by Edd B. Jennings
The decision for Fionna was made. Decent young women did not board trains with strange men and take rooms in far cities.
She re-entered the sitting room—softly, she moved softly. Through the latticed windows of the French doors, she saw him on the balcony, hands on the rail, looking outward toward the mountain. She left the door ajar. He would hear the latch click. If she stood behind him for more than a few seconds, he sensed it. She reduced her relationship with Archibald to the direction of his eyes when she entered the room. He stood in the cold looking to the mountain. She could never match the draw of the hills.
She grew up on story, the romance novelists, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the great English love poets; she knew Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets to the Portuguese by heart. Her dissolved marriage had not been so much to a bad man but a dull one. She had waited. Patience would not do it. Virtue would not do it. Story had passed her. She was going to have to reach for it, and take and accept the incompleteness she could clutch.
Her future with Archibald held nothing. If she could work her will on him, he would board the train tomorrow, the mountains of Virginia behind him forever. If she failed, and he went back, he returned to certain destruction. He would never choose the garden. His ancestral urges tore him between the far hills, the far rivers and the sword. It was not to be a young girl’s dream. It was not to be this life, but this night.
She stepped toward the figure, framed in the panes of the balcony windows, indistinct where Mill Mountain darkened the background. The light lilting step she affected had to conceal the heaviness in her heart.
“Enough.” The man on that dark balcony needed her. Against the falling light she slipped about the room lighting single candles. With a hesitant touch she pushed the balcony door open and stepped into the night to stand beside him where he leaned over the railing. He straightened as she slipped her arm around his waist. They didn’t speak for the longest time. She rested her head against his shoulder. Her dark red hair flowed across his rough wool shirt. Her heeled traveling boots accentuated her height, but against him like this reminded her of his size that she could so easily forget because his manner with her had always been soft. Years ago, before he had left to go east to University, and before he had disappeared all those years alone in the Arctic, she made a tiny cut with a paring knife to mark his height on the inside wall of her father’s store at a place where he had stopped to stand. No one had ever noticed or asked about the mark. Sometimes when she was alone in the store in those days, she would stand under that mark and imagine herself next to him. When she returned from Philadelphia after her failed marriage and believed Archibald long years dead, the first thing she looked for was her old mark. In those days, he lacked his present breadth of upper body.
The night cooled, and she welcomed his warmth. The moment she longed for, the moment she no longer believed would in this life be hers, came. He kissed her. If the sadness of the moment did not dissipate completely, she overwhelmed it with the fervor with which she sought the ardor. If he was unshaven and not particularly clean, he was here, and she took pleasure in his power and his heat. The hesitation in his movements from just a few weeks back, caused by overexposure to the elements that she feared might kill him, was gone. In a motion that surprised her, he slipped an arm behind her knees and lifted her off her feet and against his chest.
Her emotions warred. She had always fought for dominance. She deserved to lead. Yet in a place and time where raw strength held sway, she was a woman. No man had lifted her this way, as she might herself have lifted a child. This trust she had extended to no one, certainly not a man, pleased her. Her pride would never allow her to admit to Archibald the narrowness of her experience or the newness of this, but perhaps the secret guilty pleasure made it all the more exquisite.
He carried her to the bed, where he began to undo the large buttons on the side of her long traveling skirt. She couldn’t resist teasing him, “To undo my buttons, Mr. Drumcliff, is a large assumption. How do you know I’ll allow it?”
“I don’t. Rather puts me in a dilemma. If I ask and you say no, and I do it anyway, I might feel bad. If I ask, you say no, and I let you go, I’ll feel worse.”
“It’s a risk,” she said as she pulled her fingertips across his unshaven face.
“I hate risk.”
Fionna’s laughter went deep, uncontrolled, chest shaking laughter, far from the lady-like titter, her mother and aunts taught her as the appropriate expression of feminine mirth. The women of her family recoiled from her habit of drinking deeply when it was best to sip. Archibald was risk. His existence defined it. His very air was that of the gambler riding high on that favorable drop of the die that could not be repeated.
Before she controlled her laughter, and in a motion so fluid it caught her by surprise, he flipped her face down and pinioned her arms behind her back. He didn’t hurt her, but he had too much leverage for her to make an impression when she pushed against his hands.
With one hand he held both of hers, as he undid the loose knot in the silk scarf around her neck. She had tied so many packages in her father’s store she recognized the peculiar double tug required to pull the silk into a clove hitch around her wrists.
“Are you secure?” He turned her over on her back.
“I can’t move.” The silk didn’t hurt but unless she had time to work at the knot, he had her.
“Takes care of the risk of asking.” He went back to the buttons of her skirt.
“You seem outrageously pleased with yourself.”
When she lived in Philadelphia, she often argued with the lawyers her husband invited into his house. She reduced them, to their consternation to, “I am a man. I know the world. You don’t, and I know best,” as they stuttered and sweated and tried to work their way out of the knots she tied into their feeble truisms and pitiful attempts at logic. Perhaps she could do as well with this specter of Protestant sin overhanging her. Archibald had actually tied her up; therefore, free of having made the choice, she was as free of the incumbent sin. The argument amused her as did any piece of cleverly crafted rhetoric, but it didn’t as the lawyers say “meet the elements” because she was a sharp word away from being released.
He opened her satin blouse and took away her skirt. He left her stockings and high leather boots. The touch of his damaged calloused hands brought a flush to her skin and an intense excitement she assumed existed but had not experienced. He made no attempt to be delicate with her lace. He pulled it away as he laughed, telling her, “You’re as fine a piece of plunder as a wandering man could ever hope to luck across.”
Her breath caught at that, and about to utter an expletive, before she could exhale the word, he put rough fingers at her lips. “You won’t say anything sharp. If you try, I’ll stuff my dirty handkerchief in your mouth. You’re my prize, and you’ll show the correct respect, or you’ll be spanked until you can.”
About the author:
Edd B. Jennings runs beef cattle along the banks of the New River in the mountains of Virginia. His work has appeared in Bedford 87, Triggerwarnings, The Scarlet Leaf Review, and Flash Fiction Magazine during the past few months. In the past his work has been used in Narrative Magazine, The American Rifleman, and Guns & Ammo magazine, and he has had read fiction on NPR. In the next few months, he has stories forthcoming in Jotters United, Thread, Sicklit, and Quail Bell. He's currently working on a series of books about canoeing in the Arctic and a historical novel.
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