Note: Due to its unusual formatting, this piece is best read on a computer screen, and not suited for reading via phone.
“What do you think?” Will asked her one morning, when she’d slept over.
“I think the oatmeal is burning,” she replied, getting to her feet.
They were a mid-twenties couple. They had been dating —long enough. She was bad with dates. Her head fit snugly under his chin. It was love, like she hadn’t known was quite possible. He loved her and she loved him, which felt big enough to be a fact. They were an ideal fit. (Although she fit under a lot of people’s chins.)
She had noticed him her very first year of college in an Anthro 101 class—she’d admired the back of his head, the long eyelashes of his profile. But they had a meet-cute in a café years later, after they’d both graduated and were relatively emotionally mature. Their first date tumbled head over slippers into blissful, frightening stability.
She had noticed him her very first year of college in an Anthro 101 class, but they reconnected after they’d both graduated and started working in the same small town. No—reconnected was the wrong word. He’d run into her at a café, when she had been crying about her grandmother in Korea, who had blistered her ear with reproaches. Why was she in America at all?
Slight tendrils of smoke curled out of the oatmeal pot. It smelled good, not too burned. Will had a knack for making oatmeal, which seemed like a funny concept—until you tried his.
“Oh, sorry, I’ll get it,” he said, running to the stove, “I meant about the dog-sitting thing.”
“Well, why wouldn’t you? They’re paying, right?” She didn’t understand why he always had to check up on her before making a decision. She prided herself on her headstrong honesty; she’d tell him, if something were wrong. She sat back down on the stool, feet dangling, and flipped through his copy of Call Me By Your Name on the kitchen counter.
“Not that much—it’s a nice house, though. It’s in the middle of the woods, there’s a lake nearby, and they said we could use all their grocery supplies, drink cart and everything. Oh, and there’s a private wood-fired sauna in the backyard. Their dog is pretty cute, too, he’s a black lab. It’s a little out of the way for you during the week, but you could join me there for the weekend. They said that you’re welcome to come along.”
“You mentioned me?” She looked up from the book.
“They invited you.” He paused. “I mentioned it’s going to be our anniversary.”
“Yes.” His left dimple flashed, amused.
“Um, I’ll be on my period.”
“That’s okay,” he said, “I still think it’ll be a nice getaway.”
The book had opened to a passage on Marzia and Elio. Call Me By Your Name was the book Will left her before his last business trip, when he’d brought her back green earrings and they’d had impromptu reunion sex on top of a coffee table. He later texted her about how to best clean the table off; he’d wondered if the all-natural Seventh Generation spray was strong enough—and dear lord, why was she thinking about cleaning sprays right now? She had read Aciman’s book alone in her bedroom while he was gone, pining after him. It was June, prime peach season, and she’d felt luscious that he’d left her this book. I want you to have something while I’m away, he had told her. I know we’ve talked a little bit about my bisexuality but, yeah, it’s an important book for me. She knew he liked using other people’s words to explain himself. It was always an honor when he trusted her to understand him, to go past his cobweb of boundaries—spread so thinly and innocuously that others didn’t notice, but she did.
She looked up, saw sunlight glinting off of his hair. He was beautiful. She would have had morning sex in a heartbeat, if he had wanted to. But the oatmeal was done, the coffee was brewed. Besides, Will liked to be productive with his mornings. Will liked to double-check before hooking up. Will liked to wake up every day at 6am—do his yoga, listen to that news podcast, grind Ethiopian beans for hand-drip coffee. She’d once tried to join, but accidentally fell asleep during child’s pose.
“Unless you don’t want to dog-sit, of course, I can still say no,” he hastened to clarify. He was very into giving her a voice. Apparently, words hadn’t made it out of her mouth. “We can do something in town, go out to dinner or the beach or something.”
“Oh, sorry, no, I’d love to go. I think it’ll be really nice,” she said. She pitched her voice a few tones higher, so she’d seem more excited.
“You sure?” he asked.
