Not Here, Not Together

There was a brief pause as they caught their breath and the ambience of pure, carnal sex took its sweet time shifting to one of languor, post-sex. And then, he lifted her up so that she sat on his lap, legs locked at the ankles behind his back, arms around his neck, their chests pressed tightly together. Of a sudden, his arms were around her and hers around him and they were holding each other.

Just, holding each other. It was less of a hug and more of a clinging to. Her chin rested on his shoulder and her arms clung tight about his midsection just as her legs did. Her breathing was shallow and labored, though they weren’t moving, and she reminded herself of an infant, crawling on the ground, wrapping itself around its father’s leg to keep him from leaving. She stared down at the faintly-lit bedspread, the sheets crumpled and soiled. Even now she remembered the yellow glow of them, the furrow near her left ankle. She stared down at it, unblinking and unseeing, and clung as if there was no tomorrow, because there wasn’t. As if she could glue herself to his body by holding him like this, weld his flesh to her own, or maybe melt into his skin so she became a part of him. She would happily give her autonomy, to live within his world, and him. She already had.

She felt the minutes, eroding. The minutes that had eroded since she last thought of the inevitable goodbye. That it was most likely sometime in the middle of the morning by then, and they’d just made love for the last time and now they’d lie down and fall asleep together for the last time and in the morning they’d wake up next to one another for the last time and in the meanwhile they’d cuddle for the last time and then she’d dress and put on the shoes she’d dropped on the left side of the rack as she always did and ride the elevator and call an Uber and walk down those cement steps bordered by hedges, all for the last time. And all the little last times in between – the last time he’d flex like a macho man in the mirror, then hold her, the last time he’d laugh in the way he always laughed, broad and wide-mouthed with the breathiest chuckles, the last time he’d jiggle her little double chin, the last time he’d stare at her with those dark, scorched demon’s eyes, the last time they’d kiss.

Everything they did for the next few hours would be a last.

Because just now, knowing the end was near, she couldn’t imagine anything worse than this.

And she felt his warm, steady breath against the skin of her shoulder blade, and his firm, fixed heartbeats thumping from within their conjoined chests, and the smooth, slow cadence of his skin, rising and falling with each breath, and she wondered if she were the only one feeling such things. If, by holding her like this, he was just humoring her. If she were the only one clinging. And hot, thick tears brimmed at the corners of her eyes, because even now, as the end neared, she was just as she had been at the beginning – an insecure little girl, terrified of being inadequate, because being inadequate meant being left again.

Just as she was, being left again.

Gently, he untangled himself from her grasp, and leaned back against the Japanese divider at the foot of his bed. His eyes were strangely dismal. There was always some bit of laughter in them – “Everything’s so fucking funny!” He’d say, time and time again – always a sparkle of wry humor and the curl of a chuckle at the corners of his lips. Amusement. There was no amusement in his eyes, just now.

“Hey,” he said, thumbing at her chin, “look at me.” He caught one of her hands in his, and entwined their fingers against his chest. She did as he asked, holding eyes with him, though she was afraid they would say too much. She doubted he could see the little, pinprick tears that had already dried against her skin, but she didn’t doubt that he knew they’d been there.

“There’s only one thing that matters right now,” he said, before asking her, “and what is it?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“You and me,” he said. “Here, together.”

She turned her head to the side, the sudden urge to burst into tears overcoming her. She didn’t, of course – she’d never allow it – but it didn’t require the most perceptive of people – which, he was – to see the pinched downturn of her lips, the furrow of her brow, the rapid blinks of her eyelids, the bobbing of her throat, the shallowness of her breaths. Because, unsaid as it was, you and me, here, together, just meant later, you and me, not here, not together.

Excerpt from Stack Canary, Arsenic Tastes

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