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. Happy reading!
At 7:20, Leigh made her way over to the apartment building that was kitty-corner to St. Mark’s Church. She felt the familiar anxiety upon approaching the door. It was unlikely that this experience would be as bad as the other day had been but her hopes were still not exactly high. Apartment hunting is one of the rare actions where one is forced to make actual contact with the myriad odd strangers that inhabited the city. The whole business of being trapped in a tiny space with this person you’d never met, trying awkwardly to make small talk about the fixtures while surreptitiously keeping an eye out for signs of infestation and water damage, all the while knowing you would more than likely have to make a decision on the spot—it was nearly always a nightmare.
The building was a tall, narrow, red brick affair. Leigh could see that the window of the studio would probably face the church and thought how nice that would be. She imagined herself for a moment gazing out the window at the churchyard, watching over the delinquent teenagers, hippies and occasional tourists that congregated there. Leigh didn’t know anything about the church but it looked like it had been there longer than anything around it, like it had been a witness to everything that had ever taken place in that neighborhood. Leigh could only imagine it in that order: build a church and living quarters and then everything else. Not, ‘Well since we already have a Blockbuster, how about a church on this corner?’
She had written the apartment number on the back of one of her business cards. She was always doing this, she’s been very excited about the cards to begin with it, it made her feel official, but she found herself without anyone to give them to and ended up using them as bookmarks or scratch paper more often than not. She double checked the card and hit buzzer number eight. There was a loud squeal from the intercom and she made her way up to the fourth floor; panting all the way, chastising herself for having let herself get so out of shape. By the time she’d reached the fourth floor landing, she could feel her black jersey dress clinging to her back. She took a minute to compose herself, mopping up the sheen of sweat that she could feel gathering at her hairline before she knocked on the door. She was met with silence. She double-checked the apartment number that she had written down suddenly terrified that she was in the wrong place, but then why had she been buzzed in? She waited another few seconds and knocked again. This time the door opened slowly.
A tall, lithe young man with dark, curly hair and a pronounced spattering of stubble lining his distinct jaw stood in the doorway looking at Leigh with something resembling alarm. Leigh’s fear that she had the wrong place quickly deepened. They stared at each other for a long moment.
“You’re here about the apartment,” he said eventually, shifting his weight from one leg to the other but not opening the door any farther.
Leigh couldn’t tell if it was a question or a statement but said “yes” anyway.
“Come in.” It seemed as though he had just remembered where he was. He opened the door and stood to the side.
“Thanks,” she said nervously. The studio was a small but agreeably open space. There was a bed at one end up against a wall and a desk at the other by the window. The window was open and a set of lovely but not very functional looking off-white curtains fluttered in the breeze. A small kitchen was set off to the side of the main room and Leigh could see the corner of the fridge which she was glad to see was full size, even though she rarely grocery shopped in any real way.
He had a hint of an accent but from where she couldn’t tell. As she had passed by him into the room, she had noticed a slight tang of alcohol and cigarette smoke on him. He looked like a bit of a mess, his eyes red-rimmed, and turning back to face him Leigh saw that he had buttoned his white linen shirt incorrectly. Still, he wore it all well; it somehow added up to something appealing. She felt the weight of being in a confined space with a man she found attractive; the feeling made her instantly claustrophobic.
“I’m Asa,” he said belatedly, reaching out his hand. She shook it. His hand was warm and smooth. The hand of a person with confidence.
“Leigh.” He smiled at her for the first time since she’d come through the door. He had a strange smile, one side of his mouth remained virtually even and the other seemed to stretch halfway up to his ear. Strange, but again, appealing.
“That’s a nice name for a girl,” he said looking at her squarely; a heavy moment of eye contact followed. He spoke his T’s very softly. She began to wonder if he was drunk. She smiled at him uneasily.
“Anyway,” Asa said, finally looking away from her, “this is the place.”
It was always a little awkward to be given a tour of a one room apartment; Leigh couldn’t decide whether she should just stand in one spot and look around or make some kind of cursory lap, peering into corners and examining. She walked over to the desk by the window which did indeed have a nice view of the old gray stone church. There was a full ashtray on the window sill with the faintest ribbon of smoke coming off of it.
