Love Isn’t Cheap

 

“Honk. Hooooooonk.”

The white goose extended its long neck to the outstretched human hand in front of it. Its webbed feet stepped forward warily, vacillating between instinctive distrust of creatures larger than itself and hunger for the dried hunk of bread in the human hand.

“C’mon, fella...this is some good stuff here,” coaxed a human voice as warm and inviting as a fire in the hearth.

In the end, hunger won out. The goose grasped the bread in its bright orange beak and waddled away.

But it was never in any danger...for the hand that fed it belonged to Jamie.

He leaned back into the trunk of the maple tree that stood guard over the lake at Carbo Park. Geese and mallards waddled around the edge of the lake and swam in its silver waters, trailing V-shaped trains.

“Looks like folks here have been getting cozy during the winter,” Jamie said, his dark-chocolate eyes focused on the lake. “I see babies all over the place.”

Indeed, lines of baby mallards toddled behind their mothers at the edge of the lake, following them all the way into the water in perfect formation.

“Oh, they’re adorable, Jamie.” I leaned into his sweater-clad shoulder. “They’re like little balls of fluff.”

Jamie’s large, hockey-glove-roughened fingers curled around my hand. At once, I felt a little more safe, a little more secure than I felt a moment earlier.

“You could combine the softness of a baby chick’s feathers, a kitten’s fluffy fur, and a scrap of fresh velvet...and it wouldn’t be half as soft as you, my love.”

A breeze rippled the surface of the lake. I could feel it through the thin material of my cardigan.

“Oh.” Jamie held me closer, encircling me in warmth. “I have a guilty secret to confess.”

“What, Jamie?”

“One of the reasons why I like cold weather is that it makes you shiver...and that gives me a good excuse to cuddle you.”

“Oh, Jamie. You don’t need an excuse to cuddle me.”

“Really?” He grinned and brought me closer to him. “In that case, this cuddle is...just because.” He pressed me closer to him and tickled my back.

A low rumble percolated in Jamie’s belly.

“Aw. Does Jamie’s tum-tum want some yum-yum?”

“Oh, yeah. And then I’m gonna make you come-come.”

“Jamie.” I ruffled his soft, shiny dark hair. “I think home is where we’ll find all of the above.”

“I agree. We can’t eat our feathered friends...and I don’t think they need mating lessons from us.”

Jamie helped me to my feet, and we walked to his car, which was parked at a nearby curb.

He brushed the crumbs off his hands as we walked away, dropping more sustenance for the smallest of the small creatures who lived in the park...another one of the many little ways he proved his compassion.

How lucky I was, to look up at that face, to stare into those deep brown eyes, to snuggle against that body, and know that he was mine. How lucky I was, that his beauty came from within as well as without.

* * *

Hours later, Jamie and I sat in front of a crackling fire, our bellies filled with pork chops and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

We didn’t talk. We didn’t need to. We communicated where our bodies touched. My head lay close to his heart.

Ah. Jamie was so solid.

Now, of course all men were solid; I had never heard of a gaseous or liquid man. But there was solid and then there was solid. Jamie was solid in italics.

Not just for the torso, which was as firm as a just-ripened apple, and as delightful to touch as the fuzz of a peach. He was the kind of man whom a woman could lean on without his whining, “Get off, you’re in my space.” With my head on Jamie, my worries melted into the drain, my fears fled for the hills.

“Thanks so much for cooking tonight,” he murmured into my hair.

“Oh, Jamie. I’m so glad you liked it. It’s what I’m here for.”

He kissed the top of my head.

“You’ve been so good to me, my darling.” He rocked me in his arms. “So good.” His voice lowered an octave. “Much better than I deserve.”

Now Jamie did not have an arrogant bone in his body. He was always one to put his team above himself. But lately his words had veered from self-depreciation to dangerous self-loathing.

Why? His team was in first place in its division, with a comfortable 12-point lead. He, personally, was playing near the peak of his game, if not actually on it. He had always been a diligent worker on the ice, and he had nothing to be ashamed of in terms of effort.

All I could do, as the woman who loved him, was to let him know that he was a good man, and to treat him as such.

“Jamie...” My hands snuck into his sweater to find the warm, smooth, erotically electrifying skin beneath. “Let me be really good to you...in the bedroom.”

He smiled down at me.

“I don’t know if I’ve truly earned you,” he said, “but God, I do need you.”

He got up to put out the fire, then tugged me towards the bedroom.

* * *

Jamie and I lay facing each other atop his queen-sized bed. Both of us wore only underpants, and Jamie’s right hand was deep into my panties, his index finger wiggling into my secrets.

“Mmmm...you ready for something extra, darling?” he cooed. But he didn’t need to ask...his finger knew the answer already.

“I...am...soooooo ready, Jamie.”

