Alone and in the dark, sometimes she imagines that the phone is ringing, vibrating silently from its place beneath her pillow. She never used to sleep with a cellphone in her bed. She never used to check its glowing screen once every nine minutes. (Just in case.) She never used to wake, sucking in air desperately, and reach for it, sure that it’s only just been vibrating, sure she’s only just missed the call and still has a chance to call back. Alone, and in the dark, the hum of the cooling unit barely noticeable, her heart thumping, sometimes she imagines that the phone is ringing, but when she brings it to her ear, there is only the static silence of the missing on the other end.
[They are both exhausted, from the flight - away - from the chase – towards – from the days and days and days of playing dual roles, stumbling towards one another and springing away, driven by a combination of self-preservation and self-hatred. One is sick, and the other, the other has sealed her own death warrant four months in advance. These fears, this mistrust does not seem to matter. Still, their bodies come together, achingly slowly, achingly sweetly. She rubs her hand gently down the other’s cheek, passing her knuckles along a jaw that is set with determination, that relaxes immediately, until goosebumps appear on the other’s arms, and her own fingers shake. “I don’t think I can trust you,” she whispers, but she already has, letting out the truth in a rush of air like a bird diving from a wire, impossibly composed.
The other leans forward to bring their foreheads together: hearts and minds have always been such interconnected pieces of their love story. She does not whisper back. Trust is a slippery, invisible thing. Words would only flow like water between their clasped fingers.]
Alone and in the dark, lost out to sea as her body tries desperately to heal, to knit itself back together, to close holes that are so much deeper than they look from the outside, she lies completely still, and tries to remember. Does her left eye crinkle more than her right when she smiles that self-satisfied grin? Are the pads of her fingertips smooth? Or rough, chapped from a half-remembered winter cold? How have they always lived their love in the wintertime? She stretches her own hand down, prods at the wound, inhales sharply, and remembers: a stunted inhale, wheezing lungs, a body bent forward off the bed, coughs shattering the stillness. She lets out her breath and remembers:
[Two hands flit like birds from her face to her back to the line of her collarbone, touching down for a brief second before flying off again, a whirl of motion. Her hands are steady, resting in her lap. “I want to trust you,” the other breathes. Her hands come up, still steady, one to cradle the back of her neck and the other to arrest one of the moving wrists and draw it to her chest, placing it above her heart.
“Here,” she murmurs, their foreheads still touching. “Here.” It is a summons. It is an offering up. Her palm slides down the other’s back, bumping over each jutting vertebrate. She tilts her head forehead so their noses touch, but neither smile. The breath on her lips is warm, sticky sweet. “Here,” she might whisper, but it is so quiet only the vibration can be felt. She brings their lips together, squeezes the wrist gently, takes the pulse of the one before her without even thinking about it.]
Two months is not a long time to be alone. Four months is not a long time to be alone. She does not remember what it is to feel something other than loneliness. Scott brings her coffee, croissants, the warmth of the summer sunshine. She smiles, smiles, smiles. At night, in the dark, when the sunshine warmth has faded away, drifting into dusty corners, out through infinitesimal cracks in basement drywall, she does not remember anything but this emptiness. Before, it felt like her lungs were being crushed from the outside, and filled from within at the same moment. But now, all of her is empty. Her heart beats out a hollow pattern, while her mind runs in circles, chasing ghosts that have long since disappeared. You can lose everything in four months.
[Her lips are chapped. She knows this. The act of holding her breath to survive this one, light kiss is overwhelming. Her free hand flutters in fear. She threads it into the other’s curls, looking for purchase, for home. They break free. She breathes. Once. Twice. Leans forward to bring them together again. Her body is burning, but not from fever, not from lack of oxygen. Her body is burning. She frees her wrist, slips slim fingers beneath the loose hem of the shirt before her, tracing circles along the taut skin. A shudder passes through the other woman’s body, tight, uncontrolled. She grins, lips pulled back, teeth clicking together. She means to say something humorous, easy, controlled. Instead, “I am so lost,” falls from her. Her fingers have not stopped their circling, and now the hand that is resting on her own back has begun careful wanderings of its own.
She scoots her entire body forward, eliminating space, eliminating the distance that had felt insurmountable moments before. Heat has destroyed any walls they’ve both tried to construct. “I do not want to be lost.” Her words are swallowed before she can finish. Her face flushes, her body aches. Lost is so far from where she feels.]
In four months, the holes in her body have closed completely. She walks, and talks, smirks, and smiles. She does not remember the fear from before, the movement of thirty different pieces all playing different games, where one misstep meant certain harm to those she swore to protect. She does not remember the agony of the moment the shot rang out, echoing throughout the concrete parking structure. She does not remember the exhaustion, weeks of sleepless nights spent planning, spent reassuring herself she was making the right choices, of curling up alone hoping for an ounce of trust, sure it would not come. But she does remember wholeness, or she tries to, rubbing her index finger across the scarred skin, skin that has also tried to remember wholeness, but has left only a poor, puckered imitation of its prior self. She remembers wholeness, and she longs for it.
