She leaned against the window, her cheek touching the cold glass where hundreds of little raindrops chased each other down to the ledge. Fat droplets backlit by streetlights glittered silvery, mercury. Their shadows on her face slithered down too, mirroring their counterparts' progress down the glass. Grey-black snakes, tearing down her profile, absorbed by the black shirt she wore. Her eyes stared unseeing out into the empty night.
Today. Samhain. Here it was, the time when the membrane between this world and that one was the thinnest, when they could slip through and be together again. Maybe. If she was lucky.
The phone beeped softly. She looked at it and frowned. She wasn't expecting any calls. This was her time. Nevertheless, padding over to the instrument, she clicked it on and brought it to her ear.
"How are you doing?"
"Great. Now, I want you to get ready. I'm picking you up in a half hour."
"In half an hour, Shaunna, for a masked party. Wear a nice dress. I have the masks with me."
"What? Michael, no."
"No. Don't say no." His voice softened. "Please."
"Michael..." She paused to swallow past the lump in her throat. "You're sweet to be doing this, but... no."
They both paused. She hoped he would let her off without much effort on her part. She didn't have the energy to fend him off.
"Look, it's a small party. Not many people. Please let me..."
"Michael, please, no," she interrupted, a little desperately.
"I worry about you, babe. You've got to get out."
The softness of his voice threatened to trigger the tears she had been holding in with such difficulty. She took a moment to clench her jaw and blink a couple of times, containing the emotion from spilling over.
"I'll be fine. Really. I'm okay. I just need to be alone tonight. Please."
"Well... you sure?"
"Okay." The reluctance in his voice was evident. "You know you can call me if you need me. Even if it's late."
She nodded. "Thank you."
"Well, then..." he trailed off.
"Enjoy yourself," she whispered.
"I'll try." There was a smile in his voice. "Take care."
A tear escaped and plopped down on the glass top as she bent down to replace the phone on the side table. She looked at the droplet for a second before wiping it off with a fingertip and rubbed her thumb and fingertip together to feel the wetness.
She'd be okay. Despite everything, she would be okay.
~ ~ ~
Clothed only in the black silk button-down shirt and briefs, leaving her long, golden legs bare, she wanted to give of herself as she had liked it. Her hair was freshly washed, left loose to cup her face and shoulders gently.
She started the ritual she had planned for this night. Everything was ready. Shaunna padded barefoot to the kitchenette and got the food she had prepared the night before -- apples cut into bite-sized pieces, sprinkled with limejuice and a cup of honey to dip them in. She had loved eating them that way. Carrying the items back with her to the living room, Shaunna set it down in the centre of the room.
She lit a candle and carried it to the window that faced west. She closed her eyes, and felt the smooth wax between her fingers as she released a wish into the air.
'Come to me, love. Come home.'
The haunted night faced her as she opened her eyes. There was no answer from beyond.
In the centre of the room, she lit the candles in the shape of a circle. One by one, as the wicks caught and trembled, she felt the chill in her heart melt a little. Twenty-seven tiny flames flickered, each one for a year in the brief life that had been extinguished. Lithely, she stepped into the middle of the ring of candlelight and moved to the wooden box in the middle. She knelt down and touched its surface, her fingertips barely touching the scarred wood, charred black on one side, silky brown on the other.
Images started flashing in her mind.
She found the jewellery box in the tucked-away corner of an antiques shop. 'Perfect', she thought. 'She'll love it.'
... The wide smile she gave as she ripped open the gift-paper. "Thank you..." Her warm, sweet scent enveloping them as she threw her arms around her lover, delighted. "It's beautiful." The box had survived. She hadn't.
She opened the box, unlocking it with its tiny key and carefully took out the letters. They were colourful, written on flirty stationery, bound with a red ribbon. Full of life, just as she had been. In contrast, her own letters to her lover were starkly black and white.
