Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

The Fruit and the Fall

Summary:

Mallory had a plan for her life, but it was suddenly and cruelly taken away from her. At a loss, she decides to take a vacation to the city where her favorite book was set in the hopes she can find the same peace of mind as the main character. While there, she has a chance encounter with another traveler that just may lead her to what she’s looking for.

Note: There was a meme on Facebook about a book where the main character falls in love with the reader. This isn’t that, but parts of the premise came from that general area.

 

The wry twist of the desk clerk’s lips told Mallory that she wasn’t the first one to ask about Room 548. “550 is available,” he said. “It faces the city as well.”

“That will be fine.” Mallory and the clerk swapped credit card and room keys. She declined a bellhop for her bags, thanked him, and headed for the elevators. She was embarrassed to have already been found out. There was no shame in her mission. Why was it socially acceptable for people to travel hundreds or thousands of miles for a Super Bowl and dress in the colors, but what she was doing got odd looks and smug grins from hotel staff?

She jabbed the elevator button with the knuckle of her middle finger. Let the twerp smirk. She’d been looking forward to this trip for over a year. And okay, the exact room wasn’t available, but so what? She was next door, and that was the same thing. Besides, the room wasn’t the main attraction anyway. It was just the jumping off point.

The elevator doors opened to reveal the car. The carpet was “blood red with a pattern of small yellow shields, like a great battle was in the midst of being lost just underneath my feet” and the lights shone just a bit too brightly overhead as she stepped inside and pressed the button for the fifth floor. She rested against the railing and looked into the back corner. Stage left, directly across from the button panel, she imagined a tall, thin blonde woman in an untucked dress shirt, black slacks, her bloodshot eyes hidden behind big Jackie-O sunglasses. Mallory had a pair of glasses just like that in her purse.

The elevator doors parted on 5. She stepped out, the bag grumbling behind her as she walked down the narrow hallway. Each door was in its own alcove, the numbers etched in white on blue glass rectangles. Mallory stood next to 548 and traced each number with her index finger. She couldn’t describe how it felt to be in that space, to actually feel how sharp the edges were. The glass was cold. She could hear the air conditioning hum. Straight ahead of her was a window which revealed tall buildings of downtown.

She moved past the room she wanted and swiped the keypad of the room she’d settled for. It would be reversed from what she was expecting, but that was fine. The door clicked behind her and she took a moment on the threshold to breathe it all in. The heavy curtains blocking the balcony, “dark red or black, with light shining around three of the four edges… dark but with the promise of light if I could just find the energy to pull the cord”, were standing partially open to make the room seem inviting.

Mallory put her bags on the bed. She unzipped the carry-on and removed the book carefully placed on top of her folded blouses. The white cover was ragged at the edges, its corners softer than the paper underneath, and there was a wide stain from where it had been splashed by coffee one morning when she wasn’t paying attention. The spine was creased. Dozens of pages had been dog-eared and then ineffectively smoothed out. Her hardcover copy looked even worse, but she had it on Kindle if she needed a pristine version.

She carried the book out onto the balcony. It was just past three in the afternoon, nowhere near sunset, so she had plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere. She held the book in both hands, elbows on the edge of the balcony, and looked out over the city. It had taken her ages to figure out where it was. The author never mentioned it by name but there were enough clues for a dedicated hunter to narrow down the options. Every little detail checked out online, and now here she was.

Her fingers traced the letters of the book’s title. The Fruit and the Fall by Eloisa Villalba. She originally picked it up in a bookstore because the cover drew her eye. It showed a woman standing under an arch bridge, sunshine turning the wet cobblestones under her feet into shining gold. It was no yellow brick road. There were leaves gathered at either end of the tunnel and scattered throughout the tunnel. Despite the golden glow of the environment, the woman was draped in shadow. It seemed to Mallory that she was carrying that shadow with her.

Someone came out on the balcony next to hers. She wouldn’t have noticed except it happened to be the room, the one from the book. She glanced over out of a curiosity to see who was occupying the room she’d been dreaming of taking for herself. The woman looked Middle Eastern, with pale tan skin and hair as black as an oil sheen tied back to run over her shoulder like a sash. Her eyebrows were thick over wide chocolate eyes.

The other woman leaned against the balcony with her chin up, eyes narrowing as she focused on the horizon. She turned her head as she sensed Mallory’s scrutiny and offered a long thin smile. Mallory returned it and faced the city again. She folded the book between her hands, bending the cover.

“Is that–”

Mallory looked at the other woman. She’d straightened up, her expression less guarded. She wasn’t looking at Mallory but at the book in her hands.

“I’m sorry,” the woman said again, “but is that Fruit and the Fall?”

“Yes.” Mallory flattened the book and turned it to show the cover. “Have you read it?”

The woman turned and went back into her room. A few seconds passed before she reappeared holding a hardback copy of the book. She smiled and handed it across the waist-high partition between their balconies.

“That’s my travel copy.” She was more animated now, breathless and moving with jerky, excited twitches. “I have another one at home that I almost never take off my shelf. It’s pristine.”

Mallory thought the book she was holding looked like it had just come from a store. But no, there was a tiny tear in the dust jacket and she could see a fold in one of the pages. Still, she was almost embarrassed to see her paperback next to this version.

“I’m Alexis,” the other woman said.

“Mallory.”

“Did you know my hotel room…”

Mallory smiled. “I did. I was hoping I could stay there, but someone beat me to the punch.”

Alexis winced. “Oops. Sorry. If I’d known–”

“You couldn’t possibly have known. But maybe I can sneak in and take a look before you go.”

“Of course. I’d invite you in now, but I kind of have my things strewn around.”

