(This essay was awarded Honorable Mention in the Genre Short Story Category of the 80th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition)
I never meant to have sex with him, even when I was naked in his bed, with the sheet pulled to my chin. But I always lied to myself about these things, to make the Real Me palatable to the other me, the me who knew about Aftermaths and whispered the warnings.
We’re only gonna fool around, I thought, barely breathing as he dropped his jeans on the floor beside the bed, and suddenly I felt vulnerable, uneasy about what his body might look like. Bodies were all we had at this point. A feverish need for skin on skin, despite a hundred miles of buried landmines. That could be anywhere.
“It’s weird, doing this sober,” he smiled. “But I like it.”
He’d rather be drunk, I thought, disappointed. Oh god, what am I doing.
I could feel his self-consciousness too. It was in the air as he undressed, skewing the spotlight back onto his body. Which was good because the light seemed to glare on my own flaws, my less than impressive breasts, my stomach, the scars and veins on my pale legs. Was I still sexy? Was he? I peeked at his black underwear, at the shape of his body, unsure. He saw me looking and his eyes flashed a little fear. It was silly for us to be this far into it and still hiding, but his cotton t-shirt did not appear to be coming off. So I let him focus on my shyness instead, ducking under the sheet like a kid.
“Can I see you?” he asked. There it was again, his electricity working on me, an exasperating sexiness that had nothing to do with his body. He was innocent. He was sinister. It made me swoon.
He peeled the sheet off my chest and nuzzled in. My hands grabbed his back and his neck and his thick hair trying to get it all closer, burying my lips in the rich scent so I could drink it . Every point of contact with him was molten, a rub that sparked an unbearable burn to cling tighter, harder, until all of his bearings were stripped, and he’d drag me down with him, tethered to our doom. He kissed my nipples, my knees, wading between my legs until I felt high, moaning like an animal.
“You’re so wet,” he shuddered, sucking his fingers. “Oh, my god.”
I caught his face in angles from the corner of my eye, feeding on the way his eyelids fluttered, the way his mouth tightened with pleasure. His breathing quickened, train tracks curving downhill, spiraling into darkness, into bliss, into destruction.
“So soft,” he moaned, stroking me. “So soft.”
I reached for his hips, slid my hands under the elastic, taking him in my hand. With the other I touched his lips.
“So hard,” I replied. He held the pad of my fingertip between his teeth, licking it. His other hand teased, wanting to go all the way inside.
“I need more,” I said, guilty. I took his hand and brought it to my mouth, sucking the tips, trying to find relief. “Please give me more.”
He reached up and switched off the bedside lamp, leaving us in semi darkness. There was a slice of light from the hallway. With one arm he ripped off the rest of his clothes, snapping one of the seams. He reached for me and pulled me up on top of him, dragging me along the silky erection and onto the rough, hairy skin of his chest. Everything was going to escalate now. There was going to be sex. A little sex, I cautioned myself. Only a little. What did that even mean. I would keep everything at a distance, I reasoned. No oral, no all the way in, no losing control, just a taste, his body barely inside, my thighs bracing for control, my white-knuckled grip still clinging to the edge of anything I could find. But we were so tangled and swollen now, almost in pain, that when I opened my knees, just a space, he lifted and fit right into me. He fit perfectly.
For a minute we barely moved, simmering in the glorious undertow between us. I seized on him, threatening to pull away, to end it at any minute, but his hand held me fast on the small of my back. It was that way for a while, gentle rocking as I tried to hover, as he gained another inch, until I lost my ability to recall what I was for, what I was against. It was all a game. The goal was to get fucked hard, to claim his naked body and his secrets, make them all mine.
I looked down at his serious face, snagged on the fantasy of his prowess, on the glittery surface of a temporary high. There was no oasis in his eyes, no softness, they were hard and shiny with lust. But he’d gotten control of my body now, fastened in me like a hook, soothing the ache, nudging deeper. My eyes stared at the bedside table, square angles in the dim light, but saw nothing. My body undulated and weakened, my head dropping into his shoulder. I tried to pull myself back, to slow down, to find ground. He was just barely inside and already it was too much. A thrumming pulse that was pushing off me the tracks, sailing, exploding. I was coming.
I expected it to feel good. What I didn’t expect was that it would feel so good I would cry.
What the hell. I fell onto his pillow with a heavy exhale. I covered my face with the back of my arm, and let tears fall without thinking. He looked at me in the dim light and froze.
“What’s the matter?”
“What,” I said, blinking. The splendid tide was ebbing, leaving me settled and dreamy.
