Victim of the Fall by Lililei
Summary:

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Here is the deepest secret nobody knows
Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life
Which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

A story about what it is to love that which you cannot keep.


Categories: Movies, Books, Original Fiction Characters: None
Classification: General
Genre: Erotica, Romance
Story Status: On hiatus indefinitely
Pairings: None
Warnings: Adult Situations, Extreme Language, Original Characters, Strong Sexual Content , Un-betaed , Work in Progress
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 12 Completed: No Word count: 32843 Read: 51806 Published: November 17 2011 Updated: June 13 2012
Story Notes:

Graphics and images belong to respective owners. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. 

1. Flock of Birds by Lililei

2. The Encounter by Lililei

3. Proposition by Lililei

4. Strings by Lililei

5. Capture by Lililei

6. Edge by Lililei

7. Oblivion by Lililei

8. Soul Clenched by Lililei

9. Surrender by Lililei

10. Constraints by Lililei

11. Shadows by Lililei

12. UPDATE by Lililei

Flock of Birds by Lililei
Author's Notes:

Hi everyone, resposting this story under my new account. Other stories are on the way too. Thank you everyone from the previous account for the support and I hope you continue to do here too!

 

 

birds

 

 

She knows him and he knows her. They have traipsed the same common circles but their paths have never intersected. She acts with cool disregard whenever his name is bought up. The truth is she kind of hates him for never seeking her out, for not giving her the attention she believes she is due.

But there is nothing she can do. So she gives him very little thought in return.

So when they finally meet in a crowded room, she can’t help but feel amazed. The reality of him is quite different. He is not as lanky as she remembered him to be. His body appears to be long and muscled but he is not lean at all. He is broad shouldered, solid and immutable.

The curly hair is gone. He has shaved it down to stubble, which is light brown in color. She could still conjure the feeling of running her hands through those tangled curls, even though it has been so long ago.

When she approaches him to say hello, he is formal, giving her only a polished sense of regard. She tries not to show her disappointment. She knew him as the cocky, confident boy of nineteen. It is as if in five years, he has aged drastically, become more adult than anything Dana could ever be connected with.  She can feel a grudging resentment course through her.

He leans down to talk her, which she hates. She in turn speaks in a tone of ingratiating sunniness, something she knows he probably hates. She touches his shaved head, teasing and making jokes, laughter bubbling out of her, taking delight in the grim expression on his face. His voice is clipped in response, he barely smiles. He gives the impression of impatience barely contained.

And yet, standing in his shadow, she feels a tidal wave haul through her body, a flock of birds erupt in the air. He is beautiful. He is the most beautiful man she has ever met. She knows then, as if her destiny has been tattooed in her skin, that he will be one of the great loves of her life. Perhaps the greatest.

When she has to leave, allowing him to return to the conversation she interrupted, she does not look back. His image is forever engraved in her.

 

End Notes:

More on the way :) Cast pics will be posted soon as well.

The Encounter by Lililei
Author's Notes:

 


 

art

 

February, 2003

Rafael was an artist who embodied all the stereotypes associated with artists who were famous. Egotistical and flamboyant, arrogant and abrupt. Rafael said shocking things and did shocking things which Andrew guessed stemmed from a deep need of validation, which is why he needed to be the constant centre of attention, even if that attention was negative. While Andrew was shy and drew away from the spotlight, Rafael thrived. He complained about the vulture media and the stupid public and their inability to understand his work, but without their criticism, his sole purpose in life would diminish.

“It’s a beautiful, isn’t it?’ Rafael smiled at Dana, his eyes travelling over her form. “Not as beautiful as real life, of course.”

Dana laughed in response, “Ah, the flatterer par excellence.” She looked at Andrew, an eyebrow raised.  “Is he always this charming?”

“No, I’m serious” Rafael replied, not smiling.  “Comme quoi se sent-il pour être la fille la plus belle dans cette chambre ? ”

Dana looked surprised for a second, before grinning back, amused. “Merci, c'est gentil.” As both began to converse in French, Andrew felt his attention drift away. He scanned the crowd, wondering if he could leave now.

Both Dana and Rafael were talking animatedly about French cinema when a woman suddenly approached them, looking hurried. Completely ignoring the two men, she turned to Dana instead. “There you are. I’ve been looking for you. Come on, there are some people who want to meet you.”

“Ok, okay, I’ll be there already” Dana reassured before turning back to Andrew.

“You heading off?” Andrew asked, smiling blandly.

“Yeah, I guess so. Well, it was great seeing you again” She said, smiling hesitatingly. She had suddenly become strangely shy, the confident flirty persona evaporating.

“Yep” Andrew nodded, “You too, Dana.”

“Yes, well …bye then” Dana said. “Nice meeting you” She added to Rafael with a smile before turning and following the other woman towards the left of the room.

“Phew” Rafael bit his lower lip, “She was something, huh Dundee?” That was his nickname for Andrew. Dundee. Andrew knew it was offensive and he sounded nothing like Crocodile Dundee but he ignored it, the same way he usually ignored everything Rafael said.

“I’m sure she was” Andrew replied, checking the time on his phone. Only eight pm. Damn.

He was smirking at Andrew now, his eyebrows raised, “Well?”

Andrew swallowed his irritation and assumed a blank, almost benign expression, “Yeah, what?”

Rafael nodded towards Dana’s direction who was a few meters ahead, her back turned to them both, engaged in conversation with an elderly couple standing in front of her portrait. “Do you know her?”

Andrew shrugged, “She’s a friend, more of an acquaintance, really.  She’s a friend of an ex.”  He’s surprised by the words. When he remembers Dana, he thinks of her as the girl who dyed his hair blonde when he was nineteen and new to the US.  He barely remembers Geraldine.

“Oh, right, a friend. And by friend, you mean?”

“I’m sure you know what the word friend means” Andrew replied, coolly, refusing to take the bait. He took a sip of his drink, looked around at the crowd.

“So you haven’t slept with her, then?”

 “What?” Andrew wasn’t sure whether to laugh or act offended. “Oh, god no. No, I haven’t slept with her.”

“God, no? You make it sound like the idea of it is absurd” Rafael raised an eyebrow “Do you think she’s ugly? People have being staring at her all night; she’s a very attractive girl.”

“I’m aware of that” Andrew replied stiffly.

“Look at her” Rafael’s eyes scanned up and down her body, his voice low as to avoid being overheard. “Check out those legs. Can you imagine fucking her? They go on forever. And it’s the quiet types that are the real freaks in bed. So they say.”

“Okay, that’s enough” Andrew snapped. He didn’t know why but Rafael’s talk and his exaggerated leer made Andrew bristle inside.

“What? Just because you don’t find her hot? What’s the matter, Dundee? Not your type?”

“Not really” Andrew muttered, looking away. Fuck Rafael. Fucking asshole. He didn’t know why he called the guy a friend, when all he strived to do was rub Andrew up the wrong way.

“So she isn’t your type, huh? Don’t like black women, is that it?”

Andrew looked up at him, suddenly furious. “What the fuck are you harping on about? Get to the point, why don’t you? What are you trying to say?”

Rafael remained unperturbed.  “Well, do you?”

“I don’t choose women based on their skin color if that’s what you’re suggesting” Andrew snapped.

“Whoa, take it easy. I’m just saying the way she was talking to you earlier, her body language was screaming fuck me. And you didn’t even notice her.”

Andrew rolled his eyes, “I can say now with full confidence that Dana is not keen on me at all. She’s just being sweet; she’s like that with everyone.”

“Oh of course, of course, you’re her friend, you know her best. Her aside, you didn’t answer my question.”

“Which question would that be?”

“Do you find black women attractive? I’m just curious; you’re the self-proclaimed blonde’s man and all.”

“Of course I do” Andrew lied. The truth was, he didn’t know. Sure, if he had to choose he thought Halle Berry was hot but in all honesty, he didn’t know because he had never noticed. He had friends of both sexes and all types of races, but the only women he has ever been with were Caucasian. Did that make him racist? He wasn’t sure but the thought of it gave him anxiety.  It wasn’t as if he made a conscious decision to exclusively date white women. He couldn’t help who he was attracted to. And since he was sixteen, he had never been single, and by single he meant not sleeping with anyone. He was constantly drifting from one woman to another. If anything a more accurate description would be that they drifted into his life, he rarely sought anyone out.

“So, would you fuck her?”

Andrew could feel his temper flare “You’re a piece of shit; it’s none of your business who I choose to fuck. I also happen to be engaged.”

Rafael’s face become serious then, his eyes cold “So you wouldn’t mind if I placed a bid on this painting then? I was thinking of buying it and then sending it to her as a gift, what do you think? Think it’ll make her underwear hit the floor?”

“Fuck you” Andrew snarled, his fists clenching by his sides. He felt a strange throbbing begin by his eye.

Rafael started to say something else but Andrew turned and began to walk away. He was about to punch him in the mouth or do something drastic, erase the condescending smirk off his face. He wasn’t even sure why he was so bothered by this conversation when he normally just brushed off Rafael’s remarks.

He stepped outside into a blast of cold air and loud traffic. He walked down the steps of the museum, his eyes scanning for a cab he could hail down.  He walked over, about to cross the road when suddenly he heard someone calling out his name. He turned to see Dana walking briskly down the stairs, her shoulders hunched against the chilly weather.

“What are you doing here?” Andrew asked her, as she walked over, short of breath. He was feeling quite stunned. It was as if she had suddenly conjured out of nowhere. He had thought of her and she was here.

“Nothing. I just saw you storm out, is everything okay?” Dana looked at him concerned.

“Oh, I’m fine. I just wanted to get out of there; the crowd was getting a bit boring. No offence.” He nodded at her politely, noticing her rubbing her bare arms. “You didn’t wear a jacket?”

“Oh, that” Dana smiled. “I couldn’t find my coat in the cloak room and I was worried I would lose you so I ran out without it. I think someone else took mine because there was a coat which looked like mine but it was bigger so yeah, I guess my coat is missing for now.”  To her horror, she was blabbing on, but she wasn’t able to stop.

“That’s a shame. You look pretty though, despite how cold you look” Andrew smiled at her, suddenly feeling a wave of endearment. She looked fifteen just then, her arms wrapped around her thin torso, the wind whipping her hair in front of her face, the skirt of her dress billowing in the cold. A young girl on her way to the prom.

“Fuck, I’m rude” Andrew said, suddenly realizing. He shrugged off his coat, handing it to her. “Here.”

Dana looked up at him startled, “Oh, that’s okay, I really couldn’t. I don’t know when I’d see you again. Thank you, though.”

“Take it” He insisted. “Besides, it’s a reason to meet up again, right? As a matter of fact, what are you doing right now exactly?”

“Oh, I’m…” Dana could feel an onset of butterflies suddenly erupt in her stomach. “I’m free, I mean, I have no plans.”

“Great” He waved down an approaching cab. Dana watched him as he reached over, opening the door and holding it open for her.  “Let’s go.”

* * * *

What the hell had happened?

Dana knew that sex might have been a bit unrealistic, but by the end of the night she had thought at least he would have kissed her or something.  Was she just imagining things? Perhaps the sexual tension had only existed on her end, inside her head.

Andrew had suggested dinner. He had refused to let her split the bill even though she kept insisting. They had talked nonstop - catching up, reminiscing, and gossiping about the mutual people they knew.  As they walked around New York that night, talking, he had constantly kept touching her, she could still feel the places where his hand had been, as if he had branded her. The small of her back, her hip, her arm, her shoulder.  

And it was then while they both sat on a bench at central park that he pulled out his wallet, revealing the photo of his fiancée, Ingrid.

Dana was almost scientifically interested in how she had managed to look pleased by the news whilst her body felt like it had suddenly been plunged into an icy pond.

Then he had dropped her home, seeing her upstairs to her apartment. Dana was unsure of whether she should invite him in for coffee but as if reading her mind Andrew had smiled politely, wishing her good night. He added that he was already late, he had told Ingrid he would be home before twelve.

Dana handed him back his coat and thanked him for the evening. She wished she could keep it; she loved the feel of it, the sheer heavy bulk, it felt warm and comfortable enough to sleep in.

He kissed her good night, a quick kiss on the cheek before he turned and left.  Chaste and friendly, even though it had accidentally landed a little close to the side of her mouth.

Dana closed the door, locking it firmly. And then she told herself to put the night behind her as a pleasant memory. She was not going to rehash everything over and over, dissecting each word, each look or touch as if it contained some secret code. It would probably be a few more years till she saw him again.

Proposition by Lililei
Author's Notes:

 

hey

 

At all times she is with him, in the corner of his mind. Winter ends and summer arrives, typical New York summer, sizzling hot. The city smog combined with the heat results in steamy, suffocating air. They contact each other through email first, casual at first and then every day, forwarding jokes to each other, sharing articles one will think the other is interested in.

He rings occasionally, guardedly at first and then every day, the reasons flimsy. They talk of their childhood, their family, their work and travels, all they have in common. The elements which make their lives so different they skirt around.

They meet up for lunch nearly every week-this time he allows her to split the bill, even though they debate over it each time.

They laugh together more and more. They are both avid readers and they swap books back and forth, even though they both share extremely different tastes.

He sends her trinkets he thinks she’ll like, accompanied with notes. She studies his scraggly writing, plumbing the depths of a casually crossed kiss.

They compare invitations, enquiring if the other means to go-she buys new clothes if she thinks they are sharing the same place.

One evening they both attend a party at a large penthouse in Brooklyn. Her invitation came from Andrew personally; there were no friends she knew of, only a few people she was acquainted with on the briefest of terms.

 It was filled with artists and writers and musicians; the indie hipster crowd. The food was tastefully Japanese, the air dense with conversation.

Dana and Miriam immediately both felt overdressed and awkward. When Dana told a group of people her favorite author was Stephen King, they looked at her as if she had said Mein Kampf.

It was going to be a long night.

So she drank more and more. Music was playing and she wanted to move, but she forced herself to sit still. She loved to dance, especially at the center of a large crowd, where so many moving bodies hid her own. But at a party, it just felt strange.

Andrew was aware of her presence in the crowd, just as she was of him. Yet they both ignored each other, seeking out other people.

She was deep in conversation with Miriam and a handsome bearded man named Thomas when he finally approached her, crossing the room and smiling down at them.  “Hello, Dana.” The smile remained when he looked at Thomas but Dana noticed his eyes hardening. “Thomas, how are you?”

“Hey, man” Thomas grinned. “How are you? How’s Ingrid?”

“She had plans tonight, she couldn’t make it.”

“That’s a shame” Thomas smirked, as if he knew Andrew was lying. “Dana and I were just talking here…what were we talking about?”

“There are never any cocktails at cocktail parties” Dana announced drunkenly. “I mean this is supposed to be a cocktail party, but it just has beer and wine and sake and... champagne... and everyone is dressed casually, I feel dumb for wearing a dress.”

“And there's ping-pong” Thomas added, the smirk not leaving his face.

“And a ping pong table! God, I want to play ping-pong but that group hasn’t left the table for the last two hours.”

“I think ping-pong tables should be compulsory at all parties” The woman sandwiched between Dana and Thomas, smiled up at Andrew, extending her hand. “Hi, I’m Miriam.” She was slender and fine boned, almost oriental looking. Very attractive. No wonder that tool Thomas was drooling all over her, Andrew thought to himself.

“Nice to meet you, Miriam” Andrew shook her hand.

“You know what? We should make some room” Dana scooted over, leaving a gap on her left side. “Come sit.”

He did so, but then instead of resuming conversation, remained silent, listening to Thomas talk animatedly.

When Thomas stood up to get some more drinks, Miriam turned, whispering in Dana’s ear. Andrew turned away, pulling out his phone and texting.

“Can we go?” Miriam hissed, looking panicked. “These people are such pretentious assholes, I told that guy Thomas I worked in a bank and he looked at me like I was a criminal.”

“He likes you” Dana insisted. “Can’t you tell? It’s so obvious.”

“I don’t date guys younger than me.”

“He’s handsome. And you don’t know how old he is. Besides, no one said date him, if you find him cute, then just sleep with him” Dana teased, mimicking Miriam. Miriam was the one who usually acted as if Dana was the prude whilst she was sexually liberated; engaging in more casual encounters than Dana did;  it was fun to be able to dish it back it out.

“Maybe I just might, but guys like that, you have to be careful. They end up being getting attached when you don’t want them too, like you’re some sort of fucking challenge… Oh crap, he’s on his way back. Look, can we go? Please?”

Dana could feel Andrew's body heat radiating off onto her skin. His hand brushed hers almost absentmindedly, yet she felt it send jolts of electricity up her arm down to the pit of her stomach.

“Not just yet, look go debate politics with him. You’re good at that, that’s something you should be able to do. Make him feel emasculated.”

 Miriam sighed loudly, huffing in response.

* * * *

“I want kids; I mean… I want to be a young parent. I want to have a kid by the time I’m twenty seven… but Ingrid is old fashioned, she wants the white wedding dress and stuff first.”

“So what are you going to do?” Dana stretched back on the bed. There was a man passed out on the floor. She hoped no one would come in here, but the party had just about ended and a majority had already left. The room was adorned with multiple pillows and there were leopard satin sheets on the bed. Dana couldn’t help but feel turned off.

Andrew shrugged in response, “Get married, I suppose.”

“You sound very enthusiastic” Dana suppressed a laugh.

“Nah, it’s just… I don’t believe in it. My parents got divorced and my Dad married over and over again, like ten times. I don’t think being married means anything. But if it gives her security, if it somehow reassures her I won’t leave her-which I would never, especially if we had a kid, then yeah, we’ll get married.”

There was a pause between them, as both looked up at the ceiling. Dana couldn’t lie-it was deflating to hear those words from someone she was attracted to. But she knew she couldn’t hint that in any way.

“Speaking of marriage, my brother converted to Islam. He fell in love with a Muslim girl- Miriam’s sister actually.”

“Oh. Is that Miriam friend of yours a Muslim?”

“Yeah, people act surprised when they find out.  She isn’t very religious, nor her siblings but my brother became fascinated and quite passionate about it all, more than his wife.”

“Really? How did your family react to that?”

“My dad didn’t care one way or the other and my mom cried her eyes out- she’s a devout Catholic. Anyway, back to the main point. He was telling me that in Islam when two people get married-.”

“That it’s arranged?” Andrew cracked, doubling up in laughter.

“No! That’s not it, let me finish. That’s not even true. So he was saying that when a couple decides to get married, they don’t have vows. The imam asks the bride and groom if they want to marry said person and he asks over and over, I think about three times. Like, are you sure? Are you positive? Really?”

“Right. And your point is?”

“So? Don’t you think that’s great? I love the idea of that, the vows.”

“Um” Andrew gave her a sidelong look, “It makes sense but it’s a bit cold, don’t you think? Where’s the romance?”

“That is it! That’s why it’s  so great!” Dana was at the stage of drunkenness where every statement was a profound exclamation. “It’s so real! I used to believe in the whole till death do us part, for better or for worse and it’s such crap. It’s a lie, no human is that dumb. It’s in our nature to…what’s the word? Pre…pre…um… ”

“Persevere?”

“No! Close though. Pre…Preserve. Preserve! Preservation! Self-preservation, that’s it.”

