Archive for the Romance Category

Maria…

Posted in Literary Fiction, Prose, Romance, Short Story, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2011 by JC Cecala

  Lights on.

The fresh faced diva with the stunning three and a half octave range, Maria Cara, headlines the long awaited production of Lucia di Lammermoor opening tonight at The Metropolitan Opera House. Tickets are sold out.

She flipped a few pages.

Rolling blackouts continue to leave the sweltering city in the dark.

Placing the newspaper onto the vanity table, her hand drifted towards a nearby playbill. There was a hesitance that struck her but eventually gave way and she picked the pamphlet up. Thumbing through, she spotted a photograph of herself. Stone gray eyes intensified by charcoal colored curls cascading against flesh of alabaster. Bare neck, elongated. Coral lips parted by a smile that left most of her teeth naked. Bare. Nude. A way of being she had forgotten years ago as she was now hidden. Hidden by agents. Hidden by elaborate costumes and hair styles. Hidden by beaming lights. Hidden behind make-up and fad diets. Hidden by the music that was giving way to a lust for fame.

“Miss Cara, close your eyes.”

“What?”

“Close your eyes. I have to blend your eye shadow.”

Lights out.

Groans of disdain echoed on the other side of her open dressing room door. Lids lowered. Eyes shut. Black. Just like her nights. Just like her mother’s hair before it all fell out. Just like her days. Deep. Dark. Cumbersome. Her nerves were calm despite the anticipation that loomed. Listening to the taps of heels scuffle across floorboards and bits and pieces of dialogue being built around her, her name dangled from the tips of the tongues of everyone.

Lights on.

“Her wardrobe! Miss Cara’s wardrobe for Act II!”

“Did you book her reservations? For Cipriani’s, after the show!”

“Somebody get me maintenance. We’re having electrical issues.”

“Miss Cara will be on in fifteen, how much longer?”

“She’s almost done with hair and make-up.”

Exposing her eyes to the rest of the world, they came into focus and she saw her mother. In the arch of her eyebrows, the shape of her eyes, and the point of her nose. She was beginning to forget her scent and this terrified her. Again, she closed her eyes and heard her voice. Heard the Italian she spoke to her and the much younger sisters Maria protected and cared for as best she could.

Her mother vanished. The reflection now stared back at her, glaring, snarling.

“Where is my water!” Soared from the back of her throat.

Tearing her head away from the fidgety fingers of the make-up artist and hair stylist she twisted her body and charged out of the open door to face the tapestry of workers, stage hands, understudies, and co-stars alike. Standing in the doorway she released a low growl.

Hello! I’m not talking to myself, people!”

Eyes went into a frenzy, darting, leaping, bounding, while lips fell still, tongues retreating. Maria walked away from the tiny quarters of her dressing room and into her onlookers as she peered, quirking her left brow, pouting her painted lips.

“I’ve been denied the humidifiers I requested…I agreed to wear this, this disgusting gown, and have my hair done by an amateur,” She seethed, looking over her shoulder at the doe-eyed stylist peeking from the dressing room doorway “and on top of this…I am still waiting…for…MY WATER and lozenges!”

“Miss Cara, I –“

“Shut up! Shut up…and go get it!”

As her lips met one another once more, in a hassle, the group dispersed, some silent, others whispering, some running, others strolling at a steady pace.

“No air conditioning. I’m melting!” She complained “I’m on in ten, no water. What is this!”

She stood in that moment and watched the crew bustling, cast members conversing and rehearsing. Alisa, the maid to Maria’s character was doing vocal warm-ups, hands pressed against her belly, concentration exuding from her tight mouth and burrowed eyebrows. Naormanno, the huntsman that helps tear Maria’s character from her beau was chatting with one of the female understudies, arm propped against the wall, leaning in as she giggled. Maria rolled her eyes at his attempt at flirting with women especially since every night, he was sneaking into the bedroom of Lord Enrico Ashton, Maria’s stage brother.

“She’s talented, but I think she got the lead because she’s screwing Mr. Mottolini.” A high pitched voice attempted to whisper.

“Who?”

Maria spotted the culprits. She assumed them to be easily expendable, as she did not recognize either.

“He produced this show!…He’s one of the top members of The Broadway League, idiot. He’s like God of the opera world.”

“Ohhh.”

“He can make or break any career and he–”

Maria tapped the shoulder of one of the girls. Startled, she turned around. Her face red in an instant.

Ladies, next time you want to gossip, try and be a little more discrete. Especially…when you’re spreading lies about a woman who has the power…to have you both terminated and blacklisted. Understood?”

They both nodded with vigor. Maria shook her head before looking around at the frenzy that continued to ensue.Turning away from the spectacle before her she went back to her dressing room and plopped into her chair, her stylists slowly approaching her, timidly, unsure whether or not to attempt to finish.

Lights out.

She released a gentle sigh.

Lights on.

A familiar gaze. The stare cut through her exterior. The gown, the hair, the make-up, dissipated to expose Maria; modest, sensitive, lonely. And she watched as he drew near, the faint hint of a smile in the corners of his mouth.

“Evening, Lucia,” He said with a nod.

Maria glanced at him in the mirror. Chestnut hair, hues of hazel, olive skin, and an impish grin rendered her defenseless, at least for the moment.

“Are you ready for tonight?”  He asked.

Collecting her thoughts and feeling, she turned to him. The hair stylist and make-up artist caught her attention, still lingering in the background, waiting.

“You are done now,” Maria snapped “Now please excuse yourselves.”

In a setting overwhelmed with people the two were now alone within a small secluded area, within a private sliver of time. Their focus invested in one another as they fought the urges pulling through their limbs.

“Lucia.”

“Edgardo.”

“Nervous?”

“…”

“Don’t be,” He smiled.

“I…I don’t know if I can do this.” Fingers tugged at a gold band wrapped around her fourth finger.

“We talked about it.”

Maria’s sudden wave of disdain spread across her face. Arms folded, shifting her body’s weight onto her left leg. She wore a sneer and found herself outside of her vulnerability once more.

“And that’s all we did. Talk.”

“Maria…don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t push me away. Not after—“

“Maria—“

The dark baritone rattled her bones. She knew that voice and it forced her attention away from her Edgardo.

“Maria,” The man said, coming to a halt by her side “You look lovely!”

She forced a thank you from the pit of her as she stared at the Swarovski crystals woven into the corset of her gown.

“And your sist–”

“They’re fine.” She was sharp.

“Okay, okay, just making sure. Is everything to your liking?”

“Well,” there was a brief pause “…I’m a bit thirsty…and could use a lozenge or cough drop. Apparently that’s too much to ask for around here.”

“Did you make that request already?”

He saw her nod.

“Unacceptable,” He huffed, walking to the doorway of the make-shift dressing room.

There was no eye contact between the two.

“You!” The man pointed “Yes, you! Come! Now!”

The little man scuffled over, pretending to be invested in some paperwork on his clipboard, a failed attempt to mask his shaking nerves.

“How many God damned times,” He began through gritted teeth “Does Miss Cara have to ask for fucking water and lozenges! What are you people doing?”

“I, I apologize, Mr. Mattolini. We sent someone out for them a few minutes ago. He should, he should be right back any minute now.”

“Curtain opens in less than ten minutes!”

“I, I know. And I—“

“How is the star expected to perform on opening night in such conditions! A dressing room the size of a closet, no amenities, what the hell?”

She lifted her eyes and let them flutter onto him. Onto her Edgardo. He gazed back at her, both sympathy and disappointment carved into his face. He took a step back. Her skin burned. She took a step forward.

“Fucking idiots.” Mr. Mattolini muttered as his arm clasped around her waist, drawing her in with one quick motion “Anyway—oh! My manners. Mr. Gregory Duprez…I hadn’t even noticed you.” He said nonchalantly before disregarding the young man’s presence.

He grimaced.

