Flash of Death
The flash lit up the sky, blinding CL’s eyes. The stream barreled toward the ground, fingering off in different directions until it dissipated into the darkening night. Rain clouds loomed overhead, dark and dirty, threatening to come even closer to the little haven below on the ground. Trees grew tall, protecting the tiny house as it stood in silent reverence. CL swallowed and licked her lips, waiting for the taste of rain on her tongue.
It wouldn’t be much longer.
Taking in a deep breath and filling her lungs with the rich scent of damp greenery, she stayed still. This time her eyes were closed when the lightning struck down from the world above, lashing out its anger against the defense of stoicism. CL didn’t move. The hairs in her nose burned as ozone washed over to where she stood; her eyes watered from the sting in the musky air.
God tried to tear open the sky, using both hands to rip it in half, scrambling to get a tight grip to shred the world. The sound was intoxicating. Cracks and pops resounded throughout the small forest just on the edge of the clearing, echoing as even more bounced through the clouds. Quickly it turned into deep rolling waves as energy disappeared just as fast as it came. She only had a few seconds left.
The wind shifted and the air chilled as she waited with her chin upturned to the roiling heaven above. She lived for days like these. With arms wrapped around her chest, she shivered, still keeping her stance in the center of her yard as the floodgates eased open. Her white, gauzy summer dress wrapped tightly around her ankles, tangling as sheets of water started to fall, one after the other until they reached her toes. That was when she turned. Sliding her bare heel into the dirt, CL booked it for her deck, the rain already catching up with her.
“You shouldn’t stay out there.”
She gasped and stopped on the last step of her stairs, the rain still beating down on her head. Pressing a hand over her racing heart, she looked up into the greenest eyes she had ever seen. Her chest rose and fell unevenly as the man stood between her and her door. She blinked back the water from her eyes as it trailed down her face and through her hair. CL grasped for words as she memorized what he looked like.
“It’s raining” was all she managed to make out, her voice weak and covered by the rolling thunder.
“It is,” he said, smiling sweetly. He reached out, his hand ghosting along the skin of her cheek.
CL closed her eyes, imagining the feel of him against her skin. There was nothing there. He didn’t touch; he didn’t caress. When she looked up again, he was gone. CL licked her lips and stepped onto her front porch, finally out of the rain. Staring out at the green paradise beyond the cover of the deck roof, she let her shoulders relax and her body ease out of its tension.
Lightning cracked and speared into the earth twenty feet from her front door. She jumped and curled her toes as the grass charred. For the last two nights, he had shown up just as unexpected, standing between her and her door as she wandered toward the house as each storm came in. Each time, when she had finally reached the stairs, he faded into the darkness as if he had never existed. CL closed her eyes and let out a slow breath, remembering the tone of his voice as he spoke for the first time.
She pictured him as perfectly as if he was in front of her. Tall and lean body, poised and balanced as he watched her; light-brown hair cropped short, feathering down the sides of his head, not rustling in the rush of the wind as it moved through the clearing; and those green eyes that made her heartbeat jump into her throat.
The first time she had stayed in the clearing, letting the rain fall over her, debating whether or not to confront the stranger. She blinked once, and he was gone. The second time, after a second’s hesitation, she ran for the porch, wanting to find out exactly who he was. This time she was taken by complete surprise. Another flash of lightning stole her out of her reverie, and she headed inside to dry off.
Spinning the wet strands of her hair with both hands, she wrung it out onto the entryway mat. The cold hardwood floor under her bare feet gave no quarter as she walked to her bedroom at the back of the tiny cottage-house. She flipped the light on and jumped a foot in the air as lightning struck and the light blazed at the same time, filling the room and blinding her momentarily. The storm was far too close for her comfort—it was right on top of her.
CL slipped into her flannel polar-bear pajama bottoms and a snug white shirt before heading into her kitchen to boil water for tea. The pot clattered in the sink as a shot of thunder ripped through the sky. With shaking hands, she finished filling the iron pot and set it on the gas stove to heat.
“Really going to have to get used to that,” she mumbled and stared out the window while leaning over her kitchen sink. Three days of storms and each was just as nasty as the previous one, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that it wouldn’t stop for another few days at least.
Growing up in the house should have been enough for her not to be afraid. She’d been living on her own for the better part of six years after her parents had died—so, why couldn’t she just calm down? Never did she remember storms like this, lasting for as long as they were. Certainly, there were ones nearly as bad but never for days on end. The water boiled, bubbling up. Hissing, she turned the heat off and went back to the window, letting it cool for a few seconds.
He was drenched.