“I don’t think that’s true. Humans have always been motivated by love and sex, people write poetry and literature and create art, and they fight and murder, over love.”

“Yes, but boys experience love different to girls. Girls are supposed to be more romantic but we are taught that there is a difference between sex and love. Love is wonderful but sex is scary. Sex is wrong. That’s what I remember. I had a lot of fear growing up. I was always so afraid. The word no was established in my vocabulary quite early.” 

She looked at him, waiting for a response. Andrew didn’t know what to say just then. He remained still.

“Right? It’s just . . . oh, never mind.”

“You shouldn’t have been. You’re beautiful” Andrew stammered.

“So what? Who cares what anyone says when I don’t feel that way at all. It’s just…well; I always hear how pretty I am. Always” She said it with disgust and Andrew was taken aback.

 “And that led to boys, all boys, all the time trying to . . . you know, get into my pants.” She paused, looked at him, "My panties. Yuck, I hate that word. Panties."

This conversation tonight was taking an interesting turn, and he couldn’t help but feel guilty. He looked away.

“Anyway. I got really good at saying no. It’s one thing I know how to do. I said no like I was supposed to. Like the good little girl. Always no. And anyway you get used to no and sometimes you don’t even know why you are saying it. I ended up being eighteen, thinking to myself do I say no all my life?”

“And then there was this guy.” And she let out this laugh up into the air. It was loud, a surprise and Andrew nearly jumped, startled. This was a side of her he had never seen. She put her hand over her mouth. “He was so into me, so much of what I wanted. But I went out with him, made out with him, always stopping before we went too far. Always no. No, no, no.”

She sprawled back on the bad, staring at the ceiling, twisting the fabric of her top. 

“And one day, he took me out. Beautiful roses. We ate at this wonderful restaurant, he was so wonderful, so charming. That night he told me he wanted to make love to me, to feel me, taste me, touch me.” She began to giggle “I laugh when I think about those words now-it is pretty lame - but at the time, wow.”

Andrew could not believe she was saying this. He simply nodded his head, taking another swig from the bottle

“And I wanted to say yes. Everything in me was saying yes. But - no! I had to say no. He was in the car, he went silent. Said nothing. I looked over at him, knew he was mad. I said if you love me you will wait for me. He just said, wait for what?”

“What a prick” Andrew muttered.

“And when I got out of the car he didn’t kiss me, he didn’t even look at me. I got out and he said under his breath but I know it was so I could hear it - ice queen, and he screeched off into the night. And that became my nickname the last three months of twelfth grade. Ice Queen.” She twirled her hair in her hand. 

"And then the very next guy I went out with spent all his time trying to have sex with me. And you know what? I let him. I didn't say no. I didn't want to have sex with him; I didn't like it at all. So I say no when it would have been wonderful, and yes when it . . . it's just confusing. And then I get so…wound up, I can't stand it. I crawl right out of my skin. But at the same time I don’t like sex. Sometimes I think hate it. I mean, I like kissing; I could do that all day but… everything else, I feel myself turn to stone. It’s always different in my head compared to reality. I’ll start thinking and analysing and noticing odd things about the guy and I get turned off.”

Andrew could feel his face turn red. He could not believe prim, proper Dana was talking about her sex life.

"God, I don't know what I'm trying to say." She looked at him and began to laugh. She rolled onto her stomach and groaned into the pillow, “I’m wasted. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay” Andrew hesitated before placing his hand on the small of her back, “It’s always good to get this stuff off your chest. That guy was a jerk, Dana. He should have understood.”

“But he’s right, don’t you think? I am the ice queen.”

“But you aren’t, you’re not like that at all.”

“You don’t know me.” She lifted her head and smiled at him, her hair falling over half her face. “I mean, you do, but not in that context.  Trust me; I’m not good girlfriend material.”

“Maybe you haven’t fallen in love yet” Andrew said. “I mean that’s if you do believe in falling in love.”

“I do” Dana insisted. “Believe me, I really do but I think emotion changes. You could love someone today and then hate them a few months down the line. I do believe that love can last an entire lifetime but… I don’t know, I just think it’s foolish to make promises based on feeling.”

“That’s just the law student in you talking” Andrew teased, brushing the hair away from her face. “You aren’t cold, you’re just objective.  It’s a good thing.”

“Thanks” Dana smiled at him, her eyes half closing. “I think it was because I was so religious when I was a teenager. I used to wear a purity ring and believe I wouldn’t have sex when I was married. Then I went to college and became corrupted.”

“Yeah, how so? The parties and freedom and all that?”

“No, I mean, well yeah I did hang around a bad crowd for a bit, only I didn’t know they were bad until… stuff happened… but it was actually studying, you know? There is so much that exists outside…. I especially liked how the Greeks thought, it appealed to me… no sin or right or wrong…just about balance. Not too much and not too little…” She was mumbling the words, forcing herself to talk. The room was spinning. She wanted to sleep but she knew she should get up and start making her way home. She wondered where Miriam was. She had promised her they wouldn’t leave each other.

Andrew watched Dana doze, before turning and glancing around at the room. He was starting to feel an onslaught of dizziness, tinged with nausea. He could not remember how much he had drunk. He wondered what time it was. Ingrid was going to kill him for being so late. And he wondered what she would think if she were to walk into the room right now, and see Dana lying next to him. He could feel a pit of despair rise in his stomach at the thought. It wasn’t like that at all! So why did he feel so guilty?

“Dana?” He reached over, shaking her shoulder.

“Hmm?” She asked drowsily, her eyes still closed.

“We can’t” He blurted out, his heart pounding, his vision blurring at the edges. “We can’t have sex, okay?”

There was a brief pause. Dana didn’t move, her eyes remaining closed. Andrew waited for her to tell him that she had no idea what he was talking about.

She woke up, raising her head and looking at him with hazy but calm eyes “Why not?”

“Because” Andrew was trying to remain calm but he was inwardly cringing, he could feel his heart pounding at an unnatural rate. He was torn between grabbing her shoulders and screaming at her in rage for tempting him so badly. He also wanted to fuck her on the bed at that instant. “I can’t, I’m engaged. And I love Ingrid, Dana. I really love her, I can’t leave her.”

“I’m not asking you to” Dana sat up, trying not to sway. She shrugged disdainfully, trying to joke. “You got engaged. You didn’t ask my opinion about it; you shouldn’t punish me for something I had no say in.”

Andrew laughed, smothering the response. Dana smiled before looking away. The horrible words were out and although she instantly regretted saying that, she was not going to take them back.

Dana did not belong to the school of thought that one just went after whatever they wanted relentlessly, regardless of whether it belonged to someone else. Dana had been raised to believe that she had the right to get what she wanted provided that other people were not hurt or stepped on in the process. Given the fact that her father had left her mother for another woman, she had never thought she would be the type of person to do this to someone else, the type to ruin someone’s life. But with a terrible clarity, she now knew what it was like to want someone so much that she just did not care. Her desire for him blinded her to everything, made her oblivious to consequence. She did not care about his engaged status, she did not care about Ingrid. Ingrid was no one to her and therefore not her responsibility, she was not a person in Dana’s life and was therefore owed no loyalty. It was not her problem. 

She was heading for the precipice and she could not think of the consequences, only the sensation of jumping. Tonight she would fly or fall.

 It was the alcohol that had made Dana brave enough to say what she was thinking. The truth was that addressing this would lead to an end or a beginning, both of these things good.  She could no longer take the suspension between them.

“What are you saying?” Andrew asked his body still. “No strings attached? Is that it?”

“Yes” She forced herself to look him in the eye, searching his face for honesty-he was not smiling, she would remember that. “I would never to try to trap you, if that’s what you’re worried about. The instant you wanted it to be over, I would see you free.”

“I want to” He moved himself closer to her, lowering his voice. “I think about it all the time and I really want to. But I can’t, I am so sorry. You deserve someone better than me. I would only hurt you.”

Dana’s gaze skidded away from his face, her heart springing up at his words.  She was not going to make a fool of herself by swallowing rebuffing lies. “I don’t want someone better, I want you. From the moment I saw you, all those years ago when I just nineteen years old… I only wanted you.”

“I do too” His face was sombre, and his words were a knife to her chest. “I am flattered. I would if I could. I’m sorry that I can’t.”

“Of course, I understand” Dana nodded, smiling evenly, the way a good loser might. She had placed her claws in him when she had said those words; she could tell this conversation had pained him. And she hoped that when she pulled those claws out she would leave weeping wounds. She knew she shouldn’t be so surprised, she had already told herself she was bound to fail. He was unconquerable because he was an honourable man. For him to do what she was asking would ruin that part of him and it was the last thing she wanted.

And yet she wanted to hit him - she wanted to storm off sobbing. It had made her furious, saying goodbye.

“Are things going to be weird between us now?” Andrew looked at her anxiously. “I don’t want things to change.”

“Nothing is going to change. I promise you” She moved off the bed and stood up, straightening her clothes.

Andrew followed suit, bounding up, checking for items in his pockets. “So, are we still having lunch on Wednesday then?”

“Absolutely” She replied.  Andrew was surprised at how gracious and collected she was behaving, considering she had bared her soul only moments ago. If it had been him, he would have slunk away, tail between his legs.

They said good night then, deliberately keeping their distance, not touching in any way before drifting apart.  She did not give him another glance.

Dana found Miriam asleep on the couch, curled up in a corner, her head on the armrest, next to a couple who were making out. She woke her up and they left the party, both doing their best to compose themselves. A car containing a group of young men screeched by honking at them, screaming out sexual derogatory comments.

“Fuck you, assholes!” Dana yelled back, throwing the one finger salute up in response.

“Don’t” Miriam giggled, grabbing Dana’s hand. “Don’t provoke them, they might turn around.”

“I’d like to see them fucking try” Dana replied, her jaw clenched.

“It’s nearly five am” Miriam grinned, unfazed. “People are going to see us in our clothes and think we’re doing the walk of shame.”

“We didn’t do anything shameful” Dana muttered in response, “They can all go to hell.”

Strangely she did not feel angry as she thought she would, nor did she feel the relief that she had been expecting. But she felt hollow. There was nothing to be done.

Strings by Lililei
Author's Notes:

 

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No strings attached.


What a stupid thing to say. He of all people knew that the world was bound up in string, that everything was poised from thread. Thread tied so tightly it could slice you to the bones.


He of all people knew how impossible it is to avoid the hideous knots in everything. The terrible death plunge both would face when one of them - most likely him-would cut those strings between them. Yes, he would suffer too, the moment it ended, because despite what everyone thought of him, he was not the type to have sex with someone without caring for them.


So he cut all contact. He saw her once six days ago at the East Village where he was having dinner with Ingrid and a group of friends. He promptly looked the other way, pretending he had not seen her.


And yet he could not stop thinking about her proposition. It was the kind of proposal men dreamt of and yet he had been stunned to hear it. He felt as if his body had been slammed against glass.  


Andrew knew he was an attractive, desirable man. He pretended he did not, because it was expected of him. Yet he knew and acknowledged he was a man who could keep secrets, who could live multiple lives.  Even after he had turned the offer down, meaning what he had said, he had taken her words home with him, closed tightly in his fist.


Un jardin secret… ave beaucoup de fleurs.


Dana had said that to him, months ago. He could not remember in what context, but that phrase stood out. Had that been a hint of her intentions then? Andrew would scan over their entire relationship each night, looking for clues he had been oblivious to, every single past exchange now laced with double meaning. He would toss and turn besides Ingrid each night, suffering through bursts of fitful sleep, cold in the darkness, swallowing back the need to howl. He woke up in the morning peevish, his jaw sore with gritted teeth.


He hated her. She had toyed with him, as if he were a marionette with stuffing for a heart and wire for bones. She had slinked into his life like a criminal. In less than six months she had crept into his mind from nonentity to blazing sphere. She was the first thing on his mind when he woke up and when he fell asleep, it was under her.


I am doomed. I am doomed. I am doomed. He is not a fan of melodrama, yet the words are a continous train.


* * *


“Think Greek? What does that mean think Greek? ‘Oh, you’re thinking with a 21st century perspective’ like what does that even mean? You keep saying that. How am I supposed to think?” The girl rolled her eyes, her lips pursed.


It has been a month since that drunken night. One month and he had disappeared from her life.


 “Well, Rachel, I’ll explain that to you” Dana smiled calmly, her patience starting to wear thin. He had cancelled lunch that Wednesday, all contact had abruptly halted. Stupid, stupid! She wanted to scream and kick herself for doing this. Her stupid, big mouth - what had she been thinking?


“I mean, god, all my friends are at the Hamptons partying and I’m stuck here for the summer, its bullshit” Rachel twirled a finger in her mass of platinum dyed blonde hair.


He had seen her in public and looked the other way. It had bought her to tears. Yet she could not begrudge him his need to keep his world intact. It was wrong to ask him to risk the things that made his life fulfilling.


“Mhmm” Dana bit her lip. “Let’s get to the question, okay? Is Orestes justified killing his mother? Remember to consider the theme we have been discussing with these texts, which is kinship versus politics.”


But what risk? A voice in her head spoke up defiantly. You promised you would end it whenever he wanted. You assured secrecy, you-


“Well of course no, that’s stupid!” Rachel’s tone was starting to grate. “I mean, how anyone can kill their own mother. It’s so totally fucked up.”


“Yes, well the ancient Greeks back then kind of were. This is what I mean by thinking Greek. You have to pretend you were back there, and try to see things from their view, okay? We discussed kinship versus politics last week, yes? The differences each one has?”


“Yeah” Rachel sighed, looking out the library window.


“So, we are thinking Greek. Women back then had no rights, they weren’t seen as citizens. And here you have Agamemnon who is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra. And not only does she kill her husband, the king, she and her lover Aegisthus usurp the throne, unlawfully. And Orestes is banished, why is that?” Dana paused, waiting for Rachel to continue.


“Because she thinks he will murder her.”


“And why is that?”


“Because he killed his father and he wants revenge.”


“Any other reason?” Dana could feel someone watching and she looked up to see Frank sitting a few feet away, an amused expression on his face. Dana waved, mouthing a silent hi, before turning back to Rachel. She glanced at her phone on the table. Ten more minutes and she would be free.


“Umm…”


“Think about it. Who is the rightful heir to the throne?”


“Well, she should be; she’s the queen.”


“Ah, but we just went through that. She is the queen but we need the king as well in order to rule. So who was the heir, the rightful king?”


“Orestes” Rachel was starting to fidget in her seat. Dana couldn’t help but feel that she was educating a five year old with a learning disorder.


“That’s it! Very good, Rachel. So this isn’t just about revenge, is it? This is about him being the rightful king, and him reclaiming his throne again. So this is not just about the kinship between father and son and mother and son, but politics comes into this too. That is the clash your professor wants you to analyze.”


“Why don’t they just vote?”


Goddamn it.


Dana looked at the time and almost bounded out of her seat in relief, “Ah, well, we shall have to discuss that next week. Read the chapters and make note of the parts I have underlined for you, okay?”


“Yeah, okay sure whatever” Rachel rolled her eyes, before pulling out her phone and walking off.


A five year old with a learning disorder who aspired to not only look but also talk like Paris Hilton.


“Sorry about that” Dana looked up at Frank as he approached her. She began to load her notes and things into her satchel, “Just let me get my things and we can go to lunch.”


“Job doesn’t pay enough, right?” Frank grinned at her, amused by the whole incident. “Is she really that obtuse?”


“Every time I hear the word obtuse, it always reminds me of Shawshank Redemption” Dana shook her head, amused. “Yeah, she is. I think because she thinks she - or should I say her dad-pays me, I am supposed to do her work for her. And I am tempted to just do that too, it would be easier. Plus her father will give me hell if his princess doesn’t pass.”


‘That’s not fair” Frank frowned, unimpressed. “I hope you made it clear that if she doesn’t do her readings, you can only take her so far.”


 “Hmm, I have but I don’t think it makes a difference” Dana shrugged, slipping the strap of her bag over her shoulder, smiling up at him. “Oh, well. Ready to go?”


“Ready” Frank smiled back and together they headed outside, walking down the stairs of NYU, stepping outside to Washington Square in companionable silence.


“It’s a good thing I didn’t follow in your footsteps, don’t you think Professor?” Dana teased, nudging him with her elbow. “I don’t have the magic touch that you have with students.”


Frank was six years older than her. Dana had met him when she was 22 and completing her honors at NYU. Her thesis has focused on deconstructing the film Metropolis and how in many ways the film reflected society and its unspoken class system today.  It was the perfect topic and she had done well.


But two things had happened that year. The first had been meeting Frank- both sat in the same area at the library each night and had been compelled to talk to each other for no reason other than proximity. Frank had just finished his PhD the year before and was getting a syllabus ready for a new class he was about to teach:  Espionage, Terror and Global Disorder.


 The second thing was September the eleventh. Watching those towers fall had thrown Dana off balance and propelled a semi midlife crisis. She began to not only re-evaluate her life but the world around her. Her degree up until then had been more fun than anything-French and literature and film as well as some history-things she was good at and not too strenuous. She had planned on doing a PhD and teaching film to others, perhaps even having a career in cinema herself, she had always secretly dreamed of being a producer.


But after that she realized was starting to feel impatient with it all. Her degree was girly and fun, but also in a sense, sort of useless. It was all about theory and deconstructing and analyzing.  She wanted to not only learn something useful but do something useful as well.


And the inspiration was cemented when she attended Frank’s introductory two hour lecture. It had opened her eyes. The PLO. American Imperialism. The Taliban. Islamic Fundamentalism. Hezbollah. Torture in Iran. The role of the US in the middle east. Israel and Palestine. The meaning of genocide. Frank's style and presentation, his broad knowledge of world politics and history had galvanized Dana. She was now aware for the first time of the whole world and how little she knew about it.


It was Frank who had encouraged her to not study politics but apply for her law degree instead, insisting that it would be far more useful. And it was Frank who had studied with her and helped her pass the exams, allowing for admission into Columbia. Her father, a lawyer himself, had been unbelievably thrilled that his only daughter was following in his footsteps. She had wanted to be a lawyer when she was a child only because of her father, not understanding what it meant other than being well dressed and respected. 


Her mother, a high school teacher, said she was proud too, yet Dana wondered whether she was disappointed her daughter had not also taken the path of teaching like they had always talked about.  Her parents had divorced when she was eighteen and she hated feeling that making one happy or proud somehow meant disappointing the other.


 “Next time I should just grab her by the hair and pull out the hideous blond weave. That will probably get her to pay attention” Dana said. She was in a grumpy mood; things that mildly annoyed her were now a personal affront.


She could not get his words out of her head. I would if I could. I’m sorry I can’t.


Dana remembered once sitting in a science class during high school, when she was fifteen. Her science teacher had been discussing an article that had been recently published. The article contained research which spoke about whether physical or emotional pain was the worst. The research had come to no conclusion. Now Dana could finally see why. One always bought the other. She actually felt as if she had been knifed through her stomach. She felt the urge to shout, scream, run away, but she didn’t have a shred of energy to move.  Most of all, she felt angry at herself for caring. What did she have to care about? It was not as if they had even done anything, let alone become lovers. Dana had nothing to be sad over. What she had was exactly that-nothing. Looking at Andrew didn’t even bring Dana pleasure anymore.


