Fiction

Recognition

It felt like recognition. I did not know him but everything about him haunted my memory, the planes of his face, his scent, the taste of his skin. The buttons of his shirt melted under my fingers and I ran my hands down his stomach, nails teasing through the golden hair below his navel, a trail of starlight disappearing, tantalizing, into the waistband of his pants.

            The bourbon roared in my veins, pulsing heat between my ears. For this moment everything outside blissfully faded and there was only space for me and this man. This beautiful man who tasted of light and warmth and everything I craved.

            It felt like recognition. I pushed into him, inhaling his breath. He seemed so hard, more than solid, a statue of marble and silk. His hands caressed the length of my body and lifted me by the hips, pushing me into the wall at my back as his body returned home, holding me suspended between him and the plaster behind me.

            “Who are you?” I spoke in breath, a whispered question into his mouth. I felt his teeth bite into my lower lip, consuming, almost painful. “Who are you?”

            His only response came in the form of fingers slipping like thieves under the hem of my skirt. It felt so familiar. I pushed him back, bringing that face into focus. His hands grazed upward, adulterous lovers drawing my skirt tight over my hips. He smiled slowly as I inhaled sharply.

            “I don’t know you?” It came as a question and I searched his eyes, probing.

 

            I had seen him across the room an hour earlier. The recognition struck me in shatters and I stared until he glanced my way, his eyes silvering in the candle light filling the room. When my eyes met his I knew I did not know him but the recognition would not allow me to look away.

            He had not looked away either, bringing the bottle he held to his mouth, tilting his head back to draw the liquor, the line of his jaw and throat exquisite in the shifting shadow. The act of drinking transformed his mouth from something sculpted and hard into another thing, something soft, seductive. He had pushed away from the wall against which he leaned, walking away from a female conversation partner without a glance. She had rolled her eyes, her mouth drawing down in disappointment when she saw the tangible connection that drew him.

            I watched him walk toward me, feeling my mouth curl up. He had a player’s swagger, looking good and knowing it, perfectly aware of the eyes drawn to follow him. I would never know a man like that but I knew him. I wondered what he would look like in natural light and my memory rewarded me with a perfect glimpse of something I could not have seen, his high cheekbones lit by the sun.

            I stood to meet him, startled by his height. I had to tilt my head back, something I rarely found necessary. He came into my personal space, invasive, and my nerves responded with shock waves. I felt my pupils dilate.

            “I know you,” he said.

            His voice held some slight trace of an accent but I could not place it.

            “No, you don’t,” I responded, my cheeks flushing with the lie.

            “You know I do.”

            The accent sounded Greek, clipped and soft and exotic but faint, barely there. I reached for the bottle he held to buy myself time. The bourbon burned a hot trail in my throat and I took a cooling breath.

            He took the bottle back, his mouth going soft again as he swallowed. Finished, he dropped he bottle to the floor and ran one finger up the bare flesh of my arm. “I’ve always known you.”

            “Your pick up line work on all the girls?” I asked, hating the harshness of the cynicism in my voice.

            His eyes traveled slowly up my body to meet mine. “You know it’s not a line.”

            I stared back into his gaze, captivated. His eyes shifted from gray to silver in the amorphous light. His mouth thinned, lush but hard, his narrow chin tilting down, creating caverns in the conclave wells of his cheeks but his eyes softened, boring into me, invasive and intimate.

            I knew this man, I had known him in another life. Every cell cried with recognition but I recoiled from the feeling, afraid of drowning. He called out to the darkness in me and I felt my tenuous hold on sanity slip another notch. I held onto reality with my fingernails, aided by bourbon and wine. I had been living as a shadow for months and I felt myself slip into his void.

 

            Now this, his mouth on mine, the tingles of heat from my abused lips flashing in my skin. The room had faded away, all of the people had gone. His tongue twisted in my mouth, brutal and delicious. The fabric of his jeans rubbed raw against my thighs, his fingers spinning music in my bones.

            As I pushed him back, into focus, my mouth opened to say his name but I called forth nothing but silence as I realized I did not know it. I reformed to ask but found myself dumb in the face of his face, framed by a halo of light hair, glowing against the candle flames. His hair, worn short, had been brushed away from his face, framing his tight, cruel features, but had sprung into curls under my fingers.

