Forever

THE PARTY WAS GOING full-force, the music thumping through the walls and floor of the club. But in the little enclave that some of us had gathered in on the second floor, it was quieter, almost peaceful, a welcome reprieve from the madness of the three hundred or so revelers.

“Hey, Siobhan, you awake?”

It was Brian’s voice. I glanced up automatically at the sound of Siobhan’s name, a habit, one I’d never been able to break. My eyes had been fixed on the beguiling green eyes of the pixieish blonde seated before me, who was going on and on about the courses and professors she had at the University. She was taking Women’s Studies, she’d told me. I had no idea what someone taking Women’s Studies studied. I wasn’t about to hazard a guess; still, I was mildly intrigued, my interest piqued, though more intellectually than anything. And obviously not enough. I don’t think she even noticed when I looked away.

Seated on a tabletop, Brian shifted his gaze to meet mine over the heads of those between us, an action I didn’t bother to question. Brian was always looking out for Siobhan, like a big brother. He knew Siobhan and I were close. He raised an eyebrow in either query or deference, then dropped his gaze once more, to a point somewhere before and below him. My eyes followed his, and through a shifting forest of legs, found Siobhan.

She was alone, seated on the edge of what was questionably called a stage: a wooden construct of two-by-fours and plywood, roughly a foot high. Her booted feet rested on the floor, her knees hiked up before her; her lean body angled to her right as she leaned against the wall with her shoulder. Her head was lowered; she appeared to be staring at the barely touched drink she held in both hands. I saw, even from where I sat, the sweep of her long dark lashes against her cheek. She was certainly awake, though she didn’t respond in any way to Brian’s question. I doubted she’d heard him, or that she even saw the drink she held in front of her.

I felt an ache inside me as my eyes took her in, a familiar tightening at my core deep within, as if someone were winding a winch at my very centre, trying to haul something up that refused to be brought to the surface. For three years I’ve lived with that feeling, the three years since I had met Siobhan. I rose to my feet, sliding my chair back, and without an apology or an excuse-me, left the green-eyed gamine to her devices. The only sign she gave to acknowledge my abrupt departure was to shift her attention to a woman standing to her immediate right. I made my way across the room to Siobhan.

She made no move to indicate she was aware of my presence, as I crouched behind her. But as I leaned forward to drape my arms over her shoulders, resting on the balls of my feet to keep my balance, I felt her shoulders suddenly relax, and her body lean slightly back into mine, as if my touch had thrown a switch that killed the live feed of tension thrumming through her.

“Hey, girl. What do you know?” She knew it was me without even looking, without my saying a word. She spoke in that lazy way of hers that I’d come to know so well, her voice low and smooth, like thick cream. It curled through me, the way smoke from a burning cigarette will curl towards the ceiling, endlessly looping, twisting; filling me.

“What don’t I know?” I asked in response, as I always did. I kissed the back of her head, breathing in the smell of her hair, her shampoo, a light fruity scent, sweet. “Brian asked you a question,” I then said, leaning forward to speak into her left ear, behind which her hair was tucked. My lips brushed the outer edge of her earlobe. The shift in my position caused my arms to exert a gentle pressure against her shoulders. She leaned further back into me with it. I could feel her body heat warm my chest, my belly.

“Well, Brian should know I don’t hear well out of that ear,” I heard her say, in that same creamy smooth voice. She inclined her head slightly back in my direction. “And so should you.”

“Yes, but Brian isn’t as close to you as I am,” I told her, speaking in a lowered tone.

“No, he isn’t,” she agreed, and I knew she’d caught the double entendre, simply by the way I felt her body relax even further.

“Besides,” I went on, ignoring the bass throb of the music thumping behind the walls, ignoring the other twenty people in the room, speaking to her and her alone, “there’s a wall between me and your good ear.”

Siobhan had been five years old when the car crash happened. She’d lost her parents and most of the hearing in her left ear in that crash. I had never known how to reach her in regard to the former, but I learned, over time, that by leaning in close, by almost breathing my words into that ear, I could reach her in regard to the latter.

Now, I felt more than heard her huff her breath out through her nose as she conceded my point. She quit leaning, straightening, and I shifted once more, taking up a position between her and the wall, sliding myself in, the wall against my back, her between my thighs. I slid one leg beneath her bent knees, the other I hiked up behind her, against her back.

I reached a hand out towards her drink. She passed it to me without a word. She was drunk, but not heavily so. I could always tell her state of inebriation. She was still mostly in control. I was grateful for that. She could be edgy and abrupt when she drank a lot, and I was wary around her during those infrequent times. I watched myself enough around her as it was. I didn’t need added incentive. I placed the drink beside me, out of the way. If she wanted it back, I’d give it to her. She seemed oblivious to it at the moment. She leaned forward, resting her folded arms on her knees.

“So, tell me what you know,” she invited laconically, turning her head slightly to give me a sidelong look. A lock of her chestnut coloured hair slipped free from behind her ear, falling across her forehead to hang between her eyes. She made no move to brush it away.

I smiled and reached out with my fingers to gently push the stray lock back into place, my hand hovering afterwards for a moment, fingertips grazing her temple, then sliding down her cheek to her jaw line. My eyes followed, taking in the planes and angles of her face, a face I knew as well as my own.

I felt her eyes still on mine, and when I raised my own, our gazes met and locked. Hers never wavered, eyes a deep, dark brown, like bitter chocolate, so dark they were almost black, so that at times, the pupils seemed non-existent. Like now. I’d never seen eyes so dark, until I’d met her. Eyes so dark they were often unreadable, unfathomable.

Beneath the weight of her look, I felt that winch inside me crank up, struggling to bring to the surface that which I refused to release. I dropped my eyes and my hand. Around me, over me, I felt the press of the muted music, that bass throb in my bones, the stifling presence of the other bodies, so close, too close, when all I wanted was distance, separation. I rested my hands in my lap.

“I know you haven’t been eating much,” I said in answer to her, my eyes fixed on the fibres of her black, sleeveless, lightweight sweater. “I know you haven’t been sleeping much.” I looked up, just in time to see her lower lip move slightly, as if she were biting the inside of it.

“And you know this how?” she asked, and I detected a certain tension in her tone, in her body language.

I met her dark, unreadable eyes with a bland look. “Don’t forget who you’re talking to,” I told her gently. “I see a lot of things other people miss.”

She looked at me consideringly for a moment then asked, “And so what else do you know?” The tension remained.

“I know this probably has to do with that girl who dumped you,” I replied, keeping my tone as bland as my look. “I know that it bothers you, that you’re probably thinking about it, about her.”

“Something wrong with that?” she asked, in that lazy way of hers. But I saw her eyes sharpen, saw those almost indecipherable pupils tighten. She turned her head towards me a bit more, so she was almost facing me full-on. The muscles around her eyes gave a slight twitch.

She was drunk, but still in control. In the same bland tone, I said, “Nothing at all. Though the not eating and sleeping gives me cause for concern.”

Her expression lightened, as did her eyes. “Yeah, well,” she said in a dismissive tone, to which I took no offense, “you always were a worrier.”

Without thinking, I leaned forward and kissed her, a chaste kiss, just a gentle pressure of lips on lips, common enough between us. I leaned back. She licked her lips and swallowed, as she always did. I’d never asked why she did this, had never seen her do so when kissed in like manner by anyone else. I couldn’t account for everyone, of course, and in truth, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know if she did. But I could never deny that such a simple exchange always left me just a little breathless, always left me wanting more. I couldn’t deny it, but I could also never speak of it. Not to her, not to anyone. It was mine and I guarded it fiercely, as fiercely as I guarded her, as best I could.

With the complete casualness of long practice, I now said, “I can worry, no?”

She fixed me once more with those dark eyes. Her hair framed her face with waves of chestnut. Her eyes stared out at me like black coal. “You can worry, yes.” And again, the muscles around her eyes twitched, as did the corner of her mouth. I fixed on that for a moment, on her thin lips, blood red, in stark contrast to her pale complexion. “Just don’t try to offer me a solution when you know nothing of the situation.”

I immediately picked up on the not-quite veiled harshness of her tone, seemingly directed at me, and I met her eyes, my own narrowing in disbelief, suspicion and hurt, which I could not hide.

She saw it, saw my hurt. Her look gentled. A moment later, I saw her look liquefy. “Please, don’t look at me like that,” she said, her voice throaty.

I realized she was on the verge of tears, and the realization tore at my heart, as did the one that perhaps I was not as privy to the real situation as I’d thought. She angled her look, troubled now, to the glass at my side, and I automatically reached for it. Handing it over, I placed my other hand on her shoulder in a brief, comforting squeeze.

I watched her take a deep swallow, feeling the heat of her against my legs, an ache of concern in my chest. Her throat worked as she swallowed again, draining the glass. Holding the empty glass in her right hand, she looked out at the crowd of bodies that had multiplied during our exchange. It was far too crowded for my tastes, and suddenly it seemed too much for her as well.

“Can you take me home?” she asked, her eyes meeting mine. “I want to go home.”

I nodded. I’d never deny her anything. Whatever she wanted, I would try to give her. I reached for her glass, placed it again on the floor beside me. I brought my legs up under me and, as I rose, placed my hand beneath her arm to bring her to her feet with me. She leaned into me and I thought that perhaps tonight had not been the good idea she had suggested it would be.

As we stood, I looked across the room. Brian was still there, exactly where he had been. Our sudden appearance caught his attention and he looked over, meeting my eyes, his own concerned. I nodded to indicate everything was fine, though I was hardly certain of that. He nodded back and turned once more to continue his conversation with the pixieish green-eyed girl I’d been conversing with earlier. The girl got around. Brian seemed about as enraptured as I’d been. I shook my head and slipped my arm around Siobhan. She felt light and somehow fragile, very unlike the Siobhan I’d come to know. I wondered what exactly had happened to put her in this state. I wondered if I’d ever know. She didn’t share everything with me; she had her own secrets, to be sure.