“White girls wear weaves?” Frank pulled a face.


Dana grinned in response, “Yes Frank, it’s called hair extensions”


“Oh, okay. Still, her hair extensions aren’t as nice as yours.”


“You jerk!” Dana gave him a shove, only half pretending to be furious. “How many times have we gone through this? All of my hair is real.”


“Oh, that’s right, you are part Cherokee” Frank added, laughing “It’s good hair, cause you’re part Indian.”


“You think you’re funny, don’t you?” Her phone began to ring then and she began to rummage through her bag. “And I don’t believe in the term ‘good hair’, okay?” She glanced at the caller ID displayed and felt her mouth turn dry. “Excuse me” She muttered to Frank before answering.


 “Hey, how are you?” Dana answered, trying her best to sound cheerful.


“Are you busy tomorrow?” Andrew asked, rather abrupt.


“Um, I… I have class” Dana replied, almost stammering. She was thrown back by his tone.


“Sorry to be a pain” Andrew said then, sounding anything but sorry. “But I have a photo shoot in Park Slope, and so I know this is a bit of a commute. But I need an assistant who can help me out. Are you free in the afternoon? After two?”


Her classes started at eight and finished at one. Dana could manage it but she felt hesitant about the idea. She still felt hurt about the snub he had given her, the silence she had received the past few weeks.


“Are you there? Hello? Look if you’re busy, I can find someone else.”


Go to hell, asshole! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!


Dana swallowed her irritation back down. “Well, I finish at one, um… yeah, I can manage it. What do you need me to do?”


“Nothing major, easy stuff. So I’m going to text you the address, okay? See you tomorrow” He hung up, not waiting for a response.


“Bye” Dana said to the dial tone of the phone.


Frank looked at her, an eyebrow raised. “Who was that?


“Nobody” Dana slipped the phone back into her satchel, shrugging dismissively, doing her best to quell her pounding heart.


Capture by Lililei

 

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“I didn’t know you and Gerry were still talking.”

“She hates me but she knows I’m good at what I do. She’s Marie’s publicist, her mother is Marie’s actual agent, so it doesn’t matter what Gerry thinks of me; she has no say.  Anyway” Andrew scratched his head absent mindedly, yawning. Dana thought he looked tired.

 “It shouldn’t be too hard” he said, looking at the lights he had set up “Just a standard editorial.”

“What do you need me to do?” She asked.

‘“All I’ll need you to do is help with the lenses and the lighting. Just general things, keep her happy.  She has a bit of a diva reputation… could you pass me that bag over there? The blue one?”

“Say please” Dana said sweetly.

“Please” Andrew muttered, looking away.

Dana handed him his bag before making her way to the kitchen.

“So do you own this place?” Dana asked, unpacking the groceries she had bought with her. Andrew watched her unload tea, coffee, juice, snacks and fruit onto the table. Dana had been expecting a small studio and had stunned to find the address, a three storey brownstone on 15th street.  She had checked the address several times, making sure. Her assumption now was that she was at his house, as she knew Andrew was quite wealthy.

“No, it belongs to a friend. He hires this place out for photo shoots. I use it all the time.”

“Oh, that makes sense, with the different colored walls and furniture. It’s beautiful.”  Sections of the walls were different strong shades of red, olive green, white, black or were wallpapered with matching furniture, drapes and artwork. The floors contained different rugs over the polished hardwood floors. It was as if there were multiple rooms in one, which overall looked rather overwhelming, almost ugly. Yet Dana could understand the genius of its design, from a photography perspective anyhow.

Dana looked around, smiling at the clash before turning back to the groceries. “So is the fridge just for show or are the appliances switched on?”

“They’re switched on… look, Dana, why did you bring this stuff?” Andrew was frowning. “The shoot will only go on for an hour, two at the most; she’s not going to starve.”

“Andrew” Dana tsked at him, a look of reproach on her face. “It’s courtesy to offer.”

“Well if the rumors are true about her, she’s going to throw it all up anyway” Andrew said, grinning wryly. 

“You’re terrible” Dana laughed in response. Andrew could not help but feel secretly pleased, softening his hard resolve.

“How have you been?” He asked, sitting down on the red L-shaped sofa. His eyes scanned the back of her figure as she opened cabinet doors, scouting around.

“Fine” Her tone was impersonal, the warmth vanished. “I’ve been pretty busy, yourself?”

“Yeah, same” Andrew cleared his throat, suddenly nervous. “I’ve had to go to LA a few times, for work, so it’s why I had to cancel our last lunch and not been able -.”

“Not been able to talk to me like you used to?” Her tone was deceivingly light hearted “Do you have a teapot around here?”

She was dressed in black cargo pants, a pale blue tank top and a lightweight black leather jacket, her hair clipped back. 

“I don’t know if they have one… look can you take your jacket off, it’s annoying me. It’s September.”

 “Why should it annoy you? I actually feel a little cold, the air conditioner is too high” Dana turned and looked at him. “So you’ve been busy?”

She was looking at him, amused, an eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, I have been” Andrew replied, defiant.

“So busy, that when you see me across the street, you turn and look in a different direction?” Dana smiled, shaking her head.

Fuck.

“Dana…” Andrew began, but Dana cut him off, holding her hand up.

“Don’t bother” She said, turning back and filling the electric kettle with water.

“Well, what did you expect?” He stood up, suddenly angry. He walked over to her in long strides, standing behind her. “After the things that were said, of course I had to avoid you. Maybe you say shit like that light heartedly but I don’t.”

Dana turned to him, her eyes blazing “Don’t be so presumptuous to assume how I speak or feel.”

“Well, why not? You’ve said those things and you expect me to forget it?” Andrew said furiously, standing extremely close to her. Dana’s back was pressed against the ledge of the sink.

“I was drunk” Dana said stiffly, avoiding eye contact. “I take back those things I said and I apologize, I didn’t mean it.”

“Great excuse, you were drunk” Andrew placed his hand under her chin, tipping her face up. “You look at me and you tell me you didn’t mean it.”

“I did NOT mean it!” Dana snapped, moving her head away. “And don’t touch me, move out of my way right now!”

“Yes, you did” He blocked her way with both of his arms, his hands gripping the edge of the counter.

“So what?” Dana hissed furiously, “I’ve told you I’m sorry and I take it back, what more do you want me to do? Who are you to call me a liar when you just lied to me now? What about the things you said that night?” Seeing the stunned look on his face, she continued. “If you have to avoid me, why did you invite me here? If you’re angry, why contact me at all?”

“Because I-” The buzzer rang and he stepped away, his mouth set in a grim line. “Can you please answer the door, she’s here. I have to get the equipment ready”

* * *

“I love your jacket, it’s so gorgeous” Marie said.

“Oh, thank you, that’s sweet of you” Dana said, warmly. Andrew looked at her, marvelling. How could someone be so composed? A few minutes ago she looked as if she had been ready to hit him and now she was all smiles and sunshine. He on the other hand, could never hide any feeling, it instantly showed on his face.

“Are you a photographer as well?”

“Nope, I’m just Andrew’s assistant for today. I have to carry his bags and hold the silver umbrella.”

“Where did you get it?” Jessica asked, touching the collar lightly.

“The jacket? I bought it from Milan in 2001; I was touring through Europe during summer.”

“Excuse me” Andrew’s tone was soft but dangerous. “I’m sorry to interrupt but we really haven’t got much time.”

“It’s great” Marie said, her eyes coveting. “Milan is in France, right?”

“Italy. But perhaps we should start the photo shoot, as Andrew just said we are running a bit-”

“Is there a bathroom here? I am going to get ready, change my clothes, put on my makeup and stuff.”

Andrew looked at her. His expression didn’t change but Dana could see him clench his fists. “Go down the hallway, the last door to the left.”

“Thanks” Marie scampered out of the living room, the door slamming shut behind her with a loud bang.

Andrew rubbed his knuckles over his eyes and wandered over to the window that looked out on the street. He leaned his head against the pane and closed his eyes.

“Are you okay?” Dana asked.

“What the hell am I doing here?” He muttered, not looking at her.

“It’s going to be okay, it’ll be fine” Dana reassured.

“The editor wants vivacious” Andrew chuckled slightly, shaking his head. “Vivacious.”

Marie Jansen was listed as one of the hottest new young actresses under thirty, alongside Natalie Portman. Thin, sullen and pouty and hispanic- she was the star of a Sci-Fi show Dana had never heard of and was apparently about to become famous in a film that had not yet been released. But she was not a real star yet. She did not turn up with an entourage, a press representative or even a stylist. She had just turned up on her own to the address and said she absolutely had to leave by four thirty, which was less than an hour.

“Hmm, vivacious” Dana replied, unsure of what to say. Marie had looked moody, unhappy to be there. The only time she looked vivacious was on the subject of Dana’s jacket.

“She looks depressed. Depressed and ill. She looks like a mannequin for all the emotion she has. There’s no life in her. I can’t stand these jobs anymore - these shit photos of celebrities with too much make up and too few clothes, spoilt by attention, who’ll get dumped within the next year. I hate working for these fucking magazines, you can’t tell these women apart. It’s a stupid con and I’m a part of it” He turned away from the window and looked at her. “Why am I doing this?”

“Um, for the money?”

“Yeah, money” Andrew snapped, as if the word was something dirty.

“Andrew” Dana sighed, fed up. “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t be like this. You have an amazing career, you’re wealthy and successful, and you’re famous. You were listed in top ten most important people in photography by American photo and you’re twenty four years old. You have a book, you’ve had exhibitions… you’ve been compared to Annie Leibovitz for god’s sake-.”

“I hate Annie Leibovitz” Andrew interrupted.

“Who cares, that isn’t the point! People envy you, they envy your career. People would kill to be in your shoes, you should realize how lucky you are.”

“So?”

“So, what’s the problem? Don’t get so worked up over small things, stop taking yourself so seriously.” Dana paused hesitantly, before adding “This isn’t medical surgery; you just have to take some photos.”

“Right, well since it’s so easy, you can deal with princess this afternoon, you take the photos. I’m out” Andrew clumsily began to pack up his equipment, his face set in a thunderous scowl. Dana placed her hand on his forearm but he pulled away.

“Don’t touch me” He growled. “You’re just like the rest.”

“The rest of what? The capitalist system? Humanity?” She tugged the bag he was holding and it fell with a thud, the zoom lens rolling out.

“God damn it, Dana! Do you have any idea how much that costs?” His hand gripped her forearm. It hurt but Dana refused to allow him to know what.

“Nope” Dana shrugged. “But what would I know; I’m just a stupid normal person, I don’t understand such things. Unlike you, the artistic genius. And hey, it’s just money, right? Who cares about money?”

“Um, hello?”  Marie’s voice made them spring apart. “Am I interrupting something?”

“Nothing at all” Dana said brightly. “Are you ready? You look so pretty.”

Andrew muttered something and retrieved the lens. Dana had been hoping Marie had gone to the bathroom to snort some coke. No such luck. She was as lethargic as ever. Dana offered her something to drink.

“What do you have?”

“Tea, coffee, apple juice, water.”

“What kind of tea?”

“Green tea or Black.”

“No chamomile?”

“Um, no but the sencha is really nice, it has pineapple, strawberry and orange in it. I drink it all the time, there’s this great shop on Madison Avenue that-.”

“That sounds fattening” Marie pulled a face. Before Dana could correct her and tell her it was calorie free, Marie asked “Is the coffee decaffeinated?”

“No, I’m afraid it isn’t” Dana could hear Andrew snickering and she shot him a dirty look.

“What kind of water?”

What kind of water? “Uh... from the faucet.”

She made another disgusted face. “I’ve got a headache” she winced.

“Do you want Tylenol?”

“No.”

“Would you like to reschedule for tomorrow?” Andrew’s voice sounded soft and creepy once again.

Marie was oblivious. “I’m on set tomorrow.”

“Then we’ll just have to do it now, won’t we?”

“I guess” She sighed, slumping back.

Andrew unscrewed his camera from the stand. “Marie, I’d like to make things a bit more casual, not so posed. People magazine wants you to be energetic; do you think you can manage that?”

Marie shrugged in response. Andrew proceeded to take some photos, instructing her to pose; Marie followed the directions yet still managed to remain just as unresponsive.

“Marie” Andrew said eventually. His voice was calm, but Dana could see a muscle working in his jaw.

“Yeah?”

“You’re an actress, aren’t you? Can’t you manage a small smile or even a pout? You could be made of wax the way you look. You don’t look happy at all.”

“Well, you know what!” Marie snapped, suddenly standing up, hands clenched at the side “You’re a jerk. You’re rude. I’m going to contact my agent and ask for someone else to photograph me.”

Dana looked at Andrew, who looked as if he were either about to have a stroke or bludgeon Marie to death with the camera. She decided to intervene at that point.

“Marie?” Dana nodded at her. “Can you follow me for just a second?”

“Dana?” Andrew was no longer bothering to hide how pissed he was. “Are you going for a fucking girls chat in the bathroom now?”

“Oh, Andrew, behave” Dana said, her tone cheerful. She signalled Marie to follow her out of the room. Leading her to a bedroom off the hallway, Dana closed the door firmly behind her. She took her jacket off.

“You said you liked it, right? You can have it.”

“Really?” Marie looked surprised. “That’s nice of you.”

“I think it’ll suit you” Dana said, handing it over.

“Do you want money for it?”

“No, it’s a gift. I would like you to do me a favor though.”

Marie pulled on the jacket with the eagerness of a small child. She stood in front of the mirror, admiring herself. “Yes?”

“It's like Andrew said, you’re an actress. I know he comes across as temperamental but artists usually are… I’m sure you understand what that’s like. I know it’s probably been a long day and you’re tired but for the next fifteen minutes, can you pretend to be someone who is having a really fun time?”

Marie’s reflection was thoughtful but then she turned around, her face suddenly illuminated with sweet, imitated radiance.  “Of course I can.” Even her voice was sugary, “No problem.”

* * *

“Dana?”

“Hmm?” She was pouring some freshly brewed tea for herself. She had just taken two Tylenol, yet the headache persisted.

“Thanks” Andrew collapsed on the couch, exhausted. “That didn't go as I planned.”

“It’s okay” Dana tried not to shiver. Wearing her sleeveless blue top, she was suddenly  self-conscious of her chest, her nipples stiffening. Awkwardly she crossed one of her arms over, the other trying to manage the cup she was carrying.  “Could you turn the air conditioner off? This house is freezing.”

“I just did” He looked at her. “And I’m sorry about your jacket; I’ll buy you another one.”

“Are you going to go overseas for that?” Dana teased lightly. “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

“Come sit here, have this” He pulled a throw off the sofa, holding it out to her. Andrew tried not to stare as she walked towards him.  She sat next to him and he draped it over her shoulders, looking the other way.

“Thanks” She proffered the cup out to him, “You sure you don’t want some? Try it, it’s nice.”

“It’s alright” He cleared his throat awkwardly. “Um, I was going to give you one hundred and fifty for today, but I’ve decided to double it, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Dana stopped sipping her drink, looking at him. “Do you think I came here expecting to be paid? I just gave away something worth nine hundred dollars.”

“No but… um, um” He could feel himself stammer. “I was a jerk to you as well, I feel bad… about everything.” He looked at her then and Dana was surprised to see how distressed he looked. “I haven’t slept properly at all the last two weeks. I feel wrecked, I think about this, us, all the time. I think about you… and I’m sorry I ignored you and was rude but I thought maybe if you could hate me it… I don't know what I was doing but I'm sorry, I missed you. You have no idea what this has done to me.”

“Done what?” Dana was startled. Placing the cup on the floor, she grabbed his hand between hers. “Andrew, listen to me. We haven’t done anything. I am so sorry for what I said, I shouldn’t have. I had no idea it would upset you so much-.”

“But you meant it, didn’t you?”

Dana paused, hesitating, tempted to lie. “Yes, I meant what I said. I wish I hadn’t though, I wouldn’t have normally said anything… it was dumb of me-.”

“It isn’t what you just said” Andrew cut her short. “You confirmed it, that’s all. I’ve felt like this about you for a while but I thought it was just me and…” His voice trailed away.

Dana was suddenly aware of his close he was, his face right near hers, his hand resting on her upper thigh. Dana felt her face turn hot at the look upon his face. She placed her hand over his and looked down, unable to look him in the eye. She watched their fingers interlacing, the sound of her pounding heart roaring in her ears.

“What’s wrong?” He murmured, his lips brushing against her ear.

“Nothing” Her voice came out high, and she winced inwardly. She wished more than anything that she could be sexy, more self-assured.

“You’re trembling. Are you cold? Come here, come closer” He tugged Dana towards him, holding her hand, his other hand on her hip, lifting her slightly. She flipped her leg over so that she was straddling him, seated on his lap.

“God, you’re beautiful” He cupped her face in his hands, looking at her, before bringing her forward, his lips pressing against hers. Dana could feel herself go limp, as if she were dissolving. They melted into one another, she leaning against him as they touched mouths together and kissed and kissed and kissed. Their eyes were closed; she had her arms and legs wrapped around him, her knees locked at his waist. Slow, soft, touching their lips together, holding their mouths open, their tongues sliding over and under. 

He loved the way she tasted, her warm mouth, the glass like surface of her teeth. Her eyelashes when they blinked against his skin. He unclipped her hair and it fell down around their faces. He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close.

And then Ingrid’s face flashed in his head.

Andrew cringed, trying to shake the thought away. He kept kissing her, trying to continue, his hands rubbing the warm skin on her stomach. But it was too late.

“Dana, we can’t…we shouldn’t be doing this” He pulled away abruptly. Dana looked at him, stunned.

“I am so sorry” He was short of breath. “But I shouldn’t, we shouldn’t do this. I feel guilty. Fuck, I'm sorry.”

“That's fine, it's okay” She slid off his lap and stood up, adjusting her clothing. “I should get going then” She avoided his eyes, as she fixed her hair, composing herself.

“Wait, Dana, can we talk? Please don’t leave like this.”

“Can we talk later?” Dana looked at him and Andrew could not bear the look on her face - she looked exhausted, defeated. She turned away and picked up her bag, slipped on her shoes. “I’m sorry, I’m not angry but I can’t talk right now, I need to be alone. We can meet later, is that okay? Or maybe you can call me.”

“Okay, I’ll talk to you tomorrow” He stood up and walked over to her. “Can we meet tomorrow?”

“Okay, tomorrow” She touched his arm lightly. “Goodbye.”

“Bye” He watched her leave, the door closing with a soft click behind her. 

Edge by Lililei

 

art

Warm me up, please warm me up. I’m so cold, I’m so cold” She kept saying those words over and over, almost begging.

They were back in the same apartment, on the same sofa, a blanket wrapped around them. He could not remember how they had got there or where their clothes had gone. All he knew was that was they were kissing, they were kissing hungrily and urgently once again and she was straddling him, those legs wrapped around him tight. He rubbed his hands over her bare back, cupping her bottom in his hands. She began to rub herself against the length of him, pushing herself against his naked form.  Her teeth were slightly chattering.

The house was empty, dark; he could only make out a faint outline of her body.

He moved one of his hands to her front and slipped two fingers inside her, began to rub a circle over her clit. She began to whimper, pushing herself harder against his fingers. He could feel her melt.

