Through His Lens

My Damon,

We were always dreamers.
When no one else was bold enough to dream, we did.
When no one else had hope, we did. 
You were my dream, my hope, my everything.
If only my eyes were open.

480 miles stood between them. Hours of conversation each night. Pictures exchanged. Love in bloom. 

Emily was the only one that ever made that trek. In her car with the windows rolled down, heat on full blast, their soundtrack in the player, her headlights illuminating the chilly autumn night. Every beat amplified the anticipation; every word penetrated her mind as she envisioned them tangled together.

She never saw it as a one-way road.

His name was Devon. Her name was Rebecca. Then Kaitlyn. Then Chasity. Didn’t matter the name, she always looked the same. Long brunette hair, vivid blue eyes, bare legs rarely covered. His weakness.

He was her weakness. Dark hair, shadowed blue eyes, olive skin, tattoos peeking out of all the right places, and a jawline sculpted into perfection. The first man she sacrificed everything for just to have one chance with.

Emily counted down the days to see him. Devon echoed every word she said whether he believed in them. He knew it’s what she needed to hear. They all did.

Once a month for two years, she would make the sixteen-hour round trip, not breathing until she was finally in his arms. This was trip twenty-three. Endlessly hopeful, she knew this would be the one to change everything. Only two nights before, Devon told her that his mom was convinced that Emily was the one for him. She knew the weight his mom’s words carried. Surely, he was no longer blind to what everyone else could see.

“Hey,” Devon greeted her, standing on his doorstep under the light as bugs swirled above his head, reminiscent of the first night they met. This was progress. He never anticipated her arrival. “I’m just not the guy to wait for anyone,” he commented once when she asked why he can’t give her five minutes to get ready before leaving. That one remark summarized Devon. Instant-gratification was how he operated. Emily took time.

Each time Emily saw Devon, her face flushed and her heart fluttered. He hooked his thumbs in his pockets as she closed her driver’s door. His black t-shirt, tight jeans, and bare feet despite the cold were all calling to her, seducing her. All she could think about was melting into him. She wanted to. If only he would let her. If only he could give her time. Maybe this time he would.  

Devon wrapped his arms around her neck, pulling her in close, warming her. She pressed her palms into his back, urging him even closer, not letting any space between them from their chests to their legs. “Feel me,” she repeated in her mind, silently sending messages to him. “Feel me, know I’m the one.”

He let go of her. “Come on in, someone’s been waiting for you.”

Opening the door for her, she saw an equally handsome figure arise from the couch.

“Damon.” Emily ran to him as he picked her up in a tight embrace. He always made her feel lighter. In the years of her travels, Damon had become a necessity in her life, perpetually giving her a reason to smile on the days she couldn’t.

Both identical twins, Devon was more popular among the women only because Damon was regularly hiding behind a camera, focused on his life’s work. That camera was a trophy for all to behold. Damon had an eye coveted by photographers worldwide. Called to snap pictures that documented details that no other living person could ever capture, he was frequently in high demand and amid global travel. Yet he always made sure he would return to the house he shared with Devon for Emily’s monthly visits. He never missed one, turning down high-profile jobs just to be there. While on various tours, he had also been to Emily’s house three different times. Devon never had.

You both looked the same. As one of the few who could tell who was who, I was the only one that knew what really set you apart. 
Your hearts. 

“Where have you been this week?” It was the same question she asked every time. Emily was in awe of Damon, of everything he had accomplished in such a short period of life. She loved the way she would see him everywhere she went. His work was in magazines, books, posters, museums, and plastered all over the internet from people bragging they were powerful or wealthy enough to get DAMON to photograph them. Little did they know, it had nothing to do with any of those things: he only went where the camera took him. Emily was the only one he ever revealed that to. Damon was insanely talented, which is why the camera chose him, but the camera had magical elements of its own. 

“Would you like to see?” This is where Emily and Damon differed the most. Emily believed in words; Damon believed in the exhibition. He never wanted to describe it; he wanted to show her. He had dreams to show her the entire world someday.

Devon interrupted them, “Maybe later, okay? I’m starving. Let’s go eat.”

Emily only had a chance to drop her duffel bag to the ground and wave to Damon before Devon was dragging her out by the hand. All she cared about was another sign that this trip would be different. Devon rarely took her out when she visited; they usually always ordered in.  

