Ten years, six months, and 15 hours. That’s how long since my mom and dad died. Marissa stared at the photo of her mom, a beautiful, regally clad opera singer, and her father, an orchestra conductor and the proud husband to Mica Engles. Her heart skipped a couple beats as she eyeballed the image and then resumed its steady cadence. The pain in her chest was muted, but still present, like a wound healed over and over until a grizzled scar muffled the noise of sorrow.
Her eyes wandered to the photo of her staid, conservative aunt, staring back at her with endless reservation and regret. Ten years, five months, 29 days since my world got dark. Her gaze slid around the room of her cozy studio. Seven years since I moved out of my aunt’s dreary world. She scoffed and swept both hands forcefully through the air, brushing away the memory. Her dog, Sober Dober, lifted his head from slumber, eyed her, then settled back to sleep.
Marissa picked up a palette knife, scooped some gesso from the plastic container and swiped it across the canvas before her. Twenty-six years to the day since I bloomed though my mama’s legs, a bloody, vernix-covered animal coaxed into the world through mom’s passionate, panting moans and sweat-soaked, exhausted effort. She spread the creamy white mixture of pigment and rabbit-skin glue along the rough canvas. With her fingertip, she scraped a message into the thick gooey pigmentation. Happy Birthday, Marissa Engles. This year you’re going to change. She scratched a bold exclamation point into the gesso and stabbed it three times with her blunt fingernail for emphasis. Her palm swept through the velvety paste and wiped out the message, swishing back and forth with messy impatience. She wiped her hand off on the terrycloth towel tucked in the waistband of her skirt.
She glanced at another photo sitting on the beat up pine shelf against the wall. A tan, lean muscled man with curly blond hair stood poised on a surfboard, hanging in a curl in a giant, Hawaiian ocean wave. One year since I started dating Jason Brown. She sighed. They’d met at a Tantra workshop, an odd spiritual practice that encouraged enlightenment through sexual mastery and practices. Jason was really into it, claiming to be a fourth level Cobra breath practitioner, whatever the heck that was, and being groomed to teach. She’d gone to the workshop on a dare from a friend and had no real interest in it. Two months since I started thinking of moving on. She picked up a scrap of paper from the windowsill, placed it in her palm, and studied it. “Listen Sober. Wants in a new boyfriend,” she read out loud to the sleeping Doberman in the corner, tracing the words in the air. The outline of words hung for an instant as if she’d traced them with a sparkler. Her eyelids fluttered over her eyes, and she wiped them with her gesso stained hand. I should have eaten lunch.
Her eyes scanned the scribbles and adjoining stars that emphasized the ones she deemed most important. She closed her fingers slowly and deliberately over the paper. First, the index finger.
“Intensity,” she whispered. Her dog didn’t stir a bit. “Passion.” Her middle finger closed next, creating a small strain in the muscles of her forearm. “Commitment.” The ring finger moved into position. “Sexy, sexy, sexy.” Her pinky joined the others. She squeezed her eyes shut. And a wild card – something exciting. She bent her thumb over the fingers and crushed the paper in her fist.
A delivery truck’s wheels crackled over her graveled driveway, and she leaned toward the window to look. The driver leapt from the side.
Marissa slid open the glass pane to the clear blue, late afternoon, windswept sky. “Martin, hi!” she called down automatically.
“Not Martin, sorry,” the voice called up to her as the man disappeared behind the van.
She slid out of view and waited for him to reappear, watching stealthily through a slit in the colorful blue and orange curtain, clutching the crumpled note in her fist.
He reappeared from behind the van and stood, looking expectantly at the window.
Her fingers released the desire infused paper, and it drifted to the floor. Like you. She stood, frozen, momentarily gobsmacked by the sight of him. Oh, yeah…you’ll do nicely.
He looked to be about 6’1”, with warm brown skin and thick, straight, shiny brown hair, hanging down to jaw level. She imagined his eyes were a rich, dark brown, like her favorite 86% Cacao dark chocolate. He wore a lightweight, brown, long-sleeved sweater and expensive looking brown corduroy pants. A dusting of dark hair peered over the top of his collar, as if straining to see. The attire was casual, comfortable, and non-descript. She squinted through the curtain opening. Some delivery man’s attire. Martin always wore the standard issue crisp, beige, short-sleeved shirt with Organic Universe emblazed on the back. The guy below was dressed way too upscale for a delivery man.
His shoes gave his wealth away. The dark brown leather gleamed and winked at her as if hinting at his financial status. The double buckle, monk-style boot was polished to a sparkle. She cocked her head and caught a glimpse of the supple shaft of this guy’s boot. Made of woven leather, it hung around his ankle like a shrug of casual indifference, as if it was his lover’s hand resting in relaxation. Fratelli Rossetti, she thought. Expensive Italian boots for expensive men. She’d done an ad layout for Rossetti boots just last week. The price tag on those babies was not for the faint of heart.
Her eyes caught the gold wrist watch encircling his wrist. Movado, she thought. A smile played at her lips as she studied him.
When she didn’t move into view, he crouched down and placed the box on the concrete. He held his right hand above the produce and slowly moved it back and forth.
Marissa squinted. Is that a cloud of weird purple fog beneath his hand? She blinked and the fog disappeared. She rubbed her forehead, picturing her uneaten sandwich in her desk drawer at work.
