Wish You Were Here: A Novel: Chapter 5

Stranger Things

“What the hell,” I said. I kicked off my shoes, peeled off my jeans, and pulled my shirt over my head. I was standing in a black lace bra and underwear set.

“Wow.”

“Wow?”

“Yeah, wow. By the way, have I told you how beautiful you are?”

I turned up the volume. “No!” I yelled over the loud music. “Tell me again, Adam!”

“You’re insanely beautiful!” he shouted. He pulled me toward him and I was yanking his T-shirt off. He had muscles. If you must have a one-night stand with a strange artist-man who paints murals in your neighborhood and seems kind of weird, muscles help. I moved my fingertips across the ridges on his stomach and up his arms to his defined biceps. He laughed.

“Ticklish?” I said.

He guided my hand to his mouth and pretended to bite my fingertips.

A second later we were dancing like lunatics in front of the big window and then we took turns sliding across the wood floor in our socks. We ate more Chinese food and drank more Champagne and spun each other around until we collapsed into a pile on his bed. Then we were kissing and it wasn’t slow anymore. It was frantic and passionate. We were tugging at each other and rolling from one side of his bed to the other. He was on top of me and I was yanking his boxers off with my toes, pulling them down his butt.

He jolted upright and grabbed my foot. “How are you doing that?” He inspected my feet. “Oh my god!” Holding my foot up, he said, “How are you doing that with these sausage toes?”

“Hey! I like my toes.”

“They’re adorable, but they look like they belong on a fat toddler.”

We were both laughing, but I felt vulnerable, so I sat up. “Let me see your feet.”

“I have beautiful feet,” he said and it was true. The bastard could have been a foot model.

“Damn you.”

“Come here, let me see those little Jimmy Deans.”

“Leave my toes alone!” I tried to scurry off the bed but he caught me. He was sitting on the edge, pulling my arm back. He spun me around and his face was level with my belly. He kissed it, slowly, while running one hand up the inside of my thigh. There was no more talking after that.

He pulled me to straddle him and then he gently unclasped my bra and began kissing my breasts. I arched my back and let my head fall. A moment later, we were completely naked, rolling back onto the bed. I tried to pull him on top of me, but he turned us over again so that I was on top of him. I leaned forward and clicked off the bedside lamp. The light from the street reflected off the ceiling, creating a cool glow in the large loft space.

Remember what I said about one-night stands being awkward? It wasn’t awkward with Adam. Usually teeth clash or heads bump or hands go the wrong way. It’s like when you’re walking down the street and you veer to the right to get out of the way of the person coming toward you, and then they veer to their left, mistakenly, and then a series of awkward jerky movements ensue, making you both feel like jackasses.

It was nothing like that.

At first we were just kissing; I was feeling a tad self-conscious about being naked on top of him. And then he was inside of me, coaxing me to move. “Sit back,” he whispered.

I sat up and let my hair fall down my back. He gripped my hips hard as I began to move above him. He met my movements with ease.

Blissfully, he watched as I moved. My self-consciousness slipped away. I closed my eyes. When I slowed the rhythm, he flipped us over. He hovered over me, full of strength. We were connected, so close, and he was kissing my neck and nibbling at my ear and then his mouth was on mine. He picked up the pace and I could feel my body tingling. I was coming apart, letting go with a stranger. I couldn’t believe how easy he made it all feel. Once there was no stopping it, my back arched off the bed, my neck went rigid, and one quiet “Oh” slipped from my mouth, almost painfully, before I felt myself pulsing all around him.

“Oh god,” he murmured, and then he thrust one last time and collapsed on top of me.

When I opened my eyes finally, he was holding himself above me, staring down.

“What?” I said.

He squinted slightly, as though he were trying to recall something. “How long have we been in love?”

My throat tightened. I felt like I was in love with him, but I didn’t even know him. It was just lust, ecstasy, some weird trick our brains played on us right after sex, but the look on his face was so sweet, sincere, genuine. I reached up and ran my hand through his hair.

“It’s been years now. Five, right?”

“Yeah, I think so, but I’m bad with anniversaries, remember?” He smiled.

We were role-playing and I was into it. Most of the men I dated would have shied away from this type of thing . . . afraid it would lead to something permanent. I wanted to pretend for just one night that we were in love . . . that I was his muse.

We lay in bed next to each other, naked, holding hands, staring up at the ceiling.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” he asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “I guess I believe that our energy is everywhere, even after we leave the physical world. Like our souls leave some residual imprint on the people we knew, or something.”

“Explain.”

I turned toward him, propping my head up on my hand. “Your art, our memories, the memories people have of us . . . it makes us immortal. When you love someone, whether it be your family, friends, partners, whatever, it’s like planting a little seedling of yourself inside of their hearts.”

“I like that,” he said. “Tell me about us. How’d we meet?”

I searched his eyes. “I can’t believe you don’t remember.”

He smiled as if to say, you know I do. “I just want to hear you tell it again. I love the way you tell it.”

“We met at a museum . . . the Getty.” I had to think on my pudgy toes, but I was getting a chance to describe exactly what I wanted. My fantasy.

“The Getty . . . right. Go on,” he said.

