I’d been raised by a single mother, with two older sisters who didn’t give me any choice but to understand women, know women, love women. In one of the two serious relationships in my life, I’d talked to my girlfriend about the possibility that this comfort with women worked out pretty well for me when I hit puberty and ended up wanting to have sex with every girl I met. I think that girlfriend had been trying to not-so-subtly hint that I manipulated women by pretending to listen. I didn’t probe the issue much; we broke up pretty soon after that.
But whatever my comfort with the opposite sex, it didn’t seem to help me at all with Hanna. She felt like a separate creature, a separate species. She threw all my experience out the window.
Somehow, when I fell back asleep I started dreaming about f**king her on a giant pile of sports equipment. A lacrosse stick dug into my back but I didn’t care. I just watched her rock on top of me, eyes clear and locked to mine, her hands moving up and around my chest.
My phone buzzed beneath me, wedged into my spine, and I woke with a start. Glancing at my clock, I realized I’d overslept; it was nearly eight thirty. I answered without looking, assuming it was Max asking me where the f**k I was for our Monday morning meeting.
“Yeah, man. I’ll be there in an hour.”
Fuck. “Oh, hey.” My heart squeezed so tightly beneath my ribs that I groaned, and ran a hand over my mouth to stifle it.
“You’re still asleep?” Hanna asked. She sounded out of breath.
She paused, and the wind on the other end whipped through the phone line. She was outside and out of breath. She’d gone running without me. “Sorry to wake you.”
I closed my eyes, pressing a fist to my forehead. “Don’t worry about it.”
She stayed quiet for a few long, painful seconds and in that time we had several different conversations in my head. One where she told me I was being a dick. One where she apologized for implying that I could be so cavalier about the intense night we had. One where she prattled on about nothing in particular, Ziggy-style. And one where she asked if she could come over.
“I went running,” she said. “I thought you’d started and maybe I’d see you on the trail.”
“You thought I started without you?” I asked, laughing. “That would be rude.”
She didn’t answer and I realized too late that what I had done—not shown up, not even bothered to call—was just as bad.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, and then hated myself immediately. “No. Fuck, I don’t know who you are this morning.” I kicked away my sheets, willing my groggy brain to wake the f**k up already. “It messes with my head to call you Hanna.”
It makes me think you’re mine, I didn’t add.
Laughing sharply, she started walking again, the wind whipping even louder through the receiver. “Get over your man-angst, Will. We had sex. You’re supposed to do this kind of thing better than anyone. I’m not asking for a key to your apartment.” She paused, and my heart dropped into my stomach as I understood how my distance was coming across to her. She assumed I was brushing her off. I opened my mouth to backpedal, but her words came out faster: “I’m not even asking for a repeat, you egomaniacal jerk.”
And with that, she hung up.
I requested we move our regular group lunch from Tuesday to Monday on the basis that I’d lost my balls and my mind, and no one argued. It seemed that I’d reached a level of moony lovesickness that made giving me shit a lot less fun for my friends.
We met at Le Bernardin, ordered whatever we always ordered, and life seemed to move on as it had for the past nine months. Max kissed Sara until she batted him away. Bennett and Chloe pretended to hate each other over the salad she insisted they split for lunch, in some confusing form of flirty foreplay. The only thing that seemed different was that I drank my alcoholic lunch beverage in less than five minutes and then earned a raised eyebrow from our regular waiter when I ordered another.
“I think I’m the Kitty,” I said once the waiter left. When conversation came to a screeching halt, I registered that my friends had been happily babbling on about whateverthefuck while my brain was practically melting next to them.
“With Hanna?” I clarified, searching each of their faces for any sign of understanding. “I’m the Kitty. I’m the one saying I’m fine with just f**king around, but I’m not. I’m the one saying I’ll be happy to f**k only on the third Tuesday of odd-numbered months just so I can be with her. She’s the one who’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t need to hook up again.’?”
I was met with Chloe’s flat palm held up in my face. “Hold up, William. You’re f**king her?”
I sat up straight, eyes wide and defensive. “She’s twenty-four, not thirteen, Chloe. What the hell?”
“I don’t care that you’re f**king her—I care that you’ve f**ked her and she didn’t call one of us immediately. When did this happen?”
Relaxing, I reached for my new drink almost as soon as the waiter put it in front of me. But Max was faster, pulling it out of my reach before I could get it. “We have an afternoon meeting with Albert Samuelson and I need you sharp.”
I nodded, bending to rub my eyes. “I hate all of you.”
“Have you actually ended things with Kitty and Kristy?” Sara asked gently.
I shook my head. “Why should I? There’s nothing going on with Hanna.”
“Except you have feelings for her,” Sara pressed, eyebrows drawn together. I hated her disapproval. Of any of my friends, Sara only gave me shit when it was fully deserved.
“I just figure why create more drama right now,” I reasoned, lamely.
“Has Hanna actually said that she doesn’t want anything more with you?” Chloe asked.
“It’s pretty obvious from the way she acted Sunday morning.”
Already nodding, Max added, “I hate to state the obvious, mate, but why haven’t you had the Will Sumner sit-down with her? Aren’t you sort of proving the long-suffering point you always throw at us regarding your hookups: that it’s better to discuss things up front than leave questions?”
“Because,” I explained, “it’s easy to have that convo when you know what you want and don’t want.”
“Well, what do you know?” Max asked, shifting to the side so the waiter could place his food down in front of him.
“I know I don’t want Hanna f**king anyone else,” I growled.