[It is all lips and hands and heat. She sucks gently at the delicate skin above the beating pulse point. When the other’s lips suck not so gently just below her jaw line, she leans her head back, presses her lips tightly together and bites her tongue so as not to call out. Her entire body is bursting. Her entire being is full: her lungs, her throat, that point low in her stomach that burns. Shirts come up and off, flung away. She is on her back, looking up, and the face above her is blurry in the shifting light, coming in and out of focus. Black glasses slide down the nose above, until they are removed, folded, and placed on the floor out of sight. Her hips push up as hips come down to meet them. Instead of smiling, she closes her eyes.
Warm air blows across the skin of her chest, along her rib cage. The goosebumps have spread from her arms to her stomach. Lips resume where fingers left off, crossing circles across the pale, unblemished skin around her navel. A puff of air – a hoarse laugh. “Ticklish,” she hears, murmured to her hip bone on the left side. “Beautiful,” gentle lips on her right hip. Fingers smooth up her thigh, dance along the line of her underwear, dip below. She bites her tongue, pushes her hips up, feels her body fill and fill and fill with the heat.]
Some nights, she is sure the phone will never ring again. She is sure she will be this dry, empty shell forever, the birds having cracked her open and taken off with all that she needs to grow before she could dig a root into the soil and find home. On those nights, she sits at the foot of the bed, legs up close to her chest. As she shakes, she forces a fist over her mouth: silence is golden. She feels lost in space. Even as she knows that space is not pure blackness stretching infinitely beyond human comprehension, even as she knows that there are more stars than the eye can see glowing sure and sweet, she feels lost out there, in all that silent, cold, darkness. Some nights, she is not strong enough to keep the silence, her breath catching in her throat, sobs spilling out to break the blackness. Yet the emptiness remains.
[The moan breaks from below her, guttural, deep. She does not still, but instead, inches the underwear from obliging hips, kisses the blonde curls she finds there, slicks a finger in the heat, and begins to stroke gently back and forth. Her hands are not shaking anymore. She is not aware of her own breathing, fast and thready. This heat matches her own, the hips below coming up again and again to meet hers. She rolls the stimulated bundle of nerves between two fingers, presses her forehead down on the clavicle as though it is a perch, her forehead slick with sweat. The moans have shortened, heady, uncontrolled. She bites the thin skin just below her head rest, hears a hiss beside her ear, sucks to soothe the wounded area, her fingers constantly moving, sliding, pressing. There is a rhythm here. Perhaps it is to their heartbeats. There is a rhythm here, and the whole room is alive with it; she is alive with it.
“Please,” she hears. “Please. Please. Please.” It is not begging. This, she thinks hazily, is an important point. “Please.”
“Stay with me.” She pushes her thumb hard against the tender point, slides her middle finger inside. “Stay.” The rhythm is faster now. “Stay with me.”]
Some nights, she is sure there will be no home to go back to, even if time moves on and the world spins its way back to rightness. Some nights, she is sure there has been a loss of great magnitude, like the loss of a bird’s single feather out on the ocean, washed up on the beach by waves of great and gentle being. A loss so small that to the world it is unnoticeable, but to a few, it is the loss of gravity, leaving them all spinning helplessly without a tether. She does not have proof of this loss, but when her heart stutters just so, when her mind wheels freely out beyond the edge of the starlight, she is sure it has occurred. She cannot remember wholeness in that moment. She cannot feel the soft summer heat, only the bite of winter. Their love had always lived in the wintertime.
Her entire being screams for release. “Please,” she whispers. Her hips jerk. Her nails leave marks down the other’s back. She does not raise her volume a single decibel. “Please.”
When she comes, shuddering in release, it is like a terrible agony has finally been set free, expelled in a whoosh, her hips still moving restlessly, unable to release all at once. Her eyes are open, and the one above her holds her gaze, serious, unsmiling. The body above her has not pulled out or pulled away, but is strong above her, waiting, watching. She breathes, her stomach settling, everything loose, hips still tight, fighting with each jump to let go. Perhaps it has been minutes, perhaps only moments, when she is able to blink, to relax within and allow two long fingers to slide out, to smile. She has worked so hard not to smile. The face above her is still watchful, forehead creased.
She traces the lines there, breathing, in and out, in and out, empty and full at once, bursting, released. “I’m here,” she murmurs, the stillness intact. “I’m here.”
The lines relax, and the body above comes down to gently rest on her own, hollows filled by hills, lungs breathing in tune, hearts beating in rhythm, foreheads touching and minds of one kind. “I’m here.”
“I need you to tell me that Delphine is alive.” This is a confession. She cries only briefly. This is a confession she has made to the darkness many times. But the darkness has never answered back, not even with apologies.
Later that night, alone once again, unsure if the darkness is never ending, if the stars are still glowing, still singing, sure the phone will never ring again and hoping beyond all logic that it will, she turns on her side, tracing the invisible silhouette beside her.
“I love you.”
The darkness has never answered back.