“Are you crying?” He sat up a little, his demeanor shifted. His face was in shadows but I could hear the nervous smile.
“No,” I laughed, flipping to curl my arms under my belly.
He was still staring at me, silent.
“Just a release,” I tried to explain, sniffing. “Y’know. Pent up tension. Why? That not okay?”
“It’s okay,” he said, laughing a little, as if to let me know that nothing rattled him. Not even a woman, acting crazy. “As long as that’s all it is.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, brightening my voice to show him. “That’s all it is.”
He got up then, walking to the bathroom. He still suspected me. Of God knows what. Of feeling.
I scooted to the edge of the bed, as far away from him as I could get. For protection, maybe, from my feelings. To acknowledge we had done everything, even though there was nothing here between us. I stared at the face of his digital clock, wondering how he would say goodnight. However he’d choose to do it, I already knew. It wouldn’t be enough.
“I like you,” he said, his voice playful.
“Oh yeah?” I didn’t look up. “Why is that, besides the obvious?”
“You don’t crowd me in the bed.”
“Oh,” I answered, deadpan. “Ha.”
It made me wonder if I should just get up right then, and head for the hills. But before I could lift my head, I was asleep.
In the morning I woke up at first light, staring at the knots in the pine ceiling above us. He was still asleep beside me, on his stomach, his head resting in the cradle of his arms. I peered closer at his face, the flecks of gray in his hair. I could see the tattoo sleeve plainly now, the dark colors across his bicep, a lone pearl shining from inside an oyster shell.
The light coming in the windows was overcast and blue. Outside in the driveway I could see our cars sitting side by side. His sharp and sporty, mine blunt and economical. I didn’t know how I felt about any of this. Maybe regret, maybe guilt. But I didn’t want to figure it out in front of him. I had to get out and fast, before he woke up.
I slipped out of bed as stealthily as I could, picking up the pieces of me left strewn on the floor, putting them on. The air was ice cold. As I shifted around a button clinked against the bed post and he stirred. He blinked at me. I stared back, a deer caught in headlights. Headlights, a push-up bra and unbuttoned jeans.
“Good morning,” he said hoarsely, stretching his arms.
“It’s freezing,” I said, hunting down my blouse. He peeled back the blankets for me and beckoned.
Softening, I considered this. I felt myself being pulled. I hadn’t realized how much I’d wanted reassurance. Just a little. I crawled back in and laid next to him.
“Trying to escape I see,” he said. But not as if it bothered him. As if he was a dispassionate observer of my many idiosyncrasies. As if I was a passing anomaly, like the weather. “What time is it?”
“Too early,” I groaned, sinking back into the warmth of arms that did not belong to me. I closed my eyes and rested.
“I had fun last night,” he offered, after a moment.
That phrase rang in the air, an unpleasant finality to it. My eyes popped open.
“Yeah, me too,” I answered robotically, pushing away my hurt feelings. “But I gotta go.”
I stood up and finished dressing. After a moment he stood too. I tried not to stare as he walked naked to the closet. I could see everything about him, and yet knew nothing. He emerged in some soft jeans and a black sweatshirt with a bulky hood that puffed out behind his head. I startled when I saw him. He looked so young and hot, effortless. Wait, what? Was I on drugs? I had better get out of here.
“Can I make you some breakfast?”
“Oh no,” I said, “You don’t have to do that.”
He began to make coffee, but I was already grabbing my purse and coat.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything?” he asked, following me as I walked to the door.
“No it’s all good,” I said, pecking him goodbye. “Thanks anyway.”
“Okay,” he smiled, eternally amused.
I hurried off to climb into my frigid driver’s seat, shutting the door and turning the key as my breath frosted in the air. Last night’s directions were still crumpled on the floor mat. I glanced up into my rearview mirror and saw him standing there at the bottom of his front steps, hunched in the cold, a distant smile on his face. Instead of scurrying inside, he was staying to see me off.
What, I wondered, could that possibly mean.
Startled, I backed up and straightened the steering wheel. I headed down the long driveway, checking one last time before I slipped out of sight, just to make sure it wasn’t a mirage. He was still standing there, as if to honor the farewell. What a strange gesture. I idled reluctantly at the turn, trying to give the image in my mirror a place or a name, a category, something. But it was nothing I’d ever observed before. It was highly unfamiliar, disarming, suspicious. And it was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen.
Did it mean I was special? Did it mean he cared?
It meant nothing, really. So why, in the name of God, did it mean so much.
copyright © K. Dawn Goodwin 2010-2011