TITLE: Beauty for Ashes Ch10
By Michelle Massaro
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It had been 3 nights since I’d last dreamed of Hannah. The Voice had returned again last night, pleading, but I hardened myself to it just as I had before. Instead of the pain easing with time, the wound in my heart had only festered and spread. I wanted to escape the memories, but I was terrified of forgetting her. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I sat on my bed alone in my room, holding my head in my hands. I tightened my hand into a fist and pounded against my chest, trying to beat down the pain there. A guttural cry escaped my lips as I rocked myself back and forth. Finally I realized that I just couldn’t take it anymore. This was it…
I would end it once and for all.
Making that decision brought a strange and surreal sense of calm. The fledgling plan was becoming more certain- I had plenty of different kinds of sleep aids, surely that would do the trick- especially combined with alcohol. But I wasn’t sure. I thought the chances of simply ending up in a pile of vomit were too high. I’d have to give this more thought.
I hadn’t been out of the hotel, or even down to the bar, in the last 3 days either. I decided to go downstairs now while I considered how best to accomplish my goal.
“Hey Pete, give me some vodka, straight up, would ya?”
“Hey there bro, how’s it hangin’?” he asked as he poured my drink.
“Not bad” I lied. “What about you? Anything exciting going on?”
He leaned in and spoke in a hushed tone. “I got my eye on this pretty little nymph.” He gave a slight jerk of his head in the direction of a young woman with short dark hair and delicate features. She did look a bit like a nymph- or a pixie. I raised my glass to him before downing the contents.
Pete raised an eyebrow at my unusual choice of drink but quickly poured some more. I sat morosely at the bar, sipping my drink and trying to decide. I wanted out. But what was the best way to do it? Something swift. I considered… various methods. My thoughts that night were very dark. But I was clinging to the end of my rope and my fingers were slipping. All that I could see left to do was to figure out how to let go. So I drained glass after glass of vodka, staring past the world around me, contemplating my own demise.
I wondered if Pete would grieve for me, a guy he’d only known a short time, a guy staying in his hotel. I had never told him about Hannah. I’d been too afraid of the pain. But I was no longer trying to hold it together and I decided that I wanted him to know. I wanted him to understand how extraordinary she was, why I would never let go. And maybe it would make it easier on him, later. Give him some understanding.
“Pete. I’ve never really told you about Hannah have I?”
“Uh, no. But that’s ok. I understand you not wanting to talk about it. I know she messed you up pretty bad.”
“I think I’d like to tell you about her.” I could tell he’d been curious about this girl who he assumed had dumped me or betrayed me or something. He was eager to find out the story. So I proceeded to tell him about how we met, what she was like, just what an amazing person she was. I told him about the night I proposed.
I was telling my story in bits and pieces in between other customers’ drink orders and girls flirting with Pete. And I was getting drunker as the story went on.
“Man, I can guaran-TEE you I had the best honeymoon any man ever had.” He laughed at me. “Seriously man, we waited. We waited and the payoff was… un-be-LIEVE-able.” I didn’t give him any details of course, but thinking about her this way now sent a rush of warmth through my body. I fell silent for several minutes and Pete tended to his customers, especially that Pixie-Chick. It was a while later that I picked my story back up.
“So about four or five months later, I come home and Hannah is all bubbly and excited. I was curious because she hadn’t been feeling so hot lately. I was young and a newlywed, what did I know? I didn’t put the clues together. So she was all giddy about something when I got home and she handed me this little gift bag with a purple bow. Guess what was inside- if you haven’t already figured it out.” Pete raised questioning eyebrows but said nothing. I nodded. “Yep. Pregnancy test. She was pregnant. Figured about 6 weeks along. I was going to be a DAD. Can you imagine?”
I laughed and shook my head, remembering the way it felt when I first got the news. So many different emotions had spun around inside me at the same time. My heart pounded in my chest. I was excited, incredulous, freaked out. But Hannah was so beautiful, so full of joy. It was one of those times that I had allowed that Voice to speak peace into me. I had felt His reassurance for all my fears; I had felt His pleasure at giving us this gift. So we had celebrated and begun making plans.
