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good night, dear void

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Kathleen stews for the rest of the party, glaring every time Joe Fox’s smug face saunters into her eyeline which, she swears, he is doing on purpose. She spends thirty intent minutes talking to an editor at Harper, and when she looks up, Joe’s long gone, and her mouth drops open at his sheer nerve. Simmering, she loops her hand through Frank’s arm, and tugs him to the door.

Kathleen finds her anger fading as the blocks fall away; it’s a cool clear night, beautiful for walking. Frank talks about book ideas and outlines, how to find an agent. Kathleen nods along to the sound of his voice, and looks at the streetlights, the passerby, the warm and friendly storefronts as they pass. She should add garlands to her holiday display this year, she thinks. And fill the shop with paper whites in January. Tulips, in May.

When Frank says he’s going back to his place tonight, Kathleen murmurs okay, and nods, and thinks of the email she’s going to write to NY152 when she gets home. It furls out, word by word, in her head.

She turns on to West End and starts, jumps back. A man in running clothes, old sweatpants, white t-shirt, scowling at her--

“Are you stalking me?” Kathleen asks, incredulous.

Joe Fox smirks back at her. “Now, why would I—“

“That’s right, I’m inconsequential,” she snaps. “You wouldn’t waste the energy on—“

“That’s not what I meant,” Joe says, glaring, and shifts on his feet. Paces, from side to side.

“It’s what you said,” Kathleen shoots back, and steps closer, advancing.

Joe laughs, frustrated, and throws up his hands. “I know it’s what I said, but I didn’t mean it that way.” He reaches out, touches her arm. Looks at her intently. Says: "Or, well, I did, but then I immediately recognized how shitty it sounded."

He doesn’t move his hand.

Kathleen is very still. She’s acutely aware of his mouth, and his hands, and the bare expanse of his neck. She’s aware of the rage, deep within her, that this person, this man could make her feel so, so—

Joe's thumb presses in, warm, right at the crease of her elbow.

There are a million things she wants to yell at him, a million belittling insults, comebacks, rejoinders. Instead, Kathleen takes one more step in, tilts her head up, and kisses him.

Joe’s grip on her arm tightens. He kisses her back, she is sure of, but what she is less certain about is how she ends up pressed against the side of a building, with her hand snaking up his t-shirt, and one of Joe’s thighs pressed, warm and insistent, between her own. Kathleen gasps, and grinds against him.

She shouldn’t be doing this, she knows. She hates him, he deceived her, he’s her enemy, besides which: she has a boyfriend.

A boyfriend she’s not in love with, a tiny voice in her head answers back.

“Get a room,” someone shouts at them. Kathleen hears footsteps, a jangle of keys, and the steady hum of taxicabs, passing by. She breaks away. Joe traces his lips over her cheekbone, over her jawline.

Kathleen screws her eyes shut tight. “I live a few blocks down,” she blurts out. Presses the pads of her fingers into Joe’s back. She can practically feel the satisfaction rolling off him in waves, is about to take it back, make an excuse, and then--

Joe swallows, steps back. “Lead the way.”

Kathleen nods, and pushes off the wall, as gracefully as she can manage.

“So—“ Joe says, conversational, glancing left, glancing right.

Kathleen cuts him off. “Don’t. Please, don’t. We don’t have to talk.”

Maybe she’ll change her mind, she tells herself. Maybe they’ll get there and she’ll realize what a colossally bad idea it is to try to make love to someone you don’t particularly like, even a little bit. Well, to someone she did like, until she knew—until she knew who he was, for real.

Just call me Joe.

She’s not going to change her mind, not if she’s honest with herself. She wants: Joe to touch her, anywhere, everywhere. His mouth on her breasts. To feel him moving inside her.

Kathleen unlocks the door. Leads him upstairs. Flicks on the lights. They stare at each other, for a long, ridiculous, moment, and Kathleen would be absolutely furious—more furious, she tells herself—if Joe didn’t look like he wanted her, wanted this, just as much as she does.

They crack at the same time, falling into each other with a sort of desperation Kathleen formerly only associated with the last days of summer, with Zabar’s in December, with Austen heroines. Joe slides a hand into her hair and sucks at Kathleen’s lower lip. When she wraps her arms around his neck, he gets his other hand down to her ass, and lifts her, clean into the air.

“Where are we going?” he grunts, and stutters forward, then back. If he stopped kissing her for long enough he’d be able to see for himself that his options are wall, wall, door, and living room, but he doesn’t, so Kathleen grins, and wraps herself around him, tight, and navigates them around her books, and her shelves, and her desk, to her bed. He sets her down flat on her back and looks at her mouth, at her hair. At the sliver of skin at her waistline, exposed. He blinks, dazed, and Kathleen takes a fraction of an ounce of pity on him, takes his hand, and tugs him on top of her.

