by Bryan Brown
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
“Well, good morning, beautiful,” Don said to the woman leaning in his bedroom doorway.
“Morning,” Cece warbled sweetly, sporting a convincing, I-want-you-as-much-as-you-want-me kind of smile. She wore only her underwear and one of Don’s button-down shirts, her irises the same deep azure as the ocean a block away. Her left hand joined her right upon her warm mug. She took a sip.
“I made coffee. Want some?”
“Maybe in a little,” Don replied. He stretched in his bed, reanimating his middle-aged joints. The Hawaiian sun that was pouring through the wall-sized window and reflecting off the cool sheets illuminated his freckled, ill-defined torso. “Come back here first.”
The radiant young woman approached the bed, setting down her cup on the nightstand along the way. While gazing at the man before her, Cece slinked under the top sheet and flowed smoothly across the queen-size.
Don was much older than she, with wisps of silver in his otherwise black hair. He appeared possessed, impeded from looking anywhere but at her. It was an insatiable sort of hunger of which Don could not rid himself when she was near. It had been this way, it seemed, since the moment their eyes met.
Cece felt guilty, for she knew her power over him was due only through gifts bestowed most arbitrarily and recently upon her. Thus, unlike most with her beauty, Cece never took it for granted.
She slid her hands over coarse, salt-and-pepper chest hairs and swung her leg across Don’s navel to the other side. He laughed gently, put his hands behind his head, and stretched once more. Cece smiled down at him. Her straight, black hair formed a vaulted archway, within it a face like a bronze shrine to feminine perfection. So privy to her dominion over the man’s chronic state of longing, Cece dipped her head down and pecked him on the lips.
When they broke from their gentle kiss, Cece settled downward until her chin rested upon the middle of Don’s torso.
Don put his fingers in her hair and said, “How the hell did I get so lucky?”
“With what?” Cece said, egging him on, though she knew where this was going.
“Look at you, Cece!” he replied with a laugh. “You’re clearly out of my league!”
“Pshh. Oh stop. Of course I’m not! I’m... I’m nobody.”
This belief was an honest one, which she had carried through most of her life. Only in the past few weeks had she considered anything more.
“You’ve just been so... so great to me,” she added. “Since we met. The sweetest man in the world.”
“Well, thanks... I mean, of course. And you’re definitely not ‘nobody’. I can’t get over how just... serendipitous it was that I found you in the rain that night. I just remember seeing this drenched, crazed-looking girl in my headlights and thinking, ‘Wow’. But then actually, I was just worried you’d think I was an old creep if I even offered you a lift, let alone suggested my couch as a place to keep dry for the night.”
“Hmm. Maybe,” she facetiously mused. “But I think what really skeeved me out was when you took me to breakfast the next day.”
“What?” he exclaimed. They both laughed. “That was a nice breakfast! And you made us go to the far diner!”
“Hey, I like what I like,” Cece laughed back. “Too many memories at the close one. And I’m glad you weren’t a creep.”
“Yeah you’ve had enough weirdos. I still can’t believe, you know, about your ex.”
“Still on that, huh?”
“Makes me so mad just thinking about it...”
“You? Do you even get mad? You’re too gentle for that.”
“I mean it, Cece! How anyone could take you for granted? It’s beyond me. You... you keep me feeling human.”
“He probably just didn’t see the same girl you do.”
Cece’s thoughts wandered from Don’s words towards a dark place. This confusing façade had gone on long enough, and truth would soon insist itself. From there, even the best possible outcomes would leave this pair far from the romantic simplicity of Don’s sun-drenched bedroom. The whole thing was tragically ironic: those forces that had carried Cece at last to a state of peace — or even love — now demanded that she let it all go, poised to escape along with her hidden truth.
Finding her way out of those apprehensive riptides, Cece responded only by kissing Don once on the neck before returning the side of her head to his breastbone. She found solace in the deep reverberation of the thumping beneath his ribs, a peaceful and mundane reminder of uncomplicated humanity.
“And you make me feel human,” she told him as she lay there. In him, she heard the clockwork tides of a biology that was once her own.
Don scooted back into his white pillow and looked up at the equally blank ceiling. “There’s so much I don’t know about you still,” he said after a little while, still facing skyward.
“Like what?” Cece asked as her heart skipped a beat. She swiveled her head once again upon him to view his coarse chin as he spoke.
“Like... oh, I got one. I’ve been meaning to ask: is Cece short for something?”
She was quietly relieved. Albeit another lie, she had an answer for this one. “Yeah, actually. Don’t laugh.” She paused in playful embarrassment. “It’s short for Celeste.”
“Oh nice! Why would I laugh? I was wondering if that was the case. Same Latin root as ‘celestial’, right? Like the heavens and stars?”
“Mr. Latin Roots over here,” she said with a smirk. “What’s an immunologist doing talking about Latin roots? But yeah, I think so. It’s actually also a color. That’s how I like to think of it these days.”
“Really? What color is it?”
“This one,” Cece said. She slid her bracelet back towards her hand from where it had been stuck on the wide part of her tan forearm. Upon the tarnished silver chain were a few stones of a vibrant turquoise.
“Oh, that is a nice color. But hon’...”
“You could have just said it was the color of your eyes.”
“I guess I could have,” Cece replied, feeling the heat of her hard blushing. “So is Don short for Donald?”
“I’ll never tell,” Don said with a guilty grin.
