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Pecan suds trickle down Eden’s shirt. Not that anyone sees or cares. Patrons stare through her. She glares at her pint, then the cigarette butts that litter an ashtray nearby.

Ava and Mia insist she needs a night out. They swear her head is in the clouds.

But her heart is on the rocks.

A deadpan waitress scrambles for tips. She dumps a pile of napkins by Eden on instinct.

Eden dabs at her shirt before it sticks.

The small town is almost caricatured in livid pinups and wranglers that poster the walls. Backwoods ballads chord the need that weeps in her chest.

Mia bites her lip. She rakes a hand through her hair, intent to fashion the unruly tufts she imagines. Everything rides on the grizzly man in the corner. Each time their eyes meet, she looks to the gold band on his finger. He’s on his third beer. Her gaze falls to his callused grasp as he tosses it back.

Every so often, a redhead hugs him from behind. The ring on her finger spirals into a modest diamond. The woman glows under a spotlight. She casts as much as she claims. Her name erupts from those around her: Ivy. Mia eyes the crimson mane. She wonders if the carpet matches the drapes.

Ivy hears her.

Eden tenses. But she remembers this is a small town. No one really belongs to anyone. They belong to the quick, the cursory. Vain flings. Hammy platitudes. Backstrokes and blowjobs which elicit I love you’s.

They belong to whims. Not to people.

“I think she likes you.” Eden muses to no one in particular, but the innuendo packs the desired, disarming effect.

Mia and Ivy stiffen but take pause. The husband is out of hearing range. He slumps across the bar none the wiser, eyeing shapely figures who saunter past. The realization of his wandering eye inclines the women to exchange glances.

They leave Eden to her own devices.

Eden sees Ava not too far off. The flare in her eye wanes. It is eclipsed by the vacant glow of her phone. She clenches the device intently, wanting and waiting for it to ring ever since they got there. Countless feeds engross her in the meantime. Beautiful people whose artifice is somehow credible. They share a lot with her—likes, wants, trends—but they’ve got style. Everything comes together. That’s apart of the lure. They sell the good life.

Ava sells it too. She indulges herself to mask her problems. Her profiles are immodest, an assortment of airbrushed assets riddled with hashtags.

But Eden knows better. The spectacle is, was, and always will be a way to be noticed. All those eyes on her, but the pair she desires remain to be seen. Those eyes are trained upon others. They run over Ava and leer after their naked morass. She answers whenever they call to enjoy the view again.

Someone always calls even if he doesn’t.

Ava thinks being alone is only fun when you’ve got someone to do it with. Her sights are always set on something, someone to avoid facing herself. She seldom knows who she is anymore.

She confides in Eden: “I’m too young and too old. Too young to be looking ahead. Too old to change.”

Everyone thinks Ava takes what she wants, but she only wants one thing.

One man.

Anyone else just passes the time as she waits for him to call.


The waitress materializes when Ava retrieves her coat. She snatches the tab and pockets the change. Eden sighs when Ava staggers over. She eyes the soggy albeit brimming beer.

Ava knows Eden is a social drinker.

Ava knows Eden is antisocial.

Eden lets Ava snag the tart ale. Three gulps later, the pint dissolves despite the spilled contents that make its tankard stick. Ava rummages through her purse to dig out a compact. The waitress refills the empty glass. Between sips, Ava pours over her lopsided reflection in the tiny mirror. Clamshell barrettes teeth her hair into a loose bun. Her brow furrows amidst wands of mascara and eyeshadows.

Eden remembers how often Mia does likewise for personals who cease to be faceless when the heat is on. Mia likes girls, but can’t remember the last time she’s been with one. She forgets although she swears the liaisons were memorable. Clits harden like nipples, she says. They dew over as they stiffen. Heavy hearts, breasts, and palms that rouse both. Wavy manes sweep up and down her legs while a head rests between them. They relish what musk wafts from the sex they tongue in kind. Clefts kiss as hips roll. The climax is always prolonged or kindled anew, underscored by expletive epithets.

