“No, actually,” he said matter-of-factly. I was relieved to hear it. “I think you and I are just . . .yes, we are moving quickly but we’re moving at a pace that feels natural for both of us. I think?”
I nodded, so he kept going.
“Right. so, I don’t see an issue. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t coming on too strong with you. Because I don’t mean to overwhelm you. I keep telling myself to cut it out. But then I keep doing it. I’m typically a pretty low-key person, but I’m just . . . not low-key about you.”
I felt like butter in the microwave. I had no strength left to be cool or the type of dishonest you’re supposed to be this early on.
“Are we crazy here?” I asked. “I feel like you are such a different person than anyone I have ever met and I thought about you all day today. I . . . barely know you and yet I miss you. that’s crazy, right? I don’t know you. I guess I’m worried that we will be so into each other so quickly that we will burn out? sort of an acute romance, as it were.”
“Kind of like a supernova?”
“It’s some sort of star or explosion that’s so powerful it can emit the same amount of energy that the sun will emit over its entire lifetime, but it does it in, like, two months and then it dies.”
I laughed. “yep,” I said. “that’s pretty much exactly what I meant.”
“Well, I think it’s a fair concern. I don’t want to rush through this so fast that we run it into the ground. I’m not sure I think it’s really possible, but better to be safe than sorry.” He chewed and thought. When he was done, he had a plan. “What about this? let’s give it . . . let’s say, five weeks, and we can see each other as much as we want, but no one can up the ante. We can just stop ourselves from being too intense up front. let’s just hang out and enjoy each other’s company and not worry about too fast or too slow or anything. and then at the end of five weeks, we can really assess if we are crazy or not. If at the end of it, we are both on the same page, then great.and if at the end of five weeks, we have burnt out or we just aren’t jiving, we’ve only wasted five weeks.”
I laughed. “Jiving?”
“I couldn’t think of a better word.”
I was still laughing as he looked me, slightly embarrassed. “I can think of about ten,” I said and then immediately got back to the subject. “okay. no moving forward. no freaking out about moving too fast. Just this. that sounds great. no supernova.” Ben smiled and we shook on it. “no supernova.” It was quiet for a moment, and I broke the silence. “We are wasting our five weeks by being quiet. I need to know more about you.”
Ben took another piece of bread off of the table and spread butter on it. I was glad the intensity of the moment had worn off—that things were now casual enough for him to be spreading butter. He took a bite.
“What do you want to know?”
“That’s what you’re burning to ask me?”
“So ask what you really wanna know.”
He splayed his hands out to show himself. “anything.” “How many women have you slept with?”
He smiled out of the side of his mouth as if I’d pinned him down. “sixteen,” he said, matter-of-factly. He wasn’t bragging or apologizing. It was higher than I was expecting, and for a second, I was jealous. Jealous that there were women out there that knew him in a way I didn’t yet. Women who were closer to him, in some ways, than I was.
“You? Men?” he asked.
He nodded. “next question.”
“Do you think you’ve ever been in love?”
He took another bite. “I believe I have before, yes. It wasn’t a great experience for me, truthfully. It wasn’t . . . It wasn’t fun,” he said as if he was just realizing what the problem truly was after all this time.
“You?” he asked.
“I see how this is going. I can’t ask any questions I don’t want to answer myself.”
“Isn’t that at least fair?”
“That’s fair. I have been in love once before, for most of college. His name was Bryson.”
“Yes, but don’t blame him for his name. He’s a nice guy.” “Where is he now?”
“Okay, good. nice and far.”
I laughed, and the waiter brought our meals. He placed them down in front of us, telling us not to touch them because the plates were hot. But I touched mine; it wasn’t that hot. Ben looked at mine and then looked at his. “Can I eat some of yours if I give you some of mine?” he asked.
I angled my plate toward him. “absolutely.”
“There is one thing we need to sort out,” Ben said as he reached over to eat some of my fusilli.
“Oh? What is that?”
“Well, if we aren’t going to assess our relationship from this moment out until five weeks from now, we should probably sort out ahead of time when we are going to sleep together.”
He caught me off guard because I had been hoping to sleep with him that night and then pretend that was never my intention. I was going to blame it on the heat of the moment. “What do you suggest?” I asked.
Ben shrugged. “Well, I guess our only real options are tonight or at the end of the five weeks, right? otherwise, we’d be amping things up in the middle . . .” He was grinning as he said this He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew I knew what he was doing.
“Oh. okay. Well, in the interest of keeping things simple,” I said, “why don’t we just say tonight?”
Ben smiled out of the side of his mouth and pumped his fist. “yeah!”
I felt good to be so desirable that a man would fist-pump the thought of getting to sleep with me. especially because I would have fist-pumped the idea myself if I’d thought of it. the rest of dinner felt a bit rushed. or maybe it was just that I couldn’t focus on eating now that it was in the air; it had been decided. He kissed me against his car before we got in. He had his hand on my upper thigh as we sped home. the closer we got to my house, the further it got. I could feel every inch of his hand on every inch of my thigh. It burned underneath his fingers.
We barely made it to the door before we were half-naked. He started kissing me in the driveway, and if I hadn’t been a lady and stopped it, it might have happened right there in his car. We ran up the stairs, and when I got my key into the door he was right behind me, his hand on my ass, squeezing it, whispering in my ear to hurry up. His breath was hot on my neck. the door flew open and I ran to my bedroom, holding his hand behind me.
I fell onto the bed and kicked off my shoes. I liked hearing the double clunk they made as they hit the floor. He threw his body down on top of me, his legs between mine, and he pushed my body up and further onto the bed as we kissed with my hands around his head. He kicked his shoes off. I slid under the covers with my dress still on, and he slid in next to me. any restraint we’d shown the night before was gone, replaced with reckless abandon. I couldn’t think straight. I wasn’t in my own head enough to worry if I felt fat or where to move my arms. the lights were on. I never left the lights on. But I didn’t even notice. I just did. I just moved. I operated on instinct. I wanted all of him, more of him, I couldn’t get enough of him. His body made me feel so alive.
I take a chance that susan is still at her hotel. ana brings me there and I call susan from the lobby. I don’t want to give her an opportunity to turn me away, which turns out to be a smart strategy because her tone makes it clear that she would have avoided me if she could have. ana heads over to the bar as I take the elevator to room 913.
As I approach her door, my palms start to sweat. I’m not sure how to convince susan of this, how I plan on defending Ben’s wishes to his own mother. It occurs to me that I just want her to like me. take away everything that has happened, this is the woman that raised my husband. she created him out of nothing, and for that, a part of me loves her. But I can’t take away everything that has happened; every moment of every day reeks of what has happened. What has happened is happening now.