Mitchell put his arm around me.
The sensation was dull, like the echo of touch, like a memory. It wasn't as intense as when he kissed me – when he kissed me everything felt a bit more solid, a bit more real…and yet still, distant, as if I were experiencing his lips though another person. But it was good, and right, and I'd convinced myself that was all I would need – his arms around me. Our love was deeper than anything physical, after all. He'd literally gone to hell and back to save me. He knew death like I knew death. He had faced it in the eye – the men with sticks, the voices, the dark. He'd felt me go. We were connected.
But then of course, there were these…moments. Little moments, when I would look at him and his eyes were simply somewhere else – another place, or maybe another time. I'd say something to him, and he'd flinch, look at me as if I were a stranger, or he were a stranger, and it hurt. It was like there was always this little piece of himself that he would never show me.
And there'd be other moments, when I'd feel a different sort of ache. I'd sit on his bed in the mornings, nattering on about something banal while he got dressed and my internal monologue would really just be something along the lines of "Oh my God. Oh my God."
If man's body is a miracle, a work of art so to speak, then Mitchell's would probably be up there with the Sistine Chapel. I mean, his arse alone defied proper explanation. I'd sit there on his bed in my shabby grey leggings and sweater and feel like the least sexiest thing on the entire planet, which he assured me wasn't the case, although that was hard to believe when he was standing there in his underwear looking all…super-modely. It was difficult to grasp how his body was, well, mine, and yet all at once not.
We wouldn't be having sex. Like, at all. And that was OK. I'd resigned myself to the idea of that. I hadn't had sex in years, anyway – I'd damn near forgotten what it felt like to be made love to. But it was different, for Mitchell, I suspected. I didn't even want to think about the number of women he'd been with. I didn't want to acknowledge that needling little voice inside my head that wondered if, maybe, there was something wrong with me. He'd had no problem controlling himself with Lucy Jaggat, with Josie, with Lauren. But I was a ghost…past tense…not there. Maybe what he felt for them, he simply couldn't muster up to feel for an imaginary girlfriend.
It was no good when I got in those moods. I was quiet and snappy, and I felt incredibly sorry for myself. What was the point? If this was what he wanted…what we wanted…I'd have to stop comparing myself to strangers. It was just Mitchell and I, now. Just us.
So. It was midnight, a few nights before full moon, and Mitchell put his arm around me. It was a simple, sweet gesture – pleasant, reassuring. He rested the back of his head against the headboard of the bed, and closed his eyes. I tried focusing on the tabloid magazine lying lifelessly in my lap. This was nice. Couple-y. Normal. He'd been out all day, doing who knows what, and when he'd entered the kitchen fifteen minutes earlier the first thing he'd said was, "I'm knackered. Let's go to bed."
Now, he was drifting quickly into sleep beside me, murmuring comments of half-interested approval every time I made a snide remark about some WAG or reality show star I came across as I flipped the pages of my Tattler.
"Ugh, her breasts are absurd…is that actually what men like, Mitchell? Two great big bouncy ball things…there has to be a name for them. What're those bouncy ball things people use at the gym, Mitchell?"
"Yeah, totally…" He muttered in reply, squeezing me closer into him.
I was getting bored. Mitchell wasn't up for a chat, and I felt as if my mind were going to explode if I didn't get up and do something. I was about to go see what Nina and George were up to, when there was a huge, crashing thud from the next room; a heavy object, perhaps a lamp, crashing to the ground. There was a beat, and then another thud.
And then another.
"Oh, bloody hell…not this again," Mitchell groaned, eyes wide open now.
"Full moon's in two nights. That time of the month again."
THUD. THUD. THUD. THUD. THUD. THUD. A giggle, a groan.
"Shall I turn on the radio?" I asked Mitchell.
"Yeah, go on." He'd pulled away from me now, and was grinding his index fingers into his temples, as if massaging a particularly massive headache. Nina and George. Bless them. Right around their change-time, they were always a bit…friskier than usual. Audibly so.
