She rummages through old photographs while I stand over the stove, making dinner because she swears she can’t cook, so I cook instead.

“I can barely make white rice,” she claims all the time, a dammed lie we both know she loves to repeat. “It either comes out soggy or smoky. You don’t need that kind of instability in your life.”

The kitchen is hot and humid, and she swears she can feel her hair frizzing as we stand there. Still, she keeps coming back to talk to me, holding old pictures in one hand and a joint still burning in the other. I don’t complain, not caring that the smoke is going to set off the detectors again. In turn I keep asking her questions from a distance so that I can see her in front of me, not in pictures online.

She kisses me between the shoulder blades, pressing her face against my back, and exhales. After a moment she thrusts a picture in my line of sight, one of six kids in an auditorium, and points to a skinny boy with too many teeth.

Mira que lindo!” She exclaims, and I blush.

“That kid was a geek,” I respond, embarrassed.

“That kid was hilarious,” she retorts with a smile.

She doesn’t try to lie, and for that I’m grateful. There was a time she didn’t even notice me, and we don’t pretend otherwise. Once she did, I had to have self-control for the both of us. It was a nice problem to have.

“I was afraid of everything then,” I say.

“I remember thinking you were a bully,” she replies and I balk.

“I was never a bully,” I shoot back, also not for the first time.

“Maybe,” she says, shaking her head in a noncommittal way, absentmindedly rubbing a scar above her elbow on her left arm. “But you were at least hiding in the shadow of one.”

I don’t say anything.

She paces around the kitchen and sighs, turning to the next picture.

“We were all dumb back then,” I shoot back.

“Yeah, but I was punished the hardest,” she replies, and I don’t argue.

She’s not lying.

***

We’re smoking in the pool while the neighborhood is asleep, waist deep in the water and getting high. I’m showing self-control for the both of us, but I still can’t help holding her against me. Still, she’s pensive, staring up at the sky fascinated, happy that now that she’s far from the city she can see the stars again.

“After you left the second time,” she says, facing away from me. “Not when we were kids but the first time it really mattered, you left me your coat. I hung it in my closet and never wore it out, but I swear it still smelled like you for weeks. It was the most erotic smell in the world. Like sweat and deodorant and heat even though you were long gone. It made me feel like you weren’t that far away. Sometimes when I’d miss you I’d hide in my closet, crawl inside that coat and inhale until I felt better.”

“That sounds like you,” I say with a big smile.

“Shut up,” she says, blushing, still smiling at the memory.  “I remembered that I did write about you once,” she tells me.

“Did you?”

She takes a deep breath and I wait.

“I wrote a story and kept it in my notebook just to feel like you were close. It was about you. It was about us even though I didn’t use any names, and of course she found it. Went through my notebook and counted every single piece of fucking paper until I was nothing but a pile of tears and fear. She fucking loved making me afraid, and when she started reading it I tried to snatch it away, but she cornered me and slapped me just like…”

She stops and takes a puff. “Even my dad had to pull her off me.”

I try to hold her. “You’re stronger because of it.”

“You’re right,” She replies in a steely voice. “Anger is one hell of a motivator.”

***

“What do you want most in this world?” I ask her. She’s kissing me everywhere, leaving dark red lipstick stains all over my body. She jokes that she’s marking her territory, and it holds a kernel of truth, a kernel that I know is ready to explode under the right amount of pressure. She kisses my forehead and my jawline, lingering there.

“You,” she replies, kissing me again on one shoulder.

“What do you dream of?” I try asking again, working hard to remember the point that I was trying to make.

“You,” She replies, kissing the other shoulder.

“Seriously,” I say, an accusation.

“Seriously,” She responds, kissing down my chest.

“You have to want more,” I say to her, incredulous.

“I already have everything else,” working her way down my stomach.

“C’mon, there has to be something.” I say, my voice getting huskier involuntarily.

“There isn’t,” she says softly, shaking her head.

“The sooner you figure out what you want, the sooner you can get over the past,” I say.

She stops.

“Fine, then, if it’s that easy, say the thing you won’t say,” she says to me, and I blink twice.

“Huh?”

“Tell me what you haven’t been telling me all these years. Say it. Say the words that you know I want to hear. Say it, and I will drop everything else for you.”

I shake my head. “You can’t do that.”

“I want to. For you.”

I look at her. She’s staring at me, wide-eyed and silently pleading. I know what she wants to hear, but I can’t. I have to be self-control, for the both of us.

She sees the decision in my eyes and laughs without a word, loud, boisterous, bitter, and kisses me deeply. I spread my fingers across her soft skin and pull her close. As the seconds pass the years and the armor fall off, and she becomes herself again: vulnerable and soft. Sex personified and full of desire, a force to reckon with and much harder to contain. I don’t even try.

She whispers instructions between moans and groans, telling me exactly what she wants, what it feels like to her, telling me to go on when I’m afraid I should stop and telling me to slow down when she’s afraid I’ll leave her behind.

She’s intoxicating, and I again consider running away with her, leaving everything behind so that we can hide somewhere, forever maybe, just the two of us. I could never get enough of her; an unlimited number of days and nights to test that theory in peace is worth risking everything for.

I’ve almost made up my mind, but then the frenzy ends. Even though I try to hold on to that hope, to that optimism I always feel when I’m part of her, no matter how hard I try reality sets in.

What the fuck are you doing? I ask myself. There’s too much. She’s too much, and that’s not what life is like.

I clear my throat. “Do you need a ride to the airport?” I ask.

“I already scheduled a car,” she replies immediately, armor firmly back on. She’s facing me but her eyes are closed. “Corporate benefits.”

She jumps out of bed and starts getting ready. I sit there, not sure what to do. I immediately start to feel like shit and try again. “There’s still time,” I say. It’s a cop-out and we both know it. The change is subtle, but I can see that I’ve made her angry. It’s the most non-committal way I could’ve phrased it. I don’t say there’s still time for us, or that we still have time, and the difference matters. Still, neither one of us likes to argue.

“I’m considering celibacy,” she says.

“That’s a lie,” I counter.

“We all lie to ourselves,” she says, walking up to me. She grabs my left hand and kisses my palm softly and lingers there, leaving a perfectly crimson pair of lips on rough skin. She pulls away and closes my hand, holding it against her chest.

“Save it,” she tells me. “Until next time.”