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“We’re almost there.”
Rough terrain made seat springs groan underneath their asses. As she looked at the vast expanse of nothing, she wondered how he knew the way so well. They drove up to a group of monoliths that shone turmeric in the fading light. The truck screamed to a halt.
“Welcome to my secret place.” He gave her a goofy grin, then coughed as dust drifted into the cab and settled in his hair.
“Not so secret anymore,” she said, but she was flattered. They’d only been friends for a couple of months, but he’d been an everyday fixture in her life from the first moment they’d bonded over their hate of suburban bar music.
He grabbed stuff from the back of the truck. A dusty mexican blanket. A flashlight. A canteen. A bottle of tequila. A shotgun.
Her mouth dropped open.
“For the coyotes.” He pronounced it caw-yotes, like a spaghetti western cowboy.
“Are you serious?”
He tipped her a wink and walked, keeping in the glow of the headlights.
“Shouldn’t you turn those off?”
“Gotta see where we’re going, right? I’ve got a couple of extra batteries in the back, just in case.”
She was a desert novice, scrutinizing the sand a beat too long before each step. She followed him by scent, cigarette smoke and the fresh-cut green smell of his aftershave. His boots carved deep pits into the sand. He took her hand and guided her up the side of the biggest rock. It was flat and warm on top, and the surreal panorama temporarily took her breath away.
He let her bask while he checked for heat-seeking reptiles and laid out the blanket near a fire pit already prickly with dry brush. He sprinkled some tequila on the kindling.
“A small libation for the fire gods.” His face was a deathmask as he lit his cigarette before throwing the match. The roaring fire seemed to swallow him whole, but he was not consumed.
“That’ll burn for a while,” he said as he settled beside her. He stretched his long legs in front of him and watched her counting spikes of flame.
“You know, I haven’t brought anybody here in years.” His cigarette dangled precariously on his lip. “No one except some really close friends.”
The fire’s heat made her cheeks tingle suggestively. “But not your wife?”
“Wow…” She felt a bit awkward.
“She knows we’re here. She understands.” Smoke snaked out of the side of his lovely mouth. He took a hit off the tequila bottle. His eyelight matched the dusk sky, a translucent blue that she couldn’t believe she’d once thought empty. Night was falling fast.
“Thank you. For sharing this with me.” She hiccupped.
“You’re most welcome, beautiful,” he said in a syrup-slow drawl. They watched the stars appear in silence. She appreciated that he didn’t force her to verbalize her feelings prematurely. The tears came easily in that alien place, and he gathered her into his arms and rocked her against him. His neck and his shirt were wet with tears and snot but he held on, clucking into her hair. He didn’t seem to care. That kind of deep, effortless affection felt like it came easily to him – he was a father, after all. Most probably a good father.
It was a full ten minutes before she had the strength to speak.
“Can you believe the first thought when you brought me here was that he wouldn’t like it here? He hates sand.”
“Izzat so? What do you think?
“That’s what I thought the first time I came up here. Whoop-de-doo, another thing in common.” She gave him a weak smile. He dabbed a handkerchief over her upper lip then squeezed her nose. She blew. “Good girl.” He handed her the canteen. “Drink.”
“I’d rather have the bottle.” She took an impressive bite out of it.
“How long did you stay together?” He licked the liquor off the threads on the mouth before drinking. She swallowed hard.
“Six years. We met in grad school.”
“He a science nerd too?”
“Oh yeah. Doctor Tran.” He smirked.
“He hated anyone who joked about that. Even considered changing his name.”
“Seems he hated a lot of things.” He lit a fresh cigarette at the fire. The sky above them was black now, and a million stars vied for best and brightest. She laid back as the alcohol seeped into her limbs.
“A person like me could get sucked into this emptiness.”
“This desert’s not empty. Not nearly.” He lay beside her, his head propped up by his hand.
She took another drink. “Explain, pilgrim.”
“Do you mind if I wax poetic and shit?”
She shook her head.
“She gives as good as she gets, which is a lot more that can be said for any other place on Earth.”
She was interested. “Go on.”
“Every other extreme environment takes and rarely gives in return. Tundra. Deep woods. Inner city. But not this. Not her.”