 “You feel pretty warm to me” He murmured.

He could hear Ingrid in the background, footsteps, loud laughter. He felt an arm brush him, a figure walking past.

She smiled at that, kissed him hard on the mouth in response.  She was sliding back and forth, slow, soft movements, slippery and warm. He could feel the walls of her pussy tightening around his shaft, squeezing and rocking. He wanted to be inside her more than anything.

"Oh, you feel so good right now," Andrew whispered to her, "I think you ‘re teasing me.”

"I don't think this is teasing," Dana said with her mouth open, panting. "Not anymore."

So let me fuck you” He lifted her hips slightly, began to slip inside. “Let me.”

No, no, no, not like this. Everyone’s watching.”

Who?” He looked around, startled. But Dana stopped him, placing her hands on his face, turning his head in her direction.

Don’t look around, focus on me, okay?” She began to kiss him lightly on the lips, insistent. He began to kiss her back and she pulled the blanket over them, enveloping them in darkness. She repositioned her hips, lifting herself, the head of his penis at her entrance before she ground herself down. His cock slipped into her wet folds with ease as she impaled herself on him. He felt light headed with the sensation of it. She was half crying from pleasure as she twined her body around his, her hands in his hair, her lips upon his.

As long as we’re secret” She told him as they began to move, “No one can see us.”

He woke with a start, jerking awake. He felt a jet of liquid leave him and upon realizing what it was, he groaned, dismayed. He hadn’t had a wet dream since he was a teenager.

“What’s wrong?” Ingrid mumbled, her eyes still closed.

“Nothing babe, go back to sleep” He glanced at the clock and forced himself out of bed, moving towards the bathroom.

* * *

Dana opened the door, surprised.  “What are you doing here?”

Andrew was startled by her appearance. “Wow, you never told me.”

“What?” Dana frowned. “Told you what?”

“I didn’t know you wore glasses. You never told me that.”

“Oh. Well, I’m short sighted. I normally wear contacts so…” Dana shrugged.

“Oh. Okay. Well, they look good on you.” The square thin black frames suited her oval face, gave her an intellectual, trendy look.

“Thanks” Dana smiled.

“I sometimes wear glasses but I don’t really need them.  It’s just the look of it.”

“Right.”

“My eyes are great, vision wise.”

“I’m glad to hear it” Dana grinned, amused. “So, how come you’re here so early?”

“I thought I said eight.”

“I thought you meant eight pm, not am.”

“Oh, shit. Sorry. Do you want me to go?”

“It’s okay. I don’t mind but I should have checked with you. I’m all messy” Her hair usually glossy and straight fell in tangled waves around her face. She was dressed in an oversized, dark green woollen sweater that fell down just above her bare knees.

Andrew couldn’t help but wonder what she had on underneath. He had a slight erection just from the sight of her, and the feeling of guilt was still lodged in his gut.

She backed away and said, "Well, I guess you should come in."

He followed her inside, turning to the left and walking down the short hallway. Behind him, he could make out the kitchen.

They were in the living room and it was beautifully decorated. On the wall to his right was a single picture, a stark black and white line drawing which looked Japanese. There was a dining table on one side of the room, made with glass with an iron structure, alongside eight matching chairs. Across on the other side two low black leather sofas and a glass coffee table, a large TV and some expensive looking stereo equipment. The floor was varnished dark wood and there were some added Egyptian artifacts and paintings.  There were also glass sliding doors which lead out to a balcony. As stunning as it was, it also felt completely impersonal. The place was spotless. He did not see any slippers on the floor or newspapers, there were no cups stacked on the glass coffee table, no dying plants. He spotted a tall book shelf, filled with an assortment of titles and he wanted to go look but he held back. It was not why he was here.

“You have a great place. Do you own it?” Andrew couldn’t help but ask.

“My father owns it, I pay rent” Dana replied. "Still, it's ridicously cheap. I could never afford an apartment on Central Park West" She sat down on the sofa and Andrew sat across from her, sinking into the leather.

"That’s great. So um…how are you?” He asked, uncomfortable with the silence.

She looked at him, sensing his discomfort.  Andrew wondered whether she enjoyed the effect she was having on him.

"Fine" She said. Andrew waited a second for her to ask the same thing but when she remained silent, he continued on.

"Okay, that’s good. I’m glad” Andrew cleared his throat and started, "We need to talk."

She said in a flat voice, "You going to talk about what happened?"

"Yeah. Look, we need to get back, I think, to something that’s more like what we had before."

"You mean friends?"

“Exactly. I think we both need to make a promise that we’re going to control ourselves. Both of us. We should both promise to remain within our limits, how does that sound?”

"Sure, you’re right. I shouldn’t have come over for the shoot. I just wanted see you. I thought maybe... I don't know."

"I did it. You did nothing wrong. I feel that what I did was wrong."  He emphasized the 'I'.

They both paused, she looked over at him. He was surprised to see a wry grin just then, or at least that’s what he thought he saw, "Everything alright at home? With Ingrid I mean?"

"Yes."

“I don't want my issues to mess up ‘your’ life." She seemed amused. Andrew didn't like how she said ‘your’.  Dana had leaned forward, drawing her knees up to her chest. Andrew could see the back of her thighs and he promptly looked away.

“You aren’t messing up my life” He replied.

Abruptly she lowered and stood up. “In any case I don’t think we should see each other anymore.” 

"What? Why?”

"Let’s just say that we have a problem, leave it at that. You obviously felt guilt about what we did. I don't want to do...'this' anymore, whatever ‘this’ is. You are right. We need to move on."

He didn't like the insinuation that they were having a sexual relationship, that he felt guilt about it. The idea was overwhelming. Is that what this was?

"Anyway, Andrew” She took a deep breath and her tone softened a little. "First, I want to say I’m not angry at you. I let things happen, too. I admitted my feelings first, I get that you think I’m the one who opened Pandora’s Box. But what bothers me how you’ve turned this around on to me. As if it’s entirely my fault. As if your relationship is meant to be my responsibility.”

“That’s not what I meant at all” Andrew protested.

“No? After that night, I totally backed off. Everything from that point was in your court, not mine. I did whatever you wanted.  You ignore me for nearly over a month, which I accepted. You’re the one who invited me to help you out, quite rudely I might add, and then we kissed and you pushed me away like I was some sort of evil seductress.”

"You’re right. That was bad. That was wrong of me” He volunteered.

"Cut it out, will you. Talk about what you feel; not good and bad, right and wrong. Okay. I mean, Jesus, Andrew. You hurt me in a lot of different ways, not the least of which is here right now with you coming to my apartment, my home, and lecturing me and telling me about self-control and about how I need to make promises, when it was you who kissed me!”

"I -” Andrew was about to speak and she stopped him.

"You kissed me! You were feeling me up! You were the one who made the first move! I don't know what to be mad about first. The way you treated me before the shoot or the way you treated me after. The way you had me leave, I felt like a goddamn whore! And now I feel like after you found out all that stuff, you like took that information to totally take advantage of me. Knowing my weakness and how I felt about you-”

"That's not true” He interrupted, offended.

“It isn’t?” She challenged. “Because if there is one thing I have perfected around you, it’s self control. I know how to control myself. You’re the one who acts edgy, like I’m dangerous to be around.”

“I don’t think that at all. Look, I’m just trying to do the right thing here” Andrew stood up as well, ready to leave.

“The right thing would probably be for us not to see each other anymore” Dana said, sitting down opposite him. She shrugged, picking a thread from the sweatshirt she was wearing.

“And is that what you want?” He asked.

Andre saw a flicker of emotion in her face then. She looked down, avoiding his eyes.

“No” She replied.  Neither of them said the obvious. That this was about what they should do, not about what they wanted.

“Do you?” She asked, after a moment’s silence. “Not want to see me anymore, I mean?”

“Of course I want to. Why do you think I’m here?” He slumped back down onto the couch next to her, sighed loudly.

He looked so glum that Dana couldn’t help it. She began to laugh quietly, covering her mouth with her hand.

“What?” He looked at her sharply. “What’s so funny?”

“I-I” She began to giggle harder, unable to speak. “I’m sorry. It’s just…W-we’re fighting about…whether we should be friends.”

Andrew pressed his lips together, trying to keep a straight face. “And your point is?”

“I don’t know” She shook her head. “You don’t see the humor in this? No one argues about being friends, you either are or you aren’t and- and-” She started to giggle again, helpless.

Andrew could feel it begin to rise in him as well. “Stop it! You’re making me laugh now!”

Dana didn’t reply, her shoulders shaking with silent laughter.

They were convulsing and unable to speak. Both had been bitten by the same bug.

“Stop laughing” Andrew was chortling, his sides splitting. He reached over and tickled her ribs, “Cut it out!”

“Ah! Okay! Okay!” Dana sat up straight and wiped her eyes. “Ouch, damn. Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay” He sighed and leant back, staring at the ceiling. “What are we going to do?”

“Okay. Well, if it makes you feel better, I do understand what you’re saying” Dana said. “But I stick to what I said. Your relationship is your responsibility and I think you need to figure out what you want. I don’t want this back and forth thing going on. This is your call entirely; you have nothing to worry about on my end.”

“Really? And suppose I did decide to do this thing… this, uh….” Andrew hesitated, uncomfortable with the words, “Let’s say we did have an affair, what happens the day it’s ended?”

“I told you before, everything is up to you. I’m not the type to cry and act hysterical and blackmail you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I believe you.” And he did. He knew if there were to be problems; it would not come from her end.  But he felt frightened by what was happening. Frightened and exhilarated at the same time. He had not felt so alive in years.

“Good.  So friends?” She had her hand extended out, a mischievous glint in her eyes.

“Friends?” He confirmed, clasping her hand within his.

* * *

It reached breaking point.

Something was rising in the both of them that was becoming harder to control. It was desire; it was lust beyond anything either had ever felt. Andrew could not look at my Dana now without his heart pounding, without an adrenaline rush. They had promised themselves that they wouldn’t do anything, but it was getting harder to control the urges they felt when around each other; the charge they felt way their hands brushed together by accident, her blush when she met his eyes, how his breath changed when he saw her walking towards him. She had spoken the words and now he could not get them out of his mind.

He told himself over and over he enjoyed her company immensely and that in time their friendship could become purely platonic. He felt that if he told himself that over and over he would become firm in that belief. But he also felt awkward and guilty around her, as if they had slept together and not just talked about it. Her presence was now an unpleasant reminder of his misdirected desire, the shock of discovering that he was capable of that kind of betrayal. That he could love Ingrid, and still long for Dana, that those feelings didn’t cancel each other out the way they were supposed to.

The first time they completely lost control was so sudden there was nothing they could do. Looking back, Andrew realized how incredibly stupid it was and how lucky they had been not to have gotten caught.

They were both at another party. Dana was standing against the wall on the opposite end of the room –listening to her friend Yvette and a tall man next to her talk animatedly.  As if she felt someone watching then, she looked up in his direction and their eyes met. In that moment everything was communicated, it exploded. Andrew nodded to her and turned, heading outside to the garden.

Dana followed him out, turning around the corner and the moment they were out of sight, their bodies fell together. Andrew pulled Dana against him, crushing her against the wall with his body. They began kissing frantically, their mouths opening, tonguing and tasting. Andrew rubbed his hands softly down her back as they kissed, shoving his hands down the back of her panties, squeezing her ass. Dana began to grind her against him in response, opening her legs, the skirt of her dress bunching up around her waist. Andrew could feel himself become painfully hard at that point, it was taking everything in him not have sex with her right there.  Dana couldn’t help but moan in his mouth, she felt as if she would faint. She undid his pants, her hand diving in.   

Lifting her skirt he brought his hand around to the front of her, laid his palm right over her pussy and began rubbing her. As he did, Dana opened her mouth wide and kissed him with intensity that was surprising. Andrew could feel her press her herself right into his hand and open her legs wide, lifting up one leg, wrapping it around his waist. He was kissing her, as she held to him, the feel of her body undulating against his hand.

“Andrew” Dana gasped, pulling her mouth away.  “We have to stop, it’s… people… someone will see us…”

“But I want you” He said to her then, trying not to groan. He pressed his mouth against hers, as they rocked back and forth, matching each other’s touch.

 "I know, but I need you to stop. Ahhh. Not now. . . We shouldn't be doing, uh, oh god." All the while she continued to move against his hand. He was practically lifting her up against the wall

"It's all right," Andrew said, trying to reassure. Truth was, he was beyond all logic thought. Let them see, let them all see.

Feeling how slippery she had become down there, the fabric of her underwear wet, he moved it to the side and slipped his two fingers in her. He was touching her bare flesh and as she suddenly realized what he was doing she stiffened at his touch. It t had taken her awhile to completely realize Andrew’s hand was on her bare skin. He started stroking her softly, pressed his finger right over her clit. She moaning began to resist again.

"No. No. No.” 

Dana, whose hand had been wrapped around his penis, let go and moved away suddenly. Bending at the waist he watched her skirt fall around her legs. Her breathing was in gasps now.  Andrew still didn’t move his hand.

"No. We can't do this” She was trying to move away, pushing at his chest.

“Listen to me, Andrew! I need you to stop” She hissed the words at him urgently; she knew she could not under any circumstance raise her voice.

Letting out a cry of frustration, teeth gritted, Andrew pulled away. Slumped up against the wall next to her, he ran his other hand over his face, trying to catch his breath.

They were dazed once it was over, realizing what had just happened. They began to gather themselves, adjusting their clothing.

Andrew glanced around and then whispered, "Are you okay? I didn’t hurt you, did I?" He touched her lightly  on the side of her head, his fingers straightening her mussed up hair.

"No, I’m fine." Dana looked up at him. Her eyes were glassy, her cheeks glowing. She looked intoxicated. A small, dreamy smile pulled at the corners of her lips.

Andrew could hear voices in the distance. "Shit. We have to be more careful in the future."

Dana nodded, still leaning on him, his hand at the small of her back. The future. He was now talking about being more careful, not about having to stop. He was no longer saying they couldn’t. His words.

She stood there swaying, shocked at what had just happened.

“I’d better get back” She whispered to him. She made to leave but he blocked her path.

“When can I see you again?” He asked.

“I don’t think anytime soon, you’re probably going to hate me tomorrow” Dana said, moving away so she would walk around him.

He pulled her back against the wall, began to lift her skirt up.

“Andrew!” Dana scolded, trying to push his hands away. “Cut it out, you’re not thinking, you are going to - .”

“When can I see you?” He asked again, his voice a low murmur. With the same hand, he slipped a finger inside once more. He began to kiss the side of her face, moving down her neck, stubble grazing her skin.

“Monday” Dana gasped, “Come to my apartment Monday morning… oh, god, please, not here, please.”

He let her go, stepping back. Deliberately, so that she could see, he raised a shiny finger and placed it in his mouth.

Oblivion by Lililei

penelope

“Is everything okay? You look sort of preoccupied.”

“Hmm? Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just… I don’t know, it was very weird. I dreamt of my first lover last night.”

“Oh goodness, lo-ver” Gerry stretched out the word playfully, teasing. “My my, that’s quite a big word.”

Dana couldn’t help but laugh in response. “I know, but there is no other word that describes him. The word boyfriend doesn’t fit.” And it didn’t. Phillip had only been five years older than her but he was the first adult Dana had ever been with.  She had been twenty at the time and in London as a one year exchange student, still reeling from the grief of her grandmother’s death.

He had returned to her so clearly - the strong, dry grip of his hands, the wariness and reproach in his eyes. The dream itself was fragmented; they were in his apartment over the Thames River, eating dinner, even though there was no food on the table. Then sometime later on in the dream they were fucking, the image brutal and pornographic, which was faithful to how they spent the entire year. Even the times he had been gentle or loving, she had always felt unclean with him. He had been moody, violent. If something was not to his according, he would erupt. She remembered being thrown onto the bed, him kneeling over her naked form, yelling down at her until he was red in the face.

Yet what she could never admit was that, at the beginning at least, a deep dark part of her had enjoyed the depravity and fear he induced in her, as if she wanted to be fucked into oblivion.

He had been her initiation to the brutal world of grownups.  Her perceptions were forever altered- he was the one who had taught her sex and love did not have to be interlinked as she had believed it to be. Pain and pleasure was instead. Dana had learnt the important lesson that many women still had not. She was not a princess, nobody was coming to rescue her, and she would have to climb out of her own tower as the so called heroes were content to keep her there too, for their own purposes. Her friends still believed in the notion of a fairy tale romance; spent all of their energy, money and time on attaining prince charming. Dana pitied those women and how they held onto that belief with such desperation.

Looking back she now realized Phillip had been a welcome distraction from the painful place she had been in at the time-she had broken away from her friends, her parents’ divorce had been finalized, her grandmother had passed away.  She was in a new country, alone and miserable- she had thought the exchange would be a great escape but there was no escaping yourself. Phillip had helped her accomplish that goal.

And also because when she met him, he reminded her of Andrew. He too belonged to the art world and also had the same brooding, James Dean quality. Yet he had none of Andrew’s warmth, he did not have the smile that transformed his face.  Andrew had a tough exterior to protect the softness underneath. Phillip had been ice, pure cold marble, emotions settling on the surface like flecks of dust.

Andrew had kissed her the night before and she had gone to sleep to only have dreamt of Phillip instead. Was she stepping back into the same abusive cycle all over again? No, not true, she told herself firmly. Andrew was different; he was nothing like Phil at all.

“You look a little tired; I hope breakfast wasn’t too early” Gerry said, looking at the menu as she spoke, even though they had already ordered.

“No of course not, ten am is more than perfect” Dana replied, feeling a little embarrassed. Truth was, after tossing and turning till four am, she would most likely have spent the Sunday sleeping in past noon.

“And Penelope is usually so busy, I love this place” Dana added. “It’s kind of quiet, today though.”

“And by quiet you mean there is no stampede of hostile people, it’s still full” Gerry smiled. “As much as I miss New York, I am glad I left.  I mean Venice is busy and LA is really busy too, don’t get me wrong, but it still seems far more relaxed than here.”

“Venice suits you; you look really good” Dana complimented, “So how long are you here for?”

“Just for the week, I had to come see my Mom for work reasons” Gerry’s mother was a well-known celebrity agent. Gerry had gone to college studying communications and was now a publicist.

“By the way, Marie could not stop raving about you. She was surprised when I told her I’ve known you since we were teenagers.”

Dana smiled, took a sip of her water. She was not surprised at all. As much as she liked Gerry, she knew the brunch invitation had been extended to her for a reason.

“My mom also wanted to say thank you too, she didn’t know how to contact you though.”

Yeah, right. “No, it’s fine. It’s nothing” Dana smiled, trying to be gracious.

“I didn’t know you were working with Andrew” Gerry’s tone was deceptively casual. Dana stiffened slightly, ready for the onslaught of questions. Andrew had dated Gerry casually when he was nineteen. It had ended badly - mainly because the term casual had existed on Andrew’s end and not hers.

“So what was the reason for the present?” Gerry smiled encouragingly, trying to invite Dana into her confidences.” I mean, how did the shoot go?”

“It was fine. It was a great shoot, the photos turned out beautifully. Why? Did Marie say anything?”

“No, not at all-she kept gushing about how gorgeous he was” Gerry said. Dana felt slightly stung by that- as if Marie had betrayed her somehow.

