Not Quite Finished (Harlequin Romance)

I’m not quite sure where to go with this.

“The reason you don’t see is that they . . .”

“They? Again, they? Who are they?” Beth enunciated the statement with two stamps of her foot, her face wearing a strained mask of disbelief and love that belied anger and disgust that I suspected lurked underneath.

“They coin aphorisms.” I said, further manipulating her into the role of straight-man. I snubbed out my cigarette and stood to unlace the violet steampunk she bodice wore to the office, despite the conventions of common sense. “They fucking coin aphorisms,” I murmured affectionately, my midsection swaying slowly. “You know what they say . . .”

“Aphorisms, asshole? That’s why you yell the word ‘cunt’ when I’m not at home.”

I took the hand she held out at the elbow and attempted to press it to my heart but it wouldn’t move. “No, baby. I want to be one of them. That’s why I coin aphorisms.” I smiled into her bulging eyes and stooped to take her breast in my mouth, guiding her down to the carpet.

“Just because you haven’t shit in three days doesn’t mean you don’t have to eat?” she whined in a voice that cracked as my tongue flicked at her nipple as I forcefully sucked her into mouth.

“They’ll say that one day too,” I mewled affectionately, not bothering to hide the edge in my voice.

“When, Bobby, when??” she groaned.

“I don’t know,” I whispered. “But hopefully soon. Let me explain. I’ll explain everything. I yell cunt because I want to destigmatize the word.”

“I want you to stop.” She placed her hand on the back of mine, making a clumsy attempt to intertwine our fingers. “You’ve got to choose. Bobby? Choose.”

“Between you and yelling cunt?” I mumbled almost unintelligibly, my left hand moving to cradle the back of her neck.

“Oh, holy fuck God!”

“I don’t crap on your dreams.” I crawled up the carpet to hover above her.

“Throw it on the pile with the rest of them,” she spat as I bit her lip and she flooded the room with the smell of her pussy. “You fucker,” she sobbed “I hate my life.” She crawled out from beneath me, weeping openly.

“This is why we don’t drink on the mood stabilizers, baby. You’re not supposed to drive on the railroad tracks either. That’s for the sort of losers who can have fun without alcohol.” I pulled myself to my feet. “Let me get you a scotch. Ice?”

“Water.”

“I can’t hear you,” I called from the kitchen.

“Wah-ter!”

“I think your brother already watered it,” I called back.

“Dick!”

“Do you want your arthritis medicine too?” I asked from the doorway, admiring Beth’s numb stare and bare breasts. I placed her scotch on the end table and squatted down before her. She lowered her gaze to meet mine. “Where are you?” I asked softly, afraid to cup her face as I wanted to for fear it would break the spell. I smiled, “I’ll never know, will I? I will die without knowing where.” Beth’s smile was wry bug genuine, so odd. “You know that you’re worth my while, I hope. I mean, in addition to loving you and wanting to be with you, near you, you’re also worth my while.” Beth blinked and a tear ran down her cheek. I reached for the scotch and took a sip before offering it to her. “Do you want your arthritis medicine?”

“Is early.” Her voice was raspy.

“I know,” I said dolefully, hoping I was half as cute as I felt. “I was just sort of hoping. See, it’s just when you sleep, you sleep so much better with a bedtime story. And I thought of a good one, but I’m self-conscious because maybe it isn’t any good and you won’t like it so I want to tell it to you when you’re too tired to stop me. So I thought you could take a dose later.”

Beth’s mouth grew to a Felix the Cat smile. “Do you want to turn in early tonight then?”

I frowned to hide my amusement and shook my head.

“You want to fuck me while I’m catatonic,” she stated.

“Who doesn’t like getting fucked on the edge of consciousness,” I asked with a shrug, holding onto my act.

“You know I’m okay with your Mommy fantasies.” Beth sat back, crossed her legs, and took a large gulp.

“Boys and their mothers,” I said dismissively. “Any woman would be. It isn’t that.”

“Baby, I’m okay with your mommy fantasies. Yours.”

I shrugged again.

“Oh, is it so you can come on my face again?” She picked up her scotch, seemed set to throw it, then merely splashed it on me. “My fucking face! You didn’t think I would remember that?”

I fell back on my butt, laughing. “You didn’t say anything.”

“Would you like coffee too. Oh, by the way, Bobby, I don’t want you blowing your load between my eyes the next time you seduce me with liquor and opiates and initiate half-consensual sex.”

“‘Initiate’ being the operative word. What were you dreaming about?”

“The Harlem Globetrotters and an ice sculpture pissing motor oil.” Beth looked down at her breasts. “There’s nothing sexier than a woman rubbing motor oil on her breasts.”

