I lay my head on his chest and pull an arm up to fuss with his shirt buttons. We each wait for the other to speak.
"So, we're just not going to talk about this?" he asks.
I shake my head. "There is nothing I need to say."
"Really? Nothing. At all?"
I look up at him, seeing only the outline of his chin through the dark. "What were you expecting?"
"I don't know," he runs a solitary finger in a straight line across my back. Pins together the wings of my shoulder blades and it feels like a metaphor. "I just got into so much trouble last time we did this--"
"Yeah, well, last time was different," I say, "you're not in trouble."
"What do you mean last time was different? I remember last time being remarkably similar to this time."
"Except, no Jimmy Kimmel," I remind him.
"No, you're right. No late night television. This time, we sort of just pulled ourselves together in the dark and silence, didn't we?"
"And last time, you kissed me goodnight."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Never mind what it has to do with anything. You're not going to do it again."
"Okay, fair enough," he laughs, "how are you feeling?"
"Nothing." I say. He laughs again. "No, honest. I feel nothing. Hollow." "Wow," he says. "Never heard that one before." "You've never kissed a girl who felt nothing?" I ask, pulling my face up near his. "I have to say--this is a first." "What, you've never kissed your best friend before?" "Not like this, no." My forehead rests against his cheek and I feel the creases, laugh-lines I've always caged a fondness for, melt into me. "Well, so, what's protocol? I mean, what do we do now?" "This. Exactly this," I say. He shakes me. "What? No." "No, I mean it! I'm leaving as soon as I can get out of here. We've already broken the rules and we both enjoyed it. Might as well break them again." I reach a hand up against the light scruff I know takes him weeks to grow and I pull him toward me because I know it works. He doesn't resist, but lightly lines my collarbone with his lips. A minute passes and he wriggles away from me. "We can't--I can't do that... this! To you. I can't do it." "Yes, you can. I'm practically gone already. This is a free pass. I'm giving you permission." "No. I refuse to let us get to that point. You are too important to me," I pull him toward me again, and let him keep talking. Talking, kissing. Collar bone, resisting. "I respect you too much. You mean too much and I don't want you to bolt again."
Minutes later, we are still beside one another in that bed. That tiny bed inside the little brick house with the big, blue door. I can smell the sheets--cedar wood and mint julep. We're laced together, tastefully disheveled like Venus and Mars in that Botecelli, and I can't make sense of the words I hear him say. Some kind of backwards love ballad.
I can't kiss you, can't touch you again. Because I love you too much.