Jamie smiled, and gently slid my panties down my legs. I reached for his brief and tugged it down. He, too, was ready...his erection bounced up in the air as I freed it from its cotton restraint, like a friendly puppy greeting its owner.

“Hi there.” I reached down and petted the head. “How’s my not-so-little wiener pup tonight?”

“It’s not a ‘wiener pup’, darling. It’s a red-hot dog...and it’s on a mission.”

Jamie pressed his body hard against mine and rubbed his hardness against my furry pubes.

“A mission to find a nice, warm place to play inside. Do you know of any good spots?

“Hmmm...I might know one, Jamie.”

I moved closer to him, bringing my “nice, warm place” right up to that horny pup. But

then he broke from me, and scooted over to his side of the bed. The nightstand drawer rumbled open. My mouth scrunched into the frown that always happened when I heard that sound.

“You don’t need to use that, Jamie. I’m on the pill, remember?”

Jamie tore open the small, square packet.

“Please, darling...” He rolled the condom over his erection as if I’d said nothing at all. “Don’t argue with me over this. It’s just the way it has to be.”

This was the one wish of mine that was not his command. I had to admire him for his firmness even as I was exasperated by his insistence on this barrier to our intimacy. Even though the polyurethane material allowed body heat to pass through, it still denied the skin-on-skin contact that I yearned for.

Nor would he allow me to touch his erection with my mouth, though he was generous when it was the other way around. It was as if he thought that part of his body was unfit for contact with me.

When he came back towards me, rolled me over on my back and entered me, desire turned disappointment to dust. I could not imagine that anyone could be a better lover than Jamie. He knew when to be tender, when to be rough, his ears open to my vocal clues. He was an electric blanket of sexual energy, drawing up my eroticism with his own to create one great, white flame.

If the world only knew, you could easily charge a million dollars per session...but you wouldn’t, because you are true to me. And that is a gift I shall always cherish.

I held on tightly to Jamie as his whole body tensed and hardened, his back arching and his hips pressing deeper, as he found fulfillment inside of me (or, I should say, inside the condom). No sounds were more erotic to me than the sounds of Jamie coming...his raspy moans, like velvet rubbing against velvet, the rustle of the sheet against his bare skin. I thrilled to this moment almost as much as he did.

And then -- too soon -- Jamie exited my body and gently kissed my lips.

“Be right back, baby,” he whispered.

He pushed out of the bed and padded to the bathroom in the darkness. Seconds later, the toilet made an unromantic whoosh as the used condom washed out of his house.

If only we could just hold each other when it’s done, I thought wistfully. But until he changes his mind...

Jamie returned to the bedroom and clicked off the lamp beside the bed. Even in the darkness, I could see the contrast between his pale face and his strong, coffee-brown features. I love you so much, darling...” His forearm closed around my waist. I heard a near-inaudible whisper: “I wish I could be so much more to you.”

“You’re already the best, Jamie,” I whispered back. But he was already asleep, his chin settling on top of my head.

I snuggled my cheek into the pillow. Ah, our world was nearly perfect...if it weren’t for the third Saturday nights of every month.

For the look on Jamie’s face on the third Sunday mornings of each month broke my heart.

When he came back from wherever he had been, his eyes were glassy and haunted, an effect that lasted for days. I saw it at home. His teammates saw it on the road.

Whatever he did that night was the only significant secret between us. I had asked him several times where he went, and his answers went like this: “It’s just something I need to do, baby. Please don’t worry. It‘s all right.”

But it wasn’t. He found it difficult to look me in the eye, as if he had committed a great crime...of course, that wasn’t the case. Jamie couldn’t do something so horrible.

Could he?

* * *

Enough was enough, I thought to myself as I waited in the car -- a car not my own so Jamie wouldn’t recognize it -- across the street from Jamie’s house.

If Jamie was unable to tell me what trauma befell him on the third Saturday night of each month, it was my responsibility to find out. Not to shame him, but to help him. To help the pain stop. And the only way to do that was to go where he went.

The lights went off in Jamie’s house, and he stepped outside, wearing jeans, a dark jacket, and a cap pushed over his forehead. He held his head low as he walked -- with reluctance? -- to his truck and got inside.

When he went around the corner, I started my car and followed, keeping my headlights off. I kept just far enough away from Jamie so that he couldn’t detect me behind him.

Fortunately for me, he didn’t drive down major city streets but took the open, nearly-deserted highway. When he reached the wooded area just outside his suburb, he parked his truck on the side of the road. I stopped about twenty feet behind him.

Jamie got out of the truck, turned on a flashlight, and entered the woods. I used my childhood skill of walking quietly and unobtrusively behind him. And then, as if he’d seen a black “X” on the ground, he stopped.

