Henry must have said something, because the guy laughs. And then he reaches out, and wipes a fleck from Henry’s cheek, and the contact is like static shock, a spark of energy where skin meets skin.

“You’re perfect,” says the stranger, fingers drifting down his jaw, and Henry flushes with a dizzy heat that makes him need to move.

“Sorry,” he says, backing out into the hall.

He slumps against the darkened wall, waits for the world to steady.


He looks up and sees a guy with his arm slung around a girl’s shoulders, both of them long and lean and feline.

“What’s your name?” asks the guy.


“Henry,” echoes the girl with a catlike smile.

She looks at him with such obvious desire, he actually rocks back on his heels. No one has ever looked at him that way. Not Tabitha. Not Robbie. No one—not on the first date, or in the middle of sex, or when he got down on one knee …

“I’m Lucia,” she says. “This is Benji. And we’ve been looking for you.”

“What did I do?” he asks.

Her smile tilts. “Nothing yet.”

She bites her lip, and the guy looks at Henry, his face slack with longing, and at first he doesn’t realize what they’re talking about.

And then he does.

Laughter rolls through him, a strange, unbridled thing.

He’s never been in a threesome, unless you count that one time in school when he and Robbie and one of their friends got incredibly drunk and he’s still not entirely sure how far things went.

“Come with us,” she says, holding out her hand.

And a dozen excuses spill through his mind and then out again as Henry follows them home.

New York City

September 7, 2013


God, it feels good to be wanted.

Everywhere he goes, he can feel the ripple, the attention shifting toward him. Henry leans into the attention, the smiles, the warmth, the light. For the first time he truly understands the concept of being drunk with power.

It’s like setting down a heavy weight long after your arms have gotten tired. There’s this sudden, sweeping lightness, like air in your chest, like sunlight after rain.

It feels good to be the user instead of the used.

To be the one who gets instead of the one who loses.

It feels good. It shouldn’t, he knows, but it does.

He stands in line at the Roast, desperately needing coffee.

The last few days have been a blur, late nights giving way to strange mornings, every moment fueled by the heady pleasure of being wanted, of knowing that whatever they see, it’s good, it’s great, it’s perfect.

He’s perfect.

And it’s not just the straightforward gravity of lust, not always. People drift toward him now, every one of them pulled into his orbit, but the why is always different. Sometimes it’s just simple desire, but other times it’s more nuanced. Sometimes it’s an obvious need, and other times, he can’t guess what they see when they look at him.

That’s the only unsettling part, really—their eyes. The fog that winds through them, thickening to frost, to ice. A constant reminder that this new life isn’t exactly normal, isn’t entirely real.

But it’s enough.


He steps forward, and looks up, and sees Vanessa.

“Oh, hi,” he says.

“You didn’t call.”

But she doesn’t sound angry, or annoyed. If anything, she sounds too bright, teasing, but it’s the kind of teasing used to cover up embarrassment. He should know—he’s used that tone a dozen times to hide his own hurt.

“I’m sorry,” he says, blushing. “I wasn’t sure if I should.”

Vanessa smiles slyly. “Was the whole name and number thing too subtle?”

Henry laughs, and hands his cell across the counter. “Call me,” he says, and she taps her number in, and hits Call. “There,” says Henry, taking back the phone, “now I have no excuse.”

He feels like an idiot, even as he says it, like a kid reciting movie lines, but Vanessa only blushes, and bites her bottom lip, and he wonders what would happen if he told her to go out with him, right then, if she would take off her apron and duck beneath the counter, but he doesn’t try it, just says, “I’ll call.”

And she says, “You better.”

Henry smiles, turns to go. He’s almost to the door when he hears his name.

“Mr. Strauss.”

Henry’s stomach drops. He knows the voice, can picture the older man’s tweed jacket, his salt-and-pepper hair, the look of disappointment on his face as he advised Henry to step away from the department, the school, and try to figure out where his passion was, because it clearly wasn’t there.

Henry tries to muster a smile, feels himself falling short.

“Dean Melrose,” he says, turning to face the man who pushed him off the road.

And there he is, flesh and bone and tweed. But instead of the contempt Henry got so used to seeing, the dean looks pleased. A smile splits his trim gray beard.

“What a lucky turn,” he says. “You’re just the man I wanted to see.”

Henry has a hard time believing that, until he notices the pale smoke twisting through the man’s eyes. And he knows he should be polite, but what he wants to do is tell the dean to go fuck himself, so he splits the difference and simply asks, “Why?”

“There’s a position opening in the theology school, and I think you’d be perfect for it.”

Henry almost laughs. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Not at all.”

“I never finished my PhD. You failed me.”

The dean holds up a finger. “I didn’t fail you.”

Henry bristles. “You threatened to, if I didn’t leave.”

“I know,” he says, looking genuinely sorry. “I was wrong.”

Three words he’s sure this man has never said. Henry wants to savor them, but he can’t.

“No,” he says, “you were right. It wasn’t a good fit. I wasn’t happy there. And I have no desire to go back.”

It’s a lie. He misses the structure, misses the path, misses the purpose. And maybe it wasn’t a perfect fit, but nothing is.

“Come in for an interview,” says Dean Melrose, holding out his card. “Let me change your mind.”

* * *

“You’re late.”

Bea’s waiting on the bookstore steps.

“Sorry,” he says, unlocking the door. “Still not a library,” he adds as she slaps a five-dollar bill on the counter and disappears into the art section. She makes a noncommittal uh-huh, and he can hear her pulling books from the shelves.

Bea is the only one who hasn’t changed, the only one who doesn’t seem to treat him differently.

“Hey,” he says, following her down the aisle. “Do I look strange to you?”

“No,” she says, scanning the shelves.

“Bea, look at me.”

She turns, gives him a long up-and-down appraisal.

“You mean besides the lipstick on your neck?”