Heartbeats

Woman touches man's face.

There are twelve months in a year. Thirty days, give or take, in a month. Twenty-four hours in a day, sixty minutes in an hour, sixty seconds in a minute. The human heart beats a little faster than that; just a touch over eighty times every minute, if you’re in decent health and you don’t exert yourself too much. Eighty is a nice, round number. It’s around the average life expectancy of a human being, too. I’ve always found that a neat little coincidence. I couldn’t tell you why. It always just tickled me for some reason.

You get around thirty thousand days on earth, if you’re lucky. About seven hundred thousand hours. A little over three and a half billion heartbeats.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

My God, doesn’t that seem like a big number? Three and a half billion. Almost beyond imagining.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

Nothing small can ever be divided up into billions. The scale of it just doesn’t make sense; the little things add up too quickly. It’s about as many bricks as there are in the Chrysler building. I know, because I looked it up one night when my failure to sleep became too much to bear. If each one of those heartbeats was a grain of sand, the sum total of an average human life would be more than fifteen tonnes. If each one was a single step, one placed after another, it would be enough to walk from the earth to the moon – seven times over. And what’s a brick, eh? What’s a step? What’s a grain of sand?

How are you ever supposed to pick one out of the many?

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

I first met him in August of 2012. I knew him for a little over five years. 1,969 days. Almost fifty thousand hours. Almost a quarter of a million heartbeats. Perhaps a little more, based on the fact that I could feel it racing in my chest whenever I saw him for the first time in a while; perhaps a little fewer, based on the way he made it skip a beat every time he kissed me.

Could I pick an individual heartbeat out of all of those? Oh, absolutely. I might even have been able to pick out a favourite, if it came down to it. The way I felt the first time he touched my hand, perhaps, when he curled his fingers around mine as we walked through the park near his apartment and I knew I was going to be spending the night. Or perhaps it came later: the rapid pitter-patter that followed the realisation that he wasn’t just goofing around and was actually proposing to me, in the kitchen of the tiny apartment we now shared, with the snow gently falling outside – that this man, this beautiful man, wanted to make me his.

We didn’t go away; we couldn’t afford to. We spent the whole week in our apartment – mostly in bed, let’s be honest – but he covered the window with a poster of the Eiffel Tower, because I’d always wanted to visit Paris and that was the best he could do. He smiled a goofball smile and promised me we’d get there eventually, but I didn’t care. I didn’t have a care in the world. I had never been more in love with him than I was at that moment. I didn’t even think it was possible to be more in love with him.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

And then, on the other side of the spectrum, there were the hated heartbeats too. The pang of concern as my phone buzzed one afternoon and I knew – I just knew – something was wrong. The tightness in my chest even as his sister tried not to worry me, trying to find the best way to tell me to drop everything and get to the hospital now without making me a nervous wreck. The way every heartbeat that followed seemed to ring in my ears as I raced out into the street to find a cab.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

He was dead by the time I got there. Undiagnosed heart condition. Genetic disorder. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, they said – as though naming it after the fact made any difference. Could have happened to anyone. No rhyme or reason to it whatsoever. It might have blown out then, or fifty years in the future.

Bad luck, they told me. That was all it was. Just bad luck.

I didn’t say anything. What was there to say? All I could think about was the time we might have had together. How many heartbeats he’d been robbed of. How many nights I might have rested beside him after sex, or just cuddled with him on the sofa, my head on his chest – and beyond that, how often I had been so close to him, so unaware of what was to come. How many times I had been soothed to sleep by the sound of those heartbeats, convinced that nothing could possibly be wrong with the world as long as I had him – and yet it was there all along. The thing that would take him from me.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

He was thirty-one.

Our daughter was seven months old.

