Claire had taped the business card that Dean had given her onto her refrigerator, oftentimes staring at it after dinner with her cell phone flush against her palm. She'd stare at it for several minutes, constraining herself with another sheepish smile, before moving away and on with her day, pushing back the untouched memory of him to a perfect little corner of her mind.
In the days following her encounter with him at that small bar, Claire wished from the bottom of her heart that she was an artist if only to be able to scrape her pencil across the canvas to capture the flawless features of his face. She wished from the bottom of her heart to be an artist if only to be able to describe the aesthetics of his body with beautiful words.
Re-exploring the maps and charts of him, locked away in the vaults of her heart, was refreshing and new but she knew that there was more to discover behind the constellations in his eyes. She wanted to travel to that distant place, to become familiar with the infinite. She wanted to have her breath cut short if only to realize how rare and beautiful her existence truly was after meeting him. She wanted to learn all those things from him but she could just never seem to find a pen to put it all down.
One day, months after the blizzard had hit, Claire pulled Burt Aframian's business off of her refrigerator and punched the numbers into her phone. Her hand didn't shake as she expected, bringing the phone up to her ear, but her body did when the line went through, followed by the repetitive rings that reverberated through her ribs.
We are sorry. You have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service. If you feel you have reached this recording in error, please check the number and try your call again.
Whether the feeling was of disappointment or relief, Claire shook it off and exhaled sharply; telling herself that she was just too late and that it would be alright once again for her aching heart. She knew from the very beginning that it wasn't plausible for someone like her to end up with someone like him. It was like she was an astronomer staring through a telescope in adoration at a radiant star millions of miles away from her reach.
The feeling should have faded. The adoration should have ceased. But the fire stroked in Claire's stomach still burned bright, still refused to return to embers, and she hated every wonderful moment. It was like being in heaven even though she knew she wouldn't stay. It was like placing her hand on his shoulder and feeling the heat of his body through his clothing. It was like innocent intimacy. Like being able to smile at him while he would be engrossed in a book or being able to touch the small of his back as she would slide past. It was like waking up from the same dream and looking backwards at whatever thoughts she could gather from the last memory she had visited.
If Claire was ever lucky enough to see Dean again, she was sure that she'd ask him to stay for a little while. Because it was spring and her cabin was warm and her wallet wasn't as thin as it was in the winter.
She was lucky enough to see him again. Lucky in the sense that he was standing on her doorstep drenched in the pouring rain with his bloodied hand pressed against his side.
"Remember me?" He had said with a fractured smile.
The sound that escaped between Claire's lips was half a laugh and half a response. "How could I forget?"
Taking the duffel he had slung over his shoulder, Claire helped him ease down onto her couch. It took all her might not to be distracted by the raindrops that were so lucky to be clinging to his skin or that fact that he looked so different but exactly the same. Instead, she leaned over his torso, peeling back the blood-caked fabric to see the ugly purple and black laceration on his side.
"I'm sorry," he groaned in pain, clenching his teeth.
At that moment she saw the universe behind his eyes and she was willing to explain the infinite if he wanted to hear it. "Don't be sorry."
She wasn't sorry. She wasn't sorry at all to open her front door to see him standing there.
Claire opened his duffel and found three white bandages along with some salve and a change of clothes inside. Going further into the crevices, as he breathlessly instructed, she found a small sewing kit tucked away between his spare clothes.
"I wouldn't have come to you unless I had no one else to go to. Besides, I hoped that I'd be able to see you again."
She smiled. Wide. "Save it for after I've sewn you up, tough guy."
Pulling out a dish of warm soapy water and a clean cloth, Claire cleaned the dried and coagulated blood from his skin around the wound before placing a damp cloth over the open gash. She sterilized the needle-tip over the flame of a lighter before threading it through.
Dean nodded and took a long swig of her prized whiskey in preparation for the discomfort that would follow the burning sensation of the alcohol.
