He might be the next one, or then again, maybe not. Emmaline had the best vantage point in the cafe, right up front. A boy strode by, all wild hair and rumpled shirt. He threw off heat like a furnace. His jeans hung low on his hips. They were too long, frayed at the bottom, but he leaned forward; he knew where he was going. She licked her lips.
“Time’s almost up,” the voice whispered to her. “Brr, it’s chilly. Feel it? If you die no one will care.”
“You will be quiet,” Emmaline said and hunched her shoulders. He passed the edge of the window and she leaned back. No, not him, she thought, maybe the next one will have the sad looks of a discarded boy.
“Figures,” the voice said, “because he’s perfect.”
“Hush, I’m ignoring you.”
“You’re afraid, and that’s just plain silly.”
“You are not real and I do not have to talk to you.” She took a sip of cold coffee. “Ugh.” She hadn’t liked this crap before and now it pooled in her stomach like used motor oil. The chill added to the encroaching cold in her fingers and lips.
The street was empty.
“I’m going to get him; he has a nice ass.” She wondered if maybe she could keep this one.
“Shut up, I’m just going to talk to him. Maybe he’ll — ”
“Right. Like the last one?”
Emmaline pushed back from the table and set off down the street. The last one had leaked heat like liquid caramel. He was vanilla beans and hot chocolate. Her heels tapped against the damp pavement as she wove through the pedestrians. She hadn’t meant to hurt him, only take the chilly edge off until the sun’s heat seeped deep into her. This morning was cold and foggy like that one; he’d been delicious and she’d been warm all day and through the next. But now she was cold and he didn’t smell of anything at all.
The people moved through the street in warm puffs of breath around her but none were interesting, then the boy’s head bobbed up in front. The sun cut through the clouds and illuminated the wild tangle of his hair. Oh yes, she thought. Maybe, just maybe. She could almost smell him. Was it cinnamon and hot apples?
“Don’t screw this one up,” the voice suggested.
She put her head down and pushed forward. She had to get in front of him, to find a good place where he would notice, but only in the right way. It was delicate. There was a balance. He headed toward a stretch with darkened store-fronts. Emmaline crossed to the other side of the street and hurried to the next block, then crossed back over. She caught the flash of his shirt as she slipped into the darkened front of the deserted store. Not long now. She needed an instant of his attention. He was close, she could sense him, smell him.
“Wait,” Emmaline reached out and touched his hair. He turned to her and stumbled. He was confused by her touch but she pulled him close. He smelled like warm peaches and hot summer days. Not cinnamon at all, he burned like a furnace. He wouldn’t miss the warm sips she needed. If she could stop there, but she could, this time.
“Really? Can you?” The voice laughed.
She licked his ear; he shuddered and tried to focus on the shape of her. His hand reached up hot against her unseen face, his eyes went dark and he was hers.
“He can see you,” the voice said. “They always can, it never completely works.”
“He cannot,” she replied, a bit too fast.
“Who are you,” he said, making the whole issue moot. “What are you? What do you want?” He tried to pull away, but he was caught. She wrapped her arms around him and stretched, covered him and took the heat he tossed away. Not really hurting him. Not taking more.
He was colder now. She slipped back and leaned him against the building. His lips were the same pale blue of his eyes and glaciers. He shivered.
“Are you going to kill me?”
“Of course not.”
“You know you have to,” the voice said. “You’re still too cold.”
“But I won’t,” she insisted. “I don’t have to. It’s enough.”
“You won’t what? Kill me?” the boy asked, and looked around. “Who are you talking to? Who are you?” He steadied himself against the building, his hand pale against the red brick.
“Shh, I’m no one,” she said, and reached out to him.
Maybe she could keep him, like the caramel boy with his brown curls and hot skin. He’d never know she was there, just a chill he couldn’t shake some winter mornings. He flinched as her icy finger traced his jaw. So warm. He was molten life.
She cupped her hand around his neck and pulled him close. His lips were now peony pink and his words little tastes of warm breath. She leaned toward him and brushed her lips against his. His eyes went wide. Oh gods, he was so warm and so very close.
She took him.
The boy lay in a cold heap at her feet. Emmaline looked down at him and sighed. The voice was very quiet. A warm tear pooled in her eye.
Leslie A. Dow sees fantasy and magic everywhere in the world and is convinced that time travel is possible. She writes about the places she would like to visit, most of which don’t exist in this world, and the adventures she’d like to have when there. When not writing, she works as a consultant helping companies make better products, and camps with her family in their restored 1964 Airstream Travel Trailer that they take to places where there is no cell coverage, internet access, or toilets. She has 3 boys, one anxious rescue dog, one indignantly geriatric cat, and a Nelson’s Albino Milksnake named Audrey Lou. Leslie is a regular member of the Liberty Hall Writers Forum.