Smoke filled the room like the left-over explosion of a magic show, filtering pulsing lights in scattered rainbows. Fans spiraled colors, just out of reach, and cooled tiny beads of sweat, on Paloma’s forehead. Around her, like a dozen invitations, formed a circle of bodies. She felt them but danced alone, her eyes letting in only enough light to keep her balance.
Music vibrating, Paloma swirled her body and bounced. Her hair covered her face, then exposed it, then caught in patches of sweat, behind her ear and over her eyebrow. Her arms wrapped around her body, pressing onto her hips and sliding up her torso until she had to shoot them into the air.
Paloma looked up, flinging her hair behind her head. So many faces, so many eyes, looking at her. She smiled and passed through them.
Drinking from a bottle of water, Paloma walked to the edge of the dance floor, a dark corner with a cool draft. Someone was walking towards her, his dark skin brighter than all the technicolor beams gliding through the room, his limbs rippling with each quiet step.
She tried not to look at him. And then he was standing next to her, their hands dangling at their sides, almost touching. He stretched out his fingers, reaching towards hers. She linked their hands.
He led her onto the dance floor. “I’m Mudiaga.”
“Paloma,” she followed.
They watched each other dance. Drawn to his relaxed movement, she brought her shoulder into his chest. Without touching, he wrapped his body around her.
She slid the back of her hand into the curve of his elbow, down his arm, and into his palm, their fingers entwined. She kept his arm close, turning her back to him.
Mudiaga lifted Paloma’s hand and gently spun her. She laughed. He offered her his other hand and she took it. He lifted their arms over her head and crossed them around her.
His chest pressed against her back, she dropped her head onto his shoulder, his lips so close to her ear. She untangled her fingers and lifted her arms. His palms slid around her body to her back, where she arched onto his support. He swirled and lifted her to him.
Arms wrapped around each other, Mudiaga flowed with the music. Paloma followed him, not letting her body allow any space between them.
The DJ said good night. The lights went from sexy to exposing. Mudiaga swirled Paloma in his arms one more time.
“When can I see you again?” He asked.
“You can’t.” Paloma looked away. “There’s someone else.”
She slowly pulled her hand out of his. He let her go. She couldn’t look at him. She didn’t trust herself to leave without him if she saw his eyes right now, in the light.
The blinds on the window sent white light onto the ceiling when Paloma felt Jeff spoon her. He had that stale smell of the morning after a boys night out. She carefully slipped out from his hold, positioning his arm so he wouldn’t plop down on his face, and got out of bed. Her body had that limber feel of deep sleep in clean pjs. She tiptoed to the bathroom and indulged in a long stretch, reaching her hands as high as they could go and around to her sides. After she washed and dressed, Paloma left a note for Jeff saying that she would be out for the day and that there was beer, and tomato juice in the fridge.
It was one of those mornings when the cool air clears the sky and the sun hasn’t bleached it’s rich blue. There is a little coffee place across the street from the cable car garage. Its usually crowded with tourists, but this early in the morning it should be quiet.
A few steps from the cafe, Paloma heard a front door slam closed. Out of reflex, she turned to look. The man at the top of four stairs was putting his keys in his pocket. She stood and waited for him to walk down the steps.
“Mudiaga?” she asked him.
“Paloma? Why are you here?” He stopped in front of her.
“I live around the corner.” She laughed at the audacity of the moment.
“Are you going somewhere?” He asked her.
“No, are you?” She replied.
“No, I just needed to…I don’t know. Do you want to come up?” He gestured towards the stairs. “Maybe, for some coffee?”
“Sure.” She nodded and smiled.
They went through the heavy front door, which slammed closed after he warned her that it would, and up some stairs to the third floor. He unlocked the door and leaned in to hold it open for her. She walked inside, passing him so close, so slow, their hearts racing.
He let the door close, then took her hand and brought it to his lips. He kissed her wrist and up her thumb.
He looked at her. “Do you like that?”
“Mmmhmm.” She nodded and took a step closer.
She draped her arm over his shoulder, then slid her fingers up his neck and into his hair. He pulled their bodies closer together. They looked at each other’s lips. He tilted her chin up, then kissed the corner of her mouth. She closed her eyes. He kissed the corner of her mouth again, then again. He brushed his lips across hers, feeling her lips part. He kissed along her jaw. With his teeth, he gently tugged at her ear lobe.
“I dreamt about you,” he whispered.
“Uh huh?” She smiled and tilted her head, exposing her neck.
He kissed her neck. He brushed his lips along her jaw. Her hands slid under his shirt and pressed up his spine. Their lips met. Sweet kisses over, and over. Arms holding each other tight, he slipped his tongue between her lips. They kissed deeply until they couldn’t catch their breath.
Gasping, she lifted his shirt up and over his head. She walked behind him, brushing her palms across his shoulders and down his arms.
He hung his hands at his sides, fingers tingling to touch her. He felt nipples, just below his shoulder blades, and lips, and warm breath at the base of his neck.
As he turned towards her, she slid her fingers along the edge of his pants. Her smile had mischief in it. He nodded and laughed. She unfastened his belt, then pants. His hands couldn’t get enough of her soft skin. They both shook off the rest of their clothes.
The room was dark when Paloma woke up in Mudiaga’s bed. He was deep asleep, with slow deep breaths, his arm heavy across her chest. She lifted her head to look at the clock on the night stand, 10:45 pm. She nuzzled into his shoulder, feeling his smooth skin on her lips.
He didn’t feel her slip out of bed, her hand letting his go. He didn’t feel her kiss his forehead and the tear she left in his hair. He would have stopped her if he had.
Back at her apartment, there was a note from Jeff saying that he was down the street having a few drinks and that she should join him.
Paloma didn’t shower. She didn’t change her clothes. She packed a suitcase, took a cab to the Emeryville Amtrak station, and bought a ticket to Denver, her pockets full of tissues.
The California Zephyr goes through the Sierra Nevadas and crosses the Continental Divide. At one of those lovey points, where a bridge crosses a river, she rested her head on the cold window, blinking to see through tears, like windshield wipers in the rain. The crescent moon was setting behind her, giving the trees a silver glow, without dimming Orion’s endless chase for the Pleiades. A lot of stars are born in that nebula between his legs.
Amtrak 6 never made it to South Boulder Creek, something about the ventilation system in the Moffat tunnel and a stalled train.
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