His kiss was short, but the feeling of it remained like his lips were still on mine. Like the brush of a feather, they stroke my lips. His hand on my cheek had pulled me closer, his breath tickled my skin and his earthly scent hypnotized me. When he moved his head away and let go off my cheek, I almost cried out in protest. The kiss, short like a dream left me aching for more. Like I just tasted a drug, I wanted more.
He frowned at me with pain in his eyes. I let out a sharp breath and blinked at him. This moment embarrassed me deeply. I didn't know where to look or what to do, should I just ask him to do more? Or should I go to bed like nothing happened?
Why had he given me the kiss? Was his need for comfort that strong? Did he only kiss me because he needs comfort?
"April," he breathed, "I…I don't know what had gotten into me." He whispered. "I am sorry."
But I shook my head, "don't apologize..you're distressed and…"
"I hope I didn't hurt you."
"Kisses don't hurt." I mumbled . "Your kiss doesn't hurt."
He almost smiled at me. "Don't you want to go to sleep? Don't you want to go to bed?"
"No." I whispered back, "I am not tired."
"Are you sure?"
This time it didn't take him a long time to act, he closed the distance between us again. Taking my head into his hands, he pulled my face to his and kissed me.
This was not just a small peck like the one before, I felt even more meteor showers in me than I already had felt before. My heart skipped a beat and I let out heavy sighs like I hadn't been able to breathe before. My body felt like it was in the middle of the ocean and carried by waves back and forth. I felt dizzy in my whirlpool of emotions. The only direction I was aware of, was his face before me and his lips on mine. I ran my hands through his hair and played with the silky strands between my fingers, Mars's hands left my face and went down to encircle my waist and back. I heard his sighs like they were all around me. My mind was swirling with his presence, completely losing any sense of the world around me.
Like the fire in my fireplace, the flame inside me danced quicker and quicker. His lips caressed mine like they were dancing. I thought of our dance and felt there was no difference; I was in a different world, feeling him like he had possessed my body. Mars opened his mouth wider and pressed my body closer to his. He held me just as tight as he did when he'd embraced me. But I loved this sort of suffocation.
I was diving deeper and deeper into the kiss and never wanted to get back out. Mars kissed me senseless. He knew how to kiss me, he knew how to tease my tongue with his. It was as though he'd foreseen every movement of my mouth. His hands came back to my face, he stroke my cheeks with his thumbs and closed his mouth to give me one final kiss.
I feared he would completely retrieve from me, but instead he hugged me tightly. My face was buried in his shoulder, I sucked in his scent like my life depended on it. Mars was breathing hard and didn't let me go for a long time.
I still couldn't sleep after what happened, though Mars had convinced me to try finding rest. I figured he wanted to be alone and this time I didn't protest.
I wasn't going to force my presence on him when I also needed some time to think even if that was nearly impossible after the kiss. But I needed to let everything go through my head again, Tom, Mars's tears, Mars's story and that kiss. All was coming together but above everything else were those lips I got to taste, those warm, soft lips that I was already missing.
I'd kissed the killer, I'd embraced the killer, I began to fall for the killer.
I shouldn't have been surprised about this outcome, after all he had triggered strange emotions within me since the night I found him.
Yet, my heart was heavy with the thought of it. Not only because he was Southern but because Mars was soon gone, never to be seen again.
Even Tom appeared in the back of my mind and I wondered if I was a cheater, yet I felt no guilt towards him. For his kiss wasn't the kiss I had longed for or missed. I had missed him as a friend, worried if he was alright and alive yet I could not compare him with Mars, not just because of the comforting fact, that Mars regretted what he did while Tom didn't seem to. But what did I know. Hadn't I only based my knowledge on assumptions? And aren't people who fall in love easier to trick?
I would rather find an excuse to justify Mars's actions than Tom's. That was the only reason why I felt some guilt. But it was not the guilt of a lost lover.
I remained in my bed for hours, sitting and contemplating. Every now and then, I looked outside the window and gazed at the darkening sky; the clouds of gray were hanging low and a rumbling of thunder echoed through the streets. The wind blew harder and howled even louder than yesterday.
