Always With You

“Always With You” by Gabrielle Faust

The exuberant seductive pop of a wine cork from the other room caused to Daniel to flinch ever-so-slightly as he took his seat at the small, yet decadently expensive cherry oak dining table. From the kitchen, Selene’s soft, slightly off- pitch hum seemed to make the candles in the centerpiece waver. The heater kicked on with a soft whoosh, causing Daniel to search the ceiling for where the air vent was. He wasn’t sure why he always did that, as if it was some sort of strategic exit point in any social situation. His palms were sweating and he reached up to undo the top button of his shirt. It was a nervousness he could not for the life of him explain. Daniel had been dating Selene for two weeks now, yet each encounter left him slightly more puzzled than the last for reasons far too elusive for him to deduct.

She was beautiful. No, more than simply “beautiful.” Selene possessed a mysterious radiance he had encountered in any other living thing throughout his forty years on earth. She always kept him guessing, her answers to his questions just rich enough to leave him somewhat satisfied, yet always hungry for more. Was this her way of luring him in, baiting him until he fell in love with her? If so, he hesitated to say, it was working.

Selene flowed around the corner into the dining room with the open bottle of wine in her hands and a luscious, sly smile upon her wide mouth. “I hope this zinfandel is to your liking,” she said as she began to pour him a glass, being sure to lean over just enough as she did so that her ample cleavage presented him a sneak peeak beneath the deep plunge of her emerald green wrap dress. The fingers of her other hand brushed the hair at the nape of his neck beneath his collar—as she drew away, her long, perfectly manicured nails delicately traced along his skin, sending goose bumps down his arms.

Daniel had never been much of a wine connoisseur, preferring whiskeys and beer to the grape. It was impossible to say no to Selene, however. “I’m sure whatever you’ve chosen will be perfect with dinner.” Her smile widened as she poured her own glass. “You always know just the right thing to say. Have you always been this way?”

Daniel chuckled awkwardly as he nervously fidgeted with the fork beside his plate. “God, no! More the type to say all of the wrong things at the wrong times.” “Well, I hope you like beef Wellington. I’ve been slaving over it all afternoon,” Selene said, her smile never leaving her face.

“Beef Wellington? Are you serious? Where did you come from?” Daniel laughed. “That sounds amazing. No one cooks like that anymore these days— certainly not for the likes of me. I’m lucky if a girl will make mac and cheese for me.”

Selene shrugged. “It’s my hobby, I guess you could say. Discovered my passion for fine cuisine a couple of years ago. It’s a pain- versus- pleasure thing, I suppose.”

“Pain versus pleasure? You make it sound like BDSM.” Daniel frowned, both curious and amused.

Selene smirked. “Doesn’t everything in life that’s worth anything supply equal amounts pain and pleasure?” There was something in her tone, a dark slithering desire that caused Daniel to pause. He sipped on his wine before gingerly returning the long-stem wine glass to the table, realizing his hand had begun to tremble. “I suppose I never looked at it that way.”

Selene placed her wine beside her table setting. “Enough chat. Let’s eat.” * * * “I still can’t believe you’re dating her.” Tom shook his head, hunched over his pint of beer with one arm folded on the copper bar top.

“Why? You dated her. That might be the oddest thing—now we’re Eskimo brothers.” Daniel laughed heartily and gently shoulder-checked Tom. He paused, staring at the bar top for a long moment.

“So, you’ve already…?” Tom raised an eyebrow.

“Nah. It’s only been a couple of weeks and, I don’t know, something is telling me to take it slow with this one. She’s definitely unlike anyone else I’ve ever met.” Daniel took a swig of his beer. “Honestly, man, I’m scared to make the first move. She’s so far out of my league—I can’t even imagine why she’s wasting her time on me.” “You can say that again.” Tom smirked.

Daniel shot him a glare and then realized Tom was kidding and laughed it off. He drew a deep breath and sighed loudly as he sat back in his bar stool.