His fingers were long, the nails manicured. Gleaming gold rings winked from the index and middle finger. She imagined those fingers tracing a complex pattern down her back, and she shivered. A breeze blew through the window, ruffling the curtain and tossing her long, curly brown hair around her cheeks in playful, tickling wisps.
“See something that pleases you?” he called.
His voice caught her by surprise. An exclamation leapt from her lips. “Oh! I apologize. I was gawking. Please forgive me. I’ll be right down.”
She opened her studio door, trotted down the steps that lead to the garage, and punched the big garage door button with her fist. The maw to the garage sprang to life, opening wide. She strode out into the bright afternoon, coming face to face with the most gorgeous man she’d ever laid eyes on.
He extended the box to her, capturing her with piercing blue, blue eyes, rimmed with an even darker blue. They pinned her in place like a moth’s wings pressed to the window by a thumb. I want to melt into those eyes and reemerge in his bloodstream. I want to swim through his pulsing veins.
“Well…?” he said.
His voice landed rich and sonorous in her ears like she lazed on a beach at the Sea of Cortez and the sun blew hot kisses all over the tunnel of her ear canal. “Well?” she echoed, uncertain what he was asking. She looked down at her hands – they gripped the wooden slats of the box. She released her grip, and the box fell to the ground, just missing her red tennis shoes, landing with a crack. The produce appeared to jump in alarm and then settle back into position, safe. Four, blackened, finger-sized scorch marks appeared on the slats on each side where her she’d been gripping the box. She blinked, looked at her hands, looked at the box, back to her hands, and shook her head like a rattle. The scorch marks vanished. Make a note – tomorrow – eat your lunch.
“I asked if you saw something that pleases you,” he said with a mischievous smile.
“Yes. I mean, no. I’m simply being rude. Marissa Engles,” she said, wiping her damp palm off on her short skirt before extending it to him. “Again, forgive me.”
“Enchanted. And no apology necessary.” He took her hand.
An electric shock sizzled through her fingertips, and she quickly snatched her hand back. “Oh!” She gave her hand a quick shake. “Must be static electricity in the air. It’s a bit windy outside.”
He gave an easy laugh and nodded. “Yes, that must be it,” he agreed.
“You’re not Martin.”
“I sure hope not.” He looked down and patted his chest and flat abdomen. “Nope, still me here.”
“And you’re not dressed in a uniform.”
Again he regarded his clothes. “No, gosh, I’m not.”
“You’re mocking me.”
“What happened to Martin?”
“He’s a friend. He asked for the day off. They wouldn’t give it to him. We conspired.” He winked at her.
I can’t tell if he’s telling the truth. “That sounds fishy.”
“Would I lie?”
“I have no idea.” She pointed at the box of produce. “What were you doing there? With your hand, I mean? It looked like…” She pushed her hair back from her forehead, biting back the question. Purple fog. Right.
“This hand?” he asked, lifting his right hand, tilting it away from his face. “Or this one?” He lifted his left hand, in the same palm up gesture.
A giggle escaped her lips.
“Do I amuse you?” he asked, with that same, playful smile splitting his face. He wrapped his left arm around his middle and used it to prop the right one. His right hand cupped his jaw, assessing her. He lowered his eyelids slightly and stroked the long stubble underneath his full lips, regarding her intently.
“Oh, no,” she answered. “I’m sorry. I’m an artist. Constantly shaping things in my mind. I’ve got a warped sense of humor, too. You reminded me of a game show host or something. Or Alfred E. Neuman on the cover of Mad Magazine. What, me worry? That’s what he says. Alfred E. Neuman, I mean.” She clamped her mouth shut and pressed her fingers to her lips. “I’m sorry. I’m babbling. I’m not usually like this.”
“Like what, so capricious?” he asked. He turned his head slightly and studied her. “But really…a game show host? Is that how I seem? A cartoon? I’m none of those, I can assure you.” He shook his head disapprovingly and dropped his eyes to the crate of herbaceous edibles.
Her whole body relaxed, as if he had let go her wings. She didn’t know whether to flutter away or work her way intently up and down the delightful eyeful before her. She dropped her gaze, mimicking his, landing on the sugar snap peas, carrots, fruit, and leafy greens. “It’s not what you think. It’s just that…never mind. Anyway, your hand…the hand that moved over these vegetables. What were you doing?”
“Ah,” he said knowingly, a half-smile forming on his face. “This hand.” He raised it to chest level, and her eyes tracked its movement, as if it were a pocket watch held by a magician in an attempt to hypnotize her. “Nothing. It’s nothing.”
I want to be touched by that hand. “It looked like something.” I want that hand to excite me in new ways.
“I was just…I like to imagine that I can influence the world around me. It’s sort of a game.”
“Ah,” she said, repeating the word he had used. “And?” I want that hand to caress me, to smooth away my sorrow, to lift me from my isolation. I want the man attached to the hand.
“And what?” he said, lifting his hand higher.
Her gaze tracked his hand as if he guided a puppet string attached to her eyes. Her back stiffened slightly as she secured her point of focus on the beckoning blue orbs. A single word lolled in her head, like a leaf on a lazy river. Want. The word balanced on her lips, drawing them apart as she regarded his eyes. “And what did you discover?”
Not taking his eyes away from hers, he answered. “Just now?”
“Yes,” she breathed.
“I think I discovered something rare.”
“What do you think it is?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “But I sure want to find out.”
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Genre – Romantic Suspense / Thriller
Rating – R