Dropping her chin slightly, she allowed herself to be led without a word of protest. She was a little unsteady, a little more dependent on the solidity of my person. Every once in a awhile she surprised me with her need, with her need of me. Siobhan needing anybody was a mostly foreign concept. She had her pride after all, that stubborn pride that sometimes drove me crazy. But when she did need me, I made sure I was there for her.

Like tonight. She’d called me out of the blue, asked how I was. After a non-committal response of “Fine” on my part, she hurried on, asked if I’d come out with her, she wanted to see me, wanted my company. After almost six weeks of complete distance, not seeing her, rarely hearing from her, I’d been startled by her call, to say the least. She’d recently started seeing someone new, someone I didn’t approve of (but then, I’d never approved of any of her women, in all the time I’d known her) and had shut me out. Over the phone, I had asked after this new girlfriend. She dumped me, Siobhan told me. And I was startled even further. Nobody dumped Siobhan. Before I could think anything more, she said, It’s for the best, it wouldn’t have worked and I don’t want to talk about it. She then asked again if I’d come out with her, and she’d sounded edgy and a little unsure, and rightfully so, I thought. But I’d said yes. I could never say no to Siobhan when she needed me.

We descended the stairs from the second floor down to the first, where the music and the voices of those trying to speak over it was loud, raucous, grating. The pervasive bass beat vibrated my breastbone, thumped through my head and the soles of my shoes with every step. Siobhan kept her head lowered, ignoring the sounds and bodies as she had been all night. Occasionally, a raised voice was directed our way. I ignored it all as well, keeping my arm around her lean waist, keeping her close to me.

Finally, I pushed through the heavy, solid wood doors, stepping out into the humid night air, leaving the chaos and cacophony behind. It was a very warm night, bordering on uncomfortable, but there was a light breeze, which made the heat bearable. Coming from the club, almost anything else would have been welcome. I relished the relative quiet and spaciousness, breathing in air that was not laden with cigarette smoke and stranger’s perfumes and breaths.

Siobhan had raised her head and was now digging into her jeans pocket. “You drive,” she said, and held out her car keys.

“Of course,” I said, not unkindly.

She nodded, dumped the keys into my outstretched palm, and walked along beside me, not saying another word. I’d removed my arm from around her waist. She reached for, and caught, my left hand with her right, without seeming to think about it, without seeming to make an effort. As though it were the most natural thing in the world. And maybe it was. To her. But not to me. Every move of hers was, to me, fraught with meaning, potential. I couldn’t remember her ever reaching for my hand like that. Still, I refused to react, to even look at her, since she didn’t look at me. I just grasped her hand and we walked on that way to her car.

* * *

At her apartment building, I pulled into her parking space. My own car was across the way, in visitor’s parking. She spoke two words, the first since we’d left the club.

“Come up,” she said, and without waiting, opened her door and stepped out of the car, slamming the door behind her.

I said nothing, just switched off the ignition, opened my own door, climbed out of the driver’s seat and, closing the door with a shove, followed after her. I fixed my eyes on her slender frame as I walked, watching her as I always did, that almost predatory walk of hers, the slightly hunched shoulders, her head lowered, hands shoved halfway into her pockets. She looked dangerous from this angle, and sometimes she was. Dangerous in a way that heated my blood, stole my breath, eclipsed my mind of rational thought. I looked away, dropped my eyes to the pavement. Danger could be seductive and I could not allow myself to be seduced.

At the building’s entrance, she stood aside and allowed me to open the door with her key. I pulled the door wide and she slipped past me, and I felt the heat of her, caught her scent, the light, fruity scent of her shampoo, and another, muskier smell, her cologne. She didn’t thank me, didn’t even look at me, just stalked forward and up the stairway, like a wild animal in search of its lair.

Again, I followed after silently, but my eyes were trained on her as she climbed the stairs, watching the muscles of her thighs gather and bunch and stretch with each step, the way she angled her body forward determinedly, the way her pale hand and long fingers gripped the banister, then slid upwards with the next riser encountered.

We reached the second floor and strode down the hall, she ahead of me, intent on reaching the door at the far end. Once there, she stepped aside once more, and I turned the key in the deadbolt, twisted the doorknob and gently pushed the door open. Again she slipped past me, without a word of thanks. Again I caught that whiff of her, so fleeting that I could never hold onto it, and didn’t need to or want to. Forever is a vastly overrated concept.

I stepped into the darkness of her apartment and closed the door behind me, turning the deadbolt with the ease of familiarity. I then pivoted, awash in the lingering smell of incense and scented candles. She liked to burn both, and I inhaled the mingled scents of sandalwood and vanilla. Siobhan had her habits. I was familiar with most of them.

I stood in the darkness and quietly kicked off my shoes. I knew I was staying, at least for awhile, though she hadn’t asked me to. Not yet. She’d moved off into the unlit apartment and I waited; soon, I heard the strike of a match, saw the glow of it beyond me in the living room directly ahead, saw her hold the match to a candlewick. Her face was illuminated in the bright flare of the match almost harshly, all hard angles and planes, and then they softened in the glow of the candle. She moved off and I stepped further into the room, and watched silently as she trailed around lighting other candles, using a new match when one burnt too close to her fingers. A whiff of sulfur reached my nostrils. I breathed out once, stiffly, against the acrid smell.

When the room was lit to her approval, she shook out the last match, dropping it into one of the candleholders, and turned to me. In the flickering light of the candle flames, she somehow looked larger, even more dangerous, her eyes hooded, her lean body loose and long-limbed, like a wolf. I stared at her, breathing slow, even breaths, and she stared back at me, as if measuring me. We were caught in some spell I had no idea how to break and wouldn’t have if I could.

“You want a beer?” she finally asked, and the spell was broken, and all of the air that had been sucked out of the room for those few moments rushed back in.

I relaxed, not having realizing I’d tensed. “Sure. Whatever,” I said. My voice sounded cool, normal.

She nodded once and turned, tossing the matchbook onto a side table with a flick of her wrist. I watched her step off in the direction of the galley kitchen, heard her boots thump on hardwood, then linoleum, heard the fridge door open, the clink of glass bottles against each other, the fridge door close. I stood where I was, waiting, and eventually she reappeared, two bottles in hand. She came towards me with that loose gait of hers, and I watched her approach. She had that hooded look still, and it bothered me. Usually when we got to this point, she relaxed. In her own space, on her own turf, she was never as closed off as she was outside. I’d been here enough times to know, though granted not recently.

She reached me and stood before me. Though we were the same height, now, with her boots on and mine off, she was taller than me. I looked up at her, she looked down at me. Her eyes were black, her expression unreadable. I breathed slowly, evenly, unwilling to let on I was breathing at all. I didn’t reach for the opened beer and she didn’t hold it out. She just looked at me. I was almost afraid to say anything. I didn’t know what was going on, didn’t know what she was thinking or feeling. I think I swallowed.

“Thank you,” she finally said, and those two words, in that creamy voice of hers, stroked me, slid over me, slipped through me.

I never got the chance to say “You’re welcome”. In the next instant, she leaned forward, her mouth dropped down onto my mouth, and she was kissing me. I felt her lips press against mine, soft at first, and thought stupidly, Okay, same old, same old. But then the pressure increased, her mouth opened, and mine did as well, automatically, and when I felt her tongue slip in, all semblance of breathing normally abandoned me.

I couldn’t help myself, I moaned into her mouth, as my belly clenched with sudden, hot desire, and my chest and lungs constricted, forcing the sound from me. I felt myself get instantly wet, couldn’t help that either, and the attendant fierce ache between my legs, deep inside me, was an almost painful stab. An instant later, her free hand was at the back of my neck, forcing me against her, as her mouth devoured me. I kissed her as hard and as fervently as she kissed me, coherent thought lost to me, as our tongues searched each others out, entwining wetly, then probing, deeply. My hands found their way of their own accord to her waist and gripped there, my fingers grabbed at, then held onto the belt loops of her jeans, pulling her against me.

I think I would have fainted from lack of oxygen if she hadn’t finally broken that lip-bruising kiss. When she pulled away, with one last darting probe of her tongue, one last brush of her lips over mine, I found myself practically gasping, my chest hitching uncontrollably. I let go of her belt loops and actually stumbled back a step. I knew my eyes were huge, disbelieving, as I stared into hers.

That hooded look was gone; in its place was a kind of cornered-animal wariness that I’d never seen on anyone, let alone thought to see on Siobhan. She tentatively reached her hand out towards me, as if she were, for the first time that night, fully and completely aware of me. Her eyes were a little wild, very black, but filling with some kind of light the candle flames couldn’t account for. Her fingers trembled as they stretched in my direction, and when she touched my face, I actually flinched. But she didn’t withdraw; she let those fingers caress me, my cheek, below my eye, trace down to my lips. Her eyes followed and I watched them, feeling that silken touch, until her fingers came to my jaw, then rested below my chin. I felt a slight pressure there and raised my head with it. Meeting my eyes, the light in hers didn’t die; rather, it was joined by something more full, more complete, something that surrounded her, encapsulated her, us. She seemed to nod then, and took a step back.

“Your beer,” she said, her voice mild, mellow. She held out one of the bottles.

I took it from her, for lack of anything better to do.

She then nodded firmly, as if satisfied, and smiled, a slow, deliberate smile. “You’re a damn good kisser,” she said in her lazy voice, her tone warm with acknowledgement. “I didn’t know that about you.”

How could you? I thought, somewhat acerbically. And also thought, unable to look away from that indiscernible gaze, What the fuck is going on here? Not that I didn’t like it or want it, didn’t want more of the same. It was just so unexpected and I didn’t want to read anything into it, didn’t want to hope, though in reality, I wanted to do nothing but.

