Apples and Regret and Wasted Time
Length: short story
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Genre: urban, no HEA
He lives in the shadows of the law. Now, wounded and stranded in the city after a job only he could do, he has no qualms about climbing through the window his old lover left open—or stealing his shampoo, at that. He has, however, not taken into account the possibility of being surprised in the shower.
Three years is a long time to go between visits, especially if you've left so much anger and hurt and desire unresolved. They try to negotiate a truce for one night—over Chinese takeaway leftovers and apples, and between the sheets.
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The city is damp tonight.
I move quietly through the side streets, keeping out of sight. I lean against the brick walls and brace my hand on sticky metal bins when I feel my balance falter. My temple hurts where someone landed a punch. Blood is slowly spreading through the fabric of my shirt on my left side. Too slowly to be dangerous, I think.
I was too careless tonight. Distracted. I shouldn't have accepted this job.
Being back in the city is messing with my head.
I remember the road clearly, and it doesn't take long to reach the building. The house seems to be waiting for me—red tiles and dirty once-white plaster—squatting low and quiet in the night. I approach it from the back, where the drain pipes are, where there's no lamplights. It's easy, hauling myself up the wall and climbing in through the window. I pause, crouched on the windowsill, listening. He's not at home. I wonder if he leaves it half-open for the same reason he did years ago. I wonder if he still expects me to come back one night. I would have called him a fool for it, the usual soft-hearted wimp. Except... here I am. The soft-hearted wimp has a point.
I tiptoe through the cold living room, barely sparing a glance. Still a mess. Still no pictures.
I slip out of my ruined clothes and let them fall in a heavy, soggy heap on the bathroom floor. Mud and blood stain the white tiles, begin to seep in the stupid blue rug. I don't wonder whether he will mind. I'm quite sure he will.
The wound on my side is little more than a long scratch. It will stop bleeding soon. I press my fingertips to it, follow its path from above my hipbone to just below my ribcage. I was distracted, yes, but my reflexes didn't disappoint. Still, I can hardly believe I let one of them land such a close hit.
I check my face in the mirror. There is blood encrusting my eyebrow, where the skin split open. It dried in a trail down my cheek. The side of my jaw is darkening already; that will hurt tomorrow. My hair is plastered with mud. I grimace as I rip off the strap and try to untangle the soiled locks, feeling them fall damp and sticky all over my back.
The tub is surrounded by a ridiculous plastic curtain with ducks and palm trees, way too transparent. I was half-hoping he might have gotten a real shower at some point, but I guess I can't afford to be choosy. I turn the handle and wait for the water to warm up.
I press my hand to the left side of my chest. Under the taut muscle, I can feel my heart beating at an almost normal rhythm, working through the last traces of adrenalin.
When I step under the hot spray, it's the closest to bliss I've been in a long time. My strained muscles relax; the aches from the recent fight seem to fade, attenuated by the warmth. I rake my fingers through my hair, combing it back, pressing down on my scalp. I work through the tangles, feeling the hot water wash away mud and sweat. I have no qualms about stealing his shampoo. I take my time, lathering and rinsing, until my hair falls down my back in a heavy, drenched—but clean—black curtain.
The city is messing with my head. That's the only possible explanation of why I don't hear the key in the main door, the click of the lock. I don't even hear the footsteps until the shower curtain is pushed to the side and cool air is wafting over my wet skin, making me shiver.
As I turn my head and find him staring at me, I vaguely consider I should have just rinsed instead of rinsing and repeating.