The computer blinked at her. White background with dark text. Then blue. Then black screen of death. Then white screen of what could not be called afterlife, because there was nothing but white light coming from the screen, even if she tried turning the forsaken thing off and back on again.
“Fuck me,” she whispered.
“Don’t worry, baby. I got you,” came the voice from the other side of the felted cubicle partition. Carolyn wheeled herself back away from her desk. Dae wheeled herself back as well. They touched knees in a passageway behind their office boxes. A hallway so small, claustrophobic and convoluted that it tapered at the coffee room at the very end. At least that’s what Dae and Carolyn had decided. And then one day a few months ago, they measured it. Full four inches shorter at the far wall. No one knew why.
“What’d you do?” Dae asked. Carolyn shrugged. “Did you lick it? Were you looking at pictures of Gary Oldman and got wound up and loved up on the screen and got sick, white girl germs all over it?”
“White girls don’t lick our computers. At least I don’t think we do. Are we supposed to?”
“Like I know what white girls do,” Dae said.
“And Gary Oldman?” Carolyn asked.
“Boy was all kinds of hot in True Romance,” Dae said. “Move your ass and let me see.” Dae stood and kicked her chair back into her station and walked around into Carolyn’s tiny square space. A picture of Shawn sat on her desk, next to her computer, where the screen was now flashing between darkness and bright white light. Dae picked up the photograph, still punching out letters on the keyboard with one hand.
“How many beautiful black Idris Elba-Queen’s English speaking-push-up doing boys are in this city?”
“Thousand. Probably more,” Carolyn said.
“Lucky if there’s three. And you got one of them to wake up next to you. You’re a lucky pale bitch.”
“He’s usually up first. Morning yoga.”
“Dae. You don’t like boys,” Carolyn said.
“That, my privileged girl, is not the point,” Dae said. She handed Carolyn the picture. “I said move your ass. Damn.” Dae sat in Carolyn’s seat and stared at her spasming computer screen. She pounded the keys with conviction. Then stopped.
“Fuck me,” Dae said.
“You have something truly rotten wormed up in this thing,” Dae said.
“I shouldn’t. I haven’t pulled anything out or put anything on.”
“Something got through.”
“Shit. I bet I lost my whole piece,” Carolyn said.
“Your girl will find it. Don’t worry. Go get me a latte. Almond milk. Not soy. Not skim. Not any other lactose-free trash they try to pass off. Almond milk. I’ll have it figured by the time you get back.”
“Thank you. Again. Like always.”
Thirty minutes and two coffee shop stops later, Carolyn stood at a condiment counter, spilling a big shot of cream into her coffee. Real stuff. Thick half and half. Her phone beeped. She splashed cream on her hand as she tried to squash the lid onto her coffee. She sucked off the white drops as she pulled her phone from her pocket. It was a text from Dae.
‘Your shit is fucked, kid. I got pulled in on something else. I’ll get back on it tomorrow.’
She texted back.
‘Might as well head home. You can’t do anything else here today. Take my beautiful coffee and enjoy.’
Carolyn put her phone back in her pocket and using her hip to jar open the door, she stepped out onto the sidewalk carrying both hot—very, very, intensely hot—coffees. She walked.
An hour later, she was sitting in Madison Square Park. Her beautiful Idris Elba-Queen’s English-speaking boy appeared and kissed her cheek. He was carrying a cup of ice and a thermos.
“I knew it wouldn’t be hot anymore, so I brought this to make it somehow drinkable,” he said, handing her the ice. “And I brought this,” he held out the thermos,” If you wanted to try again with a proper drink.”
“Thank you, love,” she said, taking a drink from the thermos. Her face tightened and her eyes blinked but she smiled. “That’s not tea,” she said.
“Course not, lovely girl. It’s almost five on a Friday. It’s a gin and tonic with a copious, just this side of an almost offensive amount of lime,” he said.
“Thank you for accepting my frailties,” she said, taking another swing from his delicious, toxic thermos while he poured coffee over ice for himself. “You’re done early.”
“I am. My last appointment cancelled. And, I am free all weekend.” He took a long drink of coffee, then leaned in and kissed her. It turned into a deep one. One that drew her back on the ground, with him, his weight and his intensity heavy on her chest. She loved that feeling. Not that she couldn’t breathe, she could, but she had to think about it. Had to push her lungs into action, using his chest and stomach as a counterpoint. For as shallow as her breath was, she pushed into his kiss deeper, running her hands into his hair. Feelings the spines and knots of the twists in his hair. She reluctantly broke the kiss.