She clenched her jaw as she looked once more into those green eyes. CL didn’t move this time. Determined to not lose sight of him again, she planted her feet on the tile and watched as he stared back at her through the glass of her kitchen window. The wind didn’t touch his hair and the rain didn’t touch his skin as he took two deep breaths before stepping through the window and counter, coming toward her.
CL stumbled back, grasping the edge of the stove to hold herself up as he kept coming closer. Her finger slid along the edge of the pot and the metal burner, searing her flesh. Crying out, CL ripped her hand away and grasped it. With wide eyes, she watched as he took three more steps, his hand ghosting along her clenched fists. The burning pain cooled and receded as he continued to brush his fingers millimeters above her hand.
Calming incrementally until he stopped and looked at her, CL felt the rush of panic build back into her chest. She took another step back and bumped into the counter, causing the drawer to slam with a loud crack. Lightning lit up the room, and she pointed a finger at him, telling him to stay put without words.
“Who the hell are you?” she asked.
“Shea,” he replied.
She waited for the words of comfort, for the words meaning he would do her no harm, but they never came. Fear gripped her heart, twisting and clenching tightly until she could barely breathe. She started to hyperventilate as she bent over to hold her weakening body up.
He staggered forward, and she cringed, wincing and moving to be as flush to the counter as possible. “Don’t,” she managed to get out. “Just…give me a second.”
Shea didn’t listen. He stepped into her personal space, putting two fingers under her chin. Even though he wasn’t touching her, CL lifted her face and straightened her body to meet him. Slower deep breaths echoed in her lungs as her eyes locked on those jade-green orbs in front of her.
She heard his clothes rustle as he moved forward, his face coming toward hers. Lightning and thunder boomed throughout the house. Her voice locked in her throat, her lips parted in anticipation, and she held still as his lips connected with hers. They were warm. She gasped and reached up to wrap a hand around his neck, pressing him closer as heat flooded her body. CL relaxed into the embrace, closing her eyes as they touched.
They broke apart after time seemed to stop, and CL looked around, taking in her surroundings. She wasn’t in her house anymore. Shea stood before her in a gray, fuzzy and muted area. There were no walls that she could see—no floor and no ceiling as she stepped away from him to increase her awareness. The gray was close enough that she thought she could reach out and touch it, but as soon as she reached her hand forward, all she felt was air.
Thunder roared around the room, but it sounded off, like someone had stuffed earplugs in her ears. She spun back around to Shea when she realized that the thunder didn’t echo. Light filled the room for a momentary blast before receding back into the grayness.
“Where are we?”
“In the in between,” he answered, not moving from where he was rooted. More lightning came and went; thunder resounded before disappearing into the ether. “This is where we collide.”
She furrowed her brow and gave him an odd look, eyes narrowing and bottom lip pulled between her teeth. “Where we collide?” she repeated as a question.
Shea simply nodded.
“What does that even mean?”
CL’s fingers clenched tightly into a fist while she waited for an explanation. Not only did she want answers from him, she wanted answers for herself—she wasn’t freaking out, she wasn’t panicking, she wasn’t itching to go back. Instead, peace slipped into her shoulders, relaxing her muscles, settling in her stomach and blooming in her chest. Something was exactly right about the place that should have been so wrong.
“My place and your place.” He walked over to her and ran a gentle hand down her arm. “I can touch you here.”
“I can see that.” She shuddered, thinking about how his touch felt. “Why are we here?”
He cocked his head to the side as light filled the room quickly. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“Why not stay at my house?” CL bit her lip, butterflies in her stomach as he slipped in closer to her.
Shea’s breath mingled with her own, his neck bent so his lips brushed across hers when he answered. “I wanted to touch you.”
CL nodded, not daring herself to move. She liked the tension and wanted it to last. Everything about the situation was so wrong, but she felt everything to do with him was absolutely right. “I’ve lived alone for years.”
“I know,” he whispered and curled his fingers into her hair, taking the ends and rubbing them between his fingers.
She looked up at him again. “How do you know?”
“I can watch you when there are storms.” He ran a finger across her lips and settled his forehead against hers. “Only when there are storms. I watched you grow up.”
“Why haven’t I seen you before?”
She wanted to wrap her arms around his waist, wanted to pull him tight against her, but she didn’t. She restrained herself, not moving when he tensed. He didn’t answer for a few seconds, and the muffled sound of thunder filled the gray air. He took a deep breath and walked away from her: his jeans were snug over his hips as he moved and his dark shirt tight against his chest.
“Wait… I have seen you.”
Nodding, his head bobbed up and down. “I was there the night that they died.”
