She exhaled. Her breath moved warm and moist against his cheek. His mouth slid off hers. He shifted her underneath him. The heat of her burned through the fabric of his clothes. Her thigh made bare as the short summer skirt fell back onto her hips. Pink Floyd called to him softly from the tape deck on her nightstand and carried him along toward his own state of comfortably numb.
“You still listen to this?” He whispered.
She stopped and sank into his kiss.
The music. Her body. His breath.
She lifted like the sea, like the time his parents brought him to a swank Mexican resort. He’d stood ankle deep in water. The waves had moved gently over his skin like caressing hands. The breeze had moved over his face as warm as her breath.
Dive in. Learn the mystery of her depths.
All the invitation he needed to ignore the litany of doubt that plagued his mind. He rolled off her, propped himself onto his elbow and began a slow journey along the buttons of her skirt.
“You don’t have to unbutton all of them.” She laughed.
“I know, but I love you.”
She raised herself up and pressed her mouth against his.
The spell slipped away. After all, he had never taken the plunge in Mexico. His mother had called him back to the cabana to put on more sunscreen and told him the under tow was too dangerous.
I’m an idiot if I stay, he thought.
She parted his lips with her tongue.
No. I’m an idiot if I go.
Do not stay. Do not stay. Do not stay.
But leaving hovered in the air with the resonance of a funeral bell. Time turned on itself. The trunk of his car packed, and he would never be back.
Make her a memory before she becomes something more.
It would be easy to let her spread across him. Too easy. She always made it too easy.
He raised the gate against her with the courage of a lock keeper. The water dammed again and under control. As the hero of a system he neither designed nor understood, he refastened the buttons that held the airy fabric of her skirt.
She came up off the bed behind him and waited amiably for a kiss. He didn’t give her one. He wanted her to believe there would be another time for that, wanted, in fact, to believe it himself.
He eased himself out the window, dropped into the grass of her yard and crossed over to his own. He went to his room and threw himself onto the bed. He fell asleep to dreams of her spread beneath him. Her hair and sighs and an undulating sea. In the dream there was no doubt. He forgot the moment he woke.
In the soft yellow light before sunrise, he dropped behind the wheel of his car. Her window was dark. He half expected and half hoped to catch a glimpse of her. He waited until the first red glow of morning reflected in her window. On the passenger seat sat a small box that contained the letters she’d written. He placed his hand on the cover, remembering her words, forgetting her heart. The car door slammed shut and echoed down the empty street.
She woke, looked over the open windowsill, and saw his car swallowed by the edge of her world. A tiny porcelain dancer, the only token he’d ever given her, sat on her bedside table. She threw it against the wall.
The garbage man made slow progress down the street in his rusted dinosaur of a truck. One by one, lights glowed from the windows of perfectly equal, perfectly similar, perfectly perfect two story houses in various shades of inoffensive gray. Across the street, Mr. Anderson laced up his shoes for a run while he thought about how much he wanted to crawl back into bed with his sleeping wife. Because there was no obvious achievement to be found in the warm invitation of her body, he forced himself out the door. Mrs. Anderson dreamed that her tennis instructor bit her damp salty neck, his body pressed against her back as he guided her arms in the arc of a perfect serve.
Next door, the Johnson’s dog let himself out the doggy door and took his morning piss in the same spot as always. It had become a bare patch where no grass would grow. Mr. Johnson could do nothing to improve this open admission of imperfection in his yard. At the end of the cul du sac, Janet Oliver had come into the kitchen to bake a cake while her two boys slept blissfully in their bunk beds upstairs. A half built city of plastic blocks and match box cars left scattered over the taupe carpet.
The girl picked up the fragments of her broken figurine and dropped them out the window. A shard split the skin of her index finger. Blood fell like small drops of rain that break the silence before the storm. The dam burst. She held her breath.