Two creatures came out of the foliage. I stifled a gasp when I saw them, for never in any biology book or zoo or National Geographic issue had I seen creatures like these.

One of them was a lion. But this was not the noble king of beasts. This lion had a scraggly, stringy mane and dirty fur that was nearly bare in some spots. And it had two heads.

The other creature was a armadillo. An armadillo who walked on its hind legs and was a tall as a man. Both creatures looked upon Jamie with contempt.

“You know what to do, bitch!” the lion snapped at Jamie with both mouths.

I couldn’t decide what was more shocking: the lion speaking with a human voice, its calling Jamie a “bitch”...or Jamie responding by silently taking off his clothes.

My breath stilled as Jamie stripped to the skin and left his clothes in the grass. The armadillo and the lion snickered.

“What a puny dick he has,” sneered the lion. “I don’t know what Sikyel was thinking...”

“He moves in mysterious ways, you know...” The armadillo could speak English, too. And then, it spoke to Jamie: “Come on, time’s a-wasting!”

Jamie silently followed the creatures into the woods. I came behind them on silent feet, but with pounding heart.

This could not be good.

* * *

When I discovered their destination, I knew right away that cruelty was afoot.

A semi-circle of tall torches had been jammed into the earth, surrounding a stone platform with bizarre symbols -- unrecognizable from any human civilization -- carved into the sides.

Other creatures were gathered in the clearing...some, like the lion and armadillo, were oversized or mutant versions of animals familiar to me. Some were beings I had never imagined before, or even wanted to...creatures with twenty arms and no face, creatures with glowing orange scales, creatures with one eye and a million eyes and no eyes at all.

Suddenly, the crowd shuffled away, moving aside like water would for oil...leaving room of a solitary, unique figure.

From the chin down, the body was human -- if you could call one of those pumped-up, bulging and veiny, and (likely) steroid-saturated bodies found in Flex magazine human.

The head...it had no skin, just a shiny skull which seemed to be made of oily green slime. Its teeth were white and sharpened to triangular points.

Its eyes...its eyes were definitely alive, their capillaries nail-polish red. The pupils were a green seen in no human eyes, a green glowing and fluorescent in color. It wore a loincloth decorated with triangles within triangles around its waist.

Where in the hell did this skull-man come from? And why, oh why, did Jamie have to endure his presence?

“So.” The skull-man spoke, his words undulating in the air like satin-skinned snakes. “Another visit from my favorite hockey player.”

He grasped Jamie by the chin and made him look up at his eyes.

“Aw. You don’t look too chipper tonight.”

“Since when did you care how I looked, as long as I came in on time?” Jamie’s voice was as flat as Carbo Lake minus its web-footed residents.

“I like to know that my thralls glow with gratitude for the blessing of my presence.” Sikyel shook his head ruefully. “I’m hurt, dear Jamie. What’s the matter...you wish you were with your ladylove instead...or, more precisely, inside her?”

Sikyel kneeled down in front of Jamie until they were face-to-genitals. Jamie’s penis dangled limply, finding nothing in front of him that was even remotely arousing.

“From that scared-rabbit look on your face, I know I speak the truth. You are thinking about what you see when she spreads her legs for you like a bitch in heat...”

A shiny black ribbon leapt out of Sikyel’s mouth. It wrapped itself around Jamie’s penis and yanked it into that gaping portal of hell.

“I can imagine it now, Jamie. Her ripe, blood-filled labia patiently guarding the gates to her sweetest secrets...her clitoris growing fatter as she looks at you with her wide, hungry eyes...and it’s all wet, it’s all shiny and slick, because she needs your cock bad...”

Jamie’s fists clenched so tightly that the muscles of his arms rippled all the way up to the shoulder.

“Ah, yes, I can feel your thoughts in my mouth, can taste them on the tip of my tongue.” Sikyel sucked in his cheeks, then relaxed them, in a rhythmic fashion that was blatantly sexual. “I know what’s on your mind, dear Jamie. I know that you would rather be far, far away from here. You would rather have your cock deep inside your little girlfriend than inside my mouth, no?”

“Nnnngggghhhh...” Jamie’s chin lifted and his jaw tightened. In my body’s memory, I could feel him brace himself against the intense penile stimulation this creature was performing on him. To come was to surrender to evil.

“You want to mount her soft female body, want to slide your cock deep, deep into her hot little pussy...”

“Why are you doing this to me?” Jamie wrenched the words from his mouth.

“She groans as you push yourself in, groans from the stress of being penetrated...so deeply...by a man so large and potent...and then you start pushing, pushing more, starting to fuck her...and she writhes on the bed, calling out your name: ‘Jamie. Oh, Jamie, take me!’

“She opens wider for you, and now you can see everything: her labia closing in around your cock, her clitoris withdrawing into its hood, her female juices moistening your cock as it thrusts in and out...in...and out...deeper...and harder...”

