“Then,” he said, “you’ll get closer to the source, but you won’t confront it yet.”
“And how exactly will that translate?”
“I’m sure I’ll think of something.” The timbre of his voice woke me up.
“When do you want to start?” I asked.
He looked up at me from the bed. “Come here.”
Noah sat me down opposite him so that we faced each other. His eyelashes nearly swept his cheekbones and he bit his bottom lip and my breath caught as I stared.
“Close your eyes,” Noah said, and I did.
“I want you to imagine us somewhere you love.”
The room evaporated around us as he spoke. I walked through the hallways of my mind and opened the door to the house I grew up in. Where I played with my old toys on the floor. Where I had sleepovers with Rachel and laughed at her jokes and told her my secrets.
“Where are we?” he asked, his voice soft.
“My old bedroom.”
“There’s old, dark wood furniture that used to be my mom’s when she was younger. It’s antique. Pretty, but a little scratched-up.”
“The walls are pink, but you can’t see much of them under the sketches and drawings and pictures.”
“Pictures of . . .”
“Me. My family. Rachel,” I said, my voice nearly hitching. I took a deep breath. “Landscapes and stuff. I tacked everything to the wall.” I remembered it perfectly. “The papers flutter when I open or close the door, like the walls are breathing.”
“Tell me about your bed,” Noah said, the hint of a smile in his voice.
“It’s a twin,” I said, the hint of a smile in mine. “Oak, like the rest of the furniture. A four poster.”
“A really heavy quilt. It was my grandmother’s. Goose down and really thick.”
“What color is it?”
“Ugly.” I grinned. “A weird brown and black and white geometric print from the sixties, I think.”
“Where are you in your room right now?”
“Just . . . standing in the middle of it, I guess.”
“All right. If I were in your room, where would I be?”
I saw it with vivid clarity: Noah in my doorway. “Standing there, in the doorway,” I said, though our bodies now were just inches apart.
“I’m there, then,” he said in that warm, slow, honeyed voice. “It’s dark outside—night. Is there any light in your room?”
“The lamp on my nightstand.”
“All right. I walk into your room. Should I close the door?”
Yes. “Yes,” I said, my breath quickening.
“I close the door. I cross the room and meet you in the middle. What then?”
“I thought you were the one guiding me through this.”
“I think you should have some agency too.”
“What are my options?”
“You could read obscure poetry while I play the triangle, I suppose. Or we can smother ourselves in peanut butter and howl at the moon. Use your imagination.”
“Fine,” I said. “You take my hand and back up toward the bed.”
“Excellent choice. What then?”
“You sit down, and pull me down with you.”
“Where are you?” he asked.
“You pull me onto your lap.”
“Where are your legs?”
“Around your waist.”
“Well,” Noah said, his voice slightly rough. “This is getting interesting. So I’m on the edge of your bed. I’m holding you on my lap as you straddle me. My arms are around you, bracing you there so you don’t fall. What am I wearing?”
I smiled. “The T-shirt with all of the holes in it.”
“I thought I’d be wearing a tux in your fantasies or something.”
“Like James Bond? That sounds like your fantasy,” I said, though the image of Noah in a crisp tuxedo with his artfully messy hair—his bowtie undone, hanging around his collar—I swallowed. My blood burned beneath my skin.
“Katie hates it.”
“She’s your sister.”
“So I should keep it?”
“All right. I’m wearing the T-shirt. And below that?”
“What do you usually wear to bed?” I asked.
Noah said nothing. I opened my eyes to an arched brow and a devious grin.
Oh my God.
“Close. Your. Eyes,” he said. I did. “Now, where were we?”
“I was straddling you,” I said.
“Right. And I’m wearing . . .”
“Drawstring pants,” I said.
“Those are quite thin, you know.”
“Whoa,” he said, and I felt the pressure of his hands on my shoulders. I opened my eyes.
“You swayed a bit,” he said, dropping his hands. “I thought you might fall off the bed.”
“Maybe we should take this to the floor,” he said, and stood. He stretched, and it was impossible to ignore the strong line of him, standing just inches away. I rose too quickly and wobbled on my feet.
He grinned and took a pillow from the bed and placed it on the floor, indicating that I should sit. I did.
“Right,” he said. “So what are you wearing?”
“I don’t know. A space suit. Who cares?”
“I think this should be as vivid as possible,” he said. “For you,” he clarified, and I chuckled. “Eyes closed,” he reminded me. “I’m going to have to institute a punishment for each time I have to tell you.”
“What did you have in mind?” I asked archly.
“Don’t tempt me. Now, what are you wearing?”
“A hoodie and drawstring pants too, I guess.”
“I don’t typically walk around without underwear.”
“Only on special occasions.”
“Christ. I meant under your hoodie.”
“A tank top, I guess.”
“White tank. Black hoodie. Gray pants. I’m ready to move on now.”