CHAPTER 2 – VICTIMS OF THE NIGHT
It was a goddamn slow dance. Ray remembered, vaguely, he couldn’t slow dance if his life depended on it. But for tonight, he wasn’t Ray Cartwright. He was Sky’s Ray of Sunshine.
He could barely blink. He was afraid to blink. Last time he’d blinked, he’d found himself wrapped in silver spider web that looked like mask hiding all but two blue eyes. He didn’t know how he felt about this. He was cautious and careful and calculated and articulate. He didn’t play games with girls he didn’t even know. So yeah, he definitely didn’t know how to feel about this. He didn’t know what to feel at all. But that was the beauty of it for now. He found himself enjoying quite a lot not knowing. So he took the leap. And once the shackles of his own mind were off, he learned there was more to it than reason let on.
His hand was in hers and she was leading him to the dance floor. He was so painfully calm. His heart wasn’t racing, his palms weren’t sweaty and there was no dizziness. It flashed through his mind a theory that a friend of his had, about how the anxiety, the butterflies, the racing of the heart and the sweaty palms are usually a defense mechanism of the body, triggered by adrenaline, for when it senses danger. And Ray did believe that people who made you that kind of anxious represented quite the danger regarding how susceptible you become to their influence.
And yet he was so painfully calm. Sky’s soft, warm fingers wrapped around his hand felt right, and her clear blue eyes gave him a sense of reassurance. They stopped in the middle of the dance floor and she turned to him with intimidating reassurance and closed the distance between them, placing one hand on his shoulder. Ray figured this was his cue and raised his hand that was holding hers, looking at their intertwined fingers mesmerized, and brought his other hand to the small of her back.
He remembered she was wearing a backless dress and his breath caught in his throat as his fingertips met skin. He felt a few small goosebumps as he traced a couple small lines on her back, and smiled to himself. Turns out she wasn’t as well-composed as she appeared to be and that he, a shy clueless librarian, was the dull knife that could cut through to her.
They started swaying slowly to the rhythm of the song. It was Wicked Game. What a fortunate coincidence. Because if Sky could be a song, Ray thought, she’d be this exact song. A wicked game, a playful, mysterious, blurry silhouette in the night.
“What’s on your mind, Ray of Sunshine?” she smiled devilishly at him, like she knew exactly what he was thinking. So he smiled back and deflected her question.
“What’s your story, Sky?”
She clicked her tongue and unclasped her hand, wrapping both of her hands around his neck. Ray brought his other hand down and rested it on her hip.
“Now, now,” she whispered so dangerously close to his lips, he would’ve only needed to move forward half an inch to taste her lip gloss. “Why do you keep trying to spoil my fun?”
“Where’s the fun in not knowing?”
She pursed her lips. “The not knowing part.” Ray rolled his eyes and she allowed herself to chuckle. “I mean it. Where’s the fun in predictability? Knowing, always knowing what’s just around the corner, when you can open yourself up to all the possibilities? I could be a stripper or a bioengineer for all you know.”
Ray fought a smile. She did make a solid point.
“I make a living out of knowing,” he replied. “And I’m pretty fond of my comfort zone that knowing provides.”
She simply looked at him, question in her eyes, keeping him frozen in place, like he was a snowflake that she held in her palm to see how long it took until he melted. Not long, Ray admitted to himself. It won’t take long until I melt in her palm.
After a few seconds, she leaned in and he felt her lips at his ear.
“And tell me, Ray?” she whispered over the smooth tempo of the song. “Who are you out of your comfort zone?”
He tightened his grip on her and he felt her shudder a little as his fingers dug slightly into her skin. As good as she was at faking it, Ray was glad to know she was a victim of this curious spell this intense electricity had cast over them both.
“I was never curious to find out,” he admitted in response to her question and he felt Sky’s lips curve into a smile at his ear.
“For someone who liked to know, that’s a great offense,” she teased, and then she backed away from his year and captured his gaze once more. Without breaking eye contact, she brought down one hand and unclasped one of Ray’s from her waist, intertwining their fingers. “You may come across as shy, boring nerd, Ray of Sunshine. But I can see through you. In here lies a heart on fire.”
She brought up their joined hands and placed them on Ray’s hands, and he felt his steady heartbeat. He swallowed hard and tried to find his voice.