Snow began to fall quickly, the wind blew the flakes into all directions and hid the outside world behind a veil of snow. I couldn't see the streets, nor the house across from mine.
During blizzards people remained home when they could. Even if our knowledge of weather and cold was more advanced than ever before, the amount of deaths occurring during blizzards was growing by each winter.
My eyes well on the nightstand next to my bed, I'd laid my mother's necklace there next to a framed painting of Felix. When I was little, I was scared of thunders and Felix let me hide under his blanket and began telling me stories to distract me. Back then the spot under the blanket in his warm bed was the safest place for me. A place were no fears or problems existed.
For a long time, I thought Felix had left that safety in my heart. Like a trace he left on me. But that safety had been gone for a while now.
I was no longer scared of thunders but the feeling of having a spot of warmth without any fears had faded.
Except now. I thought as I glanced at my closed door.
Mars was not the protection Felix was, yet something about his presence soothed me. Somehow it was nice not being alone during the blizzard.
Into the silence I heard Mars sneeze. I knew he was awake maybe even waiting for me, so I decided to get up to and to continue the day that I already thought had gone by.
It was early afternoon when I left my bedroom, I walked to the kitchen to heat up water for my shower but I did not step into the living room where he was sitting. My heart pounded when I remembered how we parted the night before. I did not know how to face him or how to talk. I wondered whether I should mention the kiss or act like nothing happened.
My hands shook as I took the heavy bucket off the stove and my back grew cold when I heaved it through the corridor to make it to my bathroom. I needed to catch a breath or two but did not look over my shoulder, I waited for the shaking in my hands to stop and walked to the bathroom to start my shower.
I enjoyed the hot liquid on my skin, the burning sensation of the water on me drove away all other thoughts and when I stepped out of my tub, I felt a little better and a little less nervous.
I yanked the brush through my wet hair and pulled it into a ponytail.
When I finished in the bathroom, I headed to the living room without thinking twice and shrieked an awkward "good morning," at him before he could even look at me. The silence between us only lasted a breath or two yet it felt long and painful. He looked at me with a poker face, as he sat on the armchair near the fire place and tilted his head. "Good afternoon." He replied.
He'd already started a fire and tidied the sofa. The atlas was on his laps again and his hair looked slightly wet.
"When did you get up?"
"A while ago."
I thought I heard the beating of my heart, I was tongue-tied and tried everything but looking at his face. What was wrong with me? How come I hadn't been that shy the night before?
"Are you hungry?" I asked.
Mars only answered with a shrug.
I decided not to wait for an answer and walked into the kitchen to fix something quick to eat. We ate in silence, I glued my eyes to my plate and tried to act normal. But every sigh or other noise made me jerk in my seat. I knew he was watching me, but I couldn't dare answer his questioning gaze. I can't explain why I only knew I wasn't able to confront myself with him. In fear of getting lost in the endless blue of his eyes, I thought it was best to keep the little sanity I had left by counting the vegetables on my plate over and over again.
"I'll wash the dishes," Mars mumbled after he'd taken his last bite.
"No," I said still not looking up, "you need to rest."
"All I did was rest. It's time I move around even if I might just move my arms by cleaning two plates and a few spoons and forks."
"But…" I sighed. I wanted to do the cleaning for I didn't want to be stuck in the living room with him without having anything to do. "Cleaning is…is women's work."
"For you," said Mars and got up. He took my plate and caught my gaze, the corners of his lips slightly pulled up and his brow raised.
My heart thumped.
"In the South, cleaning is women's and men's work. And I am a man of the South, so go relax. You're off work, aren't you? Shouldn't you be relaxing or so?"
"Cleaning is relaxing." I mumbled looking down at my folded hands.
Mars turned on the way to the sink to throw a gaze over his shoulder, "you're a bad liar."
He somehow managed to kick me out of my kitchen. My anxiety told me he didn't want me around him, but I blocked the stupid, negative voice in my head out and told myself he was only being nice.
