I sat there on the floor, reading about red cells for my thesis. My cat Patches was curled at my feet. My boyfriend William had come over, we were trying things again, and now I listened as he talked to my son Jamie about his job as a reporter. Jamie nodded, more interested in the TV, where some guy was smacking his guitar and double leaping.
My mother called. It was almost Christmas.
“Eileen,” my mother said. “Come and see your stepdad.”
“What should I say?”
“He loves you, you know.”
Patches rubbed my leg. She was calico. I petted her and she started purring. There was silence on my mom’s end.
“I’m saying maybe you should come now,” she said. “At least think about it.”
Her voice began to waver. She started crying, she said she wished it wasn’t such a drive for me to see her. I mouthed to William it was my mom. He was making faces at Jamie. Patches scurried to the bedroom.
When I hung up William told me about a girl he’d known since high school, a girl I’d met in Physics. She was leaving her husband.
“Her problems were that bad?” I said to William.
“One of those marriages that just look good,” he said.
Miles from next door came over, asking if Jamie could play. He was an older kid who I relied on to babysit. I waved at Jamie as he headed for the door. I sat close to William. He made me feel wanted, just sitting with him.
“Marriage sucks, huh?” he said. He looked at me and started going for something between my teeth with a fingernail.
“It’s my stepdad,” I said.
“Your mom?” He looked at his watch. He was on his way to a dinner party with this woman. Her name was Anna. He’d just come from the gym, said he should be getting ready.
“Can I come?” I said.
“What about your thesis?” he said.
“I can help,” I said. I knew about divorce.
“I guess,” he said. “It’s your choice.”
I called Miles’ mother, asked if Miles could stay with Jamie. Then I got dressed and William came and watched, helped me pick an outfit.
I stood there naked, going through my closet. I pulled out a slinky shirt that was falling off a hanger.
“You wearing that?” he said.
I put the shirt back and he got off the bed, rubbing against me. I turned around and let him kiss me but told him the rest could wait. I filtered through my rack, picked out a dress with an embroidered collar.
“You’re ok with Shirley Temple?” he said. He took it, put it back, and grabbed the silver top. He told me to show my stuff.
“This one’s going to Salvation,” I said, taking it from him.
He talked me into my low rider jeans, that top—the whole outfit showed my naval and my cleavage. I wore boots. All the time I was dressing he was touching me. It was hard to keep my mind on my business. I put on hoops, said, “You go for the sleazy look, huh?”
“Whatever,” he said. “It’s you.”
He slapped my butt, said, “Some women would die to carry off this look.”
I tapped his cheek. “Hands off until later. You’re kind of reminding me of my dad.”
He put his arms around me and rocked, and though he didn’t always say the right things, I felt a little warm there.
As he showered, I found Jamie outside, shooting baskets with Miles and the neighbor boys. I yelled to them that I was going out.
“Man, with that dork?” Miles said. “You must be hard up.”
“Just take care of my son,” I said. I kissed Jamie and told him to be good. I watched him try a free throw.
In the car, William put in a CD by Madonna, something we listened to when we were fucking. “Bring back memories?” he said.
We were the first ones at the party. The table was set with fancy silver dishes and candles burning in the center, the lighting to match. It looked nice in a TV soap opera way.
Other guests arrived. There were about ten in all, and I’d met most of them before at other times with William. They were his friends. I sat on the couch, William next to me, and I rubbed my hand along the cushions–soft, covered in velour—as they all laughed about stuff. I took off my boots, left them sitting on the hardwood. I sat on my feet.
When the group broke up, William put his hand on my back and looked at me.
“What’re you thinking?” he said.
“I’m going to stay here,” I said.
“What, in this apartment?”
“No, I mean in town. I’m not going north to see my stepdad.”
“Oh,” he said, sipping his wine, looking toward the kitchen where three of the women were laughing loud about something.
When Anna got there, I gave her a hug. “Hard times, huh?” I said.
She took a long swallow.
She went into the kitchen. I returned to the sofa. William edged closer, his hand on my shoulder. He smelled like my shampoo.
“You know,” he said, dropping his hand to my leg. “When I was in the shower I promised myself I’m not touching you tonight. You look so hot. It’s like sex cheapens our relationship, or something.”
“You’re so sweet,” I said, staring down at something.
“You know what I mean,” he said. “You want to stop at my place?”
Dinner was all green, lettuce just like grass, and vegetarian lasagna. Red wine to match the green, as if it were Christmas. William looked at my plate. “Two servings,” he said.
“Of everything,” I said.
“Like you’re Ethiopian.”
After a while, I excused myself, taking my glass with me to the bathroom.
