by Karen Wood
It was a night like a thousand others. She walked home in the dark. Alone. Something she warned other women time and time again not to do. She wasnt sure why she made it her ritual. Maybe it was a test to see if she could do it, to see if she could survive. Or maybe she did it to show herself and the world that she wasnt anyones victim. Daring the world to try to make her one. Or maybe it had nothing to do with bravado and everything to do with loneliness. Walking down the deserted sidewalk had a way of making her feel it more profoundly had a way of making her realize her painfully sharp solitude.
Her healed penny loafers made a sharp clicking noise as she walked with a purpose she didnt feel, her hand in her pocket close to her gun, her eyes always on surveillance. But she felt him first rather than saw him. Which was no surprise since he wore his customary black on black to match his brooding. And then he was there, standing in front of her, stopping her progress.
Hi, she said.
Hi, he replied.
And then they stared at each other. Each wondering if the meeting was by chance or by choice. Curious if theyd been tracked by the other like one of their perps or victims but not curious enough to ask.
I was thinking about you, he said finally, breaking the silence with an admission that wasnt. Words that she knew could mean anything or nothing because of who was saying them.
She willed herself to be sarcastic, to be biting or cold, just to show she didnt care that he was there, to show she didnt care that hed been thinking of her, to prove she was who the world thought she was. A cold bitch with an attitude and no heart. But no words came and instead, for just a moment, her eyes welled with tears.
She regained control before they could spill to her cheeks and tried to brush past him. But he had seen.
Kate, he said in a whisper as he reached out to grasp her forearm and turn her to him.
What, she said rather than asked.
He looked down at her and she tried to read his eyes. Concern? Caring? Puzzlement? Sympathy? All of the above? Or none? She couldnt tell which made her unbelievably sad. And scared.
As her mind raced and heart beat faster, he reached out and touched her face. He slowly trailed his bloodless hand down her cheek and over her jaw before reaching back to cup her neck. And she flinched from the cold of his skin.
He recoiled at her involuntary movement, a look of awful recognition passing over his face. She could tell by the fleeting look that hed misunderstood. That he thought her bodys small jerk was one of disgust rather than a what it was; a physical reaction of cold skin on warm.
Before she could speak, he was gone.
* * *
Kate threw open the door to her apartment and rushed inside. Gasping for breath. She had run the few blocks left to her home. Hoping to get inside before breaking down, hoping no one saw her in her weakened state. No one did.
Door closed behind her, she started toward the bathroom. Stripping clothes as she went. Letting them remain on the floor where they fell. Tearless sobs ripped through her as she reached the shower and stepped in. She turned the water on full force and stood underneath the strong spray, turning it as hot as she could stand. She needed the heat wanted the heat to take away the cold of his hand. She scrubbed the side of her face and her forearm where she could still feel his touch. And turned the water hotter when she cold still feel the cold radiating from her.
* * *
She was curled up on the couch wrapped in her robe when the knock came.
Out of habit more than anything else she looked through the peephole before opening the door. Her breathing shallowed as her eyes confirmed what her heart already new. It was Angel.
She opened the door and stood looking at him. Wanting to explain what had happened but not knowing how.
Hi, he said.
Hi, she said.
It was a start.
I cant he said then stopped when he remembered another door and another time when he needed an invitation but was given none. By the look on her face he knew she remembered as well and stumbled to change the subject.
Im sorry Kate, I dont know I should never have touched you, he said.
She looked at him for a minute, then reached out her hand and took his. A wordless invitation, but an invitation nonetheless. They stood just inside the door, neither knowing what to do or what to say, until she broke the silence.
Touch me? she said, letting her robe fall slightly open in another invitation, readying herself for the coolness. I want you to touch me Angel.
And he did. Reaching both hands out to caress the hollow of her throat and her collarbone before letting them trail down to her breasts. His hands stung at the heat of her and it was his turn to flinch and draw away.
I cant Kate, I just cant. he said before turning toward the door.
Im not asking you to love me Angel, she said as her hand reached out to push the door shut in front of him. Im not that naive or stupid or full of myself to think you love me.
I just want to be touched. I want to be close to you, she continued, trying desperately to stem the feelings of hurt and anger she could feel trying to break free, finally falling back on her usual coldness to try to prove to both of them that what she was saying was true. Its just sex Angel, its no big deal.
He turned at her words and looked at her. What if its not, Kate? What if wed be making love?
She looked at him, shocked at the implications. Not breathing. Not moving. Then slowly, without another word, she turned and walked away. She was barely aware of the sound of the door closing behind him as he left.
Kate moved toward the bathroom, not knowing how, but losing her robe as she went. She stepped into the shower and reached for the knob, turning the controls as cold as she could this time. Closing her eyes she raised her face to the water, letting it wash over her and envelop her in its harsh spray, trying to feel his touch on her body.
And then she was shaking. From the cold.