I reached over across Mitchell's body to turn on the clock radio on his bedside table. He shivered. The radio crackled to life, and the smooth saxophone of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" started playing, as the muffled sound of George grunting came in from the other room. I quickly switched the dial. A news program came on: "There have been no major developments in the ongoing investigation of the Boxcar Twe-"
Mitchell banged his hand against the radio's off switch, nearly smashing the thing to pieces. "Forget the radio," he said, looking down briefly before looking back up at me with a bit of embarrassment, "Sorry. I just…it doesn't make any difference, anyway. We can still hear them."
THUD. THUD. THUDTHUDTHUD.
For a few moments we sat there, in a silence that wasn't actually a silence, awkwardly trying to pretend not to hear what was going on in the other room. It was funny, actually. Well, not really. We'd laughed about it last month when they'd actually broken the bed but this month...no. It was just all too aching a contrast.
Mitchell sighed, and chuckled a little. "Jesus Christ…" He muttered.
I chewed on my bottom lip, unsure of what to do or say next. "Hey, let's go downstairs. I'll make you some tea and-"
"-Some nice beans on…toast."
"Nah, you're alright, Annie. I think I'm going to take a shower."
"Oh! Oh. Well, alright. I'll…be here."
Mitchell flashed me one of those smiles of his, when his eyes got all crinkly but there was still an edge to them – that part of him he wouldn't let me get to. He kissed me briefly on the forehead – I barely felt it, an echo of an echo – and left the room.
I tried to read my magazine, but I couldn't. All I could think about was George and Nina. Well, not about them obviously, I didn't actually want to think about them having sex but all I could think was how…nice, it must be. To have that. I hadn't really ever had that, even when I was alive.
There was Owen – who never understood me, at all. He never took into consideration what I needed, what I wanted. I was in school, working towards a teaching degree when he'd told me we'd have to move to Bristol. I was so weak, so brainwashed, that when he'd gotten down on one knee and practically shoved an engagement ring on my finger I ignored all my reservations about leaving my friends and family behind to follow him.
The days before my death weren't much different than the days after it. I'd walk listlessly about the house (Owen didn't want me getting a job, said he'd be the breadwinner from now on), fixing myself endless cups of tea, reading, watching the telly. When Owen got home there'd be no kindness, no happiness in his eyes to see me. And sometimes, when we had sex, it wasn't…I didn't always want it. And he didn't always care. But I figured, when all was said and done, giving myself would make him happy. And that's all that I wanted – for him to be happy, not cross with me all the time, not always on the verge of calling me a hurtful name, or worse.
Of course, it hadn't started with Owen, this history of complete wankers.
There had been Erick, Erick Trilby. My first boyfriend, and one of the most vile people I'd ever known when I was alive. I was seventeen, he was in uni, and I thought he was the most fascinating, interesting person on the planet. He road a motorcycle, he thought I was pretty, and when he talked about the future, he always said "we." We. That was all I really wanted – to be part of somebody's "we."
It didn't take long for him to coax me into bed. He said he loved me, and that if I loved him back, I'd show him. He said I'd put it off long enough, that it was time. And so, on a night I knew my mum and dad would be out watching my younger sister's dance recital, I invited him over. I remember staring at the ceiling of my bedroom – I had those fake, plastic glow in the dark stars stuck to it and they shined down on us in the dark, and I found myself looking at them and wondering if I could make sense of the constellation I could make sense of what was happening right now…Why I felt nothing, really. Why I wished he would just leave.
The next morning, at college, everyone was staring at me, whispering, giggling…It wasn't until the end of the day that I found out: Erick had taken photos of me while I was sleeping and posted it on his blog: Naughty Teenage Whores.
It was…devastating. I cried for weeks. I changed schools, lost contact with all my old friends, spent most nights holed up in my room, alone. I'd let that experience break me down so thoroughly that by the time I'd met Owen…well, there really wasn't any Annie left. Just a ghost.
The sounds from Nina and George's room had died down, and I lay there, thinking about Erick, about Owen, about every relationship or pseudo relationship I'd ever had, and then my mind rested on him. Mitchell. A smile spread across my face without me even willing it to. I loved him. Sure, he wasn't perfect – he was nowhere near perfect - but I really, truly loved him, and I'd only just begun to realize how much quite recently.