Pete looked at me expectantly, obviously wondering how this great fairytale of a story turned so bad. I made him pour me another drink before I would continue.
“We had a little girl.” I smiled wistfully staring out into the universe, picturing her little cherub face. “We named her Katy.” I looked Pete in the eye. “Nothing I had ever done, or would ever do, in my entire life could compare with that perfect person that Hannah and I had created together. Nothing.” I could feel the moisture behind my eyelids and blinked a few times to get it under control.
“Wow. I didn’t know you had a daughter, dude.” Pete whistled and turned his attention to the gaggle of girls on my right in need of fresh cocktails. His Pixie Chick was among them. He distracted himself from the serious tone of my story by exchanging some flirtatious smiles and cracking a few jokes with other customers. I didn’t care about any of it. I just stared down into my glass for several long minutes before chugging the clear liquid. Then I stared some more, lost in some alternate universe where Hannah and Katy still existed. I focused on Katy now- every chubby roll on her arms and legs, every wisp of blonde hair. I tried to picture her little grin. I was distressed that I couldn’t form a clear mental image. The details of her smile were fading. No! I thought. I berated myself for my failure. Guilt overwhelmed me. I balled my hands into fists and pounded them against the sides of my head. I squeezed my eyes shut.
It was Him again, intruding into my thoughts. The Voice had never echoed in my head when I was out in public.
I felt it again, like an anguished plea. I saw no reason why He should be in anguish when all this pain was His fault.
Behold, I have loved you with an everlasting love.
I knew it was a Bible verse and wondered why I would think of it now. It bothered me, this intrusion. I was almost grateful to be coming to the part of my story that would bolster my resolve, give me ammunition. I ordered another drink. I think I’d broken a personal record of consumption.
Pete was talking to a new customer on my left. I didn’t care enough to glance up. After he disappeared, she moved a seat or two closer to me. I just ignored her presence, too caught up in my own reality. The booze was taking more effect and I found my arms feeling heavy as I lifted my glass to my lips.
“Hi” a female voice said. “You alone tonight? You’re way too attractive to be sitting here by yourself.”
“Yep, I’m alone.” I said without looking up.
“Me too. I’m not very good at it.” She laughed. Even in my state of mind, it sounded wonderful. “Okay then. How bout if we’re alone together? My name is April.”
“John.” I mumbled, barely giving her a sideways glance.
“Oh, I like that name. It’s very nice to meet you John.” The melody of her voice caught me off guard. “Buy me a drink?” she asked.
“Sure, why not” I muttered without looking up.
“I’ll have a Midori Sour” she spoke to Pete.
“Of course,” he said. Then added, “but don’t bother with that one. He’s not interested.”
“Don’t be rude Pete.” I said, finally taking my eyes off my glass. As I did, the room swayed before me.
“Sorry, just trying to help- and failing again, apparently.” He handed the lady her green cocktail.
“Thanks. And thank you.” She turned toward me.
“You’re welcome. So uh… April right? You here for vacation?”
“Nope. I’m a native! Well, a transplanted native. Haven’t been here very long- few months or so. What about you? Business trip, weekend getaway, poker tournament?” Her eyes danced playfully, she was flirting, trying to draw me in.
“None of the above. I’m also a new transplant.” I took a sip of my drink and looked away. Her eyes felt too familiar.
She tilted her blonde head to one side and pressed the straw to her lips. “So what do you do?”
“You’re lookin’ at it.” I tried to keep the acid out of my tone. This girl had no idea what she was dealing with and she didn’t need me bringing her down. “What about you? Work at one of the shows?”
She threw her head back and let out a beautiful laugh. I found myself unable to repress a slight smile. “I don’t think so. I’ve worked as a bar waitress and that sort of thing. But I’m keeping my eye out right now for… other opportunities.”
