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seventeen

Nov. 21st, 2016 12:22 am
smackenzie: (faye)
[personal profile] smackenzie
Alistair pulled his fingers away, wiped them on her thigh, and kissed her lightly. "I wasn't sure I could do that," he said quietly.

“You never have before,” she said. She'd talked to Gigi about sex, and that was one of the things she'd suggested, that Alistair use his fingers if he couldn't get her off any other way, but Sadie had been too embarrassed to mention it to him. She guessed that meant she wasn't quite as modern a woman as she'd thought.

But it turned out not to matter, since Alistair had taken matters into his own hands. Or fingers, as it were.

“I should have, shouldn't I.” He pulled the blankets up past his shoulders and tried to tuck both of them in. “I'll go home eventually.”

“You don't have to. But I have some work to do. I need to get up.” She said it apologetically without looking at him. “I'm sorry.”

He heaved a faked, put-upon sigh. “Just leave me here alone, after all I've done for you....”

She swatted him on the head. “Something you could have been doing for months already. I'm not kicking you out. You can stay here.”

“I should probably be working too.” He sighed again, this time with genuine feeling. But he shifted over so Sadie could get out of bed, and after she'd gotten dressed again, he climbed out from under the blankets and did the same.

Sadie hadn't really wanted him to go back to his own bed to sleep – she liked sleeping next to him – and was disappointed when he left the apartment. But five minutes later he was back with his notebook and a pen, and while she sat at the dining room table and smoked and sketched fabric patterns and different dress styles, he sat across from her and wrote and scribbled and once or twice asked if he could read something out loud to her. She didn't think he really wanted her reaction – it was just that he needed to read something out loud to see if it worked, and she was convenient.

Gigi came home late, explaining that they'd gone out after rehearsal, and she was sorry she didn't swing past the apartment to see if Sadie wanted to come.

“I baked a chicken,” Sadie said, “and brought Alistair the leftovers. There's still some cake left. When you didn't come home I thought you might have gone out. How's the play progressing?”

“Wonderfully.” Gigi dropped down into a chair. “Roman should direct more. He's chafing a little against not being able to act in his own play, but he's doing a great job with all of us. The girl playing Horatia has never even acted before – her name's Dora, she was a costumer. Roman actually held auditions – Julia said that was the opposite of what she'd wanted for the collective, but Roman insisted he needed to do that to make sure he cast the roles appropriately – she wanted a very small role, maybe the ghost, but she was so good Roman gave her a bigger one.” She put her head down on the table and regarded Sadie. “Did you say there was cake left?”

“I wanted to finish it,” Alistair said.

“I wouldn't let him,” Sadie told Gigi. “There are probably two pieces left. Do you want some?”

“I'll get it,” Gigi said to the table. “In a minute.”

Sadie pushed away from the table, went into the kitchen, and cut a piece of cake. But by the time she brought it and a fork back to the dining room, Gigi seemed to have fallen asleep. Sadie shook her by the shoulder and told her to go to bed. Gigi obediently shuffled into her room and Sadie gave Alistair the plate.

“I should to go bed,” she told him. “Put the plate in the sink when you're done. You can wake me up, I won't mind.” She kissed him on the top of his head and went into her own room to get ready. He followed her not long after, stripped down to his union suit, and curled around her in the bed. She fell asleep almost instantly, feeling warm and secure and productive and just overall pleased with her life.

Sadie had no idea how she felt about Alistair, other than she liked the sex and she liked the affection, and she enjoyed his company. She liked his plays better now that they were more straightforward, if harsh and occasionally tending towards propaganda of the “Working-class people are good and decent salt-of-the-earth types and the rich are horrible” kind. She didn't think she loved him, and she was sure she wasn't in love with him, but for the moment she wasn't interested in a relationship with anyone else.

But then there was Leo. He represented something she'd left behind, but he was friendly and funny and not at all pushy, even after she'd determined he was interested in her. He seemed to want to get to know her as a person before he tried to ask her out on a date – she was insistent that the Sunday matinee didn't really count as a date, although he came into Manhattan so he could pick her up and they could walk to the movie theater together – it was as if he wanted to be friends first. This wasn't the way boys from home acted around her and her friends, not since they graduated from high school and their mothers started hinting around potential marriages.

From what Sadie could gather, and from what Mrs Tartikoff let slip, Leo was fairly traditional in other ways. He didn't keep the Sabbath, but he did keep kosher, mostly because he still lived with his parents and they kept kosher, and he was a good son who listened to his mother and did as he was asked. Sadie just couldn't tell if he'd been asked to find a wife yet or not.

He had two older brothers, both married, one living in Crown Heights (a part of Brooklyn she only knew from the couple of times she'd been to visit her mother's cousin) and one in New Jersey. Both of them had served in the Great War, like her brother had, but unlike Henry, they'd both come home. The brother in Crown Heights came to the house for dinner every Friday, and the brother in Jersey came once or twice a month. Both brothers had been born in the old country, but Leo was born in New York.

