The men sat on the sofa and calmly explained that Luke's unit had been hit during a training exercise. Insurgents had opened fire on their small convoy and four of them had been killed. He had been hit by bullets in the lungs, the ribs, and had one through his shin. However, he was alive. Luke was alive.
My knees were shaking as I rested trembling fingers on them, not knowing what to do with my hands, where to put them. My heart clanged in my ears, my chest full of acid fear.
It was like watching a documentary in some kind of virtual reality. I was there, but it wasn't to do with me. It couldn’t be. Luke couldn't possibly be fighting for his life in Bastion's trauma hospital. He was the one who saved other people. Luke wouldn’t need saving. I sat with the cold lining of shock sitting heavy in my stomach while they spoke to me about grief councillors and support groups, but the one question on my lips was: "When can I see him?" It seemed to be my response to everything they said, and for some reason, I just couldn’t seem to 'get' that they'd already told me it was too soon and he was too fragile to be moved, but that they'd keep me up to date with any developments, and let me know when he was coming home, and when I could see him.
There was a ringing in my ears. Shock made me faint, blurry round the edges, but everything in the centre of my vision was horribly detailed. I felt like Superman waking up to his powers after being Clark Kent for half a lifetime. The men were still talking but I’d stopped listening.
They made sure I wasn't about to have a heart attack, and I think I kept it together pretty well, but when, over an hour later, they had gone, and the house was empty, and all I had was the phone number of that grief councillor and that army support group, I began to panic. This was supposed to have been my big test: my first weekend alone after my post-Caleb meltdown. Kit was away visiting his parents for their wedding anniversary, and the house was empty. Now it was even emptier. Like a tornado had ripped through and sucked all the air out and left everything else in place. Luke was in transit between the trauma centre at Bastion and the trauma hospital here in the UK, and there was nothing I could do. I was utterly powerless. I had nothing. I noticed that itching panic in my lungs that I’d heard Caleb and Luke both talk about, and felt the buzzing breath leaving my chest in faster and faster gasps, and I was powerless as the panic began to sweep me down river like a kayaker on a white water rapid. Without a paddle. I was definitely up shit creek without a paddle. I thought about Caleb’s attacks, about how vulnerable he’d been, and before I got lost somewhere in my own terror and shock, I made myself stand up off the sofa and walk around. Metabolise some of that adrenaline, I thought, sticking on a brave smile.
I made myself a cup of tea but didn’t drink it.
I walked around the shell of the house, not taking anything in, fiddling the warm, soft metal of my little pendant between my fingers, praying to a god I didn't believe in that he'd pull through. He had to pull through. I couldn't imagine a life without him. There was no life without Luke. He had been my other half throughout my entire existence. "Oh god," I hissed, shuddering, covering my face in my hands as I made my way upstairs. I shied into the smooth, pale wall in the hallway and hung there a moment in suspended terror like an animal about to be caught, before exhaling and sliding down to slump in a pile at the skirting board. "Please, Luke... don't die."
I didn't know what to do. There was no one who I could talk to. No one I could turn to.
Well, maybe there was one place.
I moved quietly into the sitting room and tried to turn on the television, but it felt so disrespectfully mundane that I couldn’t bare the insult to Luke, and turned it off. I couldn’t read either, because my eyes were too tired from crying. Surfing through some designs on Pinterest gave me little inspiration. I wanted to talk to someone, but Emily would fuss and Kay would be unbearably kind. I didn’t want to call Kit and ruin his weekend with news that he could do nothing about. Maybe I could talk to… “No. You burned that bridge already, Alyssa,” I said aloud in the darkening sitting room. But the idea had kindled and it wasn’t going away.
I dithered, even put my shoes on, but hurriedly took them off, went upstairs for a while, came back down again, cried some more, and then finally, in a fit of madness, I rammed my shoes back onto my feet – somehow miraculously getting the right one on the right foot. I grabbed my house-keys and slammed the door shut behind me before I had given myself any time to think about what the hell I was doing.
