I normally hate short stories; I hate reading them, was forced to write them in school. They leave so much to the reader’s interpretation, which is what they are supposed to do, but I’ve always liked to have everything spelled out in black and white. A beginning, a middle, and an end that makes sense. But I was mulling this over in the bath, and the pieces just came together. I wrote it in six hours, took a few more hours to clean it up. It’s the first short story I’ve ever written, willingly.
He allowed the dark to envelope him and the blackness soothed nerves that felt as though they were on fire.
He had been above too long.
Now he shuffled along the stone hallway, the wetness dampening the jacket of his suit as he brushed along the rough wall of the tunnel. The sound of water dripping, the echoing it made as it plinked into puddles, barely registered in his mind. He had heard it many times before.
He took a deep breath recognizing the metallic scent of the pipes that fed water to the people who lived above, the pipes that carried their waste away. But there was also the smell of damp, of earth, mingling with the scent of beer.
Letting the familiar sounds and scents lead him, he loosened his tie.
Above, he was a laughingstock.
He pushed open the blackened glass doors. When he stepped inside the bar all chatter stopped. All the patrons looked at him with a cool respect, a heightened regard.
Below, he was a god.
A waiter immediately bowed before him, pledging his allegiance, before taking his black leather briefcase from his tired hand.
He flexed his fingers. He had carried the goddamn thing for miles of city blocks, too dazed to try, to care, until a taxi had almost run him down in the dirty slushy city street.
He nodded to the waiter and the waiter’s eyes warmed as he basked in the quiet approval.
The patrons resumed their chatter, but it was not the easy conversation it had been when he first entered the bar. There was a tension in the air now and his eyes flitted over the bar’s main room.
Nothing looked out of place.
Everyone was dressed. Women wore ball gowns, diamonds at their ears, at their necks, gloves on their hands, their hair twisted into elegant knots. They drank champagne by the bottle, not caring the cost. Men wore tuxedos, watches costing more than small cars on their wrists, diamonds at their cuffs, rings on their fingers.
He knew many of these people had never seen the light of day.
The room itself was lit only with chandeliers raining down candlelight. The bar was not fully equipped with electricity. No one seemed to mind.
It held all other conveniences of establishments above. A bar, fully stocked, a bartender who knew how to prepare any drink requested. Cocktail waitresses offered you your heart’s desire. Sex, booze, drugs. Pick your poison. So many did.
The din grew louder and he wondered the cause.
He accepted the crystal cut glass of scotch the waiter presented him and he strode to a banquette to sit and relieve the ache in his feet.
He would not be able to show is his face above for many months. Perhaps years. This did not bother him. He took a weary sip of his drink. No, nothing bothered him anymore. Being called a laughingstock, a fool, was nothing to him. Not when he had an escape. Perhaps it would have been different if he had nowhere to hide, nowhere to lick his wounds, but here, underground, no one cared what he did above but that it gave him money to spend below.
Months of hard work, weeks of research, days of reading, hours of preparation were lost in a puff of smoke.
Because of her.
His fingers tightened around the glass.
She had been missing for two months. She had gone underground and he couldn’t find her.
He had taught her well.
Bitch. Whore. Traitor.
Every name he wanted to call her, his heart rejected.
His eyes scanned the patrons of the bar.
Walls colored a greyish blue soothed.
The waiter replaced his empty glass for another.
He let the burn trail down his throat. His eyes skimmed the customers seated at the bar and he almost missed her.
She was here.
After weeks of looking, after weeks of being consumed by her disappearance, she was here.
And another man was touching her.
The man carefully set his glass on the little table in front of his knees. He straightened his blood-red tie, smoothed the arms of his suit jacket. He ran his fingers through his hair.
He heard the jazz playing through hidden speakers for the first time, something about heartache.
Oh, he knew.
The patrons of the bar knew he had spotted her and their voices grew hushed. They parted for him quickly, lest anyone get in his way. No one wanted to pay his price.
Two months he had been looking for her and she had been here, all along, hiding in plain sight.
He approached her carefully and he watched as the man who was holding her hand caught his eye. He paled, letting her go, and he leaned back, putting space between them. The woman frowned and stilled.
Very slowly she turned her head and her bright blue eyes met his black ones.
He read pain in her eyes, a hurt, and for a moment he was puzzled. He was the one who was hurting; he was the one who bled. Why would she hurt, why would she feel an ounce pain? Yes, there, a small crease between her eyebrows, a slight tremble of her lips.
She turned away.
It was like a knife shoved into his back all over again.
Still, he approached her and stopped by her side.
