Sexless, she mused as she zipped up her boot in front of her vanity mirror.
Sexless was what her mother had painstakingly hissed in her ear, having drawn her close with one shaking, wasted, clawed hand to the hospital bed in which she laid. You’ll never give me the grandchildren I want.
Then her hand went limp, and she breathed out in tandem with her mother. That will be the last thing we ever share, she’d thought.
Good riddance. “Babe,” she said out loud, standing up from her seat. She paused briefly to examine her figure in the full length mirror. Black on black on black. “Would you tighten the laces for me?”
Her husband, who was sitting on the bed, reading the next chapters of the book he would be lecturing on, marked his page and took off his reading glasses. She braced herself against the wall, and he tugged with the careful precision of someone who was accustomed to tightening corsets.
“Is Sarah coming over tonight?” she asked a little breathlessly.
“No,” he said mildly. “We’re on the outs again. Maybe permanently.”
“Oh,” she said. “That’s too bad. I liked her. But it just goes to show that you shouldn’t sleep with your PhD candidates.”
“It is my modus operandi, though. I can’t just give it up.” He had a twinkle in his eye, though. “Perhaps I should start looking at post-docs instead.”
“Perhaps.” She turned around and gave him a slow, sweet kiss. Her dark lipstick was in her bag–she had no desire to mark him as hers. “But you love me the best.”
“And you me,” he returned, handing her a thick sweater and a coat. “Wear this one tonight? It’s mine.”
She gave him another kiss. “I’ll see you later,” she promised, tugging on the sweater. It fit well enough; they were almost of a height with her in her formidable shoes.
“Try not to make too many men cry tonight,” he said, already returning to his reading.
“But what if they ask?” she asked as she pulled on her coat and tucked a sleek pair of gloves into her bag. He simply shrugged and waved to her as she left their room.
Flexible, he thought, stretching out contentedly in his place between a lovely couple he met last night and taking stock of the aches in his jaw and his lower back.
He wiggled in his position between the two people, accidentally jostling the woman on his right awake.
“Good morning,” she murmured sleepily, turning over and letting the blanket slip lower down her side. It exposed her breast, and the dark love mark that someone–one of them–had left the night before.
The anonymous man on his other side stirred awake at her sleepy voice, grunting sleepily before wrapping a hairy arm around his waist.
“Stay for breakfast,” he entreated, laying his lips on that spot. “Please.”
He pressed back briefly, slotting his backside into the other man’s front. With a final wiggle, he regretfully lifted the man’s arm, and slithered his way carefully out.
“I’m sorry,” he said while gathering his clothes from the floor. “I never stay for long.”
He left without lingering for too long. The couple in the bed quickly absorbed the space that he’d left in between then, and as he pulled the zip up his jeans and closed the door gently behind him, he let out a barely audible sigh.
It didn’t feel like the walk of shame.
Romantic, she whispered.
Romantic was what everyone told her when she said she didn’t sleep with people if she didn’t feel something for them.
Romantic and impractical.
Romantic was what everyone called her when they saw the books she picked off the shelves. Her John Green, her David Levithan, the cute, sweet novels that made her yearn for a profound connection with someone so deep that it wouldn’t matter how their sex life turned out. It would be okay because they would wait until they were both ready and they would both still love each other if it never happened.
She turned the page of her newest book, trying to tune out the constant buzz of the people surrounding her in the cafe. Sometimes, she felt the most alone in a crowded room. She wished she could be as vivid and vivacious as the endearingly clumsy heroine who’d literally stumbled face first into her romantic interest.
“Hey,” someone above her said, “can I sit here? Everywhere else is taken.”
“Yeah, go right ahead,” she said, only looking up at the very last minute.
“Thanks.” Across from her was an attractive blonde. A little younger than her, perhaps, but old enough to have experienced and seemingly embraced the trend of tattooing lines of prose and poetry on her body. “What are you reading?” Her mug steamed, the fragrance wafting gently over to her side.
“The latest John Green book,” she said, the slight snobbery in her tone making her wince. All she wanted to do was make casual conversation.
“Oh, is that the one everyone keeps crying about?” the other woman asked, bypassing snobbery for excitement. “I’ve wanted to read it for so long!”
“Really?” she said, brightening at the shared interest. “I could lend it to you after I’m done.” Maybe even go out for coffee sometime? she almost added.
“That’d be great!” She had the brightest blue eyes. “I’m Sarah.”
“Hi,” she replied a little breathlessly. “Nice to meet you.”
“I’d like to get to know you better.”
“I’d like that, too.”
Intellectual, he murmured. He watched the professor teach his class, his animation and passion entrancing everyone around him.
He’s teaching about physical chemistry, one of the hardest, most demanding weed-out courses there is. Most people only take the class because they think he’s attractive in an old-intellectual kind of way. Professor-authority kinks everywhere.
Running a hand through his hair, he knows that he can’t possibly pursue a relationship with this professor. He’s married, for one, and to whom, well, a fiery redhead who was also a doctorate holder, one of the youngest ever to receive the Fields Medal for her groundbreaking PhD dissertation.
A puny grad student would never be able to compete with that kind of intellect.
Intellect, he decided, was important. Without intellect, one would not be able to have a successful companionship, less a fulfilling one. Without intellect, there can be no affection because without intellect, there is no shared interest.
He loves physical chemistry. He’s doing his master’s thesis on the quantum mechanical properties of hadrons and muons and sometimes skips meals to extend his time in the lab.
But when he’s in class, and he’s sitting at his desk, grading papers while the professor lectures, his attention sometimes can’t help but wander and he listens in on the lectures that he’s heard a hundred times before, how they’ve evolved as new research breaks onto the scene. He loves how the professor never gets tired of talking about physical chemistry and always has time to talk to student afterwards about any questions they might have.
Most of all, however, he loves how he’s able to discuss things that are completely unrelated to P Chem with the professor after class when they’re grading papers together. How they talk about everything from epistemology to pop literature. He’s surprisingly well-read for such a goofball nerd, he thinks fondly. Most professors are married to their work, but somehow this one can maintain a living relationship outside of it.
Granted, his wife is just as brilliant, if not more so than he is, he thinks sourly. But that doesn’t mean a man can’t hope…
In the end, they all meet in some way or another. But they don’t often have the opportunity to talk, to develop into something more profound. Nevertheless, even the most casual of meet-cutes end up leaving its imprint.
A light caress across the shoulder. A sudden shiver in the belly. A small ache in the elbow.
They are unconventional, yes, but they’re also guaranteed something meaningful, one way or another.