Tom looked concerned. “What was that for?”

“I don’t know,” Daniel replied. “I mean, ever since you gave me the go-ahead to pursue, your comments have gotten progressively more cryptic. Is this girl going to go psycho on me, or something? Should I be worried? I’d hate to think you’d let me walk into something like that.”

“No, no, no, no. It’s not that. It’s just… There’s something off about her that I can’t figure out,” Tom replied with a note of frustration like he was trying to figure out a cold case. “Look, we dated for over a month and she never really let me touch her. When we did kiss, she would try to control my hands and where they went. She cooked dinner for us at least twice a week, always extravagant meals. Maybe she has past abuse issues or something? I just grew impatient with her. Possibly my loss, but I felt like she was toying with me.”

“Sorry, man,” Daniel replied quietly as he reflected on Selene’s exact copycat behavior with himself. As if Tom could tell the tone of the evening was beginning to nosedive, he perked up and lifted his pint to cheers Daniel. “Here’s to hoping you’re the one who gets her to open up and actually be loved for a change. I mean that, man.”

Daniel forced a smile., “Yeah. Me too.” * * * The following evening Daniel arrived at Selene’s house at 8 p.m. sharp, dressed in pressed dark gray slacks and a white button-down tailored shirt—the way she had suggested she liked her men dressed. For a long moment he sat in the car out front, parked at the end of her walkway beside the mailbox, and stared up at the brightly lit cookie-cutter house that seemed so ordinary as to be unordinary in such a brutally strange world. Beside him in the passenger seat lay a bottle of wine and a bouquet of assorted flowers. It seemed too soon in their courtship for roses, and besides, they were three times as expensive and less pretty, he thought, than the lilacs and daisies.

A peculiar unease set his teeth on edge that night, a metallic bitterness rising up the back of his throat, causing his hands to tingle as if he were on the verge of a panic attack. He knew it was Tom’s ominous recollections of his own interactions with Selene that had tainted his enthusiasm for his new romantic adventure. He tried to shake it off.

“This is going to be a lovely evening. Just because one person’s dating experience didn’t turn out perfect doesn’t mean she isn’t the one for me,” Daniel said aloud to himself. “If everyone relied on their exes’ opinions, no one would ever date again and the whole human species would die out.” The thought made him chuckle, releasing some of the weight that had paralyzed him before.

Grabbing the wine and flowers, he exited the car. Stepping up onto the curb, he squared his shoulders and lifted his chin. “Yeah, man. Tonight’s going to be fantastic. Just be cool.”

As he made his way up the stairs to the front porch, he heard the click of the doorknob and looked up to see Selene standing in the entranceway, behind the closed screen door, silhouetted by the soft warmth of the hallway light. The aroma of something absolutely delectable simmering from within the house made his stomach rumble with anticipation. He stepped closer to the screen door. The sight of her caused a shiver of excitement to run through his body, goose bumps riddling the flesh of his forearms as if he were in high school once again.

Her long dark brown hair flowed over her shoulders unbound in loose waves nearly down to her waist, while her curvaceous frame was swathed in a close- fitting chiffon dress of deep teal that appeared iridescent with the slightest shift in posture in the ambient light. For the first time, however, he realized that her dress, like the others before, was long of sleeve and to the floor in length. It was a very old style, he thought, compared to many of the women he had previously dated. Then again, who was he to judge style—she looked beautiful and that was all that counted in that moment.

“Welcome back, stranger.,” Selene’s voice coiled around him dark and seductive.

“One of these days you’ll come over to my place.” Daniel laughed. “You know, I can cook too.” He winked at her.

“Oh, I’m sure. We’ll get to that point soon, I’m sure.” She opened the screen door to invite him in. Was that a metaphor for sex? He wondered. Perhaps she was beginning to get a little more comfortable with him after all?

“These are for you, madam.” He handed her the bouquet and wine.

