He rode in with the seasons, dropped his smile, his words, his blues into her life, casually, as if small pieces were enough, as if a verse, a touch, a word could fill the lonely hollow of a heart.
She'd known him first in summer, curls cropped short, his cheeks flushed by mountain air and sun. He sat alone beneath a sycamore, making music, a slant of light around him like a halo, like a ghost.
In autumn, his skin turned fair, those summer linen shirts he'd worn — sleeves rolled up, buttons opened to reveal that place between his collarbones — now topped by leather, black and butter soft. She measured distance by his songs, waited seasons just to hear him laugh.
She saw him last in winter warmed by firelight and longing. He'd stopped en route to see some friends. To come so far he needed reasons other than his heart. Still in stocking feet, no lipstick on, she heard the doorbell ring. Weekend bag over one shoulder, guitar across the other, his smile reached back to autumn.
"How could I have gone so long without seeing you," he'd said, embracing her, whispering how much he missed her. He kissed her deeply, held her with the weight of truth, told her she was lovelier than paradise.
They went to eat, richly, as always. That time French, with deep red wine and candlelight. Only for an instant would he let her touch his hand, out, where anyone might see. Yet riding home, seamless as memory, he laced his fingers into hers.
"Let's rest," he said when they returned.
She walked him to her bed, watched him pull a black turtleneck over thick, blond curls, slide off each black sock and shoe. His easy hands moved with surety and grace, the same way they coaxed the strings of a guitar, the same way they slid along her warm and pulsing places. Those spirals against his brow begging to be touched, his full-shaped mouth, that classic nose, he looked far more innocent than his years.
"Lie with me," he said. He smoothed the sheet. He beckoned her.
Making love with him was vast. It lifted her beyond her self, beyond the night. It seeded stars. She'd waited months to share a day with him, an hour, a caress — this man who used impermanence of an illusionary world as his excuse.
"Now is all there is," he said. "And it is real. And then it's not."
Yet he wrote her letters she could save, thick with layered words on smooth white paper marked by his illusionary hand. Words as lush and warm as down. Words that could sustain at least a part of her through seasoned stretches of too real time.
In morning light they lay, still joined, close as air, a mass of limbs and hair. Damp and full and shining. He hugged her, kissed her brow. Rhythmically, he played his fingers up and down her arm, as if her arm had strings. She thought she'd die of loving him.
"I need to call Marie," he said.
She knew about Marie. Knew that he flew in and out of lives upon the current of a whim. He was an eagle. He had to soar above a tethered world. He'd told her this in summer, atop a mountain, so she would understand.
"An eagle grounded is an awkward thing," he'd said. "It needs its wings. It needs the sky to feel its grace."
"Eagles mate for life," she'd said.
Two seasons later, still flying solo, the air beneath his wings was thin.
"I have to see Marie," he said.
Marie, who'd told him things were best kept grounded. Marie, a complication.
"I don't want to, but I need to see her. At least briefly. While I'm here," he said.
"It dishonors both of you to be where you don't want to be, to do what you don't want to do."
He didn't want to hear those words.
"You can use the phone downstairs," she said. She tried to be magnanimous, re-arranged her hair. She thought about impermanence, contemplated what was real and what was true and if they were the same.
Minutes later, he returned.
"I had to tell her that I just arrived," he said. "I had to say I wasn't staying here tonight." He pressed his hand against his brow as if to stop an ache.
"Lies can make a person ill," she said.
She felt ephemeral. Too insubstantial to be owned by him as someone he desired, as one with whom he chose to spend the night.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know what else to say," he said. "It became complicated. I won't be seeing her this time."
She didn't ask him why. She didn't want to know. Instead, she let him pull her toward him, smooth her cheek, reassure her with his touch.
"Now is all there is," he said. "And it is real."
Her mind imagined other beds in other nows made real by him. She let them fade. She felt for current meaning in his words, reached for truth in his caress, searched his eyes, where lies can't hide.
And she believed him.
It's half-way into spring and he is on his way to her again. Soon she'll look into his resur-rected face. In public, he'll be cautious with his words, careful not to hold her hand. But then, when they're alone, he'll curl his length around her, kiss her with a tenderness that makes her weep, wake her sweetly in the night. He'll sing his poetry and run a bluesy riff on his guitar, contemplate absurdity and make her laugh. And when it's time to go, he'll ask again why things must always be so complicated. He'll promise next time not to wait so long.