“Hey, Swann! Want a ride home?”
This idiot. Fresh-faced and strapping. A little bit nervous, a little bit cocky. He’ll be manager within the year. She loves the way his eyes widen when he sees her. (She loves pretending she doesn't know he's watching.)
“Swann is my father. I'm a military brat, not a decorated officer. It's Liz. Or Lizzie. Whatever.”
He looks like he's torn between keeping things professional, and making things very unprofessional. The passenger door to his shitty beater is open. She hopes he knows how to use that little thing.
You can't take me for granted. Because when I go, you won't know if I was ever really there. You won't find trinkets left from me, or strands of long, silky hair. I won't leave marks upon your skin for everyone to read.
(I hate the intimacy it gives the world. Like they can feel me burrowed beneath their skin.)
“Leaving so soon?”
His voice is sleepy, laced with too many kisses and implications.
She's already dressed, heading for the door. There's no need for lazy mornings or empty adulations. Here today, gone tomorrow. (Gone tonight.)
“I’ve got an early shift tomorrow. Those plane tickets won't sell themselves.”
“Never heard of the internet, Swann?”
She doesn't grant him a scathing look. She doesn't bother to correct him, either. It doesn't matter anyway. When it counted, he had breathed and moaned her name, not the pleasantries.
You can't take me for granted because I bear the weight of my own significance. And when I lay you down beneath me, you will know what it is to have a queen.
Liz doesn't know when that girl started bringing coffee to the office, but she noticed when she started bringing Liz special treats. A croissant or pastry, an extra shot or extra whip. Always with a slow, shy smile. Always with a lingering hand, gaze, presence.
“Hey, it's Caly, right?”
Liz reaches out a hand to lightly touch the necklace hanging low on Caly’s throat. She lets her fingers graze lower, for just the breath of a minute. Their eyes lock and Liz can feel Caly’s heart thrumming in her chest.
“What a cool necklace.”
She turns to walk away, catching Los Lonely Boy’s eyes as she goes. He looks like he's two seconds away from telling all his buddies how loose she was. All smirks and fiery eyes.
You see what I want you to see. I can be sweet, I can be danger. I can be hot, cold, timid, adventure. They never know until it's too late that I'm all of that and more. Too much for them to handle, to control. They’ll compare me to weather or mountains or seas. I have no such structure.
Caly’s wild hair and the way her whole body flows when she walks are completely at odds with her demure attitude. She looks at Liz like she's waiting for her to pull that wicked girl from beneath her sweet, shy skin. Liz “considers” it longer than necessary. (She liked watching the desperation rise in Caly.)
But when she's unceremoniously thrown into a closet, slammed up against the shelves, that demure girl is gone and replaced with ravenous hunger.
Maybe she took her teasing a little too far.
I won't bring you meekness or a blushing bride. I am the dark, back alleys and hidden dens. The muffled screams behind closed doors. The outstretched hand asking for a dance. My hair is smoke and salt, my skin a well-mapped ocean. I will intoxicate you for the same reasons I repulse you. You’ll think, in the end, that you have used me and tossed me back.
(I've always known how to get what I want.)
Caly was exciting. But now she knew that. Liz had ushered in her sexual awakening, and she was moving on to greener pastures. At least Caly didn't sit around the break room with the rest of the guys, laughing with their new manager about her.
So she was the office slut now. So be it.
And I know exactly who
you think you are.
“Why do you let them talk about you like that, love?”
He must be new around here. (She thinks she would remember that sun-kissed skin, those nautical tattoos, the way he moves like he's being pulled by an invisible rope at the waist.)
“I'm just too busy to give a shit. Plus, they're not all wrong.”
His eyes flash. She can see the wheels turning, his sudden desire to know exactly how much of what they say is true.
You're misunderstood. You're a hurricane, a disaster, a bad omen. Endless streams of flattery, sailing on sweet, bourbon breath. Trailing fingers to match your eyes, never settling, never satisfied. You’d like to think you chew the world up and spit it out. I’ll let you sink your teeth in me, but I'm made of thicker skin.
Jack’s intriguing. Different. More devil-may-care than anyone working in a travel agency has any right to be. He’s crass, opinionated. He likes to say he’s just honest. Liz likes to say “Bullshit.”
