Every Friday, The Gloss is publishing a chapter of Andrea Dunlop’s novel, The Summer of Small Accidents. Catch up with Chapter 1 and if you decide you simply can’t wait for next week’s installment, you can buy the ebook here or here.
Once she was in the quiet of the apartment, she heard her phone beeping its message signal. She had a voicemail from Chloe, saying only that she didn’t have a permanent number at the moment and would call again soon. That she loved her. Ciao. Leigh kicked herself for missing her aunt’s call.
She sat down to write Asa on the postcard. It was starting to make her nervous that he hadn’t written her back yet. She worried that her question about why he’d left has somehow made her seem desperate. She tried to keep her tone a little lighter this time, to make fun of her and Lulu’s seriousness that evening.
In case you were missing the view from your window. I found this on my way home from a very melancholy couple of hours with my girlfriend. We got in one of those horrible conversations single people have where they try to convince each other that love is possible and end up doing the opposite. Her little sister got engaged—that’s what sent her down the rabbit hole.
Hope you’re well.
I haven’t seen anyone I know in Paris yet, which isn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t call any of my old friends and acquaintances because I figured somehow I would appear in the old haunts and there they would be, where I left them years ago. The memory plays this trick: we only see people in relation to ourselves, so it is difficult to imagine how they get on with their lives when we’ve left them. It is hard to wrap your head around the idea that the past is gone, that people disperse, that the good times do not keep getting better or even keep on going.
My father seemed to have this idea that if you could just go back to the last place where you were happy, you could recapture it. I think toward the end of his life, he was content to live in his memories; for him, the evocation of happiness was enough. I have discovered how depressing nostalgia can be—that the old places without the people who made them special are like the boneyards of happiness.
I got your postcard, thank you for sending it. I am sorry for your friend; tell her from someone who knows that an engagement may not be all it seems to be from the outside, and neither, for that matter, is love. The truth is that I was in love for a long time with someone I didn’t marry and engaged for a short time to someone whom I turned out not to love—at least not in the way I wanted to love someone…although looking back I may never have been able to have that sort of love with either person. I only ever wanted what my parents had, if only such a thing could be had. I see married couples who move around each other in a room like the other is a piece of furniture. My parents were always comfortable but still aware of each other, and there was never a hint of complacency. You would catch them giving each other these funny little looks and smiles, a conspiracy of two.
That’s all I ever wanted.
I was in love in Paris, and I think that’s why it seemed like the place to come back to. I am walking around street corners expecting to run back into the feeling, if not the person, who I’m sure is not here unless for some reason they have come back again like I have. If I were writing this story, I think I would have the two lovers both come back to the city for the same reason, but in my story, of course, they would never actually see each other. They would mope around their old stomping grounds, the one thinking of the other, and then a quarter hour after one left a café or bench along the Seine, the other would appear. I’ve never cared for love stories where people end up together. In life, serendipity is wonderful, but it seems too contrived in stories.
In the United States, we so cherish the idea of starting, over but it’s such an illusion, our hearts just get heavier and heavier as we go. I’m sorry if I am sounding maudlin, but I am feeling maudlin.
Paris doesn’t change as fast as New York. You don’t walk around the corner to find your favorite café has become a bank branch or that your Laundromat has become a Starbucks. All of the places I went to back then are still here in the physical sense. There is one bar in particular where I used to spend a lot of time with those people I used to call my friends. The time I spent in Paris was actually quite short, just a matter of months. I didn’t know anyone when I moved here, and I really didn’t keep in touch with anyone after I left. Those few months now feel like they were much longer because they were isolated. In some sense, each day is a separate memory, and the days didn’t pass me by the way they do now, which is slowly and yet all at once.
The bar is a peculiar place called Chat Gris. This is of course incorrect French for Gray Cat. The incorrect part being the omission of the article le; I only bring this detail to your attention because it has to do with the owner Aleczandr. He’s a surly Russian ex-pat who speaks questionable French and next to no English. The two English phrases I remember him saying often were ‘Fuck you,’ which he lavished on all of the staff and most of the customers with regularity and ‘American Boy? You want the McDonalds?’ which he reserved solely for me and with which he made himself breathless with laughter.