“Yes! It sounds like a great way to celebrate,” she said. He looked at her, double-checking as he always did.
“You know I like dogs,” she added on, “And I really love saunas. Haven’t been in one since my last time in Seoul.” Seeing him with dogs was always pleasant—he was so responsible and patient. With Will, she could imagine a whole life with a dog and a couple of kids. Yes. Yes! She could find a way to feel excited about this.
“Great, I’ll tell them I can do it,” he said, reaching for his phone. “Do you want blueberries or peaches in the oatmeal?”
So they were dog-sitting in a luxurious house, with a drink cart and private wood-fired sauna in the backyard. Will’s coworker, who’d recently gotten engaged, had gone away for a short vacation with their fiancé to celebrate. They had asked Will to look after their dog, Jackie, and sleep over in the house. Will was the kind of person that everyone would want for dog-sitting duties. He just looked like he’d be good with dogs. And kids, of course. He was even asked to hamster-sit once, and cried to the hamster’s owner over the phone when it abruptly died, mid-spin on its wheel. He charmed her into a seriously monogamous relationship, only three months into dating. Her friends nicknamed him, “American Dream Boy.” They teased her for winning the most white picket-fence type of guy you could get, this sensitive, sociable Irish-Italian Catholic with blonde hair and a wholesome smile.
It did seem like an ideal getaway. The house had wooden floors, carpeted stairs, two showers with great water pressure, a kitchen with sets of thin porcelain dishes and copper pans hanging from the ceiling. (Years later, the memories of that weekend seem too electric to be real. Or too mundane to be worth remembering so viscerally.)
“Jackie’s going to be a little excited, just to warn you,” Will said, getting her duffel bag out of the trunk and walking up the driveway. The owners had left both of their cars parked in the garage. She heard the gravel crunching under her feet. It was so quiet here. And neat. Beautiful, if you liked that sort of thing. The lawn had been mowed recently, she noticed. Even the ivy climbed in an orderly manner, scrumptious curlicues of tendrils around the porch railings.
“He’s been quite the handful.” He’d been dog-sitting since Monday. He fished around for the keys, then opened the front door.
“Welcome home,” he smiled, “Home for the weekend.”
The dog immediately bolted for her and burrowed his face into her crotch.
“Jackie!” he scolded the dog, pulling him off of her, “Come on! Let’s go out!”
He whistled and opened the back door, throwing a tennis ball into the yard somewhere. The dog obediently chased after it. “Be back in a minute,” he said over his shoulder. Through the big kitchen window and screen door, she saw Will and the dog play a quick game of fetch. The dog raced around the yard for no apparent reason, peed on a bush, then hunkered down to poop.
She didn’t know how to tell him that she was intimidated by dogs. She’d never owned a dog. Her mother had let her have one fish, which died within four months. Didn’t people get tired of all that responsibility? She supposed there were certain people, like Will, that seemed to have been born for it—have an innate intuition of what to do. Her intuition had never been good at following the rules.
She didn’t know how to tell him that she was intimidated by dogs. They seemed to see straight through you, have an instinctive sense of your goodness. She knew she would fail a dog’s goodness test. It felt like yet another example of unrequited worth—dogs were too good, pure, joyous. Will would pass the test with flying colors, though. He was flying around the yard now, running with the dog.
Will let the dog run a few more laps around the yard, then herded him back inside. The dog rushed back in and went straight to his water bowl. He lapped it up with large gulps.
“Good boy!” Will came in, a breath behind the dog. She didn’t feel that the dog had done anything particularly good, but she supposed that’s what you said to dogs.
“We could take him for a walk in the woods later.”
“That sounds really nice.” She still felt like she was watching him through a window. In a way, she always did.
“I went grocery shopping during lunch, think I got everything you asked for. I’m going to take a quick shower, if that’s okay,” he said.
“Sure. I can get dinner started,” she replied.
“Oh, you don’t need to do that, it’s still early,” he led her upstairs, picking up her bag again. “I’ll show you where the bedroom is, and you can relax. I won’t take long.”
