~ A Way Apart ~

It wasn't late, the sun having just fallen low and heavy, leaving the sky scorched and the red-orange stain on the fields, the driveway, the cars.

He'd missed seeing her, missed the cadence of their silent conversations. He'd wondered if she'd found someone else to hone her charms on, but no, he would have heard.

And then summer had struck and a bitter woman had returned from the city - alone and with the urge to evict the leasees and give him back his view.

A few weeks ago he'd carried 113 boxes up the same worn stairs she sat on now, bored and killing time, one hand lifting her sweat-damp hair and holding it on top of her head for a moment before letting it fall again.

The air was cooling, her lungs drawing in the soothing humidity of dusk. Her tongue licked dry lips and she sighed, eyes closed and feet shuffling, just touching the grass as she dangled her legs over the side of the stairs.

Shadows melded together in the failing light around her, leaving her to the dim pool of color that shone on her hair and cheeks and nose. Her chest rose with a deep breath, one strand of long, dark satin falling down to hang by her elbow and she brushed at it absently, crinkling her nose at the tickle.

He watched her daily, intently, wrapping himself in the raw, real emotions that she thought she was hiding. She'd always been like that, so open and obvious, even when she was lying. He knew her secrets by the way she tried to hide them, knew her body by the curves pushing under the fabric of her wardrobe.

One time, just once, she'd worn something ethereal and filmy, thin enough to see the stars through, if he'd been inside looking out.

He couldn't hold her indiscretions against her - his life was a farce, too. He'd never meant for it to be this way, but it wasn't his choice to make. Adoration, hatred, resentment, lies clung to him, the necessary buffer between him and the world growing thicker the harder he tried to tear it away.

The ice in her glass shifted and her eyes slitted open. He turned his head as a smile spread on her lips, the one that she saved just for him, for nights like this.

He traced his fingertips along the wooden door of the shed, hoping she wouldn't notice that the lock clattered in his unsteady hand as he clicked it closed.

Cloth in hand, he crossed the yard and crouched down, making a show of examining some chrome on his father's - no his now - his motorcycle as she stood and stretched. They were both good at this, both so practiced and schooled at it that it came naturally.

Her arms reached high above her head and the tail of her tank top lifted, baring a line of toned, tan flesh under the scalloped edge of black cloth.

He licked his thumb, swiping it across the nameplate on the bike, metal shining once again.

It had been a long time.

They'd never exchanged a real kiss, never a slow, genuine, two-sided embrace, and he regretted that now, regretted the long months of watching her wait for him, watching her finally resign herself to whatever distraction she could find.

Boys that meant nothing, clubs that fell short of holding her attention, work that made her too old, too fast.

She sped wherever she went, tires screaming her impatience, hair wild with the windows down, mouth always smiling. And he always frowned at the curved lips, her eyes salty sour, dull above the strawberry smiles.

He shook his head at her and the soft peal of her laughter carried across the yard to him. She turned to go inside and he whispered to her, just as he did every time. "I'm sorry."

She never heard him, not once in the months since he'd began that penance, but this time she turned, a questioning look on her face, then swallowed hard and dropped her keys with a crash on the wooden boards beneath her feet.

He stood and walked to the edge of his yard, pausing there before steeling his nerve and continuing towards her, closing the space between them.

She wasn't moving, wasn't meeting him halfway, but he knew she wouldn't pull away once he reached her, not now.

He caught her elbow in his palm and she looked up at him, weighing his features, eyes on the details of him, the ones she hadn't been able to see from the distance that was always there, separating them.

He pulled gently on her arm, urging her toward his house. He fell into step beside her and his hand slid down her forearm. Their knuckles brushed and he tucked his hands into his pockets as they walked across her lawn and onto his with barely an upward glance.

She stopped next to the motorcycle and he saw her looking at him, but he kept his eyes on the bike.

Her delicate fingers slid over the leather seat, feeling the seams in the leather that he knew like the back of his hand. Her touch, there. And up, along the slick gloss of black, the gentle curves of chrome. "Is it new?"

He'd just had it repainted, but she didn't know that. How could she? She wasn't the one who knew everything. "No, it's dad's old one. For my birthday..."

The words lost all meaning as he spoke them; he didn't want to fill this time with idle conversation, not when he knew what was coming. It seemed so... not enough. Even to him.

