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The Sound of Sutures

 
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The Dark Man
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 06, 2017 5:44 pm    Post subject: The Sound of Sutures Reply with quote

((Rped live with Jezebel Calient. Thank you for the play. ))

When they left the inn together, the path didn't seem damp or foreboding. Old leaves unturned as they walked like pages of a book, telling a story with each stride. He thought as he saw them that he used to pause more often, appreciate them with more heart, than he did now. Now he wanted to smile politely and move on more quickly before they could stick to the bottoms of his shoes and linger longer than he wanted.

His stride didn't hurry, it just hoped that leaves wouldn't lick and stay to the underside of his soles. Both hands rested in his jacket pockets and his eyes came to her face, "It's nice, walking with someone." He did not add, also, how awful it was. How old heels clicked hollow in the back of his mind, echoing a sound that hurt more than he thought it would, more than he said or his face portrayed. He kept the facade of a man deep in thought.

Her fingers, resting lightly in the crook of his elbow since he'd offered his arm, gave a gentle impression of warmth to counterbalance the cool fresh-washed night. The rain had passed by the time they stepped outside, the sky heavy with thick, lumbering clouds that thronged the moon, suffocating its light.

Up close, Jezebel was smoldering coals; all sustained heat but no threatening lick of flames. Incandescent in the evening air, her hair rippled softly in the breeze, giving off a faint scent of cinnamon and honey, of fire and smoke.

The leaves underfoot seemed to whisper secrets, their soft rustling made a soothing rhythm for their thoughts. For a time, the Shadow kept his own council and so did she, content to walk with him a ways, to enjoy the company of another without the requirement of conversation. When Tag did speak, she lifted her gaze to his face, capturing his features in their golden flame "It is," she agreed, her voice a soft hum deliberately kept low. The sadness that wreathed him was tangible, a leaded cloak he wore that seemed almost to drag at his shoulders. For a moment, she studied his profile, but then her gaze moved away, over the path they were travelling.

Thick golden lashes lowering in a subtle flutter, the woman inhaled. "Mm," she breathed on the exhale. "I love the way the earth smells just after it rains. Fresh, and rich, and full of potential, don't you think? It makes me feel like almost anything is possible."

"The world seems better after it's rained." He wasn't looking at her but at the path ahead, marked with the disturbance of other people who had come and gone. Their paths looked like veins, riddled over the arm of the woods.

The weight of her gaze was known but he didn't make an outward show of it. They hadn't spent much time together and it was likely she took discrete, if not somewhat discrete, measurements of him and what he was like. Somewhere in the distance he was like her, he foreshadowed fire and soot.

The rain. It's like being in love. The subject was steered gently away, "Are you always in town?" Sometimes unturned rocks sounded like coins plunking on the damp ground.

"Cleaner," agreed Jezebel, "and newer, somehow. It washes away all the dust of age, but also causes patina." A warm smile crested the full swell of her lower lip. "So maybe not always better, but certainly different."

The woman never made any secret of the way she studied people, watching them with an evident interest like the flicker of a candle flame. Her study was not lascivious or rude, only openly curious, the way the inhabitants of a remote island might stare at shipwrecked sailors. The weight of her attention was not intended as a burden.

As they walked, Jezebel thought she could feel his pulse in the muscle of his forearm, its rhythm steady and unfailing underneath her fingers. She smiled for reasons she didn't explain, though she did answer his question. "Not always. I am not from here, either--" she glanced up at him there, a quick acknowledgment of a commonality between them, "--but my most recent home is...difficult to access these days, so I am here more often than not."

His pause held onto the air as long as it could before it dropped into his words, "It's difficult when your home isn't easy to access." To their discussion of the rain making the world better, or just different, he worked the idea over. Perhaps different was the word for it, yet he still found he had a preference. There was still so much he was hoping would wash away.

"Is the purgatory a good one?" What he meant to ask her was if being stuck in one world, instead of the other, suited her. At that moment he examined her face, catching her comely details, feeling as though they were too numerous and pre-arranged. The polish of her red hair was too perfect. Her lips had a wanton pout even when she didn't intend it. He suspected she had heard that before so he didn't spend the air to say it.

Tag chewed on his thoughts the way some men chewed their bread, taking his time to taste and digest them. His face reminded her of the mirrored black surface of a deep body of water, perfectly calm and unmoving but for the smallest hints at a ripple. That ripple was fleeting and easily missed, but it was the only clue he gave to the powerful currents swirling underneath.

It was the ripple that made her want to dive deep and discover, but she held herself back, just barely disturbing that fierce surface tension with the slightest, glancing kiss of her fingertips.

"It is strange to feel displaced. To feel the powerful call back to something you cannot reach for reasons that are beyond your control." Those full lips pursed, her campfire eyes narrowing in thought. If he felt she seemed too perfect, too well constructed, too preconceived, he wasn't far off the mark. Jezebel had not always looked as she did now, though the girl she'd once been was so far gone that the woman could no longer call up the details.

"I like the in between spaces," she decided. "Twilight and dawn. The moments just before -- and after -- a raging storm." It was hard to say whether she really meant the weather.

There was always the sense that he expected to be overlooked, that her eyes were meant to see beyond him to a painting that was hanging on the wall. After so many years of being told he should be invisible, it remained difficult to feel he was otherwise. It had taken him long, too long, to credit himself with importance. Reconciling what was lost, and what was present, was often something he pondered after too much brandy on a rainy night.

How else could he make sense of a situation that didn't? Of a wind that tumbled with a heart and the reality that the love of his life willingly took to another man's bed? There was an infant screaming in the background. There were coins and rain, coffee and tea, and some part of him that could not forget the way she bookmarked the wind.

These days he opted not to daydream about it. The memories gave him a temporary joy that was followed, quickly, by what must have been the feeling of being stabbed. There was no one to share that with, no one who would understand. Half the time, Penny blamed him for the world being upside down and he allowed it. It was easier for her to be mad at him, and some part of him continued to want to protect what Madison was, though the instinct to do so made him more and more a fool. There was no 'winning' in the situation, no path he could take that didn't lead over coals or knives or pain. There was only an empty wind blowing through his core.

"The inbetween spaces," he repeated the words softly and then nodded, vaguely wishing she hadn't said anything of the sort. He wasn't wanting to find poetry, but it crept up anyway. He swallowed, "I find I am often in those places." Not East or West. Not Husband or Single. Not Father or Failure.

"That is one of the reasons I call you Shadow," she agreed, and as she glanced up at him again, a sad smile adorned her sun-kissed face. "And I can see I'm not the first."

Jezebel lifted her free hand, using supple fingers to rake heavy silky tresses back from her cheek, down over her shoulder where they tumbled down her back like an effusive lava flow. Melancholy seemed to mantle his shoulders, the air thick with a weight that felt like sorrow between them.

"You remind me of someone I used to know," she went on as their path came to a divergence and she gently guided them down the left fork. "He was quiet, like you. Ever watchful, like you. A guardian of seemingly all, even when he was supposed to be off duty." She lifted her gaze to his face again, gauging what minuscule reaction there might be. "He, like us, was in desperate need of friends, but he can't, wouldn't let himself, be that open. What about you, Tag. Can you still make friends?"
_________________
One day you will ask me which is more important?
My life or yours? I will say mine
and you will walk away not knowing
that you are my life. (Khalil Gibran)


Last edited by Tag Sentry on Thu Apr 12, 2018 7:09 pm; edited 1 time in total
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The Dark Man
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 06, 2017 5:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"What can the acorn tell a tree but that it was painful being born? The tree talks about the pain of birth and seeing everything else move on." He wasn't meaning to be clever, or full of riddles. Sometimes his English knew limits and a metaphor helped with that. It painted the emotion better than a plea could.

"I must see the world move on and it's a unique pain. I did not think I would feel it alone." The evening air went through his bones and down his arm. She could feel the muscle tense and then relax, "But it is a fool that depends too much on another, that believes in them too implicitly." The dark man believed that even the moon could die. What had been taken to be so profound, so meaningful and permanent, had only been a season.

Wasn't he a season? Drifting, a momentary pause given by a stranger? Penny anchored him in place, in time, and soon, so would Ame. From where they tied him into place he would dangle chains from one arm and turn it into a swing. In short, there was no understanding of what would happen next, only that he believed it would be beautiful.

The Sentry and the Harlot had more in common than either of them could yet appreciate. Each had been uprooted from one life into another, only to find what had felt permanent about that second life ripped away in an instant. Each stood in the in-between space, creeping along the path to a third iteration, seeking a new sense of self. Jezebel listened to him speak, felt the tension in his arm only to have it melt away a moment later, almost on command.

Thoughtful, Jezebel's fingers pressed lightly into his bicep in response, the barest beginning of a squeeze that also melted away a moment later. "The world moves on, yes," she said at last, "but in time a new one replaces it. Feeling it alone is not the same as...feeling it without the person you perhaps expected to be able to believe in so... implicitly." She mirrored his words, not in mockery but because it was the language he'd chosen to express the ache she suspected was tied tangibly to that indented void on his left ring finger.

Her smile was like turning the heat up on a space heater, spreading additional warmth into the cool night air, the lonely space between them. "For instance, I am not the company you once expected on a night like this, but... you are not entirely alone."

The Dark Man had been known for his enigmatic smiles and the way he could appreciate a person for just being who they were. There wasn't judgment or expectation, but something like a joyous laugh about him when the spirit of someone caught him unaware.

He hadn't been allowing himself to feel that lately.

Gently, the closed book inside him opened and he smiled, recognizing just how unexpected she was while at the same time being there, surprisingly squeezing his arm and offering the smallest taste of who she was. Jezebel had set her mind to digging, searching, and he was certain whatever she had found was not arresting.

In this sort of world, he would have only been exceptional if his marriage had lasted instead of failing. Now it was a statistic, like everyone else's, and they were just another broken family that all other broken pieces could relate to. They were the majority, another set of names amid the list of broken homes and he had not expected that. He had not dreamed that, had not known that such a nightmare could happen. Lately, he had been working to remember what the beauty of a broken family could be, because there had to be some. There must be something reassuring that he could tell Penny. That he, unlike her other parents, would not die or leave.

Promising not to die came with a sort of pain that was impossible to describe. In many ways, it felt like a lie. An unavoidable, inescapable lie. No, he said, I won't be going anywhere. Not to help a friend, not to soothe an old wound from another city. And if his body threw a blood clot that sent a stroke to his brain? Somehow he would battle it and death would always come to him on the terms which he and Penny had agreed upon the other night. Never. Forever and always.

Her well-timed smile caught some break in him, but his heart did not spread open. She could have wriggled her way open, past the parts of him riddled with rot and despair. Yet she hadn't. Wasn't that the sign that some selflessness still lived? The give in him showed in the bowing of his eyebrows, his expression patient and pained.

"It isn't."

Jezebel could sense the opening, that sliver of a crack where just a hint of light spilled through. Her smile spread by a few degrees. There was a lot that a woman like Jezebel could do with just that much room, but she didn't. There was the press of her fingers where she held his arm, a simple reminder that even trees occasionally brushed branches in the buffeting of the wind.

It wasn't that he wasn't desirable, that the deep hush of his thoughtfully measured voice didn't stir some carnal impulse. He was strong and yet soft, the steel of a glinting blade draped in a plush black velvet. She could have, would have, but still, she didn't.

While it might have been beautiful, it wasn't the problem that needed solving. And it did a disservice to the real source of the ache, the monumental feeling that welled up inside him, seeping here and there through these infinitesimal cracks. Jezebel just couldn't quite make herself play temporary band-aid. Not this time.

The path diverged again, and again her gentle guidance led them left. Further away from the city with its harsh noises and all its lights, deeper into the wilder spaces where she felt most like she could breathe. "It is nice to walk with you, Tag," she said softly. Not just someone, not seeing through him to an imaginary preference somewhere beyond. She said his name--the one he'd given -- because she wanted him to know that she meant him specifically.

"Thank you." Somewhere in his voice, he was telling her that he enjoyed the walk as well. At one of the paths which diverged he paused, turning to her partly and then looking back down towards the path, "Which way?"

There was only time that he needed. It would take away the sharp impression of his thoughts as new memories built themselves. No pain could be forever unless a person was devoted to martyrdom. He'd survived hurt before, he had known wounds and the slow way a scar formed. Soon it would be like the mark of the coyote on his arm. Old blood and scabs would peel off for pinkish pathways that would grow old and white, like the silk work of a spider.

When she said his name it stood out, mostly because he didn't know too many people so that outside of introductions, he didn't hear his name much. There had been one woman who called him Mamoru, but it had been a long time since he'd seen her. She came and went and he had walked her home a few times, just as he was walking Jezebel home.

The walk home was a good one. He appreciated the sense of closeness that didn't become invasive. The path waited, leaning towards the salt of the docksides as he looked at her.

A tip of her head indicated the left-hand path. Left and left and left again, that's where Jezebel tended to gravitate, towards the water that looked nothing at all like the deep, impossibly blues of her faraway Pacific home, but still carried that comforting, familiar scent of salt and wind and sea.

The tall ships that came and went, too, put her in mind of ocean-weary sailors, their legs unaccustomed to anything but the rolling pitch of the ever moving sea gone brittle and awkward like a newborn baby deer. Watching them relearn how to walk, watching their eyes widen as they began to understand that some of the figures who watched from behind a stand of palm trees were women.

A ways from the docks but still close enough to hear their creaking boards when the tide rolled in, Jezebel eventually led them to the side entrance of a low standing apartment building. It had three floors and hers was the third one, its balconies open to the ocean. This side door made exclusive access, bypassing the lobby and the smaller apartments on the first and second floors altogether. There was a light on up there, spilling out of an open window along with the faint strains of a foreign melody.

"Here we are," she said at last, breaking what had been a comfortable silence. A smile lifted her cheeks as she looked up at him, a certain knowing sparkle in eyes like firelight. "Another time, I'll invite you in, for the view."

His attention swung up to the light at the top of the building, glowing like emergency lights do when they are trying to show you the way out from the dark. The sun would always rise, lights would keep being lit, throwing shadows and new illumination onto a world that had seemed well known and now needed to be relearned. Strips of shadows splayed out from the railways, crisscrossing with other fixtures until they seemed like sporadic yellow leaves scattered on the ground around them.

The gentle wrap of her hand left an impression on his arm, subtle enough that it wasn't like the heat from a fire but from a sunbeam. He looked down to see her long, slender fingers and realized that he didn't recognize all the little marks about them. He didn't know the stories of how they came to be hers and of everything they had touched. They had combed through bodies, hearts and countless briny winds that brushed down the side of her apartment building like the essence of the tide rolling forward and then pulling back.

"Another time." His free hand moved across his body, landing atop of hers before his weight shifted and he receded from her one step, "Take care." That's what people said when they were saying goodbye. Take care (of yourself). Take care (of life). Take care (because I want you to be well). Take care (because I care).
_________________
One day you will ask me which is more important?
My life or yours? I will say mine
and you will walk away not knowing
that you are my life. (Khalil Gibran)


Last edited by Tag Sentry on Thu Apr 12, 2018 7:14 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Jezebel Calient
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2017 11:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

((leaving the Red Dragon in the wake of a small altercation))

In the inn, they had been their own little island of refuge, an oasis of calm upon which the crashing waves of outside conversation broke continuously. Jezebel had been content to enjoy the rhythm of it, to be a nexus of warm silence in the center of a gathering storm, up to the moment that the first fist connected with a solid bone on bone crack.

The sentry's whole posture had changed. Always alert, he'd previously at least given the impression of ease, but no longer. Every line of his dark clad body sang of rigid attention, his oil slick eyes flashing as he uttered the word Now.

There was simply no way she could have refused him.

The side door swung open and they stepped through. First it was fire, then shadow, the commotion of the evening left behind. Small battles at the bar and flirtation, discussion, and cherry blossom tattoos were left in their wake. Once the door shut behind them the world changed, becoming quiet, giving them the sense of privacy even though they had stepped outside.

The acid of the orange juice stayed in his mouth, bitter with still the elbow of vodka in it. He looked over his shoulder as if to be certain that no one else had tailed onto their departure. The Dark Man's eyes dropped to the warmth he felt at the crook of his elbow, where her hand hung gently to his arm.

The night rolled over them like a wet blanket, the evening air thick with the steamy promise of an approaching summer. Her fingers found their place in the bend of his elbow once more, gold on darker gold. The velvet pad of her thumb came to rest just above the back side of the joint, her index finger along the corded swell of his bicep, her middle digit nestled comfortably into the center crease. Her touch was warm, warmer even than the ambient outside temperature. Up close, she was cinnamon and honey, sunshine and inviting fire, with just a hint of something darker, something like brimstone and ash.

Jezebel breathed deeply of the humid night, taking it deep into her lungs like she could keep it there, preserved inside her. Exhaling slowly, she tipped her face to look up at her escort, his presence as inevitable and unyielding as the shadow he so resembled. A smile spread like sunlight over her features, infusing her golden eyes with a soothing warmth. "I like it better out here, I think."