Mallory shook her head and handed the book back. “No, I’m still getting settled in. I wanted to take a nap so I’ll be rested.”

Alexis held the book against her chest. “Are you planning to ‘slip from the safety of the hotel, my harbor in the sea of darkness, to go exploring in the wild seas around it’?”

“You have the book memorized?”

Alexis laughed. “Not even close. But favorite passages, sure. And I was going to do the exact same thing, with the tour.”

Mallory said, “What’s that they say about great minds?”

Alexis laughed. “You know… no, never mind.”

“What?”

“I was going to suggest going together. But no, we’re complete strangers.”

Mallory lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. “We’re not complete strangers. We both know everything that’s in the book. We both know that book spoke to us in a very similar way. We know we’re both smart enough to figure out where it took place. Maybe we’ll find something else we have in common.”

“I guess you have a point. So… what do you say? Want to team up?”

Mallory hadn’t anticipated a sidekick. Or maybe she would be the sidekick, since Alexis seemed to be a step ahead of her on the journey. Still, the alternatives were either going back home or awkwardly running into this woman every day after declining her invitation. Besides, where was the fun in simply taking in the sights alone when she could be enjoying them with someone who shared her passion?

“That sounds amazing. In fact, I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to explain to my friends why I was so excited for the trip. Being with someone who shares the appreciation would be ideal.”

Alexis checked her watch. “Excellent. I was going to nap and grab some dinner later on. Do you want to meet up in the lobby around eight o’clock?”

“That sounds perfect. I’ll see you then.”

Alexis grinned again. “Fantastic. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll let you enjoy the view.”

Mallory waved goodbye. When she heard Alexis’ door close, she looked back out over the city. She took the book in both her hands and ran her thumb along the edge of the pages as if she could absorb the words that way. She knew the story by heart, so it wasn’t exactly necessary for her to take a copy with her everywhere she went. She just liked having the text available in the event of an emergency.

She looked toward the skyline, the low and jagged buildings that matched perfectly with what she’d imagined. The sun was setting behind a large dish-like stadium and, even though her angle wasn’t exactly right, it did look as if it was being lowered slowly into a bowl. “I could almost imagine God’s hand shutting the lid once it was out of sight, blocking off its glow until morning. It was an overlooked pleasure to watch a sunset from a new perspective, to see the world from a slightly askew angle that reminded you just how huge the world really was.

She took a deep breath and held it as long as she could. She was finally there. She was finally seeing everything Kit had seen in the book. The thought gave her chills, as if she had fallen asleep and woke up in Wonderland. Kit Wilder, the protagonist of The Fruit and the Fall. A former soldier suffering from PTSD and survivor’s guilt, Kit suffered from insomnia. When she could sleep, she was haunted by night terrors. “I didn’t even realize there were two different names for the horror movies we see at night,” Kit said, “but what I was experiencing couldn’t honestly be called nightmares. Nightmares are small fears writ large. Night terrors were large terrors stretched so big they were all you could see or hear.”

Mallory went back into her hotel room. She left the balcony door open for the breeze and sat down on the edge of the bed. Her pain was nothing compared to Kit’s, so if the trip had helped her heal, it stood to reason…

Kit hadn’t planned her trip. One night she got tired of pacing around her house, so she put on some clothes and threw a few things in her duffle, and started walking. “The airport wasn’t my choice but, once I was on the road, it seemed like the only possible destination. I could see it from miles away. It shone like a small city unto itself, a timeless center of activity that drew souls from all over the globe. It existed outside of the world and was therefore exactly where I needed to be.

Kit spent two hours wandering the airport before she finally decided to buy a ticket. Mallory opened the book to read some of the impressions she had of her fellow travelers. They were all different but with subtle similarities that quickly revealed Kit didn’t see them as real people. They were hollow and soft, cartoon characters unaware of how harsh the world could be. The pain she’d suffered ran deep and, though she admitted her characterizations weren’t fair, she couldn’t help how she felt.

Something thudded softly against the wall. Mallory looked up, flicking her hair out of her face with a smile. She assumed Alexis had just gotten into bed for her nap. It would probably be a good idea to rest. She was tired after the flight, and if they were going to follow the book to the letter, they would be up until close to dawn. She closed the book and placed it on the nightstand, toed off her shoes, and stretched out on top of the blankets.

The rooms were set up so that the headboards shared a wall. She listened to see if she could hear anything coming from the other room – Alexis was so beautiful it would be nice to know if she was a snorer – but she fell asleep without hearing anything worth noting.

 

 

 

Mallory woke to a staccato tapping, just loud enough to disturb her sleep without actually being obnoxious. Her dream untangled to reveal the real world and she blinked at the dark shadows as her brain caught up to the switch. The tapping stopped. She rolled over onto her back and stretched stiffly as she tried to think of how she felt. She’d been dreaming about the book and it took her a moment to remember where she was and why. The tapping began again. She realized she was hungry at the same time she remembered the arrangement she made with Alexis. She looked at her phone. 8:22.

“Shit!” She sat up and pushed her hair back. “Alexis?”

“Mallory?” she responded from the other side of the door.

“Shit,” Mallory said again. “I fell asleep.”

Alexis said, “Oh! At first I thought maybe you’d decided to skip it, but then I got a little worried. We can reschedule if you want.”

“No, I want to go. Just… just give me…” She opened the door to reveal Alexis standing in the small alcove between the room and the hallway. She’d been looking down at her shoes but lifted her head when the door opened. She looked amazing with her hair down, and she’d changed into a black blouse and a lightweight leather jacket. Mallory was very aware of her slept-in T-shirt and the tangle her hair must have been.

“Hi,” Alexis said.

“Hi. Come on in. I just need a second to get ready.”

