Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

“Still,” he reminded me.
I didn’t care that his mouth and breath were like ice as he bent down to kiss me again. He parted my lips with his. Cautiously at first. Then, as I blatantly ignored his demand to remain motionless and my hands traced their way up his back, he moved more urgently, pinning me firmly between the door and his marble physique. And as if suddenly remembering to show restraint, he retreated in to a light suck and tug of my upper lip before breaking away. The room spun into disorientation, his kiss and touch making it impossible to think or breathe or want anything more than to do that again.

His whisper was like silk against my ear.  “I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited to do that.” And then said something at the end that sounded like again. Because that wasn’t possible, I dismissed it as my imagination.

He kissed then pressed his forehead to mine as we stood, me trying hopelessly to gain control over my faculties. I slid my hands to his chest. My curious, wandering fingers detailed the steely cool sinew under his black cotton shirt. The soft material clung to his well-formed body. And over his heart, where a beat could never be felt, a mangled knot embossed the hard surface. He sucked in a sharp breath and clasped his hand over his chest, trapping mine in place. Then, with a gust of air he was gone. Alex tore himself away and vanished, leaving me teetering in his absence.

I was startled by his reaction and couldn’t conjure any recollection of scars when I saw him over the summer. He was pristine and unblemished.  Alex shirtless was not something easily forgotten.

A second or two later, he reappeared in the corner of the room furthest from me, with fear and a hint of remorse riddling his expression. Had I hurt him? Of course not, I thought. What ever I did to elicit such a reaction, I was relieved that he hadn’t just disappeared completely.

“I’m sorry,” I said, unsure as to what for.

“You don’t listen to directions very well, do you?” he asked, only half joking.

I slowly walked towards him wanting to laugh, but more than that, I wanted him to stay.
“Please don’t go,” I said. “Stay.”
It sounded like I was begging. He must think I’m pathetic. Or worse, desperate.
A mischievous smile snuck across my face. “I promise I’ll be good.” And held up two fingers in Scouts honor.
I crawled under the covers and patted the very end of the bed. An invitation for him to sit.
“Besides,” I yawned. “I have tons of questions, and you promised answers.”

That night, Alex was waiting for me in my dad’s room when I finished getting ready for bed. He was leaned forward in the corner chair, chin propped up on his interlaced fingers; pensive, exquisite, and something else. It was when he looked up from his prayer like posture that I recognized the other thing. Seductive, and unknowingly so. I caught myself grinning before snapping out of my trance. I glanced over my shoulder and then quickly closed the door, paranoid even though David had been sound asleep for a couple of hours.
Attempting to sound exasperated. “What if I was David?” I scolded in a whisper.

He raised his brows and offered a wry smile. “Then doing what I’m about to would be a little awkward,” he said, lithely rising to his feet.



I froze, then stumbled back against the door as he trained his narrowed gaze on me. There was a look in his eyes that I had never seen in him before; feral and hungry. I wondered if I should be afraid. The charge in my blood warmed the pit of my belly as he slowly stepped towards me, the pulse in my neck hammering harder the closer he got.

No, I thought, not afraid.

Standing inches from me, he watched with amused gratification the effect his proximity had on my flesh. He slowly, and ever-so-softly traced his cool, slender fingers from my trembling hands, up arms and over my shoulders, to the sides of my neck, leaving a trail of desire burning in the wake of his touch. His eyes met mine and then fell, watching my lips as they parted. My chest rose and fell in uncontrollable intervals, the heat now frantically spreading through the rest of my body.

Alex cradled my face in his hands, whispering, “Stay very still.”

As if I were going somewhere. Unless my stupid, wobbly knees gave.

Alex licked and pulled in his lower lip, then slowly released it. His eyes searched my face as if asking permission to proceed. Without so much as a hint of resistance from me, he tilted his head, and like a feather, barely touched his lips to mine. He pulled his face away, his cool breath tingling my lips as his departed from mine. I couldn’t will my eyes to open, instead, I let his gravity pull me closer.