No man could withstand such blatantly erotic talk.

“And then, she comes for you, Jamie. She throws back her head and sings her sweet song of orgasm. Her breasts and belly, damp with the sweat of love’s exertions, heave up and down. And her pussy...” Sikyel chuckled. “It’s going absolutely wild. Tightening and relaxing around your cock, over and over again, begging for your come, urging on your juices...”

Jamie let out a gargling sound, his face spasming with pain...for climax forced by this creature was no pleasure at all.

“Ah, yes, Jamie, let it go. Let it all come out, right into Sikyel’s mouth...” Sikyel suddenly tilted his chin. “Mmmm, the first spurt of come...always the most delicious...”

My entire body felt as if spiders were crawling on it. I had just witnessed the most horrifying sight of my life. Sikyel was raping Jamie, perverting a beautiful physical function for his own twisted needs.

“Nobody sucks you as well as I do, Jamie.” Sikyel got to his feet and grabbed hold of the leash. “And nobody fucks you as well, either.”

He yanked on the leash hard, pulling Jamie forward. The creatures parted to make way for them, and I saw that some of them had been sitting on a raised stone platform with unearthly symbols carved on the sides.

Sikyel turned Jamie around and pushed him down on the platform. Creatures grabbed his arms, tying them to black leather straps that were attached under the platform’s table. The platform itself was only long enough to support him from head to buttocks.

I found out why when other creatures pulled Jamie’s legs up, presenting his bare backside to Sikyel. Sikyel smiled, then unwrapped the cloth around his waist.

“No more thinking about you and your cock. It’s time to think of me and MY cock!”

At first, I had to wonder, “what cock?” Sikyel had only a tight crease between his legs, not very masculine-looking at all.

And then, the crease dilated, pushing out an obsidian-colored shaft. Like most other mammals (besides humans), Sikyel had a retracting penis. A big retracting penis. And I knew exactly where it was going to end up...

“Jamie,” I sobbed softly. “Dear Jamie.”

Sikyel turned toward Jamie, his shiny black erection jutting out like a prison guard’s nightstick...like the instruments of punishment they both were.

Some of the creatures began to bang their paws (or flippers, or tails) on the drums in a slow, even fashion. The sound made me shiver. Anything that happened with a backdrop of slow drums could not be good.

“Now, sweet Jamie,” hissed Sikyel, “give me your cunt.”

He stepped between Jamie’s legs and pushed his hips forward. In the glowing torchlight, I could see Sikyel’s penis breach Jamie’s anus, then sink deeply into my lover’s body.

“Mmmm...ahhh.” Sikyel’s voice was low with sexual desire, and it made me ill. “Such a scintillating little pussy you have, Jamie. Satan himself would don angel’s wings again to have a crack at it...” He snickered at his pun. Jamie let out a small whimper. “But I’m not sharing you with anybody, not even the Supreme Being of Darkness.”

“Get this over with, Sikyel,” Jamie begged.

“Spoken like a true boy. Always rushing towards the big O.” Sikyel shook his head. “Let a real man show you how a master makes love...nice and sloooooow.”

Sikyel began to thrust, violating Jamie’s body, sexual orientation, and sense of decency with each sinuous pumping of his hips. Jamie’s face cringed, brown eyes hidden behind tightly closed lids, his mouth open to let out sobs I could not hear over the drums and laughter.

This had to be the most painful and humiliating ordeal a heterosexual man could endure...

Sikyel pushed Jamie’s legs up higher, and I caught a glimpse of his black erection halfway inside Jamie before he pushed in again. The skin of Jamie’s anus was now bright pink, not the dusty pink it was normally, inflamed with stress and pain.

“I could fuck you until dawn,” he said, “and I would, but my friends would turn to dust at the first hint of sunlight. And I like to share my good times with my friends, right?”

“Damn straight, Sikyel!” shrieked the fat armadillo.

“Sikyel...you’re hurting me.” Jamie’s voice wavered with pain. “I might be bleeding now...please, if you have an ounce of mercy in you -- “

“Mercy?” roared Sikyel. “That word is blasphemous to me!”

His hand came down hard across Jamie’s face, the clap! echoing against the trees.

“You should know your place by now, Jamie. In the world out there, you’re this big, strong hockey player. Everyone loves you. Your woman thinks you hang the moon. But here, in the real world, you are naked and helpless, a slave to my cock.”

Red blood seeped from beneath Sikyel’s claws where they dug into Jamie’s flesh.

“The more it hurts you, the more aroused I get. The more your weak little pussy tries to block me, the more determined I am to fuck you harder! And deeper! The more your tears fall, the more my precum drips...”

Sikyel’s veiny hand clamped tightly around Jamie’s throat. Jamie gasped for breath, writhing against his restraints. The skin of his face purpled, and saliva drizzled from his mouth.

