The Rhythms of Difference
I woke early and slipped quietly into the kitchen more restless than awake.
The room was like a shell, a hollow space cluttered only by a dozen or so boxes piled near the outside door; every sound was magnified and bounced like an echo off the hard walls and floor: the slap of my bare feet on the cold tiles, the grinding of the coffeemaker, the tin ringing of the spoon against the china cup as I stirred milk into the coffee, all crystal and cold, the softness of occupancy absent. Last night’s storm had not moved off, but lingered a slowly swirling gray blot of clouds; low fog and mist hung over the harbor like a shroud. A few brave gulls jitterbugged in the stiff on-shore wind, occasionally diving onto the choppy surface below. The marsh grass leaned wetly under the weight of the wind and water, lifeless gray stalks. The October light seemed darker, colder, stiffer, as if changed overnight. I sailed those waves as a girl, tacking the small catamaran into the southeast gale, carving the crests, sliding on swells just past the sheltering edge of the protective cove into Buzzards Bay where the waves tossed me sideways, the water world engulfing. Turning back I would see the tiny figure of my father standing straight and tall in the gale, binoculars pressed to his face, watching my every move. When I grew large enough in the glasses so that he could make out my face, he would let them dangle around his neck, put his hands in the pockets of his jacket and turn back to the house. After, in the dark of the sitting room, my father would turn and nod. “You go too far, you know. The currents are tricky that far out and the winds strong and changeable,” he would say. Sometimes the voice was a warning. Sometimes a gentle chiding. It was always formal. The hot shower would rinse the salt from my hair, cascade down my face and draw out the stiffness from muscles grown taut as they cooled. I would smile at my father’s concern. Those were the moments of my freedom, alone in a hazy mist, the shoreline a blur, wind and water in my face; airborne, then crashing in the surf, straining to drag the sail about, each burst of speed, each sideways turn a test as the great current grabbed the craft, determined to drag it to Nantucket and the wide sea beyond. But I would win, straining to turn the sail, to point the catamaran back to shore. I was expected to win. I was a Dodge, and the Dodges of Bayside had been setting out to sea for two centuries. We always came back; we always won. I would reach the dock, hair stringy and stiff with salt spray, my cheeks, my lips stinging lightly, my shoulders vibrating with the exertion of holding the sail against a wind that would just as soon tear the frame from my hands, lift the keel and flip me like so much flotsam on an endless sea. I would stow the sail, tie off the catamaran and smile back at the sea. Not this time. That’s what the whalers would say as they escaped one of a thousand dangers, what they would say to the wind and water that wanted their souls: Not this time. What did I say when it all changed? What did I tell myself when the all the joints loosened, the caulking slipped out and all that had been my life was bobbing like so much fucking wreckage on a nameless, dark ocean? Where was I that led me to here? What little piece of myself fell off and began the unscaling? When did I begin to use the work “fuck?” We had been up well past midnight collecting and packing the last few items until we had either finished or decided we didn’t care and collapsed on the mattress jammed in the corner of the bedroom. The boys, for all their enthusiasm, had faded earlier and crawled off to sleep. Everything had come together so quickly. The closing on the new house cleared several days before we had expected, and the rented house, where we had been living for the past three months, was suddenly put on the market by the owner’s estate following his death at sea. I knew him, Knutsen. Born to the sea, he was, sailing from an early age. He was captain of a replica schooner that went down in a hurricane. He died desperately applying all his years of sailing knowledge, all his strength, against an impossible, unthinking monster. The last time the crew saw him he was at the wheel trying to bring the ship around, but it was trapped sideways in a trough between two towering waves which tipped it; the mainmast snapped and the schooner dived deep. A three-day search by the Coast Guard found nothing. Flags all along the Bay are at half-staff. When I learned of Knutsen’s death I walked to the end of the old stone pier and stared into the southern horizon churning black and lowering over the Bay. I dropped a single rose into the brackish tide. I stared at the cold, dark water like the women did in the whaling days as they paced, dressed in black along the widow’s walk of the waterside mansions. They would check the oil in the single lamp in the topmost, sea-facing window, the only signal they could send. Two years, five months out; twenty days overdue. Somewhere Knutsen’s soul raged against the dying darkness. “Such weight,” I told Daniel as we lay on the mattress, the boxes of stuff rising like teetering castle walls above us. “The loss of all those ships and captains and crews; all those widows and fatherless children. You saw the gallery at my father’s house. The ships, the dates