“You were in my dreams.”
“They weren’t dreams,” he said through clenched teeth, spinning around in his dirty old sneakers to face her. “They weren’t dreams,” he repeated, far calmer than the first time he had uttered them.
“Oh.” CL gnawed on her lip again, debating what to say. “Why?”
His head snapped back as he stared at her; his eyebrow rose up in a questioning gaze as he let out a long breath. CL could see exasperation written all over him, but there was nothing she could do about it. She wanted answers to all the questions she had.
“You were alone,” he said simply.
Licking her lips, CL curled her toes against the gray floor, feeling nothing under her feet when the pressure on her bones and muscles should have increased. She looked down, and her jaw dropped. The floor was the exact same as the walls. A soft gray that faded and came at her—nothing tangible. She started to panic. Her heart bounced in her chest uncontrollably, and air rushed in and out of her lungs in no perceivable pattern. Her arms flung out around her body; she was falling. The ground had left her, and her body raised into the nothingness of gray before plummeting down and down and down to no foreseeable end.
His hands on her cheeks brought her back. Her eyes locked on his jade-green ones, and she focused as much as she could on him. Once the gray room was back in order, as much as it could be, she nodded and reached up to cup his warm fingers.
“I was alone.”
He nodded once in response to her statement.
“I was alone then, and I was alone tonight.”
“Yes,” he answered.
CL nodded and slowly turned out of his grasp. She held her breath before taking another step, releasing it when she didn’t fall to the unknown below. She didn’t want to look at him when she asked; she didn’t want to know if he was lying about anything. “So, why now? I’ve been alone for years since my parents died.”
“The perfect storm?” She let out a wry chuckle and rolled her eyes. “You could only come because of the storm. So what happens when the storm ends?”
“We are stuck.”
“What?” She spun to face him. “What do you mean stuck? I can’t be stuck here!”
Shea put his hands out with palms up. “When the storm ends, there is nothing left of here. I suspect there is more beyond, but this place ceases to exist.”
CL wrapped her arms around her middle and tried to tamp down her nerves. “How do I get back?”
He reached forward and tapped one long finger against her temple.
Nodding, CL leaned in closer to him, smelling the dirt and musk coming off his clothes. She hadn’t been able to smell him before—not when they were outside in the rain and not when they were in her kitchen. She started for a moment before remembering that she had turned the stove off. Sliding her hands against his waist, she went to move in but stopped, another question on the tip of her tongue. “Does time in here matter out there?”
Shea shook his head and pulled her in close so that their bodies rubbed against each other. She liked being this close to him. The ghosting feel of his fingers against her cheek and his lips on hers at her house was a distant memory when he actually touched her in their gray-ether. CL couldn’t figure out why she was so drawn to him, but everything about him called to her. Reaching up, she ran a finger over his lips before pressing her palm into his chest. He bent his head and touched his lips to hers. She sighed into the contact but slipped away before it could go much further. No matter how drawn she was to him—she didn’t know him.
“Where are you from?”
“The question should be when, I think.”
She shook her head but held out a hand, waiting for him to respond. Her mind worked over his statement—if the storm could make him transcend space and time, then where would she come out when she wanted to go back? Would she even successfully get back to where she had started? Realizing that Shea hadn’t answered her, she verbalized the question. “When are you from?”
“The year just before the millennium.”
“That’s fifteen years ago.”
He nodded in answer and started to pace the gray room. She watched curiously as the walls moved around him, allowing more room for him to walk back and forth. Nothing was stationary in the gray-ether. “Fifteen years for you, and a second for me.”
He stopped and looked at her with wide eyes. Reaching up, he ran his fingers through his brown hair, leaving tousled tufts in his wake. Shea started to shake. His body jolted with the force as he fell down to his knees, hands clasping his neck as sobs tore from his body. CL stood back in shock, watching the scene unfold. She wanted to run over and wrap her arms around his body, hug him until he halted, but she feared her comfort would be rejected.
Screams echoed through her ears, mingling with the thunder as the storm’s sounds passed. With her heart in her throat, CL moved closer and touched the crown of his head. Shea rocked his body into her legs, leaning all his weight against her as the tears subsided. She calmed just as he did, but CL was left with the sharp moment when he changed and became wracked with pain. Once he was completely done with the tears, she bent down and sat next to him, one leg propped up behind his back and the other curled under her body. Shea would not let go of her the entire time she moved.
She smoothed down his hair and pressed a few kisses to his forehead and temple, hoping that her actions would ease him rather than create another disturbance. He turned his head and kissed her lips—finally, CL felt that he was back to himself. “What was that about?”