As soon as they slid into Devon’s truck, his hand slipped to her thigh. It’s where it always landed when she visited. She imagined his handprint outlined on her flesh, a spot reserved only for him. “You look beautiful, Em.” He leaned over and kissed her lips softly.

Emily sighed, feeling faint. These were the moments she waited for. Ever since Devon entered her life, she knew she would never recover. She had plans before him to marry her first love, the man who had waited every evening for four years for her under a streetlamp to walk her to and from the library when books were the only cure for her insomnia. The one evening he couldn’t because of illness was when she ran smack into Devon, under that same light. He was visiting a girl on campus but never made it to her. Instead, he sat under that lamp with Emily and talked all night until the sun rose the next morning. She broke up with her first love the next day, citing their differences in plans post-graduation as the reason when really, it was because of Devon. Every big decision in her life since had been influenced by him.

They ate dinner at a new restaurant she had never visited, surrounded by dark brick walls with a lighted candle in the table’s center that unforgivingly dripped wax on the wood. Intimate and artsy with books lining the top edges of the walls, convincing Emily this would be the place of Devon’s proposal.

Once Devon called for the check and said they had one more quick stop before returning home, that’s when her hope faded. She knew what these side trips entailed. They were always the same. This time, it was the Bed, Bath, and Beyond, a store she would forever harbor harsh feelings for now. She had a list. Every place where he took her to meet one, she could never look at the same.

“What’s her name?” Emily asked as they parked, her voice surprisingly steady. Tears once would drip from her eyes, but Devon had drained her tear ducts over the past two years. There weren’t any remaining dedicated to him.

Devon laughed, twistedly impressed Emily was always so in tune with him. No other girl had ever hung on this long. He loved her in his own way. He just had to break her a little more before he could give in. Devon knew it was never going to be easy to get to her. 

“Jenny. You will love her.”

Jenny was a store manager, earning discounts on home goods while working on an advanced degree. Long brunette hair, ocean-blue eyes, and legs that reached the sky, apparent even in her dress code-issued khakis. Emily would have expected nothing less. Jenny’s giggles followed Emily as she toured the store. She refused to watch Devon’s physical advances on another woman.   

Emily lost herself while thumbing through the picture frames section as she discerned which ones would be worthy enough to hold the prints that Damon had recently gifted to her. She had a goldmine in her house of all of his portraits, ones that people would pay millions to own. But she would never sell them. They were for her and spoke to her soul more than any amount of poetry ever could.

You were my escape from him, even when you weren’t around.
I should have known. But I was too far gone.

The store was closing, so Emily only had ten minutes to endure before Devon found her. He wrapped his arm around her waist and said, “Let’s go home.”

Once back at his house, they walked into cold darkness. Damon had left. Fearing he was already long gone on another trip, Emily desperately wished they could have spoken more. Sometimes, she let herself dream she was traveling with him. But only in the dark after Devon had fallen asleep did she ever allow those thoughts to enter her mind.

They went into Devon’s bedroom where he turned on a movie. “Come here,” he said, pulling her close to him. “You’re a perfect fit with me,” he breathed out. Emily already knew how perfectly she fit under his arm, alongside his body. He finally saw it, too.

“Devon, what do you see–” She had plans to ask him about the future. This trip was supposed to define them. His mom approved; now he just had to act on it.

“Shh,” he silenced her, hugging her tighter as though Emily needed comfort when all she needed were answers. “This is my favorite part.”

The movie was more important than Emily. Just like every woman and everything always seemed more important than her.

So she stayed silent, waiting it out as she always had.

Devon fell asleep before the movie ended. This, too, she was used to. The first night never went as expected. He would warm up more the second; she had to believe it to be true.

Once his breathing steadied, Emily slipped out from under his arm and out of his bed to grab a glass of water. On her way back, she noticed a light on in Damon’s room. He didn’t leave her yet after all.

She knocked. “Can I come in?”

Damon slipped off his headphones and closed his laptop, patting the empty space on the bed.

She slid in next to him, the suede of his brown comforter immediately caressing her into the same calmness his presence had on her. If someone asked her where her piece of heaven on Earth was, it would be here, in this room next to Damon. She couldn’t explain why. She just knew nothing ever made her feel more centered, vivacious, or lovely. Especially when Damon would open his laptop, and show her the secrets of his eye, all the images that no one else would ever see, except for her.

“I thought you left me.” The line came out more in a whimper than she intended. Emily didn’t fully understand how much she needed him.

