Fic: Second Chance
Spoilers: Up to episode 52.
Summary: Six years after their ill-fated wedding, Omer and Defne cross paths again in Rome.
Defne walked through the gallery, her steps hesitant, the tightness in her chest making it difficult to breathe. Beautiful art hung on the walls of the gallery but she didn’t pay any attention to them. Instead, she was searching for a particular painting. Shortly after, she found it. On a big canvas lay splashes of red, black, and gray, intertwined in some areas, segregated in others, with a dying Defne tree at the very center of it. The image wasn’t beautiful, but it was striking. It commanded everyone’s full attention, and elicited a visceral reaction – appropriate considering the title. Pain by Omer Iplikci. Even though it had been six years, the thought of him still unleashed a tidal wave of anguish within.
She stared at the piece for a long time, studying it. Tears stung the back of her eyes. He still despised her after all this time, that was evident. Their last encounter had been right after the wedding when he’d called her a liar, ripped her to shreds, and walked out on her. She’d received the annulment papers two days later, and there had been no contact between since then.
It had taken a long time for her to realise the breakup was for the best. She and Omer would never have been happy in the long run. He had expected perfection, anything less wasn’t acceptable – and she was definitely not perfect. And despite all the lies she’d told to protect their relationship, she had also been deceived by him. He’d promised never to abandon her – like her parents had – but he had done just that as soon as the truth was revealed. The lump in her throat grew painful. Maybe he never truly loved her but her feelings had been genuine and sincere, and she did still love him. Of course none of that mattered now.
“It’s something else, isn’t it?”
She turned to find an older man standing few steps behind her, gazing adoringly at the painting. “Yes. It’s remarkable.”
“It’s his most popular piece. He must have been in a lot of pain when he drew that.”
“I suppose so.”
“Are you a fan of Iplikci’s work?”
“I haven’t seen much of it,” she confessed. Over the years he had made a name for himself as an up and coming artist, but with him being in Rome she had found it easy to avoid his work. Of course now that she was visiting his city for a few days, it was impossible to ignore the pull that tugged at her heartstrings.
“I’ve heard he’s getting married soon.”
Everything grew still, silent, the only sound that of her heart pounding in her chest. If it was possible, it shattered all over again. Her hands trembled, she felt sick to her stomach.
“I’m a huge fan of his,” the man said, oblivious to her pain. “I’ve heard he comes to this gallery often, so I was hoping to run into him.”
Defne broke out of her stupor. “I hope you get your wish. Enjoy the rest of your day.” She strode out of the museum, practically running out of there; the last thing she wanted was to run into Omer. It was only after she was sitting in the back of a cab that the tears she’d been so desperately fighting came rushing to the surface. No longer able to hold back, she sobbed quietly.
Half an hour later Defne was back in the hotel, and she made a pit stop in the bathroom to wash her face and reapply makeup. As much as she wanted to hide out in her room and spend the day wallowing, she couldn’t. This was a business trip after all and she had to meet her colleagues in a few minutes. Before heading to the restaurant she called home; no one answered which wasn’t unexpected.
Shortly after she entered the hotel restaurant and scanned the room for her companions. Kerem was already seated at the table, scrolling through his phone, but he set it aside as she approached him. Once seated across from him, he poured her a glass of wine.
“I hope red is okay for you,” he said.
She nodded ‘yes’.
“How was your afternoon?”
“Fine,” she said. “Yours?”
“I went to a museum, but I got bored pretty quickly.” He grinned. “I’m not one for culture.”
She laughed. “Where’s everyone else?”
“They should be coming soon. I think they went to the theater to catch an opera.”
“That sounds lovely.”
“Are you into that?”
Her smile stiffened, remembering that it was Omer who introduced her to the music. “Not much anymore. I don’t have time.” Picking up the menu, she pored over the options. “Do you know what you’re having?”
“Seafood linguini. You?”
“Not sure yet.”
Soon they were joined by the rest of their colleagues, Maria and Can. Throughout the next little while they ate and drank, and the conversation flowed freely. It was their last night in Rome and everyone was in high spirits. At one-point Defne left the table to call home again. After the second ring, her grandmother finally answered.
“Oh my dear Defne, how are you? Have you eaten? You haven’t, have you? We’re not there so you’re probably working all hours of the day-”
“Grandma, will you let me talk?” Defne interjected, laughing. “I’m okay. And yes, I’ve eaten. I’m actually at dinner right now. Where’s my sweetheart?”
“Miss trouble is at the park with Serdar and baby Iso.”
“Has she been asking about me?”
“Whenever she starts, we distract her. But bedtimes are her favourite now because she knows that’s when mommy calls.”
Defne smiled. Usually putting Arzu to bed every night was a time-consuming task because the little munchkin absolutely refused to sleep, but it warmed her heart to know her daughter looked forward to their calls as much as she did. “I miss her so much.”
“And us? You don’t miss us?”
Defne laughed. “Of course I do, Grandma. Can you guys call me when they come back from the park? She’ll probably be tired but I still want to talk to her before she falls asleep.”
“Of course I will, my dear. We miss you.”
“I miss all of you guys too. I know it’s only been three days but it feels like I’ve been gone for months.”
“Never mind that. You’ll be home tomorrow, god willing.”
“Yes, I will. Okay, I should go now. Call me when Arzu’s back.”
“I will. Love you.”
“Love you too.” Defne hung up. Spotting the lock screen picture of her and Arzu together, she started scrolling through the other pictures. While Arzu was only three, she already had a fiery personality and a temper to match. Defne saw more and more of herself in her daughter every day and it simultaneously worried and made her proud. More than anything, her biggest concern was making sure Arzu didn’t lack for anything, that her daughter knew she was completely loved and cherished. Slipping the phone back into her purse, she was returning to the restaurant when, suddenly, she spotted Omer.
Stopping midstride, she stood frozen, every part of her body seemingly refusing to move.
