Holley Hyler

A r t i s t

[Short Story] Little Fires

September 7, 2018
Holley

How do I always end up here? Emily wondered. Why do I always go and fuck things up?

The thoughts seemed so loud in her mind that, for a moment, she was terrified she had said them aloud. She looked over at Frank, deep in the throes of post-coital bliss. Or was it tristesse? Sometimes, it was difficult to tell the two apart. Sinking into that nothingness felt so good, but so blank, at the same time. What was next?

A stinkbug crawled slowly up the wall by the window. It had been on the curtain, buzzing faintly every few minutes, when they had gotten started. A frantic sequence of kisses in the living room had prompted their movement toward the bedroom. It had all happened so fast. She was only supposed to be there for coffee, but the fantasies she had played out before falling asleep at night, for several months now, were quickly becoming reality. The pastries she had brought from Panera on the way stayed untouched on the coffee table. They hadn’t had a chance to get to them before… well.

She wanted him too much to be in disbelief or process what was happening. She just went with it.

It was difficult to remember what they had been talking about before the kissing started. But she remembered that stinkbug.

It had roused her back to awareness, or at least enough of it for the raging thoughts to start.

Your coffee is going to get cold. Buzz buzz. Eyes closing, kissing, trying to get back into it. What are you doing? Buzz buzz. More frantic kissing, lip biting, pants unzipping. He played father to you once. Remember when he so nonchalantly showed your boyfriend his rifle? Buzz buzz. You lack morality. Buzz.

Frank was a fireman. Emily had always loved that about him. She pictured him carrying children and cats away from raging flames. He fought those flames, but he had been so tender with the one inside her. It was as if he had always known, even though he really hadn’t.

“Does Michelle come home much?” Emily asked, needing something, anything, to break the silence between them. She lay on her back but turned her face toward him. Michelle had been her best friend, but the two of them had become estranged in the last year. It started when Michelle got married. That estrangement would never change, if Michelle knew of what just happened. It was just too… much.

Too much.

“No.” He had his eyes closed. No blankets covering him. He was hairy and muscular and perfect. “She hasn’t since the wedding. Our dance was the last time I saw her.”

“Oh.” She paused, unsure of what to say. “That’s sad.”

“It happens,” he said, finally opening his eyes to look over at her.

They locked eyes in silence for a few moments. He turned his head away to look at the ceiling.

“Emily?”

“Yeah?”

“What are you doing with an old fart like me?”

He was not an old fart. His hair and stubble were gray, but she loved that. His body was fit from working and working out so often. He didn’t seem old from the things he said, his mannerisms. He was fiercely protective of those he loved. He was perfect.

“I…” she began, but couldn’t finish. Nothing sounded right in her head. I… think I am in love with you? I… thought I wanted you to be my daddy once, but I grew up and realized I wanted you. Just you.

“I have to go.” She swallowed and stood up, looking for her clothes. They were scattered all over the floor by the bed.

He sat up, covering his flaccid manhood with a pillow. Was it something I said? The question dangled on the tip of his tongue, danced around the roof of his mouth that was slightly burned from sipping hot coffee too soon, but he swallowed it. “All right. Thanks for the cherry danishes. Want to take yours to-go?”

She shook her head. “Keep it. I got them both for you.”

He frowned. She had come over because he was lonely, he imagined. He used to think of her as his daughter, and he had told her so, once. He didn’t know where her father was – only that he wasn’t in her life. She didn’t say much about him. She was sad; she didn’t say so, but he felt it.

She’d spent the night with Michelle when they were in eighth grade, and he had to answer a call about a restaurant fire at the only Chinese place in town late at night. Emily had come up to him in her pink flannel pajamas with black cats on them. “You have to go?” she’d said, her eyes big and blue and sad. Then she had hugged him, tight, and his heart broke. He didn’t know why – something to do with the vulnerability on her face and in her hug. Seeing people in vulnerable states came with his job description, but he had never seen anything that made him feel quite like that. It was unsettling, to say the least.

Now he felt like that vulnerable little girl he had known so long ago, even though the circumstances were wildly different. You have to go?

He swallowed his pain, just as she had swallowed hers. “Nice seeing you.”

She finished tugging on her last article of clothing, her shirt, and smoothed her disheveled hair away from her face. A tiny smile played at the corner of her lips.

“You, too.”

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