Summary: They may not be together anymore but Dila still manages to surprise Kuzgun on his birthday.
“Happy birthday, Kuzgun,” the little kids yelled, screaming with joy. He surveyed the mixed crowd in front of him, noting the jubilant faces of the neighbourhood kids and teenagers. There was also his mother in the crowd, along with Gunesh, both waiting for him to share in on the glee but the last thing he wanted was to celebrate his fucking birthday. Reluctantly, he smiled at the children.
“Happy birthday, brother,” Cihan said, coming up to him to give him a hug.
“What is all this?” Kuzgun asked, relived he didn’t have to hide his irritation from his friend. “I told you I wasn’t in the mood for this.”
“Your mother wanted to invite the whole neighbourhood. I managed to convince her to just stick to the kids,” Cihan said. “Stay a few minutes, grab some cake. Then I’ll distract her and you can escape.”
Kuzgun nodded, silently acknowledging his gratitude to Cihan.
Few minutes later he was about to extract himself from the party when Gunesh approached him. He curbed the twinge of irritation, reminding himself that she was a nice girl. Kuzgun wasn’t an idiot, he knew full well she had a schoolgirl crush on him and his mother was encouraging it but he’d hoped keeping Gunesh at a distance would be hint enough for both women to get the message. Apparently, it wasn’t.
Gunesh greeted him with a shy smile. “Happy birthday.”
“Are you having fun?”
“Yeah, it’s great,” he said, taking a sip of his drink as he watched the kids pass around a soccer ball.
Her smile widened. “I knew you’d enjoy it. Your mom and I had so much fun planning this!”
Kuzgun’s brows snapped together. “You didn’t have to do this. Really.” He emphasized the last part, trying to keep the agitation out of his voice. Enough was enough. It was time he had a conversation with his mother so she’d stop pulling stunts like this.
“I hope you like it,” Gunesh said, pulling out a jewelry box from behind her.
Memories of Dila flooded over him. He remembered the last birthday he’d spent with her, every moment from that day etched in his brain. She’d put so much thought into everything, but more than that he remembered her infectious smile, her excitement over sharing years’ worth of gifts with him. The cruel, harsh words he’d lashed out at her at the end of the night.
He gave himself a mental shake. “You didn’t have to do this, Gunesh.”
“I wanted to.”
Reluctantly he took the box and snapped it open. Inside was a big, expensive-looking watch.
“I noticed the one you wear is really old,” Gunesh explained, gesturing towards the keepsake his father had given him. “I thought you might like this. Guys love Rolexes.”
“Do they?” he muttered to himself. Spotting the hurt look in her eyes, he instantly felt guilty. “It’s really nice. Thank you. But I can’t accept it.”
“Do you not like it?”
“It’s a little too rich for my blood.” Noting the intense conversation Cihan was having with his mother, Kuzgun realised this was his opportunity to get out. He quickly handed the jewelry box back to Gunesh. “Have a good night.” Turning around, he rushed out of the courtyard.
He was at the bottom of his staircase when Cihan caught up to him, running and out of breath. Obviously, his friend had something important to share.
“Calm down, calm down,” Kuzgun said. “You could’ve just called me.”
“No, no, I wanted to tell you this in person.”
“Let’s go to the roof. We’ll grab a drink.”
Cihan gave him a smile. “Remember how you asked me to check who was giving the neighbourhood kids all those new clothes and gifts?”
Kuzgun glowered. “Is that bastard Ferman up to something again?”
“No, no. It looked like it was a company associated with him but it’s not, I checked. The company’s actually registered to… Sister-in-Law.”
Kuzgun froze. “What?”
“Yeah. Kerem has a friend who’s good with computer stuff and he started to dig into it. He says it was well-hidden, which makes me think Ferman doesn’t know about it either.”
Kuzgun stared at the steps in front of him, his mind grappling with what that meant.
“She’s also set up a free legal aid in one of the other neighbourhoods. That one was a lot harder to unearth, I had to shill out a lot more to get that info.”
“That’s definitely something Dila would do.” She’d spent most of her life helping the disenfranchised, aiding those who needed it the most. Then he remembered the part he played in getting her disbarred so she was unable to practice again. He exhaled a resigned sigh, his heart heavy.
