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She was too stunned, the angle was too awkward - he had a good seven or eight inches on her - and they were both too drunk for it to be a good kiss, but when they separated, Sadie still laughing a little, this time in surprise, it hung between them. She found herself remembering the photo hanging inside Gigi's closet again.

And then Victor splashed into the fountain, accidentally elbowing Sadie out of the way, and the spell broke.


Soon they were all standing in the fountain, kicking and splashing and laughing and stumbling into each other. Sadie couldn't remember the last time she'd had so much fun, at least not since the night Carroll drove them out to the beach and they went swimming in their underwear. All her best nights revolved around water, didn't they. What were they going to do when winter finally arrived?

Go out into the snow, obviously.

The sky was starting to lighten by the time Sadie and Gigi and Alistair and (surprisingly) Victor made it back to Barrow Street. They were all drooping, so much so that Victor had to take the keys from Gigi and open the door for her. Sadie leaned against the wall of the building as Victor tried to get the keys and Gigi halfheartedly argued with him, and then the door opened and they spilled inside.

Victor took off his shoes and socks, hung his jacket on the back of a dining room chair, and lay down on the couch. Gig vanished into the bathroom and then her bedroom. And Alistair leaned into Sadie - she had to grab at the frame of the doorway into the parlor to keep herself upright - pressed his forehead against hers and murmured "Can I stay?"

"You live upstairs," she said.

"Stairs," he repeated. "Too tired for stairs. Too much... too many cocktails. Please. Let me stay."

She closed her eyes and smiled, thinking about the kiss and the photo. "Ok." She felt his forehead slide away, followed by his lips on her head, and then he pulled away. Sadie opened her eyes in time to see Gigi appear out of the bathroom and Alistair take her place. Victor was watching her from the sofa, grinning. She just shook her head, slowly, still smiling. She was surprised she was still conscious. The second her head hit her pillow she was going to pass out. What did Victor think she and Alistair were going to do, with other people in the house?

She had her turn in the bathroom and then shut herself and Alistair in her room. She had to sit on the bed to get her shoes and stockings off, struggled out of her dress - she wasn't sure but she thought Alistair might be laughing at her - and lay down. And just as she'd thought, she was asleep almost instantly.

She woke up some time later feeling sick and hungover, and it took her a full minute to remember why someone taller was lying in bed next to her, stretched out against her back and with an arm draped over her waist. She could hear his even breathing, feel his hair, slightly longer than was strictly fashionable, tickling her cheek. She was still wearing her camisole, and she guessed he was still wearing his trousers, although she thought she remembered him taking off his shirt. She smiled to herself and went back to sleep.

Victor was gone when she and Alistair finally got out of bed, and Gigi was lying in the back yard with a book over her face. Alistair kissed Sadie goodbye - not much more of a kiss than he'd given her the night before - and went upstairs to his own place. Gigi, when she finally woke up and came inside, said nothing, but grinned sideways at Sadie in a way that made Sadie think she really, desperately wanted to comment.

"Nothing happened," Sadie said. "I passed out. We slept."

"This time," Gigi said, winking.

"WHy did Victor sleep on our sofa?" Sadie asked, to change the subject. Her thoughts started traveling down a slow path from Alistair drunkenly kissing her in the fountain to the two of them sleeping next to each other to, no doubt, the both of them taking their clothes off and finding a place with privacy.

She wasn't sure what she thought about that, so she didn't want to talk about it either.

Fortunately Gigi didn't mind being led away to other conversational avenues, and they talked about Victor and the plays (which Sadie still didn't fully understand) and Julia Chase's plans for her theater group and Sadie's plans for dress patterns, and eventually night fell and Gigi went off to the theater for the evening performance.

Sadie was still getting used to Gigi not being around at night, or on Sunday afternoons, because she was working. It was nice to have the place to herself, but Sadie was so used to living with other people - even at the residential hotel, even though she had her own room she knew there were girls living all around her, sharing the bathrooms and eating in the same dining room and getting their mail from the same slots in the lobby - that being alone in the apartment was an experience she wasn't entirely comfortable with.

But on the other hand, it gave her a chance to sketch and plan and cut test patterns out of huge rolls of paper that Addy found her for cheap. She baked challah and apple dumplings the way her grandma had taught her and gave them to Gigi to take to the theater for the other actors and whatever crew the theater employed. Her challah braids would never look as good as her grandma's, but kneading the dough was a good way to work out some tension gained from riding the subway into Brooklyn every morning and having to ride it back.

One night she made a pineapple upside-down cake and took pieces to the Russian poet and his two girlfriends who lived upstairs from her and Gigi, to Addy and Marianna, and then all the way up to Alistair on the top floor. He was writing, of course, but invited her in because she came bearing cake.

"I never could resist a good cake," he said, before apologizing for the chipped and mismatched plates. Sadie didn't care.

