Her hair drifts across my face. Her hair is lavender, her eyes are hazel. Right now her eyes are closed. I’m on my back and she holds me down. Legs straddling me, she slides across the crotch of my jeans.
I wince, because sometimes it hurts. Her movements grow violent, pressing down into me. I’m caught on something in my jeans.
“Hey,” I say, “hey.”
She slows down, opens her eyes. Her hair tickles my ears.
“Softer,” I say. “Slower.”
“Sorry,” she says. Her cheeks flush red.
“You’re okay,” I say.
I close my eyes, guide her hips into a rhythm. She supports her lower body on her knees as opposed to my crotch. Her movements become gentle caresses.
Above the waist of her cutoffs she’s topless. Her skin is smooth, pale except for the freckles that begin at her shoulders, sprinkle her face. She leans into me and I count them, I make out constellations. The first constellation I find, it was on our first date some weeks ago, is a cross in the Northern Hemisphere of her face, just to the left of her eye. On her forehead there’s a heart. Now, our faces just inches apart, I make out a new constellation on her left cheek and it’s her. In her freckles I see her own face. I take my hand off her hip and rest it on her cheek.
Her eyes open and I lean up to kiss her.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey,” she says with her smile, sweeping the hair from her eyes.
My heart is pounding, and I try to say it, what I’ve been trying to say for a week now.
“Hey,” I say again.
She just smiles this time, a little tilt to her head.
“Jane. I love you.”
At first she says nothing. Maybe she didn’t hear me, maybe she pretends she didn’t. Blood rushes her cheeks, blots out her freckles. She pulls herself down to shut me up me with a kiss. She pushes back, her eyes on mine. The corner of her mouth twitches.
“I love you too,” she says.
And I stare at her, the hammering of my heart easing only a little.
Suddenly her smile falls and she says, “Wait, what did you say?”
Her face is bright red now. She rolls off me and buries her face into the pillow.
“What is it?” I say.
“I’m so embarrassed.” Her voice is muffled by the pillow.
“I thought you said it. I thought you said it or else I wouldn’t have said it. I thought you said it first.”
“I did say it first.”
She peeks from the pillow. “Are you sure?”
I nod, I brush her hair over her ear. “I love you.”
“Say it again.”
“I love you, Jane.”
“And you said it first.”
“I said it first.”
“Because the way you were looking at me after I said it, it looked like you had said something else after all. That I said ‘I love you too’ like an idiot to something else completely.”
“No, I said I love you.”
“I love you too,” she says. And she lifts her head from the pillow. As I kiss her I feel her smiling. I roll myself on top of her.
It’s been a month now since our first date, 41 days since we first matched on Tinder.
When I see her for the first time, I don’t think much of her. I don’t think much of her because her photos lied to me. I approach her from the parking lot. She’s sitting at a picnic table, pretending to text. Really, she looks nothing like her photos. The only reason I believe it’s her is because she keeps looking up and then looking away, like she thinks my photos lied too.
Her hair is tied back, splaying out like the tail of a comet. She wears a blue fleece jacket, yoga pants and hiking boots. We agreed to meet here at Whatcom Falls for a short hike, just a walk really. I’m too dressed up for this. I thought this was only a walk. My bowels spin with something mucky.
She gets up, slips her phone into her backpack. “Yes. And you must be—”
Her voice is an octave deeper than I thought it would be. Somehow, I think, she lied about that too.
We shake hands.
“Sorry I’m late,” I say.
I rock on my heels, my buttocks clenching themselves.
“I’ll be right back.”
In the dingy park bathroom I empty myself. I’m sweating in this stink and pray she’s too far away from the bathrooms to hear this, to smell this. My heart hammers everything out. A delirious calm talk me to deliverance. Walker, is this enough to keep you distracted? Is this enough to keep you away? How much longer must I play this charade? I don’t want to do this.
When I exit the bathroom, her phone is out and she’s “texting” again. Either she’s nervous or doesn’t care.
“Shall we?” I ask, sarcastically offering her my elbow.
She takes it. We walk toward trees.
