Fleur wonders how Erika would respond to this news. Erika is not sympathetic to Fleur’s desire to sleep with men, and treats her with open contempt for this. Fleur had been invited to spend New Years Eve with Erika. When Fleur told her she had been invited to the bar with Yahya, Nathaniel, Joss and a few others, Erika didn’t respond until two days after New Years Eve and texted mockingly:
“Did you get a midnight kiss?”
Fleur can’t decide if her experience tonight would be more evidence for Erika that reaffirms that men are monsters who take advantage of women whenever it pleases them, or Fleur’s bisexuality makes her reckless and flirtatious and she needs to pick a side. Fleur knows that Erika means pick her. She might not say it out louds but she saids words to that effect. They have not spoken in two weeks.
Erika is right about Fleur’s recklessness. Fleur doubts it has very little to do with her bisexuality, and more to do with how it’s been six months of living here and she only really has three friends. She has no family in the city. She has Yahya and Nathaniel, a girl called Jillian from the pedagogy class she takes as part of her MFA, and then the vague romantic flings she engages in. She thinks these romantic entanglements add a little drama that keep her brain occupied from homesickness and how lonely she feels. She doesn’t say this, but Joss has been shifted into this category. Their friendship feels as fine and delicate as crystal, newly forged in the city.
“He didn’t even really do anything,” Fleur says and scoops the ice-cream into her mouth.
“I’d call locking you in his car ‘something’,” Joss says.
“Yeah, but it could have been worse.”
One of the first stories Yahya had told him about Fleur was how the architect, Lucas, had choked her in bed, excited by the salacious detail of it all. Joss didn’t know what he had done to indicate he wanted this information, but he absorbed it anyway. Later in the year at a coffee shop by the waterfront, when Joss asked about Lucas, Fleur put her mug down.
“I’m not seeing him anymore. It wasn’t anything bad. He just pushed a few boundaries a bit too many times,” Fleur said.
Fleur hands Joss the tub of ice-cream and says, “here, have some”.
This makes Joss laugh as he takes the tub from her and he inspects to see how much she’s eaten.
“It’s literally mine,” he says.
The spoon glistens. The knowledge that it’s been in her mouth feels illicit, and he’s embarrassed that he thinks of these thoughts. She has come here for safety and his kindness and all he can think about are obliquely sexual thoughts about her. He shyly smiles as he spoons ice-cream into his mouth and leans back so his back is flat against the velvet of the couch. He rests his neck against the armrest so he can still look at her.
“Yahya says you’re not speaking to Erika,” he says.
“God, he’s such a fucking gossip,” Fleur says.
“So it’s true then?” he says.
“She’s been kind of shitty about New Years.”
Joss takes a deep breath.
“How come?” He asks. He can guess why. If he was in Erika’s position he would feel the same.
“Well, I asked her if she wanted to come and she said no, and she’s being a dick about it anyway.”
“I could be playing devil’s advocate, but if I liked someone and they went out drinking with their friends on New Years instead of spending time with me, I’d be a little frosty.” He puts another spoonful into his mouth. It melts immediately and tastes of bitter chocolate.
“Yeah, I don’t particularly like seeing her anymore,” she admits.
“Is that why you kissed me?”
Fleur is startled by the question despite how obvious it is he would ask her this at some point. He’s sat back up now to look at her. She’s surprised he’s asked so brashly and confidently, almost dismissive of what happened between them. It makes her wonder if that’s how he’s read her behaviour and is now reciprocating.
“I don’t like seeing her because she has a massive problem with me being bi. Kissing you or anyone else is irrelevant,” she says.
“Fair enough,” Joss says. He offers her a blunt laconic laugh, even though it’s not particularly funny to him.
He swings his legs off the couch and puts the ice-cream back in the freezer. Fleur watches him as he rolls the sleeves of his shirt to wash the spoon in the sink. He looks at the backsplash and then the suds of iridescent bubbles forming on the dark hairs of his arms.
“Why did you kiss me then?” He asks, now stern and serious. He sloshes water over the spoon one more time before pulling the plug and watching as it swirls down the drain.
“Are we flirting now?”
“I’m sure you can figure it out,” she says. “Do you have a spare toothbrush?”
In the bathroom, he rummages through the shelves in the mirror cabinet. In the mirror, she waits expectantly, her arms folded, her back resting against the white tiles. She sees him find his collection of spare toothbrushes: tightly encased in cardboard and plastic. There are at least three spares, segregated from his own, resting in a designated holder next to toothpaste and a bottle of soap scented like seasalt and white tea.
“Do you have girls over a lot?” She asks jokingly. He grabs one, white and orange.
“You’ve got a lot of spares,” she tells him.
“I suppose.” He hands it to her.
“When was the last time you fucked someone? It’s slightly unfair that my sex life get’s reported to you by Nathaniel and Yahya and I know nobody else’s in return.”
“Urm, I had a girl over here last weekend,” he admits, his cheeks flushed red.
Her eyes widen and she says “ah”. She brushes past him to grab the tube of toothpaste.
“I’ll leave you to it.”
She scrubs so hard that her teeth bleed, the foam coral when she spits in the sink. When she’s done, Joss sits at his laptop at the dining table and types the last few words of his article. She walks over and stands behind him so she can see the final words appear as he types. He can feel her behind him, her presence prickles at his back. His hand is scrunched in front of his mouth in thought- or frustration, Fleur can’t tell the difference.
Joss had done what Fleur had done earlier, except there were less dramatics. Her name was Molly and she came over at 10pm. She had brought a hip flask of amaretto and they shared it until they fucked on the sofa, then his bed, until he said Fleur’s name instead of hers as he came. She left, got a taxi back to Federal Hill and didn’t reply to his text.
“See, for a second I felt bad about seeing other people instead of you,” Fleur says.
“You seemed confused by the revelation that I could kiss you and enjoy your company while seeing other people, so yes, for a second I felt bad about making it difficult, but it seems like you get it.”
He shuts the laptop and sighs. He runs his hand through his hair and licks his teeth.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I wouldn’t have done it if you were around.” He hates the way that sounds from his mouth.
“You should have asked,” she said.
“I did, you said you were busy.”
“If you wanted to fuck or take me on a date, I’d expect you to say what you actually mean.”
He sighs and rubs his temple with his hand, his expression pained. The silence is heavy and oppressive.
“Look, thanks for earlier but I think I should go, sorry for disturbing you.” she says.
She hesitates for a second but then decides to leave when he says nothing. She grabs her coat, and without even putting it on, begins to climb down the staircase of his apartment building.
Her phone vibrates, her hands so numb from the cold as she fumbles for it in her pocket. The notification glows with his name. The vibrations rock against her hand, feverishly hot.
“You’re not walking home. Not this late,” he says.
She stops and turns so she can see down the avenue. He stumbles out of the apartment block and stands there, in his shirt and jeans, lit by the amber glow of the streetlights, small and insignificant.
“I get the impression you called me earlier because you wanted me, not Erika, not whoever else, so I’m telling you now I want you.”
The residue of blood and toothpaste coat her tongue. There’s the rush of cars from the other avenues; the murmur and moaning of electricity from wires and lights. The sidewalks shimmer with starlight.
“I’ll be five minutes.”
Read Part One here. Follow Emily on Twitter & Instagram @helloems_