“Her?” She giggled. Men and their ceaseless urge to feminize things they longed to tame.
“Oh yeah. No place so full of secrets and hidden life could possibly have a masculine energy.”
The moon lit the crooked arms of cacti and clumps of brush clinging to the sand for respite. A jack rabbit bounced into the light, curious of the goings on. He threw a rock near it.
“Hey! You’ll hurt it.”
“Can’t have it get too close. It’ll attract predators.”
“The coyotes?” She pronounced it like he had.
“Among other things.”
Her head hurt from drinking too fast, but she didn’t dare complain for fear he’d take her home. They could’ve cut the silence with a blade. She got anxious.
“I really thought he’d come for me. I was so hubristic, thinking we’d get through the temporary long-distance thing and live happily ever after.” She sat up and hugged her knees.” I loved him.”
“There is no happily ever after,” he said, then drank deep.
“It’s strange to hear you say that. By what I’ve seen and heard, you and your wife have an amazing relationship.”
“We do. She’s my soulmate, the mother of my firstborn son.” He waggled his eyebrow at her.
“Then what’s that bullshit about no happily ever after?” She was sensitive and his apparent nonchalance stung.
“Let me explain myself. In all good relationships, people have to give each other room to breathe. To grow. To change. Believing in happily ever after is complacency at its worst. It’s slow death by boredom.”
She didn’t know what to say.
“Lara’s my soulmate, my partner in crime – I knew that from our first conversation.” He sounded so sure. There was a stab of jealousy she identified consciously as skepticism.
“We were talking over a bottle of tequila much like this one and she asked me something interesting. ‘Do you believe that love is finding the person who fills the you-shaped hole in your chest?’ I knew I loved her already, so I told her the first thing that came to mind. “No one person can fill another completely, for ever. But love has a way of filling in the gaps.’ And she understood what I meant by that. ”
She had been with a psychiatry student for most of her adult life, yet he’d never fascinated her with the unspoken parts of human nature like this man did.
“We’re complex beings, with more than one psychic cubbyhole to fill for different kinds of love. Spouse. Parent. Best Friend. etc. ” He pointed at the stars with the burning tip of his cigarette. “For example, you can love someone like a sister, although she’s not. You can love a mentor like a father although you already have a father, and love him deeply. You get what I’m sayin’?”
“Damn. Alcohol really makes you philosophical.”
He laughed. “The alcohol just intensifies it.”
Her eyes drifted to the open v of his shirt and down, where his pecs pressed hard against the fabric. Her fingers twitched to put her hand over his heart. She wanted to feel whether he was as real as he sounded. She was getting dizzy. She laid back again, just a little bit closer to him. She convinced herself it was because of the chill in the air. “Tell me more.”
“Very rarely do people have just one really good friend, right?” he asked.
“Why do you think that is?”
“Because you love each friend for different reasons. Having just one friend is like writing a lifetime’s worth of songs using only one key.” Her eyes widened. “Holy shit. It’s rubbing off on me!”
“It is contagious,” he drawled. “But you caught on quicker than most.” He put his hand on the flare of her hip, then traced up to her ribs.
“The ogee curve of a woman’s hips. It’s driven me mad since I was a wee thumbsucker.” She pretended to rub her elbow to hide her flushing face. He smirked. “I didn’t embarrass you, did I?”
She turned on her back. “Oh no. Pfft.” The heat of his touch still prickled.
“You’d think such a dangerous curves would weaken your structural integrity, but it’s just a lie we men tell ourselves. You can bear the weight of all the world’s desire and never bend or break.”
“The things that come out of your mouth. You should write a book. You’d get young men laid from here to Honshu.” Firelight pooled in her concave belly.
“Nah. Can’t give hormonal, empty-headed assholes the keys to the kingdom like that. They’ll abuse the privilege.”
“So your silence is for the good of humanity?” she joked.
“Hell yeah. ‘Give a man a fish’ and all that. I wasn’t born knowing.” He could tell her elbow and her hands hurt from lying on them. He patted his thigh. “You can rest your head on me.”
She gave him a long look, but there wasn’t an ounce of guile in his gaze. She laid her head on his thigh and looked up at the sharpness of his chin.
