They went out for Ukrainian food, which Perry had never had before, but the crepes and the blood sausage were tasty enough. Mostly, though, he was paying attention to Hilda, who was running down her war stories from the Multiple Origami fundraiser. There were funny ones, sad ones, scary ones, triumphant ones.
Every one of her stories reminded him of one of his own. She was an organizer and so was he and they’d been through practically the same shit. They drank gallons of coffee afterward, getting chucked out when the restaurant closed and migrating to a cafe on the main drag where they had low tables and sofas, and they never stopped talking.
“You know,” Hilda said, stretching and yawning, “it’s coming up on four AM.”
“No way,” he said, but his watch confirmed it. “Christ.” He tried to think of a casual way of asking her to sleep with him. For all their talking, they’d hardly touched on romance—or maybe there’d been romance in every word.
“I’ll walk you to your hotel,” she said.
“Hey, that’s really nice of you,” he said. His voice sounded fakey and forced in his ears. All of a sudden, he wasn’t tired at all, instead his heart was hammering in his chest and his blood sang in his ears.
There was hardly any talk on the way back to the hotel, just the awareness of her steps and his in time with one another over the cold late-winter streets. No traffic at that hour, and hardly a sound from any of the windows they passed. The town was theirs.
At the door to his hotel—another stack of the ubiquitous capsules, these geared to visiting parents—they stopped. They were looking at one another like a couple of googly-eyed kids at the end of a date in a sitcom.
“Um, what’s your major?” he said.
“Pure math,” she said.
“I think I know what that is,” he said. It was freezing out on the street. “Theory, right?”
“Pure math as opposed to applied math,” she said. “Do you really care about this?”
“Um,” he said. “Well, yes. But not very much.”
“I’ll come into your hotel room, but we’re not having sex, OK?”
“OK,” he said.
There was room enough for the two of them in the capsule, but only just. These were prefabbed in bulk and they came in different sizes—in the Midwest they were large, the ones stacked up in San Francisco parking spots were small. Still, he and Hilda were almost in each other’s laps, and he could smell her, feel wisps of her hair tickling his ear.
“You’re really nice,” he said. Late at night, his ability to be flippant evaporated. He was left with simple truths, simply declared. “I like you a lot.”
“Well then you’ll have to come back to Madison and check in on the ride, won’t you?”
“Um,” he said. He had a planning meeting with Luke and the rest of his gang the next day, then he was supposed to be headed for Omaha, where Tjan had set up another crew for him to speak to. At this rate, he would get back to Florida some time in June.
“Perry, you’re not a career activist, are you?”
“Nope,” he said. “I hadn’t really imagined that there was such a thing.”
“My parents. Both of them. Here’s what being a career activist means: you are on the road most of the time. When you get on the road, you meet people, have intense experiences with them—like going to war or touring with a band. You fall in love a thousand times. And then you leave all those people behind. You get off a plane, turn some strangers into best friends, get on a plane and forget them until you come back into town, and then you take it all back up again.
“If you want to survive this, you’ve got to love that. You’ve got to get off a plane, meet people, fall in love with them, treasure every moment, and know that moments are all you have. Then you get on a plane again and you love them forever. Otherwise, every new meeting is sour because you know how soon it will end. It’s like starting to say your summer-camp goodbyes before you’ve even unpacked your duffel-bag. You’ve got to embrace—or at least forget—that every gig will end in a day or two.”
Perry took a moment to understand this, swallowed a couple times, then nodded. Lots of people had come in and out of his factory and his ride over the years. Lester came and went. Suzanne was gone. Tjan was gone but was back again. Kettlebelly was no longer in his life at all, a ghost of a memory with a great smile and good cologne. Already he was forgetting the faces in Boston, the faces in San Francisco. Hilda would be a memory in a month.
Hilda patted his hand. “I have friends in practically every city in America. My folks campaigned for stem cells up and down every red state in the country. I even met superman before he died. He knew my name. I spent ten years on the road with them, back and forth. The Bush years, a couple years afterward. You can live this way and you can be happy, but you’ve got to have right mind.
“What it means is you’ve got to be able to say things to people you meet, like, ‘You’re really nice,’ and mean it, really mean it. But you’ve also got to be cool with the fact that really nice people will fall out of your life every week, twice a week, and fall back into it or not. I think you’re very nice, too, but we’re not gonna be a couple, ever. Even if we slept together tonight, you’d be gone tomorrow night. What you need to ask yourself is whether you want to have friends in every city who are glad to see you when you get off the plane, or ex-girlfriends in every city who might show up with their new boyfriends, or not at all.”
“Are you telling me this to explain why we’re not going to sleep together? I just figured you were dating that guy, Ernie.”