Omer was at the bar with three other people, casually dressed in a grey Henley and jeans. He looked older, more mature, his beard a bit thicker now which only made him appear more handsome. The chandelier cast a warm glow over his bronzed skin, and her breath caught in her throat at how beautiful he still was. Then she noticed the woman standing beside him on the other side, and the intimate way his arm snaked around the blonde’s waist.
Defne needed to get out of there. Her legs threatened to give way any second, she couldn’t breathe. Turning around, she ran across the hotel lobby and towards the elevator, rushing inside. Out of breath, she pressed the buttons repeatedly until the doors closed.
Once in her room, she took out her phone and texted Kerem that she’d returned to her room as she wasn’t feeling well. Only after a quick shower did she start to feel somewhat okay, and back to her normal self again. It was ridiculous the effect Omer still had on her, not just emotionally but also physically. For many a night she’d lain awake, wondering what it would be like to see Omer again. Would he still despise her? Ignore her? She knew there was no way they’d be able to have a civil conversation – too much hurt and resentment remained between them. The phone rang just then, fortunately providing the distraction needed.
“Mamma!” Arzu waved on face-time, her beautiful chubby face brightening up Defne’s world. “Mamma, Mamma, I went to the park today, Mamma. And you wanna know what Uncle Iso got me and Iso today? And we saw fish this big,” she gestured with her hand. “And it was so cute. And it said my name. It said Arzuuuuuuuuuuuuuu… Arzuuuuuuuuuuuuu…”
Defne started laughing. One minute with her daughter and she forgot all her troubles.
“Sweetheart, let your mom say hi first,” Serdar said in the background.
“Hi Momma. Momma, hi!” Arzu squealed, laughing. Her silken red hair, the same shade as Defne’s, was plaited into two braids and she was wearing her favourite Olaf pajamas.
“Momma, I miss you.”
“I miss you too, baby. But I’ll be home tomorrow night and I want lots and lots of cuddles and kisses.”
They spoke for a while, with Arzu sharing every detail of her very busy day, until, eventually, she started nodding off and Serdar pried the phone from her fingers.
“Finally she’s asleep,” Serdar sighed. “I swear my Iso wasn’t as energetic as Arzu. No one has the energy to keep up with her other than you.”
“You’re still standing so that’s good.”
“Can’t wait to have you back home. We miss you.”
“Between taking care of Iso and Arzu, most of my hair has turned grey. I really don’t think I can handle any more kids. Maybe you can tell Nihan that?”
“No, she’s your wife! Besides, I don’t have a death wish.”
Serdar laughed. “Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow. We’ll pick you up at the airport.”
After packing up her things for the return trip home, she slipped under the covers. The room was completely dark, her body exhausted, but Defne couldn’t sleep. She stared up at the ceiling, her mind concentrated on the fact that Omer was somewhere in the same hotel, only a few floors below. With his soon-to-be bride. The lump in her throat refused to budge at first, and it was hard to ignore the pain of heartbreak, but then she started taking deep breaths, and reminded herself of the most important thing that happened to her after Omer left. A smart, beautiful child had graced her life, a daughter who meant the world to her, and the simple truth was that Arzu would never have been born if Omer hadn’t left her. Everything happened for a reason, Defne had come to really believe in the last few years, and all the things that occurred in her life – the good and the bad – was so that she could be a good mom to her daughter. And that was all who mattered, not herself, definitely not Omer – just Arzu. Finding some semblance of peace from that thought, Defne fell into a deep slumber.
The next morning Defne was standing in front of the hotel, her luggage next to her. Kerem was arranging a cab for the airport, while her other two colleagues were slowly making their way down. Earlier she’d worried about running into Omer, but then it occurred to her he probably wasn’t at the hotel anymore as he lived in the city. Maybe he’d stopped by the bar last night for a drink, or he’d met up with friends. Either way, she didn’t have to fret about running into him again.
“Cab should be here soon,” Kerem said, joining her at the curb. “We don’t have to wait for Maria and Can. They can meet us at the airport.”
“I don’t mind waiting.”
“So did you enjoy this trip?”
“I did. I’ve always wanted to visit so I’m glad I got the chance. I do miss home though. A lot. And my daughter.”
“It was your first time away from her, right?”
She didn’t have the opportunity to respond. Heart in her throat, breath halted, she froze as her gaze locked with Omer’s. He was standing a few feet away near the hotel lobby, staring at her intently. Every thought in her mind dissipated. Minutes passed, or maybe it was hours. She didn’t know. There was no sense of time, no urgency. There was only Omer. After so many years, he was right there. So close that she only had to walk a few steps forward to touch him. Maybe she was dreaming, maybe he was a hallucination. But that couldn’t be because when she dreamt about him, he was happy. And the man in front of her right now was definitely not that. There was a storm brewing in the brown pools of Omer’s eyes, an intense expression etched across his features.
The touch on her arm brought her rushing back to reality. She regarded Kerem blankly as he spoke and stored her luggage in the trunk of the cab. “We can wait in the cab for Maria and Can. Getting in?” Kerem asked, holding the door open for her.
Defne’s heart pounded in her chest. Hesitantly, she glanced forward to meet Omer’s eyes. Her past was staring back at her and as much as she desired him to beckon her closer, there was no love there, no yearning. There was only judgement, and reminders of pain. Six years ago he’d left her behind and moved on. Now it was her turn.
She slid inside the cab, scooting closer to the window so that Kerem could sit beside her. “Can we leave? We can wait for them at the airport.”
“You seem to be in a rush to get out of here,” Kerem teased, gesturing the cab to start driving.
Through the side window she could still feel Omer’s gaze boring into her, or maybe she just imagined it. Either way, she wasn’t going to move back. “I just want to get home.”