Perhaps it was because of his consistency, because of his calm, that he had the air of a creature that would always be present. Kin to statues and faceless guards, parts of him were scattered into all of them, leaving the sensation that he was known to those who had seen him only for the first time.

Jezebel did it as well, in a different way. She was immortal the way fire was, the way a flame was always hot and could give a man sustenance or turn his home to ash. There was nothing about her directly threatening, nothing that ached to do him or anyone harm. She had a different promise to her, a different heat to her fire that left men and women alike sweating.

"Soon, it will be too warm to enjoy it." He was walking down the path he knew to take her. Their steps were oriented towards the dock.

There was something ageless in him, something out of step with time. The world spun on its dizzy, frantic axis and still he was there, as unrelenting, perhaps as unyielding, as granite, as immovable as stone. And yet at the same time, he was ephemeral, a wisp of smoke, the moving shadows on the surface of a lake -- beautiful, perhaps, to look at, but impossible to hold, to contain, to catch.

Jezebel made no effort to catch him, she had no waiting mason jar to fill up with his fireflies. She was the night air, smoothing over the hard lines of his rigid posture, a teasing lick of contact filled with promise. Even the way her hand curled into his arm was meant to admire, not possess --her touch was open ended, his to maintain, or break.

"I must confess," she said with a musical hum of laughter and a seemingly incredulous little shake of her head. "If there is such a thing as too warm to enjoy it, I haven't yet found it."

"They called them black flag days," he was talking about military drills. He was talking about one hundred degrees and sweltering. He was talking about moments that had passed in Summer monsoons that would simply not relent. There were days that even the most hardy thought they would expire. A black flag was pinned to poles and warned the soldiers not to try their drills.

Looking at her too-perfect face, he wondered if a black flag day could ever apply. He wondered, briefly, what moved beneath her skin and what it might feel like to be something other than what he was. If it would give freedom or maybe just the sort of perspective that had always followed his dreams. He realized, moments later, that the piece he had spoken had no context.

"They are the days that are too hot." But her laughter felt warm and though he did not laugh with her, he smiled, briefly, because he missed what it felt like to have that sort of fire-starting chuckle roll through his chest.

Tag spoke of black flags, and without context it conjured a very different image to mind. She did not interrupt or inquire further, did not disturb his perusal of her face in profile. Content to let him look and also to let him keep his thoughts on what he found there to himself, she tipped her gaze up to him only at the last moment, meeting black with gold and the warm edge of a smile that said she was pleased he felt like looking.

The explanation came, and Jezebel gave that same soft, richly musical laugh. "Ah, see. Where I am from - originally - we also have black flags, but they are to warn you only when to stay out of the water." It had to do with riptides and dangerous currents, but also the rise in water temperature that came when the volcano's undersea vents released, temperatures that could boil a person alive without warning.

She thought about the way he had not denied a military background, and it was she who admired his profile in the half light of the moon as they traced the path to the left once more, towards the salt stained gusts of the moon-tossed sea. Picturing him, perhaps, in the same sorts of uniforms worn by the men who had visited their island most often, she guessed at what strange and foreign horrors he might have seen. Without explanation, her fingers pressed more firmly, fleetingly, into the muscle of his arm, and relaxed again.

"Away from the water?" he was intrigued, it showed in the way his gaze darkened as if to take away the light of himself so he could focus on what she said. He had been no sailor, nor had he been entrenched in swimming as a pastime. He tried to untangle what would have been so frightening in the water. There was marine life and there could be enormous tides.

"You must have many that would walk you home," he said it in the wake of her hand, his attention moving ahead to chart their future steps. Black flag. A warning for heat, a warning for water. A warning for some intangible monster that moved in the physics of the world, threatening to rip a man from his shell.

His question, unspoken, stayed in between them.

"I come from a very small island in the middle of a very large ocean," she explained at his prompting, and it was the first time she'd spoken of herself in any real detail for nearly as long as she could remember. The heat of her gaze slipped away, off to the left, where the line of buildings stopped abruptly at the shore. You could not yet see the shipyards, but in her mind she painted the portrait of her long lost home.

"When your home is so small, you are powerless against the sea, and at the same time you need it to survive. Fish and crabs and practically everything else we ate came from the water. You bathe in the water. Wash your clothes in the water. But the ocean, it's all one thing, isn't it? A blanket that covers the entire world with little bits of land peeking out here and there. You can find yourself drowned by a storm you can't even hear. A mountain crumbles thousands of miles away and by the time the tidal wave reaches you, it's taller than the tallest trees. Just because the surface looks calm does not mean that there aren't great surges at war underneath, where you cannot see."

She glanced at him then from the corner of her eyes, and her smile had the conspiratorial note of a shared secret. It suggested that perhaps her Shadow had more in common with the sea than he let on, and also that she would never expose him.

"The island was formed by a volcano, though. Is, actually, a volcano. So there is the constant threat from the angry mountain itself, spewing smoke and ash that sometimes chokes the sky and blocks out the sun for days, and at the same time we rely on its heat for warmth, the fertile black soil it creates to grow fruits for food and trees for shade. And sometimes, when the mountain is especially angry, it heats up the sea. To go into it on a black flag day is to be cooked, like soup."

Their different symbols then, were the same after all. A warning for heat. Jezebel smiled inwardly, noting without commenting that Tag himself was dressed all in black.

The question he did not ask hung between them, held up by the shared silence that, while thick, was not uncomfortable or stifling. She'd pressed his arm because she did not like to picture him as a soldier, at war, engaged in combat. Her tacit wish to keep him safe from harm. In time, she shook her head, her smile light. "Who would? Most likely. Who are given the opportunity? Just the one, so far."
_________________
T-t-t-twistin' like a flame in a slow dance, baby
You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2017 11:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

His attention was wrapped in the slip of the ocean front exposed to them during their walk. It was as if it was a visual for him as she described where she had come from. In some ways, he understood it. His country hadn't been large, and much of the food depended upon water. Rice needed it, nearly knee-deep, and fish were raked in for the market.

Somewhere, along the line of their discussion, his other hand had slipped between his ribs to rest over where her fingers crossed his arm. The reciprocal squeeze was gentle, disappearing like a heartbeat away from the moment. Jezebel had the sort of heat any man could be consumed in if he considered it for too long. Even Tag was aware of the draw, of how his gaze took a few seconds longer than normal on her features when they talked. She was presented like a short-sighted answer he wasn't yet ready for.

He was still in the empty cavern of what had happened, hearing the echoes of what had been. A man had to stay there long enough that he didn't forget to contemplate the dark. A man could only be there so long before he lost his sanity.

She was a heartbeat, an opportunity, a promise. She could even be an answer, for an afternoon or an hour, but only for the right set of questions. Those questions had not yet been asked. Jezebel smiled, her fine spun golden lashes fluttering as she washed away the memory of a humid ocean breeze. It was nice, surprisingly, to speak of home. It didn't hurt the way it once had, and the intensely quiet interest he'd shown in something so small made a long jagged edge somewhere inside her go soft.

The gentle press of his hand on hers was an unspoken promise, too, and she answered it with the faintest flare of her fingers.

They were there, their line of sight uninterrupted to the stairs which would lead up to her door. There was still enough ambient light that it did not seem like a beacon in a hopeless storm. Upon seeing it, he spoke to her like someone who was trying to unwrap a present without disturbing the paper that encased it. His fingertips gently peeled back the tape, unfolded the paper, and attempted to slide the object out so that the wrapping would remain as undisturbed as a shell.

"One day I will ask something of you," his steps drew to a stop at the base of the stairs. He turned partly to face her, not scurrying away his posture or gaze from her at the point where he had to ask. His lips stayed, broken open just partly before he continued, "And I do not know if it will bring me happiness or sorrow."

The walk was too short, their destination arriving all too quickly. As the final gentle slope of the road following the coast gave way and the small apartment complex came into view, Jezebel found herself wishing their steps would slow, that time would ease, that what little distance remained would take all night to traverse. Too soon, the street was crossed, the side door opened, the staircase revealed. Too soon, she found herself facing him, no longer tucked in close against his side.

He spoke, and Jezebel watched him, a curious flicker in her eyes like a candle's flame teased by a gentle breath of wind. Her gaze was fastened to that dark strip of space between his lips in the moments between the announcement and its follow up, catching there like silky fabric on a nail, before she deliberately lifted it to meet his eyes.

"Is it my answer to your question, or what the answer means that concerns you?" Her tone could not have been more gentle, her fingers still made a loose and careful bracelet of his arm. With the angle changed between them, it brought the inside of her forearm against the outside of his, skin to skin from elbow to wrist.

"What it will mean," because he did not believe that she had the answer. He believed it would come from himself, that she would be a tool to pry it out from his chest. Jezebel could not give him the answers that he wanted, but he felt she put a mirror up to him, one that brought in realizations if only he would allow them to sink in.

The Dark Man knew, by the give in her voice, that she was telling him to take care (because she cared). His smile broke the way the ground did when the sun had baked it and the surface finally relented, separating in a thin line that was infinitely deep. That was his smile for her, a small honest break in the world. He could feel her eyes, studying his mouth as if he was doing something more extraordinary than smiling.

Because his smile was extraordinary. It felt like a gift, a rare and precious jewel that had spilled almost unbidden into her outstretched hands, and she savored those seconds that it lingered. Little by little, the thick knots of sorrow and loss that held him down were being loosened, the tangled threads unraveled in painstaking degrees by supple, careful fingers.

She wondered, briefly, if she could free him. If he would let her.

"I will look forward to hearing this question, then," she promised him, a gust of wind off the incoming tide setting her hair to rippling around her shoulders. A loose tendril caught in its fiercest teeth lifted, tickling at his forearm where fresh pink scars were still healing. She tilted her head towards the stairs, and though she was certain she knew the answer, Jezebel offered the invitation. "The view from the roof is beautiful."

"Another time," his form bowed towards her as he withdrew a step. Somehow there was a pat to her Summer-echo hold on his arm, a physical reminder that he was slipping away from her. Whether there was freedom or not his gaze never told her. They were dark windows into a story beginning to regain light. Soon there would be candles and soon the details of what was inside would come forward.

Tonight, there had been black flags, momentary smiles, and the promise that one day there would be a question. She looked forward to hearing it. The wind swept that statement away, it brushed her locks of hair and told him that he needed to keep walking. That he needed to let the space between them grow until he stood on his own porch. From there, he would look into the distance and know that there she was standing by a beacon with a voice that was impossibly gentle.

It was the answer she'd expected, and when he withdrew, she let him. Her hold on him, never once demanding or possessive, broke immediately, leaving only the stains of summer heat in their wake. Jezebel caught the errant strands that danced in the wind, tossing them back behind one shoulder, helping him re-establish the distance he sought.

She lifted one sun-kissed shoulder in the moonlight, smiling at him in a way that said she'd known he would refuse and she wasn't angry. "It wasn't a limited time offer, Tag," she said lightly. "The right time will come." Leaning there in the doorway, Jezebel would watch him until he melted into the rest of the shadows. Before he disappeared into the night, though, she offered him a final blessing. "Be safe until we meet again."
_________________
T-t-t-twistin' like a flame in a slow dance, baby
You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 1:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Time passed, seasons changed. There had been dancing. There was lunch, once, in the Marketplace. They'd rung in the New Year together. And there had been more than a dozen walks, chance encounters that lead naturally into comfortable silences between conversations.

On this particular evening, there had been talk of weeds and wishes, of flowers and the fresh new born promises of Spring.

Always, the gentle press of her fingers along the inside of his arm.

***

The feeling of her hand on his arm keeps the world centered. He didn't show it, his gaze dropped to the ground to anchor himself as they passed through the threshold of the inn. He could feel the heat of her, the warm invitation of her hand on his arm and he wondered how much of that had been imagined. There were a thousand stories, but none were ending like this one.

"Where do you go, when you are not with me?" He asked it, and the question had the same beautiful simplicity of the question a child asks an adult. His eyes followed her face, her ready smile she had perfected into a painting. He stepped in the wake of her gait, turning the attention of his gaze to the blue black shuffling of color that made the horizon.

Her grip on the fabric of his shirt relaxed the moment he'd rejoined her, what had been a sudden clutch easing into a gentle hold once more. She used the other hand to pull curtains of fiery red over the opposite shoulder, taking care to free it so that it did not catch and tangle between them, binding the two of them that much closer together.

His question drew a thoughtful pause, the subtle hum of anticipation on her full lips as she considered an answer. "It depends," said Jezebel at last, searching the stars above as though the response she needed might be written among them. "Sometimes, I am with my son. Sometimes, I encounter people who have problems I can solve. Most times, though, I am alone."

"And when you are alone, those times?" He felt something suck and then draw just beneath his feet and realized it was a cool front, a gentle chill with the promise of a rain. The point of his toes was in the direction of her home and not his own. He was presumably escorting her home, and was following that path he knew for her as if on autopilot.

At some point, he wondered where the crickets had gone, or if they had huddled together beneath the leaves. The hot brush of her hand made him wonder if she would steam in the rain or be tempered by it. His eyes were forward, the path ahead a gentle twist. He liked the little road curve they were coming up to, the way the trees' roots spilled partly onto the walkway. It reminded him of everything that could be unexpected, and how the unexpected wasn't sudden.

"I like the ocean, because it reminds me of home. I like the earth, because even in the dead of winter, it's warm and rich and full of potential." Dropping her eyes from the sky, her gaze slid at an angle towards him, her smile finding ground there as it spread. "I like to be outside, near the earth, away from noise and technology and people." She curled her fingers into his bicep, one after the other pressing in lightly like a descending scale played on a piano.

"Which reminds me. You care for the earth as I do," it was a statement, not a question, harkening back to conversations they'd had before. "And I have a lot of free time. If you'll let me, I'd like to help you with your garden this coming spring."

"I used to," he corrected, "I am not a gardener anymore," he no longer thought of himself as a man who took care of things, waiting for the Western wind to come home. There was only the present, overgrown and vicious with crab grass and wild onions. There were no tomatoes anymore. There would be no carrots that could be upset.

"There are times I am hired to clear a field." It was something he liked, though it was strange. He watched the way a fire had been corralled into its arena, munching through the wild grass and leaving black threads in its wake. There were times, also, he found white bones in the field and wondered where they came from and how old they were. Perhaps they belonged to a mouse or a small coyote. Once, he saw an armadillo, and its shell looked like a bowl that had been brutally shattered into eraser-sized discs of white, spread into the field like plastic trash.

He deflected, "I will help you with yours."

Her laugh was rich and vibrant, never raucous. Her laughter was never cruel, it never ridiculed. It was a gentle sigh, an expression of true pleasure in the way it rolled off her tongue. It sounded like music, the harmonizing vibrato notes to an opera sung just offstage. "You know where I live. There is no earth there for a garden. Perhaps, we will build one together, then, one that is not yours or mine but ours." She smiled easily, encouraging. "Or perhaps at least you'll let me build my garden in your soil." Her eyes flashed like heat lightning, her smile dancing the enigmatic edge between flirtatious and kind.

"My gardens are rare," he offered, feeling her encouragement but not knowing exactly... How to understand it. If it was the warmth of her being, or an invitation. Was it an invitation he wanted? He didn't look at her.

The dark man kept walking. He missed the West. He missed the portrait of her despite how long it had been, but that was the tide of his soul. Tag was slow, deliberate, yet he wasn't feeling lost. There was something about Jezebel which calmed him and he wondered if he was being foolish. If he was still the same young man that loved all of the wild things which would never stay with him, which would never love him the way he loved them back. He was reminded of her fire by the brush of her fingertips on his bicep. One of her fingers slipped under the sleeve of his black shirt, touching against the skin the sun did not brand so harshly.

His eyes were on the moon, "But, if you want to make one," he imagined them on their knees, trying to convince a carrot strangled to near-death by weeds that there was hope. Don't be upset, little carrot, there is still hope. There is always hope.

Isn't there?


From the West to the far West, so far West that it was nearly East again. Jezebel spoke not of prairie skies and wide open spaces, she spoke of jungle dense forests and earth that steamed restlessly at all hours of the day and night, of rolling waves churned to boiling by the heat of magma that seeped just beneath the surface, of staggering volcanoes rimmed in their own atmosphere of ash-laden clouds. She spoke of far off, tropical escapes, remote and idyllic in their sheer distance, of exotic mysteries and tribes untouched by modernization.

"I do," the fluid melody of her voice prompted him as they followed the expected, unexpected bend in the road. "You can clear the field, and I can coax life from the soil once more."

The road hadn't changed, but it felt uniquely complicated. They passed the distinct bend in the road, they progressed onward and to that well lit spot that was illuminated by the light of her room at the top of the stairs. He felt that it had slipped up to him, unexpected, the tide of it biting at his ankles.

