Meredith was so preoccupied with the magic tingling in the air around her, teasing at her senses, that she didn’t see the thief coming at her.
He shot forward as she continued to stand in a daze on the corner of Bedford and Tyvelvet and slammed into her side, his fist catching the side of her head and causing her to stumble and lurch about in her high heels. In the next second, Meredith was reeling all over the pavement sans purse, and the thief was racing on ahead, ducking out of sight into the closest alleyway.
Meredith caught herself and took off after the thief, magic forgotten. She skidded round the corner into the alleyway, almost twisting her ankle in the process, to see the thief several yards ahead of her. Steadying herself against the grimy wall, she eased one heel off her foot and flung it hard at his rapidly retreating back.
Meredith had good aim. The six-inch scarlet satin heel with black ribbon trim sailed straight down the alley, smacking right into the back of the thief’s greasy-haired cranium. He went down like a stone discovering gravity.
Meredith leaned against the wall, trying to slow the pounding of her heart. She had gone after the thief. Was she mad? Was she homicidal? What the hell had she been thinking? Why hadn’t she just let it be and let him get away? What if she had gone Wild on him?
The thought had just passed through her mind when the sick sensation of magic washed over her again, this time stronger than ever. She gasped and spun around, panic levels ticking higher and higher like a chronometer in the middle of Chernobyl –
– and looked into a pair of sea-green eyes –
– and the chronometer shot right up as if someone had tossed it into a sack of yellowcake.
“No,” Meredith whispered hoarsely. Then, in a louder voice, “No! No! What the hell are you doing here?”
Those sea-green eyes flickered past her to the thief on the ground, then back at her. She tensed, her hand gripping the wall so tight the concrete bit into her skin.
At last, the magician standing before her spoke. “Nice aim.”
Nice aim. All this time, and the first thing he had to say to her was nice aim? Meredith didn’t know whether to kill him, or to start running.
“You can’t be here,” she said flatly.
He grinned, a familiar wry smile that tugged at her heartstrings. “It’s nice to see you too, Meredith.”
Meredith shook her head. She turned away and limped over to the unconscious thief. Bending, she retrieved her shoe and slipped it on.
He followed closely behind, but came to a halt as Meredith turned on him. “Meredith –”
“You can’t be here!” The words exploded from her like a fury. “You just don’t get it, do you? You idiot! How can you be so stupid?”
“Meredith – listen –”
“Do you have a death wish or something?”
The thief behind her began to stir. One hand groped around feebly.
“Why are you doing this to me? To yourself?”
“Why? Why can’t you leave me alone? Why can’t –”
“Because I’m sorry!” he yelled, cutting her off. “Because I’m sorry, and because I love you, and I can’t stand to think of you out there, alone and hurting and blaming yourself when I’m the one to blame, and because – because I love you and I’m sorry. Meredith, I’m so sorry…” his voice trailed off and he touched his hand to his forehead. “I’m sorry,” he said hoarsely.
She swallowed hard, her anger gone as quickly as it had come. Her eyes prickled uncomfortably.
He lowered his hand and met her eyes. “Meredith, I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so –”
She moved before he could finish his sentence. She didn’t want him to apologise for something which was not his apology to make, which was her fault. She did the only thing she could think of to shut him up – and, well, let’s face it, she also did it because every inch of her body was longing to anyway, despite common sense screaming at her not to.
Meredith had never been any good at listening to common sense. What little she had of it.
She heard his breath quicken as she stepped up on tiptoe to press her mouth against his, lightly but firmly.
The first touch. The only touch.
His arm came around, pulling Meredith up against him, his mouth crushing against hers, holding the kiss with a certain urgent need. He kissed her, hard and deep, and she kissed him back as her arms slid around his neck, his fingers lacing through her hair.
The would-be thief groaned, lifted his head, and was immediately knocked unconscious again by Meredith’s well-aimed heel.
We caught a cab to Jean’s flat, which was part of a series of drab, but well-kept, beige blocks located on the outskirts of Berninski City. He led me up the metal stairs and paused at the landing, fumbling with his keys. I stood behind him, breathing in the heady scent of the magnolia tree which grew just beside his front door, so close I could lean over the rusty railing and touch its white blossoms.
He finally got the door open. Right away, I noticed with some mild surprise that his doorway was cluttered with several exotic-looking and rather intimidating wards, and not just the usual generic ones you find guarding most household entries. I could feel their rather oppressive power centring on me as I passed beneath, doing their hardest to get a read on me, and I was impressed. Just where had he gotten those wards from? Perhaps a gift from the archaeologist uncle?
Then I passed through the door and the wards were forgotten as I looked about the apartment with keen interest.
Coffee table with ashtray half-filled with cigarette butts, a couple of car magazines, and a paper from two days ago. Dull grey carpet guaranteed to hide any stains, a couple of squishy navy sofas, and one rather depressed-looking potted plant. A stereo system and vintage 1970s-era turntable, both of which sent a momentary twinge of envy through me. Two framed posters, one of Wendy Rene, another of Ray Charles. An odd, but interesting, Easter Island-esque wooden sculpture squatting on a small table of some kind of polished dark wood. Maybe teak.
I followed Jean into the kitchen where he opened the little fridge, and I raised my eyebrows. “You weren’t kidding about being well-stocked with beer.” There wasn’t anything in the fridge but.
