PART ONE: SIX YEARS AGO
Lisa had considered herself awkward until Jan came into her life. Jan had brought balance to her body, to her life. She was seventeen years old and, though some shyness remained, her awkwardness had gone. Under his gaze, under his touch, she came to life.
He was a little older than her, six feet tall with an angular frame. She’d seen him naked from the waist up only once and though he was smooth and slight, she knew how hard his body was, because from time to time, when they kissed, she would slide a hand under his shirt and feel his abs and his chest, firm against her palm.
Once, when they had been kissing passionately in her room for several minutes, he had pinned her to the bed by her wrists and had allowed his body to rest on top of hers, belly to belly, chest to chest. She had felt his hardness through her dress, nudging at her soft flesh.
Nothing had followed but more kissing. She would have gone further, but he said that he wasn’t ready. There were things he had to do first, back home, to prepare him for being a man. Things were different in his world, he had said, and though she had believed him, it was starting to sound like an excuse. She had begun to wonder if he was as serious about her as she was about him.
She scrutinised the strong, hard lines of his face as he reached into his pocket, withdrew a small, wooden box and offered it to her. She brushed her black hair from her face and took the gift, her green eyes sparkled in the moonlight from the window.
It was a ring. The stone was the same green as her eyes. Beautiful, he said. And fragile.
“I want you to marry me,” he said.
She laughed, which was clearly not quite the response he had been seeking.
“How?” she said. “I can’t go where you’re from and you can’t live here with me.”
“I’ll find a way,” he said, “but there’s something I must do first.”
She looked serious and sad and said:
“One day we’ll be together?”
“No matter what,” he said. “No matter who tries to break us up.”
He slipped the ring onto her finger and then his cool lips brushed her cheek. He breathed in the scent of her – citrus soap and sandalwood.
“No-one can break us up,” she agreed and she let the palm of her hand - newly-adorned- rest on his firm chest. She felt the beat of his heart, strong like a horse’s, thudding beneath her fingers.
He smiled at her, his blue eyes locked on hers.
“No-one can destroy us but us,” he assured her.
Her smile wavered, but then he kissed her tenderly. As their lips met, she felt as if he was breathing air into her lungs, colour into her skin, purpose into her life. And yet, he was holding her in such a way - with his hands, with his eyes – that she knew that something bad was coming.
“I have to go away,” he said, “but I’ll come back. I’m coming back for you.”
“Why do you have to go?” she said. “Where are you going?”
“I have to see my father,” he said. “At this age, we all perfect our powers. It’s like a vision quest in your world, where you fast and then walk into the wilderness until you see crazy stuff. I have to fast in my own way. I won’t be able to see you.”
“When do you leave?”
The ring he had given her seemed heavy on her finger now. A dead weight. His heart may have been thumping hard, but hers felt as though it had stopped, as if it was unwilling to pump blood around a body that would have to be without him.
“And how long will you be away?” she asked.
He smiled in an attempt to mollify her and to delay the inevitable. He couldn’t yet bring himself to say the words and so he bowed his head instead.
“I don’t expect you to wait for me,” he said finally.
“How long, Jan?”
“Three … terms,” Jan said. “Each term is about one of your years.”
“Three years!?” She launched a fist at him and, infuriatingly, he caught it in one big hand as if she had tossed him a sandwich. “You ask me to marry you and then say you’ll be back in three years!?” she yelled and attempted to slap him with her free hand, the one that bore that ridiculous, terrible lump of stone twisted in metal that he had brought her.
“Shhh,” he said, palms raised.
“Fuck you!” she said.
“Quiet!” he hissed at her.
“Don’t you quiet me!”
“Your father’s home,” he explained. “He heard you. You have to be quiet now.”
“You’d better hide again,” she said. “Under the bed!”
“There’s no time,” he said. “Trust me. He won’t see me. Just act natural.”
Lisa was astonished to find that Janvier was still sitting cross-legged on her bed. His eyes were wide and serious, but she thought that she also saw the curve of a smile beginning in the corner of his mouth. She was frowning incredulously and attempting to shove him off the bed and when her father knocked on the door as a precursor to striding in and flicking on the light. He came to a sudden stop after a few paces.
Evidently, he hadn’t been home long, because he still had his work boots on and removing them was normally the first thing he did. He stood just inside the doorway, looking awkward and perplexed.
“ … Dad …” Lisa said, squinting from her father to Jan and back to her father again. He appeared exhausted suddenly. His shoulders sagged visibly, as if what he now saw confirmed his suspicions.
“So you are awake,” he grumbled. “I thought I heard voices.”
“Dad, this isn’t what it looks like. It’s the first time he’s been here, and it’s only because I asked him, because I needed him … to … deliver my coursework … which he did … and now he’s going … right? … aren’t you?”
The beautiful boy was sitting with his head bowed. He seemed to be holding his breath. It was unusual for her to see him so cowed. And there she was, sitting cross-legged as though she had been communing with him, in her underwear, with red flushes on her legs and face and neck where he had been kissing her, touching her.
Her father stared at her for a long time and then cracked up laughing.
“I’m sorry to barge in here,” he said. “I just … I could have sworn I heard voices. Yours, and a boy’s. I don’t know what got into me.”
It took a while longer for Lisa to realise what was happening. Jan really was holding his breath and concentrating very hard.
“It’s just me,” Lisa said, smiling. “Your imagination must have been running wild. What was I saying in your head?”
“Something about three years being a long time to wait it sounded like,” said her father. “You sounded upset. Are you still anxious about university?”
“It was a dream,” she said flatly. “I thought it was real, but it was only a dream.”
“Oh, Lisa,” he said and he walked across the room. He sat on the bed, beside the boy, without a glance in his direction. “Either you were dreaming or I am,” he said. “I’m so tired tonight. I’m hearing things.”
“Long day, huh?” she said, panicking now, because what she could see of Jan’s face was turning blue. “I’m still half-asleep. Let’s talk in the morning.”
“Alright, girl,” he said and as he leaned forward to give her a kiss on the cheek, his hand crushed Jan’s. Jan flinched and grimaced. Lisa’s father jumped, but, unable to see the cause of the sensation, he shook his head and acted as if it hadn’t happened.