I loved that he was better than he probably would ever give himself credit for, despite his past. I loved the silly Dad-dance he did when he was happy about something, bopping from side to side like a fool. I loved his smile. I loved that he loved George – the bond there, the understanding. I loved that he always listened, even when I knew he'd rather not. I loved that I could feel his aura when he walked into a room, and I loved his body. I loved the planes of his chest, the sinews of his arms, the curve of his back, the toned pelvic line that dipped down, low, beneath his waist.
I closed my eyes, and envisioned him, standing there before me, naked. And I wanted him. I wanted him. Everyone before him had chosen me. I hadn't loved Owen, not like this – I'd loved the idea of being a "we." And I'd always felt the need to prove why I deserved to be loved. With Mitchell, it was different. I just wanted to be with him…not for the sake of it, not because I might as well, but because there was something inside of him pulling me to him. Maybe it was that deep, dark, hidden part of his soul that was pulling me in. Maybe it was everything about him. All I knew was that thinking about him made me feel as if my entire being was on fire – literally surging with electricity. I closed my eyes tighter, imagined him turning to me, cocking his head to one side, smiling with lust deep in his eyes…
There was the sound of running water. I lifted my eyelids, and I was no longer lying in Mitchell's bed.
"Annie? You scared the shit out of me," Mitchell exclaimed, eyes wide. We were standing in the shower, the water running over us. The water felt…tingly. Like the faintest sensation of pins and needles, but not as unpleasant. Mitchell's hair was totally wet, slicked back, his face dripping with rivulets of water that ran down his chest, his stomach, his thighs.
"Sorry! I'm sorry I scared you but…I. OK. I…I think we should try again." It was a chore, trying to get the words out, but once I did I knew it was now or never. This was what I wanted.
Mitchell looked confused. "Try? Try what?"
I kissed him. Hard. Harder than I had ever kissed anyone, harder than I thought I dared. It wasn't gentle or romantic – It was rough, full of a fire I think neither one of us knew I was capable of unleashing. And I felt him more than I'd ever felt him; the water on his face, the smoothness of his tongue, the stubble on his chin. Mitchell pulled away briefly, searched my face, kissed me again, and whispered, "We can't."
"Do you not want me?"
That made him flinch a little, and he shut his eyes tightly and sighed, wiping water from his face. "Of course I want you, I want to…I think about it all the time. I've taken more cold showers in the past few weeks than I have in…I just…look, we've tried. We've tried, and-"
"I felt you, just now. And you felt me. Right? You felt me."
"And it was brilliant. But I don't want to hurt you, Annie."
"Mitchell. You are not Edward bloody Cullen and this isn't bloody Twilight. You can't hurt me. I'm dead. You couldn't hurt me if you tried."
He allowed himself a small smile at the Twilight jab, but only a small one. "Jesus Annie, I know I can't hurt you. But you don't understand I…turn into an animal, Annie. We've discussed this. You saw it, that night with the girl from the bar. And I-"
Hesitantly, at first, I took a step closer to him, so that the water was hitting the both of us, so that he could really see me, and I took the length of him in my right hand. "When I said that you were the man I want, I meant all of you. Good and bad," I stroked him once, twice, three times, "I'm no angel myself."
I was playing the femme fatale role, I surprised myself. I'd never been this forward, not with Mitchell, not ever. His eyes went black, for a split second, and he groaned – his only answer was a quick nod, as I lifted my head up to kiss him again, wrapping my fingers tighter around him. "Do you like that?" I whispered, my lips brushing against his right earlobe.
"I…I love it…fuck…Annie."
This was happening. I was willing it to happen. All I cared about was his skin, how I could almost feel it through my fingers, as if touching him through the thinnest piece of silk. I gave myself permission to explore him; I didn't ask questions, didn't obsess about whether he could feel me, or whether I was doing it right or not. I, for lack of a better phrase, was going with the "flow."
