I find my hand moving to the back of my head, along the nape of my neck where my hairline ends. I do it as if I’m too shy to have hair so bold. Something about the way I move irritates me. It’s as if I’m not entirely myself, as if I’m performing a role. “Yeah,” I say. I can hear there is an edge to my voice. I soften it. “A few years ago.”
“And it’s blonder,” he says. “Your hair wasn’t really blond before.”
“I know,” I say. “But I like it.”
“I almost didn’t recognize you,” he says. “At the airport.”
“I recognized you the moment you stepped out of that plane.”
“You are so different,” he says, moving closer. “But you’re also everything I dreamt of for all of those years. And you’re right in front of me.” He puts his hand to my face and looks into my eyes. He leans in to me and presses his lips against mine. My brain gives way to my heart as I sink into him.
He pulls away. “I think we should sleep together,” he says. He looks me in the eye and doesn’t shy away.
I know that if I say yes, there is no turning back.
It will change things between Sam and me forever.
But I also know that what we’re talking about is inevitable. I will sleep with him, whether it’s this second or tomorrow or in two weeks. It will happen.
I want to know what Jesse feels like now—a desire that is only heightened by the memories I have of what he felt like then.
I know the consequences. I know what this might cost me.
I’m going to do it anyway.
“I think so, too,” I say.
Jesse smiles and then laughs. “Then what the hell are we doing down here?” he says. He stands up and puts his hand out for me, like a gentleman.
I laugh and take it. But the moment I’m on my feet, Jesse has lifted me right back off of them, swooping me up into his arms.
“When was the last time you did it in a twin-size bed?” he asks. It is a joke. And I know better than to answer. But I’m starting to wonder if it’s not such a good sign how often I’m cherry-picking the truth.
Jesse rushes us out of the living room to the stairs.
“Oh, my God!” I cry out, stunned at how easily he can move about the house with me in his arms. “You’re gonna drop me!”
He doesn’t listen. Instead, he bounds up the stairs, taking them two at a time. He pushes open the door to the room that was once considered his. Jesse throws me onto the bed and lands on top of me.
Nothing I’ve ever done has felt as much like home as this, being underneath him, feeling his lips on mine, his hands running down my body.
He unbuttons my shirt and opens it wide.
My body has changed since he left, the somewhat natural process of time. But I don’t feel shy or embarrassed. I feel invigorated. As if I want to be as naked as possible, as quickly as possible—as if I want to show him all of me.
I watch as he takes his own shirt off, as he puts his arms over his head and pulls. I am surprised to see that he’s even skinnier than I imagined and that there is a tangle of faded puce scars running down the left half of his torso. They look like lightning bolts tied up in knots. He wears so much of his pain and hardships on his body.
“All those years that I missed you,” he says as he runs his nose gently down my collarbone, “I missed your face and your voice and your laugh.”
My body is hot, my face is flush. His hands feel so much better than I remember. His body fits into the corners of mine effortlessly, like our limbs were formed around each other, ebbing and flowing in relation to the other.
He tears the button of my jeans open with a flick of his wrist. “But more than anything I missed the feel of you,” he says as he pulls my jeans off of me, struggling at first to get them around my hips and then flinging them across the room. He wordlessly takes off his own. He lies back down and presses his whole body onto mine.
“I missed the way your hands feel on my back,” he says. “And the way your legs feel around me.”
I move slightly, inviting him.
And then I am lost.
I am no longer anyone but the Emma that loves Jesse Lerner, the Emma I’ve been for so much of my life.
And when we are moving together, breathing together, aching together, I hear him whisper, “Emma.”
And I whisper back, “Jesse.”
We are lying in bed.
We are naked.
We are tangled in sheets, covered in sweat.
We lie in each other’s arms and I am reminded of all of the other times we lay next to each other, catching our breath side by side, limbs intertwined. We learned how to do this together, explored ourselves with each other. We loved and desired each other when we were bad at it, and we grew good at it together, in tandem.
Now, we are great at it. The best we have ever been. Even though we are done, I roll over to Jesse and we begin once more.
He reciprocates easily, pressing into me and moaning.
His breath has gone sour. His hair smells dirty. It is my favorite form of him.
“Again,” he says. It is neither a question nor a command. Rather a simple fact, observed. We will do this again. We have to be closer again. Here we are again.
And this time, the passion is no longer akin to a house burning down, but instead feels like a steady burning flame, hot and warm.
Neither of us is in a rush. Neither of us could rush even if we wanted to.
We are slow and we are purposeful.
More than anything, I relish the feel of his skin against mine, the feeling of our chests touching ever so briefly before pulling away again.
Right now, in this moment, I am stunned that I am even capable of having sex with anyone else. That the world wouldn’t—didn’t—stop me. Before I lost him, sex always seemed like something we invented together. Now that he’s back, now that he’s again here with me, I wonder how I ever went crazy enough to think it could be this good with anyone else.
What I am feeling, what we are doing, is sending signals all throughout my body, like a shot of caffeine, the rush of sugar, the burn of liquor. I can feel my brain rewiring.
This is what I want.
This is what I’ve always wanted.
I will always want this.
We fall asleep sometime around six in the morning, just as the sun is waking up the rest of the world.
I wake up to the creak of the front door closing and the thud of two shoes hitting the interior floor. I open my hungover eyes to find that there is no one in bed beside me.
I slowly roll out of the sheets, find my underwear, and slip it on along with Jesse’s shirt from yesterday. I head down the stairs as I start to smell coffee.
“There she is,” Jesse says from the kitchen. He walks closer and grabs me, lifting me up. I wrap my legs around him. I kiss him. He tastes like mint and it reminds me just how awful my morning breath is. I look at the clock on the microwave. It’s almost two p.m. Afternoon breath, I guess.
I haven’t slept this late since we were in college. I wasn’t hammered last night, but ever since the age of twenty-nine or so, my body can’t shrug off a drink like it used to.
I pull away from Jesse and he puts me down.
“I should probably brush my teeth,” I say.
“You noticed that, too, huh?” Jesse says, teasing me.
I lightly hit him on the torso and find myself wondering if I’ve hit the scar that runs down his body, wondering if it’s sensitive, if I’ve hurt him. I want to know what those scars are. I want to know if his teeth are OK after years without dental care or whether he’s suffering from vitamin deficiencies. And then, of course, there’s his finger.
I also know that I can’t ask. I promised not to ask.
But he has to talk about it eventually. If not with me, then with someone else. I know that he is pretending to be OK, but no one would be OK after what he’s been through. He can’t pretend forever.
“I’m kidding,” he says soothingly. “I have waited years to smell your morning breath. Everything about you, morning breath, stray hairs . . . I love it all.”
When he disappeared, I kept his hairbrush for months. I didn’t want to throw away something that had any of him on it.