Seeing that his daughter looked scared, he leaned forward and kissed her cheek.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “No more bad dreams. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Lisa slid underneath the sheets.
“’Night, dad,” she said.
“’Night, Lisa.” He turned off the light and left the room.
The moment the door shut, Jan gasped for deep breath and stifled a coughing fit.
“He touched you,” Lisa said when he had recovered.
“Touched me?” Jan said. “He must weigh twenty stone. He nearly broke my fingers.”
“It’s less than he would have done if he had seen you,” said Lisa. “How did you do that? How did you make yourself invisible to him?”
Lisa stroked his face. He really was magical.
“It’s nothing compared to what I’ll be able to do when I get back from my training.”
Her hand fell.
“Three years,” she sighed.
“I can’t ask you to wait for me,” he said, “but …”
“… I’ll wait,” she told him. “I’ll wait for you forever.”
PART TWO: THE PRESENT
The sea was black, its waves shimmering silver in the moonlight.
She threw a flat stone and it disappeared into the depths with a clunk. She never was any good at skimming. It always seemed like a good idea to help to clear her head, but she always ended up infuriated. Janvier had been the champion skimmer. It seemed that there had been nothing that he was unable to do.
She hurled another stone into the water and it sank without ceremony like the one before it and the one before that and the others that departed before that.
This wasn’t exactly the way she had envisioned her wedding night, but then nothing about it was as she had envisioned, because not only was Janvier not her groom, but he wasn’t even in her world. Her thoughts, dreams and desires had revolved around him for such a long time. Sitting on the rocks in her shiny, white wedding dress, stained with seaweed and sand, she thought that she’d have got used to the idea of being without him, but on the contrary, her loneliness tonight was worse than it had been in the preceding six years.
She looked at her wedding ring – a simple, silver band with a large, but tasteful diamond set among six smaller diamonds, sparkling like the sand, like the stars - and beside it, relegated to her middle finger, her band from Janvier, displaced but not removed, and as shiny now as the night the had given it to her along with his promise to return. His words, unlike the stones, had lost their lustre. Six years she’d wasted waiting for him. Six years during which he had probably honed his powers and realised that the world held more for him than a girl in Walthamstow.
Well, she wasn’t a girl any more. And this wasn’t Walthamstow.
In a few minutes, her husband would realise that she must be outside and he’d call out to her and she’d have to go in. He’d expect to consummate the marriage. Nothing could have been worse. He’d make some joke about tradition to ease the tension. He might even try to carry her across the threshold again, though they both knew that his back wasn’t up to it. He had some kind of disc problem for hours of sitting hunched at his desk, moving figures with lots of zeros from one column to another.
Now she had been moved from one column to another. He expected her to be his greatest asset and it was soon time to start paying out.
But not yet. Not yet.
She needed a few more moments to clear her head.
There had been a few men in her life, but she hadn’t loved any of them the way she had loved Janvier. Her relationship with William was the closest to love she had got, but still it echoed every relationship she had ever had since Janvier. He adored her and she needed someone to make her forget what she had lost. She needed someone to help her close the door on the past. A husband. And then later, a child.
Still, when the minister had asked if anyone had any reason why the two of them should not wed, she had hoped to hear Janvier’s voice from the back of the room. She had bitten her cheek hard enough to make it bleed lest she speak out herself.
She threw another stone.
This time it hit the surface of the water and bounced, bounced, bounced, half a dozen times, and again, curling from left to right, as she had seen Janvier’s throws do time after time.
Astonished, she followed its silent course with her eyes for quite some time and she still did not see it sink from view, because her eyes happened upon a horse on the beach, about fifty steps from her and down below, nearer the coast than she. Her breath hitched in her throat. It was huge and silvery-grey, standing amid large rocks that had fallen from the cliff. It seemed to be looking directly at her, ears up. She got the impression that it had been there for some time, watching her, approaching stealthily.
Barefoot, Lisa traversed the rocks and descended towards the creature. It whinnied and watched her until she was only a few steps away and then it turned and walked in the opposite direction, navigating the rocks with ease and thus increasing the distance between them once more.
Its gait was much surer than hers and while she slipped and tripped, it clipped and clopped and crunched over the stones. It marched without care across the rocky beach and did not look back over its shoulder. It held its head low and plodded on, as if death for her calls for it to wait.
She was behind the horse, but still about fifty paces away. To her dismay, it continued to make better progress than she did and she resolved to run after it, as impossible as the rocks made that seem.
Her concentration was broken by the sound of her name flying down the cliff and over the water. It was William. As predicted, he’d finally noticed that she was no longer in the bathroom and had decided to try her outside.
“I should go back,” she said out loud.
The horse swung its head sharply towards her and looked her in the eye. It snorted and nodded in the direction in which they had been walking.
“Okay,” she said. “Okay. But stand there for a minute. I want to say hello.”
The horse did not obey. Nonetheless, she felt compelled to followed it and see this escapade to its conclusion. She did so, climbing over a mound of rocks, across the beach and, when they were far enough away from her honeymoon cottage that they could no longer here her husband calling out for her, she scrabbled up a steep slope after the animal. She stepped on her wedding dress as she climbed and it tore.
Still, she had to hurry, because the horse had disappeared over the top of the brow now and she didn’t dare lose sight of it for long.
When she reached the top seconds later, however, it was already gone. Instead, there was Janvier, in a simple shirt that had no buttons but rather was tied with string over his chest and pale, stone-coloured trousers, much like the colour of the horse. He was smiling at her. Beaming.
Exhausted, she shuffled towards him and he stepped back warily as she neared and then touched him. His face was soft and warm. He looked almost the same as he had the last time she had seen him. He was six years older and he had the same youthful appearance, but perhaps some of the innocence was gone. Something was different. Yes. Something was gone.
“You look beautiful,” Janvier said.
“So do you,” she thought, but instead she said:
“Why didn’t you come?” she said.
