The Key

He was exhausted. Stepping off the plane onto the tarmac, his gear felt especially heavy this time. I have got to rethink this soldier gig, he said to himself. Randel avoided eye contact for the most part as he walked with leaden feet toward the bus waiting to take them back to the base. Around him everywhere he heard their voices, soldiers unashamedly weeping, families throwing themselves into the arms of their loved ones, children’s piping, innocent voices crying out “Daddy! Mommy!” He tried to ignore them. All he wanted to do was fall into his bed in the barracks and sleep for a month straight. Thirteen months. Thirteen months, two weeks and four days he’d been in Iraq this stretch.

Stowing his bags in the bottom of the bus, Staff Sgt. Randel Michaels dragged himself up the few steps, collapsing into a vacant seat near a window. His gun metal gray eyes, keenly aware of his surroundings at all times, drooped now with fatigue. He didn’t complain. This was his life. So what if it wasn’t perfect. He had chosen it. He closed his eyes against the memories that threatened to assault him again, memories of her. Alabaster skin, whiskey brown eyes, and thick, smooth hair that a man could lose himself in, which always smelled of magnolias. The voice that was half Georgia peach, and the other half pure sex.

He told himself it was better this way. She had moved on, made a life, hell, she had a baby now. How old was her daughter? His groggy mind calculated momentarily. Must be about three now, bet she looks just like her mother. Yeah, better, he thought. Better for her. It had been nearly eight years since he’d seen her, two and a half since he last spoke to her. His choice, not hers. He had needed the emotional and physical distance. Besides, she deserved someone who could be home every night. Lord knows I sure can’t offer her that. His mind knew that, but his heart, well…

His head dropped towards his chest, and he dozed while waiting for the other single soldiers to file onto the bus. He dozed, and remembered the first time…

-oOo-

“Don’t you dare walk away from me!” she yelled at his back in an unusually fierce fit of temper. So palpable was her rage it shook her slender body like a caged animal ready to break free. She trembled with the intensity of her anger. Her liquid brown eyes were lit with an unholy fire, large and dark, no end to their depths in her heightened state. Iridescent pale skin was mottled from blood pounding through her veins.

He stopped and turned slowly, until he faced her. He did not move away further, nor did he come closer. His eyes were hard, his sensual lips which seemed always ready with a genuine smile, were set in a thin line, yet everything about him radiated complete calm, one hundred percent control. It was a mask, he wanted to throttle her, to shake her out of her hysterical temper, which seemed to manifest too often, beyond her control. But she never guessed the fire that roiled beneath the outward appearance of his own self mastery. She called him detached, an emotionless bastard. Ohh, if she only knew the effort it took him to control himself!

“Strip. You have thirty seconds, beginning now.” His voice betrayed no emotion, and as incredulous as she was, her lips opening with a soft gasp, no sound came out. “Are you fucking kidding me!?”, she finally choked out. He moved not a muscle, and in a dangerously benign tone began counting, thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight….

Had he told her ‘or else’, she would have told him to piss up a rope backwards, and stalked off. As it was, he left her no option, no room for disobedience. She slowly began unbuttoning her shirt, letting it drop sinuously over her pale shoulders to the floor. “Eighteen, seventeen…” he kept counting, his voice remaining soft, barely above a whisper, but it sounded…so hard, his countenance implacable, unmovable. Hurriedly she flung her shoes off, followed by her jeans, when she was in nothing but her bra and panties she looked at him, disbelieving, he couldn’t really mean everything, could he? He watched her with the look of a hunter, silently devouring her every movement, each inch of flesh revealed felt..exposed. As it was meant to.

She shimmied her well rounded hips and wiggled her panties to the floor as he reached “three.” All of her anger was gone, replaced by apprehension, tinged with no small amount of nervous anticipation. She had no idea what he was going to do, why he ordered her to take off her clothes, but she had never felt so…open, so raw, or vulnerable. She was nude, but she felt as if it was her soul bared to him. She was afraid, and yet…she trusted him. Her fear was of not knowing what would come next. She found out soon enough.

“Kneel, right where you stand. Spread your legs…wider….come on Reese, you can do better than that…wider,” until her thighs were parted painfully, her breath coming in short pants now. What is this deranged man doing, what could he possibly hope to accomplish with this? she mused to herself silently. Her skin had drained of all colour, she seemed deathly white, more so than usual. Almost fragile, but with a strength she did not even know she possessed. Automatically she looked down, concentrating on her knees, still unbelieving that she was even entertaining his commands, and refused to admit that she was more than a little excited by it. No one had ever dared to order her before. Certainly not like this.