“Sorry,” I say, “I’ve never met up with anyone on Tinder before.”
She stays silent on that one.
The roar of the falls makes the silence bearable. We lean over the bridge for a time and watch the white crash of water.
I don’t see Walker, but I feel his hooded presence among the trees. I suggest we keep moving. I don’t see him anywhere on the trails—everyone seems genuinely uninterested in us. Still, I get the feeling we’re being followed. When I turn around nobody is there.
“What is it?” she asks me.
I shake my head.
We make our way further into the trees, away from prying eyes. It only strikes me later that this need for isolation was interpreted by her as something more romantic.
We find a secluded spot by a brook, where it pools into more of a pond. She takes off her boots and dips her feet in the water. I watch her toes. I don’t say anything for awhile.
There’s a rustling over in the brush that’s more than the wind. There is no wind. Somewhere, a branch snaps. A bird takes off through the trees.
I tell Jane we should go.
“We should go back to my place.”
“I’d be okay with that.” A timid smile.
And there it is again, my paranoia interpreted as something real—my flight from Walker seen as romantic.
On the darkening roads lined with trees, she follows me in her Subaru back to my cottage. When we get there she asks if I have anything to eat.
Her hunger reminds me of my own hunger. I have nothing to eat.
“That’s okay,” she says.
On my mat in the corner, we use blankets and pillows to make it wide enough for two.
We make love three times. The second time to make up for the first. Third time to make up for the second. Every time I feel inadequate, out of practice, tired. Nothing worth writing about.
Something wakes me with a start in the early hours of the morning, but it’s only her snores. I look outside. It’s too dark to make out any figure in the trees.
I put a kettle on the stove and its whistling shriek wakes her. She sits up, the blankets falling from her naked body, and she watches me.
“Tea?” I ask her.
My mind settles as I burrow back next to her under the blankets, both of us balancing the steaming mugs. The touch of her skin calms me. Briefly, I forget about Walker, about what happened five years ago. We snuggle back into sleep. We don’t drink the tea.
She leaves at first light. I stand on the porch and watch her car roll around the last of the trees, my skin pulsating. She disappears down the main road.
That’s when I see him, the dark figure lurking in the breeze. I go inside and shut all the blinds. When I open them again, he’s gone.
Though I continue to see Jane, I’m always on the lookout for the man in the hood, the man in the blue Honda. One day Jane and I are walking around Lake Padden and I ask her, “Do you ever get the sense you’re being followed?”
“No. Do you?”
Another time we’re downtown and I see him in a crowd watching us over the others.
I ask her, “Do you see that man?”
“I can’t tell where you’re pointing. What does he look like?”
I don’t have a good answer to that.
At her place, condom wrappers pile up, used condoms fill the trash. I try not to think about the man called Walker. I convince myself that maybe he’s not out there, trying to destroy this, trying to take what I have.
In bed, I roll off of her. We lay side by side looking into each other’s eyes. “I love you so much,” I say to her.
“I like hearing you say that,” she says.
When she kisses me, her phone makes a ding from the bedside table.
“One sec,” she says, and rolls away from me. She checks her phone but doesn’t text back.
“Who was it?”
She kisses me. “Everything is good.”
She falls asleep in my arms. Over her hair I watch her phone. It makes dings. It makes vibrations. Carefully I reach over her and pick up her phone. Several texts from someone named John W.
I can’t open her phone. I don’t know the code.
When she wakes up, I shut my eyes and pretend to sleep. My blood pummels through my veins. I feel her look at me, and then her legs swing over the side of the bed. She picks up her phone. She texts John W back.
Outside, later in the night, she makes a phone call that grows heated. She seems upset about something. I try not to listen. I try to listen but I can’t hear anything over the blood slugging my skull.
When she comes back, my eyes are still closed. She wraps her arms around me and makes me the little spoon. She whispers “I love you” in my ear but I don’t say anything back. I feel her eyes on me a long time before, finally, she settles in and falls asleep too.
I’m not asleep.
join man next week for journal #24 (which involves sex and lies and trouble in paradise)