He liked comedies and baseball and his mother's cooking, he wished he could take his students to the Bronx Zoo, and he didn't know how to drive. His brother in New Jersey had a car, and his sister-in-law had offered to teach him how to drive – his mother was shocked that she would do such a thing, because she'd seemed like such a demure woman – but he didn't need to know how, he'd said, since he could walk anywhere he needed to go, and if he wanted to go a distance, he could take the trolley or the bus.

“You can't walk into Manhattan,” Sadie pointed out, when he told her this.

“Of course I can.” And he could, she realized, over the Brooklyn Bridge. But it was a long walk. “But sometimes the subway is faster. Will you let me take you out to dinner some time?”

She blinked. That hadn't been the direction she thought the conversation was taking.

“I can pick you up after work,” he went on. “We can go somewhere casual. I'll even take you home.”

“You don't have to do that,” she protested. “It's quite out of your way.”

“Then when your friend's play opens, I'll come into Manhattan to see it and we can go out for dinner beforehand. I can walk you home on my way to the subway.” He grinned, as if he'd come up with the perfect solution.

“It's an all-female Hamlet,” she reminded him.

“So you said. I think that will make it interesting. I studied Shakespeare in college but have never seen him performed. When does it open?”

His timing was impeccable. “This weekend. Thursday.” Technically Thursday wasn't the weekend, but sometimes Sadie's friends treated it as such, since aside from Victor none of them kept professional people's schedules.

“May I take you out to dinner on Thursday?” Leo asked, sounding very formal. “And then to Hamlet afterwards?”

Well, this way she could introduce him to her friends and her life outside of the tailor shop, but if he couldn't accept it, she'd lose a friend. And if he could? If he was fine with the artists and writers and dancers and crazy bohemians? If he accepted the dancing and the drinking and the casual sexual relationships? If he didn't look askance at Victor's nice young man, or Layla's wealthy women, or the girls who rotated in and out of Roman's life and his bed? If she introduced him to Alistair, of whom she'd said little, and they got along? If Alistair wasn't jealous? What if Leo wasn't as conventional as she'd been led to believe? What would she do?

The same thing she was doing now. Not much.

Gigi was excited that she'd finally get to meet him and told Sadie to bring him to the cast party.

“I don't think he'll want to stay,” Sadie said. “He has to be up early for school.”

“He can stay here.” Gigi's eyebrows jumped up and down and she grinned.

“He's not like that.”

“Pity. Well, you have Alistair for your carnal needs. Does Leo know about him?”

“Of course not.”

“Why not? You don't think he'd want to know about his competition?”

“Alistair isn't competition. You told me yourself he's not forever.”

“Do you think Leo is?”

“I have no idea. Now spin.” She twirled her finger, indicating that Gigi should turn in a circle. Gigi had complained about her costume for Hamlet – Roman had helped design the costumes but no one really seemed to know how to fit them well – and had brought it home so Sadie could fix it. It was modern and all black, trousers and a sweater as if Hamlet were a wealthy university student. Sadie pinned and sewed and kept her opinion of it to herself.

“If he doesn't like the play, don't tell me,” Gigi said, obediently turning in a slow circle. She bent over, flapped her arms, twisted from side to side. “This is better. For all his talk about producing an all-female Hamlet, Roman has no idea how design a man's clothes for a woman's body. You're brilliant.” She kissed Sadie on the cheek. “You should convince Leo to come out with us afterwards so I can buy him a drink for sitting through Roman's play.”

“You said it was brilliant.”

“It is! Brilliant and avant-garde. But your Leo doesn't sound like a very avant-garde person. He sounds like he'd prefer more traditional Shakespeare.”

“It was his idea to come. He wants to take me out to dinner first.”

“And you don't think he's interested in you.”

“I never said that. I just said I'm not sure how interested I am in him.”

Gigi just grinned as if she knew something Sadie didn't.

The next day Leo met Sadie at the tailor shop after closing and went back into Manhattan with her. They went to dinner at a deli called Russ & Daughters, in the Lower East Side, and ate pastrami sandwiches and pickles and cole slaw. Sadie could hear Gigi in her head suggesting that Sadie might want to eat some mints before kissing Leo, so as not to scare him off with her pickle breath.

The play was, as advertised, avant-garde and brilliant. At least Sadie thought it was, because for once Shakespeare made sense to her. Her literature teacher in high school had taught it as something old and archaic, and reading it in class didn't fill Sadie with any desire to see it performed. But now, sitting in the dark theater next to Leo, watching Gigi storm across the stage, she understood some of the despair and anger and frustration Hamlet must have felt over his father's murder, his girlfriend's suicide, his mother and stepfather's treachery. She couldn't relate, but she felt as if Hamlet was suffering from things that many people suffered from, and seeing women playing all the parts did indeed make the play seem more universal. Women felt grief and despair and anger just as men did, under the same circumstances and for the same reasons. Sadie was surprisingly relieved to learn that at least one man understood this.

