The static drone of the train's bored conductor had come crackling from the speakers of the subway car so many times by that point, I found my lips automatically mouthing his canned speech along with him.
"Ladies and Gentleman, we're being delayed by the train's dispatcher due to a red signal ahead. Thank you for your patience; we hope to be moving shortly."
I, along with all the rest of the suckers who were sharing my subway car, heaved out a disgruntled groan and shifted uncomfortably on the cornflower-blue plastic seats to settle in for another long wait.
I was in an exceptionally foul mood on that rainy, miserable day and anxious for my talk with Dave, so of course the ride on the ever-crowded 6 train was riddled with tedious delays. Usually, the trip downtown took no more twenty-five minutes from the Gansevoort's lobby to the front door of our Spring Street apartment. By that point it had been over an hour since my blowout with Lorena. Yet there I still was, stranded in a tunnel somewhere below Union Square and sharing a two-seater with some haggard dude in a neon-green velour jumpsuit who appeared to have a serious aversion to deodorant.
My prison sentence in the grimy subway car was not only frustrating, but it was allowing my troubled mind way too much time to revisit the scene that had gone down between me and Lor back in her hotel room. A part of me was relieved that I'd done the decent thing by finally putting an end to our weeks of sneaking-around, but I also had to admit that I'd treated her pretty badly back there. I'd basically fired myself up for a huge fight while she unsuspectingly slept, so it was really no wonder she'd been so wounded and confused when I threw her off of me like that. Then I just had to top it all off by hurling a pile of choice insults her way like bricks.
And you know what the most ironic part of this whole shit-storm was? For the very first time in all of my years of loving that girl, she had actually been all mine. Since David and Lorena had separated, she and I were about as close to being a conventional, monogamous couple as we had ever been. There was no one else in bed with us, no other man's fingertips tracing his name on the bare canvas of her back while my mouth was melting with hers.
Okay, so the circumstances were far from ideal, and I hated the guilt that came along with going behind Dave's back. Still, I'd be flat-out lying if I claimed I hadn't enjoyed having Lorena all to myself for a while. I mean, the woman I'd desired for the better part of a decade was offering herself up to me and me alone, yet I'd decided the best plan of action was to, ya know, go ahead and reject her.
Hell, I had to be the only bumbling jackass on the planet who would threaten to leave his lover if she didn't patch things up with her husband.
Ah, but that was the catch, wasn't it? Because try as I might to pretend Lorena belonged solely to me, there would always be that nagging, gnawing voice in the back of my mind reminding me that I was only kidding myself. She was still another man's wife; my best buddy's wife, no less, and despite what was happening between them, I knew Lorena still loved David deeply. Their long history as friends and lovers had shaped Lorena into the woman she was like hands manipulating creamy clay. I could often hear the inflection of his speech unconsciously mimicked when she spoke, and more than once she'd almost called me by his name before she stopped herself. And there was that one night, about a week earlier, when we were making love...
Maybe the way I'd been gliding inside her had summoned up some sort of intimate flashback; maybe my mouth on her neck had grazed over a spot that had once been David's secret. I honestly didn't know. She'd suddenly gasped sharply and grasped my hair tightly in her fist as if she'd been singed, startling me out of the balmy haze of sex. I thought I must've hurt her. But then the grip of her fingers relaxed into a gentle, tender caress, and her warm breath slowly trickled out in my ear along with a whispery buzz of sweet, lyrical Spanish. While I couldn't understand her sensual, honeyed murmurs, somehow I just knew in my heart that the words were not intended for me. See, her husband may not have been sharing our bed in the physical sense, but both Lorena and I knew he'd been there all along. Hell, their wedding vows may as well have been inked into her skin.
At last the train began to roll slowly forward, but we'd barely gone a few yards before we lurched to another sudden stop.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we're being held here due to a sick passenger in the station ahead…"
If you're at all familiar with the New York City transit system, then you're probably aware that when the conductor utters those two dreaded words, "sick passenger" the basic translation is: "you'd best sit back and get comfortable, because this train ain't moving for shit."
