He opens his eyes, the click-click-clicking of her breathing having roused him from an embattled sleep. The only other sound is that of the refrigerator, groaning from the kitchen. He’s uncomfortable, his arm trapped beneath her head and his body twisted awkwardly around hers, but doesn’t move for fear of waking her.
The smell of the latex is strong and he can sense, on the floor just over his head, the presence of the discarded condoms. One has fulfilled its purpose while the other lies empty, failed.
Despite the presence of the beautiful woman next to him, her full breasts and curved hips pressing against him, he feels detached… disconnected. He thinks of the phone shoved in the pocket of his jeans on the floor next to the bed and wonders whether She has tried contacting him.
her hot breath stings his face, a reminder that it’d be pointless to try and check. Sleep has left him and, fully aware it won’t be returning, he lies there, contemplating how this current sleeping arrangement came to be.
It caught him by surprise when, reaching the door to his fourth floor flat, he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. her name flashed on the caller ID. He hesitated, already certain of what would happen if he picked up. Despite this, he couldn’t resist going blind into a world he had no desire in venturing into. His brain had long ago stopped ruling him. In broken English she informed him that she’d changed her mind about going home.
“Are you sure?” He asked, knowing full well that he wasn’t and hoping that this doubt would be conveyed to her through the receiver. It wasn’t. she was sure. she’d be there in 15 minutes.
He went to the little store across from the train station to kill the time, and to pick up some condoms. He bought milk and two bars of chocolate, not so as to give one to her, but because he couldn’t figure out whether he wanted the one with nuts or strawberry. As always he refused a bag, shoving the condoms deep inside his jacket pocket and carrying the other items in a gloved hand.
she was waiting for him in front of the little 24-hour cafe, eyes downcast as he walked up. He did his best to pretend he hadn’t just seen her a half-hour before, hadn’t just left her on the platform with the offer still in his eyes. They walked the five minutes or so to his flat, pausing along the way so she could ask him the name of various objects in English.
Their communication at the coffee shop earlier that night, as had been the case for every other meeting they’d ever had, had been limited to this. There were the usual niceties of course, but you can only ask someone how their day was so many times before it becomes obvious that either you don’t care, aren’t listening, or have nothing else to say. He’d already asked twice. It wouldn’t have come to that had there not been seemingly so few items around for which they could do this little back and forth.
With the English for words like “napkin holder” and “sugar packet” exhausted, they turned to parts of the body and, as is always the case, sex. “Lips,” and “eyes” soon gave way to “hips,” and “thighs,” and it was only a matter of time before the offer came. Somewhere south of “breasts.” He wasn’t even sure he’d wanted to make it, but frankly he had nothing left to say.
That and the fact that he hadn’t wanted to go home alone, not tonight.
she refused at first, and he jumped quickly back into “napkin holder” and “sugar packet.” Now, arriving back at his flat, they launched into the routine again, save with sexier words. Finding their available vocabulary again limited, he kissed her, first on the cheek and then on the neck. She mumbled a protest and he, perhaps pleasantly surprised, stepped aside.
“You must to shave your… beard.” she stumbled on the word a bit before finally getting it out. “It irritates my skin.” He protested feebly but, after minimal convincing, trotted off to the bathroom.
He emerged five minutes later feeling somewhat emasculated, clean-shaven for the first time in months. she signaled her approval with a kiss and moments later ordered that he turn off the light. He fumbled trying to take the plastic off the box of condoms and when at last he had managed to roll one on she was quick to press him inside.
After a few minutes of awkward thrusting he felt ready to come but, seeking to prolong things, slowed his pace. she groaned impatiently, thrusting her hips back against him. Seconds later, he was finished.
A second attempt had ended in a different kind of frustration and brings him to where he lies now, awake next to the girl he’d been idolizing for the past two months, ever since the term began, but feeling rather empty… and regretful.
she pulls the blanket up so that it covers him and he smiles slightly at the sweetness of it. her mouth is inches from his face and he can smell her breath, quite different from the One he’s used to. In not just this but in every way, the two couldn’t be more different.
2, the girl in his bed now, has a tall, slender, model-like form. In comparison She is shorter, Her fingers tiny little digits that differ greatly from 2’s which seem to have been destined to a life spent playing the piano.
Their hair too, is different. 2 wears hers long, with bangs in the front that, when coupled with her accent, make her seem perfectly cast as a spy out of a Cold War thriller.
She wears Hers short and spunky, undeniably as cute as 2’s is sensual.
2 is a woman in every sense of the word; make-up, lipstick, nail polish, stylish clothing and gentle demeanor included.
She is a bit more of a punk, one who enjoys music festivals, colored glasses, shorts and t-shirts. Her face is as bare as Her fingernails, save for the occasional eye shadow. There has never been a day when he hasn’t seen Her in that tacky, green Sony Ericsson jacket She won for participating in an online music contest.
Their personalities, not to mention level of English, is also night and day. She and he have never played “napkin holder,” “sugar packet,” though if They did it’d likely be with a hell of a twist. Instead They discuss films and novels, She criticizes his social oddities and he Her few grammatical mistakes. They hang out in random cafes and ruminate on whatever odd but funny YouTube clip She’d sent him earlier that day.
