In her mind, she hears the voice of her seventeen year old daughter. The disgusted sigh, the cutting barb. You’re such a whore, Mom.
Two divorces and a string of three-week-or-less relationships. Her eyes always hunting, always haunting. She’s hungry. Does that make her a whore?
Yes, she tells herself. Yes.
She should tear her gaze from the man across the coffee shop.
But she can’t. She doesn’t want to.
Parts of her are gnarled, heavily lined like old oak bark. She’s learned how to hide her imperfections in swathes of bright clothes, in the perfect palette of makeup, a glittering bauble dangling just above her breasts. She has dressed up for him, a stranger with his latte.
The truth of it sinks in and she fights tears—afraid of marring her carefully arranged mask.
She yearns to shed her responsibilities, to free herself of these obligatory roots.
Guilt follows that desire.
Guilt always follows desire.
But his smile makes her feel.
He seems out of place, yet completely at ease, and she likes that. Surrounded by hipsters and writers, elderly women and young couples, he lounges in his seat, strong hands and scarred knuckles wrapped around his drink. His shoulders are thick, his chest broad. She thinks if he wrapped those arms around her, she’d finally be free.
She wants to trail her fingers over his history, etched in ink across his forearms and higher. She wonders what memories he holds dearest – just over his heart. She can see the faint edges of the design through his taut white shirt.
He catches her staring—again.
His easy smile drives lightning into her chest. It becomes so very hard to breathe. Her vision dims, mind lost in a blur of images: tangled limbs, sweat-damp sheets, hunger. Shared, soothed and satiated.
He speaks to her. The words are shapeless, but they crackle with promise. Looking into his eyes disorients.
His hand finds hers. His voice—warm like melting caramel. His invitation indicated in the tone, in the fire of his expression. She sees her hunger reflected.
A tiny voice whispers of obligations. Band practice, dinner, PTA, but these are only distasteful echoes. She should care—the burden of guilt remains – but she is too lost in him.
He takes her some place quiet. The hot sensation of his kiss melts the seal of her lips.
She speaks. She cries.
He makes her feel alive. He makes her feel worthy. He makes her feel and feel and she can’t get enough.
He’s slumped in the corner of the bowed sofa. He sleeps, a film of sweat on his brow, his exposed chest and tight abdomen. The TV paints him in variegated, lively shades. But he is still.
She sits beside him, tears in her eyes. The first strains of restlessness rise hot through her gut.
She has touched every tattoo a dozen times; she knows all their meanings; she’s learned his secrets and he has learned hers.
She sets aside a half-empty bottle. The buzz wears off slowly, leaving her with many cold truths, many painful realizations. She tries not to think about how her daughter won’t speak to her, how she asks to go live with her father. She thinks instead of her lover, passed out only inches away.
Two months in and he’s already settling into her and her into him. Every touch, every day, means less and less. The sensation fading. It’s all becoming normal. So normal. Roots are greedy bastards, seeking to plant her deep and horribly still.
This beautiful sleeper once burned her down; now he’s burning out.
They always do, she realizes as she creeps out of his apartment.
They never last. They never will.
Alexis A. Hunter revels in the endless possibilities of speculative fiction. Over fifty of her short stories have appeared recently in Shimmer, Cricket Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and more. To learn more, visit www.alexisahunter.com.
<– You Can’t Lose Them All, by Penn Javdan