He watched her, her behaviour was precisely as he had instinctively known it would be, the subtle turning of her head, did she realize how submissive she was? That this was natural for her, if she only dared to fathom? He eased a few inches closer, unbeknownst to her, as her eyes were rooted on her bare knees, but even from the short distance, he could discern the visible signs of her excitement. If she could but see herself, he doubted she would recognize the beautiful, pale creature before him, positioned so on her knees. He could smell her fear and heat from here. His senses swam with it, threatening to overwhelm him, drinking it in like a potent wine. He had been afraid, too.

They had been working together for only a short time. She was new to the area, and though she was friendly enough with the staff, she always held herself distant from them, from him. He’d heard the talk behind the lines, how she was so weird, never talking or laughing with the rest of the crew after hours. Always keeping to herself, sometimes jotting oddities in that mysterious notebook she kept with her at all times.

She was never impolite, but always appeared a bundle of nervous energy, and to look into her brown eyes was to see an animal in pain, a heart broken. He had no doubt he was the only one who saw unshed tears in them, just below the surface, ready to break at any moment. Often she appeared delicate to him, yet valiantly she tried to be strong. To be in control, at all times. It was only recently that he had been given a glimpse of the wildness ready to explode. To most he knew, at work she came across as hard and brittle, defensive to the core, and always assuming the worst.

Everyone called him Randy, people who had known him his whole young life, even strangers once they met him, preferred the more familiar nickname, but not Reese. She insisted on calling him by his full name, Randel, from day one. This pleased him in ways he did not know how to explain. She was the only one who called him that. It had never really bothered him before. He always joked “Call me anything you want as long as you don’t call me late for dinner.” Everyone always laughed, assuming he was joking, and he halfway was. But Reese…not once in the brief few months he’d known her had she called him Randy, always Randel. He wasn’t sure why, but he liked it. When she spoke his name to him, in his mind it came out as a purr, as if it were an intimate thing with her, something as everyday normal as a person’s name.

She was lonely, he concluded as he continued to observe her at work. She smiled often, but to him it seemed brittle, forced somehow, almost but never quite fully reaching her eyes. Once he’d seen her let her guard down, and he caught his breath at the intensity of it. Her entire face was transformed by something so simple as a full smile. She lit up brighter than a christmas tree. It surprised him, but it should not have, to discover that she was filled with passion, and he endeavoured to find more ways to make her smile like that. It became a mission to him. He began befriending her, always polite, gentle, and patient although God only knew she could test the patience of a saint.

He quickly found himself on the receiving end of a lot of her pent up emotions. It caught him off guard, the sheer power and the quicksilver swing of her moods. Unnerving, and it scared him a little bit. He almost caught himself backing off imperceptibly. Instantly she sensed this, and when it happened, the change was dramatic in her. Immediately she became…contrite was the only word he could think of. He never scolded her for it, but she seemed to know that a fence had been pushed just a little too hard. She felt guilty, and one time admitted to him, “I sometimes don’t realize how strong I come across.” But she did, and he knew it even if she refused to admit it to herself.

She was one who pushed fences, found buttons to push, unconsiously seeking some outlet always, something that pushed others away. Reese was keenly aware that her emotions, while passion is a good thing in some situations, did more harm than good in most. Her subconscious sabotage of even possible friendships, was no more than her way of making sure she didn’t get hurt again. All her life she had been told by family and even those who called themselves her friends, that she was too intense, too hard to handle, and that all she needed was to ‘lighten up’. But the heart can’t be tamped down too often, or it develops a hard shell around it. She drove people away because she was too afraid of being told again, that she was too hard to handle. She knew that she was difficult, and had resigned herself to a life of compromise, a never ending endurance of battling her strengths, seeing them more as weaknesses to be hidden, not explored or reveled in. She scared people. She felt like a freak of nature.

So she did what she thought was the only thing she could do. She kept her distance, from everyone, because if she never opened up to anyone again, then no one would ever be able to see how much she ached for someone to understand, to be able to ‘handle her’, without breaking her spirit or heart at the same time. Her emotions she kept under as much control as she could muster, until they broke through, consuming her in torrents of tears and rages. But she so desperately wanted someone to prove her wrong. She told herself she was being realistic, saying that she was fully aware that there was no one out there in this world who was capable, or had the patience enough to stand her for very long, not as uncontrolled as she got sometimes. But still, when she curled around her pillow at night, a low keening from that walled off hidden place inside, kept hoping otherwise.