“The kitchen is a fairly good size for this sort of apartment,” Asa continued, “if you want to take a look.”
She thought she detected something almost sarcastic in his voice, further reinforcing her feeling that she was dealing with someone a bit less than stable. She suddenly wanted to leave, but then also didn’t want to leave. The kitchen was more or less its own room, with a cutting board and sink on one side and the oven and fridge on the other. It was immaculate except for an opened, half-full bottle of bourbon on the counter top. “Who drinks bourbon during the day?” she thought. Her curiosity was piqued. She tried to imagine the circumstances that could compel a person to sit chain-smoking and drinking bourbon on a summer afternoon. She wished he would leave the room for a couple of minutes so that she could poke around properly, see what was in the fridge (her guess was that it contained something totally nonsensical, a wedge of brie and a jar of peanut butter, a whole coconut or nothing at all. She could see him being a man with nothing at all in his fridge. He definitely did not seem like he would have leftover take-out food in there or anything too fussy like organic tofu pasta). Furthermore she’d love to see what was in the medicine cabinet, Xanax? Wellbutrin? Ambien at the very least. If not, he should look into it, she thought. He looked like he hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in a year.
“So the bed and the desk could stay,” he said.
Leigh turned and for the first time noticed the suitcase splayed out on the bed, an untidy jumble of clothes spilling out of it. Come to think of it, other than the ashtray, the bourbon and the suitcase, the apartment looked unlived-in, sterile as though someone had gone to the trouble of erasing the last remnants of the previous tenant.
“That’s great,” she said, “I don’t have any furniture at the moment.”
Asa shot her an odd look, as though he thought she might be lying, and then gave her an even odder smile. She wondered if that had been a weird way to phrase it, “I don’t have any furniture at the moment” as in “check back in tomorrow and conditions might have improved.”
“You seem like a nice girl,” he said, not at all sarcastically—in fact his voice sounded melancholic.
She said, “Oh, I, um…thank you.”
“Do you want the place?”
“It seems great,” she said, her mind reeling. She was sure there were at least ten other things she should check on or ask about before making any kind of agreement but was unable to think of even one.
“I’ll need first and last month’s rent,” he said.
“So, uh, do I get the apartment?” Leigh asked. This seemed to her unusual, to be given the place on the spot. But she did like it with its lovely, polished hardwood floors and high ceilings, the latter being especially rare. But she was distracted by Asa, so much so that she was sure she was overlooking vital flaws; a cockroach the size a dachshund could have scuttled across the floor and she wouldn’t have noticed. She was too busy contemplating the thickness of his curls and marveling at how broad his shoulders were in contrast to his neat, narrow waist as he turned his back to her to and walked over to the desk by the window.
“Yes,” he said after another inordinately long pause, “I don’t feel like showing it to anyone else.” He went over to the desk and rummaged around for some papers. “Besides,” he said turning and flashing that quirky, sideways smile at her, “I like you.”
She stood still for a moment before digging in her purse for her checkbook.
She scrawled down the amount that she’d committed to memory, walked over to him and held out the check.
“You will take good care of the place,” he said in the same manner as before, making it sound like neither a question nor a statement. He looked at her expectantly. He still hadn’t taken the check from her hands. She said “yes, of course I will.” He took it and smiled at her. They walked together to the door. She realized that she must have been
inside the room for less than ten minutes.
“I’m going to leave the keys with the landlord; his office is right around the corner. He can meet you whenever you’re ready.” Asa dug a card with the landlord’s number out of his pants pocket and handed it to her.
“Great,” Leigh said. She was disappointed to have to leave. There was a feeling of unease and anticipation in the air, the implicit foreshadowing of some further interaction. But what?
“I’m glad this worked out,” she said awkwardly. “Thanks for um…thanks.” She felt her cheeks burning as she turned to leave.
