Heart-Shaped Box (Excerpt)



Morning has come too soon today. Sunlight streams through the window, illuminating tiny specks of dust that dance their way down in some disorderly ballet, and I turn to pull the covers up over my head. If I weren't so claustrophobic, I would probably be able to drift back to sleep; but my

Morning has come too soon today. Sunlight streams through the window, illuminating tiny specks of dust that dance their way down in some disorderly ballet, and I turn to pull the covers up over my head. If I weren't so claustrophobic, I would probably be able to drift back to sleep; but my irrational fear of suffocation under these blankets forces me awake, gasping for fresh air, and I uncover my face. My senses begin to revive; scenes from last night begin to replay in my mind as through a hazy window. I sit up, realizing at once that I am alone. I didn't come home alone, but the deafening silence now reminds me that he is gone.

I am nineteen, naive, and indulging in the newfound freedom from my draconian upbringing. The sense of deliberation that characterized my entire adolescence has been replaced by an insatiable appetite for exposure, and the world has come alive, vibrating with color and possibility. 

Oh my gosh, last night... I think, as I remember him laughing, "I've never seen anyone drink seven lightning lemonades before," as he pulled me onto the dance floor. Not legally old enough to drink alcohol, I relied on older friends to buy me drinks and pour them into the clear plastic cup I carried around. I remember the thump-thump-thump of the beat as we came closer together, synchronizing our movements until we moved as one. He had to go set up, he practically yelled so that I could hear over the DJ--his band was playing a set in a few minutes. But he didn't want me to leave; I could come backstage and wait for him, or stay on the dance floor and he would come for me afterward. I decided to stay on the floor. He took my hands, kissed each one, and said, "Wait for me?" as he backed away with a grin and tucked his shoulder-length wavy hair behind an ear.

Always a sucker for musicians, I found myself rendered helpless against this one's charms. Girls screamed and rushed the stage when he appeared, long legs and obsidian eyes that break you open and spill out your every drop of composure. The lights went out and drumsticks clicked together as the band counted down to the opening song. My pulse galloped when the spotlight shone on him and he searched for me in the crowd, eyes finally settling on mine as he sang:                          

                                      Torn away, I’m a lonely man

                                      No longer able to stand

                                      Without you


                                     Desperate to stay, I want to be your man

                                     I just can’t breathe

                                    Without you...

Entranced and tipsy, I swayed to the music, hardly believing that this was really happening. I met him just a week ago through a mutual friend, Jay, who promised me that he was a good guy. He had seen my photo at Jay's apartment and badgered him for days trying to get him to set us up. Jay and his partner hosted the two of us for dinner and a rented movie--but we skipped the movie and went for a walk instead. He held my hand and confessed to stealing the photo from Jay so he could look at me every day; I laughed and blushed, not used to compliments from beautiful men. He was twenty-three, with a twin sister, graduated from college last year, but taking a year off to tour with his band. We talked through the night and he sent me a pink orchid, my favorite flower, the next day. I thought about this as he continued to sing, the sound of his voice filling me with hopes for something I had yet to experience.  Would this be the night it happened? One week is not long enough to know a person, and we hadn't yet kissed; still, I was a woman now, and convinced that he wouldn't stick around very long if things didn't progress. He is so cool, so sexy...and could have any girl on this dance floor. I'm confounded as to why he chose me, but I'm too enraptured to think about it any more. 

The set was over and the band disappeared from the stage. People cheered and whistled, praising the up-and-coming talent that we were sure rivaled that of Pearl Jam and Nirvana. The DJ started up another dance song, but I left the dance floor and headed to the back of the bar, where the air was fresh and a little cooler. Too many minutes passed before he spotted me and headed toward me, grinning, keys in hand. "I'm starving, want to get out of here?" he suggested, raising his eyebrows and ignoring the flock of girls that began to gather around us.  

"Sure," I bubbled, in disbelief that he wanted my attention alone. 

We walk out, his arm draped across my shoulders--I am considerably shorter--and when we get to his truck, he nearly has to lift me up to get in, and I giggle. As he walks around to the driver's side, I check my appearance in the mirror.  By some miracle, I still look okay, but I smell like cigarette smoke. Yuck. Hopefully he won't notice. My ears are still ringing from the exposure of too many decibels, but it only takes a minute to adjust to the quiet of the night. He climbs in and I scoot over to the middle, fetching another mischievous grin from him.  I blush and begin to declare my awe at his talent, but he quiets me with a kiss--hard, desperate, electric. His hands touch my face, my hair, then pull me closer, envelop me. He tastes like cinnamon, spicy and warm; I hear ocean waves crashing in my ears and my heart is now orbiting Jupiter. His lips soften, and he pulls away, kissing me two more times, delicate little kisses on each cheek.  His smoky eyes examine mine in the dark. "Thank you," he whispers. "I've been wanting to do that for a week now." I smile at him, speechless, still reeling. I'm in trouble, I think. I'm in so much trouble.

We enter the restaurant and are immediately greeted by the hostess, who recognizes him and rushes to seat us at a private booth upstairs. She disappears momentarily, then returns to inform us that our meal is on the house, compliments of the bar manager.  We thank her and he sends a message to the bar manager that we will be stopping by to thank him personally before we go.  Throughout the meal, he keeps his eyes on me, beaming; there is still a hunger in his gaze, and it makes me simultaneously nervous and thrilled. I want more, but I'm inexperienced, and I don't want to disappoint. "Are you ready to go?" he asks, and when I nod yes, he takes me by the hand and we head to the bar to thank the manager.  He introduces me, and the manager gives an approving smile. I thank him for the excellent meal, and he waves his arm dismissively, insisting that I return any time for a meal on the house. 

