Crossroads, North Carolina
Before the accident, I never had to seduce a man in the dark. I dazzled millions in the brutal glare of kliegs on the red carpets of Hollywood, the flash of cameras at the Oscars, the sunlight on the beaches of Cannes. Beautiful women don’t fear the glint of lust and judgment in men’s eyes or the bitter gleam of envy in women’s. Beautiful women welcome even the brightest light. Once upon a time, I had been the most beautiful woman in the world.
Now I needed the night, the darkness, the shadows.
“Put the gun down,” I ordered, as I let my bra and sweatshirt fall to the ground. Behind me, a full, white moon hung in a sky of stars above the winter mountains, silhouetting Thomas and me. My breath shivered in the cold air. Beneath my bare feet, the pasture grass was brown and frosted, glistening in the moonlight. There were no other lights in our world, not the pinpoint of a lamp in some distant window, not the wink of a jet high overhead. There might be no other souls in these ancient North Carolina ridges that night. Only Thomas, and me, and the darkness inside us both.
“I’m warning you for the last time, Cathy,” he said, his voice thick but firm. He wasn’t a man who slurred his words, no matter how drunk he was. “Leave.”
I unzipped my jeans. My hands trembled. I couldn’t stop staring at the World War II pistol he held so casually, his right arm bent, the gun pointed skyward. Thomas had been a preservation architect; he respected fine craftsmanship, even when choosing a gun with which to kill himself.
Slowly I pushed my jeans down, along with my panties. The scarred skin along my right thigh prickled at the scrape of denim. I angled my right side away from the moon, trying to illuminate only the left half of my body, my face. Half of me was still perfect. But the other half . . .
I stepped out of my crumpled clothes and stood there naked, the moonlight safely behind me. The night breeze was a tongue of embarrassment, licking my scarred flesh. My hand twitched with the urge to cover my face. How badly I wanted to hide the awful parts. Thomas watched me without moving, without speaking, without breathing.
He doesn’t want me. I said quietly, “Thomas, I know I’m no prize, but would you really rather kill yourself than touch me?”
Not a word, still, not a flicker of reaction. I could barely see his expression in the shadows, and wasn’t sure I wanted to. Shame washed over me like a cold tide. Me, who had once preened for the world without a shred of self-doubt. I turned my back to him, trying not to shiver with defeat. “Just put the gun down. Then I’ll get dressed, and we’ll forget this ever happened.”
I heard quick steps behind me, and before I could turn, his arms went around me from behind. His hands slid over my bare skin. I twisted my head to the pretty side but he bent his lips to the other and roughly kissed the ruined flesh. I cried with relief, and so did he. No matter what might happen to us later, I saved his life that night. And, for that one night, at least, he saved mine. Hope is in the mirror we keep inside us, love sees only what it wants to see, and beauty is in the lie of the beholder.
Sometimes, that lie is all you need to survive
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