It was a mild evening outside. My mind latched onto various details as I skittered through the night: the shape of the loose gravel on the pavement, like grains of sand under a microscope; a daisy growing with dogged optimism between the cracks in a brick wall; the harsh crackle of a foil crisp packet, cartwheeling in a light breath of wind for a moment before falling still, its borrowed life failing, only to leave it hollow and empty. All details, no big picture.
When I got there, I stumbled down the path, half blinded by tears, and rapped on the door, still acting before I had taken stock of what I was really doing. No answer. I rapped again, forgetting about doorbells entirely. Lights were all off. Were they asleep? Oh god, the thought sank like a stone to my stomach, I'll probably wake them all up, or at least disturb them. What the hell am I doing? I'm knocking on his door at half past nine at night, like some demented banshee. Fuck, this was a stupid idea.
I turned and fled, stumbling footsteps as uneven as my ragged breath. The iron gate swung open with a high pitched squeak just as the front door rattled and hinged open to leave a silent dark hole.
He was standing there, half shrouded in shadows, half bathed in harsh orange light from the street lamp nearby, cheekbones flashing. He said nothing, looking quietly calm, like a black-belt before a fight. Could he know it was me?
"Caleb?" I sobbed, turning back towards him.
He frowned, face hardening, expression going sour, sharp, harsh. No. He hadn't known who it was. The hand at his side twitched convulsively, the other on the door tightening its grip on the edge.
Reeling with equal parts relief, fear and horror, I found myself making a step back towards the house, his name on my lips again, this time a harsh, jerking hiss. "Caleb..."
"L-L-Lyssa," he stammered coldly.
I crumbled. "I didn't know where else to come," I said before I burst into tears again.
I couldn't breathe. I shouldn't have been there at all. It was all wrong, and I was making it worse. He had started to say something but my hearing was fading behind my own gulping, panicked breath. "I didn't know where to go," I cried softly.
His face softened, his whole body changing, and he took a step towards me as he realised something was horribly wrong, coming over the threshold and out onto the front step. "L-Lyss, wh-what's happened?" he asked, one hand reaching away from his side, up a little towards me. All his revulsion had dissolved and he showed only concern, which I found suddenly unbearable.
"I'm sorry," I gasped, feeling faint. "I shouldn't have come, I shouldn't be here, not after what I said, the way I behaved. I'll go. I'm going. I'm sorry."
"Stop, don't!" he shot suddenly, that worry, exquisitely painful to behold, pushing him forwards again, off the step and onto the path with a stiff hobble, just a pace away from me. "Don't go. Wh-What's happened? Please..." And in the murk of his blindness, his grabbing hand had found my wrist and locked its softly fumbling fingers around me with surprising strength and kindness. It was like a lifeline to a falling climber.
My eyes were rimmed with stinging salt tears as I turned back to him. Seeing him without his canes, without his glasses, looking spectacularly good in a simple white t-shirt and dark indigo jeans, with just one worry in the world - me - I felt my knees dissolving. "Caleb..." I whimpered.
With gentle pressure he drew me to him. “Y-You’re shaking.”
I clung to him, I clutched at him. I hung from him. And, as if by osmosis, all the tears I had left began to soak from my eyes into his white shirt.
"Shh," he crooned, putting a hand behind my head and his other arm around my shivering shoulders as we stood together on the front path. "Shh."
"It's Luke," I said, feeling his muscles twitch reflexively. "It's Luke."
He didn't ask what happened. Maybe he assumed the worst, or maybe he knew it wasn't the place to start talking about any of it, but he planted a soft kiss on the top of my head and then, chest shuddering like mine as the consonant lodged and repeated, he said, "C-C-C-Come inside." I loved it. I wanted to hear it again. Familiar as the ticking of an old clock, I loved the sound.
He peeled himself off me, just slightly, and drew me quietly into the house, leading me up the step and into the dark hallway, fingers dancing lightly over the wall as he looked for a light switch for me.