She kicked her sneakers off, although she was pretty sure the couple that lived here wore shoes inside the house, and followed. The stairs were carpeted beneath her toes, plusher and nicer than her bedroom rug. The dog galumphed up behind them, loudly panting.
Iron and Wine crooned from the bathroom, mingling with sounds of running water. She thought about unpacking the few things she’d brought, but just peeled off her socks and flopped onto the bed. The dog sniffed her bag, then came over to lick her feet. It was sweet, kind of. She pet the top of the dog’s head gingerly.
“It’s good to have you here,” Will came out, toweling off his hair.
“This is nice,” she smiled back. She was sprawled on top of the covers. How did they keep them so white?
“Dinner?” He threw on a moss-colored crew neck.
“I can’t get up,” she said, “Come help me.”
He offered her a hand, but she pulled him down for a kiss. The ridiculously fluffy mattress sank below their weight, her back pillowed amongst down comforters. She closed her eyes, felt his breath mist over her cheek.
“I missed you this week. Five whole days.”
“Me too,” he said, leaning over her.
“Are you hungry?” she asked, running her hands under his shirt. She wasn’t in the mood for dinner. Perhaps she could coax him? She usually could; well, most of the times. It was good to feel that he was there—no, here—in her arms.
“Yeah, a bit.” His skin was warm and damp from the shower. His shoulders were a bit tense under her palms.
There was something off, but she couldn’t place it.
“Dinner?” he repeated, and got himself upright again.
There was something, wasn’t there?
“There’s something I want to tell you,” Will said, as they cuddled on the couch after their early dinner. He had insisted on cleaning up, so she’d stood and watched him do the dishes, put away things in a strange kitchen. The marble tiles had been too cold for her bare feet.
“Okay,” she replied.
The dog, despite the long walk and a full dinner, still had a lot of steam. He butted up under her feet and put his nose up on the couch, as if sniffing out her crotch again. Perhaps it was the period blood.
“Jackie, no,” he said.
“What were you going to say?” She sat up, disentangling herself from their pile of limbs and facing him directly. The sun was almost finished setting—she could just see it, slipping past the trees, if she craned her neck and looked out through the kitchen window behind him.
She waited. She admired his lowered eyelids, the lashes casting dark shadows on his cheeks. Her eyes traced the curve of his Adam’s apple, watched it dance up and down. Up, down.
“I’m—I’ve, I think I have a kind of… something—I don’t know how to explain it—something, it felt really big then and it’s still on my mind… for this guy. He was a lot older than me at school. Um.”
Up, down. His Adam’s apple continued to gaily bob along. He was clearly nervous, but she didn’t know how to help.
“I don’t think you know him. I just learned that he’s in town this week. He doesn’t live nearby, I think he lives somewhere Midwest now, working at a small law firm there or something. I…I didn’t recognize it as attraction while I knew him, but…”
She waited. She didn’t know what else to do.
They had been so still that the dog lost interest in them, wandering over to the armchair.
“…I appreciated that we directly discussed our sexualities when we first started dating. I just didn’t know how to tell you then that it wasn’t general, there was only ever this one person. I think I felt a lot of shame. And you know I’m really close to my mom and my sister, but I’m still not sure how to talk about this to them, my family, it just feels like too much to handle…”
She watched the dog vigorously start humping the armchair. The dog, a thoroughly average black Labrador in all other ways, apparently had an established system. He put his front paws up on the left arm of the chair, then scooted his body close until he could rub his crotch into the crack between the chair cushion and frame. The cloth was frayed and pink, a dusty floral pattern. The flowers looked like they were melting.
“That’s why reading Call Me By Your Name meant so much to me. It made me piece together…all of this, the hours at college, I don’t know.”
She wasn’t sure what he needed from her.
She wanted to be sure their relationship was capable of change.
She was sure he told her this because he was being a good person.
She wasn’t sure she wanted this.
She wasn’t sure what he wanted from her.
She wanted to be sure their relationship was too good to fall apart from being honest.