After a sigh and a pause. “Some bullshit training gig at Lejeune,” he said, his brows knitted tightly.
I wanted to jump up and down and squeal I was so excited. I didn’t though, knowing that being sent to a training command was as far down on David’s list of desired jobs as recruiting was. He often compared training to glorified babysitting. I was happy, because to me, training represented very few opportunities for real danger.
I contorted my lip, trying to fake mutually bummed.
“Sorry,” I said.
David tossed the envelope onto the coffee table and plopped down on the couch.
“Yeah,” he grumbled.
I took a seat next to him. David leaned back into the deep cushions and threw his arm around my shoulders. As he raised his legs to prop his feet up on the coffee table he stopped short. He appeared briefly startled, sitting up and dropping his feet. His boots hit the wood floor with a solid thud.
“It’s clean,” he said, finally noticing the lack of Chinese take-out boxes and empty whiskey glasses.
“Yup,” I replied nonchalantly, pretending the task was nothing out of the ordinary.
He looked at me and stood. “You did this?”
“By yourself?” he asked in disbelief.
I rolled my eyes. “Duh.”
As slight as it was, it was the first smile that dared to cross David’s lips since he was deployed. The house was in dire need of the attention, but I could tell by his appreciative expression that it meant more to him than just a task needing completion.
David sat again, sighing. “It looks great, kid.” he said, nudging me with his shoulder. “Thanks.”
“Yup.” I smiled back.
I contemplated telling him, while he was feeling so grateful, that I dumped all of his really expensive whiskey too. I flinched at the thought. No, I said to myself. Why ruin a perfectly good moment?

I wanted the old David back. I needed to know that he was going to be okay when I’m gone.

The next morning I woke with a clarity that I hadn’t felt in months. It was like I had been lost in a fog that was now lifting and revealing a world that I had forgotten existed. With this clarity, came an unexpected surge of energy. David was gone by the time I stirred, and amid the stacks of dirty dishes and empty pizza boxes, he left a note explaining that he would be back around lunch time. Did we have a lunch time? I wondered. And did he leave one of these notes for me every day and this was the first time I’d been coherent enough to notice it? I turned a slow circle, taking in the disgust and filth that had piled up since we’d been back. It looked like a wrecking crew had demolished the whole house, and I decided that a clean-up was past due.

I started in the kitchen, filling garbage bags with weeks worth of trash, and then washed, dried and put the dishes in the white, painted cabinets. Over the next four hours, I dusted, swept, vacuumed and mopped floors; scrubbed the bathrooms until they sparkled; and did the laundry that spilled from the hampers, running on the treadmill between loads. When the house was restored to an acceptable state of cleanliness, I pulled open all of the drapes, letting the sunshine absorb the despair that filled this space with claustrophobic darkness. And then, I did the unthinkable–I found and poured all of David’s whiskey down the kitchen sink. This, I knew would be a fight later, but a necessary evil. My dad would have called it tough love.

I admired my handiwork before taking a shower, and then napped on the couch until David got home.

I wasn’t sure how to read his mood when he walked in the front door waving a large manila envelope.
“Got my orders,” he said flatly.
He got his hair cut too. And was in uniform for the first time since the funeral.
For his sake, I tried to sound upbeat. “Where too?” But I was nervous as ever. I didn’t expect that he would be sent back to combat right away, but still worried that he would be too far away to visit regularly.

In the last several weeks, David slept less and drank more. Ate less and cried more. Spoke less, if that was possible, and died a little more every day. These things were obvious in the visible graying strands sprouting up in his lengthening bushel of brown hair; the darkening circles encasing his glassy eyes; and the shoulders that were once proud and strong, now wilting. I barely remembered what he looked like before our worlds were blown apart; before I went to away to a summer haven and he was sentenced to a war zone. My agony suddenly paled in comparison of how he must feel. I constantly reminded myself that I wasn’t there to witness the things that David had. And now, I knew one more person who had been there with him, and wondered how much he had suffered as a result.

I reached under the pillow on the other side of the bed were I kept my tattered scrapbook, and then turned on the bedside lamp. The binding was falling apart at the seams and the plastic sheets that held my pictures in place were tearing in the corners. It was the only one I had, so it overflowed with trinkets to memorialize my once beautiful life. It bulged and bowed under the strain of the 550 parachute cord I wrapped around it to keep it closed.

The book sprung open when I released the cord, falling to the page with a photo of all three of us. We were at King’s Beach on the California side of Lake Tahoe last summer. My dad asked a passer-by on the shore to take a picture of all of us standing on our paddleboards. It took the poor woman four tries because I kept falling over.
King’s Beach was my favorite. The water under the surface after the sand had been disturbed, shimmered like the swirling insides of a snow globe. My dad was planning on taking us back to Tahoe this Christmas. I was excited to see snow for the first time, in real life.

