TEARS SWOLLEN WITH SHAME BURNED MY EYES and all the wrong words clawed at the inside of my throat but I would not cry or speak. He sat as far away from me as possible on the cracked backseat of an old taxi where years of lovers must have wound around each other, eager to be alone. Is it possible to believe that the one you are sure is the incarnation of all your desires cannot be warmed by the heat of your longing? As we turned down Canal Street the colored Christmas lights in the windows of the restaurants and taverns seemed sad and forlorn. We passed The Old Mermaid Inn and I covered my face and sighed.
“I’m so sorry, Baptiste.” I spoke as calmly as I could. “I’m sorry I was so forward.”
The door of the Inn opened and a lone, hunched figure stepped out into the street.
“I’m so foolish,” I gasped, letting the tears fall. “I dream up these ridiculous mysteries then I try to find people to fit them. I’m a stupid country girl in love with a phantom.”
I pressed my cheek to the cold of the window letting the flush of my humiliation fog the glass.
His hand slid down my back so softly I scarcely felt it. When he reached my waist he curled his arm around me and lifted me backward into his embrace. I turned but his hand cupped my chin and his mouth covered mine before a word could escape.
Snow fell in round, fat puffs as he walked me to my door. The taxi idled at the corner and I clung to him lacking any sense or thought.
“Come in.” I pressed myself against him. “Come in and stay tonight.”
He bent and kissed my mouth and let his face rest against mine. “If I do...” he said choosing his words carefully, “what will happen tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow is Christmas, Baptiste. Anything can happen on Christmas.”
He lifted his face and stared down into my eyes. And then he nodded.
As he turned back to dismiss the taxi I made a solemn vow that whatever happened would exist only between us without interference from the rest of the world. I would not offer him my passion colored by conditions. If we were to be lovers, even for one night, it would be my gift, as much to myself as to him, and I would not beg heaven for more. As the taxi pulled away the driver’s eyes met mine and he smiled as though in benediction.
Baptiste turned, raised his head and shook it violently sending the snow flying in a white whirlwind. He raised his hand and pointed his finger toward me.
“This is your last chance, cher. If I walk down this path your life will never be the same.” But he was smiling.
I held out my arms and he walked right into them.
I had dreamed a thousand coming-togethers in the preceding weeks but fantasies cannot compare to reality. Whether or not Baptiste was the accomplished lover I had imagined him to be, my own fire was so intense it filled all the spaces between us. A smear of pink lipstick along his jaw startled me when I lifted my head to kiss him until I realized it was my own and our history had already begun. His breath was exquisite and I longed for his mouth even as it covered mine.
I moved my lips to his ear whispering, “Have you ever dreamed of doing something you would regret for the rest of your life?”
His hands tangled in my hair. He gasped, hiding his face from me and I could not imagine what truth I had disturbed as my lips sought his hands and the thickness of his fingers separating strands of my hair. My cloak fell across the back of the couch and was covered by his overcoat and I took his hand and drew him to the stairs. It seemed we could not stop kissing long enough to even mount them but then we were in my room and his hands were moving over me and the velvet was slithering down and puddling onto the floor. I touched my fingertips to the fine lace of hair emerging as I unbuttoned his shirt and I rubbed my face against his chest shuddering at his impossible gorgeousness.
“Take my breath away.”
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