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Fantasy Romance Fiction

“I promise. It is just around these shrubs.” Lucus walked around the hedge and held his hands out like he was presenting a new, state-of-the-art all-in-one dishwasher-refrigerator-toaster. 

Maria’s reaction was that of a grandma towards her wayward son's latest get-rich scheme. Skeptical and disappointed. 

           Maria folded her arms and glared from under her manicured eyebrows. “Really? That looks like the same stupid-donkey fountain we’ve circled five times.” Maria held out a hand with five fingers up to emphasize her point. To emphasize her feelings, she then wrapped those fingers into her palm then shook her fist uncomfortably close to Lucus’s nose. 

           Lucus fell on his bum while trying to lean away from Maria. Maria quickly stepped back. She then rolled her eyes, strolled over to the edge of the fountain, and sat down. 

           “I am beginning to think your promises never come true.” Maria felt the slightest prick in her eye as she said it.

           Lucus dusted off his cargo shorts as he stood up. He took in the sight of Maria’s long dark hair brushing her elbows as she leaned over her knees. He couldn’t take the sight, so he looked at the centerpiece of the recurring fountain. It was a graceful ballerina whose skirt was made of falling water. Then there were flowers and swans and stuff throwing up into the basin around the ballerina as well. Lucus didn’t know which sight he could stand less. 

           Without looking at either of them, Lucus walked over to the fountain and sat down beside Maria. “Yeah, we should take a break before heading further towards the exit.”

           “You told me you knew where it was. You promised you’d get me out of here.”

           “I do. And I will. I promise”

           Maria groaned as she lifted her head back up to look at the wall of shrubs that surrounded the little pocket with the fountain in it. It was like the endless walls of shrubs that endlessly surrounded everything in this world. 

           “At this rate, I could probably find the exit on my own by cutting through the shrubs with a stick.”

           “Aw, why bother with that when you’ve got someone who already knows the way.”

           Maria raised an eyebrow. “How can you be so. . .”

           “Positive?” Lucus interjected.

           Maria pursed her lips. “Not the word I was going to say.”

           “Enough of you and your fowl mouth. We have an exit to find!” Lucus launched himself from the ledge of the fountain. His arm was lifted like he was going to charge. His arm was also pointed directly in the middle of the shrub wall.

           Maria did not get up. “What? I said ‘stupid-donkey,’” she said looking down, letting her hair cover her smile.

           Lucus turned around and bent down till his face was inches away from Maria’s. “And I said fowl like the birds.”

           Maria's close-lipped smile stretched up just a little higher. Which was her way of laughing.

           Lucus squinted down at her. “Go on. Say just one swear word.”

           Maria continued to look down for a minute. Then she looked up and met Lucus with direct eye contact.

           “Bleep.”

           Maria then launched herself from the fountain’s ledge. “Okay, let’s get going.” She started walking on, leaving Lucus behind her.

           “Wait. That wasn’t a swear word.”

           Maria looked back over her smooth bare shoulder with a mischievous smile. “How do you know? There was a loud ‘bleep’ covering it up.”

           Lucus shuffled and put his hands in his pockets. This was the kind of fixed argument one could never win. 

           “You watch too much TV.” Lucus joined Maria and they both scuffled off through the hedges. 

#

“I’ll remember to bring the sandwiches next time. I promise.”

Maria rubbed her temple with her thumb and forefinger. “I specifically said, ‘they’re on the counter. Don’t forget to bring them.’”

“Well, you didn’t say it specifically like that.”

“That is not the point, Lucus!”

Lucus shrugged it off. He never won anything. 

As they turned the next corner in the maze of hedges, Lucus held out his arms to present the scene like an artist presenting his latest masterpiece. “I told you I knew how to find it on my own.” Lucus polished his fingernails on his leather jacket. 

Maria reacted like Monet being shown someone's water lily coloring page. “Wow, it only took you ten years.” Maria strolled past Lucus and sat down on the edge of the fountain next to the ugliest of the spitting swans. 

She began opening the champagne bottle as the ballerina's skirt splashed diamonds of water. Lucus, who had the glasses, quickly joined her. 

“Hey, at least I improve.” 

