Tuesday, December 16, 2008


They parked the car on Central Park West, and after she got out she stood waiting on the sidewalk near 70th street while he got his guitar out of the back seat. When he shut the door she looked at him over the roof of the maroon car, and without speaking they walked around it to meet at the front. The light changed; they crossed the wide avenue in the midst of conversation and alighted the curb just when the red hand stopped blinking.

When they got inside the park he seemed directionless, which made them laugh since she’d been following him. They made their way to the reservoir, but it seemed too public. Something about the combination of them begged for privacy and quiet. She led the way to an empty spot on the lawn and asked, “Here?” even though he had already set his backpack down and was pulling the guitar out of its black nylon case. He offered her the floppy fabric to sit on, saying “I don’t want you to get your shorts dirty.” She smiled half at him and half to herself and sat down on the case’s widest part, stretching her legs out in front of her and crossing them at the ankles.

His fingers pressed and plucked the strings, and she wondered what he would play for her. Had he written about her? His songs were always running through her mind. Even now as he played something classical all she could hear were the songs they’d sung for their students so many times that summer. She leaned back, dirt and sand and gravel imbedding themselves in her palms and making it into a topographical map of the afternoon. His hands moved along the fretboard with precision and he looked past her as he played, his mind in another place. She took the opportunity to watch him unabashedly and only looked away when he glanced up at her tentatively.

He stopped playing and just held the guitar, and they sat enjoying the warm, quiet day. A conversation started somehow and they spoke softly, telling each other about their families. It felt strange to her, this getting-to-know-you talk. She felt like he already knew her. After all, they’d stolen brief moments together every day this summer, and she’d played her songs for him when she hadn’t even played them for her mom. All of the basics seemed irrelevant; she’d sung for him what she couldn’t say outright to anyone, and where she was from and how she grew up just didn’t seem to matter. She made light of how scarily Republican her mother was and told stories about friends from home, how they were all having kids or getting married and she wasn’t even out of college yet. He replied that all of his friends from school had gotten married right after they got their degrees and they laughed about how different they were from everyone they’d grown up with. After a little while he set the guitar down and focused on her. She thought how hard it must be for him to keep his hands still.

“I think it’s going to rain.” As soon as he spoke he stood, and she stood too, awkward and unsure of what to do. “We should probably cover the guitar, but then you won’t have anywhere to sit.” She reached for her bag, pulled out her bright purple umbrella, and opened it, setting it down to cover as much of the guitar as possible. She grinned up at him as he exclaimed at such a great idea, and as she sat back down she scooted over to that he could sit next to her on the guitar case. He sat facing the opposite way, his left shoulder touching hers. She leaned into him a little. She almost wasn’t sure she had moved, and then she felt him slowly pressing back.

“What are we doing?” She knew immediately that his question wasn’t about the plan for the rest of the afternoon. She picked up a dried leaf and started to rip it, then remembered how she’d scolded kids for doing that and threw it to the side. She felt the muscles in his arm move as he turned to look at her. She tucked her hair behind her ear and it fell back against her cheek. She left it there: she was blushing.

“I don’t know.”

He was quiet. She sat picking up pieces of grass to keep her hands busy, widening the bald patches of dirt. She didn’t look up, even when he spoke again.

“There’s a reason you and I have gravitated toward each other. I just don’t know if what we’re doing is ok.”

She’d thought the same thing as she was on her way to meet him earlier that afternoon, wondering on the subway if she was feeling excitement or guilt. She took a breath, then another. “I think it is. I think that… this is something that allows us to be honest about our lives, about the people in them. He and I don’t really talk like this and it’s nice to have that with you.”

“But I feel like we’re sneaking around. Do you tell him about me?”

“He knows we hang out. I’m not going to lie to him.” She turned now to look at him, her eyebrows raised in earnest, her blue eyes finding his and then looking at her hands. “I think that we’re both trying to figure out our lives, and this is something that helps us do that because we can be open with each other.”

He didn’t say anything, and she looked at him without him seeing. He leaned into her a little more, the heat of his shoulder traveling through her chest and arm, pinking her skin with extra blood. She rubbed at it absently, feeling the hair on her arm stand up.

“I just don’t know what to do.” This time he looked at her when he spoke, and she knew he was fighting with himself not to touch her more than he already was.


They sat, carefully realizing they’d just admitted that each of them was a possible wrench in the other’s plans. She moved her legs, bringing her knees up to hug them and crossing her ankles. As her left thumb and middle finger met around her right wrist, she noticed that he was sitting the same way. She tried not to think about it.

Her phone chirped from inside her bag and she pulled it out. She responded quickly to the text from her boyfriend, then slipped the phone back into its pocket. She clasped her wrist again and turned to look at him.

“Are you going to stay with him?” He asked the question like her answer made a difference. She struggled not to ask him the same thing. “I don’t know.” She pulled her knees closer to her chest and looked beyond them to the runners and bikers on the road. They were quiet for a long time and she knew he was going back and forth between enjoying the feel of her skin and wondering if he should even be there.

“I just think…” She struggled to find the words to say to remind him that she needed him. She started to speak again, then stopped. After a few breaths her own words came back to haunt her and she spoke the truth. “I mean, I don’t play for people. Ever. And I can for you, and it feels good to be known that way. I need that.”