Jean grinned and pulled out two beers. “A friend came by while I was at work. Filled the fridge up with a crate as a thank-you for some remodelling I did on his car a few weeks back.” He twisted the caps off and handed a bottle to me. We clinked and drank.
“So,” I said, rather inanely, “this is your place.”
He nodded. “I used to share with my brother, but now it’s just me. He moved out earlier this year with a couple of friends.”
“Does it get lonely without him?”
“Sometimes. But it’s cool. We stuck so close after our parents’ deaths, it’s probably time he branched out a little on his own. We still see each other. He comes by often.”
“I think the same thing sometimes with my sister, about the whole being too close for comfort thing. But we manage to live well together. There’s not much stepping on each other’s toes.”
“Does she have a tattoo?” he grinned.
I laughed, looking down at my wrist where the rose with the word love, not freedom, reposed. “I’m not sure. If she does, she hasn’t told me.” I looked up. “Let’s see that tattoo of yours, the one on your back. You haven’t even told me what you’ve got.”
“You wanna see my tattoo?”
“Hey, I showed you mine, you better show me yours. Is it a big tattoo? Like, does it take up the whole of your back? Remember that X-Files episode where Scully got a tattoo and it turns out the artist was using some kind of ink which gave his customers delusions?”
Jean snapped his fingers. “I remember that! Wasn’t it the one where the guy shoved his arm into a furnace because it was telling him to kill Scully?”
“Yeah, that was it. It made me think twice about getting a tattoo for a while.”
“Well, I’m fairly sure mine never spoke to me or told me to kill people.”
“Good thing too.” I peered around.
“What are you looking for?”
“Checking to see if you’ve got a furnace. Just in case your tattoo is about to tell you to cut me up into little pieces and chuck me in there.”
He laughed. “In the first place, if there was a furnace, it would be located elsewhere in the building, not in my apartment.”
“You could chuck me in the oven,” I suggested. “Or the fireplace. Do you have a fireplace?”
He laughed again. “No fireplace and you won’t fit in the oven. It’s too small even if I did chop you up.”
“Well, that’s a relief. I think I’m safe for now. Just to be sure, your tattoo isn’t a picture of a redheaded woman, is it?”
He grinned. “No. Actually, it’s of a snake. Here, I’ll show you.” He turned and yanked his sweatshirt over his head.
I stopped laughing and stared at the serpent curving gracefully along the length of his back. It was a ferocious creature of green, gold, and scarlet, with golden eyes that seemed almost alive, its mouth half-closed around a blazing sun. The colouration of the sun was so intensely bright, I almost raised my hand to shield my eyes.
I reached out to touch it, and felt his back move under my hand. The serpent’s scales shifted as he exhaled. “It’s beautiful,” I said.
Slowly, he turned, and I felt another thrill race through me. I noticed then how close we were standing to each other and how warm I was feeling with Jean looking at me the way he was, with a certain light in his blue eyes that I’d never seen before.
I placed my hand on his arm. There was probably some kind of light going on in my eyes too, most likely a light of lust. We were getting kind of breathless, and we had barely moved an inch. Jean placed his hand on my shoulder and, almost hesitantly, he bent his face to mine and we kissed.
He was a good kisser. He was a very good kisser. I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly my arms were around his neck and his around my waist, pulling me close so I was pressed up against his half-naked, solid torso (and I was wondering if he could feel how fast my heartbeat was, and exactly how nervous I was, not to mention how much I was enjoying this) and we were kissing and kissing, and I thought, saints, I’ve never met anyone who can kiss as well as he does. I just did not want to stop kissing him.
He leaned me back against the table and tugged at my little black blazer, the one I always wore on Fridays because it was sexy and fitted and would translate well into a Friday night out. I helped him help me out of the blazer. Then he was picking me up, (I’d never realised how strong he was either. How had I not noticed those muscles before tonight?), and carrying me out the kitchen, down a little hall, and into a room. He paused, fumbling by the wall. A light came on. We were in his bedroom, a comfortable room with rumpled T-shirts thrown over a squashy armchair, the scent of some musky cologne in the air, and a big rectangular bed made up with grey and blue sheets.
Jean laid me gently on the bed, leaning over me. He gazed at me for a second as he brushed my hair back from my forehead, and I felt something go thump in my heart. Perhaps it was amazement, amazement that anyone would look at me that way, particularly someone who might or might not turn out to be a drunken one night stand. I slid my arms around his neck and he gathered me up and then we were kissing, heavy, crushing kisses which made it hard to breathe, but I don’t think either of us cared very much about breathing right then.
He pulled off my satin gold top with the spaghetti straps. I fumbled with his belt. He unhooked my bra and eased off my skirt. My hands shook slightly as I pulled his jeans down. He wore boxers, black. He bent and teased one nipple, put his mouth to it. I couldn’t help it, I gave a little moan. He looked up with a certain hungry look on his face, and then I was on my back with my knickers off, and he was naked too and lying on top of me, our bodies stretched out and pressed against the length of each other, hands groping, mouths kissing, hips writhing. He found his way inside of me, and I gave a cry and arched my hips off the bed. He grabbed my hips with his hands; I was pressing myself against him as much as I could.
His hot breath encapsulated mine, he groaned deep into me, and I sighed and wriggled, and we moved in perfect harmony in the night, and somewhere outside, the magnolias bloomed in the darkness, and there was a groan and a sigh in the world.
Go on to: Chapter Four
Go back to: Chapter Two
New to A Reason for Being? Start from: Chapter One.