Posted: October 8, 2013 in Stories

He turned down the radio and tried focusing on the painted white road dividers. His head pounded from last night’s fun – he’d admit that much. But the stiff shoulder, the knot in his neck, the cramp creeping up his left leg? Those he would attribute to inexperience sleeping next to a stranger. That was true, he thought. Most rendezvouses went down in dark places, standing up. He must have mixed too many drinks. Gin with whiskey with beer. Maybe it was cheap shit. Head still going. Whatever made him wake up with a stranger’s hand on his chest, her breath in his ear, he wouldn’t have it again. That was what he would say. Like the best lies, it was more plausible than the truth.

He had braced his arms on the bedpost. Extended his neck to reach the back of hers. And when she pinned his wrists down above his head, his legs shot out rigid like she stretched him on the rack.

He chuckled. In a way, she had. It’s a pun. Shame he wouldn’t be able to tell it.

He hadn’t remembered turning into an old man. He certainly didn’t remember tips on how to integrate calisthenics into foreplay during his sex-ed classes. Fuck. He was really going to have to do toe-touches before getting stiff. Another one. Damn.

The drive home was too short so he kept going.

The tastes were unfamiliar. Spit, sweat, sure. But they passed through a filter of morning mouth. An entire night spent in that humidity and stench… perfumes in bottles, worn latex, a photo collage of smiling, faraway faces, the extra blanket, thrown to the ground, that they were too tired to recover so they had to share the one small one. How many pillows did a person need? Two, obviously. One to sleep on, the other to prop your head up when reading.

Maybe she cuddled the extras on lonely nights. But now they smelled like him. At least until the next guy. He felt sick. He’d say it was the booze.

He parked, got out, and leaned against the door, rubbing his leg. It didn’t even make sense for his chest to be hurting. But it was. Inside, he ordered wheat toast, fried eggs, sausage links, and bacon with an orange juice and a water. The waitress, getting her first wrinkles around her lips and eyes, squinted a little as she took his menus away. Sniffed. He said, “Excuse me” to no one in particular and limped into the restroom.

On the elevator up, she’d said, “This is hot on so many different levels,” and they both laughed and he kissed her and only stopped when the door started closing.

Thank God there wasn’t a mirror. He ran water into his cupped hands and splashed his face. Twice hot. Third time cold. Rinsed his mouth out, but the taste stayed. Patted down his hair in the back because he could feel it standing up. He hadn’t moved much as he slept. Passed out. Not responsible.

His drinks were waiting when he came out He gargled the water loudly before swallowing. An old couple looked at him. Fuck ‘em. The orange juice didn’t erase the tastes, but at least now they came through a familiar filter.

“You sound lonely.”

He stopped. Dropped on his elbows. “What makes you think that?”

She looked into his eyes. “The way you talk about your friends – it’s like you’re not there.” He stared back at her. She looked at his mouth. He gripped the back of her neck. She liked that.

He turned her head to the side and kissed her under the jaw, working up to her ear. Biting it. She let out a little moan and he felt her breasts press against him. She wrapped her legs around his and she breathed heavily. He told her to breathe with him and she did. Pressing, collapsing, tighter, falling.

His tongue massaged her nipple and her voice faltered a little when she whispered, “You care about them. It’s sweet.” He buried his lips in the sunken pit of her neck. “And you’re a great guy.” He moved up to her ear again. “And handsome.” Now her cheek. “I like you.” He kissed her on the lips and their teeth clicked and their eyes were closed but each could feel the other smiling. She put her hand on his cheek. He pulled away and tucked a streak of hair back behind her ear. She opened her eyes. “I don’t know why you’re so sad.”

They were quiet for a while. She twirled the hair on the back of his head. Then he asked, “What else?” His nose was touching hers now. “What else?” he repeated. “What else makes you think that I’m… makes you think that?”

She looked back at him. “Your eyes,” she said.

He resumed. They breathed together. Faster. Deeper. Brought her close, cradled her in his arms.

“Yes, yes,” she said.

He said nothing.

The waitress was walking toward him with the tray above her head. The old couple looked at him again. He realized that he was shaking a pink sugar packet back and forth in his hand and he didn’t know why so he slammed his hand down on the counter and the noise was louder than he thought it would be and the fork almost fell off so he grabbed it and tried putting it back right where it was but it wouldn’t go and he knocked over the orange juice and he realized that there was no point trying to put things back so he shot out of his seat, threw a twenty-dollar bill on the counter, and walked to the door. The waitress shouted after him, “Hey! Don’t you want your food?” and “I can clean it up,” but he was already outside, clutching his spasming leg as he hobbled into his car. Her smell was still in his hair, his eyebrows, the stubble on his face. He had to get clean.

At home he undressed. Leaned his head against the wall as the shower heated up.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

When he shut the water off, he stood dripping for a few moments, inspecting. He assured himself he had washed everything away. His leg felt better. He stepped out, dried, and used the towel to wipe the fog from the mirror.

He saw it. There, on his right shoulder. A purple and black “U” – a smile – with the teeth marks still pressed into his skin. He could feel it now. He had pressed her there and she held on how she could.

Still naked, he crossed into his room. Books by the lamp on the bedside table. He found his phone buried nearby under the unmade sheets. He dialed a number. It rang three times. He was about to hang up when he heard “Hello?”

He said, “It’s me.”

She said, “I know.”

“I’m sorry I had to leave,” he said. “There was…”

“I know.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

She didn’t say anything but he knew she was still there because he could hear her breathing.

“It’s still early,” she finally said. “Would you like to come back and go get some breakfast?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes.”

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