“What did you think?” she asked Leo, after the cast had taken their bows and the theater lights had come up. “I liked it.”

“It was definitely different,” he said. “Your friend was very good.”

“Thank you. I though so too. She wants us to go to the cast party afterwards. I told her we couldn't stay late – and you have to go back to Brooklyn – but she wants to buy you a drink.”

“I can do that. I can tell her how well she did.”

They waited for the cast to emerge from backstage in their street clothes. Sadie introduced Leo around, Leo complimented the actresses on their performances and Roman on the directing, Gigi said (twice) how happy she was that she finally got to meet him, and the whole group of them trooped out to Lucy's, where Frederika whispered the password (which had changed since the last time Sadie was there) and they all went in.

From the way Leo stared around the place, Sadie figured he'd never been in a speakeasy before. She found that hard to believe, but maybe there weren't any in Flatbush.

No, she didn't believe that either. Jews drank like anyone else, and they'd patronize speakeasies like everyone else. But he'd most likely never been to one in the Village, and from what she'd seen, Lucy's was nicer than a lot of them.

Gigi bought Leo a drink, as promised, and Sadie managed to get him to dance. He had rhythm but he didn't really know the dances, so she and Gigi tried to teach him while Victor encouraged them from the sidelines.

(“He's not involved in the theater at all,” Sadie had explained to Leo, after she'd finished the introductions at the theater. “But he's like me – he's friends with everyone so he may as well be.” His nice young man hadn't come to the performance with him, but that just meant he could dance with Sadie more.)

She tried to keep an eye on the time and an eye on the cocktails, but it was later and she was tipsier than she planned by the time she and Leo finally made their goodbyes and left the speakeasy. Leo walked her home – and she was relieved to be outside, where the cold air woke her up and sobered her up – but did not kiss her at the door to the building. She was disappointed but at the same time not surprised.

“I'm sorry I kept you out late,” she said, but he just shook his head.

“Don't worry about it. I had a good time. Your friend Gigi is something else.”

“Ah, but what else, that's the question.” Sadie giggled at her own joke, unable to help herself. Leo chuckled, then took her hand and kissed it. The gesture made her think of Alistair, who'd done the exact same thing when she first met him.

“Have a good night,” Leo said. “I'll see you tomorrow.”

Sadie stood on the stoop and watched him walk down the street in the direction of the subway stop. She realized she was smiling to herself, and let the smile widen as she unlocked the door and went inside.

She went out on Friday night, and again Saturday, both nights fielding questions about Leo – where did she meet him, where did he live, what did he think about the play and Lucy's and everyone, what did he do, was he an actor or an artist or what? She answered as best she could, wondering why everyone was so curious.

“He's the first person you know outside of the Village who seemed to really enjoy himself,” Gigi explained Saturday night, as they sat at a corner table upstairs from the Pepper Pot, watching Victor try to get his nice young man to dance. “Your friends from home don't like us very much, do they.”

“Rose and Ida? I don't think they approve of my life here.” Sadie shrugged. She didn't really care what they thought right now. She found that she did care, at least a little bit, what Leo thought.

What did that mean? Did it mean anything?

It meant she wanted all her friends to like each other. That's all.

“I liked him,” Gigi said with finality, as if they'd been arguing and she was making a final pronouncement. “He was game. And cute. He's cute, Sadie.”

“He is, isn't he? And he's a landsman.”

“A what?”

“A landsman. A Jewish boy. My mother would be pleased.”

“Do you like him?” Gigi asked eagerly.

“I don't know! As a friend, sure. As more? Who knows?”

“You do.” Gigi nodded. Sadie finished her drink, heard the band swing into a new song, and pushed him out of her mind.

“Dance with me,” she said, grabbing Gigi's hand and pulling her to her feet and onto the crowded dance floor.

She had other things to think about besides Leo and how he felt about her and how she felt about him. She was making money from her dress patterns, selling them a booklet at a time from Mr Tartikoff's shop. Ladies in Flatbush started telling their friends about her, that she was a nice Jewish girl whose dress patterns were just as good as McCall's, and she'd help you resize them if you weren't the best at converting sizes. She was still working hard at the shop, altering and sewing and repairing and occasionally making something up from scratch. Gigi had been telling people for months that Sadie made her own clothes from her own designs, and every so often someone would bring Sadie an idea and ask if she make something from it. She and Addy had collaborated on some fabric patterns, which Addy painted onto the fabric, but now Sadie was looking around for someplace to get them printed, to make them more versatile and usable and (ideally) affordable. Mostly that meant Victor was asking around to find a place, so Sadie would know who to talk to and what she should say.

She'd been approached twice to join the theater collective as a costumer, and both times she'd said no. She didn't have time.

