Title: The Lacemaker
Author: Elliott Silver
Summary: In no way could he have them both.
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Parker came back into his life simply because she had been there before.
Lucia wouldn’t ask who and why, because of all people, she knew those were the questions no one ever answered honestly. But the inquiry was written in her eyes, bright bold slashes of doubt.
Lucia, the woman they called “the lacemaker” because she could spin verdicts the ethereal way some could make flowers out of nothing but starched thread and air. And at the time Jarod had been most full of broken ends and undarned pieces, she had woven him in.
She wove him in, because she had been making gossamer webs her whole life, and she was good at making invisibility beautiful, at fusing broken ends. But when Parker came back, the woman who had been his life before her, who walked lazily between them in her Louboutin stilettos as if Lucia had never existed, for reasons he couldn’t know and didn’t want to, everything that had been so good until then came to a bone-jarring crunch.
Parker had always been dramatic and conclusive that way and perhaps now that was the price he would always pay for having once had her.
Jarod reached for Lucia’s hand, but she didn’t let him have it.
“Lucia,” he breathed, and pulled her around to face him as if he could spin the sun onto his orbit, as if light might stay still so there was never darkness, never need.
“It’s nothing,” he told her, as if he could explain why Parker had so suddenly come to him when he didn’t know. But all he could explain was that she was gone now, and yet somehow in the pit of his stomach, knew she would come back.
Lucia’s green eyes held that sharp knowledge that he wouldn’t say, the graceless knowing that even lace snagged, caught on a cutting edge, and ripped, fraying into thousands of unraveling pieces, the way souls shattered.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered, to soothe her, to quell the darkness he felt rising within her and within himself, the very fear Parker always managed to plant so well, to cultivate so perfectly, the inchoate fear of the beginning of the end.
He kissed the corners of Lucia’s mouth as if he could save them both, make them both believe that Parker’s sudden, vengeful appearance had been nothing more than dizzying chance, a wayward meeting of the old and new, awkward but not lasting. He kissed the exquisite edges where her lips narrowed like some perfect painter’s strokes into the pale velvet skin of her cheeks and buried his hands in the cool thicket of her long blonde hair, hair the color of summer sungleam off metal when even the reflection was enough to burn, hair light enough to be the color of heaven. His palms rushed against the taut pillar of her neck, snarling on her chain, and she gasped into his mouth, in surprise, not pain.
Unlike Parker, for whom he had learned too late surprise and pain were one and the same, surprise that she could still be hurt, a brilliant black serrated surprise like the cutting out of marrow from her bones, that there was still something left in her to feel pain.
Parker, whose thick dark hair had tangled in his mouth when he kissed her and their teeth bucked against one another, and she laughed into his mouth at the riveting, shooting pain crackling along the roots of their teeth. Parker, whose tongue wrote strange edicts over his sweating skin, things he didn’t know and couldn’t understand, and didn’t care about until later, after she moved lower and took him in and he could forget everything else as he watched her lips sliding slowly and then with teeth, leaving red coup marks on his pulsing need until her touch became so perfect, lights flared behind his eyes in great, glaring strobes and he couldn’t watch anymore. Parker, who always let go before he could, always held that selfish bit of power like a cat-o-nines lash and rowelled spurs, wore it too well like her sharp, honed nakedness, and let him know it was only because she let him, that he rolled her over and came into her with a mad, driving need. Parker, who always called his name like it was owning him and never let go, even as she curled around him and their worlds exploded in one ripping gash as if that time would be the last time, the end time, the finish of all certainties and hopes. Parker, who always left him, but who always came back, sometimes not because she wanted to but because she didn’t know what she wanted and reached for what she knew, because she didn’t know where else to go.
Parker, who knew too well he couldn’t hate her if he pitied her too.
Lucia twisted in his hold, a blur of paleness, a ripple, and he held onto her that much more tightly, tight enough to hurt, to cause her to glare up at him with her glittering green eyes.
