“When your stitch comes loose, I want to sleep on every piece of fuzz and stuffing that comes out of you. I took too many hits of this memory. I need to come down. Another day goes by, so hold me tight.”
— Fall Out Boy, “Hold Me Tight Or Don’T”
Sanaa looks good tonight. She can tell in the way heads turn, eyes leer, and bodies lean in at the sight of her from when she climbed out of her taxi, to the strut down the block that she really relished in, and then through the tapas bar-and-restaurant to the back patio. On Friday nights, Ándale! hosts a live band and opens up a portion of the backyard for guests to drink and dance under the glowing red lanterns, and this night in particular, she feels that it is her night to claim.
“Tu y yo, como la mar y el sol…”
She is in her new favorite shoes that she purchased for this particular occasion, vermillion with straps that wrap around her ankles, and gold on the sole and along the three-and-a-half inch heel. Paired with gold dangling, lightning-shaped earrings, gold bangles on both wrists, a matching vermilion lipstick, and a dress that hugs her chest and swirls above her knees, she looks good. The gold pairs well with her brown skin, the red looks as if it is she who is powering the lanterns, exactly as planned, and the shoes show off her killer calves which are the only good things she got from her relationship with her piece of shit ex-boyfriend Calvin. She is newly single, thank god, and it is reason to celebrate.
“Unido para siempre, tu y yo, como el viento en la sangre…”
Her friends from work, Tiffany and Karen, all wanted her to sulk, to stay home and cry over a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked and a romantic comedy, but, no offense to them, nothing is more liberating than ending a dead relationship. He was unhappy and insecure, she was unhappy, his mother hated her, he had unresolved mommy issues, good riddance. She likes to dance the night away instead of mourning, to see tragedy as the beginning of something newer and potentially better, so here she is at Ándale!, hips swishing in her heels across the deck and down the stairs to the live band and gathering of singles, couples, and friend groups grooving with the rhythm of bass and drums.
Her hair is loose and wild, kinky curls defined with a golf-sized ball of mousse and gel and frizz not yet setting in; and so when she swirls in the center of the makeshift dancefloor, wind fluttering through her locks as they take flight, the freedom settles in. It is her favorite part of dancing–feeling her hair too come alive as she moves, so thick and aggressive and light and airy all at once. It resembles the halos of light in medieval Christian paintings, only hers dark and mysterious and more vibrant energy than any of those painters could ever imagine.
She pays no mind to the people who stop to watch her, to the pairs of girlfriends who lock hands and leave their tables to join in. All she feels are the tension rolling away from her shoulders and the cool, summer breeze that whispers affirmations as it tickles her scalp.
The song bleeds into another and then another, and she does not want to stop. The lanterns warm her and seem even brighter when she opens her eyes, as if they feed off of each other, and she notices that the dance floor is more dense than when she began. On the edge of the ring of dancers are hordes of people with drinks, many of them men and their eyes focused on her. Some single, some in groups, they sip and smile, and then she turns some more to see others on every side. Like predators watching prey, they regard her, and she closes her eyes again to melt into the music.
The last thing Sanaa came to do is waste more of her time on men.
Then, as if thinking her curse into existence, she feels fingertips touch her shoulder and her hair hits someone as she whips around. Her eyes have to adjust under the lights of a man standing too close for comfort, a slick grin on his face. His skin is the sickly color of yogurt, his hair buzzed and dark, and eyes a deep blue with long eyelashes. Beads of sweat cling to his skin. She decides not to make her face nicer for him, so all he gets is a grimace.
“Can I have this dance?”
“No, thank you,” she says, stepping out of his grip and turning her back. She finds her footing again and blends into the music with ease, until clammy hands take hers.
The same man continues to smile and tries to lace his hands through hers, though she bends her wrist away from him. It nauseates her that he succeeds, as little as it is, his large, sweaty hands intertwined with hers and holding tight. He rests his other hand on her waist and steps in close. “One little dance won’t hurt,” he insists in a soft voice and begins to sway his awkward, rhythm-averse hips side to side. “Otherwise, why are you here?” He casts a quick glance into a group of men onlooking who watch them, and she follows his line of sight.
She takes a deep breath, closing her eyes and settling back into the thrum of the acoustic guitar. She lifts her arm and he tries to spin her. With her back to him, he steps in close and she jerks her elbow back, catching him in the ribs. She pretends to stumble, stepping hard on his foot with her heel, and then she swirls around, hitting him again with her hair. While he doubles over, she leans into his ear. “I said ‘no.’ Next time, I’ll slit your throat and dance to your heartbeat as you bleed out.” And, as if in agreement, the breeze flutters through her hair again and she saunters away, along with the wind, towards the bar without looking back.
If his friends laugh, she does not know nor does she care. She takes the opportunity to slide into a seat on the bar stool and request a glass of white wine. Overall, six songs uninterrupted is great. She feels great regardless, and the light dew of sweat on her collarbone and into her cleavage prickles under the breeze.
