Six months later.
The Metrolux Hotel,
Del Sol Valley
The young cop arrived on scene, there was already a bunch of onlookers collecting outside the door to the hotel room he had been called to.
Assertively, he made his way through, telling them to leave.
When he got inside, he closed the door behind himself and found a shaken up woman, facing the window, her back to him, crying.
“Ma’am, are you all right? Are you hurt? Do you require medical assistance?” he asked formally.
She stopped sobbing, swallowed hard, straightened up to compose herself while nodding, then turned to him. Both froze, staring at one another.
“Eric?” he breathed.
“Charlotte?” his own voice sounded odd to him.
They just stood there, staring in disbelief. She looked – different.
Before they could fully shake off the shock, another man spoke up, coming from the bathroom and now making his way over to Charlotte.
“Ah, finally the police showed up! I called nearly half an hour ago. Did it take you longer at the donut shop?! Had this been a true emergency, we would all be dead. Good to know that our taxpayer money is wasted like this! I will have a talk with my father about this so he can make sure the Chief of Police is aware. The burglar was still present when my fiancée arrived and scared her half to death, didn’t he, my love?”
The last part was directed at Charlotte and a full hit to the face with a baseball bat could not have hit Eric harder, it took all he had to remain as unaffected as possible, at least visually.
‘What did you expect, you idiot?’ he yelled at himself in his mind.
“Miss Seymour, I would need to take down all the details you can remember, please. Can you describe the perpetrator?” Eric ignored the fiancé and turned to Charlotte.
Charlotte opened her mouth to reply, but her fiancé answered in her stead.
“Of course she remembers! Tell him, darling.” the fiancé ordered, making it exceedingly hard for Eric to keep his composure. How dare this man?!
Nearly whipping his notepad and pen from his pocket Eric took down notes with near routine of what she remembered, while his mind was everywhere but here.
“I would like it if you could come down to the station to sign the report, maybe tomorrow morning, if that is possible. If you think of anything else or have any questions, feel free to contact me anytime. Here is my card.” he finally said as firm and unaffected as he could.
Eric handed his business card to Charlotte, but her fiancé took it. Eric was fuming inside, but just nodded a greeting at her fiancé, then left.
The evening of the next day, after seeing her again – with that damned aggravating fiancé – at the station to sign the report, Eric arrived home with his mind a rollercoaster.
He told Ewan and Hannah he was tired and went straight to his room.
A few hours later, it was already dark, someone was knocking on his door, had to be Ewan since Hannah would be at work by now. Cassandra was still living there, but she wasn’t Eric’s biggest fan and would never interact with him unless she absolutely had to.
Eric feigned being asleep, but heard the door open and close, someone was in his room.
“What do you want?!” Eric asked unhappy about the intrusion.
He shot straight up and stared at the visitor as if it was a mirage.
“Ewan let me in. Hope this was okay?”
“Yeah, of course! Want something to drink?” Eric didn’t know what else to say, so he went with the first logical sounding thing that came to mind.
She shook her head, looking at him in a strange way, when he realized he was shirtless.
“Oh crap! Sorry!” he fished for his shirt pulling it over his head quickly, then got up to face her. He felt embarrassed. She didn’t need to see THAT.
Charlotte didn’t say anything, Eric didn’t either, feeling nervous. For an unknown length of time both just looked at each other, before she took his hand leading him back to his bed, where they sat next to each other.
“I had no choice. My father pressured me to get engaged, over and over. I was waiting, hoping that … something would happen, but it didn’t and I gave up and gave in.” her voice sounded apologetic.
“You don’t owe me an explanation.”
“But I wanted you to know. I don’t love him. He is an excellent match, according to my father. He wants us married within the year.”
“Yeah, sounds dreamy, the stuff romance novels are made of.”
“I have nowhere else to go. If I don’t, they’d cut me off, kick me out and I don’t have any friends that would help me. Save you, Ewan and Hannah, everyone I know that is around our age are fake kids of fake people who are alliances of my parents. My mother is a senator, you know, and my father a presiding judge, both very influential people. No one would do anything to help me if I stood up to them. I am stuck, Eric.”
“Sorry to hear that. I wish I knew what to tell you …” Eric couldn’t stay seated anymore, he felt like ants were crawling around in his veins.
“Say I can stay for an hour, maybe two, and that we talk. Like we used to. Tell me what’s new. I tried calling you a few times but your number no longer works.”
“Yeah, few weeks after you – left – someone got a hold of Ewan’s phone. We all had to change our numbers.”