She smiled, inhaling deeply from the flowers. “Lovely, both. Thank you.” She began to turn away to lead him down the hall, as she always did, but paused and looked back over her shoulder. “You know, I do truly enjoy our encounters. You’re very different from any other I have dined with before. It’s been… intriguing.” Dined with? What a peculiar way of saying “dated,” but what wasn’t peculiar about Selene and wasn’t that the reason she held his interest so intensely?

He watched her flow down the hall of her pristinely renovated early 1900’s home. He knew the routine after only a few dates and led himself into the dining room to take his usual seat. The table, as always, had been elaborately and meticulously set as if in expectations of a 1920’s dinner party, with candles lit and the small chandelier dimmed. Selene soon returned with two glasses of properly poured wine in crystal goblets, handing one to Daniel as she lowered herself like a cat slowly into the chair to his left.

She had always sat at the far end of the table as if they were an old-money married couple who could not distance themselves enough with their belongings. What about this evening had brought on such sudden seeming intimacy?

“I have prepared something special for tonight, something very close to me, which I hope you will enjoy. I’ve never shared this recipe with anyone else before,” she said, almost shyly.

Daniel smiled. He wanted to reach for her hand, but was hesitant at first. Fuck it, he said to himself, and placed his hand upon hers, which lay beside her wine glass on the table. She did not flinch, as he had expected, but simply stared long and hard at the connection as if contemplating the higher meaning of such an innocent gesture.

“I’m honored,” he said quietly and respectfully.

She did not look up from her contemplation of their overlaid hands for a long moment. When she did, it was with an unsettling melancholy in the back of her deep green eyes that took his breath away—at that point he felt more connected to Selene than he had ever experienced in her exposition of weakness behind her veil of perfectly sculpted iconic beauty.

She smiled, a small twitch of the corners of her mouth. He swore he could see tears shimmering at the edges of her eyes, but so controlled they never fell past the line of dark eyeliner and lashes so artfully prepared for their evening. Without a word, she rose and made her way to the kitchen to retrieve dinner.

It was then he noticed her limp. Subtle and very carefully concealed behind the rest of her guise, but he could tell she favored her right leg more than usual. As she disappeared around the corner out of sight, he noticed her hand move to her thigh as if in pain.

Maybe she hit her hip on something today? He wondered. She’s just too classy to lament about it. Moments later she returned with a beautiful serving tray of what appeared to be sumptuous pork loin over a bed of braised carrots and grilled brussels sprouts. Another trip revealed gravy, mashed potatoes, and a chutney sauce, obviously homemade.

As she settled into her seat near him, he simply could not contain the curiosity anymore. “Why am I so special?”

She took a sip from her wine glass, almost nervously. “What do you mean?” “This. All of this. This is 2017. Women just don’t do this for guys anymore unless it’s a super special occasion. But all of our, what, five dates have consisted of meals like this. I mean, I love the attention, but why won’t you let me take you out or cook you a meal?” He paused. “Because I’d really like that.”

Selene sat back and for a moment Daniel thought he had offended her. “No, I know. And one day, hopefully, you can return the favor. But I have ways. I am… particular. And, thus far, you are the only one who has been patient enough to last to this point. And I thank you for that.”

Daniel suddenly felt a sense of honor he had never experienced before in all of his dating scenarios. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply—”

“Let’s eat.” Selene cut him off abruptly with a quick smile. Dinner was divine, as always.

“Selene, I must say, you are the best cook I’ve ever encountered. Every meat tastes so different. I mean, you tell me it’s pork, but it’s unlike any pork I’ve ever eaten. This here is so freaking delicious it would give Gordon Ramsey a run for his money! You’re going to have to give me cooking lessons one day,” Daniel said half way through the meal.

Selene chuckled., “I’m not sure you have the stomach for it.” Strange comment, he thought. “Um… I hesitate to ask why?” “Have you ever butchered your own meat?” she asked innocently.