I went by the Chat Gris the other day, and to my initial delight, there sat Alec on his same stool I remember him always on. I felt seized by nostalgia and wanted to stride up to him and greet him with a hearty handshake. This was a strange fantasy I had because it isn’t something that I would have done in the old days, shake his hand. He never was one for pleasantries. I stood in the doorway, transfixed by the sight of him. After a moment, he turned his head to see who had just come through the door. Alec has difficulty seeing from any sort of distance, so he when he looks at you from across the room, he always stares blankly at you for a long moment before he realizes that he knows you and his face erupts into a crooked smile of familiarity. He stared at me for such a moment and I waited, frozen in the doorway by the feeling of time having slipped out from underneath me. He looked and looked and no recognition passed across his face, not even a glimmer. Had his eyesight worsened since I’d last seen him, or he had he really forgotten me? Part of me wanted to go over to him and try to get him to remember, but I didn’t have the heart to do this, I was too afraid that it was the latter. So, I took a table in the corner, away from the table in the window where my friends and I always used to sit. That had been the best table in the place, and we would pull in other tables and all sit in the tippy rattan chairs as people joined and the group grew and grew. I remember I would come walking along the street and I could already see my friends’ laughing faces filling the window. When I was one of the first to arrive, the air around the table felt like it was waiting for the words and smoke and loaded glances that were constantly being rallied back and forth until we had run out of them all.
Things like this are too perfect to last. We don’t live in a world that supports anything so bohemian; you are expected to get on with it eventually, to do something with your life.
When I was dreaming of coming back to Paris, I had this fantasy of sitting at the old table in Chat Gris with my notebook, camping out there and waiting for my old cohorts to saunter in. I feel it now, that they are all gone. This seems unbelievable; even with all the fellowships, grants, work visas, and other badges of temporary citizenry among us, you would have thought that at least one or two would have put down roots.
Suffice it to say, dear Leigh, things are not turning out as I’d hoped.
I don’t know if any of this is of interest to you. I hope so. It feels so good to write these words to you because you are both a friend and a stranger, the best of all people to tell your troubles to.
I realize I have not answered your question yet about why I left so early. The truth is I slept deeply for a few hours and then lay there for a few more restless ones. I looked at you sleeping so soundly, and I thought I could not bear to see you in the morning; I could not stand an awkward goodbye after such a perfect, unexpected evening. It’s selfish, I know. In fact, your eyes fluttered open for just a moment, and I smiled and told you to go back to sleep. You blinked like a sleepy cat, gave me this trusting smile, and went back to sleep, and I thought how perfect it was that I would remember you like that. We are better sometimes before we are awake.
The lie came to her easily, naturally even, as she was writing her next letter to Asa. She kept it short, worried that she would otherwise agonize over every word and delay sending the letter for longer than she would have liked. She was aware that she wrote him now with the primary intention of eliciting a response from him and secondarily of sharing thoughts of her own. She expressed sympathy in her letter for his sadness and asked him to tell her more—anything that he felt comfortable sharing. She told him she too had felt lonelier than usual that summer and suggested that perhaps they could help one another. She sensed that an admission of some kind was necessary on her part or else she feared he would start to become self-conscious about what he told her.
She said there was a small chance that she might come to Paris in August to visit a friend who was living there. She reasoned that this wasn’t a complete lie. He was her friend; he was living there. She thought about getting on a plane for Paris all the time. It seemed to be getting hotter in New York by the day, the cumulative heat of the previous day being added to by the heat from the next day instead of just replaced by it. She knew Paris was also warm and muggy, but somehow anything seemed better than staying here for the month of August.
Just in case I do come, she wrote, let me know your phone number, so that I can give you a call.
And there it was. She was not going to Paris, she knew that. She simply needed more from him than these letters, needed very much to hear his voice. It was the next best thing to having him here.
Late one Thursday night, after she had already decided that she was in for the night, Shaun sent her a text message.
In the city tonight, at an event right now…so boring!
A minute later, another followed. Going to Bungalow in an hour, you should meet us there…
Leigh was lying flat out on her bed, trying her best not to move and to keep every body part in the range of the stand-alone fan she’d finally purchased and positioned at the foot of her bed. She felt lethargic but not tired enough to actually sleep. She wrote Shaun back that she would come. She could find very little reason not to go. Work had slowed to a trickle the way it did toward the end of July, and she almost felt daze of a hangover might help her get through the next day.