Alexis hesitated before she stepped over the threshold. “I apologize for waking you.”

“No, please, I’m glad you did. I’m just going to duck in the bathroom for a second.”

“Take your time.”

Mallory grabbed the first outfit on top of her suitcase and hurried into the bathroom. She realized she had just left a complete stranger alone in her room, but she ignored the anxiety. If Alexis was a con artist, having a copy of the book meant she was either the luckiest or best prepared thief in history. Either way, Mallory didn’t have much worth stealing. She changed into the long-sleeved red blouse and did what she could with her hair. There was a baseball cap in her bag; she would have to go casual.

When she went back out into the room, Alexis was sitting in the armchair with Mallory’s copy of the book. She looked up and smiled as she put the book down.

“Sorry.”

“You’re more than welcome to thumb through it. That’s just my travel copy.” She retrieved her cap and threaded her hair through the back of it.

Alexis said, “I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking to someone who appreciates it the way I do. My friends are all sick to death of it. They keep asking when the movie will come out so they don’t have to actually read it.”

Mallory blanched. “I hope they never make a movie out of this.”

“How could they? It’s unfilmable.”

“They’d find a way. They would screw it up, but they’d find a way.” She accepted the book when Alexis handed it to her. “So what’s the plan? Do we still have time for dinner?”

Alexis said, “Plenty of time. I don’t want to leave until it’s fully dark and the streets are mostly empty.” She cocked her head to the side. “That must have sounded really off-putting from a stranger.”

Mallory said, “Maybe if I hadn’t read the book. But the streets have to be empty, like a stage whose actors had wandered off to another part of the plot–”

“Leaving me behind to explore at my leisure.” She laughed and clapped her hands once. “I can’t tell you how amazing this is.”

“It’s pretty amazing for me, too.” She shut off the lamp and led Alexis to the door. “Did you want to grab something to eat in the bar?”

Alexis nodded. “We’ll save the restaurants for the actual tour.”

Mallory said, “Sounds like a plan.”

“Bring the book.”

While they waited for the elevator, Mallory noticed she had at least five inches on Alexis. She hadn’t seemed so petite on the balcony or in the room.

“Do you have the audio version?”

Mallory followed her into the elevator. “I considered it, but those tend to make me fall asleep. It’s like a bedtime story, you know?”

“I understand. I listen when I work out, so it helps me stay awake. It’s read by Amy Acker. She’s an actress who was–”

“I know Amy.”

Alexis looked sidelong at her. “You and I seem to have a lot of common ground.”

“Seems so. I’m not sure I would have pictured her as Kit, though.”

“No, me neither. But she has a pretty sexy voice.”

Mallory wondered at that statement until they reached the lobby. Sexy as an innocuous descriptor or evidence that Alexis was gay? They seemed to have everything else in common… but if she asked, and she was wrong, things might become awkward. She didn’t want to risk it this early in their book tour.

 

 

 

They decided to stick with drinks and snacks at the bar. If they were going to follow Kit’s journey, they would have plenty of small meals all night long. Alexis suggested breaking topic so they could find out more about each other. Mallory agreed and started with a miniature biography of herself: born in Illinois, moved to Indiana as a child, and now she worked as a school media specialist. She started out just working in the library but soon branched out until she was responsible for most of the computers that came into the school.

“Teachers, administrators… most of the students can take care of their own, but they know they can come to me if they need troubleshooting.”

“Wow.” Alexis smiled as she stirred the ice in her drink. “You must be insanely smart.”

“I don’t know about that. Computers come easily to me. They always have. The way some people are just good at… you know, talking to other people.”

Alexis said, “You’re doing just fine talking to me.”

“That’s different. We have the book.”

“We’re not talking about the book right now.”

“True.” Calling attention to it made Mallory nervous. “So you… what do you do?”

Alexis said, “Ask me that six weeks ago, and I would’ve said I was a doctor. I was good at the technical part of it. The emotional part… not so much. So it was suggested I find another career. So that’s what I’m doing now.”

“While on a very expensive vacation.”

“Hooray for credit cards.”

Mallory smiled. “Well, I won’t judge. Especially since it’s given me a partner in crime.”

Alexis suggested wandering out into the lobby to see how dark it had gotten. Mallory checked her phone and was surprised to see it was almost half past ten.

“I had no idea we sat there talking for so long.”

“Yeah, time got away from us.”

Mallory noticed Alexis didn’t seem too upset by the realization. She slipped her hands into her back pockets and adjusted her pace so she wouldn’t leave the shorter woman behind. Through the front doors of the hotel was a portico for unloading and drop-offs.

“It’s a shame it isn’t raining,” Mallory said.

Alexis said, “I know. I made a point of booking during the rainy season, but I guess you can’t plan everything.”

They turned left and followed the edge of the parking lot to circle the building. Mallory had the pertinent section of the book running through her head as they crossed the grass.

The hotel was modern enough, but just across the divide was a whole other world. Marketplaces marched up and down each side of the street, clinging to the ground level of each building like barnacles on a ship at the waterline. The city had quieted about an hour earlier as if everyone was honoring an unspoken curfew, but a few establishments remained open. I could see into each one like a shadow box, the people inside moving through their own worlds until I made a decision and stepped into one of them. I had the power to change one person’s story, to alter their history of that night, and I was almost frozen by the weight of that responsibility.

Mallory saw the same row of markets. Some were open to the street while others had large picture windows with the curtains pushed back to reveal the tables and chairs within.

Alexis said, “She didn’t say anything about the smells. Do you smell that?”