on the framed bills of lading, the crew manifests, the cargos lost. The souls of the crews inhabit the very wood of that old house.” “Sounds like a horror film. Maybe I’ll write it,” Daniel said. Normally his humor would be enough to lift the gloom, but not this time. “That is all part of me, you know.” I wanted it to sound cheerfully sarcastic, but didn’t. “Hey, what’s up,” he asked. “Worried about tomorrow?” Tomorrow was the day we were going to retrieve my remaining goods from my father’s house. Ours is not a popular marriage. I am too much of this town, and Daniel, well, Daniel is not. Miles away outside, the clouds split as the day rose and a single beam of sunlight from the east raced across the gray waters parting the surface with a golden line. The coffee in my cup had grown cold. As I filled it again, I knew the boxes could not wait any longer. I turned on the kitchen light and the naked bulb cast odd shadows against the wall, on the stacks of cartons awkwardly marked “kitchen” or “Charlie” or “books.” I just laughed; we had so much to do. Everywhere, in every room stacks of cartons and plastic tubs lined the walls, piles of clothes were tossed over chairbacks or piled on dressers. The thin rods of a bedframe were stacked against a wall next to a computer, a game console and a chest of books, CDs and figurines. Somewhere in all this we were there. We wander among the all the debris searching for a corner to call our own, cast adrift, seeking one plot to be familiar with, a place to start. We again become strangers meeting in a darkened place, become unknown, waiting enlightenment. The boxes hold sadnesses we drag along with us, uninvited guests. We will now begin to hide them or discard them, placing them on the side of the barn waiting dump day. The clearing will begin, closets filled, cabinets lined with dishes and pans, drawers now holding socks or silverware, dividing space, claiming territory, marking off lines of demarcation that never should be crossed, all the while sharing some tiny joy, reaching out over a network of love and understanding with some binding emotion so that when the fences are planted, our territories staked out, we might cross the imaginary boundaries without causing incident. We are trapped in these things we carry with us, wrapped up by the bundles of memories we have difficulty discarding, so we pack them in paper and store them in the attic wanting all the time to bring them out again and relive their meaning. I have my pile and you have yours. When these piles become one, when the oldest, most singular dreams have been supplanted by fresher memories, when the ancient worries transform to modern understandings, some of this confusion will end and the slight treading around each other’s fears will explode in one loving embrace. Then we will be home. At least I hoped so. After two years of trouble, I was adrift, needing anchorage. But not yet come, I thought, sipping the refilled hot coffee; the extraction is not yet done. There are parts of me still hidden in the corners of my father’s house, things trapped in the cobwebs of childhood, hung in closets once familiar, now forbidding, things about family strewn in a frantic rush down the stairs, through the hallway, out the door and down the main porch; dropped along the driveway. Things about myself. Pieces. I peeked in on the boys and let them sleep. They were all that was good about the marriage Frank Harding and I had something I realized too late. The Hardings, like my family, the Dodges, represented the old money in our town. We once owned the shipyards and wharfs and warehouses in many bayside towns where in the whaling vessels and traders tied up to unload their goods, the machine shops and the storehouses where the sloppy, smelly barrels of whale oil were stacked before being shipped off. The Hardings owned the money that funded the voyages. When the whaling ended, the families invested in new ventures, found new technologies and bought land. My father’s house dominates the eastern horizon on the twelve acres that remains of the estate, all the rest in modern times being sold as subdivisions of million-dollar homes. On their side of the harbor, the Harding’s estate, The Point, perched on the stony western finger of the harbor like a medieval castle rising from a dark moor. I was born into expectations. Dodge children were successful in business and married well. There was a swagger in our walk and a boastful pride our conversation that said being well born was justification for the elitism we showed. We attended the local private school in buildings named for forefathers, and graduated to the Ivies or The Seven Sisters. Our fathers dominated the yacht club and our mothers ran charity drives for Jamaican orphans and held art shows for hopelessly talentless artists who were found with an easel and brushes on the town’s dock. Sometimes I think my generation of Dodges and Hardings believed they were chosen to be town leaders because it is their genetic right to dominate and own, as if their ancestor’s hard work and planning (and luck) had nothing to do with their current good fortune; a generation of spoiled children who managed to slip into adulthood and with it prominent town positions with all the parochial righteousness that declared that the civilized world ended at the town line. And so my father’s house. Large, tall, set