"Don't," I croaked. "Leave it off." I didn't want the light. Dark was good. And Caleb was in the dark.
"Alright," he breathed patiently, clearly not understanding me. He was tense, nervous, I could feel it, but there was something in the way he touched me that told me he hadn't let go of 'us', and in that maelstrom of ragged emotion, it was a huge comfort to me. It centred me.
He led me through the house in the dark by the hand, and set me down on the sofa. "I'll be r-right back," he said softly, holding my hand long after I'd sat down, as though to make sure I was still really there, wasn’t going to dissolve in my own panic. "St-Stay there."
And he limped from the room, his beautiful rocking gait like music for my eyes, an old song, unheard for a long time, instantly familiar again. I watched him go and tucked my knees up under my chin as I sat on that sofa, hugging my legs to my chest. "Luke," I murmured into the shadows of the empty room.
I heard the whooshing rumble of a kettle being boiled, and the ceramic clink of a mug being set down, the electronic beep of his level detector. Shortly, he returned, hand running along the wall to keep him true as he carried the cup through to me, and when he found the table beside the sofa, he reached over the surface for a coaster and set it down. "Here," he said. "Tr-Tr-Try and dr-dr-drink some wh-when it's c-c-cooled down enough."
"I'm sorry, Caleb," I sniffed. "I'm so sorry."
"Shh, not now," he said, coming round and sitting down beside me on my right, the sofa receiving him with cushioned arms as he lowered himself down with a heavy grunt and put his left arm around me. "Tell me wh-what's happened."
His voice was low, and gravelly with some barely-contained emotion, but he didn't let me know what it was. I leaned over and rested my head on his warm shoulder and breathed in. How could anyone smell so good? I wondered to myself.
His thumb played idly over the top of my arm and I shivered with pleasure at the recovered, if borrowed, closeness. I nearly told him I'd missed him, but it wasn't the right time.
I sighed. "His unit came under fire. He..." I choked. I hadn’t realised I’d be that hard to speak the words that had so recently been said to me. Caleb's silent hand squeezed me gently. I took courage from the gesture, and sighed. Start with the story, then get to the events, I thought. "They were out on patrol. Training some new army medics. Going to a pop-up clinic to treat locals. They didn’t get there though. He was hit in his left lung, went through his ribs, and he took another in his leg. Apparently it’s horribly broken. He can't breathe on his own yet. He's in the trauma unit at Bastion. They don't know when he'll be stable enough to be moved back to the UK, but they hope in a week. I don't really know when I can go and see him though."
Again, Caleb's quiet hand spoke for him, softly caressing the contour of my shoulder until he added, "He's in the best pl-place. Tr-Trust me. I know."
I looked up at his face, used to the way he turned away, his attention apparently off in the distance, knowing that when his ear was on me he was actually staring straight at me. His ear was turned towards me now like a satellite listening to the void of space. I had his full attention though his eyes were on the back wall. Or would have been if they’d been open. His features as I turned to him were blurry as a watercolour sketch in the half light of the dark room, street lamps outside casting a strange eerie light onto the surfaces and shapes. "I know you do. That's why I came here."
I wriggled my body so that my right arm was free, and I set my feet down onto the carpet. It was pale like cherry blossoms. Turning back to his face, I raised my right hand and ran my thumb along his left eyebrow, watching the eyelid clench tightly, protectively, full of fear and shame for an instant as he flinched away from my touch. I had broken the spell, but as my thumb moved to his temple, and to where the little flecked scars danced like fireflies around his eye, the lid relaxed and he breathed a sigh, rolling his head back into the sofa.
Through those parted lips, he said, "I've missed you."
I used his strong shoulder and the steel of his back, rigid as a construction girder, to draw my body close to his and kiss him on the temple where my thumb had been tracing ovals on his skin. My lips left a salty kiss, tears leaving silver stains on him. Suddenly his hands were on my waist and he tugged me up so hard that the only thing I was able to do was move with him and sit astride him on his lap. "Come here," he hissed, pulling me tight into his chest, one hand on the back of my head, the other around my back. His shoulder locked me in place like a vice, his lean bicep straining against me. "Come right here and let me hold you properly," he whispered into my hair. "My beautiful girl," he said as I began to cry again, a great flood of emotion washing out of my chest, rushing out of me in a series of violent, gulping, ugly sobs. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm so sorry for everything."