Mallory inhaled and smiled. Exotic foods were being cooked nearby, their distinct aromas blending into something she couldn’t quite identify. This wasn’t a McDonalds or a barbeque joint stink, this was a whole other thing entirely. Whatever was being cooked, she was suddenly ravenous for it. She scanned the restaurants more closely to see which one appealed to her the most. In the book, Kit hadn’t even thought twice. She just went into one at random.

“Do you want to try figuring out which restaurant she went to in the book?” Mallory asked.

“We know it was inside, so the ones with patio seating are out.” Alexis brushed her thumb over her upper lip. She split her fingers to point at two restaurants. “I think it must have been one of these two. Want to flip a coin?”

“I have a better idea,” Mallory said. “Follow me.”

She walked to the nearest one and opened the door. A tired-looking man behind the counter looked up and smiled.

“Welcome. Come in and have a seat wherever you like.”

“Actually we were wondering if you served American coffee.”

Behind her, Alexis muttered, “Oh, for crying out loud. Of course.”

The man shook his head. “Sorry, miss.”

“That’s okay. Thank you.”

She left the restaurant and crossed to the other. Alexis said, “Kit ordered American coffee, not Americano. That’s clever.”

Mallory smiled proudly as she pulled open the door to the second choice. A woman was cleaning off a table in the far corner by the kitchen door. “Hello,” the woman said. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

“Can I ask if you serve American coffee?”

“Yes, we do. Would you like a cup?”

Alexis said, “Two please.”

“Coming right up. Sit where you like.”

They took a table next to the window because Kit had watched the street while she nursed her coffee. The waitress brought over their coffees and menus. The book was vague about what Kit ate, so they just ordered the first thing they saw that appealed to them. The waitress disappeared into the kitchen, leaving them alone.

“Can I ask you a question?” Alexis asked.

“Absolutely.”

“Why are you taking the book as fact? There’s no proof it’s anything but fiction that just happens to be set in a real place. There’s no reason for this restaurant to actually be here. And I admit, I’m just as guilty, but I want to hear your answer.”

Mallory thought for a moment. She gazed out the window with the coffee cup warming the air between her hands just as Kit had on that long-ago imaginary night. Finally, she looked at Alexis again.

“Because I want it to be. I can make it as real as I want in my head, but actually seeing it… being in the same places and seeing the things that were in the book… It means the internal things are real, too. The things that Kit feels and the revelations she made, they have more weight if we can actually follow the footsteps she took to get there.”

Alexis smiled. “I guess I feel the same way. I want Kit to be real. Even after everything she went through, everything she faced, she came out of it on top. I’m starting from a much better place than she was. So maybe I can find the same peace even without the benefit of… you know… some author behind the curtain pulling the strings.”

Mallory chuckled. “Would be nice, wouldn’t it? Letting him decide what happens to us?”

“Why does it have to be a him? My author is a woman.”

“Ah, of course. I misspoke.”

Alexis chuckled and crossed her arms on the table in front of her. “I spent my whole life planning to be a doctor. I envisioned it since I was just a kid. See something broken, figure out how to fix it. I didn’t count on the emotional part or how frustrating it would be if I couldn’t fix the broken thing. It was even worse when I couldn’t figure out what the broken thing even was. I was a good doctor. But I wasn’t a smart doctor. It took me a long time to figure out the difference.”

Mallory had no idea how to respond to that. She sipped her coffee. “I want to show myself at least one thing can be real.”

“What?”

“I spend all day, every day, surrounded by books. Made-up people with made-up problems. Writers who stack the deck so a happy ending is possible when the final page is flipped. I’m here because this is my favorite book and I love Kit so much that I want to prove it’s not all bullshit. There’s hope for her so there’s hope for me.”

Alexis nodded. “I get it.”

Mallory pressed her lips together and looked into her coffee. “My girlfriend left me.”

Alexis silently waited for the next bit.

“We were talking about getting engaged. I thought I was dragging my feet for her benefit. Talking about engagement instead of pushing her to get married. Turns out she was speeding up for my benefit. We finally talked about it and she told me it was… ah, it was over.” She furrowed her brow and shook her head. “Just like that. We weren’t going in the same direction. If we kept trying to pull each other to the opposite side, we’d both end up flat on our faces. So she dumped me.”

“That sucks. I’m sorry.”

Mallory smiled. “You spent your whole life dreaming about being a doctor. I spent my whole life dreaming about being someone’s wife. Having someone who needs me and who I need in return. Kit’s whole journey… she ends up alone, but it’s not a bad thing. She’s fine with being alone. Maybe if I see what she sees, I can find the same peace.”

“I like that. I guess we’re both looking for permission to let go. We had a lot of big plans and now we’re stuck without a road map. Maybe that’s why we’re following a book. That way we don’t have to make any decisions on our own. And when it’s over, maybe the road ahead will be clearer.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way. Maybe you’re right. It worked for Kit so we’re trying to borrow her journey.”

Alexis said, “We’re just assuming it worked out for her in the end. She was still kind of a mess at the end of the book.”

Mallory shrugged. “But she was content. I’d settle for that. Open for whatever comes next.”

Their food arrived and they ate in companionable silence. Mallory thought about the book and what would come next, where they would go once they left the restaurant. She smiled and looked across the table at Alexis, who was wiping her mouth on a napkin. Alexis smiled.

“You ready?”

“I am. I’ll take care of the bill.”

Alexis said, “Oh, you don’t have to do that.”

“It’s fine. You can buy the drinks when we get to the bar.”

“Deal.”

They paid and headed back out into the night. In the book, Kit encountered a pack of seven to nine wild dogs. The animals weren’t frightening but rather calm and focused. “It was almost like they were a security council, making their rounds to ensure everything was okay. One of them, a lab with smears of mud on his flanks, lifted his head to watch me as he and his deputies marched past. I twisted to watch them until they disappeared around the corner.” There were no dogs to be seen on the street. Combined with the lack of rain, it was looking like some things would just have to remain imagined.

