By Laura Feltyberger
Michael waited until five thirty to call her the next day. He stared out his office window at the sunset and wondered where he would take her for dinner. He got her voice mail message. That was all right. It gave him time to go home and shower, change clothes. He left her his number at home, then rushed across town to check his machine. No messages. He took a quick shower, changed clothes, and checked again.
He ended up waiting all night for her call. She didn’t call the next day, or the day after that. He called her several times, but every time he got her voice mail. He only left one more message because he didn’t want to seem desperate.
It’s okay, he thought, she’s allowed to see other people. We’re not exclusive or anything. He couldn’t get her out of his head. He passed by The Captive, hoping to see her going in or out. He was addicted.
He decided to go out with the guys. It was trivia night at Hannigan’s and they always had a good time. This particular evening he left early. He found Martine waiting for him at his door.
"I got your message." she purred. "I wanted to call you but I’ve been busy."
"I left a message earlier. I guess you missed it."
"I went out."
A frown crossed her face. "Michael, is something wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong." he tried to relax his jaw. "I left you a couple of messages, that’s all. I wanted to see you."
"I wanted to see you, too. So what do you say to taking in a movie or something?"
"I’ve been out already. I came home because I was tired." Michael flipped his keys back and forth in his hand; the metallic click began to sound annoying.
Martine slid her arms around his waist. "I’ll put you to bed." She kissed his chin. He felt his resolve weaken. "I’m sorry you’re mad. You have every reason to be."
Her energy seemed to seep into him like a gentle warmth. Her touch soothed an ache in his bones he hadn’t realized was there. It was as if he’d tensed every muscle in his body to the max and she’d released them. He felt his head fall forward and bump hers. He had no will anymore: he was hers.
He lowered his lips to hers and kissed her softly, as if he were afraid of scaring her away. Her fingers drifted over his face, cradling him, drawing him closer. His keys hit the floor as he wrapped his arms around her, sinking his face in her neck, breathing her in.
Several minutes passed before they parted. Martine picked his keys up off the floor and unlocked the door. Michael followed her in.
An hour later Michael lay next to Martine, idly stroking her back. She lay looking up at the moon through his window.
"What do you say to taking a trip tomorrow? We can drive out to the country, take a picnic lunch. Or we can go to the beach, what do you think?" He craned his neck to see her face.
"I don’t think so, Michael."
"It’s Saturday. You deserve a day off."
She dropped her face against the pillow and groaned. "There’s something about myself I haven’t told you."
Michael went cold at the tone of her voice. "You’re married aren’t you?
To that guy at the club, Gavriel. I knew I didn’t like him from the moment I set eyes on him. Now I know why."
"That’s not it." she sighed, toying with Michael’s hair.
He waited in agony for her to speak.
"I have an illness. It’s not catching, it’s just,...inconvenient. It’s a damn nuisance, but I have no choice but to live with it." He could sense she didn’t want to talk about it. Whether her reluctance came from fear of his reaction, whether it be pity or rejection, he couldn’t be sure. "It’s called Porphyria. I’m hypersensitive to sunlight. I work from home at night, because if I venture out of my room while the sun is still out I’ll get third degree burns."
He stared at her, dumbfounded. He had no idea of how to react. Thought filtered slowly through his brain.
"So as long as the sun is down you’re fine?"
"Yes. I usually wait until a half hour after sunset just to be safe."
"How do you know the sun is set? I mean if you can’t look."
"My computer, the newspaper, the TV news. They tell me the exact times for sunrise and sunset and I set my alarm clock accordingly."
"Hmmm,... How long have you had it?"
She hesitated a moment, trying to remember. "Thirteen, I think. I was a late bloomer. Most kids are born with it. And most kids die with it, too. I was never expected to live this long. Guess I’m doing something right."
Michael wanted to change the subject. He despaired to think of Martine living in the dark all these years, never seeing the sun rise or set, never seeing a rainbow after a storm, never spending a day at the beach with the sun shining down on her face. An idea occurred to him.
"Speaking of doing something right--"
"I thought you were tired."
"Be quiet and listen. Meet me tomorrow. I’ll borrow a friend’s car--"
"Michael, I can’t."
"An hour after sunset. You can do that, right? Trust me. I’ll take care of you." He searched her moon glow blue eyes for her acquiescence. "I’ll take care of everything." He kissed her shoulder, her neck, her cheek, her ear. "I’ll never hurt you, Martine."
This time he was awake when she left him an hour before sunrise.
Michael pulled up in his borrowed Chevy Caprice at Martine’s apartment building overlooking Central Park. She was staring at the battered maroon vehicle; he was awed by the grandiose address.
"Come on. Your surprise is waiting." He pushed the door open and gestured for her to get into the car. He was grinning like a schoolboy.
She jumped into the front seat next to him and they sped off.
They drove out of the city towards the coastline. She tried to get him to tell her where they were going, but he refused. Michael pulled the car into a parking lot near the boardwalk. They stepped up onto the boardwalk and the beach and the sea lay before them; behind were the garish tourist traps, gift shops and arcades.
"We can’t have a day at the beach, but we can still have the night." He said, leading her down the strip.
They stopped for a slice of pizza just before the stand closed. Half the businesses were about to close their gates, but it hardly mattered. They wandered in and out of the photo shops that took old time pictures and put your face on newspapers and sports cards, laughing at the girls posing in saloon girl dresses with their beaus in western outlaw garb.