"I should go," it wasn't a fact when he said it. His words were soft and then they turned, became a separate statement, "Should I go?" Something already burned was about him. Something already of ash, of twilight and a thousand little promises. His arm carried the promise of a coyote, his skin was sprinkled with the prairie and somewhere, under all of it, was baby powder and crayons. The dark man was too old, too worn, to be anything but what he was.

"You can't yet," Jezebel laughed, and it was the warmth of a summer breeze in spring, promising the heat that would come with time. The press of her fingers on his arm was beseeching. "I have something for you, remember?" He'd promised that he was patient, after all. She tipped her head towards the door, but made no move to urge or force him. "Would you like to come inside, at least for a moment?"

Twin dark eyes surveyed the face of her home, as if for the first time.

"Yes." His attention dropped to her face and he waited for the door to open. The dark man was a statue, impossibly still, impossibly patient. His gaze followed the flame of her smile as she asked if he remembered. She had something for him but he'd not brought her anything. It was unexpected, but he didn't look shaken by the disparity.

He waited for the door to open. Gently.
_________________
T-t-t-twistin' like a flame in a slow dance, baby
You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...


Last edited by Jezebel Calient on Wed Feb 07, 2018 3:03 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 2:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The smile that spread over her mouth was pleasant surprise; she'd half expected him to say that he would wait outside. She studied his immobile form in profile, the way the light about the door cast its shadows over his face; a man that was made of two worlds. Light and shadow, East and West.

Jezebel drew a fingertip down the side of the number pad to the left of the door handle and then quickly but gently keyed in the four digit code. There was the sound of the lock releasing, a quiet metallic hiss of contentment, and she pulled it open, gaining access to the stairwell.

Her hand fell away from his arm at last as she ascended the stairs quietly ahead of him. Her steps were soft, barely seeming to make an impression on the pretty tile work. At the top was another door, another set of digits to press lovingly into the keypad, another hiss of climax as another lock gave way beneath her fingers.

She held the door open for him, admitting him into an elegant top floor apartment. The decoration was evocative of a Spanish hacienda; cool terracotta tile flooring, walls that weren't adobe but gave the appearance of it all the same. It opened into the living room, the far wall of which was floor to ceiling glass overlooking the ocean, sliding glass doors leading onto a gorgeous, inviting patio. The kitchen was to the left, all open floor plan and center islands that doubled as prep space and breakfast counter. To the right was a hallway that lead to the bedrooms, and in the center stood a couch of plush, buttery soft leather and a rug that looked soft enough to sleep in. Turning to face him as she slipped off her shoes, Jezebel smiled. "Would you care for something more to drink?"

"Please." He didn't specify, and he was trying not to feel uncomfortable. The place was new, it smelled of spices and a warm undercurrent of somewhere else. His eyes calculated all the items around them and he realized, in a startling way, that he had not come to observe her home or furniture. He swallowed the thought, like lead, sitting at the center of the couch as if he had arrived at an interview. The soldier who had survived wars was dwarfed by well-meaning furniture.

His weight shifted and he slipped his phone out of his jacket pocket. He needed a few minutes to navigate it, but the time was fine. He didn't need to leave, there were no text messages or voices recorded to tell him something was amiss. Somewhere there was a smoldering, eating up the edges of his skin and gnawing into the moment.

"Please, make yourself comfortable," she gestured the living room. There were other chairs available as well, but the couch was unquestionably the most comfortable. She slipped out of her coat, hung it on a rack by the door made of twisted driftwood, and turned for the kitchen in a soft swirl of her skirt.

This place was her private sanctuary. None but her son and his father had ever darkened its threshold, and the place wasn't staged for company accordingly. There were no showy photographs of exotic vacations, only two hung on the wall -- one of her son, and one of he and his father when he was just a baby. The man seemed uncomfortable, and at the same time, completely riveted by the bundle of life held gingerly in his arms.

Along another wall, there were built in shelves that held an impressive array of books of every description. Some old, some new, some dusty academic tomes and some clearly intended for small children. There was no rhyme nor reason to their organization.

On silent feet she padded into the kitchen. She poured him two drinks, one was just water, the second, a glass of pineapple infused rum from the remote regions of her native land. Both were poured over ice. She brought each of these to him - one in either hand - and set both on the adjacent table for him to choose between them. "I'll be right back," she promised, and then, looking back at him over her shoulder as she headed for the hallway, the redhead smiled, gesturing the patio with a jut of her chin. "If you'd be more comfortable out there, the tiles are heated." She offered, given his stiff and solitary posture there in the middle of the couch.

He took up the offer of the patio and the drinks. It was the pineapple one he carried, wandering along the little patio with the glass half hugged to his body. He was studying the books she had-- he was still learning English, but he knew enough to understand the titles. Sometimes he learned the world alongside Penny as a peer. Most of the time, he was her father.

He stepped up to the doorway to bend down, setting his glass down and unlacing his boots. When he stood back up the drink was in hand and he wandered, his socked feet making paths along the heated patio. The dark man felt newer than he had in a long moment. He was not the dad that Penny saw or the stoic sentry that hung over Ame at almost every hour. The dark man was, as unlikely as it may seem, just a man sipping a drink on a patio. He was relieved in the quiet of it, but he drank to dull the uncertainty of her reemerging. He wanted a cigarette but it seemed, somehow, rude against the beautiful backdrop. He couldn't bring himself to light one.

On the balcony there were pillars that were wide enough to sit on, overlooking the sea. The tall ships of the docks were clearly visible just to the left, pirate ships and small Asian sloops berthed cheek by jowl with large military vessels and crafts that had to have come from distant planets, perhaps the future. Jezebel liked the incongruity of it, the strange bustle of all different times and places overlapping one another on Rhydin's shores. On the far left corner was a staircase leading up to the roof.

Jezebel re-emerged just a few minutes later, carrying a gift bag made of canvas. It was the size and approximate shape of a reusable shopping bag, though it had been stuffed with tissue paper in different shades of blue and a wide gray ribbon secured the handles in a looping bow. Her amber gaze surveyed the living room and then found him outside, stepping out onto the balcony with her gift in tow.

She joined him at the railing overlooking the water, the twin moons hung heavy over the water, its ripples breaking the light into a thousand shivering tiny diamonds. "Beautiful out here, isn't it? This is the reason I chose this place." Standing close but not so close as to crowd him, the bag was offered into the space between. "This is for you. I traded with some newcomers because I thought--hoped-- it would make you smile."

He took a swallow of his drink and then set it upon the railing that was closest before he accepted the gift. He didn't know. Perhaps he would have brought something had he. Holding the bag he nodded, aligning his spine with one of the columns. His weight slouched against it as he worked past the tissue paper and towards the gift. The dark man looked like a statue, except his expression was not so severe. There was, somewhere about his lips, the indication of a smile.

"I did not know." He meant that as the reason that he had nothing to give her, in kind. His focus kept on the bag. It was the polite thing to do.

"You weren't supposed to," she said with a gentle laugh like music in the evening wind. "That's what makes it a surprise." Jezebel's gifts were never given in expectation of reciprocation. She didn't adhere to the particular high holy days of any specific religion, she didn't necessarily observe birthdays. She found things that reminded her of other people and she acquired them, giving them away in hopes of bringing smiles of joy or at least some laughter.

There were two items in the bag. The first was an antique silver cigarette case. Smooth and sleek, it was a small rectangle that opened on a hinge along one side of its top. It was pierced on both of the longest, widest sides with a Japanese kanji, and along the bottom was a worn stamp that said Silver 95 and K. Hattori. "It's from about a hundred and ten years ago, according to the appraiser I asked," she said softly.


(source)

The second item was larger, made of a smooth polished wood inlay in at least three contrasting colors. It was about ten inches tall, a small rectangular box on tiny wooden legs. Cut into two sections, the upper part was longer, comprised of light wood with dark inlay, and the shorter, bottom section was its mirror opposite, dark with light. On each face of the top part was a different beautiful nature scene; two flowers and a butterfly, a water way with a sailboat from an earlier time, two small huts etched into the base of a mountain with trees in the distance, another small dwelling on the mouth of a river. Each design opened at an angle, revealing a compartment with slots perfectly sized to hold five cigarettes. The bottom compartment opened like a puzzle box, only when pressure was applied at a certain joint, revealing drawers that were just big enough for a lighter, or matches.


(Source)

"It's beautiful. It is a lot to give." He examined each item carefully. He knew the weight of metal and the difference between manufactured and hand made. After several minutes he rewrapped them into the bag and set it on the ground, his arms crossing his chest as he leaned against the column, "Thank you."

He was there, for several moments, before his arms opened. It offered a place for her, and embrace of gratitude but, perhaps, it was always more than just gratitude. Jezebel was a sun and everyone, he knew, wished to embrace it.
_________________
T-t-t-twistin' like a flame in a slow dance, baby
You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 2:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"You're welcome," her response was warm, and it carried no expectation one way or the other. She only hoped that he sincerely enjoyed the gifts, that they brought him a smile. She watched as he pored over each item in detail, inspecting its make and craftsmanship. She had no way of knowing that these items came from several hundred years after his time in Japan, only that he seemed disposed to things that were older, things that required care and patience to craft.

Settled in a casual lean against the railing, she watched the way the moonlight haloed his dark hair, picking diamonds from among the rich dark strands as easily as it did the ocean beyond them, simply enjoying his proximity. The way he opened his arms was unexpected, and the smile it granted him was positively radiant accordingly.

In the same slow, careful steps one might use to approach a skittish stray, Jezebel moved into those arms, her fingers sliding slowly, carefully over his hips as if they might start dancing.

"Thank you," the gratitude was earnest, no different than what friends gave one another, but he found his lips pausing at the shore of her face. It was calm, it expected him and yet it didn't. He felt he could have done anything and she would have smiled in a quizzical way, examining the outcome of their mouths. Whether they had connected and shared stories and, if they had, what the criss cross patterning of their words really meant.

His weight shifted away from the column, away from the ocean and towards her bones. It seemed as if they would dance, except that he kissed her. One hand scooped the side of her face so that his fingertips touched the smoldering roots, the flames of her hair. He had meant to dance with her, he had thought that was exactly what he would do until the moment came where he didn't.

"You're welcome. I just wanted to make you--" the soft flow of her words was cut off by the sudden joining of their lips. The kiss was unexpected but wholly welcome, her body pressing subtly closer much of its own volition. His fingers in her hair felt like an itch long neglected at long last scratched, his mouth the deep well his calm demeanor had for so long promised. Still waters run deep, she thought not for the first time as she responded to his kiss, trying to balance the long-stoked embers of her desire for him with the understated reserve he required.

In the end she only partially managed it, her hands circling his waist and then moving gently up his back as her mouth met his over and over with an eagerness that was as earnest as it was hungry.

She responded in kind, so he didn't stop. His mouth tried to find all the moments hers held, his arms closing around her in a way that wasn't to keep her, but to ask her to stay. To tell her she was wanted even if she already knew it by the way his mouth met hers. He could feel her hands, moving like a recon unit, spying out places on his waist and back which were safe to linger.

He didn't expect drowning to feel pleasant. Their lips broke, allowing for an easier breath to panting between them. He offered, as a premature release, "I can go. The babysitter likes to be home early." Sometimes a woman needed an excuse so that they could say no. The way one arm was circled around her, and the closeness of his mouth well, he was hoping not to go.

Jezebel's smile was suffused with warmth as she gently shook her head. She made no attempt to disentangle herself from his embrace, the supple fingers of one hand lowering from his back only to rise again, dragging lightly up his chest to fold along the edge of his jaw, tracing its prominent ridge with the backs of her knuckles. Her touch held even more velvet care than she showed everything else she touched, that lovers' caress that was afforded to the people you cared for most.

"Actually," she said quietly, "I am hoping that maybe your babysitter doesn't mind working late."

"Like you, I am hoping," he admitted. His right hand stayed at her back while his left dug his phone out of his jacket pocket. Tag was, after all, a lefty. She would have to be patient with him, he still had difficulty working a cellphone. His thumb paused and then clicked, letter by letter, a message. The screen of his phone illuminated the side of her body, still drawn up close to his as he typed.

Message sent. They were waiting, suspending in a babysitter moment together.

"Don'tb," but that was all he could say, that was all the warning he had to give to her. Don't. Now, he was waiting for his phone to ring.

While they waited out the verdict, Jezebel enjoyed this new proximity between them. She laid her temple against the column of his neck, inhaling the shadow scent of him, nightfall and cigarettes, the faint traces of brandy and, fainter still, his baby son. Her long lashes fluttered, golden wings brushing his skin in the soft caresses of a butterfly's wings, one arm still wrapped around his waist and the other hand pressed flat against his chest, just over his heartbeat.

"Don't what?" She asked softly, lifting her head away from his collar just enough to look up at him. Her molten amber eyes caught the the moonlight, reflecting its rays like a sudden sunburst.

His eyes were on her, the ocean was somewhere behind them, splashing as it always did. It was the clock that never stopped, the measure by which all things came and went. It was the ocean. His fingertips spread, his hand pressed her against him, further, "Don't make any promises you won't keep." He said it for himself, not her.

Greater than a promise was a vow, one that scattered to the wind given a few weeks. Promises and love, infatuation and moments like this were temporary. Or could be. He had always thought of the world in terms of permanence until lately. Now he felt the ebb and release of a full moon and knew that a world could be shed to the dark side every evening like the moon. At that moment? It was them, and he still felt the impression of her lips on his and found himself wanting.

"I'll--" but his words were cut by the humm-buzz of his cellphone. Darkening the screen after he read it, he fit it into the back pocket of his pants. The sentence he meant to say had a new, regretful structure, "I have to go."

Jezebel nodded, disappointed but unsurprised. The call of children came first; she was only afforded these liberal hours because her son was spending time with his father. Tag had no such reprieve, whatever spontaneity he may have felt left to the mercy of other people's schedules.

Recklessly, she considered offering to go with him. The notion was cast aside as too forward, too aggressive, too much. Still, the desire was there, and it could be felt in the way she clung to him just a tiny bit tighter.

Releasing her grasp on his frame slowly, reluctantly, she nodded. "I understand. Can I have one more before you do?" The way one corner of her mouth curved up was playful, hopeful. He wasn't the only one who found themselves wanting.

((adapted from live play with Tag. Thank you!))
_________________
T-t-t-twistin' like a flame in a slow dance, baby
You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...


Last edited by Jezebel Calient on Mon Feb 05, 2018 2:55 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 2:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"One more?" He was uncertain at first but then, as it dawned on him, he smiled and nodded for her. His mouth swooped in gently to her earlobe, catching it carefully with his lips, his tongue giving brush of it before his mouth moved for hers. He paused, the gateway of his being considering what was ahead just long enough before he kissed her.

Last year, he would have never imagined this place, this fire, his tongue moved along volcanic rifts that still hinted towards ash. If it was a warning, he didn't heed it.

Their lips broke, "I have to go," he breathed.

A pleasing shiver snaked its way down her back, putting a subtle sway into her hips. "Mm," she practically purred as his mouth moved against her ear, his breath warm and intoxicating at her temple.

She kissed him as deeply as she dared, as deeply as he let her, his tongue finding no reluctance or reticence in the heated recesses of her velvet mouth. When he broke the second time, she let him, releasing him. "Goodnight then, Shadow," she said affectionately. "I will look forward to the next time we meet."

He wanted to say something, but couldn't. All he had for her was a smile, distant and patient. The dark man watched her smolder, one of his hands sweeping over his mouth in a reflection of what had happened. There hadn't been enough alcohol to excuse it, and though he did not regret drawing her in and kissing her, he could not pinpoint why he had done it. All he knew was that the had wanted to taste smoke, and that her mouth was full of fire.

"Goodnight." His hand squeezed her hip as he stepped away, steering his thoughts to the task of opening the door. To the task of walking. It was one foot, then the other.

"Tag," she called him back, softly. The woman made living flame had stepped back against the railing, giving him what safety of her distance she could afford. It was in the stepping back that her bare foot had brushed it, the bag with its treasures that had been his reason for coming. Jezebel bent now, dropping to a crouch as her fingers found the handles anew, and she offered it out to him on the rising. Her smile was still warm, but had lost a measure of its intensity, turned gentle and comforting once more.

"Don't forget."

"Oh." He agreed, trying not to look embarrassed as his hands slipped over hers and took ownership of the handles. The package was adjusted, both loops caught by his left hand so that it hung off of two fingers, batting against his thigh as he stepped back. Off of the patio and back inside, he started towards her front door. Once he was at the doorway, he didn't know what to say.

His voice stumbled over itself, "Thank you."

"You're most welcome, anytime." If it had the tenor of an invitation more so than a response, it did not entirely specify what it was he was invited to. She ran her fingers over her hair, curbing strands that had been lured into dance by the incoming late night tide as she smoothed them down behind one ear.

Her amber eyes danced, too, a candle flame in the starlight as she watched him retreat, moving away from the balcony railing to follow him only after he'd gotten several paces ahead. Jezebel joined him at the doorway, standing to one side as he put his shoes back on. "Please be safe on your way home."

