Authors: Caelyn Alba
T H E N I G H T
I L O V E D Y O U
An Erotic Awakening
An Erotic Awakening
T H E N I G H T
I L O V E D Y O U
I don’t know when I first fell in love with you. I only know that it was after I had already fallen in love with J. And I’m sure I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering what might have happened if the order of things had been reversed.
My car broke down late on that Friday for what turned out to be the very last time. The little Citröen that I’d inherited from my grandmother, and which I’m sure you still remember from the lemon-yellow paint job that seemed the perfect match for the name. I called J., hoping to catch him still at home, but he’d been called in early to work. In the middle of a four-long stint of nights for his ER rotation, he’d be pulling a sixteen-hour shift tonight, already on his way to the hospital. He told me to call the auto club or just get a cab home, an impatience in his voice that I’d been getting used to lately, as work overwhelmed him. But I won’t describe where J. and I were at that point as a “rough patch” or any of the other clichés, because that would make it sound like I was trying to shape an excuse for what happened between you and I.
I have no excuses. Because what happened was what I wanted. I have no regrets. But because you and I never talked about it afterward, I can only hope that you understand that.
I hope you knew it then. I hope you know it now.
Looking at my life from the place I’m at now, I know that J. is better for me than you would have been, even as I knew it then. J. is steady and unconditional in his caring, which is what I’ve always needed after a lot of years of heartbreak at the hands of parents I happily don’t see anymore. You were the antithesis of steady. Unpredictable, slightly manic, running on raw emotion so much of the time that it was all but impossible for any of us to keep secrets from you. Harder still to know when you were keeping secrets from us.
Of all the guys he ever counted among his friends, I think J. trusted you more than he did any other. And even given what happened between the two of us that long-ago night, I know that J.’s trust in you is the greatest gift he ever gave me.
I was trying to find the number for a cab company when my phone rang. I saw your name, and my mood lightened just a little bit.
I picked up and you told me it was my lucky day. You had dinner reservations that night at the Georgian but your date had cancelled, so it was up to J. and I to make use of them. I laughingly told you that you were adding insult to injury, explaining J.’s work schedule and my own tale of automotive woe.
Sit tight,” you said. “I’ll be right there.”
You were downtown that week, working only a half-dozen buildings over from the law office where I was temping. You had just started another in a long series of systems analysis contract jobs that you never got tired of complaining about. I don’t know whether you ducked out early after calling me or were already on your way home, but you were there even before I’d finished sorting the contracts I needed to read that weekend into my backpack.
You rolled down the ramp of the parking garage on your bike and pulled in to a smooth stop beside me. You were in black like always, your helmet and leathers matching the matte finish of the Norton that was worth more than my car and J.’s combined. You smiled as you pulled your helmet off, giving me a kiss on the cheek like you always did. And though you spent an obligatory few minutes under the Citröen’s hood, when all attempts to get the engine to turn over started to drain the already-dying battery, you told me to call it quits.
Come on,” you said, and you pulled your spare helmet from the webbing at the back of the seat. You swung onto the bike and started it up, motioning me on behind you.
I had never ridden with you before, though I’d thought about it more than I ever admitted. I had always loved bikes, most recently the little Yamaha 400 that I owned during college, and which got me through two transit strikes and to the three jobs I was working at the time. I drove with J. whenever our crowd went anywhere together, and I would invariably watch you with a faint pang of jealousy as you rolled up behind us, whatever girl-of-the-week you were seeing perched on the seat behind you, her arms wrapped tight around your chest.
It was my arms around you this time as we pulled out and headed home, zipping easily through the rush-hour grind. The weight of my backpack had me off balance, so that I had to grip you hard to hang on. And like you were worried that I was holding tight because I was scared, each time we stopped at a light, your right hand came to rest on both of mine where they interlocked around your waist. I smiled in reaction to the feel of well-worn leather, and to the comfort of your touch.
It was already getting dark when we arrived back at my and J.’s building. But as you helped me get my helmet off, you surprised me with an unexpected invitation. “The reservations are for eight,” you said. “Shame to let them go to waste because J. can’t keep normal hours. You should get ready.”
I didn’t need any more persuasion than that. Dinner out and great conversation would be the perfect end to a very long week, and I told you so as I led you up to the apartment with me.
As you made yourself at home, I showered and changed. I heard the TV on as I exited the bathroom when I was done, crossing to the bedroom draped in a towel as I wrapped another around my hair.
You were on the couch, channel surfing with an iced tea in hand as I passed. The tiny studio apartment was all that J. and I could afford until his residency was done, and it had seemingly been built for maximum intimacy. Every room was adjacent to every other room by way of the open dining room fronting the small kitchen.
I’ll be ten minutes,” I said, and you waved without looking over.