“How are you, Thomas?”

“I’m well.” Was barely audible as he glanced over, his eyes uninspired.

Gregory’s attention drifted back to Maria. Adorned in her beaded and jeweled garment, hair flowing from beneath the glimmer of her tiara, and with a sorrow poorly veiled by deep mascara and a dusting of eye shadow.

“Here’s your water and lozenges, Miss Cara.”

The sound of her name yanked Maria from her thoughts. Her eyes rolled and with a snatch she held the water and lozenges in her hands.

“Finally.” She muttered.

“Curtains open in two minutes, people! Two minutes, time to move!” Echoed through the backstage area.

She looked to Gregory and noticed him stepping back. She stepped forward.

“Where did you get that ring?” Thomas asked, squinting his eyes.

The rim of the bottled water met her lips and she sipped.

“I have to take my place.” She said quietly before lifting her head and scurrying off.

Melisma and mordent rolling in tandem, moisture trickled down the nape of her neck, clung to her cheeks, and despite the sweltering theatre she continued to sing. Sending a litany of high E’s into the back of the room, she had to touch everyone. The onlookers sitting in the balcony, the audience lining the back of the opera house. The people outside of these four walls. The kingdom in the sky. She had to or else she would die and not only would she die but her life would have proven to be meaningless.

So she sang. Her body, the instrument. Teeth slicing syllables, tongue twisting Italian rhymes, sweet sounds mellifluously rising above the orchestra and floating higher until….Lights out.

Maria continued despite the lack of vision, despite the lost direction of the orchestration, despite the hushed whispers of confusion in the crowd. She forced feelings of intensity out of her stomach, out of her eyes, out of her throat and into the sounds escaping her and with a final release the music stopped, the crowd was silent and the last bit of feeling trapped in her lungs was launched into the world. The applause was sudden. The applause was violent. The applause belonged to her.

Stumbling around within darkness backstage, she could hear the madness. Curses, running, befuddlement. A hand on her wrist. A familiar sensation. A pull she could not break free from. She followed the scent into a space that felt familiar. A door closed. Her dressing room door.

Two hands rest on her hips, causing her pelvis to tremble.

“I’m telling him.”

“You can’t…” She whispered.

“I can and I will.”

Burning palms set empty bodies aflame. Bodies that were now vessels pulsating with a raw lust. Lips and teeth snatching at neck and tongue, craving salt, savoring skin, yearning for more, for everything.

“Maria,” was soft on his palette.

Breasts pressed against chest, digits sliding up thighs, supple cheeks rubbing against stubble, hard ache against soft surrender. Hands crept nearer to the unfulfilled space inside of Maria and her neck fell limp, her breathing grew deep, her fingernails dug deeper.

Black coated their desires, draped over the room, swallowing the building, devouring the streets. And the two allowed it to eat through their bodies, though, it could not consume their thoughts; Maria’s burning with fear, Gregory’s with wonder.

Lights on.

The two paused briefly and Maria pulled away. He clutched her hands and pulled her near.

“Please, Maria…Please!”

Trembles trailed skin. Hers. His. Maria’s vision blurred as teardrops welled in the corners of her pleading eyes.

“Greg…Greg, don’t…don’t make me do this.”

“Do what?” He exclaimed “I’m not doing anything but professing what I feel. What we feel.”

“This isn’t the time, Greg.”

“I will not share you.”

“Share me? As if I’m a piece of property? Your belonging?”

“That isn’t what I meant and you know it,” was stern as it left his mouth “I meant everything I said two months ago. Every single thing.”

“And I didn’t?” She quizzed before wondering if she even had the right to ask.

“If you did,” His hands closed tightly on her left hand “If you did…you’d say yes.”

“I…”

“Just…say…yes, Maria.”

Her chest tightened as though it were seconds away from collapsing, caving in on her hidden desires and secrets. His heavy hands on hers, warm palms, strong fingers, gave her the most indescribable sensations. Sensations only matched by the bliss she found in singing, performing. Eyes like those of a newborn child. A soul like no other she had ever been intimate with. Soft. Gentle. Honest. Resilient.

Knocks on the door.

“Lights are back on, Miss Cara! Curtains need to go back up! The audience is waiting.”

“Maria” Thomas’s muffled tone was ominous as the door opened.

She drew her hands back out of shock and turned towards the opening door. Her back to Gregory, a terror born in her; One she was a stranger to. So intense it was, she was too petrified to turn and face him again.

“…What?” Thomas halted, puzzled “What are you two doing in here?”

“Thomas,” Gregory said, his voice dark and thick “Maria and I are getting—“

“Tired!” Ran from her quivering lips “ We’re getting tired of working under these…these conditions…” She finished, her fingertips shielding her mouth.

“I know, but I can’t do anything about the rolling blackouts.”

Maria could feel the hand of a hurting man grip her left wrist and pull it back. Tense. Torn. Tattered. She felt furious fingers grasp at her ring finger and claw at the golden band that was now just as much a part of her as her lips, as her breasts, as her toes.

Ripped from her body she awaited blood. Prepared to see red droplets decorate the carpet beneath her. Ready for it to accompany the agony. But it never came.

Unable to bring herself to face him, her blank gaze fixated on Thomas who looked perturbed, or perhaps infuriated. And out of the corner of her eyes she caught a glimpse of gold, moments before she watched Gregory walk out towards the doorway. No looking over his shoulder. No pause in his pace. No gentle words to help her sleep sound in the solitude she would face that night. Now he was gone.

“Miss Cara,” the wardrobe supervisor stepped into the room, his voice lost among the thoughts that invaded Maria “Curtains need to go up. Everybody’s waiting for you.”

Her head hung low. She stifled the chaos that fought to rip through her and expose itself to anyone willing to care, willing to notice. Eyes like slate hit the floor, dragging towards the golden glimmer. Two bands. Golden. Just inches apart.


The Politics of Being With You

Posted in Poetry, Romance, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2010 by JC Cecala

I’m not interested in the politics of being with you

I didn’t sign up for televised debates

rallies or speeches or opposing candi-

dates

are what I wanted

Discussions about Plutarch and

Emily Brontë

or The Divine Comedy by Dante

Not the whys and why nots

the maybes and what ifs

when we haven’t even tackled

the anatomy of this

this

This

whatever this is

because I’m sort of like a mistress

stealing tongue, teeth, lips, and kisses

from someone who’s married to themselves

yet you want to question me

like I’m guilty, guile, and on trail

but I don’t recollect us walking down the aisle

still, you want to check the numbers in my phone like an audit

but wait a minute, you never put a fucking ring on it

So what do you want from me?

To be thankful because you text every now and then

try to beg me into bed but um, remember, we’re just friends

I won’t spend my Saturdays and Sundays

suffocating in your sheets

then wonder what you’re doing for the rest of the week

because I’m not interested in the politics of being with you

I didn’t sign up for radio interviews

or press conferences broadcasted on Fox news

all I really wanted to do

was become better acquainted over tofu

maybe Thai, Italian or even Swiss fondue

I wanted to buy that red shirt because I know

you’d like the way it hugs my shoulders

but trying to sway you is like trying to move boulders

and yes, at one time your scent made me smolder

but now I’m getting colder and that red shirt

shivers into a shade of cerulean

and all I have left of us

is yesterday, remember when

being together meant just that

You

and

I

But now everything I say

is to defend myself

and everything you do

is so you can commend yourself

But I don’t care about some silly title

I don’t just want to be a boyfriend

for sake of the claim

just to have the name

so if we hate it and it ends

I can say I had you back then..

And I’m not sure what it is

maybe the words lodged

in your throat

are making you choke

better cough them up quick

I don’t know the heimlich

and I never really said it

but it’s not hard to decipher or connote

you know I’m not here to win the popular vote

so perhaps the chatter of

him, her, they, them and those two

have made you paranoid

and scattered your askew

point of view

But like I said before

and after this, I’m through..