"Yes." He replied, his right foot being the last to wiggle into his shoes as he stood at her doorway. His left hand caught the doorknob and he felt, at that moment, that he was a boy, wary of being caught by her father. There was no one to catch them, no one to shame him for the moment. It had been too long that he'd been kissed but his lips were still a spark against her flame. He was not outmatched, only unprepared.

The surprise of her lips still tingled. He stepped, halfway out the threshold as he looked at her, "I make breakfast very well." A beat, then the invitation, "Would you be there, this morning? At nine it would only be us."

Humor flared in the depths of her eyes, a flicker of movement like a solar flare. She smiled again, her gaze lowering with a soft flutter of thick golden lashes. She lifted her attention to his face once more, and her expression was a soft mix of surprise, pleasure, and assent. "Yes," she said a moment later. "I ...would love to have breakfast with you. Tomorrow, at nine?"

"Yes," his right hand drew back, resting on his hip as he looked at her. It seemed that there were a hundred things needing to be said, but none of them happened. He nodded to her and then leaned forward, hesitating at her mouth to kiss her goodnight. He was waiting for her to tilt towards him, for the world to lose balance. He did not assume that her flame welcomed the shadow.

Her mouth was there to meet him, closing the rest of the distance as he leaned in. Pressing her lips to his one last time, she took a moment to savor it, the taste of him, the feel of it, the lingering scent of cigarettes and pineapple rum. Her fingers curled around him again as they kissed, enveloping his shadows in her light.

Afterward, he withdrew, stepping out of her yawning doorway. He said, as a reminder for them both, "Tomorrow morning." At the point where the sun no longer burned the skin in sunrise.

It broke too soon, always too soon, but not nearly soon enough for the babysitter that waited for him. Jezebel smiled, and let him go. "See you then."
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2018 8:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

By nine that morning, breakfast with Penny and Ame was over, a battle of food that Ame liked to shove to the floor. Penny was already on her way to school, her preparations for the Lion King play being all they talked of that morning. He better be there. He promised her yes. Ame was still home and all that morning had been working on his walking, his first steps were old news but he just couldn't bring himself to break away from the wall. He had done enough tentative walking along the perimeter of kitchen cabinets, tugging on the handles of them and feeling disappointed when they did not swing open for him as they did his father. When he whined about the injustice, Tag pretended as though he heard nothing and continued with cleaning up the kitchen until all the surfaces were wiped down. That included the carnage of suicidal cereal that scattered from the highchair.

The boy was drawn to every place Tag didn't want him to be. The oven was never so interesting as when it was on. No item in the house except the most delicate was captivating. Also? Everything needed to go in the boy's mouth to be understood. Shoelaces, the television remote, necklaces, and even Penny's colored pencils. The first time it happened, Penny was so disgusted that she swore the colored pencils needed to be thrown away. Now when it happened she shrugged, not entirely pleased but far less dramatic.

The dark man was convinced that the boy instinctively knew where to find the boundaries of his life, and he wanted to know what they were and if they could be pushed. Perhaps that was because of who his parents had been. Perhaps all children were that way, and it was the only way to learn. Didn't adults find personal growth in an adventure? In putting new foods in their mouth and taking up some new means of travel, as if walking again? That the ones who were still curious were the ones who kept living?

He looked over the curve of his shoulder to the boy, who was sitting on the floor at one of the cabinets. His small fingers picked at the edge of a child-locked door, determined that a little more prying would convince it to open. The dark man took up plates and silverware, setting them on the kitchen table before his big toe caught the catch of the highchair brake and rolled it out of the way so that it did not sit like some third guest at the table.

Ding. Tag turned to look at the door and then moved, scooping up Ame so quickly that the boy was too distracted by being relocated to wail about the unsolved puzzle he was working on. At the door, the boy hugged to the curve of his ribs with Tag's arm acting like the seat. He smiled at the sight of Marjorie.

"Hello there, my little handsome man," his older neighbor bent forward, tapping Ame on the cheek. The boy stared at her but seemed distracted, some lingering puzzle still in the back of his mind.

"Thank you."

"No problem, no problem. Let me see him." Her arms opened up and it prompted him to shift, catching his boy under both armpits before he gingerly handed him off. She laughed, patting the boy on the back, "Did you gain five pounds since I saw you?"

This wasn't what the boy wanted. He did a short, crying cough, twisting around to reach one hand out to Tag with a "Dada!" His father leaned in, catching the boy's grabbing hand with one finger and then kissing him on the cheek. "Shhh, it's all right. You love Marjorie. Be good?"

"You're running a little behind today, aren't you?" She saw past his shoulder and the living room into the dishes in the kitchen. Tag's body turned to where her eyes had picked out the details of a kitchen still needing cleaning. For her age, Marjorie's gaze never seemed dulled.

Ame was calmed by gripping his dad's finger. Everyone was looking in one direction so he copied them. Whatever the adults were doing was exceedingly boring. His head swiveled away, searching for better amusement.

"No, I have a guest this morning for a little while."

"A guest?"

Tag could feel a relief in her voice, as if some horrible concern was alleviated. There had once been friends coming over, food and the laughter of Fin and Lucy, of Madison. Then the house became quiet and unvisited. The garden was gone, hidden under a blanket of weeds. A man-sized hole of half nightmares was a scar in the backyard by the cherry tree as much as it was a scar on his arm. Now Marjorie's voice sounded like warmth for him instead of pity, it sounded like she had been waiting to hear him say that.

"Yes."

"Well, you better get ready." Her eyes jumped to the half dried spit-food on his right shoulder.

"I almost am."

"Oh! I better get going." Marjorie smiled and, shifting Ame enough that one of her strong, thin arms was freed up, she waved Ame's hand at his father. Tag humored it, returning a broad wave so that Ame would notice it before they leaned like tides away from each other and he shut the door. The sound of Marjorie's low, flesh-colored heels hammered down the deck before disappearing from earshot.

There wasn't much time, but there was time to pick up a few of the toys in the living room. There was time enough to change into a clean black shirt and slip on a pair of dark and light blue socks. He kept a casual pair of dark green pants on and stopped at the mirror in the bathroom long enough to consider what he looked like. A little voice echoed in the back of his mind. Dad, don't be weird. He smiled, remembering the way Penny had wrinkled her nose at the prospect of him going on a date so long ago.

Until the next doorbell ring came he stayed in the kitchen, drawing out a new set of ingredients and beginning preparations. The vegetables taken out of the refrigerator had a crisp, standoffish chill, as if he had insulted them by there being a second act. The lightness in his chest was an old memory. It wasn't until he was pulling the eggs out of their cardboard sockets in the refrigerator that he remembered the word for what he felt.

Hope. Outside the window, the sun had risen.
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One day you will ask me which is more important?
My life or yours? I will say mine
and you will walk away not knowing
that you are my life. (Khalil Gibran)


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Jezebel Calient
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2018 9:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Day broke clear and crisp, the first golden pinks of sunrise crawling over the deep fiery reds of rich, glossy tangles. Jezebel came awake slowly, the arch of her back a sharp curve as she stretched indulgently. Reaching for her phone to check for messages, she laughed at the latest slew of pictures sent to her from her son’s adventures with his dad, and breathed a small sigh of relief when she found no regretful cancellation from a certain Shadow.

Breakfast. The thought brought a languid smile to her face as she pushed herself gradually upright, soft sheets of the highest thread count pooling silkily about her hips. She tried to remember the last time she’d been invited to breakfast by someone whose bed she hadn’t also slept in, tried to recall a single time she’d been invited to do anything with the same level of earnest innocence. She thought of the way he’d tasted of cigarettes and tropical rum when they kissed, imagining she could still feel the gentle urgency in the way his lips pressed against hers. The way his tongue had seemed to search for solace in the warm recesses of her mouth. As she raked her supple fingers through the excessive lengths of her hair, working through the knots, she remembered the way his fingers had felt against her scalp, the way his arms had held her close even as the babysitter informed them that their night had ended.

He was smoke and shadow, but he was also sinew and bone. He was reserved and seemingly detached, but there was a quiet smoldering heat to him, one that all but demanded a response from her own flame-licked embers.

Mmm, thought Jezebel as she slipped at last from the covers, her bare feet touching the warmth of the radiant tiles, her candle-fire eyes studying the sunrise beyond the water. I’m not sure I’ve ever so looked forward to breakfast..

***

Not quite two hours later, Jezebel stood on his doorstep. She’d walked, and the slowly rising sun caught droplets of water like crystalline beads in her hair and dotted along her eyelashes, where snowflakes from the gently falling snow had melted on contact. She glittered in the fresh morning light, her smile as she greeted him nearly as incandescent as her eyes. “Good morning, Tag,†she said softly as she took a single step towards him and then stopped, waiting. Waiting to be drawn closer, to be invited in.

“Good morning.†There was still a kitchen dish towel, white and blue checkered, tossed over his shoulder. He smiled faintly and stepped backward, a slight bend at his waist suggesting a bow to invite her in further. “I have not begun, but I had an idea.â€

The single story home had a secret. The room they stood in was the living room, doubling as the entryway. The wall on their left had two doors, and it was one of the two that kept the secret. The house knew what it was, as time passed it became a truth that would disappear into the air. The trim of the door, the layers of paint, it was newer than the rest of the building. The home had grown, adding another chamber to its heart so that Ame would have a room. After a year? It seemed as if it had always, and should have always, been there.

The path from the front door to the kitchen was a straight shot, the entry way a double-door opening without doors. He had made efforts for the home to seem like where he lived, as opposed to being a part-time daycare. Still, eight dinosaurs marched under the couch which included Ame’s favorite stegosaurus with the chewed up tail. Tag had never realized how bug-like hair ties could be until Penny started to buy them. They were glittery, plastic, and prolific. The house, he feared, would always be infested by elastic hair bands.

He asked as he stepped into the kitchen, “Something to drink? There was water, orange juice, and apple.†He didn’t pull her chair out for her all the way, but he did grasp the top of it and tug it out a few inches to make a polite gesture. The kitchen table was meant to seat four, but one side was pressed up against the wall where the windows were. The view looked over the yard, where the garden had been.

He was already stepping up to the cabinets, drawing out two glasses. They felt heavier than he remembered, which made him set them down carefully.

The invitation came and she stepped inside, affording a quick glance around the living room as she stepped out of her shoes and left them by the doorway out of habit before she followed him toward the kitchen. The press of her smile lingered in the corners of her mouth; this was a home where children lived and played and grew together; the evidence she saw here and there actually added to the warmth of the environment, not detracted.

As they moved, she gently, carefully eased the buttons of her coat apart, her fingers coaxing the metal from its fabric catches one at a time. Freeing herself, she slipped the outer garment from her shoulders and folded it over one forearm for safekeeping. Tossing her head lightly to shift the weight of vibrant tresses in every shade of flame and fire, she laid the jacket over the back of the chair he’d indicated for her, but did not immediately move to sit down.

Instead she turned to face him, watching the way he moved about the kitchen. “Apple juice, please,†her voice came softly, carried by the early morning light. “What is your idea?â€

“Tamago kake gohan,†he had been in Rhy'Din for twenty years, his accent was diluted enough that the only sense of it came from little pauses in his speech, or after he had been talking with someone else that knew the language. At times there was the awkward word reversal, but the dark man wasn’t known for talking. The words he said were obviously of his home language, the rhythm of his mouth increased, the comfort with the words was warm.

The refrigerator gave a plastic pop as he opened it. With her glass made he turned around to offer it to her. He had expected that she might be sitting, he had heard the chair behind him move. His head angled back towards her face and not where she had been hypothetically sitting. Smiling, quite nearly sheepish that she must have seen the miscalculation, he offered her the glass. The conversation continued, “Do you have allergies?â€

Shedding the coat had revealed the simple cotton dress she wore underneath. A warm mustard yellow in shade that complemented the rich vibrant tones of her hair, the dress had long sleeves and a short hemline. Clingy to the rib cage and then opening up into a swingy skirt that ended just above mid-thigh. V-necked, it wasn’t quite low-cut enough to give a dramatic view of cleavage, but the first impressions were there.

Her clothes this morning were pretty--obviously chosen with the care a date required-- but simple and understated. This was breakfast, after all, not a night at the opera.

If she saw the miscalculation, she didn’t comment on it or draw attention, meeting his sheepish smile with a reassuring one of her own. There was appreciation in the subtle flicker of color in her eyes, and she stepped forward to accept the glass.

“Your native tongue is beautiful,†she said softly, inclining her head in thanks. “Do you have occasion to speak it often?†He wasn’t the only person with some of the East on them that she’d seen in town, but they were still few and far between compared to some of the others. “I have no allergies that I know of. Can I help you with the preparations?†The fact that she didn’t know what he intended to make did not deter her in the slightest.

“Thank you,†but it wasn’t until the compliment that he had noticed it was in his native tongue. It was overlooked the way an English speaker would miss how the way they said the name 'Susan' would have an impact. A name always seemed above language, standing alone and needing no translation. The words had been Japanese, he just hadn’t thought of it before.

He might have already asked himself the same question she had. He turned from her to gather up two bowls setting them on the counter. “No, but I speak it with the children. Penny understands, but she is not as comfortable speaking it.†With the offer of help his shook his head, “The dish is simple.†The rice cooker on the counter was drawn closer, the lid popped open in a short puff of steam before he began scooping. The hardened rice had gotten soft and semi-cohesive, threatening to become a glue or wildly separate. As a child he thought that they seemed like unruly clouds, bunching up together and never seeming to forgive the spoon that came in for a dig.

Since he didn’t want help, Jezebel took a lean against the opposite side of the counter, watching him curiously. She lifted the glass he’d given her to her mouth, rolling the cool rounded surface against her lower lip in a partial turn as though to quench it before she took a sip. The thick spun gold silk of her lashes pulsed once, a little flutter, as she tasted it. “Mm, this is delicious,†she commented after a long moment spent savoring it on her tongue, wondering when she’d last had apple juice.

“Will you speak it with me? I understood...pieces of it once, but it’s been a long time.â€

She was too far away for him to know that she was warm, but he was certain he felt it. It was more than just the sense that there was heat to her, that she crackled like a promise. Jezebel did what fires did best, she consumed what was around her. He had spent too many years avoiding those sort of flames, the ones that put a light on who you were and exposed you more than being naked ever could. He had felt that way when lightning struck, an event so rare he was certain that he would never see it or feel the thunder.

A fire was not lightning. With lightning there was a sense of wild happenstance, of impermanence and even the brain-wrecked doubt that it happened. There was never any doubt of the damage that could be done, but maybe that hadn’t been the problem. Maybe he had just wanted the storm to go on forever because that’s what love puts inside a practical man’s chest. Had he been a fool? Was he being foolish now?

Lightning was not like fire. A fire extended the evening into dawn, it brought warmth and food at times that there should have only been a soul’s slow starvation. It burned down the houses of careless men, it seasonally claimed entire forests which were reborn because of it. He had thought of fire as a strange friend, one that was kind only to betray someone when their guard was lowered. No, it was not a villain. He had thought of it that way only in times he was bitter, only in times where he wanted the world to serve him instead of the world. Fire had a way of purifying, like the rain did, except it wasn’t so passive. A fire had to consume, not just fall from the sky like a rock.

He swallowed, “If that is what you would like.†He shut the rice maker and nudged it back so that there would be more counter space. “Onaka ga suite imasu.†The words formed slowly and then his attention went to her. I am hungry. The phrase was small and simple, likely intended for the dark man to judge how much the flame had consumed. He paused in his preparations, studying her face for answers.
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You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2018 9:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Drawing the pad of her thumb lightly over the rounded swell of the glass, Jezebel leaned against the counter, content to study him as he worked. The light was kind to the Shadow, glazing the planes of his face in a dappling of bright and dark that accentuated his well blended features. The sun that filtered in through the kitchen windows splashed across his dark hair, bringing out a glossy sheen you didn’t often see at night, or under the artificial lights indoors. He was more stone than smoke today, more man than shadow. She imagined she could hear his heart beating, see the soft jump of his pulse in his throat.

She listened to the words he spoke, her smile spreading. She liked the way he looked at her then, expectant perhaps, or hopeful.

Her brows inched together. “...Hungry?†She ventured, lips parting around the word. Jezebel’s familiarity with Japanese men came predominantly from the time she’d spent there, given its relative proximity to where she’d lived before. It had been one of the first places she’d been exiled to, all those years ago. The context then was… different than now, and thinking of it made her smile. “You are hungry?â€

“Hai,†his hand rolled over, a point to the food on the counter before he lifted up the egg, cracking it and pouring it into the bowl. There were other elements he added, too, creating flecks of dark green and a muted yellow. His fingers curled the belly of the bowls, both his thumbs hooking the top to fight gravity. Mindful of his cargo, he stepped to the table and eased the bowls to their positions on top of two plates. There was traditional silverware set out already.