They were so different, these two women. Lucia, with her rush of silver-blonde hair and lithe body, like a sprite, a Botticelli angel, a Waterhouse nymph, less innocent than she looked – and Parker, with her curling-ends hair falling like a winter shadow, her body purposefully built for battle or for sex, for war and long restless nights. Lucia, who had come into his life to heal him after Parker was done. Lucia, the city trial lawyer who kept the world standing one justice at a time – and Parker, who gleefully took it down one man at a time, and sometimes more than one.
Parker, who was raw and visceral, dangerous as a bleeding wound, a gun without a safety, who got under your skin, into your blood, made you bubble and boil and burn, and never quite left. Lucia, who found the way to his locked and hidden heart, slept there quietly and comfortably in lacy dreams while his pulse hummed slowly and softly.
Lucia, who made up nonsensical songs in all the wrong notes and a fine bourbon pecan pie. Lucia, whose name meant “light” and who wondered if she might not have been called Lucifer if she had come into the world with a penis. Lucia, irreverent and brilliant.
“I love you, Lucia,” and he was very careful to say her name, to tell her the one thing he had never told anyone else.
She was so still in his arms that she seemed a dream, a vision of something he had already lost, pale and perfect like a memory.
“Do you?” she asked. It was the first, but not last, time.
He tried to make them both forget with vain, chivalrous deeds – indeed, all he knew to do. He bought her lovely trinkets that sparkled and took her proscuitto and Swiss on sunflower bread and her favorite dark coffee with warm cherry strudel. He took her to places where she dressed up in tall heels and dresses she hardly wore, places where life happened in happy, rousing chorus. They drank cooled bottles of wine from Chile and South Africa, wine so red and thick it stayed on her lips and made her laugh like he remembered. Their silverware clinked incongruously and he hardly remembered signing for the bill when it came, but by then she had already risen, seeming incredibly firm in her heels and didn’t wait for him to open her car door.
They kissed sloppily, hungrily, and her nails bit into the crest of his shoulder. In the parked car, his hands cupped the warm fullness of her breasts, already tight with arousal and loose under the dark blue silk of her dress. She tasted like vanilla bean, hot and honeyed, and he slipped his hand up under the sheer folds of her skirt until he found her wet and wanting, and she gasped so loud, the couple locking their Mercedes next to them stopped talking.
She laughed lightly, but her eyes were lit from within with deep things drawing at him, inviting him where he willingly went.
“Let’s go home,” she said, straightening her dress primly in the strict little ways her southern breeding had taught her. Under her perfume, he could smell the beginning of her sweat.
Somehow he drove back, barely getting the keys out of the ignition as they both scrambled out, and knowing, as it always was with her and would be again, that he had never wanted anyone more.
The sweetness had left her tongue to the bitter tang of espresso, and he kissed her deeply. Her body, under the blue silk, was already murmuring with impatience, the tingle and shiver of anticipation that drove him wild, as if she were already coming in great, frantic bursts. Her hands with their all-lengths nails dug at his shirt, pulling it loose, and fingering his body as if she had never touched him before.
He could feel the beautiful freedom of the wine bubbling in their veins, untying all the silences and unasked questions between them, erasing them one liquid touch at a time, as if such things as Parker could be so easily removed.
They stumbled their way to the porch without untangling, winding up the steps unevenly, until the want of her, out of the blue silk and nothing but pure wet skin and her breathless cries as she came, any way he could love her and keep her and make her happy, were all he could think of.
For a second, he kept kissing her, but it was Lucia who moved back first, slowly pulling away her mouth but not her arms.
It was only her steadying that kept him from losing it all, the weight of her arms, one over his shoulder and the other around his waist. It was only the buzzing of the wine in his blood and the stirrings of their almost-lovemaking in other places that kept him from lashing out at the dark-haired woman with his words, his hands, whatever devastating objects he could find.
“I need to talk to you,” Parker said, and somehow she made any refusal seem irrational and impolite.