So Randel kept his friendship with her, still seeking new ways to bring a real smile to her face. Something inside him popped every time she showed that brief glimpse of happiness. It became his own drug, his own need. He could see the growing frustration within her, bubbling beneath a polite facade that she reserved for the rest of the world. Day by aching day he was learning her, he could always tell now when she was reaching her breaking point, and instead of withdrawing as anyone else might have done, he edged a little closer. They weren’t romantically involved, although the jokes were always there, the light teasing.

That night it came. He had dropped by with a movie, of course he was welcome to come in, she had no special plans, she never did. Instantly he saw her mind was racing with something, some thought that would not go away, although she said nothing. It evidenced in every movement, even the way she sat on the sofa, or walked to another room, it was like a broomstick was jammed behind her shirt, her back was that ramrod straight. He braced himself, for what he had no idea, but he felt it, like the unseen force of an ocean undertow.

What started their argument he still didn’t really know. But she erupted and unloaded on him in a manner that shook his self control to the limits, in a very short amount of time. He had come to care for her, as a friend and….possibly something more, something he wasn’t ready to put a name to yet. When she screamed at him, “Don’t you dare walk away from me!” He did the first thing that came to his mind. He had had enough, and it would end….tonight.

“Strip……”

Even though no emotion showed on his face, he surprised even himself at both the commanding stance he had taken, and the monumental change that came over her. The key, Randel had found the key to Reese’s passion, in all its shape-shifting forms. Channel it, transform it into something else, and the response was undeniably erotic and overpowering. He had guessed minutely that she had submissive tendencies, but until that moment he had not explored his own sense of Mastery. He had primarily concerned himself with only controlling his own life, his own behaviours. He had not dreamed she would become so totally and inarguably submissive…to him. Until that moment, he had not dreamed how much he ached for that submission, from her!

Every pore of her body became vital and more alive than he had ever seen her. The pull in his loins threatened to take control over his senses. She had never looked more beautiful, than in that moment, kneeling, her small chin lifted bravely, even defiantly, but her eyes riveted on a spot between her parted thighs. The rapid beat of her heart, the quick pants of her breathing, giving small tantalizing life to her dusky, swelling nipples, bared so deliciously before him. He could see the quivering of her flesh from the few feet between them. Had she looked up at him then, she might have been shocked and a little frightened to see such a torment of desire in his glittering eyes.

-o0o-

Five Years Later…

She woke up in a cold sweat, bedsheets threatening to strangle her. Gasping for breath, she cast a wild eyed look toward the man lying next to her, wondering if he had heard. His deep, even breathing assured her he was still asleep. She heaved a shaky sigh of relief. She had cried out his name again.

Ever since Reese had spotted Randel last week, her mind had been a whirlwind of chaos, her emotions just as raw as they had been 7 and a half years before, the last day she had spoken to him before he left for Iraq. It had been a tearful goodbye, with promises of their future together once he returned from his duty to his country. She had not wanted him to go, but she knew he would never refuse the calling in his blood. He had held her as if it were the last time he might ever see her, in his lingering kiss she felt the goodbye neither dared say. Every day she wrote to him, emails, letters, sometimes going weeks without hearing a word in return. Still she remained loyal, hopeful for the safe return of the man she loved more than herself.

Then one day, after two years, the letters stopped coming. There were no more answers to her emails, which grew frantic with worry of not hearing from him, not knowing if he was safe, or lying wounded somewhere…or worse, dead. Ever since 9-11, the Army had been extremely closed mouthed when it came to the whereabouts of her soldiers to non-immediate family members. As Reese had never met any of Randel’s family, she could not even contact them to find out any information that might set her heart at ease. Emails were sent every few days, days became weeks, and weeks bled into every few weeks, always praying for some word of response. Her hope began to dim. Friends pressured her to let him go, to live in the world again, find someone to be with who wasn’t off fighting someone else’s war for oil rights, under the pretense of national security. Always she refused, clinging desperately to the slim dream of her love coming home to her, to feel whole again.