The blizzard was getting worse with every hour, most houses get snowed in during such times and as I glanced out of my window, I knew that if it kept snowing like this we would also soon be stuck inside.
Stuck inside with Mars. Why did I like that thought?
I didn't know where to go or what to do. But I needed to make myself busy so that I wasn't confronted with the inevitable heart attack. I grabbed a random book from my shelf, and sat before the fire place.
The evening went on in silence. Mars occupied himself with his atlas, and I tried to focus lines I couldn't make sense of in a book I'd read a thousand times before. I got up every now and then, to put wood into the fire or got Mars and myself a cup of tea.
By the time it got dark, the wind calmed down and the snow fell in almost ordered rows.
I made no dinner, I was not hungry Mars didn't ask for any. The cracking of the fire and the heat on my face offered comfort but I felt nothing of it as if my body had become completely numb. I felt the heat I needed coming from a different direction. I moved my gaze up to him without raising my head. His face was hanging low, his eyes glued to the book so I decided to look up and to take in the sight of his face.
Mars's eyes had jumped to mine instantly. My heart stopped for a moment and all air left my lungs.
He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes with a questioning gaze. "What?" He said.
I cleared my throat and quickly looked away. "Nothing."
I heard him sigh and close his book. Oh he wanted to talk, alright the moment had come. I tried to act normal yet my insides were twitching and burning in anticipation of his voice.
"April," he said. "You haven't said three words today."
"Oh." Was all I could say as I flipped a page in my book.
"Oh?" He said. He got up from his chair and walked over to me. Finally I could look up again. He stood before me and looked down with a deep frown. I was intimidated by his gaze, slowly I closed my book and got up to answer his questioning eyes. "Be honest," he said. "Did I scare you yesterday? Did I hurt you?"
I scoffed at the questions, "how could you scare or hurt me?"
Mars looked to the fire and breathed through his nose, "well…you're acting like it."
"No." I mumbled, "I am sorry I am just..."
"Did I go too far?"
I blinked at him in shock. How could his tears, his confession…his lips be too far? I shook my head at him. "Of…of course not…I mean I get how you feel, well I at least try to get it. We all need comfort."
"Comfort?" He said incredulous, "comfort? Did that feel like comfort to you?"
I didn't know what to say for I didn't know the answer. Had his intention been the need for comfort or what? I couldn't imagine his kiss had held any other meaning than that.
He did not seem like the emotional kind of person, while I was the feeler he was the thinker .
And he thought I was the enemy, yet last night he felt emotional for once and was probably not under control of his actions. Why else would he have kissed me?
"Well?" He asked after I didn't answer.
I could only shrug. Too scared to let him see how I felt, too intimidated to make him realize what the kiss had meant to me. I could only stare at him and try to fight the heavy thumps in my chest.
He frowned and brought his hands to his hips. "You know, you're a real pain sometimes." He muttered and shook his head in annoyance.
"Sorry," I replied.
Mars's eyes snapped to me. "No. I am sorry I went too far and…it won't happen again."
That was all he said. He only gave me one last look before he turned his back to me and walked back to the armchair. He sat down as if nothing had happened and continued reading, while I felt like a snowflake in the middle of a fire.
My heart screamed to tell him that he did everything but go too far and that I wanted it to happen again. But my pride and my fear told me to stay quiet.
Anxiety can be the greatest manipulator, for you believe everything it says no matter how ridiculous it actually is and right now, my anxiety said : he doesn't care about you like you care about him. He's a man isn't he? He had no women for a long time, he's only trying to get his way with you. He does not care about your feelings, you're the enemy, remember?
I wanted to shake my head to get the voices back out of me, but the disappointment remained.
In my head I walked to him to give him a heartfelt kiss, I wanted to rip that stupid book out of his hands and bring his face to mine. In my head I was able to do this. But in my head the world was also a beautiful place with flying unicorns and rainbows as sunshine. In my heart however, the unicorns were sea monsters and the sunshine was a lie.
I gawked at him with an incredulous look and prayed he would see my eyes and understand the words I couldn't say. Now I wanted him to stare but his eyes didn't move.
