"We had an affair," Alicia told him last year, tongue loosened by gin and grief. Her voice was too loud for her conspiratorial tone and it hung on the we a bit too long, dropped too deep on the second syllable of affair. "A few years ago. I hate that word," she added. She rolled her eyes, rolled her entire head. He was transfixed by the red speck of pimento inside each of three olives, carefully speared in her empty martini glass.
"It covers a multitude of sins, doesn’t it?" he had asked. "Affair."
Finn doesn’t know why he’s thinking about that now. There is bourbon in his glass and Ann’s letter is sitting on his desk, still unopened. There’s no return address, but he knows the broad, child-like loops of her handwriting, recognizes the familiarity with which she’s written his name. She went back to Adler, after the divorce, but his name looks like a signature, looks like her signature. Finn Polmar has been following him around all day, tucked into his brief case and his breast pocket. He imagines, for a moment, letting himself slip into the openness of her o, about the valley where the two ns meet. He thinks that he’s had too much to drink.
He closes his eyes, and he sees her, sees fire blazing in bloodshot eyes, sees the flash of her teeth in her smile, the freckles she used to hide beneath concealer. He reaches for his phone when he realizes that he almost can't remember the sound of her voice, almost can't hear the stretched vowels and lost consonants.
"Finn, it’s Ann," she says in his voicemail. "Aidan called about Christmas. It’s fine with me, if it’s fine with you. Just let me know."
He’s spent months listening to that message, on nights like these, months comforting himself with sound of his name on her tongue.
Alicia has a voicemail like this too, he knows, and he wonders if she kept it. She probably did, he thinks, has probably played it over and over in the dark, let it be the soundtrack to tears and arousal and everything in between.
Their friendship exists in the in betweens, nowadays, and he’s started to think that some of the tension that used to simmer between them has dissipated. They are friends, and he doesn’t think about the way they’re such good friends that they know to be delicate in their navigation of their friendship, doesn’t think about the fact that there are more things that they don’t talk about than there are things that they do. She will tell him about her day, but she’ll rarely talk about her life, and he wonders if that’s deliberate.
Finn, he follows her lead. He talks about his clients, generally, and about legal theory and all of the things he hasn’t had time to think about since law school. He doesn’t talk about Aidan or Ann, doesn’t tell her all of the things that he wishes desperately that he had someone to tell. Alicia follows his lead, too, and they argue about retribution versus deterrence, about whether people truly are rational actors, and it’s all very intellectual and useless and she admitted as much, one night over pancakes and eggs benedict.
"Then why are we fighting about this?" he asked her, and his eyes were dancing, amused. "Besides the fact that you secretly love fighting with me."
Alicia blinked, then murmured something about having to go, and she was gone before he could ask what was wrong.
She’s been avoiding him, since then. She doesn’t answer texts or phone calls, and he he really, really doesn’t know what he’s done wrong.
He reaches for his letter opener, careful not to mar the place where Ann’s pen touched paper. Inside is one of those overly-embellished photographs that people send instead of cards these days, but there’s a post-it note stuck on top of the picture. He reads the post-it once, then twice, and he can’t bring himself to remove it, to look at the photograph he knows it must obscure. He almost can’t breathe, for a moment, and the ache that spreads out from his belly feels like fire.
Then he’s standing in Alicia’s office, and it’s late, and he didn’t really expect her to be there, but she is. She’s sitting on her sofa, working by the soft light of a floor lamp and her laptop. On the table there is a half-empty glass of wine, and her shoes are on the floor, casually kicked aside, and her feet are resting on her coffee table. Her toenails are painted deep green, and he can’t help staring at them for a moment, transfixed. He doesn’t know what it is, but there’s something subversive about her bare feet, her painted toenails, and he loves that he wasn’t expecting it.
"Hey," he murmurs, dragging his eyes away. He stays in the doorway, watching her. "You’ve been avoiding me."
Alicia blinks, and nods, doesn’t even pretend to deny it. "I have," she admits. "I— I don’t really know why."
Finn nods, and he wants to sit beside her on the sofa, but he doesn’t dare. "I don’t like it," he tells her, softly. "It reminds me of my ex-wife." His belly hurts, sloshes with bourbon and bitterness and he regrets the word as soon as they’re past his lips.
"I didn’t mean it like that," he says, quickly. He thinks about Ann, and how he spent months apologizing for the wrong things, how she slipped away when he wasn’t even looking. "I just meant that I don’t want to lose you. As a friend."
"I think—" Alicia shakes her head, and Finn wants to slam his fist against the wall in frustration at the way she stops there, at the way she says nothing and acts like it’s something. "Do you want to come in?" she says.
Finn doesn’t, actually, if they’re going to talk in circles like this, or if it’s going to be him talking and Alicia not saying a damn thing. The alternative is worse, though. He steps inside and shuts the door behind him even though the rest of the floor is empty. She clears space on the sofa and he sits, leans back and closes his eyes. It’s been a long day.
"You just reminded me of someone, for a minute, and I— I needed time, that’s all," she says.
Finn nods, and he turns his head to look at her, really, really look at her. Her mascara is smudged around her eyes, just a little. She looks tired, the color in her cheeks painted on, her lipstick drying out and settling into the cracks of her mouth. He thinks he knows who she means, too, but he doesn’t ask, because she never talks about Will anymore.
She doesn’t talk about Will, and he doesn’t talk about the way he’s not sure to whom the blood that dried beneath his fingernails and stained his favorite tie belonged. A year came and went, and they acknowledged its passing by not acknowledging it as they ate in silence in a diner on Chestnut, sitting across from each other on cracked vinyl booths, red and glittery.
"I can give you time, if you need it," he murmurs, and his eyes move back to her feet. There is glitter in the green, silver and black, and it catches the light and reflects back at him. "I don’t have to stay."
"No." She shakes her head, and then her hand is in his, and he remembers why they’ve spent so long avoiding nights like these, alone but for the glow of a lamp and a laptop. Her fingers are soft, as they slide in between his, and his thumb brushes against the veins of her wrist, slow and deliberate, and he keeps waiting for her to pull away but she doesn’t.
"I’m not sure what you want from me," he admits, looking down at the place where their hands are joined, transfixed by the visual proof of some kind of physical connection, of touch. He shouldn’t have come to her, not tonight, not like this, not with Annie’s card sitting on his desk, her words echoing in his head. "But I— I like you, Alicia."