“I died.” He shrugged and rested his head on her chest.
“Were you remembering it?”
He nodded and said nothing else. Her own death seemed so imminent in their gray-ether, like if she stayed just one second too long or lost any sense of who she was that she would die and never be seen again. Who would miss her? She shook the thought from her head and focused on the man in her arms. He may have started to act normally again, but he was still wrapped around her with no intention of letting her go.
She wasn’t expecting it when he turned on her. His green eyes darkened and widened as he crawled over her, pushing her down into the fake expanse of gray. Her chest rose and fell rapidly, the heat from his body pressing into and warming hers. She licked her dry lips and swallowed, trying to wet her suddenly parched throat. Everything about the moment was wrong.
“I need to know,” he whispered, his lips brushing against the lobe of her ear as they moved. They were so soft.
CL closed her eyes and took a deep breath, carefully forming the words. “Need to know what?”
“That I’m alive.” His hips eased down onto hers until the pressure was sharp enough that it was uncomfortable for her.
“You just said—”
“I’m dead.” He nodded in agreement. “But here…here is not there.”
“What do you mean?” She ran a hand over his back, feeling his muscles tighten and relax under her touch. She continued the motion, making small circles against his shirt and skin.
“Here we are alive. Out there we are dead.”
“I’m not dead out there,” she stubbornly replied, pushing her head back so she could fully look at him. He gave her a quick smile, his lips turning up in one corner before he leaned down and covered her mouth with his.
Parting her lips in a gasp, CL shivered when his tongue reached across her lips, tracing them before sliding in between them. Her nails clenched into his sides, digging into the skin through his thin shirt. Her heart pounded against her ribs, no doubt beating against his chest as he lay fully on top of her.
She kissed him back, tentatively at first, but then with the full force of what she felt. Everything in her mind swirled in circles as he ran fingers down her sides and cupped her breasts through the material of her tank. Her legs became overheated, sweating in the flannel. Light entered the room for a moment, and she closed her eyes, white sparks starting to erupt behind her lids as Shea licked and kissed his way down her neck. CL shuddered in anticipation.
Ever since she had seen him, all those years ago during the storm that had killed her parents and more recently during the storms invading her little clearing, she had wanted him. Exactly as he was—on top and in control. She let out a short breath and slid her fingers through his hair never feeling more alive than she was in that moment. Her back arched from the gray-matter of the floor, the pressures along her spine moving to accommodate her new position. Shea growled low in the back of his throat as he reached the tops of her breasts with his mouth.
Her eyes fluttered open when he took her nipple between his teeth and bit down. Pain seared through her chest and into her stomach before he let go with a wide smirk on his face. She shook her head and gently caressed the side of his face, feeling the stubble along his chin for the first time. “Not much harder than that, all right?”
“Okay,” he said, punctuating the two syllables. He didn’t wait two seconds before shoving her shirt up and over her belly. The air that hit CL was warmer than it was when they stood talking; it felt damp with humidity, not moving with any wind or breeze as it had before. Lightning coursed through the gray-ether, this time close enough that she could see the fingers and lines as they splintered off in many directions before coming back up from wherever it had disappeared to.
“Shea?” She hummed as she said his name.
He kissed around her navel, pressing his lips in a complete circle around her skin before answering. “Yeah?”
“Why is the storm…?”
“It’s finishing for today,” he mumbled back before working the shirt over her pert breasts.
She gasped when the air hit her. Warmth and heat surrounded her body, growing with each passing second to the point where she thought she wouldn’t be able to get away from it or ever cool down. Combing down his hair, she writhed under him, his lips already covering her right breast. His fingers lifted to tweak her left nipple, pulling and tugging at the skin while his tongue laved circles around the other. Too many sensations crowded her mind: the weight of his body and bulge of his erection pressing into her hip as he shifted, the side of his tongue, rough taste buds on the sensitive skin of her breasts, and the tight pulling of his thumb and forefinger on her other. She keened and bucked her hips.
His name was only a whisper from her lips as the quiet sounds of thunder rolled through their gray-ether and away. The vibrations rumbled in her chest from the sound before it was his chuckle replacing the thunderclap.
“I couldn’t resist, Carol Lee.”
CL’s eyes snapped open at her proper name, and she pulled his face up to hers. Breathing hard, she stared at him, eyes narrowed and lips pursed as she tried to figure out just how he knew. He seemed to know a lot more than she did. Her thoughts started to rush away when he cupped her right breast with his hand, kneading the flesh. A soft moan escaped her lips as her head tilted back—she knew in that moment the storm was ending, at least to the point where she would have to make a decision.
