A Place for Everything
Never in New York.
He may even have used those words once, back in the beginning. Back before my life really began. But it wasn't necessary. It was simply understood. We both knew. Rules of the game. The smart thing to do.
It works, so how can I complain? We're rarely there more than two or three days at a time, a week at most. And if, during those days, that week, I thrash in my sheets like a fever victim, hollow-eyed from chasing sleep, who is the wiser? If caged longing breeds an ache in me like an open wound, if loneliness seeps through me like a melancholy poison, what does it signify? I merely stumble naked to the open window and press my forehead against the cool pane, gulping polluted air, the discordant hum of the city the background to my unravelling.
In these days, I must exercise more than usual caution. I must not look too long. I must not touch. I must not let him touch. For I am like a branch in the season of forest fires, tinder dry.
And now, twelve whole days stuck in New York. Twelve days, nine hours and fourteen minutes since the last time. Since Agra, where he collapsed in my arms, damp and shaking, quenching as a monsoon and exotic as the perfumed night. Where I kissed the lids of his eyes and begged silently for his heart, and gorged my senses upon him and tried to drink his soul.
Trouble followed us home and refused to leave and now here we are, staking it in its den. Even with the windows rolled down, the interior of the car is stifling, unbearable. We haven't spoken for an hour. His nearness makes the ache inside me flare and throb. My heart longs to press him to me and I'm filled with a terrible, nameless hunger. I am starving to death. Does he even care? Doesn't he feel it too?
With dread and longing, I reach out and lay my hand upon his tailored thigh, slowly, gradually letting my fingers slide to the warm inside curve, and squeeze gently, once. I leave it there, leaden and still, not daring to move one fingertip more. The silence is overpowering. My mouth is dry and I can feel my heart beating in my lips. I might have done this to him a hundred times before, but never here. Never in New York. With a curt word, a callous gesture, he can bring down the sky upon me. Or he can crush me with silence. The blood pounds in my ears. At this moment I fear being repulsed by him more than I fear death.
His hand covers my own, then removes it gently from its resting place. For a moment my heart shudders and fails. Then he threads his fingers through mine, and our joined hands rest together on his thigh, his thumb tenderly stroking my knuckles.
He murmurs softly, like silk. 'When the mission is over. Alright?'
The tightness in my chest releases. I'm flooded with gratitude. He understands. Acquiesces. We'll be together soon, even if we're in New York when the mission ends. It's dangerous, yes, but risk, after all, is who we are.
I let the passion in my fingertips reply. The ache is bad but I can wait now.
Yet somehow, I can't let go immediately. And so we sit for several minutes, our fingers entwined, his thumb tracing arcane patterns on the back of my hand, while we both stare fixedly through the windshield, across the haze and shimmer of a New York summer afternoon.
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