I fastened up my shirt. It was a shade of salmon, and the buttons were small—actual wood. It was some men’s outdoors brand, with a duck on the collar—a shirt obviously meant for fishing. A day with hot sun beating down on a flaked, grey-blue rowboat. A cooler from the eighties, brandishing a flaked red label, filled with ice cubes and canned beers. Pop the tab, throw one back, living the dream of a middle-aged native midwesterner.
The shirt was a really nice color, actually. I lifted my hair from beneath the collar and held it there in my fist, suspended, considering the length. Perhaps my hair was too long. And perhaps this shirt was even made to attract the kind of fish you to ensnare. Color-coded outfits: grey for catfish, brown for cod, green for perch. A novel idea, really. Lucky Lures, I could call them, and the advertisements would be glossy and have cartoon fish pictured with textured scales, and I could do a buy-two-get-one-half-off deal on Fridays only, between the hours of three and five.
I undid the top button where it clutched at my throat—already I was sweating, or maybe it was because I’d had an idea, that rush always did that to me—and sprang toward my Thoughts journal. Tom had christened it Ted some months ago, and it was almost full after my junior year. I’d kept one every semester since I started at the University of Michigan, where marketing classes filled my days. I’d already been through a Sacajawea (because it was my pioneering notebook, Tom said), a Nixon (because second semester stunted all my innovations, and also paid witness to a most embarrassing debacle entailing a project on bandaid sales), a Socrates (I’d been particularly enlightened sophomore year, and won an award at a banquet for this strategy I’d dreamed up), and a Hepburn (as in Katharine, not Audrey—big difference). This year I’d purchased a thicker volume so I only had to keep track of one name.
Our little ritual was somewhat offensive to be sure, but it was just between us. Nobody else even knew about the journals—not Gran, not my few friends, not anybody. It was just us. And now I was sketching out a potential logo for the company, two L’s with fishtails, which didn’t quite work, but whatever. There was time. A knock sounded, then, and I straightened with a fluttering heart. My little on-campus apartment was tiny, and I crossed to the entrance in three great strides, paused a second to gather myself, and threw the door open.
He was a vision. Skin tanned from the first signs of summer, hair bleached even brighter by the sun—a Florida boy, he was. He was wearing the shark-tooth necklace I’d got him at one of the souvenir shops when I’d visited over spring break, a gag gift. It was May. The year was almost out. I’d missed him terribly.
“Ah!” I threw myself into his arms with a cry halfway between a screech of joy and a scream for help. It just happened, actually, flew out of me like I feared my spirit was going to, because it was soaring. He wrapped his arms around me and pressed his lips to the place beside my eye, to my cheekbone, to my jaw, to the corner of my lips. It was a gross reunion, by any couple’s standards. Then he was backing me in, and then he was fumbling to close the door, and then I was backing him against it.
My hands slid up the front of his shirt, fabric soft under my fingers, and he turned down my collar, and the next several minutes of my world were consumed with absolutely nothing but him.
Ow. The shark tooth poked my throat, and I jerked away.
"Sorry." He reached back to unclasp the necklace, but I beat him there, smiling against his mouth.
“So, hey—,” I whispered, sliding my forehead to his chin, necklace in hand. I couldn’t seem to finish. He wasn’t actually that much taller than me, but with my head bowed, I could feel small. I could feel delicate and fragile.
He understood. He smoothed my collar back into place. I forced my hands into my pockets.
We stayed where we were for a pause, taking gulping breaths, our chests moving up and down together. It’s not like we needed each other to breathe, exactly—not like they said in the books and movies. Because when we were together, we never could. We never could.
“I like this shirt,” he said at last, still wheezy. He pulled at the gaping sleeve. It was a little large.
“I saw it in a catalogue.”
“It suits you.”
“You think? It’s not too mannish?”
“Definitely not.” He curled his palm around the back of my neck, and held my head in place as he kissed me, at last, square on the lips. Lingering. He drew away, leaving a pinprick of desire in his wake, and my eyes began to water, just staring at him staring at me.
