Anna knew it was time to leave. The sheets already smelled unfamiliar, of a former life, and thinking about it made her itch all over. In ninety seconds, the click of the latch would sever them for good.
He watched her pull her jumper on. When her head was inside, he asked, “Do you hate me?”
She emerged from within. “I could never hate you,” she replied without looking in his direction, as if today had never happened.
Her kindness suffocated him; caught him at the throat. He had damaged her in the most terrible way – and still, she said this. What kind of monster was he? He watched her with the pitying wonder of a boy discovering the body of the first bird he has shot, her sweetness bleeding out of her.
That sweetness was also the reason for Helena, his fox woman. She was a wild flash of claws and auburn hair who occasionally called for him in the early hours and took him to places where you needed a password to get in. Helena was untameable, unpredictable, and Florian was entirely captivated by her.
Love, this thing that others seemed to want, felt to him like a new house where all the rooms were bright and empty. All of it made him anxious. The squareness of the walls. The starkness of the bulblight. Too much to see, and nowhere to hide. What he yearned for was the secrecy of attics; of annexes and cellars and hidden dens. Dark spaces behind doors, inside cupboards, where things were unseen and unseeable, and where there were no rules.
Ten seconds. Anna placed her hand on the door handle, about to leave. There was no love left in how she moved. Suddenly Florian felt it, nudging him uncomfortably awake: the thought of the door about to close. No – he couldn’t let her go.
“Come here, little one,” he said quietly.
She sighed. “Florian, don’t. This is because I’m leaving, isn’t it?”
He was about to protest, but there was no time left. She slipped out and closed the door behind her. Florian listened to the crunch of gravel outside. The steps faded so quickly she might have been running. But where to, at this time of night? Where would she go? He couldn’t settle. He leapt out of bed and into the darkness after her.