This is how it goes: he pulls her in by the scarf, tugs it loose, kisses her ear. Her nails scratch red frustration along the sides of his throat, and he is patient as all the saints, pale hands spelling faux-virtue into her collarbone and shoulderblades like the minister he never could have been, even on his knees, where he knows that she knows he likes to be. Aaron likes to worship, palms pressed flat against her stomach and mouth a hot ghost by her hipbone, and Anne feels her knees go weak, prays.
She knows his mind is vaguely elsewhere when after, he raises her knuckles to his lips, suave and unsteady, and he hers, in truth, but both of them take far too much pride in being unreadable.
Some days she catches him staring at his hands as though they are strangers, and she thinks of soothsayers as she kisses his palms with as much tenderness as a winter morning can muster. Anne vetoes Mexico for the holidays, Aaron London, both of them Paris, and they spend their first Christmas on the ancient velveteen couch piled in blankets, mocking reality shows. She presses the heel of her hand against his pelvis during commercial breaks, grin and posture feline, purring when long fingers curl in her hair. One day she cuts it short, and the empty air scares her. Smooth lips brush the back of her little neck and Aaron does not whisper reassurance into the bare skin, but she knows that he knows and she says thank you to the frosted morning nonetheless.
It rains in May, quiet sheets of it in the streets and on the faltering snapdragons that Aaron raises in a windowbox with childlike enthusiasm that doesn't save the petals from browning. Anne goes to church, and is dismayed to find herself stumbling over prayer. She bits her lip hard enough to taste blood. She comes home hours later, finds Aaron watering the flowers, kisses him once and goes to bed.
Do you believe in ghosts? she asks him, and he smiles, says, I've never been one for superstition, but they are both haunted. The apartment window, the one that houses the unlucky snapdragons, overlooks the Hudson; she doesn't realize until he is gone.
Aaron is on a boat. He is impervious to the rocking, registers it as a second metronomic heartbeat. In truth, the ocean is no well-mapped symphony, but a subway maelstrom—the flutter of wind beneath your feet, drowning the rhythm of old drum skins and young poets seeking safe harbor. It might be January or July but it is warm and balmy as candlelight, here where calendars are about as useful as life jackets, and one plunge would bring swift oblivion. This he finds more morbid than reassuring. He desperately craves a cigar.
Maybe lifelines become red threads when too far unspooled, and this is how she finds him, smelling like sea salt and graceless as a mermaid on dry land. That night she drinks wine quietly, watches him smoke, contemplates cutting him loose.
Honestly, Aaron, Anne is no fool, and she knows, before he does even, and feels only the slightest sliver of resentment. There are no lockets to rip from conniving necks; it is written all over him. She stops drinking and starts wearing lower necklines and he laughs, handsome and alive, when she catches him listening to songs about blue eyes. They used each other beautifully, and she comes to prefer it this way: the innocent clink of coffee mugs, dear colonel, my queen, and the dance of wind against her skin in the early days of unspoiled spring.