"I want to talk about everything," I gulped, throat raw like I'd swallowed a gallon of sea water. "But I can't face it now. Please, not now."
"I know," he said, quietly holding me for what seemed like a lifetime. "St-Stay here tonight. Stay here." It wasn't a question; neither was it a command. Just a gentle, friendly statement of truth. I was staying with Caleb that night, and it felt like the only thing to do. I nodded mutely and he continued to cup the back of my head with his amazingly expressive hand, cheek against my ear, the scratch of day-old stubble counterpointing the softness of the touch of his fingers through my red hair. "We'll t-talk tomorrow."
Eventually I stopped crying, slumping exhausted into him while he stayed stroking my shoulders and back, fingers occasionally tangling in my ridiculously long hair. Seriously, I thought, I have to get that cut; it's getting dangerous in the workshop. I almost sniggered aloud at the irony of a red-head quite literally having 'fiery' hair.
"Shall we g-go upstairs?" he suggested eventually, stuttering softly in my ear.
Caleb chuckled softly after another minute and said, "You'll need to g-get up then in order for that to w-w-w-work..."
Moving was so difficult. Levering myself up away from his body, I felt like there was chewing gum cementing me to him, fibres stretching stiffly, reluctantly, as I pulled away. Finally I was on my feet, my knees weak as water, my hands in his where he still sat on the sofa below me. The were so quiet. I looked at them, their wonderful strength and infinite delicacy, unable to tear my eyes from them until he twitched his fingers to get my attention. He knew I was staring.
"Help me up?" he asked with an eyebrow cocked cheekily skyward.
I nodded and squeezed my fingers. "On three?"
He grunted. "One, two, three." And as he and I balanced his weight between us, his right hand clutching my forearm as he fought for a moment to stay upright, I felt the connection between us like a lightening bolt. I was made for this, I knew suddenly. It was as obvious as day against night. Fire and shadow, the two of us may have been opposites in many respects, but we met in the middle and made the perfect connection.
"L-Lyss?" he asked, "Y-You've fr-frozen on me..."
"I..." I began, "I just realised something. That's all. It doesn't matter," I said. At least I had the sense now to shut up and not sound like a raving lunatic.
Leaving me with a half-smile for an answer, he squeezed my fingers and said, "Alright. L-Let's get upstairs. Y-you want a bath or something?"
I just wanted to curl up in bed, but I had come straight from work, barrelling into the bad news and out the other end into a world that felt bleak as a Fallout landscape. I felt dirty and exhausted, the way a I might after a long hike in the dust, or a week of camping, but I longed to curl up and try and sleep. Though the adrenaline that surged through my veins every time I thought about Luke threatened to keep me from any kind of rest. "I don't know," I said in a small voice.
"I'll r-run you a bath," he said gently as he put his foot to the first step and let go of my hand to haul himself up the stairs. He turned right at the top, heading for the bathroom, adding breathlessly, "My dr-dressing g-g-g-gown is... on the back of the door... If you w-want to... borrow it..."
"Thank you," I breathed. "Are Nan and Amy here?" I suddenly asked, not seeing a light in Amy's room.
He paused in the doorway to the bathroom, holding the architrave with a pale hand, breath coming back to his chest. His whispered deliciously, voice a low hiss. "Amy's at her friend Molly's for a sl-sleepover. Nan is here, but she's in bed already."
I nodded. "Ok," I said, "I'll go and get undressed."
He smiled sadly, and turned without a word to begin to run the water for a bath.