I’m not interested

in the politics

of being

with you

Lovers Is For Death

Posted in Dark Fiction, Literary Fiction, Romance, Short Story, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2010 by JC Cecala


Passion of Lovers

Obusan stood in the center of a silent room. He stared at sleek silver rails wrapping in spirals and leading to the upstairs. Was that where Casey sacrificed his body for a few moments of lust?  That stairway; was it where a painful path to a shameful end had started? No. He never once caught the scent of infidelity in the bedroom. Maybe it happened in the kitchen too? After all, it’s not like they never had sex in the kitchen.

He wandered through the darkness that draped from the corners, slinking around packed boxes, running his palms across drawn curtains and tapping his fingertips on closed blinds that shielded him from the reality awaiting him outside of four walls. Four walls that didn’t belong to him anymore.

Hesitating for a moment and with curiosity yanking at his fidgeting limbs, he slid a single digit between two of the blinds and eased one to the side. A single sliver of buttery afternoon seeped in and he twisted his frame so that it did not touch him.

Aware that he’d have to face the world in just a few minutes, Obusan peeked from behind the calico colored panels. The intensity hurt his eye and he winced and waited for his vision to adjust. When it finally did he glanced at the lustrous lightning colored sports car in the driveway beneath a shadow cast from the garage. His attention wafted from the vehicle to the mailbox by the curb, to the ring of asphalt that looped within the realm of the neighborhood and bordered a circle of grass in the middle. He then found himself gazing at the realtor’s sign on the lawn with the word SOLD plastered on the front, in bold red letters. Sold, he thought.

His attention was pierced by a high pitched yelp and instantly his eyes took to the vast cerulean sky coated in frayed white cotton clouds. From the corner of his eye a small white dot straddled the line of his direct vision, swaying in one constant space. Obusan acknowledged it but did not look at it. He knew it was a seagull flying through the open sky. He knew that more were nearby, coasting on a breeze, gliding and squawking. But he hated them. He hated birds. So he retracted his finger and allowed the shadows cast from the four walls to consume him.

His frame turned away from the window and faced the tableless dining room. A room also lacking in chairs, place mats and a centerpiece.Maybe they did it here, was a thought that appeared as quickly as it vanished, cracking across his mind like a shard of sharp white through thick black, before sinking back into obscurity.

Obusan wandered from the dining area in hopes of detaching his body from his thoughts and leaving them in that very spot, but they lingered on as he drifted into the living room. He gazed at the stripped walls then his neck gave out and dropped his head to the ground so that he could stare at the marble tile that no longer hid beneath embroidered rugs and Art Nouveau inspired furniture. He wanted his head to imitate the living room, to imitate the dining room, to imitate the house. He ached to be empty.

A tremor trailed up Obusan’s side and he jerked before realizing it was his mobile vibrating. He slid his hand into the right pocket of his shorts and struggled to pull it from within the clinging fabric.

“Hello? This is Obusan.”

“Obie! Where the hell are you?”

“Mark?…I’m sorry, I’m headin’ out the door right now, I—“

“Spare me the bullshit. Get your ass down here now. You’re wasting company time. They’re supposed to start shooting in an hour!”

“I, I’m sorry, Mark… I told Madeline to tell you that I might be a little late today. I, I have—“

Dial tone. Obusan looked at the screen of his mobile, his vision wandering across the background picture. A picture of golden eyes, like dawn breaking and wild tresses of fire sweeping above them. He stared at the outline of this face, this brutish face, with its curled pink lips and raised brows and for a moment he was lost within himself and forgot where he was.

He glanced around what used to be a home and knew that he shouldn’t have felt the way he did.  But his eyes did not water when he saw the vacant walls and his chest was not tight as his footsteps echoed through the desolate rooms. The missing furniture didn’t resonate anything within him and that was when he realized he wasn’t standing in the middle of an empty home, but was taking up room in a house cluttered with boxes and dead dreams.

The sun burned through his pores, soaking into his blood and he could feel it boil but did everything he could to focus on the wind whipping across his face as he raced up the boulevard for the last time. He thought back to how excited he was when he bought his yellow dream eight months ago, but that feeling of fervent nostalgia dissipated as the promotional sign for the Classic Dealership drew closer.

He pulled into the lot, lurking by rows of aligned Alpine’s, Lotus Elan’s, and Camaro’s that seemed a lot more appealing than they were the first time he was there. Eyes were everywhere, pretending to be browsing the vehicles when they were really watching him, criticizing him, mocking his situation.

Coming to a stop in front of the main office he kept the car running and remained inside, his hands fidgeting on his lap, linking fingers around one another and pinching wet palms.  His right hand leapt out at the radio and pressed random buttons before twisting the volume knob to mid level.

The passion of lovers is for death, said she

The passion of lovers is for death,”

White teeth and amber eyes a laugh sailing through birdsong and green grass because this is love.

She breaks her heart

Just a little too much,”

Bronze cheeks soaked in an unrecognizable torture looming over a sense of inadequacy is inescapable because this is love.

And her jokes attract the lucky bad type

As she dips and wails,”

His eyes were lit his peach flesh stroking against the tanned skin of a stranger bellows of pleasure shake the world beads of sweat trailing down his broad shoulders flexing back bulging thighs stains on their sheets.

And slips her banshee smile

She gets the better of the bigger to the letter,”

X-rays stethoscopes syringes alone in a waiting room filled with familiar pale faces blood stains whispers resentment solitude blame.

The passion of lovers is for death, said she

The passion of lovers is for death,”

The ache of reality chipping away at his sanity solitary in this world betrayed tears tears tears so little time dying.

The passion of lovers –“

There was a knock on the car door and Obusan felt his shock tear from him as he jumped in the seat.

“Oh my God!”

“I’m sorry!” The man hovering outside of the car laughed “I didn’t mean to startle you, Mr. Nagai.”

“Jaquan!”

Obusan turned the volume down and then placed his hands on his chest which rattled with traces of terror. He allowed himself to believe the tears forming in his eyes and the numbness in his lips were from surprise of Jaquan’s presence and he temporarily discarded the memories he clung to.

“Are you okay?”

Obusan exhaled.

“Y, yeah…Yeah, I’m fine.”

He looked up at Jaquan, a young man around his age with cocoa skin and a lanky physique who seemed to tower over him.

“Are you sure about this?”

“…What?” Obusan turned the radio completely off and then did the same with the car.

“It’s a 1987 Fiero GT…Do you know how hard it would be to find another one of these? And in yellow…”

“I thought you were a car salesman, Jaquan.”

He turned from Jaquan and looked down at his lap, squeezing his hands. Jaquan smiled and shook his head.

“I am, Mr. Nagai…but you were mad excited when we called you with it, man. I just wan’chu to be sure…because I would never—“

“I’m sure!” he cut him off and hesitated as he pinched his palm “I…I’m sure.”

Jaquan’s smile weakened and his teeth withdrew behind his lips as he slid his hands into the pockets of his navy slacks.

“Aight, man. If you’re sure…Park it in front of the garage and come on in. We’ll finalize the paperwork and get the plates off.”

“Okay…Thank you.”

The heat hung from Obusan as he stood near the curb of ongoing traffic cluttering the streets in an array of metallic shades. He glanced over his shoulder at the dealership behind him, his lemon colored car no longer in sight, no longer his.

His wristwatch dial read 1:36pm and he knew his shoot would be starting in less than thirty minutes but he had to get this done today before he started filming or else he wouldn’t be able to focus.  Shoots always took hours and it may be too late by then. No, perhaps he was just paranoid. Perhaps just dramatic, but time evoked a fear out of him that he never believed to exist. Time was something he could no longer ignore.

The cry of seagulls dropped from the heavens and slammed into his ears and he flared, looking up to the sky, spotting their silhouettes against the gleam of the sun.

