This Time
P.L. Mosher

“How long have you been waiting?” he asks.

“Twenty minutes,” I say.

We look at each other. I’m taller than he is by at least an inch. His hair is starting to thin on top. When he turns, there is the rounded outline of a gut beneath his t-shirt, which he tries to hide with a second, open shirt on top.

“You’re not fooling me,” I say, a little louder than I’d intended.

“What?” he asks.

“Nothing.”

He shows me the key to his room, a plastic card. “Let’s go up,” he says. He motions to a brown paper bag he’s carrying. “I ran by the liquor store.”

“All right.”

I stagger a little on the way to the elevator.

The room is exactly as I imagined it: dimly lit, a slick aqua and burgundy bedspread stretched across a flat wide bed, rumpled near the foot where he must have sat and waited for me. There are empty beer cans in the trash. The television hangs, bolted, from the ceiling. The air conditioner hums stale, dusty air back into the room.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he says.

I imagine we’ll have sex now, and I’m terrified at the thought. I barely know him, and what I do know, I’m not sure I like. Yesterday, unloading groceries from the car, I thought of meeting him and ran across my brown winter lawn and vomited behind the bare branches of my rose bushes. No one who knows me would believe it—I’m so careful, so ordinary—a teacher, married to a pediatrician, with a nine-year-old daughter who plays soccer.

“You look uptight.” He sloshes amber liquid into a water glass. “Did you have trouble getting away?”

“Some.” In reality, my husband never questioned me. “And you?”

“Some.”

“Are you scared?” I ask.

“No, she’s cool,” he says, misunderstanding the question. “Drink.” He hands me the glass of liquor.

Fire leaps into my throat as I comply. He watches me a moment before taking back the empty glass. “Now lie down,” he says, and when I do, he flicks off the television, plunging the room into near darkness.

Beneath me, the mattress drops—he is climbing onto the bed. I shut my eyes, stop breathing. When I sense he is holding something over my head, I look up. It is only a shoe. He tosses it onto the floor, and smiles, exposing a row of straight white teeth.

When he kisses me with soft, flaccid lips, a sinking feeling runs through my belly. My arms grow limp. I realize there’s nothing much, really, to fear. It’s going to be normal sex, on a slippery hotel comforter. The next moment confirms it—he runs a warm hand under my shirt, clumsily kneads a breast. He whispers something to me I can’t quite make out: “I like you,” or “I like this.”

“Me, too,” I say.

I think that after tonight, there won’t be any more furtive phone calls. I won’t see him at the next writer’s conference; in fact, I plan to quit writing. I’m going to concentrate on music, raise my daughter. Plant a row of tea roses along the western fence. Buy my husband a white fisherman’s sweater. He leans forward, his elbow on my hair, and the stinging pain in my scalp gets my attention. He apologizes, and laughs. While I rub my head, he tells me he wants me to do it, that thing we talked about, remember? I say, “Of course.”

“Now?”

“OK,” I say, climbing off the bed. I might as well. I’m already here.