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Sounds Like Algebra

She lay over him, pressing against his chest, tickling his nose and lips with her brown hair, giggling. "You've never done this before, have you?" she asked.

"What, made out in a storage closet on the 8th floor of a dormitory? Nope, can't say I've done that," he laughed.

"No stupid," she said, playfully hitting him on his shoulder. "I mean kiss someone."

"Umm, is this a multiple choice question?" he asked.

"No. I guess I'm just thinking out loud. Now shut up and close your eyes." He waited, breath quickly passing between his slightly parted lips.

Maybe we should just chalk it up to bad timing. After all, maybe we weren't ready for it yet. Maybe there's no one to blame. It's been so many years and we don't even talk anymore. We don't write, we never see each other. We've lost everything that we ever had, and more. I think it all stems from the way we said goodbye. It wasn't a proper farewell, we just stood there looking at each other, paralyzed by fright, unable to speak. Then we just turned around and walked away. Do I regret it? ... I think so. I think if you called me up on some dark night when it was raining and cold and the wind was whistling past my window, if you called me and just asked if I regret it without identifying yourself, I might confess.

"I'm not exactly used to this myself," she said to his closed eyes, brushing a lock over his chin, trembling almost imperceptibly. "You're nervous," she said.

"Yeah," he whispered. "I'm laying here, my eyes are closed, and you're on me. You're closer than I'd ever hoped you might be. I've spent weeks laying awake, dreaming something like this might happen. And now I don't quite know what to do."

"You don't have to do anything," she said. He heard a slight rustle and felt bare skin against him. She laid her head on his chest. "You don't have to do anything at all."

I just don't quite get you. I suppose I never will. We were standing there and you didn't say anything. I might have wanted you to stop me from going, but I guess it's too late now. I'm not even sure where you are anymore. I sit here alone, looking at the green lights twinkling over the bay from that old deserted mansion that was built in the 1920s. I used to sneak in there when I was in high school, creeping around by myself, looking at the sundappled cobwebs, running my hand over bannisters covered with years of grime as I walked up staircases creaky from years of disuse and caressing the faded dustcloths covering the ancient furniture. There were still traces of the ornate upholstery that had covered these divans and chairs years before, scraps of red and purple and gold fabric that glistened dully in the refracted light. I'd stand in the center of the sitting room, listening to the silence, and rhythms would gradually form out of thin air. Then I'd slowly strip, reveling in the tight fear coiling in my gut, the knowledge that someone might find me, that someone might see, and I'd dance to those ghostly songs of age, decay and time, twisting in circles of solar illumination until dusk fell and the sky burned, warming my bare skin. When it was dark, I would quickly pull my clothes on and leave, not looking back, not looking around, not looking up, not even looking, fearful that someone might have seen.

He lay on the floor, stiffly, unsure of what to do next. "You might put your arm around me," she suggested. "I won't bite. That is, I won't bite hard. Unless you want me too," she said, lifting her head to look at him and grin. She shifted her weight slightly and suddenly she was on his chest, supporting her weight on his ribcage and her elbows, resting her chin on the backs of her hands. "Is this better?" she asked, staring in his face.

"I guess so," he said. "I'm still kind of in a daze. I keep thinking I should pinch myself to make sure I'm awake. Ow! What the hell did you do that for?"

"Well, you said you were thinking about doing it anyway," she said. "Satisfied?"

"Maybe," he said. "I guess I'm still skeptical. Maybe I need just a little more reassurance." He caught his breath as she casually moved one of her hands. "Umm, what are you doing?"

"Just trying to make sure you're awake. I've never had anyone fall asleep on me before. It might give me a complex or something if you were the first." He cleared his throat as she ran her fingernail down to his waist, and paused. "You sure you're not dreaming?"

"Yep, that did it."

"I thought it might." She moved her hand between them and smiled as he bit his lower lip. "Want me to do that for you? I promise I'll be gentle."

"No, that's quite all right," he said through clenched teeth.

"You're much too tense," she said, sitting up. "Listen to you! I can hear the stress in your voice!"

"I am fine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me, and I am not at all stressed."

She put her hands on her hips. "Yes there is!" She thought for a few moments. "I know what it is. You're self-conscious. Now I've done it. Well, I'll just have to do what I can to make amends." She stood up, the light from the 40 watt bulb shining on her bare shoulders as she pulled off her jeans. "There. That should help." She lay back down on him.

"I hate to even ask," he said.

"Then don't. I think it's just about time for you to shut up," she said, leaning over and kissing him.

You were that airborne scent of bottlebrush that calls bees to it. You were the way cool sheets feel against your skin when you sleep in the nude for the first time. You were an endless supply of hot water in a shower when you had hours to spare and could stand directly in front of the spray, letting each drop pound your chest, turning to let it bead on your shoulders and roll in streams down your back. You were like standing on the side of a mountain, wrapped in a sleeping bag, watching a dawn full of colors nature had never intended to create in air so cold your breath froze on your lips. You were all of those things and more. At least, you seemed to be. The feel of honey pouring over my lips, sticky and sweet, is only the barest suggestion of what you felt like. I tried not to be alarmed at this new feeling, this youness pouring into me, but it was frightening. You were frightening. I'd never met anyone like you before. I haven't met anyone like you since.

It seemed to last forever. She gently tugged at his hair as she ran her fingers through it, pulling him closer, biting his lip, kissing his mouth, his ears, his neck. For his part, he closed his eyes, arched his back, gasped periodically when she allowed him time to breathe. "Why are you doing this?" he asked, flushed and panting slightly.

"Do you want me to stop?"

"Well, no, but ..."

"Then shut up." And then it was quiet, except for the barely audible buzz of the cheap light overhead, and soft sighs.

He couldn't quite tell where each of them ended. Her constant movement made it difficult to tell where she was, if she was. Indeterminate, wavering, fuzzy. She seemed to be a picture that was slightly out of focus, blurring at the edges where the atoms were unsure of their identity, embarrassed at being observed, and trying to hide their indecisive nature as they tried to find a new where, anywhere, to be and be unseen.

"You like?" she asked in a hushed voice, resting her head where his left arm connected to the rest of him.

He didn't say anything for some time. He just lay there, looking at the ceiling, stroking her hair. "Listen," he said finally. "Can you hear it?"

"Hear what?" she asked.

"The clock tower. It's ringing." They lay there, listening to bells chiming in the night air, echoing across the rooftops until it finally reached their ears, a dim metallic clang that spoke of the past, present and future, bringing tales yet untold to their attention.

So there you were, laying on that scruffy old blanket I dragged down from Washington, your hand in my hair, my head on your body. I remember kissing you periodically. I think I even sneezed. You didn't seem to mind. So what happened? What did I do? Was it something I said that made you disappear, that made you look away, that made you not even notice me? I would sit across from you in the dining hall and you wouldn't look up from your tray, you wouldn't speak to me, even when I asked you how you were doing and if everything was okay. You just stared into your mashed potatoes and gravy and stirred them a little harder. I left messages with your roommate but you never called me back. I think I heard you say "I'm not here" a few times. If I saw you now, would anything have changed? I've spent the last seven years trying to answer that question and I never find a satisfactory response. I just start thinking about the nights I've stayed awake wondering and I get lost in my own recollections of remembering.

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 26, 2008