The street ended in a roundabout with alleys that branched out in three directions. Alexis said, “If we want to see the beach, we should probably go down that one.”

“I’ll follow your lead.”

Alexis went first. The street sloped upward at first, then cut sharply to the right. The buildings had been constructed before cars were widely available, so the streets seemed unbelievably narrow as they searched for a path to the beach. They were lost within a few minutes and, while they both could consult the map on their phones, neither reached for the device. Mallory wanted to see what they happened across while they looked for a way back to the main road. There was no reason to panic because salvation was just an app-click away.

“Maybe–” Alexis turned and found herself in a dead end. “Nope.”

Mallory laughed and looked back the way they’d come. “It didn’t seem like such a maze in the cab from the airport.”

“That’s how they trick you,” Alexis said. “Come on, let’s try this way.”

They were completely off book by that point. They were supposed to have found a pub, where they would buy drinks and bury their feet in the sand while watching dark waves lap at the shore. Kit never wandered aimlessly through narrow streets. Alexis paused at an intersection and reached back to take Mallory’s hand before darting away. Mallory laughed quietly as she was pulled down yet another side street that curved around tall buildings with darkened windows. The residents of the town were fast asleep, unaware of the women attempting to play a life-size version of Pac-Man just beyond their walls.

At one point, Mallory looked up and saw the shining monolith of their hotel. She realized the next right turn would take them back to the cul-de-sac where the ordeal began. She just had to point it out to Alexis and they could return to the book’s plan.

Alexis pointed to the left. “Have we been down this road yet?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Worth a shot, don’t you think?”

Mallory nodded. “Yep.”

They searched for twenty more minutes before Alexis found a thoroughfare. A market was standing on the corner with a display of local fruits and vegetables set up in a wooden display case on the sidewalk. The case was covered by an awning. Alexis laughed as they approached and said, “Well, I think we’re pretty far outside the book’s events, but I can fix one thing. Come here, stand close.”

She leaned forward under the awning. Mallory did the same and breathed deeply. The air was thick with the mingled scent of various juices and the moist skin of the produce. They stood in that awkward position for a few seconds before Mallory started to feel silly.

“What exactly are we doing? I mean, it smells great…”

“Shoot,” Alexis said. “I thought it would happen more frequently than–”

Something clicked overhead and a fine mist began spraying down onto their heads. Mallory shrieked and closed her eyes. Alexis laughed. After a moment they straightened up and began wiping the excess water from their faces.

“I love the way rain looks from a distance and below cover,” Mallory quoted from the book, “thin gray waves falling on suddenly emerald-green trees and lawns.”

Alexis said, “It reminded me of the dry days in the desert when everything tasted like sand, and I couldn’t stop myself from walking out into it.”

Layer over layer of water washed over me,” the paragraph continued, “No matter how quickly I wiped it away. I was wet in a way that implied I would never be dry again, like maybe if I didn’t move I could be washed away completely in the deluge.

“Not exactly rain…” Alexis said.

“Works for me.”

Alexis chuckled. “I just hope there weren’t plant growth hormones or fertilizer or something added to it.”

“Tasted fine to me.”

Mallory smoothed her hair back so it wouldn’t fall into her face. She examined Alexis’ features, some beads of water collecting on her upper lip while others formed rivulets down her cheeks. Alexis blinked and the droplets from her eyelashes collapsed down to her face.

Mallory said, “I spent so long planning this trip, thinking how great it was going to be, but I overlooked the biggest problem. This wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fun if I was alone. Thanks for saving the trip.”

Alexis didn’t say anything for a moment, but then she cupped Mallory’s cheek and stretched toward her. Aware of the difference in their height and guessing what was about to happen, Mallory hunched her shoulders and bent her knees so they could meet in the middle. Her lips smeared the water across Alexis’ mouth. Alexis reached up as if she planned to put her hands in Mallory’s hair but, at the last second, dropped them to her shoulders instead.

The kiss broke and Mallory rocked back on the heel of her foot, twisting away from Alexis to increase the distance between them. The sprayer shut off and left the street even quieter than it had been a moment ago. Alexis brushed her hand over her face to further sweep away the water that was still there.

“I’m sorry,” Alexis said.

“I liked it.”

Alexis said, “I did, too.”

They fell back into silence until Alexis slipped her arm around Mallory’s elbow and guided her down the street. Neither of them said anything until the hotel was in sight.

“We’ve screwed up the schedule I thought… if you want to try again tomorrow night…”

“Sure.” Mallory wasn’t sure if she was being rejected. “So are we calling it a night?”

Alexis said, “Well. I thought you could see the room…”

Mallory was suddenly extremely nervous. “That would be great. Thanks.”

The hotel seemed unnaturally silent as they crossed the lobby. The lights were turned low. Mallory could maybe see a few people in the bar, and she knew someone would appear at the front desk if she summoned them, but for the most part it seemed as if the entire building had been cleared out for them. She could almost hear the rain on the roof now. She could smell the ozone, but maybe that was the leftover water on her face and lips. Or maybe her imagination was just getting carried away.

Whatever it was, Alexis didn’t let go of her once they were in the elevator. The went up, silently watching the numbers ascend, until they were delivered once more to their floor.

Alexis fished out her key card and stopped in front of the door so she could face Mallory. “There was one downside to the book. One thing that didn’t happen but I really kept hoping it would.”

“What’s that?” Mallory’s mouth was dry.

“Kit should have gotten laid.”

Mallory made a quiet, desperate sound. “Kit totally should have gotten laid.”