"You just take care of my friend here, okay? He's a good guy. Won't do you wrong," the man assured with a grin and a slap on my date's back.

He drives me back to my apartment and walks me to the door. I fumble with the keys, wondering if I should ask him to come in. My roommate has gone home for the summer, so I will be alone for another two months; besides, I really don't want this night to end, and the electricity between us has me on edge. I finally manage to get the key into the lock and swing open the door, nearly falling into the apartment.  He steadies me and I laugh, embarrassed.  "Would you like to come in?" I whisper, since it's after three and my neighbors are likely sleeping. I'm the youngest tenant in the complex. 

"You aren't too tired?" he questions, and I can tell he hopes the answer is that I'm not too tired.

"Actually, no," I smile back. "But we have to be quiet...my neighbors are old," I laugh, and take his hand. I show him around the place--modest, but clean. I offer him something to drink, but he declines. I turn on some music at a low volume; I usually listen to classical guitar this late at night. El Ultimo Trémolo comes on. 

"Augustin Barrios," he says, and I am impressed. This is my favorite song. He notices the surprise on my face, and laughs. "I'm a musician, remember? Kind of my thing. And I am impressed that you know this."

"I'm a musician too," I reply. "Only a little different type of musician. Classical piano...but I prefer to listen to classical guitar."

"I can't wait to hear you play," he exclaims, softly. 

We sit in silence for a few minutes, listening to the music as I lean my head on his shoulder. He begins to stroke my hair, and reaches over to tuck my hair behind my ear. He turns my face toward him and kisses me softly, then more eagerly, cheeks flushed. Our lips part, his tongue slides over mine, and it's cinnamon again, only this time I'm more than warm. I'm scorching hot, ready to combust as his lips move down my neck. I tangle my hands in his hair and he murmurs a soft moan and scrapes his teeth gently across my clavicle. We melt into a passionate kiss that communicates a need for more, more. He wraps his arms around me and lifts me onto his lap, and I sit, facing him. His excitement is palpable; I am ablaze. Oh god, I don't want to screw this up. I pause and drop my hands to his sides. "Wait. There's something I need to tell you."

His eyes open wide. "What is it?" He looks frightened.

"I...I'm not experienced." I can't look him in the eye.

He pulls me to him with a low-pitched laugh. "Come here," he murmurs, and kisses me again.

"You don't understand," I protest.  "I'm a...virgin."

He looks at me for a moment, silent, and takes my hands in his.  I'm used to the hand kissing by now. "Is this something you are ready to do? I will not take advantage of you, although it will be extremely difficult. You are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen, the most interesting person I've talked to, and definitely worth the wait." 

I take a deep breath. "I am ready, but we have only known each other a week. I'm afraid that you won't see me again if I do, and I'm afraid you won't see me again if I don't."

He tilts my chin upward so that our eyes meet.  "Hey," he whispered. "You decide when you are ready.  If you decide that I am worthy of such a gift, I will be honored."

I almost tore my clothes off right then and there. "Thank you. Would it be too much to ask for you to lie down with me for a bit? Just sleep?"

"I would be happy to."

We go to my bedroom and I grab my pajamas.  "I'll be right back," I say, and go to the bathroom to change.  I wash my face, brush my teeth, and go back into the bedroom, where I find him sitting in the floor beside the bed. He looks at me with a grin and stands up.  I walk toward him and he scoops me up, carries me to the bed, and drops me on it, laughing heartily.  "Shhh!" I laugh. "My neighbors!"

He feigns dismay and then flops down on the bed beside me.  I slide under the covers and hold them open for him, but he stops me. "Oh, no, missy.  If I get under there with you I can't guarantee the outcome," he says with a wink.  "I'll lay on top of the covers, and I can be the big spoon."

I agree to this, still amazed that he didn't laugh in my face earlier and run away.  "Thank you for an amazing night," I breathe, already comfortable enough to fall asleep. 

"The pleasure is mine," he replies, and caresses my face.  I must have fallen asleep quickly, because I remember nothing after this.

It is eleven o'clock in the morning. I jump out of bed, a sense of dread filling my bones.  Oh god, I think. I made a fool of myself.  I'll never hear from him again. I should probably call Jay. Parched, I walk into the kitchen to get some water and look for my phone. It is too quiet in here and my racing thoughts are deafening.  In my periphery I notice something on the table--a heart-shaped box about the size of my hand. I walk over and examine it: smooth, polished wood inlaid with silver filigree. It is beautiful.  I open it and inside lay a delicate silver chain with a tiny heart pendant.  There is a note, folded under the necklace. I exhale and unfold the light blue paper.  It reads:

                                Locked within your heart-shaped box, I wait

                                              To show you what's inside


I giggle at the Nirvana reference and put on the necklace.  When did he have time to do this? And where is he? I feel as though my fears were unfounded. I decide to take a shower and pop over to Jay's apartment to show off my gift, and get some sisterly advice. Jay has been like a sister to me since our high school days, and I certainly could use his input.  I hope I haven't made a mess of things.

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