When Dom found me, I was seated at the table in the library, staring off into nothing.
I was buried in my mind, so far deep that his presence startled me.
“It’s okay,” he said, gripping my shoulder gently where I’d damn near jumped out of my skin. “It’s me. It’s okay.”
I looked at him blankly for so long that he ended up sitting down as well.
“What’s wrong?” he asked with a frown on his face.
I had been thinking fully and completely about what Imo had said – that the development of his feelings for me were not a dictator of my feelings for him.
If I stripped it down, all the way to the absence of his physical effect on me, what did I feel?
His expression morphed slowly into a frown and I realized that I hadn’t spoken.
But I still couldn’t.
Where were my words?
But then I thought about the fact that he had said that he had wanted me from the moment he first saw me.
And here he was now, wanting me still.
“Please be honest with me,” I said. “I’ll ask you now and I won’t ever ask again.”
He nodded his head slowly.
“Why?” I asked. “I was sixteen, so what?”
He looked like I’d delivered a bodily blow to him that was tearing him apart inside, slowly.
He buried his face in his hands and I sighed heavily.
“I don’t understand…” I said, my resolve cracking. “You’ve been beautiful… You are beautiful… But that – makes you sick, why?”
He kept his head bowed, just like he had last time.
“Is it me? Was it me? Was it something I did? Was it unforgivable?”
“You were a kid.”
“You said that –”
“And I was looking at you and thinking about you and wondering how I could get you out of your jeans and take you on the table without anyone noticing…” he said quietly. “Or maybe I wanted them to notice. I wanted them to notice and to hear you moan and to get so fucking horny that they’d touch themselves just listening to you come over and over while watching me make you come. I wanted to pull your hair and just fuck –”
He said all of this with his forehead on the table, hiding his face from me.
He moved his hands from his face, letting them sit in his lap.
“You have no idea how you sound when you come…” he said.
He turned his head to the side so that he was looking at me, his eyes seemingly wider in his face.
I had been holding my breath for longer than I had been taking it in – in short bursts of air to recover from the oxygen lost, just listening to him speak.
His voice was flat and almost lifeless.
“Is that what this is about? Sex?” I asked quietly.
He shook his head.
“It’s about you,” he said. “It’s all about you…”
And maybe – maybe a little bit, I saw what he was thinking about.
Maybe I understood what kind of dark place he was coming from. He’d been through so much and no doubt had been beat down and grown from it.
And he was clearly sexually aware of himself and the female body.
I had been nowhere and seen nothing and I was eighteen.
I did seem like a child to him.
I could also see how he felt what he felt – that thing that made him want to hide himself from me. How could you curse yourself for feeling what you felt, but revel in those feelings and draw all kinds of pleasure from it?
He saw me as a child, is what he’d said and yet here he was, with me.
I could see why he didn’t want to think about it because that only tainted what we had now.
I sat there and put my words in a row.
“That was then, right? What about now?” I asked. “Do you feel bad about any of it now?”
He looked me over.
“If we’d never met that time and if you’d seen me for the first time at the bus stop, as I am now, what would you feel?”
He turned fully in his seat to look at me.
“It still felt like the first time, when I saw you there…”
I nodded my head slowly. “Are you sure you want to be with me?”
The question surprised me, I think, a little more than it did him.
“Yes,” he said. But then I could see his defences rising, the frustration ready to boil over. “Why are you asking me this?”
I sat perfectly still, keeping my eyes on his.
“When I didn’t know who you were, I never once thought of us like this,” I told him honestly. “I just thought of thanking you and putting a name to the face but I never imagined anything beyond that… And now, you’re – you’re my first and then I fear that…”
I swallowed hard, the words just rolling off my tongue.
“If I just – unzipped my jeans and took off my panties right now –”
He actually gasped, his mouth popping open.
“ – and opened all the windows and all the doors and stretched out on this table and let you live out your fantasy, would you still want me afterward?”
He nodded his head. “I want you, Dilia.”
His face went blank after a second and he sat up straighter. “Don’t you want me?”
I rose to my feet, resolute and satisfied with the answers I’d gotten.
As promised, I moved on from the topic.
I could put this behind me now.
“Where are you going?” he asked, when I started to move.
“Up to your room.”
“And you’re gonna follow me there and show me what’s behind that door.”
“No, I am not.”
“No, you are not?” I asked, leaning back, my arms folded over my chest.
“No,” he said, shaking his head as he rose to his feet before me.
“That’s a story for another time,” he said.
“Don’t you trust me?” I asked him.
“It’s not about trust,” he said, digging his fists into the pockets of his shorts.
“Then what is it?”
“It’s about something that’s not that,” he said.
When I opened my mouth to speak, he kissed me suddenly. I shook my head then. When I tried to speak, he kissed me again. This happened three more times before I realized what he was doing.
I ended up laughing at this.
So I strode off.
“Where to now, milady?” he asked, following me.
“Put on your shoes. You’re taking me for a walk.”
I turned and looked at him. “Yes.”
He narrowed his eyes at me.
“Close confines and privacy are not in our best interests at this moment.”
“Why?” he asked.
When he started to walk, so did I, making sure I kept out of his reach.
“Because right now my mind is spinning with ways and ideas of how I can get you to sit down in that chair over there,” I said, stopping so I could show him the chair that sat at the foot of the table in the library. “Sit and not move. And then I strip down to nothing and touch myself with my –”
He had his hands on his head, his eyes wide open with a smile flittering on and off his face like he didn’t quite know what to do with himself.
I knew that he was already imaging it.
I looked him over and smiled innocently.
“Dammit,” he said, stepping forward. “Can I kiss you? Will you let me do that?”
