Authors: Season Vining
The blue neon light from the bar’s sign reflected down the alley and across his face.
His embellished skin glowed sapphire every other second, the blinking rhythm casting
him as a saint, then a sinner. He was a beautiful stranger, fucking up her world.
“I can’t do this,” she said firmly, stepping back so that Tristan’s hand fell away.
“My past is not even mine. I don’t want it.”
“That’s not true,” he challenged. “You sought me out, Josie. You found me. You followed
me and watched me. You’re drawn to me just like I am to you. That’s why you’re here.”
She winced, feeling his words cut her with truth.
“No, I’m here because I want to fuck you.”
Tristan felt the weight of her audacious statement sitting heavy on his chest. If
he had been a lesser man, she would have crushed him with those words. He recognized
a defensive maneuver when he saw one.
He remained silent as she left him in the alley, alone with his thoughts, a littering
of cigarette butts, and the fading click of her heels.
* * *
Josie capped the marker and leaned over to blow on the drawing. She watched closely
as the ink soaked into the wood wall and dried to a matte finish. These things always
gave her a sense of worth. They were the opposite of her, permanent and immortal.
She finished the last of her drink, waiting for the alcohol to deliver what she needed.
It had been a mistake staying sober tonight. She had wanted to do it for Tristan,
and to prove to herself that she could. But now she needed the pain washed away.
“Hey, there, can I buy you a drink?” a man asked from the table next to hers.
Josie smiled and looked him over. He was moderately attractive, middle-aged, and married.
The distinct tan line on his left hand was a dead giveaway. She didn’t care, though.
He was the lucky guy tonight, his win concreted by the absence of tattoos and all-knowing
“Hell, yeah, you can,” Josie answered, waving him over.
“You here alone?” he asked, taking a seat next to her.
She almost rolled her eyes at his clichéd pickup lines. This guy had been out of the
game a very long time.
Josie’s drink arrived and she downed it in one long swallow. The burn of the alcohol
stoked her furious need to erase Tristan for good.
“So, what do you do for a living?” he asked.
“Look, this is not an interview. My name is Josie and I’m a sure thing. You want to
see me naked or not?”
A few minutes later, the waitress returned, only to find two empty chairs.
* * *
“Whaddya mean you’re not gonna to see him again?” Alex yelled, his voice three octaves
higher than usual.
He tossed the bag of burgers and fries to her and sat on the edge of the sofa.
“Jo, he knew you back in New Orleans. Which means he knew your family,
You don’t gotta be best friends, but you gotta get some info. Then kick him to the
Alex knew he’d have to approach this carefully. He just didn’t understand her willingness
to let go of this person who held so many answers.
“My past is better left in the past, Alex.”
Josie pulled the greasy food from the paper bag and threw a few fries into her mouth.
She wanted to avoid this conversation altogether, but Alex had this inexplicable ability
to pull information from her.
“That’s bullshit, and you know it.”
“Do you remember everything in your past?” she asked.
“How much of it do you wish you didn’t?”
He shrugged, not wanting to further prove her point.
“Still, I’d wanna know what he knows,” Alex said.
“You know what they say about curiosity?”
Josie smirked, knowing she’d gained the upper hand. He shook his head and headed for
“You’re not a cat, more like a stubborn burro,” he said, the
’s rolling off his tongue in annoyance.
She felt relieved when Alex was gone, not having to keep her façade in place any longer.
Josie wanted to believe her own lies. She wanted to own them and plant them firmly
into her resolve. In all honesty, she wasn’t sure how long determination alone could
keep her from seeking out Tristan again
The attractive force that governs the motion of celestial bodies.
Ever since Josie walked away from him, Tristan had felt that aching pain return to
his chest. Although reminiscent of the first time he lost her, it felt deeper and
more excruciating, knowing that this time it had been her choice. Having never been
convinced of God’s existence, he didn’t have a higher power to plead to, though most
nights he found himself begging an empty room to return her. He wasn’t eating enough,
and as much as he knew it would numb his pain, he ignored the alcohol leering at him
from the behind the bar. For sixteen days Tristan had survived on gas-station dinners
and Marlboro cigarettes.
