Sarah's eyes traced the curls of cigarette smoke as they lazily drifted up to brush with the ceiling. The way the tendrils embraced and caressed the poorly-stippled and water-stained ceiling made her uncomfortable, made her feel vulnerable, exposed. The smoke was so intimate with the ceiling. Perhaps she shivered ever so slightly because she felt the bed move as James - or was it Tom? ...David? What was the boy's name? - rolled over.

"Are you alright?" His words seemed almost empty, like he wasn't entirely certain she would respond, but there was a tenor to them that suggested he really did worry about her answer. Sarah had to wonder if this had happened before with him, if she had acted so spacey on all of their...dates, if you could call them that. She had been seeing James - she was fairly certain his name was James - for a couple of months now, taking him along to the occasional dinner or reading, mostly accompanying him to hazy, poorly-lit bars. There he could talk to friends while she stared blankly into a glass of some honey-colored drink - bourbon, whisky, cognac, whatever. God, was she distant. She couldn't even remember his name when it mattered.

Thinking back on it, Sarah realised that she couldn't really remember half of her dates with James, either. It wasn't that she had forgotten them because was drunk or high, it was that they had been so uneventful and lackluster. They were boring. Why was she seeing this boy? NO, he's a MAN, she had to remind herself. A beautiful, young, innocent man, but a man nonetheless. And he was pretty, that was for sure. Pale, blonde, skinny...British. The way he held a cigarette in his mouth was so sexy it made her bones ache, though his fingertips were stained and his clothes reeked.

A moment of silence had passed.

"Yeah, I'm ok." She rolled over and snaked an arm around his middle. "I'm just cold." That's right, Sarah thought to herself. I'm a cold and distant bitch, and I'm sorry.

Most notable, Sarah thought, was how young he was. He still had some baby fat on him; his cheeks were full, and his skin was still elastic. The crinkles that happened around his eyes when he smiled dissolved when the smile was over. Sarah's didn't. You could count the number of times she had smiled just by looking at her face. Not that she would really let anyone look at her face long enough to notice that it was in just as poor shape as the ceiling of her flat. Stippled and water-stained.

"Why are you with me, James?" Sarah had blurted out the words before she had even thought them, really. She knew why she was with him, to a certain extent. She craved him; he fulfilled some visceral desire of hers. But she didn't love him, and she knew he could tell that. Why was he wasting his time on her?

Another moment of silence passed. Sarah felt his muscles tense, his breathing shallowed. A slight hiss as he sucked in another mouthful of cigarette smoke. Sarah waited. She had time.

...time that was passing ever so slowly. Was the clock even ticking? All the background noise in the apartment seemed to fade away, as she felt heat rising to her chest and flooding out to the tips of her arms and legs. The tenseness of the moment was consuming...

There! Release; the clock had ticked again, and almost instantly the fire in her veins diminished. The sound of the apartment flooded back was so loud. She could barely even hear James breathing for the noise of the heater and the mild hum of the fridge and the electrical buzz from the lamp by her bed. But then even those sounds returned to normal, and James' breath drew raggedly.

"I worship you, Sarah." His voice was dogged, tired, vulnerable. Sarah thought of the cigarette smoke touching the ceiling, searching out and delicately fingering the ceiling's most intimate recesses. Sarah moved her arm away from James for a split second, afraid of touching those intimate parts of him, afraid of tainting them, of hurting them.

James noticed her slight movement, though. He turned to look at her, his cigarette hanging loosely from his lips as he perused her face. Sarah processed then that he had been pointedly avoiding looking at her the whole morning. She was scared. The fire that had filled her a minute ago was now ice. He was searching her face, looking into her eyes with such a coldly passionate stare, searching for...something. For what? What did he need from her? What could she give to him to acknowledge his vulnerability?

"Ok." The words were anticlimactic. They weren't what James needed. Sarah couldn't figure out how to say anything meaningful. She felt swallowed up, drifting around, not able to connect with reality. She wanted to say yes. She wanted to acknowledge him, receive him, return the emotion.

Maybe James saw that. She had expected him to get up, to put his clothes on, to burn with some kind of quiet anger as he thrust his feet into a pair of leather boots...oh god, leather boots. But he didn't. He took the cigarette out of his mouth, put it out on an ashtray by the bed, and then moved so that he was on top of her. He was still looking at her with a penetrating stare, but he leaned in and slowly, softly, pressed his lips against hers. The kiss barely lasted a minute, but it communicated everything. It was electric. Sarah buzzed.

And then James rolled back over, getting up out of bed. He retrieved the fag from the ashtray; its fire hadn't yet been quelled. He pulled on a pair of pants, khaki and loose, with a drawstring at the waist that he tied in order to keep the pants from slipping off. And then the leather boots. He is so fucking artsy, Sarah noticed. There was a quiet theatricality about him, a modest, demure, British sense of dramatics. Once the boots were on, he leaned in and gave her another kiss. "I'll see you in class, Professor," he whispered, and left, moving through the room like a quiet hurricane.