Two Natures

By Jendi Reiter

Literary fiction, New adult fiction

Paperback, eBook

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340
4 mins

Two Natures: chapter 8

"No repeats," I told Phil. Again.

"What if there's no one new around?"

Phil's sulky tone, and the tickling of his fingers up my bare leg, distracted me in opposite ways from fixing us the sole breakfast dish in my repertoire, green tea and cheese grits, with a little something extra to chase away his hangover. "Try a different club. This is New York. They have more than one."

"I don't tell you what to do at your fancy-ass parties."

"There are no parties. The only time I get down on my knees is to fix the wind machine." Fourteen-hour days in the studio didn't leave me much time to enjoy the no-strings-attached side of our relationship. Sure, I'd squeezed in a few gropes and groans in the back room of New Eden, jolts of furtive pleasure that left me dizzy with the momentary assurance that catching a boy like Phil hadn't been just a fluke. Until I remembered that he could have the same adventures, and more, all day at the Ironman, training athletes who bench-pressed more than I weighed, while I was hauling tripods on the subway.

"So…no repeats, right?" I breathed out in a rush, before his hand between my legs could sidetrack the conversation. My arm jostled the pot on the stove, spattering the dingy wall.

"Okay, okay," he murmured into my neck. His breath was hot, like cigarette embers. Phil was like that, rough words at cross-purposes with his body language. I was happier when I only believed half of it.

"And no bringing them back here." I pressed my advantage, and my hip into his groin.

"You paying rent?"

"I will be, next month, I promise. But that's not the point. I thought maybe, out of the goodness of your heart, you would spare me the sight of somebody else's pubes on my soap when I shower in the morning."

"Come on, maybe you'd like one of them. Probably take him away from me 'cause you're so gorgeous."

You're all I want, I nearly said, but smiled and settled for the compliment, rather than admit something I wasn't sure was true. Two months into living with Phil, and more than a year since our first hookup, I was working up the nerve to clarify our open relationship, and gaining a begrudging appreciation for its opposite. Marriage has the advantage of simplicity, like government forfeiture of your assets. Over here: you get the last name, the bankbook, the steering wheel, the 60-hour workweek, and the drunken tumble with your wife's best friend. And you: here's the kids, the white dress, the dinner table, the paid-up mortgage, and the moral high ground. As for me, right now the good life looked like a mattress in the basement with only two pairs of sneakers by the door, but this was proving more complicated than ordering a McDonald's Happy Meal without the fries.

I was in my final semester at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and interning as an unpaid assistant to the photographer Dane Langley. More like assistant to the assistants; while Pierre accompanied Dane to Paris and Vince lunched with ad agency reps, I fixed lighting equipment and shopped for organic baby food. Everyone at school said I was lucky to have landed a spot with Langley, who had done album covers for Paula Abdul and Gloria Estefan, and had an ad contract with Revlon. Last week his girlfriend had dropped by with their new baby, which they left with me, sans backup diaper, while they went to lunch at Lutèce. The baby's name was Taylor, which didn't give me a clue to its gender. I figured, since the girlfriend was Swedish, it might respond to Abba, and indeed, it fell asleep for a full twenty-five minutes after I sang "Dancing Queen" four-and-a-half times.

Between these glamorous assignments and my job pouring three-dollar coffees at The Big Cup, I was barely at school anymore except to pick up my mail. Phil had resisted my switching my address to his apartment, claiming that his sublet wasn't, technically speaking, totally legal. On the bright side, this spared me from telling my parents that I was living with him.

Having a male roommate wasn't suspicious in itself, but combined with a career in fashion, and the fact that Phil and I could quote long stretches of dialogue from "The Prince of Tides," my mother might be forced to recognize that her sensitive boy was experimenting with the homosexual lifestyle. Then would come the weekly letters, suddenly seeded with references to girls I hadn't thought about since junior high, who had all grown up to be God-fearing, bosomy A-students and were miraculously still single. Last week in Dane's studio I had seen Allure cover model Cheryl Kingston's rose-tipped breasts, pale and translucent as porcelain teacups. I was replacing the roll of seamless paper for the backdrop, and she ignored me, as was her right. Dane was all honey to her, a come-to-Papa smile on his swarthy bearded face. She didn't have to worry about being touched, not like your average Tatiana or Mary Lou, as Dane guided them into poses for some designer's spring catalog, his hand steering this one's waist, unbuttoning that one's sweater. The Swedish girlfriend was half his age. They seemed very happy, but that was probably because her mother knew where to send her mail.

I was sorting through the latest stack of bills and credit card offers on our bed one morning while Phil fed me strawberries. He could be very sweet. Just when I'd gotten used to his blue-collar tough-guy routine, he'd surprise me with little things like washing my back in the shower, or reading to me from one of the books he read to make up for not going to college. As pillow talk, I ranked the I Ching above Atlas Shrugged but below Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder. But it's the thought that counts. Without Phil, I might have forgotten that there were publications without pictures in them.

Leaning back against Phil's warm bare stomach, I tossed my junk mail on the floor without looking through it. He ran juice-stained fingers through my hair. Sometimes I was so happy that a place like this existed, where I could be with a guy, naked and alone. He understood what it meant, too, a privilege that was all ours, no matter how many hours we spent running other people's errands.

"Wait, that looks like a real letter," he said, picking an envelope out of the discard pile.

I recognized my mother's square ivory-tinted stationery. "See, I told you I'd be able to pay the rent."

After depositing two fifties in the coffee tin on the windowsill (I never worried about our communal accounting; Phil had too much pride to be a sponger), I skimmed the closely written pages. "Huh, my sister's looking at colleges in—whoa!" I caught my breath and my vision blurred for a moment. My jerky hands hunted around for the envelope. "What's the postmark on this letter?"

Phil found the cast-off envelope under our rumpled blanket. "Last Monday. Why?"

"You see, this is what happens because I don't get my mail here," I snapped at him.

"Man, we've been through this. What is your problem?"

I reread the paragraph that had raised my heart rate faster than a triple espresso. "They're coming."

"Who? Where? Careful, your elbow's in the bowl." Phil rescued the strawberries in time to spare me from washing the sheets twice this month.

"My family. Here. Next week."

Unreal, an invasion from another world. I could handle them, barely, if they stayed put in Marietta, in a past that I could revisit on holidays. As for Laura Sue, I was glad she was moving away for college, but didn't want her trailing me around New York, looking primly over my shoulder.

Phil didn't see cause for alarm. "They won't come here," he said confidently, gesturing at our meager space.

"Well, I've got to do something with them."

"Take them on a Circle Line cruise and push them overboard when everyone's doing the electric slide."

Ignoring him, I read further down the page. "Laura Sue's interviewing at NYU. She's decided she wants to be a social worker."

"Oh, great." Phil chewed a strawberry with his mouth open. "Taking kids away from their parents 'cause they've got holes in their shoes."

"You know, for once, this isn't about you and your class resentment."

"Who said it was?"

"Just be nice."

"Eh. Nice is for people who believe in Santa." He ran his hands down my chest, and then lower. "But you're all grown up, aren't you?"

I hastened to assure him on this point, which naturally led to the sheets getting dirty again.

###



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