She shut the door behind her, cutting off the light from the hallway.
I settled back in. “That’s okay. I wasn’t quite asleep yet. Had enough fun?”
“Yeah. I couldn’t take the crowd at the bar anymore. Especially after today.”
I heard her getting ready, heard the toilet flushing and the running of water and then her changing into shorts and a t-shirt. Then I heard and faintly saw her walking towards the beds. The room was dimly highlighted by whatever illumination was coming in from the window—nighttime lights of the city, the silvery edge of the moon, the sodium-orange glow of the parking lot lights—and it was just enough by which to see her. It seemed ludicrous to hope for anything more than such glances and still I hoped.
“Shit,” she said, laughing and sighing out of what sounded like fatigue and frustration. “The bed is still soaked.”
She walked over to my bed. I felt the sheets being lifted and saw her form sliding under the covers. “I’m taking Pete’s spot,” she said. “He can sleep in Joe’s spilled beer or figure something else out.”
Thank you, Joe, I thought.
For what felt like many long moments neither of us said anything. We each were lying on our backs, and though I can’t say for certain what she was doing I could tell that neither of us had our eyes shut. Rather, we stared at the faintly textured ceiling, a moonscape of tiny shadows cast by the window’s light.
“I know we never really talked about what happened,” she said at length, and her voice was so startling in the silence that I wondered if I’d been sleeping and hadn’t known it.
“That’s fine,” I said.
“I just…” She hesitated. Somehow, through the sheets or the mattress or the air itself, I felt the tension in her body—the same sort of set determination I’d witnessed countless times in the gym before a lift. “I just want to focus on being ready for Nationals. I want to do everything I can.”
I nodded very slightly in the dark, happy just to be this close even if what I was hearing wasn’t exactly what I would’ve wanted. “I get that.”
“Okay,” she said, and I felt the tension release from across the bed. “Okay. I just don’t want to mess anything up in the gym.”
We both fell silent again. This time I did close my eyes. I was just on the edge of drifting off to sleep when I felt her put a hand out and take my own, and without thinking I wove my fingers between hers. It happened so naturally that I was less surprised than I should’ve been at this sudden contact—the first outside of a gym high-five since that night all those months ago. For a time we lay there, motionless except for her thumb stroking my hand. She was breathing so softly, so quietly, that I wondered if perhaps she wasn’t sleeping already. But then her grip tightened around my fingers and she turned to look at me, bringing her face so close to my own that I could feel each little exhalation of her breath.
I knew then that we lay at that moment that separates two eras, the before and after, even if this was territory we’d covered before. That last encounter had left no trace for me, least of all in my memory. And where do such encounters exist if not in our memories? Thus in that Columbus hotel room I enjoyed that period of expectation and I sensed she enjoyed it, too. There was something terribly rich and satisfying in the anticipation, in knowing with near certainty that you are both committed to action—just not quite yet. Just a second longer, another beat, another interstitial moment in which a tiny whisper of doubt still makes things sharp and exciting in the way that only the unknowable is. Sometimes I wished I could hold that moment longer, forever perhaps, to always maintain that sense of mystery and expectation. I waited with a patience I never knew I had—if only I had that patience staying over the barbell—and wondered how this stasis would ultimately be broken, if indeed it ever would be…
“We can do this, right?” she said, and with it came all the unspoken concerns: we can still train, we can still be normal in the gym, we can still be our best at Nationals, we can shoot for world teams and maybe more and we can still focus on the thing that binds us and that is most important to us. These were unanswerable questions yet I think just knowing we were walking the same line eased both our minds.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to sound as convincing as possible but not certain of anything beyond that instant.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s go.”
She kissed me with an intensity that belied her calm rationality of just a few moments ago. As if she too had been holding back all these weeks and months. We found a comfortable rhythm and soon we were a tangle of bodies, releasing the pent up attraction that until then we hadn’t dared admit to each other. I moved my hands along the softness of her skin and took hold of her curving flesh and felt my arousal grow with each embrace. In the semidarkness of the room I saw her as I had never seen her before, as much with my own body as with my eyes, and finally, finally, fully present and keenly remembering and making note of everything as best I could. Every point of contact between our bodies—the spread of her chest against my own; the smooth stretch of muscled thighs wrapped around mine; her arms around my shoulders; the mass of dark hair that hung, tunnel-like, on either side of my face—felt charged, almost burned by that touch, so overwhelming was it.
We went at each other, feeling in some sense like animals, for a long time. At one point the door opened a crack, I heard a pair of faint giggles, and then it shut again. But all that seemed very far away. Eventually our coupling would end, and the others would return, and we would all sleep. And in the morning we would wake, some of us more bleary-eyed than others, and we would eat and get back on the road and drive for hours, out of Ohio and through the endlessness that is Pennsylvania, before New Jersey and home. We would tell stories—including, probably, this one—and we would make plans for the coming days and weeks and months. And Monday would be another day in the gym, another step toward Nationals or whatever else lay beyond, and the Arnold would be one more memory.
But all that could wait. Now all that mattered was the two of us, as close as possible, doing everything we could to elide the unbridgeable.
[more to come]