His eyes were open and he was leaning on one elbow as he looked down at her. She felt safe for a moment after languorous love-making, but as soon as he said those words, she realized there was nothing she could say to him in return. She smiled, because that is what she learned to do when she didn't want to speak, when words had fled her, left her naked and bare, more naked than she was even now, without a stitch of clothing on her. She had always wrapped herself in words like a cloak.
Sometimes this gave her invisibility, sometimes it gave her warmth, sometimes it offered shelter, but all she could do right now was to pretend to smile and to put her head on his chest and her arm across the broad width of his body. There was nothing she could say.
She wasn't his. But how is he to know this?
Even as she embraced him, she withdrew inwardly and searched herself for her emotions. She wasn't frightened; she'd known fear for so much of her life that it was the first question she always asked: "Am I afraid?" Nor was she happy. There'd been so little happiness in her life that, like the infusion of some exotic spice, she could always sense even the smallest trace of it, so rare and so unfamiliar. She was tired, but there was something else as well.
He stroked her long, brown hair, moving it gently away from her face. Even with her eyes closed, she knew that he was looking at her and waiting for some kind of response. She knew that he thought she was a beautiful girl, especially now. Especially when he thought she was his. And with her face pressed against his neck, and with one leg thrown over his warm thigh. But she knew that she wasn't. No more than she was his.
Still searching inside herself, sweeping over her emotions and looking for some shard or piece of truth, the way you might rub your hand across a bolt of silk to find a snag or the way you would rub your hand across a piece of wood only to feel a nail scrape into your fingertips, she sought something definite in herself.
The one thing she knew was that she had done this before. And she wasn't thinking about what she had done with other men, although there had been enough of them. She had a sense that somehow she had been in this man's arms, with her head on his chest and her eyes closed against him, before. Having had him now, all she wanted was to leave him to the heaviness of the sleep into which he was already drifting, so that she could be by herself and tell herself the story of what just happened.
Until she could make a story out of it, it wasn't hers. Until she could talk to herself, she wouldn't be able to understand the thing that just happened between them. Until she figured out what name to give this, it would be worse than if it had never happened.
The word that kept coming to her was not the word "love."
The word that kept coming to her was "again."