“It’s just, I know Marie and I know Andrew. I know they probably clashed-you probably had to placate her, I’m guessing. Did Andrew yell at her or anything?”

“No, no. He didn’t yell or get angry. It was fine, I think both were very tired, that’s all” Dana insisted, trying to be diplomatic.

“Yes, the filming is finished now. I attended the wrap party last week.”

“That’s great” Dana replied, nodding her head. They were interrupted briefly by the waiter. Gerry had ordered Granola whilst Dana had ordered the café’s famous Nutella stuffed French toast.

“That looks really good” Gerry said, an almost wistful look on her face.

“Do you want to try some?” Dana asked, gesturing down to the plate. “Take a slice if you want.”

“No, no, it’s too unhealthy” Gerry pulled a face. “We don’t all have a metabolism like yours.”

“Oh, even I don’t have that anymore” Dana laughed politely. “I only eat like this on weekends, during the week it’s strictly proteins and vegetables.”

“You mean like Atkins?” Gerry asked. “I tried that, gave me the worst headaches.  I just keep my food to a low calorie intake, it’s easier.”

“No, not quite Atkins. I eat fruit as well and some bread, Atkins doesn’t let you have any of that. I just save the sweet tooth for the weekend.”

“That’s good. You know Dana” Gerry changed topic quickly, getting straight to the point. “I know you probably think it’s odd I’m asking questions about Andrew but you have to understand. In the years he’s been working, I’ve mainly heard complaints. He isn’t rude but he can be difficult. Let’s just say diplomacy isn’t his strongest suit.”

Dana nodded, silent

“This is why I figured Marie’s feedback probably had something to do with you.” Gerry leaned forward in her seat, “My mom always thought you should work in the industry; she said you had all the right attributes.”

“Thank you, I’m still at school though.  I really don’t know what I want to do as a career to be honest.”

“I remember you wanted to be a producer when we were at NYU, you majored in film studies right?”

“Yes, film and literature. I’m doing a dual degree at Columbia at the moment.”

“Law, right? Law and business are probably the best degrees for aspiring producers apparently. People who go to film school usually end up being teachers.”

“Oh, well” Dana laughed lightly. “I don’t think I’m going to become a producer.”

Gerry nodded in reply, her mouth full. Both were silent for a few minutes as they ate.

“So, no problems then?” Gerry asked, her voice cheerful.

“Nope” Dana said, her own tone just as sunny. “Maybe Marie just has a crush on Andrew, there is always that possibility.”

“Well, then” Gerry laughed, “It’s the only time Marie likes someone who definitely wouldn’t like her back.”

“True, he is engaged after all.”                 

“Yeah, have you met her? His fiancé.”

“I’ve seen her with him but I haven’t formally met her.” Ingrid was one of those stunning, intimidatingly beautiful women. She was a blonde Audrey Hepburn, as Andrew often said himself, only much shorter. She was slender but also curvy in the right places, with hips and full breasts. Cold hazel eyes set in a love heart face. In other words, the complete opposite of everything Dana was. She had looked surly and unapproachable the one time Dana had seen her, unhappy to be at the party. She had clung to Andrew’s arm, silent. Dana had decided it best not to say hello to Andrew that night, had ended up leaving early.

“Hmm” Gerry said, rather reflectively. “I’ve never been the type to believe in Karma but Ingrid is proof that it exists.”

“What do you mean?” Dana asked. She was trying to keep her voice neutral, but she was filled with curiosity.

“Oh you know. Andrew was always the notorious heartbreaker, the playboy. And now he’s found someone he is completely smitten with.”

“I don’t know if you would call that Karma, I think it just means he grew up” Dana laughed, trying to hide her disappointment.

“No but” Gerry had lowered her voice, the way people always did when they were about to divulge juicy gossip. “Did you know how they met?”

Dana shook her head, biting the inside of her mouth.

“She’s a nude model; well she used to be anyway. Anyway she was dating a friend of his, a painter, when he met her. So she dumps the painter guy for Andrew. Anyway here they are dating, right, and she gets diagnosed with cancer.”

“Oh my god” Dana was stunned. The dreaded C word always instantly made her feel sick to her stomach, bringing back memories of her grandmother’s death.

“Hodgkin’s disease, kind of like throat cancer.  Anyway she gets sick, goes for treatment. He moves in with her, takes her to her chemotherapy sessions and all that. She goes in remission a few months down the line, all seems well and then…”

“Then what?”

“Andrew comes back from a shoot in LA and he finds her in bed with this guy, his name is Thomas.”

“Thomas? What does he look like?” Dana couldn’t help but wonder whether it was the same Thomas she had met two months ago, the charismatic guy who had been flirting with both her and Yvette at the party.

“Young, blue eyes, blonde brown hair. Really good looking. His father is Victor Elliott” Gerry raised her eyebrows, waiting for Dana’s reaction.

“The Victor Elliott? The movie director? “

“The one and only” Gerry said gleefully. “So, Andrew finds them. He naturally becomes hysterical, tries to beat Thomas up. And do you know what Ingrid does?” This time Gerry didn’t wait for Dana to say anything. “Ingrid flips out at him, and says he has nothing to be angry over because, wait for it… they were never in a relationship.”

“Jesus” Dana breathed, her eyes wide.

“I know, right! I want to meet this girl and shake her hand.”

“So then how do you know all this?”

“One of her best friends Jacquie works at the agency.”

“Some best friend” Dana said, rather indignantly. “What kind of person tells the secrets of their friends to the whole world?”

“I don’t think she really cares one way or the other.  Jacquie is the biggest gossip queen there is, I know that and I’m a stranger. If she doesn’t know that about her best friend, then that’s just… Anyway, I don’t know what happened but apparently she went and stayed with Thomas after she was caught but they ended it, he ended it actually. He only wanted a casual relationship, so she went back to Andrew. They’ve obviously made up, even though she’s still having a tough time.”

“How?” Dana couldn’t help but ask, feeling ashamed of herself for being so eager.

“According to Jacquie, they’ve been trying for a baby and she’s had two miscarriages. She’s also been diagnosed with manic depression. Stuff like that.”

 “That’s so awful, they’re so young” Too young to be having children in Dana’s opinion – she and so many of her friends still felt adolescent. “It should be easy to get pregnant at our age.”

“Well chemotherapy really messes up your fertility; my Aunty had the same problem when she was younger.”

“That’s terrible” Dana tsked in sympathy.

“Well terrible for her, I personally think Andrew deserves a bit of heart break. God knows, he’s inflicted it plenty of times on other people.”

“Mhmm, I see where you’re coming from. I don’t think he ever meant to hurt other people deliberately though” Dana said, her voice light. “Especially when you’re so young, you know? We were all kids then. I think he probably was a just a bit girl crazy and didn’t know how to deal with it, he was always a bit wild.”

“That’s no excuse” Gerry said sharply. “What because he was young he was allowed to be a dickhead and sleep with multiple women at once? To mislead people?”

But he didn’t mislead you, you mislead yourself.

“No, you’re absolutely right” Dana replied soothingly. “I don’t think age is an excuse. He was old enough to know right from wrong.”

“Exactly.”

Soul Clenched by Lililei

hey

Andrew took a deep drag from his cigarette as he watched the various people in the Botanical gardens of Park Slope passing by, some people holding red and orange cans, couples hand in hand, groups of teenagers, families with little children; all colors and all sorts, ambling, trotting and anxious to share their enjoyment.

He came here often, mainly because through people watching he came up with many of his ideas. And secondly, it was close to his house and was the best place to smoke as freely as he wished. Ingrid had thought he quit. Everywhere else he was given dirty looks, as if enjoying a cigarette was on par to drowning puppies and kittens. Ingrid loved the park as well but rarely came, due to severe pollen and grass allergies. Andrew wondered whether it made him evil to enjoy something his partner was denied.

He continued to daydream only half listening to Benjamin talk about the new bar/restaurant/gallery they had decided to open. While most museums and art galleries had restaurants , the idea was to place emphasis more on the latter rather than the former, a great place you could eat whilst viewing and appreciating, possibly buying, art work at the same time.

“So are you busy tomorrow night?” Ben asked, his voice breaking his stream of though.

“Not in particular. I have to do lunch with a friend and I have an appointment with my agent, she’s pushing me to get a book out. We can look over the layout of the restaurant tomorrow night though.”

“Speaking of books, completely random, but you know Phillip James?”

“Yeah, what about him?” Of course Andrew knew who Phillip James was. He had exhibited for his gallery in London twice. Phillip had been one of the biggest players in the art world, known as one of the youngest and most successful art agents, representing an exclusive list of international clientele. No doubt it had helped that his mother had been an extremely famous seventies artist and feminist icon while his father was a curator who owned several galleries throughout Europe. 

Andrew had looked up to Phillip as the big brother he had never had. Even though they weren’t friends, Andrew had never met anyone like him. Although he was only a few years older, his features were sharp, containing none of the softness youth contained. He gave the impression of great strength, both physical and mental. There was something about him that reminded Andrew of the Greek gods, as if the old heroic blood has survived down into a less noble age. In the middle of their first meeting, Phillip had abruptly told him that he found many photographers to be rather overrated, that the industry was overcrowded. Yet your photographs, he had said, are so vivid through your use of colors that they barely look like photos at all. You really should take up painting, Andrew. You have a gift.

If anyone else had said that to Andrew, he would have been annoyed but coming from Phillip, as successful as he was and whom Andrew perceived to be central to the cultural hub of things, it was the best compliment he had ever had. Although their relationship had never been close enough for Andrew to tell him so, Phillip James had been an inspiration. In his presence, the world was open and full of possibilities, ready to be conquered.

And yet he, the man who could have done anything, had taken his own life. The newspapers had almost been gleeful about his death. Like Mother, like Son. The charismatic prince of the art world bought low, as if his suicide was the only fitting ending to a life like his. Andrew had been at his funeral and was furious at the tabloid press, shocked that someone’s death could be offered up as entertainment and self-satisfied judgment. So what if his group had consisted of women? And so what if he was extravagant? He had made a lot of money at an age where he wanted to enjoy it, money that most people his age could only fantasize about. And if there had been rumors of wild parties and drugs, surely people realized that form of lifestyle was not unique in the art world, was actually very common.

“Well you know that  a posthumous book was published in his honor, yeah?”

“Yeah, I heard about that book.” All of Phillip’s private art work as well as some personal photos and diary entries had been published with his father’s permission. A lot of people thought it was disrespectful, invasion of privacy and all that. It reminded Andrew of the Kurt Cobain Journals he had bought in 2002, something a lifelong Nirvana fan such as himself would have dreamed to own. He had been thrilled with his purchase, up until he read the part where Kurt Cobain himself made clear he would never have wanted his diaries published, writing specifically: The most violating thing I’ve felt this year… the rape of my own personal thoughts. I feel compelled to say fuck you… fuck you to those who have absolutely no regard for me as a person. You have raped me harder than you’ll ever know.  He had been filled with shame and had not been able to look at the book since. It was for those same reasons he not purchased Phillip’s book either.

“Really? I think it’s great it was shown; a lot of his stuff was really good. Kafka didn’t want of his work to be published after he died either. But back to the point. I was looking through the book and I found Dana. Your friend Dana.”

“What do you mean you found Dana?”

“That chick your friends with? Dana? There’s a painting of her in his book. She was one of his lovers, I’m assuming. Judging from the nature of the picture anyway.”

Andrew stiffened. “You mean it’s a nude? So what? Every artist paints nudes, it doesn’t mean anything.” How the hell had Dana known someone like Phillip?

“Yeah, but in this chapter is about his girlfriend history. You can’t see anything anyway, only her back. She looks good though. She isn’t the only nude chick in there; he painted all of his girlfriends like that apparently.”

“Says who?” Andrew challenged.

“Says his other girlfriends, why are you getting so heat up?”

“Nothing. Fuck. I’m trusting you here, Ben. I need you to swear you aren’t going to say anything.”

“I won’t” Benjamin was wide eyed in his earnest, throwing his hand in the air as if he was taking an oath on a courtroom stand. “Whatever it is, I swear I won’t tell.”

“Not even to your girlfriend. No disrespect but Jacquie has a big fucking mouth.”

“Literally and figuratively” Benjamin grinned in response. “Trust me when I say it does a lot of good alongside evil. Okay, I swear I will not tell another living soul.”

“I’ve kind of been, well not officially but, I have this thing going with…with Dana.”

Benjamin looked at him stunned, before breaking out into laughter and shaking his head. “Asshole” He said, punching Andrew on the arm. “You almost got me there.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Andrew snapped, suddenly irritated. “This isn’t a joke, I’m being serious.”

“Shit. Wow” Benjamin said. The humor abruptly fell away from his face. “Fuck, that’s intense. I didn’t take Dana as your type.”

“What do you mean by type?” Andrew asked, his voice dangerously low.

Benjamin, sensing the menace in his voice, began to backtrack. “I mean like, no offence, I just figured you to be a vanilla ice cream kind of guy.”

“Rafael said that shit to me months ago too” Andrew’s voice had become edgy with suppressed anger, “Do you guys think I’m a fucking racist cause I’m from Australia? Is that what it is?”

“No! I mean, you’ve never dated or even indicated you liked anyone outside the, uh, caucasian spectrum. People tend to date in a pattern, that’s all. And your pattern so far has been glamorous blondes who resemble old school actresses.” Benjamin gave him a look. “Come on man, let’s drop the PC act, this is me you’re talking to.”

“I know Dana isn’t what I normally go for” Andrew admitted grudgingly, caught out. “And she is different in every way, not just looks but personality and all but I can’t help it. I don’t know why I’m so drawn to her.”

“Oh, absolutely” Benjamin was now nodding earnestly, “I mean that girl is smoking hot. I’m not normally into black chicks either but I would fuck her in a heartbeat, given the chance.”

Andrew ignored the comment.

“So you’ve slept with her?”

“No, we’ve just… we’ve made out twice” Andrew could feel a flush rise in his face. He didn’t know why he felt so stupidly embarrassed. But admitting to making out made him feel like a horny, love struck teenager.

“Oh, that’s no big deal. Just forget it happened, I wouldn’t stress out over this” Benjamin gave him a reassuring pat on the back, “You’re such an honorable guy, you make the rest of us look shit.”

“No, you’re misunderstanding me. I want to take things further. I’m even thinking of splitting up with Ingrid.”

“Woah” Benjamin said, his eyes wide with alarm. “Let’s not get hasty here, think with your head for a second. After everything you’ve built with Ingrid, you’re going to throw this away for some fling? Don’t be stupid.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? I think about Dana all the time, like constantly” Andrew admitted. “I do tell myself I want to stay with Ingrid after all the shit we’ve been through but then most days all I can dream about is getting away.”

“So what? It’s lust. Lust goes away after a while. The same thing would happen with Dana and then the next girl and then the next girl. Is this Dana pushing you to leave Ingrid? Like is she withholding the goodies until you dump Ingrid? Because that’s the oldest trick in the-.”

“No, she isn’t” Andrew said. “Don’t turn her into some sort of evil witch that’s put a spell on me, okay? She’s offered a no strings attached deal, if you really want to know.”

“Ah, okay. Why didn’t you say so? That solves your problems right there, doesn’t it?” Benjamin said.  “By all means, sleep with her. Do what you have to do. Just don’t be so hasty, you need to think with your head, like this girl does. You’re assuming she wants a relationship, she obviously offered a no strings deal attached for her own reasons, not just yours.”

“How so?”

“Maybe she wants a guy she can have sex with a few times a week and nothing more. Maybe she doesn’t want a boyfriend. Have you ever thought of it like that?”

Andrew hadn’t. And the idea of it sort of hurt a little bit. Perhaps Benjamin was right and it was his status  that had made Dana seek him out. She had always been strangely independent, to the point where people thought of her as isolated. Maybe she didn’t want a boyfriend. You wanted what you couldn’t have and when you could have it, you didn’t want it anymore. That was human nature; he knew it wasn’t so unusual. He suddenly envisioned leaving Ingrid, turning up on Dana’s doorstep, only to be turned away. The idea of it sent slivers of ice down his spine. Unlike Dana, he had never been alone in his life – not the way she had. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had slept alone in a bed, he could not handle being on his own the way she was.

“Okay, say you’re right” Andrew conceded. “How about the fact having an affair makes me a massive dickhead?”

“So? This isn’t the first time you’ve had an affair, what about Ellen? You slept with her for years.”

Andrew cringed at the memory. “That was different. I was seeing other people in that time too. She was the married one, I was single.”

“Okay, then argument two” Benjamin replied. “If Ingrid did find out, I highly doubt it means she’d necessarily leave you. Don’t forget she was seeing Thomas while she was with you.”

And I think she still sometimes does. The familiar lurch in his stomach at the mention of Thomas again. For a second Andrew was tempted to tell Benjamin of his suspicions, the phone calls and the text messaging late at night when she thought he was asleep. The hours spent on the internet. But he decided not to. It would only look like he was making excuses to justify his own shitty conduct.

“If anything she’d probably be thrilled to balance out the bad behavior. She tells Jacquie all the time about how guilty she feels.”

“Let’s no go nuts with the wistful thinking here” Andrew muttered, unable to make eye contact.

“Trust me. She’s from a different world altogether, it just wouldn’t work. I know that shit seems cute in books and movies, but this is real life. You and Ingrid understand each other better than anyone I know, you both come from the same place. You’ve both had to grow up fast, you’re both perfect together” Benjamin now looked serious. “My advice, just go and sleep with her. It’s probably just unresolved sexual tension. You’ll probably feel so guilty it will never happen again and you can write it down as a one off.”

“Hmm” Andrew lit another cigarette, inhaling deeply. He suddenly remembered the feel of her against his that night, the way their bodies just fit. He had not even slept with her yet and he was already hooked. Whatever outcome, he knew Dana being pegged as a one off incident was highly unlikely.

Later after they said goodbye, Andrew walked over to the library, hoping he could find a copy of the book they had been discussing. After no luck, he scouted three to four book stores, finally being told from a sales assistant at Borders that there was a copy of it in another store located in Broadway. Would he like to order it in?

“No, that’s okay. I can go pick it up. Could you please tell them to hold it for me? I’ll go there right now” Andrew said, jotting down his name and number so that the sales girl could dictate it over the phone. What was half an hour in the scheme of things?

Once he was back home, with two bags of books on his person he made his way into the study. He could hear Ingrid in the kitchen, humming to herself, the smell of spaghetti sauce wafting through the house.

“Andrew, you back already?” Ingrid called out. She sounded cheerful. Andrew breathed a sigh of relief inwardly.

“Yeah, I just went and bought some books. I got you that new Phillip Roth novel, the one that came out last month.”

“The Plot Against America? Oh, thank you honey” Ingrid replied.

Andrew felt immensely pleased with himself then, the way he always did when Ingrid showed him affection or gratitude.