“What?” He said, laughing a little.
He was sun-drenched. Little freckles had been placed here-and-there by mother nature, dark and discerning treasures. Every part of this boy, I realized. Every part of this boy every part of me is in love with, right down to his wispy eyebrows and the perpetually dry, scaly place at the corner of his mouth. Unattractive things. But he was sun-drenched, glistening, so alive.
“You are so beautiful,” I said at last, not caring how plainly cracked open I was. How adoring. It had to be written on my face, shining from my pores. I reached out and ran my thumb over one of the freckles. I couldn’t feel it. “I mean—you are.”
“Isn’t that my line?” I hadn’t noticed, but his hands were knitted at my back now, pulling me in. I just smiled at him, soft and warm.
“Hey, I came up with an idea. And put it in Ted today.”
“Just before you came.”
“Let’s hear it.”
And he was loosening his hold, and I was peeling my eyes away, and our reunion was over. Six weeks had scraped by and culminated in a fraction of a second, it felt like. It would be too easy to start looking ahead to Next Time this would happen, probably in September.
Three months were going to go quickly. They always did, with him.
“Here,” I said, passing Ted to him. He flipped right open to the newest page, somehow knowing—or maybe reading the pencil impressions on the outer edges of the page, maybe just knowing from that. He skimmed it quickly, and then smiled.
“I think so.”
“Yes.” He studied my quick sketch. “Is this an L?”
“Why don’t you—” he grabbed my special pencil from the coffee table and sketched out a new one, underneath. Much cleaner. “This.” And turned it to me.
“I love that.”
“You don’t have to. It’s just—”
“No.” I grabbed it from him and pinched it in either hand, careful not to smudge the lead, studying the smooth curves of his lines. “You’re perfect. Huh. So when this is a multimillion-dollar company, do I have to give you credit?”
“We’ll probably be married by then, darling. Not an issue. I—” but the word died out. I glanced up, slightly horrified, mostly intrigued by what I’d find. Regret, curdling the friendliest parts of his face? Ashen, bloodless lips? But instead he looked—I don’t know. Fearful. Of what I’d say.
“True,” I said at last, the word ringing high and lovely as a church bell. Wedding bells. I turned back to the sketch. “I’ll make sure we have a good prenup, though. To protect myself. They say always get a good prenup on Mafia shows.”
Joking seemed to work. I heard his exhale, palpable, and could taste the relief. It could have been a weird moment. But it wasn’t, so.
“I can do the landscaping.”
I was lost in the drawing again, scheming, but I glanced up. “Hm?”
“For the building. The LL headquarters.”
“Oh, yeah. Also for free, I hope?”
“It would—come with the territory. Yes.”
Territory, territory, what was—oh. Marriage. Still talking about this. I rolled my shoulders back, three times. He wanted to be a botanist. That’s what he was going for.
“Lots of benefits to being your wife, huh?”
“Those are just the beginning.”
I glanced up, finally meeting this eyes. Steeling myself. I was sitting on the couch, by now, my one sofa, and he joined me, weighed by the gravity of my look.
“Is this a proposal?” I forced out. The question had to be asked, I figured. We couldn’t just—
“No.” The answer was instant, both a salve and a scrape.
“Okay.” I flipped to the page before in Ted, idly. “Because if it was, we’re too young. I’m twenty, and—”
“—so are you. Well, twenty-one.” I always forgot that he could buy us wine, now, if he wanted. We thought about it sometimes, about drinking it at night on my little balcony, with parmesan-sprinkled popcorn, but he never did go for it. We hated it. We liked the popcorn.
“Right. Of course. I think—”
“But, well.” I ran my finger down the length of a page, scribbled all over in pen. Heliroom, a portable inflatable bedroom set—
Geared toward what, kids? I’d asked myself that question, it seemed, at the bottom of the page, posed: Tweens?
I tore my eyes away, back to Tom. His leg was jiggling, the bones of his knee straining at the very surface of his skin. I draped my hand there.