Once more there was a collective wave of racket from my fellow passengers, and whatever the conductor said next was drowned out by angry groans, stomping feet, along with a few yelped expletives. I let my eyes wander about the car, observing as some folks huffed and puffed while others began to commiserate with one another in their mutual frustration.
Parked in the trio of seats across from me I happened to notice a young guy, handsome in a sort of scruffy way, with a buzz cut and a silver ring adorning the corner of his lip. He was dressed in time-softened dickies and sporting a tee shirt over a long-sleeved white thermal. The faded tee appeared to have been worn around six thousand times, and on the front was a crackling photo print of some punk band I'd never heard of. (Christ, when did I get so damn old?)
He couldn't have been more than seventeen or eighteen I guessed, and was the only one in the subway car who didn't seem particularly bothered by the disruption. He was gazing at the blackness at the tunnel through the window, but his eyes were somewhere far away, as though he was lost in some intricate daydream or maybe a deep-rooted memory. Of course, for all I knew he could just have been stoned as all hell.
Maybe this sounds a bit silly, but at the sight of this teenage stranger I was immediately hit with an irrational surge of empathy. This kid was like a watercolor replica of my younger self, right down to the lazy stubble shadowing his jaw and the scuffed-up skateboard that was balanced upright at his feet. I'm sure the other riders, if they even noticed him at all, just saw some young punk who couldn't be bothered to give a shit about anything. But I knew better. I may not have been able to see exactly who or what he was visiting through those distant eyes of his, but I felt like I could take a pretty educated guess. And I'd bet my last dollar that she was heartbreakingly beautiful.
I guess my young doppelgänger must've felt the weight of my stare. He glanced my way and I abruptly turned my face up to the banners above the windows so he wouldn't think I was one of those pervy subway creeps. As I pretended to be intrigued by an ad for a personal injury law firm, I tried to shake off the flustering effect the kid had on me, but it was too late. Déjà vu had already begun to envelop me like a thick fog. I suddenly found myself swimming in a decade-old memory of a bitter cold February night, when I'd been that kid, the rattling rails my soundtrack as I rode beneath the city toward no particular destination...just as long as I landed anywhere but home.
I slammed the door of my pickup truck to lock out the winter air and rushed to turn on the ignition, my breath puffs of white smoke and my teeth chattering like ice in a tumbler glass. I said a silent prayer that the heating system would actually work for once and wasn't throwing one of its little temper tantrums, then sighed in relief when I felt the merciful gust of warmth spurt out of the vent along with a sparse cloud of dust.
Sniffling, I rubbed my hands together for friction over the stream of heat in the hopes of thawing out my stiff fingers. I'd been at the skate park for hours, despite the fact that there wasn't even a trace of sun that stark midwinter day, no fellow lonely souls hanging around to skate with. Not that I was too surprised, of course; who else but me would be dumb enough to spend the entire afternoon outside in the dead of February, freezing their balls off?
This had become my weekly routine since Lorena's new semester had started. Since she only had one evening class on Fridays, she would typically spend the whole day at home, studying. Dave left for the construction site every morning before sunrise and didn't clock out until five, so I always escaped the apartment before Lorena woke up, brashly slamming the door so she'd hear me leave.
Then I'd get myself lost, wasting time with a resolute determination that probably could've made me a very rich man if I'd been able to focus on anything other than my grudge toward Lorena. In the morning I'd make the rounds uptown and back, dropping off weed to my regular customers while loading up on black coffee. Afterward, I'd hang around Washington Square Park to try and sell the leftover stems and seeds to the NYU kids who didn't know any better.
If it was snowing or raining, I'd take the train to St. Marks Place and loiter in one of the sex shops until the storeowners realized I wasn't going to buy anything and kicked my ass out. Sometimes, on the rare occasions when I had more than a quarter tank of gas, I'd cruise over the East River by way of the Brooklyn Bridge. I'd try to pick up girls at the promenade, or I'd park on a side street in Brooklyn Heights and fantasize about owning one of the magnificent four-story brownstones once I finally won the lottery.