squarely in the field of vision, a statement of domination, power and control; The Haven, as if there is no other. I am Emily Carson Dodge. I never used Frank Harding’s name. It broke the familiar cadence of Dodge names: Father, Edward Carson Dodge; first son, Edwin Carson Dodge, second son, Elwin Carson Dodge; first daughter, Edna Carson Dodge; then me. Banker, lawyer, Wall Street trader, foundation director. A tyranny of conformity. “You’re overdressed for this, you know.” That was my introduction to Daniel Guidry. I turned toward the voice to find a thin, tall man with taped glasses, a three-day beard and a baseball cap. “You are?” I asked. “Oh, I’m Daniel Guidry. I’m here doing a piece on the scallop fleet,” he said. “You’re a writer? “Yeah, doing a piece for a magazine.” “Do you always criticize the dress of strangers?” “No, just when they are wearing a $400 dress to serve chili to fishermen. Otherwise you wouldn’t have stood out at all, I mean, being the only natural blonde in the room …” I shook my head, stunned. He was flirting with me! And yet he was insulting me. I wanted him to go away. “Are you always this rude?” I started to turn away. “Look around. Look at these guys. Every day they put on their work clothes, a pair of knee-high rubber boots and a cap and scrape their boats of rust, repair nets and drag lines, over haul engines. They rub off the life of this place and carry it home. Look at the other women on the serving line. Sleeves rolled up, old sweatshirts, hair tied in a scarf, and then there’s you. Beautiful patterned dress, high heels, pearl necklace and a thousand dollar watch. You gonna mop the floor in heels?” I tried to answer. “No, because your coworkers will look at your dress and your shoes and say, ‘We’ll take care of it, Honey’ and they’ll send you on your way and you’ll go back to your beautiful home and tell the ladies of your civic group how hard the poor work.” “I don’t know what to say to you. You are among the most annoying persons I have ever met.” Daniel shrugged. And I remember I should have been angry. I had never been spoken to in such a manner. But it was the shrug, the casual, all-knowing acknowledgement that said he knew he was deliberately rude. An interesting level of confidence. “You don’t even care that you are annoying, do you?” “Comes with the territory.” And he shrugged again, while looking past me into the room. “Gotta go. Been waiting for the captain all morning.” He reached out a hand, and startled, I reached out mine and shook it. “What’s your name?” “Emily Carson Dodge.” He still held my hand. “I’ll see you again, Emily Carson Dodge.” I drove home on that day insulted, furious, oddly intimidated – when was the last time that happened to a Dodge — frustrated and, yet, interested in the next conversation with Daniel Guidry. Maybe it was just the challenge. I wished I had been harsher with him, more direct and firm. And my dress! I remembered the day I bought it on Newbury Street in Boston. I was shopping with my mother, one of those weekday trips we took in the spring, even though driving into Boston was horrid with all the traffic. But to walk through the Public Garden with the greenery awake and growing, to recall riding the Swan Boats as a child, and to have lunch outside among many women in chic hats and beautiful dresses. Those lovely days. And when I got home, I slammed the car into the garage, nearing striking the partition, I was so worked up. His voice rattled at the edge of my mind, soft and smirky, seductive and sneaky, words delivered with a roll of his eyes, a knowing nod of his head. I stepped into the cool foyer and let the silence of The Haven surround me. The hallway was carpeted and my footsteps were masked in their thickness. The walls held oil paintings of past Dodges, and to the right, the leather chairs in the sitting room where my father would await us, and we all, the ritual in our blood, would turn and enter and accept the judgment. Poor Frank Harding, misreading the solemnity, never had a chance. When I caught a glimpse of myself in the hall mirror I knew in an instant that Daniel had been right. I was overdressed. That was something to admit! The red paisley dress was one that I would have worn to the country club dinner, not to serve food at a soup kitchen. Thinking back, I realized that the other volunteers seemed to defer to me, as I if was in charge. They cleared tables, filled pans on the steam table with more food and chatted with the guests; they were relaxed, friendly and hardworking, and I remember standing at the serving table with a large spoon, dipping it into the chili and filling bowls half-way, and smiling. When one patron passed, I would stand still and await another, smiling. Then I noticed that some of the men when they sat at the tables would gesture to the half-filled bowl with both hands, look at their tablemates and then back at me. They would say something I could not hear over the soft din of the room, and laugh. After a while I began to feel self-conscious, as if I was standing separate from everyone else in the room and they were all looking at me. I watched the other servers. They filled bowls to overflowing and tossed extra slices of bread on the tray. They gave the small children an extra cookie, and as the lunch hour went on and the new crowd grew thinner, the portions got larger so all the