Summer had hit early and between the humidity and the rising temperature even early mornings were sticky. Shiori crawled out of bed, peeling the sheet from her skin and wandered over to the window sill. She sat there and in her underwear looked down at the street below busy and steaming with heat as the moisture in the air caused a mist to rise from the sidewalk.
Her apartment didn't have air conditioning, but it was the price she was paying for being a starving artist (and part time short order cook) in the big city. The electric fan she had going did nothing much but move the thick warm air around.
She sighed and looked down at the balcony across the way. The apartment complex there was a bit more upscale than hers was, and every morning her dark violet eyes spied the same routine. A young woman with short blue hair, perhaps a year or two younger than herself, would step out and light up a cigarette. Sometimes the young woman would do so in nothing more than a sheet draped precariously around her body, but always the same as she would focus on the street below, but that day there was a slight difference.
The young woman took a drag from her cigarette and looked up. Her eyes met Shiori's and a grin tugged eagerly on her lips. The breath of a chuckle that could not be heard due to the distance and the noise form the street below collected in the wind. The young woman turned and went back inside her apartment.
Shiori watched with trepidation as the young woman returned out on the balcony with a young man with short brown hair. He was well built and shirtless, his eyes wandering up towards Shiori with a gentle smile on his face. He turned back to the young woman before Shiori could properly dodge out of sight in, what would have been, an awkward and rather lame manner. In the short term it was a relief. In the long term it was going to be torture.
The young woman was still watching her, blue eyes intent upon Shiori's, and then quickly she kissed the young man before dragging him back into the apartment.
Shiori shook her head and wandered back inside as well. Thinking only of the blue eyes of the young woman, distracted by the way those eyes shot through her. She wondered if that young woman saw everything that she was. Part of her hoped that she did and part of her feared ever being so easily read.
In the early mornings
After each evening is through
In the waking amid the heat
This much has to be true
As I watch and stare at your form
Captivated by the grace
Learning that I covet
As all first learn
By wanting what is right there
In front of my face
After a quick and cold shower Shiori prepared for work. She achingly clamored into her uniform and then left her building for the subway.
The ride was long and unnervingly hot. There were too many people crowded into the train, perhaps thinking there would be an escape from the heat in the tunnels, but the heat followed. It clung in the air revived by the closeness of all those bodies in one space, rattling down the tracks a stifling claustrophobic hell.
It was a quick and more decisive than usual move that freed Shiori from the grip of the subway and up onto the street. She entered the kitchen to the small twenty-four hour diner she worked at and made small talk with the swing shift cook as he cleaned up his station, ready to leave.
Shiori moved in motions, in vast routines through the heat. She busied herself cleaning the kitchen since most people were too hot to move from their apartments or office buildings to wander down for breakfast or lunch. The diner's air conditioning was moderate but lacking in the growing warmth. Reports of black-outs over the city came across on the static filled radio and she wondered what the occupants of the city would do then, when everything came to a stop and the lights died away, and everyone was left alone with their demons.
She wondered this about others because she did not want to think about how she would react to the same situation. She didn't want to think about being in the dark engulfed by heat and alone with her own demons. The things she craved and wanted tugging constantly at her while the reality of the world crushed her under its vice grip of expectations.
In her mind's eye she had a vision of a painting. Dante's Inferno covered in neon lights as the betrayer, Judas dangled from a tree strung up by Christmas lights, and his insides made of marshmallow peeps spilled onto the ground. She swallowed hard against the image. If she saved up she might be able to afford the canvas to paint it. She made a quick sketch on the back of a scrap of paper and shoved it into her pocket.
The imagery she came up with often disturbed her. If she could afford a shrink she probably wouldn't go to avoid the judgment that would come as she explained her dreams and the other disturbing things she created on canvases. Most of her work sat unnoticed in her closet. Her fear of being found out as a complete psycho gripped her and she had only ever managed to get up the courage to present her art to an agent once.
The agent told her her style wasn't what galleries were looking for. Shiori wondered if that translated to: "These things are sick and no one wants to look at them."
