnapped me.
“I’ve been partnered with him for training purposes,” Victor answered.
“But you can’t,” I spluttered, the discomforting cold affecting my speech. “Jason’s Miako, fire and you’re the opposite, ice. You have to pair with somebody who has the same power as you.”
“Yes. I have the powers of a Baridi but I have Miako powers as well. Don’t you remember? Your father trained me in Kubanza. I’m Hewa, fire and ice.”
“Jason’s a Hewa like you?” I asked in amazement.
“He’s shown some aptitude so I was partnered with him to find out. We’re still in the early stages but you’re welcome to stay and observe. Jason, make a warm path for Adisa. Can’t you see how sensitive she is to the cold?”
My arms were tightly wrapped around me and I was shivering uncontrollably.
Jason raised his hands and instantly blasted a steaming trail in the thick blanket of snow from where he stood with Victor all the way to my feet. The snowy ice crystals melted forming a shiny thermal swath through the pristine white piled along the sides. A tunnel of warmth hovered over the path inviting me to step inside out of the cold.