She didn't open the ribbon binding the letters. She knew word for word what was in there. She had lain awake nights, tracing the nonliving words. She needed to touch the relics tonight, ground herself with them, let their energy flow through her and take her back in time; not that she needed them for that, but touching these lifeless things was all she had. This was all she had left of her.
A lazy afternoon when she had been cleaning and found the letters...
"Wow. These are old. You still have them?"
"I like reading them. Your words are beautiful."
"I can give you words whenever you want, love. Come here, I'll make you new ones." She hugged Shauna from behind, arms around her waist and started whispering into her ear. "You're what I live for. You give me meaning, make my life worth living. With you I realise my hopes and live my dreams. You're with me every moment, as essential to me as my heartbeat. You're my guiding light, my refuge, my saviour. And being with you here, in moments like this, I can't ever thank all the deities in this world enough for your presence in my life." There, her voice turned husky with emotion. "And I want to spend an eternity wrapped around you like this. A whole eternity, Love, and beyond..." The letters were laid on the floor as she dipped her hand into the box again for the next object -- sheer yellow panties edged with white lace.
"You know, you look too virginal in them."
She struck a pose, peeking from behind her eyelashes, her eyes brimming with laughter. "So?"
"You're so not innocent!"
"Oh? Just because I know how to make you scream with ecstasy when I bathe your nipple with my tongue and bury my fingers in your..."
Her words stopped as she dissolved into laughter seeing Shaunna's blush.
"Those were not the words of an innocent! I rest my case."
She took Shaunna into her arms then, murmuring, "God, I love you! Now, are you interested in taking these panties off?" Shaunna sniffed the cloth in her hands, hoping for a lingering scent of her essence, but there was nothing. It had been too long. "I miss you so much," she whispered. She laid it on the floor next to the letters.
A paper napkin with their initials inside a heart, drawn by her in a restaurant as they waited for their salads to arrive -- that was next. Shaunna took it out and fingered it. It was so soft. Her fingertips felt like they were being indulged. These days she didn't really pay attention to how things felt in her hands. A lot of their lovemaking had been simple touches. She had loved touching. Sometimes Shaunna was embarrassed by it. Like that day in the restaurant...
It started innocently enough, with the stroking of a bare arm, smiling into each others' eyes and the clasping of hands. Then Shaunna saw her eyes light up.
She slipped her hand under the table and caressed a bare thigh. Flitting fingers from the outside of her thigh to the soft skin inside made her squirm in her seat. Shaunna could only look at her, eyes widening. She smiled in response -- that impish smile. The hand swept up, stroking warm skin, melting her insides and making her nipples hard.
Shaunna dipped her head, wishing fervently that no one else could see what was happening. Surely her glazed eyes broadcast her peaked desire to the world.
Under the table, slender fingers found Shaunna's centre. A light brush, and it took Shaunna all of her self-control not to jump out of the chair and cry out. She wrapped her fingers around a fork tightly.
"Look at me."
The command was incredulous. She couldn't. But she did. Shaunna lifted her face to her, naked under her gaze, giving all of herself through her eyes, stripping herself bare. She flinched as she felt fingers slipping past the barrier of her panties and then exploring the soft flesh beyond. She felt buttery wetness slip out of her.
The fingers spread it around, slipping slickly into her folds, finding her nub, circling it, then slipping down lower, inside her. She grasped the edge of the table with her other hand, trying to contain the frenzy building up within her. She wanted to thrash about, throw her head from side to side and moan, beg, plead for more. Instead, she arched her back slightly and bit the inside of her lip to keep from making her pleasure known to the people around them.
Shaunna moved her hips forward so the fingers could connect more thoroughly to her core. The massage continued. Feelings curled inside her belly, spiralled, higher and higher, out of control. Shaunna shut her eyes reflexively, tightly in an effort to contain what was happening within her. The pleasure heightened and she exploded then, waves of pleasure rippling through her blood, carried to every part in her body, bursting in tiny points along each nerve ending. She felt herself lift, float, plunge and soar all at once as she clenched and unclenched around the fingers buried inside her, still caressing her over each wave, slowing and letting her down gently.
