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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.