“I couldn’t,” he said. “We’re not allowed to see your kind until our training is finished. I finished this year. It lasted longer than I expected, but the things I can do now … I’ve been able to watch you without you knowing. There have been times when I’ve been close enough to touch you.”
“So why didn’t you!?” Lisa said. “Why didn’t you come five hours earlier? You could have stopped the wedding.”
He seemed shocked by her suggestion.
“Really?” he said. “You seemed happy. How could I go away for five years …”
“… six …”
“… and then come back and break up your wedding day? Would that really have been a good idea?”
“Yes! Why come back at all if you didn’t come back for me?”
“I did come back for you,” he said, “but I see that you have a life here. Still, I wanted to know if you still have feelings for me. I feel the same about you as I always have.”
She showed him the rings on her fingers, the one from him and the one from William.
“This is how I feel about you,” she said. “I love you, but you’re too late.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t be together after all,” Janvier said. “But that doesn’t mean we can never see each other.”
“So what are you offering me? You’ll come and see me in your holidays. Whisk me around on your horse. Spend the night with me. And then you go back to your life and your wife …”
“… You’re married, not me …”
“… and I go back to William as if nothing ever happened.”
“What you do when I’m gone is your business,” Janvier said. “When I’m here, I demand one thing. The same thing that I give to you and will always give to you. Devotion.”
She threw a punch at him and he took it. She struck his chest and arms and face and he just stood there, waiting. She wanted to stay angry with him, but she couldn’t. She ended up throwing her arms around him and he lifted her from the ground and kissed her as he spun her around.
Her breasts pressed against the cotton of his shirt and after a few seconds she admitted that she was no longer even slightly in the mood for fighting. Her fingers worked quickly to undo the ties that fastened his shirt and he backed away, bringing her with him, into the mouth of a cave with overhanging foliage, which cast a beautiful shadow on the rocky floor, on the walls, on them.
“Where’s the horse?” she whispered and pulled open his shirt and pressed her lips and tongue against his skin, licking his body and feeling the bones of his sternum between his well-defined pectoral muscles.
“Inside,” Jan said with a smile.
Jan’s skin was almost glowing, certainly shining a little in the moonlight, the same way that the horse had seemed as though it was not quite real.
“This isn’t real,” Lisa whispered. “This isn’t happening.”
“Okay,” said Janvier.
He looked as he had the day he left her. He was just as she imagined he would be. This couldn’t be real. She’d had to much to drink and she was asleep. Or she’d fallen off the cliff and was now in a coma – a wonderful, very vivid, very realistic, very welcome coma sleep.
Lisa took one of his nipples into her mouth and sucked hard while she tweaked the other between thumb and forefinger.
He gasped and she sensed a change within him, as if she had toppled a house of cards. Perhaps it was a wall of resistance, the part of him that allowed him to appear cool and aloof. Whatever he had learned while he was away, there were still lessons that only she could teach him.
She cupped his balls through his trousers and pressed her lips against his, opening his mouth, probing his tongue with her own. She had never kissed him like this in all the months that they had seen each other in her teens. She hadn’t known how. But now she knew how to kiss, how to give pleasure and how to take it.
When she parted from him, he recovered his breath and said:
She turned and he needed no further instructions. He stood close behind her and began unfastening the buttons of her wedding dress, starting at the neck and working down, revealing her bare skin beneath, goose-pimpled with the cold, until the beautiful dress was undone down to her waist and she shrugged herself out of it, like a magnificent butterfly drawing itself from a chrysalis that was drab by comparison.
She felt light, as if she might have taken off if Janvier hadn’t been there to tether her to the world. As if further evidence that she was dreaming was necessary, she felt beautiful, in a way that she had never done before. She felt no fear, nor guilt, nor shame.
She undid her bra and let it fall, then turned again to face him, naked except for white stockings, knickers and suspenders, and a pale blue garter.
“Well, this is something old,” Janvier said, and she knew that he was referring to them, reunited at last, but fitting together now as if they had only been apart for six nights.
He slid his hands over her thighs, tracing the shape of her hips, her waist, her breasts.
“Something new,” Lisa said and she sank to her knees, freeing Janvier’s cock from his trousers. Again, his garments were tied; simple, but unlike any clothes she had ever seen. It took a little while to undo the loops and then his trousers fell to the floor and he stepped out of them.
She saw his cock for the first time. It was large and thick and she felt momentarily intimidated.
“This was always in there?” she thought. All those nights when he had sat on the bed, caressing her, kissing her, but refusing to do more because he wasn’t ready.
Now he was ready. She could see that. She overcame her trepidation by facing it headlong. She wrapped her fingers around the base of his cock and slid it into her mouth, stretching her lips around him and then gently bobbing her head to sicken him up before attempting to swallow a third of his length, and then half and after another minute, three quarters.
He groaned and allowed his fingers to delve into her thick black hair. She loved the feel of his hands guiding her or just squeezing her whenever his pleasure soared and took him by surprise. He alternately massaged her head or tugged her hair according to his level of arousal and she could orchestrate which he did by adjusting the pressure of her tongue against him, or how much saliva she used or how hard she sucked.
She glanced up and saw that he had thrown his head back, his throat emitting dry little sounds of pleasure. His stomach was flat and his abs were solid. He looked like a statue from her position on her knees, sculpted from stone.
She removed his cock from her mouth with one last slurp, her lips lingering on the tip of his penis, before she lay down on her back and removed her white knickers, rolling them down her long legs and then kicking them off so that they flew into the darkness.
It was William.
She held her breath, and they both thought of the way Janvier had done so six years ago in her bedroom, but Lisa didn’t become invisible the way that he had. She only wished she did.
Janvier said nothing. He didn’t have to. Her body said what her face did not. And when she did not move, did not cover herself up, merely waited for her husband’s voice to pass into the distance, Janvier knew that she was still his.
“Lisa! …” the voice came again, further away now. “Are you okay! … Are you out here!? …”
He sounded like a nice enough guy.
Lisa pulled Janvier down on top of her.