One of them moved first, but it didn’t matter which one since they were both so eager. One of Alexis’ hands was in the small of Mallory’s back, the fist pressing small and hard against her spine as the other hand managed to swipe the card with the dexterity of a magician. Mallory threw her hip against the door so it swung open and Alexis pulled her inside. Teamwork. Mallory’s hair was in her face so she broke the kiss to flip her head. Alexis reached up and slid her hands over the sides of Mallory’s head, pinning the hair back with her fingers.

“If you want to pretend I’m Kit,” Alexis said, “I’d be okay with it.”

“Would it be okay if I don’t?”

Alexis smiled. “Even better. I just… if you want this to just be a rebound thing…”

“Reb– oh, no. The engagement was last year. I’ve done the rebound thing. Twice.”

“Oh. Okay.”
They kissed as they moved toward the bed. Mallory’s heard was pounding when Alexis turned her and gently forced her to sit on the edge of the mattress. Alexis put her leg between Mallory’s knees and pushed them apart before she crouched in front of her. Still kissing, upper bodies bent toward each other, Alexis smoothed her palms over the material of Mallory’s slacks. The material made Alexis’ touch feel like smooth silk and Mallory tensed with a shudder every time they moved close to her crotch. Her bottom lip trembled between Alexis’ teeth.

She closed her eyes and tried to focus on the way Alexis’ mouth moved against hers. She tried to make her brain line up how it felt when one hand stopped stroking her thigh and moved to undo the button of her pants. In the book, every detail would have been spelled out in order to transport the reader. Now she was the protagonist and she could barely keep everything straight. She had one hand on the back of Alexis’ head and the other wrapped in a fistful of sheet. She longed for a fictional account she could take her time with, some narrative with sentences she could slowly skim as she brushed a hand over her breast or between her legs as she read before turning off the lights.

She lifted herself up as her pants were dragged down her thighs. She sat back down on the bed and realized she was naked from the waist down and that was Alexis kissing her thigh as she lifted the tail of her shirt out of the way.

“Is this–”

“It’s okay,” Mallory said sharply. Then softly, “Please.”

She scooted forward as Alexis positioned her head just right, her chin on the mattress and her cheeks against Mallory’s inner thigh. Mallory kept her hand in Alexis’ hair and tried to keep her breathing steady as she looked down at the first touch. Yes, the rebounds had been a while ago, but so had her last physical relationship. Almost long enough for her to forget how it felt to look down and see someone perched so intimately against her lap.

A puff of air made her tense, the glancing touch of a dry lip made her shudder, and then she felt the passage of Alexis’ tongue as she licked her lips. She held her breath and let it out only when those lips actually touched her. She rolled her head back. Her shoulders were hunched and the muscles of her legs stiff as she fought the urge to thrust her hips up against the tongue teasing her. Alexis used lips and the tip of her tongue before she pulled back slightly.

“Mallory, relax… relax.”

“I can’t.”

Alexis whispered, “You can. You’re too tense right now.” She lifted her head just enough to kiss Mallory’s stomach through her shirt, just next to the row of buttons.

“That’s not helping.”

Alexis sat up.

“No, I’ll relax, I’ll–”

“Shh,” Alexis said with laughter in her voice. “You need to relax. I’m just giving your body a chance to get used to what’s happening.” She leaned in and they kissed in the dark. Alexis’ mouth tasted slightly different and it made Mallory’s head swim to think about why that was. She moaned. Alexis unbuttoned Mallory’s shirt and pushed it off her shoulders, leaving her in just a black bra and the pants around her ankles.

She was tingling all over, but some of the tension actually had evaporated from her. Her feet were flat on the floor now and, when Alexis began kissing her neck, she was afraid she might fall over and sink into the mattress. Alexis kissed, licked, and sucked on her throat as she kept one hand massaging Mallory’s thigh like a promise that she would get back there eventually.

“Al, I’m ready…”

Alexis lifted her head so her lips were against the corner of Mallory’s mouth. “Did you just call me Al?”

“You can call me Betty.”

Alexis chuckled throatily. “What are you ready for, my bodyguard?”

Mallory dropped her voice to a whisper. “Your mouth on me.”

Alexis obliged. Mallory closed her eyes and moved her legs further apart, arching her back. She decided a narrative was overrated. She could tell herself stories all night every night but nothing would compare to what she was feeling in that moment. Mere words wouldn’t serve as a proper memorial to Alexis’ mouth on her, her tongue inside, her fingers teasing, so she focused hard on the feelings and let everything happen without cataloguing every moment.

When she came, she reached down and pulled Alexis up and fell backward. She wanted to be covered by her, wanted to feel Alexis on every inch of her exposed skin. She kept her eyes closed as Alexis kissed her all over. Her bra was unclasped and pulled away with no measure of help from Mallory, but she moaned her approval when Alexis sucked and teased the nipples with her teeth. Her hands drifted up, the fingers stiff from the tightness of her grip on the sheet as she tugged away the clothes. A shirt was lifted and warm skin settled against warm skin. Alexis shifted to one side and then the other, rocking back and forth on top of Mallory as she pushed her pants down. She spread her legs and settled one knee on the mattress between Mallory’s legs. Mallory bent her knee until her thigh pressed against Alexis and they both sighed at the contact.

Alexis lifted her head. Mallory put her hands on Alexis’ ass, squeezing a request that Alexis silently accepted with a nod. Mallory guided her, choosing the rhythm, and Alexis arched her back to match it. Mallory pulled Alexis toward her and, when she relaxed her grip, let Alexis fall away from her. She lifted her hips off the mattress. Alexis’ body curved above her.