His room was the same as it had always been: an arctic wasteland of immaculate neatness, soullessly without photographs or decoration, like a monk's cell. It seemed particularly pathetic in the light of recent events between us. His huge bed looked like an iced cake, the duvet without wrinkle or crease, the pillows plumped and shunted like train cars against the headboard. I assumed that Nan did it, but I didn't know for sure. In fact, on reflection, there was probably a military neatness of habit there in the corners of those pillow cases.
I didn't realise I'd been standing there in the middle of the room without moving until the door opened behind me and Caleb came to a halt in the doorway. "L-Lyss?" he whispered, listening intently, unable to pinpoint me.
I jumped and turned with a small gasp.
"Hey," he said, reaching for me. He knew I was close, standing in the middle of the room, but he wasn't exactly sure where I was. I watched his uncertain, approaching gesture with a smile.
I reached for his hand and let him draw me into his chest again. "How do I do it, Caleb?" I asked in a very small voice, breathing evenly against the fabric of his t-shirt, feeling his taut muscles beneath.
He didn't answer for a moment, and then he sighed. "I've only been on the other end of this, on L-Luke's side," he said quietly. "I don't know. Nan and Amy said they took it one day at a time. N-no n-news is good n-news, but y-you c-c-c-c-c..." He broke off, the consonant carving a deep groove on his tongue as his chest contracted violently, shaking me where I clung to him. "Excuse me, y-you mustn't sit around w-waiting for a phone c-call..." He kissed the top of my head again and I knew he wanted to work through our personal issues. I could feel it. We weren't done. That spark of hope was going to carry me through this awful period of waiting. I wanted it too now, despite my anger before. "And you have to c-carry on with y-your l-l-life. Do the l-little things..."
"Like having a bath," I smiled weakly, looking up at him.
"I smell that bad?"
"There we go," he chuckled. "Making jokes already."
He moved away from me and sat on the far side of his bed, fixing an earbud to his ear as he picked up his iPhone, back to me, a strongly silent gesture which had infinite distance to it. I wobbled for a moment, but bit my lip and started on my first ‘little thing’. I pulled my clothes off, dirty and stained from the workshop where I'd been making waxes and moulds for casting all day, and slid into his bath robe. It was too big and the extra fabric wrapped around me in a warm embrace as I headed for the bathroom and sank into the warm water.
I tied my hair up in a bun, and had just sunk my hands back below the water line when the door opened. I'd forgotten to lock it, and in a rush of horror I thought Nan would be coming in and would see me in all my naked not-so-glorious glory... But the hand that snuck around the door was Caleb's, and he came in wearing some slouchy-looking grey tracksuit bottoms, and the top half of him was bare. Deliciously bare.
"Y-You don't mind if I gr-grab a qu-qu-quick shower do you?" he asked, nodding at the shower cubicle that stood opposite the bath.
"Mind?" I asked mutely, eyes lost on the landscape of his scarred torso.
"Well... after the, erm, fireworks, last w-w-week, I thought, y-you know, you might not..."
I sighed and slipped further into the heat of the water. His ear moved at the whisper of little waves sloshing over my shoulders. "No Caleb," I said quietly. "I don't mind at all. I was wrong in the way I acted… what I said to you. The more I replayed what I saw afterwards, the more I realised you were telling the truth, and that Nan was right. It was her, not you."
"Nan?" he asked, coming over to the bath, face full of curiosity as he leaned on the heated towel rail, fingers holding a warm, white, fluffy towel while he listened to me.
I sighed and watched again as he caught the sparkling of the water again as it fell in heavy droplets off my arm as I raised my hand to flick a wayward strand of hair back. It was going curly in the steam from the bath. "She and I spoke briefly when I came round on Sunday to 'talk' to you," I snorted bitterly at the memory of how that had gone. "She shed a bit of light on things."
"Oh?" he asked again. "Wh-what did she say?" He was wary, his knuckles pale as he choked the rail in his hand. The rest of him was tense as an early Greek bronze statue. The Kritios Boy perhaps, I thought as my art history rushed back unexpectedly to me for a moment.