The cab drove away. With the increasing distance between her and Omer, the anguish in her heart became replaced with peace, and then contentment at the thought of seeing Arzu. Maybe her life now didn’t resemble the dreams she’d had with Omer but that didn’t mean they were any less important. If anything, her broken relationship made her appreciate the true value of what she had now. Unconditional love was what she had for her daughter, her family, her best friend Iso, and they returned her feelings hundred-fold. They were the center of her universe and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Omer stood in silence, shaken to the core at the sight of Defne in front of him. Few inches away. Red hair glistening in the sunlight, highlighting her creamy porcelain complexion. She was the very image which haunted him for so many years. But no, that wasn’t exactly true. The Defne standing in front of him was different, hair much shorter than the long tresses he used to love running his fingers through, dressed in a suit, her face filled out. She looked more mature than the image etched into his brain, sophisticated, but her beautiful lips still seemed capable of the childish, giddy smile he loved.
She turned away momentarily, her eyes following the guy who was storing luggage in the trunk of the cab. A sudden flash of intense jealousy ran through Omer. The thought of her with someone else set his blood on fire. Defne’s eyes met his again, and for a second he genuinely believed she was going to call his name, make a move towards him. The emotion in her eyes called out to him, beckoning him closer.
Instead, she slipped inside the cab, next to that guy, and drove away.
“Omer, you ready?” Paolo asked, coming up to him from behind. “Let’s go to the café for a bit. I’m dying for some coffee.”
Omer remained still.
“What’s wrong?” Paolo asked.
“I need to do something. I’ll catch up with you.” Omer practically ran through the foyer and toward the hotel registration desk. Tony, a member of the staff he was friendly with, was behind the desk and smiled as Omer approached.
“Omer, how are you?”
“Hanging in there. How about you?”
“Excellent, excellent. I took my wife to your show the other day. She really loved it.”
“Hey, can you do me a favour? I thought I recognized a friend of mine outside but she was driving away. Can you tell me if Defne Topal stayed here?”
“I’m not allowed to give out that info, Omer. You know that.”
Although impatient, Omer offered him a cordial smile. “Look, I’m not looking for her contact info. I know that’s confidential. Just tell me if she stayed here or not.”
Doubt flitted across Tony’s face but he eventually relented, searching through the computer for any info. “Yes. She was here for a few days, but checked out this morning.”
Omer didn’t understand why he was desperate for the info, it shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. “Was her husband in the room as well? I thought I saw him too.”
“No, just one person in the room. Maybe it was her coworker you saw. It looks like the booking was made through a corporate account.”
Unexpected relief surged through him, the pressure in his chest slowly deflating. “What company did the booking?”
Feeling more energized than he’d been in a long time, Omer rushed up to his hotel room to get the rest of his belongings.
Two weeks later Omer was back in Istanbul, staying at a hotel for the time being. As he drove closer to destination, his insides coiled, tensing even further as he parked along the side of the road. Memories from years ago rippled through him as everything about the small neighbourhood made him nostalgic – the smell of fresh halwa in the air, small kids laughing and chasing stray cats, the roughened cobblestone street under his feet. Most of all, the little green house that stood in the middle of the packed street. Defne’s house.
He looked up at the balcony, recalling the time he’d thrown stones at the window to get her attention. She’d been angry at him but they’d soon made up, and hid inside his car to make out.
As much as he wanted to knock on the door and see Defne again, he knew that was impossible. She and her family no longer lived there, and apparently hadn’t done so in years.
Omer swallowed an audible breath, and headed towards Sadri Usta’s home.
Minutes later he was being led into the living room, and asked to wait for Sardi Usta. As soon as he spotted his old mentor, he stood up. The years had taken its toll on Sadri Usta. He walked with a cane now, his body fragile. Immediately Omer sped towards him, grabbing his hand and kissing the palm as a show of respect. He supported the older man’s weight as they walked back to the couch.
“Omer, my boy. I knew I’d see you again.”
Guilt flooded over Omer as he thought about the careless way he had disconnected from everyone in his life in the past few years. “How are you, Sadri Usta?”
“I’m good, I’m good,” the old man proclaimed, taking a seat on the sofa. “How are you, my son?”
Omer pulled the chair closer. “I’m sorry I stayed away for so long. There is no excuse, I understand that-”
“It’s okay. You needed space, but I knew you would return one day.” The old man smiled at him. “Your business here wasn’t finished.”
For the next little while Sadri Usta shared news about his own family and grandchildren, showing off pictures. Omer inquired about Sadri Usta’s health, realizing how much he missed the man’s calming influence on his life. Over tea they spoke about Sadri Usta’s retirement three years ago and how his son had taken over the store. Eventually the pot of tea emptied, and a knowing smile came over his mentor’s face.
“Sooner or later you’ll have to talk about yourself, Omer.”
Omer rubbed his beard, staring off into space. After a long bout of silence, he finally uttered the words he’d refused to confess aloud for so long. “I made a mistake leaving. I should have stayed and worked things out with Defne.”
“Yes, you should have.”
There was no judgement in Sadri Usta’s voice, just resignation, as if he’d been waiting all this time for Omer to come to his senses. And the older man was right. Much to Omer’s surprise, he felt a huge bout of relief. “I wasted so much time being angry, hating her. For years I would wake up everyday and just be furious at the world. I did so many stupid things to get rid of my pain, to move past it but every time I thought about the lies I would be enraged all over again.”
“But you’re not angry anymore. What changed?”
“A shift in perspective. Few months ago I was witness to a car accident, a horrific one. There was a woman named Eda, I pulled her out of the car while we waited for the ambulance to come. She lost a lot of blood and was talking incoherently but she spoke a lot about regrets. She died in my arms.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Omer stood up, walked over to the open window to stare at some of the kids playing out on the street. “I thought about her words a lot. Regrets. Mistakes. Forgiveness. What Defne and I had was real, it was true love. Why did I let one mistake get in the way of our happiness? Why did I punish her so harshly? I asked myself that for months. And then I saw Defne in Rome. She was right there, in front of me, and it was like my heart had come alive again. Everything between us, all those emotions, they were still there. She looked at me, and I just knew that she still felt the same. She still loved me.”