Carroll's gallery show opened and she and Gigi went on opening night to see how he'd hung the naked photographs, and if either of them would be embarrassed for anyone to see them. Gigi, unsurprisingly, was not. Sadie decided she wasn't either. They both got compliments, even though they both brushed off those compliments with “Thank you, but Carroll's the real artist.”

He'd even hung the photograph of Victor's naked behind, which Victor's nice young man was both scandalized and flattered to see, and by the end of the night he'd bought it.

“So no one else can have it,” Victor admitted to Sadie.

“You don't think he wants it because he thinks you're attractive from behind?” she asked. That was what she would have assumed.

“That's what he told me, that he bought it so no one else would.”

“He wants to hang it in his house so he can always look at your best feature.” Sadie winked. Victor smiled, conceding her point.

“Maybe. I asked him if he'd mind if I commissioned a portrait of him, for me to hang in my flat. I promised him I'd make Carroll promise to photograph him clothed.”

“I'm surprised he hung some of these,” Layla commented, coming up on Sadie's left. “Someone is going to report him for obscenity.” She gestured to Victor's photograph. “Your ass is one of your best features, true, but just because we like to look at it....” She trailed off.

“Hypocritical words coming from someone who hung almost all naked ladies at her show,” Victor said drily.

“Naked ladies aren't obscene,” Layla said loftily. “They're art.”

Sadie snickered into her drink. “Naked men are art too,” she said, waving around the gallery. “Otherwise we wouldn't be here.”

She was talking to Gigi and Beatrice and Roman a little later when Alistair sidled up behind her and put his arms around her waist.

“Your portrait is amazing,” he said in her ear. “I don't have the money or I'd buy it.”

“Ask Carroll if he'd make you a print,” Beatrice suggested.

“You can see her naked any time,” Gigi added. “For free, even.”

“You can,” Sadie agreed.

“Maybe tonight,” he said.

“Maybe.”

But after the gallery closed they went dancing, and while Alistair went along with everyone else, he wasn't much of a dancer and spent half the night holding down a table listening to other people talk. Sadie danced and drank and thought about the photo of her naked, now hanging on a wall in a gallery for anyone to see, for anyone to buy. The old Sadie would never even have posed for such a thing, never mind agreed to have it printed and framed for sale, mostly likely to a stranger. She found herself wondering what Leo would think, and the idea that she even cared made her smile.

So maybe she did like him.

But she liked Alistair too, and not just because he threw snowballs at her at almost four in the morning, or because he laughed with delight when she threw one back and hit him square in the face, or because he chased her and caught her and slipped and fell and brought her down with him into a snowbank, or because he kissed her laughing mouth and her cold cheeks and told her she was beautiful even before Carroll took her picture.

She'd had a lot to drink, but he hadn't, and she couldn't get his clothes off fast enough when they finally made it back to her apartment. Gigi wouldn't care what kind of noise they made, but Gigi wasn't home – Sadie was sure she'd gone home with someone else, an artist friend of Carroll's who they'd met at the gallery and whose name she couldn't remember – so when Alistair turned Sadie onto her stomach and pulled on her hips until she pushed herself up onto her hands and knees, and when he slid a finger inside her for some added pressure and an extra sensation as he fucked her from behind, and when she lost her head and moaned with abandon, and when she cried out when he made her come, there was no one else to hear and no one to complain.

She came first, surprisingly. She couldn't understand why Alistair held back, but before she could collect her thoughts enough to ask, he was pounding into her and groaning and gasping for breath in a way she recognized.

He collapsed on top of her, panting, and eventually pulled out and flopped onto the mattress. She let herself fall onto her stomach. She really had drunk too much. She needed to sleep.

Alistair pulled the blankets over both of them and threw his arm across her back and a leg across her thighs. He rested his head on her shoulder and murmured “That was the best yet” in her ear.

“Mmmm,” she mumbled. She didn't even have the energy to tell him she was going to pass out, or that sex with him was sometimes exhausting in a very good way, or that she loved the fact that he was getting better at making her come. She didn't have the energy to do anything other than close her eyes and let unconsciousness take her.

He woke her up before he went back to his own place, much to her annoyance, but she went right back to sleep after he left. But he returned that night, when she was washed and dressed and less hungover, to ask her – not too surprisingly – about Leo.

“Who is he?” he asked, without preamble.

“Leo?” she said. “He's a friend.”

“The way I'm a friend?”

“Are you asking me if I'm sleeping with him?” She raised an eyebrow at Alistair. “No. I'm not. I'm not fucking anyone but you.” She tried to remember the conversation they'd had about this a few weeks ago, after Rose had asked her to be a bridesmaid, when Alistair had volunteered to go back home with her as her date, so she wouldn't have to face her family's disapproval on her own. He'd said he knew she'd slept with Carroll, and he didn't care. “Would you mind if I was?”

He didn't answer, and suddenly she knew the answer would be yes.