An hour later, she arrived at the pulsing 27th Street Corridor and was faced with the horrors of West Chelsea on a Thursday night when the neighborhood was at its worst. The streets were inundated with people from the outer boroughs and New Jersey, drunk underage girls slumped against the sides of buildings, more likely to be noticed by one of the shady men lurking nearby than by one of the cops on horseback patrolling the crowd barriers, waiting for one of the testosterone-fueled drunks to start trouble. Groups of girls formed little packs outside velvet ropes, looking indignant at being made to wait. Leigh got out of the cab on 27th and reluctantly entered the fray; she made it up to the door where the enormous bouncer was standing there ignoring the protestations of a European couple who were saying something about a reservation.
Leigh stood there for a moment until she saw that without moving his head a fraction of an inch, he had turned his eyes downward in her direction, which was as much of a welcome as she was going to get.
“I’m meeting friends here,” she said.
“Are you on the list?”
“No, um, they’re probably inside already.”
He shook his head and turned to look west so as to avoid both her and the foreign couple. Leigh knew better than to push.
She texted Shaun to tell her she was outside and waited.
“You can’t stand here,” the bouncer said.
She looked up at him.
“If you’re waiting for someone you have to stand there,” he said, relegating her to the space behind the couple.
She called Shaun; no answer. She watched the chaos going on behind her. Bungalow was one of the only clubs in the neighborhood people still couldn’t buy their way into—the last bastion of true elitism in the 27th Street Corridor. The club owner’s loyal pals, celebrities, and other fancy party goers still battled the unwashed masses of clubbers in the streets to get to the little hoi-polloi-free paradise. There was a great story about a rock star commandeering a ride from one of the cops on horseback just to get through the crowd to the door.
Shaun squealed the bouncer’s name and threw her arms around him. She had come from the other direction, and Leigh had been too distracted by what was going on down the street to see her. “Hello, darling!”
“Shaun!” Leigh said, hating herself for sounding so desperate. She had the uncomfortable thought that her voice sounded like that of a photographer trying to get a celebrity to look up in order to get a better shot.
“Oh, hi sweetie!” Shaun said, her pupils were like saucers. She looked chic despite the horrible humidity; she had on crisp white shorts with heels that made her legs look miles long. She was with a shaggy-haired man who Leigh thought she recognized as a club promoter whom she had met several times but who always forgot her name. He wore a fedora pulled down low and acknowledged neither her nor the bouncer as he pushed his way through to the door. Leigh stepped in front of the European couple. The bouncer said nothing as she followed Shaun inside; he had retreated back into his stoicism.
Leigh had never seen the inside of the place before, and it reminded her of an ersatz version of London’s famous Palm Court. Music blared, but no one was dancing except to make the occasional movements with their heads or occasionally sway their hips. All of the tables were full, but there were not the seething crowds Leigh had become used to, no dense and desperate shuffle by the bar. Shaun was leading her by the hand, scanning the tables for the one she belonged to. She jerked Leigh forward when she spotted a short, dark-eyed, middle-aged man who was standing alone with a scotch, looking somewhat menacingly around at his entourage of reedy, beautiful girls who were either amusing themselves with one of the younger men who had flocked to the table or were busy looking bored and sulkily pushing their ice cubes around and around in their glasses. Shaun introduced her to the man, and he said hello with only the briefest of appraising glances. Shaun shooed one of the girls off a wide leather ottoman by the table, and she and Leigh sat down on it. Shaun reached forward and poured herself a drink from the long, thin bottle of vodka that was open in an ice bucket on the table and did the same for Leigh.
“So sweetie,” Shaun said, shifting in her seat, “tell me what’s been going on with you. God, I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever!”
“Shaun!” a boy with longish hair and the scruffy beginnings of a beard, yelled across the lap of one of the models before Leigh could answer. He was sitting behind her so Leigh leaned back awkwardly in her seat to allow Shaun to be able to talk to him.
Shaun shot a small wave and a wink in his direction. He shrugged off the model and came toward them. He had too perfect a face for him not to be a model or actor, Leigh thought, with those deep-set, brooding eyes.
“What’s up baby?” he said, leaning over to kiss Shaun on the cheek
“Are you going out East tomorrow?” he asked, sitting on the edge of the ottoman on the other side of Leigh but continuing to talk over her.
“Mmmm,” she said, nodding while she took a sip of her drink.
“How are you getting out there?”
Leigh already felt bored and uncomfortable, knowing these sorts of conversations were likely to be going on around her all night. There was that secret set of words, names of people and places that functioned like trap doors, leading away from anyone who wasn’t familiar.
“I don’t know; Brian was talking about taking the seaplane, maybe.”