“Six years is a long time.”
“I know, but what are the chances of us running into each other in Rome of all places? It was the universe’s way of showing us we were meant to be together.”
“I don’t think it’ll be that easy, my son. She may be married already.”
“She isn’t. She still has the same last name.”
“That doesn’t mean she’s not married. I just… I worry you’re getting your hopes up.”
Omer turned to look at his mentor. “I thought you’d be happy about this.”
“Oh Omer, how I wish I could be. I wish I could tell you everything will be okay, that you guys will work things out but it’s been so long. And she and her family went through a lot. Living in this neighbourhood became really difficult for them after the wedding. You know how small-minded some people can be, especially with Defne’s parents history. There was a lot of vicious gossip about Defne , especially considering she came home the day after the wedding.”
Omer wanted to kick himself. He’d never even considered what the annulment would mean for Defne’s reputation. He’d been too consumed by rage to think about anyone else.
“After Iso became ill-”
Sadri Usta’s eyes brimmed with sadness. “Cancer. That’s why they sold the house and left Istanbul. They found a good oncologist in Ankara and moved there for Iso’s treatments.”
“I had no idea.”
“That was a few years ago. We lost touch after that. Truthfully, I think Defne and her family just wanted a fresh start somewhere new.” Sadri Usta held out his arm and Omer advanced towards him, gripping the older man’s hand. “I’m not telling you to give up, but I just want you to be prepared in case Defne has already moved on.”
Omer sat back down, contemplating Sadri Usta’s words. What if she had? What if she’d found someone else to love? Logically he knew it was possible, probably even likely, but something in his soul refused to believe it. The way she’d looked at him in Rome, the emotion in her eyes, it had been too intense, too real. “I still have to try.”
“How are you going to find her?”
“I know what company she works for.”
Sadri Usta sighed. “There’s nothing I can say to change your mind, is there?”
Omer shook his head ‘no’.
“I hope your wishes come true, Omer. I really do.”
Despite the smile on Sadri Usta’s face, Omer sensed his wariness. Doubt flooded over him. For the first time since spotting Defne, he began to question himself. What if he was being utterly foolish in pursuing her again? What if she was involved with someone else, or engaged even? What if she no longer loved him?
Determined not to lose hope, he forced the unpleasant thoughts aside and continued his chat with Sadri Usta.
Defne yawned, glancing at the timer on her phone. Since returning from Rome, she hadn’t been able to get a good night’s sleep even though she was exhausted from working and then taking care of Arzu. And she knew the reason why. Omer. He still had a way to mess up her life even after all these years. It was easy not to think about him when she was busy, but at night, alone in bed and with nothing to distract her, the floodgates opened and thoughts of Omer swarmed her mind. The first time she found him staring at her intently, the first time he genuinely smiled at her, the first time she made him laugh. Then there were those nights when she found herself dwelling in memories of his lips against hers, hands stroking her skin, the weight of his body on top of hers. She tried to remind herself of all the horrible fights between them, his judgmental attitude towards her, and of course the many times he’d walked away from her, but there were nights when none of that worked and she was left with an empty feeling in her soul. Then the sun rose, and she woke up to a new day and was greeted with loving hugs and kisses from Arzu and that made her whole world explode with colour again.
The phone on her desk rang, bringing her back to reality. She reached for it, stifling another yawn. “Hi, Seda.”
“Defne, can you come up to my office?”
“Sure, but I need to leave in a few minutes to pick up Arzu.”
“Yeah, that’s fine. This won’t take long.”
Defne hung up the phone and started gathering her things together to leave. Soon she was headed upstairs where Seda’s office was. Along the way she greeted all the other employees leaving for the day, wishing them a good night. Her cell rang, and she reached inside her purse to answer it. “Hi, grandma.”
“Defne, can you bring some apricots home? I want to make some Asure tomorrow. I haven’t cooked that in so long.”
“Come home soon. Don’t work too late.”
Defne smiled, knocking on Seda’s closed door. “I’m about to-”
The rest of the sentence remained unspoken, the words forever lost as the door opened and she came face-to-face with the last person she expected to see. Omer. Her phone dropped to the floor.
Defne stood at the doorway, aghast at the sight of Omer. Her phone dropped to the floor, but she was frozen and incapable of retrieving it. He hunched down to pick it up, then stood up straight to hold her stare. Her heart raced, her hands felt clammy. She was jolted out of her stupor the moment he reached for her, his graceful, long fingers lingering on her skin as he handed her the phone. Immediately, she pulled away.
As smooth as melted chocolate, his voice was warm, husky. Delicious.
She started to speak but her throat was dry. No words formed.
“Defne, come take a seat,” said a familiar voice from behind Omer.
Omer shifted aside, allowing Defne to spot her boss, Seda, who was sitting behind the wooden desk. Careful not to touch him, Defne slid past and started towards the empty chairs. She took a seat, feigning a polite smile. “You wanted to see me?” Defne tensed when Omer sat down next to her. He was entirely too close, heat emanating from him.
“I’m sure you remember Omer. You used to work for him, right?” Seda asked.
Defne cast a quick glance at him only to find his eyes twinkling with mischief. She quickly looked away. “It was a long time ago.”
“Well, anyway, he’s decided to return to the designing business. And he wants to work with Stil Vagon. Isn’t that exciting?”
Defne swallowed audibly. What the hell was going on? Was she dreaming? Except the sick feeling in her stomach felt closer to living a nightmare not a pleasant dream. Realising Seda was waiting for her to respond, she finally focused her attention on Omer. He was watching her intently, and for a moment she found it hard to breathe.
“Defne?” Seda prompted.
“That’s great news,” Defne muttered. “What did you have in mind?”
“A new collection, available exclusively through Stil Vagon.” Omer leaned in closer. “Something we could work on together, perhaps.”
“I’m not a designer anymore.”
