Trish had put an arm’s length of space between them and he hated it. She was all done up in lilac and lace, a number that looked—expensive—and revealed, rather intimately, the curves she was usually so pathological in trying to hide. She looked—beautiful though, in the soft light her hair loose at her shoulders—
“Just tell me what I did wrong,” she said. She dug her fingers into the primrose sheets and didn’t meet his gaze.
“It’s not you I swear—” he reached out to touch her arm and she pulled away glaring at him.
She just shook her head and got up. “Maybe you should leave.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say, Gunnar, you made it pretty clear you—”
“I’m asexual,” he said and he didn’t like how clinical it sounded out loud.
“What?” She looked at him.
“I’m asexual. The problem’s not you it’s…me. Alright?” He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “I love you. I want to be with you, but, I—don’t want to do...that. I’m not wired that way, so, if you still want me to go, I’ll go but…I wasn’t trying to string you along. You have to believe that.”
She was quiet for a few long seconds and he got up.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He went to grab his bag and she caught his arm.
“Why did you come out with me?”
“What?” he looked at her.
“It’s Valentine’s Day and we’re at a hotel in the country, did you think we were here for the antiquing?”
He frowned slightly. “I thought maybe it would be different this time. I thought maybe with you I could stomach it—” he shook his head. “I wanted to, so badly…”
She let go of his arm and took a deep breath.
“I’m going to go take a shower,” she said. “I’m going to change. And then we’re going to figure this out.”
He relaxed slightly.
“Ok?” she said.
She didn’t say anything else, just turned around and went into the bathroom. When she was out of the room he let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. He grabbed the cigarettes from his jacket pocket and sat down in the window seat.
It was raining outside. It had been raining all week, but the old lady at the desk assured them it would probably switch over to snow at some point this weekend. He watched the water drops slide down the glass panes and obscure the sign outside that said Starlight Lodge, No Vacancy in blocky, vintage looking letters.
He sighed and leaned his head against the glass. He felt guilty and he hated that. It’d been almost two months and she’d never made a move beyond just making out on the couch. She was coming off a bad thing, she’d said. She wanted to take it slow. What they had was intimate—he liked intimate. He liked close. He liked waking up after falling asleep during some boring documentary and making her coffee. He like her. And he had ever since the first time he’d seen her at the garage.
He must have looked a mess that day. There was grease stains on his hands when he rang her up and she said, “You look like a Pisces.”
And he had laughed and said. “How’d you know?”
There was something about her smile. He was a sucker for a nice smile. Luckily the shop had been pretty empty that day and they talked for the better part of an hour before she said.
“I work at the nursery on Belmont.”
And he said. “Maybe I can bring you coffee sometime.”
He liked the slight blush in her cheeks when he said it. The next day he showed up with coffee. And a few days later it was lunch. And lunch and coffee turned into a movie. Then dinner at her place and after a few weeks they had a routine.
Having crushes was still a weird animal to him. It didn’t happen that often but when it did it was like his body didn’t know how to process the information. The urge was something like you’re aesthetically pleasing, or I really like your voice. I want to be closer to you. And he hated that every time it happened the thought creeped into the back of his head that oh maybe this really is the one that fixes you, because that’s what people always said. When your sexuality’s a vocabulary lesson you get greeted with various stock responses. You just haven’t found the right person. How do you know? Did someone hurt you? Have you seen a doctor?
When he heard the bathroom door open again he snubbed his cigarette out in the potted fichus and looked up. Trish was dressed in a pair of soft patterned lounge pants and a hoodie. Her wet hair was tied back and she looked more relaxed than before. Gunnar wanted to say something but he couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say. She sat down across from him and looked out at the road.
“My grandparents honeymooned somewhere out here,” she said. “The hot springs were a really big thing then. My grandma always talked about how it was one of the nicest trips they ever took.”
He was quiet. “Trish I…”
She looked at him. “You meant it when you said you loved me.”
“Yeah I did…”
She nodded. “Then I want to understand.”
He took a deep breath and thought about what he wanted to say. “You’re probably the first real girlfriend I’ve ever had. I’ve had dates. You know. But…nothing serious. When I was a kid, I didn’t really think much of it. Half of me thought everyone was just faking crushes and stuff, like it was just a thing you were expected to do, but when I got older I realized that wasn’t actually it. And I tried to get into it like everyone else but the thought of actually mashing parts with someone, I just…wasn’t interested.” He sighed. “I thought I was broken for a long time. I didn’t even know asexual was an option until a few years ago, and that was… a relief, but hell, part of me still thinks one day I’ll wake up and just be normal.” He frowned slightly.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“No I am.” He looked down.
“It’s not your fault.”
“I should have been honest.”
“Yeah you should have been.”
He hesitated. “If you don’t want to be with me now I get it.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t say that.”
They were quiet for a few long seconds.
“I want this to work but we need to have a serious conversation about what you’re ok with doing and all that”
“Yeah we can do that.”
“Not now. But sometime…”
He nodded. She took his hand and squeezed it and he leaned his head against her shoulder relaxing for the first time since they’d left home.