“Will you stay awhile?” she asked then, the question she always asked when she needed me, the one I’d been expecting.

Her timing was highly suspect; I wondered if she’d planned it that way. Still, I answered, as I always did, though a bit more coolly this time, “Of course.” And this time, there was actually a part of me that wanted to refuse, wanted to stamp my foot petulantly and demand, No, not until you tell me what’s going on! I smothered that part. It would get me nowhere. If she wanted me to know, she would tell me, in her own good time. It was her way. I was not a pawn, and she never played games, but Siobhan took her time and I knew, had always known that waiting was far better than pushing. Siobhan could not be pushed.

As amazed as I was that I’d managed to reply in as cool and controlled a way that I had, considering how rattled I felt, Siobhan just seemed to take it in stride, as if what had just transpired was of the barest concern.

“Thank you,” she said, and made a motion with her free hand towards the sofa, off to my left.

I swallowed once, my grip around the beer in my right hand tighter than it needed to be. The cold glass centered me. I took a step away from her, she took a step away from me, and as she turned away, I caught a glimpse of an expression I wasn’t certain I read right. She looked partly hugely satisfied and partly deeply troubled. I felt my brow drop down into a frown, then moved off in the direction of the sofa on slightly unsteady legs. She stepped away to the other side of the room.

As I lowered myself gratefully to sit on the well-sprung sofa, I wondered if maybe she was more drunk than I’d at first thought. That maybe she’d kissed me while in a state of inebriation that, in a moment, she would regret, or perhaps already did. But I knew Siobhan, knew her well, as well as I knew myself, and Siobhan never behaved in a way that left one open to speculation. Therefore I had to think, had to believe, that she knew exactly what she was doing, that I had not misread the signs. And so where did that leave me? I didn’t know. What did that kiss mean? I didn’t know that, either. Frustrated, confused, I settled myself to wait, to find the answers to those questions. I brought the bottle to my lips and took a deep swig of beer.

Siobhan was busy at the compact stereo system in the entertainment unit that also housed her TV, her VCR and a DVD player. The candles cast a slightly wavering light around the room. I watched, taking another swallow of beer, so desperately needed to steady myself, as she pulled a CD from the rack to her left and went through the motions of removing it from its jewel case, opened the tray of the stereo, dropped the CD in; she tapped a button, the tray closed, tapped another button, twiddled a dial. Soon, the room was filled with the sweet, soft strains of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto number one, Siobhan had a deep, abiding love of classical music. Bach was her favourite.

She crouched, leaned back on her heels, and lifted her head. For about thirty seconds, the only sound was that of the symphony, the only movement that of the occasional flicker of the candle flames. And then I heard her say, clearly and concisely, “I’ve been stupid.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this statement. “And this is something new?” I said dryly, surprising myself with my casual response. I could still feel a faint ache between my legs.

She lowered her head between her shoulders and I imagined I heard the soft chuff of laughter I knew she was uttering. She rose then, in one smooth, fluid movement, and turned. She was darkly beautiful, dressed in black, her hair dark shadow, her face and arms, in contrast, pale like alabaster in the candlelight. She was too far away for me to read her expression, but even so, her eyes caught me and pinned me where I sat. I wondered how I looked to her. Had I ever wondered that before? If I had, it had never mattered as much as it did now.

She bent at the waist and fiddled with her boot laces; a moment later, she casually kicked out of her boots and, leaving them to stand before the entertainment console, walked towards me, beer slung loosely in her left hand. The visual of a wolf striding in loose confidence toward something lesser pervaded. I shook it off, took another swallow of my beer.

It was only when she easily navigated the coffee table with whisper-soft steps, then dropped onto the sofa beside me, that I allowed my shoulders to sag slightly. My body shifted as she settled beside me. I decided not to look at her. It seemed a wise decision, all things considered.

“Look at me,” she said.

So much for free choice. I craned my head around, almost reluctantly, as if her voice, her presence, was a magnet, my being unable to do anything but migrate to her, clang up against her.

“I know you’re wondering what that was all about.”

“Well, gee, Siobhan,” I muttered, in my amazingly cool and controlled way, “whatever gave you that idea?”

This time I heard the soft chuff of laughter that came from her. She lowered her head with it, then looked up again. Her look was gentle, and in the light of the candles, soft, as was her voice. “It’s not what you think.”

“You don’t know what I’m thinking,” I told her calmly.

“Yes, I do,” she replied, and I saw her eyes sharpen, even in that poor light. “You’re thinking I’m drunk,” she went on, with an edge to her voice I’d never heard before and didn’t like. “I don’t blame you for that. You’d be right to think that. But I’m not. And you know that I’m not.”

“Well then, why do I bother thinking anything at all?” I answered smartly, and realized my cool attitude was leaving me, like water rushing from a break in a dam. “I mean really, Siobhan, if you—?”

She reached out suddenly and grabbed my left hand, gripped it hard, and my words died in my throat. Her eyes were filled with a fire that rivaled those tiny candle flames that surrounded us. “Because it’s your thinking that grounds me,” she stated, with quiet fierceness, “and I love that about you.”

I blinked, felt myself go perfectly still. Her eyes bored into mine with an intensity she usually reserved for those times when she was keen on something. Or someone.

“I love so much about you,” she continued with the same passion, “and you have no idea, do you?”

If she expected an answer, she gave me no time to provide one.

“And tonight, Jesus, that was a stupid idea. I didn’t want any of those people around me, didn’t want to talk to or even look at any of them. I only wanted one person, could only think of one person.”

I was afraid she was about to start repeating herself, become redundant. We’d already covered this ground, hadn’t we? With a sense of resignation, I waited for her to go on, to speak the name of the woman who’d driven her away, was the reason for her distance, her discontent. I braced myself for her next words.

“And there you were,” she finished gently, her entire demeanour softening.

Once more, I blinked, and gave a bit of a start, caught completely off guard. Me? I almost blurted out, but managed to hold my tongue. Me? What?

She leaned back into the sofa, releasing my hand and angling her body towards me. She rested her left arm on the sofa back, crossed her right leg over her left. “Like I said, I’ve been stupid,” she said, in a mild, matter-of-fact kind of way, no doubt interpreting my look of surprise correctly. She lifted her beer, took a swallow.

I still continued to stare at her, having no idea what to say, knowing only that whatever I said could change things utterly between us. She had to know that, had to know the position she had put me in. But then, hadn’t she kissed me, hadn’t that changed things between us? She was not recanting that kiss and I had not reacted unfavourably to it, was still sitting here in her presence. Granted, I could gain my feet at any time, regain my senses and bolt from the room in absolute denial. But I hadn’t done that, was certainly not about to, and she seemed to know that. It wasn’t her confidence that irked me, but rather my complete lack of a response.

In the candle light, I saw her eyes narrow and she said, in a wary voice, as if reading my mind, “Okay, tell me I’m not wrong here. You’re not going to suddenly jump to your feet and run away, are you?”

She paused, looking at me, while I looked back at her, unable to catch my breath or my thoughts. Her look was direct, measuring, lathered with confidence, and yet there was an insecure edge to it, which was unexpected. It bolstered me, because arrogant confidence I could not have stood.

“Honey, please,” she then said, and angled herself more fully towards me, “don’t—I mean, I don’t want to—I need to know that…well, that I’m right. I’m right, aren’t I?” Her voice was gently pleading, and it rendered me mute.

I wanted to calm her, reassure her, tell her yes, she was right, yet all I could do was look at her, feeling that heat in the pit of my belly, and think, Jesus, say something!

Her eyes searched mine. I saw a line appear between her brows, a look of concern, and she opened her mouth to say something more, and I blurted out, “No.”

It was her turn to blink. “No?” She looked as confused as I felt.

“I mean, yes,” I amended hastily, and thought, Oh Christ, good one. “I mean, Siobhan, I don’t—I’m not—” Christ in hell, what did I mean? “I mean, are you sure?”

In one brief second, her confused look vanished. The corner of her mouth rose in a little grin. “Yes, I’m sure.” And she laughed, not a full laugh, just a sort of light exhalation. “I mean, what, do you think I just go around kissing my friends like that?”

I had to admit, it seemed unlikely. At the very least, she certainly had never kissed me that way before. I couldn’t account for her other friends.

“Okay, let’s just cut to the chase here, shall we?” she said, in that blunt, impatient manner of hers. She moved even closer to me, so close I could feel the heat emanating from her. “I’m telling you, I’ve been stupid, I’ve been a fool. I know I have, even if you don’t. You’ve been there for me, all this time, for three years you’ve stuck by me, I know you have, and I hate to think that I’ve taken you for granted, but maybe I have. If that’s the case, then I’m sorry, deeply sorry, because I never should have. You deserve better than that.” Her eyes were fixed resolutely on mine. “You’ve stuck by me all this time, you’ve never missed a step. You know me inside and out, I know you do, and it occurred to me…”

She paused, and I found myself leaning slightly forward into that silence, without fully realizing I was, hinged on her words and those that were to follow.

“It occurred to me,” she went on carefully, placing her beer on the coffee table, before leaning back once more and turning to me, “that I’ve been a fool. This has nothing to do with her, okay? Yeah, she dumped me, but it was never about her, and you didn’t know that and still, there you were, like you always have been. Like I knew, like I hoped you would be. And I just…realized—”

She broke off and I waited, as time stood still for a moment, as I stared unblinkingly into her dark, compelling eyes.

“—that it’s you,” she finally said, so softly it was almost a whisper.

I’d been holding my breath, but only realized it when I released it. “Me?” In my complete bewilderment, I sounded as thick as a fence post.

“Yes, you.” Her mouth again rose in that little grin, and she was so close I could smell her breath, sweet and with an overtone of beer.

“I don’t—”

“No, of course you don’t,” she said, and her smile broadened, but it was gentle and touched her eyes, softening them. “And for that, I’m sorry.”

