The Light Within — a short story

Posted on 2018 February 18


"The light within" couple-kiss-silhouette-publ.jpg

[**WARNING: This story contains scenes that may not be suitable for younger readers. Please use discretion.**]

Love is like a friendship caught on fire. — Bruce Lee

You’re the fire burning inside of me. ― Kelvin O’Ralph

It began, strangely enough, in a cemetery. The headstones stood, some at odd angles, on a grassy hillside that sloped beneath towering oaks. Flowers shimmered in patches of sun. I was out for a walk in the humid afternoon on a road that found its way to the edge of the burial ground, near the hotel where I’d been meeting with clients. Two people — an elderly man and a younger woman — walked uphill along one of the narrow asphalt pathways through the stones. He looked cheerful and energetic, well dressed in a suit with jaunty bow tie, his face florid with effort. She was tall and pretty, slender in an elegant white dress with yellow accents, her blond hair pulled back on one side with an old-fashioned clip decorated with a ribbon.

He angled toward me. Breathing hard, he smiled and asked, “Sir … can you tell us … where is Usher Lane?”

It must have been a path through the cemetery, and they were searching for an old family gravesite. “I’m sorry, I have no idea. Just passing through.”

I glanced over at her. Despite the walk up the pathway, she stood quietly, not breathing hard, as if she’d been standing there all along. She seemed very self-contained. Not a hair was out of place. Yet something glowed within her, as if she emanated light. She gazed back at me. It was almost like she was studying me. Something surged through me, as if her stare had powered an electric circuit. I looked away.

Still catching his breath, the old man shrugged. “Well … thank you anyway.”

I nodded. “Hope you find it.” Again I glanced at her. She was still gazing at me.

I walked away, back toward the hotel. It had an upscale bar and dining area with a wide picture window that looked out on manicured lawns rimmed with more of those giant oaks. One of my clients, a young tech guy with a killer app and a ballooning client base, awaited me at a tall, circular table off to one side.

I sat with him and we ate and talked business. We made progress on the next steps he’d take toward his company’s IPO. That settled, we ordered drinks, and soon the conversation veered off toward the subject of girl-watching. We looked around the room at the women — some standing in knots of people, some sipping drinks, some seated and dining — and did that thing men do, ranking each woman on a one-to-ten scale. He nodded his head toward one of them. “Definitely close to an eight. Not perfect, and a bit skinny, but I wouldn’t throw her out of bed for eating crackers.”

I looked. It was the woman in the white dress from the cemetery. She sat at a high table near the bar, a laptop open in front of her. I said, “She looks nice.”

My client nodded. “As a matter of fact, I’ll bet you I can get her phone number inside of ten minutes.”

“Really? You’re that good? What’s the bet?”

“Oh, I dunno. Money? A drink?”

“Drink it is. You’re on.” 

He set down his napkin, hopped off his stool, and glided over toward her. I watched for a moment as he struck up a conversation with her. My cellphone rang. I answered; it was the office. When I hung up, I looked back toward my client, who by now had taken a seat next to the woman and was chatting away. Her laptop was still open. I wanted to get back to my room, so I signaled the waiter, paid the bill, and walked over toward the client to say goodbye.

As I approached, I saw that he had his hand touching the side of her face. She looked cornered. He pulled his hand away, and somehow the ribbon clip fell from her hair and dropped to the floor. She seemed embarrassed; he was stricken.

I bent down and picked up the clip. On impulse, I turned to him and said, “Well, you’ve already got her ribbon off.” Immediately I regretted it: no sense insulting a client who hasn’t yet signed all the contracts.

But he laughed. “Well, I had to try. Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you.” He grinned at her. “Lovely to meet you, darlin’.” He shook my hand. “I owe you a drink. See you tomorrow.”

I said, “See you then.” He walked away. I turned to the woman and handed her the clip. She swept back her blond tresses and reattached it. Once again, not a hair out of place. I wondered how some women can do that.

She said, “He’s a friend?”

“A client.” I stuck out my hand. “I’m Hank.”

She took my hand. Hers was cool, soft. “That’s an old-fashioned name.”

“Yes it is. What’s yours?”

Her face colored briefly. “Mine’s old-fashioned, too. Audrey.”

I chuckled. “So, as one old-school name to another, may I join you?”

She closed her laptop and gestured toward an empty chair. “Please.”

I sat. “Did you find the gravestone?”

She looked puzzled. “What? Oh. Yes. Yes, we did, thank you.”

I nodded. She sipped her drink, then looked right at me. Again the shock in the solar plexus. She said, “And what sort of business brings you here?”

Briefly I filled her in. A waiter appeared. I ordered Scotch. He disappeared. “And you? Searching for lost ancestors?”

She smiled. “My boss dragooned me into flying down here to help him locate the grave of one of his forebears. He’s a bit of a genealogy nut.”

“Is that your field? Genealogy?”

“No. But I’ve only had this job a few months. Who knows what might happen?”

“I know what you mean. What did you do before?”

“I went back to school, got an MBA, landed this job.”

“Back to school? I’m impressed.” Looking closer now, I could see the telltale lines of middle age on her face. Her hands were just beginning to thin, to reveal the veins of an older woman. Yet beneath all of it pulsed an energy, a light. Something glowing. This was all new and strange.

We chatted about our work and then switched to hobbies. I learned Audrey was a birder with over six hundred species on her life list. She learned I played piano. We compared our favorite musicians. Food came and went. The sun dipped lower over the oaks.

As we talked, she warmed to it and began to laugh now and then. She would touch my hand, sometimes to emphasize a point or just to pat mine in sympathy as I related old war stories. Finally she simply let her hand rest on mine. Her cool skin had warmed as well.

This was wonderful, but I didn’t want to spoil it by lingering too long. I waved to the waiter, stretched and stood. Her eyes widened; I thought I detected a hint of pain. I said, “I’d love to get together with you again. How long will you be staying?”

“Through tomorrow.” 

I said, “Well, then, maybe breakfast?”

She stared at me. I couldn’t break the gaze. I stopped thinking. There was nowhere to go.

The waiter was standing next to me. I cleared my throat. “Check?” He handed it over. I pulled some bills and gave them to him. He smiled, nodded, and departed.

Audrey stood, smoothed her dress, picked up her purse, and turned to face me. Again the current pulsed between us. She said, “Do you perhaps have a few more minutes to spare?”

“Uh, sure, a few.”

“Come with me.” She took my hand.

Minutes later we were strewn across her hotel bed, naked and surging, our bodies embracing, mouths hungry. The current of energy was now a roaring torrent, pouring back and forth between us.

After a time, we rested. She snuggled against me. I looked at her hair. This time it was tousled. It smelled of flowers.

I had an image of the two of us, holding hands, walking through—

“—rooms in a mansion,” she whispered. 

Gently I put a hand under her chin and lifted her face. “What did you say?”

She put a hand up in the air, as if pointing at something. “I have this idea of us walking, holding hands, in a great house. We’re exploring the rooms.”

My eyes widened. “That’s exactly what I—” I stopped. I sighed. “This is really, really nice. But it’s one of those things that feels like it could break at any moment.”

Audrey looked at me. “No,” she said. She leaned up and kissed me for a long time. She pulled back. The light shone in her eyes. “No. It’s solid.”

…That evening happened many, many years ago. I write this at night while propped up in bed in our house. I turn to look at her. Audrey lies snug against me, hair tousled, breathing quietly in her sleep. As if on cue, she wakes, yawns, stretches, and gazes up at me. “Hey,” she murmurs.


She was right. It’s been solid since the day we met. Powered by a light from within. 


Posted in: Fiction