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The Widow Anatolia and the Dragon Lord

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. She has had over 130 short stories published in places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex Magazine, and Escape Pod. Her debut novel, Left-Hand Gods, is available from Hadley Rille Books, and she has two short story collections available from Air and Nothingness Press. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online at jamielackey.com.

The widow Anatolia stands in front of her stovetop, her bare feet cold against the tile floor. She splashes water into a small pot without measuring, then dumps half of it down the drain.
She stands over it while it comes slowly to a boil, enjoying the heat that wafts up and caresses her cheeks.
Outside, snow crunches under heavy boots. A sharp knock echoes through her house.
She is wearing layers of clothing under a ratty bathrobe, and piles of clutter form unsteady towers on any unused space. She doesn't remember the last time she washed her hair.
The knock sounds again, even sharper.
She answers it, expecting one of her well-meaning friends or maybe someone selling vacuums.
Instead, the Dragon Lord stands on her stoop, wearing his human form and holding two coffees in bright red to-go cups.
The widow Anatolia blinks at him. He blinks back. The cold wind gusts, and Anatolia shivers and steps back.
The Dragon Lord steps inside and closes the door behind him. He holds out one of the cups of coffee, and Anatolia takes it.
"It's been a long time," he says. He does not look at the mess or her unwashed hair. His dark eyes bore into hers.
"Yes. I was just making breakfast. Would you like some?"
She thinks of herself as the Widow Anatolia as a reminder. It keeps her from shouting questions at the empty house, from making twice the food she needs. With the Dragon Lord sitting at her table, sipping his coffee while she adds water back to the pot, she doesn't need a reminder.
She sips her own coffee. He's added cream and sugar, and it is perfect.
"I am sorry for your loss," he says, eventually. "I wanted to come to the funeral, but I was away on business."
She nods. She remembers his responsibilities, how often they made him an empty shape in her life. She stirs dry oats into boiling water. She isn't lonely with him sitting behind her.
They finish their coffee before the oatmeal is cooked, so she makes tea.
The snow on his boots has melted, leaving a cold puddle around his feet.
She moves a stack of magazines and sits in the other chair. She wonders why he's come, but doesn't ask. They eat in silence, then she rinses their bowls and adds more water to their teacups.
She can think of only one reason for him to be here, but she can't quite believe it. She drinks her tea and waits.
"Years ago, you refused me." The words are addressed to his half-empty teacup. "Your reasons were good, your logic sound."
Anatolia nods. "It was the right choice." She is comfortable in this knowledge, happy with where that path had taken her.
"If I ask you again, would that still be the case?"
"Are you asking?"
"You know I am."
She stares into his eyes. "Let's go outside." She leads him to the back door, shoves her feet into a pair of worn, fur-lined boots.
There is a high fence around the back garden, and the snow has flattened the plants that she let go untended all summer. There is just enough space here for him to transform, and he does, between one heartbeat and the next.
His scales are brilliant red against the whites and grays and browns. His body radiates soft heat, like a banked fire.
His eyes are the same, dark and intense and focused on her.
"Come with me," he says. "I will take you away to my tower."
Years ago, when he asked the first time, her refusal had been planned and rehearsed. It had been the right choice, then.
She could refuse again, go back inside and wash her dishes and tidy up her apartment and take a long hot shower. But this time, she steps forward and puts a cold hand against the Dragon Lord's warm, scaly cheek.
He sags into her touch, his relief a palpable force.
There is nothing in the apartment that she will miss. "Take me home," Anatolia says.
The Dragon Lord nods, and does.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 29th, 2018
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