At that moment, Lucia let go.
Parker watched her with dark, nocturnal eyes as the locks clicked and she disappeared from his side into the empty rooms of the house.
“Parker – ”
“I need your help,” she cut in, precisely and without waiting, the same way she had sex. She was dressed in all black this time, a sharply cut pantsuit that fit her in all the right places, and her hair was twisted back, making her look inexplicably younger, just like the times they had once been together. She was cruel that way.
She moved closer to him, like night closing in around him, surely and without mercy, claustrophobic and vampiric. She moved until they were almost touching and he felt like screaming with agony because they weren’t, because she was so good at this. Her fingers were light on his chest, her nails raking at the same skin Lucia had caressed just before. He gritted his teeth, as if it might help.
Parker raised her head to look at him, and she watched him with mock amusement as he stiffened in her hold.
“Ahhh,” she breathed, “it used to be different.”
She kissed the edges of his jaw and flicked his earlobe with the tip of her tongue, her breath tightening in his ear, tiny gasping inhalations the way he remembered her, the aching way when he tried to remember how to breathe after she finished with him and left.
Something fell hard and rattled like broken pieces from one of the rooms upstairs.
Lucia breathed differently, long and hard, as if she could breathe in the whole world, as if he gave her that, when their hands locked and the blood drained out of their fingers as she shivered beneath him, her body humming with pleasure, and he exploded from within. Lucia, who was upstairs alone and cold and with whom all he wanted was when she curled up and he held her and together all the world felt right and he wished in her heavy sleep she could breathe him in too.
He forced Parker away from him, holding her at arms length, his fingers biting into the flesh of her upper arms, knowing blackly that she enjoyed that too.
“It used to be,” he repeated, but she only smiled darkly.
He was gone for six days after that, after he had finally escaped from Parker only to find Lucia huddled on her side of the bed, trapped in cold and twitching dreams from which she hadn’t woken even when he held her close and whispered her name as if it were magic.
Lucia hadn’t said anything before he left and said less when he returned, claiming irrelevant excuses to be away until finally the frailty between them splintered and he was angry, angrier than he realized at her, for not understanding, for her stubborn irrationality, for not accepting that he loved her, not Parker, not ever again, and that nothing he could say seemed to change her.
“It’s nothing!” he had lashed out, harsher than he meant to when her turned back and broken trust had shattered his heart again, when all he wanted was the way they used to be. “There’s nothing.”
“Then why does she keep coming back?” Suddenly there was a vicious anger in her voice too, something more than hurt and mistrustful, something that burned and bled until she was empty, until she wouldn’t have to say things could never be the same again, that she held no hope they could simply be different. “Why don’t you tell her to go?”
“She wanted help,” he threw back, but it was lame and sounded wrong even to his ears and Lucia turned away as if she meant it.
He went to her and there was almost violence in him as they faced off. “This isn’t about her, this is about us.” He swallowed the fear that she would keep walking. “This is that I love you, and anything else that happened before you doesn’t matter. Yes, we fucked, but then she left me and I spent eight months drinking myself to sleep and not wanting to wake up.”
He ran his fingers over the lines of her jaw, set and unyielding, brightness welling in the corners of her eyes that made him sick at heart and feel like weeping.
“But then there was you and you made me want to wake up, to wake up with you and see the day, see every day.”
Some line of her body softened, almost imperceptibly, but it was as if another hidden part of her had broken and crumbled, some little terrible destruction.
“I love you and I want to be with you,” he told her, inflamed and impassioned now with some bright spark. “She may have meant something to me at one time, but she means nothing to me now.”