“Your pain is my pleasure, you worthless piece of human shit! I’d love to kill you right here and now...imagine the come I’d feel as you take your last pathetic breaths...how tight you’d be in rigor mortis...”

That thing is going to kill Jamie! I screamed inside. I’ve got to stop him! But how? HOW???

As I slowly rose from my hiding place, Sikyel abruptly let go of Jamie’s throat.

“But I won’t...for a human can only die once. And where’s the sport in fucking a dead body? Hmmm?”

Sikyel’s pelvis moved with jackhammer speed, and now Jamie began to scream. His wails ripped through the emotional control that separated me from hysteria. I screamed, too. Jamie and I were blessed that the feral racket prevented the monsters from hearing me.

“Take my come, bitch!” Sikyel screamed as his hips smacked against Jamie’s thighs. “All of it! Every last drop! That’s all you’re good for! You’re a cozy little deposit box for my jiz! Aaaaaauuuuuugggggghhhhhhhhh!”

And then, Sikyel stepped back at last, dropping Jamie’s legs and letting them slam against the platform. Jamie lay limp like an unused marionette. His spirit had been smashed to pieces.

Sikyel turned towards his minions and pointed his hands towards Jamie as if he were a game-show hostess presenting a new car.

“He’s all yours.”

The creatures surged forward, and Jamie’s scream slipped under a wave of cacophonous laughter. I could see nothing of the man I loved except his pale calves dangling from the edge of the platform.

Sikyel stood back, reached for his crotch and pulled out a pack of Marlboros. He lit one with his steaming breath and enjoyed a leisurely smoke.

The creatures jeered Jamie, spat upon him, cursed him, and did perverted dances around him. The armadillo stood up on the platform, squatted over where Jamie’s head would be, and let a mustard-colored turd the size of a newborn human baby extrude from its gray anus.

I ran into the darkness from which I came, and when I fell upon my bed I had no memory of how I got there.

What I could never forget, not even if my brain was scrubbed with Drano, was the nightmare in the forest. Now I knew why he kept it a secret.

How could he talk about this to anyone?

Jamie. My God. What can I do?

* * *

I woke up without wanting to, woke up to a pale gray sky and the knowledge of the hell called the third Saturday night of every month.

Now, more than ever, I needed to be with Jamie this morning. I gathered some items from my kitchen, then returned the rental car, picked up my own, and drove to his house. I knocked on the door gently.

Jamie slowly opened the door. His skin was pale, his eyes red. He looked like a college student recovering from an all-night bender...but I knew better.

“Good morning, Jamie.” I had to force the cheer into my voice. “I brought breakfast this morning. I can make grilled bagels with cheese and chipped ham.”

“Gee, thanks, baby.” His kiss was not passionate, but grateful. “Come on in.”

I took the bag into the kitchen and placed it on the counter. As I had promised, I made two grilled ham-and-cheese bagels while Jamie turned on the coffeemaker and poured the orange juice. When everything was ready, we sat down at the table.

I looked into Jamie’s eyes, now knowing the awful secret he carried within him. Some lovers would come right out and say that they knew exactly what was going on. But that would be too cruel in this case. If it were to be brought up at all -- most likely, by Jamie -- it needed to be handled as gently as one would handle a baby chick.

“Thanks for breakfast, baby.” He kissed my forehead. And then ate in silence, unable to put words to last night. I did and felt the same. It was hardly a romantic morning.

“Um...I need to use the bathroom.” Breaking the silence, I stepped away from the table and went to the upstairs bathroom.

It was permeated with a sickeningly sweet smell...a smell usually found in hospital sickrooms. When Jamie came home, he had come here to vomit up the horror. And that wasn’t all.

Four narrow green boxes stood inside the wastebasket. They had already been opened...and used.

Jamie had used Fleet enemas to purge himself down below. But it wasn’t enough. It could never be enough to purge his shame.

I stepped back out of the bathroom and closed the door.

“Hey, would you like to go to the beach today?” Jamie had come up to the bedroom, faking cheer in his voice and face. “We haven’t been for a while. I’d like the feel of sand under my feet...”

Tears escaped from my eyes. I couldn’t help it. The sight of Jamie trying to keep up a happy facade was simply too heartbreaking.

“What’s wrong, little one?” His hands came down upon my shoulders. “Oh, no...I hate to see you cry.”

His soothing voice, now that I knew what had happened to him, was no comfort at all. I cried even harder, and he encircled me in his arms.

“Whatever it is, you can tell your Jamie anything in the world...”

Anything.

“Jamie...” I moved back from him so I could look into his eyes. “I saw it.”

“Saw what?”

“I saw...what happens...on the third Saturday of every month.”