Time has a way of obscuring memories. Eventually, the emails grew sparse, and when her letters began to return unopened, with no forwarding address, those ceased as well. She never stopped writing letters to Randel, but these were now unsent. The pain of seeing them returned had become unbearable. She simply tucked them away in a decorative box, like so many treasures she had stashed there over time, safely hidden from view but never far from the edge of her thoughts, like the hovering dream that some day she might be held by her love again.

Reese scoured the newspapers daily for some word that the troops would be coming home en masse, yet always it seemed dismal reports of detached news anchors, seeming to revel in the grimmest delivery possible of what was happening ‘over there’. She kept up a brave front, a facade of cheerfulness that she never quite felt in her heart. A mask that slipped when she crawled between cold, lonely sheets at night, hugging her pillows for comfort, and finding none in their cool softness. If anything noteworthy happened to her, she still sent an occasional email to Randel, but she had long since given up hoping for any reply.

Everywhere she looked were reminders of him. The restaurant where she had met him, the park they used to love going to, just sitting with a bottle of wine and a blanket, watching people around them, running, walking dogs, playing frisbee or soccer. Some warm summer evenings were spent just resting against the gigantic oak in their favourite corner of the park, lying quietly in each other’s arms as they whispered together what kind of children they might have, their future. The future that seemed every day to slip further and further into an endless eternity.

As the months passed, Reese began to long for the sights and sounds of her old home, back in Georgia. Applying for a job as a photographer’s assistant and being hired, she made the move back. This too she emailed to Randel, just in case he ever came home again, and wondered why she was not there waiting for him. She had to let him go. Too much time had passed, she told herself she had to accept the fact that he..was not returning to her. With promises to keep in touch with the few friends she had made in Montville, Reese looked around her empty apartment one last time, the memories of so much love shared there with Randel haunting her even then. She whispered her goodbye, locked the door, and headed off to a new life. A fresh beginning.

Reese had never been comfortable with change, and this move was no different. But she had the comfort of an exciting new job, throwing herself into her work, astounding her new boss with her passion for photography, impressing her with Reese’s acute eye for detail, and patience waiting for just the right shot. Donna quickly became her friend and confidante, as well as employer, inviting Reese over after a long day’s shoot for drinks or dinner. Evenings at Donna’s were always lively, so Reese felt comfortable enough there, surrounded by amicable strangers, some acquaintances from work. It felt good to be around people again. She had become isolated before the move.

It had been close to three and a half years since the day Randel got on a plane bound for the Middle East, and Reese had been working for Donna for nearly 8 months. One evening, Reese stopped by and there was only a single guest besides herself. Donna was eager to introduce him, “My dear you must meet one of my closest and oldest friends. This is Zeke. Zeke, this is Reese, the amazingly talented assistant I’ve told you so much about. Without her invaluable help all these months, I would be absolutely lost, although I fear she will soon outgrow me and be on her way to becoming a master photographer in her own right!” At her boss’ flattering words, which Reese knew was no mere flattery at all, she blushed deeply, the high spots of colour marking the contrast to her ethereal paleness.

“A pleasure to meet you Zeke. Is your name shortened?” Reese asked politely, shaking his hand. She was momentarily surprised to find warmth and strength in his firm grasp. He stood a few inches taller than her, appeared healthy if a bit thin for her taste, although his hands were fine, fingers long and tapered, like a piano player’s. She glanced up to his face, finding his eyes a vivid blue. To her, they seemed filled with kindness.

“Yes, my full name is Ezekiel, but I can’t stand it, so I always just tell people to call me Zeke,” he replied with a short laugh. The subtle notes of a Virginia upbringing could be found in his softly spoken words.

“That’s a shame. I like unique names,” Reese’s eyes widened slightly at the cheeky tone in her own voice. She was normally not so brash to strangers!

The evening went smoothly after that, Zeke explaining his long absence to Donna and Reese from having served overseas in Kuwait, in the Army. Reese flinched inwardly when she heard those words, her stomach instantly lurching as Randel’s image flashed hotly in her mind. He kept them both amused for several hours with tales of his deployment. Reese kept biting her tongue to avoid pestering him with questions about the situation over there, any troops who had been sent home, casualties. She knew it was futile to think he would have ever run into Randel, or would have remembered him even if he had. Zeke was engaging in a quiet way, funny without being vulgar, as men can sometimes be.

She had enjoyed the evening, but when she went home, Zeke was out of her mind. She stayed awake for a little while, listening to one of her favourite cd’s, as always her mind turning to the ever present memories of Randel, as she fell asleep curled up on the sofa.

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