Sometimes he felt that coming home and dealing with Ingrid’s moods was like playing a game of Russian roulette. There were days she would be happy and energetic. She usually channelled her energy into domestic tasks such as cleaning and cooking, all the while talking of children, of going to college, becoming a writer, an actress, a doctor, a teacher - her energy and plans bubbling like an over flowing boiling pot of water. Other days she would be so dark, she spoke of death and failure, her eyes so hopelessly blank that to Andrew it felt as if he were speaking to a corpse already. Last night after the party, he had arrived home, buoyant, only to find her on the floor, clutching an evening gown and bawling as if her heart was broken. He couldn’t understand what was wrong and then as always felt guilty that he had gone out without her, had she wanted to come as well, was that the reason? Had she wanted him to stay at home instead? When he asked her, she pushed him away, a tearful rage erupting. You dumb fuck, she had screamed, you stupid Aussie red neck! You’re so fucking literal, aren’t you?

He had hated her in that moment but then felt ashamed. She was unwell, she was on medication. Medication that she kept skipping, much to his dismay. They made her feel bloated, they made her feel dead inside, she constantly had nightmares, and her mouth was always chalky and dry. Ingrid would begin to cry every time he confronted her.  So as of today they were trying St John’s Wart, a herbal remedy for depression. If worse came to worse and it didn’t work, Andrew would have to ask the doctors to intervene. But she seemed okay so far.

 “Andrew? Andrew? Come here to the kitchen, I want you to taste this” Ingrid called out.

“I’ll be there in a minute, let me shower first” Andrew replied loudly, sitting down at his desk, eagerly opening the Phillip James book and flipping through the pages. He had not looked at it in store, had felt for some reason that he should wait till he was in the privacy of his own home.

He found the section he was seeking for towards the end, the chapter scattered with lines of different famous poems as captions underneath. According to his father, the lines of poems had been written on the back of the portraits by Phillip himself.  Andrew found her instantly, his breath hitching in his throat at the sight of her. Benjamin had been right; there were other women in there, a few of them far more provocative in comparison to Dana, breasts bared, legs spread apart, wild hunger in their eyes. Others cupped their breasts in their hands, lay on their stomachs or folded their legs and arms in such a manner that modesty was still preserved. Yet they either gazed away slyly or gazed assertively to the camera, still managing to remain sexually suggestive. Dana was different, her back and arms the only visible feature, wind blowing her hair away from her face. The way Phillip had painted her… her gaze was direct but her face solemn, a sadness that seemed to stem from deference. Who had she given in to? The artist? Perhaps she had not wanted to be painted, had been strong-armed into it against her will. Certainly the Dana he knew would not be the type to pose nude for anybody.

He read the line of poetry under her picture, written by Pablo Neruda. And if the portrait had not officially confirmed the type of relationship Phillip and Dana had shared, the line he read certainly did.

Perhaps Benjamin was right; Dana did exist in a completely different world compared to his. How could he even consider throwing away what he had with Ingrid? Ingrid and he, despite their ups and downs, were two halves of a whole. They shared the same taste in everything, the same viewpoints, shared the same upbringing.

I remember you with my soul clenched, in that sadness of mine that you know.

That was it. That one line seemed to say it all. There was something deeper that connected the both of them. Phillip had obviously felt it. And he did too.

He realized then the inevitable choice of his actions as well. He was going to see her tomorrow, no matter what. Andrew looked at the young girl staring back at him as if they were co-conspirators, together resigned to the same fate.

Surrender by Lililei

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He rang the bell, his stomach sick with nerves. Standing outside Dana’s front door, he felt as if what he was about to do was simultaneously the easiest and the hardest thing in the world. He was dressed in a white full sleeved shirt and jeans, unsure of why he felt the need to dress formally for sex. Ingrid had raised an eyebrow when she saw him that morning and he told her it was because he had some meetings in the city. Scruffy and eccentric was what he did best; slouchy beanies and t-shirts and hoodies and sweat pants.

She was on the phone when she answered the door, dressed in black jeans and a red GAP fitted t-shirt, her wavy hair tied back and her glasses back on. The fantasy of her dressed in sheer underwear instantly evaporated but she looked good. It was when her guard was down she looked her best. Although Andrew thought she looked stunning when she was dressed up, she looked cold and removed from everyone else, a goddess being forced to mingle with mortals. Andrew wanted to tell her to dress like this always, keep her face make up free, her hair in soft waves, her glasses on.  She was most beautiful when she was human.

“Hi, sorry come in” She said, smiling in apology, covering the mouthpiece. “I’ll be quick.” He followed her inside, only hearing snatches of conversation.

“No, I understand you’re busy… Saturday isn’t good for me, I teach ballet to groups of four year olds…how about the evening? You can come to my place if you like…no, I’m sorry but today I am busy” She caught Andrew’s eye and she pulled a face, conveying her irritation at the caller. 

“Well, I emailed everyone about this yesterday morning. Tell you what you send me back all your available times and I will fit you in, okay? Bye, Derek” She ended the call and looked at Andrew. “I’m sorry about that; one of my students seems to think I solely exist for his benefit.”

“That’s cool” Andrew replied, scuffing his feet on the floor nervously before looking at her. “How are you? How was the rest of your weekend?”

“I’ve been well; I met Gerry for breakfast on Sunday” Dana paused, waiting for his reaction.

“Yeah? How is she?” Andrew asked politely, not really caring.

“Good, she’s great. Her mother is interested in hiring me to work at her agency, as an assistant” Dana said.

That was where Jacquie worked. Fuck.

“Well that’s great news” Andrew smiled. “Are you going to take it?”

“I think I am actually” Dana seemed excited now, thrilled to share the good news with him.  “I mean it’ll be paperwork and making coffee but Gerry says it’s a great way for me to make contacts for further work and she’s happy to have it scheduled around my classes and I mean… I don’t want to tutor bratty college and high school students forever, you know? This is a way for me to finally have a real job with a steady income. But enough about me” She was embarrassed now, aware of her rambling. “How about you? How was your weekend?”

“It was good, I didn't do much. I had breakfast with my agent this morning. I’ve been asked to do this series for raising awareness on domestic violence. And she also wants me to release a book of all the celebrity portraiture I’ve done so far. So yeah, I’ve been great.”

“A book of celebrity photos? Like Annie Leibovitz?” There was that familiar glint of amusement in her eyes, mischief in her voice.

“Like Annie Leibovitz” Andrew said, laughing, remembering the session they had with Marie. There was a pause between them, filled with expectation. It was like a wide gulf where both were on the other side, neither of them brave enough to cross. Dana decided to take the first plunge.

“So? She asked archly, with a raised eyebrow. “What can I do for you?”

This was the moment. The moment when the line was officially crossed, the moment his foot was firmly set down. No more hovering.

“I want to see your bedroom” He told her, pretending to be blasé even though his heart was a jackhammer in his chest.

She considered him for a moment, knowing what he has done. Then stepped beckoningly backward, motioning with her hand to follow.

The bedroom was only two strides along the hall and was quite small and cramped compared to the rest of the apartment. The bed was a black four poster, and there were cream sheets on the bed. He could tell Dana has gone through some pains to utilize the most of the small space she had. There were several lamp fixtures in the place, to make up for the lack of natural light this room allowed.  At first glance one would say it was artfully decorated like the rest of her house and also just as impersonal. Perhaps because that was who Dana was to everyone who did not know her well enough; beautiful and impersonal. He however saw small touches of her everywhere, the bookshelf with the stereo and CDS, the stack of library books right next to her bed. The balding toy monkey perched on her dresser. The teapot on the shelf.  There was a large oil painting above the dresser, opposite the shelves.

 “Oh, I’m sorry I should have offered earlier, do you want something to drink?” Dana asked, her voice interrupting his thoughts.

“No, I’m good” He would have killed for something alcoholic but decided not to. He didn’t want to be inebriated during this moment. He sat down on a corner of the bed but feeling like a hulking giant decided to stand up. Dana sat on the bed, sinking back against the pillows. She had not thought it would be this way. She had dreamed they would fall into each other, giggling and wild. The atmosphere instead felt muted and forlorn. Dana knew what his presence here was costing him and that made her feel quite sad, there was no victory in it as she had thought there would be.

“Are you okay?” Dana’s voice was soft, her gaze assessing. “You look a bit nervous.”

“I am nervous” Andrew confessed bluntly. “I don’t-” He frowned, shook his head, started again. “This is not what I am used to. I don’t have practice at this.”  

“I know.”

“I might disappoint you” He laughed abjectly, remembering how she once said sex always seemed to be better in her mind than compared to the reality. “You might end up despising me” He muttered.

Dana watched his gaze shift to the floor, the flicker of his curly eyelashes. “Do you think I would despise you for being human? Do you think I’m the sort of person who would laugh at you or judge you?”

“No, it isn’t about judgment…I don’t know how to describe it” Now Andrew was worried he had offended her.

“Do you think all these months between us have been something that petty?”

“I don’t know” He repeated “I hope not, you know what I mean.”

She shook her head ruefully, as if she was disappointed. She looked down at her hands, the painted black fingernails, the lazy girl’s manicure. “I will never forget that you came here, that you’re standing in my bedroom. I didn’t think you would do it. So you’ve already proven yourself better than what I imagined.”

“And I haven’t even done anything yet.” He almost smiled.

Dana stepped off the bed, walking a few steps over to meet him.

“Do you trust me?” She asked, taking his hand into her own. Dana was surprised by how large his hands, the wide palm, the long tapering fingers. But she was pleased. Hands were always her favorite feature on men.

“Yes” Andrew replied, half lying.  I don’t know is what he really wanted to say.

“Take off your clothes then, right now, everything except your underwear.”

“What? Why?” He was surprised by this request, even though he had been planning for it the entire time.

Dana saw the doubt on his face then. Standing on tip-toe, she leant forward and whispered in his ear.

“I may never see you again and I want you to take off your clothes.”

He looked at her, still hesitant.

“Please” Dana added.

He began to unbutton his shirt and Dana turned around to give him privacy, which Andrew thought was amusing. Once his jeans and socks were also on the floor, he stood there in his boxers, waiting. He was pitching a tent and he felt slightly embarrassed by how juvenile he felt.

“Done?” She asked, her back still turned.

“Yep” He replied. This was not how he had thought the morning was going to be. He hated to admit it but he had imagined it as some sort of steamy sex scene from a Hollywood movie. He would knock on his door, she would open it, and they would stare at each other for a second or two before they fell into each other’s arms in a frantic frenzy.

“Lie down on the bed, on your stomach” She tapped the pillow with her knuckles.

He did as he was told, stretching out, the sheets feeling smooth and cool against him.

Apprehension rose from him like a vapor, but Dana ignored it. She ran her gaze over his solid back, knowing what places to touch that would make him snatch his breath and squirm. But that was not her intention, she needed him to know that he was safe.

Her hands fluttered harmlessly to the shallow of his ribs and began to rub softly. Andrew felt the touch before his brain registered it and goose bumps prickled his skin. Her fingers coasted up and down his spine, swivelled around his hips. He waited for her to touch the crest of his rear but she did not trespass that area. She massaged his feet and legs, moving back up. She ran her fingers through his hair, massaged his scalp which to Andrew felt like heaven. She looped his ears, surfed his neck, travelled down his arms and even worked his hands. Now that he was no longer nervous his groin was throbbing with want.

“Who’s that? In the painting?” Andrew mumbled as she continued to knead his muscles. He could feel himself becoming sleepy.

“Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday, two of my favorite female singers” Dana replied. “The painting was a gift.”

“I thought your favorite was Janet Jackson” He teased.

“You remember that?” Dana laughed.

“Yep, I do. Can I turn around now?”

“No” Dana’s voice was firm.

“Why not? I want you to massage my front as well.”

“I bet you do” She replied. Andrew could hear the smile in her voice as she added, “But I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Why do you think that?” He asked.

“Because we’ll end up having sex” Her tone was practical. “And I don’t think we should do that, not today anyway.”

“Because?”

“Because I don’t think you’re ready. Now sshh, just relax, okay? This massage is not meant to be erotic.”

“Well that sucks” He said, only half pretending to be disappointed. But soon enough, he did begin to relax, to the point where he was struggling to keep his eyes open. The painting of the two women began to swim in his line of vision as his eyes opened and closed. He could not fall asleep.

When he opened his eyes again, he was covered with a blanket. The room seemed darker. Dana was sitting on the floor, against the dresser, reading a book, her glasses gone.

“Hey what time is it?” He asked, stifling a yawn. Andrew couldn’t believe he fell asleep. He felt so good, as if he'd been drowned and revivied.

“It’s twelve” She looked up at him. “You slept for about an hour; you aren’t late for anything are you?”

“No, I have the day free” He replied, sitting up. Holding out his hand, he beckoned her over. “Come here.”

Dana was almost apprehensive as she approached him. Now she was the one who looked nervous.

“Yes?” She asked, allowing her hand to be enclosed.

Andrew pulled her onto the bed, rolling her over to the other side. She laughed, surprised. He kissed her hard, pressing his body against her forcibly, one hand reaching down to undo her jeans. She begun to protest at this, even though she was still laughing.

“Andrew! I said we weren’t going to-”

“I know, I know. We can just lie here and have a pash instead, how about that?”

“A pash?” Dana began to giggle. “What does that mean?”

 “It’s Australian slang for kissing. So?” He started to kiss her all over her face, her eyebrows, her cheeks, her nose, the side of her mouth. “What do you think?”

“Sound good” She laughed, melting at his touch. She began to kiss him back and soon what started out as a few kisses escalated in fever pitch, both of them rubbing against each other. Soon her remaining clothes were quickly discarded, as they became a writhing mound of entwined arms and legs, mouths stifling moans, their breathing shattering into canopy, ragged waves, both gasping for air. She was naked like him, albeit the raspberry colored lace underwear she was wearing.

“You look delicious” He whispered, gazing down at her. “I want to lick you all over.” He began to kiss her stomach moving down right before he ran his tongue over the material.

“No, no!” Dana shook her head, pressed her legs together. “Please don’t, I don’t like that.”

Andrew looked up at her puzzled. “You don’t like oral?”

“I don’t like it being done to me” She sat up and looked at him.  Pushing her hair to one side, she said, “I can go down on you though, if you want me to?”

His first instinct was to say yes but he shook his head, declining. The idea of it being one-sided made him feel like a jerk.

“No, it’s fine. We can just keep kissing” He said, positioning himself over her. He didn’t know if he was going to last longer though, all this dry humping made him feel as if his dick was about to melt.

“You can take these off if you like” Dana said then, as if reading his mind, her hand grazing his boxer shorts. “I’ll keep mine on” She added.

"Okay but I want you to be on top this time" Andrew told her. Dana opened her mouth to protest, a blush forming on her face.

“Just for a little bit, just for a few minutes” He added.

She nodded in response, “Fine.”

 And as he lay back, it was Dana who grasped his boxers and pulled them down his legs. He was now laying on his back completely naked and she with her underwear on, her eyes travelling up and down his form. 

She began to straddle his thighs and he looked at her, admiring her small pert breasts, the concave of her navel, her thin waist and long legs. The sight of her was more than he could bear. Her cheeks were red and her lips delicious and full. 

Andrew watched her crawl up over him lay on him. He bit his lip to stop himself from moaning at the feel of her skin, the warmth of her press into him.

Andrew could feel her breasts compress into his chest, the stiff nipples, and her legs opening around his thighs. He clasped his hands around her small waist, as she reached down and took his penis in her hand and pressed it up until it landed between her legs rubbing against the soft fabric. He felt her slide her hips up until his cock was tucked between her legs. He began to rock up and back down, closing his eyes and savoring the feel of them sliding together. Her black hair was hanging around him, and as they moved together she kissed him. He opened his mouth to her and traced her teeth with his tongue. 

Her kiss was mesmerizing, soft. The taste of her was everywhere, on his tongue, in his skin. Andrew could smell her body everywhere. He began to move a bit more urgently and was pleased when she felt her moving against him just as fast, meeting his thrusts. Andrew couldn’t help but think how it almost felt like they were fucking. Her wetness and his dripping was lubricating them to the point where it almost felt as if they were skin to skin. 

There was another benefit to her being on top, and that was that his hands were free and he let them roam over her, tracing a line down her lower back and squeezing his fingers into the crack of her ass, listening to her moan as he explored all her delicate places. 

Dana was clinging to Andrew, breathing in his ear, kissing him, kissing down his neck and nibbling his shoulder as she lifted her hips up and down on his hard cock. She was breathing through her open mouth, moving on him faster, pressing the tip of him into her clit and letting it slide back between her legs. He could feel the hunger rising in her. 

Andrew traced a hand around her thigh and turning it palm up began to press his fingers between her legs so she was being stimulated with both his fingers and the head of his cock. As he rubbed her though, he was slipping his hand inside her panties, rubbing the bare skin. He held his fingers so they were right over her clit, skin to skin, pressing his fingertips in and rubbing over the top. She jumped at the feel of his hand. He slowly began pulling her open, waiting for her to tell him to stop. But her response was to tremble, and press against wherever he was touching her, grinding her sex into him.

As his fingers worked her it was causing the fabric to slip to the side of her vagina, until his penis slipped right into the folds of her, the gush of wetness suddenly lubricating him. The tip of him was directly touching her now when she raised her hips and was being enfolded when she let her hips slip down.

Andrew held to her, pulling her against him, continuing to stroke her open legs, letting her move on his body faster and faster. She was still kissing his neck and shoulder, nipping lightly, taking what she wanted. He rubbed her clit along the length of his cock, keeping his contact with her as she was moving faster on him.

“I want to fuck you” He said.

“I know me too” Dana said breathlessly. "I just don’t want you to regret it, Andrew… uh, it feels too soon… Oh, god, this is enough.”

“Please, we’re so close” Andrew didn’t want to beg her but he couldn’t help it. He continued to thrust against her, her underwear held to the side. “I won’t regret it, trust me.” His body was bowed with it’s want to be inside her, he was almost snarling.

Dana stopped and looked at him, assessing him for a second before she nodded and leant down to kiss him. She lifted her hips up so that he could pull her underwear down. His eyes widened at the sight of her, completely hairless.

“Wow, all clear for landing, huh?” He joked. Dana laughed embarrassedly, covering her eyes with her hand.

Repositioning themselves they began to rock together as they did before, Dana bringing her hips forward, only this time the head of his penis slipped right inside. When she lifted her hips again Andrew felt himself sliding back forward touching her back again. He could feel her opening around him, the exquisite pressure. With the next thrust Andrew lifted his hips a little higher and felt himself sliding in a little further. Deeper. He laid his hands over the small of her back and pulled her down on him, feeling himself slide all the way up into her. He continued to hold onto her, forcing her to stay still. 

“Oh my god” Dana gasped. "Oh you feel so good." She looked down at their bodies, between their legs where he was still pressed into her.

“It’s been so long, I forgot what this felt like” She said, eyes closed, a content sigh escaping from her lips as she moved her hips back and forth.

“How long?” He asked, curious.

“Umm… around a year. I want you to be on top” Dana told him. She bent down to kiss him again. And then rolling to one side of him, Andrew held to her so that he was lying up on top. She laid her hands above her head and he felt her spread her legs out, lifting her knees. Wide open, Andrew was still deep inside as he started to pump in and out. Dana wrapped her arms and legs around him, digging her nails in.

"Do you like that?" Andrew asked.

“Yes” Dana replied, her voice small. She was whimpering.  Andrew kept pounding into her, unable to stop. And then they were kissing again. Their tongues dancing, the movement of their bodies, the feel of her legs wrapped around him, he would not forget. Their skin was wet with sweat, their bellies sliding together as they fucked, it was the purest pleasure. Moving faster, harder, hungrier. Rocking against one another.