While she was grilling up eggplant for a veggie burger she looked out of the kitchen and then immediately leapt back as she met with blue eyes, the same blue eyes that had peered into her earlier that morning. She found her resolve and looked out again but there was no sign of the young woman.
She blinked, deep violet eyes closing for a second (wanting… always wanting and never getting) and then opening them sharply as her hand brushed against the hot grill. She cursed loudly and the diner's manager rushed back to give her aid.
It was a minor burn. Nothing to worry about and nothing to rush to the emergency room over, but the manager insisted Shiori take the rest of the day off. She mentally cursed the man. She needed to work. She needed the money.
Her hand was covered in anti-burn gel and wrapped loosely with gauze. As soon as she stepped out into the heat she could feel the gel begin to liquefy, and the burn ached more.
Back down she went into the subway, and up again to her street. The ride was less cloying than before, though the air in the train was so thick it might as well have been water. She felt she could have drowned in that air. Suffocation from humidity, she wondered if it were possible.
Her apartment was no better. She stripped out of her clothes and wandered about in her underwear, padding barefoot to the refrigerator to pull a bottle of vodka out of the freezer. She gripped the bottle in her hand with the burn and savored the cold burn against the heat from her skin. Cold burns and hot burns from one to the other, there just wasn't any relief. She took a long gulp from the bottle and went to the window sill. To spite herself, she looked down and was nearly relieved when she saw there was no one on that lower balcony across from her.
Nearly anything is better than all of anything
If I was all of something I'd be too afraid to move
Being nearly something I can at least find room to breathe
I want to be fully disappointed in the things I want
I want the things I lust for to happen to other people
So I can read about them and keep my distance
Find sanctuary in almost anything… nearly living
But never all the way
Shiori had lain down on her bed for what she thought was a minute. She woke to complete darkness. Even through her window she could see only the dark. She got up and moved to the window. She looked down and around at either side. Here and there, as she looked closer, she could see a candle burning, or a flashlight. She moved back towards her kitchen and nearly tripped looking for a candle of her own.
The city was at a full black-out.
Fear knotted itself in her belly as she lit the single candle she had. She set it on a dish on the kitchen table and then wandered over to her window and looked across to the opposite balcony. There was a small flickering flame that could be seen in that young woman's window. She sighed, and wished she knew why she was hoping for complete darkness there.
Shiori moved from the window and went to retrieve her bottle of vodka. A knock at her door jolted her from thoughts of the warming alcohol and she had to take a moment to calm herself down before going to answer it.
Blue eyes stared into her and she swallowed.
"Do you have any ice?" The young woman asked. "I'm all out and, I mean, I know the power is out but…hope does spring eternal doesn't it?"
Shiori stood there in numbed silence for a moment and then nodded, and then shook her head. "I don't know. I was asleep and woke up to this, but I'll check."
She walked to her refrigerator.
The young woman followed her inside.
Shiori opened the door to the freezer and felt inside. There was a tray of ice there but it was all watery. She turned and the young woman was right in front of her.
"No ice?" The young woman asked.
"No… it's… melted."
"Oh well, another time." The young woman watched her intently and then looked down at Shiori's hand that was still loosely bandaged. "Hurt yourself?"
"Burn, from work, it's nothing."
"I bet." The young woman grinned and moved closer, Shiori edged backward until she was up against the door of the refrigerator. "I'm Kozue. I live in the set of apartments across the way."
"I know…I've uh…seen you." Shiori managed to reply, swallowing nervously against a dry throat.
Blue eyes narrowed. "Yes, you have, haven't you?" She raised an eyebrow and then asked, "Do you like to watch?"
"I understand the allure of voyeurism, but I've never been one myself. I prefer a more physical knowledge." Kozue said and then leaned in next to Shiori. In the flickering candle light she looked almost beastly. "So…Shiori, why do you watch me?"
Shiori moved away towards the sink. Her heart pounded in her chest and she shook her head. Kozue followed though, getting in as close as she could.