“Wait,” he said as she reached the top of the staircase. She turned around and looked at him expectantly. He was leaning with one palm against the door frame while his other hand raked through his curls. The look on his face was that of someone who has bad news to deliver and is deliberating over how to do so. He drummed his fingers agitatedly against the wood. “Do you want a drink?”
Thankfully, he didn’t mean the bourbon. They went to a restaurant called Café Deville on the corner of 13th street. The air was so warm and heavy you could feel your skin moving through it like bathwater.
“I love this place,” he said, “I always come here. The food is good but not too good you know? I don’t like places where the food is perfect, where it’s exquisite. New York has too much of that, so earnest, so eager to impress and then to top it off you have all these gorgeous idiots serving the food, actors and models with this like palpable longing to be noticed. It’s painful, really. I won’t go anywhere where they serve foam any more.”
They sat at one of the small round tables that lined the sidewalk. Leigh ordered a glass of white wine and Asa surprised her by doing the same. Maybe his bourbon habit was secret and solitary like Shaun and her smoking in bed. Leigh wished she had some thing like this but the only shameful thing Leigh did in private was to eat peanut butter straight from the jar in large quantities which was neither dark nor sexy as a furtive habit.
“You seem to have a lot to say about New York. Are you leaving the city or just changing apartments?” she asked. Asa nodded.
“I’m going to Paris tomorrow. My family owns…I have an apartment there. I think I’ll be much happier making a transatlantic flight hung over or better yet, still drunk,” he laughed ruefully.
“You’re leaving tomorrow?” she asked in astonishment.
“Yep, my flight leaves at noon. Ah, before I forget, here,” He handed her a change of address card, “There you go. Please just send the checks to this address. There, now all the business is out of the way.” He took a deep drink of his wine, as though he were toasting that fact. “God, I’m so glad this was easy, you know? Don’t you just feel like you spend two thirds of your life doing the stupidest things, like laundry or listing your apartment or I don’t know…peeling potatoes. Just, you know, bullshit?!”
Leigh nodded a little distractedly; she felt she was waiting for the other shoe to drop, frantically imagining ways in which she was being bamboozled, perhaps the whole thing was a set-up and tomorrow he would leave town with her money, never to be heard from again. Did people do things like that? Did people steal all of your money and then ask you out for a drink? They did, she thought, maybe not this person this time but someone somewhere had done that.
“Well I guess not peeling potatoes, I don’t cook. Someone, though, is wasting their time with that,” he smiled. “Some poor kept man on East 73rd street.”
He looked like a disheveled, sad-eyed boy even though it would turn out that he was almost thirty, not that age necessarily made a difference to the question of boy or man. She thought he was probably not screwing her over after all. His smile was a little manic as if it were taking all his energy not to cry.
“Seems like you were cutting it awfully close,” she said, “What were you going to do if this hadn’t worked out?”
“I knew it would,” he said, “I heard your voice on the phone and I thought, I bet she’s the one who will live here. I wasn’t totally sure until I saw you, so that was a relief.”
She felt flattered. She was the kind of person who generally formulated contingency plan upon contingency plan. She never just believed things would work out. That, in her mind, was not an efficient way of living. But still she was jealous of people who did live that way, who went around saying things like ‘it just wasn’t meant to be’ when things didn’t go their way, and actually believed it.
He shrugged, “Just a feeling.”
“That’s my problem,” she thought. “I don’t have instincts about people.” She said,
“Well, I guess that’s good for both of us. Why are you moving? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I can’t live in this city anymore. I can’t work here.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer. Mostly pieces for magazines, sometimes the internet, Salon, Slate, that kind of thing.” He said the last part particularly dismissively.
“New York isn’t good for that?” she asked.
“Ah but now I have a book deal,” he said it like the way someone would say they had an HMO or an obligation to be a bridesmaid, “and my editor is getting antsy and I cannot, cannot work if I’m here right now.”
Leigh paused to consider the cryptic declaration. Despite her devotion to books, Leigh had known for a long time she would never be on the other side of that experience. She hadn’t the slightest idea what conditions might make it possible or impossible to write. She had always imagined the only requisite would be a quiet corner and one’s imagination. But of course, she wasn’t a writer, so that was just her romantic little idea.