Mallory opened her eyes and focused on the woman above her. There was just enough moonlight coming in through the window to outline the curves of Alexis’ naked body. She came again, whimpering through the climax this time, and she felt Alexis coming as well. Alexis sat up very straight and then with a drawn-out moan, she sank down and pressed her face against the curve where Mallory’s neck and shoulder met. They were both sweating and breathing heavily, and Mallory was struggling to touch any spot of Alexis she hadn’t yet left a fingerprint on.

Alexis suddenly felt incredibly tiny; her leg was hooked on Mallory’s hip and her lips were on Mallory’s shoulder. Mallory suddenly felt large and imposing even though she felt as if she’d been the submissive one during the whole encounter. She turned her head and kissed Alexis’ hair.

“That was better than anything in the book.”

“What book?” Alexis asked.

Mallory smiled and closed her eyes. The room was cold, but Alexis’ body was radiating heat. She held her tighter and fell asleep hoping some of it would transfer to her in the night.

 

 

 

At some point during the night, Mallory woke up enough to realize Alexis was standing next to the bed to take off her pants and shoes for her. She murmured a thank you and Alexis shushed her as she climbed back onto the mattress. “Go back to sleep. I was just making you a little more comfortable.”

“I couldn’t possibly be more comfortable,” Mallory said, immediately proven wrong when Alexis spooned her from behind.

When she woke again, it was morning. Mallory was alone in bed again and Alexis was going through the pockets of her discarded pants.

“If this was all an elaborate scheme to rob me, then… it was still worth it.”

Alexis grinned and held up a key card. “I was going to sneak into your room and grab some clothes so you wouldn’t have to wear last night’s outfit.”

“Wow. Thank you. That’s so thoughtful of you.”

Alexis leaned over the bed to kiss her. “I’ll be right back. Any preference for the outfit?”

“Whatever’s in the closet is fine. Thank you.”

“See you soon.”

Mallory smiled and stretched out in the bed. Outside the sky was overcast, threatening the rain they’d been expecting the night before. One side of the bed was still warm from Alexis, so she rolled over and smoothed her palm over it the way she’d seen people do on TV. She always thought those people were seeking without finding, but now she understood they were just drawn to the warmth. She smiled and closed her eyes. The room smelled like what they had done, what she hoped they would do again very soon. She’d spent more money than she was comfortable admitting getting to this place, to this city so far away from home, and after spending less than one day there, she wanted nothing more than to stay locked up in the hotel room.

Alexis came back with her clothes and they took a shower together. Mallory appreciated getting a full look at the parts of Alexis’ body she had only glimpsed in the darkness. At one point Alexis slipped and Mallory caught her before she could fall. Alexis laughed and flipped her hair out of her face.

“That’s another thing,” she said. “In a book, we could actually have all kinds of contortionist sex in here without worrying about slipping.”

“Books are overrated,” Mallory said, voicing the thought she’d had the night before.

Alexis said, “I think they can fire a librarian for saying something so blasphemous.”

“I won’t tell if you don’t.”

Later, Mallory went to retrieve breakfast. They ate in Alexis’ room, with her on the bed and Mallory sitting on the floor against the wall.

Alexis said, “You never mentioned where your school is.”

“Portland. Oregon, not Maine. Where were you almost a doctor?”

“Joliet. Just outside of Chicago.”

Later, they succumbed to technology and used their phones to find the beach. They took pictures of each other at locations they recognized from the book. A vendor was selling soft pretzels, so they bought some and walked in the surf as they ate.

“Maybe there are some appealing jobs in the Portland area,” Alexis said.

Mallory tried not to get over-excited by the prospect. “Don’t make any rash decisions just because of what happened last night. I’d feel horrible if you uprooted yourself and we found some horrible incompatibility down the road.”

“It wouldn’t be just for you, narcissist,” Alexis said jocularly. “I’ve been looking around Joliet and not finding anything. Maybe a change of scenery is exactly what I need. Portland is beautiful country. And if something does happen between us, it would be nice to be close enough to do something about it.”

“Then I give you approval to move to my state if you want to.”

“Approval? How much power do you have in that job of yours?”

Mallory laughed. “Oh, you have no idea.”

Later on they went back to the hotel and had sex again. The second time was much more relaxed, slower so they could fully appreciate each other. They stayed in bed until they were hungry for dinner. Alexis suggested room service again, but Mallory insisted on going out to a local restaurant. “We can’t come all this way and spend all this money just to have cheeseburgers in our room.”

Alexis conceded she had a point and reluctantly got dressed. Mallory watched her, amused. She never would have thought someone like Alexis, someone so smart and beautiful, would want to spend an entire afternoon in bed with her and then be reluctant to leave. She made sure to kiss her before they went back out in public.

Night fell while they were eating. They wandered back to the hotel, but halfway hoping they would get lost again. They were holding hands, fingers linked, and Mallory thought it would be okay if they never made it back to the hotel. She could gladly spend months exploring the rabbits’ warren of streets and alleyways of this city as long as Alexis was by her side.

They finally did return to the hotel, back to the room, for more making out on the bed. Alexis undid the buttons of Mallory’s shirt starting from the bottom and traced letters on Mallory’s stomach with the tips of two fingers. Mallory gently guided Alexis’ hand to the waistband of her pants, a not-too-subtle hint at what should come next. Alexis broke the kiss and lifted her head.

“Can I ask you to do something for me?”

“Anything,” Mallory said, meaning it.

Alexis said, “Will you read to me from the book?”

Mallory smiled. “I’m no Amy Acker.”

“You’re better. Even if nothing happens between us after this trip is over, I want to have at least a few pages of the book in my mind with your voice.”

Mallory was unbelievably touched. She kissed Alexis hard before rolling over to retrieve the book. She had it memorized but, for the ceremony, she wanted to have the book actually open in front of her as a kind of cheat-sheet.