Jamie’s face widened vertically, his familiar features breaking apart from each other.

“I followed you to the woods last night...and I saw...I saw what they do to you.”

Jamie threw back his head and let out a keening cry, the cry of an animal caught in a steel-jaw trap. It was the most terrible sound I had ever heard, worse than even Sikyel’s orgasmic grunts.

I ran up to him and hugged him tight, as if I could snatch him away from the gruesome tableau of last night, snatch him away from the darkness of memory.

“It’s so horrible...so horrible!”

“I know, I know,” I sobbed. “Oh, Jamie...I so much wanted to make them stop...but I knew they would have killed you if I tried.”

“Yes, they would have...they would have killed both of us.” Jamie nodded his head emphatically. “Darling, I should have told you this before. If I had, you wouldn’t have had to see it for yourself.”

“But, Jamie...why?”

Jamie took my hand, and we sat down at the edge of the bed.

“It happened a little more than a year ago. Before I met you,” he quickly amended. “If you were in my life back then, I’d never had made such a deal.”

“What deal?”

The corners of Jamie’s mouth drooped downward, as if each corner were attached to a heavy weight.

“I always thought that I was a pretty decent hockey player...except for my skating speed. Somehow, I felt that I was one legstroke behind the other guys...except for the goons and the goalies.”

“Oh, Jamie. I don’t think you’re slow.”

He smiled -- wryly. “There’s a difference between what you see in the stands and what I feel on the ice. I tried, and tried, practiced and biked, all to get that extra burst of speed...

“It all came to a head the night we lost a game because I couldn’t skate fast enough. I had the puck on the tip of my stick, and I shot, and scored...one second after the final buzzer sounded.

“Nobody on the team was angry at me...but I hated, hated, hated myself. I dressed quickly and went out into the night, cussing and crying all at once. I ended up inside this bar God-knows-where and ordered a scotch. Scotch! For the guy they call the Milkman.”

He wrung his hands.

“At the other end of the bar, I saw a guy in a trench coat. He gave me a look that said he knew what I was going through...and knew how to help.

“Well...any port in a storm, right? I got to talking to him, and he said he could help me skate faster. Just like that. I just had to meet him the third Saturday of next month for the payment.”

“He didn’t tell me what the fee was. And I didn’t give a flying you-know-what. I wanted to skate faster...to be an asset to my team...no matter what. So he touched his thumb to my forehead, and wouldn’t you know, the next game I had wind in my skates.

“A month later, we met at the same place. He led me to the alley on the side. I told him everything was working out great, and that I’d always be grateful to him. Then, I asked him what the payment was.

“He said, ‘The payment is your pretty little ass. The third Saturday of every month. For the rest of your life.’

“And then...all the creatures came out of the darkness. Sikyel transformed into his real self, that thing you saw in the forest.” He let out a shuddering sigh. “I tried to run...but the creatures blocked my path. And then...” Jamie let the tears fall. “Sikyel got what he wanted.”

“I fought hard the first few times. But Sikyel’s stronger than me. Much stronger. And when I met you -- ” Jamie let out a choking sob. “ -- he had something to keep me in line with. Something I cared about more than hockey. Now I go to him with head bowed...”

“Oh, Jamie...” I had always known how to comfort him whenever he had a “boo-boo” in his life. Sometimes he simply needed a hug. Sometimes a tasty remedy was called for, like Toll House cookies or a vanilla milkshake. Sometimes he needed the touch of bare skin, the tickle of his glans.

But now...nothing in my bag of comforts would work. Melancholy I could fight, but not a demon with unimaginable powers.

“Now you know why I must wear a condom when I’m with you, and why you can’t go down on me,” he explained. “Sikyel has injected his filth into me...and I cannot let it touch you.”

“No, Jamie!” I cried. “You are not the filthy one, no matter how many times Sikyel...takes you.”

“But his f-f-fluid...it’s inside me...”

“That doesn’t change who you are. It only touches your skin...never your soul. Never you, Jamie!”

“If I were a real man, I’d run out of your life faster than a shooting star...” He shook his head. “But...I can’t do it...I need you too much, baby.”

“And I need you, Jamie.” I declared. “Sikyel may have supernatural powers, but he can never take away my love for you.” I touched his cheek, and his warm tear rolled over my thumb. “You are still my Jamie. Still sweet, still strong...still you.”

A low chuckle erupted in the room.

I stiffened. That sound came from neither myself or Jamie.

Jamie’s eyes widened. He knew who it came from --

“So!” The closet door opened, revealing Sikyel in all his nastiness.

“W-what are you doing here now?” stuttered Jamie. “The third Saturday of this month is over.”

“Did I ever say that was the only time I could come to you?” Now Sikyel turned his attention to me. “Did you enjoy the show last night, my dear?”