“Oh really? Hmm... I’m sure I can make you talk.”
They kissed again for a minute or so, though Celeste’s thoughts were elsewhere, dancing about her bonfire of secrets. For the implicit deceit of such moments, her stomach fluttered and faltered, despite having longed for such affection since girlhood.
She knew that the more she nourished this poor man’s heart, the bigger mess its breaking would yield. When she would at last speak her mind, would he realize that there had been no other way? Above all, she and the world needed his help, and there was no telling how little time she had.
Abruptly, she drew away her lips. “Okay, um...”
“What?” Don asked, worried by Celeste’s sudden withdrawal. “Did I do something?”
“No no. You’ve... well like I said, you’ve been really great. More than I’d hoped for.” Celeste sat up, flicked away her bangs, closed her eyes, and took a big breath before continuing. “Which is why I need to... to tell you something. About me.”
“About you? Of course! That’s what I was just saying! I wanna get to know you more! I wanna know everything!”
“Don, you’re making this harder.”
“Oh, too excited? Sorry.” He got more serious. “Go ahead.”
“Yeah, this is different. It’s not a favorite food or a childhood memory or something. It’s... you might not like it.” Celeste felt herself tearing up unexpectedly.
Don noticed and drew himself upright in concern. “Cece what is it?”
He caressed her upper arms with his fissured hands. He hesitated slightly for the strange feel of his own shirt’s exterior on a woman’s body. “Cece,” he said. “Look at me.”
Celeste looked up at the freckled man. Some friendly traces of crows’ feet clutched the corners of his sun-kissed eyes.
“I’m right here,” he whispered.
“Okay,” she nodded. “Here we go.”
She had immediate, instinctive regret, while another voice within drove her impatiently forward beyond rationality. Why must she dive in now? It seemed that, of late, her higher reason had increasingly succumbed to a new insurgent oligarchy of influences within.
“First,” she began carefully, “before any of this starts, I need you to remember that the feelings I have for you, they’re real. Even if somehow what I have to tell you... I don’t know. Just know that everything that I did I... you know, I’ve meant it for good reasons.”
“Umm... all right,” said Don earnestly, with an empathetic furrowing of his brow. “Okay, yeah. That’s fine. I’m not going anywhere.”
Celeste welcomed his claims, if only to blind herself temporarily from the impending hurt barreling towards them.
“All right.” She blew out another deep sigh. “First of all, Zack — my ex — he was worse than I might have mentioned.”
“I knew it!” Don suddenly grew furious at this faceless villain. “He was violent with you? I should go over to his dirty trailer and beat some sense into him! The sick bastard deserves it!”
“No no, Don, wait,” she said, clutching and rubbing his arms to calm him down. “You can’t do that. You’re not a fighter.”
“You’d be surprised what I’m capable of when I’m protecting something important,” Don sharply stated, suddenly firm and stoic.
Quickly, however, Don fell from this trance as Cece looked at him with endearment. Once his shoulders unclenched, she resumed the prologue to her confession.
“But this one time, when Zack got really upset with me... it doesn’t matter about what—”
“Probably something totally stupid I’m sure. What a piece of—”
“Don. I appreciate your caring. It’s sweet. But I need to tell you. First he... you know...” Cece’s eyes welled, shocked that such things still mattered to her now. “He hit me...”
“Jesus...” Don sighed, putting his face down on his hand, then wiping back across his scalp. The individual ashen wisps and locks sprang forward sporadically atop his head, like a pop-up diorama of a scorched forest.
“Then he took me out to the water. You know, he lived right along the beach in a trailer.”
“So he took me out there, walked us down there barefoot. He was yelling the whole while down. He was crazy mad. And then he drowned me.”
“You mean he held you under the water?”
“Yeah. And I drowned.”
“Well you didn’t drown,” Don corrected gently. “I know it’s just semantics and it doesn’t really matter... Sorry, but drowning is when you die from it. You had a, uh, near-drowning?”
“No, Don. It is important. I drowned. That’s what I’m trying to explain. I remember... I remember dying!”
He hesitated, retreating into his intellect. “I mean no... I’m sure it was a very horrific experience for you but certainly you didn’t—”
“I did!” she snapped. Then more softly, she repeated, “I died.” She stared off past Don’s left ear towards a blank spot on the wall. “I remember holding onto that last breath. I remember when it ran out, how the water filled my lungs. It got... quiet, like a computer shutting down, and all those little parts you never thought about suddenly resolve to a peaceful, silent state.
“Then the memory sort of stops, and I figured, ‘Okay, that’s the end’, right? But then it restarts! I was like... outside of myself. Just a feeling of pure energy, as if another person’s soul was watching mine... And I remember a color, a bright emerald glow that comprised my entire being...”
As she trailed off dreamily, Don clenched his face tight without judgment, blinking as if to weather swelling torrents of internal dialogue. “Emerald light?” he asked.
Celeste nodded. Likely, she assumed, he was trying to lock down some mundane detail to avoid the whale in the room. A real scientist type to the core, she thought.
When Don snapped out of this transient spell, he offered, “Well, you know, I hear that the brain gets hyperactive in near-death experiences, actually. They think that’s why people talk about lights at the end of tunnels and that sort of thing. Do you... think that might be what it was?”
“No, because I’m not done,” she said flatly.
Copyright © 2015 by Bryan Brown