Dad clears his throat awkwardly and looks up at us. “I am really happy for you two,” he says.
I open my mouth to beg for us to change the subject, for the love of God, but Oliver senses something I don’t, and covers my knee with his hand beneath the table, squeezing.
“Thanks. It’s pretty great so far.” He smiles at Dad before taking a bite of salad.
Dad sips his water and then gazes at me, and I see what Oliver must have: Dad usually hides behind teasing humor, but now he’s showing rare emotion. “Lola’s mom and I met at a bar.” He tilts his head, smiling. “Dove straight in. Turns out, we were better at being enemies, but when we were friends, it was awfully nice. I want you to have someone who’s better at being a friend.”
Raising my eyebrows, I give him a we’re-going-to-talk-about-this-here-and-now? face and he laughs a little. We don’t talk about Mom anymore when it’s just the two of us, let alone in front of someone else; there just isn’t very much unexplored territory. As of this summer, she’s been gone one year longer than they were married. I know the basics any child would know: They had a decent marriage—not a great one—but weren’t actually together in one place very often because of his deployments. When he was discharged and returned home, things were too hard for her. As an adult, I’ve deduced that Dad forgave her long ago and thinks she probably hates herself too much for leaving to ever try to talk to me again.
Tom Petty sings about free falling in the other room, and the melody has this way of making me feel like time loops in this slowly expanding arc. We just go around and around and around, and part of me will always be twelve while the rest of me ages, navigating the world with one parent who cared enough for two.
Gratitude for my father swells in me until I feel my breath catch in my throat.
I cover Oliver’s hand with mine, grateful for the tiny breath he forced me to take, the step back for perspective, and ask Dad, “Where’s Ellen tonight?”
I can tell he’s happy that I brought her up: his smile cracks across his face and he launches into a very detailed explanation of her work schedule and late dinner plans with friends. Oliver’s hand is a distracting warmth beneath mine: tendons and bones, smooth skin, sparse hair. I want to lift it from the table, press it to my face.
OLIVER DRAWS SMALL circles on my thigh as he drives us home. If I didn’t know better, I would think he was doing it absently, but I’m finding that he doesn’t do anything without intent. He’s quiet but deliberate, relaxed but always observing.
“Where do you want to have sex?” he asks, staring straight ahead.
I turn to grin at him. “Right now?”
Laughing, he says, “No, I mean, some crazy place you want to do it someday. Right now I’m driving to my house for the sex.”
He glances at me and then back at the road. “A bit of a cliché, maybe? And illegal, I’m guessing.”
“Probably. But every time I’m on it I can’t help but think about what it would be like to sneak in there and find a dark corner.”
“At night, maybe,” he agrees quietly. “Away from everyone. We’d take off just enough for me to be able to get inside you.”
I swallow, pushing his hand up my thigh as I imagine his pants hanging low on his hips, the definition of muscles framing the soft hair on his toned stomach, how fast and frantic he would move in me.
“Would you want the ride to be going while I was fucking you in there?” he asks casually, clicking on his right-turn indicator.
Goose bumps erupt along my arms at his crude, growled words. “Only if I knew we were hidden from view and it was just about being quiet.”
“That bleeding song plays the whole time anyway.” He doesn’t look my way, but smiles at this. “I’d want to make just enough noise so that you could hear me,” he says, turning onto his street. As soon as he says it, I remember the sound of his rhythmic grunts, his hoarse, guttural exhales as he fucks me hard.
He pulls to the curb and shuts off the engine, turning to look at me. The engine ticks through the silent car, and I can feel my heart pounding in my chest and all the way up my throat as he slowly leans in, his focus entirely on my lips.
The house is right there, twenty steps to inside, but we’re here, kissing like we haven’t been alone in a year. Oliver kisses me for minutes, for days, until my mouth is sore from the beard I don’t want him to shave; he’s tongue and teeth and growl while he presses me into the door. I can feel his hunger in the way he stretches across the center console and cups my head in his hand. I can feel it in the noises that escape every time he gets me at a different angle, every time I pull him in deeper, bite him, suck on his lips.
“I will take you. Inside,” he says, laughing and opening the door behind me so we half-tumble out together and he has to crawl awkwardly out of my side of the car, practically laying me down on the sidewalk. Anyone walking by would think we were drunk.
Is that what this is?
It’s chemistry, I know that for sure, something numbing and piercing at once, something that makes me feel like I’m alive for the first time and dead in other ways—murdered memories of what anyone else felt like before this man. Murdered memories of what it felt like to be over a hundred miles away.