She was sure he told her this because he loved her.
She wasn’t sure he wanted her.
“Did you guys ever do anything?”
“No. I thought I just really looked up to him. He’s, he’s one of the most charismatic people I know. Magnetic?”
“What’s his name?”
She waited. She was not quite surprised. The first man. Of course.
The dog panted. She was surprised that he’d kept going so long.
He had stamina worth bragging about.
“What are you thinking about?”
She wasn’t sure what the correct response was.
Her first impulse was to lean forward and kiss his Adam’s apple, trace her tongue down the bony lump and taste the sweat. To kiss his words and thoughts from his larynx, then breathe them directly inside her own body, so that they wouldn’t need to talk about it. So that his feelings would feel like hers. But she didn’t do that. That would be strange.
She rifled through the options. She didn’t want to come off as close-minded and, truthfully, her reaction was one of self-centeredness—not of homophobia. Besides, his bisexuality had been a known factor from the beginning. It was the degree to which he wanted Adam that dumbfounded her. She knew him well enough to translate the understated electricity with which he breathed, “Adam.”
She didn’t want to ask questions like, Do you want to leave me? Do you find women attractive? Because he had told her he found her attractive, many times in many ways. And men didn’t like desperate women.
But still, do you find me attractive?
She knew she had an androgynous figure. She was short but kind of cylindrical everywhere, not in a long-legged Twiggy way but more like that of a teenage boy who hasn’t shot up yet. Her breasts were smaller than most, not enough to fill her own palms. Screw peaches, they were barely walnuts. When her female friends chatted about gaping button-ups or supportive bras, she’d nod along with bubbling envy. Up and down, up, down. Her waistline was about the same width as her hips, which had in turn about the same bandwidth as her chest.
What does he give you that I can’t?
She couldn’t ask that either. She didn’t want to come off as accusatory. She thought of how she had always been the action-driven one in their relationship. The one that faced conflict head-on. She’d also been told that she was great at giving head.
Are you still in love with him?
Her desire—or was it failure?—formed a stone inside her stomach. It made her sluggish with her words. Letters felt unfamiliarly circuitous in her mouth; she rolled them around like mouthwash before she could piece them together.
“So,” she finally said. “What do you want to do? Do you want to meet up with him?”
Do you want to have sex with him?
She stared at the dog’s back thighs, quivering with action. She felt a bit of blood trickling down, pooling wet in her underwear. She needed to change her menstrual cup. Now didn’t seem like the time to get up and go to the bathroom, though.
“I know it’s our anniversary tomorrow. But he’s apparently only around here for one day, then going to the beach for the rest of the weekend. I haven’t contacted him yet or anything, I don’t even know if he’s free. And I feel really bad, asking you this. But—” he hesitated.
She knew the correct response. She told herself she was being generous—but perhaps she was just curious. Curiosity killed the cat, she had learned in a book of English idioms. But wouldn’t anyone in her shoes be dying to know what could happen, would happen? Her words poked at the ridged seams of their relationship, testing the limits:
She knew the correct response, what would make him feel the most relieved to do what he wanted. But why wasn’t she being direct like she usually was? No, not tonight. She was trying to walk a mile in his shoes, see things from his perspective. This was about him and his needs, this was the correct response:
“No, you should text him. We can have a nice time together afterwards. We see each other all the time, and he’s flying here, isn’t he?”
He looked stricken with guilt. “I think I’m asking too much of you. I don’t know, I just don’t really know what the right thing to do is, I’ve been thinking about this all day.”
“Will, it’s okay. Really. I forgot when our anniversary was, remember?” She wanted him to smile back, see his left dimple flash. “It’s just a random day, like any others.”
“Are you sure?” he asked. His eyes were worried.
“Yes,” she said, half-laughing, “Invite me to your threesome, though?” The dimple finally caved in, and she felt herself relax.
“Don’t be silly,” he said, but his forehead was still crinkled. She wanted to reach over and smooth it out. “It’s just coffee. It’ll be good to hear what he’s up to. That’s all.”