Mitchell, for all his protestations about lack of control, was responding to each touch, each caress, with a profound amount of restraint. "Can…can we…take off…your clothes," he asked, between kisses, between ragged intakes of breath. This was the part I was a little wary of. I'd never taken off these clothes, not in three years. They were a part of me, but I wasn't sure how much. There wasn't a chance to hesitate, though. Mitchell's finger hooked underneath the hem of my sweater, still dry despite the water. He lifted up, up, and if I'd had a real breath I would have held it. It came off. It came off. The look of relief on Mitchell's face as he then peeled off my camisole, my bra, helped me out of my leggings and my knickers and my boots, was priceless.
He stared at me, standing there naked for the first time in years, and I could feel myself doubting, questioning this non-corporal body of mine. It felt as if he looked at me for an eternity, drinking me in with his eyes the way a thirsty man drinks down a cool glass of water. "You look like an angel," he said, then his eyes turned black again.
The first thing I felt was his hand on the back of my neck, pulling me to him. Then, his lips crashing into mine. Then, my back making contact, hard contact with the tile wall of the shower stall. My hands dug into his wet curls, tugging on them- reveling in the ability to actually do so. His tongue swirling against my nipples. His fingers on me, inside me. His breath against my shoulder, my earlobe, my mouth, whispering shockingly forward things I think he was only half aware that he was saying.
All of it was overwhelming, and amazing, but I don't think either of us was prepared for what happened next. Mitchell was quiet, his breath still, as he guided himself into me with one hand, his other hand lifting my leg up, his black eyes glued to mine. I was so startled by the initial sensation that I gasped in genuine surprise, threw my head back and shut my eyes tightly as he thrust into me slowly. There was nothing to make sense of – no cosmic constellation to tell me why I was doing this. It was just right. This moment was perfect, and yet it in minutes it was slowly devolving into a chaotic frenzy. At points, he'd slide in and out of me in a kinetic fenzy, at others, he'd be so achingly, deliberately slow with each ministration that I thought I would go mad. He took each of my legs in his arms, holding me up against the wall of the shower, and pushed himself deeper, swearing loudly, telling me how he wanted to drink me, consume me completely.
Then, I felt his teeth. There was no real pain at all, just sharpness, clear and distinct, like jumping into a bath of ice water. There was no blood either, but he bit me again, and again, and again, and again – and I knew that he was letting himself go – perhaps because he knew there'd be no blood, and that he couldn't hurt me. Or perhaps because he knew that I wasn't afraid. Or perhaps because he knew I was not judging this new part of him that he was showing me. I understood.
After a while the feel of his teeth, his hair, his arms, his penis – all melded into one giant ball of energy that I felt deep inside me, heating up, as if any minute it would explode. I felt myself crackling with electricity, and Mitchell was the only thing keeping me tied down to this world. If I let go of him there'd be no telling where I would end up. The lights in the house began to flicker – I could feel it. And even more interesting, and a little bizarre – for a few brief moments I could feel myself through Mitchell. I could feel his lust, I could feel the rage inside of him, this needling guilt, a need for blood that was so intense I hardly knew how he could stand it for a minute, let alone an eternity. But I could feel his tenderness, too, his need to be loved, his vulnerability, and I could feel it just as he began to cum, setting off my own careening off the edge minutes later.
The lights went out.
The water was still running, but I could barely feel it anymore. We crumpled to the tiled floor of the shower. Mitchell's eyes were back to normal, but the expression on his face was infallible. We were quiet for ages; all there was was the splashing of water against ceramic, and the sound of Mitchell breathing. I felt a sort of peace, a satisfaction that I had never known possible. And even more striking - I wanted more. So much more.
"You were in my head," he whispered, after a while, wrapping both arms around me.
"Yeah, you were in mine, too."
"Do you think I'm a monster, then?"
"Hmm, let's see. Yeah, you're a monster. You're also the sexiest, bravest, most beautiful, honest man I know."
"Don't say that, Annie. Don't call me that."
"Then what should I call you?"
He turned to look at me, studying my face for a few beats, and then leaned forward and kissed, very gently, the places on my collarbone and neck where his teeth had sunk into my flesh – all the empty wounds now disappeared.
"Call me John."
So there we were. A ghost, and a vampire. An angel and a demon in the dark. Not a normal, average couple, nowhere near the mark of perfect, but you know what? It was a start.