"I like you too," she says, and she nudges his knee with her own.
"Okay," he says. "Then…" He moves closer, and it’s a bad idea, and he expects her to look away, to stop him.
"Finn." She pulls her hand from his and sets it against his knee for a moment before she sighs. "You’re never going to be the love of my life."
Finn blinks, then he laughs, wonders how she could have ever misunderstood him so thoroughly. Ann misunderstood him too, though, so maybe it’s his own damn fault. He shakes his head. "Good," he says. "You’re not going to be the love of mine, either. It might get awkward, if I was yours." He wonders, idly, if Alicia has ever slept with anyone who didn’t want to own her.
Alicia blinks, and Finn thinks he knows the answer. He’s not sure if she’s surprised or offended, but then she smiles and reaches for his hand again.
"So, what do you want, then?" she whispers. Her tongue darts out to wet her lips, and her head is angled towards his, cocked to the side just a bit, lips half-parted as if she expects him to kiss her.
He almost does. He almost lets himself lean into her mouth as if he could escape everything in the dark of her office. He knows how that will go, though, knows that if he kisses her, it will only be a few moments before her skirt is around her waist and his slacks are unzipped. He could take her, here on her couch in a room made of glass, and he thinks it could be thrilling, crossing all of their own boundaries in one go, breaking the rules as if they’re no more than twenty-somethings who have the luxury of pretending that actions don’t have consequences.
A lifetime ago, Annie slipped her hand onto his lap in the backseat of his parents’ minivan and just left it there, not moving as he hardened against her touch. Aidan was asleep beside him, head turned towards the window and Finn should have dragged her hand away, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. He curled his fingers around her thigh, thumb just barely moving against the worn denim of her jeans, and when they stopped for gas, she followed him into the bathroom and grinned at him, ear-to-ear.
He’d made a beeline for the restroom, hadn’t stopped to think about a damn thing except that he was so hard that it hurt, that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it all the way to Maine without hearing her sigh in pleasure or gasp his name. She followed him, though, just a few minute behind but she had hovered long enough to give him an update. Leah’s smoking a cigarette, and your dad’s stretching his legs, she whispered into his ear, her own hand replacing his. Aidan’s with your mom. So we’re good. They were all of three hours into a family vacation, and she wrapped her mouth around his cock in a dirty gas station bathroom with a door whose lock looked dangerously close to rusting away. He lifted her up onto the filthy Formica sink and buried himself deep inside of her. They slipped out together, and he ducked his head to avoid Leah’s knowing smirk and his father’s disapproval, and he had never known it was possible to be so madly, so desperately in love.
He’s not twenty-three anymore, and Alicia isn’t Annie. He doesn’t need Alicia, the way he used to need Ann. He doesn’t need to fuck her, doesn’t need to hear what she sounds like when she comes. He doesn’t need to forget that janitors work overnights and young associates keep crazy hours, so he doesn’t need to take those risks with her.
"I want to be your friend," he says, and she looks at him like Ann used to, in the last few months. Disappointed, as if she expected more of him and he has to look away. "I want to hear you laugh," he adds. "I want—" He looks back at Alicia, and she’s still expecting more, and he doesn’t need to give it to her, but he does, after a moment, finds the words he thinks that she wants to hear. "I don’t want to be the love of your life," he says, first, because it bears repeating. "I just want to do really naughty things to you in bed." He keeps his voice low, leans in so his lips are pressed against her ear, and it’s true, what he says. He wants that, and for all that he doesn’t need it to be her, tonight, he thinks he might need it to be someone. Her breath catches, and he likes it, likes the way she nods, the way she uncrosses and recrosses her legs.
He likes the way she kisses him, too, messy and wet. He likes the way she slides a hand into his hair, rests the fingers of her other hand on his thigh. He likes the way her tongue slides against his, and the way she whimpers, soft, from the back of her throat. He feels it, as she shifts, feels the loss of warmth when her hand moves away from his thigh to adjust her skirt and he breaks the kiss and shakes his head before she can move onto his lap.
"In bed, Alicia," he says, scolding. He wonders how long it’s been for her, wonders if she still sleeps with her husband, sometimes, when the sound of a voicemail isn’t enough to ease the desperate ache of solitude.
Alicia looks confused, and she starts to interrupt, to protest, but he presses a finger against her mouth to silence her, tries to pretend that when she sucks the digit between her lips that he doesn’t feel it in other places.
"It’s late," he tells her. "And we’ve both been drinking." He withdraws his hand and stands, shoves his hands in his pockets and tries not to look as awkward as he feels, suddenly. "So instead of driving home, I'm going to get a hotel room for the night," he says, trying desperately to play it cool. "You’re welcome to join me."
He turns and walks out, after that, doesn’t wait to see if she’s following. He trades his credit card for a room and texts the number to her as he buys condoms in the little shop in the lobby. Her reply arrives as he’s opening the door to the room, and he smiles when he sees the text on the screen. What kind of naughty things?
He replies slowly, deliberately, sitting on the edge of the hotel bed. He used to do this with Ann when she was working overnights, back before things fell apart. She was always better at it than he was, and more than once he thought about leaving Aidan alone to go find her at the hospital, pull her into an exam room, and beg her to do all of the things she’d promised. It still gets him hard, just thinking about it, and at the knock at the door, he adjusts himself in his pants, tries to make his erection a bit less obvious.
Afterwards, Alicia curls up with her head against his chest, and he strokes her hair, closes his eyes and pretends that it’s five years ago, before the shooting and the move and the divorce. He thinks about the brightness in Annie’s eyes that morning when she woke up in his arms, whispered, I want to have a baby.
He had kissed her then, kissed her over and over as he breathed yes against her skin, as he trailed his lips down to her belly. Aidan knocked at the door as his tongue was busy between her legs and Ann had answered with a breathy in a minute. She came seconds later, thighs tight around his head, and he thought about how much he loved her as he ground his dick against the mattress, how perfect any child of Ann’s would be.
I’m gonna see what he needs, she murmured, already reaching for her robe, nodding at his aching cock. I haven’t stopped taking the pill yet, so go ahead and take care of that. The smirk she gave him when he protested still makes him smile, and she joined him in the shower a few minutes later. He’s fine, she whispered. How are you doing?
Alicia uses more product in her hair than Ann did, and the strands are stiffer, stickier, and he sighs because it’s not the same. He wishes he’d peeled the post-it away from the picture, wishes he could have seen Annie’s smiling face.