“…Fuckin’ birds.”

He shifted his attention back to the oncoming traffic and whipped his arm out, giving a tepid wave and holding his breath in hopes of catching a passing breeze.

“Come on…” He mumbled, leaning outward.

He pulled his arm back and looked around, stepping a few feet back. Using his fingertips, he brushed the fine, raven hair away from his slanted ebony eyes. The cawing seemed to be drawing nearer and he thrust his head to the sky.

“Go away,” he whispered “Go away…”

“Hey!”

Obusan pulled his chin down just as a canary colored blur was speeding towards him. He thought of his newly old car as the taxi came to an abrupt halt just inches away from the curb, a man leaning out of the back window, a goofy smirk taking up most of his face.

“Waiting for a cab?”

Pausing, Obusan tilted his head to look at the driver in the front. The middle aged man had arms that reminded Obusan of a grizzly bear and a solid, sun burnt face that clearly had no interest in why he had pulled over.

“Well?”

Obusan looked back to the man in the backseat. The strawberry blond hair and hue of his eyes made Obusan think of Casey.

“Yeah…”

“Ride me.”

“What?”

“I said ride with me…C’mon. I’ll pay. Anywhere you need to go. I hate riding in these things by myself. The drivers never talk to you.”

“You’re probably not goin’ my way.”

“Trust me,” His grin spread “I am goin’ your way.”

Obusan sighed as he looked up and down the street in hopes of spotting another taxi but they all sped by, mixed among city buses and candy apple convertibles with their tops down. He looked at his watch.1:47pm.

“Okay.”

Obusan’s lips remained sealed as he gripped onto his seatbelt and looked directly ahead, staring at the numbers on the license plates of the cars ahead of them. They had been driving for ten or fifteen minutes without a word between them, the only noise filling the air being that of the Tejano music the cab driver had playing on the radio. But Obusan could feel the man’s eyes searing his surface, singeing his thighs, his chest, and his face.

“So… making a stop at the bank, huh?”

Obusan looked at him from the corner of his eye. The man’s sight ran across Obusan’s slim, long frame before settling on his exposed feet and fixating on the roundness of his delicate toes lying flat upon mahogany colored flip flops. He tried to withdraw his feet but with nowhere to go he twisted them to the side in a useless attempt to hide them.

Immediately his eyes lifted to his smooth, sleek legs, over the khaki shorts to the tight fitting, burgundy t-shirt and the thin arms with no definition that sprouted from his broad shoulders. When he finally got a good look at Obusan’s face his excitement catapulted. His features were a lot less fragile than they appeared on screen but his toffee skin was just as flawless and the shaggy coal colored hair that draped over his eyes gave off the faintest mint aroma.

“I’m Matt.”

Still, Obusan said nothing.

“Why so quiet?” Matt paused, “Obie.”

Before he fully processed the moment, Obusan’s head jerked towards Matt, his eyes squinting and his lips pursed.

“I knew it!” Matt’s mouth bent into the leer of a deviant “Obie the Pinoy Boy!”

“Driver, pull over.”

“Wait, wait! Hold on! I can’t believe I’m in the same taxi as the Pinoy Boy! Can I touch you?”

“What?” Obusan’s expression was riddled with disgust.

He felt his armpits grow moist as his heart flustered within his rib cage and he brushed his hair from his face.

“You’re so much taller in person. You’re just, you’re just so fucking hot, man. My friends and I love you! They are not going to believe this! We’re such huge fans!”

Obusan forced his stone face, etched with repulsion, to soften, and his shoulders to release their tension. He hated this. Running into them was one of the reasons he dreaded going out into the world. He didn’t hate them, at least, not the semi-normal ones. He knew they were the source of his budding fame, his growing fortune. It was the pretending that he hated. He had to act at work, make-believe when friends asked about Casey, the last thing he wanted to do was pretend in what little free time he had to himself. But he did.

“Thanks. Th, thank you,” His lips took on a familiar forced shape and his face beamed with an artificial light “I’m sorry, you just…you caught me off guard.”

“I knew it was you! I knew it! I told the driver to pull over and once we got close enough—MAN! I knew it!”

Matt let out a sound that aimed to be an exuberant laugh but fell short and ended as an excited moan.

“I, I have a pen – oh, my camera phone. Can we, I mean, if you don’t mind,” He lifted his pelvis; his back pressed against the seat, and pulled a mobile from his pocket “take a picture?”

There was a childlike eagerness to Matt but it was nothing new to Obusan. Most of them reacted with the same giddy outward appearance which did little to mask their dirty inner thoughts.

Obusan finally arrived at the hospital after a bank detour and Matt’s random pit stop for cat food. He thanked the aloof cab driver and paid the fare despite Matt’s objections. Matt suggested the two hang out sometime but he politely declined with a generic excuse accompanied by an apology.

He scurried away from the taxi and rushed into the establishment, waving to the woman at the front desk. She smiled at him and waved back but he darted by her in haste and headed directly to the elevators.

Making his way to the seventh floor he trotted off of the elevator and nimbly maneuvered through the maze of empty hospital beds, mechanical ventilators, trash bins marked hazardous, flocks of frivolous nurses, intravenous drips, and the occasional empty wheelchair.

His movement slowed as he neared the main entrance of his destination, Intensive Treatment Unit looming above the doorway. He could hear the morose ranting of familiar voices nearby and they became more audible with each step.

“Ma…Ma, he ain’t gonna die!” A husky whisper trailed to him.

“You don’t know that!”

“C’mon, Charlotte. He gon’ get the surgery. H, he gon’ be alright, now. Don’t talk like that!”

Obusan came to a stop in the corner of the doorway and pressed himself against the wall, staring straight ahead. The cramped excuse for a waiting area was to his right and he made sure to stay out of direct view, well aware of who made up the huddled group of people sitting in the waiting chairs.

“I warned him, Johnny. I warned your nephew ‘bout that boy.” Charlotte fumed.

“Ant Charlotte, not this again.”

“You don’t start with me, Maggie Louise. My son is, is layed up in here dyin’ ‘cause of, ‘cause of that queer!”

“That queer is the one Casey’s livin’ with. He’s the one taking care of Casey an’ his bills. Because’a him we can stay up here and be near Casey.” Maggie intervened.

“Girlll,” Charlotte said through a clenched jaw “You startin’ to really piss me off. It’s on account’a him Casey’s here!”

“Maggie, don’t bother defendin’ him,” Johnny said to his neice “It’s all that faggoty behavior that got Casey like he is. Your cousin’s up in here with tubes an’ shit all on account’a some fairy.”

“He’s a grown man! Ain’t nobody turned Casey gay, he—“

“My brother ain’t no faggot, Maggie.”

“Jim, you can’t turn no one—“

“He ain’t no faggot, I say.”

Obusan could hear the dialogue pause and the sound of petite feet rushing towards the entryway. Taking several steps backwards, he contemplated running back towards the elevators but it was too late. A distraught Maggie came into view and her roaring eyes met his gentle stare.

“Obusan,” She stopped, her expression becoming one of a guilt ridden adolescent “I…hi.”

“…Hi.”

“H,how are you?”

Obusan shrugged.

She brushed a few strands of dirty blonde hair from her plump cheeks. A shade of red was rising beneath her freckles and her lips grew tense.

“They’re in there.” She said.

“I know.”

“…I know you ain’t got it,” Maggie blurted “How can you give him somethin’ you ain’t even got? Look at’chu. You’re perfectly fine.”

The two shared a brief space in time and remained silent, just looking at one another, before Maggie stepped outside of the moment, extending an “I’m sorry,” and walked towards the elevators. Obusan turned to watch her wait for the elevator doors to open. Once they did, she vanished inside and suddenly he felt more alone than he had before they spoke.

