theme for a late winter fling, part two

It's past four when he texts. I'm awake, of course, watching Netflix on my laptop, bleary-eyed and knowing I should attempt sleep, but stubbornly refusing to try.

I inadvertently beat a guy up.

I mentally assess whether or not I'd be able to bail him out of jail, if need be. I have no money and no car. So, no.

What?? Are you ok?

By way of answer, my phone rings. His speech is slurred. There was a disagreement, at a bar. Jumbo's Clown Room, actually (I chew amusedly on this detail). Some guy refused to move, he needed to close out his tab, words exchanged, a sucker punch thrown from behind. The details aren't clear or particularly interesting, but I'm invited to come upstairs for a full account.

I hesitate. These late night/early morning visits are catching up with me, and I'm already exhausted. I also have plans to work the next night. I should definitely hang up, close my computer, and crash.

"I'll be up in a few minutes." I can hear his Cheshire grin when he says "Ok, see you then." Then something mumbled and I make out the word "baby" just before the disconnect. This is a thing between us. He occasionally calls me baby and I scold him. "Don't call me that," I'll say without much conviction in my voice. I don't explain why it's verboten. I don't need to.

The phone rings again immediately. "Yeah?"

"Just before I hung up, I said 'baby,' but I didn't mean anything. I was just..." He trails off. "I'll see you in a minute," I say, and hang up.

As I'm walking down the hall, I hear him step out of the elevator. I turn the corner, and he's wobbling towards me, grinning sheepishly. "I realized tonight that you look exactly like Joseph Fiennes in Elizabeth," I tell him, as we hug.

He ignores this. "I punched a guy," he reminds me. He's definitely still drunk. "I heard," I reply, and guide him back inside the elevator. He thumbs "PH" and slumps against the wall. "I feel really bad," he says, looking suddenly serious.

The story is repeated, with new, equally uninteresting details. He seems sobered by the second telling of events, his brow furrowed as he recounts his part in the clashing of egos.

Back in his apartment, I sit on his kitchen island, next to his goldfish, who swims in a glass jug filled with nearly opaque greenish water. "Roscoe needs a change," I observe. "Maybe you could squeeze that into your busy schedule of going out and starting bar fights."

He fills the dog's bowl with filtered water and starts to undress, in the middle of the kitchen, with the lights on. Mock pouting, he walks around the corner and gets into his bed. "I'm not speaking to you anymore," he calls out. "I wanted to see you, but you're just being mean."

I climb into bed with him, but leave all of my clothes on. I'm mentally exhausted, but know I won't be able to sleep. He makes a valiant if tipsy attempt to undress me, but I won't let him get further than my socks, which immediately go missing in the covers. I know he's seconds away from passing out. And he does, quickly. I lay there for a few minutes, enjoying the feel of him beside me, warm and solid. When I try to slide away, he wakes up, grips me and whines. "No, don't. You always leave me. Please stay with me."

This is a familiar refrain. I never stay the night at his place, and am given hell for it. I refuse to sleep with him, and I refuse to sleep with him. These are the arbitrary boundaries I have set, and they give me some small sense of control.

I relax back against him. "A few more minutes," I say soothingly. I know he doesn't want to be alone, even while he sleeps. I stroke the tattoo on his upper arm. When I feel his breathing level out, I reach for my phone. I entertain myself for a while by taking photos of him curled up on my chest. Eventually, when I think he's sleeping deeply, I slowly try to extract myself. He wakes and wraps himself more tightly around me, murmuring his objection.

"I have to go," I say softly. "It's really late." His grip doesn't loosen.

"I love you." I hear it, but don't register a reaction either verbally or physically. This is unexpected and mildly alarming, but I know he's just drunk. We've been seeing one another since early winter, but on the most lighthearted and casual terms imaginable: late nights, after we've both been out, separately; each of us wanting the company and comforts of the opposite sex. There are few phone calls, fewer actual dates. He's clever, so there's lots of text bantering. And there's kissing and cuddling and laughing and drinking and occasionally, pot smoking. It's a relationship of convenience, mutual affection and appreciation, and it's all either of us wants.

That said, I'm more than a little glad he's ten years my junior, lest I crush. Badly. He's handsome and sweet and creative and smart, and I'm glad I don't have to take him seriously.

"I love you." He repeats himself more loudly, and I'm forced to reply, a sort of hushing noise that doesn't feel like it adequately addresses the dangerous territory we're skirting. "Don't be ridiculous. You don't even know me." I feel slightly defensive when I say this, but it's true. He doesn't, really. The number of 100% sober conversations we've had can be counted on one hand. He doesn't ask a lot of questions of me, nor I of him. I tried at first, but he would deflect and joke his way out of any talk that felt even remotely serious.

He wants to be a kid with me, I know. To play up the age difference. It helps keep things safe that way.

He mumbles something about my cluelessness or unappreciativeness, and about my being his "favorite of everyone", then grows quiet again. I lay holding him a bit longer, and eventually make my escape despite his renewed, sleepy protestations.

I let myself out in the dark, and pad back to my apartment with bare feet. Chaucer, who is hopelessly in love with him, sniffs me excitedly. I refill his bowl with unfiltered water, and collapse into bed.