"Let's not let denial cloud the potential of this evening," Kozue said softly. "The city's lost tonight. In the morning it will all burn away with the sun."
Kozue moved forward gripping Shiori's injured hand and then pulled her in close to kiss her just before a cry of pain could escape from her dry lips. The kiss was long and deep and marked with the pain in Shiori's hand as Kozue dug her nails in. They parted and the short order cook who would be an artist was left breathless.
"Now, wasn't that fun?" Kozue asked softly. "Nothing better than a little pain to make the pleasure come through."
"I'm not sure-"
"Of course you aren't," Kozue interrupted. "You aren't the type that ever is unless you want to cause harm yourself, but those days are behind you aren't they." She moved forward and kept her eyes on the candle. "You left school and your childish obsessions behind you. You probably never think of her or that boy. You probably never even wonder what it would be like if you could succeed."
Shiori shook her head and gripped the edge of the sink. The memories from her high school days over took her and she gritted her teeth. "Who are you really? How do you know about-"
"I know," Kozue began as she moved around the table towards Shiori, "that you want a second chance. You want that chance because moths can never resist the heat and glow of a bright flame and she was bloody brilliant."
Kozue pressed herself up against Shiori and wrapped her arms around the shivering young woman. She pressed her lips against the nape of the would-be-artist's neck and kissed her gently before racking her nails down Shiori's back. And Shiori was paralyzed, not by fear so much as wanting. She always wanted. She never got want she wanted, and here she was getting something that was only a minor desire at the back of her head. Something she had idly thought of one morning when she looked out her window.
The young woman kissed along the curve of Shiori's neck and then stopped biting hard at the center causing Shiori to cry out. She slipped an arm around and moved it gently at first down Shiori's chest and then used her nails again. She licked the places where she had left visible marks, even in the dark, moving back up to gaze into Shiori's eyes.
"Tell me, Shiori, do you want another chance?"
"Possessing what you covet?" Kozue paused and grinned in a wolfish manner, "Think of it. You could have her all to yourself. She'd bow to your whim and plead in your ear…'Break me you covetous creature, and piece me back together like a star'." She paused and pulled Shiori close. Her free hand unclasped the hooks of Shiori's bra and she said, as she pulled the piece of clothing away, "All you have to do is say yes, and follow your path."
Shiori moved almost without a will of her own towards Kozue who was walking backwards towards the bed. An image flashed in her head of roses and swords, of princes and princesses, a witch at the center stabbed by a million swords, and her own body dead by a lake with gashes on her back where, maybe, wings used to be.
She blinked back against the darkness, the strange shadows cast on the walls from the single candle. She saw, as only she could, girls made of shadows dancing, and she looked up caught again by Kozue's eyes. She felt like there was something, something important she was supposed to remember.
Her memories danced languidly in her head, like the shadows on the wall. Duels, and roses, lockets and chains, hitting hard against the glass of a window, and a dead bird at her feet, fluttering wings on her back ripped from her with such ease to make a point and the memories grew thick, like the heat and the humidity. The memories filled the room and spun in her head as she was pulled down into the bed and soft lips and sharp teeth devoured her whole.
She cried out in pleasure from the easy way Kozue slipped inside her, kissed her and touched her. Memories fading into the present as she fought desperately not to lose the moment she wanted. She wanted so much and she never got what she wanted. She gripped the sheets and bucked against the thrust of Kozue's hand and fingers.
Shiori reached against memories, black roses, rings, that look on her face when she was so sad, and pulling swords from chests, and that ache, that constant ache because she wasn't good enough to reach that light. And the light it was fading, the flicker of the candle dying in the distance as sunlight slowly entered her room.
"Make a choice." Kozue whispered softly. "He can't wait forever. He offers a miracle that your wish might come true."
Shiori tried to catch her breath as she lay on her bed and then, finally she said, "What do I have to do?"
Kozue chuckled and slipped a ring onto Shiori's hand. "Win back the Revolution."