“Omer, you didn’t mention that,” Seda interjected. “I’m not sure we’ll be able to accommodate if that’s the case. Defne’s in charge of logistics and we need her there. Her role is absolutely critical in our business.”
“I’m sure we can come up with some kind of compromise,” he insisted.
Defne’s eyes drifted toward the clock and it suddenly occurred to her she was running late to pick up Arzu. Right away she stood up. “I’m sorry but I have to go.”
“Yes, of course,” Seda said. “We can discuss this later. I just wanted you to come by and say ‘hi’ to Omer.”
Omer stood up, giving her space to walk past him, smiling at her like they were simply old colleagues and not two people who had once made a commitment to spend the rest of their lives together. Averting her gaze, she strode away. “It was nice to see you.”
“I’m sure we’ll be spending a lot more time together in the future.”
Did he realise how much his words troubled her? That the idea of being around him was an absolute threat to her peace of mind? Or maybe she was overthinking it. Maybe he really was here for work and nothing else. After all, he was getting married soon. He’d found someone who lived up to his expectations and ideals, which she’d never been able to do. Taking a deep breath, she shut the door behind her – a little harder than she’d anticipated – and rushed to the elevator. Arzu was waiting for her and she didn’t want to be late.
Omer watched her leave the room, a part of him desperate to follow, but he told himself to be patient. After years of separation, it would take time to reconcile and get their relationship back to where it was before. It wasn’t going to happen overnight, no matter how much he wanted it.
“As much as we’d love to work with you, Omer, I can’t jeopardize the rest of my business We’re known for our superior customer service, and that’s because of Defne’s excellent work.”
“Why did she get into logistics? She was one of the best designers I’d ever worked with,” Omer said, more to himself than Seda.
“I’m not sure, but I’m glad she did.” Seda stood up, signalling that it was time to end the meeting. “How about we meet next week to discuss further details?”
“I’d rather do it this week.”
“Okay, I’ll have my assistant reach out to you to set up a time.”
They shook hands. “I’m looking forward to our new business venture,” Omer said. “I’m sure it’ll be beneficial for both of our brands.”
“I hope so.”
Omer left the office, feeling restless instead of satisfied as he’d expected to feel. The place he rented was not too far away, but the thought of going to an empty home made him feel more alone than he had in a long time. The last few years he’d found distractions in many other things – alcohol, casual friends and lovers, art – but now he didn’t want to partake in any of that. All he wanted was Defne, to be a part of her life, her family, to love her and hold her and begin a new life with her. His heart lurched knowing Defne was so close yet still so far away.
Patience, Omer. The only way to reclaim her was to be calm and gentle, and remind her of everything they shared. Because what they’d had was amazing, and incredible, and not everyone was lucky enough to experience that kind of love. This time, he’d never let her go.
Later that night, Defne ran her fingers through Arzu’s hair as the toddler lay next to her. Usually Arzu shared a room with her cousin Iso but tonight, after the tough day she had, Defne was in need of comfort and wanted to spend the night with her daughter.
“Mama, Iso has a dragon.”
Defne smiled, dropped a gentle kiss on Arzu’s cheek. “What colour is it?”
“It’s big, and purple. And it has green hair. It talks fire, Mama!”
“Yeah. It talks and talks and fire comes out and it laughs like this.” Arzu started chuckling in a strange voice, and Defne followed suit, unable to contain her own laughter.
“Can I have one too?”
“Where would we keep it, hun? Dragons are really big, aren’t they?”
“Oh,” Arzu said, pouting. Her forehead furrowed with deep thought. “It has to sleep?”
“Of course. Everyone needs to sleep. That’s how they have the energy to get up in the morning, to eat, to play and do fun things.”
Arzu chatted animatedly, until exhaustion finally caught up with her. Soon she was sleeping soundly next to Defne, clutching her favourite stuffed elephant in her arms. Defne’s mind circled back to the events from earlier today. Once again, her stomach twisted into knots. Just the thought of being around Omer wrecked her insides, so how was she supposed to work and run an entire department with him around? But she had to. There was no other choice. And she had to do it without falling apart or betraying any of her emotions because she didn’t want to let her daughter down. Exhaling a heavy sigh, she turned off the lamp and closed her eyes.
Unfortunately, sleep didn’t come until hours later.
The next day Defne was gathering her things together for the staff meeting when Seda came into her office. “Hey, Defne. Do you think we can talk before the meeting?”
Defne glanced up at her boss, offering a friendly smile. “Of course. Want some coffee?”
“Yes, please. I need a shot of caffeine since Lara was up all night with a cough.”
Defne prepared coffee and a cup of tea for herself, and then brought the cups over to the couch where Seda was seated. One of the reasons she loved her job was because of how encouraging and supportive Seda was. They weren’t just colleagues, they were also friends, and over the years they had forged a real connection. It was nice to be able to talk to Seda when things were difficult as they both knew how stressful it was to be single mothers. “How is she now?” Defne asked, sitting beside Seda.
“Okay. She’s staying at my mom’s today. You know what that means.”
Defne knew how lucky she was to have her family’s support, unlike Seda whose parents were critical of her divorce. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What’s going on?”
“I wanted to ask about yesterday, the meeting with Omer.”
Defne tensed immediately. “What about it?”
“I know how knowledgeable and friendly you are with our clients and customers. Yesterday, you seemed off. Almost hostile. I wanted to ask why.”
Silence ensued. Defne considered her words carefully. As close as she was to Seda, there were a lot of things she hadn’t shared with her boss and her history with Omer was one of them. Should she be honest? Or would Seda judge her for what happened?
“You don’t have to tell me if you’re not comfortable,” Seda offered. “But I do want to make sure he’s trustworthy. I don’t want to force Stil Vagon into a partnership with someone who’s not reliable.”
“No, no, nothing like that. Omer is extremely ethical. You don’t have to worry about his integrity…”
Defne took a sip of her tea first, and then a deep breath. “If anything, the fact that he’s a perfectionist is what might give us trouble.”
