He wakes up. Her scent—something momentarily eluding his absurdly encyclopedic knowledge of perfumes—lingers on the pillowcase; sunlight filters through the blinds, caressing the curve of her shoulder; her hair spans the few cold inches separating him from her and he collects it in his fingers and says the first thing that comes to mind.
She rolls over to face him and he regrets, momentarily, that he hasn't yet found the opportunity to watch her as she sleeps, and then he's contending with the force of that fondly wry smile. "My, we're optimistic this morning."
"I've every reason to be. Beautiful woman in my bed, blissful ignorance as to how she came to be there..." He smiles at her. It's easy to grant himself that luxury because right now, in this instant, he'd like nothing more than to lean over and kiss her with routine matter-of-factness. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, aren't they as good as married?
"It's so early." Her face is blurry in the light, smeared into the bright haze of the sheets, and he'd tell himself he was dreaming if his dreams didn't typically feature other body parts more prominently. "You can't tell me you get up this early and appear at the office as late as you do."
"No. You've disrupted my sleeping patterns. If this goes on much longer we'll send the office into an uproar."
Another of her smiles and sensory overload—too-bright room, too-soft mattress, too-silent morning with only her accent playing in his ears. He closes his eyes and wishes he'd wake up.
"As though that's not something you do on a regular basis." He knows he must be breathing because he keeps trying to stop. It would be better if he weren't—then he'd at least have a reason for feeling as though his chest has caved in on itself. He feels her shift in bed, and the presence—immediacy, fact—of the situation rankles. "Alan."
"Tara." Two defeated syllables with the hitch of a sigh in between and the comforting illusion of being able to go back—to what, he never considered—evaporates.
"Alan, look at me." The novelty of his old standby coming from her is enough to surprise him into compliance. His eyes blink open and she's at his side, just distant enough to refrain from touching and close enough for the warmth of her skin to gnaw at the inexplicable coldness that's overcome him. "Is something wrong?"
Has there ever not been something wrong? Two minutes ago, perhaps, when he was contemplating her back in the morning light. "I don't like what we're doing."
"Having a relationship? Behold my lack of surprise."
He catches some glimmer of understanding in her gaze and curls onto his side before—before the brush of her lips on his can deprive him of whatever thoughts he's clinging to. "Not that." He grants her a moment of incredulous laughter, but there isn't any. "It's...this is a morning after scene."
"Yes, Alan. We've had sex. More than once, in fact. You appear to be having difficulty coping."
"Would that make it mind-blowing?" he asks, his chest constricting the slightest bit as he musters the response.
She kisses him, soft, chaste, on the cheek, the indentation of her touch fleeting as the cusp of the mattress she occupies. Then she draws back, not bothering to mask her appraisal of his reaction. "You are all right."
It occurs to him there might not be a difference between understanding and pity; it occurs to him the difference may be a crease of her brow, the dip in her tone, the hesitance of her kiss, some signal that will pass unrecognized. "All the relevant parts seem to be here." He rises from the bed, pulls on his boxers, and flicks the blinds open, closed, open, dancing the light across the bed. "Would you like coffee, Tara?" He blinks out an SOS. "I'm told mine is deadly from fifty paces."
"Why not?" There's a law book resting on his bedside table, the only thing in the room that doesn't appear to be laboring at an awkward illusion. It's a matter of time before she comments on the ponderous emptiness of the house, the rooms marked by a vacancy that's all of a sudden bringing its weight to bear.
"I'd have thought death would be sufficient deterrent, but if you insist..." The words buckle beneath him and he remembers resonating frequencies: one right note and glass shatters. Bridges twist to breaking point like ropes of licorice.
He doesn't trust himself to look at her.
A glance out the window reminds him that it rained yesterday and a chance smile as he shrugged out of his jacket earned him an incredulous look from Brad. Today will be sunny.
More than anything he wants to kiss her.
He considers that this clutched feeling in his chest may never go away, and he says, "Because nothing's different."