“Alistair,” she said gently, “I'm not in love with him. I don't want to sleep with him.” Yet, her brain supplied. “I only want you.”

“When you don't, please tell me.”

What a strange thing for him to say. Did he love her? Could she ask? She asked Gigi instead, and Gigi said that as far as she knew, Alistair had never been in love with anybody. He'd slept with people, of course, but everyone did, but he'd never had a serious girlfriend – or a serious boyfriend, she added – and had never given any indication that he wanted one.

“This is about Leo, isn't it?” Gigi asked. “If you're serious about him, or you think you will be, you should tell Alistair. It's polite.”

“But we're not - “

“You're not serious, I know. It's a casual thing. Casual things are wonderful, aren't they? You can come and go as you please. But you should let even your casual lovers know that you're breaking it off.”

“But why wouldn't I? Why did he seem to think I wouldn't tell him?”

“I don't know.” She took both of Sadie's hands in hers. “What do you think about Leo? I like him. He's not what I thought you'd want for yourself, though.”

“I don't want him!” Sadie groaned in frustration. “Everyone thinks I do!”

“You do. You just haven't admitted it to yourself.”

Sadie pulled her hands away. “Stop telling me how I feel and what I want. I know what I want, and right now it isn't a serious boyfriend. We're friends.”

“Sadie, my darling, boys like him don't have women friends at this stage of their lives, just for the sake of having more friends. They have women whose company they enjoy because they think they'll want to marry them.”

“When did you become such an authority on Jewish men?” It came out harsher than Sadie intended, but she wouldn't take it back. She was annoyed and frustrated that the people she loved, the people she was close to, wanted to tell her what she felt about her own life.

“Not Jewish men, just men in general. Don't be mad at me. I want you to be happy! I want you to get everything, or everyone, you want. And if that's Alistair in your bed but not your heart, fine, that's what I'll encourage you to have. If it's Leo's friendship, that's fine too. But believe me when I say the first won't last, but the second will.”

“I know Alistair won't last. I can't keep casually fucking someone forever, and no one in our circle even seems capable of a long-term serious relationship.”

“Victor,” Gigi pointed out.

“But just him. I don't – I've said all this before. I don't want anything serious right now. Mine and Leo's relationship is just as casual as mine and Alistair's, just in a different way. He hasn't invited me over to meet his parents. I'm not going to take him as my date to Rose's wedding.” She'd asked, because she told Alistair she would, and Rose had said if Sadie was seeing someone seriously, he could come to the wedding as her date, but for the sake of propriety she couldn't bring just anyone. “I'm not taking Alistair either. My parents won't have my goyische lover in their house, and it would be a scandal if we stayed at a hotel. I don't want to do that to Rose. If Leo and I are ever any more serious than this, I'll break it off with Alistair. Ok?”

“I trust you.”

“No you don't.”

“Of course I do. I just think you like Leo more than you're letting on, and I think Alistair likes you more than he's letting on.”

But it wasn't that, Sadie learned. It was that Alistair didn't want to share her with someone outside their circle. He didn't want to share her with a stranger. And she knew that because she screwed up her courage and asked, and because Alistair told her.

So he knew about Leo, or as much as there was to know, but she still wasn't going to tell Leo about him. She didn't want to scare Leo off. Although he'd seen Roman's avant-garde all-female Hamlet, and he'd been out drinking and dancing with Sadie's friends, and he still came to see her at the shop and he still wanted to go out with her.

As relationships went, it progressed slowly. But Sadie wasn't complaining. Her plans were changing. She didn't know if there was enough of a demand for ready-made clothes, if she could make a go out of selling her own clothes in her own shop – not just dress patterns, but dresses already made. She was trying pajama patterns now, and was making a stab at men's clothes – casual shirts and trousers mostly, because jackets were more work – she might try coats next. Paper piled up around her sewing machine, and every single thing in her wardrobe now was her own design, produced on the Singer in the parlor. She'd made some party dresses for Gigi, a dress with a pleated skirt for Layla, and a skirt for Marianna to match a red sweater her husband had brought her from overseas. Next was a three-piece suit for Victor, because he never did anything sartorial by halves and didn't want her to either.

If she wanted her own shop, she'd need a loan. She'd need a storefront. She'd need more fabric and more notions and more decorative lace and fur trim. She'd need a good plan, and a contingency in case that plan failed.

She'd made her bridesmaid's dress for Rose's wedding. She'd even bought new stockings and shoes, and had taken to wearing the shoes around the apartment to break them in. She bought a new hat. She only had a few weeks before the wedding, but she was already prepared. She'd told her sister Edith she was coming, and trusted Edith to tell the rest of the family. She'd written to her friend Henny, who was still living at home, even though Henny was also a bridesmaid and already knew she was coming. Henny at least wanted to see her.

Two weeks before the wedding, Leo invited her to his parents' house for Sunday lunch. She said yes without even thinking, but by dinnertime she was reconsidering.

