Three Romances — C. D. Lewis

One night, as we lie in bed, sleep close on the horizon, Simon whispers, “Truth or dare?”
“Truth,” I say.
“Truth. Do you ever prefer fantasizing to sex?”
“Sometimes,” I say, yawning, nosing into him.
“Follow up.”
“I don’t think you get ‘follow-ups’ in Truth or Dare,” I tell his shoulder.
“When you prefer it, why do you prefer it?”
“With sex, you don’t know what the other person will do next,” I say. “In a fantasy, anything you want to happen can happen.”
“What do you want to happen next?” he says, confusing things only a little. 


The summer after my freshman year in college, I interned at an old-school New York weekly, one creakily adjusting to the web. Pizza and soda arrived at each Friday “closing period” for stress-eating and fuel. The outlet’s print edition appeared on offbeat-colored paper. 
Between fact-checking and copy-editing, I maintained a flirtation with one of the reporters on staff, Bill. This was years ago—a grey, cool Sunday, the first weekend after the internship had ended.

how about I come over at about 3, he texted. we could watch a movie
I was living at home, and no one was around that afternoon. 
I’d like that, I texted back.

I cleaned my room, took a shower, shaved my pubic hair, and lay on top of my bed, listening to the rain and wind against the window. Now and then, tree branches tapped the glass, the brittle fingers of a friendly skeleton. 
Bill texted he was at the door, and I went to answer it.

There he was, tall as I remembered, dimpled, collapsing his umbrella, in a waterproofed jacket and heavy boots he bent to untie. We hugged, then spoke quickly, on top of one another. He called the weather “cinematic.”

We both smiled and laughed too much. He stubbed his toe on an end table, but didn’t say anything at first, then went on and on about how much it hurt, once we’d positioned ourselves on the couch.
“My toe is going to fall off. It’s blue and twice its normal size. It’s numb now, don’t worry. I can’t feel it. It hurts so much,” he said, making me laugh.
“I really had to control myself back there, when things were just getting started.”

We watched a movie on my computer, set on the coffee table, before and below us. Every so often, the screen would darken slightly (I must have had it in some power-save mode), and one of us would use our bare feet to move the touchscreen-mouse. Bill had taken off his socks, saying they were damp, and I hadn’t put any on.

Whenever something embarrassing happened on-screen, or whenever there was kissing, or nudity, Bill hid his face in my hair.
I asked him his age again. Twenty-five. He asked mine. Nineteen. When I said I was born in ’91, he moaned as if in pain, as “a child of the 80’s.”

In the movie, at one point, two characters sleep together––a girl in high school who says she’s nineteen, and a twenty-six-year-old. 
“They’re us,” Bill whispered into the curl of my ear, and my body went alert, alight.
I pointed out the character was actually fifteen or sixteen and was lying about her age. I let the side of my hand touch his, and our fingers locked as adult women playing adolescent girls bared their breasts from the laptop.

The movie’s entire plot revolved around relationships, inexperience, the desire for and difficulty of obtaining sex, and characters losing or gaining jobs at fast food restaurants at the mall. I remembered I’d picked it. 

In one of the more dramatic scenes, a boy has forgotten his wallet and isn’t sure he’ll be able to pay for the meal. The camera pans menacingly over the empty plates as the waitress approaches. His friend saves him, smoothly, then steals his girl and gets her pregnant, but it’s almost present-day America, and so she gets an abortion.

The movie seemed like a long, medium-quality sitcom, if that wasn’t a contradiction in terms. It had a star, when he was young, in a small role playing a stoner. The reporter told me he’d met the star once, covering an event at the 21 Club. 
After our hands touched, he began stroking my arm, lightly at the wrist and working his way up. He grazed my palms and pressed his legs against my legs, as we slowly stretched out lengthwise atop the couch.

Bill and I admired the dated clothes and haircuts, identified songs on the soundtrack. We sympathized with or dismissed the characters’ woes, obstacles, successes, and choices aloud. 
When the cad teenage boy wouldn’t help pay for the abortion, the reporter said the right thing. He said, “Wrong question,” when the brother who drove the girl to the clinic asked, “Who did it?” before “How are you?” and said, “Mr. Sensitive,” at some other appropriate time.

Our faces were very close together, and it kept thundering outside. “Cinematic,” Bill said again. I pointed out that any weather could be cinematic, depending on the genre of the movie. We were kissing. We were horizontal. 

Bill ran his hands over my face and lips. He held my arms down, which surprised me, how much I liked it—the tension of pretending or inventing resistance. He kissed my neck. 
His T-shirt was soft, grey cotton, and it kept raining and gusting outside, so fresh air would reach us from the open window every so often, like the world and room were breathing.