Mia and Ivy titter by the jukebox. The corner light hangs low like their tones.

Eden has unsteady hands. All they can apply are balms and toiletries. Her voice wavers not unlike her grasp. John fashions her in a distinct blush. He says “You look pretty amazing” amongst other things. She still has her pride despite his resignation to the guise she puts on for him.

“I’m headed out,” Ava declares. “I’m going to town.”

In more ways than one.

If Eden wants, Ava can give her a ride. It’s a long drive. Not too long, but long enough that she could use company.

But Eden knows it’s more than that. Just like indecision is a prelude to her love, obsession sets the stage for Ava. She rages for the man she adores. She strikes and crashes like lightning.



Then, finished.

The man is clear. His indifference is thunderous even as she heaves against him. Ava purges his memory in other arms and apertures.

Last weekend, she admits, she almost forgot him amidst the coarse push and pull of two businessmen fixing to thrill. She found herself cruising in their conference rental after they broached her for directions. They seated her between them, pawed over and under her outfit, then coaxed her to undress in their hotel suite. Sultry rock tracks inclined her to do a striptease.

One cupped her breasts after he coasted his cock between the globes until they glistened. The other man guided her hand to his penis, remarked on how her plum nail polish suited the turgid hue of his phallus and the heels of her sneakers. The music overtook her when they urged her to keep the shoes on.

Everything blurred. Hands and mouths tweaked her breasts, then her sex. When the men withdrew, they were glazed with her satisfaction. Ava closed her mouth over whatever digit or virility neared. They enclosed her breasts, suckled her sex and drenched the curls of its crown. She closed her legs as their hands, tongues, and tips burrowed deeper until the penises plunged in the flesh.

For the longest time, they alternated between her mouth and her sex. One pinched the clit as he pistoned deeper, faster; while the other slicked against the insides of her cheeks, the roof of her mouth, and the back of her throat. She straddled them, kneeled, hung off their sides. When they ran her between them, edged into sex and the ass, she saw stars. Back and forth, curling and folding, until sweat pooled from the roots of their scalps to the tips of their toes.

Milky torrents brimmed and varnished her every orifice. Their final spurts bathed her bosom and chin.

Ava still pleaded for more.

“They’re in town for the weekend too,” she adds. “They want to see me.”

Someone always does.

Even if that man doesn’t.

Ava nears the city exit. “What’s your man up to?”

“He’s not mine,” Eden mutters. “I mean, not really.”

“Not really?”

Eden doesn’t admit it, but she utters those three words when John spends the night. She drifts into his arms as he sleeps. Lying there, she lets her eyes and hands wander. Her palms throb upon his heartbeat after her fingers tread the veins which cord his knuckles. She runs her hands over his hair, inky rivets which smell like shea and sandstone. What she likes most is when his hands walk back to her, even if they’re too sleepy to seek anything in particular.

Ava nudges Eden when they pull up to her apartment. She assures Eden that she’ll be fine and tears off once she promises to text later.

Eden admits she envies her friends. No one can deny the enormity of their pride even though it’s ignoble. Their voices are numb, the kinds that offset happy endings or a lurid close; the kinds whose eyes stray as if it hurts to look in your face. They enunciate that you’re not a prize, but a proxy whose wan lustre tempers what light steals through the curtains.

Voices of leisure and hesitance.

Voices they recognize.

Voices which render you overcast despite the dawn or how high the moon.

The voices conjure incandescent haloes whose warmths are fixed for their luminescence. The light consumes them. It peals with a radiant and diffusive force, like rays from the sun. Each wear their heart on their sleeve, mindful of the entrails, thumbing the ventricles as if they stud a chalice whose contents are heady to pour yet prove tasteless.