“Where did you learn?†He stepped towards her casually. The motion didn’t have the sort of intent she would recognize. The solid man’s hand dropped to catch the knob of the kitchen counter drawer nearby. His eyes weren’t in the drawer, but on her. The motion must have been done a hundred times. Two pairs of metal chopsticks were pulled out, held loosely in the grip of his fingers as he used the back of his hand to shut the drawer.

“My island was not so far from yours,†her smile was warm as he drew closer, her eyes tracking his movements. “...When I was…†she trailed off, her head tilting slightly as she considered her choices for how to describe it, “--strongly encouraged to leave, Japan is one of the first places the sailors brought me to. I have not been there in a very long time, but I remember it being beautiful.â€

Her gaze did not leave his face, it was by the sound of wood sliding on its carved grooves that she determined what he was doing. They were only a few steps apart, close enough that she could feel him. Taking a breath, she considered reaching out, bridging what little distance remained there, but her hands stayed as they were, one on the cup and one on the counter. “How long has it been, for you?â€

The questions were building between them. His mind was on the pause in her speech, the little hunt her mouth did for the right words. He knew that hunt, how it made the space inside someone’s mouth feel like a void, waiting for something to pour in from the brain to fill it. He asked her about that and not the distance that was between them. The indescribable void was easier than the one he was painfully aware of.

“Asked to leave?†One of the metal chopsticks was rolled between two fingers.

She sobered him by asking how long it had been. His expression grew serious, his gaze ticking upward as he tried to pinpoint it. There was uncertainty in his tone as he leaned one hip to the counter’s edge. His right hand, holding the chopsticks, lifted up to rest on the counter. The chopsticks tapped instead of a finger before he spoke, “It must be… twenty years?â€

The story of her life up to the moment she’d first left home was a complex one, a conversation that was perhaps heavier than breakfast strictly called for. As she thought of ways to summarize, she watched him search his mind and memory for a date that was likely lost in the wind. Jezebel liked the way he looked up when he was thoughtful, seemingly searching the stars for his answers.

From this little distance, she imagined she could smell him, that subtle scent of life, laced with traces of both cigarettes and baby powder, that distinguished him as a living, breathing man. Intoxicated with it, she looked down at his hand resting on the counter so close to her own, her gaze following the individual lines of each finger where they curled around the chopsticks.

Seeking to distract herself in the study, she found it only made it worse. She dragged her gaze back up to his face. “Twenty years is a long time. Do you miss it?â€

The scent of his smokes was far off, clinging only to his shirt. Once, cigarettes threatened to die, stale, at the top of the refrigerator. The habit had gotten stronger, and now little promises were woven in the back of his mind to curb it to a standstill. Not that day, not that week, but before a growing habit soured into a bad one and he became smoke instead of just being reminiscent of it.

Could she smell him over the scent of the kitchen? Over the vanilla and syrup from Penny’s waffles, from the dew-dried field behind the house whose smell came in from the cracked window over the sink?

“Sometimes.†She did not unwrap more details on why she had been asked to leave. He wondered if she was giving a polite summary for the morning, the way he might have done if she asked him why he left. Was he asked, very strongly, to leave? Was that what the polite face of exile looked like? It hadn’t felt polite. The experience was like pages being ripped out of a book instead of simply turning them.

Her eyes moved over his hand, noticeable enough that the absent minded tapping went still. For so long he had only come across her by happenstance, or by arrangement. The backdrop of her being in his yellow-lit morning home was a sharp contrast to the Inn and poorly lit walks at night. When he looked at her, Tag wasn’t considering the distance between their bodies or the way she smelled. He was considering the glass of apple juice that occupied her hands.

It was exactly that, the polite face of exile. A so-called revenant, Jezebel’s transformation had frightened the locals and the missionaries trying to ‘save’ them alike. It was the latter group that had named her, given her newly spawned appetites. They were all glad to see her go, an aberration that would become someone else’s problem with the outgoing tide.

Unnaturally attuned to prioritize the scent of a man over his environment, it was Tag that had her focus. There were other sights and smells she could discern of course, but even the lingering foreign taste of apple juice on her tongue could not compete with his presence. She watched his hands go still, saw the way his dark gaze fell to fingers that were dreaming restlessly of his skin. A soft smile spread slowly over her mouth as she carefully placed the glass she still held on the counter, a short distance away from the both of them. “It’s funny sometimes,†she said softly, “--how you can miss the details of a place without actually missing it.â€

“You miss what your life was because you don’t know what your new one is.†Were they still talking about the past? The land of the rising sun had never felt so far away, but in the worst of everything he had reminded himself of its truth. Not all of what had been was filtered away from what was, but enormous pieces weren’t there. His life did not feel less, it did not feel empty.

His hand on the counter eased open, making a temporary cage over the metal chopsticks until they went still. Jezebel hadn’t taken her seat at the table despite the fact he had set the bowls there. She stood, a candle, eating up the edges of his page. When there was constant heat he was unable to know if he was warm or blistering. The little way in which she smiled and how her eyes tracked his movements, had a meaning that was consumed in her own flame. Her beauty wasn’t from perfection, but her presentation convinced him that there was a quality beyond her flesh and the only way to know what lit her interest behind an already burning flame was that she was not at the kitchen table.

“Funny?†The use of the word was one he had heard before, a strange juxtaposition of what was meant. Funny without laughing, or when someone smiled sadly and not because there was joy. He stepped closer to her, his fingertips brushing the soft cotton of her dress at her side, a toe in the water to know if he should swim.

“Not funny like a joke,†she explained, “funny like... Unusual. Unexpected.†Funny like… the way they way they’d come across one another, the way their friendship had grown in fits and starts, mostly in chance encounters, a long and meandering path of time and circumstance that had lead each of them here, to this sunny kitchen with its traditional Japanese breakfast and little plastic dinosaurs hiding under the couch.

His hand came over her side and she rotated on socked feet, orienting her body away from the counter, towards him. Her smile spread slowly, one hand lifting immediately to his chest. It was warm, but Jezebel was always warm. She said nothing for a time, looking up at him. When she broke her silence at last, it was a confession of sorts. “I’ve had to create twnew lives so far. This is my third try at it, and it never quite gets any easier.†One fingertip extended, drawing a light circle on the fabric of his shirt. “I’m liking how it’s turning out so far, though.â€
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You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2018 10:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

His head bowed, chin nearly touching his chest to watch the dance of her fingertips push gently at the fabric of his shirt. His head lifted back up and he spoke gently, like his voice caught on the same wave of sound as hers to finish the statement, “So am I.â€

She rotated into him, his hand passed along her back to hold her there before she could disappear, flickering into dreams. He leaned into her, bringing the smoke and scent of him. The man that hadn’t gardened in months still smelled like it, still felt like a promise whispered into lockets. The way he kissed her gave homage to her mouth, a wordless prayer for her.

The kiss was like breathing, taking that first sweetly painful breath after too long holding it, breaking through the surface after what felt like hours underwater. Like a flower in the morning sun, Jezebel blossomed, coming to life when their mouths merged. The taste of him was nearly as she’d remembered it from the night before, but the traces of brandy and coconut rum were gone, the natural taste of his lips more apparent.

Breakfast cooled on the table adjacent, forgotten. Her glass sat on the counter behind, its surface beading with condensation as the ice inside it began to melt. Sunlight filtering in the window slanted and seemed to shift, washing the both of them in a sudden halo of illumination. Her fingers crawled up from his shirt around his neck.

Kissing was its own breath, his lungs and hold on her tightening with conflicting needs. He wanted her, he wanted to breathe and catch his breath. A cloud moved over the sun, which made it seem through his shut eyes that a light had been turned out. His eyes opened, lips breaking from her but not wandering far. His other arm moved around her, cradling her figure in closer to him.

“I’m sorry, it’s… been awhile.†And she must have known by the way he tasted that he was still haunted. Tumbleweeds occasionally crossed the yard and he thought, on the wind, was the slippery rasp of a coyote’s laugh. Now was the first time he felt he had a lantern in the dark, that there was more to the story than all the pieces he had been left with. There was a lantern in the dark, paper cranes appearing in coffee shops and bar tops like endings from unfinished stories. There were conclusions in the world that hunted for him, ones that grew more and more impatient for him.

His apology was for the uncertainty, for how he was mapping carefully the details of her mouth and the way she kissed. The dark man was sliding two puzzle pieces together and tentatively pressing until they locked together in a sudden drop. What he knew about breakfast was that his interest had disappeared, that his arms weren’t easing away from her.

The kiss broke but it felt like a pause. Her other hand lifted, tracing a parallel path over the front of his shirt up to join the other behind his neck. His embrace closed around her in kind, and Jezebel shifted her weight forward, leaning away from the counter, closer into him.

A self contained unit, safe and separate from the ghosts that haunted either of them, the woman of fire kept her upturned gaze trained on his face. So freshly kissed lips were still subtly parted, and they lifted in a light smile. “Could have fooled me,†she breathed, filling her lungs with the scent of the morning. “There is nothing to be sorry for.â€

Puzzle pieces clicked together, falling into place. Pressing closer, she kissed the corner of his mouth, a gentle reassurance and an overt sign of her own interest.

A small smile broke over his lips, a sign that he was as reassured as she had hoped he would be. One of his hands reached up, fingers sliding down through the locks of her hair. He had never been this close to a redhead before. The molten tresses poured through his fingertips, dropping back to her shoulder. The little kiss at the corner of his lips drew his hand to a place at the side of her cheek, cupping the flame from any breeze so that it would burn brighter when their lips reconnected.

He didn’t care if she consumed him, he had waited patiently in the silence for anything to happen and even if all that was left of him was ash? The shadow had played life safe, too safe. Being patient and understanding had allowed weeds to kill his garden. It had allowed vast distances to seem okay, but they never had been. They had an ache, a call from the vacuum of space that had been occupied. Space hated voids, it rushed to fill them indiscriminately.

“Is this,†his mouth broke away and he swallowed down the blossom-taste of her mouth as he did so, “Is this something? Are we something? I don’t….†The dark man was too flustered to be able to draw up the phrases he had heard in the inn. Friends with Benefits, to put it politely. Boyfriend and girlfriend? Just dating. Casual. Open dating. There seemed to be four hundred ways to describe relationships, all of which had unnecessary complexity. The dark man was caught by the uncertainty of what was happening, of what he was about to do and the way the edges of him burned.

Her eyelids lowered to half-mast, mostly covering the firelight crackle of colors in her eyes, her face tilting into the gentle press of his hand at her cheek. Fingers in her hair brought the first impressions of a slow shiver, full lips curling in a partial smile. “Mm. That feels nice,†she said softly, her voice a low hum, lilting as the melody of a half forgotten song.

There were no more words for a time as they kissed again, her hands leaving warm little fingerprints across the edge of his jaw, along the slope of his neck just below the ear. Adrift in the simple, exquisite pleasure of being in his space like this, of learning the shape of his mouth and the way it moved against her own, she was both surprised -and not- by the sudden interruption. Another pause, a valid question. Her smile was gentle. “What are you ready for?â€

“I don’t know,†he smiled, realizing that the outcome of it had revolved around her. The dark man had not lost his internal compass, he had not lost sight of what it was he wanted. What he had lost was a sense of how to proceed, of not knowing what was putting the cart before the horse. His sense of heart, his sense of commitment, was clean. It stayed with her, loyally circling around thoughts of what could be. How it could be.

“I don’t… date… and I don’t know….how to begin with this.†He was still smiling when he said it, the thinnest hint of embarrassment softening the edges of his voice. Clearly, he was expecting that she had some guidance, some manual on how these events should unfold. He swallowed, kissing her briefly before he continued, “How does this happen?â€

Her laughter was warm, no trace of condescension or derision in its plush velvet tones. “Believe it or not, I haven’t ever dated anyone, either.†Jezebel shook her head even as she cupped his cheek delicately with one hand, the satiny pad of one thumb tracing along the point where the corner of his mouth came together. “Even my son’s father is, has only ever been, a very good friend.â€

She paused, pressing into his fleeting kiss even as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders once more, a cross between hugging him and hugging herself to him, two similar acts with very different connotations. “But I think I’d like to try it with you.â€

“She died,†he said with a frown, though the wind said differently. It was hard to believe that the dead were gone when there wasn’t a body, that some afterworld was not ticking with who they were. He had a sudden recollection of her, Madison straddling him while he was in his grave, her lips turning into teeth as she bit him and became a coyote.

The dark man cleared his throat, “She left me, before she died.†The sentiment of which always left him hollow, always left the echoing feeling of too bad, dark man, too bad. He would have chased her until his feet bled, he would have peeled off every piece of his shadow for her if it would have made any difference. She had gone, so suddenly that it felt sharp and cheap, and nothing after that redeemed what he thought love had been. There wasn’t an excuse meaningful enough, not a reason rich enough, for him to respect her actions.

He gripped her, suddenly. His arms closed around Jezebel tightly, her chin having to prop on the curve of his shoulder. The dark man held her like they were saying goodbye, he was holding her like he needed to know she was still there. He wanted to confess a thousand things, yet nothing happened. A full silence tumbled and fell between them, becoming nothing.

The Shadow clung to her suddenly, fiercely, like a lighthouse in the dark. She let her arms coil about his shoulders once more, holding him close in turn, willing him to feel safe, or safer at least in the warmth of her embrace. She held him close, trying to soothe the grief in him. Eyes like molten lava closed, her breathing slowed, coaxing him out of his darkness.

“Tag,†she said softly, and one hand eventually lifted, her fingers running ever so lightly over his hair. “I won’t ask anything of you that you’re not ready to give. I will not promise you anything you’re not ready to believe. But...you’re not alone anymore.†Her words were a gentle whisper, a lullaby on a warm summer wind, ised just at the shell of his ear. “I am here, and…†she paused, forming words that were unfamiliar, but not unwanted. “...and I am yours. As much, or as little, as you want me to be.â€
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2018 11:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“It’s something.†Ill-defined and known at the same time. A distant wish to fully embody the space of a promise while also not being choked by it. The promise not to be with others was nothing to the dark man, but it was a treacherous tightrope for her. Whatever they were, he settled comfortably into the idea of a new beginning.

He kissed her because he needed to, because the conversation sated the most worried part of him. There was more to it, though, there was what she had to say in response, and his mouth was blocking it. He broke contact with her and waited for the outcome, one of his hands at her back with its thumb stroking a two inch span of skin protected by the cloth of her dress.

She kissed him, and kissing was like breathing. It’s something. Confirmation was there in the way she curled her fingertips lightly over the shell of his ear, pushing through the thick dark strands there on the way to the base of his skull. It was there in the way her other arm stayed looped around his neck, holding her body against his as surely as he’d pulled her closer. It was there in the way her spine arched subtly under the back and forth brushstrokes of his thumb.

He pulled away and Jezebel looked up at him, holding his gaze. At this distance she was the enveloping warmth of an electric blanket, she smelled like cinnamon and honey slow roasted over an open campfire, with subtle stains of something darker, something like brimstone and ash. She nodded once, giving him the verbal confirmation he seemed to require. “It’s definitely something.â€

“You… should have breakfast,†his smile was pinned there on his lips, a small daybreak. It felt as if the first frozen spikes of winter had been thawed, that life was allowed to start again without having to apologize. He said breakfast was something that they should do, but his arms still kept her close, enjoying how she felt, how the winds of a distant island rolled in sweet spices, and for a very brief time he felt separate from the past.

The moment just as it was consumed him, saying nothing about the pains of yesterday or the pains that would come. The dark man’s lips broke into a smile and it was clear from that point on, he’d opted to give it to her. A man could not mourn forever, he could not be permanently broken, or what else was a heart for? It was not meant for one use only, it was not meant for only one kind of love.

“You did go to some trouble to make it,†she said in a soft, pleased hum. Pleased that he hadn’t yet let go of her, pleased at the way the smile on his face felt like a sunrise. She’d seen glimmers of the light inside him before, a barely perceptible glow far off in the distance like a candle in the highest windows of a dark and towering edifice. She’d seen cracks where more light might seep through, where she might have pushed her fingers in to wiggle the rocks loose. But the way he was looking at her now, the light was pouring out of all those little fissures, a flood of warmth that ran together until, for a few fleeting moments at least, all the shadows were gone.

Awed, she caressed the curve of his jaw with the soft pad of her thumb. She basked in the answering heat she felt in him, just taking a moment to see and to admire him, exactly as he was. When several seconds had passed and still neither one of them had made any effort to move, her smile broke into a quiet laugh. “We should both have breakfast,†she said with a playful glance aimed deliberately at the table. “I’ll go sit down if you come with me?â€

“Oh, I mean… yes,†his smile changed with what she said. He wasn’t embarrassed, but it was as if she brought to him the realization that neither had moved. His arms eased away, giving one small, final squeeze before the release. One hand swiped at his mouth, remembering a bonfire warmth, as he twisted to look back at the kitchen table. His voice was a near murmur, “I hope you like it.â€

Food from where you lived spoke volumes of what life was like. Lean, salted meat echoed large game with room to roam. The way food was spiced illuminated the plants that grew, the water they needed and if your life was full of many rainfalls. If there was fish? There must have been a coast, there must have been a meaningful river. If there was rice, there needed to be rain. The food on the table told the story of a life not unlike Jezebel’s. It was coastal, it worked with the rain and was occasionally defined by the monsoon.