“Never.” Damon’s lips brushed her head, strands of her brown hair catching on to them and refusing to let go. They knew better than Emily herself did of what was sitting right next to her.

“Can I see?”

“Always.” Damon opened his laptop to display his portfolio. Two years ago, he saved his pictures based on dates of Emily’s visits, and he continued to organize them that way. The ones she has seen, and the ones she has yet to see. Damon’s laptop contained the most intimate parts of him. He wanted to show her all.

Damon’s camera was the most sought-after treasure in the world, as though the Holy Grail itself. His computer was the second. Secrets that the rest of the world wasn’t privy to hidden inside. The details he captured in the light that only he could find made people feel alive. He reminded them of the beauty in the world unseen with an untrained eye. Damon made people have faith and believe in the goodness that can fade in such darkness. 

Emily’s eyes were the only ones allowed to peer inside. Sometimes the beauty was so great that physical hurt would ensue; sometimes so symbolic of the world’s truths that her stomach would twist in knots and her breath would escape her lungs before she realized she was gasping for air.

Such vivid colors on-screen made her colorless, a reminder of what was truly important. They gave her strength amidst chaos. Usually, the moment Damon shut down the computer, those feelings shut down with it. This time, she was determined to seize them, pocket them, and take them with each step she took moving forward.

She did just that.

There was a knock on the doorframe. Devon.

Emily prepared herself, guilt swelling inside for sitting in a bed with Damon, but hoping that some jealousy may finally reflect in Devon’s eyes. He stood for a moment, hanging on the threshold with his hands, stretching his body.

Nothing else registered for him.

“I’m heading out.”

“Oh, should I put on my shoes?” Emily asked, wondering where he wanted to go at this time of night.

Devon scratched at a mark in the wall instead of making eye contact with her. “Nope. You stay here. I’ll be back in the morning. See you guys later.”

Emily sat dumbfounded, surveying the void that remained. Devon left, succumbing to another seductress that wasn’t her.

Damon touched her arm gently.

Too calloused to be more emotionally affected, Emily realized Devon’s antics had become the norm. She had hoped this trip would be different. It was. Only in a way vastly unlike her prediction. She felt different. Something was stirring inside Emily, dormant for too long, now waking, but she had yet to identify it.

Finally, she spoke, “I’m a fool, huh?”

Damon tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, studying the bareness, intrigued. She was the only woman he’s ever noticed without pierced ears. “No. You only have hope of what could be. That doesn’t make you a fool; only a dreamer. I like dreamers.” He imagined kissing her neckline, nibbling on her bare earlobe, appreciating every part of her being. Damon had only dreamt from a distance, ever since Emily hugged him two years prior and said how excited she was to meet Devon’s twin brother. Over time, he became more than that. They developed a friendship. He was her sounding board to her heartbreak. It didn’t matter. He would have been anything she needed; anything it took to be close to her. He always made sure he was home when she visited to be there for her. Damon knew she would need it. He knew Devon would break her. Damon would tirelessly glue her together time and again.

It was he that I chased, yet you who would wipe away my tears when he left me for another woman night after night. 

It was he that would lie to me, yet who would fill me with the truth. 

Emily covered her face with her hands and groaned, desperate to pinpoint the arising within.

Damon knew what was inside her. He was always perceptive, but particularly to Emily. He arranged his images this time to send a message that would penetrate her soul and bury itself in every fiber of her being long after his computer was closed. He needed her to believe her worth. Damon had seen glimpses of her comprehension through previous explorations of his pictures. This time, with his camera as an accomplice, he set out to fortify it. Every second of every day spent in the past month was for Emily, searching for all the light in the world that would speak her truth the most, since she had lost her words the day she met Devon.

He succeeded.

Whispering, he added, “You command attention the moment you step into a room. People can’t keep their eyes off of you, and you don’t even realize it.”

Emily waved him off although the words clenched her heart. “I’m about as plain as can be.”

“That’s what makes you so striking, don’t you understand that? You’re not decorated.”

“I live in a world that urges women to cake on makeup, spend hours perfecting their hair, tan their bodies into cancer, balance in heels that falsely lengthen their legs, and wear uncomfortable clothes to reveal body parts that must uphold to a specific shape. I’m not blind to Devon’s eyes on the women who cater to that.” Emily twisted her hair back, as Damon’s eyes traveled to the edge of her lace bralette shifting on her shoulder. 

