Clarity on the stereo. They had argued about the choice, although it wasn’t so much an argument. When he hit play and a low drone gave into chimes, she asked what it was. He told her, and she said her eyes were misting up already. The boy ignored this, and the girl did not really argue the choice. Girls often humored the boy, and this made him feel sneaky, and sometimes hurt. He walked to the bed, the song underneath and behind and around him, and slipped out of his shirt. “You can ruin these things by talking so much,” he said. He was cigarette smoke in that moment, and hoped she saw that.
The girl took him into his bed and kissed him. She had fun scraping her fingerprints on his stubble. A mole the circumference of a penspring stuck out on his shoulder blade, right underneath the V-neck of his shirt. The girl pressed it like a remote button.
They knew each other from class, where the boy raised his hand and made long arguments about the infinite temporal space of John Keats and the girl drew houses out of her notes, each sentence broken up into walls and roofs. The boy had never seen these doodles, but would have declared them art. They rarely talked to each other and would not be in this room were it not for a party both had attended earlier in the night.
The girl, announcing “Happy Breakfast” to everyone, carried a box of Cocoa Puffs around the party. The boy took a handful and crunched them one by one as he tried not to compliment her bangs. But she had bangs and they were thrilling. On the path back to his dorm, he pushed a low-hanging branch out of her way and she pulled it down again, in front of her face, eying him over the pine needles.
Now, in the boy’s room, in the yellow lamplight budging in from the quad outside, the boy saw the girl’s face, eyes half-closed, and remembered running track at night. The 400 at an away meet at Onatowa under the lights He won that night, the only event his entire senior year of high school he had won away from home. The college didn’t have track, but he had never been a star. He blinked back into the moment, then released. He lay on top of her some time, their breaths artless and irregular, until she made a face at him. His surprise must have made him return likewise, as the girl laughed. After pushing out of bed, the boy knelt down, removed his condom and placed it, as throwing it felt disrespectful, in the trash. Then he unfolded a towel from the dresser and cleaned himself. He was about to hand it to the girl, but she was pulling on a tanktop.
“You’re not leaving, are you?” asked the boy.
“Only if you want to chase after me,” said the girl. She leaned over the bed and looked around to point at her bra. “I’m staying. Deal with me.”
The boy resisted the urge to thank her. Not every girl stayed. He grabbed a bottle of water from under the bed and unscrewed the cap. He took a long drink.
“Are you really staying naked?” asked the girl. She was partly clothed now, tank top and underwear. The boy, bent and naked in the semi-dark, looked like a parked car.
“You’re not used to my body by now?” asked the boy, sitting on top of the bedcovers. The girl’s body, sitting up against the headboard, sloped long and steep. The boy folded his pillow and put his head down, his face spilling over on the girl’s arm.
Two songs passed while the boy and girl were silent. The girl raked her hand through the boy’s hair, felt it rustle. Seriousness clotted his walls, in photographs of broken-windowed factories and charcoal sketches of gas cans. His stereo had a turntable, even. Somewhere, bridges were collapsing and meteors were leveling planets Earth will never know. The girl took the boy’s cock in her hand.
“Isn’t he cold?” she asked. “I’m cold.”
The boy got to his feet and walked over to his closet where he screeched hangers across the metal bar. To the girl he looked as though he was tallying off a month’s worth of debits. He pulled a jacket off a hanger and put it on. Blue and gold, his track jacket from high school. He would’ve liked to have gone to a college with a track program. Even now he still ran two miles a day when the sidewalks weren’t icy. The boy lay back down in the bed, spread out, the metal links of the zipper like lines of frost on his chest.
“Ooh baby,” said the girl.
“You wanted clothes,” said the boy. “I’m warm now, thanks.”
Another song passed as the boy sang the chorus. The girl crawled over him and reached down for his water bottle. Her underwear was pink but not sexy. The boy ran his finger along the elastic band.
“So what was this,” asked the boy, “just some brief period of nudity for you? You spend your entire life clothed?”
“You’re ridiculous,” said the girl.
“Do you only take your clothes off when you’re changing them?” asked the boy. “Do you shower in pants?”
“You’re lucky I’m too lazy to get up and go,” said the girl. She stretched, yawned.
“I just thought this was special,” the boy said. “Even if it just ends up being a one-night thing, I thought it was special.”
He reached for the water bottle and dropped it. He swore and rolled out of bed and patted his towel down on the spot. Something in the way he hunched in his jacket reminded the girl of a downed fighter pilot.
“I left the cap off, didn’t I,” said the girl. The boy kept toweling the carpet. There couldn’t have been that much water spilled. The girl knelt down with him and found the cap. She put her hand on the boy’s shoulder, cap still in her palm. “Hands up,” she said.
The boy looked at her and lifted his arms. She slid off his jacket and placed it on the desk chair. They got back into bed. The girl spun the cap in her hand. His arm reached across her, elbow bent on her stomach. They were quiet. Clarity on the stereo.