I bit my tongue. We’d had this conversation before and I didn’t want to tell her I’d thought of something: raw sewage. I pulled my shoes off and lay on the sofa, wrapping my legs around Beth’s stomach. I unzipped my pants.

“You are so fucking lazy!” Beth cried in disbelief. She held her glass out, shaking her head. “Another, nurse. Actually,” she said, throwing my legs off her and standing. “Bring it to the bedroom. There’s something in there I want you to stick your dick in.”

“I’m not some sort of slut who’ll screw you every last time you’re in the mood.”

“Bobby? Get the scotch.”

Beth’s superabundance of enthusiasm in bed troubled me. I never said anything because I didn’t want her to feel dirty. I understood she was trying to make up for her near-inability to engage in emotional intimacy with her sexuality, so I wallowed in a limbo of sleeping with a drunken, coked up forty-year-old, losing her virginity, too shy to say anything for fear of causing emotional damage. That isn’t fair. She could engage in emotional intimacy with facilitation.

Beth was out of bed and at work when I awoke. I pushed her dog off me twice in the kitchen before reaching down to pet him. “Who’s a good boy?” Beth had raised a surprisingly well-adapted dog despite her lunacy. He wasn’t overly needy and he didn’t beg for every scrap of food he could possibly get. His idea of play was to have his toy thrown once, after which he would preoccupy himself with it. As much as I didn’t like dogs, I liked Ollie. Kukla and Fran, the cats, were another matter. Kukla was bad and Fran was good, or so Beth claimed. In truth, she was projecting her split self-representation onto two animals just at the threshold of self-awareness. They never exhibited any of the behavior Beth claimed they did. I never came right out and said so, but I once tried to gently mock her into seeing my point by telling her, “I don’t think Kukla likes it when you eat after 10pm.” That earned me a “fuck you.”

I opened my laptop on the kitchen table and began a literature search to make sure my lecture notes were up to date for my fall courses. The principle joy of being a college professor was sexually harassing the students near campus. I would routinely call from my car, “Oh, come on, I’ll buy you a unicorn. What the fuck?” at 18-year-olds on the street. The other joy was scrambling for grant money for psychology research that not even the National Institute of Science was dumb enough to give. A colleague of mine was rounding up a run of diabetes research, type 1. Do diabetics feel stigmatized? Do diabetics feel more stigmatized when they don’t stick to their insulin regimen? Are diabetics who stick to their insulin regimen more likely to be homosexual? Do homosexual diabetics who stick to their insulin regimen make responsible use of condoms? (yes) I was presently trying to quantify the negative reaction men had towards going bald compared to women. Women, it turns out, like going bald less, but the important thing is to put numbers to it. This morning though, I was bringing my lecture notes up to date. Until I heard a voice outside the window.

“Why don’t you shut your cunt fucking mouth and leave?” I called, happy the game was afoot.

“Asshole!”

“Yeah? Well at least I have a dick!”

“I’m going to call the cops if you don’t shut up!”

“The cops won’t do a damned thing for you, because you can’t play in a man’s game! Take it up with the legislature.” Now this was interesting. Singular value decomposition was now being used to detect burnout in air traffic controllers. I didn’t know what singular value decomposition was and couldn’t understand what I was reading — I was a psychologist, not a statistician. Still, fun fact for the students. It wasn’t as though any of them would ask me to elaborate.

“You insane prick!” The voice outside yelled.

“Yeah, well at least I’m not a no-good drunk who can’t do nothing for herself!” When I didn’t hear a response, I followed that with, “Hey, cupcake. Why don’t you go home and stick your fingers into the dirty, needy fuckhole you call a cunt and cum like the whore you are? Make daddy proud!” I took a sip of coffee.

Once you begin yelling “cunt,” the tendency is to want to continue, so most of the morning consisted of finding ways to incorporate the word into taunts, insults, jokes, and ostentatiously poor pickup lines. I was productive through most of it, needing to get things done and also because experience had taught me that giving the matter my full attention let to problems. After I’d had my fill, I masturbated, opening the blinds first in case my neighbor or her husband wanted to watch. The wife was a svelte woman with a face that had seen too much sun. In her mid-50s, she usually wore her long corn silk blond hair through the back of an Astros cap when she worked in the yard, the front yard. The back yard received less attention. She was a bit of a lush. I knew because we’d call out to each other when she had the house to herself and sat on the back deck, always intoxicated when she was willing to participate.

“She’s setting up shop as the neighborhood whore,” Beth had claimed.

“I’ve never seen anyone come by.” This wasn’t true. For a few months after we’d moved in, a van sat in the driveway every day to leave around 3:30.