"What are you thinking?" she murmurs, lips against his chest, and he sighs, shakes his head.
"Nothing," he lies. He hates himself, suddenly, just a little, for dragging Alicia across these lines just to satisfy the emptiness in his own gut. She’s the best friend he’s got, these days, and when they agreed not to do this, not to be alone together, there were reasons for it. She worried about expectations, and he worried about this, about focus and Annie and the way she’s become a substitute for everything he really wants right now.
"Tell me about her," she says, after a moment. "The love of your life."
Finn sighs, but he’s not sure how to deflect, not sure how to pretend. "My wife," he says, as if it’s obvious. When she doesn’t smile knowingly, doesn’t mumble oh, of course, he realizes: Peter wasn’t the love of hers. He closes his eyes and thinks about Will’s blood and his own, mingling together as he tried to keep enough pressure on the wound. He thinks about Mary, about the agony in Annie’s eyes, and he whispers her name, as if it’s a prayer. "Ann," he tells Alicia. "Annie," he adds, soft and affectionate.
Alicia nods, chin against his chest. "What happened?" she asks.
"What didn’t?" Finn asks, and he feels a bit lightheaded, suddenly, like there isn’t quite enough air in the room. He closes his eyes, remembers— "I read somewhere that three quarters of parents who’ve lost a child end up divorced within the year." He doesn’t want to think about it, doesn’t like to think about that day. The baby was so active that morning, and he spent ten minutes in awe as he watched her moving beneath the skin of Annie’s belly. "We both said things you can’t take back."
Alicia’s eyes are sad, and she just nods, and he keeps talking because there are things he’s never said and it’s as if the words can’t be contained, anymore.
He tells her about that day, how his phone had been turned off, how by the time he got there, it was too late. He passed Dr. Naeder in the hall, and he wouldn’t meet his eyes, and Finn thought for a moment that maybe everything was okay, because Rick Naeder worked with Ann in pediatrics and if things weren’t okay, then what possible reason could he have to be there at all? Finn had hated himself in that moment, for not being there, for missing his own child’s birth. The voicemails had him worried, but he let himself believe that it was okay, that everything was okay, but then there was Annie, eyes wet and red, cradling the baby in her arms and— She was a girl, she whispered. I'm naming her Mary Sophia. Finn sat at Annie’s side, brushed his thumb over his daughter’s forehead and she looked so perfect but her skin felt so cold. He wept. He pried Mary out of Ann’s arms and held her and sobbed against her tiny, lifeless chest.
"Thirty eight weeks," he tells Alicia. "You’re not supposed to lose a baby at thirty-eight weeks."
"Finn." Alicia strokes his hair, sighs, and whispers apologies against his skin.
"Don’t." He shrugs her away, because the thing is, he doesn’t really deserve it. He doesn’t deserve her sympathy and he can’t bring himself to tell her why, can’t bring himself to admit that when Father Egan appeared in the doorway he shook his head, angry, jaw set in a hard line and he told Annie that no, he could not come in, could not bless his daughter, could not pray for her immortal soul, not after Leah—
She was a fucking suicide, Finn, what did you expect? Ann had snapped at him, harsh and angry, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. You’re such a selfish bastard. He had stormed out, left Ann alone with Mary and Father Egan and it still eats at him, even now.
I hate that you lost your faith, she told him, months later, as he begged her not to leave him. Right, like you’re a candidate for sainthood, he had snapped, jerking his head at the divorce papers sitting between them on the coffee table. He can’t tell Alicia these things, though, because he can barely admit them to himself. Instead, he shows up at Saint Paul’s on Wednesday nights, dishes out green beans and roasted chicken and tells himself that he’s making amends.
"So what about you?" he asks, and he knows that he’s crossed a line from the way she narrows her eyes at him, shakes her head and turns away. "I’m sorry," he says. "I didn’t mean—"
Alicia doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t leave, either.
Finn reaches out, tentatively, runs his fingers over her back. He lost count of the nights staring at Ann’s back as she cried in her sleep and winced away from his touch. Alicia doesn’t pull away. She barely responds at all, really.
"We tried for almost four years," he says, after a few minutes. He can taste the bitterness at the back of his throat. "Four years of tests and hormone injections and IUI and IVF." Four years of mood swings and being told to drop everything to jerk off into a plastic cup. Four years of dutiful, goal-oriented, cycle-timed sex, and he would have to screw his eyes closed and remember the bathroom at that gas station, his old apartment, his parents’ house with the door locked and whispered shhhhs every few minutes. When that wasn’t enough, he’d think about porn or all of the fantasies he never had the courage to share with her. He would think about Jane, at work, how she might be flirting with him, how her button-down shirts gapped, sometimes, gave him a glimpse of lace bras that had to have been designed for someone else to see—
Are you close? Ann would ask, after a few minutes, and so often she sounded bored, irritated, as if his inability to ejaculate quickly was ruining her plans for the day. Getting there, he’d say, and he’d press his mouth against her breast or snake a hand between them to flick at her clit and she’d sigh, as if to say seriously just get on with it.
"And after we lost the baby, she wanted to start all over again," he tells Alicia’s back. "I couldn’t do it." Annie had always been the strong one, had always been so much tougher than Finn could ever be.
"I can’t imagine," she admits, softly. "Peter and I— We never tried."
Finn nods. "Aidan was an accident, too," he says. He smiles for a moment, remembering the day Zelda tracked him down at City Diner just after winter break. I’m pregnant, she had whispered, as if her parents were around to see and disapprove. Is it mine? he had asked, and he probably deserved to get slapped for that, but she didn’t hit him, just rolled her eyes and said, Yeah, asshole, it’s yours. Before he could really process it, she added, My mom wants me to get an abortion. Said she’d pay for it, even.
Finn had nodded, felt a little bit of the panic that was rising in his belly start to subside. It’s your body, so whatever you want to do, I’ll support you, he said. He was a pretty terrible Catholic, he thought, but she was eighteen and he was starting law school in the fall and it’s not like she was ever anything more than a finals hookup, so—
Good, because I'm gonna keep it, Zelda announced.
"The condom broke," he tells Alicia, and the lie sounds a bit better than the truth, sounds better than admitting that in the dozen or so times they slept together up to that point, they’d never been sober, better than admitting that the morning after he turned in his last final, he found the condom, unused, twisted up in his sheets. "I think— I think Ann resented me for that. For Aidan."