“I love Paris,” she said.
“Everyone loves Paris,” Asa said with a snort, though not unkindly. Leigh noticed they were draining their drinks quickly and wondered if, when they were gone, they would order another round. Leigh thought that if he was willing to stay for another round, she would too.
“Lots of people love New York too,” she pointed out.
“No. Lots of people like New York. People who love New York are crazy and that’s why they love it. The city’s crazy picks up where their crazy leaves off. Plenty of crazy to go around.”
“I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” Leigh said, both annoyed and charmed by Asa’s ambiguous speech.
“That’s because you don’t want to think you might be crazy,” he said giving her a sly smile.
“Whoever said I loved New York?” she asked, feeling suddenly fortified to see this little game all the way through.
She shrugged. “Some days, yes; but other days I can’t think of place I wouldn’t rather be. So yes I love it and yes I hate it.”
He let out a gentle laugh. “I would have to deem that a very appropriate reaction to have to the city. Now, if you’ll just excuse me for one moment,” he said.
He eased himself out of his delicate rattan chair, catching her eyes and smiling as he slipped in through the open (glass door on the outside of restaurant).
Leigh looked again at their drinks; there was only a tiny triangle of wine left at the bottom of his glass. She envisioned him coming back and saying “Shall we?” and them going their separate ways into the night. She did not want to leave, that much she knew. She felt a pleasant discomfort with him, stirred and alert. She didn’t want to walk away from the feeling just yet, whatever it meant. But the idea of suggesting that they stay seemed impossible; theirs was a business arrangement, there was no need for them to be friends or anything else. Was she so desperate that she would cling to any attractive man thrown in her path? No, she thought, dismissing the notion before it had the chance to take root. It was this man. There was something about this man.
She sighed and turned her attention to the people walking by on the street. A giant pack of teenaged tourists lumbered by, rearranging themselves, stepping over and behind each other as they walked like a marching band trying hopelessly to fall into formation.
There were several other tables on the sidewalk where they were seated. Just next to them were two girls eating together, then one empty table and then one on the end, nearly on the corner where two young men sat. Leigh noticed for the first time since she’d sat down that the man from that table who was facing her was stunning. His blond hair must have been long because he appeared to have it pulled back into a ponytail, and it must have been dyed because his skin was a shade of olive that made blond hair seem extremely unlikely. His eyes were a shocking blue, too blue really; these must also be faked she decided. None of it should have worked together; the edifice should have been off-putting and distracting but instead was mesmerizing.
He was looking in her direction but she couldn’t tell whether he was looking at her or not; it seemed as if he was but he was too far away to know for sure. She smiled a little to see if he would smile back. He didn’t, instead he turned his head and nodded at something his friend was saying. He hadn’t noticed her. “Figures” she thought, “we don’t really live on the same plane do we, freakishly beautiful man?” A moment later they got up to leave and walked away from Leigh towards the corner where they stood talking for a moment before the friend turned to cross Third Avenue. She didn’t get a good look at the friend, could only see that he was tall and slender and wearing a very slimly cut blazer. She couldn’t help but watch the beautiful man as he lingered on the corner for a moment as though deciding what to do next before eventually heading north. What must he be thinking about? She wondered.
So preoccupied was Leigh with watching this mysterious stranger that she didn’t notice Asa approaching until he descended into the chair opposite her. The waitress approached and asked if they would like another round; Asa nodded.
Leigh felt relieved and drank down the last of her wine.
“Do you speak French fluently then?” she asked him. She was now back in the moment with the first mysterious stranger to have entered her world that day, having all but forgotten the second.
He nodded. “My father was a diplomat; back then French was the language to speak if you were in the diplomatic corps. I speak French, Hebrew, and well obviously I speak English. Every once in a while I even make sense in one of the aforementioned languages, but I don’t make a habit of it.”
She smiled and wondered if this was a joke he’d used before or one he’d just come up with.
