She's breathtaking, her box braids are piled up high on her head. Several have fallen loose and frame her face in a most alluring way. I have never seen her with her hair up before. I love it. A surge of gratitude hurtles through me—for her, for my one night away from my duties, and for the memories we will make in the private hours we have been permitted to share together.
'Hello Major Ezenwa,' she smiles, shy. She holds out a bottle of wine and continues in her quiet, honey-smooth voice, 'Just a little something I picked up on the way.'
I eye the label. Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru 2012, a very fine, very rare French red. I lift an eyebrow, impressed, as I take the bottle from her. 'I don't think I have ever tasted a vintage this old before,' I say, a shade too awed. I realise I don't sound cool at all. I glance at her, floundering, awkward in the face of her understated elegance, a bottle of wine worth more than my entire life's savings in my hand. She smiles and her brilliance lights up my heart.
'Neither have I,' she admits as I move aside and she comes into my apartment, looking around, curious, her dark eyes drinking in every detail. 'My father insisted. He said he had been saving it for a special occasion. It appears this is the occasion.' She stops to trail her finger over the top edge of a brass plaque, a king surrounded by his attendants set in raised relief. 'Beautiful,' she murmurs. She glances up at me, shy once more. 'From your father's collection?'
I nod. 'A gift from the Nigerian president when my father won his second term of the presidency.'
She leans forward to read the inscription engraved on the stand. 'Edo Empire of Benin. Sixteenth century.' She lets out a soft breath, her lips part, inviting. I resist the urge to drag her into my arms and press my lips against hers, to devour her, ravish her—the act utterly forbidden to both of us.
'What a precious piece of our past.' She touches the top of the plaque again, reverent. 'At least you are safe.'
I say nothing, but my thoughts are chaotic. I think of what I know, of what I can never tell her—how we are all doomed unless I earn the right for us to live in Alpha VII, our only hope for a chance to be together, to be among the chosen ones.
'Ah,' I say, and pull my eyes from her frank, honest gaze down to the wine's label. I run my thumb over its graceful calligraphy script. 'Two-thousand-twelve. Fifty-eight years old. Seems a shame to drink it.'
'I know,' she says drifting past me towards the open-plan kitchen, its glossy white countertops garishly reflecting the lights installed under the overhead cupboards. I dim the kitchen lights a bit, not too much, just a little. I don't want to give the wrong impression.
'It's hard to imagine how the world was when it was bottled.' She pulls out a bar stool and settles herself into it, graceful, as lithe as an antelope, and as regal as a panther. She leans forward, her elbows on the island. One of her braids brushes against her breast. I look away, ashamed of how much the sight arouses me, how much I long to feel her in my arms, her braids brushing against my bare chest.
'A green, temperate world hovering on the brink of its collapse,' she continues with a sigh. I catch the hint of envy tainting her words. 'Imagine. Everyone oblivious, carrying on as though it could never end. I wish I could have seen it, could have known that kind of blissful ignorance.'
I pull a pair of wine glasses from a cupboard and set them on the counter in front of her. I rummage in a drawer until I find a corkscrew. 'What would you have done?' I ask, cutting the foil away from the top of the cork, keeping my eyes on my work, not yet ready to look at her, not wanting her to see the longing in my eyes.
'Oh,' she says, her voice softening, pleased, 'no one has ever asked me that before.'
'First time for everything,' I say, glancing up at her as I tug the cork from bottle, gentle. It comes out with a quiet, satisfying pop. I hold the bottle at its base and tilt the dark Burgundy into the glasses, just a small amount, so it can air before we taste it.
She lifts her glass by its stem and sniffs. 'Mm,' she sighs, inhaling deep, 'it's so complex, like wildflowers and blossoms overlapping together, and the scent of the earth after rain—' she meets my eyes, uncertain, '—petrichor, I think it's called. I smelled it once in one of the greenhouses. I love that smell.' She swirls her wine, letting the air free its long-hidden scents, captured from a time before either of us were born.
I say nothing, sensing she will continue. She doesn't disappoint me.
'If I could have been in the world when this was bottled,' she says, low, as if she is afraid someone else might hear, 'I would have slept under the stars; danced in the rain; climbed a mountain; swum in the ocean; walked in a forest; sledded in the snow, and gone to all the museums.'
'Every single one?' I ask, lifting the glass to hide my smile. 'That might take a while.' She's right, it does smell of dry earth after the rain. It's perfect. I make a mental note to visit her father to thank him.
Her lips curve up, wry, and she looks up at me from under her thick lashes, her slim fingers still around the stem of her glass. Neither one of us have sipped the wine yet. 'Then if I must choose,' she says, 'the Louvre, the British Museum, the Smithsonian, and the Hermitage.'
I lift my glass, and toast her. 'Excellent choices. To your museum tour, then.'
She smiles, and my heart clenches. She is beyond perfect. I can't believe she is here, in my apartment, alone with me. It's like a dream, a vision I cannot touch. It's torture, exquisite and brutal all at once. I never want it to end.