He knows that she did, but it never occurred to him that she didn’t think of Aidan as being as much hers as his. I can’t keep doing this, he said when she told him that her doctor had cleared her to start trying again, that she was ready for another IVF cycle. She had said it like it was a given, as if it wasn’t something that even warranted discussion. At some point, Annie, we’ve got to talk about surrogacy or adoption or— She had pulled away from him, folded her arms over her chest and muttered Easy for you to say. You’ve got Aidan. He wanted to say that they had Aidan, but he didn’t.
Alicia nods, stretches, and rolls over onto her back to stare up at the ceiling. "Peter proposed," she says, softly. "After I found out I was pregnant. I was terrified, but he just— He kissed me, then he got down on one knee and lifted up my shirt and kept kissing my belly as he begged me to marry him." She smiles, sadly. "I felt so safe with him."
Finn smiles, and presses a gentle kiss against her temple. He thinks he might have been wrong, earlier, about Will. The way Alicia talks about Peter now, it makes him ache a little. It’s odd, because whenever he’s seen them together, he’s only seen the anger and the resentment simmering between them.
She is the consummate professional, with her husband, and she slips seamlessly into that role. He’s always thought of the Governor’s wife as a job for her, and the way she talks about it, he figured it was one she despised. Now though, seeing the sadness in her eyes, he thinks that he might have gotten it wrong. It makes him feel like shit, suddenly, because she’s married and he always assumed, from the way she talked about it, that it was just a paper marriage, but now—
"You’re still in love with him," he breathes.
"No," she says. "I—" She hesitates, then shakes her head. "I used to be. For a long time, I— But no. I'm not."
In a way, hearing her say it, it’s even sadder than it would have been if she’d said that she was. He thinks about the way he tried to love Zelda, after they moved into that tiny two-bedroom on Sullivan Street before Aidan was born. He sat and watched as she painted a mural on the nursery wall while he struggled, halfheartedly, to make sense of the directions that came with the crib and the changing table and dresser with tiny, baby-sized drawers that his parents bought for them. She was small and beautiful, even when she was eight months pregnant, and Finn could still see all the reasons he approached her at that Karaoke bar, back in November, could still understand why he bought her a drink and flirted and kissed her on the street as they debated hailing a taxi versus waiting for the train.
Marry me? he had murmured, a few days before she went into labor. He nudged the ring that he bought across the table to her at King Wok and she shrugged and said, Sure, why not? Six months later she left for Milan, for what was supposed to be a semester abroad, but she left the ring on the dining room table with a note that said, Take good care of Aidan while I'm gone.
When he proposed to Ann, it was different. He took her to Le Bernardin and they made fun of the ridiculous care with which everything was arranged on the plate. How many people do you think touched our food? she had asked, and he had laughed, and he knew she was expecting him to propose, there in the restaurant. He didn’t, though. He didn’t want to be that cliché. He held her hand and suggested a walk, led her to the waterfall at Paley Park and, when he couldn’t make himself wait another second, he reached into his jacket pocket for his grandmother’s ring and whispered, I don’t want to spend a single moment of my life without you.
"How do you do that?" he whispers to Alicia, now, and his voice is thick. "How do you fall out of love?"
Alicia doesn’t answer; he didn’t really expect that she would. She curls herself into the crook of his arm and sighs.
"Maybe I should ask Ann," he mumbles, and he didn’t really mean to say it aloud.
"Probably not a good idea," Alicia says, softly.
"I’m sorry," he says after a moment.
"Hmm?" Alicia blinks, as if bringing herself back from a million miles away.
"Nothing," he says. He feels the guilt in the pit of his stomach, though, because her husband slept with prostitutes and here he is, telling her about the woman he’d rather be with. "I didn’t—I don’t usually talk about her that much." Alicia doesn’t say anything so he pushes on, a little, tries to remind himself that he’s not the only one looking for a substitute. "You don’t talk about Will at all."
"Don’t," she says. She tugs at the sheet and he lifts his legs to let her take it, lets her wrap it around her body. "Finn, don’t."
"I’m sorry," he says, and he sighs. He closes his eyes, remembers the first night he met her. She looked so haunted, then, and now. She looked so haunted, and he wanted so badly to help her, to know the right words to make her smile, to make her pain go away but he had never even managed to find the right words for Ann, and Alicia was a stranger then.
After she left, after another dose of Dilaudid, he dialed the phone without thinking. He just needed to hear her voice, and— It’s late, she sighed into the phone, but she picked up, and he thought that had to mean something. I got shot, he whispered, and his voice sounded so small. I know, she had murmured. Aidan called. He had closed his eyes, whispered, I want to come home, Annie. Please just let me come home. In retrospect, he probably sounded like a child, begging to go back to a place that wasn’t there anymore. You still love me, he’d gone on, sloppy and sobbing and unable to stop himself. Annie, please just tell me you still love me.
"I wish I could fix it," he murmurs, now, and he doesn’t know if he’s talking about Alicia or Will or Ann. He just wants to fix something.
"He told me he loved me, once," she admits, after a moment. She’s still wrapped in the sheet, but she’s talking. "Twice. But the second time, it was an accident and he took it back."
Finn nods. Her eyes are closed and her jaw is set hard and tight. He thinks that she looks, for a moment, like someone pulled so taught that she might snap in two if anyone dared to touch her.
"And the first time?" His voice is barely a whisper, and he wonders if he’s even supposed to ask at all.
"Was twenty years ago." Alicia shakes her head, and she looks at him. For a moment, Finn feels like he’s under some kind of microscope, then Alicia— she kisses him, hard, unwraps the sheet and slides her leg over his hips.
He’s not sure what’s happening, exactly, or why, but he knows better than to ask. She bites at his lips, runs her nails against his skin and he kisses her back, just as fiercely, then scrapes his teeth along her throat, sits up a bit to bite at her collarbone, her breast. She wraps one hand around his cock, bites a bruise into his shoulder when his fingers sink inside of her.
Earlier, he took his time, teased whimpers and moans and pleas from her lips. This time, he feels like there’s no time to take. She reaches away, grabs a condom from the nightstand and rolls it onto him. He topples her onto her back and pushes into her, hard and deep.
"Fuck—" she gasps, and for a terrifying second, he thinks that he’s hurt her.
He pulls out, asks, "Are you okay—?"
