Barry kissed her, and Corinne felt him trembling and wounded against her, quivering with simple human need. The need to touch and be touched, to be desired, wanted, valuable…to know that he was alive, even when death had consumed his focus.
She’d felt it when her parents died; Barry felt it now.
“I’m here,” she whispered, between hungry kisses. She tasted the salt of tears – his, her own. They blended into one, and, through the blurring, she watched his face, where desire and grief were at war.
Barry leaned into her for support, clung to her as though he could not go on, without it. They stood there, still swaying, as the music shifted to a faster beat. It took seconds more before Corinne realized it, and that Barry was gesturing toward the door.
“Can we step outside?”
She nodded, and they were silent until the cooling breeze lulled them to the steps that led down to a rocky stretch of beach, resplendent in the twilight.
“I was dead inside, until tonight.” He kissed her again, this time lingeringly. When they were breathless, he broke away, turned to walk a few steps closer to the ocean, and said, softly, “Why me, Corinne? Why now? You’re young, beautiful, smart, and talented – you must have a line of young men your own age just waiting for you to notice them. Like your friend-Donovan, is that his name?”
She snorted, then laughed at his look of surprise. “The ‘men’ my age – well, most of them aren’t even close to men, yet. And Donovan’s not my type.”
“And sixty-year-old men with more baggage than brains are?”
Anger flashed up, flushing her face and clenching her fists. “You aren’t just some collection of labels, and I’m not stupid. Maybe it won’t be comfortable or easy. But do you think it’ll be any easier to try to pretend we don’t feel this?”
He took her hand in his own, and they started walking. Barry didn’t say anything, and, although her mind was racing in tune with the beating of her heart, Corinne kept quiet, too.
They were nearly out to the waning tide when he stopped and turned to her. “What do you want from me, Corinne? What is it you’re looking for, here?” His eyes seemed to catch the fading twilight, and bounce it back to her. There was something clutching and desperate in them, as there had been in his embrace, earlier; his words were almost an accusation.
Corinne lifted their joined hands, and placed her other atop his. She tried to catch his gaze, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“I want a man who is passionate, brave, and caring. One who knows what matters to him, and can honor his commitments, and who sometimes makes leaps of faith because he needs them to be fully alive.”
“You see me in a very flattering light, Corinne – but what commitment am I honoring, by being here, with you?”
“The one that says that you get to be alive, and that there are more years behind you than ahead of you.”
“I made another commitment – before you were born.”
“I won’t ask you to break it.”
“What the hell am I going to do, Corinne?” He let go of her, whirled away, and screamed wordlessly at the darkening sky.
Corinne waited, wishing she could ease his pain; afraid she was making it worse. He stood there, and she left him be.
The sky was fading into dusk when he turned and came back to stand just out of arm’s reach, watching her. “I don’t want to love you,” he said, as though she were threatening him. And maybe she was.
He started back, toward the faint music from the club. Halfway to the steps, he stopped, bent, and picked something up. Looking at it, he came back to her, took her hand, and pressed it into her palm. Corinne opened her hand; it was a heart-shaped rock, flat and worn by water, a shade of dark grey flecked with green and blue.
“I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” And he pulled her to him and kissed her almost savagely. He had the look of a drowning man unsure whether she was the thing that would hold him afloat, or drag him to the bottom.
And Corinne wished she knew which she was.