Though it was only a year ago, David looked so much younger–the difference when I looked at him now was staggering. Circumstances rather than time deepened the etched lines around his eyes. But in this photo of us, he and my dad were young and healthy and vibrant. They took such good care of themselves, always at the height of their physical fitness, so it was disturbing to watch David waste way.

My dad was a couple of inches taller than David, broader in the shoulders and had a little more muscle mass than David too. Intimidating in uniform. I snickered at the memory of how angry David would get after spending months trying to bulk up with protein shakes and extra trips to the gym. He would get stronger, just not any bigger. My dad always told him it was all about genetics, and that David’s were more like our mom’s than his. That only made David try harder.

There we all stood, on top of our boards, holding our paddles, smiling, happy and completely unaware of how that would all soon end.

Alex’s departures had become a devastating and infuriating occurrence, though I wasn’t sure which emotion was more dominant at the time. He always seemed to bail at the most inopportune moments, leaving me with a head full of questions and talking to myself like a crazy person. But at least on this occasion he left me with enough time to jump back in bed and pretend to be asleep before David walked in. I wasn’t in the mood to explain to him why I was talking to myself again. I would never be in the mood to explain that.

The hallway light bled from underneath my bedroom door where I saw the shadow of David’s feet cut through the soft illumination. He stood there for a few seconds and then disappeared back down the hall. He was checking up on me less each week. I couldn’t decide if it was because he worried about me less, or because he was sinking deeper into his bottle of whiskey flavored misery.

I couldn’t get back to sleep right away. My mind wrestled and rebelled against me each time I attempted to quiet it. I stared up at the dark ceiling, twisting my dad’s ring around my thumb. I often worried how long it would be before I would start to forget what he looked like. But I guess I held on to his memory so tightly, that even now, it was still crystal clear. For that, I was grateful.

It was David’s face instead that was slipping away.

His accent was heavy. “No,” he said softly, after forever. “I didn’t kill him, Kat.” The tension in my shoulders subsided as the breath I didn’t realize I was holding released.

His face was still tormented when he slowly approached and reached for my hand. He focused intensely as his fingers skimmed the tips of mine before entwining our hands until our palms met. The tingling effect his touch had on my body was the same, though the superficial feel of his flesh was vastly different. His hands were like ice again today, and I wondered what happened to all of the warmth his touch once possessed. I didn’t want to protest, afraid that he would retreat all together. And then I would never get any answers.

A flitter of a smile crossed his lips as though he had mastered some feat, and then he slid his hands into his pockets.
In spite of my best efforts and the distraction of his closeness, doubt still lingered. “Promise?” I whispered.

The faintest light was captured in the dazzling green of his eyes, illuminating them like sun shine pouring over diamonds. “I swear, on all I love.”

I wished I could tell if he was lying.  But how could I not believe him? Every surviving Marine that was with my dad at the end, had the same story–‘Your dad sacrificed himself for us. He’s a hero.’ And though I stooped to begging, not a soul would reliquish a shred of detail.

I softened the cutting edge in my voice, but didn’t completely let him off the hook. “You have some explaining to do,” I said.
“Yes, but not now.” He turned away from me. “David’s awake.”
Faster than my heart could finish its beat, he was gone. Again. And I missed him already. I hated that I always ached to have him back.  It made me feel weak and pathetic, like I wouldn’t be me without him.

Alex said nothing to either affirm or refute my declaration that he was with my dad when he died, but his silence was confirmation enough. I recognized in his expression that he knew I was prepared to hold him responsible for my dad’s death. I cringed at the guilt flooding his eyes. The apology looming. That he was to blame.
I didn’t know how far his abilities extended, or what all they were yet, but I knew what he was and what that meant. Beautiful or not, charming and mysterious or not, Alex was the dealer of death, and that changed things. I could never forgive or care for someone who took those I loved from me. This can’t end well, I thought.
I nearly succumb to the weakness in my knees, but the anger welling up in my heart steadied my resolve. I wanted to throw up. The sight of him at that moment made me sick to my stomach. I’ve never been a violent person, it’s not like me, so I was surprised by the overwhelming desire to punch Alex in the face. I knew it wouldn’t have an effect on him, but the want was there.
I leaned against my dad’s dresser for support.
“Was it…?” I swallowed hard. “Did you…?” I could barely put the two words together to properly accuse him of the atrocious thing I suspected. I kept space between us, afraid of the wrath that was building in me, enticing me to act.
I didn’t care when his god-like face crumbled. From where I stood, it was nothing in comparison to the ruin my insides were experiencing. I could afford no compassion for my dad’s killer.
A hush fell over the room, amplifying the steady rhythm of Alex’s wristwatch. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. The prolonged wait for his answer was maddening. My mind became more frantic the longer I was left without a reply.