The smile loosened up her selfishness, and she found the words she should have started with: “I’m grateful that you shared. Really. I think—we should have chances to—always keep—exploring our sexuality. It isn’t a straightforward process. I’m here for you—I’m here with you.”
The dog was back to humping. They both watched in silence. Neither of them had bothered to turn on a lamp; only the forgotten kitchen lights snuck their way into the living room, casting more shadows than light. She heard the panting, fur rubbing against cloth. Will’s breath was shallow, almost a pant.
“Joking aside,” she hesitated on how to phrase this, “I want you to have all the experiences you should have to grow.” Screw delicacy. “Look, Will. I—I mean, you’ve never hooked up with a guy. You’ve been interested for years, theoretically, and all because of this one person. If he’s interested, and you want to. You know. Fuck. You should go for it. I want you to do whatever you want to do—I’d hate to limit you.”
She was relieved to find that she meant every word. Salinger said joy was liquid, but love, like happiness, seemed to be a solid. Perhaps it was meant to feel claustrophobic, at times, with its stability. Perhaps this was a normal, adult relationship.
She was relieved to find that she meant every word. Love was open-minded, wasn’t it? Love needed to be fluid, in order to grow—that’s what all the web articles said, the ones she’d read at 2am when she couldn’t sleep. She was trying so hard to be what he needed.
He was put off. “I don’t want to, though. I just want to see him and see how things are going for him. You don’t need to worry, I’d never do anything.”
He was much more monogamous than she. But she wondered, for the first time, if she had deeper reserves of attachment she hadn’t known about. It was painful to realize how much she viewed Will’s as “hers,” but he didn’t belong to her. She supposed that meant she didn’t belong to him, either, and that didn’t feel as liberating as she thought it would. She always thought she’d be the one to break things open, not him. She managed, finally, one word:
He was much more monogamous than she. But she wondered, for the first time, if she had hidden reserves of possessiveness. It was painful to think about someone meaning this much to Will, someone being able to do something she couldn’t. She wouldn’t mind if he fucked Adam, then got it out of his system. Oh, but was that being homophobic, assuming that it was something to “get out,” she couldn’t say that, god, her brain kept going in circles and her mouth would not open for a normal response. She managed, finally, one word:
“I love you,” they said almost simultaneously.
There wasn’t anything more to say. The dog turned back at her with an open-mouthed grin of almost-post-coital joy, his tongue a lolling, lush pink in the dark.
After Adam and Will got coffee the next day, she didn’t recognize Will. The back of her neck felt as if there was someone behind her, and, when Will looked at her, she saw him looking over her shoulder. He’d brought her flowers on his way home, a big bouquet of vibrant pink snapdragons. It was their anniversary, she remembered. She said thank you, kissed him happy anniversary, showed him how to squeeze the flowers so that they snapped open and shut. The petals opened and shut under their fingertips, glistening under lamplight. She squished the petals a bit too vigorously, and flower sap dribbled down. Could the flower feel it—like a drop of blood after a paper cut, or the last trickling days of her period? The pink, sappy flowers looked garish, and she wondered if that was what her vagina was like. She put them in a vase on the table.
They had a quiet dinner and movie, but Will was far away. She thought again of watching him through the kitchen window, how she’d prefer to have a glass screen now—something she could physically pry open. She liked things she could touch. She petted the dog, and felt glad to have another living being by her. He was happy with the attention, rolling to show her his tummy. No humping tonight. He’d picked up on the vibe, or he had simply worked it out of his system.
When they got into bed, he started sobbing.
“I’m sorry. I want to snap out of this, but that would mean letting go of seeing him today.”
Her heart ached for him, but in a different way than she expected. She remembered how electric it had been to fall in love for the first time, how she had enjoyed being not present afterwards—because it meant a part of her was still connected to him. She wished she felt that voltage now.