She listened to his story; he’d been born in New York City but moved to Israel with his family shortly after. When he was three, they had moved to Paris then back to New York again when he was ten. He remembered very little from his time in Israel; he recounted a recurring dream he had about standing on a balcony watching streams of slow moving religious pilgrims, chanting softly and making their way through the narrow dusty lanes but he couldn’t be sure that this was an actual memory. “A landscape of neutrals,” he said, “very strange. My memories of Paris are a little clearer, naturally,” he said, “but I think sometimes that I’ve edited in scenes from French movies, particularly Le Ballon Rouge. You know, Edith Piaf songs swell in the background…”
He polished off his second drink. Leigh noted that A: he was consuming alcohol at an alarming rate, B: he did not seem very drunk and C: she wished to make every attempt to keep up with him from here on; it seemed like the right thing.
“What about you? Where is your family?” he asked.
“My sister lives just outside Seattle,” she said.
“And your parents?”
“They um,” she was always careful how she exactly she phrased her answer to this. It depended on how comfortable or uncomfortable she felt like making the person she was talking to. For instance saying my parents are dead made people change the subject quickly, made it sound as if it was a continual state as opposed to something that had happened long ago. She chose the gentler approach.
“My parents died when I was a really little.”
He didn’t look away when she said it, amazingly. People always looked away if only for a millisecond but not him, not even a flicker.
“I’m so sorry. That’s awful.”
She shrugged, and now looked away herself.
“So where, that is um who…?”
“We lived with my aunt, well aunts, and moved around a little here and there. My mother had three sisters. All very nice, so it wasn’t so bad. Lots of cousins. We were all very close when we were kids but now we’ve all spread out all over the place. That happens I guess.”
“Who is your favorite?”
“No, aunt. Or is that not a fair question?”
“Well,” she said, “who is your favorite parent?”
She was only trying to be clever but his face darkened and she felt as if she had somehow said the wrong thing.
“Chloe,” she said, “I think my aunt Chloe is my favorite.” She drank the rest of her wine. “Anyway, she’s the most fun.’
Mary was the mother hen aunt, Louise was the strict and pious aunt (the least pleasant to live with) and Chloe was the exciting, carefree aunt. It had always been this way. It was hard to think that at one time they had also been children, teenagers, young women (with the exception of Chloe who would always seem young). Leigh also often wondered where her mother had fit into the picture, second oldest to Louise, followed by Mary and then Chloe, but she had no sense from the space that her mother had left in her death how she had affected the order of the family when she’d been alive.
“And you lived with all of them growing up?”
“Mostly Aunt Mary. A little bit Aunt Louise right after it happened and then sometimes Aunt Chloe during the summers.”
“Just you and your sister?”
“Yep,” she said, “She’s married, just had a baby. We used to be close when we were kids, but she’s kind of boring now, talks a lot about their diaper service and the evils of The Wiggles.”
He laughed. “I presume you don’t have strong opinions on either subject.”
“Uh, no.” she said with a smile.
After that the conversation flowed easily. She never meant to judge people on their reactions to her childhood but she knew she did so, that she couldn’t help herself. Many people looked at her with a pity and sometimes with a little bit of fear, as though she must be so damaged from growing up without parents that there was no telling what she might do. Sometimes, if she didn’t feel like taking a chance, she’d tell people her father was an accountant and her mother a homemaker who was heavily involved in junior league which managed safely to pique the interest of no one. But Asa had required neither lies nor explanations and now she was there with him on the other side of the conversational barrier.
Leigh wondered how much time had passed. Night was falling, so they must have been there for almost two hours. It certainly seemed as if they’d been sitting there a long time. They had spent much of the last hour or so talking about books, swapping long lists of recommendations, even stopping to write down a few of the ones about which they were passionate. Leigh had been thrilled to find that there was cross over in their favorites, Ian McEwan and Joan Didion, thoroughly unsurprising choices for either of them when she considered it later. It always made Leigh feel closer to a person, to know that someone had read and been enraptured by the same story as she had been, as if they had both been to some remote location within days of each other.
Leigh didn’t care what time it was but knew that Asa must; he was, after all, moving to Europe the next day. The café patio had filled up as the evening had worn on and was now bustling and loud.