food would be served and nothing was leftover. And it came to me that was the goal, to use all the food that had been prepared, to make sure none was left and all who came ate their fill, not to parcel it out like it was something they all had to work for — you were slow today, you only get one scoop! As I stared at myself in the mirror and saw the beautiful red dress, the high heels and the thousand-dollar watch, I wondered if when I was passing out half-filled bowls of chili I was unconsciously passing judgment on the people I was serving. The unsettling thought stayed with me for several days. “You think that all this is all about you.” That began the second conversation I had with Daniel Guidry. He pulled up a chair at the table where I was finishing lunch. I quickly wiped my mouth and gathered the plates and plastic silverware and pushed my chair away from the table to stand and leave. “Hey, look,” he said. “I’m sorry. I was a little harsh before.” “A little?” I released the tray and remained at the table. “It was insulting. You don’t know me.” He smiled. “Maybe. But in a way I do. You’re from …?” “Bayside.” “Bayside,” he said. “Ah, the place where everyone has everything they need, except the women who clean your homes and the men who mow your lawns, because they live here and have to get lunch three days a week at the soup kitchen to survive.” I started to speak, but Daniel continued. “And when they were laughing? It was a joke about how they had something larger than a half-bowl of chili they wanted to put in your mouth.” “What?” I said. He rolled his eyes, “Please.” “Oh,” I said and blushed. “My God.” “Don’t worry, they’re fishermen. They talk about screwing everything, but if they did old Maria would wrap them in a net and set them in Buzzards Bay.” He looked away, around the room. His eyes were narrow, searching, examining. There was a distance about him, and for the life of me, I wanted to know why and what could be done about it. “You give out half bowls of chili because that’s what you do at the community breakfasts with Santa in Bayside,” he said. “Your kids don’t need the pancakes or juice cups or fruit, but it’s the ritual. So since all you mothers are so worried about food additives and having Little Brenda turn into Big Brenda by the time she is thirteen , and miss the dance at class graduation, and then lose Brad to Cindy, you hand out one pancake with the fake butter and fake syrup so to limit their exposure to the bad things of the world. You grew up wrapped in that bubble, so you wrap your kids in one twice as thick. When I ran a restaurant for a department store, we would have Santa for dinner every night during Christmas. He’d ho-ho-ho his way around the room, passing out bags of holiday goodies, and as lame as it was, everyone had a good time. But one night when were we really busy the assistant manager called me to the cash register where a mother was complaining that Santa didn’t sit with her two darling children and hear their gift list. I had two hundred people seated and a line of fifty more, and told her as politely as I could that Santa was probably trying to get to as many children as he could. Then she said it: My children are entitled to have Santa sit with them. And I wanted to ask her how long Santa would have to sit until their sense of entitlement was satisfied. Instead I ripped up her check and walked back into the kitchen. I was actually surprised I didn’t get fired.” Despite myself, I laughed, “You didn’t.” “Yes, I did.” “I can’t imagine ever doing that.” He smiled. “Do what? Rip up the check, or complain about Santa? You have that same sense of entitlement. How entitled do you have to be to think that serving lunch to regular people is a reflection on your status, not theirs?” In the brief silence, I heard my mother’s voice. She was speaking to the church social committee, and saying what Daniel had just pronounced: Helping out at the street fair would be a nice addition to the church outreach. All the women agreed. And for the first time I heard that comment in the way that Daniel explained. It was all about us. That’s how we looked at the world. Our lives have been calm and measured, lived in the shelter of an old fortune that shielded us from life’s worries, and allowed us the freedom to do what we pleased within that shield. We chose to do good work. We chose to be good people. And then Daniel, who dismissed all we did with a casual anarchy. I asked him, “Why are you so angry?” “Am I?” “I would say yes. You’re so dismissive of me and my family, as if being well off means we did something wrong. Can’t we just try to do good things? Why are you jealous of that? What does that say about you that you feel our good efforts are somehow self-serving?” He glanced at me over the top of his glasses. “Us versus them. You versus me. We just come at this from different angles,” he said. “You come down here with the idea that you can fix this – that it is your duty to fix this — as if somewhere in the souls and lives of these people, there is something that needs curing and that a little good natured sympathy from you will set them straight. And I say, there’s nothing at the core of their souls to be fixed. It is how you look at circumstances. Have you ever been hungry? Have you ever walked into a store with sixty-two cents in your pocket and tried to calculate what you could