He closed his eyes tightly to press his thoughts out. “Emily, his lens isn’t the end-all.”

Emily shifted her body to look at Damon straight on. “What about your lens? Why do you take pictures of everyone else except me? You’ve never offered.” Emily knew it was because she was plain. It wasn’t just Devon who thought of her like that; she knew Damon had to, too. They both dated beautifully adorned women, ones that stepped off the runway and inexplicably found themselves in Nebraska out of all places.

Damon didn’t know how to explain to her that connecting his camera to her would only crush him more. The camera wanted it; he fought it every single day. It was Damon’s final barrier she had yet to crash through. In every place he’s been, in everything he’s seen, Emily remained the most beautiful, shocking his core repeatedly every time he glanced her way. Everything was magnified through his camera; she couldn’t be. He wouldn’t survive.

“I can’t,” he muttered, refusing to meet her eyes.

“Why? I want you to.”

“Because you’re his.”

Emily studied Damon, a man so confident now appearing sheepish. She had never seen this side in either twin. “Am I?” As soon as the words escaped her lips, her stomach tightened.

Damon’s eyes found hers again. “Aren’t you?” Devon was the only barrier. If only Damon had met her first. It all could have been so different.

Minutes passed as their eyes remained locked on each other. Hers were dissecting his, searching for any hint of more behind them; his were pleading with hers, begging she let go of Devon and turn to him instead.

Your arms wrapped around my world, comforting me, embracing me, enticing me, fulfilling me. Yet it was easier to fall for your brother. 

Sighing, Emily broke their eye contact and looked at the time on the nightstand. “Well, this isn’t how I thought it would be.” Her and Devon were supposed to be talking nonstop, holding hands, solidifying their relationship, making plans for the future. He shouldn’t be running off with yet another one.

“You could stay with me. In here.” Damon’s voice was steady, but quiet, as though they were fragile words delicately spoken.

Emily considered it. She wondered what it would be like to fall asleep in Damon’s arms, to have the assuredness she sought from Devon. But what if Devon came home and found her in Damon’s bed? There would be no coming back from that. She had been in love with Devon for two years. She couldn’t fathom losing him yet.

“I better not,” she whispered, leaning over to kiss Damon on the cheek. Without turning around, she shut his bedroom door and retreated to the couch in the living room. Pulling the afghan comforter around her body and fluffing up the throw pillows, her body sunk into the couch.

Emily watched the light under Damon’s door, shadows dancing underneath. Regret filled her vision. She hoped he would open the door and invite her in again. She would say yes this time. On the couch, waiting in the cold living room for a man who wouldn’t return was a miserable sentence compared to laying in Damon’s bed, where she consistently found solace and peace.

Damon’s light shut off, and the house creaked as it settled.

Emily stared at his dark door, wondering if she should, debating, questioning her life, pondering Damon’s words, dissecting Devon’s actions. After hours of stillness, she finally fell asleep.

She left the next morning before Devon returned and before Damon awoke. Damon sat down on the empty couch where Emily’s body once was and breathed in the blanket that held her like he wished he could have instead.

It was he that broke me into pieces, yet you who put me together and called me the greatest masterpiece. 
It was he that wanted my body when all you ever desired was my heart. 

During Emily’s sleep and on the drive home, Damon’s concealed message sprouted. Her once high expectations had been steadily compromised throughout the past two years, trodden down to the bare remains. Devon was no longer worthy of her effort.

She took a deep breath, discovering her inner strength again, trading the miles on her car for a brand new start.

****

Six months after Emily abandoned the road that made her desire collide with disappointment, did Devon finally travel that same road straight to her house.

Standing on the doorstep, he held a ring out to her. “Marry me. Now.” A brief hesitation as Damon’s heart flashed through her mind, before she told Devon, “Okay.” They didn’t wait. Within seventy-two hours, they married.

Twenty-three months after they eloped, they divorced. A miscarriage was the final breaking point. It dissolved Emily. Scarred by the hysterectomy that immediately followed and the emotional turmoil that ensued, she weakened in the eyes of Devon. He couldn’t wait for her happiness to return. He couldn’t wait for an alternative plan to the family he thought she could produce. Devon never waited for anyone.

Damon came back from Europe the day she moved out. Devon was gone, already moved on. Damon helped her move every single item into the truck that day. “I can follow you,” he offered, meaning more than she’d ever know.

