Authors: April Emerson
“You can use my dad’s old tools, if you want. I think they’re out in the shed.”
He follows her and her stomach feels like there are sparklers in it; little bursts of nerves and anticipation make themselves known at regular intervals. There’s no turning back now. She unlocks her front door, throws her bag on the table and turns to face him. Blue eyes, hooded sweatshirt, jeans. He’s hypnotizing.
She gestures for Eric to follow her out the back door toward the shed. The afternoon is bright and pleasant; the air crisp and warm. Bluebirds sing in the trees above them as Eric walks beside her through the yard.
“How is the house coming?”
The sunlight shimmers on his face and he licks his lips. “Good. It’s good. Still a lot of work left to do. It should take about six months or so to get it done.”
She tries to memorize the sound of his voice and the way their feet step in unison as they walk. “Is anyone helping you?”
“I have contractors come in when necessary, but I want to do most of the work myself. Architecture and construction are both passions of mine. I designed the house. I want to build it. It’s more authentic to me that way.”
Emma’s impressed by the evident intensity he feels for his job. A passion she also possesses. Something Aaron never understood.
“Have you built many homes?”
She doesn’t get an answer because Eric stops walking, distracted by the sight before him. He stares at the rusted lock that binds the shed doors together.
“Do you have a key?” Eric bends down to examine the lock.
She shakes her head. “I have no idea where it would be. I don’t know what’s even in the shed, to be honest with you.”
“Well, I could take the door off.” He stands and studies the door and the hinge. “Actually, this door is pretty rotten. I think if I took it off, I would never get it back on again.”
Emma watches as he slides his hands along the wood. He scrutinizes the lock again and then walks behind the shed and disappears.
“What are you doing?” Emma asks.
He returns with an axe in his hands. For some reason, the sight of Eric holding a weapon sends a chill through her. He looks lethal standing there. His eyes are different, darker. Emma no longer sees Eric. She sees the brute that lives just beneath the surface. The man she remembers from the club and the parking lot. The stormy-eyed man who takes whatever he wants.
Without a word, he raises the axe over his shoulder and Emma feels afraid. He swings, and strikes the rusted lock. The ping of metal hitting metal rings in her ears, and she steps back as he strikes again. She watches his muscles move as he swings the axe against the rusted lock. He looks animalistic, and Emma feels the spark. He’s on a quest; driven to get inside. As she watches him, her fear morphs into lust. His strength and force make her legs feel weak. She likes watching him this way—barbaric and merciless. The dark part of her is growing—the spark is becoming a flame. She
The lock splits in two on his third strike and he rests the axe against the shed and stares at her as he catches his breath. Emma is held in his gaze.
He waves for her to come closer. “Let’s see what’s inside.”
A musty haze greets them as they enter. Eric explores, lifting up tarps and opening boxes. Emma looks, but doesn’t touch.
“That’s weird.” Eric peers beneath one of the many canvas blankets that cover the items which have lived in this shed since Emma was a young girl.
“What is it?”
“It’s a mountain bike.” He removes the cover, and a cloud of dust circles around him.
Emma’s mouth falls open at the sight of him. He looks like a phoenix rising up from the ashes, cast in light and shadow. His eyes squint at the dust.
“That must have been Ann’s. She used to ride the trails around here.” Emma recalls the memory from conversations with her father.
“Yeah? We should fix it up for you. We could go riding together.” Eric looks at her with hopeful eyes and Emma’s rolls the word “we” around in her mind over and over again, surprised at the effect the word is having on her and how much she liked hearing him say it.
“That would be nice.”
“Hell yeah, it would be nice.” Eric stares at the bike and Emma is convinced he didn’t mean to say that out loud. She pretends she didn’t hear him.
He clears his throat and picks up a toolbox. “I think I found what I need. Let’s go back to the house.”
Eric reaches up to shut the shed door, and a sharp pain digs into his left hand. Then another, and another. “Ow . . . fuck!”
“What is it?” She hears a buzz and then it gets louder. She looks up and sees a hive. A swarm of irate bees emerge from the disturbed nest that was hidden under the eaves of the old shed.
“Run.” Eric grabs Emma with his right hand and half drags her to the house. The furious hum of the bees is at their back as they race to safety. They enter the kitchen and Emma runs upstairs past Eric, leaving him alone in the kitchen. He assumes she is terrified, and plunges his swollen hand under the faucet, hoping the cool water will give him some relief. It hurts like hell, and he winces, trying not to focus on the piercing pain.
“Let me help you.”
Eric startles. He didn’t hear her come back down the stairs, and he flinches at her sudden presence. He turns around and sees that she’s trying to stifle a laugh.
He smiles at her. “Is this funny to you?”
“No. Of course not. I’m sorry.” She shakes her head, trying to shed her smile. Then she offers her palm to Eric and waits for him to place his wounded hand in hers.
He does, and watches as she drags her fingernail along the places where he was stung, drawing the stingers out of his skin. It’s painful, but pleasurable at the same time. Her gentle touch provides immediate relief to him, and not just because she’s removing the source of his physical pain. Her presence alone soothes him and he closes his eyes as he absorbs it.
Eric has spent many sinful nights wondering what his fate will be. Since he’s unable to stifle his cravings, he has always feared he will live forever in isolation. But since he met Emma, every time he has had the pleasure of being near her, he has felt maybe that won’t be the case. Maybe his heart could feel full. He has been starving it for as long as he can remember, and now it’s gorging itself on the nourishment she offers.
She runs a cotton ball soaked in witch hazel over his injury. It’s wet and cool on his burning skin. The top of her head is right at his chin and he breathes in the scent of her hair. It’s pleasing and sweet, just like she is. He watches her concentrate on giving him first aid. He watches her trying to make him better.
