Fire Escape

Originally published in Philosophy, Pussycats, & Porn

He was tall. He had a lighter, features striking enough to distract me from his beard. First eye contact was a little zap of a violet wand turned down low, the dynamic pinch of a rubber band snapping on skin. Interest piqued for a second, or four.

Brief, superficial pleasantries were exchanged. Conversation deepened into commiseration over relationships recently ended. “You’re so tall,” I observed, with an unlit cigarette held close to my mouth. His hand reached out with a lighter. “And you have a lighter.”

I’m fantastically un-witty when I’m drunk. I was never great at flirting. Aside from a few people who had been scheduled and compensated, I hadn’t had sex with anyone other than my former significant other for two years. I hadn’t even been very interested in sex for a few months.

But that night, I wanted to explore the possibility of being fucked by this man. I turned to the host of the party, and asked if there was any reason not to have sex with this handsome person whose name I hadn’t quite retained the pronunciation of. She turned to the friend who’d brought him, repeated the question. A game of promiscuity telephone.

No reason not to, aside from the slowly dawning realization that I’d be having sex at him that night, in his general direction, certainly not with. He seemed too nice, too emotionally honest to be treated that way. I disappeared back into the center of the party and grasped for some small, stupid excuse to be turned off.

I gave him my email address anyway. I blew off his first attempt at meeting up, but agreed the second time to coffee near a bookstore I needed to go to the next afternoon. I was standing on the sidewalk, leaning against the exterior wall of the coffee shop I’d remembered less loud than it actually was. Over the top of the book I’d acquired I saw him walk up.

In broad daylight, sober, he was still dashing. His British-accented apology for his slightly late arrival was charming. I was grateful I’d scheduled more coffee with a friend later, and had a hard out in an hour and forty-five minutes. He deserved my full attention, still more than I felt confident in my ability to give. I wished I’d worn clothes that were a little less grubby than my leggings and hoodie.

We sat in a park, then meandered around blocks. He was interesting. He’d canceled a meeting to see me. I was flattered enough for my cheeks to flush slightly. There was a brief hug at the end, the shoulders-and-collarbones-only kind. An attempt to fight attraction with distance.

Another flurry of emails, a date for dinner. The choice of the place was left up to me and I managed to pick a place with little more than a bare bones bar menu. But it had framed illustrations on the walls and some sort of historical significance that I couldn’t remember and we didn’t Google.

Later, we got lost (which he also apologized for) trying to find a bar in the West Village. I didn’t tell him this, but I didn’t care. We could’ve sat on the curb to talk and I would’ve been perfectly content. We did eventually find that bar, and you could (as he’d promised) still smoke in it. Our gaze met across the table for a moment too long and I forgot how to breathe. My eyes cut to the side, towards the floor.

“You’re so tall. And you have a lighter. And…and I find you very handsome.” Another protracted stare with small upturns of the corners of both our mouths, after which I was told that I’m beautiful and intimidating. I didn’t feel like much of a superhero at the time, so I made a fumbling attempt to explain how being physically penetrated by parts of another person’s body carries a certain intimacy more invasive than the act of penetrating another person, to express that I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that even though I wanted it with him.

The time for theory had passed, though, making space for the most awkward cross-table kiss imaginable.

I invited him back to my hotel room, because kissing him for however many hours were left until his flight home seemed like the most enjoyable way to spend that span between night and morning. In the back of a cab, with our legs tangled and my shoulders resting against his chest, I felt his heartbeat and breathed in the scent of him.

Outside the hotel, we smoked one last cigarette before heading upstairs. I’d twined my arm around his. He squeezed my hand and talked about missing being touched so much. I replied that what I missed was that open and fully present touching before all the hurt, walls, distance. That the real, intimate touching sometimes disappears as a warning of the end of a relationship, months before the final parting. His soft “yes” sounded surprised.

Instead of the wiry black hair I expected, I found a blond down on his arms and legs. His skin was softer than a man’s should fairly be. Soft enough that I didn’t miss my own decadent bed, which I hadn’t seen in months. He smelled like warm skin, clean but definitely not sterilized. No overbearingly perfumed soap in the way of his pheromones, which were so very right.

Garments peeled off as the small, writhing movements of heated kissing turned into mutual rhythm. His mouth found all the best parts of my body to have a mouth on. Both of my legs wrapped around the thick muscles of his right thigh. An orgasm surprised me, and I thanked him for it.

His response of disbelief made me sad. I very much wanted that small scrap of his trust to be mine. A silly intimacy to desire, but wanted nonetheless.

I was thinking then that maybe we’d have sex. He was tugging the strap of my thong towards my knees. I asked what his plans were once he got those off. He’dalsobeenthinkingmaybewe’dhavesex. By then I had rolled mostly on top of him. The scale of our bodies with the position I was in made me feel small and also powerful—a wiry tyrant in full control. Out loud, I pondered how I felt in that moment about an isolated act of promiscuity. This tall, dark, and handsome war correspondent leaving the next day for the Middle East sounded like exactly the reason one night stands were invented. The pinnacle of romantic glamour.

There was a third apology, this time for struggling with the currently foreign sensation of a condom. He didn’t ask to take it off, he didn’t whine about responsible use of them, he just apologized with that sweet British sorry. Sorry for a failure to meet whatever level of sexual prowess he’d decided I must deserve or demand.

My chin rested on his ribcage as I said “We’re going to have to discuss this one.” And then, “What is sex?” Sex was when two people got together and satisfied each other. “So what is satisfaction?” as I moved lower, cheek between his ribs and hip bone. He chuckled. I sucked all the latex taste off of his cock.

Later, in the wee hours of the morning, he was asleep. His arms unconsciously alternated between gentle enclosure, like a cage built to protect some precious, delicate object, and squeezing me as tightly as possible without crushing. The aftertaste of his semen lingered in the back of my throat, somehow familiar. As I lay there listening to his pleasant snore and trying not to stroke his arm too much.

I recognized the taste.

It was of my favorite scotch. The peaty one I describe as tasting like good testicles in the summer, masculine and complex. The difficult-to-find one with the exotic backstory. The one I’ll walk just about any number of blocks in impractical shoes to find. The analogy was too much to process, aside from fleeting thoughts of “so fucked” and “why now, here.” So I went to sleep, too. And then he was gone.

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Photo by Nastia Cloutier-Ignatiev from her Close Ups #1 RED series.