We went to my room. Bill told me he had wanted me at the party I had thrown earlier that summer, when I had brought him to this same room to find a book we had talked about. I took his shirt off then, and he took off mine. He said, “I don’t mean to be superficial, but your body is so pretty and perfect.”
“Would you help me take my pants off,” he asked. I unbuttoned them, as he stayed standing. I walked him to the bed and sat him down, then pulled off one leg, then the other. I was on my knees, looking up at him, performing this small service. 

Bill said he had thought about me a lot. I asked what he’d thought. 
“About talking to you, spending time with you, kissing you, making love to you,” he said, palming my little breasts, rubbing them gently. 
It was only after a short while, after he’d taken off my shorts, and I’d said, “I want you inside me,” and after he’d said, “I want you to get a condom from my pants pocket and come back very quickly, will you do that?” that he’d said, “Put your sweet little body on my dick,” “Can I fuck you like this,” “I want to come inside you.”

I felt calm, in control. I had wanted it, and still wanted it, as it was happening, and after. We lay in my twin-sized bed, listening to the soft static of the rain. 

Bill told me gossip about the paper’s different reporters and editors, showed me photos from a recent hiking trip on his phone, a bicycle he was bidding for on eBay. 
He asked about my classes and told me I looked like a Modigliani. He said he liked it “that I was happy” and asked if I had a thing for the other intern, the guy I had always sat with. I did not. He said the guy, the intern, would “give him up” sometimes to the editors during the internship, and be sarcastic with him.
“I was sarcastic with you,” I said.
“Yes, but when you were, it was adorable.”

We had sex again, and he did yoga poses on my rug and recited a poem. I remembered, when he had caught me reading poetry in the office one day, how he’d said, “Poetry is like junk food, candy for the mind. It rots the brain.”

 He said that his sister was nearly my age, in an alarmed tone. I pointed out that his sister could be any age in relation to me, and that it didn’t have anything to do with anything. 

At the beginning, I’d said, at one point, “Kissing you is so much fun,” and he’d said, “We’re going to do it for a while.” 

He was the biggest of anyone I’d slept with—I hadn’t slept with many people—and I was surprised by the size of it, his dick, how it felt different, how good, having to go slowly at first. 
He asked, about his erection, if I “liked the way it looked,” which I found funny. He clearly did, holding it upright with his fist at the base, lying on his back, propped up by pillows, admiring it. 

He called me “sweetheart,” which wasn’t something anyone had called me before or during sex.
He said he’d come visit me at college, as I walked him to the subway under his umbrella, his arm around me.

We had passed my brother coming back from someplace, on our way out the door, and I had joked he came home early because I’d texted him when I’d grown bored.
“I’m glad I came over,” Bill said at the subway entrance, tucking my rain-damp hair behind my ear, his eyes playful. “I’m between glad and indifferent.”
I laughed, which was what he wanted.
He closed the umbrella and said, “The sky is the color of a dirty sock.”
I said, “You must be some kind of writer.”
He kissed me and was gone for good.


I met Jake the year I graduated, at a party with seltzer and wine stashed in the bathtub, and coats on every bed, a heap of shoes outside the door. I was freelancing, and he knew who was hiring (or claimed to), and I wrote my email address on his hand before I got too blotto, unless it was in the Notes app of his phone.

He emailed the next morning, suggesting a drink at a nearby place and time, his number at the bottom of the message, and I replied with mine.
Minutes later, he texted:
it’s Jake. see you at Montero’s, then
yes, then and there
right on
connect 4

Over well whiskeys on a sticky tabletop one evening that week, he asked what stories I’d most enjoyed reporting out, told me about falling asleep at a diner one late night when he’d been covering Hurricane Sandy. His glasses and facial hair conspired to make him seem older than he was, plus his comparative experience.
I remembered a profile he’d written from around that time. I complimented the quotes he’d used.
His eyes glittered then as he said, “I made them all up.”

With Jake’s help, I secured a contributor job at a daily, and he took me out to celebrate. After I’d settled in, he appeared once more in my inbox. 
seen Balthus at the Met yet? 
I had not. 

on the steps, I texted, the day of the date. It was late November, snowing. I wore a newly thrifted coat Anne said made me look “put-together.” 
aces, he replied.
battleship sunk, I received, as he approached.