Since I rarely had more than five bucks to my name at any given time, I could usually be found at the skate park the rest of the day, seeking solace in the adrenaline and the familiar whirr of the wheels rolling on the smooth gravel underfoot. But no matter where I ended up, I refused to go home until Lorena had left for school, or at least until I was sure that Dave was there to be our buffer.
My skateboard and I'd both had enough for one day. I was frozen to the bone and dying to get out of the cold, so I was relieved to see by the clock on the dashboard that Dave would have been home from work by then. I shifted the gear into drive and pulled out of my parking space to drive the twelve blocks back to our place, hoping Lorena was already gone so I wouldn't have to look at her.
I was well aware that I was being a total pussy about the situation, but I would have done just about anything to avoid being trapped alone with Lorena in our tiny studio. With Dave there, I could more or less pretend to ignore her presence. But when it was just me and Lorena, she would urge me to talk, desperate to repair our broken friendship. Always, my red-hot resentment would force out some spiteful insult which I meant at the moment but would later regret fiercely. While I loathed her for hiding the truth about what she'd been doing with James, I still felt bound by the deep connection we'd made in his home. I wanted to hurt her the way she'd hurt me but I couldn't stand to see her in pain. It was a total mind-fuck, and I knew it was a whole lot safer to just keep my distance.
The fact that Lorena and Dave had gotten so damn cozy wasn't exactly improving my state of mind, either. After we ran away from James' house, it seemed like the very thing that had wrecked my relationship with Lorena had melded her to David like a hot soldering iron. It was apparent that they were moving toward something a lot more serious than I'd first suspected when I'd begun overhearing the gentle smacks of their midnight kisses. While I was making chump change delivering weed or pizza and burning hours away at the skate park, Lorena and Dave had begun laying down the groundwork for an actual future together.
He'd found a steady job that came with a benefits package along with a small bonus at Christmastime, and he hadn't missed a single day since they'd hired him. He'd enrolled her in those undergraduate courses and worked like a dog to pay her tuition bill on time. I guess his reward for all of that back-breaking labor was the way Lorena's face lit up every time he walked through our front door, like he was a soldier returning home from combat or something. I mean, Jesus, the way those two looked at each other! If they weren't already screwing each other senseless by that point, I knew it was only a matter of time before it happened. Not that I gave a damn, of course. I had declared myself finished with Lorena Vasquez. If Dave was actually dumb enough to have faith in that girl after what she'd done, that was his problem.
When I let myself in, they were standing together in the kitchen (which was also the living room and bedroom. It was only distinguishable as a kitchen by the cheap Formica countertop with a small sink and a mini-refrigerator we'd found at a nearby thrift shop). Dave must have gotten home a little late that afternoon; he was still wearing his work boots, utility pants and his "Five Boroughs Construction" hoodie when I walked through the door. As was always the case when he'd just come off work, he looked like he'd been hoisted out of a coal mine; soot streaked both his cheeks and his cropped black hair was mottled with the smoky sweat that I could smell permeating his dusty work gear.
Lorena, on the other hand, was all perfumed and powdered in that flesh-toned sweater that fit her like a dream, her pencil skirt pressed and her long hair carefully smoothed into inky waves that rippled all the way down to the small of her back. She always got extra dolled-up for school; she worked hard for her near-perfect grades, but also had no moral qualms about using her looks to gain an advantage with her male professors.
Even though she'd probably spent hours getting ready, her arms were draped around Dave's neck and she'd allowed him to swallow her up in a close embrace, either unaware of his filthy state or indifferent to it. They were lightly brushing noses while she raked her fingers through his damp hair, but as soon as I entered they shyly broke apart from each other. Clearly, I had stumbled into the twosome's daily reunion.
"Don't mind me," I grumbled as I pulled off my wool skull cap and set my skateboard down. "Didn't mean to interrupt."