“You don’t know what to look for.”

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”

“Only the shadow knows. Don’t get me off track.”

“Which Spinal Tap album did ‘Lick My Love Pump’ appear on?”

“Shut up, Bobby. That woman’s a whore.”

“She’s truly very nice.”

Beth glared at me. “I’m going to shut her down.”

After I finished masturbating, I called in a voice that would have boomed in the back of an auditorium, “Where’s the cunt fucking bottle.”

“Asshole!” a voice laughed.

“Hi, Mrs. Neighbor Lady,” I called back. “I haven’t seen you recently.”

“Do I need to have a talk with your girlfriend?”

“I wouldn’t. She’s trying to shut you down.”

When I saw how little scotch was left, I texted Beth to pick up a bottle on her way home. “It’s 1pm,” she answered.

“Omfgidc.”

“Make paella.”

“K”

“<3”

“Something happened today,” Beth said over dinner, “something that’s got me really tense. It makes me want to cry when these women do this Bobby. Carrie came into my office spent twenty minutes complaining about how her daughter’s sexually active with an boy who turns 18 next month. Bobby, when I was her daughter’s age, I was having sex in an alleyway with a man I thought was my boyfriend.”

“You know how I lost my virginity,” I mumbled in a flat voice.

Her eyebrows narrowed. “You tell a different story every time!”

“I snuck out on the baby sitter and came home drunk. She was freaking out, said she’d almost called the cops. I was thirteen and she was sixteen. I lay on the floor at the foot of the sofa where she sat and began to talk about how ugly she was. I don’t remember what I said exactly. ‘You’re so ugly. It’s like your face, like it isn’t even a human face. There are shapes of skin and bone that stand out but like on a doll in a movie that comes alive in your sleep. Your forehead. It stands out so much above your eyes. And your cheeks are so high and puffy and your nose. It’s part of someone else’s face.’ After just a minute or two of it, she pulled my pants off and made me a man.”

Beth shook her head. “I’m not sure you know when you’re lying.”

“You know I’m joking.” I planted my palm in my cheek and watched Beth talk, adrift in the haze of alcohol. She was so pretty, and seemed pleased, becoming more animated as her lips move. Bedazzled and adrift in the sound of her voice, I considered saying something to contribute to the conversation but decided against it. She came even more to life, making cute little gestures, stabbing motions with her fork, beautiful and erotic as she bit a piece of sausage from it. Her brows furrowed.

“Bobby!” she snapped. “You weren’t listening!”

“No, I was. And you’re right. If things were different, they wouldn’t be the same.”

“Prick.” Beth picked up our plates and took them to the sink.

“Mom, can I have another scotch?”

Her hips shifted. “No, Bobby. You just had one.”

“Can you have another scotch?”

“Of course, dear.”

“If you can have another scotch, can I have another scotch?” Beth turned around. “If I have two more scotches, can you have another scotch?”

Beth raised her arm then paused and put her hand to her chin. “Quit being such a slut. Now I want your take on this.”

Puzzled by the gut-wrenching ‘why’ of the moment, I dipped my head and felt a rush of relief that the floor under the table seemed an appealing place to migrate to. I slid down onto it and swung Beth’s chair out, patting the seat.

“This is not the solution to all of my problems,” she said in an irate tone, pulling her boots off.

Two things need to be noted here. Whether you view humans as evidence of a creator or an wildly improbable result of organic chemistry and evolution, you have to concede that the existence of the human being in a miracle. If you are honest with yourself, you will also concede that the experience of being you isn’t adequate justification for this miracle.

Beth slept in the spare bedroom four or five nights of the week. She had a sense of when I didn’t want her to remain in bed after sex and without me saying anything would simply disappear. I would join her later sometimes, in the middle of the night, but not often. That night, I lay awake until I was sure she had drifted off and then slipped into her room and crawled onto her arm and clung to her. I woke alone, spent the day alone, and went to bed alone. I wanted to sleep in Beth’s bed but couldn’t give her the satisfaction of finding me there in the middle of the night. I woke to an empty house. I was on my second cup of coffee when the deadbolt turned. Beth strode in with wet hair, oblivious to everything.

“Are you feeling like your old self?”

She smiled at me. “A bit.”

“You’re pissing me off.”

“How?” She asked, absorbed in sorting through the contents of a cereal box for freeze-dried strawberries.

“Not important. Only, that’s how I knew.”

“Please don’t. I had to jerk off three times to get my heart started this morning.”

“Mmm. You’re playful.” Beth stomped off to change out of her day-old clothes and I turned back to the paper. “‘God made you wrong. You don’t know how to love.’ Sagittarius? No kidding.”