'To the world we lost,' she murmurs, and sips, slow, savouring the wine.
I follow suit. The ruby liquid washes over my tongue, both delicate and robust. A multitude of flavours assault my senses. No other red I have ever tasted can compare, and I've had some.
'Oh,' she breathes, setting her glass back onto the counter with a quiet clink. 'I feel guilty now. It's too perfect.'
I nod and pour more wine into our glasses. We say nothing, content to swirl our wine, letting it air, savouring its scent spreading around us, suffusing the kitchen with the buried scents of a vanished past.
'I—' she begins, and then stops abrupt. She looks up at me, uncertain. I wait, tensing as the silence drags, fearing she is going to tell me Command has matched her to another man and this is the last time we will see each other.
'Amadi,' she whispers, glancing, involuntary, down the corridor towards my bedroom, where it hulks, dark and silent, laden with weight of countless lonely nights spent relieving myself thinking of her. She takes a deep sip of her wine and her eyes meet mine. 'I want—' she blinks back tears, her need so raw, so painful to witness I feel the nascent itch of tears in my eyes, too.
'So do I,' I whisper, unwilling to let her finish. I move around the island. She turns in her seat to face me and entwines her fingers with mine. We cling to each other, our desperate hand clasp more erotic than any of my filthiest fantasies.
'You know we can't.' I tilt my head toward the washroom. 'The sensors will pick up my DNA on you the next time you shower. We would be marked as ineligible, and banned from ever meeting again.' I lift her hand and press my lips against her fingertips. She shudders. Defeat slides over her perfect, even features.
'It's not enough,' she says, low. 'What we do. I want you inside me. I need you inside me. The waiting, the never knowing, it's killing me. Maybe we will never be allowed to be together. Maybe this is all we will ever have. Tonight. A whole night, alone.'
I pull her against me, my heart aching. I want her so bad I can hardly think straight. How many times have I dreamed of her, her legs wrapped around my hips, our bodies moving together in time? 'Shh,' I say, though I am struggling to resist, to not tear her silk blouse open and caress her breasts; to taste the ripe, hard nipples breaching the thin material, 'let's go to the shower. You can go first.' She makes a muffled sound of despair.
'It's better than nothing,' I persist, dogged. I reach for the bottle of wine. 'We can share a glass together.' I feel her fingers working at the buttons of my fly, deft, determined. I will myself to stop her.
'No,' she says. 'No more solitary showers watching each other climax, separated by a wall of glass. I want your skin on mine, you buried in me, as deep as you can go.' She is panting now, I can feel her fingers brushing against the material of my boxers, my fly wide open. I grab her wrist and hold her still.
'Adiana,' I snap, harsher than I intend, but I'm erect and aching for her, every scrap of my will fleeing, betraying me. 'I love you too much to lose you. I won't make love to you tonight, though more than anything I want to.' I pull back, guilt shearing through me at her anguished expression, at my blunt rejection of her. I grab the wine and a glass, pull her from the stool and lead her down the corridor to the washroom, steeling myself against her low sobs. The lights flicker on, soft. I go to the shower and turn on the water, setting it to the hottest setting, just how she likes it. I pour more wine and hand her the glass.
'Drink, my love,' I say as she takes the glass and drinks, deep, finishing its contents. 'This time I will not wait to use the shower after you. Tonight we will come together. You in there and me out here, and to hell with the risks. I'll just clean everything before you get out.'
She smiles, tremulous, and begins to undress. I watch, hard as a rock as she slips her smooth, toned body free of her cream blouse and pencil skirt. She isn't wearing any knickers. I gaze at her, worshipful, my hands clenching into fists. I force myself to hold back, to not touch her. It's agony.
'Get in the shower,' I say, low, my body aching with need. She obeys, and slips behind the glass. I pull my shirt and trousers off, and peel away my boxers and socks, dimly aware the floor's tiles are cold against my bare feet. She is already touching herself, her need savage, primal. She isn't even putting on her usual show for me, but it doesn't matter, it is the hottest thing she has ever done, her hunger boring into me, contagious. I watch her, her body glistening under the shower's steady cascade, a goddess. She holds my eyes as she manipulates herself, panting, burning with need, my name on her lips as she cries out and comes once, twice, three times. I meet her on her fourth orgasm, shuddering as my seed spurts into the sink and down over my clenched fist.
'I love you,' she says, her eyes locked on mine, mournful, defeated.
'I love you more than you'll ever know,' I rasp as my orgasm ebbs and the last of my semen pulses out, freed, wasted, useless. I turn on the tap and rinse it away. 'I will do anything for us to be together,' I continue, my voice turning harsh as what should belong to her slips down the drain. 'Anything. Whatever it takes. We will be together. You will be my wife.'
She slides down the glass wall and huddles into herself, her arms around her knees, helpless, broken. I long to go to her, but I cannot. I can only watch her cry.