“Don't,” Victor told her. She'd called him and asked if he wanted to go out to eat, so she could talk to him. “Don't reconsider,” he clarified.

“But Alistair - “

“But Alistair nothing. You'll be happy with Leo.”

“How do you know? I'm happy with Alistair.”

“Leo knows where you come from, like I do. He'll understand things about you that no one else can. Besides, you brought him to one of Roman's absurd plays and introduced him to your crazy actor friends, and he didn't run screaming. He even went out with us. He let Gigi teach him how to dance. He wants you to meet his parents. He's serious.”

“I'm not ready to get married. I'm not even twenty yet. I won't be for a month.”

“Then tell him you're not ready.” Victor speared a piece of potato with his fork and popped it in his mouth. Sadie resisted the urge to bang her head on the table. Why was this so hard? She just wanted to be friends with Leo.

Except if she thought about it in any depth, and if she was honest with herself, she didn't. She really wasn't ready to be married, not to him or to anyone, but she could date him. She did think she might be ready to be a little serious about someone. And everyone knew she couldn't be serious about Alistair, Alistair included.

Gigi was unbearably smug when Sadie told her that Leo wanted her to meet his parents, and that she was ready to do it.

And then she had to tell Alistair.

He wasn't surprised, and she wondered if Gigi had said something to him, to prepare him. He wasn't happy about it, but that wasn't a surprise either. But he wasn't going to argue with her.

He wasn't the argumentative type, she'd learned. Only with his brother, and even that was infrequent.

He wanted to sleep with her once last time, and she couldn't think of a good reason to say no. She went up to his apartment, so they could have privacy. (Not that she expected Gigi to come home while they were still going at it, but anything was possible.) Alistair undressed Sadie slowly, pausing every so often to kiss her mouth or her collarbones or to stroke her skin. She stood, and then sat, as he did it, patiently letting him do whatever he wanted with her. When she was down to her brassiere and panties she took over, pulling his sweater over his head, unbuttoning the shirt he wore under it, undoing his pants, making him sit on the edge of the bed so she could peel off his socks and slide his pants down off his legs.

The union suit was next, and then her underwear, and then they stood there, both naked, both starting to goosepimple in the chill of his apartment. She took his face in her hands and kissed him, gently at first and then more deeply.

“I'm going to miss kissing you,” he said when they pulled apart.

“I am too,” she said. “So we should make this good.” She grinned, and pulled him down onto the bed, and kissed him again.

She wished they'd done this while they were still dressed, because it was cold in his place, colder than in her and Gigi's apartment. And that didn't make any sense, because heat should have risen up through the building. But he was under the roof, and maybe the roof wasn't well-insulated, and she and Gigi did have the heat up because they could afford it, whereas he didn't, because he couldn't.

Alistair was cold, because he was always cold during the winter, and it was damp and chilly at night. Lying next to him made Sadie cold too, so she snuggled as close as she could, and pulled the blankets up to their chins, and kissed him the best she knew how.

It worked well enough, at least for a while. She brushed her hands over his skin, feeling the bones underneath, and let her mouth trail across his sharp jaw and down his neck and over his collarbones, down his chest and his belly, curling herself up under the blankets to flick her tongue at the head of his cock, to lick up the shaft, to take as much of it as she could in her mouth.

She heard him suck in a breath. Carroll had tried to show her how to do this, the one time she'd slept with him, and she'd stifled her embarrassment and asked Gigi for some tips, but this was the first time she'd ever tried of her own desire to suck anyone off. She wasn't very good at it, and she knew she wasn't, but from the way Alistair's breath hitched, she didn't think it mattered that much.

She couldn't do it for very long, nor did she want to, but Alistair was almost to full hardness by the time she stopped. She wriggled back up the bed until she emerged from under the blankets, to find Alistair staring at her, face flushed and eyes dark.

“I didn't know you knew how to do that,” he said, sounding impressed and surprised and breathless.

“I'm not that good,” she admitted.

“I don't care.” He pulled her close, close enough for her to feel his cock hard against her leg, and kissed her hungrily, desperately.

She wanted to keep kissing him, and she wanted to feel him inside her. Well, they could do both. She spread her knees, shifting onto her back and pulling him with her, then reached down, took hold of him, and guided him inside her.

“Sadie,” he breathed. “You're a wonder.”

She just smiled, thinking I'm not a wonder, I'm just wet for you, and impatient.

He moved slowly, pulling almost all the way out before easing himself all the way back in. She brushed his hair out of his face and tried to match his rhythm. His hips rolled back and forth, steadily, and they rocked slowly like two boats caught by a gentle wave. They kissed and moaned softly and touched each other's arms and backs and faces. She wrapped her legs around his waist. He wrapped his arms around her head and rested his forehead against hers and told her that she was beautiful. She didn't argue. She felt beautiful. But she always did with him.

