"May I sit with you?"
My body jerked in surprise. I turned to see him put his hands up as though I had brandished a weapon.
"Hey, whoa, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."
I chuckled, bowing and shaking my head. "You didn't scare me, you startled me a bit," I replied.
"I thought you might be meditating so I tried to approach respectfully."
I looked down. I was sitting with my legs folded and crossed, feet tucked under each opposite calf, hands resting on my thighs. I stretched my arms and adjusted my legs so the left was in front of the right, making sure my skirt covered me.
"No, not meditating, just...well, maybe incidental meditating. I was staring at the ocean and thinking about how black the water looks at night."
He clasped his hands in front of him. "No need to explain. May I sit with you?"
"Uh, sure, plenty of beach for everyone," I said, gesturing to my right.
I glanced around as he folded himself to the ground, grunting a bit when he made contact with the sand, extending his bent legs in front of him.
"I always feel bad for taller people when they have to sit on the ground, you have so far to come down. How tall are you? Six four?"
He placed his forearms on his knees. "Yes, exactly, how did you know?"
"My ex-husband is six four. He would grunt when he had to get down too," I looked slightly away from his gaze, staring at the waves lapping the shore. "I always found it interesting that he's a foot taller and weighs a hundred pounds more than I do. I'd often watch him move and think about where his center of gravity is verses where mine is, how his organs must be so much bigger than mine."
I looked at him.
"Here, make a fist," I said, holding up my right fist between us.
"Okay," he replied incredulously as he held his balled-up hand next to mine.
"They say your heart is about the size of your fist, so that's how much bigger your heart is than mine—almost twice the size, isn't that crazy?" I looked from our hands to his face.
"Fascinating," he replied flatly, his lips curled into a slight smirk.
"All right, I admit, I'm nervous, and making stupid small talk, but it is kinda cool, come on," I said as I dropped my hand.
He uncurled his hand and placed it on the sand. "No, it is kind of cool, you're right. And why are you nervous?"
I glanced around again. "Well, we're alone. I've never been alone with you before. I feel like maybe I did something wrong and you're here to talk to me about it."
He turned to lay on his right side, facing me.
"Nope, nothing like that, I just like to try to make one-on-one time for all members of the community."
I looked at him, feeling my eyes narrow. "That's it?" I asked.
"Well, I admit," he said as he moved sand around with his index finger, "I enjoy spending time with some members more than others." He glanced up at me.
I felt a slight prickling sensation on the back of my neck and I shivered a little.
"Uh-huh. Well, I guess no one can fault you for that," I replied evenly.
There was a pause as we held each other's gazes. We were far enough away from the glow of the torches that his eyes appeared grey in the moon light.
"Did you enjoy the ceremony tonight?" he asked, bringing his right hand up to cradle his head.
"Oh yes, of course," I answered, looking back at the circle of dark boulders jutting out of the sand, seeming to glitter from the light of the flames within, "It's very..." I turned back to him, "Grounding. Centering."
"Good, I'm glad. This was your third, right?"
"Um, I got here in February, so... March, May, and this one—yeah, this one's my third."
"Hmm," he nodded, watching his fingertip make a pattern. I watched too, trying to gauge the silence—was it awkward? Was it comfortable? Did it matter?
I felt a sudden intense heat in the middle of my back and groaned behind my closed lips, reaching to rub the spot.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, just—I don't know, a couple of strange, inexplicable...sensations tonight. Maybe it's the full moon." I ran my hands through my hair and scratched my scalp. "Huh, maybe it's you," I joked.
He assessed me for a moment, sat up, and moved over to sit across from me, mirroring my position. I looked down as he settled himself and was surprised to find I wished our knees would touch.
"I want you to try something," he said in a low voice.
I'd never been this close to him, and there was no denying his beauty—the jade-green eyes disguised light grey in the night, the chiseled jaw, the messy-but-still-somehow-coifed blond hair—when I'd met him and whenever I'd seen him over the last few months, he often reminded me of Greek sculptures of gods, and now he was here, in front of me, eagerly awaiting for me to speak, to answer a question, to consent to what he wanted...the muscles inside me involuntarily clenched.
I straightened up and swallowed. "Um, okay."
He rubbed his hands together to his right, dusting off the sand, and laid them palms-up on his legs.
