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I could just make out the pale cords of the hammock in the dark. I cleaned my glasses and looked again. It seemed to be swaying gently.
I let myself out, not Daisy, and strolled toward the back of the yard. Spring wind rushed through the trees. The stars looked like little sockets of fire, and I felt slightly displaced, which is what spring nights do to me.
I glanced back at the house. Lights out, good ...
’’Hello, little bird.’’
Matt lay in the hammock, arms folded behind his head, legs crossed at the ankles. He wore a T-shirt and pale torn jeans. I knew those jeans. I knew how they hung low around his hips. His hair was disheveled. He smiled at me.
In two words, he looked f**king edible.
’’The last time you came out of your house for me, all furtively, I mean, you were wearing some tiny’’ he gestured at me ’’tiny things, under a big old housecoat. Such a powerful memory for me, Hannah. Mm ... when I remember that, I ’’
’’Okay, okay.’’ I laughed reluctantly. ’’I think I know where you\ e going with that.’’
’’Come keep me company.’’
My feet carried me closer to the hammock. ’’I\ve been thinking, you know, and Matt!’’ I shrieked as his arm snaked around me. He yanked me onto his body. The hammock swayed perilously. From inside, Daisy sounded the alarm three throaty old-dog barks. I giggled and she went quiet. ’’You\ e a jerk.’’
’’You wouldn\ have come out here if you were really angry with me.’’ Matt tucked my body against his. His hands traveled over me, remembering me in their greedy way. ’’Mm, Hannah bird. I\m lonely for you. I bet you called to check up on me. Afraid I\ll drink?’’
’’Should I be?’’
’’Should I drink? Will that make you come take care of me? I like when you dote on me.’’
Matt\s hands made a persuasive case. He stroked my back again and again, the pressure and pace of his palms sensual. I pillowed my head on his chest. I breathed in the scent of his body wash. Oh, freshly showered Matt ... f*k me ...
No! Ugh. What the hell?
’’No drinking,’’ I said. ’’Of course no drinking. That\s not a joke.’’
’’I know, I know.’’ Matt sighed. His hands were under my shirt, rubbing my sides. My toes curled and uncurled. ’’I\m kidding. Contrary to popular belief, I take my sobriety very seriously. So what were you saying something about thinking?’’
I trailed my fingers over Matt\s neck. I remembered last July and how we lay in this hammock, and how Matt kissed me against a big cottonwood. That same longing existed between us, not at all diminished. Was it because we stayed apart so much? Would our passion fade if we stopped all this stupidity and attempted a real, durable relationship?
’’I was thinking, I have a stipulation.’’
’’Fancy,’’ Matt murmured.
’’If I move back in, you have to start seeing Mike again. Regularly. Or another therapist, I don\ care.’’
Matt\s arms stilled. ’’Why? I\m fine now.’’
’’No, you\ e not. You think you can keep me in the dark, but you can\ . The way you lie to me ... it\s a problem. It\s like a chronic problem. Your lists? The way you flip out when you can\ control something? What about the fact that you can\ say good-bye? Look, everyone has issues, Matt. Everyone could benefit from a professional, objective opinion ’’
I lifted my head. ’’Fine?’’
’’Fine. I\ll see Mike. Whatever. Come home.’’
I kissed his chest. ’’Not yet.’’
There were other, darker things I wanted Matt to open up about his anger, the loss of his parents, and that mysterious suicide attempt in college but not tonight. Tonight I missed him, and I needed this peace and sweetness to help me forget our screaming match at the condo.
’’Mm?’’ I looked up at him.
’’Did Nate try anything funny with you? You know, did he ’’
I touched his lips. ’’No, he would never.’’ My mind wandered back to the Hotel Teatro. I pictured Nate\s friendly smile, then the glint of wickedness in his grin as he watched me swirl my scotch. ’’He\s so loyal to you,’’ I whispered.
’’We\ e loyal to each other,’’ Matt said. His voice was sad.
I snuggled against his body and kissed his neck. It was easy to fall into those small gestures of comfort. Matt\s hands resumed their roaming, and soon he was pulling my body against his in a way that said, I want to f**k.
’’Oh, no you don\ .’’ I giggled.