"Hi Nate," said Lorena, but I pretended I was too busy hanging up my coat to answer her.
"What's up Nate-o?" Dave greeted me with a pleasant smile. "Damn, dude! You look like Old Man Winter. Don't tell me you've been outside all day."
"Yeah, pretty much," I answered him, unraveling the scarf from around my throat. "I went out to do a little riding this morning and I guess I just lost track of the time."
"But it's freezing out there," Lorena pointed out.
I simply shrugged like I hadn't noticed, as if the tip of my nose wasn't magenta from the icy whipping winter.
"Long day at work?" I asked Dave to steer the subject away from my hiding out at the skate park. "You smell pretty ripe, bro."
"Yeah, I know," he said with a shrug, grinning sheepishly. "Sorry. I was just about to jump in the shower. We had to haul out three whole dump trucks' worth of bricks and concrete from this warehouse they're tearing down in East Williamsburg. I feel like every muscle in my body is on fire."
"They work you so hard," said Lorena, her lower lip turned down in a sympathetic pout. "I can rub your shoulders for you later, if you want."
I bent down and pulled open the door of the mini-fridge just in time to hide my exaggerated eye roll. Bet that wasn't all she'd rub.
I peered inside the refrigerator to see if there was anything to snack on, but all I found was a jar containing two pickles floating in swampy green water and a small container of grated cheese I'd brought home from the pizza parlor earlier in the week.
"Parmesan and pickles. Dinner of Champions," I muttered.
"Actually," Dave responded, "Lor and I were just about to ask you if you wanted to join us for dinner tonight. After her class lets out we thought we'd go over to that Cuban place on Sullivan Street that puts those little paper straws in all the drinks. What do you say, man? My treat."
I closed the refrigerator door and turned around, raising an eyebrow as I studied him curiously. Since when did Dave have the money to pay for three meals at a pretty decent restaurant? Between the rent, the electric bill and Lorena's tuition, he barely had enough cash left over on pay day to buy a jar of peanut butter. I guessed he must've saved up over at least a few paychecks, but what was the occasion? I knew it wasn't anyone's birthday, and none of us were too big on celebrating that milestone anyway, considering our childhoods and all. That's when I suddenly realized. It was the fourteenth of February. God damn Valentine's Day.
"You've gotta be kidding me," I choked out, my eyes widening at him in utter dismay, "Are you high, dude? Hell no."
"Oh, don't be like that, Nate-o. We both really want you to come."
"Right. Well thanks, but no thanks. You two have a good time. I'll be fine on my own."
"Come on, man. It's Friday night. When was the last time you had a meal that didn't come from the pizza joint or out of a can? Besides, it'll be fun."
"Look, that's really generous of you and I appreciate the offer. But I can't."
"Honestly, Dave, I'm really not interested in sitting in some restaurant while you two play footsie under the table all night."
"It's just dinner," Lorena chimed in, catching her lower lip in her teeth, and the hopeful way she batted her lashes at me made my blood go hot. "It wouldn't be like that."
"Oh, Christ," I snarled at her hatefully. "Don't even try to give me that shit, all right? I'm not stupid, and I'd rather starve to death than tag along on your fucking Valentine's date."
"Nathaniel, don't get upset. We just wanted to-"
"Would you please just shut up, Lorena? Why are you even still here, anyway? Don't you have a class you should be running along to?"
"God, Nate! Give it a fucking rest!" Dave snapped, clearly getting fed up with my attitude. "What are you, eight years old?"
Lorena gently laid a hand on his forearm and shook her head.
"Just drop it, David."
"No, Lola. He shouldn't be talking to you that way."
"It's fine, honey. Really. It's no big deal."
"It's not fine. Look, I think it's time for you two to talk this whole thing out. It's starting to get out of hand."
"No, no," she insisted firmly. "Nate's right; I need to hurry and get going or I'll be late for Economics."
Dave seemed uncertain about abandoning the conversation, but before he could say anything else, she climbed onto her tiptoes to quiet him with a kiss.