His hands found her waist and her hands covered his as he lifted her. She swung her leg over and smiled at him, her fingers curling over the metal bars behind her as she wriggled just a little into the fitted groove at the back.

Before he could lose her, he stepped over the bike and eased it back, glancing down to make sure she was willing.

Her tip-toes lifted from the ground and she found her footrests like she knew the bike by heart, and maybe she was a natural, but he didn't think so. Her thighs flexed against his as he slid back and started the bike, pausing there, holding the moment just a little too long, long enough to remember the press of more solid, stronger thighs against his own.

The bike vibrated beneath him, shook them gently together as he drove over the roots of the tree in his yard, then down his gravel drive to the street. They could go fast now if they wanted, and he did, but she was behind him, out of his sight, one section of her hair flipping in the air beside them. He couldn't see her, couldn't read her.

But he knew.

She was waiting for him, hope grazing his ear as she whispered under the wind. "I'm nervous."

Some ancient misunderstood, misdirected desire spread guiltily on his face, and he knew she couldn't see it, didn't understand that she'd just been an excuse, a cover.

A lie.

So he reached slowly back with one hand, catching her fingers in his own and guiding them forward, around his hip. He couldn't turn, couldn't speak. He'd never be able to find the words to tell her, not like this. Her thumb slipped into his belt loop and fingertips dug gently into the deep crease of denim at the top of his thigh.

He revved the bike because he always had when she was out, when he was showing off for her, lying silently to her, to himself. She didn't flinch at the roar of the engine like other girls; he'd thought maybe she would.

His body heated with the press of her along his back and he closed his eyes and shoved down the false desire as they pulled to a stop at the end of the street.

Someone else leaned into him like that too, when no one was looking.

She was warm against him, even through their clothes. Even with the dusky air cool and sharp as he sped up. He stopped fighting to pretend she wasn't herself and willed his body take over, forced his mind to find *her* behind him, let his senses fill with her soft, floral scene, her delicate touch, with every point of contact between them. The outside of his thighs, the inside of hers, his ass against an empty crotch, his back flattening close-pressing breasts, her cheek lying hot against his shoulder.

At the next light, he turned and her hands slid up in a tight hug around his belly.

The night blurred around them, the world shrinking to the sound of the bike between their legs, the rhythm of the tires on new pavement, the closeness that seemed too raw for them, after all these days and nights of distance.

He pulled onto the dirt drive at a crawl because she was wearing shorts.

His legs stretched to the sides in a standing straddle and he held the bike on and purring under them for a long moment before he decided. It was dark enough, silent enough here. No one would see, and she would never have to be embarrassed. Whatever her reaction, it would be theirs alone.

He turned off the bike and climbed off, standing close beside it and her.

Chin raised, she looked around, lost in the rustling of the stalks, in the nature sounds that clicked and chirped and sang to them, spoke for them. Her hands rested on her thighs and he watched her realize why he'd brought her here. Why any guy would bring her to a clearing in a field in the dark.

He shook his head slightly and straddled the bike again, this time facing her, fists on the seat between them for balance. For distance.

He made no move to touch her, but the back of her hand brushed lightly down his cheek and her fingers slid around his neck.

He closed his eyes, knowing what was next, knowing that this was a move he needed her to make and that she would; she had nothing to lose now.

But he did.

Her lips touched his gently, tentatively for just a second before pressing harder, the wet slide of her tongue on his lower lip urging his mouth open unabashedly. He tasted her, real and uninterrupted inside his mouth and he jerked away at the intensity, at the temptation to slide into the role he'd been groomed for, but could never play.

His fingers wrapped around her wrist and she released him, mouth wide with realization. She sank back away from him, head shaking slightly in denial. "It's true then."

He opened his arms, helpless in his own trappings. "Lana, I'm sorry."

She fell in on herself, her soul ducking its head and her eyes closing.

She shrank, so small and more fragile than he'd ever seen her. He pulled her into the curve of his chest, arms enfolding her shaking shoulders, holding her slip of a body so tightly that when her grief rose and spilled, spreading wet against his neck, he felt an ache tighten in his own chest, too.

He kissed her hair and whispered to her, words he was sure she didn't hear. It didn't matter, they were better than words, better without them.

Tomorrow, tonight would never have happened, because that's what she'd want.

It would be easy. They'd have different loves, cultivate new dependencies. And they'd both pretend that he hadn't been the only one who ever really knew her.



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