“And you know how them gays are, Johnny! You know it! They snatch up good boys, good boys like my Casey.” Charlotte’s voice cracked “And it ain’t like we don’t know what that, that bastard does for work. They all spread that gay disease!”

“Mhm. Ain’t no respectable career, ‘specially for no chink. They always doing accountin’ work an’ shit like that.”

Obusan quietly entered the room, fluorescent lights and the scent of wet cotton and old hospital food greeting him.

“He gave it to him. I just know he did!”

Johnny and Jim spotted Obusan as he neared, but Charlotte, whose back was to him, began to sob.

“Hello, Charlotte,” Her body jerked at the sound of his airy tone but she didn’t face him “Johnny…Jimmy.”

“…Hey.” Jim said, the beginnings of a sneer spread onto his face.

Johnny nodded in Obusan’s direction. He slid his hands into the front pockets of his tattered and fading blue jeans as he looked down at his sister who remained seated.

Obusan dug into his pocket and slowly revealed a neat bundle of twenty dollar bills. He extended it to the back of Charlotte.

“Here…It’s for the hotel.”

Charlotte’s neck snapped up and turned in her seat, her vision instantly grabbing Obusan’s money heavy hand. She sloppily wiped her face, thick streaks of black mascara trails smeared onto her withering cheekbones. Her lips parted and revealed a pattern of missing teeth, her hand clasping the cash before she muttered “Thanks,” and turned away.

Obusan hesitated before lowering his head and walking out of the waiting area towards room number 1318.  The corridor was silent and as he stood outside the room he was welcomed by a string of beeping noises of the equipment penetrating Casey’s flesh.

“Casey,” he whispered, stepping into the doorway, but Casey remained still, his eyes closed, his breathing slow.

At one time Casey had skin so ivory it glowed beneath the sun and the moon, but it was now sagging in a sallow shade. His head of once curly, ginger hair was listless and fell flat onto his forehead, a brownish yellow color. Arms that once bench pressed 200lbs every afternoon lay limp by his protruding stomach that at one time, was pure muscle. The strength Casey had epitomized, looked frail, and feeble, and only the remnants of a decaying man were left.

“You need a shave, Case.” Obusan looked down at him, running his thumb over Casey’s dried bottom lip. “…Your surgery is in a few days, but I don’t want you to be nervous. I have most of the money together and I know you’ll be fine…Superman can’t be defeated, remember?”

He felt around in his pocket and took out a tube of lip balm. Taking the cap off, he slowly twisted the bottom, pushing the contents of the tube out. With every bit of care he possessed he slid the lip balm over Casey’s top then bottom lip and ran his fingertip over them. Obusan’s eyes welled with water and he stroked Casey’s hair before turning away and walking to the foot of his bed.

Obusan lifted the clipboard and browsed over the information for the thousandths time: Casey McMillan, 12/9/84, Case; Hepadnaviridae, acute liver cirrhosis brought on by HBV, Admittance: 6/23/09.

Obusan felt his mobile vibrate and placed the clipboard back on the small metallic hook it hung from.

“I’ve gotta go, Case.” He said, tears streaking his face as he walked back to the left side of Casey “I’ll see you tonight…I love you.”

Obusan held Casey’s cold hand and leaned over, kissing his chapped lips as gently as he could. Casey murmured. Obusan left.

“Alright, alright! Now that the diva is here and all made up, lets get this show on the road, people!”

“Come on, Ronny.” Obusan sighed.

“I’m kidding, Obie, I’m kidding. Alright, places everybody!…Okay. One, two, three—Action!”

Obie walked into the office, fidgeting with his pink tie and stumbling over his own feet, a mug of coffee in his right hand.

“I, I have your coffee, Mister Johnso—WOAH!” He tripped and on his way towards the floor the mug full of coffee detached from his hand and flung into the lap of his boss.

“Ah! Obie!” Mr. Johnson sprung to his feet, pushing his chair back.

“I, I, I’m s,sorry, Mr. Johnson!” Obusan pulled himself to his knees, his limbs trembling.

Mr. Johnson grabbed some napkins from his desk and started wiping his shirt with them. The brown liquid seeped through both his pants and his white button up, exposing a defined torso and a prominent chest.

“God damnit, Obie! Get over here and clean this mess up!”

Obie obediently crawled over to Mr. Johnson, slipping behind his desk to find the mug. He could see a boom lowering from the corner of his eye so he did his best to raise his voice and still sound timid.

“Where did your mug go?”

“Forget the mug, Obie, look at my pants!” He exclaimed.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Obie wailed, grabbing a few napkins from the desk and patting the crotch of his boss’s trousers “Mr. Johnson, I didn’t mean to do that, honest! I’m sorry, I–…Mr. Johnson. What is that?” He looked up at a pair of silver eyes gazing down at him.

Mr. Johnson smirked before saying “I believe I mentioned I needed to be debriefed earlier. I’ve had a hectic week.”

“Mr. Johnson! What are you doing?” His boss gripped his wrist with his right hand and slipped the left into his pocket, pulling out a condom and tearing it open with his teeth, savagely spitting the wrapper out.

“Well, Obie,” He began, moving his hands up and down on his pelvis “I figure you’re in the perfect position to debrief me right now.”

Obusan pushed the steel door open and walked into the studio lot, leaning against the metal wall behind him, a crimson number thirteen painted on it.

The sky was streaked in tangerine and ruby and he pulled his mobile from his pocket, looking at the background of Casey, his blazing red hair, intoxicating whiskey eyes, and the t-shirt he donned, a bold Superman symbol on the front. He shook his head. Above him he could hear the seagulls calling out to one another and he looked up at the dimming sky cluttered with ethereal white wings.

“…Take me with you.”

Double Entendre

Posted in Literary Fiction, Romance, Short Story with tags , , , , , , , on November 3, 2010 by JC Cecala

His wilted fingertips grazed the skin of her belly, a secret space which she once hoped to expand. The sound of boisterous children dissipated to the clouded edges of her thoughts. The last time they stood together in her shower was during an epoch of fervid romance, during an era liberated by music created through two bodies, each finding an irresistible resonance in the other. That was two or three months ago.

She watched his hand press up against her naval, droplets of warm water dripping from him onto her pelvis like tiny rapids vanishing between her thighs. His hand then tensed up before it slid onto her hip and remained still, his other hand following suit on her opposite side. Pulling her into him, he enveloped her and she lunged onto the tips of her toes, wrapping anxious arms around his neck and pushing against his chest. Head upon his shoulder, her thoughts continued to taunt and torment what little piece of certainty she had managed to salvage from the previous evening.

Turning away from her mirror, she tilted her head to put in a second ruby studded earring. He feigned a smile and she looked above his deceitful lips to the sadness buried behind his eyes. He was wearing the shoes she was growing tired of seeing and felt that his slacks were too tight in certain areas, making it look as if he had on a pair of jodhpurs. Buttoning an understated black on black vest he hesitated before his body gravitated toward her. She noticed beneath his vest was a cotton-cashmere long sleeved shirt, the same color as the raspberries she fed him that Valentine’s day.

She swayed in the opposite direction of him and after securing her earring, flipped the straightened hair sweeping down her back.

“Would you like some help with your buttons?”

“No.” She responded, twisting her arms behind her and feeling for the row of diminutive buttons and clasps.

She stared at herself in the mirror. The current distortion of her body brought on by his ignorance. The length of her extended neck, the awkwardness of her fidgeting arms, the protrusion of her collarbone. What was so wrong with her? Was it something she said? Was she really that difficult a person to coexist with?

“Do you want to do something afterward?” His voice like honey. Thick, sweet and slow.

Silence remained undisrupted. Peering at him in her mirror for the shortest moment she then looked back into the vacant eyes of her reflection. The most nominal part of her was trying to frantically keep bitterness at bay but she feared the animosity that bubbled beneath would soon overtake what little tolerance she had left.