"Please," I heard her mumble into his lips before their mouths reluctantly parted. "I don't want to do this now. Just let it go, okay?"
Dave licked at the lip gloss she'd left behind, his hesitant eyes moving back and forth from my face to Lorena's, where his gaze ultimately remained.
"All right, then," he finally agreed in a throaty whisper, pacified by her soft kiss. He tucked a lock of her hair behind one ear and then nudged her chin with his thumb. "Guess it'll just be you and me tonight, kiddo."
"I'll meet you outside the main gate at eight o'clock, okay?"
"I'll be waiting," he promised her with a warm smile and a wink.
She allowed him to steal one more swift kiss before she stepped away to bundle herself up for the bitter cold. After she'd buttoned her coat, she bent down for the messenger bag she'd left by the door.
"See you later, Nathaniel," she said, hoisting her bag onto her shoulder.
I raised my hand and grunted out a half-assed response, irked even more by the way the two of them had just spoken about me as if I wasn't standing right there.
She and Dave shot each other a brief, troubled glance, and then she walked out the door, heaving out a defeated sigh from deep in her chest. Once the sound of her clicking boot heels faded down the hallway, Dave turned around and pointed his finger at me like a cocked pistol.
"You're a fucking asshole."
I blinked at him indignantly. Well, so much for letting it go.
"Excuse me? How am I the asshole here?" I demanded. "Why the hell would I want to spend a Friday night watching you and Lorena make puppy eyes at each other?"
"Jesus, we only invited you out to eat! Was the hissy fit really necessary?"
"I don't need to play third wheel for you and Lorena on Valentine's Day like some sort of pity case. I can't believe you even asked. I mean, in what bizarro universe would I ever agree to that?"
"Lorena wanted you to come. It had nothing to do with pity, or even Valentine's Day for that matter. She thought that if the three of us went out and had a good time together like we used to, you might actually consider putting all of your sulky, bratty bullshit aside so we can finally move on. All she wants is for you to be her friend again."
"She's got you. She doesn't need me."
"Do you think it's easy for Lorena to have a constant reminder of James whenever you give her the cold shoulder or make some nasty little remark?"
I merely shrugged as I opened up the cabinet to grab a cup, then turned on the faucet and held it under the tap.
"It's not my fault she spread her legs for the guy," I pointed out.
"She doesn't deserve to be punished for her past every time you open your mouth," he told me. "Trust me; she's hard enough on herself as it is. I don't think you realize how much her heart breaks when you treat her like that. You mean the world to her."
"Oh, come off it," I said after chugging a thirsty sip of my tepid water. "She couldn't care less about me. Besides, Lorena's a tough broad. Since when does she need some knight in shining armor to fight her battles for her?"
"She doesn't. I just don't like to see her hurt. Is it really so much to ask that you be a little nicer to her?"
"Yeah, Dave. It is. Maybe you can get past what she did, but I can't. If you wanna play house with Lorena and pretend nothing ever happened, you go right ahead. I don't understand how you can trust her, but hey, I guess forgiveness just comes a bit easier to you now that she's sucking your dick."
Dave flinched, and I saw the bright blue of his irises glow with the same rash of protective rage that bloomed up his neck to his handsome face.
"You need to watch your fucking mouth, Nathaniel."
He was glaring at me, his lips parted incredulously at my gall. I knew I'd taken a cheap shot, and I squeezed my eyes closed, immediately ashamed of what my impulsive temper had just puked up on my friend.
"Okay. That was a really shitty thing to say," I muttered, bowing my head and scratching the back of my neck uncomfortably. "I'm sorry, man. I am. I just…this...this has all been really hard for me."
He moistened his lips with his tongue, and took a silent moment to take a few deep, calming breaths. When the tide of his anger receded, he reached out to rest his hand on my shoulder, fixing his eyes steadily on mine.