“Asshole!”

I followed her into the bedroom though we didn’t speak as I pulled together clothes for the day, a red lace dress, lavender corset, white garters, and one or two other things. I sat on the edge of the tub and ran the water to shave my legs. I turned to see Beth’s angry face leave the doorway. “I’ll be home for dinner,” she shouted before slamming the front door. Sad, I returned to my legs. I hadn’t shaved in ten days so the process was a chore. I had my back waxed. Everything else from the neck down was done with a razor. An hour and a half later, I emerged from the shower, my blond hair that would have been too long for a woman my age detangled and my back sore. Irritated that there was nothing girly to be done in particular, I took my time dressing and doing makeup and had my bag in hand at the door at about half past three.

I wound up at the wine tasting room a half mile from home. It was a bar. Things were friendly there. Only once had someone made a remark, and he had been shut up promptly by the bartender. I saw a younger man tending bar through the glass doors as I entered. I remembered him but not his name.

“Haven’t see you in a while,” he said, busy staying busy in the empty room.

“I missed you too. And I don’t even know your name.”

“Mike.” He supplied, checking the labels on bottles in the refrigerator at his feet.

“Will you do real limes for me if I order a kamikaze?”

“Double shooter? Of course.”

I didn’t see her come in and I didn’t hear her behind me. I only heard the rustle of fabric on fabric and a gentle brush. I turned to see a smiling Asian woman who, at a blush, struck me as a fallen angel whose nature was unclear. Did she smile like that for everyone? It advertised what every man wanted to be a part of his life as seamlessly as it hid who she was. She spoke to the bartender then turned and took the tips of my fingers that I’d unconsciously raised in her hand. “That’s a beautiful ring.” The words came out slightly out of time with her lips, finishing a bit late as her smile returned.

“It might be paste,” I answered softly. “I’m not sure. It was my grandmother’s.”

“Can I ask your name?” Her smoldering amber eyes assured me that she was foolish enough to allow me to pass for who she thought I was. Then her head bobbed, nodding.

“Nikki.”

“Guang.” Mike deposited her drink wordlessly before her. “You’re right, you know. Nikki.”

I smiled foolishly, taken aback. “No I’m not,” I laughed softly. “Nothing ever is.”

Guang leaned forward far enough that she had to glance up to watch my face. “Yes?”

“Effortless.” The word exploded out of me in another laugh.

She turned to her drink, her face somber and her posture guarded.

“So, can I just start talking then?”

Guang’s lips split into a broad smile. “Yes, please,” she chirped.

I took a sip of my drink and launched into my spiel: “Do you know where Formica comes from? Bear with me. There’s a point here. Formica came straight out of the McDonald’s labs for use in the tabletops at their restaurants. That’s right, Ronald McDonald invented Formica, then he promptly set up The McDonald House as a tax shelter for the patent revenue. Initially plastic surgery was performed there, at cost, to maintain its non-profit status. Then, when Ronald died without an heir, because clowns can’t have children, conservatorship of The McDonald House passed to a board of trustees and it became the charity it is today

“Speaking of which, I bet you didn’t know that corduroy comes from a small goat-like animal of the same name raised in Peru and Northern Chile. Something about the high altitude and mountainous clime is ideal for breeding them.. They breed like cockroaches there, and they need to because you can’t shear a corduroy. You have to skin it. That’s why, in third world countries, you’ll see corduroy pants where the stripes don’t line up because they’re made from scraps. You don’t see them here because they’re dangerous to local citrus crops or something. I’m not sure what.”

Guang smiled at me with sharp teeth. “You know exactly how insulting that is, don’t you?”

I cocked my head and raised my eyebrows, quizzically.

“There’s a school of thought known as narrative psychology,” she began, her index finger and thumb pinched together, trusting in a stabbing motion. “What it tells you is that what someone says doesn’t show you anymore than what they mean to talk about.”

“I just try to be original enough not to use intimacy as an interpersonal marketing tool. We’re the product of the encounter group generation. It grows stale after a while.”

“So you lie. Not at all passé.”

“It’s what I choose to lie about.”

Her smile broadened but wasn’t cheerful. “You behave like a bitch to mock women.”

“No. You’re wrong there. Please don’t leave,” I said, shaking my head. “I just do that, what I just did. The wrong thing. It’s a reflex I have when a situation’s overwhelming. I do the wrong thing to dispel the tension, and ruin everything in the process.” Guang’s game face broke into a chuckle. I nodded. “Interpersonal intimacy.”

“So you want me to leave, then?” Her chin rose and swayed back and forth, shaking out the long black hair behind her jacket. “You can do it again, you know.”

