***Warning: Some adult content***
The whisper of skin against silk, a quiet gasp, a soft sigh. I listened for what I couldn’t see. Darkness surrounded me. A familiar friend—one who visited me often. The one I looked forward to as the blackness covered me. The one whose silky touch was nothing but a figment of my imagination. Or so they said.
Every day, I watched the clock tick the seconds away. I willed the sun to move faster across the sky and lower behind the edges of the landscape. Waited for the last ray to wink out of existence and hide until the Earth made another rotation. I longed for the extended days of winter and loathed the shortened ones of summer. Evenings became my favorite time of the day and mornings the worst.
Tonight, I lay in my bed waiting, anticipating, hoping. One more visit, one more kiss, one more touch. I knew our time was limited—he reminded me each night. “Soon, but not yet.” The day would come. He would fade away for good. And I would be lost.
Sometimes the soft light from the cracked bathroom door filtered in, highlighting his muscular frame and dark skin. Other times, he told me to leave the lights off and to just feel. Feel every touch, every desire, every breath. Our passion, our heat, our love set the world afire, and I cherished every minute.
The dip of the bed alerted me to his presence. My heart thundered in my chest, its beats prophesying what was to come. Half the anticipation was this little dance we performed. It made the main event all the sweeter.
I jumped as a velvety touch trailed down my arm to my hand. The tenuous kiss across my knuckles sent a pulse of want through me. Cool lips followed a path back up my arm to my collarbone, my neck, my ear.
I couldn’t decide if this was the best part, or the worst. The teasing, the touching, the tasting. It all caused an ache that started in my belly and worked its way through my body.
The rustle of sheets, the slide of the material against me, the movement as the bed shifted, the faint smell of cologne. It all added to my heightened senses.
He continued his path of seduction. His whispered words of encouragement, trust and love stoked the flames higher until a blazing inferno exploded. Every. Single. Time.
My breathing slowed as I lay in his arms afterwards. He lazily traced a pattern up and down my arm, causing goosebumps to erupt along my skin. “Aiden—”
“No! Don’t say it!” The pulse of my heart predicting the searing heat earlier, now quivered in a frantic rhythm of panic.
He pulled me tighter against him and pressed a gentle kiss to my head. “It’s time. I have to go back. These last few months have been the best of my life. You’ve reminded me of what it means to live, to be happy. To love.”
A sob escaped as his words sank in. Fear, betrayal, anguish consumed me.
“We have tonight,” he promised as he stoked the fires once again replacing ugly with beautiful, sorrow with pleasure, misery with love.
He warned me. I didn’t want to believe him. The mirage of the darkness we wrapped ourselves in kept the world at bay. Time slowed, and for a few hours, I could pretend I was someone else. Somewhere else. Loving, being loved.
The thoughts of going back to the way things were caused a bubble of despair to rise from the pit in my center and force its way through every cell in my body. I tamped it all down. There would be plenty of time later to fall apart. We have tonight.
I tried to stay awake. Tried to treasure each moment. Tried to burn every second into my brain so I could call them forth later when the darkness surrounded me again. And there was no Phoenix.
We often laughed about his name. The mythical bird that rose from the ashes, born again with the flames and into the sun. He had it backwards. He appeared as the light of day faded away, and the moon kissed the horizon. When shadows emerged—twilight, dusk, the gloaming hour.
But when the first soft ray of light swept across the bed and touched my cheek, I knew he was gone. The void in my soul he filled, now lay open—barren and empty.
I lost track of time. Hours turned into days. Days into weeks. Weeks into months. I still rushed home. Still cut the lights and sat in the darkness. Still waited, anticipated, hoped. Nothing. No teasing touches. No soft kisses. No whispered words.
I dragged myself out of bed like it was any other day. Took a shower. Brushed my teeth. Ate cereal. Went to work. Put on the mask I wore—the smiling man whose world was right and perfect—the man underneath nothing but an empty shell.
When the weekend rolled around, I made a mental list of all the things I needed to do but had no energy to complete. Buy groceries. Do laundry. Take out the trash.
I longed for the darkness. Longed for the quiet of the night. Longed for his touch, his kiss. Longed for the way he made me feel alive. But the world moved along as if my heart hadn’t shattered into a million pieces, its shards forever bleeding the life out of me.
Today I would get up. Today I would move on. Today I would breathe.
The sun shone high in the sky, nearly blinding me when I stepped outside, and I shielded my eyes against the onslaught. The newspapers gathered on the porch. The mail overflowed the mailbox. The lawn overgrew the sidewalk. All these things reminded me I’d been absent. But I couldn’t muster up the strength to care. I continued down the street, ignoring my duties.
Caught up in my self-flagellation, I didn’t notice the person in front of me stop abruptly, and I ran into the back of him.
“Oh! I’m sorry.”
“No worries. It was my fault for stopping in the middle of the sidewalk.”
I’d know his voice anywhere. The voice that whispered words of love, words of happiness, words of lust. The voice that spilled hopes, dreams, fears. The voice that haunted me, forever burned in my memory.
When he turned, the body was all wrong. It wasn’t the darkness of his skin, his hair, his eyes. This body bore the golden shades of light. Light skin, light hair, light eyes. All of it reflecting the sun instead of blending with the shadows.
He caught my arm when I started to fall. “Phoenix?” I gasped.
His eyes roamed my face. “How do you know my name? Do I know you? You seem familiar.”
“I…” What could I say? I love you. I miss you. I want you. Why did you leave?
He stared at me with a glint of concern in his eyes. “Are you okay? Maybe you need to sit down.” He pulled me to the outdoor seating area at a cafe. “Here. Let me get you some water.”
I grabbed his hand as he turned. “No! Please don’t go again.” Hold me, touch me, kiss me.
He sat next to me and wrapped an arm around me. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m here now.”
His touch, his smell, his skin. All familiar, yet different in the light of day.
“You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
He continued rubbing soothing strokes up and down my arm, and I took a deep breath. “Aiden.”
He stopped his movement. Please don’t stop. “Aiden…are you sure we haven’t met before? I feel like I should know you.”
“Maybe in another lifetime.” My whispered words were carried away like a dandelion seed on a windy day.
He looked down at me, a blush staining his cheeks. “Listen, I’ve got an appointment I need to get to. And I know this is awkward, but would you have dinner with me tonight?”
My heart picked up its fluttering rhythm. A rhythm of want, hope, desire. Love. “Yes.”
We exchanged numbers, and as I watched him walk away, the darkness faded. It all became clear. As sure as the sun rose high in the sky, as sure as the moon illuminated the night, as sure as the world rotated on its axis, he was never supposed to be in the dark. He was always meant to be in the light.