"Nate-o, " he began, his voice husky and deliberately slow, "I came to you weeks ago and asked if you had a problem with me and Lorena hooking up. You told me to go for it. You said you didn't look at her that way anymore. If you'd told me you weren't okay with it, I would have backed off. But it's too late for that now. She and I are too far gone."
"That's not what this is about. I mean, I'm not jealous that you two are…you know, a couple or whatever."
I could feel my heart thumping wildly at my chest, as though it was trying to scream out the truth over my blatant lie.
"You sure about that, man?" Dave asked me carefully.
I swallowed back a gulp before I answered.
"Yeah. Yeah, of course I'm sure. Anything romantic between me and Lorena is ancient history. "
"So what's the problem, then?" he implored. "Why are you still so pissed off?"
"I don't know, Dave. I just can't get past it. I know I was a total prick to Lorena just now, but it's like I can't help myself sometimes. I really cared about her, man. Finding out about that fucked-up thing she had with James and the way she went behind our backs was like discovering I'd been sleeping next to a stranger all that time. I feel like she tricked me; like I never really knew her at all."
Dave heaved a weary sigh.
"Listen, buddy." His voice was soft and low, kind and familiar. "I'm not asking you to forgive her. That's between you and Lorena, and you're entitled to your feelings about what happened. But I can't let you disrespect her like that anymore. I just can't. I think I'm in love with her, Nate."
In the silence following his quiet and uncharacteristically solemn declaration, Dave searched my face for a response, but I just didn't have one. I could only nod silently, gulping on the cemented lump in my throat. In Dave's sincere, familiar eyes, I could plainly see that he hadn't believed a single word of what I'd just said. He knew damn well I wasn't over Lorena, not by a long shot. But he and Lorena were together now. He was in love with her, and we both understood that it would be easier if we just pretended I wasn't.
With nothing more to say, Dave clapped me amicably on the back, and then left me standing by the sink with my heart twisted up like a wet rag. He disappeared into the bathroom, and I heard the rush of water as he turned on the shower to erase the hard work day from his aching bones.
I spent the rest of the night alone in the apartment while Lorena and Dave were out on their date. We didn't have a television so I had little distraction from my reflections and regrets, and it made for a very long night. I thought about calling Liz, a girl who'd given me her number on one of my pizza deliveries a few weeks prior. I'd messed around with her a couple of times and wouldn't have minded getting some tail, but I didn't want to give her the wrong idea by making plans with her on Valentine's Day. The last thing I needed was to end up as some random girl's accidental boyfriend. At one point I tried jerking off to one of Lorena's Victoria's Secret catalogues, but my heart wasn't really in it.
At around ten I decided to roll up a joint. Even though I sold weed, I didn't smoke all that often, but I was bored as hell and badly craving a distraction. I put on my coat and climbed out the window to light it up on the fire escape. I held the flame to the end and took a deep inhale, feeling the pungent, skunky smoke curl down my throat and bloom like a rose in my chest. It was still cold out, but the temperature seemed to have mellowed out a bit, and the winter air felt welcome after spending so many hours locked up in the stuffy studio.
I was taking a second puff when I heard the click of the door opening and through the window I saw Dave and Lorena come inside. I knew they wouldn't be able to see me. I was hidden in the pitch black on the fire escape, except for the orange glow at the tip of the burning joint. The lights were on inside the apartment, however, so I could see them as clear as day through the open window.
I was just about to call in to them and announce my presence when I heard Lorena's voice, bright and cheerful as she laughed happily at something Dave must have said in the hallway. Dave was grinning as he tossed his keys on the counter, and then began to help her out of her jacket. He leaned in and playfully nibbled on her cheek from behind as he slid the coat off of her shoulders, and she wrinkled up her nose with a smile so sunny it actually startled me.
I realized that I hadn't seen Lorena wear a smile like that in weeks, maybe even months. Of course, that was most likely due to the fact that, whenever she was in my presence, she was on the receiving end of pointed silent treatment and bitter jabs against her character.
"I wonder where Nathaniel is," she commented as Dave hung up her coat on the hook behind the door. "He left all the lights on."