In the bedroom, I dug through my closet for something to wear, finally selecting a white blouse and black skirt that I realized ruefully was only slightly more stylish than what I’d worn to work that day. Too many months of high-end office jobs had gotten me used to dressing down to go out, I realized, and it would be good to spice things up for a night. I put a dab of perfume at each wrist, then went to the mirror to dry my hair before I dressed.
It was only when I clicked the blow-dryer off that I realized the volume on the TV in the next room had suddenly risen. I glanced to the corner of the mirror to see that I hadn’t fully closed the bedroom door, and that it had swung open just enough to line up a perfect view of me from the kitchen — where you were standing at the fridge, filling your glass again.
You had been watching me as I dried my hair, your gaze roaming my bare legs and shoulders, but that wasn’t all. With both arms raised, I realized belatedly that I had also raised the towel that still wrapped me, giving you a decidedly generous glimpse of my ass.
I had never been any more modest around my male friends than my female friends, a habit born of my fairly puritanical upbringing. Not that I was a flirt or liked to show off per se, but just that I worked hard to make sure none of the shame I’d been raised with still clung to me. But I felt myself blushing regardless as I carefully adjusted my modest covering, laughing to let you know you were busted.
Sorry,” you said with a smile.
My fault,” I replied. “And anyway, you’ve seen it all before.”
That was true, of course, but not in any illicit way. One of our first real outings together after J. and I met, our group headed out to Denny Blaine Park for a quiet evening of skinny-dipping. I don’t think I ever even learned the name of your girl-of-the-week from that scorching afternoon, but I remember spending a fair bit of time clandestinely watching the two of you staying very close in the shallows.
Keep showing it off that way,” you called from the kitchen, “and J.’s never going to let you leave the house.”
I laughed at that. “J.’s too late,” I said. “The only person I’d ever give it to is already…”
I froze before the mirror.
I watched myself pale as the words were choked off, and I had no idea how I’d managed to say them. I knew why I’d said them, though, the sudden realization flowing through me like ice water.
The only person I’d ever give it to is already here…
I had always had a bit of a thing for you. That seems like a trivial statement to make now, after being overwhelmed by the understanding that night. Nothing dangerous, mind you. But you were almost the perfectly clichéd icon of what my parents and their medieval morality would have called “the bad boy.” The bad boy was a thing I had always been denied and thus watched from afar. And so I had always watched you.
Staring at myself in the mirror now, a rush of emotion flooding through me, I couldn’t look back at you, hoping that your silence meant you hadn’t heard me.
The only person you’d give it to is already what?” Your slow footsteps sounded out from the kitchen, getting closer. Coming to a stop at the bedroom door.
I heard the edge in your voice. All your normal confidence, all the humor in your quip from a moment before, was gone. I heard your breathing quicken behind me. Moving closer. I felt your hand touch my shoulder.
The only person you’d ever give it to is who?” you said.
For three years, I had watched you, with your motorcycle and your leather jacket and jeans, and your love of expensive Scotch and your libertarian rhetoric, and your dark sense of humor. But what only those close to you ever understood was how much of that image was just a comfortable front. You rode a bike because the secret environmentalist in you couldn’t stand the thought of driving a car as long as you were the only one in it. You drank because you got overwhelmed by the world in a way that made you need to take the edge off, but anyone who watched closely enough would see you nurse a glass of single-malt all night.
I had spent a lot of those one-glass nights with you. Most often with J. and the others in our circle, and sometimes just the three of us, and sometimes just you and I. You and J. had been friends for so long that when he and I started dating, it felt like I was getting both of you for the price of one. A new lover on the one hand, J. as my soul mate. You, a new friend and confidante on the other.
I wanted to answer you now, but I couldn’t. All that came out was a whisper. “If I say it, everything will change.”
Everything always does…”
I wanted to answer you. I need you to understand that now, because I want you to understand how right it felt when you leaned in to kiss me for the first time.
I was shaking so hard that I felt my knees begin to buckle. I felt lightheaded, flushed like the heat of the shower was flooding through me again. I felt your arms come around me from the back, holding me up. I felt you lift me, carrying me back to the living room and the couch. I thought about that a lot afterward. The fact that you could have carried me to the bed in two steps but you didn’t. Needing to not take advantage that way. Needing to see where this went all by itself.
As you set me down, it was all I could do to clutch my towel to myself, my back and ass bare but my front covered as you touched my forehead with visible concern.
Are you all right?” you said.
I love you,” I whispered in response, and it was true. And I saw the look in your eyes that told me you already knew. A thing so much stronger than mere lust. So much more than the hunger for physical passion that I’d seen you apply to so many of the women who passed through your life.
In those three words as they escaped me, I felt all the emotion wrapped into every late-night conversation we’d ever had. I felt the memory of every long lunch the two of us lingered over, talking about life and dreams and the future. I felt the heat of every summer Saturday that J. and I and you and our friends spent at the public market, watching you with the latest of your women and wondering if this was the one who would finally make you happy.
I felt your hands on me as you gently pulled the towel away. I did nothing to stop you.