A is for Alibi Page 70

There was a knock at the door and I jerked involuntarily, adrenaline shooting through me. I glanced at my watch: 12:25. My heart was thumping so hard it made my hands shake. I crossed to the door and bent my head.


"It's me," Charlie said. "Can I come in?”

I opened the door. Charlie was leaning against the frame. No jacket. No tie. Tennis shoes with no socks. His square handsome face looked solemn and subdued. He searched my face and then looked away. "I came down on you too hard and I'm sorry," he said.

I studied his face. "You had a legitimate complaint," I said. I knew that my tone of voice was unrelenting, regardless of the content, and I knew that my purpose was punitive. He only had time to look at me to guess my real attitude and it frosted him some.

"Jesus Christ, could we just talk?" he said.

I glanced at him briefly and then moved away from the door. He came in, closing it behind him. He leaned on the door, hands in his pockets, watching me prowl the room, circling back to my desk, where I began to take cards down, packing papers away.

"What do you want from me?" he said helplessly.

"What do you want from me?" I snapped back. I caught myself and raised a hand. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to use that tone.”

He stared down at the floor as though trying to figure out where to go next. I sat down in the upholstered chair near the couch, flinging my legs over the padded arm.

"Want a drink?" I asked.

He shook his head. He moved over to the couch and sat down heavily, leaning his head back. His face looked lined, his brow furrowed. His sandy hair looked as though he's run a hand through it more than once. "I don't know what to do with you," he said.

"What's to do?" I asked. "I know I'm a bitch sometimes, but why not? I'm serious, Charlie. I'm too old to take any guff from anyone. And truly, in this case, I don't know who did what to whom. Did you generate that fight or did I?”

He smiled slightly. "Okay, so we're both touchy now and then. Is that fair enough?”

"I don't know from fair anymore. I don't know from any of this stuff.”

"Haven't you ever heard of compromise?”

"Oh sure," I said. "That's when you give away half the things you want. That's when you give the other guy half of what's rightfully yours. I've done that lots of times. It sucks.”

He shook his head, smiling wearily. I stared at him, feeling stubborn and belligerent. He'd already given more than I, and I still couldn't bend. He regarded me skeptically.

"Where do you go when you look at me that way?" he asked.

I didn't know what to say so I kept my mouth shut. He reached over and waggled my bare foot as though to get my attention.

"You know you keep me at arm's length," he said.

"Really? Saturday night you think I did that?”

"Kinsey, sex was the only time you let me get close. What am I supposed to do with that? Chase around after you with my dick hanging out?”

I smiled inside, hoping it wouldn't show on my face. He read it anyway in my eyes. "Yeah, why not?" I said.

"I don't think you're used to men," he said, not making eye contact, and then he corrected himself. "Not men," he said. "I don't think you're used to having anyone in your life. I think you're used to being freewheeling. And that's okay. Essentially I live the same way, but this is different. I think we should be careful of this.

"This what?”

"This relationship," he said. "I don't want you shutting me out. You're not that hard to read. Sometimes you disappear like a shot and I can't cope with that. I will try to tread easy. I'll try not to be a horse's ass myself, I promise you that. Just don't run off. Don't back away. You do this kind of knee-jerk retreat, like a clam." He broke off then.

I softened, wondering if I'd misjudged him. I was too tough, too quick. I am hard on people and I know that.

"I'm sorry," I said. I had to clear my throat. "I'm sorry I know I do that. I don't know who was at fault, but you ticked me off and I blew.

I held my hand out and he took it, squeezing my fingers. He looked at me for a long time. He took my fingertips and kissed them lightly, casually, looking at me the whole time. I felt like a switch was being turned on at the base of my spine. He turned my hand over and pressed his mouth into my palm. I didn't want him to do that but I noticed I wasn't pulling my hand away. I watched him, hypnotically, my senses dulled by the heat that was raging way down, way deep. It was like a pile of rags beginning to smolder, some dark part of me hidden away under the stairs, something firemen had warned us about in grade school. Paint cans, jars of gasoline-fumes in compression. All it needed was a spark, sometimes not even that. I could feel my eyes close, mouth coming open against my will. I sensed that Charlie was moving but I couldn't take that in and, the next thing I was aware of, he was on his knees between mine, pulling the neck of my T-shirt down, his mouth on my bare breast. I clutched at him convulsively, slid down and forward against him and he half lifted me, hands cupped under my ass. I hadn't known how much I wanted him until then, until that point, but the sound I made was primitive and his response was fierce and immediate and after that, in the half light, with the table pushed aside, we made love on the floor. He did things to me that I'd only read about in books, and at the end of it, legs trembling, heart thudding, I laughed and he buried his face against my belly, laughing too.

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