"When I left to pick you up, he said something about meeting up with that Liz girl," he answered her. "He'll probably be out for a while."
She sighed as she paused in front of the small mirror on the wall and tousled an out-of-place hair with a flick of her fingers. I caught the sight of her face imitated in the shiny glass, and noticed that her lively smile had fallen with the mention of my name.
"Good," she said. "I've had such a nice night with you. I'd rather end it on a happy note instead of listening to Nate tell me what I dirty whore I am."
Dave came up behind her and slipped both of his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder so that they both were staring into the mirror at each other's likeness.
"He never called you that," he pointed out gently.
"Not in so many words," she said, laying her hands on his arms and relaxing into him. "But I know he's thinking it every time he looks at me."
"Nate will come around, kitten. You just have to give him some time."
"David, he hates me."
"Aw, come on. You don't honestly believe that, Lola. Listen, I know Nate better than anyone. He's the most loyal guy I've ever met. He's angry with you. He's still a bit hurt. But he could never hate you. It's just going to be a while before he's ready to trust you again."
"And how about you?" Lorena asked him, her bottomless brown eyes locking with Dave's in the mirror.
"Me?" Dave repeated. "What about me?"
"Tell me the truth, David. Are you sure that you forgive me for everything that happened? Do you trust me?"
Dave blinked, and at first he seemed a bit surprised by her unexpected question. Then he smiled warmly at her in the mirror, and turned her around so that she was facing him, flesh and blood instead of a reflection. He lifted his hand to her face and delicately ran his fingertips over the smooth, sloping angle of her cheekbone.
"Yup," he simply whispered, and then he leaned in to tenderly lay his lips on her forehead.
I saw Lorena close her eyes, soaking up the sweetness of his loving kiss. Then, she tilted up her chin to request the same for her parted lips. Dave obliged, of course, softly brushing his mouth over hers while he drew her close, lifting her up in his sturdy arms so that her heartbeat met with his.
I knew it wasn't right that I was spying on their private moment like some sort of peeping tom. But considering they'd just been talking about me, I couldn't imagine just climbing through the window and shocking them with the fact that I'd been there the whole time.
"Listen, baby girl," Dave murmured to Lorena in the breath they were sharing, slipping his fingers through the strands of her glorious hair like a comb. "About last night…"
I absolutely hated myself for it, but I found myself cocking my ear closer to the window, straining to listen to his words as he was speaking to Lorena so softly.
"I want to make sure you're okay with what happened between us," he said quietly. "I never want you to feel pressured into doing something you're not comfortable with. If you need us to take a step back and cool off a little, I'll understand."
"Where is all this coming from, Papi?" Lorena asked him with a puzzled blink.
"I'm just saying that there's no rush, Lorena. I mean it. I'll wait for you as long as I need to."
"I don't want to take a step back. I loved every single minute of last night."
"Are you sure?" he asked her cautiously, both hands gliding up and down the length of her spine. "Because I know it was kind of intense and…well, after it was over, you were trembling like a leaf."
I bit down on my lip so hard that I tasted blood. Obviously I'd had an inkling that Dave and Lorena were having sex, or at least fooling around, but hearing my suspicions confirmed aloud was like taking a punch in the gut.
"Ah," Lorena breathed out, nodding slowly in understanding. "So you thought I regretted it."
"It's just that I've never seen you so quiet before, and the way you were shaking…"
"Oh, honey," Lorena said, taking his face in both of her hands. "I'm so sorry I made you think I was upset. I guess I was just a little overwhelmed. You and me...this whole thing...it's brand new territory for me."
"What do you mean?" he whispered.
"Look, David, I know I'm not exactly a virgin. Far from it, in fact. But in a way, last night...it almost felt like my first time or something. I guess that must sound pretty ridiculous. It's just that being with you that way...I've just never felt anything like it before. You made me feel so good, so...I don't know, so warm. It's like you're...you're everything I never believed I could have. And I need you to know that it was never, ever like that with him. It wasn't even close. Honey, last night, I felt so completely safe in your hands that it sort of terrified me. And if that's the way sex is supposed to be...well, then, I guess I've never done it before."