Trembles from my muscles radiated to my voice. I spoke calmly. Like the eerie kind of calm just before a terrible storm.
“How did you get these?” I asked. I waited frozen for what felt like an eternity for him to reply. Alex ran his slender fingers over the tattered metal.
“I took them…after he…” He didn’t have to finish, I knew the rest.
I enunciated both words slowly in spite of my impatience. “From who?”
The sudden plummet of my stomach had to be audible when he didn’t answer the question.
“They belong to you. He wanted…he would have wanted you to have them.”

My head whirled in confusion, making it difficult to find the right words–any words. With regards to reality, all I thought I knew with any degree of certainty had been shattered like a delicate picture window. It made me wonder what other dreadful stories I had been told as a child that were more than just fables or cautionary tales. What other make-believe monsters skulked about? I couldn’t even say they were just lurking in the shadows anymore. They were here. In my face.
Over the last few minutes, I had been momentarily paralyzed by the info dump. Stunned into stillness. When I found my legs, I managed to stand. I held the jagged metal in my hands, pacing the room, trying to absorb and make sense of all of the things Alex told me. At the same time, I needed to figure out what he wasn’t telling me. His subdued stature as he sat at the edge of my dad’s bed was of no comfort to me.
“These never made it back with him,” I said, opening my palm.

I knew this because I overheard Tanq tell David that my dad’s ring and tags went missing before his body was loaded into the medivac chopper.

“They disappeared before my dad was brought back to base,” I continued.

Even now as Alex sat there he was glorious, which irked me because I had a bad feeling that this story didn’t have a happy ending, and it would be a lot easier to hate him if he wasn’t so…perfect.

Alex was quiet. Still. Watching expressionless while I slowly began to fit the pieces together. “You were gone for over a week just before…” Alex rose to his feet, his features still vacant. “You were sick.” His brows lifted and his head dropped. Then it dawned on me. “No,” I said, taking the cue from his expression. “Hurt.”
Alex looked up at me from under his lashes, his jaw muscles rippling as he clenched his teeth.

My lungs deflated abruptly. My wide, disbelieving eyes glued to his as the final piece fell into place.  “You were there.”

“Oh, God. Please don’t tell me something that’s gonna make me hate you,” I whispered.
I stared blankly at the two badly, brutalized dog tags and my dad’s wedding band as Alex continued through what seemed to be a list of gibberish.
“Celts call me Dullahan. In Hindu I am Yamaraj. To the Greek, Thantos…” I know that one from somewhere, I thought. “Mexico, Muerte.” I could feel my pulse thump fiercely behind my ears. I knew that one for sure. Alex paused, watching me closely, as though patiently waiting for me to catch on. “The pale rider, the fourth horseman.”
The room filled with an arctic edge and I for a second my mind went completely numb. When his meaning finally took hold, a new sensation took over. Anger, then disgust.  I felt the blood seep from my face.  My memory violently thrusting me back to the blonde-haired girl in the music box shop, and the unbelievable thing that she claimed I had escaped.

Full blown nausea struck out at me as the words clumsily spilled past my lips. I noticed they had a bitter taste to them.
“Grim. Death.” I said, meaning for them to come out as grim reaper and then death. In my own defense, I was a little frazzled.
“That is precisely the translation.”
Puppeteer, just like the website said.  I shook the thought away.

“No.” I ran my fingers through my hair in disbelief and sputtered, “It’s not possible. You don’t look anything like…You’re not…” I couldn’t finish. But Alex called himself the thing I could not.
“Death?” he said. “I am exactly that.” He said it so calmly, so coolly, still eyeing me like he was anticipating a particular response. Perhaps, like me, he was waiting for me to go into shock, but I couldn’t quite conjure the panic that I knew was worthy of this situation. All I wanted to know at that very minute was if Alex was responsible for what happened to my dad, and what I would do next if his answer was yes.