buy? That’s inconceivable to you. No one has just sixty-two cents. In your world everyone has a chance to succeed, because success is expected. Here? Not so much, but it’s not wanting failure. And when you go back to your world, they will still be here. Their backs will still ache, the portside winch will still need a new gear, and the oil bill will need to be paid.” “I’m sorry, listen to yourself.” I had heard enough. “What self -pity. “Maybe in your world that’s self-pity. But here, it’s just life. Something you seem to have been shielded from. Maybe you need to go back home and sip tea while discussing the regatta.” He looked away and then back, his eyes narrow and hard. “It’s not self-pity when you’ve been the one in the store with sixty-two cents.” Daniel stood quickly and pushed in the chair so it rattled against the table, overturned the tray at the garbage cans and tossed it on the table with the others. He left without looking back. I laughed as I looked at myself in the mirror, then kicked off my heels. Our father had died two years before, but only in the last six months had Edna and I, along with the family accountant, convinced our brothers that it was best to sell the home, even if it was our legacy. None of us needed a home with eight bedrooms, a formal dining room and two kitchens. They had planned to tout the place as a museum quality building, to find (or create) some nonprofit foundation to take it over and open a historical society that honored the whaling history of Bayside. The accountant pointed out that such an organization existed, and unless they planned to donate the building to them the, tax authorities would have questions. I just objected to the notion that we would saddle some underfunded historical society with the half-million in repairs the place needed to, first to be habitable, and second, qualify as a public building. My brothers argued it would be a testament to our father, a gesture the accountant finally convinced them would be lovely, but something they could not afford at that time, investments being what they were, you understand. As I recalled that conversation, I thought Daniel would have given anything to been in the room when it occurred because it had all the elements of the snobbish, elite, out-of-touch rich kids he decided I represented. And maybe he was right. There we were arguing about a building that none of us actually wanted, and yet we could not give in. I eased into the chair where my father sat. So stern, he was. So absolute in his beliefs, the guardian of our dreams. Yet the dreams were not ours, were they? They were chosen for us, like an extension of a corporate plan. Maybe he saw the day when this run of good fortune would end. Surely it had faltered in the past – ships were lost, crews and goods, family members drowned in unknown seas, economies suffered – yet the family persevered. His voice filled my ears: You go out too far. The wind and waves are too unpredictable. Stay safe. That was your love for me. Soft commands spoken from a dark room. Stay safe. So I had, and it led to Frank Harding, a husband so distant that when he entered our bedroom one day and saw me naked after a shower, he turned crimson and apologized. You could convince me our sons arrived through immaculate conception. The room grew darker as the sun had shifted west. I had slept for some time, perched in my father’s chair, wrapped in his silence. I awoke in the dark house alone, aware that I had always been so. Later, I showered and wrapped myself in a terry robe. The room was on the second floor and two large French doors opened on a widow’s walk that wrapped around the bayside of the home. How many Dodge wives had walked here? How many nights had they faced into the southeast gale and let the rain rinse the bitter tears from their eyes? How many times had they clutched some scrap of paper with a brief note from their husband-captain that had been passed in a distant port to a ship returning home? A note dated months before that said a pod of whales had been sighted five hundred miles off the coast and their ship was light so they would hunt until the holds and barrels were filled. Oh, dreaded note. Filled both with hope and doom. And there I was alone, the empty house below. How did I get here? So many things swirled in the air, so much done for duty, so little for love. The wind blew up a storm from the dark, hidden clouds and pulled open the loosely-tied robe. The rain stung my face, my chest and belly, my thighs. I grabbed at the robe, but it twisted off my shoulders in the wind and I let it fall to the floor; naked, I raised my head to the horizon. Out there in the Bay, just past the rocks of the last point, there should be a bright-eyed girl wrangling a catamaran toward shore, her arms straining for control, her voice in full cry, a yell, a joyous scream, Not this time! Not this time! It was the night old Knutsen’s soul raged against the storm, fighting back for life against a force willing it take it. A night I looked at myself and saw that for all the so-called dangers I had placed myself in, all the times I slipped that catamaran into the deep Bay, all the times that seemed so daring and brave, they all paled against the challenge Knutsen threw at the sea: Take me, he said, as he sailed beyond all help, just as the whalers had done, frozen in ice, becalmed under