’’Hm?’’ He squeezed my ass.
F*k, though ... that felt good. I wiggled my h*ps against his.
He sighed. ’’Hannah, I miss you...’’
’’Your kon*** misses me.’’ I rubbed his flank. God, I loved his body. Was this his game driving over here to seduce me in the hammock? Hilarious, and artless.
’’That, too.’’ Matt laughed. ’’Come home ... I only need you all night ... every night...’’
’’Tempting.’’ I kissed his jaw.
’’Or here? Here is fine, too. Motion of the hammock and all.’’ Matt was half laughing, half serious and he looked good like that. His strong, lean frame moved restively under mine. His hand slid between my legs, touching my se* through denim. He sighed when he felt that soft, plump skin. ’’God, Hannah...’’
I squirmed on top of him. I should break away. Go inside. se* wasn\ conducive to rethinking our relationship. Right? He touched me there again and my body responded, rubbing along his. My ni**les stiffened against his chest.
’’Always,’’ he whispered. ’’You feel it, too, don\ you? You always want me. I always want you. We belong together, Hannah.’’ His fingers dug into my bottom and I squeaked. It hurt just enough to feel good. I rocked against Matt. He sat up halfway, vying for control. Trying to get on top of me. In the hammock. And we went over together, tangled, grasping at each other.
Matt managed a quick ’’f*k!’’ and I yelped as the hammock dumped us on the grass.
’’Ack!’’ I landed on Matt\s hard body. Matt landed on the hard ground. My arm was up his shirt and his hand was down the back of my jeans.
He rolled me over and pinned me to the grass, grinning.
’’Matt, not here. Not right ’’
As swiftly as he\d overturned me, he stood and pulled me to my feet.
’’Then out here.’’ He tugged me deeper into the yard. Deeper into the dark.
An unexpected wave of giddiness made me giggle.
He glanced over his shoulder and smiled, his handsome face veiled in shadow. A perfect half-moon hung in the sky, casting coin-sized spots of light through the leaves. That light moved over his body and he was beautiful, and he was mine.
He released my hand and started to undo his fly, the humor fading from his face.
My blood turned to magma. Thick, slow, scalding.
I mirrored Matt, unbuttoning my jeans. Our zippers sounded loud in the silence.
We moved together clumsily, hands fumbling in the dark. I touched his c**k and he sighed, thrusting into my grip. Nothing like Seth, I realized. I remembered the nihilism of Seth\s suite at the Four Seasons people drinking and drugging and coming without feeling and my heart quickened. That meant nothing. This meant everything.
We kissed. Matt guided me down onto the grass.
’’Hannah,’’ he whispered. ’’You know I need this...’’
Without ceremony, he settled over me and slid inside me, the flared head of his c**k stretching me wide. Ah that moment I arched under him.
’’God, baby,’’ I gasped.
’’F*k, yeah,’’ Matt answered, driving his length home. Such rich satisfaction in his voice. He touched me deep inside. I raked my nails down his back.
’’Heaven,’’ he said, and he moved over me. Filling me, emptying me. I flexed my body to meet his thrusts. ’’Not yet, no,’’ Matt panted whenever he felt me nearing the edge. Then he slowed and I slowed, and we started that exquisite rising spiral all over again.
’’I want to be with you,’’ he whispered in my ear. ’’You\ e soaked for me...’’
I caressed his silky hair and rubbed his back when he began to move more urgently. This wasn\ our usual se* rough and dirty and torturous. This was about love and mutual need, and my heart burned as hot as my pleasure.
I wrapped my legs around Matt\s waist. His jeans rubbed along my inner thighs, his abdomen grinding over my clit. This time, we didn\ slow down.
We gazed at one another in a state of wonder.
’’Need this.’’ He mouthed the words again.
I fisted my hands in his hair.
My cl**ax came as a slow shock, mounting in intensity until I was shaking, and I felt Matt coming inside me. Is anything more intimate?
I watched ecstasy unfold on his face against a backdrop of leaves and nighttime sky. It was, inadvertently, the most romantic se* of my life, and afterward we clung to one another.