I laughed as I let him pull me into his arms. He wasted no time and gave me no moment to collect myself as he descended upon my lips with his own.
* * *
I enjoyed the feel of the sun on my skin and the air as the breeze passed over me. As he walked beside me, I caught occasional whiffs of his scent when the direction of the wind changed. Many times when I would look at him, his eyes were on me and each time, I would smile brightly at him and watch his reactions change.
Sometimes, he’d quickly turn away like he hadn’t intended to be caught staring and other times, he would smile right back or simply look at me with a pensive expression on his face.
The truth was, I didn’t know how much of what I’d said was just me teasing him. Now that I knew what he had been thinking all those years ago, my mind had started to work fantasies around it all. From how he’d been seated right there between my thighs to what could have happened if we’d simply made conversation.
Had he been thinking about putting his mouth on me even then?
He had been in the perfect position to make it happen.
He was twenty-five and I was sixteen.
If he’d known then, how old I was, would he still feel what he was feeling back then?
And if he did step up, would I have let him?
I laughed to myself.
“What?” he asked.
I looked over my shoulder at him. “Oh, nothing,” I said.
We ended up in Rosebank, headed over to Simply Asia and ordered some takeout.
As it was being prepared, we walked to the Post Office and he picked up his mail.
When we returned for our food, it wasn’t ready yet.
“Five more minutes,” said the lady behind the till and we moved to a vacant table by the entrance. Above us, was the Ster Kinekor cinema and I wondered what was playing.
“What’s your week like next week?” I asked.
“Same as always. Eight to five, maybe six. Why?”
“If there’s anything interesting, you wanna watch a movie?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure,” he said, nodding his head with a warm smile.
But his expression shifted as something seemed to cross his mind, making him look unfocused. The lady at the till signalled to me and I looked up at her. Our meals were ready.
I collected them myself and met him at the door and we strolled from the mall.
“Where were you back there?”
“Oh, nowhere…” he said, echoing my earlier words.
He laughed at this.
Thirty minutes later, we sat eating our meals in the kitchen, each of us having a glass of wine. We followed this up with ice cream and it all went down good.
“How are the numbers looking?” I asked conversationally.
“Complicated and long, but looking good.”
“I never understood how they did it, the other kids at school, with their numbers and science,” I said. “But I suppose they didn’t quite get me with my English and Biology.”
“We all have our things.”
I nodded my head. “But you seemed to have had them both down. Numbers and science. How did that work? I mean – how does your mind work?”
He picked up our empty cartons and tossed them as I took a long sip of my wine.
He’d long since finished his own glass and as always, it didn’t seem to affect him at all. I was feeling the sway of the wine and I hoped he didn’t see it.
He resumed his place beside me, mulling my question over in his mind.
I continued to sip on my wine while he thought and by the time I was finished, he still hadn’t spoken. But I remained silent, watching his lips move with words unspoken, seeing his expression become darker with his thoughts.
“I don’t think I know the answer to that,” he said quietly.
I tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. But it didn’t matter because he didn’t seem to have heard me.
“Sometimes, it kind of moves ahead of me, if that makes sense…”
He was seeing whatever he saw in front of him as he spoke and I didn’t dare interrupt him. He steeped his fingers in front of him and I had to work my mind back to the present before I fell head first into admiring his physic as he sat there.
But I could see that he was tense, his neck muscles taut and his jaw clenched.
“Things come together in my mind – all the moving parts. Who goes where and what should move and when it should move. I was good at that and that’s why they put me on the team… I cleaned out the mess on the ops they’d send us on, make sure that we’d go in, do what needed to be done and then get out without anyone being the wiser…”
His words had progressively taken on the accent of his homeland and I had to focus to hear and understand him.
He was talking about his time on the force, the Marines.
“And you know that wherever we go, there will always be another team that was designed to put us down. We came across a team like that…”
He wasn’t with me now.
He wasn’t in this room and he wasn’t in this time.
“They were fast and efficient… Could almost admire them if…”
He swallowed hard, his eyes glazing over.
“We lost five of our guys… I got hit. Scraped my hip bone. Place was on fire, we couldn’t get out…”
He slid off his seat and pulled his shirt off and stood before me.
For a second, I was set ablaze by his body, this close to me, this exposed.
I eased out of my seat.
But then I saw the wound. It was small from the front but as I moved around him, I saw that the exit wound was big. I had never seen it before because it was well hidden by his underwear. I had to lower the waistband a little and found that the scar sat high on his left hip. It was imperfect and lighter than his skin, looking like a metal welding of crushed flower petals.
I looked up at him and then down at the old wound, placing my hand gently on it. He didn’t even flinch, just looked sideways at me.
“I’m sorry…” I whispered.
“I don’t like the heat…” he said, his voice deep. I nodded my head, at a loss for words.
“The backup team came, but not in time to get all of us out. We got it done, but at the expense of our guys… He didn’t quite recover. Tried to kill himself twice – Liam – but I don’t think he wants to die, not really…”
I coaxed him into sitting back down and I resumed my seat..
“I fly back home when I have the chance so I can check on him,” he said.
My eyes started to burn but I couldn’t hold back the tears.
He’d retreated into his mind again and I sat there trying to remain small in the immensity of his pain.
“My mind just spins sometimes… It just goes and goes and I can’t shut it up or slow it down…”
I knew what he was saying and it broke me that he was saying it.
I took his hand and he didn’t seem to notice or even feel that I was touching him.
I stumbled around the small island and into his sightline. I held onto his hand, squeezing it tight. His eyes snapped to mine and he pretty much jumped to his feet.
He let go of my hand and came around to me and I pulled him into my arms.
I don’t know how long we stood like this.
This was the first and last time I ever saw him cry.