            He glowed, every part of him, the white skin, the silver eyes, the red hair dyed bright blonde, almost white, but grown out so it wreathed his head in fire.

            “What’s your name?” I asked.

            He dropped his chin again and the shadows swam across his features. “You don’t know?”

            I laughed. “I have no idea.”

            “Let’s get out of here.”

            His words brought the party crashing back. People laughed, ice tinkled against glass, music pounded. “Okay.”

            The night air enveloped me and I felt my entire body dilate. His hand holding mine sent shivers of warmth up my arm. I laughed again when I saw the motorcycle, black and chrome and lurking at the curb. He threw one jean clad leg over, slim and lithe in black.

            “Are you for real?”

            “No.” His smile curved upward, vulpine and tricksterish over perfect, sharp teeth. “You conjured me.” He reached playfully for the silver pentagram glinting at my throat but pulled back before touching it. “Witch.”

            I laughed up at the sky and the waxing moon laughed back. For the first time in three months I felt happy. I wanted to howl with the relief of it.

            The motorcycle roared for me and I placed my hands on his hips, curling my fingers around the spiked belt he wore.

            “Where are we going?” he asked over his shoulder.

            I pointed and we leaped forward as he gunned the engine, testing me. I let my body find the balance easily and I heard him laugh, the sound snatched by the wind.

            It seemed the trees danced in the silver light. The whole night world shimmered with energy only  witches like me could see. The magic roared in my veins and I rested my head against a leather clad shoulder, inhaling the musky perfume. This magic provided me with a reason to keep living, the only reason in a world gone dark. It sustained me when no tangible force on earth could have kept me above the yawning grief.

            I had practiced witchcraft my entire life, before I even knew what to call it, manipulating my reality with forces I took for granted. Magic is not what it is in the movies, it is not levitation or love potions. It is a method of focusing the energy of the cosmos to work one’s will. It is similar to meditation.

            After losing the only person I had ever really loved in an auto accident three months before, I had spent days trying to reshape reality so that Alex had never died. I entered a dream world constructed through my desperate grief only to have it crash down. Magic is the most powerful natural force in the universe but it cannot turn back time. It cannot make the dead live.

            So I had fed my sorrow with alcohol, drawing upon a vast but limited well of energy within myself, burning out with all the speed I could muster. Now this man had come to me. He seemed nothing like Alex and yet my body burned with the same desire.

            I pointed the way home and reveled in the wind in my face, watering my eyes, numbing my cheeks. My home, the small house I had shared with my lost one, set back from the street, wreathed in shadow. The light burning over the mailbox in the stone wall surrounding the property did not sustain past the gate and the walk danced with ivy fronds weaving spells in the breeze. I swung myself off the motorcycle and waited for him to park at the curb. The silence of the stilled motor crashed in and I spun in a circle, the magic of the night too much to contain.

            He laughed at me and drew me in, his hands reaching around my waist. His mouth tasted sweet and metallic.

            “Before I invite you up my walk, I must know your name,” I said, pulling back, knees weak with alcohol and desire.

            His mouth, soft and bruised, grazed across my lips, sending shivers down my spine. “Zeke. My name is Zeke.”

            I opened the gate behind me without looking and pulled him forward by the hand. He carefully skirted the glass evil eye in the concrete and came with me into the gloom.

            I heard his breath quicken as we came out from under the ivy arbor shading the walk. My little cottage shone in the bright moon, a crystal glimmering in the front window. Ivy crawled up the wall beside the door and the side porch lurked, dark and inviting. I reached for my keys but his hands stopped me, pulling me into him. His mouth sucked in my breath and I melted to him, the soft material of his shirt indistinguishable from his flesh.

            Finally pulling back he contemplated my door, his eyes wandering over the dragon snarling from the wall. “A protection spell,” he said, his fingers reaching but not touching the plaster statue.

            “It’s under the mat, actually,” I said. “How do you know that?”

            “I can feel it.” He turned back, his eyes oddly lit in the bright light. “I can’t go in there.”