I couldn’t speak, could only blink, perplexed, as I inwardly begged her to say what she wanted to say, to just spit it out, whatever it was.

And she did. “I love you,” she breathed, over the strains of the concerto’s adagio. “I think I’m in love with you.”

I leaned abruptly back into the sofa with my right shoulder, as suddenly as if I’d been shoved. My eyelids blinked once, twice, three times. The beer in my hand was long forgotten. There was a huge silence, broken only by the symphony in the background.

“You’re in love with me?” I finally asked, stupidly, as if it were a foreign concept, which, of course, it was.

“Yes,” she replied, and that smile gripped her and me in its complete assurance. “Is that so hard to believe?”

I didn’t know how to answer that. It wasn’t that I felt undeserving, or that Siobhan loving me in that way was a terrible thing, or something that I hadn’t wanted or dreamt of. It was more that, now that it had been spoken of, that it was now in the light of day, so to speak, I feared its lack of tenacity, its lack of strength.

“You have questions,” she said then, gently grave.

“Questions?” I repeated dumbly.

“Or doubts. Whatever. About my intentions.”

I raised an eyebrow at that, managing to rally. “You have intentions?” I asked, with a trace of my usual dryness.

She smiled again, this time as if appreciative of my effort. It made my heart glad to see it, that we were still connected in the way I was familiar with. “Well, no, I don’t,” she said, and her voice was mild. “Not in any nefarious kind of way.”

I grinned, beginning to regain some of my self-composure.

“It’s important, no? That I tell you?”

“That you love me? That you think you’re in love with me?”

“Yes.”

I gave her my own measured look. “Yes, it’s important.”

She nodded. That errant lock of hair fell forward once more as she did; she made no move to brush it back. Once more, I smiled and reached to do so, tucking it behind her left ear. She turned her head then, towards my hand, and kissed my palm. I paused, transfixed by the sight and by the feel; such a simple gesture and yet, coming from her at that moment, it held so much meaning, carried so much weight. I felt vaguely light-headed.

She brought her right hand up, placed it over mine at her cheek, and leaned her head against my palm. Her eyes were warm sable, and I saw the flickering candle flames reflected in them and something else, something huge and deep and familiar: the look I’d often thought I’d see in my own eyes, the look that was there now, I guessed. I sighed, deeply, as if I’d finally come home. At that moment, I felt that I had.

She leaned to me then, and I to her, and when our lips met, it was as if two errant currents met and joined and flowed together. I felt the energy wash over me, through me, and I bathed in it, basked in it. Our kiss was long and slow and deeply pleasurable.

When we parted, she looked at me for the longest time. The allegro filled the silence, its liquid notes flitting about the room on invisible hummingbird wings. I calmly placed my beer on the coffee table next to hers.

“So now what?” I asked, though I was terribly loath to break that intent gaze of hers. It heated my blood, stirred something in my belly.

“Now,” she replied, her voice dropping into the creamy smooth tones I loved to hear, “I get to do something I’ve been hoping to do for awhile.”

“And what’s that?”

She reached out with her right hand. “This,” she said, and began undoing the buttons of my shirt.

I cocked an eyebrow at her. “You’ve been hoping to take my shirt off? You need to set loftier goals, sweetheart.” My nonchalance was in serious danger of being undermined by the quickening of my breath.

“Oh, trust me, I have,” she said coolly, her eyes briefly meeting mine. “But, yes, I’ve been hoping to take your shirt off, among other things.”

Her eyes left mine. I swallowed. I could honestly say I was quite disbelieving that this was happening. I felt caught in a moment of utter sanctity, that if I said something, made some untoward motion, the moment would end and I would lose it forever. She continued unbuttoning my shirt. I just sat and let her. Angled as I was towards her, my shirt fell open easily as she completed her task; she gently tucked the left wing of it against my left hip, exposing my chest and belly. I watched her eyes as they trailed over my skin; she reached her hand up and lightly traced her fingers over the lace of my bra. I could feel those fingers trembling. I was very aware of my breathing that it hitched once in my chest. I kept my eyes locked on hers.

Her gaze dropped, along with her fingertips; they grazed my breastbone, slid like cool mercury down my centre, my stomach, to the waistband of my jeans, where they rested momentarily. The muscles in my lower belly clenched, constricting; I shivered. She then trailed those fingers back up, reversing the light stroke. My belly clenched again. My breath began to tremble, much as her fingers were. She stopped at the top of my bra, at the rise of my breast. Her eyes followed as she ran her fingers lightly over the fabric.

“Lace,” she breathed, her voice smoky now. “Very nice.”

I swallowed again.

She looked up then, into my eyes, and hers were as smoky as her voice. “Do you want this?” she asked, ever so softly, and around the edges of that smoky gaze I glimpsed tendrils of flame, hot, hungry, waiting to lick out with a word of assent. “I need to know that you want this.”

“Do you?” I asked in return, my voice a breath within a breath.

“Oh yes,” was all she said; but her own voice, cream and smoke, caused my lungs to hitch once more.

“So do I,” I managed to respond.

At my words, her pupils dilated briefly, then her look sharpened and I was reminded of some lithe feline predator caught in that moment just before it leaped. I felt that stirring in my belly again. And, startlingly, something else, some small panicked creature throwing itself against my breastbone, seeking escape, freedom. As her fingers touched the front clasp of my bra, I suddenly said, “Siobhan?”

Her eyes were still on mine. They softened as she tilted her head in mild inquiry.

Wild horses galloped thunderously in my chest where my heart should have been. I struggled with what I wanted to say, but never had. Her eyes were liquid dark chocolate. They steadied me. “I love you,” I told her finally, all in a breath.

She smiled, a slow, deeply satisfied smile. She never said a word, just raised herself slightly to cover my mouth with hers in a soft kiss, and as she did, her fingers deftly released that centre clasp. I felt the lacy fabric part, then felt her palm brush over my left breast. I moaned at her touch. She kissed me harder, thrusting her tongue deeply; her hand cupped my breast, I felt the nipple rise and harden, felt her thumb rub over it, around it. I gave a deeper moan and reached to grip her right thigh tightly, feeling the long muscles there bunch and tense, as I arched into her touch.

If I had ever wanted any woman as much as I wanted her right then, I’d never known it. My desire was a palpable thing, a storm building just outside a flimsy shelter, waiting to rip it asunder and fling it to the far reaches of the earth.

She turned me then, with a hand beneath my knees, the other at my shoulder, forcing me back gently, easily, so I was stretched out on the sofa. My head came to rest on the cushioned arm. She straddled me in one smooth, effortless movement. Looking down at me, she said, in her smoky voice, “I’m going to make love to you right here, on the sofa. I hope that’s okay.”

I could only nod. I didn’t care. She could make love to me in a bus shack. It didn’t matter. That’s how badly I wanted her. She had to have known that. She smiled that creamy slow smile of hers. Oh yes, she knew. I felt not an ounce of shame.

She was slow and deliberate in her movements, in her seduction. She undressed me with a degree of care and attention I hadn’t expected, considering the fire in her eyes, the way her fingers trembled as she touched me, the way her chest rose and fell visibly with each breath. In the grip of such obvious desire, I guess I expected her to be wild and uncivil, beyond restraint. But she took her time; at one point she lowered her mouth to my breast and sucked and teased the nipple to exquisite, almost painful hardness, until I was whimpering helplessly. She then resumed her attentions, as if we had all the time in the world. I guess maybe we did.

When I lay naked before her, she shed her own clothes. I helped. Soon, our clothing lay in a mingled, untidy heap on the floor. She rose above me, straddling me once more, knees on either side of my thighs. My eyes drank in the sight of her slim, pale body, noted how the candle light danced across her skin, caressing the curves of hips, belly and breasts. The muscles in her shoulders and biceps, abdomen and thighs, were softened and rounded in that warm light. There wasn’t a single unyielding line to her. She no longer looked dangerous. Now she looked compellingly beautiful, achingly fragile.

When I raised my eyes, I saw that hers were roaming over me. I could only hope that what she saw pleased her. And when her eyes finally touched on mine, I saw those dark orbs flare, saw an unmistakable hunger there, and I realized that what she saw, she wanted. I felt my insides weaken.

I held my arms out to her then, and she came to me, stretching out and lowering her body onto mine. She was lean and light, a wind-blown leaf on the mirror surface of a pond. She fit me so well it was startling and immensely pleasing. As we lay against each other, our breaths, our heartbeats matched, mine with hers, timelessly connected. As complex as the clouds and the rain, seamless as the river and the earth. The one does not exist without the other. Such a profound realization was deeply thrilling, yet a part of me was terribly uncertain.

“Siobhan?” My uncertainty was clearly reflected in my voice. I sounded shaky.

Her weight shifted as she raised her head. The heat of her body against mine was strangely, comfortingly familiar. She looked into my eyes; mine felt wide with insecurity. But hers were round and gentle. And what she said to me then, steadied me.

“I love you.” Her voice was softly intense; she seemed to know what I needed. “Never forget that, okay? I love you.”

I inhaled deeply and then exhaled, and with the release of that breath, my uncertainty and insecurities fled and I relaxed, fully and completely. Siobhan was the most honest person I knew. She would never lie to me; she meant what she said.

“You’re beautiful, you know,” she then said, and she sounded a little breathless. She swallowed and an audible click sounded deep in her throat. “Incredibly beautiful.”

“So are you,” I told her. And she was.

We kissed, long and deep, and then she shifted her body off mine, into the space between my side and the back of the sofa. With her left elbow propped against the sofa arm, next to my head, her own head resting against her palm, she began to run the fingers of her free hand over the length of my body. My skin tingled as her fingertips trailed over it; her touch was feather-soft, leaving behind ghostly tracings of silvery arabesques. I imagined those tracings disappearing from sight, like some mystical, magical etchings, as her fingers moved on. She rose every once in awhile, to run that feather-light touch over my thighs, my calves, my ankles. She covered every inch of skin she could reach. The inside of my calves, my inner thighs, up between my legs, that whispery feel of her fingertips grazed me; over my lower belly, up to my breasts, the length of my arms, my shoulders, around, then down, and over again.