As Shaunna tried to gather her scattered senses, she felt her juices spilling out of her, soaking her panties, her thighs and running down to her seat. Anxiety flared in the eyes that flew open urgently, and she panicked a little. There was a restraining hand on her arm then, and an understanding smile on her face.
'Relax.' Her lips formed the words as she scooped up the liquid with her fingers and extracted them. Shaunna's amazement reached its height as she saw her lover bringing her glistening fingers to her lips, licking them off slowly and thoroughly. She winked then, making Shaunna blush furiously and fumble for a tissue to wipe the rest of her off discreetly before she walked on trembling legs to the washroom. All those memories...
Shaunna was crying now. Dry, breathless sobs sucked air out of her lungs and burnt her insides. How she missed the touching. Those delicate but strong hands that could transport her to another world in a few minutes, haunted her. She ached to press her lips to the faint blue nerves on the back of that hand. She yearned for just one more touch of that palm against her cheek as she fell asleep, for running her thumb over the life-giving veins in that delicate wrist. There was nothing she desired more at that moment than that finger to touch her core and transform her universe into uneven breaths and trembling muscles. But it wasn't there.
Her sobs turned into hiccups as her body surged and thrummed with the intensity of her wanting. She turned her head towards the candle in the window, willing the soul to find her way home. She crawled over to the window, touching the candle, trailing one fingertip down its length. "Come home. Please. It's so hard... so hard without you." She stared at the flame and spoke in the hope that some of what she was saying could reach her in the other world.
"I need you so much. I thought I'd be okay... but I cannot live like this any more. I miss you... every moment of every day. Everything around me reminds me of you... everything in my life has been touched by your presence, and without you, it's just a pale reflection. It can never be the same again." The flame of the candle filled her vision while she talked, and as she looked into its depths, she felt herself going to a safe place -- a place removed from where she was, separate from her grief.
"There's just this darkness. All around me, choking me. I don't know how I'm alive... why I'm alive. I'm broken, Love, and I'm tired of fighting the darkness. And if you can't join me from wherever you are... I have no choice..."
She blanked then, leached of all emotion, her words turning too soft and finally dying down. She slowly got to her feet and made her way to the bathroom. The packet of double edged razor blades lay open, three of the blades left. She had always preferred old-fashioned razors to the new sticks - said they had a certain charm. To choose this method of dying, would mean being close to her even as life seeped out of her. She carefully took one blade out and walked back to the window, to the light.
She stared out into the night, wondering if what she was about to do was correct. It was definitely better than the nothingness that her life had become. It was better than the loneliness, the tears and the longing for what could never be again.
"This is the only way," Shaunna whispered as she slid down to the floor in the corner, with her back against the wall. Her tears had dried - there was nothing more in her. All that was left, was to end it. "To you, Love..." she whispered, as she placed the blade on her right wrist.
~ ~ ~
The cold grey light of dawn crept upon the crumpled figure in the corner. She sat with her head on her drawn up knees, her hair around her fallen head in lush waves. Her arms were wrapped loosely around her legs, the blade still clutched tightly in her left hand. The black shirt had slipped from one of her shoulders, baring it to the light.
There was the sound of a key turning in the door, then the sound of it opening and the voice of a man calling her name as footsteps moved into the room. The moment he looked at her prone body bowed in the corner, he stilled for a moment, cold dread gripping his heart. He then ran to her, calling her name frantically.
She came alive as he took hold of her cold arms and shook her violently. Her eyes snapped open as her head flailed from the roughness by which he shook her. Something of his raised voice penetrated her spell and then she felt him giving her a sharp slap. She saw his blue eyes, wide and darkened to a rich hue as she stared into them.
"I couldn't die, Michael..." she whispered to him in a broken voice. Defeated.
He clutched her to him then, and rocked her like a baby, murmuring soothing words into her hair and crying for her.