“Omer has very high demands. He expects perfection from everyone, every time. If he doesn’t get that, well, he takes it personally.”
“You make it sound like we’re some kind of shoddy operation.”
“Sorry, that’s not what I meant. What I’m saying is sometimes we don’t get things from our suppliers in time and we’re up front with our customers and have a contingency plan for that happens. But that wouldn’t fly with Omer.”
“But certain things are beyond our control. Customs, weather-”
“It doesn’t matter. Omer doesn’t care about reasons, no matter how valid they may be.” All the moments when she’d made herself sick with worry about telling him the truth flashed through her mind. Despite his assurances, she’d always known deep down that he would leave if he found out about her deal with Neriman. And in the end, he had done just that. “If we don’t live up to his expectations, there will be severe consequences. I can guarantee that.”
“So you’re saying we should think carefully before agreeing to work with him?”
“We should be doing that anyway.” A quick glance at the clock revealed their meeting was about to start. “We’ll be late.”
Seda stood up, Defne followed suit, and soon they were making their way towards the board room.
“If we do sign the contract, will you be okay with it?” Seda asked.
Defne chose her words carefully. “I don’t want to go back to designing. That part of my life is over.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to do that anyway. Your work in logistics is invaluable.”
“In that case, yes.” Defne tucked her hair behind her ear. “I’ll be professional. I would never jeopardize our reputation, Seda.”
“I know. I trust you.”
While it felt good to know Seda had the utmost confidence in her, Defne wished it was enough to soothe her frayed nerves. Unfortunately, Omer’s presence had always been like a storm in her life, sweeping her up in a whirlwind of emotions only to leave her in a wake of destruction. Except, this time, she couldn’t risk losing herself – not when she had a daughter to consider. Arzu was the only one who mattered and Defne needed to be in a healthy emotional state to take care of her daughter, and that meant minimising contact with Omer. Resolve steeled once again, her concentration returned back to work.
Over the next two days, Defne’s life returned to normal. Seda hadn’t broached the topic of Passionis again and a part of Defne began to think maybe Omer had left Ankara. Just as well. If she never saw him again it would be too soon. Besides, she had more important things to worry about – like getting home in time to pick up her grandma, Arzu and Iso so they could attend baby Iso’s piano recital. She was busy gathering her things together when a knock on the door caught her attention. She turned around, and froze. Once again, Omer had caught her by surprise.
He was standing in her office, hands in his pocket, dressed in a grey suit that was perfectly tailored to his muscular frame, and looking more beautiful than any man had a right to. His shoulders were broader now, his beard a bit heavier. Heat stirred deep inside her, the desire to touch him growing more intense.
“Hi,” he greeted.
Using every bit of strength she could muster, she kept her composure calm. “Did you need something?”
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. You?”
He surveyed her office. “I wish I could say I’m fine, but I’m not.”
It was second-nature for her to be concerned about him but she resisted the urge to inquire why. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I miss you, Defne.”
Anger flooded over her. How dare he? How dare he say something like that to her after everything that happened? “Stop. This isn’t appropriate.”
“Every minute of every day I’ve thought about you. What you’re doing, feeling.” He rubbed his beard. “Eating, drinking. If you still laugh at the same things we used to, if you get frustrated watching a movie you don’t understand. If you thought about me as much as I did you.”
“Really? Because you left me,” she snapped.
A heavy sigh escaped his lips. “I know. I’m sorry.” Holding her gaze, he started towards her. “I should have given you a chance to explain. If I’d had more empathy, you probably would have told me the truth before the wedding but I made that difficult for you. I get that.”
From the minute he left she’d waited to hear those very words, had desperately clung to the idea that he would come back to her. Her insides crumbled. He was too late. Too much had happened and she was no longer the same person. More importantly, she didn’t believe him. How many times had he promised to stick by her only to leave when she needed him the most? “None of that matters now, Omer. That was a long time ago. It’s been years. We’ve both moved on.”
He stopped midstride, staring at her intently. “Moved on? I know you’re not married.”
“Why? Is it so hard for you to imagine that someone else would love me?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I heard you’re engaged,” she said. It was hard to stay calm given how wretched she felt at the thought, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing her hurt. “Congratulations.”
His brows furrowed together in confusion. “I’m not. Where did you hear that?”
The joy she felt was fleeting. In the end, it really didn’t matter if he was engaged. “Someone had mentioned it while I was in Rome.”
His lips formed a beaming smile. “You were asking about me?”
She regretted her words instantly. “Look-”
“You’re angry, and you’re hurt. But we’ve wasted so much time being apart.” He sat down on the edge of the desk, his proximity playing havoc with her mind. “Please, Defne. Let’s just put this behind us.”
She moved back, putting distance between them. “It’s too late.”
Anger marked his features. “It’s not.”
“There’s someone else in my life. Someone I love and care about.”
“Stop lying to me, Defne. You’re not married.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m not in a committed relationship,” she fired back. “I’m with someone who needs me and loves me unconditionally, and I would never do anything to jeopardize that. Ever. So please stop. Move on. Because I have.” Before she fell apart in front of him, Defne picked up her things and quickly left.
Omer spent the next two days drinking himself into a stupor. Of course. Of course Defne had moved on. Why wouldn’t she? Six years was a long time to spend pining over someone and clearly she’d found a man who loved her and treated her much better than he ever did. Jealousy gnawed at him. He cursed himself for his arrogance, his stupidity, his goddamn pride. Why did he leave her? Why didn’t he give her a chance to explain? Why did he wait so long to come to his senses?
He thought back to the look on Defne’s face during their last confrontation. Even though pain and anger flitted across her face, there was also genuine love as she spoke about her new lover. Once upon a time she looked at him with such love but now it was reserved for someone else and that broke his heart.