He took his seat at the small kitchen table, his chair being the one that faced into the house, towards the living room. It allowed Jezebel the view out the window towards the back of the property, past the ghostly indications of a garden. Peeking around the corner of the home were the branches of a cherry tree, waiting to burst into a springtime bloom.

Jezebel chose the seat beside him instead of the one opposite, and she could still feel the lingering impression of his arms around her waist, that final soft squeeze before he’d slipped away. She imagined she would see his handprints there at her hips if only she looked down; she didn’t because she liked the illusion too much to dispel it.

Taking a sip of her apple juice she’d slipped delicately from the counter, it was clear and crisp on her tongue, and the melting ice had done much to water down its sweetness. She took up the napkin and put it in her lap, looking down at the bowl in front of her. “Oh! I have seen this before. I didn’t know what it was called. It looks delicious, though,†she trailed off, lifting the radiant warmth of her amber eyes back to his face. “I’m sure I will love it.â€

“Good. I didn’t know but… “ She had said she had come from an island before. He guessed the seaside taste of it might be fine but was uncertain what her thoughts would be on the rice. He reached for the chopsticks and realized that they had been left behind.

“My apologies,†it was the sort of apology that came with a small, knowing smile. His chair yawned when he scooted it back and he rose, going to the kitchen counter to reclaim the metal chopsticks left behind. He settled back in his seat, setting a pair beside her. Prior to her arrival there was a fork and spoon laid out, just in case the chopsticks wasn’t something she was used to. After being in RhyDin as long as he had, he realized many were familiar with them because of globalization. That didn’t mean they were comfortable with them.

Although rice wasn’t particularly (or at all) common on her island, Jezebel had travelled extensively since her departure. It wasn’t something she ever thought to order in a restaurant or make at home, but she enjoyed it well enough when it came with a meal she was enjoying.

With a low hum of a laugh, she shook her head. “You have nothing to apologize for, Tag. Trust me.†Her words came on a small delay, only after she’d realized what he was apologizing for, and why. The chopsticks lay abandoned on the kitchen counter, silent testimony to the way each of them had gotten lost enough in the other to have forgotten. Her tone had a gently playful lilt to it when she flashed him a pleased smile, adding, “...it’s not everyday a girl can say she made a man forget what he was doing, you know.â€

His return was greeted with the soft, warm press of her fingers against his arm. Part wordless thank you, part proof-positive that she’d meant it when she’d said she wanted him close. She caught the chopsticks in her free hand, working them into the proper arrangement between supple fingers.

He had trouble believing that she didn’t make a man forget because of her confident smile. She said it as if the saying were everyday. That everyone had encountered it when in fact the common denominator might just be her. The dark man considered the odds, if a flower who never had a mirror could understand that not every flower was as they were, so their experience could never be the same as everyone else’s.

No, the dark man smiled to himself, it had been like bad luck that men were misplacing and forgetting items around her. The memory they had was strangely accurate in other areas.

“Do you like it?†The question was premature since she hadn’t taken a bite. He was still stirring his bowl with his chopsticks acting like a wand. His dark eyes had dropped from a red-haired sun to the rice and egg mixture. The time that passed made it more difficult to blend. It was like mixing cement, spikes of green interrupting the wet pillows of rice, painted yellow by the yolk of the egg. Like the sensation of his handprints she kept warm in her mind, he did not regret the difficulty it took to stir.
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2018 11:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

She pressed a chopstick into the center of the egg, deliberately but gently piercing its center. Coaxing the tear she’d made open, Jezebel eased the bright strings of oozing yellow down over the rice, gently guiding it in carefully painted lines. When her artwork was complete, she smiled up at him, just in time for him to ask what she thought.

“I think it’s beautiful,†she said of the food as she picked up her second chopstick, smearing the pattern she’d made as she began to stir. The rice had hardened some, clinging together as it cooled; she didn’t mind. She drew her thumb lightly over the wider ends of the sticks in her hand as if to soothe them, to inspire them to the task. Working them together in careful rhythm, she lifted a bite to her lips to taste it.

Jezebel moved her chopsticks with ease. He had seen many use them before and had come to realize that it either meant they had known them as a child, or were determined to use them as an adult. He had felt that way about the fork, and now he was of the opinion that they should be kept simultaneously together. The fork was awkward when it came to grasping what was wanted, it either had to stab at a piece of food or use its side, behaving more like a spoon. The problem with stabbing was that foods were round, or their girth was such that they slid in between the prongs. What he did like, though, was how a fork corralled the rice. Penny still used a fork for hers because she grew impatient, but for most other things she would pick up a silver pair of chopsticks and pluck up a bite, chewing it without a second thought.

He leaned back and his chair made a sound as if it was clearing its throat. The fingertips of his left hand rested on the table top, drawing a small nonsense design that they then erased with a final sweep. The Dark Man was searching for something to say, though he didn’t want to interrupt her eating. “Do you think you will come again?â€

“Mm, this is quite good,†she told him after a couple of bites. Her smile had a sunny playfulness to it when she added, “...even though it’s a bit cold.†She glanced sidelong at him then, the expression in the heated flicker of her amber eyes suggested she wouldn’t have minded if the food had gotten even colder.

After a couple of bites she paused, her gaze drawn to the little designs he was making on the table. Setting her chopsticks aside, she reached for the glass instead, taking a sip from its rim. When she put it down again, her thumb kissed its lip in a soft but deliberate sweep, but her hand had lost none of its radiant warmth when she placed the same one lightly over his. “I would like that very much.â€

He felt the ends of her fingers curl towards the center of his hand, the body of her palm resting easily on top of his own. His eyes were on their hands and then he looked at her, the suggestion of a smile catching the corners of his mouth. Small talk had never been his strength, he had been able to listen to the wind and interpret the way someone breathed as being novels of who they were. Penny and Ame often filled the silence. Ame was learning to speak and enjoyed the sound of his voice, the wild cries of it that ran up and down and hadn’t learned the cadence of regular speech. Penny sometimes went on about school, her projects, her voice charged with the emotion of a world she was still sorting out. She still hadn’t learned that those annoying boys were learning how to flirt.

His day to day personal company didn’t reach his shoulder, and it lacked the smooth silence of what he saw now. He felt that he should have said something, but not that she was asking for it. Her eyes tamed the burning edges of the pauses in conversation. Her hand broached the space between them.

“Maybe Saturday?†Then he altered the fabric of his statement, “Saturday night.â€

Jezebel had never much felt need for small talk. She was at her most comfortable in the silent places, private space shared in the warmth of a cocooning intimacy that didn’t call out for words. It wasn’t that she couldn’t carry on a light and genial conversation, couldn’t be a charming companion in any social affair. It was just that it wasn’t her preference, that she craved the soul deep silence that could only span between people who saw each other, exactly as they were, if only for a single magical hour.

She preferred the language of long looks and soft touches. The subtle, soothing power of fingertips pressed lightly into an arm.

Her smile was there for him when he looked up, the latent heat of her gaze fixed on his face as she traced her thumb lightly down the side of his hand. “Yes,†she said it immediately, without reservation, a note of pleasure in the honey lilt of her voice.

His affection was not a well practiced one. He felt a sense of connection, a wave of emotion, in moments that weren’t blatant. He felt the meaning of her hand more deeply than a proclamation. Her thumb slid against his, the usually innocent gesture being one that nearly prompted him to blush. Perhaps it was because of the intent, not stated or even assumed, but known. The pad of her finger transferred a statement that he already knew, that he already agreed with. He swallowed and dropped his eyes to the floor, weighed down by the impulse to be polite.

Was it being polite? A far off, residual guilt hung on the moment sometimes, but everyday it grew weaker. It was like a haunted house at Halloween. It had been garishly prominent, its presence invasive and everywhere. Skeletons, bones, the sense he was always being peeled down to his core and there would never be space to breathe. Now Spring was on the verge of becoming. Many of the signs for haunted houses had gone and there was a sense that all things changed, and should change. A person couldn’t carry guilt for how they were after the world digested them. He had simply thought, for so long, that certain elements of his life would outlive him.


“Good.†He said it because he wanted her to know, not because he needed to fill the silence.

The silence, though comfortable, seemed to stretch and grow between them, becoming ever thicker as his eyes remained resolutely downcast. To alleviate the tension and maybe give him some room to breathe, the redhead retreated, her fingers drawing one final pattern over his before she withdrew them to reclaim her chopsticks. I am here, and I am yours. As little or as much as you want me to be. The rice breakfast was surely cold by now, but Jezebel took another bite anyway. “Shall I come here again, or would you like to go out and do something together?â€

“Here.†His eyes went to his plate and he continued eating for a few more bites. Once he was done he stood up, moving his plate and resting it by the sink. One hand carefully swiped at his mouth to check it before he cleared his throat, “I have to go to work soon. I only took off… the beginning of morning.â€

Perhaps that would be to her amusement, how much the Dark Man had meant it when he’d invited her over for breakfast. It could have been that he didn’t want to assume any outcome between them, or that he had already decided that the morning between them would be a contained experiment. Did she shine as well in the morning, outside of drinks and the low-light of a bar? He already knew the answer, he already knew that the morning light would enhance her instead of dull what she was with daytime realizations.

“Here it is, then,†agreed the redhead who was every bit as brilliant in the soft glow of a spring morning as she was in the dark recesses of a smoke filled bar. She was a glowing ember that never dimmed no matter how much light surrounded it.

Finishing one final bite of the breakfast he’d gone to such pains to prepare, Jezebel stood, gathering her bowl and her cup. She brought them both to the sink, setting them at its edge along with his. “Yes, of course,†she said with a nod. So he really had just wanted breakfast. It was charming in its utterinnocence. “Thank you for breakfast. I won’t make you late.†Her words were chosen carefully. She said she wouldn’t, not that she didn’t want to.
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 11, 2018 7:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Thank you." It was how he registered, how he said thank you. It wasn't an unexpected tide to her voice but a known flood towards it, a perfect acknowledgement of her arrival and departure. From the sink they walked towards the front door, nearly side by side. The widened doorway between living room to kitchen almost allowed them to abreast one another. Almost. He motioned for her take the step ahead of them.

It wasn't until the doorway that he realized that his day was beginning again. It was as if two suns had risen, that two moments had come. The kids had been roused and prepared, fed and gone to school or the sitter. There was now the second morning, between two adults where dishes were not yet done and their mouths still lingered, still tasted of one another. The night of his eyes met the fire of her gaze at the doorway. Jezebel didn't impose, she never pushed beyond her welcome, she wasn't desperate to have him or satisfied at his absence.

They kissed, both withholding because the moment had grown thin. She must have known he wasn't a man who cared to engage with many women. It took persistence, it took heart, to capture the dark man. Jezebel had smiled into the dark, tipped her chin up and asked for more.

"Until next time." He said.

She smiled at him, she broke like a fire that scattered over the front of the porch and into the sun. He swallowed, turning away to find his thick soled work boots, brushed with dirt and heavy days.
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Jezebel Calient
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 17, 2018 3:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

2/10/18

There hadn't been anything to say for a time while they walked. His black jacket was new, learning exactly where his elbows bent and how to follow the broad curve of his shoulder. Green canvas cargo pants and suitable boots laced up like business. His attention was fixed on ice skating outside before he looked at her, "Hungry? There is... more inside."

Jezebel had her gloved hand in the crook of his arm, helping that new jacket to learn its curves and creases. Even through the extra layers of fabric and leather, the heat from her fingertips made itself known, a subtle warmth that seemed to turn up a notch whenever the coldest winds blew. She smiled, lifting her shoulders in a gentle shrug. "We should at least see what's on offer, should we not?"

He nodded as if it was the sky that spoke, the toes of his shoes pointing towards the Cardinal Inn before he walked towards it. It wasn't long before they were directed to the backyard, where the sounds of the party grew. The scent of food was not long after the sounds, it rolled over the air smelling like heavy, salty promises. The dark man's eyes quietly took it in, his stride slowing as he tried to make sense of where a guest was supposed to start.

Her eyes like candlefire widened subtly as she took in all the different sights and smells available. There was so ...much, from the food to the skating to the little favors to what appeared to be walking snowmen, the magic of the atmosphere was dazzling and it brought a smile to her face. She hardly knew where to start either, whether she wanted food or to try the skating or what. A brilliant grin on her lips, her gaze turned up to Tag beside her. "Have you ever been skating before?"

His instinct was to look at the faces of people attending, but there were only the ghosts of recognition and never the fulfilling snap of it. Starless eyes jumped down to catch Jezebel's gaze, "...Not like this." Tentatively sliding over a four foot frozen puddle was a far cry from a skating ring with specialty shoes. He had seen people doing it before, looking like figurines turning in circles like it was the work of invisible strings.

Jezebel laughed, a low and musical sound, as she shook her head. "So we'll both be trying it for the first time," she said, and the idea seemed to please her. Drifting closer to one of the tables, she lifted a small cupcake from the plate that was frosted in blue and white, examining its details a little more closely before she slipped her hand from his arm to carefully remove the wrapper. "I love these little things," she went on as the small confection was eased from its paper fortress, a little coaxing at a time. "It's just a little pop of sugar that is so sweet it sort of overwhelms you, but it's so small that the feeling is gone almost before it started."

"You have a sweet tooth?" His steps weren't far from her own, an echo of her path. When he saw the pizza, a small smile appeared on his lips, "Penny will be sad not to be here." The food spread was decadent and dangerous. Jezebel described the cupcake and he looked at her, the corner of his smile changing at the small flecks of icing and the undone skirt of the cupcake in her hand, "Should you eat before skating?"

"Not much of one," she admitted, "but I do like my little indulgences every once in awhile." Her smile had a knowing lilt to it, a playful flash of color in the corner of her eyes. She gently, carefully tore the bottom half of the cupcake away from its body and then pressed it into the frosting on top, making a tiny sandwich of the dessert confection. "Maybe not, but you'll be there to catch me, won't you?" She teased gently as she tore her little sandwich in half, offering one of the pieces to him as though tempting him into peril. She grinned. "...unless we both go down together..."

Sirens offered playful songs and bits of temptation over the water. Her lake was frozen and there was the weight of something earnest in her voice. He wasn't sure how she made the partial offer of cupcakes and skating seem like eating seven seeds of a pomegranate. Yet, he smiled, he moved to take the cupcake, stepping past her but close so he could say to her ear, "We tend to stand or fall." There would be no man left behind. He was chewing the cupcake, smiling over his shoulder at her. Smiling in the way that touched the corners of someone's eyes.

All too pleased to share this little indulgence with him, it felt like a secret, like a conspiracy between them. It left her smiling in a childishly happy way as she fed half of her half into her mouth, her lips closing over cake and frosting carefully so as not to allow any of it to escape or spill. Letting the sugar hit her tongue in an explosion of sweet, Jezebel smiled back at him as he warned her of the unity inherent in their fate.

Swallowing the bite, she caught the edge of his jacket with her free hand to keep him close until she could feed him her answer, her chin lifting to direct soft words in the vicinity of his ear. "So long as I fall with you, I'm fine with it."

The catch of her hand caused him to turn towards her, face still as she replied. Then there was a smile, softer because of some doubt, hot enough to curl the edge of his paper. No burning, no singed pieces quietly blackening without the flame. The doubt was not what was in his smile, but the regret that there was doubt. He reached to catch her hand that had called him back and now he was pulling her along because there was ice skating and ample chance to allow themselves to be foolish.

He took her hand and she let him, wishing suddenly that she wasn't wearing gloves as the cloth-clad digits wrapped around the palm of his hand. She popped the other half of her shared treat in her mouth as he pulled her towards the entrance to the skating rink, where they could put on the special shoes and then stumble wobble-legged out onto the ice like baby fawns, clutching one another for strength and balance as their laughter came in gusts of icy breath.

Her cheeks had taken on a rosy flush from the chill as she swallowed, the soft pink tip of her tongue catching the corner of her lip to wipe away the last evidence of her cupcake half. When they got to their destination, she didn't immediately feel the need to let go of his hand.

His palm didn't squeeze and his fingers did not strangle hers. His touch was light, up until his fingertips gently pinned themselves to the back of her hand's glove. It was enough pressure that their hands never broke, but never so much that he was somehow holding it hostage. At the rink, he had the face of war when trying to understand something, even if it was only where the rental ice skates could be found. "There." He nodded, and waited for Summertime woman to step ahead of him.

