After Tonight

Contributor: Tracey S. Rosenberg

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His arm tightened around my shoulders. "After tonight, I don’t want to see you anymore."

"You always say – "

"I mean it. Don’t stop by."

The DVD player blinked 12:00, 12:00, 12:00. On his mantelpiece lay a pot of menthol lip balm and two pairs of rechargeable batteries. Pressing closer to him, I touched his chest, searching for his heart beneath his thin sweater. "Have you been running lately? The London Marathon’s coming up soon."

"No time to train. I certainly don’t have time to cuddle you on the sofa. Go. Scram." He pulled away, leaving his hand grasping the back of my neck. "I have too much work I ought to be doing. Sorry if that hurts, but I believe in honesty."

If he hadn't been wearing his sweater, his ribs would have jutted against my fingers. His sweater looked gray from afar – I’d thought it was gray, the first time I’d seen it tossed over the crossbar at the foot of his bed. Later, when I lifted it to breathe his scent, I found purples smashed against yellows, oranges dizzily fading to pink. "I could give you a backrub. You like the way my hands feel."

He threw one lean leg over the other. "I’ve given you an hour and twelve minutes. I don’t have any more time for you."

"Back to the cyanide?"

"Back to the quasicrystals. But the cyanide’s always there."

Sweat rose on the back of my neck. "You haven’t eaten tonight, except coffee. Why don’t I make you a sandwich?"

He leapt to his feet. One finger shot towards the door. "I have three grant deadlines to meet and a dozen editors begging me to review their articles instantly or they’ll die. Tomorrow I have to waste half the day wining and dining the morons who pay me to save the world. If I don’t hand them tangible results in the next six months I’m finished in international physics. Government work if I’m lucky. Which part of 'no time for you in my life' are you having difficulty comprehending?"

I ran my hand down my sleek hair, brushing it forward.

His eyes narrowed to a point across the room. "Don’t even think about seducing me. I’d need eight minutes just to strip you out of those jeans."

My lips still tasted of mint.

"You look fantastic in those jeans, you know. But I'd say that to anyone. I'd say it to my granny, if she looked that good in jeans."

I placed my hands out, palms up. "Are you sure you haven't been training?"

As he dropped onto the sofa, wrenching me down beside him, my hair flew out, exposing my neck.

The DVD player continued flashing eternal midnight.

His hand clamped my wrist. "You’re incredible. Almost better than quasicrystals."

He rolled off the sofa, grabbed his sweater from the floor, and yanked it over his head. As I tugged my jeans back into place, my fingers kept slipping.

When we were both standing, he nodded towards the door. "Go. I'll miss your body."

My lips felt scorched. "So I’ll see you around, after you're done impressing your funding board?"

"No more time for – stop smiling at me like that. I mean it. Have a nice life."

As I walked down the thin hallway, he darted up behind me and flicked the back of my neck.

His door clicked closed. I stepped carefully down the stairwell, squinting to find the colours in a well of endless gray.

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Tracey S. Rosenberg is American but now lives and writes in Scotland. Her novel The Girl in the Bunker (Cargo Publishing, 2011) was a Scotland on Sunday Book of the Year. She's also published a poetry chapbook, Lipstick is Always a Plus.
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