Now he stood behind the familiar bar and filled drink orders with no attention to
anything else. Erin was still training the new hire, Brandie, so she was not hanging
around for her usual chitchats. Tristan was thankful.
For the past two days, Brandie had been flirting with him, and it was starting to
wear on his nerves. Lee had told him that the girl gave great head, and just to feel
some kind of release, Tristan considered finding out for himself. She was attractive,
though her beauty was marred by her shallow personality. None of that mattered since
his mind and body craved no one but Josie.
When Brandie’s shift ended, she sat at the bar wearing her practiced smile.
“I’d like a margarita, no salt,” she requested, placing her hand over his on the bar.
Her eyes visually violated Tristan as he moved behind the bar, mixing and shaking,
before pouring the concoction over ice. She seemed mesmerized as she watched the colorful
images twist and stretch over the muscles of his forearms. Tristan set the drink in
front of her dismissively. Upon tasting the drink, she licked her lips and purred
Throughout the evening, he continued making her drinks, and she continued to brazenly
flirt. It took every last bit of bred-in manners to not lose his cool. Each flutter
of her eyelashes, every overenthusiastic laugh infuriated Tristan further. He tried
to control his anger; it wasn’t her fault she wasn’t Josie. Finally freed on his smoke
break, Tristan hurried outside into the shadow of the alley. He sucked on a cigarette
and kicked at a loose brick in the base of the wall.
“I wondered where you went,” Brandie said, appearing out of nowhere.
Two more buttons on her shirt had come undone and there was an exaggerated sway to
her hips as she wobbled toward him. Within seconds she had her tight little body pressed
up against his with her hands on his waist.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Tristan tried to make his voice light, but it came out strained. She mistook that
for mutual lust.
“I want this,” she said, grinning up at him and palming his crotch.
Tristan jumped and pushed her away.
“Fuck, Brandie,” he complained.
“Exactly,” she answered.
“You’re a beautiful girl, but I don’t want you like that.”
Tristan ran both hands over his nonexistent hair and darted back inside. He let Lee
know that he was cutting out early. Only one destination entered his mind. He would
not fight it any longer.
* * *
In theory, sixteen days doesn’t seem like a long time. In the grand scheme of man’s
historical existence, it is less than nothing. Yet during these sixteen days, Josie
had endured the greatest test to her willpower.
It had been just over two weeks since she’d seen Tristan, and she felt as though she
was fading inside. The bit of light he had ignited, the spark of hope that had emanated
from her very soul, was all but extinguished. She could never go back to the time
before he’d come along because now she knew he was out there, calling to her.
She hated rejection. To kill the hurt, she found a man to fuck her senseless. When
that didn’t work, she got so high she couldn’t remember who she was or why she hurt.
When that had worn off, she felt even worse. She snuck through the nighttime streets,
searching out white walls to deface. When she found them, she’d get her piece thrown
up and find somewhere to sit and inspect it. Perfectly formed letters filled with
blues and oranges made words that defined her.
Alone. Want. Need.
Though they looked like single-word declarations to everyone else, they were so much
Josie spent the rest of her time pacing the floors of her apartment. Like a caged
animal, she wanted to beat and scratch at the walls that held her captive. Though
her confinement was self-imposed, she knew that venturing out again would be too tempting.
She missed the nights spent in the Darkroom, nights when drunken strangers and a familiar
staff left her feeling like she wasn’t so alone.
In her earliest memories, Josie could recall what it felt like to be frightened by
the unknown. Because of her amnesia, everyone had been a stranger. She remembered
the police telling her that her father was dead. She remembered feeling crushed by
the news, not because of his death but because she could not recall his face or voice.
They had given her no information about her mother or any other family, just a vague
report of who she was and where she was going. She felt cheated that she wasn’t allowed
to retrieve any personal items from their apartment, all of it becoming state’s evidence.