"What are you writing?" she asked, resisting the urge to look at his notebook. There was a typewriter on the desk, but she'd learned that he only ever used it to type up the final draft, the version of the play that was going to be produced or, recently, the poem as it was going to be published. He'd only sold two poems so far, and both of those to a little magazine a friend of his published, but he was still new to poetry and it was better than not selling anything.

"Experiments," he said. He put his plate on the desk - Sadie noted that he'd finished his piece of cake - and picked up the notebook. "Will you tell me what you think?"

"I can already tell you that I won't understand it."

"That's why I want your opinion." He crossed the room, turned half away from her - "I haven't read any of it out loud to anyone," he explained a little sheepishly - and started to read.

True to form, Sadie didn't quite understand what he was trying to say, but she let the words and the sound of his voice wash over her, concentrating on the images and his clipped, almost English accent.

After several poems he stopped and turned back to face her. He held the notebook with both hands, clearly nervous about what she might say.

"I don't fully understand what you were trying to say," she admitted. His face fell. "I'm sorry. I never studied modern poetry. I don't know how to take it. I told you - I'm not the person to ask for an opinion. I loved listening to you read it, though."

He sighed. "As I said, it's experimental. It could still use some work." He dropped the notebook on the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress.

"This is going to sound stupid," Sadie said, "but can you explain your play to me? The one Gigi's in. The Door of Flowers. I felt very stupid going to see it, because I didn't fully understand it. Will you tell me about it?"

Now his face brightened, in a way that Sadie recognized as the incipient joy of an artist asked to talk about their work. She knew she had that expression on her own face when she was allowed to talk about clothes and her future shop for any length of time, and now she sat in one of Alistair's chairs while he perched on the edge of his bed and told her about his play, what he wanted to say, what he expected the audience to understand, what his original idea had been, where he got the idea, what he didn't have the space to say, what he'd had to cut out, what he wanted to do next.

Sadie had never heard him say so much at one time before. When she first met him Gigi had called him cynical, but Sadie didn't see any of that now. He was fully absorbed in his work, in sharing it with her so that she could understand it the way he wanted it to be understood. She was thoroughly charmed.

When she thought he might be winding down, although it was hard to tell, she got up and sat on the bed next to him. He faltered for a minute, and in that pause she leaned forward and kissed him.

It wasn't much of a kiss, but she felt that she owed him one, after he'd kissed her in Washington Square Park. He cupped her face with one hand and kissed her back, his tongue pushing between her lips to claim her mouth. She'd been kissed like that exactly once, at a senior dance in high school, by a boy who liked her more than she'd liked him. But this was different. She couldn't stop thinking about Carroll's photo, about Alistair's naked body, about how it had felt to wake up with his body stretched out against hers and his arm around her waist.

She took his face in both hands, to steady herself as much as anything else, and concentrated fully on his mouth. He tasted like sugar and canned pineapple.

They kissed for what felt like a long time, Alistair's hands moving from her face to her neck to the back of her head to her thigh, his tongue occasionally licking at her lips, flicking out like a snake's, before insistently pushing past her teeth again.

Finally they pulled apart, both of them a little breathless. Alistair tucked Sadie's hair behind her ear. He was smiling slightly. This close his eyes looked green, with a touch of gray. An interesting color, like the fuzzy ferns her cousin Benny's wife liked.

"I want you," he said simply. "Will you - "

"Yes," she whispered, knowing what the rest of that sentence was and not caring what it would say about her.

Rose and Ida would be shocked speechless. Her parents would disown her. And Gigi? Gigi would wink and tell her to enjoy herself.

Alistair stood up and unbuttoned his shirt, his pants. He was wearing socks but no shoes, and after he pulled his socks off Sadie noticed that his feet were as long and skinny as the rest of him. And he was skinny, she realized, once he was standing in front of her wearing only his union suit. Tall and skinny and pale. She and Gigi needed to feed him more.

He held out his hand to her but she just stared at it, not knowing what he wanted her to do.

"I can't be the only one who's about to be naked," he said, grinning, and she took the hint, stood, and undressed down to her brassiere and panties.

She'd never been naked in front of a man before, not even the doctor. Alistair wriggled out of the union suit and Sadie stared, unable to stop herself. He was already half hard.

"Now you," he said, his voice gentle. "Unless - "

"I haven't changed my mind." She swallowed her nerves, slipped off her brassiere, and stepped out of her panties.

Alistair looked her up and down, smiling. "You're really beautiful. Don't be nervous." He came in close, kissed her lightly, and pulled her towards the bed.

She had no idea what to expect, other than that it might hurt. Just as she'd never been naked in front of a man before, neither had a man been naked in front of her. She'd helped bathe her baby brother, back when he was a baby, but a grown man? Never.

