The quiet was a fragile thing—stretching long and thin like a glimmering spider’s web. It was absolute and all-encompassing but lacked any sense of anticipation or urgency, possessing only a sense of being.
Holtzmann loved morning like this. Rare were the moments she woke before Erin. The physicist was set like a Swiss watch, rising an hour after sunrise to begin her day with methodical care. By comparison, Jillian Holtzmann was ruled by both heavenly bodies in quarreling contradictions. She wasn’t a woman ruled by time. Time moved around her.
The engineer shifts under her comforter, cool sheets gliding across bare legs as she stretches with quiet grunts. There was something gleeful about dipping her feet beyond the pool of body-warmed covers only to yank them back again and snuggle into her pillows, careful not to jostle the sleeping form beside her. Erin had collapsed into bed a handful of hours ago. The equations wouldn’t leave her in peace until solved, she’d said, barely mumbling the words before sleep claimed her.
It’s towards that same women Holtzmann now turns, head resting atop her folded right arm. She felt no shame admitting she could stare at her partner for hours, mapping the peaks and valleys, shadows and highlights of Erin’s face. The gentle angle of her jawline. The slight arch of her eyebrows. The smooth slope of her forehead. The subtle pink crest of her lower lip. The delicate swoop to her nose. The curve of her cheeks, and the dark dusting of her lashes. Jillian commits it all to memory.
Cradled in early morning silence, Holtzmann reaches out to tuck a few flyaway strands of auburn hair behind Erin’s ear—savoring the brush of her calloused fingers against the physicist’s warm skin—and finds herself arrested. There were jewel moments when the sun filtering through the window caught just right, glancing off Erin’s sleeping visage in just the right manor, that Holtzmann could feel the breath leave her body. Plenty of eloquent speakers had come before her. Plenty of men and women well versed in the art of prose had already capture this moment and hundreds of others in the tangled language of love. Jillian Holtzmann was no poet, but sometimes she got the words right.
Erin was radiant. In all senses of the word.
Certainly the physicist would disagree. Quite vehemently, actually. She’d push Holtz away with a snort telling her to save her flattery for someone more deserving. And Holtzmann would let Erin get away with the personal slight against herself because telling someone they were beautiful when they didn’t believe it themselves was like trying to fight a hurricane with a kite. Holtz would gladly fight that battle, every day if she had to, to make Erin see that broken though she may feel, tied down by past sins, beaten by existing regrets, choked by ever-present anxiety, her natural light shone stubbornly through her cracks, illuminating the jagged lines of her being like a lithograph. She, like Holtzmann, was beautiful in her brokenness.
And even on dark days, when Erin’s smile didn’t come as fast or as often, that same light shone in the crystalline depths of her blue eyes. In the auburn locks framing her face. In the pale softness of smooth skin speckled with faint freckles like rare constellations. In the shake of her reluctant laugh. In the porcelain glint of her smile. Because even during her gray days, Erin was a torch. Holtz never knew a human being could house so many shades of light, and she reveled in the warmth and security it provided.
People don’t often realize their colorblindness until something comes along and shows them the radiance of true color. Erin was that something for Holtzmann. More than she wanted to admit, her journey through life’s winding trails didn’t always take her through sunny pastures. Holtzmann had seen what lay waiting within the shadows. Bore scars from her blind stumbling through darkness. Sometimes, Holtzmann struggled alone. Sometimes, she had a guide to help light her path. It wasn’t until finding her true family later in life that the darkness left her in peace. Sure there would always be darker points. Life’s shades of gray persisted like the earth circling the sun, but it was never a lasting thing. And then she found Erin, and for the first time the earth stood still and the sun never dipped from its zenith. For the first time, Holtzmann felt a lasting warmth fill her soul, and she knew, without a doubt, she was home.
“You know, a picture would last longer.”
Both the breath and the voice are exhaled from Erin’s lips with sleepy gentility but they still manage to break the fragile silence like a bell toll. Holtzmann actually jumps, for once the startled party, but her shock quickly eases into her customary grin when Erin cracks open an eye and looks at her.
“Yeah but pictures aren’t scratch and sniff.”
To further elaborate her perplexing statement, the blonde rolls into her partner, burying her face in the crook of Erin’s neck. The physicist’s smell and the warmth of her bed-warmed skin envelopes her, growing by degree when Holtzmann begins lightly sucking at the juncture between Erin’s neck and shoulders. A moan rises into Erin’s throat as she pushed her head back into the pillows, muscles trembling under Holtzmann’s wandering fingers. Her own fingers tangle in loose blond curls, breathy exhales sending shivers down the length of the engineer’s body.
Their lovemaking mirrors the morning: slow and lazy and warm. By its end, they settle right back where they started, cradled in each other’s arms, luxuriating in the afterglow.
“Have I ever told you I love you?” Erin ventures first, again the one to break the silence.
Holtzmann smiles against the top of Erin’s head where her fingers curl lazily through auburn locks, massaging her scalp. “I’m honored, Doctor Gilbert. You’re usually so chaste with your declarations of love. I will alert the media immediately!”
The engineer yelps when Erin suddenly grabs the inside of her thigh just above her knee, the only place Holtzmann was properly ticklish.
“I take it back,” she feigns a pout. “Why do I love you again?”
“I mean, I could make a list, but I don’t think the mayor would appreciate the office supply bill.”
“What?” Erin jacks herself up on one elbow, eyebrow cocked.
“Meaning it would go on forever, love,” Holtzmann grins, kissing the tip of Erin’s nose, and is rewarded when a stripe of pink makes her cheeks glow.
“Your list or mine?” the physicist questions aloud, sinking back down atop her partner.
“Good thing we have forever,” Erin says quietly, the thumb of her left hand ghosting across the band encircling her ring finger.
“Good thing,” Holtzmann agrees with another wide smile, guiding Erin’s face back up to hers so their lips can meet again in a slow, elastic kiss that could have well lasted for a lifetime for all the women cared.