Outside, beyond the old, thick sycamore that pushed the sidewalk into pitchy waves, the streetlight cast an imperfect yellow glow on the street below. She had seen someone scurrying past about fifteen minutes ago-perhaps a student rushing home after realizing at closing time that he had an early class in the morning-but nothing since then. Two cats had crossed the street with no cars moving to worry them. Three a.m. pretty much belonged to the cats in this neighborhood.
Behind her-in the bedroom-she heard the bedsprings groan then, after a moment, exhale, as John got up. He padded silently up behind her where she leaned against the desk perfectly silhouetted in the dim light.
Without a word he stood beside her and followed her eyes. There were no lights on in any of the houses across or up and down the street as far as he could see. Of course, there were no lights on in their house either so the dark windows were no guarantee that someone, anyone or everyone was up and watching. Watching for what?
Finally she spoke still watching the street. “Have you ever given any thought to boundaries?”
“In our…thing. About how far might be too far.”
He took the glass of water out of her hand and sipped. “I don’t think you know that until you cross them.”
“That’s having no boundaries.”
“Then you set the next one…until you go beyond it. Without really meaning to.” He gave her back the water. “It’s like the time we agreed to never leave marks. How long did that last?”
She told him the story of the two boys she had stumbled upon-almost literally-up on the mountain that morning. They weren’t boys exactly-college students-but definitely older than John had been when they started their life together. He listened easily; it was a gift. She had taken Tina’s dog-the Golden-for a run and she came upon these boys up in the woods who were fixing to beat each other’s asses with switches they had cut.
He started singing a version of the old Troggs song in a whispery voice:
“Love is all around you and so the feeling grows
It is written on the wind, it’s everywhere you go”
She elbowed him playfully in the ribs. “Asshole”.
Then she told him the role that she had played, up there in the woods then back home in the boy’s apartment sparing no details.
“So that’s why you came home and fucked me like an Amazon.”
“Yeah, but, I don’t know….”
“Trust me. You might have changed their lives-or at least painted it in some wild Technicolor. Did me some good too, I promise.“
“Yeah but. You don’t get it. I had gone up into the woods that morning with the pup to clear my mind. I’ve really been thinking about this thing we have…these things we do. Maybe to dial it back a little…”
He gasped in mock horror “Go straight?!”
“Not exactly straight…just..”
“Two scoops of vanilla!!!?”
“Stop it”, she slapped at his arm half-heartedly. They silently watched the night pass.
“You want it to feel like the first beer-the first time you stole a six pack from your dad…or your mom.”
“It was Vodka for me.”
“Vodka then…I remember how it made me feel after one or two beers back when I was sixteen or seventeen. Or one screwdriver? You remember that feeling? That little head-buzz when everything felt buzzy and sharp at the same time? You never get there again…That little feeling in the head- is impossible to recapture but you keep chasing it with more, more, more. I guess you could get it back if you stopped drinking for a month or two then started back with one screwdriver-but who wants to do that? Fuck that. Forward we go. Same with our thing.”
She sipped at the glass. “I guess so.”
“Can we go to bed now? I have a long day tomorrow. Mr. Liu will be walking Toni out here in an hour or so and the day will begin.”
“Is that the old guy-with the poodle? How’d you know his name?”
“How did you not? He’s your neighbor. I talk to him a lot when I’m coming and going. Once had a fifteen minute conversation with him while clenching that blue butt plug you stuck up my ass. We talked baseball…he probably thought I was in the military because I was frozen like a wooden soldier.”
“Jesus!” she laughed. “I remember that day…”
“He’s a nice guy…”
He held out his hand and she took it, following him into the bedroom. He crawled in bed first and lay on his side. She fit herself into the hollow he had created with his body. He pulled her close to him in a tight spoon and was asleep in seconds. She listened to the peaceful rhythm of his breath as she watched the wall until the brightening sky dusted it with gray. Her last thought before finally falling off to sleep was that she would speak to Mr. Liu today.