With an internal struggle festering she forced herself to look into his eyes. They really were the most gentle she had ever shared  wordless conversation with but today her gaze was met without discussion. Her eyes raced back and forth between his in a despairing search for ease but aside from more insecurity nothing was found. So she continued listening to the hissing noise the mild streams of water were making as they gushed from the shower head. They trickled onto what was exposed of his brawny shoulders and her tightened arms which clung to his neck like unrelenting chains.

Her bottom lip dropped, no longer able to hold the weight of questions that sat still on her tongue. Watching her attentively, his vision slipped from her almond eyes to her defined nose and fell upon her mouth. She felt like she had made a mistake and soon her heart beat at an unfamiliar, erratic pace. The smoldering fire inside of her chest spread into a tightened throat and singed tears into the corners of burning eyes. Despite the throb she held them there and wouldn’t allow the inquiries on her tongue to move, though, her lips quivered with rebellion.

She wanted to tell him. She wanted to let him know and bring the darkness she harbored beneath her exterior to the surface. Why can’t you be the strong one? Why are you so selfish? Why can’t you be here for me when I need you? Swirled in circles within her thoughts. Even as they stood there twisted into one, she could feel him drifting. He was already out of her reach but she turned away from the possibility that sooner or later she’d have to retract her outstretched fingers.

Holding the door for her, he watched as she floated by him and slipped into the restaurant, the moon’s buttery glow glimmering against the ruby earrings he had just given her. The faint scent of her musk teased him before slipping itself around his neck and dragging him in after her. He watched her with the same fascination he had whenever she was in her studio sketching, oblivious to the surrounding world. The romantic strings of some instrument whispering somewhere in the distance momentarily nudged his attention but the sound was quickly drowned out by the vision before him.

He found himself staring at the back of her head. The deep brown tresses that plunged from it and draped delicately over her right shoulder. Noticing how broad her shoulders were, for the first time he was aware of their pronounced strength as they lifted and lowered themselves with her rhythms. Sleek scarlet fabric that adorned her subtle curves exposed the power of her back and the cluster of beauty marks he always found himself drawn to, right below her slender nape.

Nearing a podium she noticed a gaunt faced man wearing a tuxedo suit and presumed he was the host. His wandering eye caught a glimpse of her and immediately the hard, stony expression lit up as if he were looking at a long lost lover he had not expected to see again.

“Good evening, miss.” His voice leapt out of him as his entirety appeared from behind the stand.

“Hello.” She responded with electricity in her inflection.

“And how are you this evening?”

“We’re well,” He said sharply as he appeared behind her, slipping an arm around her waist and pulling her near.

The host’s eyes lost sight of whatever had just sparked them as they lifted from the young woman to the boyish man who stood by her side, the smile he just put on dwindling to a polite simper.

“Do you two…have a reservation?” The host asked, struggling to find a polite medium in his  tone.

“Yes. Soto, party of two. Nine o’clock.”

“We were running a bit late.” She chimed in, apologetically.

His attention averted back to her and the light came out from hiding. He stepped back behind the podium and lifted up what appeared to be two menus with off black bonded leather cases.

“Not a problem,” He said, “Right this way.”

Tearing her body from his touch she followed after the host who was leading them through a maze of tables decorated with delicate cloth, sumptuous dishes, meticulously crafted tableware, and finely dressed patronage. He trailed behind them, his eyes stalking from face to face of the surrounding men. His eyelids tightened with every movement any of the strangers made in her direction. He caught one pair after another descending upon her as she flowed through the restaurant, buoyant amongst the chaos of trailing conversations, rolling waiters, and grandiloquent presentation. In this moment it seemed as if the aerial symphony being played by the live quartet in a faraway corner was being strummed and fingered for the sake of her entrance.

This was nothing new. Men snatching what they thought were furtive glimpses of her. His woman. His. Assuming he was oblivious to the fact that these were peeks and glances they were storing in their memories for later use. Images they would unwrap like stolen candy and savor in private, sucking the sticky sweet center bone dry and leaving the tasteless shell to shrivel up into a forgotten moment. They thought he had no idea, but he knew all too well and he once again found himself restraining the brutality he was shielding with a demure demeanor and childlike face.

“Here you are, miss,” he paused by a quaint table in a dimly lit corner “Sir.” He added with a nod.

“Thank you very much.” She gave yet another smile to the host and he, in return, pulled out her chair.

She positioned herself on the cushioned seat with a refined poise. She gripped the sides to pull herself forward but the host was already pushing the legs across the glossy floorboards, towards the table.

Releasing an unexpected sound between that of a moan and giggle, she looked over her shoulder and thanked him.

“Not a problem at all, miss. It really–,” His lips remained still the moment his eyes met with those of the man accompanying her. They were glazed over with a reserved contempt and the host was suddenly overcome with a rush of abashment as he took a few steps back and spoke tremulously, which even surprised himself ” Here are your menus. Your server will be with you momentarily.”

Left to themselves their eyes slowly strayed from the candlelit table to the rusty brick walls and hanging oil paintings. And so the search began; The search for something to become fixated on. Anything that would allow them to further prolong any possible exchange of dialogue.

It was his attention that first found its way back to the table and landed on the sharp features of her face. In the wavering blackness of the billowy shadows her striking cheekbones and long chin were somehow softened but the glimmer of the candle exaggerated the pout of her mouth and her arched eyebrows, creating the illusion that she was livid. Or was she?

She doesn’t want to be with me, he thought to himself as he fingered the table cloth. She doesn’t care. She wouldn’t treat me this way if she did. She wouldn’t turn down my visits. She would let people know that she was mine. She’d let me fucking hold her in public!

She was finally looking at him and a torrid heat swept over him. He didn’t want to hurt her but at the same time he did. Just to see her bleed. Just to know that she was a human being like everybody else. Just to be assured that she did have feelings. But as she sat there, blind to her own uncanny beauty and natural presence, unaware of her bladed tongue and the ferocity of her unspoken independence, he couldn’t find the words. What he needed to express to her had to be verbalized perfectly or it would hold no weight in her world, so as he stumbled over colorful nouns and enticing adjectives in his thoughts he got lost before slowly forgetting what it was he essentially wanted to say. Again, he gave up.

“You’re radiant this evening. How does it feel to be twenty-five?”

“You’ll find out…in three and a half years.” She retorted with a sly smirk as she opened her menu.

“You know,” He hesitated “You’ve been…really moody these last couple of months.”

Her head lifted with a look of confusion before she shrugged and returned to her menu.

“Have I?”

Attention drifting away, he found himself envious of a young couple seated several tables over. They were exchanging glances and carresses and the laughter that surrounded them caused him to cringe. He lifted his menu and pretended to be browsing the selections as if this would protect him from the war he had just initiated.

“Yes,” His words crashed through the stillness that loomed over the table “As a matter fact, you have.”

The ominous quietude that weaved in between their pauses was overwhelming her and she felt her breathing grow heavy with anticipation.

“And last month you practically avoided me. You were preoccupied every weekend…The conversations we held were so short they might as well have never happened.”

“Well, Jeremías, believe it or not, you aren’t the center of my world. I don’t build my days around your perfect existence,” he felt something jerk inside of him as she spoke, the venom in her voice poorly disguised by her blank expression “and maybe if you stopped thinking that you should come before everything else–”

“I never said that,” he interrupted, “I’ve never said–”

“You don’t have to,” her voice was raising with an irritation now blatant “I can’t say anything or do anything without you dissecting it and prodding the pieces for some cryptic underlying meaning. You’re so– so wrapped up in your self absorbed paranoia that you’re completely unaware of the world around you.”

“Yeah, because you’re so simple. Because everything with you is black and white.” The sarcasm in his statement was more than palpable.