He sighed, and turned his head to rest his chin on his shoulder, looking at her. His dark brown hair looked soft and she resisted the urge to reach her hand up and touch it. She started breaking a twig instead. “So maybe that’s what this should be, then. Friends who play music.” She hated to hear the words come out of his mouth, but at the same time knew it was the only thing to do. They placed too many rules on themselves to be anything else.

“Yeah.” As she agreed she knew that from then on that the music would only ever be about them. She was already making a mental playlist of songs that made her think of him, songs she wanted him to hear her singing. He looked away from her, out across the lawn, then up at the patches of sky between the trees they sat underneath.

“It’s going to rain soon. We should get going.” He stood and brushed his pants with his hands, even though he hadn’t been sitting on dirt. She looked up, conscious that at that moment her eyes were open wide and her hair was falling perfectly and she looked beautiful. She reached out her hand and he covered it with his to pull her up, his eyes traveling the length of her lithe body. She mimicked his brushing, though she knew there was nothing there. In silence she started to close her umbrella as he put his guitar away, wondering how to prolong goodbye. They started walking down the hill, and as he laughed at her joke he reached for her and pulled her into a hug.

They were like a puzzle. She fit under his arm and he fit against her thighs and she could not let go. She felt the pulse in his neck racing with the one in hers and took deeper breaths, feeling his chest rise and fall against hers. She could not let go.

He pulled her tighter one last time and then let go; she followed suit. They walked slowly, looking for a way out of the park but doing everything possible to avoid actually seeing an exit. They reached a wooden bridge and when she turned to look at him he took her hand and pulled her in again, this time twisting his fingers in hers before he let go and placed them on her back. She felt the breeze blowing a few strands of her hair, and he breathed deeply. She thought they would probably stand there forever with her lips grazing the stubble on his cheek just beyond his mouth until he said “We probably shouldn’t do this.” His grip loosened imperceptibly.

“Maybe not for this long.” Her reply forced disengagement, and her body parted from his with muted cries that she could have sworn were audible. She turned, took a step. He took a step to match, and they walked out of the labyrinth of gravel paths to the car.

She pulled the hot black handle and got inside, setting her bag carefully on the floor. He went to the back to put the guitar in the trunk and answered a call from his girlfriend, probably asking him to pick up her kids since he had the car. When she could no longer hear the indecipherable murmur of his voice she looked up, and he was standing at his door looking at her before he opened it and got in. His phone rang where it was sitting on his lap and she tried not to look. She absently watched herself twist her silver ring around her finger, and when he asked, “Are you ready?” she nodded halfheartedly.

He turned the key and she watched the sinew and muscles of his arm flex and move. He put his hand on the gear stick, only inches from her skin, and she looked out the window instead of touching him. The radio was broken, and the silence stretched until they had crossed town. They spoke, her marveling at the strangeness of being in a car in the city, him about his plans for his visit to his parents. He asked her had she packed for hers yet, and she said no. She hated packing; it was like asking her to predict the future. She would rather they were both staying home for the next two weeks without anyone knowing, but knew that was an impossibility.

He parked across the street from her apartment and she wrapped her fingers around the tan handles of her bag before she looked at him. She thought maybe she would need something to hold onto.

“So, it’s going to be fine.” She hitched her shoulders up, not sure if she wanted him to believe her or not. It wasn’t, and she knew it, but she wanted him to think she could handle it. She looked him straight in the eyes for maybe the third time all afternoon and told him to have a good trip.

“I will. Go pack. And have a fun week with your crazy family,” he teased. She raised one eyebrow and shot back, “Oh I will.” He laughed and her face softened into a sad smile. She looked down at her knees and noticed she’d missed a spot shaving that morning. When she glanced up he was looking at the place where her neck met her shoulder.

“Well, I’ll see you later.” He turned in his seat and hugged her, his arm straight across her throat and almost choking her. She could feel the closeness of his chest, but the seatbelt held him back and they could only press their shoulders and arms together. Maybe the car was trying to tell them something. She heard the first rain drops hit the windshield, magnified.

She squeezed once, twice, and slipped her arm from around his neck and down to pick up her bag. Her fingers accidentally grazed his ribs as she did so and she felt him take in a sharp, silent breath. She pulled the leather straps to her shoulder, left arm crossing her chest. “Well, have fun at home.”

They hugged again and this time when they parted she felt his handprint on her back like a firebrand. Her spine turned warm and liquid and her tensed muscles relaxed, drawing her shoulder blades in towards the place he had touched. Her shirt caressed his handprint as she readied herself. She looked at him and smiled, then pulled the handle to the car door. As it opened she said his name, and he looked from where she had been sitting to where she was now standing. Her gold necklace swung gently a few inches out from her chest, and she saw his eyes watch it for a moment before moving to her face.

“Bye,” he murmured, and smiled. She could feel him wanting to reach out to her but knew that one of them had to end it or they’d be saying goodbye for the rest of the evening. She shut the car door and lightly rested her fingertips on the place where the window slipped into the rubber and metal sleeve. When he waved she turned and walked across the street, the storm almost upon her and whipping her hair around her face so that she could hardly see. She heard the car start and thought about his hands. She looked back as he swiveled to place his hand on the back of the passenger headrest and look out the back window, and pulled her bag higher onto her shoulder. The wheels of the car started to turn, and she opened the door to her building just as the storm broke.

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