Shea tugged her tank over her body again, kissing her lips on occasion. Her muscles were utterly relaxed as he tugged her to stand. She blinked back tears, knowing that he would be leaving. CL shook her head, not sure of where the tears came from—she had only just met him after all. Wrapping her arms around her chest, she stepped away, giving herself space.
“We have to go back,” she said, certain that it was truth.
Shea didn’t answer her; instead, he curved two fingers along her cheek and jaw, lifting her chin to press his lips delicately to hers. Her eyes closed as the feel of him against her body took over any and all sensations she had. She moaned and listed forward, opening her eyes when her body started to fall. She reached her hands out, flinging them around to try and grab on to something.
CL grunted when her shoulder hit the wood floor of her house, causing shockwaves to ricochet through her body down to her toes. She let out a breath, steadying herself before she even considered getting up from the ground. Rolling onto her back, CL stared at her lilac-painted ceiling, letting the events of whatever it was she had just experienced roll over her.
She took deep breaths and looked around the house, not seeing much as it was pitch black save for the slight change when lightning far off from her clearing lit up the sky. It echoed, beckoning her back into the gray in between that Shea had taken her to. She licked her lips and pushed up from the floor, the boards squeaking under her weight. Once firmly on her feet, CL stepped to her front door. Rather than turn the lights on, she went outside, deciding to watch the rest of the storm from her damp porch swing.
The finished wood was wet with beads of water when she sat down; her flannel pajama bottoms absorbed the water and dampened her legs, but she ignored it. The swing moved in the sway of the breeze as she wrapped her arms around her middle, tucked her feet under her body and let the momentum lull her. Lightning struck some far off place, so distant that it seemed no bigger than a thin needle moving through the fabric of the sky, looping in and out as the seams were sown back together from where God had ripped it apart earlier.
Thunder barely rang through the night, sounding too far away to echo through the trees and fields back to her lonely cottage in the middle of the clearing. She let out a breath and tightened her grip on her arms. She had missed her favorite part of the storm, spending it in a muted room in the in between of her world and a ghost’s.
CL closed her eyes. A ghost. That’s what Shea had to be. If he had died fifteen years before, there was no doubt that’s what he was and nothing more. A ghost bent on her not being alone. She smiled to herself and looked out at the wide dark yonder. It could be worse. He could be a ghost bent on killing her; instead, he seemed to want to love her.
A soft smile tugged at her lips—one that had been completely missing in action since the death of her parents. CL shivered as cold fingers of the after-storm breeze glided over her flesh, loving her skin in every way that she wanted Shea to. Panic gripped her heart. What if she didn’t see him again? What if this was the last time? She pushed up off the bench and started to pace along her porch, her toes touching on the water where it pooled in the dips of worn and rotting wood.
Salty demons scaled down her cheeks onto her tank as she shook her head, trying to rid herself of their possession. She didn’t want to cry. CL slapped her hands to her cheeks and pushed the teardrops away, hiding from the pain she felt. He had gone from sweet and loving to torn and broken to hot and sexy in the matter of seconds.
She stopped walking.
Perhaps he wasn’t the kind of person she wanted to be attached to. Was he even a person? She shook the thought from her head, not wanting to have an internal debate over the understanding of who was or could be considered a person. He had feelings and emotions just like she did, which meant he was enough like her that it didn’t matter. Who was she to decide that reliving a memory of her own death wouldn’t put her in the same state that it had put him?
CL let out a whoosh of air. She turned on the spot, finding her bench, and plopped down into it. His death must have been painful and tragic for him to respond like that. She reached up, feeling the soft skin of her neck, the surrounding air biting her with cold. She really should go inside. Giving one last longing look out to the storm that had passed by without her presence, she slipped inside the house and flipped the lights on.
The whip lashed out and cracked, piggybacking on the light as it filled the house. The walls started to shake before the windows, the sound getting louder and louder, roiling and disappearing. CL bolted straight up on the couch, a hand over her heart and her eyes wide before the thunder completely disappeared. Before she could catch her breath and her bearings another strike lashed through the sky and struck down in the little field outside her house.
She gripped her covers tightly and rolled onto her side to watch the storm through the window. A few deep breaths later, she realized that her heart wasn’t pounding in her chest. Panic started to seep into her bones as she fought the blanket to sit back up and press her hand to her chest. Her fingers were pale and her head dizzy, spinning out of control as she strained to find her heartbeat.
