Dina couldn’t justify staying in the shower a minute longer, so she turned the water off and stepped out of the stall. Steve was waiting for her with a towel in his hands.
“Let me dry you, Lady.” There was a note of wistfulness in his voice that caught at Dina’s heart and struck her cold with fear. She walked shivering into his waiting arms and he wrapped her in the warm towel. He grabbed another one for her dripping hair, whch nearly reached her hips; and expertly wrapped it onto the top of her head, as if he had done this many times before.
Then slowly, tenderly, he dried every part of her: hands, the webs between her fingers, face, neck: every single part of her, as if she were a newborn baby.
She stood still and let him do it, unable to move or speak because of the catch in her chest and throat. She thought she would die of love and pain.
After he’d dried each part, he kissed it, brushing it with his lips like the kiss of a bee gathering nectar. She shuddered at these kisses, somehow familiar, as if she’d dreamed them long ago. Slowly she slipped from the reality of it, as if from a cast-off garment, and pushed it far from her. It wasn’t real. She knew it wasn’t for her. His love was not for her. She wished in her agony that she could just relax and revel in this lovely dream; but something in her could not accept a gift meant for another.
“What’s the matter, Lady?” Steve looked up, concerned. “You’re crying again. Come. Come here to me.” And he gathered her in. She sobbed on his shoulder, pouring snot on the soft white towel. “It’s OK, Lady, you just cry. You’ve been through a lot, I know.” This made her cry harder.
Steve took her hand and led her out of the bathroom, wrapped in a dry towel. “Breakfast is almost ready,” he said brightly, changing the subject. “How do you like your eggs?”
Dina got herself together and sniffled through a wan smile, “Over medium, please.” Steve grinned broadly and said, “Coming right up! How about pouring us some coffee? I take mine black and sweet: three sugars.”
“Holy mackerel!” cried Dina. “I’m surprised you have a tooth left in your head!” Then she felt stupid, because he actually did have quite a few gaps in his mouth. He grinned, showing a couple of those gaps and sticking his tongue out. He turned his back to her and flipped the eggs.
She brought the steaming mugs of coffee out to the dining room and saw the table, set with fine silver plate and English bone china. Bacon heaped a serving dish, and Steve brought out a hot plate full of hash brown potatos in one hand and Dina’s eggs in the other. He returned to the kitchen and retrieved a dish piled with toast and his own eggs. He pulled his chair up to the table, spreading the damask napkin in his lap.
“Dig in,” he said, “let’s not be formal around here.”
Dina needed no urging: she helped herself to some of everything and as soon as Steve had done the same, she pitched into her breakfast as if it was the last food on earth.
After the initial frenzied breakfasting had died down to grazing on the remains and sipping the second cup of coffee, Steve cleared his throat. “Uh, Dina.”
She snapped on guard, her senses suddenly laser-sharp. “What is it?” she whispered.
“Um, Dina, like, my old lady’s coming back. You remember I told you she was home on summer vacation?” Dina nodded slowly. Everything felt suddenly hollow and distant.
“OK, well, it’s like, she decided to come back early. Like, today. She’ll be back this afternoon.” He flushed deeply, which accentuated the pockmarks on his face, making them look , Dina thought, even more like the craters of the moon.
“Yeah, OK, I understand.” Dina shifted her gaze to the fine china plate in front of her. “I’ll get my stuff and go.” She stood up, pushing her chair in carefully. She struggled to keep her breathing slow and even, her face a blank mask.
Her thoughts were racing. Yes: this is why we made love on the floor and not in their bed. I’m nothing to him. I’m just a summer fling with an underage chick, a thrill. It was all a joke. And I’m the sucker.
“Please, Lady, don’t take it so hard.” Steve stood up from the table, rattling the china, bumping into the chairs trying to reach her. But she had her bags packed, and was at the door, silent and already gone.