Her house was tall. In Nalaise, wealth was portrayed by how many floors your house was. Hers was the tallest house, aside from The General’s.
She wasn’t coming out.
I was waiting for nothing.
She told me to wait, and she would come live with me after she told her parents, but seeing where she lived now, and picturing the hole I was living in until I could afford to by my own… tent… she would never want to live with me after this. Candles glowed from every window, and through the windows I saw the walls were lined in gold. The window frames were inlaid with FireStones. FireStones. The most expensive stone known in all the regions, and they were using it on their window-sills, exposed to rain, and weather, and the average passerby. I wanted to pull out my pocket knife and pry some of the stones out of their window-sill to teach them a lesson.
Valuable things get stolen.
You can’t keep them.
“Okay, Micheal, let’s go.”
She slammed the door, and shivered in the cold. She had no bags with her. She wore no cloak. She wasn’t planning on staying. Her eyes were filled with tears when she finally looked up at me. Anger flooded my blood.
Who would make her cry?
Who hurt her?
I would hunt them down. They would pay for hurting such a delicate thing.
I caught her tears with the back of my hand, and pulled her into my arms. The curtains twitched in the nearest window. Her family was watching me.
“Nothing. It’s fine.”
Growing up with seven sisters told me it was not fine.
“Come on baby, you can tell me.”
Her hair smelled so good as she nuzzled her head right below my chin.
“Oh, they said I was already promised to someone, and if I chose to walk out on that promise, I couldn’t come back.”
I knew it. She wasn’t coming. They would have promised her to someone of equal, or greater standing. She wouldn’t want to come with me. I should have taken that job offer from that guy earlier. He would have paid well, and I could have been good enough for her.
Was all I could muster. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Nothing seemed to fit.
“Yeah,” she sniffed, and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “So, where’s your place?”
“Where do you live? Where do we live?”
“Alice, you can’t walk out on a promise.”
It was too good to be true.
“It wasn’t their promise to make, and I have no need to uphold it. I don’t want an easy life with someone I don’t love.”
“Life with me won’t be easy, dear.”
“But life with you will be worth it.”
I didn’t fight her anymore. I just wanted to get her home. I held her as close as I could as we wound down the streets. Her confidence started to wane as the buildings got shorter, and she started to shiver as the buildings turned to shacks, and then tents, and then poorly dug holes.
“You’ve never been down to the Tunnel Dwellers have you?”
She shook her head.
“I’ve never been down past the Five-Floors.” She took my hand and tried to smile. “Worth it.” She whispered, and kissed my neck. She was short, and had to stand on tip-toe to reach my neck. I could bend, and kiss her back, but it was so dang cute watching her try to reach.
“You know I’m not planning on staying in Nalaise, right? I’m planning on going to Snartec. They are always pleading for choppers, so it’s an almost guaranteed job. But it won’t pay well. Only two or three Regions actually need wood.”
I was rambling. I was giving her an out. But she reached up and pressed her fingers to my lips.
I shuffled my feet, and looked at the ladder leading into the ground next to us.
“Well then, welcome home.”
She stared at the ladder in confusion.
“You go down. Home is underground.”
“I knew that.”
Her blush said she didn’t know that.
“Do you want me to go first and show you how it’s done?”
She nodded. I looked up as she started to descend into my cave, and my mouth dropped open. I could see right up her dress. I tried to look away, but I didn’t want to.
“Well, it is cozy isn’t it.”
The room wasn’t made for two people. The table was pushed against one wall, and a mattress was sandwiched between it, and the opposite wall. That’s all there was. I had a small suitcase with all my clothes in it, but I didn’t own anything else.
“We’ll have a magnificent place in Snartec, I promise.”
“Okay.” She knelt on the mattress, and started straightening the sheets. She frowned at the stains. I forgot to get new sheets before I brought her here. “This will be tight sleeping won’t it?”
“We’ll be sleeping together? On the same bed?”
I didn’t want her to have to sleep on my dirty sheets.
“Well, it’s the only bed here, so I guess that would be our only option.”
