The trolley rattled over the tracks, nearly jostling the wrapped gift box out of Johnny’s hands. He repositioned it on his lap, thinking of its contents, red as the shiny exterior of the vehicle taking him home.
By the time Johnny jogged off the stopped trolley, the streets were bathed in the orange haze of sunset. Johnny pushed a long, thick strand of his black hair out of his eyes as he walked, the brown bricks of his condo coming into view as he crested a hill. Climbing the front steps, he ran his free hand, the one that wasn’t carrying the tastefully wrapped package, up the wrought iron railing that led to his doorstep. He dug deep into the pocket of his spacious jacket while carefully hiding the gift behind his back, finally retrieving his keys and unlocking the door.
The door swung open to reveal the lush crimson walls of the condo Johnny shared with Lisa, his future wife. Thick drapes hung over the windows, tinting the sunlight that pierced into the room to a dim, welcoming blush. Scented candles had been placed lovingly on the brick mantle of the fireplace, and artwork surrounded by glinting silver frames decorated the room. Two ornate columns stood on either side of the front door, completing the luxurious living space.
“Hi, babe,” Johnny said as soon as he saw Lisa, his future wife, sitting on the couch.
Lisa rose to greet Johnny, her pleasure at seeing her future husband evident in her blissful smile. Confronted with the sight of her – the sky-blue tank top hugging her curves, the slits on her black skirt showing just enough leg, her perfect, pale skin, most of her blonde hair gathered in a bun to accentuate the delicate arch of her neck, leaving her bangs to fall in front of her eyes – Johnny was struck once again with the thought of how fortunate he was to have Lisa waiting for him when he returned from work every night. She walked towards him on long, graceful legs.
“I’ve something for you,” Jonny said with a chuckle.
Lisa’s eyes darted down to where Johnny’s hands were tucked behind his back, a laugh tugging at the corners of her lips. “What is it?” she asked.
“Just a little something,” Johnny teased.
With a giggle, Lisa reached down, her hand grasping for the package behind Johnny. Johnny bent his knees and arched his back, using his long limbs to keep the box just out of Lisa’s reach. For a few moments he played keep-away before producing the gift, wrapped in leopard print wrapping paper and topped with an enormous red bow. Thick red ribbons were tied around the lid of the box, creating the illusion that its contents were secure, like a perfect life that nothing could intrude upon.
Lisa lifted the lid of the box and cast it to the floor, exposing tissue paper which she crumpled and shoved to the side. “Oh,” she sighed as she saw the red spilling from the cardboard packaging. Clasping the straps of the dress in her hands, smooth as water running between her fingers, Lisa held the garment up, watching the silk shimmer and dance in the light. “Johnny, it’s beautiful,” she told her future husband. Warmth spread through Johnny at the delight in Lisa’s face.
Lisa lifted the dress higher, pulling it out of the box, and pressed it to her chest, admiring the way the soft fabric draped and enfolded her form, as Johnny gently placed the now empty box in the chair next to him. “Can I try it on now?” Lisa gushed with excitement.
“Sure, it’s yours,” Johnny grinned, his voice a low mumble.
Grabbing the loose necktie that dangled around Johnny’s neck, Lisa pulled her future husband closer. “You wait right here,” she purred as she leaned in to kiss him, “I’m gonna try it on right now.”
“Mmhmm,” was all Johnny could manage in response to the slow smile spreading across Lisa’s lips. As Lisa disappeared upstairs, he strolled over to the brown couch, draped in sheep skins and fluffy white pillows, and sat, letting the stress of a long day at work wash away in waves, soothed by the familiar, comforting sights of his home and the anticipation to see his future wife as she always deserved to be dressed.
A few minutes later, Johnny’s reverie was interrupted by the sound of heels clicking against the floor. He opened his eyes and looked up to see the backs of black stilettos descending the hardwood steps of the winding spiral staircase across from him. The strappy shoes went down a few more steps, and the rippling red hem of the dress came into view, flowing with every movement like a part of Lisa’s body. Lisa’s creamy white hand came into view, caressing the stainless steel banister, as her hips, silk stretched across them, swayed down from the upper floor. Finally she rounded the center support for the stairs, bringing her whole body into view, from the smooth, supple curve of her shoulders and neck to the lithe grace of her feet, gilded with silver earrings set with small blue stones, a previous gift from Johnny.
“Wow, you look so sexy Lisa,” Johnny observed.
Lisa stepped off the stairs, prowling forward into the living room. She stopped in front of the couch, where Johnny had collapsed, exhausted from work, one shoe propped up on the coffee table. With a seductive smile, she twirled, letting Johnny’s eyes rove over her entire body, including her back, left almost as exposed as decency allowed. “Isn’t it fabulous?” she asked.
Johnny chuckled. “I would do anything for my girl,” he replied, lacing his hands behind his head and leaning back.