“I just had a small epiphany.”
“I’m a serial monogamist.”
“Most people are, sugar. It works for them.” Something in the tone of his voice made his terms of endearment not sound silly or overindulgent.
“I went out with the same boy in middle school. Then in highschool, I dated another boy for three years. I took a bit of a sabbatical during undergrad after he and I broke up, but then I dated someone for a year and a half…”
He interrupted her.
“Were you happy, Raquel?” He lit yet another cigarette. Shadows played in the hollow of his cheeks as he sucked smoke.
“I mean with Doctor Tran.” He put his hand on her forehead.
“We got along really well, had a lot of the same interests, inhabited the same socio-economic bracket…” She giggled nervously. “God that sounds awful.”
He pulled off her ponytail holder and began to run his fingers through her hair from scalp to tip. Her eyes fell closed.
“I loved him.”
“Okay. But were you happy?”
She pulled his hand out of her hair. “Why do you keep asking me that?” She got up and took another swig of tequila. He was unmoved by her show of irritation. He waited patiently for her to speak.
“When you said ‘love has a way of filling the gaps’, what did you mean? I have a feeling you didn’t quite mean that love conquers all.”
“Ah. Another well-meaning but ridiculous platitude.”
“Realistic much.” He smiled wistfully. Their fingers touched when she handed him the bottle, and he didn’t take his eyes off her as he drank. Something deep in her belly stirred, something her brain refused to recognize. He laid on his back, and she put her head on his hard belly.
“If love can’t conquer a thousand miles’ distance for half a year, what can it do?”
His hand went into her hair again, softly scratching at her scalp. “I think I spoke too soon about ‘love conquers all’.”
“It does if you believe love is free-flowing energy that isn’t in any particular person.” He traced the line of her chin and the bridge of her nose.
“It has to do with what I said before about filling in the gaps. Whatever one person you love can’t give you…find it in someone else you love. The equation balances out in the end, if we’re honest and open.”
She looked at the sky and let what he’d just said sink in. The thoughts she’d pushed away ever since they’d met had finally been forced to the forefront.
“But you’re saying Lara doesn’t give you everything you need?”
“Yes. We both agree that no one person can do that.”
“So you… sleep with other people?” Her voice had gotten rough with tequila and tension. She sat up.
“We’re not swingers in the conventional sense, Raquel. It’s a bit more complex than that.”
She was finding it hard to breathe, although she couldn’t figure out why. She was alone in this wilderness with him, under the stars, with a bellyful of tequila. Her body wanted what it wanted, and it upset her.
“You have a happy life. Kids, a wife you love… Most people spend their whole lives trying to find that. It’s just plain selfish to want more.” And by more, she meant her.
During her sermonizing she ignored the glaring fact that secretly, she’d always wanted his magic hands and his strange philosophies. She felt like a woman in his arms, not just a citizen of humanity. Wanting to explore how much deeper that feeling might get if she gave in to him frightened her.
He didn’t try to touch her, but his eyes shone sympathetically.
“I do the best that I can. I’ve been as honest as possible with Lara…and now, with you.”
“So letting your wife know before taking women to ‘your secret place’ for a fuck and chuck makes you a model citizen?!”
She started down the rock. She shivered so violently she could barely walk. She slid down the steep side on her ass in the dark and ran toward the headlights.
“Raquel!” His voice was swallowed whole by the desert.
She was fast but he was faster. He caught up just as she’d slammed the driver’s side door shut and locked it. The truck roared to life as he rolled over the hood and yanked open the passenger’s side door and dove inside. She waggled the gear shift fruitlessly and hit the gas, but the truck hiccupped and turned off. She ran out into the dark. He caught her quick. She tried to kick and punch him, but he was bigger and stronger.
“Rachel, stop it.” He pressed her against the truck with his body, holding her wrists above her head. She was really angry, and it put a lump in his throat. Although his wife knew about her, he had not planned on confessing his feelings for a little bit longer…or maybe never. Not everyone could live life the way him and Lara did. Despite his dismay, her angry bucking made his body react. His cock poked her belly, stilling her.