"Place your hands over mine," he directed.
"Okay," I said again, carefully placing my hands on top of his.
I stared at my hands on his palms and recalled I'd shook his hand when I'd arrived, but I couldn't think of any other occasion when we had touched. I looked at him. His chin was tucked, mouth slightly open.
"Like that?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied. "Now: roll your shoulders back, make sure you're sitting up straight, take a deep breath, and close your eyes."
I did as he instructed.
"I want you to picture everything around you. All of this—the sand, the ocean, the rocks, the torches, the sky, the moon, the stars, me—everything is around you. You are the center. Everything connects to you and you are connected to everything. Don't go too far out with it, don't think about how you're connected to something miles away, just focus on the immediate vicinity. And breathe. Take your time. Keep your eyes closed. Whenever you're ready, tell me what you see, what you feel. There is no 'right' or 'wrong,' just share with me what you can describe."
I focused on my breathing, the sound of the ocean, and pictured everything around me. I felt the heat on my back again and moaned, moving to reach for the area that ached, but he gripped my hands.
"No no, stay with me, keep your eyes closed, tell me what's going on."
"Heat. On my back. It's not pleasant like a hot shower, it's like...like I'm too close to a fire, like I leaned against a surface and didn't expect it to be hot, and I can't get away from it, but...in bursts, almost like being hit with a ball."
"Good. What else? Stay with me."
"I can't—" I shook my head.
"I think you can. I'm right here. You're safe. Tell me."
"Hissing? No, whispering," I said, "whispers, but I can't make out what they're saying."
"You don't have to. It's energy manifesting. It has a source, but the source might not be real words. It might be an attempt to communicate, but not decipherable language. Don't listen, feel. Don't think, feel. Feel what's being transmitted. What is the energy telling you?"
I felt my mouth drop open as I realized something. "We're not alone."
"Yes, it's okay, we're safe, I promise. Keep your eyes closed. What else?"
"We're... No. Not 'we,' you. You're being watched. Lovingly. Adoringly. I'm...I'm in the way. I'm being monitored. There is...anger. Envy. Jealousy."
"And it burns?"
I grimaced. "Yes. Can I open my eyes now?"
He squeezed my hands. "Not yet. You're doing really well. Keep breathing, I'm here, nothing bad is going to happen to you."
"Make sure they know that," I muttered.
"Focus, please," he implored.
I felt my head bow in concentration. The ocean waves drowned out the whispering and the pain in my back subsided.
"Tell me," he said.
"Water, of course. Dark, but not scary, calm. Quiet, fluid, black...cord? Silkiness, caressing, reaching, rocking, undulating, seaweed...fingers, limbs? I, um..."
A word entered my mind, but I didn't want to say it. My hands began to tremble and I felt my cheeks flush.
"I think—I think I'm imagining things," I stammered.
"Tell me what you're imagining, then," he encouraged. His thumbs gently rubbed the backs of my hands.
I couldn't think or feel beyond the word and there was a pulsating white light invading the darkness of my closed eyes.
"Sirens singing," I blurted out.
He squeezed my hands. "Don't lie to me, please."
I sighed and shook my head. The pulsating was starting to hurt.
"I feel stupid, I don't want to say it," I confessed.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," I squeezed my eyes, trying to keep them shut.
"Desire," he said flatly.
I opened my eyes. The pulsating vanished. He was looking at me, his expression unreadable.
I pulled my hands away and crossed my arms. "That was a little invasive," I mumbled.
"You're right, it was, I'm sorry."
"What just happened? Why are we being watched? I feel like I'm not understanding something here," I tried to sound calm.
He moved back a bit and drew his knees up in front of him.
"Well, we're being watched because I'm always guarded in some way," he craned his neck to gesture to the area outside the rocks behind me. I felt the heat on my back again and reached to rub that spot, turning to see where he'd indicated. I couldn't see anyone.
"They stay in the shadows," he explained.
I turned back to him. "How many?" I asked.
"How many do you think? Did you get a sense?"
I shrugged. "Two?"
"Usually four to six on ceremony nights."
"Damn, you've got like, enough security to start a musical number."
He tilted his head and drew his eyebrows together.