Digging her nails into her skin, she clawed at her heart, desperately trying to feel the sweet pump of it inside her body. But there was nothing. CL let out a whimper in the back of her throat, pushing up from the couch and barreling toward the window. Lightning burst through the sky and down onto the ground just at the base of her front steps. She closed her eyes and curled her toes as the smell of ozone filled her nostrils and the rumbling of the thunder cascaded through her body.
She took in a short breath, letting the burst of air fill her lungs before she let it out. Beginning to hyperventilate, CL opened her eyes just as another lightning strike whipped out and landed right next to where the last one had, scorching the green grass and earth as it touched down. Before the thunder could start, he stood there.
CL clenched her jaw and ground her molars together as she stared at him, narrowing her eyes into a glare. Her body burned with the memory of his touch as his cold eyes looked at her through the window. She shivered in anticipation, not knowing if it was for the feel of his hands on her again or for the anger rampaging through her system.
She waited two more seconds before stepping away from the cold windowpane and toward the door. He was about to get a piece of her mind. CL licked her lips and clenched her fists tightly, the skin of her palms protesting the feel of her nails digging in and breaking the skin. When she lifted her hand back up and looked at it, ready to see blood pooling through the cracks in her palm prints, there was nothing. The broken flesh knitted itself back together, and she was left with only the feeling of a slight tingle.
Shaking her head, she filed the healing into the back of her mind and wrenched open her front door ready for battle. Shea stood exactly where the two lightning bolts touched, each of his dirty old sneakers on the two scorch marks upon the earth, steadying him and rooting him to the spot.
“What the hell did you do to me?” she shouted out the door, not walking over the threshold.
He stared at her hard, the rain not dripping down his body as he stood still in the onslaught. CL gave in and stepped onto her porch, shoving her arms under her armpits to warm her body as she walked farther into the sheets of rain falling around her. She made it down two steps, the rain not soaking through her hair and clothes. Shea looked up at her, standing one step above him, desperation and tears in his eyes.
Instead of asking anything, she closed her eyes and leaned down and pressed her lips to his, not touching him anymore than with her mouth to his. Shea breathed heavily, his chest rising and falling with each intake and exhale of breath that he didn’t even need. CL parted her lips and dashed her tongue out to taste the salt filled drops on his lips. She moaned.
Listing into him, CL caressed his cheeks with both of her hands and held on tight, slipping her finger down to his neck and playing with the short hairs at his nape. It was the first time she realized that he had no heartbeat. She squeaked when his fingers moved up against her back and dragged her closer, holding her tightly as three bolts of lightning descended down around them and set off sparks wherever they landed.
With her eyes shut tight, she missed where they touched, but the smell was intoxicating. The smell of ozone, harsh and burning, was such a contrast to the scent Shea gave off of just after the rain, when everything smelled green and ripe with life. She bit his lip and pulled back, leaning her forehead against his to ease her breathing.
“Why?” she whispered.
Shea shook his head and lifted her up until he held her entirely. He took three steps backward before spinning and putting her onto the ground. “I didn’t do anything.”
CL drew in a sharp breath and opened her eyes as more lightning began around them, the storm that night far worse than the last. Once again, they were in their gray in between, his arms warm and cozy around her as the lightning and thunder became muted to their eyes and ears, each passing second moving further and further away from wherever they were. The ether had that effect.
She spun around to face him, stumbling back a few steps when the tears streaming down his face were left untouched. She shook her head, reached for anything to lean on and found nothing. Her bottom hit the ground, the floor moving to make her comfortable, the small gray dots flittering around her as she dropped her head into her hands. “What happened?”
“You died,” he answered.
Sobs broke free from CL’s chest, and she started to shake as they took over her tiny form. She wanted nothing to do with the world she was stuck in. She was nothing better than a ghost who haunted her house and the ether with nothing better to do than cry in the arms of a stranger.
She sat there for some time before Shea shuffled forward closer to her. CL looked up at him and brushed the tears from her eyes, wincing at the way they stung from crying. Her throat was dry and parched, but she didn’t even think she could drink anymore, not to mention she had no idea where to get water. She sniffled a few times and blinked back more tears as he kneeled in front of her.
“I don’t have a heart anymore,” she stated flatly.
Shea shook his head. “You have a heart. You will always have a heart.” He pressed his palm against her chest and smiled. “It’s right there—it just doesn’t beat anymore, but you will always have your heart.”
His words tore another sob from CL’s throat, and she launched herself forward and wrapped her arms around his neck. “You killed me,” she whispered into his ear. She had no idea why she hugged the man who had killed her, but he was the only one there.
“I didn’t kill you.” He rubbed fingers up and down her back, easing the tension from her shoulders.
“Then who did?”