“Everyone’s watching,” she said.
“I know they are, beauty. And I like that,” he said.
“Let’s go home.”
“Let’s go home,” he said. He held out his hand, and helped her to her feet. He kissed her again when she got there. Her breath caught again.
After too many minutes and an impatient ride home, she pushed him against the wall and closed the door with her heel. Shawn was still holding the thermos of gin. He leaned over to drop it on the table, but not too far that he loosened contact from her mouth. The thermos held on the lip of the table for a second and then toppled to the floor. Neither noticed. She took his hand and led him to the bedroom.
An hour later, they laid, wrapped, with arms and legs looped around each other. Always the same. Both on their left sides, her right leg between his, his right hand loosely holding her left breast. Their home position. His hand trailed from her breast to her stomach, slowly rubbing his palm across her slack flesh.
“Don’t start something you can’t finish, Mister,” she said.
“Wouldn’t dare,” he said. “But I was thinking of something else.”
“Were you now?”
“I was thinking of us. Having a baby,” he said.
She rolled out of home position to face him. “A baby?”
“Cute little, chubby one. Cinnamon skin. Lots of drool.”
“Do you want a baby?”
“Yes. It’s why I brought it up, isn’t it? Do you want a baby?”
She thought. Really stopped and thought. “I don’t know. I never thought about it as an actual, real, maybe-happening thing before.”
“You should,” he said, rubbing his hand across her stomach again, kneading and rubbing her skin. Then, he grabbed her stomach. Hard. His fingers curled toward each other, until soft flesh spilled between the angles. The cells flattened and squeezed until top and bottom were approximating. She tried to pull away, but his grip had locked. “Stop, baby. That’s too hard,” she said. He didn’t respond. His grip didn’t lessen. “Seriously, Shawn. That hurts. Stop.” She flattened her palms against his chest and pressed as hard as she could. Trying to push him away, to pry herself away, to make this pain that was bringing tears to her eyes stop. He said nothing. Then she looked at him.
His body was as rigid and columnar as it had been that day at his apartment. But that had been months ago. Almost a year. Before they knew they were a real thing. Before they moved from two homes into one. Before there were drops of blood dripping to her hip, where his uneven nails had dug into her pelvis. It hadn’t happened since.
She moved both her hands to his wrist, and tried to pry his hand from her body. He was immovable. Her voice started making sounds against her will. Her skin had flattened to the width of paper and it felt like only seconds until he would completely pierce through her flesh. She brought up her knees and wrapped them around his arm. Throwing all her weight forward, she pulled herself up and over and knelt on him. Countering against that pressure, she leaned back as far as she could, yelling as she finally broke free of his grip.
His body lay on the bed, still and stony. She didn’t know she had scuttled away from him, until she felt the closet door bang against her back. What was she supposed to do? She pulled up her shirt and examined her ribs and stomach. There were scratches and streaks of blood. It wasn’t deep. No real damage. It only felt like she’d been slashed with a chef’s knife. She looked up from her own skin. Shawn was still lying flat on the bed. She stood up, but stayed flush against the closet door. His limbs were motionless but his chest was rising and falling. Craning her neck without breaking the seal against the door, she focused on his neck. There was the smallest hint of an undulating peak and valley just above the crease of his collarbone. His heart was fine. So, she sat down, still firm against the door. And did nothing.
Another hour later, the twitch of her chin against her collarbone woke her. She blinked and then registered the irritant. Not a bug or a stray fiber of clothing. It was his hand against her shoulder. She felt the smooth stroke of his fingers, and the momentary catching of the callous at the base of his middle finger. He was back.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Right as rain,” he said, stroking her hair, wrapping his hand around the back of her neck. “Hope it wasn’t too frightful.”
She smiled. “Say frightful again,” she said, murmuring it into his chest. He leaned into her neck, his mouth moist and soft against her skin. Goosebumps raised themselves and her shoulders shivered as he ran his finger down her vertebra and whispered.
“It wasn’t so bad,” she said, shifting under the uncomfortable ache on the skin of her belly.
“Sorry,” he said.
“I thought maybe those were done,” she said.
“Would be nice,” he said. “I’m famished. You want to get a curry?”
“When have we ever gotten a curry?” she asked.
“Always a first time. Come on. Pants, young lady.” He held out his hand and pulled her to her feet. When he kissed her, before he swatted her down the hallway, she saw the bright, red bloodshot tracks in his eyes.