This is where they lived. In the smooth stroke of his hand along the side of her face. In their feet stacked boy-girl, boy-girl and toe to sole rubbing short strokes back and forth. In the rise and fall of breath bringing their skin together and apart, together and apart. In her breath condensing on the sleek muscled skin inside his bicep. His breath stirring her hair, tickling the nape of her neck, making her smile. In the gentle but insistent warming of his groin against the curve of her bottom.
When they left this place they were undone. Not useless, still able to go about the necessary business of life but somehow not quite living.
Which, if you think about it too long, isn’t right. It’s not healthy.
And they’d thought about it. They knew.
But how do you convince yourself to leave home? Even a bad home? Isn’t home, by definition, the place you’d be a fool to leave?
In the spirit of balance they’d both tried to leave once.
When she had left he called her within the week, refusing to believe she meant to stay away. His low chuckle and urgent almost-whisper like a fishing line reeling her back. The words immaterial, the emotion like cool water poured down her gullet on a hot day. She just kept swallowing. She was back home before her lips dried.
She returned the favor when he left but she only lasted 2 days. She didn’t use any words at all, simply sat on the stoop across from his house in the morning. He saw her and felt as though he had no other choice. Neither of them went to work that day.
One night she woke up. The way you wake up when your breath has stopped and only waking up will remind it to start again.
Cool sheets, empty pillow, open window and curtains fluttering wildly in a chilly spring breeze.
“Mmmm?” words weren’t her best thing.
On sleep heavy feet she thumped into the kitchen and found him leaning against the counter, spoon in one hand, ice cream in the other. Both unused, his gaze was trained out the moonlit window, his breath came shallow and heavy.
She fit her lips to the juncture of his neck and shoulder.
He turned his head a little further away.
Surprised, her tongue slipped out and licked along sinew to jaw bone. She tasted salt and pulled back, not abruptly but in one sure movement.
For this he turned and faced her full on. His tears blatant.
She drew breath…
…and he kissed her, mouth working while he found the counter with his fingers and set down the frigid pint and spoon. Sliding those to the side he pressed her back to the cupboards and walked his fingers up her ribs, spreading them wide to encase her. It took all the leverage she could muster with her hands planted on his shoulders to pull back and see him.
And she wriggled desperately out of her pajama bottoms so he could boost her to the countertop.
His boxers fell and he hardened against the smooth inside of her thigh. Her heels dented his skin and the joints in her hips popped gently. Their breathing quickened bringing skin to skin over and over. His stubble grazed her arm, her head rolled against the cabinet doors while her fingers held his hips close.
And, before either of them really decided to begin it was over. Her hands fell back against the formica, his forehead banged against pressboard. She let the momentum pull her head to the side and kissed his cheek lightly.
After a few deep breaths they gathered themselves together. They left pajamas and boxers there on the floor, put the ice cream away and paraded silently back to the bedroom.
Each covering a separate side of the bed they studied the ceiling. Finally his palm slid across the top sheet and he covered her hand so they could sleep.
In the morning they were alone again, washed in sunlight and feeling slightly burned.
Curled around her pillow to face him she decided she had to be brave.
“…can’t live this way.”
We already aren’t, she thought.
“I know how hard it was before and that we couldn’t do it but I…”
We aren’t living. Even that thrilling, dangerous, way we used to live, where we were killing ourselves slowly, and extremely happily I might add, we aren’t even doing that. And I thought that at some point we would move on, move on to a new life, to something grown up and evolved. I thought that we had to get through this life to get to that one and that, because I couldn’t breathe when you were gone, that we would do that living together. But we don’t. We aren’t. I think I’m breathing but I can’t tell and I don’t care. And I need to go and you can’t follow me. I want you to. I want you to pin me here and keep me forever but you can’t, please don’t follow me because I don’t want to die this way. I love you. Remember that I love you. And to breathe.
“…so you should probably go.”
Self conscious in only her flimsy camisole she gathered the clothes she’d worn the previous day and put them on in the bathroom.
By the time she surfaced he had located a pair of jeans for himself and folded her pajama pants from the kitchen floor. Handing them to her was awkward and made them smile, which helped.
She tried to get his keys off the ring with hers and broke a nail to the quick. He reached for the hand, to comfort her, and she quickly substituted the key ring.
After that was done there was the obligatory blank staring until the wind blew some papers off his desk and she startled.
With a head ducking smile she opened the door and hit the hallway.
Outside, on the stoop, she closed her eyes to the sun for a moment and inhaled.
Now, this was where she would live. In the warmth of the sunshine on the naked spot on her chest that her scarf didn’t cover. In the sound of the children in the schoolyard down the street. In the smell of bacon from the diner on the corner. In the bounce of her hair on her shoulders as she jogged down the steps and off toward home.
This is where she would live. As soon as she figured out how.