She sat back on her haunches and blinked rapidly at him. Lightning cut across the gray ether, lighting the planes so she could see the shadows on his face better. She swallowed hard and slid a finger down his cheek and across the white scar she had somehow missed before. “How did you die?” she asked.
Somehow she had known. All along she had known that the storm had killed him, that he was there because of it in the only place he knew he could be—with the lightning. She shivered and kissed him quickly. “Two lost souls, living on the edges of the sword. Lightning bursting through the planes of mother nature, altering lives as each one strikes down. Two lost souls, living on the edges of the sword. Thundering hearts in the beat of the storm, making love as the rain falls to the ground. Two lost souls, living on the edges of the sword.”
Shea kissed her temple, her eyes closing against the onslaught of emotions that took over and started to confuse her. CL was dead. No longer a person of the living world she had spent her entire life avoiding. She had run out into the storm, the dreaded lightning slicing down from the sky like a double-edged sword and splitting through her body. If she tried hard enough, she remembered the pain. If she tried, she remembered the tears in Shea’s eyes as he watched her slip to the rain-soaked ground in a heap of scorched death.
Air burst into her lungs with a moment of clarity, and CL did the only thing she could think of. She kissed him. Her mouth hot against his, her hands roving over his chest and arms, she pressed him back into the gray ether and crawled on top of his body. This time, their actions were hers. Sliding her fingers down his chest and to his waist, CL nipped at his lip, pulling it between her teeth.
She couldn’t stop. She had known that as soon as she started there was no way to stop. She reached down and started to slide his t-shirt up and over his body, revealing the cool and white flesh of his abdomen. Leaving his mouth, her lips trailed over his warming flesh. She dipped her tongue into his navel and reveled in the way it made his stomach quiver. Shoving harder, she pushed his shirt up to his armpits and lavished at his nipples. Shea groaned and wiggled under her but said nothing to encourage her and did nothing to increase her own pleasure. They had an understanding.
Rolling his nipple between her tongue and teeth until it hardened, CL looked at him, her eyes locking on his for a few seconds before she bit down. Shea cried out and tangled his fingers in her drenched hair. “I want you to feel,” she whispered, raking her nails down his sides.
Shea nodded and gave her a hard look. “Trust me. I feel.”
“Good.” She smirked and started back down on his nipples, letting her fingers create random designs against his sides from the top of his chest down to the low waist of his jeans. There her fingertips encountered heat—his skin and body radiated it.
She couldn’t get enough of him. Rolling her hips against his, she let out a groan at the feeling of him pressing up into her. CL opened her eyes and stared down at his, wanting to make everything about that moment—wanting to forget everything outside of it. She took in a deep breath and clenched her thigh muscles around his legs, leaning down to kiss him senseless again. Completely losing herself in the embrace was harder than she thought.
Concentrating on everything her mouth and hands did, on every reaction that Shea gave her to whatever she did, could not push the voice in the back of her head away. Death had captured her in its firm grasp and hung on tight. With no heartbeat and no life left in her, she was stuck where she had been—in the gray ether of the in between. CL breathed out deeply and tried again to focus all her attention on him and what she was doing.
She tapped his shoulders until he pushed to sit up and took off the infernal t-shirt. With full access to his chest, she rested her lips against his neck and collarbones, tonguing designs into his skin, leaving a wet streak behind. Curling her fingers into the dark hairs smattering his chest, CL pulled and smiled when he groaned.
Shea ran his hands up and down her sides, working the tight white tank up her body. He had it over her head, her wet hair flopping back to her shoulders as he tossed the garment away. CL kissed him hard as her body turned, his hands guiding her hips over until he rested on top of her. She wiggled under his weight but caught sight of his grin once he had her pinned down.
CL bucked her hips up and smiled at him. He palmed her breast, squeezing the mound and massaging her skin. CL moaned and tugged her fingers in his hair, pulling him closer until her lips could touch his. She thought for a moment that her heart skipped a beat when he sucked at her neck, but then reality came crashing down on her. She had no heartbeat.
Closing her eyes was the only way to fight back the tears. She wrapped her legs around his hips and rested back into the graying floor that molded to her body. Looking up at him, she knew that focus would be key—she wanted to be with him, she had wanted that from the moment she had first seen him. CL sighed and ran her fingers down to his jeans, unhooking the belt and button.
“Shea,” she murmured.
He sat up and shoved his shoes and pants off, taking his boxer shorts with them. Giving her a long look, his eyes raking up and down her body, Shea turned and covered her skin again. The heat of his body on hers was enticing and distracting. She swallowed hard and ran her hands as far down his body as she could, cupping his ass before plunging her fingers into his hair again. She couldn’t get enough of him.