Soon I was trembling; my heart was pounding in my chest, my blood surging in my veins. My breath was shaky and undisciplined. My eyes were locked on the profile of her turned-away face. She continued her attentions, until she was once more at my inner thighs. And then she turned her head to look at me, her eyes fixed on mine, and I felt her fingertips pause where my heat was strongest. She then slipped between to touch that heat, and my breath caught and my eyes widened. And she brought those fingers up in a gentle, wet stroke, and a soft, breathless cry escaped me. She reversed the stroke, then brought her fingers up once more, and I uttered the cry again.

I couldn’t look away from her eyes; they held me. She reversed the stroke again, but this time she didn’t come back up. This time she slipped inside me. And this time, I inhaled sharply, then moaned loudly, open-mouthed, tensing all over, and I saw her swallow. She then withdrew, eyes still on mine, only to slip in again, deeper, two fingers this time, but still slowly and deliberately, a gentle thrust; I couldn’t control my groan of intense pleasure. She repeated the movements twice, three times, deep, gentle thrusts and each time I responded in kind. Finally, she remained where she was for a few moments, buried deep inside me, and then she swallowed once more, blinked and slowly withdrew. I gasped as she did.

Her dark eyes searched mine briefly then she leaned to kiss me, lips brushing over mine. “I’ve changed my mind,” she said, and her voice was thick and heavy with some emotion. She eased herself over me, to stand next to the sofa. She looked down at me, holding out her right hand. “Come with me,” she said.

She helped me to my feet; my legs were shaky. She steadied me, and without a further word, led me to her bedroom. She lay me down on the bed, atop the comforter, then leaned forward, resting her weight briefly on one arm. She brushed her lips over mine once again. “Just give me a second,” she breathed, and then straightened.

The room was dark; she fixed that by immediately striking a match from a matchbook she kept somewhere close at hand. She looked wonderfully exotic as she moved around the room, holding the match to a few candlewicks. With a puff of breath, she extinguished the match, dropped it into one of the candleholders, the matchbook beside, and turned to face me from the other side of the bed. Her skin was pale as the moon, body slender as a willow branch. Her eyes, black as basalt, strayed over me, as did mine over her.

When our gazes met, she gave a nod. “Yes,” she said, with quiet satisfaction, “this is how I want you. You deserve better than a sofa.”

My body felt alive with desire, heavy with need. The touch of her eyes on me brought the remembrance of the touch of her fingers, and I suddenly, desperately wanted more, wanted her.

“Come here,” I whispered, almost urgently.

And she did.

* * *

We loved each other then, and time did indeed seem to spin out endlessly before us. Our breaths were alternately separate then mingled, ragged and harsh, then soft and caressing. Our cries were jaggedly discordant, yet at times seamlessly fused in heart-stilling chorus. Our eyes met, our looks blended and parted, then blended once more. She was a part of me and I a part of her. We existed in a world of our own making; we mapped our own paths, chose our own way, over terrain that was new and unfamiliar. When I came, she seemed to revel in my response. And when she came, I basked in hers. Again and again, and then again once more.

* * *

She lay trembling and quite breathless beneath me, spent, unable to even raise her arms. She’d managed to whisper she wanted me close to her, as close as I could get. I obliged, covering her body with mine. My head rested against her shoulder, my fingers stroking absently in the dip of her collarbone. I could feel her heart thumping in her chest; my body rose and fell minutely with each of her shaky breaths. I had never felt so close, so connected to anyone before. It was an indescribably precious feeling. Eventually, both her breathing and her heart beat leveled out.

Suddenly, she stretched beneath me, and I lifted myself enough to give her room, hands on either side of her. She thrust her arms above her head, elbows out, encountered the headboard, pushed against it. She groaned with obvious pleasure. It came out sounding more like a deep, contented purr.

I smiled down at her. Her eyes opened as her body relaxed, arms outstretched limply across the pillows. She blinked slowly and smiled lazily back at me. I lowered myself once more.

“That sounded wonderful,” I said.

“I feel wonderful.” Her voice was rich cream, her eyes warm, glowing embers.

She held me with those eyes a moment. I leaned to kiss her. When I pulled back, I saw she was smiling again, but thoughtfully this time.

“Something else I didn’t know about you,” she said, and she was gently grave. “You’re an incredible lover.”

Her words caught me completely by surprise and I found myself blushing. Still, I managed to say calmly in return, “Something I didn’t know about you: You’re multi-orgasmic.”

And now, she was blushing. She looked almost shy, as she murmured, “So it would seem.”

I cocked my head slightly, as I stared at her in mild wonder. “You mean…you didn’t know?”

Her eyes were wide with innocent surprise, as she replied, “No. No, that’s never happened before. I never—I mean, no one’s ever—”

“Then I’m glad it was with me,” I broke in deliberately. And I was. I was deeply touched and felt a delicious pleasure that I had given her something no one else had. It made me smile, just a small smile, one I was helpless to hold back.

She smiled back at me then, knowingly, and I blushed again and lowered my eyes. She knew me all too well. But all she said was, “So am I,” in her gently grave way.

I felt a rush of emotion then, of love. Love for her and for that moment. I’d never experienced such a deep and profound sense of happiness, of completion. It transcended the physical, went beyond the passion, embraced a sentiment that could not be expressed in mere words. And yet, I felt it and she seemed to, as well. I could see it in her eyes, knew I was not mistaken. I breathed in deeply, exhaled slowly, then lowered my head to her shoulder once more. She raised her arms, wrapped them around me, held me close. No, I was not mistaken. I relaxed into her with a sigh.

* * *

“How long have you been in love with me?” she asked a short while later. Her voice was low and smoky once more; she sounded casually, lazily curious.

I raised my head to look at her, surprised and yet not. “How long have you known?”

Her dark chocolate eyes latched onto mine. “I think, in a way, somehow, I’ve always known,” she replied carefully. “But I only really clued in in the last few months or so.”

I frowned at that, wondering what had happened in the last few months to tip her off.

“Not because of anything you did,” she said, in answer to my frown. She knew what I was thinking, obviously. “But because I finally opened my eyes and took a serious look around. How long?” she asked again.

As I considered my answer, I became acutely aware of the wet, slick sheen of perspiration between our bellies. I eased myself off her, came to rest on my left side next to her. We shifted to face each other, propped on our elbows. I thought briefly of being coy, decided against it. “Probably since the day that I met you, if you believe in that sort of thing.”

Her eyebrows climbed at this revelation, but she seemed more surprised than shocked. “That long?”

“That long.”

“Wow. I was a little off.” She sounded chagrined, which amused me.

“You said you thought you’d always known.” I reminded her gently.

She blinked a few times, fast, like a camera shutter. “Well, yeah, I thought—I mean, I always felt there was—” She looked at me closely. “You’ve been in love with me for three years?”

I nodded, now beginning to feel a little foolish and embarrassed. The sweat cooled on my belly, raising goose bumps, a shiver.

“Three years. My God,” she breathed. Her eyes continued to hold mine, unwaveringly.

“Siobhan, if I’d wanted you to know, you would have known.”

Her eyes narrowed at that, and a small furrow appeared in her brow.

“You said you thought you’d always known,” I repeated.

Her frown deepened. “Just…once in awhile,” she said thoughtfully, carefully. “I’d look at you, see you looking at me, and I’d think—but, I mean, I couldn’t, you know, be sure, we’re so close, and I—” She paused, her mouth open, working silently. “—I mean, we were friends and I didn’t—”

“Siobhan, I understand,” I told her softly. “If I’d wanted you to know, you would have known.”

Once again, her eyes narrowed. She cocked her head. “So you kept it from me?” she asked seriously. The thought seemed to trouble her.

“Of course I kept it from you. Why—? You were always with someone else. So was I. Why would I tell you?”

She seemed to mull this over. And then she asked, carefully, “But you would have told me eventually, in time, right?”

A lot seemed to hinge on the answer to that question, and so I answered just as carefully, “If there was ever going to be a time, that time was not mine to choose.”

She took a moment or two to weigh my response, then angled her head once more. “So…you’re saying it was mine?”

I responded calmly, “I couldn’t know that you ever would, so no, I’m not saying that. Let’s just say that I felt the choice was not mine to make, that I never would have.”

“But…why?” She was truly and deeply puzzled.

“Why wouldn’t I have?”

“Yes.”

How do you convince someone of what they mean to you, how important they are to you? How do you convince them that you understand choice is a two-way street, that your choice might not be their choice, and that, ultimately, we all have to live with those choices, and nothing must ever be taken for granted? Simple. You tell them and hope they understand, hope they believe.

“Because I already had you,” I told her, my voice softly intense. Her pupils were wide once again, virtually lost in the darkness of her eyes. “I had something nobody else had. Even if I wasn’t with you, Siobhan, I still had a part of you no one else did, or could, something you never gave to anyone else: You. Your self. You trusted me with that. It meant everything to me. You wanted me as your friend, I knew that from the very beginning, and I have tried to be the best friend I possibly could be. You have let me be that friend, you’ve given me that freedom, because you trusted me and loved me enough, over three years, to give your self to me. I would never have jeopardized that. Your trust, your friendship means everything to me. It always has.”

She appeared to mull this little speech over as well, and her expression was deeply pensive, as if she were in the midst of working something out. And then she said, with that little line between her brows once more, “I’ve never trusted anyone as much as I trust you.”

“I know,” I acknowledged simply.

She looked at me for the longest time in complete silence, and then her gaze shifted to some point past my shoulder. She was quiet for several long moments, thinking, feeling. I waited patiently, watching as her eyelashes occasionally swept against her cheeks when she blinked. She had beautiful long lashes.

