Twenty-eight

My heart stumbles. ‘I can do that.’

‘No,’ Adam says. ‘Let me.’

Each buckle gets his absolute attention, then he slides my boots off and places them side by side on the floor.

I join him on the rug. I undo his laces, put each of his feet on my lap in turn and pull off his trainers. I stroke his ankles, my hand running under his trousers and up his calves. I’m touching him. I’m touching the soft hair on his legs. I never knew I could be so brave.

We make it a game, like strip poker, but without the cards or dice. I unzip his jacket and let it fall to the floor. He undoes my coat and slides it off my shoulders. He finds a leaf from the garden in my hair. I touch his dark curls, twine their strength through my fingers.

Nothing seems small with him watching, so I take my time with the buttons on his shirt. This last one condenses into a planet under our gaze – milky white and perfectly round.

It’s astounding that we both know what to do. I’m not even having to think about it. I’m not being dragged along. It’s not slick or knowing. It’s as if we’re discovering the path together.

I hold my hands over my head like a child as he peels my jumper off me. My hair, my new short hair, gets caught in static and crackles in the dark. It makes me laugh. It makes me feel as if my body is plump and healthy.

The backs of his fingers brush my breasts through my bra, and he knows, because we’re looking at each other, that this is OK. I’ve been touched by so many people, prodded and poked, examined and operated on. I thought my body was numb, immune to touch.

We kiss again. For minutes. Tiny kisses where he bites my top lip gently, where my tongue edges his mouth. The room seems full of ghosts, of trees, the sky.

Our kisses become deeper. We sink into each other. It’s like the first time we kissed – urgent, fierce.

‘I want you,’ he says.

And I want him right back.

I want to show him my breasts. I want to undo my bra and get them out. I pull him towards the bed. We’re still kissing – throats, necks, mouths. The room seems full of smoke, with something burning here between us.

I lie on the bed and buck my hips. I need my jeans off. I want to display myself to him, want him to see me.

‘Are you sure about this?’ he says.

‘Very.’

It’s simple.

He unbuckles my jeans. I undo his belt with one hand, like a magic trick. I circle his belly button with my finger, my thumb nudging at his boxers.

The feel of his skin next to mine, the weight of him on top of me, his warmth pressing into me – I didn’t know it would feel like this. I didn’t understand that when you make love, you actually do make love. Stir things. Affect each other. The breath that escapes from me is dazzled. He breathes it in with a gasp.

His hand slides under my hip, I meet it with mine, our fingers lock. I’m not sure whose hand belongs to who.

I’m Tessa.

I’m Adam.

It’s utterly beautiful not to know my own edges.

The feel of us under our fingers. The taste of us on our tongues.

And always we watch each other, check with each other, like music, like a dance. Eye to eye.

It builds, this ache between us, changing and swelling. I want him. I want him closer. I can’t get near enough. I wrap my legs round his, sweep his back with my hands, trying to pull him further into me.

It’s as if my heart springs up and marries my soul, as my whole body implodes. Like a stone falling in a pond, circles and circles of love ripple through me.

Adam shouts for joy.

I gather him and hold him close. I’m amazed at him. At us. This gift.

He strokes my head, my face, he kisses my tears.

I’m alive, blessed to be with him on this earth, at this very moment.

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