“Oh, that’s right, Brian. I know him. He’s a cool cat, cool cat. Are you guys going to that party in East tomorrow?”
“What is that for again?”
“Dude, I don’t know,” he said with what struck Leigh as a petulant sort of laugh. She noticed also that he flipped his hair when he talked, brushing it out of his eyes when it fell over them just so. “Sarcoma or Sardinia or something like that. Guess I’ll see you at Polo though, you’re going, right?”
“I don’t know, it’s such a scene these days,” Shaun said.
“I know—but I have to make an appearance either way.”
Leigh looked from the one to the other as they spoke, as though what they were saying was of any interest to her. She felt helpless. No one cares, she thought. No one will notice that you’re not talking to anyone because they simply don’t care. She wished she could ape that expression that so many of the other people hovering on the peripheries of conversations had on their faces. It was an expression that said “I am not participating in the conversation going on in my vicinity because I am bored with it and cannot possibly be monopolized by it. I’m looking for someone more interesting to talk to, but it definitely isn’t you, since you’re probably even duller than these fools I’m standing with, so please don’t even bother trying to talk to me.” What was going on behind all of those cool, blank eyes? Cool blankness? Or utter anxiety that they were all frauds? These clubs were so strange. Why didn’t anyone ever dance? Wasn’t there supposed to be dancing on tables? After all, no one said, “Yeah, it was a wild night, we stood around looking bored until the sun came up. Wild!”
“Well, I’m sure Brian will want to stop by,” Shaun continued. “You’ll have to come and keep me company because he always manages to find someone in the tent to network with, and then I’m stuck getting drunk on the those silly champagne poppers with no one to talk to.”
He beamed. She leaned back, intimating seamlessly that the conversation was over. Shaun had lots of looks, but none of them ever telegraphed boredom. It was a lynchpin of her success with the opposite sex that she had perfected the skills to make every man think what he was saying was fascinating: the wide eyes; the slow, thoughtful nod; a light touch of the arm; the pertinent well-timed questions. It all said, “I find you not only fascinating but also deeply fuckable.”
“He’s such a loser,” she said sloppily into Leigh’s ear. Leigh laughed but cringed at the desperation in her own laughter. Shaun refilled Leigh’s drink, which had disappeared quickly in the absence of having anyone to actually talk to. She drank another and another until the conversations of those around her settled into a low, meaningless hum.
In the back of the cab on the way home, she started to cry; the cab driver asked her quietly if everything was okay.
“Yes,” she choked and attempted to control herself. She had somehow forgotten that anyone could even hear her. She wouldn’t have known how to answer the question truthfully anyway. She only knew that she felt like the walls were closing in. Tears are like blood in that they become thin when you are drunk and spill out with surprising ease. She was diverted suddenly by her phone trilling its text message alert.
Where are you?
She didn’t recognize the number. There were a few men she’d given her number to—that infinite gesture of hope. Could this be one of them, hoping for sex?
On my way home. Who is this?
Mehran—are you almost there?
She stared at the tiny screen, shocked. She supposed she had given him her number at some point but not with the expectation that he would actually use it. She had not seen him since she left him in his bed in Queens, a scene that felt like it had happened a very long time ago, though it had been only a little over a week.
Yes, why? She wrote back just as the cab was rounding Stuyvesant Street.
There was no response. The cab pulled up outside St Mark’s and she got out, giving the cab driver a big tip. Her tears had stopped, but she felt puffy and red faced; she dragged the tip of her thumb under each of her eyes to clear away the eye makeup that she was sure had collected there.
Mehran was sitting on a stoop that was two doors away from her building, his long legs extended in front of him. He looked down at the sidewalk appearing to be lost in his thoughts. He looked as though he was there on the stoop for his own reasons and not because he was actually waiting for someone.
“Mehran, you’re here,” she said neutrally as she approached. The street was empty. She wouldn’t have thought he was who she wanted to see right at that moment, but now that she was looking him, in the flesh on the still warm sidewalk, he was a welcome sight.
“I’m sorry,” he said casually. “I thought you might be home, and then when you said you were on your way, I figured I’d just wait a few minutes. Can I come up?” he said, getting to his feet and smoothing the legs of his pants.
“Of course. It’s here,” she said, pointing to her nearby doorway. He nodded and followed her silently. She hoped he couldn’t tell that she’d been crying, but he seemed a little drunk as well. “How did you know where I lived?” she said as she fumbled her key into the lock.