But even as he said it, as honest and heartfelt as the words were, he thought of the way Parker had come into his hotel room, easily and without knocking, the way she looked at him with those witching eyes he remembered so well, the ones that ate you alive and you enjoyed it, the way the empty space between them reeled out more tensile and erect than any touch ever could have been. He thought of the way she had stood up and not bothered to smooth her skirt, the sharp, hard way she let him remember the curves of her thighs and even higher, how the sound in the back of her throat, raw and visceral, shook in his veins, and how she waited to see if he would break the space between them, knowing keenly if she touched him, he might have had the pleasure of throwing away her offending hand.
Parker had left his door open as she walked out, a reminder to come where he knew to find her, as if she were really lying in wait, but he only rose and closed the door, latching the lock and the deadbolt and grabbing the phone desperately.
Lucia had answered, but her voice was clipped and faraway as if somehow she knew. Then coming home was all that had mattered, taking away the static between them.
Jarod put his arms around her but she resisted.
“Then tell her to go,” Lucia said, because she always said what was right, had had years of schooling and tangled cases to teach her, and perhaps for her, what was right had always been just that easy. “Tell her there is nothing for her here.”
The phone rang, shrill and grating, and when she left him to answer it, he felt her loss like a little death. Across the dark space, Lucia’s body tensed and froze, and all she said, in a flat calm voice, was, “it’s her.”
The world sagged, gaping, between them as Lucia stood in the darkness, tall and straight like a bridgespan, her thumb on the ‘end’ button, waiting, waiting, as if it could all be so easy.
She stood far enough away, but not close enough, and looking back, he might blame her for that, because she already knew what he would do, knew in no way could he have them both, knew in the dark jagged depths of her heart where doubt slept restlessly and in nightmare, that he would lose the one he loved most, if only for the simple reason he could not keep her.
Jarod reached out for the call.
“Lucia – ” he called her name, but he was holding the phone and she was already gone.
Parker called several more times, two of which Lucia answered and threw the phone at him. By then, neither had known what to say, reaching out for what the other person had first been only to find emptiness.
She had been in the shower, the last time he had gone to her. Her long blonde hair had turned into a rope the color of pencil wood under the pelting water and he stepped in and ran his hands up under her scalp the way that had once made her close her eyes and sigh from deep in her chest. But she reached for the shampoo bottle as if he had never touched her and poured a daub into her palm. White bubbles frothed in her hair and the space smelled like a harvest orchard, when fruit hung heavy and overripe before falling to the ground in little explosions of sugar and rot.
Needles of hot water stung and scalded as he spoke and tried to explain.
She listened, rinsing out the thick strand of her hair and sliding conditioner through its heavy lengths. She reached for the soap and only when he took it from her did she look at him. Her green eyes were glazed and dull, brimming with recrimination, of things she thought she knew but couldn’t prosecute. Innocent until proven guilty had gone out the window a long time ago, back when they were still arguing in heated tones and saying things they didn’t necessarily mean but hurt all the more, back when they were seeing nothing of each other but shadows and not sleeping in the same bed. Back when his clothes had somehow still smelled like Parker, though he hadn’t touched her, back when she was calling and Lucia was slipping away. Lucia, whose years of law school had taught her too well never to fight a fight she couldn’t win.
“I don’t want to lose you,” he said finally.
He scrubbed the lather on her skin until the shower walls were thick with white foam, skimming over the joints of her elbow, the flat planes of her shoulders, the curves of her stomach and curls of her butt, the long endlessness of her legs, touching her as if it would keep her close.
“Jarod,” her voice was little and very low, and her eyes were closed as if it were a dream. The water between them had gone cool and sluiced over them in shivers and she grabbed onto him as if she meant it.
They hadn’t been together in weeks, and his heart longed for her, begged her to open her eyes and look at him the way she had back when it seemed like there was forever in her smiles and the way she laughed.
And then she did, she opened her startling green eyes and stared at him, but it wasn’t the way he’d thought. Jarod kissed her anyway under the flurries of water, cold enough now to make them both jump, chlorine leaking into their mouths as they rinsed hurriedly and stepped out.
He pulled her into his arms and they fell back into the bedroom, the bed catching their wet bodies.