"Don’t you dare stop," she says, eyes locked on his, and there’s something absolutely terrifying in her stare.
He screws his eyes shut and slams into her again, and the headboard knocks against the wall with each thrust. If they were naughty, earlier, this time it feels filthy, feels downright disgusting. It’s angry, and he thinks about the way Ann screamed obscenities at him, irrational and angry, how she blamed him for everything, for a while. It’s not my fucking fault, he shouted back, finally, and he had wanted to shake some sense into her, wanted to shove her against the wall and fuck her, prove to her that he was man enough to do something right— The thought had terrified him, then, and he pushed past her into the hall, ran down twelve flights of stairs to the street below and stood there, panting, hands on knees that felt like jelly, lungs burning, tears stinging at his eyes—
When Alicia comes, she digs her nails into his back so hard that he’ll have welts in the morning, but it’s enough to bring him back to the moment, enough that the backs of his eyelids go white and star-studded. He’s vaguely aware of the sound of his own voice, of the yes and the fuck that cut through his inarticulate grunts. His orgasm is white hot, hard and sudden, and he collapses on top of her when he’s finished, utterly spent.
"Jesus, Finn," she says after a moment.
He scrambles to move off of her, to free her from his own deadweight. "I’m sorry," he whispers, and he’s too ashamed of himself to look at her. He closes his eyes, says, "Fuck, I'm so sorry, Alicia, I’m sorry—"
He feels her finger against his lips, feels the bed shift as she moves closer to him. She kisses him, then, soft and gentle, and when he doesn’t kiss her back, she whispers, "Look at me."
He dares to open his eyes, then, and she is grinning down at him. Her hair is a mess, what remained of her lipstick is smeared against her mouth, and there’s a red bite mark at the top of her left her breast, but she’s grinning, big and wide. "I have absolutely no idea what you’re apologizing for," she says.
"I don’t—" he swallows. "I don’t know what came over me," he says. "I mean, I do, I just— That’s going to bruise," he says, bringing his hand to her breast, brushing his thumb over the discolored skin.
"If I’d wanted you to stop, I would have said stop," she shoots back.
"You shouldn’t have to say stop, though," Finn counters. "Not ever." What he doesn’t say is that he was so deep in his head that he might not have heard it, that it might not have registered and— It makes him feel sick, makes this thing with Alicia feel dangerous, suddenly, as if it might have actual consequences and that— There’s a reason they’ve never done this. He pulls away from her, ties off the condom and tosses it in the waste bin by the bed.
"I told you not to stop," she points out. Alicia sets a hand on his shoulder, draws him back to her. "Did it occur to you that maybe that was exactly what I wanted?"
"I—" He shakes his head. He pulls her into his arms and runs his fingers through her hair, presses a soft kiss against the top of her head. She’s not Ann, so she doesn’t pull away from him, just lets him hold her. She feels so fragile, in his arms, but he knows that she’s probably stronger than he’ll ever hope to be.
He thinks about the last time Annie let him hold her like this, curled against him the night before everything changed. Things were so good, during those months, and the years of desperation, of waning hope and unspoken resentments just seemed to fade into the background, like they were another lifetime, another marriage. My back is killing me, she had admitted, and he had released her, pressed his thumbs against her sacrum as he massaged, tried to make it better for her. Her sighs had turned from relief to something else, breathier, and he’d smirked against her spine, slipped his fingers between her legs and—
Now, he wonders if he’d have done anything differently, if he’d known it would be the last time, wonders if he would have made sure to catalogue and inventory every detail, every sigh and gasp and whispered please. Three days later, she pulled her hand away from his in the taxi home from the hospital, then again in the elevator up to their too-quiet apartment. She curled up on her side in their bed, pulled her knees to her chest and cried. I’m so sorry, Annie Bee, he had whispered, tears brimming in his own eyes as he kicked off his sneakers to lie beside her. Please don’t, she said, when he reached for her.
Alicia doesn’t pull away. She stays in his arms, eyes closed and face drawn, and he wonders what she’s remembering. He wonders how long it has been since she let anyone touch her like this, hold her like this. He runs his fingers over her bare arm, smiles at the goosebumps that form beneath his fingers.
"I always liked this hotel," Alicia says, softly. "It’s less pretentious than the Foreland."
Finn blinks, and he knows better than to ask when she was here last, with whom she was here last. Ann would get like this, sometimes, would talk around things, about the inconsequential details of her day and he let himself pretend that it meant she was going to be okay, that they would be okay.
"What the hell happened with you two?" Finn whispers instead, and he knows she might pull away, knows she might tell him to stop pushing, stop demanding, but he thinks that maybe that’s what he should have done, with Annie. Maybe he should have tried harder, pushed her to admit the anger and resentment that were festering inside of her. Maybe if he hadn’t been so afraid to hear her confirm the worst things he believed about himself, maybe if he hadn’t been so afraid of making her cry—
"When I walked out the door, I took forty million dollars worth of clients with me," Alicia says, soft and emotionless. "And I forgot that everything was always personal, with us." She hesitates. "Tell me more about your wife," she says, and he’s pretty sure there was something else, just on the tip of her tongue. "I like— I like listening to you talk."
"She’s a nurse," Finn says, and he sighs. "Was a nurse. Pediatric oncology." He closes his eyes, remembers the day he came home from work to find Ann curled into a ball on the sofa three hours before her shift was supposed to end. The lights were off and the apartment was dark and he almost didn’t see her there as he walked to the kitchen for a beer.
He should have expected it, looking back, should have anticipated the way she would look at him with bloodshot eyes, whisper I couldn’t. By then, he knew better than to touch her, but he reached for her anyway, let her flinch away. He sat on the coffee table, looked up at her and murmured that there were other specialties, that maybe working with adults would be better, that she could always go back to school for yet another degree. She got up as he was talking, walked away from him and locked herself in the bathroom. Even over the sound of the shower, he could hear her sobs.
"She works for an insurance company, now. She’s one of those people you talk to when you call to ask what you should do when you burn your hand or have a high fever." It’s funny, he thinks, the way they both walked away from the lives they used to lead, the way she couldn’t watch sick children die and he couldn’t stomach anymore of the perversion of justice that he knew was status quo in every prosecutor’s office in the country. Alicia tried to walk away too, he thinks, though not in the same way.
"Why did you run for State’s Attorney?" he asks.