“How could you know such thing?” he managed to ask. “You just met me.”
She offered that sly half smile of hers that made Ray’s insides twist and his thoughts unravel before her, and then she moved their hands again and placed them over her own chest.
“Takes one to know one,” she replied simply, and Ray looked at her in silence.
She dropped his hand that went back around her waist, and none of them spoke. The background faded away. The song had ended and they were both pretty sure they were no longer keeping the rhythm, but they stayed locked in each other, neither of them wanting to risk breaking the spell.
“Sky,” Ray whispered her name – or the lack of it, truth be told –, the sound of it rolling off his tongue smoothly, like a prayer. “I’ve got nothing on you. I don’t even know your name. What should I make of you?”
She leaned in again, teasing him once more, intoxicating him with the smell of fresh spring mornings and wild summer nights.
“Nothing,” she replied. “Just hold my gaze. Just don’t drop my gaze. Eyes can tell you everything you need to know. And that’s the least I can give.”
Ray pondered her words for a minute and the name rang inside his head like a song. Sky. Sky. Sky. Was it enough for him? He didn’t like games; they frustrated him. But also, he didn’t like puzzles, and Sky was a complex masterpiece made of a dozen puzzles made of hundreds of pieces. And he needed to figure her out. Sky.
“So tell me, Ray of Sunshine,” she whispered like she could read his thoughts. “Does that satisfy enough of your curiosity?”
“No,” he smiled back at her. “My curiosity is barely awakened.”
She seemed more than happy with his answers and dropped her hands from around his neck, eyes still on him. “Then how about you and me, pair of misfits, get out of this place? I’ve never been one for loud, crowded bars.”
He nodded in response and, for the first time since he’d laid eyes on Sky, Ray remembered Derek and for a brief second, he wondered why his nosy friend hadn’t made an appearance for so long. He looked around and spotted Derek at the bar, looking at him smugly. When he caught Ray’s eyes, Derek winked and gave him a thumbs up, mouthing a ‘Wow’ that Ray rolled his eyes at. He should’ve known better.
He turned his back on Derek and faced Sky, who was looking at him with a glint in her blue eyes that knocked me speechless. She took his hand and headed for the exit.
“Shall we?” she prompted.
He squeezed her fingers lightly to let her know he was fully in and not backing down. He’d figure her out.
They walked through the door out of the bar and Ray saw it was pouring, a violent storm unleashed over the streets of Seattle. He stopped walking and grimaced, but Sky kept walking until she was standing with no cover under the heavy raindrops. And in a matter of seconds, she was soaking wet, like even the rain was yearning to touch her, to cool down the heat radiating off her skin.
“Hey,” Ray called for her. “What are you doing? It’s pouring out here.”
“Come on, Ray of Sunshine,” she laughed whole-heartedly, challenging him. “It’s just a little rain. Are you gonna let some water spoil our fun?”
He pursed his lips against a smile, but didn’t let himself talked into this insanity. Every steady beat of his heart prompted him to step forward towards her, but his brain knew this was a crazy idea. But then he remembered he was supposed to shut down his brain if he wanted to crack her code.
“Come on,” she shouted again. “I’m the Sky.” Ray laughed at her. “I own this. This storm responds to me. Aren’t you the least bit curious to learn what it can unravel about her master?”
He shook his head. It was so easy to get lost in her metaphors. All it took was one look at the way the thunder reflected in the glint of her irises and you’d just have to believe her. Even if she was claiming to be the master of this storm. She was the Sky, wasn’t she?
Ray took a step forward, and he felt the cold rain drops hit him in the face. It felt oddly exhilarating. It was just water. He kept walking until he was standing before Sky, getting drunk on the smell of rain on her. And he found himself wondering how rain tasted on her lips. Tiny droplets danced on her eyelashes as she shook with laughter, pure joy clear on her face.
“Do you know why I love rain so much?” she asked him after a few minutes of simply standing in the rain, as pedestrians shielded safely under umbrellas passed by them and stared. Ray was shocked to realize he couldn’t care less.
Her hand was back over his chest, and just as if his body already recognized her, his heart shifted a little. Not rushing, but shifting its pace to match her presence. Sky. Sky. Sky.