Her heart ached for him, but perhaps it ached more for herself. It was selfish, she knew. She had thought that she was the first serious relationship of his life; she wanted to make up what she lacked in goodness with, at least, a dash of electricity and significance.
“I know he’s not interested, I know he’s straight,” Will said. He was still crying. “I don’t know why I can’t get over him.”
She remembered her first love, a thirty-year-old stranger. Adam, who felt more human than ghost, came up behind her. She felt Adam’s breath, hot on the back of her neck. It felt like he was whispering of an escape route from all this, but she couldn’t quite make out the words. It was more of a turn-on than she wanted to admit.
She remembered her first heartbreak, how her eighteen-year-old self had listened to Lana Del Rey and sobbed in the airport in that indulgent, delicious way. She thought she understood Will, and she hurt alongside him. Adam, who felt more human than ghost, perched on the foot of the bed. His eyes bore into her as she hugged Will tightly.
“It’s okay. Shhhh. It’s okay. It takes time.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say. Adam unnerved her. He had green eyes and a dark brown, curly mop of hair. No wonder Will found him attractive; Adam oozed with sex appeal, casual control etched into every line of his body. Honestly, the threesome wouldn’t have been the worst idea in the world. Of course Will’s object of obsessive desire was white. Of course he was fit and tall. Of course he wore Birkenstocks.
“I’m sorry. You’ve been so supportive. I don’t know how. You’re too good for me.”
She had to laugh at that. Adam flinched at the laughter, but stayed on the bed.
Will’s snot stained her mint-green robe to the color of August. A deep and sticky humid green, matching the earrings he brought back for her from his last business trip.
Funny, how flattering tear-soaked faces could look in dim lighting.
(It’s her most vivid image of Will, years later, when that weekend of dog-sitting sneaks into her dreams yet again. Those memories are always on the prowl—skulking around for emotional crumbs, salvaging what truth it can from under the table.)
The tears glistened off of his cheekbones, caught the golden glints from the hallway lamp. She was reminded, yet again, of how he wore his beauty lightly, understatedly.
She can’t remember who suggested the sauna after the crying session, but they both thought it’d be a nice way to cleanse out the funkiness. Get away from the third person who had joined them on their bed. The dog whined when they went outside without him, firmly shutting the back door behind them. He pressed his wet nose up against the glass screen, panting.
(Oh that sauna. She can’t picture Will’s nose shape now, but she could concoct an exact perfume of that wet steam, slight resin and sawdust, wood smoke.)
He managed to get the wood stove blazing, haphazardly throwing on kindling and newspaper clumps. Everything was a deliciously hot blur of light glinting and steam glowing. It hadn’t been planned, but it was suddenly obvious. A hard fact. She asked with her eyes, Is this okay? A flicker downwards, then back up to his face. He understood. He smiled slightly, his left dimple flickering back in response, then nodded. He moved to the lower bench, so that she could kneel on the floor. He rested his elbows on the top bench and looked back at her.
Under her stare, his eyes melted from golden-brown to green. His hair seemed to morph in the clouds of steam, darkening into curls. His face grew sharper. His smile flashed once more, then disappeared into higher cheekbones. A constellation of new freckles dotted his upper arms and cheeks. His Adam’s apple danced again, bobbing up and down. She blinked, and then he was Will again.
Then there she was on her knees, taking him into her mouth. She wanted to take all of him in, let him feel as if she was enough for him, let him feel only her and the heat and the sweat and her and her. She looked up again and saw the sweat rolling off of his face. She was backlit by the wood fire behind her, the steam rising up. Her eyes were dark and large, her mouth larger.
She felt powerful. Mythical. Eternal.