“I’m afraid.” The words were soft. “I’m afraid I’ll do or say the slightest thing the least bit wrong and you’ll effervesce in little bubbles onto the ceiling, spread in an undulating mosaic of colors with makeup names and boil off into a wisp of smoke I breath in that never goes away.” I closed my eyes and Guang’s voice breathed over my thoughts.

“Tell me. The other half. Yes. Her. Me. Guang.” It slid in through, between the murmur of my autonomic functions

I blinked. “Who am I?”

“Mine now.” Her posture, the way she leaned on the bar with her arm, her agape mouth and lolling stare, these were not her own mannerisms but a mocking reflection of how I felt. “Don’t worry so much, pretty Nikki. You should have faith you might be what you know you’re not.”

“A match for you,” I stated dryly.

Gaung shed fifteen years as she seemed to hop upright in her stool, grin as an eager child would, and excitedly giggle, “Yes, for me.”

“A match for you,” I repeated.

She reached out and brushed at something on my cheek that I wasn’t sure was there. “Don’t be silly.” She patted the bottom of my chin and frowned. “I want you to believe everything I’m about to tell you. I don’t want you to take any more or less away from it than is actually there. Nikki? Listen to each sentence to hear the end. What you’re feeling is fatalism. It’s familiar, I know. Too familiar. You’re a fatalist in love. Que sera sera. If whatever will be will be, you can abandon accountability. Don’t worry. The knife edge you balance your mind upon to keep from falling into tractability, to keep from being bound by fate, to eschew permanence, to believe what you want.” Her voice grew throaty. “When you are ready to fall upon it in shame for all you could not have, I will be there to nurse at your heart’s blood and bind you fast with a forever you will finally believe.”

Freed from trance, my lips parted and my mouth dropped. Tears welled in my eyes and I shook my head, but that didn’t seem to indicate refusal because then her eyes broadened and I closed mine.

“I came here for you today. I watch. I watch.” I drifted in black silence, wanting for nothing. “I watch over you. I’m an angel without a soul and you are going to wake up”

Guang was again the woman who entered the bar. Composed, smiling but distant, and without a care in the world but what worried mind which she never shared, as though part of her were standing over a kitchen sink, cinching a belt tight with her teeth and another was plotting world domination and planting perennials. She spoke before I could call her a bitch, which I sorely wanted to do, not to be mean, but simply to point it out. “I was telling the truth, remember? I have an office off Birmingham. Laurel Street. It connects that strip mall with the tire store to the strip mall with the sporting goods store.”

“We have parking.”

“So does rural Oklahoma.”

“Theirs is gravel.”

Guang climbed a bit too quickly out of her stool to seem comfortable. “Turn at tire store. Three buildings on left. Green roofs. I’m in the middle one. East End Therapy. Don’t stare at me like I’m silly. I’m still working on the name. Drop by. There’s no receptionist.”

“I could call?”

She shook her hand negatively over her head. “That’s a dance I’m not going to do with you.” Bag in hand, she paused halfway to the door and lowered her head. “Yes,” she growled, angry, resentful, hungry. “Now let me get to the door without saying anything you think might is funny.” As she closed the door, she pointed up at the clock above the bar and mouthed the word, “Drink.”

Her wide eyes softened when I brought myself to my feet and clipped forward as fast as I dared drunk in pumps. I caught the door and pushed it back in her hand. As I lowered my head to kiss her, her hand rushed up to pull me to her. Silently, we squealed and sighed with our lips and tongues, relief at having our own pleasure accepted, nothing more. Relief and sublime with beauty and pain because it was in no way enough..

“I wanted to make sure.”

“I’ll see you,” she said, unreadable except that she was happy.

“Two days. I don’t want to seem too crazy.”

“Eagerness is a good thing.” The little girl smile returned and she tried to break our embrace. “Oh my God,” she moaned in disbelief as my tongue plunged into her mouth. She cupped my face and pulled away. “Two days.” She pecked me on the lips and walked off muttering, “Sometimes your body tells a lie even when your words do not.”

“You’re speaking out loud, you know!” I called after her.

Guang only shook her head and headed off towards her car.