“I must admit I am a grocery store boy. Never killed an animal in my life,” he replied with a laugh.

“I am a hunter. And I use only meat I have caught, killed, cleaned, and butchered myself.” Selene took a long drink from her glass.

Something in her tone made him place his fork and knife down upon his plate. He dabbed the corners of his mouth and sat back, reaching for this wine glass, which was painfully low. Suddenly, for some strange reason, the food didn’t seem quite as appealing.

“Are you full? Did you get enough?” she asked innocently over the edge of her wine glass.

“Yes,” he said as he placed his napkin back on the table. A flicker of fight-or- flight fluttered in the middle of his chest, though he couldn’t explain why. “It was delicious, thank you.” A long pause interjected itself between them until he finally broke the silence. “Well, I suppose I should be making my exit. I know how you like to go to bed rather early.”

“No.” Selene’s tone was stern and slightly erotic, though Daniel was more unnerved than turned on. “No?” He sat in his chair frozen. “Can I have some more wine?”

Selene rose like an ethereal goddess from her chair and reached over to grab the bottle of wine from the center of the table. She approached him until their knees touched and she stared down at him as if she had become his ruler and master. “Did you like the meat I cooked for you tonight?” she asked, the wine bottle gripped solidly in her left hand like a deal-breaker.

“Y-yes, of course.” Daniel was at a loss.

Selene placed the wine bottle on the table. She straddled him. Her hands moved to the lower hem of her dress where her fingers began to gather the fabric bit by bit upwards until her legs were bared. Oh such glorious legs, long as the day and sculpted in a way that… His eyes landed on the large bloodied bandaged wrapped around her right thigh.

“Whoa!” he said without meaning to. “What happened to you?” “Do you love me?” Selene asked.

He looked up at her exquisite face. “I want to. But I don’t know you enough.” “Well, you should after tonight,” she replied as she pressed her breasts into his face and breathed in deeply from his hair.

“Wait, what does that mean?” Daniel asked with actual concern, forcing down the primal urge he had to simply conquer this woman.

She didn’t answer, but instead ground into his crotch with a need that set him on fire in a way he had never experienced before. Her mouth sought his. The table was cleared, dishes and candles being strung here and there without thought or care. Clothes were stripped as if they were in the way of battle wounds in need of operation. Life took hold and all time stopped and then he was inside her, moving, panting, and she all the while clinging to him as if he could save her from her self.

He noted the large bandage on her leg and favored it as much he could, though pain seemed to be something she didn’t notice.

In the early hours, after their session, he asked, “Was that good for you?” “Was dinner good for you?” she replied.

He paused, still intoxicated by the scent of her wrapped around him like a serpent. “Yes, of course. I already told you that. Why?”

She straightened and sat up in bed, scooting back towards the headboard. “Because you’re the first person I’ve shared this with.”

“What?” he asked, both hesitantly and excitedly. She began to unwrap the bandage from her leg. “Wait, what are you doing?” he asked, alarmed.

She did not answer but continued to unwrap the wound, revealing a gaping slab of meat and muscle missing from her upper leg. It had been obviously cauterized at both ends to keep from bleeding out, but the injury was significant.

Daniel scrambled backwards in the bed until he could move no farther than the headboard., “WHAT THE FU…”

Wait, what exactly did you share with me?” he asked. “Myself,” she said innocently.

“What…who… was I eating those other nights I was here?” Daniel’s heart was racing.

“No one of concern,” she said flippantly. Suddenly she turned serious and faced him—there was a true innocent look of concern and hurt in her eyes as if the reality of this situation had never occurred to her before. “I thought you loved me?”

“We’re eating people? You’ve just fed me part of your own thigh!?" Daniel said.

Selene fit her body over him and she was perfect in every way. Something in the back of Daniel’s mind said, “Perhaps this could work.”

“Why did you do this?” he asked.

“Because I always want to be with you. Always.”

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