“Your wife is still in there, no matter how angry she is. Don’t give up on her.”
Kuzgun scoffed. “Couldn’t do it even if I wanted to.” He started up the stairs. “Good night, my friend,” he mumbled, nodding at Cihan.
Kuzgun made his way to the roof, standing still when he reached the top. The air was cold, uncomfortable, and exactly what he needed. Dila’s face flashed through his mind for the millionth time, taunting him. For years his birthday had been like any other day, spent alone out on the streets, fighting for survival, but two years ago that had changed. Dila had forced him to spend the day with her on the island, sharing with him all the things she’d collected over the years and it was the first birthday he’d felt something other than anger.
Last year this day had been hell, worse than even the most hellish ones out on the street. Because the woman he loved was out there somewhere, lost to him, possibly in danger, and all of those emotions had clawed at his soul to get out.
At least now he knew she was alive. He rubbed his neck, closed his eyes. He missed her. Her scent, her laugh, her touch, her brilliant mind. Her fiery temper when she was angry at him, her bubbly laughter when she was teasing him. The spark in her bright blue eyes when she had gained the upper hand on him. The way her lips tasted, how her body felt when he was inside her. Her soft, breathless moans of pleasure when she came.
Kuzgun opened his eyes, shook his head to wave the memories away. He needed to get out of here.
Half an hour later he drove up on the hill, approaching the tree he’d spent many sleepless nights under. Except this time he wasn’t alone. There was a jeep already parked there, one he knew well. Dila. His heart pounded in his chest as he got out of the car and made his way towards their spot. She was sitting on a rock, her back to him, wearing a t-shirt and jeans – very unlike the wardrobe she seemed to prefer these days.
It was only when he was closer that he realised she had a bottle of vodka in her hand. Definitely not her drink of choice.
“To what do I owe this pleasure,” he said, trying to conceal his joy at the sight of her.
Her eyes flickered with surprise and confusion. “Why are you here? This is my spot!”
She was drunk. He smiled, in awe of how charming she was at the moment. “It belongs to the both of us.”
She took another sip from the bottle, and grimaced. He moved to sit beside her, trying not to laugh.
“Why are you here? Aren’t you supposed to be celebrating your birthday with Gunesh?”
He bit his lips, delighted by how jealous Dila sounded. No matter how much she pretended to have moved on, it was obviously a lie. She still wanted him, just like he did her.
“So you remembered it was my birthday?” he asked.
Her voice grew quiet. “I always remember.”
She turned to him instantly. “Can you leave? I want to be alone.”
“No, not possible.”
“It always has to be your way, doesn’t it?” She yelled at him. “Everything revolves around you. What you want, what you need-”
“If that was true, you wouldn’t be wearing that ring,” he snapped.
Her cheeks were flushed with anger, her eyes a bright blue. He expected her to say something. Instead, she took a large swig from the bottle and consequently started coughing.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Kuzgun said, snatching the bottle from her hand.
“You’re not my husband. You don’t get to tell me what to do.” She started to stand up but her knees gave way, leading Kuzgun to grab her so she wouldn’t fall. “Let me go!” she screamed when he forced her to sit down in front of him.
“Not until you calm down,” he barked, enveloping her from behind.
“Why do you have to make things so difficult?” She said, struggling against him. “Why can’t you just let me go?”
Jaw clenched, he refused to ease his iron-tight grip. “You’re not leaving when you’re wasted.”
It was a while before she finally calmed down, silence ensuing between them. Kuzgun breathed her in, her scent overwhelming his senses, his heart lurching at how good she felt in his arms. She felt like home, his other half.
“I’m going to marry Ferman and I’m going to be happy,” she said stubbornly, as if to convince herself.
“You think so?”
“Yeah… I will. I have to.”
“What does he have on you? What is he threatening you with?”
Her bitter laugh reverberated in the air. “Nothing. He doesn’t threaten me. He’s kind… respectful…”
Her every word punctured his heart, filling his soul with anguish. “Okay, enough.”