“Dad took my old phone from me. I had your old number memorized. I’ll give you my new one. Just in case … you know?”
“Yeah, just in case.”
“I missed you more than I can say, Eric.”
“I missed you like crazy too, Charlee.”
“Finally you called me Charlee again! You and your friends were always the only ones who did. I always liked it. By the way, I like your uniform too. So you are a cop now, your old dream and you finally get to live it. Proud of you. And that uniform really makes you look very handsome.” she winked and giggled a little.
Eric blushed a little, then just hugged her. They usually had not. Because of him. Now he kicked himself for all the wasted opportunities.
And for all this being his fault. Had he told her what she needed to hear before her father took her … if only.
“Any special lady in your life?” Charlotte asked.
‘Yeah, standing right in front of me now, but could not be further from my reach!’ Eric thought but out aloud he said
“Look at me, Charlee. I mean … who would want to wake up to this more than once in a nightmare? I know I wouldn’t. I just have no choice.”
“You exaggerate. It really isn’t remotely as bad as you seem to think. I have an idea. Take off your shirt.”
“Take off the shirt. Come on, Eric. You trust me, don’t you?”
“Charlee, my back is even worse than the front, if that is even still possible.”
“Please. For me?”
She gave him a certain look and he shook his head, but obliged.
“Turn around. Sit!” she pulled a bar stool into the middle of the room and gently guided Eric onto it.
Her voice was gentle, quiet, he could feel her close, winced when she gently touched his back, running her hands over it, over the intact skin as well as his scars ever so slightly, like butterfly wings.
It was the most sensual thing he had ever experienced and it didn’t leave him unaffected. He was embarrassed, but couldn’t move. He watched her rummage through his painting supplies, then she told him to lean forward.
“What are you doing?”
“Trust me, Eric. Please.”
What followed was the next most sensual thing he had ever felt. The sensation of paint brushes on his back, the wetness and coolness of paint, Charlee’s fingers, her breath, … He closed his eyes and hoped his would never end.
Her touch, feeling the warmth of her body, feeling HER so close.
She was painting away, Eric barely acknowledged that fact, all he cared about was all the positive and amazing sensations he felt.
But it did end.
She stopped, measured him up, let out a light moan of contentment.
“Perfect!” she said, her voice low.
She asked him to stand up, smiled at him, Eric couldn’t help but run his fingers across her cheek while she still stood there smiling up at him like he was just a regular man, not a cripple.
“Come …” she put her hand on his waist and lead him to his full length mirror.
What he saw was his back, transformed into a piece of art. A phoenix battling a dragon. He smiled at the view. Ever since the accident he had avoided looking at his reflection like the plague, let alone ever smiled about it.
“The Phoenix, risen from the ashes to fight the dragon.” Charlotte explained.
“It’s you, Eric.”
“No, this is truly beautiful. A true work of art. I can’t believe I am saying this, but can you take a picture of it and send it to me?”
She pulled out her phone and snapped a photo, showed him.
“Wow.” he said.
“That’s what I have been saying. Art is always in the eye of the beholder. I behold the beauty of the artistry that is you.”
Their eyes met hers, he turned towards her – and they kissed.
Eric didn’t care in the slightest about morals and fiancés. He would take whatever she was willing to give. And she gave him all.
He didn’t think about anything, just went with the flow, let his passion take over and Charlotte was like water, fluid and without resistance. Her kisses were heated, gentle but demanding, longing.
They went slow, savoring every second, every sensation, every move.
Afterwards Eric felt freed of old shackles and light as air, while also too heavy to get up ever again.
He placed his head in her lap, and she gently pet his hair, a simple gesture that gave him strength, confidence, hope.
“Are you tired?” she asked quietly.
“Yes. No. I don’t know, but I don’t want to miss a single second. I don’t want to wake up and this was just a dream.”
“Rest. Just close your eyes. It is a dream, but a wonderfully real one.”
“Maybe rest my eyes for a second …”
“Of course ..” Charlee giggled, then began to quietly sing a popular nursery rhyme.
It took but seconds and Eric was out cold. In her lap. With her hand still running through his hair.
“I love you Eric. Always have, always will. If only the circumstance were a little more in our favor.”
She woke him about an hour later, carefully, with kisses, but told him she had stayed way too long, and knew there would be hell to pay, trying to explain this to her fiancé and father but she cared as little as Eric.
When he was alone again he realized what he had tried so hard to suppress for so long:
He was in love.
Madly, deeply and wholly.