            His hand still enclosed mine warmly but I pulled away, my consciousness tingling with awareness. “Who are you?”

            “I told you. You conjured me.”

            I backed up until my back rested against the wood of the door. “Don’t lie to me.”

            He tilted his head back toward the sky, his profile sharp and exquisite against the stars. “I could never lie to you.” He shifted, his boots grazing the mat but not crossing it. “I could never hurt you without your permission.” He cocked his head back down, chin dropping, so beautiful I felt like screaming. “And that has nothing to do with your protection spells.” He reached and twisted a strand of my hair between his fingers. “And everything to do with you.”

            It felt like recognition. Everything about him, the strength coiled in his slim body, the sharpness of his features, the power radiating from him, seemed dangerous and yet I could not fear him.

            “I need more to drink,” I whispered.

            “Do you want me to go?”

            “No.” Never that, I felt like I could never let him go. He seemed a part of my physical body and it seemed this night must last forever. “Meet me on the deck.” I found the lock with my key and let myself inside. I watched him from behind the window as he walked across the grass. Stopping in the center of the lawn he stretched his arms wide to either side of his body, drinking in the night. I felt the dark power swirling around him in a vortex of negative space.

            I let myself out onto the deck with a bottle of wine. Zeke sat on the bench built down one side, his face hidden in the darkness. I stood just out of reach, tipping the wine bottle back, the sweet, musty taste wonderful on my tongue. Fortified, I asked the question I desperately needed to know. “What are you?”

            He held a hand out for the bottle, silver rings glinting on his white fingers. I handed him the wine and wished I could see his mouth as he drank but his face remained hidden. “You’re the witch, love. You tell me.”

            “How do you know I’m a witch?” I paced left, seeking to penetrate the shadow in which he sat. “I mean, everyone knows I am a witch. The pentagrams are kind of a giveaway. But you feel it.”

            His legs shifted and he stood, stepping toward me. I still could not see his face. “Of course I feel it. The power pours off you like...” He paused and took another sip of wine. “Well, it pours off of you like wine. I can taste it.” He moved closer and his features became visible, mouth soft, chin lowered toward me. I stood frozen as he slid his arms around me, his hands up under my shirt, fingers dancing across my spine. “I can taste your grief.”

            I felt the tears on my cheeks but did not weep, mesmerized by his thighs against mine. He lowered his head toward me and his breath moved across my face. “Your grief is like wormwood. Rank and poisonous and delicious.”

            His tongue flicked the salt on my cheek and I could not contain the sigh. “I thought only crosses repelled vampires.”

            Surprisingly, he laughed. “Bollocks, love. Power repels vampires. Faith repels vampires. The symbol doesn’t matter.”

            “But you’re not running.”

            His teeth glinted in his grin. “You’re not trying.”

            I laughed. I could not help it. “You’re right. I am certainly not trying to repel you.”

            His mouth descended to mine. “But you could if you wanted. I could never hurt you.”

            I pulled back, looking up into his eyes. “Unless I let you.”

            “Not even then.”

            “And you can’t come in unless I invite you.”

            His fingers dipped down, tracing fire over my hip bones and under the elastic of my skirt. I moaned into his mouth before I could stop myself. “That’s true for things besides your house.”

 

            The sunlight woke me and I sat up, groggy and light dazzled. My skirt lay across my lap like a blanket and I drew it over my shoulders against the cool morning air.

            Zeke sat in a pool of deep shadow in the corner of the deck watching me, dregs of wine stirring in the bottom of the bottle in his hand. He looked just as pale and flawless as in dark light, a statue wreathed in flames against the dark wood siding of the house.

            “I thought vampires didn’t come out in the sunlight.”

            He shot that cocky grin at me. “I’m not in the sunlight, am I?”

            I stood up, letting the fabric fall, and stretched in the warmth of the sun.

            His chin dropped. “You’re a flirt.”

            I gathered remnants of clothing, watching him watch me. I skirted the shade, staying in the light, staring him down.

            “Tell me you want me.”

            His nostrils flared and his eyes went from silver to gray. “I’ve always wanted you.”

            “Then come inside.”

 

 

Originally published in Something Wicked, 2008.

Catlyn Keenan