“You’re disgusting,” she said. She tried to spit, but her mouth was too dry. Her body reacted to him, regardless of her emotional turmoil. Her pussy lips swelled and her clit ached. “I thought we were friends…” She went limp. She was angry, but what he didn’t know is that she was mostly angry at herself. She was weak and needy and horny – so fucking horny – and she had wanted him when she was supposed to be wanting her fiance. She felt like she’d willed herself into her misery. Karma’s a bitch, after all.
“I didn’t bring you here to mindfuck you, Raquel. I genuinely care about you.”
“Why don’t you spare me the lip service? Just be straight with me. You want to fuck me. That’s it.” Her sudden coldness made him shiver against her.
“I don’t spend so much time and effort on one-night stands. In fact, I don’t do one night stands.”
“I’m not a whore. I don’t know what made you think I’d sleep with a ‘happily married’ man.” She sounded like she was thinking aloud.
“I know you’re not a whore. But you’re brilliant. And quirky. Both strong and fragile, funny, and so…so…hot.”
The edge of desperate emotion in his voice caught her attention. She had not seen guile in his eyes on the rock, and she simply could not see it in his eyes now. She was so confused.
“What do you want from me?”
He let go of her wrists and cupped her chin in his hand.
“I want you. All of you.”
“But…what about me? Could you ever give me all of you? If you truly care about me, don’t you feel I deserve more than furtive bits and pieces?”
He stared at the star-studded blackness above her head. She began to shiver again.
“I learned long ago that bits and pieces are all even the most sanctified of us can ever really give anyone else. It’s quality that counts, not quantity.”
“You have an answer for everything,” she said and pushed him off.
“I’ve been thinking about these things a lot longer than you have, I guess.”
She sucked her teeth. “I think you should take me home.” She got into the truck and slammed the door.
She didn’t even look at him and crossed her arms. He grabbed a red jug from the back of the truck. “Gotta put out the fire.”
“You’ll be fine. I’ll be right back.”
She was so deep in thought that she didn’t even see him coming up again, and the angry creak of the truck door scared her. He threw the half-empty bottle of tequila on the seat. “Wouldn’t want the critters getting drunk,” he said, trying to get a smile from her. She nodded slowly, but didn’t smile. The truck roared.
They were silent until they hit asphalt. The moon had risen so high and bright it dimmed the stars. He reached for the radio, but she pulled his hand away.
“No. I like the silence.” She squeezed for a split second before letting go. He looked at her, and her eyes were different. He wanted to speak so much his throat itched, but he waited. Hoped. She looked at his skin, russet made silver by the moon and ruminated.
“Your wife. She knows about me?”
“I’ve spoken about you enough.”
She scooted a little closer to him. The tequila was really doing its work. She didn’t want to think. She slid her hand underneath his shirt and caressed his nipple. It hardened underneath her thumb. His jaw muscles bounced underneath his scruff. He gave her a desperate look before his eyes returned to the road.
He looked down at his lap.
“Hard all over,” she said, and pressed her fingertips into his belly. It was tight as a drum. The adrenaline in her system had given way to endorphins. He wanted her. She wanted him. And it was okay. She blinked at the enormity of the thought. No guilt, just pleasure. It was too good to be true. The ground had to open underneath her at some point, but she was curious. She took off her shirt and bra at the same time and threw the shirt on the floor. He tapped the brakes, nearly swerved from looking. Now all of him was truly hard.
“What’ll happen after the liquor haze fades?” She unbuttoned her jeans. There was a tempting V of flesh, but no panties.
“I’ll be there to bring you water and aspirin.” His hands trembled on the steering wheel.
She kicked off her jeans and shoes and leaned into the door. She glimmered. The small cabin was filled with her sweet animal scent. “What if I fall in love? What if you do?”
“Too late. And when you do, I’ll do my best to keep you happy.”
“When, not if?”
“Try me.” He grabbed her foot and put it in his lap. His hard cock warmed her arch. The town lights twinkled in the distance.
His heart started to pound. “Yes?’
“Stop the truck.”
He drove off the road and into the desert without another word.
This is my first real stab at trying to untangle the complex emotional aspects of polyamory, a concept that has fascinated me for a while now. I tried to put myself in the bodies and brains of those who truly have room for more, and hope I’ve done it justice.