"I—" Alicia shakes her head. "Castro pissed me off," she admits. "And I— I just didn’t see the point, anymore. I couldn’t keep spinning."
Finn nods, watching her, watching the way her sadness has settled into her eyes, into her skin. He presses a soft kiss against her mouth, almost chaste in spite of their nudity. "I’m sorry," he whispers.
"That I lost? Don’t be." Alicia shakes her head, shakes it off, and it’s not at all what he meant. He thinks that she knows it, too, but he lets her misunderstand.
"I’m sorry for what it cost you," she says, and she brings her fingers to his cheek, lets them stay there for a moment, then pulls away. "I— I hate the way everything is so intertwined," she says.
Finn blinks. "I think that’s life, though," he says. "Everything’s connected." He smiles, kisses her again, brings a hand up to palm her breast and hears the sharp intake of breath, murmurs, "See?" against her lips.
"That’s not a connection," she says. "That’s just a biological response."
Finn nods. "To stimulation of nerve endings," he points out. "I touch you, here—" He pinches her nipple, nuzzles the soft skin at her throat. "I touch you, and your skin sends messages to your brain, to your lungs. You breathe faster, your blood vessels expand, you get flushed and wet, and it’s all connected."
"Yeah, but that’s not— It’s not about anything," she says, swatting his hand away. "That’s like trying to find meaning in a paper cut."
"True, but—" Finn starts, then blinks, as Alicia draws his hand back to her breast. "I wouldn’t be touching you at all, if I hadn’t come to your office tonight, and I wouldn’t have come to your office if I didn’t work one floor below you, and I wouldn’t be working one floor below you if I hadn’t quit, and I wouldn’t have had a job in Chicago to quit if I was still in New York, and I’d still be in New York if—" He’s skipping links in the chain, he knows. He’s skipping Annie’s card and the shooting and Will. He half expects Alicia to speak up, to add some of the missing links, but she doesn’t.
"Oh come on," she says, rolling her eyes. "That’s just a proximate cause trap. You’ve got to have some limiting principle, or you end up talking about what my great grandparents were doing the day they met and attributing blizzards to butterfly wings."
"In law, sure," he says, and he grins, enjoying this, enjoying the way it feels like all of those nights sitting in diners and not talking about anything that mattered. It does matter though, this time, and he’s not quite sure why the same kind of conversation feels so different, except that she’s curled against him and her nipple is swollen beneath his fingers. "But this is life, Alicia. We limit proximate cause in court because if we didn’t then we couldn’t hold anyone accountable for anything, ever, but life isn’t as simple as the law."
"There's nothing simple about the law," she murmurs.
He pulls her close and chuckles against her skin. "Exactly."
Alicia blinks, as if surprised to have been bested, and then she's twisting in his arms, kissing him with laughter on her lips and it warms Finn's heart to hear it, to see light in her eyes. It makes him feel as if a weight is slowly lifting, as if everything might be okay after all.
She kisses him, and her hand snakes down between them and Finn shakes his head. "There are a few things that I need you to remember right now," he says. "First, I'm not twenty-five anymore, and second, you’re pretty amazing, so I’ve already come twice tonight."
Alicia's brow furrows, and then she seems to understand because her smile turns into an adorable pout. "Well that's disappointing," she says, and he laughs.
"Is it?" he asks, nudging her hand away and pressing a kiss against her shoulder. "Just because someone is insatiable..." He trails his lips down from her shoulder to the side of her breast, to her ribs, to her belly. "I’m just saying I need a little more time, not saying I can’t think of a way to fill that time."
Annie used to beg him for this, that first summer. I think you like my mouth more than my penis, he’d grumbled, once, and she’s rolled her eyes, said Well, duh. By the end of the summer, though, he’d fallen in love with it, with her.
I want to taste you, he said into the phone his first night back in the Manhattan. He hadn’t meant to say it, but he had meant it, all the same. I’m clearly not doing well with the distance, he had added, sheepish. She had laughed, said, Don’t be crass, Finely. She took the train out the next morning, though, stayed until staying a moment longer would have made her late for work. He pried Aidan out of her arms as he kissed her on the LIRR platform at Penn Station, made her promise to start looking for jobs in the city.
Alicia is an entirely different creature from Annie. It’s strange, like he’s learning all over again. At first, he fights against it, tries to make Alicia respond the way Annie would, but he gives up on that pretty quickly, forces himself into the moment, into listening to her breath, to her moans, and he feels a surge of pride when he coaxes an Oh God, don’t stop, don’t stop, from her lips. He does stop, then. He withdraws his fingers and lifts his head to grin up at her and she stares back in bewildered frustration. Finn chuckles. He curls his fingers back inside of her, watches as her back arches, then leans back down to finish her off.
Afterwards, he wipes his mouth on the sheet beside her thigh and kisses his way back up to her mouth. He feels a bit like a puppy seeking approval when he smiles at her, and she laughs. She swipes her thumb over his lips and settles back into the crook of his arm.
"You’re wearing me out," she admits, and he chuckles.
"Now you know how I feel," he teases, and his fingers return to her hair. He’s starting to get used to the texture of it, he thinks, and that’s a strange thing to realize.
He can feel her smile against his arm, the way the muscles in her mouth twitch upward. "If I sleep for a few minutes, you won’t be offended, will you?" she asks, voice soft as she snuggles against him.
"Not at all," Finn murmurs. "Want me to set an alarm?"
Alicia shakes her head. "I probably won’t," she says. "I just like knowing that I can."
"And if I sleep?" Finn asks.
"Completely offensive," she teases. "No, you should sleep, if you’re tired," she says. "I don’t— I don’t sleep much, lately."
"I hear that happens to people in old age," Finn teases, and Alicia jabs him in the ribs with her elbow. "Hey!"
He remembers that first Fourth of July, a few weeks after he met her. He remembers snaking his fingers through Annie's and racing through the Culbertson's yard to the beach. She pulled him down onto the sand, set her head against his chest and he thought it the most perfect moment of his life.
Then she sat up and wrinkled her nose. Do you smell that? she asked. He had frowned at the familiar, sticky-sweet smell of pot, looked down the beach to see Leah, sitting in the sand with a joint and a beer. Annie waved, and Leah waved back, and Finn just sighed. Go back to the party, he told Annie. She’s been having a weird year.