Emma contains her laughter as she withdraws each stinger from his flesh. Eric has seemed like an invincible force, yet here he is, broken up over a bee sting. His hands are rough and calloused, and she squelches a craving to feel them elsewhere.
Along the side of her face, across her knee, down her thigh . . .
She looks up at him, surprised at how close his face is to her. He’s watching her. His breath tickles her face, and she’s lost in the beautiful blue of his eyes.
“Thanks.” His eyes move to her lips.
She leaves her hand in his, luxuriating in the sensation of being so close to him. She wants to believe he was brought here for a reason. To save her from herself. She wants to believe he’s here because of God’s will. That there’s a purpose to this moment, and that purpose will make itself clear to her when she’s ready to see it. She feels this with such intensity she’s compelled to share the thought with Eric.
“Do you ever think that things happen for a reason?” she asks.
He crinkles his brow. “Like fate?”
“Yeah, kind of like that. For me, it’s not fate. It’s God.”
“You truly believe God exists, don’t you?” His hand still rests in hers and his thumb rubs a circle against the inside of her wrist.
“Yes. You don’t?” She runs her soft fingertips against his hand.
“I’m more interested to hear why you do.”
“Well, think about my wind chime for instance . . .”
“Let’s not.” He smiles.
“No, really. I mean, it was one of the few things my father saved of my mother’s after she left him. When I moved back, I found it and hung it up. Then you heard it, and now here we are in my kitchen, together. When I think about things like that, about each thing that had to happen to bring something or someone into my life—that’s when I
Eric has never heard anyone explain faith like that to him, and when she speaks about it, it makes him want to believe, too. He thinks about the unknown hardship she has been through and he’s even more impressed by her faith; that she would still believe in God after a marriage that’s broken, for reasons still foreign to him. He considers the fact that if her husband had not left her, he wouldn’t be standing here holding her hand right now. He can’t understand why a man would leave a woman this good, this kind.
“What happened to your husband?”
Emma pulls her hand out of his and moves away from him. “I’d rather not talk about that . . . right now.”
He wishes his curiosity hadn’t forced her to retreat from him and to take her gentle touch away, but he wants an answer. He wants to know more about what happened to her, but he can wait. Eric nods with respect in response to her request, takes the wrench off the counter, and begins to fix the faucet.
As he lies on the floor and works under the sink, Emma sits at the table and pretends to stare out the window, but she’s not. She’s watching him, listening to him grunt as he works. The repair is easy; she could’ve fixed the leaky faucet herself. All Eric needed to do was tell her how. But he didn’t. He fixed it for her. He’s here.
He stands and wipes his hands, walking toward her on his long, lean legs. He towers over her and she looks up at him, trying not to stare at the obvious bulge in his pants. She stands, closing the narrow gap between them.
“That was very kind of you, Eric. I’d like to make it up to you somehow.” Her tone is sultry and suggestive, and when she hears herself, she’s shocked by her own voice.
Eric doesn’t answer. He doesn’t smile. He just looks at her. Her words hang heavy and unanswered in the air. He raises his hand and here it comes. This is what Emma has wanted since the first time she saw him. She wants him to touch her, to kiss her. She feels the craving and this time she doesn’t push it away. She accepts it. She stares into his eyes, riddled with anticipation.
But he doesn’t kiss her.
His hand comes up to her shoulder and he pushes her hair off her neck. His skin grazes hers and she’s covered in goose bumps. Her eyes flutter as he touches her, and then he lowers his hand to his side.
“How about we go riding tomorrow?”
Her heart is in her throat and she can’t speak. He doesn’t know it, but she will do anything that he asks.
“All right.” She’s still dazed by his touch.
He walks to the door, and Emma comes to her senses, remembering a prior obligation.
“Wait, Eric, I can’t tomorrow. I’m going out with friends. But I can go on Saturday.” She hopes with her entire being that he will accept.
“Then I’ll see you Saturday,” he answers, and disappears through her front door.
Late for her appointment with Abby’s husband, Emma runs, flustered, through the parking lot into the law office.
“Hello, Emma. Long time no see.” Jeff greets her, dressed in an impeccable pinstripe suit, with his unruly hair smoothed into place. He’s handsome and professional. He kisses her cheek and she sits in the leather armchair.
“Abby tells me you’d like to legally end your marriage.”
Hearing the words makes Emma’s heart skip a beat. It’s hard for her to hear and to admit, but she knows she must do it.
“Yes. That’s right.”
“I consulted with a colleague and, since you were married in Boston, we have to work with their laws. I’ve printed them out for you. Here’s a copy.”
Grounds for Filing: The Petition for Dissolution of Marriage must declare the appropriate grounds upon which the dissolution of marriage is being sought. The dissolution of marriage grounds are as follows . . .
“Honestly, Jeff, this is Greek to me.”
“Well, that’s why I’m here.” He flashes a smile. “Since we’re unable to contact Aaron, the only grounds we have to file on are that Aaron has abandoned you. However, the law states that at least one year must pass before you file, and this is where we have a problem.”
“A problem?” Emma had not anticipated this.
“Yes. According to what Abby has told me, it’s been seven months since Aaron left, is that correct?”
“Then unfortunately, we won’t be able to file for another five months. Unless, of course, we try to find Aaron.”
Dejected, Emma later drives to meet her friends. They sit in a restaurant, with an unopened bottle of champagne in the middle of the table. No one says anything and Emma is greeted by two faces filled with pity.
“I know this is supposed to be a celebration, but it looks like there’s nothing to celebrate.”