Tuesday and Wednesday came and went. My high expectations for the semester weren’t met. In the end, I finished my finals within the time allotted. I don’t expect I passed them all, but it was over now and time to focus on Sunday night.
Managing to shower by myself was a welcome change. I missed the alone time with my power toothbrush. Expecting someone to help wash your hair and strategically place your vibrating appliance is too much to ask. Although I’m fairly sure Kate would not be flustered by the request.
Downstairs, Henry was listening to his email, and Kate looked to be getting ready to leave for her normal noon to eight shift. Leo was nowhere to be seen.
“Good morning, all.” I sang out down the stairwell.
“There she is,” Henry called out, raising a hand into the air. Kate hurried over to me, weighted down with her purse and lunch tote to give me a long hug.
“Oh, you look much better today. You have such bright energy.” She breathed in deeply and smiled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you had your bell rung. Ding, ding, ding.”
Henry stopped typing and took his earbud out. “Damn it, I was completely left out.” We all laughed. Kate pointed at Henry and made a childish air-sex motion as she ran out the door.
“You’re free from academia, my Sweet. What would you like to do today?” Henry pushed his chair back from the kitchen bar. I took a swig of his orange juice and traced my finger around his thinly covered nipple.
“I do feel much better, and it appears we have the place to ourselves for several hours.” I took a chance on the bar stool’s craftsmanship and carefully climbed onto Henry’s lap, pushing his phone and laptop out of my way.
“So, would you like to play audio scrabble or perhaps go out hunting for an antique coffee table?”
“Maybe later.” Running my fingers through his damp hair, I took off his glasses. “Your hair grew longer.”
“Do you like it?” Henry pulled his arm under my butt and stood up. I wrapped my legs around his waist and kissed his neck. “Yes, very retro boy band.”
“You know this show of strength only works if no one left anything on the floor between here and the stairs, and I keep one hand free to find the banister.”
“I see.” I wrapped my arms around Henry tightly and let him carry me up the stairs. We stopped abruptly when his knee hit the edge of my bed.
His warm, strong hands slid across my back, rubbing my sore muscles and leaving behind wide swaths of tingling skin. I almost forgot the anticipation and magic a new lover’s touch conjures. I could barely keep from tearing his pants off.
Composing myself, I let Henry undress me. As he kissed and grabbed each new patch of skin, the heat in my blood rose. I wanted to bite him—taste his blood in my mouth. I wasn’t accustomed to holding back my urges, but I never wanted anyone’s blood before.
Henry pulled his t-shirt over his head. I ran my fingers over his chest and lightly bit at his shoulder, but it wasn’t enough to distract my new desire entirely.
“On my side of the bed, on the floor. Grab my bag.” I rolled across the mattress to retrieve the small, zippered bag from beside the nightstand. Henry took the opportunity to lose the rest of his clothes.
I love my legs. Other women might take pride in their large breasts or round ass. My disproportionately long legs are my favorite physical attribute. They slid up Henry’s arms without direction from my brain.
I wrapped my ankles around his neck and pushed my hands against the headboard. Henry slid his strong hands under my back to my shoulders and pulled me to him.
The weight of him on my body was perfect. The scent of his skin was intoxicating. Every deep breath I took was pulled across his neck and through his hair.
Henry wasn’t much of a talker, but he wasn’t silent either. The sounds of his enjoyment, the strength of his hands, the length of his torso, the fullness of his muscled arms, it was as if he was custom built to please me. The first act didn’t take long, but we moved to the floor by the third round. I could tell he was getting tired.
“I’m happy to stay here all day, Sweetheart, but I need water and food and a few minutes to gather the troops.” I laughed and pulled his arm toward the bed, putting a room-temperature bottle of water in his hand.
“What a way to go,” I laughed. “I’ve never considered myself a traditional girl, but I want to try that missionary thing of yours one more time.”
“You’re planning to kill me right here, aren’t you?” Henry crawled on top of the mattress and finished his water in a few gulps. His bare skin in the afternoon sun seemed to glow a deep red.
“Ha, I wouldn’t kill you here—makes too much of a mess.” I played with his hands taking a long look at the lines on his palms.
“It’s a much better death than I deserve.” I could see Henry’s exhausted expression turn to something serious and reflective.
Gliding my hands across his chest, I felt a tug, like a magnet pulling toward a refrigerator door.
In my mind, I saw a happy young couple with their arms draped over each other, a group of sketchy looking people smashing beer bottles against a loading dock, a silver spoon of yellowish liquid bubbling over a tall flame, and a needle poking into soft arm flesh.
