A Whispered Insistence

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“Tell me,” Tina says.

She is in the easy chair in my living room, sitting sideways with one foot on the floor and the other propped up on the arm of the chair. Her dress rides high and her bare legs glow yellow in the light of the streetlamp outside my apartment. The light flickers off and then on again, the wiring faulty, strobing her once, then twice, then being steady once more.

“Tell you what?” I ask.

“About you and Olivia,” she says.

“There’s nothing to tell,” I say.

A lie.

She takes the hem of her dress between two fingers and raises the fabric another inch. “I want to do this,” she says. “With you.” Another inch of skin is revealed. “But I want to know about you and Olivia first.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because,” she says. “Just because.”

“We’re just friends.”

She leaves the dress alone, and raises her hands to her hair. She pulls out a pin, then another, letting them fall to the floor. “More than friends,” she says.

“No. Just friends.”

Another pin. “It wouldn’t matter,” she says. “If you were. Just that you aren’t now.”

“Not now. Not ever. I’m just worried about her.”

“I know you are,” she says. Another pin, and then another. “You seem to be the only one who is.”

“Someone has to be.”

She removes the final pin and drops it to the floor. She reaches her hands into her hair and puts her fingers into it, mussing it, letting it fall around her bare shoulders. “The only time I’ve ever been jealous of you is when you’re talking about her.”

“You don’t have to be.”

“You aren’t in love with her,” she says. It’s not a question.

“No,” I say.

“You haven’t slept with her.”


“Have you kissed her?” When I don’t respond, Tina says, “You have.”

“Does it matter?” I ask.

“No,” she says. “Not at all.” She undoes the top button of her dress, just below her neck, then the one below that. “When was it?”

It was in an almond orchard, the trees in bloom, and Olivia was drunk and crying. She kissed me, and I did nothing to stop her. She told me things she didn’t want repeated, secret histories best kept hidden below the black stones. She didn’t swear me to silence, but she didn’t need to.

“Last year,” I tell Tina. “Just once. It wasn’t a thing.”

“I know it wasn’t,” she says. Another button. “I know you. I’d know if it was.”

We’d left the orchard and I’d driven us back to the city. Olivia, sobered by then, had me stop at the beach before taking her home. She was still living with Christopher then, and I understood why she didn’t want to go back yet. We walked the shore for an hour without the need for talk, and when at last it was time to leave, she refused my offer to let her stay the night at my apartment.

Tina moves in the easy chair and sets both her bare feet on the floor. Her dress is unbuttoned down to her navel and hangs open slightly, not enough to allow the light from the streetlight in, but the shadows reveal more than they hide. “Do you want this?” she asks me.

“Yes,” I say.

“Tell me you want me,” she says.

“I want you,” I say.

She rises from the chair and steps over to where I sit on the sofa. She bends at her waist and puts her hand on the back of my head, then brushes her lips softly against mine, like a summer breeze slipping across my skin. “I’m a rainstorm,” she says. “Against your window.”

I don’t know how to respond to this, so I try to answer her with a kiss. She moves her head back out of my reach, but keeps her hand on my head.

“I’m a crown of daisies on your head,” she says, curling her fingers in my hair. “A field of wheat dancing in the wind.”

“I want you,” I say again.

She lowers herself to her knees in front of me, and with her hand still against my head, pulls my lips down to meet hers. Her hand slides down over the back of my neck, and her breath runs like a current into my lungs. She pulls me forward as she lowers herself further to the floor, until she is on her back, and I am half on top of her, my hip against the hardwood, one arm and leg draped across her.

“Tell me again,” she whispers.

“I want you.”

She pivots beneath me, moving me onto my back, and she is on top of me now. Her hair falls across my face as she leans her lips in close, kissing me again, before pressing herself fully against me and putting her head against my shoulder.

“I want you,” she murmurs. She puts her hand on my hip, then slides it up and under my shirt. “I want you.”

“Tell me again,” I say.

The streetlamp flickers again, once and then twice.

“I want you,” she says softly, a whispered insistence.

The light goes out.

It doesn’t matter if it comes back on.

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