Finally, she focused on me once more. “So…have I jeopardized this, then? Have I changed…us?”

I loved many things about Siobhan. But what I dearly loved was that she was never brash or thoughtless, and she never assumed anything. Like now. Even though we’d made love, and it was incredible, wonderful, she did not automatically assume that everything was fine between us.

“Jeopardized?” I replied, thoughtfully. “No. Changed? Yes. Or, if you will, enhanced. At least, that’s how I choose to look at it.”

“Enhanced.” She spoke the word with care, as if tasting it, measuring it.

“It’s still a form of change,” I allowed, “but without the negative connotations.” I watched her eyes, her face, as she considered this. “Of course, what matters,” I went on gently, “is how you feel about it, if it’s what you want.”

I was speaking deferentially to her. I had the utmost respect for Siobhan. Whatever decision she came to, I would respect, as well. I can’t say I wasn’t afraid, because I was, even though my voice was level and calm. She could choose to walk away, to have nothing more to do with us, beyond this night. But then, so could I. Having gotten what we wanted, so to speak, one of us, or both of us, could decide that walking away was the choice to be made. I think, however, that we both knew neither of us would make that choice. Still, I wondered briefly how I would feel if she did choose to abandon me, us. I wondered if I would remain as her friend, if I could make such a sacrifice. I honestly didn’t think that I could, and the realization was terribly painful and frightening. I had wanted Siobhan for as long as I had known her, most likely since the day I had met her. Having her, tonight, so unexpectedly, feeling so close to her, and then having to let her go, would devastate me. No, I would never be able to return to my former status of friend only.

She suddenly reached over, to place her left hand over my right, which had settled to rest between us. Her eyes, those warm, glowing embers, burned into mine. She said, softly, “I wouldn’t be here with you, honestly, I wouldn’t, if it wasn’t what I wanted.”

Her words sent my heart soaring. I felt something catch inside me, felt my throat constrict with deep emotion.

“I want this,” she went on, and her fingers curled around mine. “I want you. Us.”

I swallowed and managed to say calmly, above the tumult of feelings tossing about inside me, “Then you’ve answered your own question.”

Her brow instantly furrowed with concern. “Have I answered yours?” she asked, unexpectedly.

As I’ve said, I loved many things about Siobhan. But I doubt I had ever loved her as strongly as I did at that moment. I stared back into the depths of those worried eyes, feeling such joy it was indefinable, unscalable. “Yes, you have,” I told her. “Completely.”

Her fingers tightened around mine. “Do you believe me?”

I leaned to kiss her, pressing my lips to hers reassuringly. I leaned back, watched her lick her lips and swallow. I smiled a very small, almost private smile. “You’ve never lied to me, Siobhan. Of course, I believe you.”

Her brow smoothed, her features relaxing. She looked pleased, happy. A moment later, though, her forehead creased again. “What if…” She hesitated, struggling, concerned anew. “What if we don’t…work out?”

My smile broadened briefly, before I tempered it. So worried, I thought. And I asked gently, in response, “What if we do?”

She blinked a couple of times, then she was smiling again, pleased and happy once more. Seeing her smile like that was like seeing the sun come out after a terrible and threatening storm; nothing mattered but its warmth and its brilliance. Her eyes were wide as she breathed, “Oh my, I do love you.”

And my heart soared once again, like a hawk with wings outstretched as it rode an updraft at dizzying heights. The impossibilities of this world, this life, are nothing when compared to its infinite, incredible possibilities.

She moved then, to cover my body with hers, my mouth with hers, and this time she was hungry, demanding. Her mouth on mine was almost a punishment; mine on hers was no kinder. Our desire was red-hot, equally matched. Soon we were a tangle of arms and legs, rasping breaths, pounding hearts. The comforter was a rucked up jumble beneath us. We didn’t care. Our passion reduced us to near-wild incivility, our need for each other went far beyond simple want; we twisted and writhed and lunged, striving almost desperately to reach that pinnacle we knew could be attained. And when we did reach it, when we knew there was no turning back, her eyes were midnight black on mine, and we came between one harsh breath and the next, hard and fast, and we cried out in complete abandon.

* * *

In the aftermath of our passionate joining, our bodies slick with sweat in the warm room, she lay over me, her head angled into the space between my neck and shoulder. My left arm was draped over her right shoulder, fingers resting on the point of her shoulder blade. I only realized she was crying when I registered her breath was hitching in and out of her quite unlike mine, and that my own shoulder was wet with something more than mere perspiration could account for.

“Siobhan?” I asked with concern, shocked into sudden awareness. “Siobhan?” I placed my hands at her shoulders, in an attempt to raise her, to see her face.

She resisted my efforts, leaning heavily into me, turning her head completely away, and now she was sobbing softly, openly.

A shard of worry buried itself in my chest, cold and terribly frightening, and I struggled to remove myself from beneath her, maintaining the pressure on her shoulders. She rolled over as I slipped free, and flung her right arm over her face as I shifted to look down at her.

“Siobhan, Jesus, what—?” Uncomprehendingly, I stared at her, my heart thumping against my ribs in blind, unsteady fear, completely opposite its earlier passionate rhythm. I reached my hand out towards her, fingers trembling, but I was afraid to touch her, didn’t know if I should. “Siobhan, please, did I hurt you? What—?”

She shook her head and drew in a deep, shaky breath, obviously trying to rein in her emotions. I thought I heard her say, “No”, but I wasn’t sure. Still, the hand I’d reached out I now placed lightly on her stomach, just below her ribs. Though somewhat reassured that I hadn’t hurt her in any way, I continued to stare down at her worriedly. Her chest hitched as she exhaled raggedly, then inhaled sharply once more. Removing her arm from across her eyes, she brought both hands up to swipe at her tears.

“Shit,” she whispered harshly. She dug the heels of her hands into her eyes, rubbing briskly, and sniffed a couple of times. “I’m sorry, just…give me a second here. Shit.” She was regaining her composure rapidly.

I waited patiently, calming as well. With a final few swipes of her fingers, she sniffed, then said, pushing her fingers up through her hair, “There’s something I haven’t told you, and I should have, and I’m sorry.” Dragging her fingers the rest of the way through her hair, she lowered her arms and looked at me through eyes red-rimmed and damp and troubled. Her face was a study of conflicting emotions.

Her words created a certain dread within me, though I couldn’t begin to guess as to what she was referring to. It must be something awful though, if her emotional reaction was any indication. I tried to brace myself for whatever she might say, though of course I had no idea what that might be, or how to prepare myself.

“I have to leave in the morning,” she then said, very gently. “I know I should have told you sooner. I’m sorry.”

Leave? I stared at her, confused. Leave? Shouldn’t I be the one to leave in the morning?

She seemed to understand my confusion, because she sighed heavily, swallowed, sniffed again then shifted to turn onto her right side to face me. Her eyes were dark brown velvet, soft, comforting. They met mine with a warm intensity. “I have to leave in the morning,” she repeated, still gentle, then added, “I have to go. I made plans.”

I continued to stare, perplexed. Plans? Plans for what? And with whom?

As if reading my mind, she said, “I’m going alone, not with anyone. This has nothing to do with anyone else.” And then her breath seemed to catch. “Well,” she added, and swallowed and in a lower voice said, “except for you. It has everything to do with you.”

I could not have been more lost than if I’d been dropped in the middle of some national park without a map. “I don’t—” I began helplessly.

“No, of course you don’t. And for that, I’m sorry.”

“Siobhan—”

She reached her own hand out, to claim mine, the one that had slipped down to rest on the comforter. “Just…let me explain, sweetheart, okay? It’s nothing terrible, nothing to be worried or frightened about.”

I could have argued that her tearful display minutes earlier suggested otherwise, but I said nothing. I had to trust her. I was prepared to do that. What else did I have?

She raised herself a bit higher, draped one slender leg over the other. She pulled my hand up to the warm flesh of her belly, gripped it tightly, while resting her weight on her other elbow. “I’m sorry for—well, for that. It sort of caught me off guard, when I realized I hadn’t told you what I’d been meaning to tell you, all night long. And then I suddenly realized that—” She swallowed, and her forehead crinkled into lines of troubled discontent. “I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to go…but I have to. I made plans.”

I wasn’t sure whom she was trying to convince, her or me. She paused, and I waited for her to continue, my heart pounding fast and hard in my chest like a scared rabbit’s.

“You’ve been in love with me for three years,” she went on, her voice tender, her look gravely intent. “To be honest, I’ve probably been in love with you as long, only I didn’t know it. Or refused to see it. Like I said, I’ve been stupid.”

I opened my mouth to contradict her, thinking she was being rather hard on herself. But she stopped me.

“Don’t,” was all she said.

I didn’t. I closed my mouth and blinked, somewhat contritely.

“I know I’ve been stupid, and to make matters worse, I’ve behaved very badly the last several weeks. I’ve basically treated you like shit, and for that I’m terribly sorry. I never meant to hurt you, and I know that I have. The only thing I can say in my defense is that I was confused, scared, really, when I realized what I was thinking, what I was feeling. I was completely unprepared for it; I didn’t know what to do with it. I found myself thinking of you differently, looking at you differently, and I just—I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t deal with it. So I…pushed you away.”

The remembered hurt of her closing herself off, of her refusal to talk to me or see me, registered briefly, like a hard slap on the wrist, sharp, stinging, startling. I hadn’t known, hadn’t understood at the time why she’d pushed me away, all I’d known was that I had been deeply hurt and confused.

“I started seeing Elizabeth,” she went on, “as a…distraction, I guess. Which sounds really bad, but it’s the truth. I’ve never used someone like that before, but I started seeing her so I wouldn’t think of you, wouldn’t have to think about what it meant if I was.” She grinned, ruefully. “It didn’t work, of course. The entire time I was with her, all I could think of was you. The thought of you was constantly there, snagged in my mind, like some goddamned fishhook I couldn’t work free.”

