Amber picked at her French fries. Late afternoon seemed early for dinner, but I didn’t trust myself to remain entertaining without some planned event.
“Well, Greg is my soul mate. We love each other.” With the reflexive ease of long habit, my face remained expressionless. Somewhere behind my face, scenes from last night unspooled. We had spent hours in my unlit basement being strangers who had undressed each other. The memory had already begun tectonically to deform, crushing itself hard against other, similar memories and then subducting, descending somewhere hot and private.
She dabbed her fries in ketchup, eating them singly and slowly. We had ended the evening at my parents’ house rather than the castle. This afternoon, I’d prepared myself with internet directions and taken her there for an anticlimactic visit. “But we’ll never be together. I’m just not attracted to him. If I were, I think I’d marry him. He keeps holding out hope that we’ll be together.” I nodded in reflexive sympathy. I thought about how Steak and Shake should change its name to Fries and Shake, or maybe Burgers and Fries, or something more descriptive about what’s enjoyable about eating there. All their steak is shaped like hamburgers or hot dogs. Memories bubbled up liminally and sank again almost immediately. Amber’s hands on my shoulders. Amber’s thighs pressed against my waist. Amber’s voice in the dark and my guilty shushing in response, motivated by the knowledge that my parents slept two floors above us.
In your parents’ house, you will always be a teenager. This is doubly true where fucking is concerned.
As a teenager, I never fucked a single fuck. During my pubescence, my environment imbued in me a certain intractable Irish Catholic faith that should my cock slip past the defenses of any vagina, the unavoidable consequence would be a trifecta of syphilis, gonorrhea and paternity. This particular article of faith outlasted all others, persisting until I was twenty-one and encasing me in an impenetrable technical virginity. However, in the absence of a more straightforward sex life, I had devoted myself to going down with the desperation and enthusiasm of a fifteen-year-old who did not yet believe that a girl might want to fuck him. This not-fucking all happened in the same basement where I now lived, and then as now, I could think of little afterward apart from a dread of being caught. In a ritual of helpless anxiety, I reassured myself that I’d safely collected and discarded every piece of the Trojan wrapper.
“This is the guy you’re staying with?” I asked. Amber nodded.
“Speaking of which,” she said, “We’d better get going. As far as he’s concerned, I’m in town to see him.” She smiled at me. “He doesn’t really know about you.”
I saw the inescapable sense of this.
Any geography that is not familiar is foreign. As far as Amber was concerned, both Greg and I lived in Cincinnati, but the Cincinnatis we lived in were nearly an hour apart. We drove the curve of the interstate 275 bypass, settling our loosened hips into the cushioned seats. I don’t remember whether we held hands. It’s possible.
“Do you think we’ll date?” Amber asked. As a post-coital question, this one is difficult. From a perspective of cold realism, after first-date sex, a couple is less strangers only in that they know what each other’s genitals feel like, or rather what they felt like on one particular night. It’s a single data point and a lonely sort of intimacy. Sure, it can be sexy. But it’s rarely something that can sustain a relationship.
I sighed. I am a champion sigher.
“No, probably not. I mean, I like you, and you’re sexy. But you also live four hours away. I don’t think I can do it.”
That is true. Ask anyone.
At Amber’s direction, I pulled in front of a well-appointed house, two stories of suburban upper-middle-class grandeur. I chose to believe that the house belonged to Greg’s parents, although I didn’t ask. A large man with dark hair answered Amber’s knock. His front door swung open, and then shut.