“Ernie’s my brother,” she said. “And yeah, that’s kind of why I’m telling you this. I’ve never gone on what you might call a date. With my friends, it tends to be more like, you work together, you hang out together, you catch yourself looking into one another’s eyes a couple times, then you do a little circling around and then you end up in your bed or their bed having hard, energetic sex and then you sort out some details and then it lasts as long as it lasts. We’ve done a compressed version of that tonight, and we’re up to the sex, and so I thought we should lay some things on the table, you should forgive the expression.”
Perry thought back to his double-date with Lester. The girl had been pretty and intelligent and would have taken him home if he’d made the least effort. He hadn’t, though. This girl was inappropriate in so many ways: young, rooted to a city thousands of miles from home—why had he brought her back to the hotel?
A thought struck him. “Why do you think I’m going to be getting on and off planes for the rest of my life? I’ve got a home to get to.”
“You haven’t been reading the message boards, have you?”
“Which message boards?”
“For ride-builders. There are projects starting up everywhere. People like what they’ve heard and what they’ve seen, and they remember you from the old days and want to get in on the magic you’re going to bring. A lot of us know each other anyway, from other joint projects. Everyone’s passing the hat to raise your airfare and arguing about who’s sofa you’re going to stay on.”
He’d known that they were there. There were always message-boards. But they were just talk—he never bothered to read them. That was Lester’s job. He wanted to make stuff, not chatter. “Jesus, when the hell was someone going to tell me?”
“Your guy in Boston, we’ve been talking to him. He said not to bug you, that you were busy enough as it is.”
He did, did he? In the old days, Tjan had been in charge of planning and he’d been in charge of the ideas: in charge of what to plan. Had they come full circle without him noticing? If they had, was that so bad?
“Man, I was really looking forward to spending a couple nights in my own bed.”
“Is it much more comfortable than this one?” She thumped the narrow coffin-bed, which was surprisingly comfortable, adjustable, heated, and massaging.
He snorted. “OK, I sleep on a futon on the floor back home, but it’s the principle of the thing. I just miss home, I guess.”
“So go home for a couple days after this stop, or the next one. Charge up your batteries and do your laundry. But I have a feeling that home is going to be your suitcase pretty soon, Perry my dear.” Her voice was thick with sleep, her eyes heavy-lidded and bleary.
“You’re probably right.” He yawned as he spoke. “Hell, I know you’re right. You’re a real smarty.”
“And I’m too tired to go home,” she said, “so I’m a smarty who’s staying with you.”
He was suddenly wide awake, his heart thumping. “Um, OK,” he said, trying to sound casual.
He turned back the sheets, then, standing facing into the cramped corner, took off his jeans and shoes and socks, climbing in between the sheets in his underwear and tee. There were undressing noises—exquisite ones—and then she slithered in behind him, snuggled up against him. With a jolt, he realized that her bare breasts were pressed to his back. Her arm came around him and rested on his stomach, which jumped like a spring uncoiling. He felt certain his erection was emitting a faint cherry-red glow. Her breath was on his neck.
He thought about casually rolling onto his back so that he could kiss her, but remembered her admonition that they would not be having sex. Her fingertips traced small circles on his stomach. Each time they grazed his navel, his stomach did a flip.
He was totally awake now, and when her lips very softly—so softly he barely felt it—brushed against the base of his skull, he let out a soft moan. Her lips returned, and then her teeth, worrying at the tendons at the back of his neck with increasing roughness, an exquisite pain-pleasure that was electric. He was panting, her hand was flat on his stomach now, gripping him. His erection strained toward it.
Her hips ground against him and she moved her mouth toward his ear, nipping at it, the tip of her tongue touching the whorls there. Her hand was on the move now, sliding over his ribs, her fingertips at his nipple, softly and then harder, giving it an abrupt hard pinch that had some fingernail in it, like a bite from little teeth. He yelped and she giggled in his ear, sending shivers up his spine.
He reached back behind him awkwardly and put his hand on her ass, discovering that she was bare there, too. It was wide and hard, foam rubber over steel, and he kneaded it, digging his fingers in. She groaned in his ear and tugged him onto his back.
As soon as his shoulders hit the narrow bed, she was on him, her elbows on his biceps, pinning him down, her breasts in his face, fragrant and soft. Her hot, bare crotch ground against his underwear. He bit at her tits, hard little bites that made her gasp. He found a stiff nipple and sucked it into his mouth, beating at it with his tongue. She pressed her crotch harder against his, hissed something that might have been yesssss.
She straightened up so that she was straddling him and looking imperiously down on him. Her braids swung before her. Her eyes were exultant. Her face was set in an expression of fierce concentration as she rocked on him.