She caught herself wondering what Leo would be like when she finally slept with him, if he would make her come, if he would be gentle, if he would pound her into the mattress if she wanted him to, if he was open to more positions than just this one.

Would he tell her that she was beautiful? She thought he might.

And then she realized what she was doing and mentally smacked herself across the face.

“Alistair,” she murmured, “listen to me.”

“I am,” he said. “I can hear your breathing.”

“No. No. Listen. You're beautiful too. You are.”

He lifted his head so he could look down at her. He looked puzzled. Sadie ran her finger down the ridge of his nose. His nose was sharp, like his jawline, like his hipbones, like all the places where she could feel his bones under his skin. He was winter-pale under the flush of arousal, his fair hair falling straight over his eyes. He was so unlike Leo in appearance that she was amazed she could be attracted to both of them. But she was.

She pulled his head down so their lips were touching.

“You're beautiful,” she repeated. “You were before the first time you kissed me. You need to know that.”

“Thank you?”

“I saw your photograph. The one Carroll took of you, hanging inside Gigi's closet.”

He chuckled. “My long cock, Carroll called it. He said I'd be the envy of every man he ever photographed, after that. Is that why you slept with me? Because you'd seen that part of me naked?”

“Not entirely. I liked the way you talked about your work. You were so animated and talkative. I was charmed. And I wanted to kiss you when I was sober.”

“Was I what you expected?”

“Everything and more.”

Her tongue flicked out and his lips parted for it, and she let their kisses pull her under.

She'd miss this, and she'd be lying to herself if she said she wouldn't. She knew he'd miss it too. But he'd find someone else eventually, she knew he would. And she already had.

He pushed himself up so he could watch her while his hips picked up speed and she let herself moan with pleasure. He was panting, grunting softly as he thrust harder and harder, faster and faster. He reached over her head and grabbed the bedstead. She leaned back into the pillow, trying to see his hands, and just glimpsing the way his fingers curled around the iron bars. He was using it for leverage, although she didn't understand why. He never had before. She didn't think he'd ever needed to.

But then he arched his back and thrust against her, and she thought she understood. He pushed her closer and closer to the bedstead as he fucked her, as the bed shook with the force of it. She tightened her legs around his waist and her arms around his chest, digging her nails into his back as he pounded into her. And then he released the bedframe, pushed himself back, sat up, and lifted her legs over his hips.

He gripped her hips tight and pulled her against him, grunting and panting, still shaking the bed, making her whimper with incipient climax. His chest was flushed, heaving, his breath coming in short bursts, and then he was losing his rhythm, fucking her gracelessly, desperately, finally biting off a cry as he came.

He was already reaching inside her before he was finished, rubbing and stroking and encouraging her, fondling her breasts as he came back to himself, pinching her nipples, his lips parting as if he was going to say something when her climax crashed over her and she cried out.

He kept going, drawing out her climax and trying to get her off again until she was shaking and nearly crying, wanting nothing more than for him to stop fingering her and to hold her instead.

And then he did stop, lying down next to her, pulling the blankets over them, wrapping his arms around her and dropping light, quick kisses all over her face.

“I didn't hurt you, did I?” he asked. She shook her head. “I wanted to see if I could do it more than once.”

“You did,” she said. Her words sounded shaky to her ears. “At least I think you did. It was hard to tell. But you didn't hurt me.”

“Good.” He brushed his lips over hers and snuggled against her. She wrapped her arms around him. As much as she wanted to think they would still be able to do this, could still hold each other and just sleep next to each other, she knew they couldn't. Not if she was going to be serious about Leo.

Alistair yawned. “If I'm going to sleep in my own bed, in my own place,” he said, “I should put my own pajamas on. Do you want to borrow a pair?”

“I think the legs will be too long.” She smiled against his lips. “But I'd like to wear the shirt.”

He climbed out of bed and retrieved two pairs of pajamas, both cotton, one plaid and one printed with little red hearts. He pulled on the plaid pants and handed Sadie the shirt with the hearts.

“Who bought you those?” she asked, putting it on. The sleeves were far too long and it was too big, but it hung down far enough to sleep in, and she liked the idea of sleeping in his clothes. It was very intimate. And if this was the last time they were ever going to have sex, she wanted to get as much out of it as possible.

“No one.” He pulled the plaid shirt over his head and ran his hands through his hair, making it fall in his face again. He pushed it out of his eyes. “I just liked them. My sister-in-law bought me this pair.” He held out the tail of the plaid shirt.

“So I'm wearing the valentines.” Sadie grinned. “We didn't do anything for Valentine's Day.”

“It was a Tuesday. I thought you'd want a good night's sleep so you could be awake for work.”

“I did. You're very smart.”

“I know.” He nudged her to indicate she should get back under the covers, and then lay down next to her. She curled against him and felt him wrap his arm around her shoulders. “That was good,” he said into her ear. “It was a good last time.”