“I could only come here if I was dead right?” she asked.
His lips were at her throat and moving down to her breasts. He nodded and hummed an answer before swirling the tip of his tongue across and around her nipple. She drew in a ragged breath and nodded even though he couldn’t see her.
“So I was dead…before the first time.”
Lifting his head that time, Shea answered, “Yes.”
One sole tear dripped down her cheek and fell into the yonder of their gray-ether. With a deep breath, CL made her decision—she was done crying. She lifted her chin until she could see him and smiled, letting it reach her eyes. “Shea…” She waited until she had his attention. “Kiss me.”
He did as she asked, letting their tongues mingle and dance together as each ran fingers and hands over every part of exposed skin. CL’s flannel polar-bear pajama bottoms were pulled off her body until she was naked. The gray ether started to heat and warm, lightning striking across the grayness more and more often as she spread her legs and he slipped into her.
She hissed for a moment as her body adjusted and grinned broadly when the thought hit her. Leaning forward, she kissed him loudly on the lips. “I guess we don’t have to worry about pregnancy—seeing as we’re dead.”
Shea’s eyes widened in surprise before he smirked. “Nothing to worry about.”
Curving her arms around his neck, she pulled him down for another lasting kiss before his body started to rock against hers.CL closed her eyes, focusing all her attention on the feelings pulsing through her system. He reached down and swished a thumb over her tight bundle of nerves, causing her shoulders and legs to jerk at the contact.
She smiled and nodded at him. “That felt good.”
Shea responded by doing it again and again. Pleasure shot from the tips of her fingers and toes through her arms and legs to her core, and she focused on the sensation. Nothing had ever felt better. She mewled softly, bringing her knees higher as he continued to slide in and out of her body. CL sighed and slid one hand down his chest, feeling his muscles work under his skin. Her back arched and she tweaked his nipple as one wave of pleasure washed over her.
Lightning burst and fingered around their gray haven as more waves washed gently over her body. CL gasped and gripped him hard, sweat sticking his skin to hers. Heat pooled at the top of her chest, sending a flush from her breasts up her neck and into her cheeks. CL breathed harder with each passing second. Shea’s thumb moved in circles, harder and harder with each pass. His thrusts became faster and uncoordinated just as his hand slipped from her.
She let out a short breath as she clenched at him, her body pulling in tightly before releasing so many times that she lost count. Lightning burst a moment later when Shea pressed a gentle kiss to her neck. CL let out a soft sigh and relaxed her muscles as he continued to push into her. The gray ether cocooned her body like a warm blanket.
He came to a stop, his neck tense with strain before he took in a deep breath. CL felt hot liquid fill her body as she lay under him, running her fingers over his cheeks and chest to calm him. Shea kissed both of her cheeks and down her neck, taking in a deep breath when he reached the hollow of her throat. Licking her lips, CL stayed still and worked through what she might say.
Light shone around them, filling the gray before dissipating into nothing. The flashes came at fewer intervals, and CL knew that the storm was quickly coming to an end. She started to breath heavily, panic setting in that she wouldn’t be able to go back to her tiny cottage in the clearing. “Shea?”
“Yes?” He kissed her neck again.
“Do we have to leave?”
He pushed back and looked her straight in the eye. “This is where I live.”
“In the in between?”
Shea nodded and stroked a hand down her cheek before moving so that he rested against her side. CL curled up into him and stared at the gray ceiling above her. “Are we in the clouds?”
“I think so,” he said, running a hand down her side, looking only at her. “I think that’s where we are supposed to live.”
“What happens when the storm dies out?” She turned her chin to look at him. She wanted an answer, thinking that as soon as the storm clouds disappeared into the greater air currents and movements of the earth that they would simply disappear. Death would perhaps be painless in their gray ether, just a fading of their already flimsy existence.
She licked her lips and traced an invisible line down his chest. Maybe they could move to another storm system, living on the double-edged sword of lightning as it struck down to the earth below. CL reached up and played with the small dots that lined their gray ether walls, moving her fingers through it without purpose or intent. Maybe they weren’t in the storm, and it only looked as though their souls would follow it in the beyond, attached to the root of their ethereal existence for the rest of their remainder.
When Shea kissed her cheek, CL turned back to him, pressing a hand to his chest, expecting to feel his heart beat under her fingertips—but there was nothing. She tilted her face upward and stared into the depths of his eyes.
He kissed her lightly and answered, “I don’t know. I guess we’ll just fade away in a flash of death.”
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