Her touch was similarly light, the warmth of her skin translating across the smooth leather of the glove. Never possessive but never disinterested, her fingers engaged their likes in a conversational dance, twining where possible, moving gently alongside where it wasn't. Locating the rental place at approximately the same time or just after, Jezebel led them closer. She unzipped her jacket with her free hand as they approached, revealing the silver grey body-hugging sweater dress she wore beneath it, long threads of wild red spilling over her shoulders in broad, bold strokes of abstract color.

When it was their turn, she greeted the attendant with a warm smile and a soft explanation of what size she thought she needed.

Tag followed her request with his own, and it was only when the skates were set on the counter in front of him that his hold on her broke. They were larger than he expected. He didn't know how to carry them, he needed both arms to manage it with any grace. There was only one look to Jezebel before he sat at the nearest bench, folding in half to push up his pant leg and work the knot of his boots undone at the top. The laces sighed as soon as the knot came loose. He used two fingers to catch them, working in slack before he could work his foot free.

The sleeves of her jacket were overlong, black with silver buttons that lined the bell curve from elbow to fingertips; Jezebel folded them back a quarter turn as she sat on the bench next to him. Reaching down to work the zippers on the small heeled boots she wore, she had had the foresight to wear thick socks in addition to her black cotton tights, which would surely help cushion her feet against the harsh angles of the ice skate. Flexing her toes, she eyed the skate curiously.

"This seems a Medieval passtime, just a little bit barbaric, no?" She laughed lightly, sounding of summer and tropical heat here in the midst of all this ice and snow storm. She was misplaced in a landscape of white, her colors all the more hothouse flower bright for the contrast. Carefully she slipped one foot into the first skate and began lacing.
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 17, 2018 4:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"The shoes seem... quite serious." They had a weight to them which said as much. From a distance, it appeared that people only hovered on their shoes just above the ice. Sitting as they were, just then, it seemed more to resemble twin axe blades emerging from the soles of worn, white shoes. He was working on his second skate as she finished lacing her first.

The dark man agreed with the seasons, his black hair like pieces of the evening repeatedly cut and neatly brushed forward. All that spoke of the sun was the tone of his skin, but even that had gotten more pale from winter months and abandoned outdoor hobbies.

Finished with the first skate, she leaned forward, putting a little of her weight on the blade, trying out its balance experimentally. Satisfied that she understood the mechanics if not precisely the execution, Jezebel moved on to lacing the other skate. When she was finished, she lifted her gaze to Tag beside her, a smile of anticipation putting the faintest tremble in the full curve of her lower lip. "...Shall we try to stand?"

His attention left her to study the people who had the skates on already. How they were walking, but the sight of it left little in terms of instruction. Jezebel spoke and he turned his head to look at her, "We must make it to the rink so that we can blame the ice." He leaned forward, grabbing the seat of the bench in front of him. It was his crutch before attempting to stand on the blades of his newborn legs.

Jezebel, for her part, watched Tag. Planting both feet a little ways apart, she pressed her hands into her knees and leaned forward, her movements unhurried and gradual as she fed more and more of her weight onto the thin blades that held her aloft. When it felt steady, she rose, her ankles wobbling doe-legged and unsteady before they caught and locked in place, supporting her. Straightening, a smile of delight painted full lips as she held both hands out to her sides for balance. "I did it!"

Between them, she had been quicker about being able to stand, he took a minute more. When he was upright he could feel it, a tightness in his chest that said his lungs ached from holding his breath. He exhaled, it was the same relief of a first cigarette except the taste was better.

"Learning to walk." He thought of Ame, pushing the envelope, he thought of all the shaky steps the boy took without yet breaking away from the wall, and felt a new appreciation for the boy's trepidation. Just standing was a victory. Tag turned a palm up to her, offering that they combine forces.

She took his hand readily, having slipped off her gloves to work the laces on her skates better. Her skin wasn't just warm in his but almost hot, like she'd been holding them in front of a fire for the last several minutes instead of balancing herself in the frigid air. She took one awkward step towards him, wobbled precariously and then righted herself without pulling down on him too much. Her eyes wide, she thought of her son, but also of both times she'd had to relearn to walk herself. This, so far, was proving the most challenging. She took another small step and then another after that, her heat of her smile growing as she got the hang of it.

Whether or not he knew how hot her hands were was unclear. Perhaps it was from the contrast of the cold that he felt the impression of her like a brand, burning when she squeezed during small adjustments to her balance. There was a bias, of how much of her was fire and how much of her he saw that way. Jezebel was quicker to move, to try out the world, but once she had made successful quarter and half steps, he was urged along. He would lose her hand if he did not keep moving forward.

The movements became easier for him after the fifth step. His posture no longer crouched in survival, but stayed at a careful curve. He squeezed her hand, letting her palm leave a warm mark in his not because he was in danger of losing his balance, because he wanted to feel it.

She squeezed him back because she wanted to feel it too, the way it felt to hold his hand like this. As they neared the edge of the rink, her steps became tentative again, hesitant. She held his hand in one and the railing in the other, carefully stretching one foot out onto the ice. It was slippery, the blade catching its teeth with an urge to spin and slip away. Careful as a newborn baby deer, she stepped spindle legged and unsure-footed out onto the ice, her breath caught and her eyes bright.

He stayed two steps behind, an anchor to the walking world they had just started to get used to. Moving his foot was odder than normal, he found it was as though the hinge of his ankle was frozen in place. "Hold the railing." And now it was time for him to step on the ice. Like her, he was discovering that it was an entirely new world to relearn. This was how people glided over ice, how they seemed to hover. He wasn't sure that the sight of ice skating would ever feel the same again.

It was a whole new world, a series of firsts they were discovering together. Stops and starts, moments of perilous wobble and a dizzy twist to stay upright. Desperate grabs for the railing, for each other. Maybe they fell, maybe they fell more than once. But always, they fell together, the soft melody of her laugh ringing in breathless bursts that spoke of joy. Little by little, they got the hang of it together.

Bruises and the song of laughter. It wasn't just her, it was from the children on the other side of the rink. It was from the many little smiles that just seemed to be at the corner of his eye. The coldness he had first felt was gone, replaced by something so warm he was on the verge of taking off his coat. Had the cold ever felt so warm? The contrast of the concrete, the abstract, and there was always the sense that Jezebel's smile was there, even when he wasn't looking.

When their legs burned from learning and their elbows and knees promised only unkind bruises, they were forced to return the skates and slides back into their original shoes.

Exhilarated and breathless, they laughed at themselves and at each other, stealing secret smiles at one another as the skates were returned. Her boots felt awkward, newborn themselves as she relearned how to walk on their tall heels, having just so recently shed the skill in search of something new.

Fingers linked again, they stopped by the table with the favors on their way out, a different kind of smile touching the pretty curve of her mouth when they were offered the set of four Valentines mugs that were reserved for couples. Accepting with a hushed thank you, Jezebel squeezed his hand again gently as they left together. Her fingers had perhaps found a new permanent perch.
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 21, 2018 9:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

(( Days later, Tag and Jez. Adapted from live play. Thanks to Jez's player!))

There were times that the idea of a lunch hour was strange to him, mostly because it was such a strict measurement of time for days that were unpredictable. When he was on site men would complain of traffic keeping them, or that any number of incidents had occurred. They felt to him as legitimate as unexpected thunderstorms, rolling their lives with little regard for what time or schedules were. Reasons or excuses always came like gossip, half believed but always with a strain of truth to them.

His site was not far from the marketplace and with Penny in school and Ame being watched back at home, he had that discrete and strange bit of time to ask for her to join him. He asked her to join him not because there wasn’t time to go home or because he’d rather not be alone. He asked her because shadows improved in the presence of a flame. He asked her because he was still burned from her kiss at breakfast.

The message had been simple. It stated that he would be eating at the same deli they had crossed paths at before, though this time he would be without children. He took some effort to explain in his text message that he would not be appropriately dressed. Text messages took effort. Would she still come?

The answering text message came almost immediately. There was no longer delay, either deliberate or unintended, there was no something better to do or let’s make him wait on purpose. Jezebel was there and her message said that she would be delighted to accept, of course, that she was looking forward to seeing him, that she cared not even a little how he was dressed.

Having never had a job beyond the all encompassing work of motherhood, the redhead was not bound by schedules. When her son was away, she came and went as she pleased, driven by whim and circumstance, fate and invitation. She tucked just such an invitation into her bag as she dressed quickly, preparing to meet him on the square.

A short time later, she was crossing the marketplace at the fountain, making her way to the restaurant he’d invited her to once before. A warm smile decorated golden features as she let herself inside, sliding her sunglasses up on top of her head as she scanned the interior for him.

The dark man was work, soil and grease when he was on sites. If she knew the scent of a building’s bones, she could have known the brush of drywall and how the brown leather gloves rubbed their message into his hands. The black t-shirt had a swipe of something across it. Not paint, but something substantial enough that it hadn’t been brushed off. He was the sort that would have, he was the sort that thought the details mattered.

He tapped the toe of his construction boot outside the deli in a ritual he had learned with the job. It was a construction worker’s prayer, an attempt to set loose the reminders of the site from his shoes. He had been only a few paces behind her, stitched to her soles. His hand dropped, an anchor in his pocket meant to dig out his cellphone and find the line back to her. It took only seconds to see she was already there.

He smiled, eyebrows ticking upward as he did so. Did the smile really transform him, or was it just because he had held them so close to his chest before all of this?

“Glad you could… make it.â€

Letting her eyes adjust to the relative gloom of the cool interior, Jezebel gently, carefully loosened the buttons on her coat. Coaxing each one out of its catch, she gave what patrons she saw a friendly smile, but did not immediately see Tag among them. Reaching into her bag for her phone, the soft hiss of the door opening behind her distracted her questing fingers, bringing her about in a half turn that made her hair dance and sway in the gust of cool late winter wind that had accompanied the new arrival.

Ah, there he was. The smile that greeted him had ten times the wattage that she’d offered to the other guests, matching the one she found on his face in kind. Her coat hung open, revealing the oversized sweater she wore underneath it, the neckline stretched wide so that it would likely slip off her shoulder once the jacket had been removed, and she took the two steps back towards him. Lifting her chin to press a light kiss on his cheek in greeting, Jezebel eased back a moment later. “I’m so glad you asked.â€

His lips didn’t lose their light, not when the soft warmth of her mouth reignited its reason. His eyes lowered during the moment, lifting only once she leaned away and spoke to him. It felt like she had whispered a secret that everyone was meant to hear, a stroke of sound against the side of his face. His lips parted but the words came short of what he wanted to say, “Do you know what you want?â€

The direction of his dark, starless eyes pointed towards the counter where the clerk was punching the heavy keys of the register for a group of five customers that had just placed their order. They were a small swarm at the counter, slipping away seconds later with larger plastic numbers that seemed like voluntary tags. The group claimed a larger booth in the corner of the restaurant, swishing their drinks with crackling ice and idle conversations about work.

Tag saw the opportunity to step towards the empty counter, his expression lifting fractionally, questioning if she was prepared or indecisive.

“Always,†Jezebel answered him in a playful purr, her smile matched her eyes in the soft flicker of catlike contentment. {i]Oh, I know what I want,[/i] her eyes seemed to say. It’s right in front of me.

She let him direct her to the counter, where she placed an order for a sandwich that was chock full of fresh spring vegetables and a glass of tea. “Sacrilegious to you, I know,†she looked up at Tag with a grin, “--but I’ve developed a taste for it since I’ve been here.â€

Truth be told, she’d developed a taste for rather a lot of things in the time since she’d been in Rhydin. Jezebel lingered close, one hand resting lightly along the small of his back while he placed his order, though her friendly, inviting smile was turned on the person taking their order for the time being.

“Sacrilegious?†It was clear by the way the air caught between them that he was searching to understand what she meant. Her words hadn’t been unclear, just too poetic and yet technical. He had thought at first she meant that she was offended, then… that he should be offended but he could not determine why. It did not occur to him that the tea she ordered was the foundation for what she said. He couldn’t fathom the sin of her sandwich.

Perhaps he was distracted. He swallowed and ordered, looking down and feeling as though they were flirting. Perhaps that was the nature of flirting, that it had to do with only partly understanding and filling the numerous voids with hopes. He broke his lips with the tip of his tongue and smiled again. He was holding both of their cups of tea, his eyes jumping away from the red of her hair to make sense of the commons and where they should sit.

There was a two person booth by the window. The view wasn’t amazing, it was just of the market street, but he wanted it, anyway. “There,†he motioned with one thin cup and then waited for her to take the first step of acceptance towards it.

Jezebel gestured to the two cups in his hand after he’d placed his order. “Sacrilegious. It means... Blasphemous. Sinful. Wrong in a terrible way.†A warm smile caught the corners of her mouth and held, her golden eyes crackling with warmth. “Your homeland has entire rituals devoted to the preparation of tea, does it not?†Her laugh was slow and sweet, “none of which include sugar or ice.â€

Her gaze followed his motioning, and she nodded when she understood. “Good choice,†the redhead hummed as she gathered napkins and silverware and then headed that way.

“Oh this is… this is different.†He looked down at their cups and then to her, “To do something as a ritual is… not to do it for the end result. The purpose is to engage in what the act is, to absorb and understand it and not just umm… take satisfaction from the product.†There was another look down to the cups and then back to her, “This is just about being able to drink, not about the act of making a drink. I’m not offended.†There was a smile, the barest hint of humor dawning on his lips. Perhaps he would have chuckled, near-silent, had it been just the two of them.

While she took napkins and silverware he prepared the drinks as people around them had. He shoveled ice into the cups and fed the under a plastic nozzle. Dark, benign amber flowed over the cubes. It was seconds after she settled that he joined her. One disposable cup for her and one for himself. It was a lunchtime menu in a semi-casual place. It was hard to fault it for the corners being cut or the lack of concern for this disposable dinnerware that was served.
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Jezebel Calient
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2018 7:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Her soft, silky laughter sounded again, once he’d assured her that he would survive the slight. The expression on her face said she might know a thing or two about ritual, about absorbing and understanding for its own sake. Her rites, though, had precious little to do with tea.

She set the little placard they’d been given on the table, sorted the napkins from the plastic cutlery and arranged them into place for the both of them. By the time he’d rejoined her with the drinks, she had two complete place settings carefully laid...side by side. Having tucked herself into the far corner of the seat she’d chosen, Jezebel gestured the empty space beside her with a tip of her chin, her molten amber gaze fixed beseechingly on his face. “Join me?â€

There was his nod, even though the air of ‘yes’ was already between them. He sat beside her, not leaning his weight fully into the back of the booth. He kept upright and tense. Perhaps it was that he was that formal, or still had lingering, tight ropes of muscle along his shoulders and neck. Thoughts of what was, what could be, and how much of the interaction was imagined.

The dark man had lived too many times in a place of half dreams, of little inlets of hope that had always seemed real. There was something more substantial here, though. He could feel the warmth of her beside him when he sat, and he tried not to think of it as a promise. Tag felt better when he believed in the momentary nature of the world, that at any minute life could change. She could change. Because things did change.

He still… felt accustomed to the warmth of her. He was hoping it wouldn’t change.

“You know of Japan and the tea ritual,†he said with a smile that was knowing and not shy before he continued, “what of your own?â€

Jezebel wasn’t formal. Draped into the corner of the booth, her body was angled partially towards him. She’d shed her coat before she slipped into it, using the folded up fabric to cushion herself from the hard wood panelling, so she was essentially lounging beside him, perfectly at ease.

Jezebel was warmth. The enveloping heat of her could be the comfort of a laundered blanket fresh from the dryer, or it could be like standing too close to a raging bonfire. Today was an understated day, the blood-hot impression of two hands pressed tightly together and then released again. She was inviting but not overbearing, magnetic, but not to the point of suffocation.

Her laughter was a sunbeam filtering through the windows, making a whirling dance of the dust motes in the air. “Rituals where I am from mostly involve throwing people into volcanoes,†she quipped, flippant but also...not. The hard edge of truth glinted in the mellifluous tone of her voice. “I think, perhaps, tea is better.â€

“Perhaps.†He did not pretend to know. There was a gentle pause there and he thought, momentarily, that he tasted her lips even though they hadn’t kissed. The memory of them had crept in, perfectly, putting the shadow of her over his tongue while they sat. Her body was angled towards him as in anticipation for an announcement. In those moments he wished for something more profound, he wished he had a secret that could easily be slipped into her ear.

Instead, there was the sun behind her, warming the glass and flooding a light into her hair that marked her red with warning and promise. There was a pause before he asked, “What do you think of dreams? When you have them, what do you think they mean?â€

“I dream in rich colors, when I dream. I like to think they’re significant, like they’re visits from people I have known in the past.†That red promise (or warning) sat up, closing the distance between them, her warm amber eyes alight with interest. “What do you dream about when you dream?â€

She asked, but before he would have a chance to answer, the runner showed up with their food. Red plastic mesh baskets lined with wax paper and sandwiches were exchanged for the calling card Jezebel had placed at the edge of the table, and she fitted her straw into the mouth of the sweet tea cup’s lid with a careful push, taking a sip before looking to him for an answer.