She’s fine, by the way; I should tell you that right off the bat. As soon as I could, I arranged to have the doctors check her out, to see if she had the same abnormality that her dad did, and she came back clean. That was a good sign. As far as they could tell – although they’d need to keep an eye on her, just to be sure – there was no weird screwup lurking in her code, no dam waiting to burst. On balance, she got off lucky: his eyes, his hair, my heart. There’s a case of winning the genetic lottery if ever there was.

But still… I can’t help but wonder. Every time she rushes up to me and gives me a hug and I feel her little heart beating against mine, all I can think is, What if? What if the test was wrong, and she has what he had? What if there’s a little kill-switch lurking inside of her, and one day it’ll put me through all of that again? I don’t think I could bear it. I really don’t.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

I’m still a little younger now than he was when he died; not by much, and not for long, but still… just a little. I can expect to live for another fifty years. Perhaps even longer. Eighteen thousand days. Four hundred thousand hours. Two billion heartbeats that I was supposed to share with him – and what now? A noise without an echo. A tick without a tock. I try my best to carry on – for her, you know; I don’t know where I’d be without her – but it never seems to get any easier. The memory of it all never seems to fade away. He’s there, no matter what I do. No matter how hard remembering is, he’s there – and then, of course, he isn’t.

It’s worst of all when I’m lying in bed at night, in the dark, in the quiet, alone with my thoughts and that noise – that awful, terrible, repetitive noise, following me wherever I go, reminding me of what once was and what I’m missing. I hate it, and yet in a perverse sort of way I’m almost grateful.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

If it weren’t for those heartbeats, I’d swear there was nothing left inside me at all.

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A Dawning

Woman looks out over the city.

The remembrance comes in waves.

It starts with her eyes opening on a room unfamiliar even in the darkness: the walls, shrouded by night, feel a little further away than she’s used to; the noises coming through the open window are different, sounds of the city, not of her quiet suburban street; the sheets that have ridden down to rest just below the stubbled hairs of her cunt are thicker, more expensive than the ones at home. As she shifts, they glide smoothly across her legs: a rare luxury.

Sleeping naked. She never sleeps naked.

Why now? Why here?

It continues with a sound at her side; not quite a snore, but an exhalation so deep and sudden that it feels for a moment as though someone is trying to get her attention. She freezes, waits to see if he stirs further, but no. He rests there, the man from the night before – the current night, even; dawn is only just starting to creep through the window off to her right, through the blinds closed in far too much of a hurry in their eagerness. She remembers him, although it takes her a minute; the fog of sleep hasn’t quite lifted, and in the darkness it’s hard to bring his face to mind.

And last but not least, there is the ache: a different sort of ache than she left the house with last night, but an ache nonetheless. She winces as she sits up in bed, feeling the fresh tenderness of her cunt with every movement. How long had it been since she was fucked like that? How long since she was fucked at all?

Too long. Far, far too long.

That had been the plan, of course – not hers, but that of her friends from out of town. Go on, they said. Live a little. Let your hair down. She had gone along with it, more out of politeness than anything else. A few drinks and an early taxi back home. No harm done. They had teased her gently for sitting on the sidelines as they danced and chatted, flirting with every man who caught their eye, always the centre of attention.

But not her. Not her style – and if it had been once (and it must have been once, she was sure of it), she was long since out of practice. It didn’t seem to have hurt.

They left. She stayed. The last time she had seen them, they had been winking at her from across the bar – lewdly, knowingly – as she urged them over his shoulder to leave the two of them alone. He kissed her shortly afterwards. She found that she enjoyed it.

And that was that.

She stands, stretches. The room is lighter now, or her eyes have adjusted, and she can make out the shape of him. The sheets are coiled down around at his feet, manoeuvred off in sleep to expose himself to as much of the summer air as possible, cooling him down after his early-morning exertion. Uncovered, he stretches out in the bed like the silhouette of a marble Adonis; his cock is half-hard, long and thick, heavy against his thigh. She wonders idly if there are still traces of her lipstick at the base, and smiles. She hopes so. It’s only fair he have something to remember her by.