“Something borrowed,” Janvier observed. He pressed the tip of his cock against the lips of her pussy, spreading her with the bulbous tip of his cock. She looped her arms around his neck and put herself in his hands. He moved his hips back and forth, nudging her, opening her, until the tip of his cock had penetrated her. His movements back and forth rubbed deliciously against her clitoris.
She felt so good so quickly, and William was so soon forgotten, that she wondered if Janvier was performing a spell on her now, exhibiting some magic that he had learned in his other life.
His cock entered her more deeply with every few thrusts, perhaps half an inch more at a time, until almost his entire length was pressing in and drawing out of her.
She gave him her calves and he raised her ankles onto his shoulders, changing the angle of penetration and thus the sensation for both of them. She found herself braying like an animal as he plunged his cock ever deeper into her. He seemed to enjoy the knowledge and the feeling that he was touching her core, physically now as well as emotionally. His hips slapped against her buttocks as he used his weight to drive his cock home and she found herself flailing at him with her hands, at turns attempting to limit the depth of penetration and grabbing his buttocks, willing him to make love to her with all of his being, to begin making up for all the years they had been apart, to undo the damage of some of the bad lays she had had, whether they had been in memory of his touch or whether they had been intended to unravel the memory of him.
She had never given herself so completely to anyone before.
“I’m yours,” she thought. “I’m yours.”
But she couldn’t bring herself to say it, because she was married to another man. It had been less than 24 hours.
Technically, she was William’s. But deep down? In fact, she was …
He came before she did, shooting his cum into her and again, she suspected that there was some magic at work, because she could almost see his cum, though it was inside her, flying through her and diffusing like the trail of high-speed jet.
Her body tensed at the thought that she might become pregnant. His seed was probably so strong that she would become pregnant and that the gestation period would weeks rather than months and the child would be some kind of boy genius, inheriting his father’s magical powers.
“Don’t worry about that,” Janvier said. “I won’t give you a child.”
“A spell?” Lisa said.
“A charm,” he said. “Yes. I’m not allowed to have children with …”
“… with my kind. I know. Is there anything you’re allowed to do with my kind?”
He kissed her neck, her breasts, her stomach, flicked at her clitoris with his tongue.
“No,” he said from between her smooth thighs. “We’re going to have to keep this a secret.”
She let her eyes close for a long time, but when she opened them again, he was still there, his arms around her, breathing into her neck.
“This is really happening,” she said.
“We’re real enough,” he said. “As real as anything else.”
“Then I’ve really been unfaithful,” she said. “William and I haven’t even been married for one night and I’ve already ruined us. Why did you have to come back? I was over you. Why couldn’t you stay away?”
She expected an answer, but when she turned her head to look at him, he was gone. She was naked and cold on the rocks with her dress spread out beneath her like an extravagant picnic blanket. Fifty feet away, was the silvery-grey horse, trying out different colours by reflecting the light of the moon. Finally, it settled on something.
“Something blue,” Lisa observed.
She picked up her discarded clothes and realised as she did so that Janvier hadn’t sent the horse for her; he was the horse. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Will you take me home?”
The horse turned from her and walked in the opposite direction.
“Oh my God!” said William when Lisa got home, over an hour and half later, making it almost four hours that she had been missing. She had ripped her dress on the rocks and it was soiled with sand, seaweed and seawater, as was she. Sand, seaweed, seawater and that other thing, salty and hot between her legs, inside her, a warm memory in the core of her even under the shock of William’s gaze.
He strode across the kitchen where he had probably been pacing and tried to take her in his arms, but she raised her hands and kept him at arm’s length.
“What happened?” he said.
“I needed … to think,” she said, which was how her leaving the honeymoon cottage had begun, but sounded kind of pathetic four hours later.
“I called your mobile,” he said. “You didn’t answer.”
“I skimmed it,” she said.
“You did what?”
“I skimmed it. Or rather, I tried, and it sank.”
“You skimmed your iPhone? Why would you do that?” Will frowned so hard that his face seemed ugly to her.
“If you have to ask,” she said, “then we have no hope. Really no hope.”
“Lisa.” He tried to touch her again, but she shrugged him off and looked as though she might scream or hit him if he tried again. “Look at you,” he said. “You’re hurt.”
“You’re bleeding. These scratches. Did you fall?”
“Why are you being so nice to me?” she said, almost snarling.
“You’re my wife,” he said, grinning oafishly. “I’m worried about you, darling.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry for you. I’m going to bed now.”
Why couldn’t she just shut up. She didn’t seem to be able to stop her mouth from working.
“Let’s talk in the morning,” he suggested as the door slammed shut.
“Whatever,” she said to the empty room.
She woke the following morning to the sound and smell of frying bacon and eggs. The toaster popped up and then there was the tinkle of a tea spoon against the inside of a coffee cup … no, two coffee cups.
She exited the room before he knocked.
The kitchen was immaculate, like the rest of the cottage, like him. While it appeared to be traditional on the outside, the interior was modern. By modern, she meant sparse, with great, smooth, shiny, empty surfaces glaring back at her and daring her to use them. She was inherently clumsy, the brilliance of the worktops intimidated her. The revolving mug tree, the condiment rack and the block of stainless steel knives all seemed to be for show, except that William had laid the table for two and was now buttering toast for them both as though as casually and easily as if he owned the place.
“Sleep okay?” William said, handing her a cup and motioning for her to sit down at the table.
Lisa sat gingerly, as if expecting the stool to snap in two and whack her legs like a giant mousetrap. She was disappointed when it didn’t.
“I need you to stop being nice to me,” she said. “It’s freaking me out. I don’t deserve kindness.”
“You want me to shout at you?”
“I’d understand it if you did.”
“You want me to ask you where the fuck you were last night and how I ended up sleeping on the sofa on my wedding night?”
“That would be normal,” she said.
“I guess I’m not normal,” he said. “I love you more than my own ego. I’m just glad to have you back. You gave me a scare.”
She stared forlornly into her perfect black coffee.
“Just one question,” he said. “Did somebody hurt you?”
“I fell,” she said quickly.
I fell in love, she thought.
“You promise me?”
Right on my back, she thought, and then I spread my legs.
