Have Mercy On Me

Have Mercy On Me by J. Kuzmier --  photo by John B. at JohnBdigital.com

On this moonlit night, snowflakes fall in a synchronized dance to the ground here in the mountainside chalet. Everything is silent and still, except for the crackling of the fire. To most, it would be a perfect romantic setting for two. But not to Cheryl, even as she nestles deep into a leather couch. She doesn’t even know why she agreed to come here, to be with Raymond here in his home far away from everyone else. She thought she’d learned her lesson about following her heart. Apparently not, because she was here alone with him, isolated in a mountain cabin. What was she thinking?

Yet here she is with him, just one room away, so close that she can hear him making coffee in the kitchen. She watches the snow fall in a world made for two, feeling her defenses falling away like the snowflakes. Watching snow like this always hypnotized Cheryl. Its mute voice had a way of speaking to her its own magic, silencing her mind of anything else. The rhythm of falling snowflakes had a way of casting a spell on her.

There was no way Raymond could know this winter scene could so easily hypnotize her, because Cheryl never told him. They have known each other only briefly, not long enough to have memorized such trivial details about each other. But did time mean anything when it came to intimacy? Because sometimes, it felt like Raymond knew her on some secret spiritual plane that she kept hidden from everyone else, including herself. Is this all in her imagination? She hopes so. She’s too battle-weary to be probed, for the allure of romantic games. Her heart is too broken to be toyed with.

“Are you comfortable?”

Raymond’s voice jars Cheryl from her contemplation as he walks in the room with two steaming mugs of coffee. Its aroma smells heavenly, and helps distract her from the fact that he’s here with her now. She can’t see his features clearly in the near pitch darkness. But she knows his sculpted face well enough to imagine him staring at her, using his eyes as magnets to hold her in place. Strange that Cheryl imagines bonds and chains, when she walked in here as a volunteer.

She knows him well enough that he expects an answer, that nothing he says is rhetorical. But the nearness of his presence and the sound of his voice have raised such an alarm inside her that Cheryl is shaking. She doesn’t know if she can trust herself to speak clearly, but Raymond won’t go without her saying something. Why does she want him to leave so badly when she wants him to stay, equally as much?

“Yes,” she manages. Is she lying? Cheryl squishes herself deeper into the leather couch, her body delighting in the luxury. Well, half of her is comfortable, anyway. She is only half lying, then. But she knows from her own life what kind of deception can be built from half-truths.

Raymond sits down on the couch with her, stretching his body so he faces her. His legs match up with hers, the suffused touch filling her with a heat that has nothing to do with a warm fire by the hearth. Cheryl stays still, hoping her position won’t betray this elevation of desire she feels. For if Raymond has any discomfort in this cozy arrangement, the confidence of his movements doesn’t betray this sentiment. If he’s going to play cool, she decides, so will she.

She hates that he can act so self-assured, even when she knows he is shattered inside. Cheryl knows what has happened to him, just like everyone they know does. Yet Raymond betrays no sign of this trauma to her. “You don’t mind that I sit this way, do you?” he asks.

Leave it to him to ask for her opinion after the fact. Leave it to him to make it look like either she is the one who wants him, and he’ll be happy to oblige her cravings, or she’s the one who will rejects him. So she replies, in a voice that she hopes sounds indifferent, “If you’re fine the way you are, then so am I.”

“Well, that’s good to know.” Cheryl hates that she can’t see Raymond’s features in the dark. She hears what sounds like muffled laughter in his voice, but not seeing his face, she has no way of knowing for sure. She wishes she could see his expressions to read him better, but is glad that the night conceals hers. She also hates this tangled confusion her mind and emotions are in with him here. It was simpler just a minute ago, when he wasn’t here beside her. Unlike now, when he is too close for her to breathe freely.

Raymond lays back, and she sees his outline clasp his hands behind his head. Strike a pose, even in the dark. It makes Cheryl think of the first time she saw him, his stance so solitary and confident, and knew immediately she wanted him. Don’t do this to me, she implores with her heart. Show me mercy, don’t torture me like this.

But all these silent pleadings do nothing to stop him from holding his stance. The silence is too intense with him like that. He remains languid, and she keeps catching her breath to keep from falling. He has no trouble maintaining his equilibrium, she notices. Cheryl hates this imbalance she has tripped herself into.

“It looks like this storm is going to be a big one.” Raymond’s voice is smooth, just like the act he plays. Nice that he can quip about the weather at a time like this, Cheryl thinks. She wants to scream at him. Doesn’t he feel any of the tension she does? Well, she’ll play cool if that is what he wants.

“Yes, it does. This winter has been brutal.”

“It has.” He says this quickly. As though the two words refer to more than the weather. But maybe she’s reading too much into what he says. He’s always displayed himself as a man who says what he means, and nothing more. Who is she to think he is hinting at a deeper side of him with her? It wouldn’t be his style to betray that kind of confidence with anyone. Particularly a woman, especially after what happened to him. Even she knew all about it, relative stranger that she was to him.