She cupped his balls, and felt the sudden impulse to bite down on them. They were soft and hairy, an unattractive piece of anatomy really, given they stored his genes of blonde hair and long-lashed eyes and muscled calves. How refreshingly unpredictable he seemed from this angle—as if his DNA were melting in strands before her. Sweat dripped into her own eyes. She didn’t bite, of course. She would continue until he finished, drinking his release. Big glass of American whole milk, the way to get strong bones. She had a stable life, she had a stable love, but was that it? Was this it? Was he it? Would her grandmother be proud of her for winning the all-American boy? (No Reds!) But the American Dream wasn’t real, she should know that by now. As she swirled pre-cum and saliva around in her mouth, it was tempting to bite down and see her capacity for destruction—and since the Dream didn’t exist at all, she might as well see it deconstruct before her eyes. Fall apart in spurts of wasted cum. Was this really it?
She cupped his balls, and felt the sudden impulse to bite down on them. They were soft and hairy, a funny piece of anatomy really, given they stored his genes of good hair and honey-brown eyes and lanky limbs. How fragile he seemed from this angle—as if his DNA were unraveling in strands before her. Sweat dripped into her own eyes. She didn’t bite, of course. She continued, waiting for him to finish. She wanted bodily proof that she was enough for him, that he would come back to her, come with her, come for her. Come. She wanted to drink his release—a big glass of homogenized milk, the way to get strong bones, her grandmother would get a bottle delivered, every morning to their apartment, Seoul Milk the brand was everywhere, and she would drink a chipped mug-full, sometimes spilling, ouch her neck had a crick, bobbing, bob, bob, did she ever fuck a bob, bobbing for apples on Halloween hallowed hollow of mouth and suck and liquid a-flood sensing swirling spurting squirting slurping slushing rushing in a—
“I think I’m good now,” he said.
(Of course he was.)
He was still hard. His smile was soft and placid. He touched her cheek gently.
(He never came. Neither did she.)
She had failed. She wasn’t sure how.
Afterwards, there wasn’t much to say. Their nakedness felt strange.
“Private sauna in the woods,” he mused, “This feels very Murakami.”
“Complete with the mysterious girl giving sauna head?”
“Yeah totally, of, you know, also having this female pop up in a traditionally forbidden space—the men’s sauna.”
“I hate Murakami.”
The sweat dried on their bodies, slowly. They could see the steam rolling off in puffs. It smelled like sex, but clean and domestic—the kind of soaking sweat that feels like coming out of a hot shower. The kind of sex that married people have, in king-sized beds with memory foam mattresses and real wooden frames and white sheets that are washed by the in-unit laundry machine every week (she would do the ironing, he would fold the laundry).
“We should get back to the dog. He probably needs to go out.”
He carried her on his back, piggy-back style, so that her feet wouldn’t get muddy. She kissed the top shell of his ear, tasted the faint tang of dried salt and wood smoke. She buried her face in the back of his neck. He smelled like childhood seaside vacations.
She was relieved to find that he was just a good human.
He was the goodest person she knew.
They saw their house ahead, with its tastefully-furnished insides glowing. They saw their dog, who was again humping the dusty armchair. They saw the bouquet of snapdragons, quivering pink in the dark. That weekend of dog-sitting would somehow feel more like reality than reality. She never felt more married to another person, or what she imagined as marriage.
(She didn’t know that weekend was the beginning of the end. She didn’t know that she would cheat on him with an unremarkable ex-frat boy named Walter, because it was easy. It was completely her fault. Walter was tall and also white and the Trader Joe’s wine specialist. He was spectacularly average in all aspects, except for beer pong. She should have known, but didn’t, that she of course can’t resist poking something beautiful until it fell apart. She wanted to see how it worked, the insides.)
(She didn’t know that weekend was the beginning of the end. She didn’t know that he would break her heart excruciatingly slowly, cruelly—although he never meant to, of course. It was never his fault. He would gently chip away at her sense of security, then of basic sanity; yet, he acted bewildered when she got upset. It was always her fault. Eventually, he would send her a quiet, vague email where he wrote that he loved her still, just in a different way, and wanted to stay friends. He would not tell her that he started a passionate relationship with a new man, months ago. She should have known, but didn’t, that she was of course impermanent in his life.)
All Solbi knew was that she loved him now, more than ever, because she had failed him. But it was okay, it really was okay—for now—to be just another young couple playing pretend.