I focused and said, "She just said that you suffered more than you let on when you came back from Afghanistan for good... But..." I sighed. "But she said she'd noticed a real difference in you since we'd been together. You seemed happier, she said. But... but she wanted me to appreciate how much of a difference your injuries made in your life, I think. I've only known you after you were hurt. I don't know what it was like for you before. You do, and..." I choked a bit, realising how selfish I'd been, "And Millie represents a time before, when you didn't have all the frustrations you do now..."
I thought he looked a little faint as he stood there, not saying anything.
He let go of the rail and came over to the bath, his left hand searching for the white enamel. When he found it, he leaned down and lowered himself onto the precarious edge of the bath. He had his back to me, but twisted his torso towards me and let his left hand trail down into the water. He found my shoulder and slid the back of his fingers up my neck to my cheek. Still he said nothing.
"What did I say?" I asked, shuddering as his fingers traced the outlines of my features. I closed my eyes.
"Y-you have no idea," he whispered, "The good you do me."
"Oh Caleb," I whimpered. "I'm so sorry I hurt you. I'm sorry I wasn't listening to you."
He opened his eyes as he turned his face more towards me, and my heart lurched. He was so beautiful. He smiled sadly and said, "I'm sorry I stopped t-talking to you," he said. "And..." his fingers left my body and clenched angrily, "And I'm sorry about her. I should have known wh-what was happening. I... I felt it c-coming, but I didn't think she'd actually do it. She was always a 'see it, w-want it, have it' k-kind of girl. She never r-really thought things through. I should have done the thinking. That w-was always my job..."
"You're not in the army any more, Caleb," I said gently, reaching for his arm where it now hovered above the bath water. I closed my fingers around that canon ball of a fist. The muscles in his arm melted as he sighed. "You're not responsible for her any more."
"But I am re-responsible for myself," he spat. "I should have k-kept my distance. I should have – "
I interrupted him. "Stop. It happened, but let's not make more of it than we should. I've already done a first class job of that."
His back softened and he reached back down for my body, finding my collarbones and making me gasp. He let his fingers play there a while, before running them gently up my neck to my chin and pressing the pad of his thumb gently against me with soft, sweet affection. "Alright," he sighed.
"Go and have your shower," I said. "I'll soak here a little longer til you finish."
He didn't have his brace on and he wasn't using a cane I realised as he pulled himself up using the towel rail. With pinpoint familiarity he crossed the small, boxy bathroom and undressed before sliding the glass door of the shower open and stepping cautiously in. His body was as strangely, intoxicatingly beautiful as I had always thought it was, with his Rodin arms and torso, strongly muscled left leg, and its weak, slightly withered brother beside it, with its unusual angles and slants, his broken hip and misshapen quad melting into a slender calf and stiff ankle. I breathed heavily for a moment, and I think he caught me, casting me a twitch of his jaw but nothing more.
With calculated movements, he located the dials on the shower and I was as fascinated as ever by the way he moved through space. I was drawn to him, the anger and hurt melting as I realised he'd made bad decisions because of the bad that had happened to him. It wasn't an excuse, and I wasn't forgiving him just because he had had a shit time of things; I was forgiving him because I now understood why he'd not stopped her. I was angry as a demon with Millie, and God-only knows what I'd do if I ever met her in the future, but I wasn't angry with Caleb any more. And yes, I did want to kiss those lips again.
The rush of water as I pulled my body from the warm bath made Caleb, now also out of the shower and heading for the towel rail, stop and turn to me. "Pass me a towel?" I asked him as I stood in the bath.
"No," he smiled, limping painfully towards me.
"Come on," I said, shivering audibly.
He stopped later than I'd expected him to, standing extremely close to me, nose testing the space until he found my face, the height of the bath giving me the extra few inches I needed to stand level with him as he continued to nuzzle against me while his hands found my shoulders and he ran his palms over my wet skin. He drew me from the bath, holding me by the hips as I stepped over the sides and stood on the deeply fluffy bath mat, bare toes sinking between the threads.