These thoughts run through his mind as he lies turning in the uncomfortable bed She hates so much, always departing from it, and him, before the sun comes up. He suddenly sees himself grabbing for his phone, powering it on, and checking to see if She’s messaged him. “Where are you?” The message will surely say. “Can I come over?” Instead he finds that he’s not holding his phone at all but that his arms are instead latched around 2’s sleeping form.
2 had informed him earlier that she had to leave at 5:30 am, in order to catch the first metro home so she wouldn’t be late for university. He finds himself wishing that it were now that she had to leave, and feels guilty for the thought. Forcing himself to think of better things, he remembers…
They had sat behind the window at that same 24-hour cafe, amidst all the flowers and couples that the evening had brought. They weren’t a couple, She had made that clear to him from Their first night together and every night since. She had no feelings for him and wouldn’t soon develop any. They were, in Her words, “friends with benefits,” like something out of a bad TV series. Except in real life it was the girl ensuring it stayed that way. She hadn’t reminded him of this tonight, and he hadn’t reminded Her to remind him, not even after Her friend had gone and the two of Them had been left sitting Side by side at the booth facing the aforementioned window. He’d instead busied himself running lines down Her face with his fingers and She’d squeezed his arm in Her tiny hand.
“It’s funny,” She’d said, “watching your reflection in the window.”
“Why?” He’d asked, tracing the mole to the right of Her lower lip.
“I’m so curious as to what you’re going do.”
“What you’re going TO do,” he’d corrected. She’d smiled.
“I mean,” She’d continued, “I know what you’re going TO do, but how you get there is what’s interesting.” After a long pause She’d looked at him. “Have you run out of things to say?”
“No,” he’d replied. “I’m just tired of pretending.” With that Their lips had touched, and it wasn’t until an hour later when the taxi had pulled up to his building and he had gotten out alone that They had broken the embrace.
An alarm goes off and 2 stirs next to him, pressing buttons on her cell phone.
“I need go.” she says, and moves to get up. His arms are still around her, the spell cast from his Valentine’s memory not yet broken. “I need get dressed!” she pleads, breaking his hold.
He watches as she pulls her dress over her head, the moonlight illuminating her back before she covers it.
“Go to bathroom while I finish get dressed.” she says, giving him a kiss to speed him along. As he stands over the toilet peeing, he thinks about last night.
It was 4 am and despite his objections She wasn’t coming back to bed. “You can stay.” He had told Her, as if he hadn’t said it every night since They’d started being “friends.”
“I like my own bed.” She’d looked at him and, to convince him, added: “I need my own bed.”
He’d sighed sadly, walking Her to the door without bothering to get dressed. She always replied the same but stubbornly hopeful he’d repeated it tonight; “I’ll walk you to the metro.” She hadn’t turned, too busy tying Her shoes.
“No need.” She’d pulled on Her tacky, green jacket and purple cap before turning and giving him a kiss. “Get some sleep.”
He’d opened the door and was immediately taken aback by the cold, though he should have expected it.
“Text me to let me know you get home safe.” She’d looked back at him, at the elevator now.
“The only way I’m texting you is if I don’t make it home.” With that She’d stepped inside and the iron teeth closed, taking Her down into the building’s bowels and leaving him standing there in his naked isolation.
When he steps out of the bathroom 2 is standing there with her coat tied and fur boots on, looking as good as she did when she walked in earlier that night.
“I’m ready.” she says, looking at him expectantly.
“Okay.” He gives her a little kiss on the lips. “Thanks for coming.”
she looks at him oddly. “Aren’t you going walk me?”
He pauses. “Oh right, sure.” He strides back into the room to pull his jeans on and grab his coat.
As they walk he looks up at the moon and remembers what today is. Her birthday. She had gone out clubbing with some friends from Her old theater group to celebrate. He wonders if She is home yet… He wonders if She went home alone…
Descending the steps into the metro the fresh smell of baked bread greets them. The shopkeepers are all moving about, readying their vegetable bowls and cigarette displays for that day’s customers. They reach the turnstiles and she faces him.
“I had a great night.” she searches his face for some sign of agreement.
“I did too,” He offers, taking her hand for emphasis. she stares anxiously into his eyes.
He nods, eager to leave her behind.
“I’ll text you when I get home.”
He nods. “Okay.”
And with that, they part. He turns to exit, and in doing so fails to see her turn, all smiles and innocence, hoping to catch one last glimpse of him. She does, though it’s of his back turned from her, as he walks quickly back through the metro doors, peering anxiously at the phone in his hand.
she stares sadly after him as she sinks, slowly into the flickering depths.
The old lady in the blue Metro uniform sits behind her glass enclosure, half-observing the bank of security cameras, one of which shows 2’s descent and another his.
Finally, back above ground, he sees the little bars indicating a signal flash, accompanied seconds later by the vibration of an incoming message.
From Her, a single word, a question, sent some hours before.