Reserved tables dot the perimeter of the dance floor, thin slats of polished wood. Everything is foreign: the song, the club, the city. Even the man I am with is unfamiliar. I observe the way he leans on the bar when he orders our drinks. I study his fingers (lean), his posture (straight). When he speaks, I listen for hints to his accent, a hybrid of inflection and tone. I rule out South Africa but keep Brasil on the list.
We sway to the music, the song an unending traffic jam of synthesized notes. Sometimes I look down, close my eyes. Other times I look up, offer a wry smile. As the tables fill, the crowd clutters the dance floor. The air thickens and warms.
“Let’s head out,” he says with a nod toward the door, flashing lights illuminating the path.
Standing in his kitchen, my hips resting against the cold granite counter, I lift a goblet to my lips and take a sip. After loading a disc, pressing play, he walks toward me. His movement is slow. Slow motion, I think, as he lowers his head closer. His breath warms my skin. His touch stutters my pulse. The music fades to the background.
He laces his fingers with mine and leads me to his bedroom. I neatly fold my clothes and place them atop my purse, my presence limited to the footprint of a messenger bag. He hangs his pants, returns them to the closet. The tall door swings smoothly on the hinge. He offers a toothbrush, a bottle of water, a t-shirt and boxers. The gentlemanly gestures remind me of a concerned concierge.
He lifts the folded edge of the pressed sheet, as if holding open a door. The bed seems to go on forever. No matter how far I stretch my leg, I can’t reach the edge. That’s when I realize I am making snow angels.
“Come here,” he says, with a playful laugh.
“Okay,” I purr, crawling closer.
I straddle him at the waist. Our chests press together. Our legs tangle. We fall into a rhythm. His hand runs along my leg, glides up my thigh. Then he tugs at the waist of my panties.
“I can’t,” I mumble into his mouth. “I can’t sleep with you.” As a writer, I am disappointed at the simplicity of my word choice. Efficient, but lifeless and limited.
I roll off him, fall onto my back. My gaze is ahead but I feel like I am looking behind me, glancing in a rear-view mirror. I rub my temples, tighten my jaw. I yearn for a distraction, like a ticking second hand, so I can quietly lull myself back to center.
“It’s okay,” he says as he runs his fingers through my hair, pulls me closer.
“I’m sorry. It’s complicated.” Actually it isn’t.
“Paige.” He presses his lips to my forehead. “You’re amazing.”
I don’t feel amazing. I feel uncertain and scared, hesitant and awkward. I turn away from him, curl onto my side. Light from a streetlamp passes through the windowpanes. I study the shapes and shadows that fall across the floor, over the bed. If I flex my ankle, a square became a trapezoid.
When I know he is asleep, I roll over. My head propped in my hand, I watch his chest rise and fall. The pace is soft and even. My eyes trace the heart shape of his parted lips. With one hand extended, I reach to brush the back of my fingers against his cheek, to rest my open palm on his arm. But before I touch him, I retreat.
My weight shifts as I tuck my hand tight under my side, pinch it between my hip and the mattress. He stirs, moving his arm, adjusting his leg. But he won’t wake, not until the alarm chirps. I can tell by the limpness of his limbs, the evenness of his breaths.
I know I won’t sleep. The bed is comfortable, the sheets soft, but my head swirls. Thoughts collide, fight for attention. Eventually I close my eyes and make my world dark. I count backwards from a hundred. Then I do it again.