It was like I wasn't even there. I felt like a thousand tiny needles poked every corner of my body, but moving might have only increased the pain. I was frozen in the silence, throwing my gaze at him and wished for him to move. But the silence was disrupted by a sudden banging on the door.
Mars's head snapped up, he frowned at me and I frowned back at him. "Who is that?" He whispered and I could only shrug.
"Tom?" Mars asked .
I shook my head, Tom wasn't banging on the door like king-kong banged on his chest. I thought of a group of guards demanding entrance into the lion's cave and I shuddered as I realized it could only be them. Who else would bang on my door in the middle of the night during a blizzard?
I gulped as the person banged again. "Go." I said to Mars and nodded toward the corridor. He understood and grabbed his book, pillow and blanket and silently headed to my bedroom. I waited until he'd closed the door behind him, then I took a deep breath and walked to the main door.
I squeezed my eyes shut as the knock appeared again, it sounded as if someone was hitting the door with their bare palm.
My hand shook as I grabbed the handle and opened the door.
I saw no group of guards before me, only one lone person whose face remained hidden in the darkness. The person looked rather short, I wondered how that person could make so much noise.
The wind blew into my face, it was ice cold and I saw how the person before me shuddered.
"April," the person whispered. It was a women's whisper, that much I could tell. "It's me, Amy."
I blinked as I tried to process her words, "Amy?" I said, then it dawned on me; there was only one Amy I knew. My ex-coworker Amy. Rebecca's friend, Amy.
"Oh Amy!" I breathed.
"I am sorry for showing up so late, but I need to talk to you. It's urgent."
"Uh…of course, come on in."
I let her step inside and closed the door. She sighed heavily in the , like she had held her breath for a while. I asked her to come to the living room with me, she took off her coat and walked inside only to drop herself before the fire.
In the light of the flames, I finally saw her features and almost shrieked in shock.
Amy had always been rather petite, probably a head shorter than I. But she was nothing like the Amy I had known, the only similarity I could make out, were her black eyes, her short nose and the chin long black hair. Her one rosy cheeks had fallen in, they looked like a cloth of skin hanging to her skull like an old piece of worn out fabric, deep shadows were under her tired eyes, her lips were cracked and dry and that expression in her eyes sent a shiver down my spine.
She was extremely pale. She rubbed her palms against each other and held them out before the fire. "I am sorry for being so rude but…have you got some tea? I am frozen."
"S…sure." I stammered and walked to the kitchen. I was not myself as I made the tea, I looked over my shoulder while heating up the water, like I expected this demon that claimed to be her to stand behind me. I wondered what she had been doing or what was going on.
Who would come here like this and at this time? And why?
I poured the tea into the largest cup I owned thinking she needed it and walked back to the living room.
Amy held out her arms expectantly, like a baby held its arms out to its mother . Mumbling a low 'thanks' she grabbed the cup and put it to her mouth. She didn't wait for it to cool off but swallowed the hot liquid like it was water.
I sat down next to her and watched her wide-eyed. There was an expression of pain in her eyes that scared me.
When she put down the cup, she cleared her throat and met my gaze. Finally she smiled a little, that made her seem more like the Amy I knew.
"I am sorry about showing up like this but…"
"It's alright," I said putting a hand on her knee, "I was worried about you since I heard you quit and so was Rebecca."
"Becky," Amy said with a frown, "will you tell her I was here?"
"Uh..sure but why don't you go see her?"
Amy looked at the ceiling and closed her eyes, I saw a tear run down her cheek. "I am leaving Little Sand, I have to leave for good."
"What? What are you talking about?"
Amy sighed. She brought her hand under her shirt and retrieved a large, brown envelope . "I only came to give you this and to ask you to tell Becky and only Becky that I am leaving."
I took the envelope and stared at it. There was nothing written on it. But I felt papers inside it.
I looked at her with a questioning gaze.
She covered her hand in her face and sniffed. "Yutu is dead, April."
"I am sorry, so sorry."
"And his mother was arrested."
Amy nodded. "When the brigade came about…two weeks ago or so..where you there?"
