By E. R. Burns
The scent of lavender candles hung heavy in the air, filling my lungs and intoxicating my senses. I tossed my work bag on the ratty little desk we’d found by the dumpster when we moved in. Our apartment was certainly nothing impressive. The neighborhood was shitty, and the commute was horrible. The appliances were almost always broken, and our landlord never did dick shit about it. The only redeeming quality was the clawfoot porcelain tub that, at least in her eyes, outweighed all the flaws. She’d fallen in love with that tub. She begged me for that tub. She cast her spell on me and demanded that tub. Her small frame writhed under mine, and her nails sunk into my back, but instead of my name falling from her lips, she let out a cry for that goddamned tub. We moved in the next week.
The bathroom door stood wide open—an invitation. I leaned against the doorframe. Her feet hung over the edge, crossed at the ankle. Droplets of water ran down her legs, slithering over caramel calves before disappearing beneath the surface of bubbly water. I cursed the suds that hid her from me. Her chin skimmed the surface, a lazy smirk splayed across her plump lips.
Her hand, which had laid limp over the far side of the tub, went to her lips as she pulled a drag from her cigarette. Cognac irises fixed on mine. Her smoky breath filled the air between us and mixed with the steam of the water.
“Do me a favor.” She gestured to the turntable sitting on the sink. “Flip my record.”
I could feel her gaze as I ventured deeper into her trap to do as she asked. “Miss Simone.” I nodded my approval. The needle met the vinyl, a moment of static cutting the tension between us before Nina’s smoky voice filled the air.
“My god.” She groaned. “That voice.” She closed her eyes, her head swaying along to the tune of “I Put a Spell on You.” She took another drag. Her chest peaked out, the heat of the water giving a slight pink tint to her golden skin. “You’re home late. How was your day?”
“Long, boring, utterly unimportant now.” I didn’t want to talk about the budget cuts happening across the board. I didn’t want to tell her I was terrified of not being able to provide for her and how her parents had been right about me all along. I didn’t want to ruin the perfect little moment she had created, so I didn’t.
I bent, reaching across the tub to pull the cigarette from her fingers before bringing it to my lips. I perched on the toilet seat, close enough that I could feel the steam radiating from her skin, but far enough so as not to become intoxicated by lavender. I handed the cigarette to her, letting out a smoky sigh as her fingers brushed mine. She pulled my fingers to her lips and took a puff, before pushing the cigarette towards me.
“You finish it,” she said. “You need to relax more than I do.”
I chuckled, taking the butt between my lips. After a few puffs, only the filter remained.
“A bit,” I said.
Utterly unable to refuse, I knelt at her side. Her fingers traced my features, leaving a trail of water in their wake. She scratched at the stubble on my chin and ran her thumb over my bottom lip.
And I did. Her hands gripped my shoulders. My linen button down became heavy with water before being discarded. Lavender consumed me. The tile floor flooded from our exchange. As Nina Simone belted her final note, my love came undone in my arms.
The record had long since finished, and the water in the tub had grown cold. Her back pressed to my chest, her figure perfectly framed by my own. Her head fell back, so it rested on my shoulder, her cheek brushing against mine.
“Better?” she asked again, her voice smug.
I pulled her chin towards me and captured her lips. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close.
“I love you,” I muttered.
Those words would never be enough. They were saturated, overused, all but meaningless. But they were the only thing that even came close to what I felt for her. I pressed a feather-light kiss to her shoulder. In that moment, nothing else mattered. Not the risk of my losing my job. Not her parents’ opinion of me. Nothing. The world could burn to the fucking ground so long as she was in my arms.
“I told you the tub was worth it,” she said.