Her hand felt cool against his burning body as she pulled the needle through his skin and closed up the wound in quiet progress. She felt the rise and fall of his inhales just under her fingertips and it occurred to her that she was really touching the man that she was so unreasonably in love with.
If only she could see the same infatuation she felt in the way Dean watched her from over the brim of the whiskey bottle. He was looking at her like she was the answer to every question; like the only way to make life truly count was to first lean over and kiss her. He looked at her like she was the golden string that kept the universe clothed in light. She was a masterpiece to him. A masterpiece bursting at the seams. Because if broken things were a work of art he was the poster boy prodigy and she was the Mona Lisa.
Claire tied off the silk thread and prolonged her touch by looking up as if to silently inquire if she had permission to proceed, the can of healing salve in her hand. He stared back at her not knowing why but unwilling to bring words into the conversation. She pursed her lips in a vain attempt to hide the delighted smile pulling at the corners of her mouth and used two fingers to generously smother the salve over the stitches and the swollen skin, quickly wrapping the white bandage on top.
"You're good," she quietly remarked as she sat at the opposite end of the couch by his booted feet. "You feel okay? Need a blanket?"
"I wouldn't hate getting out of these dirty clothes." Dean carefully set the bottle down on the coffee table and made a weak attempt to pull his shirt over his head, motioning to her to help him with a boyish grin. He'd been thinking of any excuse for her to do so.
Piling his dirty shirt and jacket in the crook of her arm, Claire grinned into her shoulder blade on the way to the laundry room. The gods and fortune were surely rewarding her for her patience and long-suffering.
"I'm guessing you're hungry," Claire said as she cleaned up the space around the couch, daring to meet his gaze in expectation for an answer.
He shook his head slowly, chin tilted up. "No, I'm fine."
She nodded and leaned over the couch to absently straighten out the bandage around his torso even though there was absolutely no need for it to be straightened. Claire's mouth opened and closed as if words would spontaneously float through. "Can I ask what happened?"
"Well," he began, "some people believe in eye for an eye."
"Oh." It was a puff of air. "I'm trackin'."
Dean's lips quirked upward as she sat in a chair close by, hands folded in her lap, and eyes politely finding interest in every point of the room except at his bared chest. He shifted to sit up straight with his feet on the ground, hissing in pain through clenched teeth when the stitches stretched out on impact. Claire was on her feet and bracing her hand against his back to keep him sitting upright.
"You catch a lucky guy yet?"
Claire twisted her pointer and middle finger together again and held it up so he could see. "Still looking."
"So I got a chance?" Dean had a Cheshire grin plastered across the expanse of his face.
There was a long pause while Claire took a few moments to process what he said, still leaning two feet from him. A wry grin had immediately formed across her lips just from the sound of his voice but quickly faded at what he said. It must have been a cruel joke but that wouldn't stop Claire from delivering her own punchline.
"I would say so," she said with a flirtatious inflection, cocking her head to one side. "But don't get ahead of yourself, tough guy."
"You give me a time and a place and I'll be there," Dean smirked, reaching out to twirl a strand of her hair between his fingers. "Can I kiss you?"
Claire edged nearer, too scared to make impact but too eager to close the space between them. Stopping inches away, she braced herself for only a second before Dean's lips pressed up against hers. Their bodies came together and Claire felt like the entire universe was closing in around her, like kissing him was the only thing that would make truly make her life count. She felt his hot breath fan across her face as he moved in for more passionate kiss, and bit down on his lower lip in response.
Claire realized, beyond the pitch black and pale blue stained glass variation of the truth, that she was only honest in the rain and, if she timed the moment right, that the thunder would break over the countless hours she spent daydreaming over the moment she was experiencing then. Dean was perfect in her eyes. He was perfect at a distance and even more so up close. So, with shortness of breath, Claire swore that this was how the universe would always be seen by her eyes.
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