“Oh please,” She placed her menu down before running her fingers through her hair and glancing over her shoulder, attempting to regain her composure “You’re the one trying to be perfect. Trying to please everyone but the people who matter. Acting like you know everything when in reality, Jeremías, you don’t know one fucking thing. And the worst part is, you don’t even know who you are and yet you sit here analyzing every fucking move I make and doubting everything I say. Don’t pin your issues on me.”

“Julia…” The name drifted from him almost inaudibly.

“No,” she said “No! Don’t fucking Julia me. Julia. Julia, what?”

“This is what I mean..I can’t talk to you. You’re always right, you have all of these emotional walls up. What am I here for if you already have all of the answers and if you’re always carrying burdens on your own? You never let me-”

“Real problems are for real adults, Jeremías. Maybe I always carry our burdens because I know you’ll break under the pressure.”

There was a force behind her words that physically threw Jeremías to the back of his seat. He looked at her in pain-stricken amazement. Finally, he had his answer. I’m not enough for her, he thought. And while his world began to crumble around him, sliding down the cracks and cervices of the copper colored brick walls and blowing out any dim sparks lighting the room, she sat there with a detachment that made his eyes ache.

A young man around his age approached the table. He gave a polite expression to the two of them and seemed to be saying something but Jeremías couldn’t make out the words. Everything was muffled and grew hazy. Julia beamed as if she had not just butchered his reality and said something to the waiter before she looked to Jeremías.

I can. You just never let me in…You’re never going to let me in.

“Jeremías…Jeremías, do you know what you want?”

You…

There was frailness to her body that had puzzled him even up until this very moment and would, far beyond it. He watched her willowy, bare frame from the corner of his eye as he stood in front of her mirror, clumsily attempting to brush the wet from his coarse, jet black hair. She was the color of freshly baked bread and her flesh was just as delicate. The tight espresso colored ringlets spilling from her head were dripping and swung languorously as she bent and curled her body, spreading moisturizer onto her ankles and tawny colored kneecaps.

As he watched her body sway and move to some song he would never be able to hear he thought about the conundrum that was her. How could such frailness embody such force and resilience? How could she make him feel so close to her as if they held full conversations with one single glance, yet so distant that no matter how far he chased her she’d never be captured? She was an elusive wonder and she had to be aware of this.

Looking away from her he thought about his next visit, spotting his packed luggage by her bedroom door. He dropped the towel from around his waist and let the cool air slip between his bare thighs before walking to where she stood. He reached for the bottle of lotion she held in her hand and she hesitated before releasing it to him. Dropping it, he looked down at her and gave a wry smile. She lowered her head and reached for his idle hand, their fingers slow dancing with one another before hers clenched his.

He gripped back as his other hand swept across the skin of her pelvis, grazed her hip bone and landed on the small of her back. He felt the tremors inhale her frame and pressed her into his chest, lifting their infused hands to eye level. He looked at their entangled fingers; his deep sable accentuating the yellow undertones of her almond complexion.

Nestling her head into his chest she found herself lost amongst the swirl of their skin, interwoven like a delicate tapestry. She thought to herself, this is what it would’ve been…both of us. This is how it would’ve looked… breathtaking, and then lifted her head, allowing the avalanche of thoughts in her to come down with force. She thought back to the fight they had during the first days of summer.

Jeremías had come up to visit and something had rubbed him the wrong way, causing him to desert his diffident nature. She tried to remember what it was. Perhaps she had said something to him in a brusque manner or he misinterpreted her intentions. But whatever this wave was that caused a stir in their relationship, it had now become a forgettable ripple she could not find in their sea of disputes. Despite this it had granted him a self proclaimed right to get a few things off of his chest.

Roaring through her apartment he cornered her in the small studio room. She did what she could to remain unruffled but her air of equanimity was easily penetrable and her body was, for the third time that week, growing fatigued.

“And of course it’s okay for Julia Cassini to go M.I.A for a week without letting anybody else know!”

“Jeremías, I told you I had a family emergency.” She said, standing behind her easel and fiddling with a charcoal pencil to avoid eye contact with his distorted, tight face.

“You didn’t say anything about it being an emergency. You just up and left as usual and you knew I took off of work that week to come and visit you and–”

“Look, I said I was sorry! I didn’t expect to be there as long as I was,” She walked in the opposite direction of where he stood “It turned out to be more serious than I thought.”

“No te alejes de mi!” He snarled, following after her.

“Don’t start, Jeremías,” She spoke low at first before her fists clenched “Don’t start with me. Not with that Spanish bullshit! Okay?”

“It’s like going in circles with you! It’s like– it’s like nothing I say matters because you’re going to do what you want to do anyway. Do I even matter to you, Julia?”

She was motionless, her back to him, as she covered her face with cold, damp palms, digging the tips of fingers into her hairline.

“I can’t, Jeremías..I can’t deal with this. I have too much on my plate.”

“Oh, really? Too much on your plate?”

“The deadline is coming up, my family is falling apart…and I really need to talk to you about something very important. I’ve been waiting for an appropriate time to present itself but–”

“Oh, stop being dramatic.” He brushed off her sincerity as if they were crumbs on his lap.

“I’m not being dramatic, Jeremías,” she retorted in disbelief “I found out that I’m–”

“What did I even come here for?” He shouted as he turned from her, tossing wild arms into the air.

“…Jeremías, I–”

“To waste your time, huh? I’m just some big joke that you and your girlfriends laugh at behind my back. You think I don’t know? I know that your friends don’t like me!”

“What? What does that have to–”

“How do you think that makes me feel?” He shouted.

“Well, it’s not like your friends are the nicest to me and–”

“I know they think this won’t work, that you can do better! I’m just some passing phase; the little kid who caught your eye.”

“Jeremías, please, not tonight. I…I can’t. I’ve been having stomach pains, my head is throbbing, and I have to tell you…I have to tell you–”

“And I’m the selfish one? Me! This has got to stop, Julia. I fly here every other weekend to make this work and how do you acknowledge that? You go off to Syracuse to be with your family when you knew damn well I was trying to come see you the very same week. You sit here in your little, your little design room, ignoring me! Hiding behind your deadlines and your family and what’s this now? What? Your cramps! Cramps, Julia? Why don’t you just say it, Julia! Just say it!”

Her breathing was intense and the lingering, burning throb in her abdomen became more frequent. She let one hand drop to her side and placed the other on her forehead, inhaling deeply and exhaling as slowly as she could. She heard Jeremías but his voice was gradually being submerged by the thick silence that was gathering in her ears. She tried to piece together the choppy bits perceived; “I,” “doesn’t,” “not,” “waiting,” “me,” “I,” “and I,” “to me,” but it proved to be futile.

Icy fingers landed sharply on her exposed shoulder and she turned around with urgency. There he stood, looking at her with his innocent eyes; Innocent, even with the contempt and hate and jealousy floating inside of them.

“I’m done. I’m leaving…Call me whenever you have room for me in your life.”

“No,” she said in a light airy tone but it was either too late or swallowed in the ardent heat smothering the room.

She grabbed his wrist but he yanked away and continued walking. Placing her hands on her pelvis and pressing against it, she wondered if  this would dull the pain, but as the front door slammed shut a sharp twinge carried through her.

Walking out of the feverish room she headed towards the living area. Her apartment, despite the furniture, pictures, aquarium, pots, pans, bookshelves, toaster, history; now seemed barren. She called for Jeremías, half hoping he would hear her wherever he was and return and half expecting the name to echo back to her. Neither happened. She made her way to the bathroom.

Water surged from the faucet and she listened to it in hopes that it would calm her nerves. Why did he leave? She needed to tell him about her nephew; about what happened to him. She needed to explain to him why her two day trip turned into a hellish five day ordeal. To apologize, to tell him what she was hiding inside. She needed but he never seemed to give. Give patience. Give understanding. Give time.

I need you…I need you now, Jeremías. I won’t be able to do this without you.