“Because you told me.”
She supposed that she had, but she hadn’t expected him to remember exactly where. For someone who never seemed to be completely playing attention, he had a good memory for details.
“How was your night?” she asked. In the ghoulish light of the streetlamps, he looked different than she’d remembered. The outfit he was wearing didn’t appear to have held up very well: he had a red bolero jacket on over a white tank that looked as if something had been spilled on it. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail with a pouf in the front that seemed to have been deflated. He looked agitated.
“It was okay, I don’t know, just too much bullshit sometimes,” he said, following her through the door and up the stairs. There was an edge of anger in his voice that surprised her, but he still moved gracefully and calmly. As they continued wordlessly up the stairs, she found that the sound of solid footsteps following her was surprisingly comforting.
“Are you tired?” he asked suddenly when he was standing beside her at the door, looking directly at her for maybe the first time since they’d met each other on the street.
She smiled and shook her head as she turned her key in the lock, hearing it click in the silence of the landing like it was the only sound there had ever been. She had the feeling that if she turned around, she would find herself alone in the doorway—experiencing that now familiar feeling that Mehran was something she had made up. He followed her into the apartment, one foot in front of the other like any other mortal soul. She longed to put her arms around him but was apprehensive to do so. Somehow, it felt like he might burst into tears, or worse, push her away.
It was a novelty to have him there, and she felt once again that she was a spectator. Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table, she thought, smiling to herself.
“Not so tired anymore,” she said in answer to his question. She flicked on the light switch and felt glad to be shut away from the city, back in her sanctuary with her beautiful companion. Together they had a secret life; things were as they had been that night in Queens. They were away from the eyes and opinions of others, and this was what mattered—what went on when things were as simple as being two people alone in a room.
She wondered if she could commiserate with him about her night, if maybe he would understand what about it had been so upsetting. Perhaps he could illuminate it for her since she wasn’t even so sure she understood it herself. She looked at the clock. It was four in the morning, but what did that matter?
She sat on the edge of the bed and kicked off her heels. She realized suddenly how nervous she was that he was there, how disquieting his presence was. His lean, elegant figure seemed to change the orientation of the furniture. The bookcase, the desk, and the bed seemed now to only matter for their relationship to where he was standing; it was as though they were facsimiles of themselves made for the set of a play. She felt herself pulling her knees into herself, wanting suddenly to be taking up less space in the room.
He stood by her bookshelf, staring absentmindedly at the outward-facing spines; he was so slender and column-like when he stood still.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” she said again, her voice the only sound filling the room.
“Yeah,” he said, turning to smile at her. He had a sheen of neediness to him, always. She realized suddenly that he managed to make this something that worked in his favor, that it was actually part of what was attractive about him.
“I’m just not sure that my friends are really my friends sometimes.”
“Do you ever feel that way?”
Leigh felt herself inflate with warmth, the comfort that can only come from knowing someone is feeling exactly what you are feeling at exactly the same moment; the miraculous opportunity for real empathy.
“I do,” she said and then a little more quietly, “I really do.”
He sighed and his shoulders relaxed; he walked over and sat next to her on the bed. “I mean, I just broke up with my ex and now all my so-called friends are all over me.”
She looked at him with a quizzical expression. Perhaps they were not on the same page after all.
“One of my good friends just told me that he’s in love with me,” he said. His voice was that of someone delivering unpleasant but predictable, even inevitable, news. He sighed a genuine and beleaguered sigh, and Leigh thought it was the most expressive she had ever seen him be.
“Oh,” she said. “I’m sorry?”
He laughed ruefully. “You don’t understand,” he said, leaning back on his elbows on the bed.
She agreed that she definitely did not.
“Have they all just been waiting until we broke up? I mean, all this time I thought they liked me for me, and now it turns out they just wanted sex. Like everyone else.”
His troubles, which moments ago had seemed very similar to her own, seemed suddenly very remote, as did he, sitting there beside her. She suddenly felt no more sympathy for him than she would a starlet who had been jilted by her boyfriend for someone younger. What and who was she in all of this? She felt that familiar sense of being an observer of her own life even as it happened to her. She wanted back the feeling of being with him that she’d had before but sensed this was not what he had come for, and felt a sudden tiny implosion of anger in the pit of her stomach. She was not the one calling the shots here. She took a deep breath.
“They do, I’m sure they do like you for who you are. You should be flattered. They will get over it, and hopefully you’ll still be able to be friends.”