Suddenly there was the sound of the door opening. Interrupted, Johnny and Lisa both looked over to see a eighteen-year-old boy stepped inside before pausing to let his eyes adjust to the light. Unruly brown hair had been pushed out of his eyes, back over his head in thick waves, and his dress was casual – jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers. His vision swept the room before finding Johnny and Lisa. “Oh, hi guys,” he chirped brightly.
“Oh, hi Denny,” Johnny returned the greeting, not peeling his eyes from Lisa.
Denny closed the door behind him and paced into the condo to get closer to Johnny and Lisa, stopping dead in his tracks when Lisa’s dress registered in his mind. “Wow, look at you,” he gasped in reverential awe.
“It’s from Johnny,” Lisa boasted, her eyes glittering with mischief.
“Anything for my princess,” Johnny chuckled from his place on the couch behind Denny. Lisa blushed and gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.
“How much was it?” Denny enquired curiously.
A short huff of air escaped Lisa’s lips at Denny’s brazenness. “Denny, you don’t ask a question like that,” she told him.
“Nice to see you Denny,” Johnny said warmly as he stood up. He turned to Lisa. “I’m going to take a nap,” he said, and her nose crinkled as she grinned at the subtle suggestion.
“Can I go upstairs too?” Denny asked excitedly, his head tilting like a puppy’s, excited for a treat.
Johnny chuckled in response.
Lisa smiled in understanding, looking for the right words. “Denny, I think I’m going to join him,” she finally explained gently, her eyebrows knitting.
Confusion flickered across Denny’s face as Johnny chuckled again. Johnny strode forward, taking Lisa’s hand in his and lifting her arm over her head as if they were engaged in a dance.
Denny turned to watch as they left, Johnny leading Lisa towards the stairs. The silk of Lisa’s dress caught every ray of light that fell upon it, highlighting her body in a way that made her movements, to Denny’s eyes, hypnotic. A wisp of blonde hair fell over a smooth shoulder as Lisa glanced back, only for a moment, only long enough for a dancing, smiling green eye to fall on Denny’s face and a crimson lip to offer him a generous, loving smile.
Then Lisa’s eyes were back on her future husband’s. Still watching, still entranced, Denny felt his heart sink and nearly shatter as Lisa looked away, lost in Johnny. Her mouth close to Johnny’s ear as they began to climb the stairs, she cooed, “I’ve got some candles upstairs.”
Johnny’s heavy footsteps quickly ascended, drawing Lisa towards the bedroom. “You always think,” he praised her, before chuckling, “Alright, I’m ready.”
Professional black shoes disappeared upstairs, leaving only a pair of graceful feet and the last, lingering trace of red silk swishing along behind. “This is so pretty,” the faint strains of Lisa’s voice drifted down to Denny’s ears, and he pretended they were whispered from only inches away. “I can’t wait for you to get it off of me.”
“Oh yeah,” Johnny agreed.
Sounds of delight and amusement floated down into the living room, the duet of Lisa’s giggles and Johnny’s chuckles. Denny sauntered over to the coffee table, where a bowl of fruit sat, and picked a large, ripe apple, as red as apples could be. He cupped it in his hand, considering it, running a thumb over its smooth skin. Inhaling the sweet scent of the fruit, he brought it to his lips, his eyes still on the lush red between his fingers, and bit down, savouring the juicy mouthful. He chewed, still listening to the sounds from upstairs, before finally deciding to climb the winding, spiral staircase.
His large, black jacket discarded over a chair, Johnny fell onto the huge bed, cushioned by the heap of plush pillows and the lavish crimson bedding. Delicately nudging one of the sheer, white curtains that surrounded the bed to one side, Lisa climbed onto the bed after him. With a playful chuckle, Johnny grabbed the nearest pillow and lightly swung it at Lisa’s tight stomach, letting go and letting it go tumbling to the side. Lisa’s eyes locked on his, narrowing as a slight smirk played on her lips in a look that said, So that’s the way it’s gonna be? and she quickly snatched the discarded pillow from where it had fallen.
With a grin, she pulled the pillow back, readying to swing it. Defensively, Johnny yanked another cushion out from under his head and held it up as a shield. Lisa swung her pillow into his, knocking it out of her hands before triumphantly smacking Johnny in the chest with the soft weapon.
“Ouch,” he complained playfully, and Lisa let out a giggle of amusement. Johnny rearmed himself as Lisa prepared for another assault, and they tussled across the bed.
The first thing Denny saw as he climbed into the bedroom, the thing he had been looking for, was the gauzy white of the drapes surrounding Johnny and Lisa’s bed. The drapes, flowing softly in the breeze from an open window, appeared to glow in the gentle light of the bedroom, giving them an ethereal quality that, to Denny, seemed from another reality, another plane of existence that he was only privileged to glimpse and could never reach.
The drapes shook slightly, and through their gossamer weave Denny could make out Johnny and Lisa, the red of her dress arched over his long black hair. Their eyes were drinking each other in, even as they pretend-fought with pillows, lightly bouncing the cushions off each other and laughing as the mock battle came to a standstill, bringing their bodies closer and closer together.
