I met Painter after coming back from a dangerous assignment. She was headed to the same country to work there and wanted some advice. I'd gone for a few weeks. She was going for several months. But I had useful tidbits for her. And some language tapes, which weren't easy to get (there's pretty much only one set of tapes for this language).
She looks like a victorian statue. Smooth pale skin (a novelty for me, I'm about as dark as they come), tall, built like a waif. Thin brown hair. I'm not good at remembering eye color, I'll admit it. I think hers are brown. In repose, she's totally gorgeous. When she moves, there's no economy or grace, though. She's no dancer. And when she tells a story, she laughs at her own jokes, before she even finishes the story. She's beautiful. But she doesn't make my switches fire.
She comes to my office. We go out for lunch. I give her the rundown of things to watch out for. She thanks me, takes my stuff, mounts her bicycle and rides off into the sunset.
We repeat the ritual a season later when she comes back. She's done interesting things out there, and her stories boggle my mind. So I try to open some doors for her, as much as I can.
And that was it, for a good while. Six months after Music and I broke up, Painter was back in town. I'd heard she'd broken up with her boyfriend. She was having dinner in my neighborhood, and invited me out. We had dinner, and she ended up at my place. She was staying a few blocks away. We chatted here, her and me and my roommate, and Guitar, who was visiting and couch-surfing. At midnight I offered to walk her to her friend's house where she was staying. We have tea on her couch. She asks me about my breakup. I ask her about hers. An hour passes on the couch and I'm sleepy, missing signals, not sure what I'm doing here. "I should go," I say. At the door, she says "You don't have to go if you don't want to."
I look at her, surprised. "Oh... oh, Painter, that's really... a surprise."
"Really? You didn't know I had a crush on you since before I left?"
I laugh. We're standing in her doorway. "I really didn't."
"Listen, just stay."
I sigh. "Painter, I... I can't. I'm not over her, I'd be thinking of her, I think. I don't think it'd be right."
She smiles, undaunted. "Kiss me goodnight then."
I do. And then my arm slides around her waist, she starts fiddling with my shirt... and then I leave. "You're really sweet, Painter."
Her eyebrows dance as she smiles.
A year later, she's back in town on a day that I'm flying back from another assignment. I answer her leading email with a leading one of my own.
At dinner, we laugh about our leading emails. She's perfectly confident about where this will end. She's right. I bring her home. She leaves my lamp on, and my light off. We're standing in front of my bed. She puts her hand on my chest and kisses me.
My hands move through practiced routines. I lift her to the bed, I take off her clothes very gently, moving my mouth down her body as I do. She makes moves of her own, takes me in her mouth, licks her hand and jerks me off, slurps while she blows me. She looks good naked, she looks good in my bed. "You're gorgeous," she says. I go down on her until she comes once. "It would be fun to fuck," she says. I don't want to look in her eyes while we do it, I don't understand how to do this, how to fuck someone I don't love. I tell her I'm close to coming, and she moves under me so that we can come at the same time.
She's leaving town in the morning. We run into my roommate in the kitchen. He plays it straight. They know each other. Just three friends hanging out and making coffee. She's brought her toothbrush and toiletries. "I don't want to leave," she says to me. I smile, but I don't feel the same. She hesitates at my door. But in the end, she does go.
Later, I'm telling a curmudgeonly friend, one who I almost went there with but never did, about it. This friend is a much better match for me than Painter. She also knows my type. She's a little bit puzzled, maybe a tiny bit jealous, to hear about the encounter. "What's the attraction?"
"I think... that she was leaving the next day..."
Her eyes light up. It makes sense. But it all hurts, too.