Authors: April Emerson
Emma puts on her blinker, and her car rattles over the rough dirt surface. She sees him enter the bar. It’s a hole-in-the-wall, a dive. She glances down at her pajama-clad body and then up at the sky. There’s no answer there. She shuts off the engine, and closes her eyes. Once again, the emotional exhaustion permeates through her, it owns her.
She falls into a dreamless sleep, and later awakens, disoriented in her car. She hears a giggle and sees Stormy Eyes standing in the shadows of the faint light from the bar. His Jeep is parked just a few feet away and he’s with a woman. Emma can’t quite see who it is this time. It’s beginning to become clear to her, like a shadow passing over the moon: he needs this.
Something about his compulsion is compelling Emma. It’s pulling her away from her pain and into something else. She can see his hands touching, seeking. The girl’s feet leave the ground. Stormy is devouring her. His body thrusts into the dark-skinned girl, and flames of lust fan across Emma’s skin as she watches. Somewhere deep inside her, in a place she keeps covered and quiet, Emma wants him to get as far and as deep as he can inside this nameless, faceless girl. She wishes she could take her place, and let his body make hers forget.
Emma’s hand slides over her own thigh as she peeks at them from the cover of her car. She surrenders to her lust and lets it take her as she sinks down into its depths. Her eyes stay locked on the couple and her hand moves faster.
Eric’s mind is like a heat-seeking missile, it cannot be dissuaded from its course for any reason. He’s getting what he needs, and everything goes black. The girl squeals and her fingernails dig into his shoulder. He knows what she wants and he gives it to her that way. Hard, rough, and fast. His Jeep rocks back and forth against their weight. Her hot breath beats a steady cadence against him.
Any second now.
The next morning, Emma walks into the confessional and it feels like a coffin. She confesses her shameful sin and listens to the words of the priest.
“Rather than trying to put this puzzle together, why not consider how you can resist this weakness?” Father O’Hara asks.
She hangs her head with remorse, but she wants an answer. “Father, why would God bring this man into my life if He didn’t want me to feel this? Aren’t these feelings His will? If I feel desire, isn’t it God that has brought this to me? Wouldn’t it be a show of His mercy for me to feel something else besides pain?”
“God will show you His mercy when you reach the gates of heaven, my child. He will show you mercy for following the path He has laid out for you. A path of righteousness. It is the devil that tempts you now. The devil makes you feel lust for a man who is not your husband.” Father O’Hara does his best to guide her, though Emma knows he can show her the path but he can’t force her to walk it. What she does with his counsel is between her and the Lord.
Emma says her penance, and leaves the church just as lonely and confused as when she entered.
It’s raining. Eric drives along the slick roads with no aim, looking for a distraction. He passes Sean’s house, but he can’t go in. He won’t be able to keep himself from flirting with Sean’s fiancée. He’s thought of a million ways to fuck her since he met her, and his almost nonexistent will won’t allow that scenario to end well. He needs a hobby. He considers everything from buying a
bike to adopting a dog. He passes a liquor store and there’s his answer.
Eric drives with his brand new copilot: a large bottle of red wine that rests on the seat beside him. He pulls onto his street. The sheets of heavy rain obscure his view of the old white house. He stops at the top of his driveway and stares at her lonely window. The light is yellow and warm. A beacon in the storm. A small salvation. Down his dark, muddy driveway, the trees hang low, almost forbidding entry. All that waits at the end is a cell, a cage. Isolation. No comfort, no way to escape his thoughts or to rein in
his sick desire. He looks back at her house and convinces himself she must live alone. There’s no ring on her finger and one car in her driveway. He grabs the wine and runs out into the rain.
The sound of the falling rain is a choir, steady and melodic. It slaps against the window and Emma imagines it’s a baptism. There’s enough rain to wash her sins away. She stares at it as she takes the roast out of the oven. The wind picks up and makes the old house creak. It tosses her wind chime around with brutal force. The chime bangs against itself, crying out a plea to be saved from the savage gusts.
Emma hears it and thinks of her neighbor. She tries to steel herself against impure thoughts as she carves the roast. Instead, she thinks of all the dinners she cooked and ate with Aaron. She tries to think of the happy times. The times that he said,
“Tastes great, babe”.
