It’s all in her eyes, those molasses-covered-coal eyes. The wisdom of the ages, the freshness of tomorrow; the madonna gentleness, the succubus fire. And what her eyes don’t say, her lips behold, full, kiss-slicked as they wait for more. Her cheeks are velvet heaven for trembling fingers, cheekbones angel-winging toward the meandering curves of her delicate ears. Sunlight glints from the hoop of dangling gold that would swing and bobble if she moved. Amber and myrrh take their fragrance from the bliss held willing captive by the hollow of her neck. The ranked rows of her wrap, marching wisps of cream floating atop her mocha skin, almost cloak the slopes of her breasts, the dip of her back, the rise of her rump. She stands, just so, that perfect cheek resting against the tree limb she caresses.

It’s impossible not to want her.

I don’t even pretend anymore. It’s been months since I stopped telling myself little lies about beauty’s siren call to the artist in us all. I didn’t believe me anyway.
Her name is Sharisa and every day we have a staring contest. My drab hazel novices against her galaxy-wrapping adepts. It’s no surprise when, every day, hazel surrenders to galaxy, only to engage again within moments, once more, twice more, a dozen times a dozen more.

Every night, I drag out bricks of self-control to repair the breached fortifications of my soul. Every night, I summon deities from darkness and pledge my never-agains, my if-you’ll-only-help-me-I-won’t-ask-for-anything-else-evers. Every night, I threaten desire with images of splintered bamboo riving fingernails and bubbling oil blistering skin.
Every day, mortar crumbles, deities founder, images fade. Every day when I see her eyes.

Sometimes I think that’s the only reason I took this job in the first place, the chance to see her, to feed the clash of forbidden against fulfilled in my strangled — but not too soon — fantasies. It certainly wasn’t the money or the nebulous benefits. That first day, when I came for an interview “just to see”, the elevator door opened and there she was. My heart’s alchemist transmuted “just to see” into “job of my dreams” with its next beat.

Riding in every morning I vow to turn in my notice, swear I won’t even look at her, just go straight to HR and quit on the spot if I waver. Every morning, the elevator door opens and her eyes sear my resolve to ash.

“Why don’t you just ask the decorator where he got it, if you like that picture so much?”
An intrusion and it’s like being flung, naked, through an airlock into space, sucking my soul out along with my breath. My eyes close for an instant as I stifle the urge to scream as well as shred the stupidity sidled up suddenly next to me.

“I have,” my quiet reply as I snub him with my inbox. “Got to see to this.” A bit of balm for his ego, since he’s the veep, ‘the veep of stupid’ I call him sometimes, deep inside.

I’ve asked a dozen times if the decorator can’t remember where he got that photo. He can’t. Of course he can’t, though he can spout the provenance of the other art he’s got displayed around the office, and does every time I try to buy her from him.

His thin reedy voice blah-blahs across my memory. “The one on that wall is a New York Graphic print of Joe Somebody’s famous triptych of blades of grass on the south side of the storm drain at 108th and 63rd, taken on Friday, April 18, 1924 at 10AM. Not the 1920 series, mind you. The 1920 was much grainer. Now, this one — what? That girl? I can’t help you with that. ‘Sharisa’ is written on the back. That’s all I know. Why don’t you take a look at this print of Ansel Adams instead? It’s a much better investment.”

It’s not an investment I want. It’s her, jackass, I don’t say.

I’m once again lost, imagining I’m the bark of that tree, when the elevator opens.

“Oh my god!” Yanked from the newcomer’s soul. “Oh my god,” whispered, “it’s Sharisa.”

Uncertain steps and a stumbling sit on the nearest chair. She’s pale, as pale as Sharisa’s eyes are dark.

“You know her?” I rush to ask, even while I thumb the cooler knob to fetch water for the newcomer.

She nods. “Yes.” Her own staring contest begins and the green-eyed monster snarls from its cavern deep within me.

I press the water, though not the questions, on her.

“Yes. My god, it’s Sharisa.” Her eyes finally leave Sharisa’s for mine. A smile and she drinks. “Thank you.”

Hope spreads its wings and flutters my heart against my ribs. I raise my brows and nod, wrapping a question with it, trusting my eyes much more than my voice to ask.

A sigh and fluttering hope stutters.

“I haven’t seen that picture in years. She did some modeling part-time for a while and that was her best photo. The family will want this, you know.”

My brows raise higher. Am I breathing? I don’t know.

She sighs again. “She worked in the North Tower, you see.”

I look back up into those night-sky eyes, those hold-my-soul eyes and for the first time, they blink.

[photo credit:]

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