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Chapter 1: Collarbone
The rain sloshes against the windows, and no matter how many candles she lights, the house doesn't get any brighter. It's large and cavernous, the shallow flickering of the candles' waning flames eating up the walls and ceilings with shadows as dark as the ashen clouds outside. She waits, for nobody and nothing, and watches the water skitter down the windows while the storm rages beyond the glass.
For her, the years have stretched and bled, are wrinkled and destitute, silent. How many seasons have passed, how many days and hours has she spent at her windowsill, watching? He's never home anymore, doesn't interrupt her when she sits curled by the glass and watches as the hours change and the sun moves and the earth turns around her. And now, when there is no heaven to watch, she traces the raindrops in their descent from the sky.
Sighing, stretching, she stands to shuffle across the cold, unyielding stone of the floor. Slipping into darkness, each of her candles is slumping, their wicks dipping into their wax. She had given up on them, but there's something in the shadows they are casting now, as they are dying, that makes her rise from her perch and drift toward them with a renewed fervor. With a steady hand she prods at their flames, flinching only as her fingertips begin to burn, and steps away when each has been righted and stand once more like the sentinels they should.
“Daphne?” Her name rings out against the cold, seeping from under the door frame and competing with the echo of the rain. She can see the silhouette, tall and hunched with a collar turned up against the wind, that shifts its weight from foot to foot as it stands on her porch. “Daphne?” it comes again. “Are you home?”
The shadow doesn't wait for an answer; her door is wretched open, a bouquet of bitter rain flushing in after the figure steps inside. It takes her a few moments before she can find her voice. “What are you doing here?” she whispers. She stands with her hands hovering over the candles, whose wicks have begun to falter once more. “We agreed-”
“I know,” he replies, his umbrella clattering against the stone as he drops it. “But Daphne, she knows. She knows everything.”
Her wrist drops to her side. She was going to protest against the water that is dripping from the plastic ridges of his shed umbrella, was considering asking him to leave before her husband comes home, but suddenly, as he pushes past her to move further into the resonant space, she can't seem to earn the words.
“I didn't know where else to go,” he continues. It doesn't seem to bother him that she stands, still as stone, without saying a word. “Because, look, it's raining. And I didn't want to get wetter than I already was, and I knew you were home...”
Something is strangling her, frost-bitten and strange. Her eyes flicker across the candles, searching for nothing, dry and useless.
“She found your earring, or something. I don't know how I tracked it home, but I did.” He sighs, running his fingers across the waterlogged cloak that sags against him. “Anyway, you always know how to make me feel better, love. Have that... way about you.”
“I told you never to come here,” she breathes, finding courage in herself to turn and look at him, see the water that drips off his shoulders and the grime that coats his shoes.
He laughs, a startling sound that ricochets off the glass in the windows and falls, empty and hollow, against her ears. “You've told me a lot of things, Daphne.”
“I don't want you here,” she protests, stepping toward him. “This is my space, Dean, and if he finds out... if he sees...”
“Screw your husband.”
“I came,” he replies, “because I wanted to see you. I came because I need my fix.” He leans down to fit his chin in the curve of her neck, to trace the bones in her collarbone that jut just beyond the muscle.
But she wants nothing of it. She arches away, the moisture from his clothes now clinging to her own. “Please get out.” The words hover soft and round like stones on a churning ocean floor, lacking the malice and animosity she had once intended.
He sighs, backing away, scooping his saturated umbrella off the stony floor. “Can't a man come see his mistress once and a while?”
She cringes at the word. “Out,” comes the whisper, broken.
His figure retreats from view, the door slamming behind him, the rain beating against the windows as if he had never arrived. And as she stands, fingers fluttering uncertainly against her sides and the water against the windowpanes casting weeping shadows down her face, she wonders where she went wrong.
Married, seven years, unhappily. Stuck, three years, with someone she's never truly known. She can't pick out the moments of her life where things were straight and rigid, when her path was certain and her brow was set. Instead she has the wilting candles, the stone of the floor and the glass of the windows that separates her from the furious storm outside. She will lie in bed and listen to her heart beat and trace shadows on the ceiling, afraid to touch the body deep in slumber that lies next to her, thinking of her window and the sun that rises toward it.
As the first burst of lightening scorches the sky and the door is illuminated, fractions of the light outline cracks in the wood. It is her only target as she begins to run. The candles are left behind, even shorter now than they were before, her bare feet slapping against the floor while she reaches for the brass handle.
“Wait!” she calls into the storm, catching herself before she leaves the safety of her awning. The rain smashes against the porch, ricocheting droplets beginning to soak through her clothes and drip along her hair, and she throws one cursory glance to the sky before stepping fully beneath the downpour.
His form is outlined in the fog, halting as he hears her. “Daphne?” The words are smothered by the rain. “What are you doing out here?”
“Do you think that...” Her voice dies in the storm, extinguished. “Do you think that there's a different ending for us?”
The words just barely reach him as he turns to face her. “What?”
"A different life?"
“I feel like maybe,” she continues, hardly audible above the torrents of water that shatter around her, “I could have been famous. Maybe I could have been wealthy.”
“Daphne, what are you talking about?” he shouts toward her, but she doesn't hear him.
“I feel like maybe, I could have been loved.”
Shoulders hunched, head turned down, he sighs and retreats into the downpour, acting as though her voice has been buried with the rain.