The sand was hard under Woodrow’s feet, the top layer crunching noisily as he walked toward the water’s edge. He flinched at every sound, fearing the way it echoed through the pre-dawn stillness. His breath steamed in the cool air and he set the lantern down, rubbing his arms to keep warm. As always, his stomach twisted anxiously as he waited on the shore, the rhythmic lap of the small waves heightening his anxiety rather than soothing him.
A sliver of light appeared on the horizon, it’s faint, rosy warmth interrupting the endless, inky darkness around him. Woodrow’s eyes strained to see out over the water, watching for Malcolm’s arrival. The worst were the times when he stood on the beach as the sun rose and there was still no sign of his lover. When he told himself to wait just a little longer, that maybe Malcom was late, even when his sinking stomach knew better.
This time, he was nearly convinced he’d leave the beach and return to his cottage alone, when he saw the tiny rowboat with the light from Malcolm’s lantern leading the way.
Woodrow pressed his knuckles against his lips, feeling relief wash over him at the sight. It had been too long. He jogged forward, waiting at the water’s edge long before the tiny, wooden boat ran ashore, and he helped pull it onto the sand as Malcolm hopped out. They worked in silence to drag the boat to a sheltered, hidden spot, then turned to face each other. Malcolm looked exhausted but the heavy thud of their bodies colliding told Woodrow all he needed to know.
“Wasn’t sure I could get away this time,” Malcolm muttered against Woodrow’s jacket, his breath hot in the wintry air.
Me either, Woodrow thought. “Glad you did,” he said aloud.
He held the man he loved closer, feeling the hard lines of his body pressed against his own. Later, as the sun rose, there’d be time for their bodies to meet in the heated dance they both needed to feel alive. There’d be time for stolen kisses, and whispered words about the kind of life they’d build, if they were allowed to do so.
Not much time, because these were stolen moments, snatched from lives that felt less and less real the more time that passed. But they were all they had. All they’d ever have.
The fear of discovery loomed over them as they stepped apart and walked to the isolated cottage. Never quite trusting, never quite losing the fear that they’d be caught and punished for what they did together. But a life without Malcom was no life at all.
Malcolm followed Woodrow into the cottage and latched the door. They set the pair of lanterns on the table—their secret signal to each other and beacon of hope in an otherwise cold and unfriendly world—and Woodrow stopped Malcolm when he went to blow out the flames.
“Leave them on. I want to see you.”
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I look forward to seeing you next Monday!