“I lost my thought. Let me think—” I tried to catch where we’d been in my mind. “I’m not sure—wait. Oh. Yeah. Sorry, I was…”
Such expectancy in his eyes. It was heady.
“Have you, like,” I swallowed, “Like, thought about it?”
“Thought about us?”
“Mhm.” A nod, barely. I refocused on the notebook. “I think I’m blushing.”
“You are.” His hand was on my cheek then, cool. “It’s cute.”
“It is.” He leaned heavy against me, and I leaned back. Both of us holding each other up. I wound my hands into his and he wound his back and we laid them there, in our laps, a clash of suntan and my pale layer of Michigan skin, with its unyielding winter. I was Snow White, I supposed, with my dark hair and my fair complexion. I wondered if Tom thought that.
“Do you—” I said.
“I do—” He said.
They harmonized. My lips lifted, and he unknotted himself from me.
He drew a breath. “You want me to be honest?”
“Same. But yes—I have.”
“Thought about us as, um, as like husband and wife.”
“Right.” This conversation had been everywhere. Over the river and through the woods, to the wedding chapel, apparently. “A lot?”
“Not a lot. It’s just something—”
“—daily, monthly, hourly?”
“—to think about.”
“Daily. That’s often.”
“No. No. That sounds like an obsession.”
“It’s okay, because I’m a certifiably obsessed with you.” I smoothed his eyebrow down. The aftermath of our earlier reunion had roughed it all up, I saw now. “So it’s okay.”
“It’s probably more like—I dunno, every three days.”
“That’s not terrible.”
“Medians are a better way to figure those things.”
“I’ve heard that.”
“Well.” He took over for me, fixing the eyebrow, his thumb over it again and again.
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.”
“It’s flawless. Doesn’t even need plucking.”
“Yes, thank you.” He dropped his hand.
“So.” I lolled back against the couch, smiling, enjoying this now. “What do you mean, you think about it?”
“I just—sometimes it’ll hit me.”
“What? The vision of me in a white dress? Our first dance? Walking down the aisle?” I raised my eyebrows. “The wedding night.”
“Oh, come on.” He laughed. I was being taunting, I know, trivializing, but how else were you supposed to talk about something this heavy? This loaded?
“It’s the wedding night.”
“It’s really not.”
“Well, I’m just offended.”
“That’s okay. I can take it.”
“I am. It’s true.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” he placated, as if to a four-year-old. The next beats lapsed by in silence, my pulse trotting along, but his definitely worse. Brisk.
“Do you really want to know?” He ventured at last. “What it actually is?”
“Yeah. Yes. Yeah.” My voice was small. “Of course I do.”
“Okay. So it’s like—” He rested his head against the cushions, and his eyes slid closed. “I’ll be going to bed at night, and I’ll thinking about the day when you’re with me. Every night. Because we live together. And I’ll picture you cooking or something, and I’ll imagine you’re wearing a ring; it’s stupidly vivid. But that’s basically it. So it’s not really thoughts, like the nuts and bolts of it.”
“Realities. In which you’ll be cooking.”
“I can’t cook.”
“Right, but still—realities.”
“I guess that’s up to you.”
I grinned at him, and he could feel it, because his eyes parted. They were heavy. He was tired, I supposed, after the drive.
I shifted. “You leave your car in the lot?”
“I used a handicapped space.”
“You’re going to get towed.”
“Nobody ever uses them.”
“It’s okay.” He was overtaken by a yawn, and it was like watching an infant. Something small and vulnerable. “I’ll move it later.”
“You want me to?”
“No.” His lips smacked together. I scooted so I was resting against him.
I studied the ceiling for what felt like a long while. I was getting hot in this shirt. It was a warm day, a nice day—maybe sixty degrees. But the apartment didn’t have air-conditioning.
“Tom?” I whispered at last.
He stirred slightly. “Mm, yeah?”
“It’s up to both of us. Not just me.”
His hand squeezed my wrist where it rested, just once. And then he was breathing deeply again, so tired. I propped my other leg on the couch. It was cramped. I could have stayed there forever.