He served her with brown bread, lightly-toasted, bacon with the rinds removed and bright yellow scrambled eggs seasoned with a dash of salt but no pepper. He knew her so well and yet not at all.
“I went through all sorts of scenarios as to what might have happened to you,” he said, as he sat opposite her. “And one of the things that crossed my mind was that you might be having second thoughts. Cold feet. About four hours too late to do anything about it, but cold feet nonetheless.”
“Stop,” Lisa said, but she had nothing more to offer. There was nothing to say.
“I just want you to know that if you need a way out down the line, in three months, six months, a year, it’s possible. I won’t try to keep you with me if you’re unhappy. What would be the point?”
“Don’t do this.”
“I love you, with all my heart, more than I’ve ever loved anything before.”
“Bill!” Now she had tears in her eyes and she wasn’t sure why she was crying. She didn’t know for whom she wept: William, Janvier or herself.
“I don’t expect you to love me the way I love you,” he said. “I don’t think it would be reasonable to assume that that’s even possible. What I want from you, is for you to try to feel something for me.”
“I do love you,” Lisa said, but she wished she hadn’t, because her words sounded fake, even to her.
“As a symbol of my love for you, for which I require nothing in return but time, I’d like to offer you two gifts that ought to make the passing of that time more bearable.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Lisa said, her stomach twisting.
“It’s done,” he said. “You know that I have no patience for suspense,” he went on, undaunted, “so let’s get to the ‘unwrapping’. The first gift is … well … you’re sitting in it.”
She looked at her stool. It didn’t appear to be anything remarkable. It looked like the kind of thing one might purchase at Ikea, except she knew that this chair was more likely to be the real thing, direct from the artist. It was comfortable enough, but it was a still a stool and she found that stools were necessarily uncomfortable. They were for temporary stays and, appropriately, she was desperate to leave.
“Thank you,” Lisa murmured, confused as to why William would buy this for her. She thought that it must symbolise something and felt guilty that she didn’t know what it meant. It was obviously important to William, because he was grinning from ear to ear, staring at her expectantly.
“It’s very nice,” Lisa said, “but …”
“Not the stool,” William laughed. He made an expansive gesture with his hands. “This. All of it. Everything.”
She took in the tasteful paintings hung coolly on the stone walls, the spotless breakfast counter that fit her legs just right, the double-doored fridge that was bigger than some of the rooms she had stayed in when at university, the mezzanine that allowed the cottage to have a second floor, all modern and pine, reserved and calm; the fireplace in the room next door with its huge iron grate and two massive fire-dogs, laid and ready to light; the huge glass window in the salon through which she could see a field with a dog tearing around and beyond that a line of dense trees, both a boundary and an invitation.
She dropped her cup of coffee.
“The cottage?” she whispered.
“You didn’t marry me for my looks,” William said. “Or my charm.”
“William,” she said. “I’m no gold digger.”
“You married me, because I’m kind and rich and good at you, and that takes the sting out of the fact that I can’t give you whatever else you need, that no-one can.”
He was mopping up the spilled coffee.
“We don’t all marry for love. I did. I’m lucky.”
She was shaking her head, but she was no good at lying, not since last night, when the lie she had been living for six years unravelled on the rocky beach below the cottage.
“Which brings me to my second gift,” William said and he set aside the wet cloth and reached for her hand.
Gingerly, not knowing how he could bear to touch her let alone look at her, she gave him her hand and he led her outside. Then it occurred to her how he could bear to be with her. He didn’t know what she had done. He didn’t even suspect.
“William,” she said. “We need to talk.”
“This is our honeymoon,” William said. “There’ll be plenty of time for talking, but first I want to show you something.”
He led her into the garden. Her garden. She pulled her dressing gown around her and complained that she was still in her slippers and wanted to go back inside and then she saw it. The gift.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” William said. “If I can’t find his owner, I’ll name him Lucky,”
The horse was at the far end of the garden in a wooden enclosure, walking around the perimeter as if looking for a weakness in the fence. She gasped and it looked up at her. His head bore a grey patch, like a mark representing a third eye, and his body was adorned with similar markings. Where he was white, he gleamed. Where he was grey, he shimmered. He was like a cloudy sky, constantly changing.
He plodded towards them.
“He’s a smart one,” William said. “And if I have my way, he’ll be yours. He’s not tagged. And no-one’s reported a horse missing.”
“Where did he come from?” Lisa said.
“I saw him running around the field last night,” William said. “He ran around half the night and he seemed to be distressed at first, but then I got the feeling that he was trying to get my attention. Well, if that’s true, it worked. He came closer and closer and something told me to bring him in. I used some rope and looped it round his head and, though he didn’t take kindly to that, he followed me in soon enough.”
“But you’re afraid of horses,” Lisa said.
“I’m afraid of many things,” William said, “but I’ve never let fear stop me getting something I really wanted. Go on.”
Lisa moved up to the fence and Janvier came close and put his head down for her to stroke him. She stared into his muddy, black eyes and her shoulders slumped.
“It’s too much,” Lisa said. “I can’t accept him. Or the cottage. It’s much too much.”
She saw William’s lips tighten and he swallowed hard.
“Don’t be upset,” Lisa said. “I just don’t deserve any of this.”
“It’s up to me what you deserve,” William said.
“If you knew what I was capable of, you wouldn’t offer me this.”
“I can’t offer you anything else,” William said. He looked like a tree being buffeted in a storm. “I need you to accept it. If you won’t accept me into your bed, then accept my gifts. Go on. Say hello. Get on why don’t you?”
Lisa sighed, but seeing how much it meant to him, she climbed the fence.
“I’m not really dressed for this,” she observed.
“You look wonderful,” William said.
She landed on the other side of the fence and her slippers were immediately claimed by the mud. She stepped out of them and squidged barefoot towards the horse.
William looked alarmed, but he bit back his anxiety and said:
“You know what would be perfect? If you rode him in your dressing gown.”
“No,” Lisa said. “You can’t just mount a horse like that. It takes time to break him in.”
Janvier bowed his head, inviting her to get on.
