“Brock, what are you thinking?” Susan’s long hair dangled in my face and tickled my nose.
How do you answer that question? After I had ruined our anniversary dinner plans in a late-night edit session and only managed to save the evening with pancakes by candlelight, I couldn’t tell her what I was really thinking – not with her laying naked on top of me.
How do you tell a woman glistening in a thin sheen of perspiration and the after-glow of a particularly vigorous session that you’re thinking you want a beer and some sleep?
I gazed into her eyes and made something up. “You.”
“What about me?”
Dammit Einstein, you should have known better.
“You and me.” It wasn’t really a lie. I had been thinking a lot about her lately – just not right at that moment. Six months of co-habitation had gone a lot smoother than I had thought. Actually, our relationship had outlasted any of my other flings by more than three months.
Susan rolled off me and onto her side. She propped herself up on one elbow and looked into my eyes. “What about you and me?” Shadows created by the candles we had lit danced across her porcelain skin.
Maybe it was because she had seen me naked before we ever met – of course the same could be said for most of the city – or maybe it was the way Ernie beat the crap out of me the night we first kissed, or maybe it was that Susan was just different, but whatever the reason, hanging out together felt natural. I didn’t have to be careful what I said, or did. I wasn’t always on my best behavior like with most of the women I’d dated. And neither was she.
Nope, with Susan, I was free to be the same happy-go-lucky prick I was before we met. We never had to play the tiresome courtship games, unless of course we played them as a sarcastic slap in the face of social norms.
And I liked having someone to greet me when I came home at the end of the day. That that someone wanted to jump by bones was a plus, and the fact that she genuinely cared about my day made those romps in the sack special. As much as I liked to pretend these were just casual flings, I knew Susan felt differently. I didn’t like the idea of leading her on. But I liked the idea of her moving out less.
“I don’t know – just us.” I rolled on my side to face her. I brushed her hair away from her face with the back of my hand and let it linger on her cheek for a second too long.
Susan breathed a short gasp. “Ooh. You just gave me the yon-yons.” It was her favorite expression to describe the butterflies in her stomach when we kissed. Her face glowed with contentment. I just smiled and let my hand rest on her cheek a little longer.
Humor. That’ll diffuse the situation.
“Who would have thought that getting my ass kicked could lead to this?” I coughed a little laugh.
Susan’s face brightened and a loving grin gave way to a toothy smile. “You looked so helpless on the floor in the fetal position with Ernie pounding you and Nubby trying to pull him off.” She rolled on her back giggling.
I laughed along with her. The beating Ernie handed me that night was on par with the way my life had been headed at that time. I had flunked out of college. My naked cameraman routine made me a laughingstock in town. I was hopelessly lost shooting news, and I was bluffing my way through life. I knew it, and others around me were beginning to suspect it. I still couldn’t explain why Susan had hung around so long.
“Why’d you take me home that night?”
“I don’t know.” Susan stopped giggling.
I waited. “Sympathy?” Susan’s face went blank. I knew that hurt, but I persisted. “Revenge?”
Susan stared straight ahead with a puzzled look on her face.
What the hell was I doing? Susan was the first woman to have real feelings for me, and I was accusing her of throwing me a mercy hump, but it was what I thought about every time I thought about us.
She turned her back to me and pulled the covers up to her ears. He shoulders twitched. She was crying.
Good work Einstein.
I nestled in to spoon her, but Susan rolled onto her stomach.
“C’mon, Susan. You gotta admit,” I pushed myself sitting against the headboard, “we went from flirting, to bed, to roommates pretty quick.”
“Is that how you think of me? Your roommate?” Her voice held no expression.
“I don’t know what I think anymore.”
“That’s your problem, Rene. You think too much. Love isn’t rational.”
There it was again. The ‘L’ word.
“You think my feelings for you are rational?” Susan rolled to face me. Her eyes puffy, determined not to cry. “One minute I want to scream because you can’t remember to take out the garbage or pick up your smelly work shoes. Then I see your sexy smirk and I just want to kiss you.”
I wanted to smirk, but I couldn’t. I’d never seen Susan like this. Vulnerable. My shoulders slumped. My heart sank. What a prick.
“Then,” she sniffed, “I want to slap that damn smirk off your face when you don’t call when you’re going to be late, and when you finally come home, I want to hug you and never let you go.”
She looked me dead in the eye. She took a deep breath as if to stiffen her resolve. “You want to know why I took you home that night?”
It really didn’t matter at this point, but I was sure I was going to find out.
“Because I knew you.” Susan sat up.
I couldn’t look her in the face. My gaze trailed off somewhere around the nape of her neck.
“I knew you had passion. The way you ranted about being fired inside the store the day we met. Who says those kinds of things to a complete stranger? One look into your eyes that night at the Cotton Gin, one kiss on the dance floor, and I knew all I needed to know. I could feel it.” Susan’s voice brightened a bit. “It was more than the yon-yons. It was the way my heart fluttered. The way the world disappeared when I was in your arms. The way the room spun.”
I remembered those same feelings that night . . . right up until Ernie landed his first punch. “I think that was Ernie.” I tried to look coy.
“Why do you always do that?” Susan frowned.
“Try to make jokes about something serious. Do you think my feelings are a joke?”
I stared into the sheets like a scolded kid. “No.” I finally sputtered. “It’s just all this talk is uncomfortable for me. I feel like letting you tell me you love me all the time is leading you on. I’m not sure what I feel.”
“You know exactly what you feel. You just don’t want to admit it.” Susan leaned in to me. Her skin was soft and warm. Her eyes begged me to give in. Something inside me melted.
Susan held me in her gaze.
Why was it so easy to listen to that passion at work but not at home? She could have gotten me to do almost anything if she had just asked. Instead, she pulled me down onto the pillows and snuggled into my side. She laid her head on my chest.
“I can hear your heart.”
“Oh yeah, what’s it saying?”
“That’s something you’re going to have to figure out for yourself. But don’t think too hard. Just listen.”