The young woman was dark-haired and doe-eyed, classically beautiful, laughing with her wide mouth turned into a smile. Then I saw the same young woman screaming, tossing a lamp across a room, and crying with black-streaked tears running down her face. Next, she lay under a bed, wrapped unnaturally in a sheet with purple lips and wide-open eyes.
“Part of this new mental health breakdown of mine lets me see things,” I whispered.
“What kind of things?”
“Just now, touching you. I saw a young woman, dark hair, beautiful and totally manic. Dead I think.”
“Hm, well, I guess this makes today our second date. There was a woman like in my life once.”
“Once?” I pulled myself closer and pressed my bare chest on his. “What happened to her?”
“I’ll tell you what.” Henry kissed my hand and slid his warm palm down the length of my spine. “Let’s get changed, find some food, and I’ll tell you why everyone at my aunt’s wedding was glaring at me.”
The restaurant Henry chose was fancy. The type of restaurant I suspected my parents would like. He asked for a table in a closed section reserved for dinner. As it was barely three in the afternoon, I expected his request to be denied, but the waiter happily accommodated him. We ordered a steak and grilled chicken plate to share.
I felt uneasy, like his secret would spoil the new and perfect thing we found. Logically my situation is more damming to a new relationship. Leo was always going to be in my life. Anyone new would eventually come to terms with Leo or leave me.
After we were alone, Henry took a long drink of ice water. “This is harder than I thought. We’re alone, right? I don’t hear anyone?”
“The staff is busy across the dining room.” My stomach tightened as I watched the anxiety grow on Henry’s face.
“How to start this story? Whoa, okay…”
“We can talk about whatever you like...”
“No.” Henry interrupted. “I want to have... We have a chance at a good thing. I don’t want my past to screw this up. Your expectations of me may not be realistic.”
“All my expectations were exceeded.” A smile spread across Henry’s face.
“This conversation feels like I’m cutting off my own hand. Candice graduated two years ahead of me. I thought we were in love, but it was a shared addiction. She overdosed one night. I didn’t notice.
“The bed was empty in the morning. I assumed she went to work. I got up, met some friends, went to my one class, and returned to her apartment later that night. I found her body on the floor when I was looking for our stash tin. The authorities decided I killed her since she was dead almost a day, and I didn’t make a report.”
“Henry, how could anyone think you capable of murder?”
“Using cocaine every day and partying with rough people will get you stereotyped. Probably looked like I was capable of a lot of things. Al, I know you Googled me or found out about my history some other way. Maybe your parents investigated me after the shooting.”
“My parents? No, I’m not lying. I saw this woman when I touched your chest. I didn’t meet you off the street. I don’t need to web-stalk you like a fucking child.”
“Alerie, this isn’t how I wanted this conversation to go. Let’s clear the air and move forward.” Henry took another drink from his water and repositioned his napkin. He raised his arm to get the attention of the server. They couldn’t see him. I got the bartender’s attention and pointed at Henry.
“Yes, Sir. What can I get for you?”
“Dirty martini for me, and what would you like, Sweetheart?”
“Water is fine for me, thank you.” The bartender gave me a look somewhere between I can hear your whole conversation, and do you need my help. I nodded appreciatively.
I repositioned myself closer to Henry. “There is no way for me to prove what I’m telling you. I consider myself above averagely intelligent, and I can’t figure it out.” Henry put his hand on top of mine. I could feel a rush of warmth fill my body. “I love the feel of your hands on my skin.”
Henry smiled and dropped his head toward the table. A moment later, a cheerful server arrived with his drink.
“She’s gone. Tell me what you want me to say.”
“I want you to tell me how you found out. I want you to acknowledge you got this information about me through normal means.”
“Okay, fine, how would you like me to say it happened. I saw thuggy people tossing bottles at a loading dock, a lamp flying across the room, a leather strap, a silver spoon with something cooking in it, and this woman with a big wide mouth and shiny brown hair wrapped in a sheet under a bed like she rolled off.”
“Great, you’ve seen crime photos and probably read the report. We had sex almost daily. She wasn’t raped.”
“I would never think you capable of hurting anyone, least of all a woman you were involved with.”
“Tell me how you found out,” he demanded.
“I touched your chest.”
“Tell me, Alerie.”
“I did. You’re not listening.”
“Al, just say it so we can put this behind us.”
“If you could see my face, you would believe me. If you saw how the guests looked at us at the wedding—like they thought I was going to hurt you.”
“I told you they were looking at me.” Henry put his hand on the table palm up. “Tell me what you see?”
“An asshole sitting in front of me with his hand on the table.” I crossed my arms and sat back in my chair.
“Please, Al. Put your hand in mine and tell me what you see.”