She was still beautiful. Two months changed nothing. She wore a column of brilliant blue that matched her eyes, a slit running along the side from the middle of her thigh down to her ankle revealing glimmering golden skin. Silver heels adorned her small elegant feet. Her polish matched the dress.
His gaze traveled from the tips of her toes up her legs to her breasts, her décolletage revealed by the low cut of the neckline. Thin straps sparkled on the golden skin of her shoulders.
The candlelight cast a glow over her, but he knew in the dark she was the palest white.
Her black hair glittered, the cut unchanged. Wild curls flew around her head and she had tried to tame them, as usual. Tonight they were styled into soft waves, sprayed into submission away from her face.
Her hair would not remain the same after he was through with her.
He gave in and touched her, bringing her eyes around to meet his once again.
It was there, the hurt.
Her skin felt the same, smooth, soft, under his fingertips. He wondered if she would smell the same and he leaned nearer to discover if it was true. Something sweet, almost sugary, met his nose, and his cock hardened in response.
He knew when, not if, but when, he tasted her she would taste how she smelled. Like sugar, nectar. Like honey.
The scent, the taste, she was a drug and he needed his fix.
He grasped her upper arm and smiled when she drew in a breath.
He would not speak to her here.
The man she had been speaking with had slipped away a long time ago and she stared at the empty stool for a moment before she picked up her little silver purse from the bar top.
His hand on her arm served two purposes: to keep her from escaping and to steady her to her feet.
She was small, even wearing her four inch heels she barely reached his shoulder.
He led her into the back hallway of the bar. The floor was black marble, the same as the main room, the walls a smoky mirrored tile designed to magnify the scarce light.
Alone, his calm snapped, and he jerked her arm behind her body and fisted her hair in his hand. He pushed her against the mirrored wall, her cheek forced against the cool glass.
A whimper vibrated from the back of her throat.
She puffed in and out through her mouth and her breath fogged the tile.
He leaned over her, the lines of his body meeting hers. “Where have you been?” he growled into her ear. He was satisfied to see the sound of his voice make gooseflesh run along her skin.
“Above,” she whispered.
His fist tightened in her hair. He hadn’t heard her voice for two months, though the soft velvet of her tone haunted his dreams, his nightmares. Her voice may have been quiet, but he knew from two years of listening to her whisper in the dark she was not scared.
She knew he would never hurt her.
He was the one who had been hurt.
He pushed his body harder into hers, his cock rubbing against her lower back.
“You know what happened to me.”
She tried to shake her head.
“Then you lie,” he snarled into her ear. “I’m nothing above now, nothing, because of you. If you have been above, then you know what happened to me.”
He jerked her around and encircled her throat with his hand.
She knew the safe word. She knew she only had to begin to say it and he would back off so completely, so totally, he would cease to touch her. In the two years they had been together he had yet to hear her say it.
So he squeezed.
Her lips worked as she tried to draw in a breath.
He searched her eyes looking for the love that had been there two months ago.
Why had she run?
He released her and took a step back as she sagged against the mirrored tile, dragging in a ragged breath.
“We are not speaking here.”
He pulled her away from the wall by her arm and led her through the back of the bar, through the door marked for deliveries.
She stumbled after him trying to keep pace in her heels but it only made him walk faster down the dark hallway, the cool wet air caressing his face.
Down one tunnel, through another and another and another. If he hadn’t been raised here, if he hadn’t spent his life underground, he never would have found his way.
She had been with him two years and still she needed a map.
He stopped at an unmarked door and took the keys from the pocket of his suit pants. He slid the key in the lock but found the door already open. He pushed her inside the room and her perfume assaulted him.
“You’ve been staying here.”
Rage simmered through his veins at the knowledge she had been in the very place he hadn’t thought to look and he pushed her to her knees.
It had been too long. He hadn’t been able to bed another woman since she had left him. He had tried once and he had thrown her out of his penthouse. As soon as the elevator doors closed behind her he had run to his bathroom and emptied his stomach in disgust. It seemed if he could not have this woman kneeling before him he could have none.
He stood before her and unbuckled his belt.
Only a single candle on the kitchen table afforded them any light. This was the room where he slept when he visited the underground. When the world above made him weary and heartsick.
When he came home.
This woman, now, who was running her hands up and down his thighs, had been his entire world since he met her two years ago. Above or below she followed him. Above or below she was his.
Until two months ago when she disappeared.
Angry with her, with her deception, he pulled the zipper down and freed his cock. Stepping closer he gripped her hair and shoved it into her open mouth. His lips formed a thin smile when he heard her suck in air through her nose. He didn’t give her a chance to breathe.
