With or Without
She sat on the window sill head resting against the cold glass. The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon of the hills that rolled outward from her small cottage. The light was just beginning to bring to life the green grass, and nudge awake the meadow full of flowers. She sighed heavily as the sun light washed away the last remnants of the night before. A night she both wanted to cherish and completely erase from her memory at the same time.
The night had been a long one. A night full of twists and turns, making her feel like she had just fallen off a speeding horse. She closed her eyes and once again let that night invade her mind. One last time she relived that wonderfully terrible night.
The night had been calm and peaceful. Almost silent except for the crickets creating their soft symphony in the background. The windows were half way open letting in a swift and gentle breeze that tickled her face.
She bent down and prodded the fire brightening the embers to a soft glow. They created just enough light for her to read by. She grasped her latest adventure novel and curled up in the arm chair.
She had read almost a hundred pages when the knock sounded at the door. She was so engrossed in the tale of near death and daring escapes that she didn’t hear the initial knock. A second longer more urgent knock got her attention. She quickly closed the book and went to the door, wondering who in the world could be visiting her at such a late hour.
She cracked the door open a sliver, just enough for one eye to see who was on the other side. One look made her heart skip then abruptly start again with a hard thud that she was sure left a mark on her chest.
She yanked the door open to find the last person she expected, yet the one person she dreamed of for a year, standing on the door step. He gave her a weak smile and a small one handed wave.
“James!?” she cried loudly. “What are you doing here?” She asked. Months she had imagined this moment, months she had dreamed of seeing him here. Now that he was here she could barely find the words.
“Can I come in? The wind is a bit chilly,” he asked. His voice was low, a whisper as if he didn’t want her non-existent neighbor to hear him.
“Of course,” she stepped out of the doorway allowing him to enter into the low fire lit hallway.
She barely contained her gasp of shock when he came into full sight. Standing before her was a shell of the man she had once known like the back of her hand. She didn’t move as he made his way into her living room.
He looked like he hadn’t slept indoors for weeks. The brown leather jacket, a gift from his father, was tattered and coated in mud. His once trimmed and always neat hair was in a messy disarray standing up every which way. She let her hand cover her mouth as she took in his tattered jeans hanging off his much skinnier frame. Here was a man who had once spent every waking moment in a pressed and perfect suit; now clothed in barely held together pieces of tattered fabric. What had become of her prince charming?
She shook here head to push the images aside and followed him into the living room. He was seated in her recently vacated arm chair leaning over trying to warm his hands. She quickly headed over to the fireplace and added a few logs to the fire, causing the flames to grow higher and the room to come into better focus. He leaned back and relaxed in the increased warmth.
She pulled an ottoman over and sat beside his knees. She wanted to reach out and give his knee a soft reassuring squeeze but quickly thought again. It had been almost a year since they had last seen each other. She needed to understand this man again.
“What happened?” she asked gently.
“I lost it,” he said so low she had to lean almost into his lap to hear him.
She sat back without saying a word. She didn’t have to ask what the “it,” was. She knew the “it”, her most hated enemy. It was a small glass globe that had been James’s talisman. He would never tell her where he had gotten it, just said it was a gift given to him by a very special person. It was supposed to be a catalyst letting his desire and drive burn brighter and hotter than it ever could have on its own. It was just supposed to be an aid allow him to get to his fullest potential faster and with less expended energy. He had held it in his pocket, always with him, held closer to his heart then she ever had been.
From the beginning she had known their relationship wasn’t an equal one. She had fallen for James despite his loud mouth and exorbitant tastes. She had passed it all off as over compensation believing he would change with a little love.
She quickly realized they were living in two separate relationships. Her side was all about them; caring for each other, holding one another close and being a supporting pillar for the other one. For him it was all about showing the world what he could do. He wanted to be the most desirable boyfriend, the nicest with the best gifts. He was constantly shouting at the top of his lungs about how fantastic he was.
She tried to talk to him, tried to get him to get rid of the little ball that was his crutch. She firmly believed it was that damn thing that was making life with him almost unbearable. His constant gloating and shouting could not be the true man he was meant to be. He wouldn’t listen to a word she spoke.
Finally she couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t be a prize her carted around. She needed to be his partner, someone he cared about more than his reputation. Late one night she had left, leaving a quick note with a barely satisfying explanation behind her.
Now she sat before the man she never could truly forget. She had that second chance she had so desired for so long. The one thing standing between them was gone.
She reached out and intertwined her fingers with his. “I’m sorry,” she said though she didn’t mean a word. “You will be fine.”