Ava and Mia know who they are. The former, an unruly heroine whose sex supplants vacant liaisons; and the latter being a provincial devout who aspires to want and be wanted despite portly mores. To oblige avows their gravitas.

No more.

No less.

No shame.

Eden resolves to reign. She wants to be a queen even as she kneels before John, kissing his calves and all else until his legs tremble. Her crown falls apart as she bites her lip, wills herself to hush; swallow profuse, petty words she indulges to stave the fullness of his silence.

Absently, she thumbs the insides of her fingers, tracing some betrothal, listening to what clipped and pensive words he can muster. In her head, she’s always apologizing; always counting blessings only to come up short.

Which is why she gave John a key to her place. He indulges the desires of others but constrains his own, who never feels he must attenuate the need he arouses. He is a luminary whose sky is neither bland nor eclipsed by astral legions. Dusk becomes him: coral high beams which recede to the violet that inscribes the night.

Never one to impose.

Always as it should be.

Always as it remains.

Not unlike the trashcans which litter the sectional of tenant mailboxes in her apartment.

Thinking of John makes Eden think of moths. She read somewhere that moths evolved to travel by the light of the moon, something to do with their sense of direction. Except evolution never considered how modernity would spawn likewise luminosities. Old movies come to mind as the moon hangs outside her window; grainy, feverish shots of mottled locales that rise and fall across sultry scores. Everyone is lost, alone and adrift, stalking light fixtures.

Maybe that’s why she struggles to look John in the eye, whether they’re clad and casual or flesh to flesh. What if she looks in his eyes and finds the lure of irrevocable beacons, points of no return?

Eden presses her ear to his heart, guides his hand to hers, and hopes he feels how much this means to her. She wonders if the love in her eyes amounts to whatever lay behind his.

John has yet to say as much. His gaze is shrewd like that of an analyst whose eyes narrow after they fall. The odd time her eyes stray to his, she finds them content albeit pensive. She wonders if he truly sees her; if it’s only a matter of time before he leaves, likening her to something he mistakes for the moon.

A lone dracaena shrivels alongside a modem on her end table. It looks like a tuft of limp spindles. Water runs right through, leaving nothing of itself behind.

Eden showers, recovers her laundry, then grabs a small bite to eat. She indulges in a soda although the drink fails to sweeten that her tummy rounds out under roomy sweaters and baggy jeans. Most are folded away when John’s key turns in the steel lockset.

John doesn’t think he’s quiet, but he seldom speaks. Eden is unsure if that comes down to want or need. Does he want to spare himself from pretenses or pleasantries? Do words escape him because he doesn’t need them?

Prowess bulges in his trousers and warms all else. It’s been the same since the night they met: he busies himself with something else as she rambles with nervous excitement, then takes pause to inch closer and take her lips.

Sometimes, her chatter veers too intimately and she trudges to the bedroom. He stares bemusedly as she crosses her arms, legs, ankles, as if to knot herself so she might entangle some defenses. But her love is betrayed by weary admissions.

It’s love.

Call a spade a spade.

Eden thinks of Ava and Mia: moths to a flame whose lovers clip their wings and take flight. She recalls the onslaught of libidinous contacts who canvas her own inbox.

John chuckles when she tells them who slides into her DMs. He quips about salting the path, how greasy it must be to slide.

Eden opens the window. Warmth floods her cheeks although the night air blows across her face. She hears John rustling in the kitchen, offers him a drink, and nods off as he makes it himself. His lips brush hers as she awakens. He tastes like chamomile and castor seeds. Her hand cradles his. Her fingers close on his wrist, tracing the veins in his knuckles to his forearm.

It feels completely different when John does the same. He takes her arm, runs his thumb along her artery as if he tempers a blade. Veins which hallow excitement meet a curiously sensuous mouth. The lights in his eyes transfix her: the scleral lustre, iridescence of the irises, twinkles that pass along the pupil which loosens to constrict. Unsteady breaths hang between them, as if they forget how to breathe.