“Thank you, Damon. I think I’ll be fine.” As she stood there, watching Damon in the shadow of the house that once was his, too, a revelation that had been boiling for years finally bubbled to the surface. Damon always hid in the darkness with his brother, willingly, ready to protect her as much as he could. But Damon wasn’t the dark side of the twin hearts; he was the light. Emily took Damon by the hand, pulling him under the sun’s rays. “There. That’s how I want to remember you.” He always looked kissed by the sun as though nature’s acknowledgment that he was of paramount importance. He protected nature through his pictures, so nature protected him. 

He was the only one I could say I love you to. Words fall easier the further from the truth they are.
I had to whisper it to you and only when the wind could be louder than my words.
But you knew. You always knew.
Silent, strong, unwavering. You waited for me when he never could.

Damon reached out his hand, and Emily gripped it until she finally had to let go.

****

Fifteen years had passed since they last saw each other. Although never breathing the same air, they continued to turn to each other several times a year when they needed it the most. A few lines in an email were all; little doses of the most potent connection either one had ever experienced.

When my dreams are greater than my reality, you are the one I turn to. Every single time. You remind me that the best things aren’t an illusion. They can be real. Just like you.

Damon initiated the visit that both had been awaiting. He sent the one line that would say it all, “I’d like to see you again.”

Emily didn’t hesitate to reply, “I think I’d like that.”
Omaha in two weeks. They both knew the date and location, despite never uttering the words. There was a reason.

Three days after the email, Emily’s nerves grew. So much had changed. She knew more: about herself, about Damon, about what they once shared, about what should have been.  

Her fingers slowly typed her fear, “Fifteen years is a long time. I’m not the same as I once was.”

“Tell me more.”

“I look different. My body has been through a lot. My mind, maybe even more.” Emily knew she didn’t smile as much as she once did. A toll paid for the choices she made. Her body had loosened over time with a prominent scar reminding her of all that she lost.

Damon shook his head while typing his reply, “You are the epitome of strength and beauty. I’ve changed, too.” He didn’t mention the natural weight he had added with age or the receding hairline he stared at every single day in the mirror, debating products that might replace what once was.

Emily scoffed after receiving Damon’s response. He must be blind to his face plastered everywhere. She knew exactly what he looked like. Every portrait she would study, wiling her eyes to turn into a microscope, filing every pixel away so she could recall it in a moment’s notice. Sure, he’s aged. But with a maturity that made her body heat rise faster than what a sauna could do.

She took the road she could travel blindly even after all this time. In her car with the windows rolled down, heat on full blast, a new soundtrack in the player, her headlights illuminating the chilly autumn night. Every beat amplified the anticipation; every word penetrated Emily’s mind, as she envisioned them coming together again after all this time. 

Choosing a hotel only a block from the coffee shop they would meet at the next morning, she dropped her bag, watching the streets below from her room window. A transient sleep as her skin tingled, sensing how close Damon was. Finally, the morning light broke through her window as she dressed to wait in the coffee shop where they were first introduced by Devon exactly twenty years before.

There he was. Waiting. Eyes as blue. Skin as tanned. Soul as tangled with hers as ever.

“I’m engaged.” Damon used those words like a shield as he stood. His breath had been knocked out of him the moment her first strand of hair whipped through the door, let alone at the sight of the rest of her.

Emily laughed as she embraced him, breaking all his efforts at keeping her at arm’s distance for the sake of his integrity. “I know. I stalk you on the internet all the time.”

Raising his eyebrow, he asked, “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

She shrugged out of her jacket as Damon pulled out a chair for her. “Congratulations never felt right. If I’m saying it to you, it’s like I’m telling you congratulations on being engaged to a woman I know nothing about. I’d be more inclined to tell her congratulations because I know she snagged the most precious gift to this universe. But,” Emily reached over to link Damon’s fingers with hers across the table, a shiver running through both their bodies, “She’s stunning. I’m sure she’s great. I’m happy for you, I really am.” She would never reveal that she was also twisted with envy and regret. Damon knew, though. He still knew everything inside her. 

Not long after their coffees arrived to their table were they out the door again. Damon still wanted to show her the entire world; he would start with their newfound freedom in a town that once held so many restrictions between them. They walked the cobblestone roads, arms like the old friends they were. Damon’s camera, secured around his neck, regularly lifted to take pictures of The Old Market, yet avoided capturing Emily like always.