Amazingly he seemed assuaged by what she felt was nothing more than a platitude.
“You always know what to say, don’t you?” he said. She didn’t know how to reply to that, so she just smiled. She fell back on the bed next to him and stretched her foot up toward the ceiling; she examined her toes.
“You know, I knew this girl in junior high school. Bethany was her name, I think,” Leigh closed her eyes as she talked, unable to stand the brightness of the ceiling lights in her eyes. “She was pretty in that generic way that everyone loves, just like my sister in high school.” She continued, “Bethany had blonde hair and a perky little body. All the boys had crushes on her, and she was so cute that no one was even embarrassed about having a crush on her. It was like you were just expected to. In fact, if you admitted to not having a thing for her, it might sort of call your manhood into question. So anyway, my point is, I shared homeroom with her, and one day in eighth grade, just for no reason at all, it wasn’t even her birthday or anything, this boy in our class brought her a bag of red gummy bears. Just red ones. He had actually noticed that whenever she had gummy bears, she only ate the red ones, so he picked through a whole bag of gummy bears and just brought her the red ones.”
Mehran laughed and turned on his side to face her, “What made you think of that now?”
“Because,” she said, smiling despite herself, “it occurred to me that day that the world was divided into people who would get bags of red gummy bears and people who wouldn’t.”
“No one ever gave me any color gummy bears.”
“But,” Leigh said, reaching over to tap him affectionately on the nose with her index finger, “someone would.”
“And someone wouldn’t get them for you? I would get them for you. In fact, I will go to the store right now and get some for you. Gummy bears and anything else that you want. I’m not kidding.” He hoisted himself to his feet and turned toward the door, “I’m going to Duane Reade right now.”
“Stop,” she said grabbing his hand laughing. “Stay. Thanks, though.”
He smiled and lay down next to her on the bed, fiddling with the bracelet that he always wore.
“That reminds me of something, that story you just told,” he said. “Well not so much reminds me as makes me think of it. The first time I was with my ex, we didn’t have any condoms, so he had to go out to the drugstore. So, I’m waiting for him in bed, just getting so nervous and everything, and he comes back in with a box of condoms and a package of Hostess cupcakes. I bust out laughing and I’m like, ‘what are you doing with those cupcakes?’ He said ‘Well, I figured this way if it goes well, we’ll be hungry, and if it goes badly, well, at least I have the cupcakes, right?’ It sounds silly but it was the sweetest thing. I’m sorry, is that just way too much information?”
She smiled and cuddled up to his shoulder. “No,” she said, meaning it. “No, that’s a nice story.”
She stared down at his bracelet: it was a large silver setting with a flat, black onyx, the band was soft black leather; it was an unusual piece of jewelry that suited him perfectly.
“I think he was nervous because it was my first time,” he added quietly.
“Your first time…ever?”
He nodded. “You sound surprised.”
“I am. I mean, not like that, it’s just…okay, I am, I’m surprised. Since then, no one?”
He shook his head. “Don’t look at me like that. What? Have you slept with every person who ever tried with you? Didn’t think so; just because I’m a guy, it doesn’t change that.”
He flipped the onyx back and forth, and Leigh noticed that there was an engraving on the flat side; she leaned over to read it.
I long to sing your praises but stand mute, the agony of wishing in my heart.
She looked at him. Suddenly she felt herself wanting to know everything—his entire sexual history from the first kiss to the last time someone other than she had touched him. She wanted to know the secrets of his other lover, to know what mysterious places men might know to touch one another that she herself would never think of.
“It’s a Persian poem,” he said.
“I know. Rumi. It’s very famous actually; I love that poem. ‘The Agony and Ecstasy.’ I always took this poem to be about forbidden love, or unspoken love. Did someone who was pining for you give you this?”
She was shocked to see that his bottom eyelids were pooling with tears. He suddenly seemed so fragile, she couldn’t think of what to say. He shook his head, not looking at her.
“Oh,” she said quietly, “the boyfriend. I see.”
He nodded. She thought about it for a moment and wondered if he has been this man’s secret. Otherwise, why standing mute? Why not out and proud? She sensed this was not the time to ask.
Then he kissed her, and she didn’t resist; she breathed deeply until her heart stopped racing and just tried to enjoy not being alone in the bed for the first time since Asa had been there with her. She was glad he had come to her; they made a strange kind of sense together, a 4 a.m. on a weeknight kind of sense.