"I-- I don't know what I meant by that, this is weird," I said quickly, "I get that you're guarded, that makes sense, but could you tell them to stop trying to make some sort of telepathical bonfire on my back? I'm not gonna hurt you."
He smiled. "They're jealous. You're feeling their jealousy, they're not actually doing anything."
I rubbed my back. "Fucking hell," I said under my breath and looked back again at the area around the circle of rocks.
"I don't think 'telepathical' is a word," he said quietly.
I felt a small swell of anger as I looked at him, but his lips were curled in that slight smirk again. I couldn't deny I found it cute.
"Look, some scout troop is gonna come along and try to make s'mores from the heat your security team is burning into my back and you wanna discuss proper— oh." I stopped myself as something clicked in my mind.
"What?" he asked.
I uncrossed my legs and put my index fingers to my temples. "Wait wait wait. Jealousy. Desire." I looked at him. He was watching me with his eyebrows raised, nodding slightly.
"You...want...me?" I asked dubiously, my hands gesturing to him, then myself.
"You got it," he answered, nodding as though I had solved a riddle.
"For what?" I didn't attempt to hide my confusion.
"I'm sorry, it just doesn't make sense to me, I mean, you're the chosen one, you can have anyone you want in the community, hell, look at you, probably anyone you want outside the community as well, younger women, hotter women, models, movie stars, unless...am I reading this wrong? We're talking about sex, right?"
He inhaled to speak and then sighed, looking down at the sand. "How do I say this?" he muttered, shaking his head.
I tried to be patient as I stared at his pensive face. "I suppose I can understand the appeal of reading someone's mind if you have that power," I said softly.
He looked at me with an awkward smile. "Does that mean I'm forgiven?"
"Well, I didn't say that, but I didn't not say that, so, you know, let's focus on the topic at hand," I countered.
He inhaled deeply. "This is...different from what I'm used to," he said.
"Okay," I replied, scooting myself toward him a bit. I felt the heat on my back again. "Gah, fuckers. Is there any way to stop that?"
"Yes, I can teach you something," he waved his hand dismissively.
"Good. Tell me what's different," I urged.
"You came here...I remember your application," he stated, rocking back and forth a bit, "You were heartbroken from your divorce, your father had died and left you some money, you wrote you just wanted to leave it all behind and find somewhere safe so you could enjoy peace and quiet by the sea."
"Right," I replied.
"So, you have that now."
"Yes. I'm living the life I want, I'm happy here."
He sighed, looking at me. "Very few people are so easily satisfied. Very few people get what they say they want and actually enjoy it. You got what you wanted, and you're happy."
"Wait, I'm confused, am I not supposed to be happy?"
"Do you not see everyone else struggling?" he asked, "Everyone else just mired in endless unmet desires? Do you not see them all getting what they want, but then wanting more?"
I shrugged. "I suppose. I still want things. I wanna learn to surf. I wanna go scuba diving, parasailing, swim with sharks. I'd like to travel--"
"Yes, but none of those things have anything to do with the community. You don't need us to give you those things," his straightened hand chopped the air.
"Okay," I looked up, trying to understand.
"I'm not used to someone not wanting something from me," he said.
I looked at him. "Oh, I think I get it," I nodded.
"You're a wonderful member of the community. You're friendly to everyone, when you attend parties you always bring a bottle or a platter of some kind, you never drink too much, you never stay too long, you helped Claudia Mahoney when she broke her leg by taking care of her dog—"
"Well," I interrupted, "I had ulterior motives there."
He raised his eyebrows. "Really?"
"Yeah," I nodded emphatically, "I wanted to play with her dog. Yorkies are my favorite."
He smiled. "You can get a dog, you know."
"Nah, I don't want that responsibility," I waved the notion away.
I looked at his toes. His feet, like the rest of him, were perfect. I wondered if he got pedicures.
"I haven't been with anyone since my ex-husband," I confessed.
He shifted his sitting posture, putting his left foot under his bent-up knee.
"I thought that might be the case," he replied, "I know you've kept to yourself."
"Oh, you know that, do you?" I asked, trying to sound playful.
"Have you been spying on me?"
"Please try to understand, you intrigued me. So you may have been under closer watch than other members of the community since you got here."
"Wait, I was joking, you've really been spying on me?"
"I wouldn't call it that," he dipped his head a bit.
"Okay, what would you call it?"
