Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)



I dreamt about her again… scratch that. It was the first time I’d dreamt about–or had even seen her–since she’d sent me the letter telling me that we shouldn’t be together anymore.

While it was the most linear, literal dream I remember having, it still had enough of Morpheus’s logic that things didn’t 100 percent track upon waking. For example, I’d never before met the couple I was joining for dinner or brunch, and so I didn’t know where I allegedly knew them from. They were a casual group, but a bit more formal than those with whom I would ordinarily associate. We were all quite fond of each other, and these dinners or brunches were a regular occurrence.

And so it came as a surprise to see her there in our booth, nodding along to the meaningless and unmemorable conversation. It came as even more of a surprise that she didn’t bother to introduce herself, nor did my friends do the same. In fact, they didn’t acknowledge her at all. She just sat there across the table from me, attentive but quiet, like a ghost. Typically, a ghost is accompanied by a sense of dread, and this was no different. In this case, there was an added sense of guilt, as if I had brutally broken her heart.

In the waking world, this was not true at all. Quite the reverse in fact. Her age of nineteen made our relationship legal, both legally and morally, but she was still just graduating from high school. She had a future, and I lived entirely in the moment. She understood that. I didn’t. I hadn’t abandoned or cheated on her; I could have handled the consequences of that. What I had done was disappoint her. In a way, I guess it was my fault.

My not-really friends weren’t there with us anymore. This was the thing I feared more than anything: being alone with her. I could no longer pretend not to recognize her.

“Hi,” she said. What she hadn’t said was, “Hi, Max,” or, “Hi, asshole,” or ” You have a lot of nerve showing your face around here, you miserable bastard.” Maybe she’d forgotten who I was.

That gave me hope.

“I haven’t seen you in a long time,” she said.

Oh, crap.

Just then, I realized that we were sitting together on the same side of the table, with just a couple of feet of space between us. Neither of us had actually moved; the dream did it for us, in such a subtle way that I hadn’t even noticed.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

I don’t know how long our hips had been within a whisper of each other.

“Don’t,” she replied.

I couldn’t think of something to say, which probably had something to do with the way the two of us had been lying on our backs on the empty table. When I rolled over and propped my head on my elbow, I remembered that, the last time I’d been this close to her, we were in Albuquerque, promising each other a future together.

She must have seen my thoughts on my face. “We can’t kiss,” she told me.

I’ve made out with many women over the years, but Carissa’s kisses belonged to her alone. Whenever she pulled away, she bit my lower lip gently–not enough to hurt, but just enough to remind me she’d been there. My mouth dried in anticipation of the nibble that would never come again.

I needed to touch her. I told her so.

“Please,” she whispered.

I’m not a humble man. I possess many extraordinary talents, and I refuse to hide them. Among these is my skill at lock-picking. I’m not referring to the deadbolt variety. What I mean to say is that, when I have permission, there is not a button, buckle, zipper, clasp, strap, or lace that can stand between me and nudity.

Almost instantly, the bottom four buttons on her shirt were unfastened. My fingers drifted underneath the fabric to massage her gymnast’s stomach, a sign of her physical strength, and trace the line of the scar that ran along her right hip, a reminder of her physical vulnerability.

She sighed and squirmed in such a way that there was a gap between her jeans and her bare skin that my hand could slip comfortably inside. It moved to do just that.

I don’t know how much further this would have gone if my neighbor’s alarm clock hadn’t gone off right beside my head.

More often than not these days, Emma and I vented out our frustrations with our workdays or social lives by exchanging sweat and orgasms. Since this was so exhausting, it was rare that I ever bothered climbing over the fire escape and back into my own bed.

As I retrieved and put on my clothes for my short journey home, Emma muttered, “You could save us both a lot of money and hassle if you just packed up and moved in.”

If you’ve ever seen a long corridor equipped with fluorescent bulbs light up incrementally and randomly after the switch is flipped, you can visualize how my brain activated during the ensuing conversation. “What,” I asked, “did you just say?”

It’s not like you can just knock on my front door,” she continued.

“No,” I agreed, still not at full illumination, “because my roommates might suspect I’m straight.”

And you can’t keep using the fire escape.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s going to be cold in a few months, and I’m planning on keeping my window closed,” she replied.

“I was kind of hoping you’d have a real boyfriend by then.”

So you don’t have to deal with me anymore?”

“So you could be happy.”

She froze. “So I need a man in my life to be happy?”

“I didn’t mean it that way!” Well, I did actually kind of mean it that way, but to be fair, I wasn’t entirely awake.

Does fucking all the women make you happy?”

“A little bit, yeah.”


“How would you know?” I asked.

She took a breath and concentrated as if this were a pop quiz. “Because they’re only booty-calls.”

“I prefer to think of them as ‘liaisons.'”

“They’re booty calls,” she said.

“What do you call this then?” I don’t know why I had to ask this question. It was one part genuine curiosity and one part slap in her face.


Touché. “Can’t argue with that.” I didn’t say anything when I crawled out her window, and she didn’t say anything back. There were all sorts of things I wanted to say, but they crashed and collided throughout my head, becoming shards of battered half-thoughts.

I stood in my room feeling like a computer with no operating system–i.e. a paperweight–when my body decided to do what the rest of me couldn’t figure out how to. I stormed all the way out of my apartment and pounded on Emma’s front door.

She tore it open and growled, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“Knocking,” I replied.

Upon hearing this, she didn’t change her expression. But something in her posture did shift, just a little. She reached over and wrapped her hand around the back of my neck and said, “You better get inside, dude, before you get yourself evicted.”

to be continued…

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