Everything was pink. I looked at myself in the mirror and dabbed my lipstick. I looked for floss and did my teeth. I arranged my hair. I looked in the cabinet for gel. Then I heard knocking.
“Can I?” said the woman.
I opened the door and found Anna. I told her I was looking for something for my hair. She reached in her purse, gave me this wax thing.
I said, “Like a hair commercial.”
She shut the door. “Bill thought you were sick,” she said.
“Paranoid?” I said, doing my hair.
“He just cares,” she said. She did what she needed, sat. “You two look good together.”
After the meal, we all cleared the table. I sat next to William on the sofa. I kept telling him that he looked really tired. He told me he was energetic, thinking of us going back to his place.
“Should we leave?” he said. I told him whenever he was ready.
The hostess was out of wine, and William had more at home, so he decided we should get some. Anna followed in her car, so she could bring the stuff back to the party.
At William’s, I sat on the sofa, petting his dog Baby. Anna sat next to me. William went to the kitchen and Anna talked about her husband.
“He’ll fight?” I said.
“For everything,” she said.
From the kitchen, William called for Baby.
“What about the kids?” I said.
William came back with the bottle. He looked at Anna, asked her what it was now. He sat next to her and put his hand on her, said that she could stay there.
“You don’t have to go back,” he said, He went back to the kitchen with the wine, returned with three full glasses and some tissues. Baby trailed behind him. He sat between us, handed out the wine and gave Anna his big tissues.
“It’s just me,” she said. She took off her glasses. We all sipped our wine. Baby got up and sat on the blanket in the corner.
“Is it time?” William said to her. “Are you ready to come out now?”
She put on her glasses, sipped.
I took some of my own wine.
William put his arms around us. “There’s something she wants to tell you,” he said. He smiled a little.
He leaned over and he kissed her. I didn’t really know what to do. They kept on kissing so I nudged him. That wasn’t helping.
“Hey,” I said, finally getting up then.
I said to them, “Hello?”
They finally stopped and William looked at me, wiping his saliva. His chin was red. “A threesome would be nice,” he said.
Baby started barking.
I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
As William drove, he told me he’d been waiting to be alone with me. I told him to just shut up about it.
I started thinking of my stepdad. If he was really as sick as my mother made him sound then.
I told William that was a terrible thing to do with Anna. I said, “She’s having a hard time already.”
We sat there at a stoplight. I talked about my stepdad. I said I had to go there.
“Do what you want,” he said. “How much longer does he have now?”
I looked out the window at the streetlights, at a cat that lurked.
William grabbed my hand. “Can you do that thing?” he said.
“Fuck,” I said.
“C’mon,” he said. “It’s fun.”
“You have some nerve,” I said. “I was bringing up my family.”
He said, “Maybe you’ll feel better.”
I thought about the night we got back together, the night he said he missed me and wanted more than something sexual. I really wanted that, wanted something deep and lasting, although I wasn’t desperate.
I undid his belt, unzipped, reached under his boxers. I sucked on all his fingers, moving in the way I knew to tease him.
He told me that he loved me. He said he was sorry. He said he just wanted to be good to me.
“Ok,” I said, as if I actually believed him.
He pulled into the lot of my apartment, parked under a streetlight.
It was after midnight. I thought about Jamie. Sometimes he waited up. I imagined him on the sofa, in his jeans and shoes, wearing one of my old Air Force sweatshirts. His leg falling off the cushion, his head leaning crooked on the armrest. An empty carton of milk on the floor next to a box of cereal or something. The TV still on, blaring. Of course, he would be sleeping.
I might nudge him, saying, “Jamie.” I might stay there with him, watching.
William had his hand around my neck. I knew what he was up to.
I slid down, moved my mouth over his boxers. He eased the seat back and as I heard him groan, I began to nibble. I took him, moving harder. My eyes watered. My mouth got sore. I kept on, hearing him tell me how much he really liked me. I felt his hand on my head tugging. He yelled for me, saying yes and yes and fuck me. I moved lower, into one thigh, then the other.
He kept calling me his baby, yelling harder, louder, grunting. I bit him, teasing, deeper. He kept asking for more.
I bit again, as if I were a tiger. I heard him scream. He yanked me.
I tasted something salty.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” he said.
I sat back and put my hand on my mouth. It was dripping. I opened my door and spit on the concrete. I wiped my face with his jacket.
I took a closer look. “You’re bleeding,” I said.
There he was, with a wound like a gigantic peanut, the size and color of a plum. I told him it looked like a vagina. He said it wasn’t funny.
He sat there with his legs spread.
His blood was bright. I said, “Maybe you’re anemic.”
I started thinking of the morning. I started thinking of my plans then. I pictured Jamie asleep. I tried not to look back. I thought about tomorrow.