But Alistair was gentle, and patient, and his touch was light until it wasn't, and when he fondled her breasts and she moaned softly, she was sure she could hear his breath hitch before he kissed her.

His hands were stronger than she would have expected, but his mouth was just as insistent as it had been before, and he bit at her lips and kissed her nose and her eyelids and her throat, stroked the insides of her thighs with his long bony fingers, and nudged her legs apart with his knee.

"I'll be careful," he murmured against her lips as he guided himself inside her.

And she was right - it did hurt. She made a noise of surprise and pain and he stopped.

"Don't," she said, swallowing hard. "Please don't."

"Don't what?"

"Don't stop."

He smiled, and dropped a kiss on her lips, and plunged deep inside her.

She bit her lip to keep from crying out. He started to move, slowly at first, brushing his fingers across her face and watching her as she moaned. And she watched him in turn as the faintest flush stained his cheeks - he was so fair-skinned it didn't take much - and his eyes seemed to darken. She couldn't think of a thing to say and at first neither did he, but as he moved inside her - slowly, steadily - he started reciting what she eventually realized was Byron's "She Walks in Beauty", and had to laugh.

It was a stuttering, breathless laugh and it made him frown.

"I'm sorry," she panted, "I'm so sorry, I'm not laughing at you."

"Yes you are," he said. "You're laughing because it's Byron. What self-respecting bohemian quotes the Romantic poets? We're breaking those rules, not following them." Now he was smiling. She lifted her head and tried to kiss him, to apologize and to stop him from quoting Byron again. Better his own poetry.

As if he read her mind, he followed that with verses she didn't recognize.

"Yours?" she asked, when he paused. He nodded. "That's better." He dropped his head to kiss her, his hips picking up speed now, and she panted into his mouth and wrapped her legs around his waist.

"Oh, Christ," he breathed, fucking her hard enough to make the bed shake and squeak. She could feel something, she didn't know what, some great feeling, something close -

And then he was shuddering and groaning and it was over. He sprawled on top of her, still inside her, catching his breath and nuzzling against her neck. She stroked his hair. She hadn't finished, she was sure of that, but she didn't know how to tell him or even what he could do about it.

Eventually he lifted his head and smiled at her. "Your very first," he murmured. "How was it?"

"I don't know," she admitted. "I - I liked it. I could... in a little while...."

"You want to try again?" His smile widened. She couldn't tell him that it wasn't that she'd loved it so much as it was that she wanted to feel what she was sure he'd felt. She wanted more of that growing feeling, heat in her belly and the back of her neck, the kind of pleasure that would make her hair stand on end and her toes curl.

She didn't have the words for it, because she'd never talked about it, but she wanted to come, the same way he had. She thought she might want to have sex again and again until she did.

He pulled out and rolled off her. But he didn't get out of bed, merely put his head on her chest and brushed his hand up and down her arm. It was somehow more intimate than what they'd just done.

"Where are you from?" she asked after a minute, surprising herself with the incongruous question.

"Boston," he said. "Can't you tell?"

She tried to look down to see his expression, and it looked as if he was grinning.

He recited the first few lines of Byron again, flattening and drawing out his a's, dropping his r's. It sounded like a fake accent to her, like he was playing a role onstage.

"Can you believe I worked hard to get rid of my accent?" he said. "I practiced and practiced until I could shuck it off like a coat. My brother kept his."

"Why?"

He shrugged a shoulder. "I didn't want to be where I was from. I didn't want anyone to hear me and peg me." She combed her fingers through his hair. "You don't care, do you."

"About where you're from? No. It doesn't matter to me."

"You don't care if people can tell where you're from."

"Why should I? I didn't stay there. That should tell people how I feel about my hometown."

He turned his head and pressed his lips to her skin. She kissed the top of his head.

"You liked my cake, didn't you?" she asked. He nodded. "You're so skinny. I'll have to cook for you more often." He started to protest but she smacked him lightly on the head. "Let your friends feed you, Alistair. Pay me back by writing Gigi a good starring role."

"Do you want a straightforward play you can understand?"

"Can you even write one?"

He chuckled. "It will be the most avant-garde performance you've ever seen. I'll make a new mythology." He settled himself against her, as if he was about to fall asleep. She twirled her fingers in his hair. Eventually she'd have to go back to her own apartment and sleep in her own bed, so she could get up in the morning and go to Flatbush.

Alistair had other ideas, and forty minutes later he was pushing inside her again, sitting up to get a different angle, squeezing her breasts and rubbing her nipples as he fucked her, as she moaned and begged (she didn't even know what exactly she was begging for, only that she needed something from him and she needed him to know) and he said nothing this time, no poetry, only grunted with effort and groaned with increasing pleasure as they shook the bed.

She didn't come this time either, but she felt as if she'd gotten a little closer.



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