“We were both completely mesmerized by that Edvard Munch painting. What is it?”

“The Scream?”

“No, Starry Night,” I said.

“That’s Van Gogh, kitten.”

I reached across him for my phone on the bedside table. “I swear to god, Munch also painted a Starry Night and it’s at the Getty. We met in front of that exact painting.” I Googled it and handed him the phone. He stared at the screen.

“Yes, I remember now. What were you wearing?”

“A red dress. I had my hair up, Audrey Hepburn style.”

“That’s right. And you were staring at the painting for a long time.” He closed his eyes. “I wanted to kiss the back of your neck.”

“You didn’t, though; you just said something absentmindedly like, ‘It’s not as starry as the Van Gogh version.’ ”

He laughed. “Sounds like something I would say.”

“I agreed with you and then you asked me out on a date. I politely declined.”

“How could you?”

“I was playing hard to get.”

“Of course you were.”

“But then you followed me through the whole museum, making silly comments about the artwork. We played I Spy in the Italian Romanticism section. You kept hinting at boobs and penises. I told you to grow up, so you disappeared for a bit and then you found me a little while later, staring at the illuminated manuscripts. You tried to act cultured and sophisticated. You pointed out some crap about the fine brushwork detail and we both started laughing. That’s when you asked me out again and I said yes.”

“And for our first date I took you to—”

“Pink’s Hot Dogs!” I shouted.

“Gross.”

“I know, I was deeply disturbed, but you just kept saying it was an institution.”

“You know I don’t eat pork, silly,” he said.

“They’re all-beef hot dogs,” I quickly replied.

“After Pink’s, I brought you here and we made love.”

“No.”

“No?”

“You were the perfect gentleman. You drove me home, walked me to the door, and kissed me on the cheek. Then you asked me out on a second date.”

“It’s because I really liked you.”

“I pulled you inside my apartment and had sex with you on my kitchen floor.”

He turned and looked at me with wide, shocked eyes. “You did not.”

“I know, I’m teasing. We ended up going out the next night. And we’ve been together ever since.”

“Didn’t I take you to the Griffith Observatory a couple of months later?” he asked.

“Are you being silly? That’s where you told me you loved me for the first time.”

I expected at some point for him to start laughing like it was all ridiculous, but he didn’t.

“I didn’t forget that. I was just testing you,” he said.

“Remember you were looking into a giant telescope and you pulled away and said, ‘Darn, there’s not enough,’ and then I said ‘What?’ and you said, ‘There aren’t enough stars up there to match the reasons why I love you.’ ”

“God, I’m romantic when I want to be.”

“Yes, you are.”

He leaned over and kissed me. “I’m sure I’ve told you a million times, but I’ll tell you again. Your body is perfect.” He smoothed his hand down my side to my hip as we lay face-to-face.

I traced my finger along his chest muscles across the small tuft of hair. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

“Do you know why I paint?”

“Because you’re damn good at it.”

He laughed once. “No, that’s not it.”

I pulled the sheet off the bed and wrapped it around my body. I went to the window and bent near a stack of canvases propped against the glass. “You painted this one because you liked the color of this woman’s hair.” The woman in the painting was standing in front of Adam’s building.

“Maybe,” he called out from the bed.

“You must enjoy it?”

“I do.”

“Have you ever tried to get a show or sell any of these?”

“Not really. It doesn’t really matter to me.”

“They’re beautiful, Adam. The world should see them.” Glancing at the clock, I noticed it was almost three. “Shit, I need to text Helen.”

I stood up, facing the window, and turned to find Adam standing right behind me. His eyes were wide. “What are you doing?” I asked.

He blinked. “Painting,” he said, but he wasn’t. He was just watching me.

“There you go, being romantic again.”

“Guess so.”

“I need to call Helen.” I tried to walk past him, but he pulled me against his body and kissed me.

When he stepped away, he said, “Who’s Helen?”

“My roommate.”

He smirked. “You mean I’m not your roommate?” He was still playing. Maybe we’ll do this all night. I wouldn’t mind.

“No. Remember we decided to live separately?”

“I can’t imagine why,” he said earnestly.

A quiet alarm went off on Adam’s phone. He stared at it.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“Nothing. No big deal. I’ll be right back.” He went off to the bathroom and I texted Helen.

Me: Staying here tonight.

Helen: You okay? Code word?

Helen and I had code words for everything. It was usually an old pet’s name or a line from one of our favorite movies. Growing up, Helen’s family had Maltipoos. It’s a mix between a Maltese and miniature poodle . . . damned dog people and their overbreeding. Anyway, they had a little black Maltipoo named Major. He would have been adorable if he weren’t an incessant humper. It was just vile; truly, the dog was persistent and fanatical about humping. Witnessing Major molest everything in his path was traumatizing. He was constantly in motion, his little butt pumping in and out. There was clearly something wrong with him. He humped everything from stuffed animals to vacuum cleaners to any leg he came in contact with. Helen and I hated that dog. We called him Major Humperdinck. After high school it became our code for I totally want this guy to hump me. I know, we were disgusting girls.

Me: Major.

Helen: Major What?

Me: Don’t . . .