“Let me know when you’re about to, you know” She sighed.

“Come?” He asked, his voice hoarse.

“Yes. Don’t-come-in-me” Her lone rational thought. Each word was a gasp.

He was moving on her hard and fast now, fucking her with full abandon.  He placed his finger on her clit, mashing it as he rubbed it in urgent circles. Dana’s body began to spasm and tremble and he could feel her squeezing tight around his cock. Andrew could feel himself nearing orgasm and he started to panic. Should he say something now? Was she on birth control? No condom. Oh, god.

He knew he should pull out, but he didn't want to. Her body began thrashing underneath him.

"Ahh-ahh-ahh" Dana was clinging to him as if she was drowning and he was a life raft, contracting tighter and tighter, her thighs quivering. “Oh god, oh god.” He could tell she was coming at that point and it only further heightened his own need.

“Oh, fuck, Dana” He groaned as he felt it rise in him, that familiar sensation in his thighs. Andrew’s heart was beating a mile a minute, he was short of breath and then suddenly he could feel himself exploding right inside her, and a wave of confusion. For a moment he felt as if the surging within him would never stop, that he would pulse on for days.

"You came in me? Shit" A pause, followed with “It’s okay, go ahead. Don’t worry.”

She began to buck against him even harder, arching her back and pressing against him.

And then it was over. Their bodies began to relax, soften. At the end muscles were sore, skin teeth-marked and slicked with sweat, and both of them were shaking.

“Are you okay?” Andrew asked, pushing her sweaty hair away from her face. He was worried that she would be angry now, feel tricked or coerced.

“Mhmm yeah, I’m great” Dana smiled at him, her voice dreamy and distant. “How about you? Any regret?”

“None” He told her, kissing her lightly on the lips. He felt strangely sleepy, which was unlike him. Normally he felt high wired after sex, ready to do anything but sleep. He moved off her, scooping her body to the side of his, spooning her, legs tangling together. He told himself that he should probably get up and get dressed, but he remained where he was, listening to Dana sleep beside him. Before he knew it, he had closed his eyes as well.

* * *

She woke up to find him kissing her again.

“Hey” She asked her voice thick with sleep. “What time is it?”

“Around four” Andrew answered, rolling her onto her back. He moved over her, leaning down to kiss the hollow of her throat, her sternum, her breasts.

“Hmm, I’m not making you late, am I?” Dana could feel the familiar trembling sensation running down her stomach to the inside of her thighs. She was already wet with anticipation.

“Don’t worry about that, open your legs” He commanded. She did as told and he moved in between her. She wrapped her legs around his waist in response, attempted to pull him down. He rested his weight on his forearms, moved inside her in what seemed like one fluid motion. Both gasped at the same time and paused, adjusting to the feeling. Dana began to move her hips

“Wait, not yet. I need to ask you something” He told her. She stilled, her body quivering. Waiting.

“Yes?”

“And you have to tell me the truth, okay?” Andrew moved out a little, listened to her exhale. To Andrew, her sigh almost sounded like disappointment.

 “Okay” Dana responded, trying not to sound impatient. Hurry up. Fuck me. Not that she would ever say that aloud.

“How was it for you? What we just did, I mean. I need to know.”

Dana frowned, puzzled at the question. “You mean the sex?”

“Yeah, that” He smiled, trying to be light yet she could tell he was nervous. “I mean…” He was too scared to ask her if she regretted the sex, instead he said “You did come, right?”

“Yes, I did” Dana smiled at the memory. “It was amazing, it was great.” Dana had always thought the focus of “coming” was quite overrated. She focused on sex itself and if there was an orgasm, it was only the icing on the cake.

“Really?” Andrew looked dubious, unsure.

“Yes, Andrew!” She laughed, tapped his arm lightly in reproach. “I wasn’t faking anything, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“No, it’s just… you told me once you hated sex. I was worried about letting you down.”

“I did hate sex for a while” Dana told him. Her face was now serious, the teasing gone. She reached up and kissed him. “You want the truth?”

“Yeah. Of course.”

“I was in England as an exchange student a few years back and I met this guy...I won’t bore you with the details but it was a very serious relationship. He gave me his mom’s ring; he said he wanted to marry me.”

Andrew tried to keep his face neutral. He wondered if she was talking about Phillip. “And?”

“I loved him, I used to always think of him as the love of my life but the sex… it started off great, he was the most attentive and most adult person I had ever been with… but as time went on, it became too distorted. He became violent.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. The boundaries blurred and I used to always feel like I was being tested and every time I failed to do something he wanted me to do… it was awful. And when I did do things right, he was so proud of me and I was happy that I had pleased him but I felt dead inside, I can’t…” She looked at him, willing him to understand. “It’s hard to explain.”

“No, it’s okay” He kissed her reassuringly. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

“No, don’t be, it’s fine. Anyway, the relationship ended, I came back here and the idea of dating or even being with anyone else seemed impossible, I thought I could never do it again. But then I met other people and began to date again and at first I was still resistant to having sex, I told guys I waited at least a few months. Most of them left pretty quickly, one or two of the were willing to wait that long but then I always ended things if it reached that point.”

Andrew studied her face as Dana spoke; saw the shadows of emotions flicker across her face even though her voice was calm and monotone.

“So eventually, I tried again and… it was horrible. As soon as the other person was inside me, I felt this panic attack. I couldn’t breathe. I’d hear this screeching inside my head. The guy would feel like a dead weight, I felt like I was literally being crushed even though it wasn’t the case at all. Sometimes I’d push them off me and they would think I was crazy. Sometimes I got through it but then I never wanted to see that person again.” Dana wanted to tell him about Phillip, the guilt that had haunted her long after his death, how she had always felt as if his presence was in the room when she with other men, as if he was watching her. You’re mine, he had always told her, there will never be anyone else. Those words haunted her to this day. But to tell Andrew that would have meant to reveal his identity and she was not ready to do that.

“So around a year ago, I made a choice to be celibate. I just thought my emotional baggage… I had some stuff I needed to deal with and I didn’t think it was fair to unload that on other people, to waste their time.”

Andrew inwardly winced, feeling her pain. The idea that she had thought of herself as a burden hurt.

“And then I saw you” Dana told him, avoiding his eyes, “At the Plachy exhibition and I felt this thing, like it was…” She was blushing now, tongue tied. “My stomach had these butterflies and it was the first time in what seemed like forever that I could… you know… be with someone again.”

Andrew said nothing in response, waiting for her to continue.

“And then I found out you were engaged and I felt so crushed, I wanted to cry. I thought after you left, I would never see you again. But then you emailed me the next day and we started talking and I told myself that if I couldn’t have you, I’d just be happy to be your friend. I waited for the feelings to dim down, but it just got stronger and…” Dana hated this, hated baring her soul like this. It was frightening. She wanted to stop. She was looking everywhere but at him.

“Okay, and then?” Andrew asked, trying to keep his tone neutral.

“Well, we know how things progressed and it got to today and then in the bedroom, when I made you lie down and said you weren’t ready for sex. I lied” Dana blurted. “The truth was I was worried I wasn’t ready and all I wanted to do was touch you, which is why I massaged you. I didn’t want to be touched.”

“Fuck, why didn’t you tell me, Dana?” A cold, prickly sensation burst out on his skin. He felt panic rising within him. Had he forced her somehow or pressured her? Had she only had sex with him just to please him?

“I would have been happy just to do that forever” Dana confessed. “Just for us to kiss and me to touch you, but then you pulled me to you and...and I wanted more. I didn’t want to stop. I forgot about everything, I wasn’t thinking. For the first time I wasn’t thinking. I wasn't outside of the sex, I was part of it. It felt so good that I...” She trailed off, her face now burning.

“Go on” He began to kiss her shoulder, the hollow of her neck. He began to move his hips again. His words were getting jumbled. “Don’t stop.”

“After we were done, I felt normal and- Oh!” She gasped, as he slid inside her all the way.

“Look at me” Andrew turned Dana’s face towards him, staring at her for a second before he leant down and kissed her hard on the mouth. “Keep going, tell me.” His voice was on edge, thick with desire.

“I, uh… um, I felt normal and I thought… um, I thought I would never feel like this again and I just… oh god… I feel so happy. I just feel really happy.”

“You do?” He saw the beads of sweat form around her hairline, the way she was starting to gasp for breath. He began to move a bit more urgently. 

“Yes, yes” Dana was struggling to talk now, her breathing becoming more shallow. “I felt so grateful…. I felt like I should have thanked you or something.”

“Pleasure’s mine” Andrew told her, laughing slightly. 

Dana smiled at him, reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck.  They began to kiss and soon both were beginning to pant from their exertions. Now they were moving with abandon, the conversation halted. Dana's chin was hooked over his shoulder as she tried to register all the different pleasures rippling through her, not just his movement inside her, but his large hands spanning out on her body, her breasts pressed against his chest, the slippery sheen of sweat. 

"God... I'm gonna..."Andrew's voice was strained.  "I think I'm going to....”

"Wait, wait...." Dana began to move faster, pushing for her own release. "Not yet. Together. I want us to do this - ." She was breathing faster; he was plunging in deeper, so deep that she could feel him as if he was diving into the depths of her, beneath the surface of skin and flesh. Dana cried out, closing her eyes, throwing her head back and then-

A flash of bright white light eclipsed her vision.

Darkness.

Ecstasy flooded her brain, strong and fast like a hit of heroin. She could feel him coming inside her then, the grunt low in his throat as jet after jet of semen, hot and slick, painted her insides. Dana cried out, her body thrashing underneath his, her mouth stumbled for his as she kissed him insatiably. She could not remember the last time she had felt so good, it was too good, too intense, too much. She felt as if her mind couldn't handle the strain of it.

She pulled her mouth away and said something then, words incoherent amidst her sighs and moans.

“What?” Andrew gasped, leaning down to hear. “What did you say?”

“I-said- if we never… if we never have sex again, I’ll still be happy. I’m just so glad I had this. Just this”

"Is that right?" Andrew laughed breathlessly, his voice low. Dana nodded, unable to speak.

“Well you know something. I wouldn't” He bent his head down to reclaim her lips once again. “I wouldn’t.” 

Constraints by Lililei

pic

 

December, 2004.

What they never discussed, in all the great books and movies about affairs or adultery, were the time constraints. It always ended up with the two protagonists deciding to hook up and then the movie would cut to where it seemed the two were locked in a room, having nonstop gratuitous sex. Those people didn’t have jobs, it seemed. Or they did, but it usually amounted to sitting in an office room, in a suit and tie, and not really doing much else. Books weren't much better, many failing to discuss how exhausting it could be carrying on an affair. Andrew wasn't sure whether to believe stories of men who managed to juggle multiple mistresses, have one night stands and still keep everything contained in a cloak of secrecy, all the while acting as if they were the poster child of virtue in front of their unsuspecting wives. Nonetheless, those men, his father in the bunch, made him feel both awe and loathe struck.

He had never entertained the possibility that Benjamin had been right when he had told Andrew that Dana didn’t want a boyfriend. What reason could a person want a no strings attached deal for an indefinite amount of time and not expect something more? It was normally done as something to fill in the time until someone better came along.

But that was the key word: Time. Dana was always so busy. She was taking extra courses at college so that she could finish her JD at the end of the spring. The college education system in the US confused the hell out of Andrew. In Australia he remembered school progressed in line with the year. But he had left when he was sixteen. Dana was still at school, studying, attending her classes at night so that her days were free for work. She was a personal assistant at Steinhoff Talent Agency, three days a week. She taught elementary ballet and ballet aerobics on Saturdays. And then went to the library to study before going out with friends during the night. Although Andrew was still heavily in demand as a photographer, he felt like a drifter next to her. He had never lived a life according to diaries and schedules, it was one thing he had strived for his whole life, to make his hours his own. That to him was freedom.

Dana was the opposite. She had told him if she wasn’t busy, she felt aimless and began to feel panicky.

Yet despite time restraints and conflicting schedules, they managed to see each other once a week, sometimes more if he visited her during the week. Sunday however was normally their allocated day together.  The one day of rest for her. It felt like a kind of honeymoon, as they had sex continuously, barely stopping from one act to the next, sometimes frenzied and sometimes slow and languid. Even when he was spent, Dana would urge his hands and mouth onwards. By afternoon they would stop to eat, sharing the same plate, Dana sitting on his lap, neither willing to separate a moment longer than necessary. Afterwards they were at it again, having sex in different parts of the apartment before making it to the bed and falling asleep together exhausted, arms and legs tangled. He would set the alarm on his phone. When he woke up, he would leave her sleeping, not wanting to disturb her.

And of course he compared them. It was evil to do that but he couldn’t help it, the first few times he had recoiled when it happened. It was vulgar and disrespectful even though he did not compare to say which one was better, but rather just noted the differences. Ingrid was far curvier, with soft pads of fat around her hips. Dana’s body was intimidatingly perfect, smooth skin stretched taut over long limbs.

Yet it was Ingrid who seemed far more comfortable with her body, which added to her sensuality. Dana was skittish, like a nervous colt. They had been together  and even though she was nymph-like around him, she was also strangely shy, a sharp contrast to her unquenchable sexual appetite . She would bite her lip or cover her mouth with her hand, attempting to stifle any sounds of pleasure. When she came, she held her breath trying to quell the feeling and buried her face into his neck.  There was no oral sex, not for her anyway. The rule remained that she could give and not receive. This was the first woman Andrew had been with who had this stance, and it puzzled him. Yet he accepted the rules as he could tell the topic bothered her and so he never pushed the subject. The few times he did, she shut down, becoming tight lipped.

That was another disturbing aspect of their relationship which had taken him some time to figure out.

They never argued.

He knew the reason why they didn’t but it still puzzled him nonetheless. The reason they never argued was because Dana never demanded anything of him.  This wasn’t the first time Andrew had had an affair, the only difference was that he had been on the opposite end of that scenario. He had been the single guy and the woman had been Ellen, who had been married to her surgeon husband Danny.

Looking back on their relationship, all he could remember was the wild bouts of jealousy and despair he had suffered. He had reduced himself to a mass of anxiety as he fought and begged for more time, for her to leave her husband.  He had felt violent and out of control and suicidal. He wondered why Dana didn’t feel the same way. If she did, she did an extremely good job of keeping those feelings to herself. He had expected her early on to ask if they could spend a night or a weekend away but she never did. She asked for nothing.

There were so many instances Andrew had cancelled or had forgotten a planned time to meet up and Dana had never once gotten exasperated or angry or even disappointed. He had not seen her cry; the closest she had done was tear up when she had been telling him about her grandmother.  It was a strange contrast in comparison to Ingrid who cried at least twice a week.

Even when he was in one of his grumpy moods, prone to snapping and sarcasm, Dana never reacted. She remained the same, patient and soothing. She was infinitely forgiving of him. As if to her he mattered more than anything. Or didn’t matter at all.

Each time he was with her, inside her, the moral dilemma he had faced dimmed down less and less. Man, it seemed, could accustom himself to anything.

Andrew had expected them to get bored of their routine quickly, at least after a year but the longer time passed the more dependent he became. And the guilt remained. And it was not for himself but for Dana. He wanted to tell her that she should find someone better, someone who could love her freely. But he never did, in fear she would one day take up that offer.

He was thinking of seeing Dana as he lay on the doctor’s examining table.  His penis had been doused in some cold chemical which smelt strongly of vinegar.  A UV light had been turned on as the doctor had examined his penis for warts or moles.

“You seem all clear” The woman switched the light back on. “You really should wear a condom, you know, instead of coming down here every three months.”

“Ah, but then I wouldn’t get a chance to see you” Andrew joked, slightly flirting, a good way to deflect the question. He knew that he should wear condoms more often. And he did with Dana, at least half the time anyway. The truth was he didn’t like condoms, and how they mad sex seem cold and clinical. It took away the heat of the moment. There was nothing better than the contact of skin to skin.

“Even so” Her voice was stern. “It takes one time. Just one time for you to get AIDS or something just as bad. Don’t risk it.”

“I won’t, I do wear protection” Andrew told her. “But isn’t there stuff you can still catch regardless?”

“That’s true” The doctor conceded. “Okay, so now we’re going to test for the other diseases. Ready? This might hurt a little” In her  gloved hand she held a scalpel and a small sharp hook.

Andrew could feel dread creeping in at the sight. Even though he had done this before, he asked “Do we have to use the hook?”

The doctor smiled at him and it was all the proof Andrew needed that doctors truly were sadists. “Well there has to be some pain for the men, don’t you think? It wouldn’t be fair otherwise.”

She pried open the eye of his penis and sank the hook in.

After she was finished, Andrew left. His groin stinging as he swore to himself he would always wear condoms from now on. He knew he wouldn’t. Not only because he preferred sex without them but also because Dana had made him promise they would both get regular tests regardless. Besides coming back and going through the routine felt like self-inflicted but deserving punishment. A throbbing penis was small penance for his transgressions.

* * *

“So”  Yvette was lying back on Dana’s lazy boy recliner, sunglasses on, her voice low from her hang over.  “What are you planning for this year? Twenty six and all, you must have some plans.”

“To be honest, I’m kinda over it. Celebrating birthdays, I mean. I feel like I’m getting too old or something” Dana tore a piece of the cotton candy from the bag, slipping it into her mouth, the spun sugar dissolving over her tongue almost instantly. She shrugged. She held the bag out to Yvette, who reached in and grabbed a large fistful.

“Ah, welcome to the big brutal world of adults. You start dreading your birthdays, instead of looking forward to them” Yvette smiled. She shook her head at the proffered bag, looking disgusted. “How can you eat the crap you eat and not get fat? I already feel sick. Who buys a giant bag of cotton candy?”

“I didn’t buy it. It was a gift” Dana stretched her legs, lying down flat on the sofa.

“Oh, really?” Yvette perked up, suddenly looking interested, “Who from?”

“It was just a friend, trust me, it isn’t what you thinking’.”

“Uh-huh, and is this friend a heterosexual male? Because I still want to hear all about it.”

“It’s no big deal” Dana could feel herself getting defensive. She sat up, stretching and trying to behave as nonchalantly as she could. “It’s Andrew if you must know.”

“Andrew?” Yvette’s voice became sharp, “The Australian? The guy who’s engaged? The one you told me about? You’re seeing him?”

“Jesus. No. I mean, yes it is him but not like that” Dana said curtly, standing up.  She began to walk around the room, absent mindedly tidying up. Anything to avoid eye contact. She was never a good liar. “I’m not seeing him, we just…we talk on email mostly. And we’ve been out to lunch a few times.”

 “So any reason he sent this?” Yvette picked up the bag and turned it over in her hands, as if reading the label would display clues of some sort.

“We were talking about our childhood and I told him about Coney Island and Astroland and…well, here. You can read the note yourself” She took the folded piece of paper from her pocket and handed it over.