He's got a record with the law, and he's not ashamed of it. She overhears him explaining one ridiculous charge to the delight of the office. But there's loss there, too. Family, maybe, or just a certain view of things. She wants to know almost as much as she’d pretend not to care.
Jack says he's traveled the world, usually with the clothes on his back and a big group of friends. That's why he started working here. For the discounts. She tells him that she's only ever wanted to travel, but life had a way of reorganizing her priorities when she wasn't looking.
“I could take you somewhere, if you really wanna go.”
You kiss like a forest fire. Everything raging and roaming and suffocating. You want to smother and consume, take your fill of someone else’s pleasure before disappearing in the smoke. Those boys and girls you play with will never satisfy you, but by God you’ll enjoy yourself trying.
They go to his place to meet the crew. The word “rag-tag" comes to mind and Liz wonders when she got to be so old. His best friend, Josh, is passed out on the ratty couch. He looks old enough to be Jack’s father. A few more are scattered about the room and backyard. Some have cheap dates, others cheap booze.
The living space is cluttered with DVDs, maps, loose change, and empty liquor bottles. She doesn't know what she was expecting, but she's not really surprised. He leads her down the hall. His bedroom is even messier.
He turns unexpectedly to place a soft, searching kiss on her lips, savoring her. Like he's trying to taste all her sins.
So let me unmake you.
“This is what I wanted to show you.”
He's holding out an itinerary. Two one-way plane tickets. Brochures for multiple different hospices. Some kind of rulebook. A marked-up map.
“My friends and I have been wanting to do this for a long time, but I kept putting it off. It's kind of like The Amazing Race and Geocashing put together. It's part treasure hunting, part obstacle course, part sight-seeing. What do you think?”
She doesn't know what to think. She pushes the papers out of his hands and leans her whole body into him. He chuckles into her lips and pulls her down onto the pile of laundry covering his bed.
Let me drown you with my indulgence. Let me bury you in dirt and grime and see if you can surface. I can make you fear me, beg me, worship me. I can free you from yourself.
They're chatting excitedly about the trip when her phone rings in her pocket. It’s Will. She rolls her eyes and lets it go to voicemail.
“You two fucked, didn't you?” he asks.
“Yeah, what’s it to you?”
She bristles slightly, but he's leaning toward her again.
“Nothing, I’m too busy to give a shit.”
His mouth closes over hers and she feels a prickling like electricity at the base of her spine.
Give me your throat, and I will pull exultations from it. Offer me your lips, and I will tame their scorching flames. And when you kneel before me to press prayers against my flesh, I will break myself apart to let you taste my soul.
“We’re cut from the same cloth, Elizabeth Swann.”
“How’s that, Jack Sparrow?”
She can barely make him out in the darkness, silhouetted in the moonlight. But she knows he’s staring at her intently. He leans over to whisper his answer in her ear:
“You like to pretend to wear their words as badges of honor, but deep down you just want to live without judgement.”
“I thought it was our devilishly good looks!”
“The trails of broken hearts in our wake?”
“The longing for something new.”
Here he’s quiet. Pausing, mulling it over.
“Curiosity killed the cat, love.”
It sounds like a warning, or maybe a conclusion. She doesn't care. She's been curious and desperate for change since the day she was born.
(And as you desperately try to brand me with your scent, to wash away the others that have been here before, I’ll smile and relish the pointlessness of it all.)
Will drives her to the airport. He's furious, but he did owe her this favour. Jack had offered, but she felt it necessary to let Will have this moment of closure. He's there waiting at the curb for her. She tries to stifle a smile, but Will doesn't notice.
“When will you be back?”
“I have no idea, Will. I'll call if I'm ever in town.”
He grabs her hand and places a gentle kiss there. A goodbye. An apology.
“I'll miss you, Swann.”
She leans toward him and presses her lips against his, hard. Her tongue forces its way into his mouth before he pulls away, raising a hand to his mouth in shock.
Her smile is deadly.
“That one was free. And it's fucking Liz.”
She hops out of the car, a single suitcase in tow, into the waiting arms of Jack. He's watching her lips, but she's already moving inside.
(This is what you wanted, after all.)