They wandered into an arcade filled with video games, pinball and pool tables. They goofed off, playing games and wasting quarters. Michael put his money in a photo booth and pulled her down onto his lap behind the curtain. Only one photo had been taken before they lost interest in the camera. When the photos popped out he gave Martine the only photo that didn’t show the two of them kissing.
It was such wonderful night that neither wanted it to end. Out on the end of a pier looking over the water, music played softly from someone’s radio through an abandoned dance hall. Skate boarders clattered inside the building, but no one invaded the promenade at the end of the pier.
The salt breeze tugged at their hair and clothes as they sat silently on a bench curled up into each other. They were the only people left in the world on an empty pier with the ocean beating the sand beneath them. They could have stayed that way forever if the alarm on Michael’s watch hadn’t gone off. It was time to go.
They drove back to Manhattan, the magic spell woven by their night on the beach still intact until they parked in the underground garage of Martine’s building.
Upstairs Michael was awed by the opulence of her apartment. Floor to ceiling windows lined the wide wall presenting a spectacular view of the park and the city. Two torchiere lamps lit the elegant room, gilding the ivory and taupe furnishings with a warm glow. The size of the place was incredible. Martine went into the kitchen to make coffee for Michael.
A blond haired man came down the curved staircase. He was older than Gavriel, with the same blue eyes as Martine. He appeared to be very much the lord of the manor. He eyed Michael with curiosity.
"I take it you’re Michael, Martine’s friend? I’m Sedrien West." Michael remembered Martine mentioning his name. He was the third partner in The Captive.
Martine came in and handed a cup to Michael. "I take it Gav’s still out?" she asked Sedrien.
"He should be home any moment now." He kissed Martine on her cheek.
"I’ll leave you two alone. Just remember the time, dear." He retreated upstairs.
Michael didn’t ask the question most on his mind, but waited for Martine to say something.
"Gavriel and Sedrien and I all suffer from the same illness. It makes things easier with the three of us together."
"Ah." was all he could say.
"Stay a while, Michael?" she asked. Her eyes, her face seemed more open than they had the night they first met. There was no defense, no wariness anymore.
"It’s getting close to dawn. Are you sure?"
"Yes." He followed her up the stairs to her room.
The window had light blocking shades over it. She shut the door and it was like being sealed into a tomb. She touched a switch and hidden lamps threw a discreet glow about the room. She removed her jacket and Michael noticed a locket he hadn’t seen before swinging on a long chain around her neck.
She took off the locket and placed it in a silver dish on her dressing table. After that he only had eyes for Martine herself.
Lying together in her wide bed they whispered things that mattered. She told how her grandparents died in a concentration camp in Germany during the war. Her Mother was saved as a child by a German officer who sent her to England. She told how she felt lonely living only at night, how she knew how much she was missing living in the dark. Michael held her and said he wouldn’t let her disappear into the shadows. He told her how much he admired her courage, her strength.
"I’m not that brave, Michael."
"Of course you are. You said yourself you shouldn’t have lived this long, but here you are. It takes courage to go on."
He thought he saw tears in her eyes. "I was wrong, Michael. You’ve given to me far more than I could ever give back."
It was well after sunrise when Michael finally extricated himself from Martine’s bed. Half dressed, carrying his shoes and coat he reached for the door.
"Careful." came the sleepy warning from the tangle of silk sheets. Her eyes peeked through tousled strands of gold with concern.
"Don’t worry." He gestured for her to cover her eyes and she ducked beneath the sheet. He inched the door open only wide enough for him to slip through and leave her undisturbed.
Michael spent as much time as he could with Martine. Her schedule varied and she couldn’t give him every night, but did her best to be there for him. A closeness grew between them that Michael had been wishing for all his life. He was falling in love with her. Reluctantly, he admitted to himself that he was never sure of Martine’s true feelings. Sometimes they were so perfectly attuned he could almost read her mind, but on occasion he sensed that something dark and ugly lurked just beneath the surface. He had a thought it had to do with the disease she carried, but she never said a word.
He asked her about her doctors, and what treatments she was receiving. He went to the library and looked up Porphyria in all the medical books, but the undecipherable jargon hampered his research. She didn’t seem to show any of the other symptoms of the disease besides the hyper-photosensitivity. Any time he brought up the subject she closed up completely.
Gavriel and Sedrien were also becoming a nuisance. Sedrien seemed pleasant enough, but acted like an overprotective father about Martine’s relationship with Michael. Sedrien was too observant to have missed Michael’s regard of him, and yet he disregarded it.
Gavriel, however was not so careful to hide his opinions. He approached Michael while he waited in the penthouse for Martine.
"We haven’t seen much of Martine lately. Are you trying to take her away from us for good?"
"I’m not trying to take her anywhere she doesn’t want to go." Michael didn’t want to get into an argument with Gavriel, for Martine’s sake.
"Are you sure she’ll want to go with you? She has friends, you know.
Friends who have known her much longer and much better than you have."
Gavriel’s green eyes glowed like jade in the silver light coming through the window. The moon had waxed near to full. "She has me, too."
"Indeed she has." Gavriel stalked near to him with a chained menace. He’s the one you have to watch out for; he’s a predator, Martine’s words came back to him. "But do you have her? In a short time you’ll be just a memory. A faint one at that."
"That’s up to Martine, don’t you think?"
"Only time will tell." He sauntered out into the entry. Michael heard the door latch click open. "And time has always been on our side." Michael pondered his mysterious parting words as the door shut again.
End of Chapter Two
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