blazing heat, beyond all saving, while I sailed under the unseen but sure gaze of my father, who, had I swamped, would have had a boat to me in time to haul me from the cold water; for all the notion that I was free, it was freedom with boundaries. For all our daring took place in a framework, like the walls of The Haven; freed by the culture and stature the family created over generations, we were actually trapped inside the convention, all the accomplishments like sounds in a bell jar. I wanted Daniel’s hands on me, sliding across my breasts in the rain, down my thighs, his mouth on mine; wanted him wet and naked against me in the darkness. I wanted it to be the night the whaler returned, dark and old, sailing out of the fog bank, listing, damaged, but home. The night the wife waited on the widow’s walk until word of her husband’s return reached her, her lover’s aching heart bursting with the fullness of his absence, five years, nine months, fourteen days; the pain then gone as they touched hands, her fingers felt the new creases on his face, and drew out the hardness of the voyage with her soft gazes. Wanted. Wanted love. When I went back to the soup kitchen three days later, wearing blue jeans, deck shoes and a light, older sweater, I noticed an immediate difference. I was no longer the lady from Bayside in the red dress, but one of the line servers. I had the best day. I came back more often. I scanned the crowd frequently for Daniel but didn’t see I him. Days passed. Maybe, I thought, he had completed his magazine story and had moved on. Then he appeared. He walked in with two older men and shook their hands as they moved to the serving line, and he took a seat at a table near the door. Then I got busy serving food and when I looked again, he was gone. In the restroom on a break I looked at myself in the mirror. I had come here looking for something, I realized, come to this ramshackle waterfront building to be wrapped in the scents and voices, the rhythms of difference, the beat of life that had been lacking for years inside the walls of The Haven. I had for too long defined everything by that sterile standard, too long failed to see that what we called freedom was just another set of limits, goals and accomplishments. We were free, but it had to come with some reward, some back-directed praise, a checklist without which our lives would be empty. And so, Daniel. How I wanted to soothe your anger, dampen the flames of confrontation that burned inside you. To make you calm down. And as soon as I thought that, I realized that I did not want you calm. I wanted you like Knutsen, to be fists-clenched railing against the dooming sky, fighting on. And then there was the phrase. It had hung in the air unspoken since that first day. Wanted. I wanted you. You were right after all: I wanted to fix everything, to display you like one more whalebone in the parlor of The Haven; I had come, in my mad scheming, to solve your loneliness. And, oh yes, Daniel, you were lonely. It is why you run, why you had, as you said, left behind more people than you could count, why you seem as full of life as anyone I ever knew, but at the same time, empty of it. And so I came to fix that, to draw you in, to include you inside these walls. I spent all that time trying to cure your loneliness, and in the end only found my own. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I felt something in me jump a beat when I saw him that last time at the soup kitchen. It wasn’t sexual. Not then. That would come later, more than a year later when I saw him again at the Bayside Inn among a crowd watching the Celtics. By then the boys and I had moved into the carriage house at The Haven, while the sale of the property was pending. Sometime in the middle of the third period, Daniel and I locked eyes, met at the bar and spend the night naked on the floor of his living room while the small Franklin stove glowed red in the dark. It was not a night, that night, about liberation and rebellion, about running wild, freed from the slavery of a cold marriage; it was a night about coming home. Daniel stumbled into the kitchen as he was pushed aside by Ham, his giant Lab-mix, who bounded into the room and one-by-one stuck his nose in every open box deciding whether or not he could eat the contents. He leaned over to the window. “Clearing?” “Not quite,” I said. I leaned my head on his shoulder and then leaned up and kissed him. “I meant you,” he said. I smiled back. He kissed the top of my head and then my neck. One hand went under my shirt and then to my breasts where he teased my nipples, which responded. His hand dropped inside my shorts. “The boys will come,” I said, smiling and blushing, to which he said, “No, they’re conked.” His fingers did not so much probe as brush, and I caught my breath. I wanted his breath on my skin, the taste of him on my lips. “You’re right, they will come. They were awake and taking stuff out of the boxes,” he said and slowly withdrew his hand. “Not so fast,” I said, and pushed his hand back inside my shorts. “After we move out, before we give back the keys, we should come back at night with a blanket and fuck our way through the house one last time, what do you think?” His left arm tightened around my waist. Daniel kissed my neck and without warning was inside me. I caught my breath; then again. I held him against me; light.