This revelation pleased me, but I kept my expression carefully neutral.

“Finally, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore, that I was fooling myself and her and you, and that I was being a coward. And so, last Friday, I sat her down…and I told her.”

There followed a few beats of silence, which I broke when I tentatively asked, “Told her what?”

She swallowed. Her eyes were limpid pools of dark chocolate. “Told her that I thought I was in love with someone else.”

“Oh,” I said, rather amazedly.

She nodded, as if I’d said something far more profound. “And then I asked her what she thought of that.”

Hesitantly, and a bit recklessly, I asked, “What did she say?”

“She didn’t take it very well,” Siobhan replied, with a smile devoid of any mirth. “She called me a fucking bitch and stormed out of the apartment. She slammed the door so hard the whole building shook. She was a little…pissed. I can’t say I blame her.”

I felt a small amount of sympathy for that woman, but no more than that. Selfish, perhaps, but there it was.

Siobhan went on softly, “And then, I was left to deal with…you. With what I was thinking and feeling. And I decided to leave, to go away for awhile. It seemed like a good idea, to get away and just think on it for awhile, what it all meant and what I should do about it.” She took a deep breath, exhaled slowly. “So I made some plans. Decided to go to the west coast. I have a cousin there, in San Francisco. She was happy to hear from me, happy to have me. It was all planned.”

Before I could stop myself, I asked, “You would have just left? Without telling me?” I sounded faintly accusatory.

She sighed deeply. “I thought so. I thought I would. But then I realized I couldn’t, that I owed you more than that. That’s why I called you today, why I asked you to come out with me tonight. It was a bit of a surprise, I guess, my call.”

That was an understatement. I’d been shocked to hear from her, shocked even further by the invitation, the request for my company. We hadn’t spoken in over a fortnight. And yet, I hadn’t hesitated, because I could never say no to her, not when she needed me. I had wondered if she knew that. I had wondered what it said of me, that I couldn’t. But then she’d apologized, and nothing mattered beyond that.

She fixed her eyes on mine. Her fingers gripped my hand a bit tighter. “At the club tonight, I was so…aware of you. Even when you weren’t near me, I felt you, as if you were right beside me. And I realized I’d always felt that way, from the first day I met you, I felt so close to you, like you were inside of me, a part of me. And I’d planned on telling you there, at the club, that I was leaving, then realized I couldn’t, not there. And then, when you came to me and sat next to me, I just wanted—” She broke off, and her eyes widened ever so slightly. She blinked. “I wanted you. I wanted to take you home, wanted to be with you, lie next to you, have you. So badly. You thought it was all about her, Elizabeth, and it wasn’t, it was all about you.” She uttered a short, abrupt laugh, sounding somewhat dismayed. “I was completely unprepared for that, for what it meant. But it felt so right. It felt so completely right.” She paused, then added, looking a little taken aback, “And so here you are.” She paused once more, blinking, as if the reality of the situation was wholly surprising.

I said nothing. I had the feeling she wasn’t yet finished. I was right.

“I love you,” she said. “I know that I do. And even though there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go, doesn’t want to leave you, I know that I still have to. As much as I love you, as much as I want you, want to be with you, I still have to go. I still need to think this through. Do you understand that? Can you understand that?”

To my great relief, I did. As much as this whole revelation, this whole night, had thrown me, her utter sincerity convinced me. And I told her so. “Yes, I understand.” I paused then added, “And I think you should go. If it’s what you think you need, then you should go. I understand, Siobhan, I do.”

“You do? Really?” She seemed partly amazed, partly relieved and…something else. Uncertain? Scared?

“I do. Really,” I said soothingly. Frankly, I was amazed that I did. But even if I didn’t, what was I going to say, ‘No, you can’t go, I don’t want you to’? I had no claim on her. So I leaned forward to kiss her. “And I’ll be here when you get back. I’m not going anywhere, Siobhan, okay?” I gave her a teasing, crooked little grin. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

I’d said what she needed to hear, obviously, for her troubled expression smoothed out to something calmer, more serene. Conversely, I found myself in the grip of a sudden desperation, as I felt a vague, undefined fear settling like a gray cloak over my own heart. I swallowed, and whispered then, with an urgency that startled me, “Make love to me. Please. Right now. Just take me.”

Her eyes widened momentarily, her chest expanded with a sudden sharp intake of breath, and then she was over me, on top of me, and I gave myself up to her completely as she did as I’d asked, as she took me.

* * *

Ten thirty in the morning, we were at her car. I sat on the hood, on the driver’s side, with her positioned between my thighs, her pelvis against the side panel, leaning slightly forward. Her hands were at my hips; mine rested on her shoulders. We’d gotten maybe four hours of sleep, but neither of us was particularly tired. We were more edgy than anything else. Now that the time had come for her to leave, I was reluctant to let her go, and she was reluctant to depart.

She tugged once on my belt loops, her dark chocolate eyes fixed on mine, the pupils tiny, almost indecipherable black dots in the brilliant morning sunlight. “I won’t be long,” she said, answering, finally, a question I had steadfastly refused to ask. “A week, two at the most. I didn’t really pack for more.” She’d already tossed her bags into the back seat, a suitcase and a duffle bag. I’d noticed them this morning, sitting next to her dining room table, having failed to see them the night before.

“Take as long as you need,” I told her calmly. “Do what you have to do. Like I said, I’m not going anywhere.” I sounded far braver than I felt, but she didn’t need to know that.

“I promise—”

“Don’t,” I said, gently but firmly, silencing her. Something trembled deep inside me. “Don’t promise anything. Just do what you have to do, and then come home. I’ll be here.”

Her eyes searched mine for the longest time. “I love you,” she said finally, and I could see clearly that she did.

I smiled. “I know. And I love you.” I slid off the car hood then, and she made room for me. Before my feet even touched the ground, I was wrapping my arms around her in a fierce embrace, and she was returning it, and all I wanted was to hold onto her like that forever, never let her go. But forever is not something you can hold on to. I had to let her go.

I kissed her, almost brutally, my need for her desperate, threatening to overwhelm me. I then stepped to the side, out of her arms. I watched as she licked her lips and swallowed, and I tried to smile, but couldn’t quite.

“I probably won’t call—” she began to say; answering another question I’d refused to ask.

“Siobhan, please,” I broke in, and my voice shook slightly, my bravery beginning to fail me.

I saw her catch her breath, saw her throat work, and then she nodded and stepped back to the car door, digging in her pocket for her keys.

I retreated another step as she opened the door and slid her lean frame in behind the steering wheel, slammed the door shut, started the engine. Immediately, she hit the button that brought the window down. And I took the three steps that brought me to her, leaned in, and we kissed one final time, deeply and thoroughly. When I stepped back, I was shaken, almost unnerved; she seemed to be in no better shape. But she gave me a solid smile, tipped me a wink, threw the car into reverse and backed out of her parking stall. In another second, she was pulling away, the morning sunlight reflecting off the rear windshield in a brilliant, momentarily blinding glare.

I stood alone in the parking lot, arms tightly folded across my chest, and watched her drive away, watched her car grow smaller, until she finally turned a corner; the sun winked off glass again, as if she were a tiny, distant jewel. And then she was gone from sight, and I suddenly felt lonely and a little lost. I took a deep breath, blinked in the direction she’d gone, then turned and headed slowly for my own car, and home.

* * *

I received several calls over the next few days, and none of them were from her. I wasn’t surprised, but I was mildly disappointed. Even though she’d said she probably wouldn’t call, and as a result I shouldn’t have expected her to, still, a part of me hoped that she might. She’d left me the name and number of her cousin in San Francisco; the slip of paper sat by my phone, untouched, untried. I had not called it, thought it would be terribly pretentious and unseemly if I did. So I let it lie. But, oh, how I missed her and longed to hear her voice.

On the seventh day following her departure, I was in my living room, gathering together papers I would need for a meeting I was to chair in a couple of hours. It was almost 12:30; I had another hour to get my shit together and get out the door. When the phone rang, I felt an immediate irritation, annoyed at the interruption, and I grabbed the handset up impatiently, answering abruptly.

The voice on the other end was male, asking to speak to me by my full name, sounding calm and professional and official. As soon as I heard his voice, as soon as he spoke, I belatedly recalled the phone had rung in the way it did to signal a long-distance call. I felt myself go very still, felt a thread of disquiet wend its way through my centre. I identified myself and he did the same: Lieutenant William Jackson, with the California State Highway Patrol. I’d barely registered that before he said he was calling in regard to a Ms. Siobhan McAllister, that my name and number was on the card found in her wallet.

The thread of disquiet became a thick, coarse rope of vague, undefined fear that wrapped sickeningly around my guts. Refusing to make any sort of connection, I asked, rather stupidly, “Card? What card?”

“The Emergency Contact card that she carried in her wallet,” he supplied helpfully. “Yours was the only name on it.”

I blinked at that, not entirely sure what to do with the information, what to think or say. The words hung between us for a couple of moments. Before I could think of anything else, he asked, “How are you related to Ms. McAllister?”

“How—?” I blinked again, nonplussed. The question was unexpected and suddenly every muscle, every ligament in my body tensed. I clenched the handset almost painfully.

“Are you family?” he inquired gently.

“No, I’m—I mean, um she…has no immediate family. I’m—I mean, she’s—well, we’re—” I had no idea how to say what I wanted to say, and was stumbling badly.

“Are you partners?’ he then asked, sounding illuminated. “In a relationship?”

Immediately, I said, “Yes.” Weren’t we? “Please, what is this about?” But at that moment I knew, with every ounce of awareness that I possessed in my soul, that something terrible had happened.

“Obviously, your name is on this card because you are the one she wanted contacted in case of an emergency,” he said, enunciating each word with professional precision. Yet there was a care and concern to his tone and attitude that caused a deep-seated, stronger fear to well up within me. “And that’s why I’m calling.”