Balthus had illustrated a picture book ode to his childhood cat, who had died in an untimely way. His painted girls were all sexy and too-young.
We made fun of the wall text together.
“Is it, in fact, a compelling dreamscape? Are we compelled?”
“And compelled to what exactly?”
“To further dreaming, given the ‘scape?” 
“To a continued state of being compelled.”
When we left the museum, it was dark. Flakes stuck to his beard, my eyelashes. It was the anniversary of John Lennon’s death, and camera-carriers thronged the Dakota. 

The next week, he asked me if I’d like to join him at a friend’s holiday dinner. When I got there, there was a fire in the fireplace, a Brooklyn luxury. He fixed me a drink and made sure I was comfortable before ducking out to get more ice.  
“Did you miss me?” he asked the nape of my neck when he returned.
“Yes,” I said, and I had.
“It’s such an oven in here,” the hostess was saying. “I always end up cooking topless in the summers.” 
Her wall of windows looked out on a parallel wall of windows across the air shaft.
“The neighbors must send thank-you notes,” Jake said, tearing open the plastic to reach the cubes.

The next day he wrote: 
there’s a yule-like gathering Friday if you’re free
yes, if there’s no impromptu city hall showdown
take it easy, councilmen
may their day jobs keep them from civic duty

At the cheer-filled event, Jake’s friend was surprised at the year I’d graduated. 
“Ask her what year she was born, that’s even funnier,” Jake said.

bullseye, I’d written, when he’d asked again if I could make it. 
yahtzee, he’d replied. 

Now I felt myself a doll with glass eyes, yarn hair. 
“I don’t like talking about future plans because it might jinx them,” I overheard him saying by the eggnog. 
It was a line I’d once used and found freshly transparent. 

As Jake had suspected it would, the glossy monthly where he worked laid him off after Christmas. He got a job for the financial wires not long after. 

life is very weird, no matter how it ends, very filled with dreams, he texted his first day. 
It was a line I knew, and it revived me. 

wish you were here, he wrote, some night when he’d worked late and just gotten home.
I wish *you* were *here*
if there are any smart-ass genies out there reading, don’t fulfill our wishes at the same time !! 
you know what we mean
literal-ass genies 
we will ~not~ be Monkey’s Paw-ed

Sometime, not long after New Year’s, I drank too much at a newsroom happy hour. I’d broken a story each day that week, and so took the third glass edged with lemon rind—then was violently ill and missed our date.
He was angry, and with reason. But I was passing into some other age and sense of self. 

tend to wake up wishing you were there ;-/ , he wrote around that time.
saw your latest on CNBC !, I deflected.
Crepuscular Nocturne for Bountiful Country?
Cablecast Nexus of Boondoggle Cowboys
Cathodic Node of Bankable Cozenage
Can’t Nobody Beat Capitalism

Things went on like that a while, until I realized I’d avoided him a full three weeks. He was clear-eyed, though his hands shook, in the park in the cold when we ended things. 

After, at a restaurant with my brother, I tried to account for the split.
“He wasn’t there, when we were together, sometimes,” I said. 
“Mm,” he said, abstractly.
“In person, he wasn’t present or engaged.” 
“Sorry? Were you saying something?”
And his eyes flashed with amusement, and I grinned and got the check.

On my birthday, when I’d still been seeing Jake, I’d dug out my mother’s vinyl records and borrowed a player, and we’d danced to 70’s hits and B-sides into the night, in album-determined order, the way the artists had intended.
In the morning, as Jake helped me clean, we listened to what had been left under the needle. At this interlude, he had told me this was the best part of the song—
Prior to this lifetime, I surely was a tailor
Good morning, Mr. Leitch
Have you had a busy day?
I own the tailor’s face and hands
I am the tailor’s face and hands
—when the sounds change and the scene shifts, to the singer’s former self, children and townspeople around him.

Once, lying in Jake’s bed some afternoon while he was finishing a piece, I’d read a book from his shelves on how to recall one’s past lives. As with astrology or prayer, it seemed obviously irrelevant whether one believed in reincarnation in a literal sense. 
The book told me to close my eyes and picture walking through a door into a room filled with artifacts from all places and times and civilizations. There, I was to look into an ornate mirror, and I would see myself reflected as I was in a prior life. 
I did as instructed. Staring back from the unreal glass, I saw myself in a light suit of armor, a character from a Young Adult series I’d read as a girl. I had violet eyes—a key detail from the fantasy books—and lived as a young knight or page in some alternate medieval time. It was a favorite part of that song.


The time I thought I loved Zack was when we went to New Hampshire.
We’d been seeing each other a few months, enough for a weekend away, and he AirBnB’d a cabin outside of which he took a posed photo of us, like a man from the fifties would with a sweetheart. He was a little corny, Zack, in a way that appealed to me at the time.