I gasped. My silence (most of the time) and stillness had been in vain. But I should have known. Supernatural beings were likely to have supernatural powers of perception.

“It’s like this, Jamie. I‘m like Santa Claus. I know when you are sleeping. I know when you’re awake. I know when you’ve been bad or good...and I know when you cheat on me with her.”

Jamie’s jaw clenched shut.

“I wonder how tight her cunt is. Are you going to tell me, Jamie? Or...” Sikyel’s grin spread across his face like a virulent virus. “...do I have to find out for myself?”

Jamie’s forbearance was nearly limitless when it came to himself. But not when it came to me.

He stepped toward Sikyel as if he were someone he‘d just dropped gloves for.

“I’ll die before I let you touch her,” he warned.

Sikyel shrugged in a false show of innocence.

“Tsk, tsk. I was only admiring her beauty. You should know how I appreciate beauty.”

“The contract was between you and me, not her!”

“That’s not exactly true, dear Jamie. She is a part of you. And everything that is yours also belongs to me.”

Jamie moved closer to Sikyel.

“You get out of here, Sikyel, or I’ll -- ”

“You’ll what?” Sikyel’s eyes widened, the closest approximation of raising the eyebrows he didn’t have. “You’ll pound my demon butt into submission?”

Sikyel’s hand shot out and gripped Jamie’s chin, squeezing his face between fingers and thumb until Jamie’s cheeks bulged like rising bread dough.

“Uh, uh. I don’t think so, little Jamie. I’m going to be doing all the action around here. First, I’m going to find out for myself why you think this girl is all that and a bag of chips. Then, I’ll kill her -- because she probably won’t be.” Sikyel gave a casual shrug, as if he were discussing tossing out a used tissue. “And then I might as well kill you, dear Jamie. I’ve become quite tired of you. Besides...the world is full of pretty, tight-assed hockey studs who’d sell their bodies to me for that little added edge...”

Sikyel released Jamie and reached for his loincloth.

“Get ready for a real man,” he advised me. “Your precious Jamie just couldn’t cut the mustard.”

But before Sikyel could expose himself to me, Jamie lunged at him and knocked him off balance.

“You’re not getting your hands on her, Sikyel. Not now. Not ever!”

Sikyel’s response was diabolical laughter.

“Who said anything about hands?”

Sikyel’s muscleman hands morphed into two long, gleaming, pinpoint-sharp blades. I gasped, but Jamie stood firm.

While Sikyel had cunning on his side, Jamie had pure rage on his. He understood that if he didn’t take a stand, right here, right now, Sikyel would get away with more than just his body. He would take everything that was important to Jamie.

Especially me.

“You know, I could blink my eyes and vaporize you with a single errant thought. But that wouldn’t be much fun, would it? I’d rather toy with you for a bit...and then cut you wide open so I can fuck your woman in a pool of your blood.”

Sikyel slashed at Jamie. Jamie jumped away from the lethal blade, backing away down the hall. Sikyel growled in frustration and made another slash, which only removed a half-inch of hair from Jamie’s head because Jamie escaped by sliding down the banister.

Sikyel jumped down the stairwell after him, and the two of them landed in the foyer, transforming into a whirlwind of lunges and evasions which anyone could have mistaken for choreography...if it weren’t one demon’s fight for dominance and one man’s fight for survival.

Either Sikyel was serious about taking his time with Jamie...or Jamie was giving this struggle everything he had, and everything he didn’t know he had.

I placed my bets on Jamie.

“Okay, you little fuckwad,” said the demon. “I’ve had all the fun I’m ever going to have with you. So feast your eyes on your pretty little chickadee...because next time you see her, you’ll both be in hell.”

And then Sikyel’s blade lunged toward Jamie. It took a fraction of a second for me to see the space between Jamie and the approaching blade. A space just large enough for me to get inside --

The blade sank down between my ribs, piercing my heart.

* * *

“My darling!”

Jamie’s arms closed around me as my body sank down, putting warm comforting muscle between me and the floor.

“Oh, my God...blood! So much blood!” His hand pressed hard against my wound. “Don’t worry, baby...I’ll get help for you...”

“Damn you, Jamie.” From the background came Sikyel’s voice, much raspier than normal. “Damn you, and damn your sickeningly loyal woman!”

“What’s happening?” Jamie cried. “Sikyel...you’re melting!”

“You don’t know the rules of evil very well, do you?... If someone sacrifices her life for you, all agreements are void...and so am I.” The rattle of a dying breath. “Even my evil can’t withstand a love that pure.” Then, silence.

But Jamie had no time to spare a thought for his late tormentor.

“Hang on, little one. I’m going to call 911.” Still holding on to me and staunching my wound, he moved toward the phone. “Please hang on, darling...please don’t die...”

Jamie...