“Because cold is the only thing that’s able to put out burning hearts,” she spoke intensely. “You’ll soon find yourself acknowledging this, too. For us, rain is like coming home.”
He didn’t argue with her logic, though for now, rain felt quite a lot like water falling from the sky and uncomfortably getting in his way. But as they stood there, none of them speaking, her hand on his chest, for a few more minutes, allowing rain to wash them over and drown everything in them to the very core, he learned there was truth in her words. Rain did felt a lot like home. Like he could let go.
She smiled as if she could read this realization all over his face. “Let’s go,” she said.
And he didn’t question her. He didn’t ask where. He didn’t ask why. He didn’t care how. There was no path and rain served as both background and soundtrack. And the night was young and they were flirting with it. She laced his fingers with his and they walked hand in hand down the rainy streets of Seattle, heading nowhere, but all too eager to arrive there.
“Can I ask you something?” Ray asked eventually.
Sky chuckled and bumped her shoulder into his. “The night is ours, Ray. You can do anything. Sky is the limit,” she joked, and Ray got the message. Anything but the mask.
“You don’t strike me as the sharing type,” he commented, and she chuckled at the understatement. “What could have possibly made you share tonight with me? Welcome me into a small corner of your beautifully twisted universe?”
She smiled at the image and Ray could tell she liked the phrasing.
“My universe isn’t twisted, Ray of Sunshine,” she admitted, and Ray was surprised she was about to let him in on a tiny piece of her mind.
She stopped walking and turned to face him. Ray realized they’d made it to the Waterfront Park and were now standing on the docks, cold rain making them shiver a little at this point, but they were so wrapped up in each other their minds chose to ignore their bodies. The city skyline revealed itself under the spotlight of the moonlight and waves kept company to the thunder echoing in the distance. And yet somehow, two heartbeats rang louder in the night.
Sky continued speaking. “There’s no universe. There’s just a corner. I’m a normal girl that leads a normal life. But I saw you and I figured I can build a tiny corner of a tiny twisted universe to take with me, to give to you, away from the ordinary that we live in. Daylight breaks. Nighttime keeps watch over the most beautiful secrets. Let’s let the night seal this one for us, Ray.”
She whispered his name like a plea, and Ray found himself unable to resist it. To resist her. He wanted to see her tomorrow. He wanted to extend his arms and remove her mask and know her name and her story and to walk her home and kiss her goodnight and call her tomorrow morning because he was just that struck by the very essence of her being. But what she was suggesting was more than the routine of a nice date and the possibility of what would come to be. She was suggesting building a place for just the two of them. And even if they were to keep that place buried in the night, sealed by thunder and drowned by rain and waves, they’d know it had been there, that it had been real and they’d been given the chance to feel this way once in this lifetime.
“I can’t promise you tomorrow, Ray,” she cupped his cheek in her tiny palm, and he leaned into her soft touch. “But I can give you here and now.”
He let out a shaky breath. These were bread crumbs. He was mesmerized and fascinated like never before and she knew it and she was an endless river and he knew it and, damn it, she knew it as well, she was all too aware of the precision with which she was drowning him. She truly owned the storm. Just not the one in Seattle. The one inside Ray.
“But how will I know this wasn’t all just a dream?” he asked helplessly. “That I haven’t made you up?”
Sky smiled widely and Ray swore he’d never seen anyone more joyful than her. She was drunk on rain and happiness and he was drunk on her.
“Because,” she replied, “if I were a dream, you’d take off my mask so that you’d know who to look for tomorrow.”
And he took it for an answer. Because she was right. Cerebral Ray wouldn’t be able to let go of the steering wheel, so she came and took over. She held control and they were driving at full speed down a dead-end street.
But his body ached to take the leap.
He’d never known the feeling of freefalling.
He wanted to. He needed to.
So he did.
He stepped backwards and Sky frowned a little, that stunning smile of hers never leaving her face. Ray took his time to contemplate her, not rushing at all to take the jump. Somehow, the adrenaline of the anticipation when you’re no more than a few feet away from the edge felt more exhilarating than the leap. So he watched her and she let herself be ignited by the intensity of his gaze.
Eventually, Ray extended his hands.
“Dance with me, Sky.”