“Go on!” William said. “I told you. He likes us. Do it for me. Where’s that impulsive streak I like so much?”
“Shhh,” Lisa said to the horse and then she half-jumped, half-pulled herself up, then swung her leg over its back.
William made a cowboy yell, delighted by the sight of her in her fluffy pink dressing gown atop the noble steed that he had captured.
“Don’t you love him?” William said.
“He’s … he’s great,” she said.
“I only want to make you happy,” William said. “Any way I can.”
With that, he turned and re-entered the cottage, closing the door behind him, supposedly so she and the horse could get better acquainted, or perhaps so she wouldn’t see him cry.
As soon as the door was shut, Janvier turned and cantered across the enclosure before leaping the fence, his rear hooves clacking against the topmost wooden panels, and then landing on the firm ground on the other side.
Taken by surprise, Lisa grunted and clutched his mane. She held on tight with her thighs to prevent herself falling.
Janvier sped to a gallop, carrying her across the field in the direction of the trees.
“Whoa!” Lisa said. “Whoa! Stop! Janvier, stop!”
He galloped into the forest and didn’t slow as he dodged left and right, avoiding tree trunks and branches. Without riding gear, Lisa felt particularly exposed and she lay flat on Janvier’s back to avoid low branches. She pressed her face to his skin and he shivered.
When they reached a clearing, he stopped and she was able to sit up again.
“What are you playing at?” she snapped.
Janvier bucked and the next thing she knew she was on the floor, face down, with the wind knocked out of her and half a dozen leaves in her mouth.
“… Er …. ow?”
“Sorry,” Janvier said. He was a man again now and he strode from behind a tree, naked and erect. “I can’t let you see me change from one form to another. You wouldn’t like it.”
“You’re not sorry” Lisa said, as she collected her wits. “You like humiliating me. I could just turn my back while you change, but that’s not dramatic enough for you.”
“I can’t wait to have you,” Janvier said, ignoring her words, and he helped her up and into his arms.
Lisa had half a dozen things to say, including demanding to know what he hoped to achieve by masquerading as a horse on their property and ordering him to take her back to the cottage right away, because she was a married woman and he had taken her against her will, but none of those things came from her mouth.
“It’s only been one night,” Lisa said instead and then his tongue was against hers and she was opening her mouth wide to allow him in. If he hadn’t been holding her, she’d have fallen back to the ground. Her head was spinning from the fall, and from the night before, and now she spiralled down, down, down, into him, and they tumbled to the floor, with her on her back and her towelling robe thrown open and him on top of her with his beautiful body, lithe body. Every part of him was defined and toned, but she wouldn’t have gone so far as to call him muscular. She loved the feel of his firmness against her, on top of her, inside her.
She gasped as he entered her, as impatient as he had said.
“Oh my God,” she said. “You’re real. I can’t believe you’re real.”
A fountain of pleasure began to fill her and she shut her eyes against its growing intensity.
The night before, he had charmed her body and devoted himself to her pleasure. Today, he was selfish, bending her in pursuit of his own desires.
“Tell me what you like,” she said. “This?” She stroked his leg with her bare foot, sliding her smooth heel along the back of his thigh and calf.
He raised himself up on one arm and stared down at her.
“Keep looking into my eyes.” he said, while he rocked his hips and drove his cock into her. “Like that. Keep looking at me just like that.”
She saw the same boy that she had known six years earlier. The boy who used to sneak into her bedroom and was always able to open the window even if her father had been in in the night and had locked it from the inside. He was the same boy that used to sit at the end of her bed and watch her sleep and listen to her breath. Sometimes they would hold hands and she would wonder what it would be like to touch him and feel him against her. Sometimes they had kissed and she had wondered what it might be like to take the rest of him in her mouth. He had touched her once between her legs and had made her dizzy with the manipulations of just two fingers, but she had had to stop him, for fear that she would cry out loud enough for her father to hear them.
Now, she was far enough away from civilisation that nobody would hear her and she reached down between her legs and felt the smooth, slick skin of his penis as he slid in and out of her wet pussy.
They were in sync again. She matched the movement of her hips with the thrusting of his pelvis, maximising the impact of his body against hers, nudging him closer and closer to the edge.
She allowed her eyes to drift up, past Janvier’s black hair and up to the full branches of the evergreens that made a patchwork pattern against the light sky. She saw the gleam of the sun through their arms. She couldn’t think of anything better than this.
“Look at me,” Janvier said.
She returned her gaze to his face, his soft, kissable lips, pink and inviting, his strong cheekbones and magnificently dark eyes. He was incredible.
“What do you see when you look at me?” she asked Janvier, who was still gazing into her eyes.
“Beauty,” he said. “The only really beautiful thing.”
Then his mouth was on hers again, soft to the touch yet rough in manner, eager, hungry for her. She felt herself consumed by him, as if he were using her up.
“Use me until there’s nothing left,” she said. “Then fill me.”
He bit her breast and came then, filling her with his seed.
She cried out with pain and pleasure at once. She felt at her most powerful, her most desired, her most able.
“I love you,” she said.
“I am you,” he replied.
“You love it, don’t you?” William said, on the penultimate day of their honeymoon.
Lisa felt as if he had driven a spike into her stomach, but she didn’t even twitch. Her ability to lie – to him, to herself - was coming back to her.
“What are you talking about?” she said.
“Riding,” he explained. “You really do love it.”
“I’ve always loved horses,” she said.
“And yet, you’re sad.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Every day, you take Lucky off over the field and down to the beach or into the forest, and when you come back to me, you look as if you’ve spent the whole time crying.
“The look on your face when you leave is never quite content. In fact, you look very far away. As if you wish that you were very far away and that’s why you’re going. But that look is nothing compared to how you appear when you return. You look as if you’re leaving pieces of yourself behind out there, as if you’re throwing bits of yourself off the cliff and the horse is bringing what remains back to me. Every day, it’s been a little bit less.
“And now you look like you’re going to cry, because it’s true. You’re supposed to be happy. What can I do to make you happy?”
“Stop trying to make me happy!” she said. “Stop being so god damn nice. Be a man! And stop doing everything that I tell you to do.”