Only then did the full weight of relief settle on me. Matt is going to live like a normal person. He\s in Denver, not hiding, and he wants a life with me. A life we can actually share.
We could really make a go of it now.
And if we failed? At least we tried.
I felt, too, the darkness of the last four and a half months Matt at the cabin, me in Denver, lies and secrets. Worries. Quick calls. Lonely nights.
No more waiting and wondering about the future. No more living with one foot in the real world and one foot in Matt\s world. No more choosing between the two.
But I had been willing to give up a normal romance to be with Matt, because I loved him. Now he was willing to give up his sanctuary to be with me, because he loved me.
He loved me.
My happiness eased into soft, uncontrollable sobs. Matt held me close.
’’It\s all right,’’ he said. ’’It\s all right now, little bird.’’
His quiet voice went on and on in the dark.
After the night Hannah cried, I assumed she would come home. She didn\ . She ’’still needed to think,’’ she said, and she ’’might have more stipulations.’’
On Friday afternoon, I met with Pam and Gail Wieder of Denver Buzz. Gail showed me around the set, thanked me for agreeing to appear, and briefly reviewed the program. Afterward, Pam and the staff talked me through a pile of paperwork.
’’I need you here at seven on Wednesday,’’ Pam said. ’’Here. I\m not going to hold your hand, Matthew. Call me when you arrive. We\ll go over everything, they might want to do a little makeup, then we\ll rehearse some more and ’’
’’Makeup?’’ I sneered.
’’This is TV, Matthew. Don\ be naïve. Also’’ she glanced at my gray shirt ’’no gray. And no crazy prints. Wear something solid, bold, a rich color that won\ wash out under the light. No red and no white. Do you have blue? Well, of course you do. Wear blue.’’
Pam went on talking as we left the building. She gestured officiously as she spoke, tapping my shoulder for emphasis.
I stared at the pavement. The gray day suited my mood. Where was Hannah?
’’Your job this weekend is to memorize the talking points. Hit your points. Less is more. You\ e conveying a message. And do not ramble.’’
’’Hannah ... you think she\ll watch the show?’’
Pam sniffed. ’’Not sure, Matthew. Not relevant.’’
’’Mm. Sorry.’’ I leaned against my Lexus.
’’Any relevant questions? I need to get to the office.’’
’’Will Knopf publish Night Owl?’’
Pam laughed and began looking for her keys. ’’Knopf will publish anything you write, but you can\ be serious. Haven\ you already ’’ She cut herself short.
I knew where she was going.
Hadn\ I already damaged my relationship enough?
’’Hannah\s a good deal more open-minded than you know, Pam. And she\s a bit of a writer herself. You better watch out;you might find yourself in a book.’’
I opened my car door and lingered, waiting for Pam\s riposte.
Pam rattled her car keys.
’’Duly noted, Matthew, though you forget that I already am in a book. A certain W. Pierce refers to me as \ he shark.\ My, my.’’
I grinned and climbed into my car.
Back at the condo, I lay on the couch and struggled to memorize my stupid talking points. I found myself concentrating on Hannah\s handwriting cute, bubbly cursive.
Hunger scraped at my stomach. I felt light-headed, depressed. I called Hannah and the call went to voice mail. ’’Leave a message!’’ she chirped.
I cleared my throat.
’’Hey there, birdy bird. I\m just ... hanging out at the condo. Not doing anything really. I wanted to say...’’ To say what? Come home, I\m getting badly depressed? ’’Uh, the cards. Thank you again ... for the index cards. I\ve been memorizing them. Yeah, that ... thing is on Wednesday. The Buzz. Talk show thing. So, wish me luck. Anyway ... call me sometime.’’
Hannah didn\ call.
I slept away the weekend, which is what I do when I feel bad, and I marked off days on the calendar. Four weeks since she moved out.
What did this mean? When was she coming back?
On Wednesday morning, I woke with the idea to e-mail Hannah a piece of our collaborative story. I hadn\ thought about the story really thought about it for months. We simply left our characters on the road to Seagate, an imaginary port city in an imaginary world.
I smiled as I remembered. Hannah and I began with Lana and Cal. Their attraction was our attraction. Their adventure was our adventure. How could we let it go?