She seems sweet, Leah said when he walked down the beach to join her. Finn had smiled, turn to watch Ann retreating back along the path to the Culbertson’s yard. She is. I— I’m falling for her, he had murmured. I think— He’d laughed at himself. I think she could be the one. Leah had rolled her eyes and held the joint out to him for a moment, then taken it back when he refused. You’ve gotta stop falling for teenagers, baby brother, she said. It used to drive him crazy, when she called him that. Twenty-six minutes didn’t give her that right. Not really. She’ll be twenty in March, Finn shot back. Leah had shrugged. At least you haven’t knocked her up yet. How is Zelda, anyway? She giggled, and Finn had winced. Leelee, don’t, he said. And put that thing out, you could get me in trouble at work.
"My insomnia has nothing to do with my age," Alicia says, after a minute.
Finn nods, and he doesn’t say anything, because he’s started to figure out that she’ll talk sometimes, if he just lets her.
"In law school, when I got sick of staring at my ceiling, I used to go to this horrible little diner and read novels," she says. "Will used to say I stayed up on purpose, that if I actually wanted to sleep, I’d just read Property."
Finn blinks, at the mention of Will’s name, and he holds her closer, tighter, can’t help but add, "Yeah, that never worked with Aidan." He thinks about all of the nights he spent trying to get his son to sleep, bouncing him on his lap as he read for class. Zelda used to shout at him, Finn remembers. He would come home, sometimes, to find Aidan screaming from his crib and Zelda screaming back from the kitchen, as if an infant could possibly understand.
He’d started sleeping through the night, by the time spring finals rolled around, and Finn remembers walking into his Torts final feeling well-rested for the first time since August. A week later, back at his parents’ house and two days before Finn started his internship, Aidan had screamed for hours, his skin hot to the touch, and Finn ignored his mother’s knowing it’s probably just an ear infection to take him to the ER in the middle of the night.
Someone’s not happy about life, the nurse had murmured over Aidan’s screams. She spoke with the kind of sympathy Finn would normally think was faked, but there was something oddly genuine in it, something soothing. My mom thinks it’s just an ear infection, Finn had said, and he felt so sheepish, so insecure, standing there in his sweatpants and tshirt, with his child’s screams cutting through the quiet hum of the hospital. But we’ve only been staying with her for a few days and he’s never cried for this long, and he’s burning up and— The nurse smiled at him, squeezed his wrist. You did the right thing, she said, and Finn felt the panic starting to rise in his belly again, as if there was something really, truly wrong with— Even though your mom’s probably right, the nurse added, as if she sensed his fear. Thank you, he started, glancing at her name tag to add, Ann Adler, LPN.
"I liked talking with him, on those nights," Alicia admits. "He’d come over and tease me, and we’d end up fighting about the Coase theorem or the rule against perpetuities." She hesitates, for a moment. "We mostly stopped doing that, after I met Peter, but— I missed it, even then."
Finn wonders how much she misses it now, wonders if they still had those conversations, as adults, or if they found other things to fill the silence. He thinks about their own conversations, too, about talking about the law in brightly lit diners and it strikes him that there was nothing safe about their arrangement, that they might have been better off in bars. Then again, she’s here now, pale skin against white sheets, and it’s not because of a diner or a bar or an argument about legal theory. He’s not sure why she’s here, really, except that Will isn’t. It’s a bit hypocritical, that knowing that bruises, but it does, in its way.
"When did you meet Peter?" he asks. He knows that it’s wrong, the way her husband doesn’t stir any jealousies in him but Will does, knows that there’s nothing to be jealous of. They are not here because she loves him; they’re here because she doesn’t.
"April of 1992," she says, and she smiles. "My roommate was in a dozen different student organizations and one of them was doing a fundraiser that involved a dating game, and she promised to clean the bathroom for a month if I did it."
It makes Finn sad, hearing her tell the story, makes something in his belly twist into a knot at the way she jokes about the way she picked some 3L she didn’t know over Will or Peter because she was blindfolded and, of the three of them, he did the best cartoon voice.
"Anyway, the 3L was a jerk, and Will got mad that I insulted his Donald Duck impression, and I was all set to leave but it was pouring and then there was Peter, offering me his raincoat."
"And the rest is history," Finn murmurs.
"It is," she agrees. "I have to pee." She slips into the bathroom, and Finn can't help but stare as she goes, can’t not admire the shape of her ass, the curve of her back, the slope of her hips— She’s beautiful, really, and it fills him with a strange kind of sadness, one that bites at his stomach and settles into his limbs until he feels like he’s sinking, like he can’t quite bring himself to move.
If things were different, it would be enough that he likes her, that he wants her. There was a time, in undergrad, when he could give away a bit of his heart to any beautiful woman who made him laugh. Now, there aren’t any pieces left to give, and he feels like a supreme bastard, even though Alicia’s insisted that his heart isn’t the part of him she’s interested in capturing. He’s been here before, he thinks.
You look tired, Finn, Jane had murmured as she slipped into the barstool beside his that night. Ann, he had said, slipping his phone back into his pocket. She’s— She had told him not to come home, to have drinks with friends from work and enjoy the night out. He thought he should probably go anyway, should be the good, dutiful husband who sat and watched his wife’s silence because maybe tonight would be the night that she could forgive him for all of the things he couldn’t control. She’s still struggling, is what he told Jane. We’re still struggling. Jane had nodded, like she always did, had ordered him another round and smiled.
Three drinks later, he was almost laughing at some stupid joke and Jane shook her head. You still haven’t taken my advice, have you? she said. Annie won’t go to therapy, he said. Or did you mean…? He had smiled then, too wide and too drunk and how many nights had they sat in this bar together? How many times since he’d admitted that he hadn’t had sex since before the baby died had she brought it up, given him advice that ranged from genuine to comically vulgar? The other thing, she said, that night. She wants you to take control and fuck the living shit out of her, that’s what I think.
It was a vulgar kind of night, then, and Jane slid her hand along his thigh. He closed her eyes and shook his head and he should have pushed her hand away but it was small and warm and— I don’t want to fuck her, he said. I want— I want to hold her. He wanted to hold her, to kiss her, to caress her skin and bury his head in her breasts, confess his grief between her thighs. He wanted to fix it, fix her, fix them, wanted to put the broken pieces back together until they could come together as a unit, a whole.