It was actually her idea to break up after the piercing realization that, upon canceling a dinner reservation due to a budget review that required she stay late, she did not feel bad. She did not want to reschedule. In fact, would she even care if she never saw him again? The sex was sub-par and his smile no longer brought the bubbling sensation in her chest. He was simply a person that she was obligated to see, obligated to listen to, obligated to care for, burdened by the monthly visits to his mother’s home for dinner where she sat under hostile gaze and silent treatment. There was no redeeming factor, she realized, and, quite frankly, she enjoyed being alone by comparison. When she brought it to Cal’s attention, he threw a vase at her and cried.
In Sanaa’s defense, she is not boycotting men so much as people in general. However it is predominately men who shove themselves in her face, bogart her attention, and commandeer her time. The assured entitlement with which people help themselves to her faculties, she has dedicated herself to making it difficult. She likes herself too much to undergo social interaction as a form of punishment.
Someone nestles into the bar stool beside her and she angles herself away, taking her glass of wine in hand and bringing it to her lips.
“Such a beautiful evening, isn’t it, Sanaa?”
The hair on the back of her neck rises at the voice, soft, so close to her ear despite the lack of warm air on her ear. It is as if his voice is on the inside of her skull, so clear over the music. She stiffens at the sound of her name, voice belonging to neither Tiffany, Karen, or Calvin, and cranes her neck back to see who has decided to interrupt her now. Then, like inhaling a strong and intoxicating smoke, she shivers deep into her core.
He is remarkable, with a cool dark complexion like damp earth and a handsome face with high cheekbones and naturally arched brows that watch her with mild interest. His hair, styled in locks as black as crows, is tied back neatly from his face. However his eyes are especially arresting, carved out of Citrine that swirls and moves like molten lava under the lamp lighting. Unnatural. Supernatural. Further, he wears a deep red suit and black silk shirt, and she immediately thinks of the Odessa calla lilies that her mother grows back home, and they blossom before her eyes as she takes him in. He is beautiful–breathtaking, really–and unplaced familiarity burrows under her skin.
It all makes her dizzy, and she realizes the strain in her neck, that she is staring, so she returns to her drink.
He chuckles, a low grumble that she feels rattling in her rib cage. “Aren’t you the least bit curious how I know your name?”
“Did you catch a glimpse in my wallet? Stalk me?” Her voice is calm but her heart pounds wildly, so much that she is certain he can hear it. “It’s creepy and I’m not interested.”
He mumbles a low ‘thank you’ to the bartender as she passes and she hears the slosh of ice in a glass. “Would you like to know my name?”
She stands and carries her wine away, heading towards an empty table in the corner near the band. The man has unnerved her and something about his voice springs the beginning of a headache. Across the patio at her table, she glances up, relieved that he does not follow her. He does not look bothered, which relieves her fear that he probably won’t kill her tonight. She sips her wine, closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath to chase away the goosebumps on her arms.
The table shakes lightly and her breath catches. Beside her, in the blink of an eye, the man is no longer across the patio at the bar but instead sliding into the seat opposite her. He has a glass of brandy on the rocks in hand and a smile on his face, innocent and awkward. Like a smiling wolf, it feels off. “They call me Lightbringer. Have you heard of me?” Does he not understand or is he intentionally pretending not to hear her?
“What part of ‘I’m not interested’ do you not understand?”
His amusement does not falter. He swishes around his drink and shakes his head as if she is the one who misunderstands. “I am not here to use you, take advantage of you, fill my bed for fifteen short minutes thinking of only my satisfaction and impending status upgrade among my cohort while you regret ever looking in my direction.” Her cheeks flush but he eyes his drink. “I think you will be interested in what I have to say. In fact, if you heard me out, I think you’d be overjoyed that I’ve found you–”
“Look, Mister Lightbringer–”
“‘Mister’ is rather unnecessary,” he retorts, finally raising his eyes to her. He puts his elbow on the table and leans forward, closing the gap between them. She remains still. “My existence predates gender. This body is merely an illusion, my gender a reflection of what you find most attractive and easily understood. ‘Lightbringer’ is fine. I am also known by other names: Morningstar, Lucifer, Satan, Bringer of Dawn, Shining One, the Devil. Humans are very creative in the ways they describe me. I’m kind of a celebrity.” His smile returns, pride glinting under his long, dark lashes.
Sanaa purses her lips. “Lucifer?” Her pitch hikes, unable to mask her disbelief. A few people tuned into the dance floor glance back at them briefly. When they turn away, she finishes her wine in a rushed gulp. All she wanted was a night of peace.
He watches her empty her glass with an impressed frown on his face. “Five minutes.” He holds up his hand to indicate ‘five’ and he raises his brows. “Give me five minutes to finish my spiel, and if you are still uninterested, I will fuck off back to Hell. Does that work for you?” He grins as he says the ‘Hell’ bit and then sips his own drink.
She does not want to give him five more minutes in addition to the five he has already wasted. It is supposed to be her night to claim.