He dug his fingers into her ass again, all the way around, so that they brushed against her labia, her asshole. He pulled at her, dragging her up her body, tugging her vagina toward his mouth. Once she saw what he was after, she knee-walked up the bed in three or four quick steps and then she was on his face. Her smell and her taste and her texture and temperature filled his senses, blotting out the room, blotting out introspection, blotting out everything except for the sweet urgency.
He sucked at her labia before slipping his tongue up her length, letting it tickle her ass, her opening, her clit. In response, she ground against him, planting her opening over his mouth and he tongue-fucked her in hard, fast strokes. She reached back and took hold of his cock, slipping her small, strong hand under the waistband of his boxers and curling it around his rigid shaft, pumping vigorously.
He moaned into her pussy and that set her shuddering. Now he had her clit sucked into his mouth and he was lapping at its engorged length with short strokes. Her thighs were clamped over his ears, but he could still make out her cries, timed with the shuddering of her thighs, the spasmodic grip on his cock.
Abruptly she rolled off of him and the world came back. They hadn’t kissed yet. They hadn’t said a word. She lay beside him, half on top of him, shuddering and making kittenish sounds. He kissed her softly, then more forcefully. She bit at his lips and his tongue, sucking it into her mouth and chewing at it while her fingernails raked his back.
Her breathing became more regular and she tugged at the waistband of his boxers. He got the message and yanked them off, his cock springing free and rocking slightly, twitching in time with his pulse. She smiled a cat-ate-the-canary grin and went to work kissing his neck, his chest—hard bites on his nipples that made him yelp and arch his back—his stomach, his hips, his pubes, his thighs. The teasing was excruciating and exquisite. Her juices dried on his face, the smell caught in his nose, refreshing his eros with every breath.
Her tongue lapped eagerly at his balls like a cat with a saucer of milk. Long, slow strokes, over his sack, over the skin between his balls and his thighs, over his perineum, tickling his ass as he’d tickled hers. She pulled back and spat out a pube and laughed and dove back in, sucking softly at his sack, then, in one swift motion, taking his cock to the hilt.
He shouted and then moaned and her head bobbed furiously along the length of his shaft, her hand squeezing his balls. It took only moments before he dug his hands hard into the mattress and groaned through clenched teeth and fired spasm after spasm down her throat, her nose in his pubes, his cock down her throat to the base. She refused to let him go, swirling her tongue over the head while he was still super-sensitive, making him grunt and twitch and buck involuntarily, all the while her hand caressing his balls, rubbing at his prostate over the spot between his balls and his ass.
Finally she worked her way back up his body licking her lips and kissing as she went.
“Hello,” she said as she buried her face in his throat.
“Wow,” he said.
“So if you’re going to be able to live in the moment and have no regrets, this is a pretty good place to start. It’d be a hell of a shock if we saw each other twice in the next year—are we going to be able to be friends when we do? Will the fact that I fucked your brains out make things awkward?”
“That’s why you jumped me?”
“No, not really. I was horny and you’re hot. But that’s a good post-facto reason.”
“I see. You know, you haven’t actually fucked my brains out,” he said.
“Yet,” she said. She retrieved her backpack from beside the bed, dug around it in, and produced a strip of condoms. “Yet.”
He licked his lips in anticipation, and a moment later she was unrolling the condom down his shaft with her talented mouth. He laughed and then took her by the waist and flipped her onto her back. She grabbed her ankles and pulled her legs wide and he dove between her, dragging the still-sensitive tip of his cock up and down the length of her vulva a couple times before sawing it in and out of her opening, sinking to the hilt.
He wanted to fuck her gently but she groaned urgent demands in his ear to pound her harder, making satisfied sounds each time his balls clapped against her ass.
She pushed him off her and turned over, raising her ass in the air, pulling her labia apart and looking over her shoulder at him. They fucked doggy-style then, until his legs trembled and his knees ached, and then she climbed on him and rocked back and forth, grinding her clit against his pubis, pushing him so deep inside her. He mauled her tits and felt the pressure build in his balls. He pulled her to him, thrust wildly, and she hissed dirty encouragement in his ear, begging him to fill her, ordering him to pound her harder. The stimulation in his brain and between his legs was too much to bear and he came, lifting them both off the bed with his spasms.
“Wow,” he said.
“Yum,” she said.
“Jesus, it’s 8AM,” he said. “I’ve got to meet with Luke in three hours.”
“So let’s take a shower now, and set an alarm for half an hour before he’s due,” she said. “Got anything to eat.”
“That’s what I like about you Hilda,” he said. “Businesslike. Vigorous. Living life to the hilt.”