“It was,” she agreed. “I'm sorry it was the last one.”

He didn't say anything, and she thought he'd fallen asleep. But he must have been thinking, because a few minutes later she heard his breathing change, and realized that he'd been awake before.

And it wasn't the last one. Sadie woke first, staring at Alistair's face until he woke up as well, and then she kissed him – ignoring his terrible morning breath and hoping he could ignore hers – and reached down to fondle him through his pajama pants. Eventually she managed to pull them down and sit astride him, and then pull him inside her and ride him still wearing the pajama top with the little hearts all over it.

He rested his hands on her thighs and watched her face as she rose and fell, rose and fell, as she did this one thing for him one last time. She always liked this position, because she felt like it gave her some control. She didn't care if she came or not. She just wanted him to.

She slid her hands under his pajama top, pushing it up until she could rub his nipples with her thumbs. He bit his lip. She leaned forward so she could rub harder. He moaned. She smiled at him. She leaned down even further, changing the angle of his cock inside her, now rocking back and forth and biting at his lips.

“I'm a wonder,” she whispered. He nodded. “I'm a wonder who's going to make you come.”

Morning light streamed in the windows – Alistair had forgotten to close the curtains – and even though it wasn't any warmer in the room, Sadie felt as if the sunlight touched her and kept the cold from her. She felt golden and warm. She knew that if the bed had been in a different place, she'd see sun in Alistair's hair, turning it into the palest spun gold. And if it had been in a different place from that, she'd have sun in her own hair, burnishing it, casting the medium brown as bronze.

She sat up and renewed her efforts, bouncing and rolling and letting him squeeze her thighs as her back curved just enough to let her rub his nipples through the cotton of his pajama top. And that was apparently just what he needed, because he dug his bony fingers in her thighs, his breath harsh as he pushed up against her, his efforts erratic until she felt him go stiff and trembling underneath her as he came.

“Was that better than last night?” she asked, after he'd caught his breath.

“No,” he said. “Just as good. Just different.”

“Good.” She climbed off him and lay down on top of him, so she could have full access to his mouth. She was still wet and a little unsatisfied, but this wasn't for her, it was for him.

She felt his thigh between her knees, pushing her legs apart, and as they kissed, he reached down and inside her. The angle wasn't great, and he seemed to be having some difficulty finding a good spot and a good rhythm, but she was already so sensitive, so worked up, that it didn't take much.

He kissed her again when she was finished, not a deep kiss but a lingering one. She pulled away reluctantly.

“A good way to end this,” he said. She nodded. She was satisfied but still melancholy. But that was understandable – even though they were never serious, and the only thing that made this relationship different from her relationship with any other boy was the sex, she'd still ended a good thing that made both of them happy.

But this was the way of things. Sometimes even the good things had to end, sometimes to make way for other good things. Sometimes they made way for even better things. It remained to be seen which thing Leo would be, and for now Sadie was going to wallow for a little bit in her melancholy.

“I hope he's worth it,” Alistair added, taking Sadie by surprise.

“I do too,” she said. It seemed like the most diplomatic thing to say. And it was true. “I can make you breakfast, if you're hungry.”

“No, thank you. I'm going to take a bath and do some work. I'll probably go to the coffeehouse in Sheridan Square for a little while, just to sit somewhere warm.”

“Addy and Marianna might let you sit in their studio. You know they keep it warm for the models and the paint.”

“Maybe.”

Sadie rolled out of Alistair's bed for the last time, took off his pajama top, and put her own clothes back on. A bath sounded good. She might do that first, depending on whether or not Gigi was home, or even awake. It was Saturday, after all, and she'd no doubt gone out after the show last night. She wouldn't have to be anywhere until the show tonight. Sadie could tell her what happened, that she'd ended it with Alistair and that they'd parted friends, and she was sad about ending a good thing, but she thought she'd made the right decision.

And then she'd figure out what she was going to wear to lunch with Leo's parents tomorrow. She should bring something, too. She'd get flowers.

Gigi was proud of her for ending things with Alistair, and proud of both of them for being so generous about it. She didn't say she hoped Leo was worth it – she said she knew he was. Sadie called Victor that afternoon to tell him too, but he was out. He'd probably say the exact same thing Gigi did, that he was proud of her and that Leo was worth it.

Sunday afternoon, as she sat in a subway car in her winter coat and her winter hat, a bunch of winter flowers in her gloved hands, she thought he might be too.

She was wishing she'd brought cookies instead as she walked down the street to Leo's parents' house, the piece of paper with directions on it that Leo had given her in her coat pocket. But the flowers were pretty, and she wanted to make a good impression. She still wasn't ready to even consider marrying him, but she was ready to commit to Leo as a real girlfriend.

His mother looked like an older, shorter, female version of him, gray in her dark brown hair and laugh lines in the corners of her brown eyes. His father was equally gray and equally old, if taller and less creased in the face.



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