I hadn’t even kissed her yet. Not properly. Now I was supposed to sleep next to her? I would mess it up. She wouldn’t like my morning breath. I probably didn’t smell as good as she did. I hadn’t thought this through.
“Come on Micheal, it’s late.”
She patted the bed, and flicked the jar of Lacelights. I blew out the candles, and only the Lacelights lit up the room. As I laid down, she stood and undid the sash on her dress. She whisked her dress off, and stood, completely naked, in front of me. My heart sped up.
“Um, what are you doing?”
Are you hinting?
Are you ready now?
How was my breath?
“It’s a nice dress. I don’t want it to wrinkle. Tomorrow I’ll wear some of your clothes and I’ll sell the dress. Then we’ll have some money to get down to Snartec.”
I tried to fight disappointment.
“Oh. That’s smart.”
She nodded and laid down next to me. She snuggled up against my side, and eased one leg across mine.
What was she doing to me?
Was this another hint?
She was so naive. She probably didn’t mean anything by it. I started to count the roots coming through the ceiling. It was going to be a long night with her beside me. So available, but maybe not ready yet.
Six weird knots in the wood on the side of the table.
Eleven freckles across her pale back.
She whispered as the Lacelights began to fade.
Two rocks that looked like they might fall out of the wall soon.
Fifteen rungs on the ladder.
“Were you ever going to kiss me?”
I didn’t need to be asked twice. I pushed her onto her back, and finally tasted her lips. They were better than I imagined they would be. I’d been with a few women before, but they were hired. I paid them to be good. I paid them to let me do what I wanted.
Alice was different.
Alice was pure.
I worried I would mess up. I worried she wouldn’t enjoy it. She didn’t know what to do. She was waiting for my direction. I kissed her again, and her fingers danced across my back. Nervously, she eased my shirt off, and I hastily pulled my legs free of my pants. Ugh. I was covered in grime. I should have showered before picking her up.
“What do you want, love?”
I gently bit her ear, and she gasped. She pressed her hands against my face, and held me away from her. My heart stopped when I saw fear in her eyes.
“Alice? What’s wrong?”
“I think,” she paused, and slowly met my eyes. “I think I want it to hurt.”
“I know my first time might hurt, and I’d rather it be on purpose.” She smiled at me, and trailed her fingers down my chest. “We’ll be joining our souls. I think that sounds like it might be a beautiful pain.”
“Alice, we’re not ‘joining our souls”, and I don’t want to hurt you.”
I bent down and kissed her neck, and trailed my lips down to the edge of her breast, but she put a hand up and stopped me.
“You promised me you’d keep me safe. This is how I swear myself to you. I need to relinquish that control to you.”
“You’re sheltered, Alice. I don’t think you understand what you’re asking.”
“I don’t mean every time. I just mean this time. Symbolically. I need to feel pain right now. I need a pain I can enjoy.”
Her voice was muffled behind my mouth, and I grabbed her hands and held her arms above her head. I worked my way down, and gently bit her breast. She squirmed beneath me.
“Alright. I’m game if you are.”
I positioned myself, and slowly pushed in. Her expression changed as I had my way, and her smile vanished. She squeezed her eyes shut, and one tear slipped past her lid.
“Oh, baby, see I told you you didn’t really want it that way.”
I smoothed her hair, and apologized, but she sniffed and shook her head.
“It’s not that. You were fine.” Her legs wrapped around me, and she buried her head in my shoulder. “I’m an orphan now, Micheal. I can’t go home.”
“Do you want to go home?”
This was not the conversation I wanted to have right now.
“No, I don’t. It’s just hitting me what I gave up.”
“Hitting you now, while I’m…”
Her eyes widened.
“No! No. I’m sorry I shouldn’t be thinking about that right now. I want to focus on you.” She pushed herself against me.
“Please. Make me forget.”
Soon her tears turned to screams, and I knew my neighbors would be jealous of me. As the Lacelights drifted off to sleep, and she fell asleep in my arms, exhausted, I was so grateful she came with me.
Only good things could come from this promise she broke.