“This is all my fault. If only I’d been happy with what I had...”

A warm droplet fell into my wound.

“I’ll never forgive myself for this. Never, never, never...”

* * *

“Jamie.”

I opened my eyes. Jamie still held me in his arms, his tears falling on my chest like spring’s first rain. My body and his hands were drenched in blood.

But I was no longer bleeding. The hole in my chest was closed...closed with a small, heart-shaped scar that glittered with the colors of the rainbow.

Jamie reached for the phone.

“Jamie, wait!” I sat up quickly.

He snapped his head down toward me. When he saw that I was not only alive, but healed, his eyes widened until he resembled a painting by Keane.

“Darling...” He scooped me to his chest -- his oh-so-solid chest -- and kissed me the way a sailor lost at sea for years would kiss the land. “You’re alive. You’re alive!”

“I think it was your tears that healed me.” I looked down at the little heart-shaped scar -- a flaw so perfect! “Your tears...and your love.”

“Your love healed me, too.” Jamie looked down at the remains of Sikyel -- a smattering of sulfur-smelling dust. “Healed me and freed me.”

He turned to me and smiled the smile of pure sunshine, and I loved him ten times more...

“I’m free to love you the way a man should love his woman. Free to ask for your hand in marriage. Free to plant my seed in you and grow a legacy strong and true...”

He had those freedoms all along. But I was glad, so glad, that now he knew it down to the bones, too.

Jamie helped me to my feet.

“From now on, the third Saturday nights of my life belong to you. Only you. And I want to give you a preview right now.”

“Uh...I think we should do a little cleaning up first.” Even with Jamie, it would be hard for me to feel sexy when my skin was sticky with blood.

“Oh. Okay.” Jamie smiled. “Let’s make it quick.”

Jamie vacuumed up what was left of Sikyel, threw the contents into the garbage where they belonged, then shared a cleansing shower with me. The rose-scented soap we used was the perfect antidote for all the ugliness that Sikyel had wrought.

Goodbye to secrets. Goodbye to horror. Goodbye to mangy lions and giant armadillos and stone platforms and restraints and sodomy. Hello, happiness.

We barely had the patience to towel each other off before Jamie placed me on the bed, then moved over me and into me, not pausing to open the nightstand drawer...

Now he was in me, really inside me this time, with no polyurethane dividing us. Only Jamie and me, connected for the very first time.

“Oh, Jamie...I can really feel you this time.”

“And I can feel you.” His voice sang with joy. “God, darling, it’s so beautiful...just skin on skin, love touching love...”

His hands pulled my hips up to his. His pelvis dug into mine, thrusting faster, harder, deeper.

“I’m sorry, baby,” he gasped. “I can’t help myself!”

“Don’t worry, Jamie.” I touched his cheek gently. “Do what your body begs of you.”

And then he burst into liquid heat...oh, it wasn’t true what the experts said; you could feel a man come.

His torso arched above me, giving me a view of dark curls clinging to his sweaty throat, of sweat droplets curling around peaking pink nipples, of a mouth opening to release an ecstatic shout heralding the release down below.

The boundaries that separated our selves melted away...we became the two halves of the same being, sharing the same rushing blood and the same hungry mouth and the same throbbing heart at our core...

I kissed Jamie’s eyebrows and eyelashes and nose as he fell upon me, a melting heap of a man drained physically...but emotionally energized. A man who thought he had lost his soul, but understood that he’d had it all along.

“You’re my angel,” he murmured into my hair. “My sweet angel.” He kissed the little rainbow scar on my chest.

“And you are my hero.”

Jamie’s moonbeam smile revealed his special pleasure at my remark. Every man needed to feel like a hero at some point in his life. He had been my hero ever since he met. But now, he believed it, too.

It was the sweetest gift that day brought.

Epilogue -- One Year Later

Jamie leaned back into the trunk of the maple tree that stood guard over the lake at Carbo Park. Geese and mallards waddled around the edge of the lake, and swam in its silver waters, trailing V-shaped trains.

I snuggled closer to his sweater-clad body, entwining my right hand into his left, the hand that now wore a simple gold band. My left hand now had two, a gold band to match Jamie’s plus a square-cut diamond engagement ring.

That engagement was short. “I don’t want to wait any longer than I have to,” he said the night he gave me the ring, the night of the day we had vanquished the creature whose name we dared not even think. Waiting for happiness was a waste to us.

A mother duck and her babies waddled to the edge of the lake, then swam in formation. I wondered if the mother was one of the babies I had seen last year.

Jamie saw me watching the duck family, then gently patted my belly -- a belly swollen with child. Two, to be exact.

The third Saturdays of every month were just like any other Saturdays for us...times to cuddle after dinner, times to watch a good movie...times to make love.

Normalcy could be so beautiful.

 

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