I tell Maya that she needs to sleep but I know I can’t – I’m too afraid to go upstairs and sit on my bed and go crazy in that tiny room, alone with my terrifying thoughts. She says she wants to stay with me: she’s frightened that if she goes away, I’ll disappear. She doesn’t need to explain – I feel it too: the fear that if we part now, this incredible night will just vanish, evaporate like a dream, and we will wake in the morning back in our separate bodies, back in our ordinary lives. Yet here on the couch, my arms around her as she sits curled up against me, head resting against my chest, I still feel frightened – more frightened than I’ve ever been before. What just happened was unbelievable yet somehow completely natural, as if deep down I always knew this moment would come, even though I never once allowed myself to consciously think about it, to imagine it in any way. Now that it has arrived, I can only think of Maya, sitting right here against me, her breath warm against my bare arm.
It’s as if there is a great wall preventing me from crossing to the other side, from casting my mind out into the external world, the world beyond the two of us. Nature’s security valve is at work, preventing me from even contemplating the implications of what just happened, keeping me, for the moment at least, safe from the horror of what I have done. It’s as if my mind knows it cannot go there yet, knows that right now I’m not strong enough to deal with the outcome of these overwhelming feelings, these momentous actions. But the fear remains – the fear that in the cold light of day we will be forced to come to terms with what was, quite simply, an awful mistake; the fear that we will have no choice but to bury this night as if it never took place, a shameful secret to be filed away for the rest of our lives until, brittle with age, it crumbles to dust – a faint, distant memory, like the powder of a moth’s wings on a windowpane, the spectre of something that perhaps never occurred, existing solely in our imagination.
I cannot bear the thought of this being just one moment in time, over almost before it started, already retreating into the past. I must hold onto it with all my might. I cannot allow Maya to slip away because, for the first time in my life, my love for her feels whole, and everything that has led up to this point suddenly makes sense, as if all this was meant to be. But as I gaze down at her sleepy face, the freckled cheekbones, the white skin, the dark curl of her eyelashes, I feel an overwhelming ache, like acute homesickness – a longing for something I can never have. Sensing my eyes on her, she looks up and smiles, but it is a sad smile, as if she too knows how precarious our new love is, how dangerously threatened by the outside world. The ache inside me deepens, and all I can think of is what it felt like to kiss her, how brief that moment was and how desperately I want to live it once more.
She keeps on looking at me with that little wistful smile, as if waiting, as if she knows. And the blood is hot in my face, my heart racing, my breath quickening, and she notices that too. Raising her head from my chest, she asks, ‘Do you want to kiss me again?’
I nod, mute, heart pounding anew.
She looks at me expectantly, hopefully. ‘Go on, then.’
I close my eyes, my breathing laboured, my chest filling with a mounting sense of despair. ‘I don’t – I don’t think I can.’
‘Because I’m worried . . . Maya, what if we can’t stop?’
‘We don’t have to . . . ’
I breathe deeply and turn away, the air around me thrumming with heat. ‘Don’t even think like that!’
Her expression sobers and she brushes her fingers up and down the inside of my arm, her eyes heavy with sadness. Yet her touch fills me with longing. I never thought that the mere touch of a hand could stir so much.
‘All right, Lochie, we’ll stop.’
‘You have to stop. Promise me.’
‘I promise.’ She touches my cheek, turning me back towards her. I take her face in my hands and start to kiss her, gently at first; and as I do so, all the pain and worry and loneliness and fear start to evaporate until all I can think of is the taste of her lips, the warmth of her tongue, the smell of her skin, her touch, her caresses. And then I’m struggling to keep calm and her hands are pressing against the sides of my face, her breath hot and rapid against my cheek, her mouth warm and wet. My hands want to touch her all over, but I can’t, I can’t, and we’re kissing so hard it hurts – it hurts that I can’t do more, it hurts that however hard I kiss her I can’t ... I can’t –
‘Lochie . . . ’
I don’t care about the promise. I don’t remember why I even suggested it. I don’t care about anything - anything except for-'
‘Easy, Lochie – ’
I press my lips back down over her mouth, holding her tight to stop her from moving away.
‘Lochie, stop.’ This time she pulls away and pushes me back, holding me at arm’s length, her fingers gripping my shoulders. Her lips are red - she looks flushed and wild and exquisite.
I’m breathing too fast. Much too fast.
‘You made me promise.’ She looks upset.
‘I know, all right!’ Jumping up, I start pacing the room. I wish there was an icy pool of water for me to dive into.
‘Are you OK?’
No, I’m not. I’ve never felt like this before and it scares me. My body seems to have taken over. I'm so aroused I can hardly think. I’ve got to calm down. I’ve got to stay in control. I can’t let this happen. I run my hands through my hair repeatedly and the air escapes from my lungs in a rush.
‘I’m sorry. I should have said it sooner.’
‘No!’ I spin round. ‘It’s not your fault, for God’s sake!’
‘All right, all right! Why are you angry?’
‘I’m not! I’m just – ’ I stop and lean my forehead against the wall, fighting the urge to head-butt it. ‘Oh, Jesus, what are we going to do?’
‘Nobody would have to find out,’ she says softly, chewing the tip of her thumb.
‘No!’ I shout.
Storming into the kitchen, I rummage furiously through the freezer for ice cubes for a cold drink. Hot acid shoots through my veins and my heart is hammering so hard I can hear it. It’s not just the physical frustration, it’s the impossibility of our situation, the horror of what we’ve got ourselves into, the despair of knowing that I will never be able to love Maya the way I want to.
‘Lochie, for goodness’ sake, calm down.’ Her hand touches my arm as I wrestle with the freezer drawer.
I knock it away. ‘Don’t!’
She takes a step back.
‘D’you know what we’re doing here? Have you any idea at all? D’you know what they call this?’ I slam the freezer shut and move round to the other side of the table.
‘What’s got into you?’ she breathes. ‘Why are you suddenly turning on me?’
I stop abruptly and stare at her. ‘We can’t do this,’ I blurt out, aghast with the sudden realization. ‘We can’t. If we start, how will we ever stop? How on earth will we be able to keep this a secret from everyone for the rest of our lives? We’ll have no life – we’ll be trapped, living in hiding, always having to pretend – ’
She stares back at me, her blue eyes wide with shock. ‘The others . . .’ she says softly, a new realization suddenly dawning. ‘The kids – if even one person found out, they’d be taken away!’
‘So we can’t do this? We really can’t?’ It’s phrased as a question, but I can see by the stricken look on her face that she already knows the answer.
Shaking my head slowly, I swallow hard and turn to look out of the kitchen window to hide the tears in my eyes. The sky is on fire and the night has ended.
© Tabitha Suzuma