It was a strange boiling sky; one of those summer late afternoons with rank puddles and careworn humidity and human vulnerability with the crops on this side of the earth trembling and hoping there will not be a tornado and disaster. I had many of my own disasters--everyone seemed angry at me, and I kept running back and forth through sputtering skies when I was out in the field and to the sheds, water landing and trickling down my neck. I drove back into the city; green highway signs--surely this is a day for an accident.
When I got to his building he was walking into the lobby himself--he had been at the bank, worrisome but not disastrous news. I was usually shaking from fear at the investment myself which was juxtaposed to his cool and remove. I'd come back at night from the field, from the laboratory off the field to see if the plant was growing and would sit on his ottoman while he would pull on a cigar. He was the person who taught me that you could speak slowly if you were rich. "I don't think," he would say, and then take a pull on his cigar. "That there is any ree-son to be worried, yay-et," he'd say, looking appreciatively at his cigar and exhaling. Now, though, he had something on his mind too. I stood pensively next to him as we went up and up in a high rise still so strange in this city; the chill darkened bronze of the elevator and corridors, all midwestern humidity was evaporated from this rare air. His trench coat was very endearing for reasons I couldn't quite articulate. I had news, he had news.
We entered into the afternoon rain-gloom of his apartment. He kept it barren; he had lived on another planet where no one understood what home decor was, but his own home world wasn't like that; he had told me his mother and father were art collectors before the war. I had to carefully parse out my questions to him; he didn't like questions and I had to spread them out over periods of time and then insert in opportune moments of relative release of tension--in queue was the question about what happened to all of the art and most of the money.
"It's falling apart," I said, sitting on the ottoman. He didn't take off his trench coat, he sat down on the couch next to me. Silence.
"Okay," he said. "I will come out and take a look tomorrow. I still have a couple of options left." My shoulders went limp with relief. He didn't like coming to the fields because it reminded him of his parents house and the war, but he was much better, always, at talking to the farmers and scientists--especially the farmers--they trusted him, felt as if he was one of them in his antecedents back on his home world, where his family made their name in agriculture. He did not like sentiment--he'd answer "no" if asked if he missed the pepper-and-butter smell of the crop that made his family so rich, or if he missed the child he left on the mining planet. But a natural hand and ease crept in anyway--the way he'd cant his hips and push up his hat and squint down a row of shivering greens. So he'd come and talk to them and they'd give him straight answers, better answers and some of this awful burden would be taken off my shoulders.
"Come on," he said, and I followed him into the bedroom, telling him the details he'd need to know--the hygrometer readings, variety trials at the edge of the fields, nitrogen levels, and I watched as he took off his shoes, trench coat, then his jacket, then suit pants. That was another thing I'd learned: rich people are taught to take care of their things, their excellent things. He hung up every thing carefully while thunder rumbled and the clouds tossed themselves over and under each other and rain spattered the pane. His bedroom, like every room in the apartment, was large and framed an enormous sky and it was clear how frail and provisional our existence was, especially at this height off the ground. I'm sure if I asked him if he was scared he would just say no.
He opened a door of a very nice japanned dresser and tossed pajamas on his bed. Anyone else at this time of the day would just crawl into bed, but he pulled his undershirt off. I had touched him before but it had been dark and might have been an accident and he turned his back now. His back. He'd told me that in the mining world, backs were considered erogenous zones, even more so than lips or hips. He had a nice back. And then he took off his bottoms, and I thought of how male behinds actually looked so vulnerable and soft and round and lovely in any world--we were still all the same species anyway.
He faced me as the sky darkened and then was zapped for a minute by sad lightning, like something was ending and this was a flicker.
"Are you going to get in bed?" he asked. He asked it in the queerest way, as if I had said no then he would then get fully dressed again. He looked at me, strangely open faced. Thunder.
I undid the clips of my overalls and the zippers and then took my shirt off. I wasn't sure what to take off next. I had no idea what he was used to. Mining worlds are boring places and we'd all heard stories of the things people did, had done, to be physically interesting. I was aware of wanting to be pleasing at the exact same time I would protect myself from any cold appraising. But he was looking at me the way he did we had first met--or met again--I had remembered him from the station we'd been at in transit--he told me his story and kept searching my face.
I got in on my side and he got in on his. He held out his arms (I know this makes me prejudiced, but I was glad there were two of them). "Take this off," he said, and we kissed and I made awkward nervous attempts at stroking his back which though just amateurish he seemed to appreciate very much.
But not too long into this, our embraces slackened--the human contact, his hands gently kneading the knots in my neck while he pressed a thigh between my legs was actually strangely relaxing and arousing me in to a sort of trance. We were warm and safe but the rain streak shadows ran down the blanket and I was scared and held him close.
When I woke up it was dusk. Because of the weather it had seemed as if had been dusk for hours. He was still sleeping. From the one time before I'd learned that he liked to curl up and back facing and that rolling to the other side of him so I would be facing him would only result in him in kissing me and turning away. I scootched right up behind him. I put my hand on his head to see if he was sweating and he wasn't so I put my arm around him. He put his arm back towards me and I started at it, the figure eight burn mark on the outside of his finger that was the mining planet's symbol of marriage. He referred to her every now and then in a way that scared me, so immediate and offhand it felt as if she might walk in at any moment. But he was principally and essentially alone; she was the only puncture mark in a sheath of indifference. I assumed he must be madly in love with her still, even though he'd said one night after business in a thoughtful exhalation of cigar smoke, "I do not like her. No: I do not," in a tired scratchy voice. I didn't know how to tell him that this virtually implied that he loved her, but I couldn't see how it would improve his life. Or mine, for that matter.
This job would end soon. We'd have to talk eventually. I did not have another job to go to. If we made money, we could make plans. Tomorrow the sun would shine again and we'd go out to the fields together and he'd make it right, or better. But I didn't want this moment to change into anything else. He breathed peacefully. I put my chin on his pajama-covered shoulder and watched the storm and wondered how two people to manage to find each other and not lose each other just as quickly.