His pelvis pressed against me, just above the place where I felt a growing heat. His cock rose, growing a little hard, and pressed into me as well. Caleb's hand moved to my head and he gripped me just below the knot of red hair that I'd tied up earlier. The savage want in his touch sent a thrill through me, and as his lips crushed into mine and his teeth began to work along my lips, nipping, biting, tongue tasting, I grabbed his wet back and raked my fingernails over his muscles. He broke off with a gasp and a grunt, throwing his head back as I reached the end of his spine. My hands softened as they moved to his lopsided hips, and I felt him twitch backwards as I began to run circles over the sides of his pelvis. I put the flat of my palm down and drew him close to me again with a wordless gesture of acceptance before kissing him one more time.
I shivered, and not from his touch this time. "How about that towel?" I whispered when I pulled back.
He grinned roguishly and kissed me again, reaching out to his left without breaking away from me to pull a huge bath towel from the rail. He didn’t need to look to find it. Then with another smile he moved back and wrapped it around my shoulders, cocooning me up in it. He shuffled backwards and a flash of pain passed over his features as he moved awkwardly, looking for another towel on the rail below. He couldn't bend easily from where he was, and I stepped over and tugged one free to put its corner in his hand. His smile was shy as he pulled the rest of it off and began to dry himself. "I'll go and curl up," I said softly, leaning a moment on his tense shoulders and leaving a rapid kiss on his scratchy cheek.
He rubbed his chin. "I'll j-just g-g-g-get r-rid of that," he stammered, head nodding uncontrollably as the sounds stuck.
I smiled and left him to shave, padding quietly up the familiar corridor in his dressing gown and sliding into a t-shirt I found in his drawer. It was an old one with a hole in the shoulder, but it was the one I had always worn when I'd stayed over. It was Caleb's, but it was mine.
Sliding between the duvet and the soft sheet, I landed my head on the pillow and lay quiet and still for a few minutes, head spinning. Luke was fighting for his life, and I was reconnecting with Caleb, and I didn't know how to feel about any of it, but I wasn't alone, and that was a comfort.
I rolled over as Caleb came back in, limping awkwardly, using the wall as much to prop himself up as to guide the way. He paused at the chest of drawers to dig out a pair of black boxers and rested his weight on the top of the unit for a moment, arms buttressing him up before putting them on. He puffed a quick pant of effort as he closed the drawer and sat down on the bed and swung his leg up, right hand hooked under the thigh, left supporting the calf. His left leg followed suit and he tugged the duvet up to cover his lower half.
There was a moment, a suspension of time, while he sat leaning back on his hands, spine straight, shoulders high, naked except for his boxers, dark hair damp from the shower, sharp jawline freshly shaven, eyelids fluttering but closed. I could have stared endlessly, searching for details. It lasted for three of his slow inhales before he lay back and rested his head on the pillow. He breathed silently in and out for a moment, face gazing blankly at the ceiling, eyes closed, and then he said to me, “Are we g-going to do this L-Lyss?”
“Tr-try it all again?”
I knew he wondered if I thought it was worth all the effort of darning it all up, patching the hole and moving forward, and I rolled quietly over to face him. His ear moved a little towards me, cheekbones catching the dim light from outside. Staying in his room was the only time I liked the curtains open at night. I liked the privilege of seeing him in the dark. “Yes, Caleb. I think we should.”
The soft smile that grew on his lips almost made me cry again. Crinkles grew from the corners of his eyes and a tiny dimple pinched at the end of his smile. He breathed out the apprehension in his chest and rolled carefully over so that we faced each other like pair of porcelain figures, stiff in our uncertain expectance for an instant, until he reached out with measured caution and found my body. His fingers ran down my waist and he anchored on my hip, drawing me into him. “Good,” he whispered as he buried his face in my hair.
“I love you,” I whispered back. He pushed a gasp from his lungs and clenched his hand in my hair. “I love you, Caleb,” I repeated firmly, and he kissed my forehead.
To be continued...