Step 97

“What do you want?” she asked. We were lying on our backs, gazing up at the star-studded sky. There was no moon that night. Still, so far out of town, the wide space above us was bright with the glow of giant storms of gas reflecting light to us from uncountable miles away.

“What do you mean?” I said. My head did not turn to face her. My eyes stayed fixed on a particular light making its way across the arc of the night. A satellite, orbiting Earth and beaming its signal down to someone sitting on a couch reading social media. They had no idea what they were missing.

“What do you want, from me, from us?” She gasped and pointed to a streak in the sky that disappeared before her arm could extend upward. My eyes darted to the direction she pointed, then back to the last known position of my satellite. I’d lost it.

“That’s a lot to ask isn’t it? I mean, this is what, month two?”

“Is it?”

I chuckled. “I think it is, anyway.”

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

“Too true.” I was scared to answer her. I wanted to, but my tendency was to go too fast. If I told her what the chemicals mixing in my brain said I was feeling, it would probably be too much. She’d run, I’d mark it down as another pathetic attempt at creating a real relationship, rinse and repeat.

“Do you like me?” she asked.

“That’s a bit of a silly question, isn’t it?”

“Not really,” she shrugged as much as her shoulders could. Then she turned her head away from me and said, “Maybe you just think this is temporary.” Rolling her face back to look at me, “If it is, it’s okay, I just want to know.”

In the dim starlight her face was an outline against the black background. My eyes traced the shadow of her nose, the place where her lips should be. The impressions where her eyes rested in the curve of her face were dark. The slightest reflection of distant glow shined faintly from her pupils. I wanted to tell her I was afraid. That I was going to tear out her heart, leave her aching on the floor. She should run from me, now, before it gets harder later. But that in her eyes, right then and there, I could see the future. I could stay locked in that moment, freeze time, stop the pain from growing, and live happily ever after. Every fight, every disastrous drunk night could be avoided. We could be happy, as long as we never moved from that exact position. The mixing of proteins and acids and electricity connecting the neurons in my brain created an override switch that allowed me to risk all that god-awful suffering for just a few precious minutes of passionate bodies linked together in a tangle of pure, uninhibited love.

So I said, “No, this isn’t temporary.”

“What is it?”

My internal computer now functioning with full RAM capacity made the rest of the conversation simple. “This is step two.”

“What’s step two?”

I laughed. “This is step two, having this conversation.”

She rolled her body over to face me completely. “Oh, so this is a step?”

“Sure,” I said, rolling myself to match her position. “If you’re asking me to tell you what this will be, I can’t tell you. But I can tell you what this is right now. This is step two. It means we’re both invested, or at least think we are.”

“Hmmm,” she thought outloud. The reflection of light in her eyes shifted and I knew she had closed them. She sighed and then said, “I want step 97.”

“Ha ha ha!” I laughed.

“Why’s that funny?” The tone in her voice showed she was now embarrassed for saying it. I realized my reaction was not what she was looking for.

“It’s not funny.”

“Why did you laugh then?”

“That just seems so far away,” I said. “Most of my life I’ve barely been able to think a year ahead, let alone thirty or forty.”

“It doesn’t have to be that far away.” She rolled to her back again and stared at the sky. I felt awful for laughing as I realized she was serious. My stomach jumped from anxiety. I’d already done it. This was the first moment that would lead to a series of conversations about doubt, mistrust and commitment. The pathway formed in my mind, spiraling downward to its inevitable ending. Along the way, checkpoints offering an early exit, happy memories or continual demise. I felt the weight of the instance on my chest. Slowly, the override switch prepared itself and I shut my eyes momentarily to flick it.

“No,” I said. “It doesn’t have to be that far away.” I scooted closer to her, so she knew what I was about to say was serious. “I want to get to step 97 too. Will you go there with me?”

Her body shifted back to me and she kissed me, deeply. The night went silent as the moment paused every living action, shocked by the electricity generated between our lips. When she pulled away I allowed myself to breathe again. The depth of her eyes, reflection of a thousand suns, shone into mine and I saw infinity. A limitless universe of possibility.

“The question,” she began, “is will you go there with me?”

I reached down and took her hand into mine. “I’ll hold your hand the whole way down.”

She smiled to reveal the dimples in her cheeks. As I stared into her widening eyes I saw the glimmer of a meteor, trapped in Earth’s gravity, plummeting toward the atmosphere, leave a tail of burning orange and blue pieces behind it.


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