I slipped back in the bar. “It’s time to get down to drinking, Mike. Tell the band to play the blues.” Home was within walking distance, but not in pumps. I drove. Beth was asleep in “her” bed. I decided not to wake her. There would be time for her tears in the morning. A sleeping girlfriend and a dark home. You can always spot the player in a relationship because he or she goes to bed late. In part, it’s for reprieve, but it’s more to mourn. A dark home, a cup of coffee, lights still on in the other houses. If ever there’s a time for reflection, it’s in a dark house with a woman sleeping in your bed. It’s then that you’re sure everyone in the world is happier than you. And the dice that roll in your mind when you try to imagine just what happens on the other side of those lighted curtains in other windows that never settle, but how beguiling to feel them roll. The literature teaches us that one in twelve people who attempt suicide eventually succeed, so every attempt should be taken seriously. But we’ve all lain in the bathtub, shotgun in mouth, toe on the trigger, with a tear-streaked face, screaming, “Do it, you pussy!” I digress.

Two days later, I approached Guang’s office from the sporting goods store end of Laurel. Most of the parking spaces before the three buildings she’d mentioned were empty and most of the signs adorning the lots held slots to post more businesses. A bell dinged when I opened the door to her office. There was a small receptionist cubby hole but no receptionist. Light poured from beneath one door but not the other. A bell dinged when I opened it too.

“Go in,” Guang’s voice called.

“It’s fun to be wrong,” I muttered when I swung the door wide and saw a mattress piled with pillows but no sheets and bottle of wine with two glasses on a crystal platter in the corner at the head. At the other corner was a telephone with a flashing light. Hoping the patient had signed the consent form to be recorded or have his sessions monitored, I tapped the light, disturbing a small cat in the process. “I’m going to call you Blinky,” I told the cat, anxious to annoy Guang with it. I almost closed the line to the next room when I heard her voice.

“Let’s play pretend and call them needs. Politics aside, we’ll call them needs for a moment. We all have them. They draw us through life, they’re compulsions that we struggle to obey or deny. Let me tell you a story. A short one. There’s a man I met just this week that I feel compelled to convince of so, so many things. Only I can’t say them because he’ll just think I’m lying. And they are far-fetched, these things.”

“Sell your snake oil, slut.”

“Wait, wait! Okay, it’s not the best day. Traveling backward through time to rape your ex-husband at fourteen. What I’m going to do without any sudden movements, and it sure would be great if you didn’t make any either, is write down the name of a psychiatrist. They can give pills. Better doctors, in a way. Real doctors. Yes, so this is for you. Now let me close my computer and gather up Drama Queen and you can let yourself out.”

I opened the door to the spare office for Guang to pass through and toss a cat on the mattress. “Points for style?”

“To save face.”

“I love you.”

“No, no you don’t. Not now, or yet.”

I smiled. She was so pretty in the dim light of the afternoon sun slanting through the blinds into the unlit room.

“Should we get the formalities out of the way?”

Guang doubled over a bit, laughing. “You are so fucking sadistic.”

I paused to wonder if I liked that she was taking her jewelry off too and decided it didn’t matter. Guang took on an impish glow, her features narrowing, shedding half her life, and her eyes, so caring and so happy. We lost ourselves in a grinding, monotonous rhythm, my hands on her waist, her hands on my arms, her eyes, her smile, and this beautiful little world she had taken me to that drove everything but her out of focus. Fear flooded me when my breathing shifted and she began nod with a haggard but vain gleam of approval. I struggled to watch her eyes because I knew she wanted it. Would they be cold six months or six years or would they be caring? Sensation fled and her expectant, understanding smile and assuring, encouraging nod began to take on a meaning that had no thought or word, a meaning being imprinted upon me. I dutifully surrendered and she fell into my arms afterward to kiss endlessly.

Our lips spoke to me. “Can I love you?” I ventured.

“Can you help it?” Her tongue prodded through my teeth deep enough to touch the tip of my own.

“I know.” I opened my mouth and cradled her tongue on mine as her lips bulged and relaxed.

“What does it feel like?” She lightly planted a series of sucking kisses on my upper lip.

“It’s everything. Please don’t stop.” I thrust my tongue into her mouth and she wrapped her lips around it.

She pushed it back into my mouth with hers, biting its tip then slid hers daintily along my gumline. Pulling back, she took a deep breath, then cupped my face to mash lips and slurp apart again and again. “I own you.” She rolled over onto my shoulder and swirled her tongue once around mine, then pulled back.

“I know,” I breathed fearfully.

Guang only smiled.

“I’m not falling in love,” I stammered. “I’ve felt that before. I didn’t. I’m sure of it. This has always been a part of me, this moment, you, whatever the hell I think and feel, all of it. It’s a part of me that you created. Do you love me?”

“I’m yours whether you want me or not. Don’t be a baby about it, okay?”

I felt delirious and confused to the point of tears. Everything was cold and so real. “I won’t let you leave, you know.”

“You will one day.” She made a gun shooting gesture at my head. “Then pow. Then pow.” She made another at her own. Guang grasped my erection and laughed. “You have to agree we go shopping next week to furnish our little room. It will be delicious.”