She was stunned by her outburst. As he had said, she had been feeling shattered and fragmented, but perhaps she was more cracked than shattered and that fissure had allowed her resentment to fly up and out into William’s face.
If he was stunned, he didn’t show it. He sat for a while, on the stool that she had thought he was his wedding gift, taking it in.
“Very good,” he said and rose from the table.
“What do you mean ‘very good’? Where are you going?”
He opened the door and crossed the garden. He was in his slippers.
“Come back,” she said and was surprised when he didn’t wait to hear what she had to say. “William? William!”
He opened the gate and entered the enclosure. sliding in the mud. It was wet and the mud swallowed his feet with a squelching sound.
“Lucky,” he called. “Lucky!” He whistled and the sound surprised her. She didn’t know that he had such a sound in him.
Janvier looked up and seemed stunned into stillness.
“Come on, Lucky,” William said, slipping and sliding towards the horse. “This way. Come ‘ere,”
Janvier came, dutifully, and as soon as William was close enough he stroked his nose and patted him on his muddy neck and shoulder.
Lisa discovered that she hated seeing them together. This deception was too much. It brought him too close to her secret, too close to finding out what she had been doing to him for the entirety of their honeymoon.
“Stop it!” Lisa said, though she must have sounded ridiculous.
William manoeuvred the horse nearer the fence and he was already climbing up before Lisa realised what he was going to do.
“You can’t seriously be thinking of riding him,” Lisa said. “Tell me you’re not going to try to ride. You’ll kill yourself.”
William’s leg was shaking as he used the fence to get some height with which to mount the horse.
To Lisa’s surprise, he jumped on and clung to Janvier’s back. Another horse probably would have been spooked or upset, but Janvier wasn’t like any other horse and he stood patiently, almost eerily, while William scrambled and kicked and half-threw his leg over Janvier’s back and finally hauled himself to a sitting position.
He was red in the face and laughing like a lunatic.
“Okay, you proved your point,” Lisa said. “I asked you to stop doing what I said, and you have. I get it.”
Lisa thought it was over, but William was looking toward the field, attempting to turn the horse without reins and a bridle.
“You can’t ride without a saddle,” she said. “And you need a helmet.”
“I bought you a saddle and a helmet,” William said. “You don’t use them.”
“I’m an experienced rider.”
“And once I’ve done this,” said William, “so will I be.”
He kicked – too hard – and yelled: “Yah!” - too loud - and Janvier took off, heading through the open gate and off across the field while Lisa ran after them, waiting anxiously for the sight of William toppling from one side of the horse or the other, but it didn’t come. Janvier must have been running extremely carefully with him and he was able to hang on, although he was bouncing around as though attached by springs. His balls would be taking a pounding if nothing else and perhaps his aching gonads would dissuade him from trying anything like this again. Presuming, he survived this, which was not at all certain as he and the horse went over the hill and disappeared from view.
Alarmed by how far this had gone, Lisa turned her jog into a sprint.
The ground was soft and so it was not hard to track them to the edge of the cliff that dropped down to the beach where she had spent her wedding night wishing for her past and dismayed by her future. Janvier was riderless, walking along the edge, his hooves clunking amid the loose rocks, head bowed.
“What have you done with him?” Lisa yelled. “What did you do to him!?” She punched the horse in its thick neck and he reared up. “Change!” she said. “You coward. Change and tell me what you’ve done.”
She scanned the coast for any sign of a figure.
A body lay on the rocks at the bottom of the steepest part of the cliff.
As she called William’s name and started down the slope, Janvier stood and watched.
“Get away from here!” she yelled.
She lost her footing and fell among the rocks, sliding down on her back for six few feet, before grabbing hold of a vine and slowing herself. By the time she reached the bottom, she was bruised and scratched, but she felt nothing but fear as she ran across the rocks towards William’s body.
“Please be okay,” she whispered. “Please be okay.” Then she called his name.
“I’m fine,” he said and she dropped to her knees beside him. “I’m better than fine,” he croaked. “That was amazing.”
She burst into tears.
“Are you hurt?”
“Of course,” he said. “I just fell off a cliff.” He laughed, but then added: “I think your horse tried to kill me.”
“Don’t try to move,” she said and began checking his body for obvious wounds or breaks.
He pulled her towards him and kissed her on the lips, tenderly, so that the feel of his hand on the back of her neck contrasted entirely with what his mouth was doing to hers. He kissed her for a long time and she responded reluctantly at first and then fervently, sliding her hands over his face and chest and sliding her tongue deep into his mouth, in a manner that they had never done during all their months of seeing each other.
When he finally released her, she pulled back in order to see him better.
“Where did that come from?” she said.
“A near-death experience,” he said.
“Is there more where that came from?”
He took her blouse in one hand and tugged her close to him. She straddled him as he pulled her closer still.
“Does that hurt?” she asked.
“You can make it better,” he told her and ripped her blouse open, freeing her breasts, which he licked then and stroked, sucking her nipples and worked his body against hers so that she was eager to remove his shirt and feel his downy belly against the soft, smooth skin of her tummy, her breasts, her face.
Together, they undid his trousers and freed his penis. She plunged it deep into her mouth, working her tongue against the shaft and maintaining the pressure with her lips in a way that she knew would make him come. She’d done so many times, but usually in an effort to make him come quickly and to prevent him entering her.
Now, however, she was only making sure that he was ready for her. She removed her trousers and panties and straddled him once more.
As the waves crashed against the stones behind her, she allowed her body to wash against his. Her wet pussy enveloped his small cock and he angled his hips in such a way that the pressure against her clit was almost unbearably good. His hands were on her breasts again as she rode him, enjoying the feel of his cock slipping out of her before she lowered herself onto him again, so that he completely entered and re-entered her, over and over again.
She wasn’t expecting to come, but he kept up a constant rhythm and a new sensation grew within her.
“Yes,” she whined and leaned towards him, her breasts flat against his chest now as he thrust his cock into her from beneath her. She pushed her hips back and then her entire body was tense and her first orgasm with William shook her.
“I want you to come,” he said.