At the edge of the pond, too, where we went skinny dipping, I asked him to take a nude of me, and he obliged, and it remains my favorite photograph of myself, wherever that digital file is, in whatever cloud.
That instant, I’m standing at the foot of a tree, steadying myself with it––a spindly thing, a bit like my body. I’m looking into the lens, uninhibited. There’s something pre-Raphaelite about it, woodland nymph-like. 
For whatever reason, I appear to myself during those years to be most myself in that image, undressed and self-staged.

On the trip, when we first got to the cabin, I inspected the bookshelves and found a semi-trashy romance novel, then read to him from it on the couch as he made us dinner. It was called The Senator’s Wife. Zack made a living ghost-writing speeches and praised the book’s asides about political hackery. 
At some point, everything in the oven, he sat down and put my legs up on top of his while I read. When I looked over at him, looking at me, he looked as happy as I’d ever seen him.

After I showered the second night, after a day of hiking, I got dressed in a long plaid skirt made of thin wool. I was ready for dinner, with a necklace and little gold earrings on, flushed from the shower, exhilarated from the climb.
Jim got out of the shower and came back into the room in a towel and put on his glasses. 
“You got dressed,” he said, with mild surprise.
“Aren’t we going to dinner in town?” I said.
“Not for an hour,” he said.
He hung the towel over a chair to dry and got under the covers. “C’mere,” he said, and I got under with him, still dressed, still clean, shampoo-smelling.

He kissed me softly. My hair, my eyebrows. I kissed him back, and his body was so accessible to me, the way he would be in the mornings on days when I had to get to the office early and he didn’t––when I would leave, fully dressed, as he lay there naked.

“Could I make a request?” he asked, looking up at me from where he’d nuzzled against my chest in my sweater. I could feel him, a little hard, a little eager.
“Yes,” I said, a smile and question in my voice.
“Could I watch you?” he asked.
“Watch me?”
“Could I watch you touch yourself.”
I laughed then, that he’d assumed I’d immediately have known what he meant. It wasn’t jarring. We’d been talking about what we did, and when and how, for weeks.
“Okay, yes,” I said, meeting his big eyes with equivalently wide ones.
“You can pretend I’m not here,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. “It can take longer––if someone’s here… I mean, I assume.”
“I can leave the room, and then count a while, and then come back in,” he said. “So you can pretend more easily.”
“Okay,” I said. Good idea.” 
Though why did I feel, in that moment, like a camp counselor?

Zack got up and dimmed the lights, and I pulled the covers away. I was still in the long tartan skirt. I peeled the tights off and dropped them on the ground, then folded the cloth back, so my underwear was visible. I laid my head back on the pillows, brushed hair still dark and slightly wet from the shower. 
I closed my eyes, took a steadying breath, and started touching myself, lightly, over the cloth. I didn’t hear him come back in, but at some point I heard him breathing.
“It can take a little while,” I said, too aware of him now, like I was fulfilling an assignment. I squeezed my shut eyes, made a face.
“Take as long as you like,” he said, quietly. “I’m not here.”

I took a breath and tried to focus. It turned me on, a different part of my brain, knowing he was there, knowing he was being turned on. I pressed myself a little harder. I touched my lower abdomen, lightly, with a few fingers. I touched my breasts, teasing myself.

I thought of a scene from a 90’s movie I’d watched when I was too young for it. At the end, a teenage girl is half-asleep, or entirely asleep, among heaps of people sleeping off a party, and a boy she knows, also too young, fucks her that way, somehow, however unlikely it is, finding her in the piles of beautiful young people he’s climbed around to reach her, starting so slowly she stays asleep. 
Before he does, he softly touches her body, in this way, below her navel, as if to soothe her, as if she’s a horse that might shy.

What was it about that scene that stayed with me? It was my imagining the actors––both so new-seeming and lithe––being friends with one another on set, in my mind, and knowing they would have to simulate this scene, and taking care of one another, maybe even getting into it. There was a gentleness to it, in all its violation, in my memory. The actor might have just been priming the actress’s body, wanting her body at least to enjoy it in her character’s dream within the movie.

I licked my fingers and moved them under the elastic of my underwear and tried to keep up the feeling there was something new to this. It was new, in its way, this game, his being there. I tried to treat myself like someone being touched by someone who was being careful with me and who cared for me, and I began to feel myself relax, and to get wet and warm.

“Oh, Jane,” he said then, in the voice he’d get when he’d been taken over by something. I exhaled, smiling slightly, taken out of things.
“Sorry, I’m sorry. This is… I’ll be quiet.”

