Early on, Paul and I decided not to love each other. We didn’t use those words exactly. Instead, we said I’m not looking for anything serious and If you found someone better, I’d be happy for you. I like this arrangement. It soothes two of my principal anxieties – the one about missing out on real life and the one about ever having to make a choice.
When I pass him on campus he says, “Julia!” and gives me a high five. Except for the time I saw him walking with another girl. I didn’t get a good look at her because I immediately took a sharp left and pretended to wave to a muscular guy catching a Frisbee across the quad. The muscular guy snatched the neon disc from the air with one hand then waved back with the other, unaware I was only pretending.
Most people don’t realize that with love ruled out, you’re more free to partake in its most intimate rituals. It’s only been two months, but we already text pictures of our breakfasts and check each others’ moles for signs of malignancy. I tell him a good mole is like a good face – symmetrical and with an even tone. He tells me to stop fishing for compliments.
In the past it’s taken me longer to find the guts to ask a guy to check a mole, or to grow interested in photos of their bagels. In fact, this is the first time I ever have.
When he spends the night I wake up first. I like to play a game where I close the distance between us one centimeter at a time. The object is to reach him without waking him, and I am very good. I turn my neck degree by degree, then scoot slowly slowly across the mattress until my nose is smushed into the cool sweaty space between his shoulder blades. It happens so gradually, this advance and climactic nose smushing, that he doesn’t even stir. Once I’m there, I take a deep sniff into the blade crevice. I imagine I’m filling myself to capacity with his scent, and storing enough of the surplus in my chest to last forever. Later, sitting in class, I try to call up that smell from memory. I can isolate its components – damp hay, the bread aisle, a floral note from his detergent – but can never assemble them back into a whole.
Last night I fell asleep reading, then woke to knocking on my apartment’s sliding glass door. I grabbed my Louisville Slugger out of the closet and tip-toed to the living room, staying close to the wall. I stopped at the edge of the vertical blinds and stood listening to my heart beat, unsure of my next move. Then the knocking started again and I hopped in front of the patio door, holding the bat up like I learned in softball. Paul materialized behind my reflection, muttering what I assume was an apology for the time and his drunkenness. I lowered the bat, opened the door and led him back to my bed.
Now I lie awake as he snores beside me, watching the orange glow on my curtain melt into a deep blue. I know it won’t change anything, but I still have to try. If I start moving now, I’ll reach him just as the sun is filling up my room with light.
Alex Williamson is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn. She studied Creative Writing at the University of Missouri Kansas City, where her poetry appeared in Dossier magazine.