“Guang?”

“I meant my cunt on your dick.”

The walk to the front door was out of a movie, only without my footsteps amplified by foley artists. Everything was crisp, fluid, and very distant. I paused before testing the lock. “Everything, everything,” I muttered to myself and pushed the door open. “Beth!” I called. “You know one thing I love are the days when your mood is unpredictable and entirely false. It’s charming.”

“Yes, and you lied about who you are,” she answered from the kitchen. “Shut up and get in here.” The TV was playing a video of a man carving at a block of mud covered with ketchup with a table knife. “He’s going for broke. A whole pound of peat.”

“Christ, I would have said, ‘That’s Not Food’ last week when they asked him to lick out the insides of those petri dishes.”

“Everybody likes cash and prizes,” Beth mused, raising a champagne flute to her lips.

“What’s the occasion?”

“It’s gin. I just wanted to try out the glasses. They’re for Shelia’s wedding. Would you like one before finding out this leaves us?”

“I’d love one angel.”

Beth filled another flute from the bottle in the freezer. “One of these days, Bobby,” she said, handing it to me.

I was so livid, leaning back against the counter required a minor balancing act. “How angry would you like me? Or do you just want me to endure the moment?”

Beth slapped her hands. “Honesty it is, then. She was yours Bobby. The cute brunette with the gold ear charm with an aura of sorrow about her.”

I coughed, wanting to gag at the senselessness of it. “You slept with one of my former students because you knew I had a crush on her? You insane bitch!”

“Don’t drink angry, Bobby. I’m going to lie down.” She pecked me on the cheek and trotted off towards her room, hips swinging from side to side. “I wouldn’t try getting in touch with her. Just saying.”

I wanted to follow her down the hall, pin her to the bed, and fuck her. But I’d tried that once before and found out no woman’s worth pinning to a bed and raping. It’s just too much effort. Maybe if you knock her around first so she doesn’t resist so much, but what kind of animal does that?

I showed up at Guang’s office two days later to receive a cherry four-poster bed, a small table, and two straight back chairs. I had considered bringing marijuana, but I didn’t want to spook her with my fondness for cosmetic psychopharmacology just yet. It wasn’t that I was deaf to the demands of drug laws and twelve step cults. I just preferred technicolor to black and white. So I got high in my car while waiting for the delivery van to chase down the ADD amphetamines I had procured from the same young man I’d bought the weed from. Life experience had taught me that it’s better to be a bit high on several different drugs than wasted on one. Guang’s office had a nice, warm, happy, well-lubricated glow to it when I knocked on and opened the door at the same time. She spun in her chair, phone in hand. I sat on the sofa opposite the desk and she turned farther, tossing her feet up next to me. I pulled off one of her turquoise shoes and began tickling her foot.

“I just don’t think now is the best time,” she said into the phone, eyes narrowed and glaring at me.

I held onto her leg the best I could, brushing and tapping the tips of my fingers against the underside of her arch. Her butt slid out of her chair as she tried to worm her way free. Only her arms kept her from sliding to the floor. I crawled off the sofa and sat on the floor beneath her, facing the wall, poking my head up between her thighs.

“I’d like very much to explain to your friend why she can’t find her license because she’s lost her purse, but you understand that dream interpretation isn’t something I do pro bono. No, not even to sate a dying woman’s curiosity.”

I rocked back and forth, twisting the chair with me. Guang lifted a leg up and put it over my shoulder and stretched it straight.

“It’s a delicate matter as well. Sigmund Freud believed that a purse in a woman’s dream represented her vagina.”

I began running my fingernails along her sheer white stockings and picking at them. Guang struggled to rise back up in her chair but couldn’t. I made ineffective attempts to hoist her into her chair, without letting her feet touch the floor so she couldn’t do it herself. Her skirt was riding up as she mauled me with her legs, trying to push herself back into her seat. I shouldered her thighs and lifted them to keep the pressure off her arms and back.

“And so her license is also her identification, her identity, which is lost in her purse, her vagina. And she is lost as well, along with her identity.” She picked up something from the desk and struck me in the head with it a few times. “Yes, I’m saying she’s a cunt. She’s one big cunt.” I heard the phone drop to the desk.

“What was yesterday?” I asked and planted a kiss on the inside of her thigh.

“Have you ever been in love?” Guang asked two hours later.