“How?” he sat up straighter though not releasing her hand. “How can I become what I’m meant to be without that thing?”
“You don’t need some glass sphere,” she moved closer to him. “All you need is right here,” she laid her other hand over his heart. “Here is where your true power lies.”
He chuckled. “You were always so poetic,” he leaned down and captured her lips with his own.
For half a second she considered pulling away and slowing things down. It had been a year and she didn’t know this man anymore. But as he deepened the kiss, she let all those thoughts fall out of her head. None of that mattered.
She allowed him to pull her into his lap, deepening the kiss further. She felt so perfect in his arms. As he held her face and gently caressed her back she felt herself lose all tension and become a hundred percent content.
The room became extremely hot very quickly, making her squirm in his embrace. Breaking the connection with difficulty she got to her feet and pulled him down the hall into her bedroom where it much cooler.
He pulled her back against him, recapturing her lips. They fit together perfectly, a puzzle that had never been broken. She let herself melt into his touch and the pleasure and the passion.
Afterwards she laid there with her head resting on his chest, listening to his steady heart beat. She almost let the steady rattling breaths rock her to sleep when he gave a great satisfied sight, jerking her awake.
She shifted and looked up at James. “What are you thinking?” she asked.
“That was perfect. Maybe you were right, I’m not hopeless,” he gave her a giant smile. “I will hunt down those who stole from me, and get my globe back. Then we will marry and become the most powerful couple around. No one can stop us now,” he said.
She quickly sat up all traces of calm sleep evaporating from her mind. She tucked a sheet around herself and looked down at James. “What the hell?” she spat.
“Can’t you see us standing above everyone else? With my globe and you pushing me on, I can do it all!’ he looked like a giddy school boy. Someone who had just won every award and was now receiving his standing ovation. She wanted to be sick.
“So I’m just some trophy?” she bit out at him. “What happened to the broken man from an hour ago? Where did that man go? Where did the man go who needed me? Who cared about me and helping himself?”
“I’m right here.” he swiped his hands down his sides. “I just wanted to see what I could do without my globe. Apparently I am pretty good even without it.” He said.
“You are disgusting,” she jumped off the bed and began gathering his clothes.
“You came here and manipulated me and you expect me to just nod and say, ‘Sure, I’ll be your little side bit.’ Did you really lose that damn globe? Or was that a lie to?” She threw his shirt and pants at his chest.
“That wasn’t a lie. Someone really did steal from me,” he wrapped his clothes in a ball on his lap. “Why are you so upset? Didn’t you miss me?”
“I missed the man I thought you were. I missed the creature I had tried to make you into. You are nothing but a pathetic greedy evil man. Now take your shit and get the hell out of my house!” she shouted throwing the room’s door open.
“But…,” he looked so lost and confused. Clearly he didn’t understand the concept of utter failure.
“Say another word and I’ll remove that tongue,” she hissed staring down at him. She knew her face was pulled into her classic snarl, a look that possessed all the hate and anger she currently felt. It was a talent of hers being able to portray every bit of emotion in one look.
James’s brain hadn’t completely turned off. He didn’t open his mouth, just nodded. He dressed quickly and left the room without a backwards glance. She slammed the door behind him and slid down the door. She wrapped her arms around her legs and sighed heavily.
Her anger evaporated leaving her wallowing in embarrassment and despair. She felt tears welling up in her eyes but she refused to let them fall, she would not cry over this man anymore.
She straightened her back and looked forward letting herself settle down a bit. Just as she was about to get to her feet something under the bed caught her eye. She crawled over and pulled out the leather jacket that was the second most important thing in James’s life. It had been a gift from his father, something he wouldn’t even part with when he was pretending to be homeless.
She quickly flipped it over and eagerly slid her hands around the silky smooth interior. Her fingers caressed the surface prodding and searching for the raised seam. Finally she found it.
With a twisted grin she gently pulled on the strings and opened the secret pocket tucked into the bottom edge of the jacket. She pulled out the small little ball, no bigger than a marble. It was dim, no longer glowing like it once had.
She rolled it back and forth between her palms, and let out an irritated and defeated sigh. When she had walked out that night she had hidden this little thing away praying that without it James would become a generous righteous man. But as she watched the useless ball she knew that it had been all in vain.
This thing was nothing but a useless piece of glass. She dropped it and let it roll under the night stand where it would forever stay. She picked up the coat and threw it into the garbage can.
As she watched a new day begin she let the night disappear it would forever be nothing but a blight in her life. The ball was nothing, James was nothing. With or without her he was useless. With or without his talesman he was a greedy man destined to fall and she would watch and rejoice.