“I will see those I knew, and those that are now. Sometimes I think my mind is trying to warn me, to make me see something that I missed or… did not understand the first time.†There was a small, vague motion of his hand, as if trying to illustrate some idea he had except that it faded away too quickly. He did not want to sound as if he thought dreams were real, only that they were meaningful. Only in that they seemed to be made of more than nothing.

Food arrived. It broke the conversation, but in a pleasant way. He mimicked her actions with the straw, not taking an immediate sip but balling up the paper to tuck it off to the side. The Pita Frampton. He took a bite of it and then a swallow of the tea.

“Do you ever see me in these dreams?†Her tone carried no innuendo, it was his talk of warnings that made her ask. There was a ‘person’ in particular who came to her most often in her dreams, and she had to believe that what she dreamed of him was real--her mind wouldn’t accept any other possibility.

“Not yet.†There was the faint rustle of coyotes in the grass. Madison’s eyes glowed in the dark and still, somewhere, the land of the sun was basking in its light. He had seen old friends die again and he had drown in sand. There had been joy, there had been moments glorious and horrible. Jezebel had stayed immune to all of it, but that was not forever.

As they spoke, she unwrapped her sandwich, lifting it carefully from the plastic for her first couple of bites. It was chock full of newly ripe vegetables, and for a moment her lashes lowered to half mast, pulsing like the wings of a hummingbird. “Mm,†she said after she’d swallowed. “This is delicious. Thank you again for lunch.â€

Part of him worried what his mind would say. If it would be a warning, if it would be a promise of something more. He liked the isolation of it, that no part of what they were was informed by anything other than the moment they had now, unwrapping their sandwiches. He took another bites and then another swallow.

Except that it was not nothing, either, they had agreed in his sunlit kitchen that it was something. The shift from nothing to something was a small step, but also an enormous one. It had made a world of difference, at least, for her.

She smiled warmly between bites of her sandwich. “Perhaps that’s a good thing.â€

A comfortable silence descended between them as they ate. Alone with her own thoughts, Jezebel considered the invitation that was still floating in the top of her bag, underneath the folded coat. After another swallow of teeth-jarringly sweet tea, she twisted away from him, gently lifting the fabric aside so as to reach the thick card stock underneath. Drawing one fingertip thoughtfully along its smooth edge, the heat of her gaze lifted to Tag’s face anew. “I am wondering something.â€

He had nodded at the prospect of it being a good thing. He did not know what his mind would say to him, in that concerning lull of his thoughts. He had a few bites left to go of his sandwich but he was already full, holding a crumpled paper napkin to his mouth as she drew up papers. They were clearly some piece of mail by the shape and look of it.

The expectation was for her to tell him what it was, not unroll a distant musing. His expression had gravity for a moment as he reflected, “What are you wondering?â€

Half of her sandwich was still there, untouched in its wrappings, though she’d finished the first half and enjoyed it thoroughly.

“I am wondering,†she began, pulling the thick cream envelope all the way out of the bag at last and placing it on the table between their plates. Golden eyes with the subtlest ripple of heat lightning in them watched his face with curious, catlike interest, to see how he would react. The corners of her mouth curved up in a little half-smile of anticipation. “How you might feel about going on a small adventure with me.â€

The dark man observed her, the little dance of her hands and the presentation of the paper. At the question, the corners of his mouth betrayed a flattered interest. Even with the clues he had been given, she had been unpredictable. The adventure had something to do with the paper she had drawn out, but he hadn’t stitched the details in to know it. There was something young and new about her when she played with the ends of anticipation. A small adventure.

Somewhere, the dust of a prairie brushed over his skin. The wind off the mountains and the distant glow of a warehouse fire. His right hand dropped, absently hugging over the coyote bite of his opposite arm, “An adventure? I can’t just go. There is Penny and Ame. She is in school. This is where they need to be, for now.†He had taken her suggestion to be substantial, to be a change of life.

She watched him, and in the watching she could almost pinpoint the exact moment that the shadow darkened on his features, whether in memory or regret, she couldn’t have said. Lifting one hand, she laid it gently over one of his, covering the palm that covered his fading scar. Chasing away the darkness with her light.

“That’s why it’s a small adventure,†Jezebel laughed, her tone like the gentle hum of a song’s refrain. With a careful slip of her fingers, she took the invitation out of its envelope and angled it on the table so he could see. “I have been invited to a wedding at a mountain retreat, an…onsen on Mount Yasuo. Guests are encouraged to stay the weekend and enjoy the natural springs. I am wondering if perhaps you’d like to come?â€

From her he expected the soft perfume of apologies or encouragement. He was certain that no smile could last forever, nor did it need to. Annoyance, frustration, the need to admonish, it was all a dark cloud that brought rain and renewed the life of what two people grew together. He did not feel the sky darkening between them, just the warmth of her hand and the sound of her laugh that reasserted the sun was still directly overhead.

A weekend. Her request brought him relief and then a fragile hum of anticipation. He did not want to hold his breath and hope, he wanted to answer her immediately. There was a difference, though, in what he wanted and what he knew was possible. The dark man nodded, his small, kind smile returning, “I will ask Miss Marjorie and speak with Penny.†Ame was no longer on formula. In the absence of a mother, there was Marjorie and Penny-- the boy might have moments where he questioned where his father was, but they would be brief. It was only a weekend.

He was thoughtful, wondering if there had ever been only a weekend.

The delicate space cultivated between two people needed rain and fire both to grow strong and healthy, but today was not a day for storm clouds. There was desire and interest in the offering, and the truth of that was in the way she watched him as he thought of his answer. But there was no expectation; a ‘no’ held the same weight as a ‘yes’ --no less, but also no more.

A radiant smile bloomed on her face as he spoke, its heat amplified by the strength of her delighted surprise. Jezebel was expecting the ‘no’, that it was too soon, too much, that it wasn’t something he could ask of the woman who sometimes watched his children, much less of his children themselves. She had expected him to make a polite, face saving excuse about how nice the offer was and how much he wished he could entertain it. What she had not expected was a strong maybe, a let me talk to my daughter. A thrill of anticipation snaked its way down her spine, leaving her smile fixed firmly in place

It was conditional hope, but the hope was there, suffusing her with happy energy. Even so, her enthusiasm was carefully modulated, her tone gentle despite the fizzy sparkle in her eyes. “Of course, I understand,†she said softly, “but I would like that very much.â€
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2018 7:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“As would I,†his admission was not shy or bashful, but spoken in the slow quiet tones of someone discussing part of a dream they had just come to understand. He thought he felt her move, a ripple of warmth like a mirage rising off the road. She fixed him there with a smile, his body undamaged by it because there was no attempt to wriggle away from her. She held him with her eyes, and at some point he was holding her with his.

The second comment came, a curiosity he had to ask though he expected nothing for it. “An onsen in Mount Yasuo?†The inquiry ran deeper than the small polite suggestion of the details. He was asking about the bones, he was asking who the person was and what it really meant. The question wanted to know why his language had crossed over her tongue.

The space between his statement and his question was pleasantly heavy, and for a time Jezebel simply revelled in the weight of it. This wasn’t a ‘date’ in the sense that it wasn’t just a couple of hours spent in pursuit of a common pass-time, perhaps to be followed up by a kiss. It wasn’t just a date to a wedding, someone to be seen with and share cake with to avoid awkward questions about why you’d come alone. It wasn’t a spontaneous, heat-of-the-moment, passionate impulse, spawned by fate and circumstance, either. This was premeditated. A plan.

It was a weekend away together. And he hadn’t said no.

Her lips pressed together like she could actually taste the subtle change in the air between them, like there was a flavor to the way his gaze held her steadily in place. She smiled a moment later; it wasn’t until he’d prompted her that Jezebel really realized what she was inviting him to. With a soft laugh, she curled supple fingers through fire-blazed tresses, then tried to explain.

“I have a friend, Izumi. She is Japanese, and part of a larger group of Japanese women who essentially run the Kabuki District. It is Izumi’s wedding, and -- if I understand the situation correctly -- her boss owns the Onsen.â€

“I’ve seen it,†and yet Tag was not integrated, he had not found them and formed the connections one might have expected. Rhy’Din was not uncommon in that there were many subcultures which popped up. There were people who had come from the same planet, were the same race or had the same belief structure. Between them was a thread of similarity which held them all together. Tag listened to what she said, though there was the smallest chill of reservation in his smile, a hesitation one might not expect from someone isolated in the land of the round-eye.

“Then it will be interesting.†His words smoothed over the disruption, ensuring with the slight phrase that he understood, that he was ready. That there was a time to show up without making excuses for why you hadn’t a date, and to appear in the eyes of those that might know you for what you were. The quiet shame of it was gone, the softly spoken promises of an old world no longer took his integrity. He would be seen with her.

Jezebel missed precious little, but even less did she draw direct attention to. Her smile never dimmed as she watched him, listening to what few words he had to say, waiting patiently for each of them. She couldn’t know his predicament, his struggle, but there was an air of acceptance to her all the same.

Leaning just slightly forward in her seat, she smiled at him, warm and not a little conspiratorial. “It will certainly be more interesting now.†The curve of her lips carried secret promise.

An untrained observer would have thought him naive, wandering into a weekend trap with an experienced and confident woman, as if he simply would not realize the implication of events, and what they would add to. On longer inspection came the weight of his soul, that there was no newness there but a long heavy quiet. It held patience and understanding. His lips drew in together slowly and pressed, rolling the meaning of the trip across his brain once and then relaxing.

“It will.†His left hand slipped under the table, circling the swell of her thigh to give it a gentle squeeze before disappearing. His attention forced itself back on the sandwich.

Jezebel knew him for the man he was, or at least, the man he’d revealed to her so far. He had children, he’d been married; his circumspect silence could not be conflated with innocent oblivion. It was the very gravity of his quiet soul that told her he’d considered it with measured care, that he knew the precise weight and feel of the decision he was making.

And still, he’d said yes.

The enthusiasm in her commentary was not lascivious. She was not making crude double entendres in the way she’d said that things would be more interesting with him, though the flame-kissed redhead was the furthest thing from vestal. Her excitement was a genuine interest in being around him, spending time in his presence that was not hindered by late nights or tired babysitters. Her smile had a sunny quality to it that was completely benign despite the magnetic pull of her superheated energy.

But there was that hand on her thigh. Deliberate in its placement, in the exact pressure of its squeeze. There and gone again, she could distinctly feel its outline even after he’d moved away, and that phantom impression of lingering contact drew every bit of her attention. Swallowing once, Jezebel took a breath to ensure her own composure. She said nothing, not quite trusting herself to speak words that weren’t charged with specific intent, but she slipped her fingers lightly into the crook of his arm.

His attention was ripped from the moment when he felt something knock against the side of his shoe. Immediately his eyes dropped to the ground. He hadn’t expected what he saw, he hadn’t known what he might expect. A small girl was on her hands and knees, reclaiming whatever had hit his foot. She didn’t seem to realize that she had come to the foot of a great oak tree. Her eyes were too busy looking down to see that he was above.

“Oh, I’m so sorry! Nevaeh, get off the ground.†Her mother cut the distance to get to her daughter who waved her off impatiently.

“But I had to get my bird,†she said, standing up without her parent’s help and then balancing herself by gripping the end of the table. A half squashed paper crane was pinned between her small fingers, the brightly colored paper making it look like a butterfly had landed on her. The young girl’s ponytail was lopsided with strands of her light brown hair escaping the glittery, purple elastic.

The Dark Man saw the child and smiled as if they shared a secret, putting the tip of his finger on the edge of the table near the girl’s crane. “Did you make that?â€

Her mother was embarrassed, but seeing that neither of them was irritated at the girl’s intrusion, she paused long enough to allow the exchange. The little girl smiled at him and shook her head no, lifting it off the table to fix its distorted figure. The paper moved with a tremble between her young and slightly reckless tugging. The dark man knew the little bird well, he watched it flare back into a healthy existence. She showed it off to him, the crane sitting in the palm of her hand. “A lady in the tea room gave it to me.†She beamed before her mother swept in, taking her by her empty hand to pull her away. The mother mouthed an apology to them though he could tell the embarrassment she felt dampened the way she was smiling at them.

The Dark Man renewed his smile for Jezebel despite the interruption of a paper crane.

The subtle heat of her fingers was still buried in the crook of his arm as the child scampered closer, in pursuit of the paper bird that had so recently become a flight risk. Jezebel could feel the fine grit of construction dust, both where it coated his shirt in a fine powder of silt and where the tiny grains had been embedded in his skin. It gave him the feel of a sculpture not quite finished, put her in mind of the artist standing just out of sight with his sandpaper, surveying his own masterpiece in quiet awe.

With this image in mind, Jezebel’s smile drifted gently on her features, the radiant warmth of amber eyes shifting to watch the young girl with her paper crane. Her smile spread to see the way Tag interacted with her, his quiet patience as she corrected the crumpled wings for herself where some men, impatient, would have snatched it from her. She thought of his daughter, imagining them together, what the young woman might be like, and she, too, offered the mortified mother an easy smile of gentle comfort.

“Do you make birds like that one?†She asked as the pair moved away.

“Yes,†there was a nod following the word before he continued, “eh, there is a strange one-mindedness here about military that is not as it is back home.†The hand resting on the table from where he had pointed out the crane turned up, exposing its belly to the ceiling as he continued, “Soldiers were thought to be stronger when they had other hobbies. We were not permitted to write, so some would take up bonsai or origami,†there was a helpless shrug of his shoulders. He was not embarrassed like the mother, but knew that it skinned some personality away from his choice. Prior to speaking it was a novelty, a unique asset and not one that other soldiers diligently poured themselves over.

“It is strange,†he looked at the direction of the girl and then back to Jezebel, “it looks as though I folded it but I could not have. That wasn’t my paper but it has… eh… my signature?†That word, signature, he felt that it was incorrect though it said exactly what he was intending. There were those that had adapted small changes to the formula of folding, ones which distinguished their paper creations from others. At times it had been accidental or some feat of improvement. While it was not as drastic or as personal as a written signature, it was one he had not seen in the versions folded by the coffee shop girl.

Perhaps ideas, small folds in paper, had populated and spread like curly hair or an unusual birthmark. Was the signature he thought of, those minor folds, now merely the standard?

Jezebel found the skill no less charming for being commonplace. Her smile lingered as he spoke, her attention never wavering from his face. It could have been overbearing, the weight of her presence, like standing too close for too long to a raging bonfire, perhaps. Tag seemed to be doing just fine, at worst heedless or even actively interested in the proximity of the flames. Her gaze ticked from his face to the young girl and back thoughtfully, the middle finger of her free hand idly tracing the rim of her paper tea cup. The plastic lid made a soft noise, encouraged by her contact.

“Is it possible that there is someone else here who does it as you do? Someone who learned it from you, perhaps?â€

“No,†there was a certainty in how he shook his head. He didn’t frown, but the feeling of it was present like a cold, shady undertow grabbing at the ankles of their conversation, “those that knew me died in the war. It was a miracle that I am here and was not with the Dutch or…†there was a shake of his head, dismissing the hundreds of areas in his past where it seemed that there was a fork in the road. The top of her hand was greeted with the coarse stroke of his other hand gently eclipsing the back of hers.

His eyes on her had softened, enveloping her gently before his weight leaned forward, allowing him the space to kiss her on the cheek. Attention swiveled to the invitation, “When is it?†That wasn’t the question. Is it soon?

Jezebel nodded, accepting him at his word. She smiled up at him, tilting the sunlight of her expression up towards him. “It’s a miracle I’m grateful for, then,†she replied, her fingers pressing lightly into his arm.

The weight of his hand over hers was soothing, a reassuring pressure that reminded her all the more sharply of his physical presence. The outline of his chest, visible through the thin material of his work shirt; the broad slope of his shoulders, squared at attention even as they were twisted towards her. Carefully, she slipped supple fingers into the spaces between his, twining them together like a creeping vine. Her cheek tilted up into his kiss, her head turning to catch the corner of his mouth in an answer.

“Next weekend.†Soon, but not so soon that arrangements couldn’t be made.

“I will let you know as soon as I can,†he looked at the little girl with the paper crane and then back to the invitation, “but I feel there is hope.â€

The dark man’s eyes went to her. He had hoped lunch could be longer, that it would feel longer, by being with her. Instead she had burned up the minutes quickly, the flame of her so bright that there weren’t even ashes to indicate that she had consumed the hour. Sitting by the warmth of her was relaxing, he kept thinking of the way she had toyed with the invitation before asking him. He had liked the way she wondered, how her fingertips had gone down the hard edge of the folded invitation before she had asked him.

He was studying her mouth as he thought of all the details. The way their food smelled and how he could still feel that the corner of his mouth was warm because she’d been there. Next weekend. He didn’t want to hold his breath because he might drown, waiting. She never pushed, but he did not imagine that a fire stayed on the outskirts long.

Next weekend. How had a lunch hour gone so quickly and then next weekend exist in a place years away?
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