“Yes.” I lay up against the wall, against a pile of pillows. She sat in one of the two chairs. “But this doesn’t fit in with how love works. Love is a warm, safe cocoon two people retreat into to experience a world of their own, one where kindness flows like water and there’s no fear of recrimination. These words come out of an oblivion of need into a blackness that engulfs everything. There is no one else, there is no other place than with you.” I paused, blinking rapidly. “How can I say that when I don’t even know it’s true?”

Guang was already upon me, hands holding my face, her tongue deep in my mouth. “It’s fucking true,” she hissed. She glared down at me with wild eyes, nodding, supporting herself with hands on my shoulders. She pulled my head to her breast and pain filled me as I pulled one into my mouth, Guang’s pain. It had never shown, but I could feel it now, share it with her, elation and pain that throbbed with my pulse, champagne bubbles spraying my skin with pinpricks of aching need that gave me a voice I’d never had before, a voice that did not speak but sang a single note that my flesh screamed in resonance to. She slumped over me, arms around my back, and spoke in my ear. “It this who you want me to be or is it who I am? And why does it matter to you?” Enlightenment describes nothing, not one thing in this world. To call anything enlightenment is to profane the word. Anything but this. “Who are you, Bobby? Are you real? Is this who you want to be?” My mind screamed, burning terror and Guang’s pain, knowing the answer could be gotten nursing venom from her tit, and all of it so foreign. “This is right.” The cold breeze of her pleasure. She lowered herself onto me, darting in for bites and kisses. Numb at everything I had lost with her breast gone, I responded to her lips and nothing more, rousing only when she tried to climb off of me. Instinctively, I wouldn’t let her, holding her waist firm, rocking her on top of me while she gurgled and gasped, mouth agape. The thought, “This what I want,” ran through both of us and I lost time.

“I’m starting to think I could love you.” She was rising to her feet from the bed. I smiled, pleased and embarrassed beyond measure, turned my head and blushed. Her laugh airy laugh with a hint of mockery made me close my eyes and shake my head. “This is forever, Bobby. Don’t worry.”

“Forever is a word children use.”

“I tend to agree, but not with you and I. And if I fall in love with you, you will never be without that love. But I’ve frightened you enough, and I have a patient. What do you do, incidentally?”

“You went through my program,” I groaned.

“Riddle. Riddle. Riddle.”

“I teach psychology.”

The semester began and Beth, oddly, did not move out. I only appeared at work to give lectures. Guang refused to rent a larger space, needing to be near to work. I never asked where she lived, knowing I would find out when I was ready. I lay awake nights, imagining holding her for full hours before drifting off to sleep.

“What do you think makes me different from other women you’ve loved?” Guang asked, eyes squinted with amusement, over lunch at our small table.

“It’s not you that’s different. Love has changed for me, with you. Needing. I’ve never felt certain enough until now.” I paused, deciding to answer honestly. “I didn’t think something this involving could exist. It annoys me that I respond to you simply letting me have it, but anything more or less would scare the hell out of me. You play me like a violin and I’m too transfixed by the music to give it any thought. And I mean that. I’m not afraid of losing the music if I stop listening. I don’t have a choice. Safety, helplessness, and trust are my big kinks and whether it’s the effort or the principle, no woman has ever allowed them to me.”

“You don’t trust me for a minute.” Her smile conjured maraschino cherries to mind.

“I trust you completely. There’s no reason not to other than common sense. But that doesn’t factor in. There’s no motive not to trust you, no fear. I’m starting to believe you really do know everything about me because I don’t have the sense that I’ve hidden anything when I have. So conscious thought can’t convince me not to trust you. So I don’t even have control of whether I deprive myself of the pleasure of it.”

Guang’s legs uncrossed and crossed again. “I look at you and any question I have, I see within you as though I’m pulling it from my own mind. I only know you when I’m with you. When you were seven years old, you had a dream about getting into bed with a blonde girl and the wall behind the bed opened up and you moved through the tracks of an amusement park ride. You don’t remember this part of the dream, but she left you and hurt you and you sat eating too fast and a friend of hers sat by you and said she was really hard to get over. Don’t hate yourself so much. Please. You need someone to do it for, and in a more perfect world I’d tell you to do it for yourself and you’d heal a bit, but I know we don’t live in that world. Do it for me.”

“I love you.”

“You need me.” She shook her head. “I don’t understand how you can mix the two up so consistently. I bought you a present.” She retreated to her office and returned with a burgundy and black dress with a layered skirt and a lace up panel beneath the bodice, large trumpet sleeves and a petticoat. Giddy, I took them from her hands, bouncing up and down on my butt in the chair.

“This is so great. It’s like I’m your toy.”

She doubled over laughing. “You never dress up for me, and I never thought it was right to ask. We’re leaving our nest next Tuesday. I made an appointment with a photographer with a private studio.”