Cheryl doesn’t know what she’s supposed to say, afraid to say too much or too little. She’s distracted from her dilemma when Raymond suddenly places his hand on her leg, and she sighs at the warmth the touch brings her. He says in a whisper so soft she can’t intuit the emotions it holds, “I’m glad you are here.”

He’s glad? For what reason?, Cheryl wonders. Maybe, just maybe, Raymond wants her the way she wants him. Or is he glad just to have female company to fill the gap, and she’ll do? Her mind is a laser beam, questioning his motives. It’s a comfortable distraction, so she can avoid looking at her own reasons for being here. Is he nothing more than some scrumptious comfort to forget her own troubles, or is he something more? Questions like that are too difficult to answer in her muddled mind. It’s better to scan him, giving her an excuse to watch him, letting his presence fill her with the desire that is so delicious to her. The fire-roasted room lets her believe she has an excuse to divulge in this kind of delicacy. The touch of him on her leg makes it too comfortable to think logically. Whether she should be here or not seems irrelevant when she has him here, all to herself.

“Are you?” His voice has a way of startling her, reminding her that this is no fantasy.

Cheryl has trouble finding her voice. “Am I what?”

“Glad you are here.”

She hesitates for just one second. How should she answer this?

“You don’t think coming here was a mistake, do you?”

There is an edge of panic in his voice. He speaks a little too quickly, as though he has forgotten to hold down his emotions, just ever so slightly. It warms her inside, not in a sexual way, but in a manner that is softer, more innocent. On impulse, she places her hand on his leg as well. “No, not at all. Of course not.”

Raymond is silent for some time, then leans forward, burying his head in his hands. She has no way to interpret what he means by this. Part of her panics inside, her heart beating. She doesn’t want to push him away, not really. It is just that she doesn’t know what it would mean for her to keep him close, either. She thinks of the last time she let that happen, a time not so long ago. The shattering she experienced then seems so close to the surface when she lets herself remember. Too close.

It doesn’t seem fair to Cheryl that Raymond is paying for someone else’s sins. But she can’t help it. The fear inside her has a life of its own. It compels her to wonder how much of Raymond’s pain is being projected onto her. Wounded animals can be cruel. Cheryl knows this well. She should remember this, as she stays here with him. Is his current bodily stance some kind of resignation over her, or something more? Perhaps it’s just a ploy of seduction, to convince her to give herself to him to ease his pain?

Cheryl has no way of knowing, and so does not do anything to encourage or discourage him. She is heavy with exhaustion. All this conjecture, the heat of the room, the near darkness, and the late hour converges to visit her with a deep drowsiness that she welcomes. She thinks of romantic movies where the lovers leap into each other’s arms. They make it seem so simple to find intimacy in one another. Here in the real world, with Raymond, nothing seems simple at all. Cheryl shifts to her side, letting her fatigue escort her away from the dilemma that sits right in front of her. As she falls asleep, she feels Raymond get up, kiss the top of her head, and leave.

But perhaps, she only imagines he does this. For all that night, Cheryl has dreams of someone, she’s not sure who, caressing her, holding her. She has the sensation of falling and being caught during these dreams. There is an intensity to them that she hasn’t had for awhile, and even in the dream, she finds herself wondering if any of it is real, yet somehow never wakens despite her doubts. The dreams travel from darkness into waves of light. So much so, that when she blinks awake in the brightness of day, she’s not sure for awhile whether she’s still sleeping or not, at least at first.

She is still laying on the leather couch when daylight greets her. But she is alone. Sometime during the night, a blanket was placed on her. She’s tucked in, tightly. She looks for evidence, anything at all, to signify that Raymond slept here with her. There isn’t. A well-tended, healthy fire roaring by her is the only indication that someone else was here, not so long ago.

It takes her awhile for her to leave her waking place. She feels safer to lay where she is, nestled away in a blanketed cocoon, but she hates the cowardice and laziness that keeps her there. She’s never been one to give into fear, at least until recently. She hates what fear takes from her. So she gets up, leaving to find him. As the blanket falls away from her, she feels like she is shedding skin. Whether or not this is positive, Cheryl doesn’t know. But leaving the couch makes everything feel surreal, and unknown.

There is the smell of coffee, coming from the kitchen. It’s adjacent to the room she slept in, accessed through an archway that separates the two rooms. There is no one in the kitchen, though. The island with its hanging pots and pans is deserted, and there is no sound except for the slight dripping of a faucet. She goes to shut it, and then it is quiet. This is what she said she wanted last night, total peace. Cheryl breathes it in. But the sensation is somehow lacking, which surprises her. She perceives that it is only the fear within her that truly wants this isolation. It’s missing something. It’s missing him.