With no mementos of her former life, Josie had been left to fly blind.
That seemed like three lifetimes ago. Josie felt old and weathered now, a seasoned
vet to the ways of the world. She was not the naïve little girl they found in the
subway. She was wary and untrusting of people’s intentions. Her emotions were severed
from her heart, leaving only her jaded mind to make decisions.
The past sixteen days had proved her to be a coward. Josie could not openly admit
that she needed anyone or anything. Her usual drugs seemed to leave her in more pain.
She’d thrown out the rest, only to buy more pills the next day. She didn’t even take
them. They sat untouched in the plastic bag tucked into a kitchen drawer intended
for utensils. Knowing they were there was enough to get her through.
She didn’t understand why she felt defenseless in Tristan’s presence, the way his
touch set her on fire, or how Earth seemed to tilt on its axis just to bring them
together. She felt weakened by the unfamiliar heartache of wanting him. Lying on her
floor, Josie pressed her cheek against the wood planks as her hand sketched mindlessly.
She didn’t know what time it was or what day it was, only that she’d seen too many
sunsets since she’d last seen his face.
She closed her eyes and imagined running her fingernails along his scalp, through
that short bit of hair. Josie just knew it would feel like the soft fuzz of a velvet
toy against her fingers. Mentally, she traced every permanent line of ink on his skin,
memorizing the curve of each design and the meaning behind it. She envisioned flattening
her tongue and sliding it over the scruff of his jaw, eventually biting down for a
better taste. Even more curious, she imagined herself wrapped in his arms with no
sexual connotations, while he whispered secrets of their past against her skin.
Frustrated, Josie pulled herself from the floor and plodded to the bathroom. She showered
and dressed and awaited Alex’s arrival. As she sat and stared at the blank paper,
her leg bounced nervously. She glanced at the kitchen drawer holding her escape and
back to her sketchpad. She decided she would power through this on her own.
She almost ignored the pounding at the door, delighted at the idea of messing with
Alex. When the sound shot through her apartment again, she decided that she’d better
put him out of his misery before he destroyed the door completely. Josie unlocked
and opened the door, only to find Tristan standing there, fist poised to knock again.
She whimpered, her pencil clattering to the floor. Relief flooded her body along with
an inclination to attach herself to him and never let go.
“Josie, please,” he whispered, his voice scratchy and thick.
He wasn’t sure what he was begging for. He only knew that whatever it was lay within
her. Nodding, she took his hand and pulled him inside, closing the door behind them.
Silently, reverently, she sat him down on her sofa and crawled into his lap. Tristan’s
arms embraced her and crushed her to his body, molding them into one form. Her head
lay tucked on his shoulder. She’d never felt so safe.
In the quiet space of the apartment, Tristan simply held Josie. He surrounded her
with himself, creating a shield between the evil outside world and the beautiful wounded
girl. He concentrated on the bare skin of her arms beneath his fingertips, inhaling
deeply just to breathe her in. This moment, imagined so many times, had been lacking
in power compared to reality. Without even trying, without any conditions, this girl
Just after midnight, Alex found the couple curled into each other in the corner of
Josie’s couch. Even as they slept, their possessive fingers dug into the other’s flesh.
He’d been angry when he found her door unlocked again and was about to scold her as
if she were a forgetful child, but when he spotted the sight before him, he understood.
Alex had never seen Josie so peaceful, so free from the darkness that permanently
loomed over her. Even without an introduction, he recognized Tristan. He knew no one
else could invade Josie’s space like that. He left the pizza box on her table and
locked the door behind him.
As he kicked Mrs. Thompson’s brainless cat from his door, he couldn’t help but feel
a tinge of sadness. With Tristan around, he feared that Josie wouldn’t need him anymore.
He had served his purpose and he’d be dismissed like one of her crumpled drawings.
Perhaps, one day, someone would unfold him, smooth out his wrinkles, and hang him