“He saved me.” Her words belied the sadness in her voice. “When I was at my lowest, he was there.”
“He didn’t save you, he hid you! How can you not see that?”
She turned around to look at him. “I’m the one who didn’t want to see you.”
Hurt flooded over him, the pain overwhelming. For a year he’d compartmentalised the idea of Dila purposely staying away from him, of pursuing divorce, but the morning he’d realised Ferman had her he’d convinced himself it was Ferman’s idea all along, not Dila’s. Yet now she was confirming just that, and it hit him like a ton of bricks.
“We’re poison, you and I.” She glanced down, staring at the ground. “You shattered me into pieces and now there’s nothing left.”
“Bullshit!” Kuzgun spat out, tucking his fingers under her chin so she was forced to look at him. “You’ve gone through hell and back and you’re still here. Because that’s who you are. Nobody can destroy that part of you.”
She waved his hand away, shaking her head emphatically. “My heart’s gone. I’m just… hollow.”
He scooted closer, cupping her face in his hands. “You’re Dila. My Dila. You’re strong and you don’t let anyone get away with anything. You help people who have no one to turn to, you fight for everyone you love, and you never, ever give up on anyone.”
“That part of me is gone. Now there’s nothing left of me.”
“You love me. You still love me. I don’t care how much you deny it.”
“Of course I love you,” she admitted. “I can’t stop, even though you took everything from me.”
Guilt swept through him but he refused to let the emotion distract him, not right now, not when he was so close to getting through to her. Grazing her forehead with his own, he peered at her closely. “I’ll fix everything, I promise. Just give me another chance.”
She closed her eyes. After a long time, she spoke again, “I don’t want to be with you.”
Her words were a direct contrast to the way she clung to him, how she breathed him in. As if she was imprinting every inch of him in her memory. “You were always a terrible liar,” he murmured, caressing her hair with one hand.
“You make me feel things I don’t want,” she continued, her eyes still closed.
“Like what?” he urged, wishing she’d look at him but recognizing that she needed the separation to tell him how she really felt.
“I’m always scared around you… I can’t trust you. You pull me to you one second and push me away the next.” Her face twisted into an anguished expression that made it difficult for him to breathe. “I don’t want to hurt anymore, Kuzgun. Can’t you understand that?”
“I’ll make the pain stop.” He dropped a tender kiss on her left eyelid, then the right.
“I wish I could believe that.”
“Okay, fine, I’ve done things, terrible things, but I also made you happy.” He tried to keep the desperation out of his voice. “Didn’t I?”
She nodded her head grudgingly. “The happiest I’ve ever been.”
“Then fight for us!”
“One moment of happiness is not worth the darkness that swallowed me whole.” She laid her head on his chest. “I can’t risk letting it back again.”
“Fine.” He gritted his teeth, angry. “Don’t believe me, don’t trust me, but I’m not letting go. I’m not giving up.” He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “I’ll fight for us even if you won’t.”
“I’m so tired,” she whimpered, her voice a breathless whisper.
“I know.” He embraced her tightly, wrapping his arms around her so she didn’t get cold. “Just sleep.”
There were so many things he wanted to tell her, like how sorry he was about everything that happened and how much he loved her – but now wasn’t the time. She was exhausted and not ready to listen, and he owed it to them, to her, to respect. The faint scent of her perfume drifted up and he smiled into her hair, feeling more at peace than he had in the entirety of the year she was gone.
The night was still, the breeze balmy, and in his arms slept the only woman he’d ever loved.
Elated, he smiled. Things weren’t perfect but tonight had turned out to be the best goddamn birthday he’d ever had.
The sun flickered bright, the warm rays waking him up. As he slowly opened his eyes, he remembered where he was. Under the tree, with Dila. Except she was gone and he was there alone.
He stood up, stretched out his arms, rubbing his neck to ease the stiffness. A small smile curved across his lips as he recalled the night before. His Dila still loved him, she was just scared, and he was ready to fight for her even if she couldn’t.
Feeling confident, he strode towards the car.
A/N – Thank you for reading. If you enjoy my writing, my debut novel Follow You Down is available for sale on Amazon.