“Grated cheddar, cilantro, and sour cream?”
She gives the faintest smile and raises an eyebrow. “Like I said, you already know.”
We have dinner at the table beside the huge window with the candlelight reflecting in the glass and the city lights burning beyond—our local constellation.
The food is spectacular, Daniela is beautiful in the firelight, and I’m feeling grounded for the first time since I stumbled out of that lab.
At the end of dinner—our bowls empty, second wine bottle killed—she reaches across the glass table and touches my hand.
“I don’t know what’s happening to you, Jason, but I’m glad you found your way to me.”
I want to kiss her.
She took me in when I was lost.
When the world stopped making sense.
But I don’t kiss her. I just squeeze her hand and say, “You have no idea what you’ve done for me.”
We clear the table, load the dishwasher, and tackle the remaining sink full of dishes.
I wash. She dries and puts away. Like an old married couple.
Apropos of nothing, I say, “Ryan Holder, huh?”
She stops wiping down the interior of the stockpot and looks at me.
“Do you have an opinion about that you’d like to share?”
“No, it’s just—”
“What? He was your roommate, your friend. You don’t approve?”
“He always had a thing for you.”
“Are we jealous?”
“Oh, grow up. He’s a beautiful man.”
She goes back to her drying.
“So how serious is it?” I ask.
“We’ve been out a few times. Nobody’s leaving their toothbrushes at anyone’s house yet.”
“Well, I think he’d like to. He seems pretty smitten.”
Daniela smirks. “How could he not be? I’m amazing.”
I lie in bed in the guest room with the window cracked so the city noise can put me under like a sound machine.
Staring out the tall window, I watch the sleeping city.
Last night, I set out to answer a simple question: Where is Daniela?
And I found her—a successful artist, living alone.
We’ve never been married, never had a son.
Unless I’m the victim of the most elaborate prank of all time, the nature of Daniela’s existence appears to support the revelation these last forty-eight hours have been building toward….
This is not my world.
Even as those five words cross my mind, I’m not exactly certain what they mean, or how to begin to consider their full weight.
So I say it again.
I try it on.
See how it fits.
This is not my world.
A soft knock at my door startles me out of a dream.
Daniela enters, climbs into bed beside me.
I sit up, ask, “Everything okay?”
“I can’t sleep.”
She kisses me, and it isn’t like kissing my wife of fifteen years, it’s like kissing my wife fifteen years ago for the first time.
Pure energy and collision.
As I’m on top of her, my hands running up the inside of her thighs, driving the satin chemise over her bare hips, I stop.
She says, breathless, “Why are you stopping?”
And I almost say, I can’t do this, you’re not my wife, but that isn’t even true.
This is Daniela, the only human being in this insane world who has helped me, and, yes, maybe I am trying to justify it, but I’m so turned around, upside down, terrified, desperate, that I don’t just want it, I need this, and I think she does too.
I stare down into her eyes, smoky and glistening in the light stealing through the window.
Eyes you can fall into and keep falling.
She isn’t the mother of my son, she isn’t my wife, we haven’t made a life together, but I love her all the same, and not just the version of Daniela that exists in my head, in my history. I love the physical woman underneath me in this bed here and now, wherever this is, because it’s the same arrangement of matter—same eyes, same voice, same smell, same taste….
It isn’t married-people lovemaking that follows.
We have fumbling, groping, backseat-of-the-car, unprotected-because-who-gives-a-fuck, protons-smashing-together sex.
Moments after, sweaty and shaky, we lie intertwined and gazing out at the lights of our city.
Daniela’s heart is banging away in her chest, and I can feel the bump-bump of it against my side, decelerating now.
“Everything okay?” she whispers. “I can hear the wheels turning up there.”
“I don’t know what I would’ve done if I hadn’t found you.”
“Well, you did. And whatever’s happening, I’m here for you. You know that, right?”
She runs her fingers across my hands.
They stop at the piece of thread tied around my ring finger.
“What’s this?” she asks.
“Proof,” I say.
“That I’m not crazy.”
It becomes quiet again.
I’m not sure of the time, but it’s definitely past two in the morning.
The bars will be closed now.
The streets as quiet and subdued as they get with the exception of snowstorm nights.
The air creeping through the crack in the window is the coldest of the season.
It trickles across our sweat-glazed bodies.
“I need to get back to my house,” I say.
“Your place in Logan Square?”
“I apparently have a home office. I want to get on the computer, see exactly what I’ve been working on. Maybe I’ll find papers, notes, something that will shed some light on what’s happening to me.”
“I can drive you over first thing in the morning.”
“You probably shouldn’t.”
“Might not be safe.”
“Why wouldn’t it—”
Out in the living room, a loud bang rattles the door, like someone pounding on it with their fist. The way I imagine cops knock.
I ask, “Who the hell is that at this hour?”