She wants you to fuck her, Jane repeated, lips against his ear. She was palming him through his slacks and he was embarrassingly hard, and he thought about the feel of Annie’s hand in his, how just that simple touch could feel so electric and it had been months since he felt even that. She wants you to take her to a hotel and peel her clothing away until she’s naked, wants to get you naked. She wants to make you feel so good, Finn.
Finn considered it, for a moment, considered Jane and the angle of her jaw, the hint of cleavage peeking out from the crisp cotton of her shirt. It would be easy, and Annie would never know, and he could be a pity fuck, he thought, could use a pity fuck. He felt himself nodding, slowly, felt the burn of the bourbon sliding down his throat. He lost his nerve somewhere between the bar and the hotel lobby, convinced himself that he would get it back once they were alone, but when she kissed him in the hotel room, he closed his eyes and thought about Annie and he felt sick. I can’t, he whispered, and he walked away.
I fucked up, Annie, he whispered in bed that night, and there was so much space between them that he wasn’t even sure she could hear. I kissed someone. We were in a hotel room and I kissed her. And I stopped it, after that, nothing else happened, but I fucked up, and I'm sorry, Annie, I'm sorry— Ann had rolled over to face him, expression blank. Okay, was all she said. I’m tired, Finn.
"You look like you’re a million miles away," Alicia murmurs. She’s wearing a white terrycloth robe with the hotel’s logo embroidered in navy. He didn’t hear her come back, and she sits down on the bed, cross-legged, watching him. "I should go soon," she adds, after a moment.
"Please don’t," Finn whispers. He didn’t mean to, but he can’t stand the thought of her leaving, suddenly, can’t bear the idea of spending the rest of night alone.
Alicia hesitates, for a moment, but then she nods. "Okay," she says. "I won’t."
He closes his eyes, and Alicia curls up next to him. He can feel her breath against his skin, can almost hear her thinking.
"My wife just had a baby," he says, finally, and his voice almost breaks as he pushes the words out. "A boy. With an anonymous donor."
"Finn." Alicia’s voice is soft, and she pulls him into her arms, presses her lips against his hair. He doesn’t cry, but he wants to.
Finney I know this is a surprise, Ann wrote, words crammed in tight on the yellow square. Maybe I should have told you sooner but I didn’t know how. I used a donor—he’s not one of ours. I hope this finds you well. I hope you’re happy and in love with someone amazing.
"It’s good," he insists, and he almost believes it. "It’s what she wanted." He snuggles closer to Alicia, feels the softness of the terrycloth against his cheek, his chest.
Alicia rubs his back, and when he opens his eyes she’s watching him, tender and kind, and he kisses her. She opens her mouth to his, and she tastes like warmth and understanding.
It’s not because you kissed someone else, Ann had said, her voice stronger than it had been since they lost the baby. It’s just that we’re not happy, anymore, and neither of us can figure out why.
"She’s happy," he tells Alicia, now.
Alicia nods, lips soft against his ear, against his throat.
I don’t want to be happy, I want to be with you, he told her, and she had sighed, had reached for his hand for the first time in months. But I want to be happy, she told him. And I want you to be happy more than I want to be your wife.
"The night before we graduated, Will showed up drunk and I didn’t want to answer the door," Alicia whispers, and Finn pushes the robe over her shoulder, runs his fingers against the soft expanse of her skin. He doesn’t say anything. He thinks this is one of those things that she’s carried, alone, for twenty years. He nods, instead, and lets his lips chase his fingers over the swell of her breast.
Please just say you love me, he had begged the phone that night in the hospital. Ann was quiet for too long, then told him Aidan’s flight should be landing early in the morning.
"I was— I was sitting in the bathroom staring at a home pregnancy test and he was pounding at my front door yelling that I should leave Peter because he loved me." Alicia sighs, and she kisses him, and Finn thinks that maybe he understands. Her hands are moving against his belly and she nibbles at his lip. "I told him to go away," she says.
Annie had stayed with him and Aidan for hours, that night in the hospital, talking and soothing. I never told you this, she said on their wedding day. But the night we met, my shift ended about ten minutes after you showed up. I only stayed because I didn’t want to leave.
"And I think, if things were different—" She buries her face in his neck, sucks a bruise from his skin.
Finn nods, and he thinks that maybe he understands. He thinks about blizzards and butterflies, about the way Will kept moving his lips, kept trying to talk.
"We don’t just limit proximate cause because we need to hold people accountable," he breathes, and he spreads his palm wide against the left side of her chest. "We do it so that we don’t have to hold ourselves accountable."
He saw her a week later, at the gas station on Harbor Park Drive, felt his heart beat faster inside his chest. Get dinner with me, he had said almost before she could finish saying hello. Her eyes were as full of life as anything he’d ever seen.
"That’s not what I—" Alicia starts, but Finn kisses the words from her mouth.
"It’s not your fault, Alicia," he breathes. "You’re not responsible for every little thing that led to—"
I don’t even know if I want another one, at this point, he admitted to Leah as they played checkers in the common room of her latest rehab facility. But Annie does, so we’re starting IVF next month. Leah jumped one of her men over his king. You should tell her you don’t want to, she said, and Finn had laughed. You know I can’t say no to her, he said. Every single shrink mom and dad ever sent me to said that if you don’t say shit like that, it’ll fester until it destroys you, Leah had shot back. Don’t turn into me, Finney.
"It’s not your fault," he says again. He holds her tight and whispers it over and over until his throat hurts.
He stood to speak at Leah’s funeral, and the words got stuck in his throat. He stood there in silence for what felt like hours, then Annie was there beside him, hand in his. You can do this, she had whispered into his ear. You couldn’t have stopped it, but this, you can do for her.
"Would you have left Peter?" he asks her, later. Alicia is curled against him, back to chest, and he thinks that she might be sleeping. "If you hadn’t been pregnant, would you have left him for Will?"
"No," Alicia admits, after a moment. "No, I don’t think that I would have. Not back then."
Finn nods, and he hears the unspoken in her words. Not then, but now, or before he died, if he hadn’t taken that second I love you back.
"Would you have agreed to try again?" she asks him. "After you lost the baby, you said she wanted to try again. If you knew...?"
Finn hesitates, considers. He thinks about the agony of every single negative pregnancy test, the way they had stopped talking, by the time they finally conceived. He thinks about the purity of her joy when Doctor Ragnor smiled, said congratulations, thinks about the way all he felt was relief.
"No," he admits, and the knot in his belly starts to loosen a bit as he says it. "I don’t think it would have fixed anything."