You remember a time when you thought that you were like anyone else.
You fell in and out of love, so easily, with both boys and girls, swapping crushes like partners in a dance.
Because that's what everyone feels, isn't it?
That fluttering in the chest.
The need to be near someone, but not too close.
The way they would dominate your thoughts.
That's all normal, isn't it?
There isn't supposed to be anything else, is there?
But maybe you tended to fall too far and too fast, because before you know it you're with Nick, and everything's moving so quickly, so very quickly.
You're curious about sex, of course you are, and if it isn't great at first, that's normal isn't it?
It's going to get better, isn't it?
But it hardly seems important, because Nick has proposed, and he's the love of your life, and everything is going to be so perfect.
After you get married.
And the day is special, of course it's special, everyone tells you how special it is.
Even if you're not quite sure how you got here so quickly.
But the wedding night comes, and even muddled a little by the alcohol you've had, you know that *this* is going to be wonderful, that *this* time you'll finally find out why everyone is so obsessed with sex.
But you don't.
But you can see the disappointment in his eyes, and so you pretend.
Just this once.
But marriage doesn't make everything shiny and perfect, and everything doesn't always go so well.
But it's easier (a little easier) when you make love to him, make him feel good, let him believe that he makes you feel good.
It's a lie - at best it's... pleasant for you, but hardly worth the effort - but like the best lies, it's based on grains of truth.
Because by this point, you've found out that there is this other dimension of human interaction that you can't feel or touch, the language of desire.
Looks, touches, sounds that tell someone else 'I want you.'
Sometimes you feel like there's something broken inside of you, wires pulled loose or never quite connected properly.
But, like this analogy, just because a wire isn't plugged in properly, it doesn't mean that you can't trigger it, switch on the light it's attached to.
And so, because it's easier, it always makes things a little easier, to flatter his ego, you learn to pull those triggers, turn on those lights, utter the language of desire like a deaf woman might learn to speak.
All in all, it's somewhat easier than you would have thought.
Hiding yourself behind a barrier, especially when the other person is... distracted, is simpler than you would have expected.
But things with Nick don't ever stay better for long, they keep getting worse.
And you realise:
You have to get out of there.
But you don't have any close friends (because he says that you'll never need anyone but him) and you can't escape him.
You *know* how good he is at finding people, you've seen him do it too many times not to.
On the other hand...
You've seen him hunt someone so many times, you've seen how he fails, you know precisely what to do to make it hard for him to track you.
And, when it's bad at home, it can get really bad.
So you take some money and vanish.
Of course, it isn't as simple as that.
You still need people, especially now you're trying to evade Nick's attention.
And you need them not to ask too many questions.
You need some way of distracting them.
(And, though you hate to admit it even to yourself, you still have a burning need for human contact.)
(But you can't let them get too close.)
And so you use the lessons that you learnt with Nick.
How to glance.
How to dress.
How to talk.
How to touch.
It may not mean anything to you, emotionally, but it does to them.
Like a magician's trick, they only have eyes for the lure.
And sometimes, sometimes you even have sex with them.
Not because it ever really feels more anything than pleasant.
But because they're useful.
Because you need them.
(And because propositioning someone you are actually starting to like works in a way that is messed up even to you.
It means that they'll either back off, no longer be a threat to you in terms of emotional intimacy.
Or that they'll become a casual sexual partner, connected to you in a way that you simply can't return.)
(And what's even more messed up is that casual sexual partners are the closest to friends that you'll allow yourself.)
It doesn't matter if they're in a relationship.
It doesn't even matter if they're married.
Because what they have with you is just sex.
(Or at least not in a way that's real to you.)
And at the end of the day, they go back to the people that are important to them.
And you go back to your dance of in between, never too close, never too far away.
And it works.
You manage to make a new life for yourself, in a new place, with a new name.
And everything is...
And then *she* comes along, and throws everything into chaos.
Your first reaction is mostly curiosity.
Maybe with just a touch of guilt.
(It wasn't important, not really, and it never came out.)
But you find yourself kind of liking her.
At first, you just dismiss it as guilt.
You're helping her just so you can balance the scales between you, even if she doesn't know, will never know, the sin.
But it's more than that.
You find yourself actually looking forward to seeing her, thinking of more ways that you can make her life a little easier.
And you're not even flirting with her, distancing yourself using your normal methods.
You begin to have the horrible suspicion that you're actually starting to think of her as friend.
You would pull away, but you can't.
She's a coworker, and you like your job.
(And you're not entirely certain that you would cease contact, even if you could.)
You distract yourself as best as you can, outside the office, the safe way you can, the only way you permit yourself.
A few people get the wrong idea, even think that you might be in a relationship.
You think about it, even tentatively try it, but you're too cautious, and you've used sexuality as a barrier for too long.
They don't last once you actually give it a half honest try, let them see a little beneath the mask.
You're too closed off, apparently.
Things progress at work, and, before you know it, it's all going wrong.
There's a fluttering in your chest that you haven't let yourself feel for a long time.
(Far too long.)
And you realise that you *like* like her.
It's the kind of trap that you can't even muster the energy to try and escape.
But then Blake starts sniffing around, and you only thought things were bad before.
And then you're caught on the hook of *liking* someone, and the exquisite torture of having to wait until it's ripped out of you, just waiting for *her* to find out.
And when it happens, it's worse than you had imagined.
(And all the time, you're thinking stupid, *stupid*, this is why you don't get involved, *this* is why you've never anyone close to you again.)
You almost make a break for it.
But not quite.
Time passes, slowly, so very slowly.
And things start to get better incrementally.
(Nick returns, but you refuse to let yourself remember those events ever again, locking them away into the smallest box within you that you can find.)
And then things get a lot better, so suddenly that you're still not quite sure how it happened.
One day, it seems that she still has problems looking at you without glaring.
You're in your bedroom with her (and there's still a part of you that can't believe that you let anyone, even her, this close to you) and you're kissing, and it's nice. it's good.
It's warm and liquid and summery and you can't quite get enough of it because you're this close to her, and you never really let yourself even dream that this might actually happen.
You know this dance, you're oh-so-familiar with these steps.
This is the part of the evening when you strip.
This is the part of the evening when you make love.
(And there's a small part of you, a *stupid*, *silly* part of you that just knew, when the right person came along, you'd finally feel desire.)
(That you'd finally want to do all those dirty things that your friends used to whisper about.)
(Because that's what being in real love with someone means.)
And you love her, you do.
You really, really do.
And so when she strips, bares her naked flesh, you run your eyes over her.
And you love every curve, every line.
Because it's her.
And you love her.
You have for so long.
But you don't desire her, like you've never really wanted anyone else.
(And you lock that small, disappointed part of yourself away.)
(Because you *knew* this was going to happen.)
And you remember her saying that she only wanted the truth from you from now on.
But this isn't a truth anyone wants to here.
And especially not now.
Not when things are so fragile between you, not when you've already seen the vulnerability in her eyes as she made a joke about being an older woman.
She wouldn't understand.
And you're not really sure that you do, either.
So you assume the bedroom eyes and the bedroom voice and play the part that you've come to know so well.
Learn the architecture of her desire.
(But not yours. Never yours.)
And tell yourself that it's different this time.
Because you love her.
And giving her pleasure satisfies you in a way that it doesn't with other people.
And afterwards, in the musk filled darkness of your room, you realise.
She can never know this side of you.
Never know that it's just a facade.
But that's alright.
This is something you can handle.
Because you love her.