His head lolled back on the couch, and he stared up at the ceiling. Would the emptiness that seemed to have overtaken his life ever end? Would the piercing pain from a broken heart ever diminish? Defne had found her happiness, and as much as that hurt he also knew she deserved it. She deserved all the best things in life because she was an incredible, loving woman who was kind, beautiful, and the very best person he knew.
A heavy sigh escaped his lips, he maneuvered to lie down on the couch. His eyes felt heavy, his soul battered and broken. Sleep set in, and, soon, he fell into a deep slumber.
Butterflies fluttered in his stomach, he felt nauseous and queasy – and not just because of the massive hangover he was suffering from. When he awoke this morning, it was with a fierce determination to make things right with Defne. After all these years he had no right to walk back into her life and expect forgiveness, but at the very least he owed her an apology. As much as the thought of not being with her hurt, he’d rather live with that pain than to take away her happiness. So he took a shower, got ready, and reached out to a few people to find out where she lived. And now he was sitting in his car, parked in front of the house, feeling anxious about going in. Taking a deep breath, he finally exited the vehicle and made his way towards the house.
It was bigger than the last one, the exterior painted a bright blue. There were beautiful flowers outside, and he was struck by memories of when Defne had planted bright flowers in his garden all those years ago. Before she came into his life his house had just been a shelter, a place to isolate himself from the rest of the world, but she’d changed all that. She made his house a home, a place to build a life and memories in. It hurt like hell to know he’d thrown all that away over stupid pride and anger.
Coming to a stop, he knocked on the door hesitantly. No one answered. This time, he rang the bell. He could hear muffled voices on the other side, and then the door swung open, and he found himself staring at two toddlers who stood gaping up at him.
The boy was taller, with dark curly hair, while the girl standing next to him barely reached his shoulders. She was a chubby little thing, fresh-faced and wide-eyed, with long red hair the same shade as Defne’s, tightly clinging to a doll. He realised these were Serdar’s kids. “Hi,” he said, waving at them.
“Hi,” the boy greeted with a smile.
“I’m Omer. What’s your name?”
Omer smiled at the girl. “And who are you?”
She moved to hide behind her brother, peeking at him shyly.
Suddenly a loud, booming voice called out from a few feet away. “Arzu! Iso! How many times did I tell you to finish your food? You better not have snuck outside to play before-”
Aunt Turkan stopped midstride, a few feet away from him. Instantly her face expression changed to that one of hostility. “Kids, go into the kitchen now.”
“Now!” Defne’s grandma yelled in a harsh tone of voice. It must have been unusual for the kids to hear her so upset because they looked terrified as they ran into one of the other rooms.
Omer swallowed audibly. “Good afternoon, Aunt Turkan.”
Aunt Turkan had always had a youthful energy about her, but the years had taken their toll. Her hair was peppered with gray, her skin wrinkled, and she appeared to be a lot more fragile as she walked with a cane. While she’d always been warm and friendly to him, exhibiting the same vivacious energy that Defne did, now she was staring at him with complete contempt. “Why are you here?”
“I was hoping we could talk. I… I came to apologize for-”
“For abandoning Defne? For breaking her heart and her trust? Our trust?”
“I know there’s nothing I can say-”
“I thought you were a good person, a kind person, someone who would treat Defne with respect and give her the love she deserved. But it was all a lie. Because you’re weak, a coward, and you’re a selfish human being. Do you have any idea what she went through after you left? The disgusting things people said because you left her right after the wedding? Every time she left the house the neighbourhood gossips would whisper things about her, call her names. Because of you she suffered tremendously, and I will not let you hurt her again!”
“Get out! Leave!” The older woman yelled, so angry that she was shaking.
Omer realised it wasn’t good for Aunt Turkan to get stressed out at her age, and if he stayed it would only aggravate her more. The last thing he wanted was to cause her more harm. “I’m sorry, for everything. I really am,” he repeated before turning around to leave. He shut the door behind him, the knot in his stomach intensifying. Obviously, this was going to be a lot more difficult than he’d anticipated.
Later that evening Defne was drying the dishes and putting them away while Nihaan swept the kitchen floor. Usually the whole family ate dinner together but tonight her grandmother felt unwell and had stayed in bed. “Do you think she’s okay?”
Nihaan wiped down the counter. “She was sleeping when Esra checked on her.”
“She seemed fine this afternoon before we went grocery shopping.”
“Don’t worry. Serdar already called the doctor. He’ll come by tomorrow.”
Iso and Serdar came into the kitchen, smiling as they sat down at the dining table. “That Arzu just won’t fall asleep tonight.”
Defne chuckled. “Was she talking your ears off?”
“First she wanted me to read her five different stories, and then she wanted to talk about all of them.”
“And what about your namesake? Tell me he’s asleep at least,” Nihan piped up.
Serdar shook his head. “He passed out after the second story.”
Soon they were all sitting around the table, sharing sunflower seeds and chatting about the upcoming week. Defne’s eyes roved over Iso, her heart swelling with emotion at the sight of her best friend looking so robust and healthy. For so long he’d been sick, the cancer destroying him from the inside, but now he was in remission and there was a bounce in his step again, and she was incredibly grateful. Maybe her life would have been different if she hadn’t made certain choices but there was no room for regret, not if it meant protecting her family.
An hour later Defne opened the door to the children’s room, wanting to check up on them. Iso’s blanket was thrown to the ground, and she walked over to him, picked it up and covered him with it. He murmured in his sleep, dreaming about something pleasant hopefully, and she bent down to kiss him on the forehead. Next she went over to Arzu’s bed only to find her daughter squeezing her eyes shut, pretending to be asleep. She sat down next to her, smiling at her.
“Oh, if only Arzu was awake now,” Defne sighed dramatically. “I really wanted to read her a story and give her lots of belly kisses.”
She opened her eyes, excitement gleaming in them. “Momma!”
Defne mouthed an ‘O’, pretending to be shocked. “You’re awake!” She started nuzzling Arzu’s belly and the little cherub squealed with laughter. Defne shushed her to be quiet, pointing to Iso.