She tries not to think of the times they ate in silence, the times they had no appetite.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Emma jumps and wipes her hands on the dishrag as she walks to the door. She can feel who waits on the other side and her breath leaves her. The rain continues to punish the house and the wind whistles as she opens the door. Against the night and the weather, his eyes look different. Less tortured, less ravenous. They almost look pained, and her heart clenches at the sight of him. He’s soaked. The rain has caused his black shirt to cling to him and water drips from the darkened locks on his head. A gust of wind blows his scent toward her. She can smell his skin, woodsy and fresh.
“What do you want?” Her words are harsh and they leave her mouth before her brain has a chance to filter them. She regrets them in an instant.
He shifts his feet, the cockiness she has so often witnessed now absent. He extends his hand, offering the bottle of wine to her. “I thought I would apologize—”
As he speaks, the wind chime clangs against itself, interrupting him, as if on cue. Their eyes lock, thunder booms in the distance, and then a strange thing happens—Emma laughs. Laughter bursts forth from her and she puts her hand to her stomach to try to contain it.
She hears the sound of Eric’s laughter joining her own. “That thing has a personality of its own, I guess.” He side-eyes the wind chime.
“Yes. I guess it does.” She wipes a tear from her eye as the last tremors of her laughing fit roll through her.
She dares to look at him again and is surprised to discover the person behind the mask he shows to others. A person who is just as lonely as she is. With a timid motion, she reaches out her hand and takes the wine.
“Thank you.” The smile still rests on her lips. “My name is Emma.”
“I’m Eric.” The smile on his face also refuses to fade.
They stand silent in each other’s company, and then Emma makes a decision she may either come to treasure or regret. She’s not sure which, and in this moment, she doesn’t care. “Would you like to come in?”
Eric thought she would never ask. Light shines out from the hall onto the porch, illuminating Emma’s silhouette. She looks like an angel. Such innocence, such purity. Her kindness exudes in waves, and he soaks it up from her like she’s the sun. Something warm and inviting, in spite of all of this cold. A heavenly smell wafts through the doorway and makes his stomach convulse with hunger.
“Yes. I’d like that.”
She moves aside as he walks into her home as if he lives there, entering her kitchen.
“Are you hungry? I was just making dinner, if you’d like some.”
“I’m starving.” Eric sits down at the table, completely at ease in this unfamiliar place. The chair feels like it was made for him and he lets himself get wrapped up in the aromas of this warm, dry kitchen.
Emma brings a corkscrew and one wine glass to the table.
“Just one?” He gestures toward the glass. He uses the edge of the corkscrew to remove the foil from the neck of the bottle.
“I don’t drink,” she says.
There’s apprehension in her eyes, like she’s a child and he’s offering her ice cream before she’s eaten supper. She’s avoiding his gaze. Eric has noticed this is a habit of hers. He stops what he’s doing, stands, and tilts his head until she looks up at him.
“You can’t make me drink alone.” His voice is sensual and deep.
Emma’s riveted to each word he says, each move he makes. “No, I guess that would be rude.” She backs away from him and reaches up into the cupboard to grab another wine glass.
Eric admires the curves of her body. The crucifix that rests above the window catches his eye, and he casts his gaze away from her, not wanting to defile the sanctity of this haven with his dark debauchery. Eric pops the cork and fills each glass, and Emma raises hers. Her hand trembles and Eric smiles as she makes a toast.
“To neighbors,” she says.
“To neighbors.” Eric clinks his glass against hers.
They sit down to eat and Emma studies the way his muscular body overwhelms her small table. She can’t remember the last time a man sat here. He looks out of place and perfect, at the same time. It makes her feel safe in a way she has missed.
He tears into his food and sips his wine. His damp clothes still caress his body in ways that Emma finds too pleasing. She looks away and spoons some gravy onto her plate. Eric fills her glass again before she can say no. It’s clear she’s not the only one who has missed sharing a meal.
“This wine is very good, thank you.”
Eric holds the glass beneath his nose and breathes in the bouquet. “I couldn’t decide between this or the Burgundy.”
Emma watches as he sips and savors the flavor. “You know a lot about wine?”
“It’s a little obsession of mine.” He smiles.
Emma sips in the same manner he did, searching for whatever it is that he finds so appealing.
“Do you own this home?” Eric asks.
“No, well, I grew up here. My parents spilt up when I was in junior high. I moved away with my mother, and my father stayed here.”
“And where is he now?” Eric swallows another forkful of meat.
“He’s traveling the country with his wife, Ann. They bought a motor home when he retired. They haven’t lived here in years; no one has . . . until I came back.”
“Well, that explains the disrepair.”
She flinches, and he knows he said the wrong thing. “I didn’t mean . . . I mean this is such a large house . . .”