It should have been common sense to run home and never think or speak of it again. But you couldn't seem to help yourself. He was so...beautiful. You had been walking home from your job at the theater. You sang in a band, but for the next eight months you had been hired as the evening's entertainment at a local theater downtown. The pay wasn't that great, but it was better than nothing, and it was a good way to support the war effort anyway. Tonight you had gotten off later than usual, thanks to the size of the crowd, and on your walk home you had nearly tripped over an obstacle in the road: a soldier lying face-down in the dirt.
At first your chest had tightened with fear when you realized that it was a human being and not a tree branch lying in the road. But compassion drove you to crouch down and turn him onto his back to see if he was all right, and there you had looked on a face that held you spellbound for reasons you couldn't quite explain. It wasn't that he was particularly handsome, although he might have been under the dirt and blood on his face and hair. Perhaps it was something about his countenance...even unconscious, he looked so lonely and tired and sad. Something inside you ached to make this soldier into a human again.
Without much deliberation on the consequences of your actions, you shook his shoulders and patted his face, "Hey."
He didn't stir.
You patted his face a few more times and shook him harder, but still nothing.
You sighed, sitting back on your heels. Then, pursing your lips and shrugging, you thought well, I might as well and raised your hand and slapped him across the face as hard as you could.
"Ugh..." He grimaced and brought his hand up to his face.
"Good, you're alive." You peered down at him, something between curiosity and a smile on your face.
He squinted his eyes open and winced up at you. You couldn't see his eye color in the dark, but his eyes looked sunken and weary. "Where am I?" He whispered.
"Why don't we take this one step at a time? Come on, now," you pulled him into a sitting position and then fought to help him to his feet. He had a difficult time standing, so you pulled his arm around your shoulders to support him. He leaned on you heavily, shuffling his feet awkwardly as you struggled to help him walk. He was heavier than he looked, but your house wasn't that much farther away, and fortunately it was down on the beach, away from prying eyes.
Even as mostly dead weight, you couldn't help but notice the muscles in his arms and chest as the two of you stumbled along. Your heart began to pound. Somehow the two of you made it to the bottom of the flight of stairs along the cliff down to your cottage. The soldier leaned against the door frame for support while you unlocked the front door, breathing low, and when you had the door open you helped him inside and took him to your room.
It was so dark you couldn't see much of anything, so it took you quite by surprise when you tripped on the laundry hamper next to your bed that you had forgotten to put away this morning. You went down with a shriek, and since the soldier was leaning heavily on you for support, he went down heavily face-first on top of you, trapping you with his dead weight. You struggled and squirmed to get out from under him and finally managed to wriggle free, panting and a little shaken.
Before doing anything else, you lit a candle and set it on your bedside table for some light, and then turned to your next task. The soldier's uniform was filthy, and he smelled like he hadn't bathed in at least a month. You didn't exactly want your sheets covered in mud and sweat.
With some effort you turned him onto his back and then forced him into a sitting position. He was still pretty lethargic, but he had strength enough to remain in an upright position while you unbuttoned his coat and tugged it off of him. You paused as you were unbuttoning his shirt and glanced up at his face, where his eyes were fully open now, gazing down at you with a deep forest green gaze. Your heartbeat quickened and you blushed, looking away. Slowly he brought his hands up and covered your fingers, which made you jump. Gently he pulled your hands away and drew them to his lips, clasping them tightly and kissing them.
Then he lowered your hands and stared down at them and murmured, "I can finish."
You dropped your hands and let him finish unbuttoning his own shirt. He removed it without a word and let it drop to the floor. There was a quiet moment when your eyes met and some understanding passed between the two of you.
You broke the silence by asking quietly, "Do you think you have enough strength for a bath?"
At this, the soldier actually broke out into a smile and chuckled sadly, "For your sake, I think I can find strength enough."
You nodded and then got up to go draw a bath. In the doorway, you paused, "I'm ________, by the way."
An hour and a bath later, the stranger was dressed in your pink bathrobe, and you had hung his freshly scrubbed clothes out to dry. He sat now on your sofa, and he seemed to be forcing himself to stay awake for your sake. You had told him once to go and get some sleep and you could talk in the morning, but he had insisted on setting things straight from the start.
You took the seat across from him and tried to get to the point so he would go get some rest, "Okay then. Talk."
The soldier's eyes were squinty for want to sleep, but he told you firmly, “I can’t pay you. I spent the last of my money on supper the day before yesterday.”
You paused, pretending to consider, and then shrugged, “I’ll think of something.”
He looked ready to argue, but you stopped him, "No, we can talk about this in the morning. Right now what you need is to rest."
He might have argued, but he was so exhausted that he gave in and rose to his feet. You walked him to your room and turned down the sheets for him.
“Thank you,” he murmured, “it’s been a while since I had a place to stay.”
“Well you smell better now, at least,” you approved. His answering smile was dark, but pleasant.
You tousled his hair playfully and said, "Get some sleep. Oh," you paused in the doorway, "I almost forgot. What's your name?"
He looked at you with glassy eyes, "I'm Arthur."