“I did,” she grinned.
“Again,” he said.
She put a hand on his chest and he kept rocking her gently, slowly, beautifully. She watched the waves coming in and timed her movements to nature’s rhythm. He understood and did the same. They lay coupled for a long time, exploring each other’s pleasure, teasing their limits, rising, falling and finally collapsing against each other as Lisa came again, gently, but pleasurably, and prompting William’s orgasm, which appeared to be more like the physical equivalent of a wave crashing against a rock and smashing it to pieces.
“I was supposed to be rescuing you,” Lisa said, lying with her ear against his chest.
“You did,” said William.
Aside from a twisted ankle and a bruise on his side, William had escaped without any notable injuries. When they arrived back at the cottage, over an hour and a half later, William with his arm around his wife’s shoulder, Janvier was back in the enclosure with the gate closed and locked, though they had left it open upon leaving.
The horse didn’t look like a murderer. It looked like any other horse, and not so beautiful any more. It’s lustre had faded.
“Give me a minute,” Lisa said and left William wobbling next to the fence.
“Be careful,” he advised her.
“What? Like you?”
“He went loco,” William said.
“What? Like you?” she said again.
She entered the paddock and approached Janvier the way she would approach any horse that she didn’t really know, moving slowly, making no eye contact until she was close enough to touch him.
She led him to the gate and led him outside.
“You have to go now,” she said.
William would always note that she had spoken to the horse as if talking to an old friend.
The horse stared at her. William noticed the strangeness of its manner then. The horse looked at her quizzically, as if it couldn’t believe what it had heard.
“Yes,” she said and stroked its head. “I need to be here now. I need you to leave us.”
The horse stamped.
“I’m glad you came back, so we could say goodbye properly,” she said. “But I mean it. I want you to go.”
A moment later, he bolted as if responding to a shot from a gun. His hooves churned the ground and thundered over the field.
Lisa and William both watched for a time after he was gone, as if waiting for something to come and fill the gap that the horse had left behind.
“Not my wisest gift,” said William, “but he was beautiful, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, he was,” said Lisa.
“Will you be alright?” William asked.
“Yes,” said Lisa. “Yes, we will.”
I told my wife, Christine, I was going to London then drove out of the village to a hotel in the next town.
My girlfriend, Lotte, was waiting for me in the foyer. I didn’t know she was there until she blew lightly on the back of my neck, making the hairs stand on end.
“I didn’t do anything,” she protested, raising her hands. “It’s chemistry.”
My wife had packed my bag with a shirt, tie, trousers and toiletries, because she thought I was going to a two-day publishing convention. Lotte normally brought a spare pair of underwear and a silver bullet vibrator in her little blue handbag. This time, she said, she had more treats: Japanese silk bondage rope. A black satin blindfold.
“I asked for a double not a twin,” I said, frowning. “I suppose we could just push the beds together; I don’t want to make a fuss.” I stood looking at Lotte with my hands shoved in my pockets.
“When are you going to tell your wife?” she asked.
“Soon,” I promised. “I’ll do it soon.”
Lotte’s eyes were clear and blue. I felt penetrated. I hated myself for looking away. She headed for the bathroom, unfurling her long, blonde hair as she went.
“I won’t live like this,” she said.
“I know,” I agreed and followed her into the little room. She studied herself in the mirror as I snaked my arms around her waist. In the glass, her eyes were cold and hard. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I kissed her gently on the neck. She forgot about Christine for the time being and so did I.
We undressed quickly, sliding back into the bedroom where she sank to the floor on all fours. I crouched behind her, entered her, and held her tight enough to put purple fingerprints on her hips and shoulders.
After only seconds of moving inside her she started to change.
“Someone will hear,” I warned her.
“I don’t care,” she panted.
Wiry hairs sprouted from her back, stabbing at my palms. Blonde hair leapt along the ridge of her spine, flattened and then darkened in waves from her shoulders to her buttocks. I rubbed my hands along the thickening fur, getting electric shocks, wanting to change too, but knowing I shouldn’t.
This was the release I craved. A growl escaped me and I felt the agonising prickle of hairs forcing their way through my own skin. My cheekbones cracked and slid, saliva ran over my teeth. When Lotte came, I cut off her cry of pleasure with a clawed hand clamped hard over her mouth. Then I came too.
That evening Lotte emerged from the bathroom in nothing but a towel.
“I thought we could go out for dinner,” I suggested. “There’s a restaurant guide in the foyer,” I said, thinking of the smart clothes Christine had packed for me, and the gleam in Lotte’s eyes went out.
She sat heavily on the bed with her back to me, combing her long, beautiful hair. I could smell the orange scent of her shower gel and I was about to close my eyes when she turned sharply and said:
“I’m not doing this anymore!”
“I understand,” I said automatically.
“It’s not right!”
“Okay,” I said.
“You have to tell her.”
I shook my head.
“You have to,” she demanded.
“It’s not that easy!” I yelled back. “How am I supposed to say it?”
She crawled towards me and sat on her knees. Again I felt skewered. “Pretend I’m Christine,” she said and I laughed because they couldn’t be more different. “Try it,” she insisted.
I sighed. I looked right into her eyes. “Christine,” I began. She winced, then gestured for me to go on. “Honey,” I said flatly. “I’m a werewolf.”
“… Go on,” she urged.
“Not just me,” I continued. “Alice and George. And Peter … And your friend, the teacher, Kenneth.”
“And the rest.”
“The butcher,” I said. “Most of the village.”
“No, Stuart. I mean tell her rest, tell her about me. Tell her you’re having an affair.”
“I can’t,” I admitted, as much to myself as to her. “It would destroy her,” I said.
Lotte stabbed her feet into her shoes, snatched up her handbag, stuffed with unused toys, and strode to the door.
“You call yourself a wolf,” she said sadly, “but you’re not a wolf. You call yourself a man, but you’re not one of those either.”
She slammed the door behind her.
In the ensuing calm, I crossed to the minibar and got a can of cold beer.
“I am a man,” I bristled, with a growl of irritation and switched on the TV.<ends> </ends>