"No one has gone through your trash or invaded your property. Certain trusted members of the community were tasked to follow you on occasion, patrols were asked to report lights on or off at your house or if you had guests, a few members were asked to share any information they may have learned in conversations with you at parties or other interactions, things of that nature."
I tilted my head. "I don't know if I should be terrified or flattered."
"It has made you one of the most protected members of the community," he pointed out.
"Uh-huh," I hugged my knees to my chest. "Well, I did want safety. And I suppose if I didn't know, it doesn't really matter. I'm not going to find things missing from my house or dead kittens arranged in the shape of a heart on my porch or something, right?"
"That's horrible, no," he laughed.
The heat seared into my back.
"Motherfaaaahhh," I gasped, leaning forward, "One of the most protected members of the community, that's great, but for fuck's sake, they don't seem happy about it."
"I'm sorry about that, really I am," he said.
I rubbed my back. "Is it possible you want me just because you think I don't want you?" I asked quickly.
"Unavailability feeds desire," he said wistfully.
"Exactly. Maybe if I tell you I want you, maybe if you're told you could have me, your desire will dissipate."
He came forward, kneeling in front of me, about to say something. Another pang of heat hit my back. I grunted and winced. He quickly reached around and put his hand on the spot, which seemed to block the source.
I straightened up. "Thank you," I said in a hushed tone.
"You're welcome." He was close enough to kiss.
"How could I not want you?" I asked softly. "How could anyone not want you? You're beautiful. You're powerful. You could teach me things, introduce me to people. You're charismatic. I think one or two people may have flirted with me in the last few months, but I'm just not...uh..." I stammered a bit, trying to find the right words.
"I don't know. Maybe? In my life, sex has often led to trouble. Or heartache. Or both. Maybe that's how it is for everyone. Maybe I'm just too sensitive. But I'm happy, I don't need sex or love, but, ya know, I'm human. I've thought about you a few times when I turn my shower massager to pulsate, I won't lie. But I would never...mmm...how do I put this?"
"As truthfully as you can," he coaxed.
I leaned to my left, away from his hand. The heat hit me and I gritted my teeth, but he respected my body language and pulled his hand back, shifting away from me.
"I would never bother you with that," I continued, "Never bother you with my desire. You have far more important things to concern yourself with, and I just want peace and quiet."
"Hm. Someone who wants to parasail and swim with sharks isn't someone who just wants peace and quiet," he said with that little smirk.
I chortled, tilting my head back to gaze at the moon. "Fair enough, fair enough. What an interesting night."
I looked back to him. He was staring at me as though he wanted to confess something.
"What is it?" I asked encouragingly.
"I—" he started, then glanced down at the sand to take a breath, "I would gratefully accept the opportunity to serve your desire," he said quietly.
My breath left me. "What?"
"Tell me what you want. Anything you want. I can make it happen. Any adventure you might crave, I can have it arranged—if you want me and another man, me and another woman, an orgy...you say it, you wish it, I can make it happen for you."
I felt myself blush as different scenarios whirled in my mind. "Is this how you seduce? Promise them any sexual deviance they can think of?"
He sighed, looking down, and began drawing in the sand with his fingertip again. "I don't think I'm being clear," he replied, "I don't seduce. Most people throw themselves at me."
"Oh. Right. Of course."
I was shaking as I watched his fingertip. Anything I want. What did I want?
I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. There was a dull ache in my lower belly and all it took was a slight shift to feel how wet my panties had become. The idea of feeling his body against mine and losing myself in his embrace was tantalizing.
Anything I want. Did he mean it? Did I want to find out?
I opened my eyes. His fingertip was still dancing in the sand.
"I want you to try something," I said, echoing the words he'd used.
He looked up, seemingly startled. "Excuse me?"
"'Anything I want,' right? I want you to try something."
He straightened up and folded his legs, one foot under each calf, a hand on each thigh, mimicking the position I'd been sitting in when he first asked if he could sit with me.
"That works. Now close your eyes," I instructed.
He did as he was told.
I crawled toward him, kneeling in front of him. I brushed some hair away from his forehead and allowed my fingers to flutter down to his eyebrow, his cheekbone, making a path to his lips. His mouth opened slightly and I noticed his breathing was erratic. I placed my palms on each side of his face.