And there was nothing cliché about it. No cheap movie impression. She didn’t gasp or hide her blush in her hands and feign surprise or remark there was no music. Because she understood. She got him and she read through his intentions and she translated his smile, and when she placed her hand in his, everything exploded. Ray physically understood why his heart was on fire; a spark that she’d turned into a firework show.
She stepped into his arms and Ray was surprised to learn how fast their bodies adjusted to each other, how easy their bodies fit together, like two pieces of puzzle trained to fall into place.
And then he took the first step, her hand clasped tight in his, his arm wrapped around her slim waist, and the energy shifted between them and they were breathing each other in. Sky could tell he was shy and clumsy and clueless, but his posture and the heat emanating out of his body and the confidence of his steady touch awakened her senses with every turn they took.
He swayed her, letting the storm be his guide, until they finally ended up face to face, so close their noses were touching and their lips brushed softly against each other, enough to tease and drive them both mad for more. Sky waited for him to take the lead, curving her lips slowly into a tempting smirk against his slightly pouty lips. She felt him swallow hard.
“I really wanna kiss you right now,” Ray admitted, his mouth speaking before his brain could process the words. But his heart and his hands around Sky approved.
The glint in Sky’s eyes made his throat tighten. “What’s stopping you?”
He swallowed over the lump in his throat and his jaw throbbed with the ache of closing that gap between them and kissing her.
“Do you want me to?” he asked and mentally slapped himself for how lame it came out as.
Sky chuckled softly as he turned her under his arm, his body instantly missing her tiny shape pressed against him. “Are you the kind of guy who needs permission, Ray of Sunshine?”
And all it took was a heartbeat. A heartbeat for him to make up his mind. He was the kind of guy who needed permission. But not tonight. A heartbeat. And as he turned her around, his grip on her tightened and he gently pulled her towards him and crashed their bodies together. Sky barely had the time to let out a whimper before Ray’s mouth was on hers, writing symphonies on it with his lips.
And you know how in movies, first kisses are always perfect and magical? And how kissing in the rain feels like the most romantic thing to do? Well, real life isn’t that magical. First kisses are clumsy and sloppy and rain makes it endlessly uncomfortable and getting in the way.
But Ray and Sky were in perfect tune. It was perfect. No move was out of place, no intake of breath was out of tune, their lips moving together in perfect sync, Sky’s fingers digging into Ray’s wet hair and his arms wrapped tightly around her silhouette. Their flames danced on the rhythms of fiery tangos, teasing and stirring each other to the point of burning themselves out into a pile of ash, only to rise higher, stronger, brighter.
Ray broke the kiss, gasping for air, his knuckles caressing her cheek in the most tender movement.
“You’re shivering,” he remarked, and he couldn’t tell whether it was from the cold or from the rush of the kiss.
“Yeah,” she chuckled, and her lips were on his again, hungrier, more eager, more hopeful.
And they danced and kissed and whispered and kissed some more until the skyline turned from coal to gray and the crack of dawn reminded them the night was no longer keeper of their tale. Daylight was their deadline.
“Ray,” she whispered, and he knew from the tone of her voice, from the curve of her lips over his, that the end was waving at them. “I should go.”
He swallowed hard and tucked a strand of wet blonde hair beneath her ear. “Can I walk you home?” he asked hopefully, yet knowing there wasn’t really any hope at all.
She smiled sadly, the first different smile he’d seen on her lips tonight. “This was all we had. And it was perfect.”
He brought himself to nod slightly, his fingers tighter than ever around hers, their foreheads touching. Eventually, she unclasped herself from his grip and placed another peck on his cheek.
“Close your eyes, Ray of Sunshine. Count to ten, and I’ll be gone.”
His breath caught in his throat. “Will I see you again?”
The same sad smile met her eyes behind that damned silver mask and she pursed her lips. “The tiny corner of our universe stays hidden in the night, Ray. It won’t survive in the daylight.”
“But I can’t go home knowing tonight was all there is to this.”
Her smile faded as she backed away, leaving Ray in the aftermath of a Seattle storm, bathing in the first rays of sun cracking over the city, bringing a day that didn’t have Sky in it and ending a night that held her with it.
“Goodbye, Ray of Sunshine,” she told him, and she turned on her heels, the epilogue of a perfect love story that would never be told.