They weaved in and out of little shops, talking nonstop about the details their emails vaguely skimmed in their fifteen years apart. Everything was better when they were in each other’s presence. They didn’t have to defend their words or explain their thoughts, feelings, intentions, or motives in further detail. They accepted one another fully and completely, the most wholesome and covetous adoration.

At a bookstore, they thumbed through the books, admiring the covers, both fascinated with the art that reflected the words within. Emily picked up one that spoke to her mental state at the moment.

“Regrets,” she outlined the burnt orange words with her fingers.

Damon snapped a picture of the cover against the bin of books beneath it, Emily’s fingertips gripped around the binding. It was the only portion of her he had ever photographed. “Do you have any?” 

She let out a laugh that perfectly mirrored the brokenness when remembering how one choice determined a course of imprisonment in the name of love.  “One too many.”

Damon, leaned against the bookshelf, resting his camera carefully against his chest. “Name one.”

With Damon’s upcoming nuptials, this would be one of the final chances for Emily to be alone with him. She understood the accentuating need beneath his request to see her. She wanted it just as much. There was no reason to hold anything back. It was now or never.

“For one, I wish I stayed with you that night.”

She didn’t have to explain. He knew.

Damon closed his eyes, recalling how he paced his bedroom floor, reaching out to the door numerous times yet stopping himself over and over. “I shouldn’t have let you go.”

“I wish I had the perspective I have today of who I was, who he was, and most of all, who you were and have always been.”

“I should have said more.” Words were never his strong suit; images were. Through the exhibition of his work, Damon bared all that he had to Emily, and only to her. Despite his choices for the future, she would be the only one to behold his life’s secrets. That would never change.

Emily put her hand on his cheek, her thumb caressing his skin. “Damon, I know what you did for me. You saved me. Many times.”  

He breathed her in, intently watching her lips form every word. After several loud heartbeats, he asked, “Would you like to see where I’ve been?”

“Do we have enough time to cover fifteen years?”

No, they didn’t. They both knew it, purposely granting themselves only one day to be together again. Anything less would be too painful; anything more would be too agonizing. Too much had been solidified in the past; too much was riding on the future. Too long together would impair both ends.

“I rented a room at that boutique hotel next to the coffee shop. Is that closer, or is your place?”

Damon shook his head. “I didn’t get a room. Flew in early this morning and booked a red-eye out tonight.” He knew if he had gotten a room for the night, he would have waited by the door like he did every night she was in his house in the past, yearning for her body to curl into his. He couldn’t be there again; not with where he was today, engaged to a different woman.

The walk to Emily’s room was quiet. They held on to each other, both preparing themselves to be alone in such an intimate setting with one another. Temptation and security colliding. That was the continual contradictory dance between them; they equally enticed yet respected the boundaries all too well.

Since Damon had left his laptop behind, they sat close to each other on the edge of the bed as he revealed the images captured on his camera and some stored in his phone. A few were familiar. Emily had saved every picture she ran across of Damon’s in the past fifteen years. She stored them in a special file she would open when she needed his presence again.  

He noted every breath she took, the inhales and exhales of various pitches as the images flashed through her eyes. Damon didn’t need to describe where he had been. She knew. If people saw them sitting together, they would dimly think silence surrounded them. But Damon and Emily were having the most intimate conversation, one that only the two of them would ever be privy to translate, a secret language developed when two people dream the same dreams and live from the same heart.

The intimacy of Damon’s pictures only closed the space between them. They sucked in their breaths and let their arms and legs press into each other. Once connected, they didn’t move.

“Emily, you haven’t changed.” Damon tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, as he once would always do, allowing himself to mutter only one line each time that displayed even an ounce of his true affection.

“Neither have you.” She meant it as she studied every molecule of his skin, nostalgic of the once-easy access to him causing her to ache. So many opportunities wasted wondering, wishing, yearning. Now here they were.

Despite the difficulty to break their touch, Emily excused herself to the bathroom. She knew this was it. The unfathomable had arrived. Timeless together, yet this was the last time. She owed him all the life that remained, her only reason to breathe when she once never could.  

Emily took a deep breath and stepped outside of the bathroom.

Damon was sitting on the edge of the bed, fiddling with his camera, expecting a change without exactly knowing what was coming.

“Damon?”

He looked up, his pupils instantly widening, as Emily stood in front of him, wearing only a thin, sleek mauve robe. Before he could catch his breath, she let the robe slip to her feet.  