She shifts uncomfortably, regretting her sudden urge to be upright. His cock was bigger than she was used to, the fuck rougher and more raw. He fucked like it was hunt: wild and animalistic, with survival on the line. She had found herself swept along by his intensity, by his need for her. The wine had helped, but there was more to it than that. There was a charm about him, a certain way that he had of putting her at ease. (The wine had helped with that too.) He had told her she was beautiful, and she had believed him. When he asked her up to his room, he had looked so earnest and sincere that the desire in his eyes had seemed complimentary rather than predatory.

Well, he had caught her, well and truly. Her swollen lips and the continued throbbing in her abdomen stand as a testament to that.

She heads over to the window and tilts the blinds to one side slightly, suddenly profoundly aware of her nakedness. The city below her is asleep, the lights blinking in the darkness but the roads empty. She must be, what, ten storeys up? Fifteen? It’s hard to judge. One-night stands in expensive hotels aren’t something she’s used to. Perhaps she has been missing out.

She takes a seat by the immense glass panel and looks out over the view of the city. A room like this must have cost a fortune – or had it? She thinks for a second, willing herself to remember through the haze of wine and lust. Had he mentioned something about that? A business trip? Out of town? Expenses? It sounded familiar, but only in the fleeting recollection way that an old Facebook acquaintance might – someone once known, and barely missed. A lot of the last night feels like that. She remembers parts, of course.

And in the bathroom, beforehand – staring at herself in the mirror, asking herself if she was really going to do this?

Why?

Why the hesitation? Drunkenness? No – well, a little – but more than that. Something nagging at her. Something she can’t quite place.

Surely not a lack of attraction; he is, even sprawled out in sleep, one of the most beautiful men she has ever seen in her life. She remembers the surprise that he seemed interested in her, the way it had race onward through to their first kiss, the stripping off of clothes and…

She shifts uncomfortably in her chair, a raw flare lighting up between her legs. It will be a long time before she can forget that. Not that she minds, of course; if anything, the reminder is welcome. So daring. So unlike her.

Except maybe not.

Maybe this is who she is now. Maybe this is what she is now: the kind of girl who will follow a man up to his hotel room, drop to her knees in front of him, bend over on rented sheets that he can split her wetness with a cock larger than any she has any she has seen before.

A slu…

She stops herself, then stops her stopping. Why should she? What’s so wrong with a little sluttishness once in a while? What’s so wrong with giving in to your base desires, enjoying the feeling of fullness and liberation as an almost-perfect almost-stranger takes you, fucks you, uses you? What could be so wrong with that?

Yes, a slut – and what of it? She smiles to herself, seeing herself in the glass, superimposed over the city. It’s a brand new day. It’s a brand new her. The world, such as it is, looks different new. Richer. Deeper. If she’d only known, she might have done this years ago.

Maybe. Except for that nagging doubt.

He shifts in his sleep, and she sees it. She wishes she hadn’t, wishes she could take it back and retain the memory just for a moment longer, but it’s there when she turns to him: visible, garish, incontrovertible.

The flash of gold on the ring finger of his left hand reflects the first streaks of light through the blinds.

Oh, she thinks. That’s why.

Just in town for one night.

Are you really going to do this?

But it was so easy. Being with him was so fucking easy. That charm. Those eyes. The attention he offered her, after so very, very long… The fucking had just been the icing on the cake; the ache in her cunt a hangover for a night she hadn’t regretted, not at all, even though she knew he should.

Are you really going to do this?

Well, the question is answered. She chooses not to think of what that might mean.

She dresses hurriedly, silently, afraid to wake him until she can close the door gently behind her, feeling the one-way lock click irrevocably closed on an evening she barely remembers.

And that is that.

She beats the dawn down to the street, and has hailed a taxi before he has even had time to forget her name.

If you enjoyed this story, please check out my Patreon page or my available books. Patreons get access to these stories before anyone else, and any support helps me to continue doing what I do.