He watches her blood-red nails as she grips the steering wheel, lets the bass from the music reverberate through his body like a thunderstorm. The sky outside is a deep purple, and street signs swish past him like a memory he almost caught hold of. His hands are hot and his heart refuses to beat silently. One of her legs is crossed under her as she drives, and in that moment, he thinks she looks like the most careless person in the world. Her hair flows all sorts of ways from the crack in the window, where her cigarette smoke escapes from. A smirk lies on her face, an expression others would mistake for anger, yet by now he knows the lines and creases in her face the way he knows the lines in his Neruda book.
She flicks her cigarette out of the window and closes it. The car fills up with heat and he look at her legs, wrapped in black tights even in the middle of winter. Her dress a deep dark red, barely covering her thighs. He reaches over to place his hand on her and it no longer feels like winter. She smiles.
“Light one?” She asks.
He reaches for the joint hidden in her pack of cigarettes.
After taking a few puffs, he passes it to her, then rubs her thigh.
“Will you tell me something about you no one knows?”
Smoke surrounds her, wraps her in a hazy blanket.
He wishes she weren’t driving so he could bend her over in that dress.
“Oh, I don’t know. There really isn’t anything interesting about me.”
She passes the joint back to him as he laughs at her remark.
He blows the smoke in her direction. She takes an exit off the interestate, the sky is now a plum, almost maroon color. His hand is still on her thigh.
“Okay, how about this. When I fall asleep at night, I remember this cliff my sister and I used to go to all the time in Canada with the friends we made at the campground. Every summer, we’d spend a whole day jumping off together and swimming in the lake below. As I’m going to sleep, I relive jumping off that cliff a thousand times.”
He’s been holding the joint for too long now and he has to relight it. She lights a cigarette, rolls down the window, lets it suck all the air from the car.
“A lover? Maybe. Something tender, anyway. But tender like a bruise.”
– Marie Rutkoski
When she talks, he watches her mouth move. She sighs, purses her lips. She is looking at him, waiting. He doesn’t remember what they were talking about and now her mouth resembles the sun. Her teeth shining from the reflection of the lake and he turns to it. Her eyebrows furrow.
“So, what do you think?”
He glances at her sideways and laughs. “I can’t think about anything when I’m around you.”
He grabs her hands, pulls her into him. Roses, tenderness. He holds soft hands and thinks of the wind blowing her away. Her lips taste like raspberries. She pulls away from him, and he sees spots of yellow in his vision from the sun. She looks like something inhuman, like something that doesn’t belong on this Earth. He imagines her as a God, descending from a place, similar to heaven, solely to love him.
She is talking again and he looks at her confused face.
“What?” He asks.
She eyes him, lights a cigarette. “Nevermind.”
He takes one from her pack for himself.
“How many people have you loved before me?”
Now she is laughing.
“That is a terrible thing to ask, you know.”
He tastes sweet tobacco, his blood runs more quickly now.
“I know, but I couldn’t help but ask.”
“A better question to ask would be, have I ever loved anyone as I love you? Because of course I have loved before you, but I have never loved anyone the way I do you. I’ve loved more things than I can count: people, places, feelings. Strangers in the bookstore, a boy in daycare who stood up for me, my fifth grade English teacher, the man I lost my virginity to. Although, I’ve never loved anything the same way twice.”