He had sent her the gift a few days after a lunch date. They had been at Washington Square Park, the conversation topic on childhood memories. Dana had told him about their beach house on Coney Island and how they would go to Astroland every year and her favorite part had been buying the giant cloud of cotton candy. Her father would joke that the cotton candy was bigger than her head, teasing her that she couldn’t possibly eat it. And she, giddy with amusement from her father’s teasing and also determined to prove him wrong, would consume the entire thing in fifteen minutes. Later on though, without fail, she would throw up after going on the rides. And yet she did it every year until she was twelve years old and was convinced that everything she had previously enjoyed was no longer cool. It had been a ritual between her and her Dad and a part of her missed it, missed the easy teasing and camaraderie they shared. It wasn’t really her favorite memory but it was funny and it made Andrew laugh, just as she hoped it would.

Yvette read the note aloud, “I was never good at maths but I am fairly certain this is bigger than your head. Enjoy.”  She placed the note back on the coffee table, “That’s very cute. If I didn’t know better I would swear he was courting you.”

“He isn’t!” Dana snapped, suddenly angry. “You always do this! Not every guy wants to get into my pants!”

Her anger was stemming from fear. If Yvette knew, if anyone knew about this, they would hate her. Her image of being sweet and kind and good would forever be tarnished.

“He sends you gifts, Dana.”

“We send each other stuff back and forth all the time, they aren’t gifts!”

 “But you just said it was a gift two seconds ago!” Yvette exclaimed triumphantly. “And if it isn’t a big deal, why not say anything right away?”

“Yeah, but...it’s not like you think, okay?” Dana could feel her cheeks begin to turn red. “And I didn’t say anything, because you’ll make a big deal of it, the way you are now.”

“But you like him” Yvette replied, her voice matter of fact. She settled back in the arm chair, crossing one leg over the other.

“So what if I do? I’m not deeply in love with him or anything ridiculous like that, it’s just an old crush. You know, the way you never get over that one guy in high school? He’s that for me. I can be friends with him.” Dana’s face was hot with shame.

“Why? He isn’t even a good looking guy. There were plenty of better looking men who were dying for your attention on Friday night and you just ignored them.”

“So what? I don’t want a boyfriend right now. I am very happy with how my life is at the moment. Why is being single seen as a crime?” Dana could feel herself getting on edge. Her friends, her family, everyone harassed her about her love life. It was as if her own identity meant nothing without a man by her side. It made her feel so worthless.

“Nothing, nothing is wrong with that. Come on, you know I don’t mean it like that” Yvette said soothingly, trying to placate her. “I’m saying why him? Of all people? Like I said, he isn’t a catch.”

“Because I can’t conveniently choose who I like. Besides he is gorgeous, how can you think he is ugly? He has always gotten any woman he wanted. And yes, he isn’t typical metrosexual, like those men from the Mills and Boons novels you enjoy reading so much, but that’s what I like about him.”

“Ha-ha-ha. You busted me with that book once, you can’t use that against me” Yvette threw a pillow at Dana’s head.  

“Oh, but it’s true” Dana was teasing her now, glad the subject was diverted. “We can’t all dream of Fabio.”

“You asshole” Yvette said. There was no anger in her tone though. “At least Fabio is rich. Your Andrew dresses like he is homeless and he has a receding hair line. The guy is balding. And…” Yvette paused, searching for more insults. “He looks like he has smelly socks, don’t you think?”

“What?” Dana laughed, looking at her shocked. “Smelly socks? What is wrong with you?”

“I’m just saying, he looks like his feet stinks. Do they?”

Dana was about to respond that they didn’t but then stopped herself, replying. “I wouldn’t know what his feet smell like.”

“Wouldn’t you?” Yvette asked. An awkward pause entered and before Dana was about to ask what Yvette had mean, she began to talk again.

 “But what if he did like you? Would you ask him to break up with his fiancé?”

Dana shot her a look, “I wouldn’t ask him anything, Yvette. Let’s not talk about this anymore.”

“I am just saying” Yvette insisted. “Hypothetically, of course. If he came up to you and said he was interested, would you respond?”

“Yes” Dana replied bluntly.

“Really?” Yvette’s eyes widened. “Even if it meant that he would have to dump his fiancé?”

“Who said anything about him breaking up with his fiancé?” Dana replied. She laughed upon the shock on Yvette’s face. “What? You’re the one asking and then you look all surprised.”

“You’re seeing him” Yvette’s voice was blunt. Dana looked at her, surprised by her tone of voice.

“Excuse me?”

“You are involved with him somehow. Aren’t you?”

It was times like this she hated that Yvette was her best friend; she always felt a need to confess everything. She could not keep secrets from her, even though she knew it meant being berated most of the time. She knew confessing would lead to them fighting, not only because Yvette would not approve of what she was doing but because she would feel tricked by Dana having keep it secret as long as she had.

“If I was, I obviously wouldn’t say. Because it would be his secret and not just mine.”

“Oh, how very diplomatic of you Dana, how tactful. You should be considering a career in politics, you know. You could be a great advisor to the Monica Lewinskys of the world.”

“Watch how you talk to me, I am not your little sister” Dana snapped. Now suddenly, she was eager to fight. “I don’t have to tell you everything, Yvette. I don’t need you to give me permission or absolve me, somehow. I’m an adult and I know what I am doing.”

“Why they hell would I absolve you? If you are having an affair with a man who is in another relationship, I’d tell you how stupid you are. I wouldn’t give you permission.”

“And I don’t need you to. God, who do you think you are? You are so nosy! Why don’t you just learn your place and mind your own damn business!” Dana shouted. She instantly regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth, her regret increasing tenfold upon the look of hurt on Yvette’s face.

“Learn my place, huh?” Yvette looked at her incredulous. “Is that how it is?”

“No, I didn’t mean-” Dana began to apologize but she was interrupted.

“How could you do this to yourself? Especially after your Dad did that to your Mom. Do you really have that little self-respect?”

“Get out” Dana said her voice now cold. The mention of her parents was like a knife to her chest. How dare Yvette use that against her?

“Oh, believe me, I’m gone” Yvette grabbed her handbag and shoes, turning to leave. “Good luck to you.”

Dana listened to the door slam loudly behind her. She felt both devastated and relieved. She wished she hadn’t gotten angry, had somehow explained it to her what it was like. Yvette was right, she had no self-respect, she should be ashamed of herself but could no one understand what it was like? To be so enamoured with someone that you were completely at their mercy? To be so infatuated that you would take whatever you could. A little bit of Andrew was better than nothing at all. She was not sleeping with him because she had nothing better to do; she did so because loving him was not a choice.

She knew the right thing to have done was to never have gotten involved with him, to just let him go. But the right thing to do was also intensely difficult.  Dana was not ready to let go of someone who held so much significance to her.

Dana wasn’t sure how long she sat there frozen, too stunned to cry, until her cell phone beeped from the coffee table. Walking over on shaky legs she picked it up to see a message from Andrew, asking if she was free. Yes, she replied. She had taken a day off from her ballet teaching, having been too tired and hung over from the night before. Dana had been planning to hang out with Yvette till lunch and then spend the rest of the day studying. She was glad he had contacted her, because she would have never been brave enough to ask him. She could never let him know just how much she needed him, to become so vulnerable was not only dangerous for her but it would be off putting for him and it would kill them before their time.

The phone beeped again and she checked her phone again. See you around 1, it read. Dana glanced at the clock which announced it was eleven thirty am.

She headed off to the bathroom, to clean herself up and get ready. For him.

 

Shadows by Lililei
Author's Notes:

Here is the new chapter! Thank you for reading everyone!

camera andrew

 

Theirs is a life of shadows. In broad daylight, they must remain in the shade, feigning politeness and indifference towards one another. In public, they are formal and cautious, forced to act disinterested towards one another.

But even when they are together, they are careful to keep things secret from one another. To keep conversation airy and playful, to avoid certain topics and certain people. Guilt. Ingrid. Secrets. They do not discuss their feelings or their morals nor do they speak of the future. Theirs is an insulated world where the outside ceases to exist.

Yet one afternoon, both lying together on Dana’s bed, limbs still entwined, Andrew asked.

“Do you think cheating is genetic?”

Dana looked up from the crook of Andrew’s arm, eyebrows raised. “What makes you think that?”

“I don’t know” He replied, staring up at the ceiling as he spoke. “I was just thinking about how my dad, who was this serial womanizer. And my grandfather on my mum’s side…”

“He used to have affairs too?” Dana asked.

“No, not affairs. Just this one woman, who used to live with my grandparents, she stayed with my grandfather when my mum was a kid and even when I was around. She died there too, three years after my grandfather died.”

“Wow” Dana was stunned by the information. “You mean your grandmother was okay with this?”

“Um, I don’t think she was ever okay with it” He was frowning slightly as he spoke. “I’ve only just started to figure this out recently. My granddad was a doctor, like a GP, you know a general practitioner and this woman Margaret was his assistant. She was a nurse and a receptionist. She rented out a separate cottage out in the backyard and lived there. And the cottage was built after I was born, before that she rented out the attic.”

“How long did she live there?”

“I don’t know how long but it had to have been at least over forty years. She was there when my mum was born. They used to go on trips together a lot too. He used to travel to rural areas to do volunteer work. Like visit farmers and treat indigenous people and she would go with him.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe I’m just figuring this out now. I used to think she just lived there. But it makes so much sense.”

“Maybe it isn’t what you think. She might have just been single or maybe she had her own reasons for not ever getting married.” Dana soothed, rubbing his arm consolingly. She knew this information was upsetting to him. She herself felt an empty sadness hearing the story.

“No, I remember how she was when he died. And he left her a share of his estate too.”

Andrew had been fifteen when his grandfather had died. He’d had a massive heart attack, had been found slumped over his desk by Margaret. During the funeral and the wake, he had attributed her shell shocked silence to the trauma of finding him rather than any grief.

He also remembered the will reading as well, the reaction of his mother alongside her siblings who had argued that Margaret deserved nothing. There were late night talks over contesting the will until his grandmother herself had said that it wasn’t happening. His grandmother was the only one who would say her name afterwards, the rest of his family referring to her as either ‘her’, or in worse moods ‘hag’ and ‘spinster.’

He remembered Margaret as a sweet, shy, soft spoken woman who for the most part kept to herself, reading most of the time. She also knitted and sewed blankets and clothes, mainly for the children, as well as tending to the large garden out back, making preserves and pies from the fruit and vegetables grown. The presents of clothing and food she would shyly leave out on the porch, never knocking on the door. She had never set foot inside the main living areas of house either.

“When we were kids, we would make up scary stories about her. Pretend she was a witch, dare each other to sneak up to the cottage. We even broke in one time, went through her things.” He said, recalling the sudden thought aloud. His grandfather had been furious but Margaret had intervened, insisting that no harm had been done. He let out a hollow laugh at the memory, “Kids are so cruel, aren’t they?”

“I don’t think so. You didn’t intend to be cruel about her. For children it’s all about having fun, they don’t understand. It’s not the same.” Dana smiled at him; trying to be reassuring. “If there is one thing I’ve learnt in law school is that you have to try to prove intent for any criminal or civil offense.”

“Yeah, you’re right” He kissed her on the forehead before laying back down, wrapping his other arm around the front of her bare gip. “I don’t know; this is kind of weird for me. My Dad, I used to hate, still do sometimes. My grandad’s a hero of mine though. It feels strange, knowing this now.”

“So you don’t think he is anymore?” Dana suddenly felt nervous, unsure of where this was heading.

“No, he still is. He inspired me to become a photographer, you know. He was a photographer himself…” Andrew’s voice trailed off, deep in thought again.

“You never told me that.” Dana said, probing him to continue. She had never seen so many words spill from him.

“I’ve never really told anyone. He taught me how the camera worked, opening it apart and explaining everything. The basement was his dark room too. I remember watching those images appear out of nowhere in the bath of developer fluid. It seemed like magic, like an almost holy thing to do.”

Dana was silent, absently rubbing her hand back and forth across his forearm, waiting for him to continue.

“He used to always say ‘Every picture tells a story, Andrew. So remember your photo has to have a story worth telling!’ I feel like I’ve let him down when I remember that.”

“How have you let him down? I don’t understand.”

“Oh, if he saw my work today, he wouldn’t respect it. He used to tell me photography was so powerful, because through imagery we could change the course of lives and therefore the course of history. It can change how people think and perceive the world. You can debate with people about anything, use all the words and facts in the world but no one can argue with an image. Not even through the important stuff like wars and famines, but even through the everyday. I mean, that’s what I set out to do.” He thought of those famous photos his grandfather had shown him at exhibitions. Dorothy Lange and the great depression. The young naked girl running in Vietnam, screaming from the burning napalm. The Buddhist monk, who had set himself on fire in protest of the war. The vulture who had watched the hunched over Sudanese infant.

As if reading his mind, Dana said then “I remember when we first met, you told me how the guys from the Bang-bang club were your heroes.”

“You remember that?” Andrew smiled, touched.

“Yes and you did some amazing work back then, Andrew. The faces of AIDS series. And the other one, the New York street series” Dana said encouragingly. “I mean not to say your work isn’t amazing now but you became so acclaimed. And you weren’t even twenty. Don’t discredit everything you’ve done.”

“Yeah, and then what happened to me? I got caught up in all the hype. The exclusive club invites, and the attention from models who wanted to sleep with me. And the money. Now I take photos of dumb as fuck celebrities who have an opinion on everything. My granddad used to always say that it was important to die knowing you did something important rather than have lived a life doing nothing.”

“Don’t say your work isn’t anything, being an artist contributes something to the world too” Dana said. “And there’s no reason you can’t still do photo journalism. You could do both if you wanted.”

“I can’t. And you know why? Because I lived the life those photographers lived for a few years and I couldn’t do it. I used to think being this vagrant drifter was amazing but it got tiring. I lived with a lot of different people, slept with different women but even then, I felt like I was always alone and I couldn’t do it. I’m weak. I want comfort and an easy life and a family who I see every day.”

“Don’t be silly” Dana felt a flash of irritation. “You’re entitled to those things, everyone is. It doesn’t make you weak.”

“What about sleeping with you while I’m still with Ingrid? Doesn’t that make me weak?” His brow was furrowed, discontent evident in his face. “I’m ruining both of you. I can’t resist you and I’m too much of a coward to leave her. It makes me worse than weak. I’m a bad person, scum.”

Dana felt her body turn numb at his words, her heart sinking down to the pit of her stomach.

“Please don’t say that. You’re not bad, Andrew” Dana was almost pleading with him, her voice low. “You’re not a bad person at all, you’re just a person. Nothing else.”

“Yeah” Andrew replied, sounding unconvinced, his voice containing an edge of sarcasm. “Yeah, we all have faults, right?”

Dana sat up, moving away from the heat of his body. Goose bumps breaking out on her skin, she drew her knees to her chest, wrapped her arms around for warmth.

“What’s wrong?” Andrew sat up as well. “Dana, I wasn’t implying anything about you.”

“You don’t need to. I know it’s my fault. I don’t want you to be unhappy” She stared ahead as she spoke. Her voice contained no sign of emotion, the words sounding almost rehearsed. “I told you the day you wanted to go, I would let you. You just have to say the word.”

“Hey, wait. I never said I was unhappy” He moved near her, pried her arms away, trying to get her to turn towards him. “Come on, Dana. Look at me”.

Dana hated it when people said that to her. Look at me. It instantly rendered her incapable of doing so, her eyes focusing down or anywhere else but that person. But she forced her gaze up, looked him in the eye.

“Yes?” She asked stiffly. Her throat had closed up against her will.

“I didn’t mean you make me unhappy, I just feel guilty sometimes. I can’t help that.”

“I know that. I do too. I feel like I’ve put you in this position, almost against your will. I never wanted to make you feel miserable.”

“You don’t make me feel that way at all. It’s the opposite. I haven’t been this happy in a long time.” His tone was earnest, imploring. “Okay you’re right, I do feel unhappy sometimes. I feel guilt and I feel shame but it has nothing to do with you. You don’t make me feel those things. You make me feel…” He paused, searching for the word, “elated.”

Dana could feel her hopes rise at his words but she shook her head, “I don’t believe you”.

“It’s true” He insisted. “When I wake up, I feel excited. I feel so energetic. I want to tell strangers on the street about you, I bring your name up in conversations that have nothing to do with you at all. You’re the first thing on my mind when I wake up and the last thing when I go to bed. I never dream about you though. Maybe because you feel like a dream. Being with you…” He shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know what to say. You’re the best and the brightest thing to have happened to me. You’re like a shooting star, you’re amazing.”

Dana looked at him in amazement, unwilling and almost unable to believe. “Do you really mean that?”

“Of course I do. I can’t take this lightly. You’re in me now and I can’t get you out. I’m nervous for feeling like this. I know it’s almost too good to be true.”

“I know how you mean. I mean, I know how that feels” Dana’s face was burning a deep red, her words jumbling as she spoke. “For me, it’s like everything that’s ever happened to me has meant to lead me to you. And I’m glad. I feel like it was all worth it. Whatever happens after doesn’t matter. It’s still a happy ending.”

“We’re starting. We aren’t ending.”

“Are we?”

“I hope so. Who knows where this will go? I think about it a lot. About…” His voice began to falter, suddenly nervous at revealing these thoughts aloud. “About leaving Ingrid. About us being together as a couple.”

Dana pulled back, offended. “Don’t make promises like that, Andrew.”

“I’m not making promises” Andrew grabbed her hand in response, tugging her closer. “I’m trying to be honest. I’m not good at this. Nothing in my life is certain anymore. I lie all the time; you’re the only person I’m honest with. Even if we end, I can’t imagine it right now. I don’t want to”.

“Maybe you’ll get tired of me. You’ll start to resent this, resent me” Dana said. “Isn’t that what usually happens?”

“I could never resent you. No matter what happens. Even if we ended, I would miss you too much. It would be hard to see you knowing I can’t have you anymore.”

“You wouldn’t.” Dana replied. She moved forward onto his lap, resting her chin on his shoulder.

“That’s a shitty thing to say” He felt stung by that comment. “I mean it, I would miss you.”

“Not miss me. I know that. I meant see me” She tilted her head, began to kiss his shoulder, moving up his neck up to his ear lobe. “You wouldn’t see me anymore. Ever again.”

He frowned, puzzled. “Why not?”

Dana cupped his face in her hand and smiled, shook her head no. She closed her eyes and began to kiss his mouth, her body pushing into his. Despite the question still nagging him, he began to kiss her back, pulling her in response, sinking down onto the bed.

Afterwards as Andrew felt himself dozing off, he asked again. “Why wouldn’t I see you, Dana?”

“Because” Her eyes were closed as she spoke. “I wouldn’t be able to bear it. Because I would miss you too.”

UPDATE by Lililei

Hi everyone

I am sorry it has been so long! Just had massive stuff going on this year. I got a job that was nightmarish and then was fired due to illness. I was diagnosed with whooping cough a few montgs ago and after that was having extreme stomach pains that kept getting misdiagnosed. Finally found out I have cysts inside that require surgery so I have to go into hospital later this year. 

Just wanted everyone to know I haven't forgotten this site nor the stuff I am supposed to writing and especially all the wonderful stories on here I was reading. At the moment being ill, it's hard so while my stuff is on temporary hiatus, I will be back asap to finish this, I am working on parts of it slowly as well as working on new things as well.

So thought I should share, thank you to everyone for the wonderful reviews and support. 

This story archived at http://https://www.valentchamber.com/viewstory.php?sid=1882