The waitress, who was not the same one they had started out with, asked if they would like another round. Leigh knew this was it, the logical end of the evening, she felt disappointment creep into her bones.
“I think not,” Asa said, “Just the check please.”
There it was, she thought. He looked at her and a slow, languid smile crept across his handsome features.
“Leigh darling,” he said. “This has been wonderful.”
“Yes,” she said, in an overly bright tone that she hoped he didn’t notice, “I’m so glad that everything is going to work out. It was really good to meet you.”
“Absolutely,” Asa said tipping the last couple of drops of wine into his mouth, “now, if you agree, I think I should show you one of the most important places in this neighborhood, the wine shop across the street from my, excuse me, your apartment. Then, we should take a bottle back to said apartment and continue our fascinating discussion away from all these horrible, noisy, pushy New Yorkers.”
Leigh was stunned, but to her own amazement, played it cool.
“That would be great,” she said simply.
Due to the lack of furniture in the apartment, they sat on the floor with their backs against the wall. Drunk as she now was, it still seemed to her that it would have been improper to sit on the bed; and they’d bought red wine so it seemed like a bad idea to drink it too near to Asa’s white sheets. He walked slowly to the kitchen, swaying slightly and he came back with a corkscrew and two small glasses. He sat down next to Leigh and opened the wine.
“What’s your novel going to be about?” Leigh asked. He put a hand to his forehead and rubbed his temples with his thumb and forefinger.
“Oh, deep things. Love. I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Obsessively in fact. The truth is I have a bad habit of falling in love with the wrong people.”
The answer was a brush-off, she knew, but one that she saw right through. How frighteningly insecure writers were; Lulu always said of the authors she worked with that it seemed that many of them felt like frauds deep down and were cowed with fear of being exposed. She sensed that it would be an act of compassion not to press him about the novel and so turned the conversation back to the material world, about which he seemed so comfortable making bold declarations.
“What does that mean? The wrong people?”
He had his head in his hands and was looking at her sideways through his spread fingers.
“Never mind. It’s not important.”
Obviously it was.
“Have you ever been in love?” he asked.
“No,” Leigh said. Her heart lurched as she realized that this was true. She thought of her nice college boyfriend (the only one who had ever been around long enough to have called him a boyfriend really) and it wasn’t so much that she didn’t think she had been in love with him, it was more that she felt she now bore little or no resemblance to the person she had been then—that person had been nothing more than a phase, a development stage.
Asa nodded as if this was the somehow the answer he’d been expecting or was looking for and stared into his wine glass. He twisted the stem between his fingers.
“I want what my parents had. Which is ridiculous, I realize…that I want that, I mean. My father outlived my mother by thirteen years and I don’t think he got over it even a little bit. Terrifying to be that attached to someone, but still…”
He stared up in the direction of the window. ”Mais tu sais quoi?” he turned back to face her, his eyes narrowed, a little glazed, “Love outlives us. It’s the only thing.”
Suddenly, he grasped one of her shoulders with the hand that was not holding his glass and kissed her. It was not an especially romantic kiss. He kept his mouth on hers without opening it. She was afraid to initiate the other kind of kiss, although she did want to be kissed that way by Asa. He pulled away after a moment that felt both prolonged and brief.
“Do you remember much about your parents?” he asked, settling back into his own space as if nothing had happened. She took a deep breath.
“Sorry,” he said quickly, “do you not like to talk about it?”
“No, no it’s fine. I do have this really nice memory of my dad. He took me to the park right after he got off of work one day, I don’t know where my sister was but it was just me and him. It was this gorgeous day and I was playing with a little toy sailboat in a pond. It got away from me somehow and my dad climbed in to get in, just rolled up his trouser legs and went in there, I remember him walking back to me. You know, looking all triumphant.” The story came out in an uninterrupted stream of syllables; her nerves betrayed her, her mind was reeling from the kiss. How could they now be speaking just as they had been a moment before? What did this man want from her? She felt a wave of lightheadedness as she realized that she would give it to him, whatever it was.
