by Catherine M. Wilson

I have waited long enough. She is not a child. She plays with me, but she knows. She knows what I feel. She must know, because every time I try to tell her, she turns my words aside. She makes a joke or calls me sentimental. She won’t hear me.

I used to think she didn’t care for me in that way, not the way I care for her. But I don’t believe it now. I’ve seen the way she looks at me. I’ve seen how quickly she looks aside when I’ve caught her looking. I’ve seen her look at my unclothed body in ways I can’t misunderstand.

I wonder what she fears. I don’t believe that she fears me. She trusts me not to hurt her. She trusts me with her life. But not with her love. Or not with her body. Which is it? Is it love she fears, or the gestures of love?

Her face is deceptive. She is not an innocent. She is a passionate woman. The lines of her body, the way she carries herself, her voice when she tells me I am not a monster, all attest to her true nature. But one outburst of real feeling and she retreats behind her stories.

I am not subtle. My way is to speak the truth and face the answer. But she won’t let me speak. If someone I cared for said the things to me that I have said to her, I would fall at her feet. But she will not. She will run.

The fire burns low. She is drowsy. She sits with her chin propped on one knee and stares at the dying embers. It has been a long time since she has spoken. I know her when she is like this. Her guard is down. She will fight sleep for a few more minutes. Then she will murmur a soft goodnight to me and wrap herself in her blanket and sleep.

“Will you ever love me, Gabrielle?” She starts, not sure if it was my voice she heard. Perhaps she dozed. Perhaps it was a dream. It was not. “Will you?” Her eyes are open wide and fixed on me.

She doesn’t answer. She has no easy words now, no jokes, no banter. “Tell me. Yes or no.” Her mouth opens but no words come. I can sense the wild beating of her heart from where I sit, across the fire from her. The last of the firelight shines on my face, and on hers. It is a soft light. It does not blind us. I can see her clearly. She can see me.

I do not beg. I do not plead with her. I do not offer myself. I simply ask. “Tell me. Yes or no.” She looks into the darkness, seeking somewhere to hide. But she can’t move. She is trapped by the night, and by my eyes, and by my question.

I let the silence last. I watch her face. She has heard me. She knows my meaning. She must answer me. She looks into the fire. She takes shallow breaths through parted lips. I let the silence last.

She looks at me. In her face, I see her answer. “Tell me. Yes or no.” Yes, she says. I have heard it. Now what can I say to her? The fire is between us. One of us must move. I cannot. I don’t think my legs will hold me. Until her yes, I was the master here. Now I am hers.

I have counted on her courage and she doesn’t disappoint me. She comes to me. She sits beside me and faces me. She lifts her chin the way she does when there is something difficult that she must face. Her eyes on mine are steady. “Are you afraid?” Yes. “Of me?” Yes. “What can I do? ” Anything you want.

She is so close. The smell of wood smoke lingers in her hair. It is a golden cloud around her face, shining in the firelight. She is more beautiful than anything I have ever seen. If I were blind to every beauty in the world but hers, it would be enough.

She is in my arms. Soft against me, soft breasts against mine, soft lips against mine, soft arms around me. Trust me, Gabrielle. Can she? Should she? I am not a monster. She told me so, and I believed her. Trust me.

I have counted on her passion and she doesn’t disappoint me. Her passion matches mine. Together we burn. Love me, Gabrielle. Can she? Will she? Her body on mine, her lips on mine, her hands unfold me. Love me.

She is so close. Where is her fear now? Where can she hide? My body on hers, my lips on hers, I unfold her. I love you, Gabrielle.