She toes her shoes off, works his shirt up and over his head. Joe’s hands are on her neck, her breasts, her waist. He plucks at her turtleneck. “How do I—“

Kathleen pushes Joe off of her, sits up. Reaches for her hemline. Pulls her shirt off, slowly easing it over her shoulders, her ears, her head. Smooths her mussed hair the best she can. Joe’s staring at her, reverently, and Kathleen frowns, because he has no right, no right whatsoever.

He leans forward to kiss her, and Kathleen twists her head. Joe lands somewhere near her ear but he takes it in stride, nudges along her earlobe, sucks enthusiastic kisses along her neck, working his way to her collarbone. Kathleen wriggles a hand under his waistband to his crotch.

“Okay, wait,” Joe says, into her skin. “Give me a minute.”

Kathleen squirms underneath him. She was ready awhile ago, she had the entire walk from that corner of West End to get ready, and if he needs time, she can help with that, so she doesn’t understand why he’s not letting her—oh. Joe shifts, and she feels the length of him against her hip, and realizes—Joe being ready is not the problem.

Kathleen arches up and unclasps her bra. Shimmies her pants down her hips. Joe groans into her shoulder. She reaches her hands above her head, lazy, and yawns. Grinds her hips into his in slow, easy circles.

Joe lifts his head. His mouth falls open, incredulous. “You’re enjoying this?” He runs his teeth along her skin. Nudges his nose around her breasts. Sucks at her nipple.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kathleen says. Closes her eyes. If Joe stays right where he is she can just—

“Hey,” Joe says. Shifts his weight off of her.

Kathleen scowls. “What?”

“Can I?” Joe gestures towards her underwear, and Kathleen gasps, yes.

Joe eases her panties off, tosses them to the side. Trails his hand across her belly, her hips. Strokes her clit. Dips lower to her vulva. “Is this okay?” he murmurs into her ear. It is is the answer, but Kathleen’s not about to tell him so. She makes an indiscriminate noise and closes her fists in the bedsheets. Focuses on his hands and the warm steady pressure, how good it feels. How much nicer it is to have him like this than like earlier, telling her how she, how her life’s work, doesn’t matter. How it doesn’t mean a thing.

Joe’s tongue circles a nipple, then the other, and Kathleen cries out, without meaning to. He maintains a steady pulse with his fingers and whispers nonsense into her skin, and she can’t, she won’t, she will not let any of this mean something. She comes, shaking against his hands.

He pulls back, delighted. “Did you—? Was that—?”

Kathleen throws an arm across her eyes, and nods.

Satisfaction blooms across his face, then, he winces. "Do you have—?”

“You don’t have a condom?” Kathleen asks. Her voice sound shriller than she’d like.

Joe’s shoulders come up, defensive. “I wasn’t expecting—“

Kathleen grits her teeth. She wasn’t expecting this to happen either, but here they are.

Joe watches her. His face softens. “—to see you tonight."

And—oh. Kathleen scrunches up her face. Works hard to disguise whatever unexpected fluttering thing is happening in her chest and shimmies herself up a bit, leaning back on her elbows. “Check the nightstand,” she orders.

Joe complies, frowning, opens the drawer, starts poking around. Kathleen feels her stomach sinking, and begins weighing her options. What she would, and would not, be willing to do if they don’t—

“Aha!” Joe exclaims. Holds up a condom. “Found one!”

(She would have been willing to do quite a lot, is the unbearable truth.)

Joe tears at the packaging with his teeth, and rolls it onto himself, intently. Kathleen lets herself look at him—his chest and his forearms, soft pale skin at his waist. How comfortable he looks with his hand on his penis, sitting on the edge of her bed.

He catches her looking. Scurries back between her legs, plants a kiss on her cheekbone.

“What do you want, how do you want me—“

Kathleen nudges him with her knees, lets them fall open. “Like this.” Joe raises his eyebrows, pleased, and goes to line them up. Kathleen’s breath catches as he pushes in, watching her, and his face is absolutely infuriating. She swallows. “Or, you could take me against the wall over there, since that seemed to be working for you outside.”

Joe groans, and thrusts, works himself all the way inside. “I’m just saying,” she continues. Joe thrusts again, and again, and again, a messy, stuttering rhythm. Kathleen feels it in her entire body, pleasure radiating out towards her toes.

She moans.

Joe trails his hand down her body. Works his thumb against her clit.

“Not gonna last,” Joe huffs into her ear. “Help me make it good?"

Kathleen tips her head back, shifts her hips. He liked it when she was loud during her first orgasm, she knows, and partly she doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction, again, but also—every time he gets deep she makes a noise, regardless.

“Okay,” Kathleen answers, breathless. Grinds up against him and clutches at his hair, his hips, his skin. Comes, humming her way through the pulses, as she hears his breath catch and he presses her closer, closer, closer, into the mattress, the sound of skin on skin and his moan in her ear and okay—she kind of gets why he’s into her being loud now.

Neither of them make any move to get up. She listens to his breath slow down. Closes her eyes.

Joe clears his throat. Eases himself off of her, and hesitates, leaning on his side. Kathleen’s eyes flutter shut. She runs her hand along his spine.