I looked at her then. Blonde, blue eyes, full lips parted in a provocative smile. She reminded me so much of Hannah.
“Who’s Hannah?” she asked, confused. I didn’t realize I’d said that out loud.
“She was my wife.” I said, my voice flat. My speech wasn’t as clear as before. I knew Pete would have to cut me off soon so I tried to hide the effects.
“Oh.” She said, seemingly because she didn’t know what else to say. “Divorced?”
“No. She’s dead.” I blurted it out without thinking. Both Pete and April kind of stared at me in shock for a moment before composing themselves again. April turned to her drink and Pete just kind of looked at me like he wasn’t sure what he should do next.
“I’m sorry.” April’s voice was low.
Pete recovered from his shock. “Dude, that sucks. I… I didn’t know that.”
I shrugged. “How could you? I haven’t talked about it before tonight.”
“What about Katy?” he asked, in a near-whisper.
My eyes were fixed straight ahead at the nothingness. I felt my lips flatten into a straight line. “Her too” I choked out before tipping my glass and washing down the memory. I dragged the back of my hand across my lips. April sat watching me, looking uncomfortable, as if she wasn’t sure the conversation were meant for her ears. She did look so much like Hannah. Even the way she carried herself, trying to be tactful, not wanting to butt into something that was none of her business, but clearly interested. I briefly felt a strange new flicker of emotion but shook it off.
I sighed. Neither of them would have asked, but at this point I needed to get it out. It was sort of like saying goodbye. I closed my eyes for a moment and cleared my throat.
“They died in a fire.” I said simply. “The fire burned them up and I wasn’t there to stop it.” I held my breath to contain the sob threatening to escape my lips. I felt the muscles of my face contort and I looked down at the counter to hide it. I pretended to clear my throat.
“More.” I tapped my glass. Pete gave me a wary look before adding a little more to my glass. I swallowed it all at once, feeling it burn a tiny bit on the way down. I set my elbows on the counter, my head in my hands.
For all the composure I managed, I felt 2 silent tears slip down my cheeks. And then a gentle hand was on my arm. I looked up into the sad, compassionate eyes of the woman next to me. She exuded Hannah’s spirit like she was the embodiment of her reincarnated soul. She didn’t say anything, she just looked at me- really looked. And I was surprised to see her eyes were awash in a layer of sympathetic tears. Her evident concern touched me deeply. I stared back at her for a moment, and it was as if she truly saw me. I felt exposed, but somehow I didn’t mind. For a moment I was glued to her eyes. I felt an odd sort of fascination, and it confused me.
She gave me a soft smile. "Well, I'm honored that I remind you of her. She must have been a wonderful woman. Why don't we drink to Hannah and Katy?" Pete poured out two more drinks and April lifted hers in the air. "To Hannah and Katy".
"To Hannah and Katy" I echoed, still staring at this surprising woman.
When I looked away again, the room spun wildly. I shook my head to clear it but the dizziness only got worse. I changed the subject and commented on the basketball game playing on the small TV screen which hung in a corner of the bar lounge. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was drunk- unable to think clearly, maybe unable to hold onto my resolve- but I didn’t feel the urgency to let go of this life the way I had just minutes earlier. I felt like one of those drowning rats. Just when I was ready to give up, the universe throws me a very thin lifeline and I feel the undeniable impulse to keep treading water. I knew it was pointless and that eventually I would drown. But I was suddenly no longer eager to have it over with. Inwardly I cursed myself for being a coward. But outwardly I pretended to listen to April’s chatter, offering a small chuckle at the appropriate times.
Her laughter was like a drug I was quickly becoming addicted to. She sounded so much like Hannah. I wondered how that was possible- that she would look, as well as sound, like my wife. Maybe it was simple desperation on my part- desperation to see Hannah again. I found myself listening more intently and laughing in earnest now and then. She was obviously relieved that the dark atmosphere from earlier had lifted.
