Dream Lover has hit the shelves Stateside! I’m massively excited by this, partly because I’ve never worked with the editor, Kristina Wright, before and she is fabulous; but also because my story, Living off Lovers, has been getting some great reviews — and it was an absolute bitch to write!
I had my characters, my setting, a mood I wanted to convey but the story kept eluding me. So I kept pushing at it, going in wrong directions, deleting, cussing, coming back to the beginning. And on and on it went. I swear, I nearly threw the damn thing in the bin but I’m so glad I stuck with it.
Here’s what people have been saying about my piece:
“A terrific, wonderfully written story […] The paranormal elements are genuinely chilling, the romance is sweet and affecting, and the eroticism thoroughly steamy. ‘Worth the price of admission alone'”
Could you all go back and read that last quote, please? Sweet! My work got described as sweet! See, I do have range.
My story, Living off Lovers, is about an Art Deco apartment gone bad. Here’s how it starts:
Living off Lovers
I know he watches me. He watches me having sex when he takes his cigarette breaks by the rear fire door of Charlie’s Steakhouse. He smokes a lot. I have sex a lot and the blinds in my bedroom are thin. I imagine him in the street below, smoke trickling from his lips as he watches the shadow of me, three storeys high, giving head to the shadow of a stranger. I wonder if he wishes he were the one sliding into my red, wet mouth; if his cock swells inside his grubby chef’s whites; if he returns to the sweating kitchen and scalds or cuts himself because his mind’s not on the job.
I like to think he hurts himself because of me.
In the mornings when I leave for work, he peers through a slit in his curtains. I know he does. I think he looks at my mail too — just the envelopes. But to look at the envelopes, he’d need a key to open my mailbox in the hallway. I think he has this key. I think he has all sorts of keys and his morals are loose.
I think this because I watch him as much as he watches me. At least, I hope that’s the ratio. Most of the residents of Tate Court have left and those who remain must stay vigilant. He senses my fear, I’m sure he does. Worse, he enjoys it.
Before the elevator broke down, he joined me one afternoon as the doors were sliding shut. He came from nowhere, bringing with him a whiff of sweat, cooking oil and cigarettes. I held my gaze several feet above the ground, staring at geometric repetitions on a panel of marquetry, hoping I seemed cool, not intimidated. When he pressed the button for his floor, I glanced up, despite knowing five was his level. Everyone does this. We’re habitually on our guard, seeking confirmation that the people around us are still themselves. It doesn’t do to be lax about the details.
The floor shuddered and the elevator creaked upwards as if carrying the weight of the world. Tate Court is dying. Its cool modernist lines are slumped and cracked; concrete gapes through chipped mosaic floors and over half the apartments stand empty. We are a burden on the building, although our number is dwindling. That was the last day I used the elevator. The mechanism jammed, leaving us stuck between the second and third floor, only for a few minutes, but those minutes changed everything.
“Damn.” I jabbed at the floor buttons.
“There’s no point,” he said. “It’ll move when it’s ready.”
He was calm while I was tense. “You speak as if the building’s alive.” I couldn’t keep the accusatory tone from my voice.
He smiled smugly, implying he knew it was. The elevator whirred but we said nothing. The dial above the door flickered between 2 and 3. Sweat prickled in my armpits and across the small of my back. I made a mental note to remind myself of this moment in winter when I was huddled in a blanket, the heating having failed once again. Perhaps it would warm me.
Eventually, he said, “Rachel, isn’t it?”
He was leaning against the paneled wall, forearms resting on the brass rail, effectively taking ownership of the elevator’s space. Stubble shaded his jaw and his dark skin gleamed with grime-streaked sweat. He looked like a laborer, dirty and vigorous. Two of the knuckles on his right hand bore raw, red wounds and a finger on his left was wrapped in a blue plaster. Above his right wrist, an inch or so of silvery scar tissue made a bare patch among his soft, dark hair. Inexplicably, I wanted to suck him there.
“Yes,” I replied. “And you’re Merrick North.”
There was no friendliness between us, merely an acknowledgement we were equally wary.
Another silence passed. I focused on my breathing exercises, trying to get a grip by reassuring myself I wasn’t in danger. My fears were irrational. The walls were not closing in on us; the space was not getting smaller; we were not running out of air; we would not die together in each other’s arms. Deep breaths, Rachel.
I didn’t know where to look or what to say. In our hard, boxy surroundings, he seemed increasingly real: human and vulnerable yet intent on protecting himself, just as I was. After only a few minutes — minutes which seemed like hours — the living, breathing physicality of him began to get to me. You can’t blame me. If you were stuck in an elevator with a stranger, I bet your thoughts would start warping too. He filled the space and he filled my mind. His jeans sat neatly on his hips, a thick buckle above his crotch, and his stomach was flat beneath a shabby blue t-shirt. I wanted to touch him, wanted to press my head to his chest and hear his heart. I wanted the warmth of his flesh. The walls of the elevator were a coffin. I don’t know why that made me want to fuck him but it did.