I took another breath and stretched out my back, relaxing into it, staying comfortable. I felt like a cat. I made a little sound, a murmur, not exactly involuntary. But it’s true that it’s something I do, alone, sometimes. The sound, a habit. Is it learned or put on? Somewhere between. It could keep me turned on, to make sounds, alone. Almost animal sounds, of pleasure, approval, submission to something – an urging on. A moan, purr, cry, whine. Never, really, alone, a scream or shout.

I put a finger inside myself, then two––tightening muscles against myself––and I was warm. That early, soft wet of first knowing you want to fuck someone or be fucked. I started moving them, with pressure, slowly, then quickly, out along the lips, to the nib of my clit. Slowly and quickly.

I thought of a scene from another movie I’d watched as a teenager, where an ingenue is auditioning for a part in a movie. She’s meant to be playing an innocent, but she surprises the room by reading the script as a vamp––a Lolita. The actor she’s performing with is spent for her immediately. She breathes like she wants him, during the lines, and it’s as though you can feel her mouth filling with saliva as she speaks, and she puts his hands on her, almost trembling with how badly she wants him before the audition ends and she breaks character, back to neutral, back to acting the role of an actor. 
I always imagined he was fingering her while she said the lines since you can’t see his hands in the shot, though I knew that didn’t fit the plot, in which he’s dumbfounded. She just seems to be experiencing all this desire, almost coming when she kisses him, their mouths open. When I would watch that clip alone, on my laptop, that’s when I would orgasm.

I pulled my fingers out and touched myself over the fabric, then pulled it to the side with one hand and put two fingers inside myself again, then lifted my hips and pulled the underwear off, though I was still wearing the skirt. I could feel the blanket-like fabric on my bare ass, then, a pleasant sensation––and one that felt dirty––to be half-naked, half-dressed in this semi-conservative, schoolgirl way.

I thought of a last scene that did it for me, from a movie I’d never seen in full but which I’d watched clips from online. In it, there are two women and one man, and it starts with the man taking a pair of white cotton underwear off the younger-looking girl. He puts them in his pocket, then has the women kiss, touching the backs of their heads slightly, watching them with a hunger that seems muscular. He pulls the girlish one onto his lap on a bed, and she straddles him, throwing back her dyed-caramel hair while the brunette kisses him from behind, pouring champagne on the younger one’s tits. He’s meant to be a guidance counselor, the girl his student, I had gathered. Something about his body, the thrusting, and the way he looked at them satisfied me when I would watch the clip. Something made me want to be there––whatever it was they were celebrating with the sticky fizz of champagne, the softness of the women, there for his and their own pleasure, reluctantly sharing him.

I touched my clit again, lightly, then harder, picturing myself with my legs around the man. I lifted my hips a little and set them down, and moaned an “Mmm,” like I was tasting something good.
“Shh,” he said, and I smiled again, and wet my lips.
“You’re not here,” I said.
“I’m not here.”

But then he was there, quickly, quietly, on the bed, touching me lightly, inside my thighs, unexpectedly, stroking them, and his cool hands felt extraordinarily good, and his body was naked already, I now remembered, feeling his skin against mine, as he climbed up towards and onto me, like a swimmer, pulling himself up for air as I opened my eyes, and he was inside me, and moaning himself. 
He lifted off my sweater and unhooked my bra, still inside me, and worked away at the buckles holding the skirt together, and then I was naked too, just the little necklace against me, between us, and the earrings. And my body was so ready, so wet, wanting him so much, that it was, well, as good as it can be––the motions of it such heady versions of themselves––that alchemical combination of wanting, being wanted, and being had.

Someone had made a request, and you had fulfilled it, and there was gratitude, and there was pleasure in the fulfillment, that satisfaction. You were full of fantasy and desire, and laid bare with another human being who wanted nothing more than to be there with you, doing what it was you were doing, giving you what it was you wanted, in that place, where you had vanished from the world together, for however long, however irretrievably. Rapturous, might be the word, if it hasn’t been ruined by drugstore romances. Ravishing.

That was the weekend I thought I could happily spend the rest of my life with Zack. There was the freshest apple cider of my life, and his warmth, his up-for-anything nature. We cut through the winds together at the top ridge of a peak, so high a tiny plane passed, toylike, beneath us. We were demigods, Olympians.
In the weeks and months that followed, there were ways we each condescended to the other, we realized, in time, we couldn’t seem to quit. I told him, the last time I saw him, I’d vote for his candidate when he next ghosts for a high-office contender, and he “thanked me for my support.” I think we were both perfectly serious.

But it was that hour or two in the cabin, if we’re telling truths, that gave me the thought or dream, and made it linger.