Helen: I’m calling the police.

Me: Major Humperdinck

Helen: I knew it. Well, have fun . . . slut.

But I wasn’t a slut. I was Adam’s long-term girlfriend that he had met at the Getty. When I put down the phone, I noticed he was standing near the window, gloriously naked. I lay back on the bed and watched him look out onto the street.

“Oh my god, honeybuns, you should see this. There’s a couple down there. I think . . . I think they’re falling in love,” he said.

“What if they look up and see you flashing them? Isn’t that voyeurism or something? You could get arrested.”

“It’s exhibitionism, not voyeurism. They can’t see me anyway. They’re too busy being all crazy in love with each other to notice anything else.”

“What are they doing?” I didn’t get up. For some reason, something kept me there, on the bed, watching him in all his innocent wonder.

“Ah, this is so sweet. Oh, they’re dancing now, under the streetlight. Holy shit, he’s getting down on one knee.”

“He’s proposing to her?” I asked.

“Wait, I’m a great lip reader. I can tell you what he’s saying. Okay, he’s saying, I know we only just met, but I think you’re amazing.”

“Wow, what a coincidence,” I said.

“Wait, there’s more. He’s saying, I want to spend the rest of my days with you. Oh my god, kitten, he did it.”

“What, what?” I shouted, caught up in the moment.

“He asked her. He said, ‘Marry me?’ ”

I finally jumped out of bed, dragging the sheet behind my naked body.

I stood in back of Adam, wrapping my arms around his middle as he faced the street. Just as I was peeking over his shoulder to see what he was watching, he turned and wrapped himself around me. “You missed it,” he said. “They’re gone.”

“I missed it, dammit. Where’d they go?”

“Probably to have sex somewhere.”

“Or maybe get a donut and celebrate?”

“Yes, they probably went for a donut.” He laughed and then kissed my nose. “Let’s dance.”

We swayed back and forth until we were kissing again. He lifted me with ease to straddle him, then he pushed me against the glass of the front window. “Someone will see us,” I said.

“So what? It’s the middle of the night. Don’t we do this? Isn’t this what we do?”

“What, Adam?” I said huskily, trying to catch my breath as he ran his tongue across my neck and up to my ear.

“Stay up all night, talking, making love?”

I squirmed. “Yes, we do.”

He pushed harder against me. “Let’s be in the moment.” I shivered from his voice near my ear. He pulled the sheet around us as he gripped my bottom, pressing me into the glass. Gliding into me with ease, he buried his face in my neck and whimpered. “God, you feel so good.” He looked up; we were face-to-face. There was curiosity in his eyes.

Something hit me. Adam had done this before, clearly. I looked around the room quickly. Any one or every one of these women in the paintings had probably been pressed against this window, just like this, while Adam moved slowly, in and out, professing his undying love to a person he didn’t know.

He finished and then breathed into my neck while he held me.

I kept still, squeezing my eyes shut, forcing the tears back. This is the part about one-night stands that I hate. In the end, everyone is just pretending.

The rumble of Adam’s chest shook my body as he began laughing. I felt as if I were going to throw up. He set me down. “We probably looked like a ghostly blob in that white sheet, fucking against the window.” His humor suddenly seemed less charming and more callous.

“Mmmhmm,” I said, a sullen note in my voice.

He stood up and took a step back, recognizing the change in my demeanor. “What’s wrong?”

“My name is Charlotte.” My stomach was twisting in knots.

“I know,” he said. “What’s wrong, Charlotte?”

Still leaning against the glass, I wrapped the sheet around my body. Adam stood naked, facing me. “Nothing,” I mumbled.

“Something’s wrong.” With his thumb and index finger he pinched my chin, tilting my head up to look him in the face. He was smiling with his eyes, with utter sincerity and warmth.

He leaned in with confidence and kissed me, slowly, sweetly. “You’re stunning and that was beautiful and I loved every second of it. I’m sorry you didn’t like it. Did I hurt you?”

Was it true? Was it a line?

“No, but are you going to paint it?”

“Paint what?”

“Us, what we just did?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“No?”

“No. I don’t need to. I’ll never forget it and it’s sacred.”

He paints to remember?

I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe the stranger I had met on the street hours before wasn’t just playing me. I wanted to believe he was falling for me. I kissed him, dropping the sheet and wrapping my whole body around him. My chest shook from the emotion. He held me tightly to him, rubbing my back as he carried me to his bed and lay me down. I was so bone-achingly tired that nothing felt real. It was all dreamlike.

He kissed my nose. “You should get some sleep,” he said. “I’ll make you breakfast when we get up.”

“Things will be different in the morning,” I said.

“Why?” He slid under the sheet next to me. I put my head on his chest and he held me like we had been sleeping that way for years.

The glow of dawn began to invade the loft, unwelcome and painfully bright. We were fighting sleep but completely calm, wrapped in each other.

“Have I asked you to marry me?” he said sleepily. We were back on.

“Every day,” I replied.

“Well . . .”

“I always say not yet.”

Adam was dozing off and slurring when he said, “Why?”

I’m certain he was asleep when I finally replied, “Because I don’t want you to stop asking.”


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