An intense pain made her eyes water and she felt fear roll down her face. ” Jeremías!” She screeched as her deep panting overflowed into a throaty sob “Jeremías, please!”

Breathing was becoming difficult and her logic couldn’t control the panic twisting inside of her. Sweat beads forming on her brow, she wiped them away, leaning against the closed door. Thinking about her nephew, hysterical, as he told the policewoman what the older man had done to him. Wondering if her work would be good enough even if it did meet the deadline. But as the twinge started to dull she recollected her trip to the women’s hospital two weeks before. She thought about the hope the doctor had given her as he smiled and told her the test results. About how she had entered that office with such uncertainty and left with a definite answer. How this answer would alter her and Jeremías’s life forever.

Pushing herself off the door she hovered above the toilet and turned to sit down, unbuttoning her jeans and slowly pulling them down along with her underwear. Levitating a bit before sitting, she paused a moment, realizing she didn’t quite feel the need to alleviate herself. Her eyes darted around the bathroom, to the clear shower curtain, the white cotton towels hanging, the off white tiles and then to the crumpled black jeans around her ankles and the white panties mashed into them. That’s when she noticed the crimson droplets that were not supposed to be there.

Julia pulled up to the curb of the airport entrance and put the car in park. An elderly couple walking through the automatic doors caught her attention and she watched them slowly make their way further inside until they were lost in a stew of strange faces.

Once, she held a lot inside of her and she wondered if he knew that. Something told her that he did. She looked to his side profile and thought about what he was thinking. The silence stretched across the car, violently knocking Julia over the edge and she reached for her purse, placing it on her lap and fumbling around inside of it.

“…I,” She started, her eyes shifting from the depths of her purse to him “…Remember last month? You wanted to know why I was so vacant last month. During dinner last night you–”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin your weekend. I know how important your birthday is and–”

“You didn’t.”

She found the envelope she was looking for and peered over towards him.

“…Do you ever wonder if,” He hesitated and Julia watched his Adam’s apple rise and fall several times before he continued “Do you wonder about us?”

She was solemn, “Sometimes.”

“You’re stunning, Julia…you really are. You’re artistic, you’re witty, you’re sensuous… You’re striking. You could have anyone you wanted… Anything you wanted.”

“Yes…No…Maybe…” She looked down at her hands in the depths of her purse which concealed the envelope to which she clung “…but what I want isn’t necessarily what I need.”

“I start my new job the end of next month, you know.”

“I know…are you excited?”

He nodded.

“Yeah…” was all she could manage.

The area where her neck and shoulders met grew tense and started to hurt. Her skin was on fire and she was regulating her breathing to keep her chest from trembling.

She lifted her head and looked out of the front window just as two children, a teary boy, a pensive looking girl, and their parents walked in front of the car. The daughter looked older, perhaps seven or eight. She had the face of a sleepy cherub and it reminded Julia of an old checkbook her mom used to have, with a picture of two ivory angels napping on a cloud as the background. The girl was a smaller, softer, feminine replica of the father. They both shared round rosy cheeks and strawberry blond locks that draped over their foreheads and swooped behind identical ears.

The son was very petite and teetered behind his sister, holding the father’s hand. Globs of tears poured over his flushed red face and his thin pink lips were on opposing sides of his head as he screamed for something Julia couldn’t quite make out. The father seemed to be scolding him and the mom stopped and turned, looking down at the boy. Julia watched her lips move with an assured ease and she knelt down in front of him, holding his delicate face between her hands. He paused, huffing and sniffling and like the dramatic wailing had never occurred, laughter sprung out of him and the mother kissed his nose and arose, turning around and resuming her lead.

“Do you want them?” The question ran away from her lips before she could give it a second thought.

“Who? Them?” He pointed at the children entering the airport with their parents.

“Yes…children. Do you want children?”

“Someday. I don’t know about right now. I’m not ready to be a father.”

At once a tidal of relief and angst overpowered; trickled into her fingers which dug into the envelope. The envelope the doctor had given her after her unplanned return to the hospital. The days bled into one another in the solitude of her dreary apartment as she read the inside contents over and over again. Coping With Your Loss, the words on the cover of an accompanying pamphlet were now permanent fixtures in her brain.

And now her eyes were violent and wild as they crashed into him. The bulbous tip of his nose, the protrusion of his overbite, the pierced lobe of his ear; all of this made the face of a man, a man who still knew so very little about everything.

“You’re not listening…you hear, but you never listen.”

“I do listen. I’m listening to you right now.” He looked over towards her.

“Forever with you would be beautiful. It’d be magic. But how would we get there if our now is so turbulent?”

“It’s not turbulent,” He insisted “We just have communication problems we need to work on.”

“And how long are we supposed to work on them before they at least begin to subside?…even just a little.”

“I think they have…we’ve gotten better. Much better.” He sounded like he wanted to convince himself more than her.

Looking into the darkness of her purse a faint ray of light hit the corner of the envelope she still clung to. She read Prentice Women’s Hospital, in the left hand corner, transcribed in chunky, bold, royal blue letters and once again thoughts about the night he abandoned her crept in.

Her train of thought bounced from the first time they were introduced, to the first time their bodies meshed into one, to the nights she wandered down hallways wondering about him, to the first time he visited her at her new apartment. A blur of laughter, screaming, bright eyes, faces stained with tears, interlaced fingers, bedroom wrestling, and embraces that were supposed to outlast the stars, banged from side to side within her head. Finally she looked at him and saw what she had been trying to ignore for so long. He didn’t look like a child to her anymore. He was a child. His recently acquired college degree, sexual stamina, and serious demeanor couldn’t hide the roundness of his cheeks or inexperience that gleamed through his ripening face.

“You should go before your plane leaves without you.”

There was a brief silence and he looked over to Julia who was looking into her purse.

“What are you looking at?”

She read the words Prentice Women’s Hospital in her head, repeatedly, and tried to pinpoint the moment that caused her to lose their possibility of magic before it had happened but it didn’t matter now. The hope had died.

“Nothing.”

It took a moment but she forced those claw-like fingers to relinquish the envelope and she closed her purse, placing it on the back seat. Turning towards him she unbuckled her seat belt and hesitated.

“You have to leave… it’s too late.”

“What’re you talking about? I have an entire hour before the plane boards.” He said, adjusting his collar.

She shook her head and the most effete of smirks temporarily took up residency on her lips.

“I wonder if I have time to grab something to eat first.”

“I’m going to miss you,” She said as she leaned over and slid her arms around his neck, closing her eyes and placing her head on his shoulder “…so much,” she whispered.

He chuckled while he held her in his arms and succumbed to the sudden urge to say “I love you.”

Savoring the musky scent of his hair and soft aroma of cedar and cocoa that lifted from his flesh she reminded herself she couldn’t keep him there forever.

“You’re perfect.” Was all she could think and so she said it aloud.

Julia felt Jeremías slowly pulling away from her and she held on to the shoulders upholding her fantasies for as long as she could before falling victim to what was real. The reality she had been denying for months and quite possibly years. She let go.

Jeremías opened his door and climbed out of the car. Pulling out both pieces of his luggage from the backseat he set them on the edge of the curb, closing the door gently. Leaning over he looked at Julia who seemed to be in a daze and said “I’ll give you a buzz when I get in, cariño.”

Suddenly she felt very alone. She forced her clandestine grin and said “I’m going to miss you.”

He chuckled and shook his head before giving an exuberant “Bye, babe,” and pushing the passenger door shut.

Julia sat there watching Jeremías roll his luggage in through the entrance and somehow become another lonely stranger amidst the thousands of bustling people. She did everything she could to remember that moment. To remember him as someone who wanted to build a future with her and at the same time, to forget what they would never have and what he would never know. She wrapped her seat belt over her lap and buckled it before putting the car gear into drive. Looking down to the dashboard, her eyes drifted from the speedometer to the gas gauge. The needle was barely above “E.”