“Did you have a passage in mind?”

“Anything. The whole book is good, but I won’t make you read it all.”

Mallory climbed back onto the bed and spooned Alexis from behind. “Hold the book for me,” she said. They lay together on their sides and Alexis opened the book. Mallory found a comfortable position with one arm under Alexis while the other was draped lightly over her hip. Alexis flipped the pages and they both scanned the tight columns of text until Alexis stopped.

“Wait, here. This. Read me this.”

Mallory cleared her throat and put her lips next to Alexis’ ear. “I was never going to be perfect. I was never going to be the person I was before, and maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. Maybe change was something that couldn’t be good or bad because it simply was. I changed. I was different. Nothing could be done about it, so all I had power over was my attitude. I walked across the sand until I felt the water lap against my bare feet.”

She moved her hand to cup Alexis’ breast through her shirt. Her other hand drifted down and rested against the crotch of Alexis’ pants.

“The water was cold but I didn’t react. I walked farther even as it seemed like the sea tried to push me back to safety. I felt the water at my waist now. It soaked through my clothes and turned my skin to marble. Less feeling and harder than it had been before. Even farther now, taking care to sweep my foot across the bottom to make sure there was no surprise drop off. The water was at my breasts now and my nipples responded to the cold.”

Mallory teased with her thumb and forefinger until she could feel Alexis’ nipples responding as well. Alexis was breathing harder now, her legs drifting apart. Mallory took that as an invitation to cup her mound and began rubbing it through her slacks.

“I took off my pants underwater and let them go. The tide would either wash them back to shore or they would be claimed by the sea. I didn’t care either way. I pulled my shirt over my head rather than undoing the buttons and I set it free as well. I was wearing briefs but no bra. My skin no longer felt like it was a part of me, even though I still had a sort of numbed sensation.”

She kissed the side of Alexis’ neck and felt her shiver in response.

“I lifted my feet off the bottom and fell backward, floating on the surface with my arms outstretched to either side. The water would take me just as it took my clothes. Out into oblivion or back to safety. My fate was left up to the gods. I closed my eyes. The water passed over my breasts. I opened my legs and gasped as the first wave lapped against my center like an eager tongue, soaking my panties until they hugged the shape of my sex underneath. I moved my arms slightly as the sea massaged my pussy, making me breathe harder, my nipples tight, my whole body controlled by the tides and the moon.”

Alexis was panting now. Mallory’s hand was no longer idly rubbing but moved with purpose. She wished they’d done this the first night. Maybe not the entire, dangerous experiment of floating out to sea, but maybe sitting on the beach as the tide came in.

The book trembled and fell so that Mallory couldn’t see the page any longer. She kissed Alexis’ neck again, then nibbled her earlobe. “Mallory, I’m going to come.”

“Please,” Mallory whispered, moving her hand faster.

Alexis tensed and turned her head. They found each other’s mouths, tongues twisting as Alexis came. She pushed the book away and rolled onto her back. Mallory adjusted herself so that she was lying on top of Alexis. After Alexis’ first orgasm, they both scrambled to get out of their clothes. In the rush the book was nudged again and fell to the floor with a heavy thump.

Neither bothered reaching out to save it; they had much better things to focus on.

 

 

 

Alexis’ vacation ended the day before Mallory’s flight home. She offered to change her flight, but Mallory would have felt guilty about the cost when Alexis didn’t currently have an income. They made their final day count and, when it ended, reluctantly exchanged contact information.

“It’s better than it would’ve been even a few years ago,” Alexis said. “Video chat, email. It’ll be like we live down the street from each other.”

“Not exactly like that.” Mallory tucked a stray lock of hair behind Alexis’ ear. “But I’ll take what I can get. Have a safe flight. Email me when you land.”

“I will. And you, when you get home.”

Mallory nodded. “Okay.”

Mallory escorted her to the airport and their goodbye kiss lingered. “Email me,” Mallory said when they parted. She straightened the collar of Alexis’ jacket and touched her hair one more time just in case it was a while before she had another chance.

“I will. Have fun on your last day.”

“I’ll go on walks, take pictures, read the book in the actual places where the scenes are set.” She sighed. “It’s been my plan for months and suddenly that seems like a consolation prize.” She sighed. “You should go or you’ll miss your plane.”

“Yeah.” Alexis squeezed her hand. “I’m really glad we met.”

Mallory said, “Me too.”

Alexis finally let go and picked up her bag. Mallory watched her go and climbed back into the cab to be driven back to the hotel.

She watched out the window at the coastline they were driving past. The book ended with Kit on the same road, walking to the airport rather than away from it. She was the same person with a different outlook. She had been healed in ways she didn’t know she’d needed and, though she still had the scars that sent her wandering in the first place, she felt for the first time like she was in charge of them instead of vice versa. Mallory felt healed in the same way. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to find when she began planning the trip. She never would have dreamed about a petite, dark woman getting in her way and staying there until she filled up Mallory’s vision.

The cab driver said, “So was that your wife? Girlfriend?”

“That was…” She didn’t really know what to call the woman she’d spent the past few days having sex with. They weren’t really girlfriends, although both planned to change that as soon as possible. Partner seemed like a much grander term than they had earned. She looked at the copy of The Fruit and the Fall on her lap. It was Alexis’ copy, signed by her under the cover as a memento of the time they’d spent together. Mallory grinned.

“That was a supporting character in my narrative. And I was one in hers. But I think we’re going to share a story soon.”

From his perplexed glance in the rearview mirror, she realized he thought there was a mistake in translation. She shook her head instead of trying to explain it and opened the book to read a few pages until they got back to the hotel.

Your email is never shared.
Required fields are marked *