It had been too long and he tried to hold off, but the softness of her mouth, the pressure of her tongue, was his undoing. He held her in place as he came and he smiled again when he heard her gag, just briefly, as he filled her mouth.
He stepped away from her.
She sat back on the heels of her feet and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
He pulled up his pants, not bothering to zip or button them. He wasn’t finished with her yet.
“Why did you leave me?”
He wanted to sound angry, and he knew he did, but beneath the steel was the satin, the sadness.
“I heard you.”
He walked into the little kitchenette attached to the living area. His room underground was nothing but a studio apartment. It suited him. It was nothing like the penthouse he slept in when he was above. He found his bottle of good scotch, poured it into a plastic cup. For a moment he wondered what his colleagues would think.
“Heard me?” He rubbed the stubble along his jaw. It had been a long day. But no more. He was done with being above for the foreseeable future.
“On the phone.”
He thought back to the last night she had been with him. Yes, in the penthouse above. He had been on the phone. What had he been saying? To whom had he been speaking? His mother. He remembered that. She had been asking him questions. His gaze flicked to the woman still kneeling on the floor. He thought about his answers, how they may have sounded if heard one-sided.
“You don’t trust me.”
His keys jingled in his pocket as he played with them. He drained the plastic cup and he set it down on the scarred little table where they had shared many meals in the past.
He took a step toward her.
She raised her eyes to his.
He stood in front of her and gently guided her to her feet. She swayed on her heels and he pulled her into his embrace. The fight in him slowly faded and he stood, simply enjoying the feel of her in his arms once again.
Never before had he realized how long two months could be.
He lowered his mouth to hers and he could taste himself on her lips. She allowed him to explore her mouth, his tongue gently delving, searching.
“You don’t trust me,” he mumbled against her mouth. “After all you put me through.”
He had met her above at some type of charity function or other, had spotted her across the dance floor. He had made her his because, quite simply, there was nothing else he could have done.
Now he led her to the bed. He caressed her face with his palms, his thumbs moved along the delicate lines of her cheekbones.
She drew in a breath to speak, but he stopped her with a kiss.
He ran his hands down the sides of her throat to the tops of her shoulders. His fingers reached the silky material of the straps. Still further down his fingers traveled, until his hands reached the top of hers.
He moved to pull down the zipper he knew was hidden in the folds of material along the side of her ribcage.
The dress loosened and he felt her tremble slightly.
He pushed the thin straps from her shoulders and the dress ran fluidly down her body until it landed in a puddle of silk around her feet. He only caught the briefest glimpse, enough to realize she wore not a scrap of lace beneath the dress, before the only candle that rendered them any light flickered out.
He grew up underground. Away from the light. The lack of it bothered him not at all and he stood in the pitch blackness, listened to her step from the dress, from her heels, and slide onto the bed.
There was not a sound in the little apartment. She breathed so shallowly no one would have known she was there.
No one but him.
He took his time undressing.
He sat on the edge of his bed. He knew where everything was located. If he was suddenly blinded nothing would change. He knew the underground like the back of his hand. He grew up thinking he would never need the light. Going above was tedious, a chore. Even in the opulent surroundings his status above afforded him there, he grew tired of being above. He thought he could survive without the light.
Until his light disappeared.
Then he had known a blackness no other could compare.
Slowly, tiredly, he unknotted his tie, allowed the ends to drip down his chest. One by one he unbuttoned his shirt, slid the buttons from the narrow slits at his wrists. He toed off his dress shoes. He pulled off his dress pants and briefs, let them fall to the thickly carpeted floor. His keys clinked together in his pocket as they landed.
He pulled off his socks and sat for a moment. Now he had found her, exhaustion consumed him. He was so fucking tired. Two months of not knowing where she was, what she was doing, not knowing if he would ever see her again, caught him in a bone-crushing embrace and he almost succumbed under the pressure.
He turned toward her and put a hand to her cheek. He knew precisely where she was positioned by the way the mattress tilted, the way the silk comforter moved around her. He knew exactly where to find her hands, her feet.
He pushed her into the pillows, smothering her with is body. He wanted to be around her, inside her, consumed by her so thoroughly he could no longer recognize himself from her.
He pulled her to him, his hand under her head, his other skimming along her ribs, her hip, along the smooth lines of her derriere.
Poised to take her, he wanted to know only one thing. “Do you really need me to tell you I love you?”
The word floated from her mouth into the darkness as soft and light as a feather until it gained speed and ricocheted around the room, nicking his heart, piercing his soul.