He watches her. He doesn’t think he’s taken his eyes off her since she walked into the bar, save for the few times to look at his drink and order anew. He didn’t want to look like a creep.
But something about her was different. In this refined yet run down bar, the usual residents sit over their vodka martinis, while a jazz musician plays a lazy, sleepy saxophone tune, she lit up the space. In amongst the worn red carpets and stale smell of cigarette smoke, her bright smile as she orders a drink from the bartender makes his insides turn soft.
He orders another drink and took a sip. He even thinks about sending a drink along to her, but decides against it. He doesn’t want to frighten her off. Instead, he watches from the corner of his eye, glancing over her bright cardigan and flowery tea dress. Her cheeks a rosy flush, she glances all over at the decor and its clientele, lifeless shells reminiscing about the ‘good times’, when her eyes finally land on him.
Like a rabbit in headlights, her doe eyes widen. A deeper flush dances over those cheeks and her eyes dart back to her drink. He insides soften even more. She’s adorable. It was that shyness that drew out the protective side in him. As time goes on, the more he feels that tug inside him. To wrap his arms around her and tell her he’ll look after her, that she was safe with him. Gulping down the last of his drink, he looks back over, to find she’s gone.
Perhaps he was imagining her. A mere figment of his imagination. Resigned to another lonely night in this bar, he heaves a heavy sigh.
He looks up, and there she is. Lovely and blushing with a glass of water in her hand those wide eyes staring shy and innocent up at him.
‘I can leave you be, if you like. But I saw you across the bar and…and I wondered if – if I could buy you a drink?’
He’s surprised. It’s been years since a woman’s offered to buy him a drink. Usually it was him that made the first move. His stomach softens yet again. It must have taken some guts for her to come over and ask. He smiles.
They talk and little by little, he gets to know her. She’s as sweet as he thought she’d be, bashfully tucking a strand of hair behind her ear as she speaks. They talk for a good while before the regulars start to seep inside for their evening meal. Amongst the lazy chatter, she shuffles a little closer. Instinctively, his arm drapes around the back of her stool. She smells of flowers, light and fresh. Just like from across the bar, her smile lights him up inside.
They don’t want the evening to end, so he takes her for a walk in the park. Arm linked in his, she gazes up at the city lights illuminating the leaves of the trees in silver and gold, wide and curious. A saxophone plays in the distance, a trumpet its sensual companion. He offers his hand and they dance and laugh as leaves crunch under their shoes. She nestles into his shoulder. He holds her dainty hand against his chest as they sway along to the music. Underneath the cover of a city that never sleeps, their lips gently press against the other’s.
They’re so soft and tender, he thinks, as he cups the back of her head in his hand. She clings to his shoulders, a soft moan vibrating against his lips. Trailing kisses over her cheeks, his hold tightens around her, her frame arching into him.
They see each other again, and again, and again. Talking, laughing, kissing. Growing closer. He feels that cord of communion strengthening between them. Under dim light in his tiny apartment, she sits atop him on the couch as their tongues explore their mouths. Their bodies buzz, their kisses growing more urgent, their need for the other becoming more desperate, when she flinches.
‘Wait!’ she breathes, squirming from his embrace. He lets her go.
‘Are you ok?’ he asks, brushing a thumb over her cheek. ‘Did I do something wrong?’
‘No, no -‘ She shakes her head. ‘It’s just…I’m not the type to – to jump straight into bed, you know?’
She looks down at the carpet, ashamed almost.
‘Hey… Hey, come here…’
Pulling her into his arms, his chest swells, nuzzling her hair. She straightens up, wiping a tear away.
‘I – I was hurt. An old boyfriend – he hurt me – a lot – with his words… I’m sorry – I -‘
‘Hey. Shhh, it’s OK…I’m sorry…’
He rocks them side to side, kissing her temple. He knew. He saw the many nights she sobbed into her pillow because of bastards who thought they could take advantage of her kindness, dropping her like a hot potato when they couldn’t get what they wanted from her. They never loved her. They loved an idea, a potential conquest, not the woman herself amongst the layers of their selfish desire.
Anger bubbles in his veins at the mere thought of their silver-tongued words. He wanted to step in. He wanted so desperately to guide her away from them, to spare her the pain, but he couldn’t. It was against the rules. He couldn’t interfere or even speak to her, unless she came to him. He brushes her tears away, tasting their saltiness on his lips as he kisses her eyelids. A stone of regret sits heavy in the pit of his stomach. He never wanted to hurt her.
‘I’ll never do anything you don’t want,’ he says. Her eyes soften as she nods. ‘I promise.’
It was a promise he kept since he was sent, and would intend to keep for as long as he drew breath. All night he holds her close, her head tucked under his chin. As the weeks go by, their fondness grows and her anxieties wane. She’s more at ease, so bright and full of life. It restores the emptiness he’s felt in him for so long.
One sepia-skied autumn night, after another evening relaxed by the TV, she silently takes his hand and leads him to the bedroom. He surrenders to her kisses, layer after layer of clothing slowly falling to the ground. Skin caressing skin, they lose themselves in touch and taste. Two souls entwining, she makes tender love to him. He loves her slowly, passionately, watching her pretty face scrunch and relax while she clutches at his shoulders, fingers running over the sensitive scars between his shoulder blades. Those dainty, loving traces a healing touch. She was the light to his darkness.
Naked limbs entangled in the sheets, he watches the moon reflect off the rooftops as she sleeps in his arms. His shoulder blades itch, but he doesn’t move to scratch them. Little by little, the familiar scratch against his skin niggles, building, scratching harder, until the skin breaks. A smile pulls at his kiss-bruised lips, a tear trailing over the bridge of his nose on to the pillow.
Out they stretch into the darkness, quiet, yet proud. What was once two charred, blackened stumps, now a flock of delicate feathers, two wings that wrap serene around him and his love. Now, her soft frame in his big arms, gifting him her heart, and the life he now saw that would grow inside her, he vowed again: It was a promise he kept since he was sent, and would intend to keep for as long as he drew breath.
*Image credit – The Love Plummet by George Avdoulos