“Momma, read me a story please?”
Pulling out Arzu’s favourite book from the nightstand table, Defne shifted under the covers to lie down next to her. Soon she was on the last page, and Arzu was struggling to keep her eyes open but she still insisted on another story.
“One more, Mama.”
“I think that’s enough for tonight. Otherwise you’re going to be too tired to play in the park tomorrow morning.”
“Can we go to the one with the car?”
Defne smiled, realising Arzu meant she wanted to go to the park that was about an hour away. “Okay. We can go to that one but you have to close your eyes right now.”
“Ma?” she asked, peering up her. “Can I lie?”
“What do you mean, pumpkin?”
“You said I can’t lie.”
“That’s right. You shouldn’t.” Defne ran her fingers through Arzu’s hair. “If something’s wrong, you can always tell me and I’ll make it okay. No matter what it is.”
“What if someone says to lie?”
Defne tensed. Who was telling her daughter to do that? “Then you should definitely tell me. Who told you to lie?”
Defne frowned. “I don’t understand.”
Arzu pouted her lips together. “A big man came today. And Nana screamed at me and Iso. He cried!”
“Who did? The big man?”
“No, Iso! And then Nana too. And then she got mad and said to me and Iso to keep big man secret. But you said I can’t.”
Defne was confused. Someone came to visit them and that had obviously upset her grandmother. “What did the big man look like?”
“He was this big,” Arzu used her hands to gesture a tall man. “And he had a beard. And he smiled at Iso and me.”
“Did he give a name?”
Defne froze, the blood draining from her face. Omer. He’d been here. He came to the house, spoke to her grandmother and upset her so much that she was laid up in bed the whole day. Anger flooded over her, she was furious, but she forced herself to remain calm in front of Arzu. “Okay, time to sleep now.”
“But nothing.” Defne placed her palm over Arzu’s eyes, knowing how much she loved the gesture. “Now close your eyes, that’s right.” She felt Arzu’s long eyelashes flutter against her skin. “Just like that.” Defne started humming, stroking her daughter’s hair, and shortly after Arzu was fast asleep.
After tucking Arzu in, Defne rushed out of the room.
Omer had just started doing push-ups when he heard the pounding on the door. What the hell? It was almost nine at night, and he wasn’t expecting any company. Not many of his friends knew he was back in Turkey, and he hadn’t reached out to any of his acquaintances living in Ankara. He headed downstairs and towards the door. The knocks had grown more insistent, and louder. Irritated, he swung the door open – and found an enraged Defne on the other side.
She shoved him hard, forcing him to retreat. “Who the hell do you think you are? What gives you the right to come into my life, my home and disrupt it?”
Regret washed over him, remembering how much he’d upset Aunt Turkan. “Look, I’m sorry-”
She shoved him again, pushing him further down the hallway as she advanced forward. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her this livid, her face flushed almost the same shade of bright red as her hair. Yet, in all her fury, she looked absolutely beautiful.
“Grandma couldn’t get out of bed all day. Does that make you happy? Is that why you showed up at my place?”
“Defne, that’s not fair. You know that’s not what I wanted.”
“I don’t give a shit about what you want!” Defne screamed, forcing him back so that he was now trapped against the wall. “Not anymore. You don’t exist for me! You don’t matter to me!” Her voice quivered with emotion, her eyes glowering at him. “How many times do you want to destroy me? When will it be enough for you?”
“I don’t want to hurt you. Ever. I just wanted to apologize,” Omer said softly.
“Why? So you can feel good about yourself?” she spit out. “I’m not something for you to use to make yourself feel better!”
He clenched his jaw, his temper starting to rise. “Defne-”
“Choices have consequences, isn’t that what you said to me when I begged you to forgive me on our wedding night? I paid for my choices, over and over again, and I’ve accepted the consequences and learned to live with them. It’s time you do the same, don’t you think?”
“You think I haven’t paid? Do you think I’ve been happy without you?”
“Stay the hell away from me and my family!” she yelled at him. “We don’t need your bullshit apology!”
He’d tried to be patient, and understanding, but at the moment all he felt was frustration running through his blood. Did she really think so badly of him? Did she really believe he wanted to hurt her family? He gripped her elbow and pulled her closer, using all his strength to hold her in place as she struggled against him. “That’s enough, Defne!”
“Go to hell!”
He picked her up, pressed her against the wall, his body tight against hers. Her fiery gaze, the faint scene of her perfume – it was all so intoxicating. He felt every inch of her body against him, her breath labored against his jaw, and it was all too much – he couldn’t hold back anymore. His lips closed over her, kissing her more roughly than he ever intended, their years of separation all tumbling into a rushed, desperate embrace.
He expected her to push him away, to tell him to stop, but she didn’t do any of that. Instead, her hands clawed at his back, clinging to him while she returned the kiss with just as much longing.
Tongue stroking tongue, her teeth scraping against his mouth, he devoured her. Her legs wrapped around him, his erection flushed hard against her inner thigh. With his brain screaming for oxygen he pulled away to kiss the graceful column of her neck, biting her skin as her head lolled back, and her soft moans echoed in his ears.
Then, suddenly, he realised something was wrong. One moment she was completely into him, the next she’d gone limp in his arms. He stopped, watching her, but she lowered her gaze. “Defne?” he asked breathlessly, cradling her face.
She pushed him away, still panting for air. “Stay the hell away from me!”
Maybe he should have been upset, but, instead, he felt ridiculously happy. Smiling, he took a step back, and watched her as she scurried past him. “You still love me, Defne,” he called out when she was almost at the door.
She stopped in her tracks, looking over her shoulder at him.
He rubbed his beard, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “You would never have kissed me like that if you didn’t,” he declared with absolute confidence.
She ran out of the house, slamming the door behind her.
Laughing, Omer shook his head and went upstairs to take a cold shower.
To be continued…