"My mother in law was as well, but that was before we knew that Yutu won't return. The commander of the brigade said they wanted to recruit more soldiers but Enooya- Yutu's mom- wasn't having it and shouted at the commander."
My head snapped up, "what? I…I heard her. She was that elder lady saying she won't lose her other son to the war?"
"Yes," Amy said, "they arrested her, I only found out because a few days later I was taken in for questioning."
I couldn't understand anything.
"April, we've been spied on for a long time. They keep lists about us! They write down everything we do, who we talk to, where we work even who we sleep with!"
"I…I don't understand."
Amy wiped her face and pointed at the envelope on my laps, "this." She said, "is your list."
"They took me in for questioning and asked me all kind of things about Enooya, whether she's against the government, who her friends are how she raises her sons and whether I thought she was a traitor." Amy scoffed, "they call everyone a traitor, they're releasing a new law that makes any negative remark about the Northern army illegal." She shook her head and sighed, "they wanted to make me say something negative about Enooya. They wanted me to tell lies about her. Do you think they'll just accept it when you tell them she only misses her son and wishes protect the other son she has left? No, you need to say how she's against the war and what not. So then they began to threaten me, if I don't cooperate I will face consequences."
"What kind of consequences?"
"Like losing my job for example."
I frowned , "I thought you quit."
Amy shook her head and gazed into the flames, "they forced me to. They said if I wasn't willing to cooperate I and other people I know would have to pay. They brought out my list and read things that no one should know but me, things like what I usually order in my favorite restaurant, when I worked with Rebecca even when I met Yutu."
She trailed off as she mentioned her dead fiancé. I ran my hand through my hair and looked at the envelope on my laps. I couldn't believe what she had just told me. It seemed way too surreal.
"They mentioned you and Angela, Mary, Valery and Rebecca even the head nurse Mrs. Silla and said that everyone will be taken in for questioning . Just because I refused to tell them things Enooya had told me in private."
"Where is she now?" I whispered.
Tears filled Amy's eyes. "I don't know."
We fell silent for a moment. I felt my hands shake as I thought of the spying against me that had supposedly taken place and that was all written on the papers I know had with me.
"Hang on," I said, "how did you get hold of these?"
Amy looked up , "they had so many files with them when they questioned me, the man who interrogated me, had left me alone so I grabbed what I could. He'd left the file right on the table before me. I was curious about all the stuff they knew about me, I…I figured they knew so much…so I wanted to know how they had gotten hold of all this information but out of all the papers before me, I only managed to grab your list."
"Why would they keep a list about me?" I asked, "I mean, I seem everything but suspicious, right?"
Amy frowned, "I don't know. I can only imagine that they spy on you because your brother is missing, or maybe because we all know Becky? She has this talent of saying what she thinks no matter who listens and they might check on everyone who's ever heard her talk or…I don't know it could also be your father."
"My father?" I said. "What are you talking about?"
Amy blinked, "well, because your father is Southern maybe that's why they're watching you."
"My father is what?!" I shrieked.
My outburst had made her jerk back. Amy's eyes widened and she clutched her hand to her mouth, "did you not know?"
I shook my head.
"I am…I am so sorry, I thought you knew."
"How did you know about it?" I asked.
"I …read your list, sorry."
I nodded and ran my fingers across the envelope. "What else is written in here?"
Amy took a deep breath, "you will see but you won't like it."
I ran my hand across the envelope and thought about its contents. My father was from the South? How come no one had ever told me? "Amy," I said, "won't you get in trouble for stealing those?"
"Who cares? I am in trouble already. That's why I am leaving."
Amy crossed her arms over her chest. "There's nothing that keeps me here, and partially I feel like I am only causing trouble if I stay. Obviously I won't find work again, since I am not cooperating."
"But where are you going? There's no place you can be safe at." I was very close to suggesting she'd stay, but then I thought of Mars and closed my mouth again.
"I am heading to the East. They're neutral and I heard refugees from both municipalities of Greenland live there."
"But it is far away."
Amy wiped a tear of her cheek and shrugged, "anything is better than staying."