You spent the night on the sofa, staring at the ceiling and trying, without much success, to control your thoughts. Washed clean of the mud, dirt, sweat, and blood, the handsome face underneath had set your heart running wild, especially when remembering his well-toned physique. What you wouldn't give for just one night in those arms...You shook yourself and tried to keep your thoughts elsewhere, but still, they returned again and again to the same scenes that refused to stop playing over and over in your mind.
Bright and early the next morning you woke to the sound of crashing waves out on the beach. The night before flashed through your mind and you sat up suddenly, eager to see if it had all been just a dream. You crept silently to your room and opened the door just a crack. He was still there, lying on his side breathing deeply, completely unconscious. You smiled and shut the door. You doubted he would be up anytime soon.
You set out some fruit on the coffee table in the living room and left a note, telling Arthur you were going for a swim if he needed you and that you would be back soon. You figured that the best way for you to cool down apart from a cold shower was an invigorating swim. You made it all the way out to the waves before you remembered you didn't have your bathing suit. You glanced back at the house and then at the sun's position in the sky, and decided it was safe enough for you not to get caught. You turned back to the waves lapping at your feet and smiled. It's been a while since I last skinny dipped anyway...
Arthur's eyes snapped open at the sound of the front door closing. The night before came back to him in snatches of delirious memories, but he remembered well enough to know that he had no way of knowing if he was safe in this house. His ears strained to pick up any sign of movement within the house, but he heard nothing. He scrambled out of bed and cracked the door to the bedroom open, peeking out to see any signs of movement. When he didn't see anything, he dashed down the hallway, searching for his clothes. By chance he happened to see his trousers hanging on the line outside through the kitchen window and dashed through the front door, still in the pink bathrobe, to retrieve his clothes and make a hasty escape. He had just tugged his trousers on when movement along the shore caught his eye and he paused.
There she was. The girl from last night. The one whose bathrobe he had been wearing until now. She stood facing away from him, her hands clasped to her core judging by the position of her arms, but she seemed to be looking down at something; almost as though she were...unbuttoning? Arthur froze, his hair standing out on end when she brought her head up and the soft material of her dress slipped from the soft contours of her shoulders. She slowly let the fabric fall down her back and then stop for a moment around her waist. She tilted her head back, eyes closed, as she breathed deeply. Arthur's blood began to race. Of all the unlikely distractions, this had been the last thing he had expected. He knew he should avert his eyes. He knew he should turn away, finish dressing, and run...but he couldn't tear his gaze from the perfect softness of her skin.
She let the dress fall to the ground and in a blink had disappeared into the crashing waves of the sea. Arthur stood stupefied for several minutes, sweating, heart pounding, mind racing. Slowly and mechanically he finished dressing and went back inside, opting for a cold shower before he made his next move.
When you returned, Arthur was dressed in his own clothes again, sitting on the sofa. He looked a little guilty, but you figured that was because he still felt bad about being unable to pay you for all but carrying him to your home and putting him up for the night. He glanced up when you came in and then quickly looked away, unable to meet your eye. All of the fruit you had set out was gone, suggesting how hungry he had been.
"Good morning," you greeted him cheerfully. Your hair was still wet from your swim, and your cheeks were flushed from the fresh air.
He cleared his throat awkwardly and nodded to you, blushing slightly.
"Did you sleep well?"
Arthur nodded, fidgeting, "Quite well, thank you."
You took a seat next to him, still smiling from ear to ear, "Are you still hungry? I feel like making something."
"I can't pay you..." Arthur glanced up at you from under his lashes.
"Oh, don't worry about that, I don't mind. Do you like eggs and bacon?"
Arthur struggled to answer, so you bounded over the couch before he could reply and went to make breakfast.
Somewhat recovered, he followed you to the kitchen and leaned in the doorway, watching you as you moved around pulling together something for breakfast. He couldn't stop himself from silently tracing the lines of your curves as you moved.
“By the way, I’ve thought of how you can repay me.”
He raised an eyebrow but didn’t speak, so you continued, “There's a man that works at the theater where I work. He and I had a misunderstanding a while back, but he’s never been able to let it go. I’ve been hearing rumors that he’s planning on getting even with me tomorrow night.” It was an elaborate lie you had concocted on your swim, but you hoped it would work for your ulterior motives.
“What do you want me to do, babysit you?”
“I just need someone to come keep an eye on me during my performance tomorrow night to make sure he doesn’t try to hurt me.”
He looked away, clearly not pleased.
“Look, it’s just one more night. You don’t have to pay me a dime; all I’m asking is that you protect me.”
He exhaled through his nose, thinking.
“Where are you in such a hurry to get to, anyway?”
“Nowhere,” he answered abruptly.
You could tell he was lying, so you used his own lie to your advantage, “Then there shouldn’t be a problem with you lingering here one more night.”
His face twisted, but he nodded once, “Fine. One more night.”
You smiled at him, “Good.”
As you walked past him to get something out of the cupboard next to him you let your fingers trail casually over the back of his hand, as though by accident. You spent the rest of the day together alternating between conversation and companionable silence. A good night's sleep and a couple of meals seemed to have done him a world of good, and some life seemed to come back into his eyes as evening came again. As you lay down to sleep that night, you wondered if Arthur would still be there when you woke.