“This. This is the fifteen-years difference.” She had nothing left to lose and nothing to no longer hide. In fifteen years her body had changed, but so had her view on herself. There wasn’t any point to slinking around, hinting at words that could suggest more, all the while keeping the truth covered. Damon needed to see the real her, not a fantasy of what he thought she may be.

Damon had never seen her naked, but he had the photographer’s eye that could outline a body shape even if covered by a potato sack. He had pictured every curve, adding to it the hints of moles or scars or stretch-marks he had seen on her throughout the years as glimpses of more skin revealed themselves through movement. She was exactly as he had always imagined; nothing more, nothing less. That in itself was perfect.

The longer Emily stood there without a reaction or word from Damon, the more nervous she became. The rise and fall of her chest increased, triggering Damon’s to do the same. He slowly rose from the bed, tilting his camera at her as he asked, “May I?”

She nodded, trusting Damon, knowing he would never jeopardize intimate pictures of her. Besides, Emily had waited twenty years for this. He gently reached for her hand, guiding her to the bed. He cradled her head as he laid her back, tugging at the light grey comforter under her to give a hazy appearance, as though she was exiting his dreams. All too emblematic. The excruciating truths he was best known to document.

Climbing on a chair for a higher angle, Damon began. From the first click, a tremor of enormous relief washed over both him and the camera. The fight to refrain from Emily had been their biggest struggle. Now they were freed.

You made me beautiful. Laying naked in front of you was me finally meeting you on equal ground, offering exactly what you have held out to me for years without constraints.

After some time, Damon spoke again, “I’m going to come closer now, okay?”

Emily nodded, biting her lip. Her body withered from desire as she watched Damon work, for the first time, fully observing him in his element, his passion, his life. She had only seen the result before, not the effort. He was compelling, attentive, delicate. Evocative of all she had ever wanted.

Damon stepped down from the chair and prepared to move closer.

Emily put up her hand. “Stop.”

He did as she requested.

She sat up on her knees at the edge of the bed, peering into Damon’s eyes. Emily took the camera out of his hands and set it on the comforter, never breaking eye contact with him. She reached for his blue t-shirt, letting her thumbs graze his skin underneath a moment as their breathing quickened. Lifting the shirt over Damon’s head and discarding it on the floor behind him, Emily took a moment to trace his chest, memorizing every tattoo, as her fingers dragged to his hips.

I just had to feel you as much as I could. 

Damon stood as motionless as he could, despite every urge to do more. He wanted to quiver, to draw her close to him, to kiss her. He had over two decades’ worth of practice on resisting her. He knew how to stay still, despite the burning within.

After a moment, Emily let her hands drop as she reached for the camera again to hand to him. “It is only fair for you to meet me halfway.”

Damon continued his pursuit, hovering above her body as the camera worked, the heat from the bareness of his chest scorching, but never touching. Emily squirmed, as the camera strap dragged across her skin, the touch of the cool leather setting off a minefield of goosebumps across her body. Down her throat, to her chest, across her nipples, to her bellybutton, dipping between her legs where she stifled a moan, all the way to her toes. Then the click of the camera followed as he worked his way back up, catching the various levels of ecstasy, anguish, and delight radiating from her body.

He never touched her. The camera did all the work. They both wanted him to. But Devon would forever be a barrier, cemented long ago. Emily had made her choice, despite her regrets. Damon’s loyalty would forever remain to his twin, despite the intensity of his longing for her. They were frozen in a time of unrepairable misgivings.

When the sun disappeared, and Damon lost his light, he sighed, turning off the camera as he returned it to the side table. He stood up to gather Emily’s robe from the floor. She joined him, and he helped her slide back in it, tying the robe for her, tugging it so she pressed into him as he secured the final knot.

His lips only inches from hers, he asked, “Are you hungry?”

“Famished,” Emily responded with a grin, her eyes fixated on Damon’s lips, wishing just once she could feel them pressed against hers.

But she never would.  

They ate their last meal together, holding hands gently but in a clandestine ferocity to hold on to the remnants of what would never be again. Finding beauty in each other, beauty in two connected hearts, and beauty in a love story that could have been but never had the chance to be.

You are still the one I escape to when my heart and dreams are shattering around me. You’ll be the only one to ever know the true me. You’ve always been my only one.

All my love always,
Emily

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