Too fast.

Too slow.

Too much.

Eden finds herself musing on Ava, Mia, anyone else who bears some semblance of radiance or regularity; whose wardrobes elicit floral trinkets and scents, wisps of lingerie lain across their beds which complement champagne flutes or candlelit nightstands. How their lovers strip them down as if to unwrap a present, then are undressed in kind. Desperation ails them. It is a sickness that spawns a phlegmatic fancy, void of warmth; the pretension of senses—sight, scent, hearing, taste, touch—and blithe additives of mystique and mood which compel them to play pretend.

Until reality closes in on them.

Eden kneels before John, then he in front of her. They close their eyes, stroke each other’s hair, swell towards hands and mouths which are both pursuant and receptive.

Except Eden wonders if John is removed even as he draws her near. His composure takes on an impartial intimacy as though he is a stranger to the sex he indulges. Yet Eden is drawn to this, sensuality ensigns his intrigue, as he gleans pleasure from her alone: grazing, thrusting, suckling letting himself be engrossed in her embrace. It’s like he only sees her when she holds his face in her hands. She whimpers as her fingers brush the noble, sharp contours.

Three words.

John washes over her, then comes up to grip and part her thighs. Her breasts sway and flush like lotuses amidst waterlilies. He kisses them. His penis touches her even when it ceases to plunge, frothing, hurling creamy strands which anoint her navel. It runs down her eyelids and her cheeks when she draws him to her lips.

Desires afflict her. They spill over because she struggles to reign them in. First comes joy, then fear and tension endow a heartfelt malaise. It bares a lone witness who discerns the chaos of chasms amidst the ventricles. She sees clearly, fully, but this clarity is unlike others. It is a lucid surety of mint aventurine baked in molten which spews from volcanic entrails. Only the greenest elements abide what they contain. One may discern what takes shape within the planar enclosure, every vestige that reveals what indisposition underwrites human nature.

Eden wants to cast them out, toss them to the sea, let them erode in the ocean, then recede to the haven of a lonesome cove. She wants to return maelstrom inflicted upon her. She wants to reign as a black sun whose overcast deluges its inferiors.

Every time she resolves to make John see stars, he resigns her to brittle constellations. He edges closer, deeper, but never enough. His sex idles along the peak and halts when she moves against him, trying to come just along the crown or fingertips. Eden always tries and fails to tease. She’s wound too tight. It’s only a matter of time before her paced pleasures unravel.

Eden finds herself staring into the trowel that flakes along her ceiling, harrowed by three telltale words.

The words remain unspoken.

They attenuate her pretenses. She plays coy, cool, rivaling John as she endeavours to be equally, if not more impassive. He inhabits a carnal milieu, a licentious abode whose partitions fortify their lone occupant. Walls enclose a hearth of steely sensuality. So, John is not head over heels. He is hospitable.

Eden’s walls are closing in. Reality tapers off the afterglow.

John descends for his own taste. He parts and purses the vulva, touching the lips as if to mould them again and again, like an analyst intent to shape forms so that he might ascertain them. The same goes for all else: touching and tasting purposed as appraisal, so much that Eden is nonplussed, until he is honeyed by musk that hastens his motions.

Afterwards, Eden lays awake. It takes no time for John to fall asleep. He stays asleep when she leaves to wander. She showers, cleans, reads, dotes on her cats. Sometimes, she walks to the piers which flank the municipal dockyard. All a means to quell what seethes.

Except the warmth never subsides.

Lightning fills the sky, mauving what cars park along the street. It starts to rain. Mists thicken the downpour. Eden finds herself swamped by tender waves which course back to her apartment.

John lays supine. Eden lays her head on his chest. Even as he sleeps, his overture is instinctive.

She nestles into his strong yet languid grip. “I love you.”

Eden tears up, wishing to draw the same from John, as his heart pounds against her temple. 

Image credit:
© Pexels • Gabi Perriello 

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