Breathe – a short story

“Tell me one more.” She was laughing so hard he was starting to worry she might hyperventilate. Tears streamed down her tan face.

“Seriously, that was my last joke. I’m afraid anything more might do more harm than good.” He couldn’t help smiling. He’d never seen her like this. The serious no-nonsense woman had apparently opted to take the night off. Leaning over, she kissed him on the cheek still hiccupping from her paroxysm of laughter.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me how funny you can be?”

“I’m not funny,” he deadpanned, “I stole every one of those jokes from a clown I killed.” Crossing his legs and leaning back he mumbled, “I hate clowns.”

She keeled over again.

Smiling, he wrapped an arm around her bare shoulders, admiring her body in the glow of the setting sun. Across the pool, the mariachi band continued their cacophonous assault, making up for their obvious lack of talent with a copious dose of enthusiasm.

“I said I wanted a quiet spot,” he frowned at her in mock rebuke. She responded with a playful jab.

“You don’t always get what you want. Better go ahead and concede that battle right here and now, mister. Besides, I kinda like it. At least there’s no screaming kids here.”

It was his turn to laugh as he recalled the spot from five months ago. What a week. He’d never let her live that one down.

“Come here,” he grunted as he scooped her up. She yelped in surprise.

“What are you doing?” The laughter was back.

“Getting away from this racket before I mistake one of those musicians for a clown.”

They walked alone on the beach, the cool stillness of the late evening slowly seeping across the sand. A warm breeze whispered in from the ocean, blowing her dark hair across his body. Fingers entwined, bodies together – so right. They’d both needed this – a break, a release, a vacation…that’s what normal people called it. It was the only way to stay sharp, these tiny slivers of “normal” they allowed themselves. She’d arrived before him. Anxious, though she still wouldn’t admit it, when he arrived four days late. It was nothing, he’d assured her. Just some loose ends that had taken longer than anticipated.

“What’s wrong?” She asked. He’d stopped. Head back looking up at the night sky. He didn’t answer for a moment. She swept her eyes across the blackness, trying to find what had captured him, half expecting the faint drone of a plane or a helicopter. He’d always had phenomenal hearing. Never opening up about it though when she asked if it was his training. “Maybe I was just born with it,” he’d reply as he changed the topic.

He looked at her as if coming back from a distant place. “Orion. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him so bright.” He smiled quietly at the concern in her brown eyes. “It’s nothing. Another lifetime. I’m back.” He gently traced her face with his fingers then pulled her close. He couldn’t help but laugh as the distant mariachi band delivered their coup de grâce with a stentorian blast that could be heard ten miles out to sea.

They stood for a few moments in silence while a blanket of diaphanous fog washed around them leaving them strangely alone. Two bodies in a pale world.

“Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be normal?” She didn’t lift her head, the words mumbled into his chest. He didn’t respond for so long, she wondered if he’d gone back to Orion…wherever that was.

He rested his forehead in her hair. Breathing her in. Exhaling softly he whispered, “Without people like us, there wouldn’t be a ‘normal’ world for ‘normal’ people to live in. I learned that a long time ago.”

She leaned back, the light of the moon illuminating her striking features, the dark hair now black. “Then you’ll be my ‘normal.’”

He pulled her down to the warm sand. This time was theirs. Overhead, in the starry wastelands, Orion stood watch.

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