“Oh, yes. You have gotten so much better at keeping your promises.” Maria said as she poured Lucus’s glass and handed it back to him. Lucus tactfully chose to remain silent.

Maria leaned in as he took his first sip and whispered, “Sandwiches.”

Lucus swallowed like his champagne had turned to vinegar. “First. You whisper the sexiest things.” Lucus batted his eyelashes. “And Secondly, Tuna fish sandwiches are nothing that great.” Lucus mocked jazz hands.

“I like tuna fish.”

“I know. I do too. But does it really scream ‘anniversary?’”

“It does to me.” Maria batted her own thick black eyelashes.

“Is it because of that time we spend lost in the left quarter?”

Maria grazed Lucus’s shoulder with her own. “You say that like we haven’t been lost in every quarter of this maze.”

Lucus put his hands behind his head like he was going to lean back and relax. Of course, there was nothing behind him to lean back on. “You know, we have had some great adventures in this maze. Minotaurs, gargoyles, defeating your father, not getting turned to stone, drive-in movie theaters. Ah, good times.”

Maria slapped Lucus on the shoulder. “You know you still haven’t gotten me through the exit like you promised.”

“Hey, I am getting there. I promise.” Lucus went back to relaxing and closed his eyes.

“You know I could probably count the number of promises you managed to keep on one hand. But you’d probably need every star in the sky to keep track of all the promises you’ve made.”

Lucus didn’t open his eyes as he smiled. “Are you saying my promises are like dazzling guardians that make you feel safe at night?”

Maria's face was stripped of all signs of emotion. “You sir, have a way of twisting words.”

“Hey, it got us out of that gargoyle mess. At least I am good for one thing”

Maria sighed. “You’re good for many things.”

Lucus flashed one eye open. “What did you say?”

Maria blinked at him, then took both hands and pushed him. Lucus, who still had both hands behind his head, had no chance. He went crashing into the water basin behind him. He quickly flailed his arms up and got his head above water.

“What was that for!”

Maria, half soaked from Lucus’s splashing, simply shrugged. “You have to strike when least expected, remember.”

“Ha ha,” Lucus said humorlessly. His blond curls were the color of a wet sponge and stuck to his face like spaghetti noodles. “Is this because of the promises thing? Well, the more I make, the more I can keep, right?” 

Maria leaned into the water and kiss Lucus on the cheek.

“Right,” she whispered.

Lucus blushed like it was the first time she had kissed him. 

#

There it was. Fifteen years in the waiting. The exit. Its stone arch loomed twenty feet into the air with green hedges, just as tall as it, flanking it on either side. It loomed in an eternal shadow that kept the other side hidden. 

Maria clutched her fist over her chest. She’d found it. The emotions that sometimes pricked the corners of her eyes pierced them today. Tears slid down her cheeks and caught at the corners of her mouth so that she tasted saltwater. Lucus had always promised to bring her here. It was the one promise she’d assumed he someday manage to keep. Maria swallowed and cleared her eyes. In a way, it was Lucus that had brought her here. 

Lucus had been taken by Mortius over a month ago. Maria had searched every quarter of the maze looking for him. This was the last place he could be. 

Maria tried to hold herself together with both arms as she slowly walked towards the exit. She sniffled on her way. When she stopped to let more tears fall, she breathed in and tried to remember. She and Lucus had been through many other dangers. They’d even been separated before. 

           “This could be just like those times,” Maria mumbled to herself. “It all seems so awful in the moment till your past it.” She wished more than anything she was sitting at the edge of that fountain with the beautiful ballerina and the stupid swans and Lucus.

Maria looked up at the foreign site of the exit one more time. For the first time in her life, she was whole-heartily glad that Lucus had kept finding that fountain instead. 

Maria peered into the darkness that lay beyond the arch. She sucked up her bottom lip and closed her eyes. “Just think about the gargoyles.” Not because it was the most dangerous and difficult situation she and Lucus had gotten through, but because it was the funniest, and because it made her think of Lucus. 

Maria opened her eyes and started marching for the exit.

“I will find you, Lucus. I promise.”

Maria never made a promise she wouldn’t keep. 

June 24, 2022 16:39

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