He waits for her every night. She comes when he is on the very edge of sleep, curled on his side and facing the window. His eyelids will droop and slowly shutter closed before some tangible shift in the air snaps them open, and there she will be, draped across his windowsill.
“Hey,” she says, and smiles; red-mouthed.
And so it begins.
She talks to him about his dreams; hearing his songs shouted back at him by stadiums of people alit with hero worship and adoration. At first Alex answers her into his pillow, his flushed face pressed firmly into the linen, but she slowly coaxes him up and out and into a live wire of excitement.
There is something about it—the fevered pitch of their hushed voices brushing up against each other under the soft cloak of darkness—that draws the words that sit stuck in his throat during daylight hours into the open. His dreams seem less like dreams when he lays them at her feet. They solidify into possibility; reality.
It’s a comfortable illusion.
“What about you?” he asks one night, and never does again when her silhouette flickers like a candle flame biting too close to the wick.
They never touch. When the first slices of sunlight cut through the slats in the blinds and sully the slope of her ribs and thighs a dark orange Alex traces the gentle lines of her body with his eyes in lieu of his fingertips. Her caramel skin is a deep ochre under the dissolving darkness of daybreak and Alex balls his hands into fists around his bed sheets.
She laughs; slides the silk hem of her dress down past her knees and raises an eyebrow at him.
Alex shakes his head. Not even close.
“Sometimes I feel like you are everything that matters in the world,” Alex admits, a hairs-breadth from sleep.
He spends his days hauling sacks of cement in and out of vans with men that grunt obscenities between bouts of chain-smoking, their brows heavy with bitterness; his evenings he wastes in coffee shops with girls that snicker when his voice falls flat or his fingers slip on the strings of his guitar. His nights are when he comes alive.
“Sweet dreams, Alex,” she says.
He wakes the next morning to find her gone like always, the air unusually still.
“I love you,” he says, hope caught in his chest like an errant breath. Fear trembles just beneath it, the comfort of illusion wearing thin.
“It’s not real.” She is looking away from him, through the window and into the shadows of the city. “You should forget it.”
Alex almost laughs at the absurdity. Her eyes find his as he stands from the bed. They are hard; narrowed and black. “You’ll regret it,” she warns.
Alex stops just shy of the windowsill. He raises one hand, moving to cradle her jaw.
AP Story: Witness
Written by Shannon Eden