It shouldn't have happened, though she wanted it to. It did. She should stop it, but she can't.
The sound tore through the quiet, ripping her from a dreamless sleep. She jerked awake, eyes wide, heart pounding a heavy beat against her ribcage, her chest tight with breaths she wasn’t taking. Frantic, her eyes scanned the room for the source of the sound.
After a few moments, objects became recognizable by the size and shape of their shadows. A dresser. A chair. A lamp.
A snore. Long, deep breaths sucked in through an open mouth, a moment of silence, and then an exhale. It was just a snore. As her breathing slowed and the cadence of her heartbeat returned to normal, she relaxed against the pillow, again. No matter how often this happened, she wasn’t used to waking up next to him in the middle of the night.
In a few minutes, he would begin to make his escape, dropping his arm from across his forehead where he’d casually flung it in his sleep. He would sit up, swing his legs to the floor and quietly, gently, ease out of the bed. He wouldn’t realize she was already awake and watching his usual routine under eyelids barely open.
Carpet crushing beneath bare feet and a fleeting figure moving past the dim moonlight shining through a window would be the only sound or sight of him. He would search through a trail of clothing ending at the foot of the bed; clothing almost torn from trembling bodies and littered about the room only hours before. She would lie as still as possible, breathing lightly, listening to time reversing. Thick denim being yanked back onto muscular, hairy legs; a loud zipper followed by the snap of a button; a shirt being pulled overhead; a dip in the bed as he sat to pull his socks on. And then his shoes.
Once dressed, he would tiptoe around to her side of the bed, lean over her and brush dry, chapped lips across her cheek. He’d give a tap or two to the rise of her hip and whisper, “thanks”. With cat-like stealth and agility, he would navigate her house in the dark. The tinkle of his keys would ring out from the table in the foyer, where he dropped them when he came over. The front door would open. And then softly close. He would test the door a few times to make sure he left it locked. He always tested the door.
Alone in her space, lying in the dark and quiet, still, black night, she was safe to move. To open her eyes and breathe and sigh with disappointment. She would roll over to the side of the bed he slept on, gather the pillow he used that still smelled of him—cologne and shampoo and sweat and man—and suck in the scent of him. She’d close her eyes and imagine him still there next to her. Imagine he didn’t get up and leave under cover of darkness like there was a reason to hide and sneak around. Imagine she didn’t hear the engine of his car rumble down the street in the wee hours of the morning. She would remember being with him, how he felt, how he tasted, how he sounded. How he liked it. How he liked her to like it, too.
Tears came, then. Hot, salty, forbidden tears that shouldn’t still come, but did. Tears that told her to stop dreaming about what would never happen and stop romanticizing him. This. He didn’t want more than this, from her. This was all she was getting. This had been happening at increasingly frequent intervals for years. In the last year, since the near lay-off and the salary cut and the stress of his mother’s chronic illness, he was tense and frustrated more often. He reached out to her more often. She should have said no more often.
For years, she nursed a tiny, harmless crush on him. An annoying, nagging, longing for him. An immature recurring daydream of being with him. There were several times, over the years, when she had almost convinced herself to approach him, but never did. She decided not to tell him, not to ruin the friendship. It wasn’t really like she had to hide it. It was obvious, even to him. It was obvious, too, that though he cared about her—they were friends, after all, part of a wide and varied circle of friends—he didn’t feel for her what she felt for him.
The first time with him, that knowledge ate at her and chewed away at her soul, but she ignored it and eventually, with the sting of alcohol on their breath and inhibitions lowered and hormones raging, it happened.
They didn’t talk about it after, but with the question of would she, even though he didn’t feel the same now answered, and the window of opportunity wide open, it happened again. And kept happening. Was still happening.
By the time it was a semi-regular occurrence, she had the routine down pat. Handling it was easy. Compartmentalize. During the other twenty-five or so days of the month, they were friends. Good friends. They hung out with their other friends. They attended dinner parties and group movie dates. They showed up at the usual places and did the usual things and laughed at the usual jokes. They spent time together like they always did, watching the shows they both liked, bantering about plot lines and scene twists and character traits. They talked into the night, like the old friends they were. He ranted about his job, the extra workload and the unfairness of having to take it on, in contrast with being grateful to still have a job. She complained about her coworkers and her boss and the new girl who didn’t do anything all day but chew gum and paint her nails and flirt with Kevin from shipping.
Then there were those three or four days a month, when he would call and asked if she was free and could he come over? She would know what he wanted, because his tone would be different. He was different when he wanted that. That was base, physical, and primarily for satisfaction of needs and wants and longings and urges. She wanted more than base, physical satisfaction of urges and longings. He didn’t. But as long as she gave him what he wanted, as long as she said yes when he called, he kept calling. When the demands for more arose from her, he pulled away. Long, torturous spans of time would pass before he would call or come around again. She made it her business, then, to separate the sex from the friendship. The buddy from the fuck.
It worked, for awhile. While he was in the room. After he was spent and had slipped away while she slept, the tears came to remind her that she wanted more than these explosive, powerful, amazing and yet sporadic and empty episodes, but would never have it. And that maybe, for the good of her heart and mind and sheer sanity, she should break it off.
She wanted to.
When he called, she knew what he wanted, but couldn’t make the word ‘no’ come out of her mouth. She felt weak even admitting it, but the word never really came to mind until he was gone. He would call, and her body—and mouth—would say yes. Her doorbell would ring and he would be there and they’d head straight for the bedroom, tossing away clothes as they went. A few hours of exertion relieved stress and pressure and frustration. Peeled away the layers of the day, the week, the month. Soothed away irritations. Made problems disappear, if only for a fleeting moment of pleasure. There was a span of time, right then, right there, when it was just the two of them. It was what she needed and sometimes craved, and was as much a release for her as it was for him.
She laughed when she overheard her girlfriends musing about his prowess and bedside manner. If they only knew that he was not smooth or charming or gentle, winking eyes and romantic gestures and manly confidence. He had strong hands but used them awkwardly, grabbing, gripping, holding her where he wanted her until he was finished. He talked a lot, asked a lot of questions, needed assurance. Needed to know that she liked it, that she was having a good time, that he made her feel those sensations and make those sounds. She remembered that from the first time, more vividly than she should because she was drunk out of her mind and so was he.