“Well,” Bennett began wincing slightly, “what if I told you I saw Kitty clearly hooking up with someone else the other night?”
He shook his head. “No. But your reaction sure is telling. Fix things with Hanna. Figure your shit out with Kitty.” Picking up his fork, he said, “And now shut up so we can eat.”
I was up at five fifteen the next morning, waiting outside Hanna’s apartment building. I knew that now that she had a taste for running she wouldn’t miss a day. I had to fix things with her. . . . I just wasn’t sure how to do it yet.
She drew up short when she saw me, eyes widening before she put on a calm, unaffected mask. “Oh, hi, Will.”
She started to walk past me, eyes straight ahead. Her shoulder brushed mine as she passed, and I could tell from the way she winced that it had been unintentional.
“Wait,” I said, and she stopped but didn’t turn around. “Hanna.”
I walked to where she stood, turning to face her and putting my hands on her shoulders. I didn’t miss the way she shivered slightly. Was it anger or the same thrill at contact I felt? “It’s always been Hanna.”
“Yesterday I f**ked up, okay? I’m sorry I didn’t show for our run, and I’m sorry I came off like a dick.”
“I know I’m supposed to be the one who knows what I’m doing here, but I’ll admit that Saturday night was different for me.” Her eyes softened, shoulders relaxing. I continued, my voice quieter, “It was intense, okay? And I realize that this sounds insane, but I was a little taken aback when you were so casual about it the next day.”
I let go of her shoulders, stepping back to give her space.
She looked at me as if I’d sprouted the head of a lizard from my forehead. “How was I supposed to be? Weird? Angry? In love?” Shaking her head, she said, “I’m not sure what exactly I did wrong. I thought I handled it pretty well. I thought I acted just like you would have told me to if it was anyone else I’d had sex with.” She blushed, hotly, and I had to push my hands into the pockets of my hoodie to keep them to myself.
I took a deep breath. This was the moment I could tell her, I have feelings for you I haven’t had before. I’ve been struggling with them since the first second I saw you, weeks ago. I don’t know what these feelings mean, but I want to find out.
But I wasn’t ready for that. I looked up at the sky. I was clueless and had no idea what I was doing. For all I knew, this was nothing more than what I’d feel if I were ha**g s*x with anyone whose family I’d known forever; a protectiveness, a yearning to take caution with both of our feelings. I needed more time to sort things out.
“I’ve known your family for so long,” I said, turning back to her. “It isn’t the same as hooking up with some random person, no matter how much we want it to be casual. You’re more to me than just someone I want to be sexual with, and . . .” I ran my hand over my face. “I’m just trying to be careful, okay?”
I wanted to punch myself. I was pussing out. Everything I’d said was true, but it was a flimsy half-truth. It wasn’t only just about knowing her for so many years. It was wanting to know her, like this, for so many more.
She closed her eyes for a beat, and when she opened them, she was looking to the side, to some unknown point in the distance. “Okay,” she murmured.
Finally she looked up at me and smiled. “Yeah.” Tilting her head in indication that we should get moving, she turned and soon our feet were slapping the pavement in an easy, steady rhythm, but I had no idea what conclusion we’d just reached.
It was gorgeous out, for the first time in months, and even though it was probably still under forty degrees, it felt like spring. The sky was clear, no clouds or gray shadows, just light, and sun and crisp air. Only three blocks from her house, I grew too warm, and I slowed slightly, pulling my long-sleeved thermal up and over my head and then tucked it into the back of my track pants.
I heard the sound of a toe butting into pavement, and before I knew what was happening, Hanna was sprawled out on the sidewalk, the wind knocked from her in a forceful gust.
“Holy crap, are you okay?” I asked, kneeling next to her and helping her sit up.
It was several long seconds before she could inhale and when she did, it was loud and desperate. I hated that sensation more than almost anything, getting all of the air knocked out of my lungs. She’d tripped on a large crack in the sidewalk and landed hard, her arms pressed to her ribs. Her pants were torn at one knee, and she was holding on to her ankle.
“Shit,” I murmured, reaching behind her knees and around her waist, picking her up. “Let’s get you home and ice that.”
“I’m fine,” she managed, struggling to keep me from lifting her.
Swatting at my hands, she begged, “Don’t carry me, Will, you’ll break your arms.”
I laughed. “Hardly. You’re not heavy, and it’s three blocks.”
She gave in, wrapping her arms around my neck.
Hanna was quiet, and when I ducked my head to catch her eye, she laughed. “You took off your shirt.”
Confused, I murmured, “I had another shirt on, you goof.”
“No, I mean, the tattoos.” She shrugged. “It’s been cold. I’ve only seen them a couple of other times, but I saw a lot of them on Saturday, and it made me think . . . I looked over just now . . .”
“And fell?” I asked, laughing despite my better judgment.
“Well, you can stare at them while I carry you,” I told her. “And feel free to nibble on my earlobes while we walk,” I whispered, smiling. “You know I like your teeth.”
She laughed, but not for long, and as soon as I’d caught up with her and realized what I’d said the tension grew into a heavy thing between us. I moved down the sidewalk to her building and with every step in silence, the monster tension only grew. It was the unspoken oh, right, the way I’d so casually referenced how she knew what I liked in bed, the reality of where we were heading—her apartment, where we’d had sex all night long Saturday.
I dug around inside my head for what to say, but the only words that bubbled right near the surface were words about us, or that night, or her, or my own fucked-up brain. I put her down when we reached the elevator and I had to hit the up button. It arrived with a quiet ding, and I helped Hanna limp inside.