Answering her thoughts, he gestures to her with his drink. “That’s the thing. It is yours to claim, and I have exactly what would make it perfect for you.”
Her jaw hinges open and her brows furrow as she watches him, unsure if it is his intuition or if she really was speaking aloud. If he was reading her thoughts, then he really would be supernatural. No. She clears the thought from her mind. Then, she forces her mouth closes and nods to him in concession. In five minutes, she can return the dance floor. If her mood doesn’t sink any further.
Lightbringer watches her, waiting for an interruption, an objection, a complaint. When nothing presents itself, he leans forward on the table again and his face grows somber. “You’re numb. You have been for a very long time. You’re not sick of being Calvin’s girlfriend, you’re sick of being Sanaa the accountant and everything that comes with it. The only reason you’re here, that I know you come here sixty miles from home one Friday every month for the past six years, is because you’re looking for that feeling again. We met here briefly six years ago and you woke up, even if only for a few moments.”
Sanaa stares forward to avoid betraying herself. “Numb” is not necessarily the word she would use to describe herself. “Comatose” perhaps, or “body on autopilot while her soul pulls a Sleeping Beauty” would be more accurate. It is not the past few years that have been a slump but rather her entire life, backed into a corner of expectations and decisions so hard to reverse, incapable of reinventing herself and becoming new. But even further than that is her surprise at the detail, at the mention of Calvin and especially at the suggestion that they met.
The corners of his mouth twitch at the recognition on her face. “Six years ago, that ‘spark’ you felt was a dance with the Devil and I am here to deliver yet again.” He finishes his glass and leans back into his seat.
“Why don’t I remember your face?”
He retrieves a cigarette from a shining metal case. “Two reasons for that: first, you were absolutely wasted out of your mind. Twenty-first birthday, I believe? The one where your friends all lost you and you ended up here. Second is because you were focused on the feeling. Even after I sobered you up, you only cared about the taste of life, not the chalice that held it.” Without a lighter or match, the cigarette ignites and he takes a long drag. “Rather insulting, come to think of it. You do find me beautiful, after all.”
Her hands cover her mouth and she shakes her head. “Why now? After all this time?”
She swirls in her seat to face him. “Why did you pick me and why are you back? Why now? What do you get out of it?”
For the first time in the night, he appears apathetic and shrugs. “You deserve to indulge.”
“Six years,” she repeats, and she buries her face in her hands.
Lightbringer sits up in his seat. “I’m a divine being. I get busy. If you’re uninterested, I can go.” He points towards the exit and waits for her to drag her eyes to him. His presence is striking, even with the little irritation in his face, she more wants to delay than turn him away. She came to get a taste of freedom, to celebrate a step in a direction she likes, and though a fog settles over her memory when she tries to recall meeting him, she can feel it searing her flesh, muscles eager to jump at it again.
Between her flesh and her brain, something has to surrender, and her brain has wasted five years on Calvin so, she supposed, it is time her flesh gets a try. An adventure. She deserves to treat herself. Something dark sinks into her face.
“How do I get out?”
He extinguishes his cigarette in the ash tray on the table and holds out his hand for her to take, eyes flickering briefly to the dance floor. “Depends. How free do you want to go?”
Sanaa’s heart slams against her chest as she stands and meets his eyes. “One last dance?” Her gaze is deliberate as she sets her hand in his and pulls him towards the growing crowd of dancers. The music works instantly at dissolving her nerves and they squeeze through the onlookers with ease, many of them angling to get a better view of the brown beauty and her dark companion.
Heat emanates like hot coals from his hand under hers, warm, dry, and dizzying, filling the air with a sort of thick, dark smoke. The smoke has no smell, and she wades through the darkness so opaque that it obscures the people around them and focuses on the heat soaring up her arm, into her chest, and then radiating out of her body. She feels hazy but still sways to the cymbals and bass drum in line with her heartbeat.
Flashbacks actually flash like cameras before her eyes. One moment, she steps into Lightbringer’s arms and, the next, with a stroke of bright white light, she presses him into the mattress of a high-end hotel room bed.
Sanaa locks eyes with a woman in the smoke. She recognizes her from anywhere, the thick plume of dark curls that swallows her face, and even darker eyes that widen when they meet hers. Her round, brown face and square chin… She is staring at herself.
Another flash of hot, white light and she slides a silk black dress–she remembers that dress, she saved up all year to get it for her birthday celebration–over her head before locking lips with a grinning Lightbringer.
Her doppelgänger vanishes into the black fog and she hears a soft moan–her voice–surround them. She feels ghostly hands run up her thighs and through her hair and the music swells in her muscles. Pressed together, she and Lightbringer lean and swing and twirl.
Then, the devil leans in to her ear and whispers, “Do you trust me with your soul?”
Her heartbeat calms, the flashback sounds of sex still, and it has never felt clearer. She looks into his Citrine eyes and smiles. “I do.”
Then she transforms.