“I meant it,” he told her, as her eyes watched him in the dusky light, “I don’t want to lose you.”
“Then don’t let me go.”
But her voice didn’t sound right and when he touched her in the old ways that had left her breathless, her body stayed limp and barely responsive and though her breathing was uneven, she stopped short of calling out, calling his name, as if she had become a stranger, a chance piece of lay, and wouldn’t know. Somewhere in the falling darkness, he realized the phone was ringing and that it could only be one person, but he was already inside her and his body surged with rhythm. Under him, her breath snapped like an elastic and he shook within her, pulling out slowly and laying his head on her wet chest. But as he reached up to touch her face, she stopped him, and turned over on her side, curling up and wiping away her own tears.
Silence invaded the room.
She left him on the second day of July, when heat had crushed the peppermint she had doted over into slumping slivers of redolent chlorophyll. Outside the grass was singed orange like radiation, as if the world had turned upside down.
Had she seen the peppermint and given up, Jarod wondered. Had she seen something too far gone to be saved?
She had left him on the second day of July, but she had been gone much longer than that, the day when Parker had come and stood on the creaking porch, rattling the screen door frame until he came outside into the heat.
She had left without a note, without needing to, a woman who had come into his life without words and left the same way, a woman with whom he had fallen in love simply because she had come to him when he had nothing else but darkness and had showed him light, like her name. She hadn’t left a note, but then, the written word had never been her forte. Spoken things, that was what she was good at, why she was called the lacemaker, but only when there were things to be said.
She had taken her books and her papers, most of her clothes, and the sparkly things he had given her back when it had all seemed possible. She left him payment for the rent until he could leave, the peppermint she had loved wilting in desperation, and the sheets on their bed where they had made love one last time.
He opened the door and stood before Parker as she took him in, the bruised circles under his eyes, the days’ worth of stubble darkening his jaw, the trembling way he held the mug of coffee as if he might drop it or perhaps throw it. She was wearing dark blue, almost as dark as the color of Lucia’s dress the night they had come home reeling in each other, the night everything had seemed possible, the night everything had started to fall apart, but on Parker it looked like a spell, a contusion, a curse.
“She’s gone.” In Parker’s voice, it sounded heretical; it sounded almost joyous.
“Because of you.”
She laughed in the dark way that reminded him of the devil and cast him that mocking look.
“I didn’t make her leave,” Parker denied and there was no rush in her voice. “Maybe you weren’t worth staying for.”
Her hair was down and dark and wild like a raven, blowing across her face and catching in the shine on her lips so that she had to rescue the stuck strands. She would taste like boysenberry, he knew, rich and expensive, and in some ways like coming home. She wouldn’t stop him, but she would kiss him with her eyes open and her mouth would be rigid with got-you under his. He knew all this too.
Oh yes, he had loved this woman too, somehow, back when he had been young and stupid and he had mourned for her too. Now all that was left was bitter rot and spit; all that was left was the empty cavity of his heart, where blood fled and rushed and everything hurt where the woman whose name meant light had bandaged up his broken pieces with the elegant stitches of her lace.
He wanted to tell Parker that she would not cost him this, that she had cost him too much already, but there was so much between them, so much like the way she came at him and wouldn’t, maybe couldn’t, take no for an answer.
Her eyes were brilliantly dark, and he was glad they weren’t light like Lucia’s so he could see his reflection, so that he could only see her too-beautiful, malicious pleasure, irresistible and burning as she moved against him, the way she had been doing all her life. Her fingers rubbed at his shoulder, tiny electric pricks that they both knew weren’t meant to be comforting. Women like her never were, never really cared or wanted to know otherwise.
She moved to him as if to take him, the way she took everything else, but the smell of crushed peppermint was heavy in the air and the clouds were strung out across the heavens like lace, like punto in aria – stitches upon the air – that he could trace back to the beginning, back to a name that felt like light, back to a bruised and battered heart, maybe even back to healing and saving hope.