"I couldn't die."
He held her away and looked at her blank eyes and her pale, ghostly face. He smoothed her hair away from her face and ran his hands over her cheeks, attempting to wipe the tearstains off. "You couldn't because she wouldn't have wanted you to."
He saw something, some life returning to her as she nodded, accepting what he said.
They both were quiet for a moment, then he let out his breath in a heaving sigh.
"Oh God, Shaunna, when I saw you just now...." His voice broke. "I can't tell you how I felt. You didn't answer your phone. I was worried and... I'm so glad I came to check. I just... I wish I could do something to make it all go away."
She smiled. "Go away? It will never go away."
Seeing his troubled eyes, she continued, "No, I don't mean it that way. I mean... this was it. This was the lowest and it's behind me now. There's nowhere to go but up." She gave him a tremulous smile, but one that reached her tired eyes, however faintly. "Now I'll be okay."
He nodded. "Come. You should lie down for a bit. Did you sleep?"
"No. What I need is... Michael?" She met his eyes. "Can you leave?"
Seeing his incredulous look, she hastened to add. "I'll be okay. I promise. I need to get closure. I need to be alone. Please."
He shook his head from side to side. "Shaunna, I can't leave you and go right now. Look at you. You're wrung out. You're in no state to be left alone."
"No, Michael, listen. Trust me. I won't do anything... I mean, I just need to say goodbye."
Her eyes filled with tears, but her expression was calm and she looked at him with such entreaty that he sighed.
"I don't know..."
"I need to do this, Michael. Please. I'll call you around noon?"
He sighed. "You ask for too much." He turned and began walking away.
He looked back.
He came back to hug her. "Don't forget to call."
~ ~ ~
When she was alone again, she looked at the remains of the ceremony from the night before. The candles had burned down during the night, transforming into puddles of wax on the floor. The apples were slightly browned. The objects that were so precious to her lay exposed.
She gathered each item, placing them in the wooden box and closing it firmly, locking it and threading the little key though the chain she wore around her neck everyday. She stowed the box away on the topmost shelf of her closet and then returned to scrape up the wax using a spoon, collecting it in a bowl.
Putting the wax on to heat, she hunted around for the candle-making supplies she knew were stored somewhere. They had made candles together once....
She added the new wax and the old and heated the mixture until it was soft and pliable. Shaunna then poured a few drops of her favourite perfume, scenting it with something she associated with her, and then transferred the mix into one fat mould, collecting the night into one keepsake. All the time she was working, she concentrated on the materials in front of her and the colours and the smells.
As the wax cooled and solidified, Shaunna felt herself relaxing and a sense of peace came over her as she looked at her handiwork - the essence of her innermost emotions, of love itself and its intensity.
Michael, peeking in from the west window saw her place the candle on her bookshelves in the living room next to her woman's photograph and smiled a little sadly. He had stayed around, wondering if she would really be okay. He saw that she probably would. He felt a weight lift from his heart as he saw her slight frame standing in front of the candle with her head bowed, her bearing loose-limbed and strong. Peaceful.
~ ~ ~
Shaunna bowed her head and took a deep breath. She was wrung out from the night, but she felt cleansed. Free. She raised her eyes to the candle and started speaking. "You're not here with me in the flesh today, but I know you will always be with me in spirit. You're my guiding light and I know you'll always be there to help me through life. I'm so sorry I forgot that. I'm sorry I let the darkness overwhelm me. But now... I've found you, Love. I'm so glad I found you."
The candle, though never lit, remained a beacon of light and support that Shaunna could look at and touch whenever she flagged, a reminder that she would never be alone.
* * * * *
Author's note: I'd like to thank Nirvanadragones for a lovely edit and Misty_Morning, Fallenfromgrace and a person who will remain unnamed for letting me pick their brains for random details while writing this story.
To the readers: I hope you liked the story. Votes, comments and feedback are always appreciated. I like hearing from you so please do write. Every email with a return address will receive a reply. :)