She wonders where he is. When her thoughts turn to him, something that has laid dormant for months stirs in her. Whatever feeling this is, it makes her smile. She makes a cup of coffee, black for her, and makes one for him, cream, no sugar, the way she’s seen Raymond take it before.

Cheryl scans the contents of his refrigerator as she puts back the cream. There is old take-out, along with packets of ketchup and soy sauce. Curiosity compels her to look in the freezer, to see if there is a similar disaster scene. There isn’t. In the freezer, there are packages of steaks, fish and other seafood. Exotic frozen vegetables, hand packed, are there as well. There is such a strong contrast between the refrigerator and the freezer, like two different lives lived through them. The one before his personal disaster, and the one after, perhaps? Closing the door to all this, she resumes her search for him, as she relishes the bitterness of the coffee in her cup.

Raymond is in the next room, an indoor patio walled with ceiling-to-floor glass windows and doors, overlooking the mountain. The light reflected on the snow-covered mountain is blinding. Raymond seems like a ghostly apparition in all of this, standing near one of the windows. The room is warm despite being exposed to the elements, between the gas fireplace in one corner and the sun beaming through in three directions. Raymond doesn’t seem to hear Cheryl. She goes to him, handing him the coffee. He takes it without saying anything to her, then resumes looking outside, far into the horizon, as though he is searching for something there.

Cheryl doesn’t know why she does what she does next, because it seems so strange and illogical to her, especially after all the doubts and fears that plagued her just last night. But there is nothing about this situation that feels logical. Instead of pestering him what he is thinking about, what happened last night, why has he asked her here if he’s just going to ignore her, she feels an impulse that draws her to him, and instead follows that. She puts down her coffee a nearby wooden table, and goes behind him, putting her arms around him. At first, he doesn’t turn to her. But he doesn’t push her away. He bows his head, holds both her hands to him. It feels like a kind of prayer, this virginal closeness she shares with him. Perhaps it is. Who knows what kind of speech is holy in a world of unknowns?

In some space of time, an amount hard to quantify by the blinding sun, Raymond turns and faces her. His grey eyes glint, and if she didn’t know better, she would blame it on the sun. But the short breaths he takes betray some other emotion to her. He puts his hands on her shoulders, looking down directly at her. He smiles at Cheryl, but after a deep moment of hesitation. Have mercy on me, he seems to ask her. There is pain in his eyes that he tries to hide, and it makes him seem even more vulnerable than if he were displaying it like a badge. It’s so easy for Cheryl to think only of her pain and the strategies that she must employ to protect herself, that she has forgotten totally about the agony that has bled him. Her pain has made her blind to the fact that even guardians and warriors need protection sometimes.

For a moment, Cheryl is able to forget her own fear, melting her body and heart into his. Pain can be a bond, and right now, for at least this moment, it seals her to him. As if to answer Raymond’s silent plea for mercy, she folds herself into his embrace. Whatever pain that is felt is cut in half, at least to her. She listens to Raymond’s heart as it beats in his chest, to its strength and steadiness.

“I’m so glad you are here,” Raymond breathlessly whispers in her hair. Cheryl tingles with the vibration of his voice, and his desire. “I didn’t think you would come.”

Cheryl has to laugh. “Neither did I.”

She feels his smile buried into her, even though she can’t see it. “Heartbreak can make such chickens out of people. I should know.” He holds her more tightly. “But I’m glad you had guts enough for both of us.”

Cheryl feels warm against him, cozier than when she lay tucked away by the fire. A different blaze roars within her, and she imagines the cold loneliness she would be experiencing right now if she had refused to come here, to be with him. She might fear the agony of heartbreak, but isolation came with its own brand of bitter misery that only made her wearier. “I wouldn’t be here, if you hadn’t had the guts to ask.”

Raymond gently pulls away from the embrace, placing his hands on her shoulders. Cheryl feels the heat of his touch, and catches her breath as he speaks. “I know what it is like to be hurt. I won’t hurt you like that. I can’t, not after what happened to me.”

“Don’t promise me that. Promises can be broken.”

Raymond takes his hands, holding both her cheeks. “I know. You know I do.” He touches his lips to her forehead, just a light brush that makes her want to melt into him, forget about running. “But I know there is nothing sure in this world. That doesn’t mean you shut the door and forget about living. I think you believe that too. Or else,” he brushes her lips with his, “you would never have come here at all.”

Cheryl snuggles into his chest again, this time to mesh with him rather than hide away. Every breath she takes, standing like this with him, she feels like she is coming alive once again. The warmth she feels resuscitates something inside her that she didn’t even know was asleep. Mercy can take many forms, and she basks in the version that she finds here with him. Any pain she felt before was more than halved. It had disappeared into the winter wind, falling like a snowflake to the ground, dissolving into a white blanket that warmed her soul, here with him.