“I like you John.” Her eyes explored my features. “You’re easy to talk to.” She was thoughtful for a moment. “I wouldn’t mind another drink though.” She held up her empty glass. She was asking me to buy her another one. I wondered if that was some kind of code, to buy a lady a second drink. I didn’t care. I looked at Pete and told him to get her another drink before returning my attention to April. She was looking at me in a way that sent a rush of heat through my body. She lowered her eyes for a moment. Was she blushing? Pete handed her the new drink and she brought the straw to her lips. I found myself studying her mouth and another wave of heat radiated out from my chest. I cleared my throat and looked away. What am I doing?
She ran her fingers along my arm, sending electricity through my body. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing.” I looked back at her and my eyes drifted again down to her mouth. She drew her lips into a seductive, knowing smile. Without thinking, I found my gaze sweeping over her body, admiring her form. Embarrassed, I brought my focus back to her face, and was met with a hungry look in her eyes. It had been a long time since I’d seen that look in a woman’s eyes, in my Hannah’s eyes. It caught me off guard, causing my breath to catch in my throat and I swallowed hard. She reached out to run a finger across the back of my hand, which was grasping my glass a bit too hard.
She inched toward me in her seat and I could smell her perfume. I was finding it hard to breathe. She gave me a coy smile before leaning closer, the scent of her hair swirling around me, and her lips tickling my ear as she whispered, “Why don’t we go somewhere else to talk?” Her fingers traveled along my arm and made my heartbeat quicken. I nodded.
John, what are you doing? I asked myself.
She smiled and took my hand before sliding out of her chair, leading me along behind her like a puppy dog. I had to concentrate on not losing my balance. We rode the elevator up to the 4th floor- me nervously standing with my hands in my pockets and she with one arm looped through mine, the fingers of her other hand playfully running up and down my neck. I was self-conscious and uncertain but I couldn’t pull myself away from her.
We walked down the hallway and she stopped in front of her room to unlock the door.
Flee, my son!
The warning was clear but I pushed it away. It only fueled my rebellion and I quenched any misgivings I felt.
Once inside, I remained standing while April went over and set her purse down on the coffee table. I watched her walk across the room and noticed the curve of her hips as they swayed beneath her dress. A fresh wave of heat washed over me, stirring a profound craving that had been dormant till now.
She returned and stood facing me. She looked demure and shy, but her expression held an unmistakable longing. It was Hannah’s eyes that locked onto mine- Hannah’s hands that ran tentatively over my chest, setting my blood on fire. I took my hands out of my pockets and lightly brushed my fingertips along her back. I looked down at her then, and saw my own longing reflected back in her glowing eyes- like a deep, unquenchable thirst. How long had it been since I’d held a woman? She pressed herself against me and I sucked in my breath.
“John.” Her voice was low and sultry. “I know you’re hurting. If you want I can make you feel better.”
Her hands explored the muscles of my chest, my neck, my arms- and my flesh responded. I cupped my hand behind her neck and tilted her face up toward mine. My breathing was hot and unsteady as I lowered my head and hesitantly brushed my lips against hers. A surge of desire overcame me. It was like the floodgates had been thrown open and my passion could no longer be contained. I saw in her only Hannah, and I kissed her deliberately and passionately. She removed her lips from mine and began kissing my jaw, tracing a line down my neck and back up to my ear.
“Call me Hannah” she whispered. I melted.
“Hannah” it came out in a moan, and I began kissing her neck feverishly.
“Wait…” she said. I struggled to regain some control and looked at her. She bit her lip and looked away nervously for a heartbeat before turning her attention to my neck. She kissed me once, twice. I closed my eyes, going mad with desire. She brought her lips to my ear and whispered, “I need rent money.” … She sounded tentative- unsure but hopeful. “Do you understand?”
After a moment I realized what she was saying. To my own surprise, it only took a brief second to recover from my shock. I simply nodded in response. Then I cupped her face with both my hands and drew her up into a passionate kiss. “Hannah” I sighed. I felt her melt in my arms and return the kiss, just as passionate and just as hungry as mine.
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