I listened mutely then, with growing horror and despair and disbelief, as he told me what I didn’t want to hear: that there had been an accident early that morning, something to do with a fog bank on a coastal highway, a seven car pile-up, tire marks that indicated she’d swerved to avoid the pile-up, only to seemingly veer out of control and careen off the highway and down a steep embankment. Her car had rolled four times; she’d sustained terrible injuries.

“I’m sorry, deeply sorry, to tell you,” he said, with grave and profound sentiment, “that Ms. McAllister failed to survive her injuries.”

I swallowed, opened my mouth then closed it. Every single sheet of paper I’d gathered up from the dining room table fell to the floor, as my arm dropped bonelessly to my side. In shock, I asked in a whispering, rasping voice that I didn’t recognize as my own, “You mean…she’s dead?” I swallowed convulsively, feeling nauseous. “Siobhan’s dead?’

“I’m sorry, terribly sorry,” he said.

My breath began to pant out of me, my eyes refused to come to rest on any one thing, darting around wildly as if I were hunting for a way out. He spoke quickly then, rapidly, saying someone would need to identify her body, arrange for transportation, make other, final arrangements. As his words sunk in, my entire body spasmed painfully. I loved Siobhan, loved her more than life itself, but oh dear God, I would not, absolutely would not fly to California to identify her body. That was something I simply could not do.

My wild and darting gaze alighted on the small scrap of paper next to the phone, with her cousin’s name and phone number. Willing myself to calm, to control, I gave him both, trying to steady my breathing so I sounded coherent, telling him to contact her, that she was there, closer, it made more sense. He agreed, repeated the information, and then, after expressing his sympathy and condolences once more, he was gone.

I was left holding a dead phone, numb and reeling; my joints felt as if someone had poured cement into them and it had hardened and I was left to stand there, immobile, immovable. The phone dropped from my limp fingers to the carpet at my feet. I barely noticed. I just stood and stared blindly forward, a statue in my living room. She was gone from me, lost to me forever, and I was unable to move or think, feeling nothing but a total and complete emptiness, and a terrible, all-consuming despair.

* * *

She was buried here four days later. I’d spoken with her cousin in San Francisco during the interim on two separate occasions, painful, difficult, heart-rending conversations that left me weak and shaking and despondent, yet also somewhat uplifted. She came across as a warm and compassionate woman, sensitive to my loss, a loss that was also hers. Siobhan spoke highly of you, she told me, and had obviously been very much in love with you. I was grateful for her kind words, that she took the time, made the sincere effort to relay them. But I was terribly unnerved at hearing Siobhan referred to in the past tense. I made an effort to apologize for being unable to perform the task that had fallen to her. She said she understood, that there was no need to apologize. She extended me the respect of participating in the funeral and burial arrangements. I thanked her. We agreed she would be buried next to her parents. I made the requisite phone calls. Eventually, it was all taken care of. I did what needed to be done, but I did it all in an impenetrable fog. I had never felt so out of touch with reality.

The service was beautiful. The church was packed. It was given to me to deliver the eulogy, by her cousin. Though I agreed to it, I was unsure of myself and my ability to do so in the manner I thought fit. No one, other than her cousin, had truly been privy to Siobhan’s and my relationship, though many may have guessed, incorrectly, due to our close friendship. But no one knew of that one night; I had told not a single soul and yet, who else to deliver the eulogy? When I was done, there was not a single dry eye in the place, save mine. I had done her proud, was proud to at least have been able to do that. I staunchly accepted the murmured heartfelt words of those who came to me afterwards. I felt like a fraud. They didn’t know, and I could not tell them, though a part of me ached desperately to do so. But without Siobhan present to verify, to do so felt tantamount to a lie. I kept my thoughts and my feelings to myself.

Following the burial, during which I sat dry-eyed and resolute, it was my intention to come straight home. My shock and apathy, my complete withdrawal, had drawn some stares, some whispered comments, but no one had inquired, no one pressed. Her cousin seemed to understand my current state; she wisely left me alone, with a promise to call. Brian accosted me, said a group of them were going to the bar to drink a toast in her memory. I was in poor spirits, even poorer form. I churlishly muttered, “Have a good time.” He told me I was going about it all wrong, that I should be celebrating her life, not lamenting her death. Of course he was right, but I was beyond reach at that point. “What the fuck do you know about it?” I snarled, and stalked off to my car. I was being unfair and cruel, and I knew it, but he didn’t know why, and I simply could not tell him.

When I got to my apartment, I saw there was a small, flat package propped against my door. I crouched to pick it up, and it was only as I rose to a standing position that I recognized the handwriting on the address label. It was Siobhan’s. My heart dropped to my stomach like a lead ball and I suddenly felt faint. I leaned with one hand against the door frame, my breath all at once a priceless commodity, hard to come by. My vision swam.

I gripped the package tightly in one hand, while I struggled to shove the key into the keyhole with the other. Eventually, I gained entrance to my apartment. Leaning heavily back against the door, I stared almost blindly at the familiar handwriting on the small box wrapped in brown paper. There was my name and, beneath that, my address. In Siobhan’s neat handwriting.

I stared at it a little longer before finally pushing off the door and heading on unsteady legs to the living room sofa. I sank down onto it, dropping my keys onto the coffee table, holding the package before me like some kind of talisman, my hands shaking. It was about six inches by four, so small. I continued to hold it for several minutes, not thinking anything, before I finally decided I should open it.

Before I did, though, I glanced at the post date. It had been posted four days ago. The day she died. Her cousin’s words came back to me then, filling my mind: She’d been on her way home the day of the accident; she couldn’t wait to get back to you. Something lurched inside me, huge and hard, at that realization, and I felt almost ill with it. I panted, trying to steady myself, and finally reached for my key chain. The tape on the small package was excessive and I thought to use one of my keys to pierce it.

Eventually I did, and I folded back the lid of the little box to find a small piece of stationary laid out on top. For a handful of moments I just looked at it, and then, with the trembling fingers of my right hand, I reached for it. It was a single sheet of parchment-like stationary, folded in half. Gently, I held it in two hands, just the tips of my fingers grasping it; then, swallowing, I unfolded it. As I did, the breath that had been panting in and out of my open mouth ceased; I cut it off with the smoothness of a guillotine.

Her handwriting spread before me in the letter she had written, dated the day before her death:

Dearest Rowan,

I saw this little trinket in a jewelry store and I thought of
you and thought you should have it. The shopkeeper was
Irish and I told him you are and we both thought you
would appreciate it. As you can see, the design is Celtic
knot work, and this particular design has no beginning
and no end. It signifies infinity, never-ending, forever. I
thought that, all things considered, it was fitting.

I’ll be home hopefully by the time you receive this, if not
the day of. Wear it for me, okay?

I love you, Rowan Lee Larkin. I do. Never forget that.

See you soon.

Love always, and in all ways,

Siobhan

My pent-up breath rasped out of me painfully. I stared at her words, written in her own hand, in black ink, and somehow I kept the tears at bay. I placed the letter to one side, but close at hand, and reached for the thin layer of cotton that covered whatever was in the box. And when I lifted it, to expose what lay pinned beneath, I couldn’t hold back the startled “Oh!” that escaped me. I inhaled sharply, then reached to remove the pins that held the delicate, filigreed gold chain and its attached pendant in place. The pendant was in the shape of a heart; wrought within that heart, along the inner periphery of the design and looped throughout its centre, was a fine tracing of gold Celtic knot work, with no beginning and no end. It was indescribably beautiful.

Forever.

I’d never believed in it. Had she? I stared down at the pendant, the words she had written running through my mind, and guessed that maybe she had. I raised my head and gazed unseeingly straight ahead, and suddenly the room prismed and fractured. I hadn’t cried once, not when given the terrible news, not after, not even at the funeral. I had tried to hold myself together, and somehow I had managed. But now that I had started, it seemed I would not be able to stop. I clutched the pendant to my chest desperately in both hands, all that I had left of her, this beautiful, delicate, fragile thing, and I sobbed and wailed piteously, bent over, wracked with grief, with pain. My entire world collapsed, shrank down into a hard, impenetrable globe of agony and sorrow and despair.

I cried and I cried and I cried.

THE END

© REBECCA SWARTZ


Author Profile:

Rebecca Swartz is a 46 year old writer living in Winnipeg, Canada.

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8 Responses to “Forever”

  1. Rain Says:
    May 14th, 2009 at 2:09 am

    Wow…is all I can utter right now. This piece of art was amazingly moving. I feel privliged to have read your words. Thank you for sharing this with me.

  2. Tracey Says:
    May 14th, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    GOOD STORY!!!!!! I loved it. Please write more.

  3. Jules Says:
    May 16th, 2009 at 9:20 am

    This is the second time I’ve read it and it still gave me goosebumps! You are an amazing writer!

  4. kea Says:
    June 9th, 2009 at 2:23 am

    thank you for that story ! Amazing :)

  5. Renee' Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    I loved the story. I was not looking for what happen to Sobhan. It was so sad. Please write a sequel so Rowan can find love again.

  6. Brittany Says:
    December 6th, 2009 at 11:00 am

    I love the story. Can not wait to read your book.

  7. Devra (Irresistible_Me) Says:
    March 13th, 2010 at 7:03 am

    Bexx! You stinker, you! Grr; it took me FOREVER to read the end of this; Foxfire wanted to be a pain and just go BLANK right when Siobhan was driving away. I had to come to IE, lol.

    Anyways, now I’m sitting here, all teary-eyed and sniffling.

    This was FANTASTIC!

  8. Colette Says:
    March 19th, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    This was a wonderful read. I thought it was written with great economy and spare grace,. In the story of one night you crystalised friendship and love, the dissipation of coolness, the awakening of the heat of love. I enjoyed it very much and hope to read more of your stories.

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