Asa only smiled, looking once again disengaged and remote. “That’s a nice memory,” he said and then after a moment,
“It reminds me of that movie Georgie with Fredrick Ashton. Have you ever seen that? You would have been pretty young I think.”
Leigh shook her head but as she did a bell somewhere deep in her memory rang. She may have seen the movie but she was unwilling to consider the idea that this could be the thing she remembered; as it was it was all she had. All the memories she felt might have been of her mother were far too interchangeable with her childhood memories of her various aunts, but this one she knew was of her father because there was no other man around consistently enough to masquerade in her memory as a father figure.
“Tell me about Chloe,” Asa said.
She looked in his eyes and realized that he had meant nothing by his comment about the movie, that he saw it for what it was: a coincidence.
“She’s my youngest aunt; I used to think I wanted to be just like her. She’s really beautiful and she does whatever she feels like, moves to another country on a whim, can speak all kinds of languages and dance and cook.”
“You don’t want to be like that anymore?”
Leigh shrugged. “You see things differently once you grow up a little I guess. When I was younger, I thought she had it all figured out: no attachments, no commitments. Now I see that in fact she’s a little bit selfish,” Leigh said, and then feeling disloyal added, “she’d tell you as much herself. She’s very self-aware; that I will always admire about her. It’s probably not fair that I consider her my favorite; the other two have done so much for me. I mean, I don’t hear from Chloe for months at a time sometimes.”
Asa smiled, “It’s pretty fruitless to try and quantify what someone means to you, don’t you think?”
Leigh laughed, “I suppose it is but I don’t know when that’s ever stopped anyone from trying. Anyway, whenever I do talk to her I just feel kind of revived; it’s like cleaning a window pane, suddenly everything on the other side just looks better, you know?”
Asa nodded, “When was the last time you spoke to her.”
“A few weeks ago, but she actually said something that kind of freaked me out.”
“She had just broken up with this Brazilian boyfriend of hers and she sounded more down than usual about it and she said to me ‘you know Leigh, when I was your age there were always so many men around, I figured that when I was ready to get married I’d just pick one of them and work it out. But that’s not how it turned out.’ That worried me, I guess. I mean, I don’t have that many men around to begin with…”
“Oh come on, that can’t be true,” he said kindly.
“Oh but it is…” she said quietly, looking away. She was embarrassed that she had said something so self-pitying.
He reached forward and brushed a piece of hair out of her face that she hadn’t even realized was there. He got to his feet and reached a hand down.
She thought he might ask her to leave but instead he finished off his glass of wine and said, “I should lie down for awhile.”
Leigh nodded and stood up. She knew this was her cue to go but found that once she was on her feet she felt glued to the floor. She had a strange sensation that she wasn’t really there, that he might suddenly no longer be able to see her, that she had dissolved into individual molecules that were now flying around the room. She felt what she had felt all evening, only that she wanted to stay near him.
He took their empty glasses and the half-drunk bottle to the kitchen and then without saying a word, he nonchalantly stripped his shirt off and turned off the light. She still didn’t move. A strip of moonlight mingled with light from the streetlamps came through the window and lit the apartment as though from within. Her eyes adjusted quickly and she watched him walking to the bed, passing by her, close enough to feel the heat of his body. He pulled back the sheet and climbed in. He turned on his side and looked at her as if only just remembering that moment that she was still standing there. She got in next to him. He gingerly slipped an arm around her and pulled her in close. The heat of his chest against her back was cloying but still welcome. For a moment she felt every muscle in her body going tense, how long had it been since she’d been in bed with someone like this? Her mind reeled, counting back the weeks, months even since she had felt her skin against someone else’s. She wondered if this were the moment something was going to happen, this easy moment in the dark. Already lying next to one another, so many barriers had already been broached, why not this last one? Unwilling to initiate anything, she waited, waited for anything, his lips on her neck, an insistent hand wandering into unambiguous territory, a stiffening felt at her lower back.
But nothing happened; and soon Asa’s breathing fell into even, measured sleep. Leigh felt both disappointment and a strange relief; and surprisingly she fell into a deeper sleep than she’d had in months.