Seeing a pillow that had fallen to one side of the bed in the joyous struggle, Denny seized his opportunity. He ran forward, grabbing the pillow from the ground and swung it into Johnny, letting his momentum carry him forward as he fell onto the bed between Johnny and Lisa. Upon seeing him, Lisa let out another burst of laughter, which fell on Denny’s ears like a strain of angelic music. She swung the pillow she still held in her hands down into Denny’s chest at the same moment as Johnny batted a pillow against Denny’s back.
Letting go of his pillow, Johnny went for Denny’s armpits, worming his fingers deep into the most sensitive areas as Lisa kept bringing the pillow into Denny’s shoulder. Denny squirmed, caught between bringing his arms up to protect himself from the pillow hitting his face and keeping them tight against his body to prevent Johnny’s tickling. Nearly curling into a ball, he manoeuvred away as best he could from the attack that was coming from both sides.
“Stop, no, stop!” he finally begged through the laughter that bubbled out of him. Johnny refused to let up for another moment before he finally gave in. Denny managed to crawl out of the heap of pillows that had fallen on him and blanketing that had balled around him and sat up, pulling another pillow to his chest defensively even as he grinned mischievously.
Lisa settled onto her elbows, her cheeks flushed from the brief pillow fight, and smiled warmly, as Johnny climbed to his knees and fixed an intense gaze on Denny. “Denny,” he started appraisingly, “Do you have something else to do?”
Denny shrugged, still smiling. “I just like to watch you guys,” he admitted.
Lisa bit her lip and shook her head, holding in a stream of laughter. “Oh,” she said, with almost a wince, not sure how to remedy Denny’s naiveté without injuring his innocence. “Denny, Denny, Denny boy,” she clucked sympathetically as she reached out a hand and stroked his wavy brown hair.
Feeling Lisa’s long, lithe fingers in his hair, and perfectly manicured nails against his scalp, Denny’s heart skipped a beat, and a surge of heat rose through his body. He treasured the sensation of her hands. His eyes found hers just as she looked away, just as she looked at Johnny.
“Denny, two’s great,” Johnny began, attempting to explain, “But three’s a crowd.” He chuckled.
Denny opened his mouth to laugh along with him, but as the words began to sink in his smile faltered. He let out a stream of air as he realised Johnny wasn’t going to let him stay, wasn’t going to let him watch the sparkle of Lisa’s eyes or the slow growth of her smile. “I get it,” he nodded slowly, “You guys want to be alone.”
“That’s the idea,” Johnny concurred as Lisa gazed at him, raising her eyebrows.
Desperate, Denny searched Lisa’s face, looking for some sign that she wanted him to stay. He scanned her features, peering as deep into her as he could in the few short moments he had, but saw only her devotion and limitless love for her future husband. His face fell, his shoulders slumped, as he was forced to accept the situation.
“Fine,” he eventually sighed, “I have homework to do anyways.” Denny hoisted himself up from the bed. “Bye, lovebirds,” he drawled.
“Bye, Denny,” Johnny returned with the same level of enthusiasm.
“Bye, Denny,” Lisa chimed in, casting another brilliant smile in Denny’s direction. That smile – that perfect, beaming smile – was the last Denny saw of the couple before he left their condo. He couldn’t bear, as he stood up and trudged to the spiral staircase, to take another look back, to see the love glowing between Johnny and Lisa like the glow of the dozens of scented candles lighting the bedroom. Starting the descent back into the living room, Denny forced his gaze to focus on the floor ahead of him.
Lisa watched until Denny left, and then drew close to Johnny, planting a soft, gentle kiss on his lips, before pressing her hand against his chest. There was only a millisecond-long look of mischief on her face before she pushed him down onto the bed and began grabbing pillows, resuming their pillow fight which had been so rudely interrupted.
The next few hours were a blur to both of them, a pleasant rosy haze where time seemed to extend and then melt, sometimes flowing backwards before smoothly deciding to go forwards again. The sense memory of endless caresses and kisses, mingled with the reminiscence of waltzes and twirls across the bedroom floor as Johnny and Lisa helped each other disrobe, slowly revealing themselves to each other. Finally, Lisa’s hair freed, her dress leading a red path towards the bed, tangled with Johnny’s tie and pieces of his suit, they tumbled under the sheets, shielded from the rest of the word by the diaphanous white drapes.
By the time Lisa sat up to turn the light off, rose petals were stuck to her skin, pressed into her like a supple red film. With a click, the lamp shut off; the scented candles had all burnt to stubs hours ago, and the room was plunged into darkness. Lisa turned back to Johnny to say goodnight, but he hadn’t moved since she had sat up. In the blue moonlight streaming in through the window, Lisa could make out his eyes, closed among his features, which were made craggier by the thick, clingy shadows.
Lisa let out a small sigh of disappointment at her future husband. Johnny had fallen asleep almost immediately, apparently not even interested in telling her he loved her afterwards. With that thought in mind, Lisa curled up in Johnny’s arms and squeezed her eyes shut.