She paused, and wrinkled up her nose self-consciously.
"Shit," she squeaked. "I'm rambling here, aren't I?
"Kind of," Dave answered, the corner of his lip lifting into a charmed, slanted smile.
"Is any of this even making sense?" she asked, almost pleadingly.
"Actually, baby, it makes perfect sense," he swore to her, closing his eyes and resting his forehead on hers. "I guess it sort of felt like a first for me, too. And I need you to know something, too, Lorena. I meant every word I said to you last night. Even though I blurted it all out in the…uh…heat of the moment."
Lorena laughed softly, and nuzzled her lips to his earlobe.
"I meant everything I said, too."
"Did you now?" he purred, and bit his lip. "Well, damn. Now I wish I hadn't slacked off so much in Spanish class."
"I was speaking in Spanish?" she asked, pulling back to look up at him with widened eyes.
Dave nodded, grinning at her with mischievous, sparkling eyes.
"You sure were."
"I didn't even realize I was doing it," she chuckled, a bit bashfully. "Well, um...I guess…I guess what I was trying to say was that I…well, I…"
But Dave laid his finger over her lips before she could stumble out a translation.
"Shhh," he breathed out. "You don't have to do that, sweetheart. I can read between the lines."
And with those words, their mouths sealed together again, this time with such loving, passionate need I could feel the potent heat from where I stood alone on the chilly fire escape.
It was pretty obvious what was about to happen next, so I pitched the burned-out joint onto the sidewalk below and finally turned away from the theater of the window. I had intruded on the couple's intimacy for long enough. I'd be damned before I violated either of them by lurking in the shadows, watching while they made love.
I climbed down the rusty metal ladder as quietly as I could, and jumped onto the street, landing on both feet with a rough thud. My broken spirit and I had nowhere to go, so I headed toward the subway station on our corner so I could jump the turnstyle and take the first train that arrived. I didn't give a shit about where I was going, didn't even notice the snow flurries that had begun to dance in the air around me. As I walked downheartedly down the city street to escape from the only two people who'd ever mattered to me, I suddenly realized I was certain of three things. The first was that I'd finally forgiven Lorena for my lonely soul and lost heart; the second was that I would never love another woman the way I loved her; and the third was that I'd lost her to David for good.
"Spring Street. Next stop Canal."
I jerked my head up just in time to see that the doors were opening onto my station. I'd been so lost in my reminiscence that I hadn't even noticed we'd begun moving again, much less that we'd reached my stop. I glanced at the seats before me and realized the kid who'd led me down the trail to that long-buried memory was long gone. As I hurried to get out before the doors closed, I silently prayed that he'd gone to find his girl and tell her he loved her. Or, if stubborn pride or cowardice had allowed her to slip through his fingers forever, I hoped he'd find another girl who could set him free.
Our apartment building was less than a block from the station, so I didn't have much time to figure out what I was going to say to my friend when I got home. I knew I had to be absolutely honest, and I could only hope he would be more forgiving of me once I let him know about the ultimatum I'd given Lorena. When I got to our building, I was relieved to find that Sal was on a break so I wouldn't be sucked into a round of chit-chat. I gave the security guard a quick wave and hurried upstairs, eager to put my conversation with Dave behind me.
Dave must have heard my keys jingling in the front door, and he pulled it open before I had a chance to. His azure blue eyes were so unfriendly I barely recognized them, and he looked me over like I was a bum soliciting for change in his doorway. I couldn't help but avert my eyes to look down at my sneakers, feeling disgraced by his reproachful gaze and wishing more than anything that I could turn the clock back so that I was still lying under the blankets with Lorena in her hotel room.
"Hey, man. I think we need to talk," I said with a sigh, and lifted my face just before Dave's tightly-clenched knuckles slammed into it, blacking out the lights.
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