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midnight

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“It’s 10:47 p.m.,” Rebecca says to mark the time as she places her phone back in her handbag and her handbag on the floor. She has no reception in this elevator, stuck in the dark somewhere between the first and second floor, but at least she knows what time it is.

“Starting your captain’s log, boss?” Ted murmurs. They’d stood on either side of the elevator when they first entered, but his voice is much closer now.

“Ha, ha. This is why I always take the stairs.” It’s late and they’re the last two at the club. Even the cleaner’s van is gone from the parking lot, which Rebecca knows because they made it outside and nearly to Ted’s reluctantly-purchased car when she realized she’d forgotten her laptop upstairs and would want it at home for the weekend. Ted offered to go back in with her and suggested they take the elevator for a change.

“Gosh, I’m sorry, Rebecca, I—”

“Shhh,” Rebecca says. “At least we’re in here together. And help’s on the way.” The tinny voice at the other end of the emergency call box estimated that help in the form of an on-call but faraway repair person would arrive by midnight. They’re safe, though. Trapped but safe.

She reaches out, using feel to place Ted in relation to her. She brushes her fingers against his nearest hand—his palm is steady and still. Slides up to his chest to see if she can feel his heartbeat through his jumper—she can’t, not immediately, but she figures she’d be able to tell if his heart was pounding out of his chest. If she’s not careful, before she knows it Ted will have taken off his jumper and laid it out so she doesn’t have to sit directly on the floor. They’ll sit down and he’ll pull her feet into his lap and they’ll pass the time swapping stories while she receives an absolutely decadent footrub. Whatever amount of time they have, in any scenario, he wants to spend it all on her. But he’s learning to take what’s on offer, learning to accept gifts from other people. Most of all her. Because—and she’s said as much—if he can’t accept what she wants to give him, she can’t be with him. If she can’t trust the answer when she asks him what he wants, she can’t give him anything at all.

“Ted, sit down with me,” Rebecca says. She sits down before he has time to sacrifice any clothes to the mission, and smiles into the dark when she feels him settle into her left side. Her eyes are starting to adjust, and the orange glow from the emergency intercom provides just enough light to see that he’s shut his eyes for a moment of privacy at the now-extended end of a long day. She returns her hand to his chest, this time to smooth the fabric in lazy circles.

“We’re not at work,” she says before he can protest. They never have sex at the club. Even tonight, here so late on a Friday, they were only working. There’s plenty of that to do. “This doesn’t count as being at work.”

He exhales sharply. “Yeah,” he says, the word a chuckle. “This is like—like another dimension or something.”

At first, as she helps him out of his jumper and pulls him even closer and slides a kiss from his cheek to his neck to his shoulder, midnight feels far away. She unzips his fly and together they shove his khakis down his hips and she’s so proud when Ted doesn’t say “You don’t have to” or “Hey, wait, Rebecca, what do you want?” or “Are you sure?” They breathe together, still adjusting to the strangeness of being stuck here, and Rebecca returns to the kisses again and again, cheek, neck, shoulder, again and again until finally she presses their mouths together.

When she breaks the kiss, she stays close, her leg pressed to his, their hips connected. She flirts with the hem of his boxers, then the waistband, aware that he’s been ready for a while but also aware that midnight is still a very distant reality. “Beautiful,” she whispers, and she feels Ted smile at that, feels rather than hears the oh God he mutters in response. Most people want to be pretty and lovely and beautiful, but Ted’s the first man who’s ever learned to admit it in front of her. She’s learned to try out adjectives, to say what she feels, and he’s learned to listen.

Midnight is far away as she lets go of him long enough to rifle through her bag for her little tube of hand lotion. She squeezes some into her palm and rubs her hands together, warming it. “Unscented,” she says quietly, and it occurs to her to make a joke, to pretend at a casualness he’ll see the humor in. “Disappointed your dick won’t smell like cucumber melon or whatever the fuck?”

Ted is too far gone to quip back, apparently—a first?—but he’s present enough to laugh. Present enough to hold himself up on his hands so she can push his boxers down to join his trousers. She maneuvers his jumper so he can sit on it; if anybody needs a layer, it’s him. They’re both quiet, then, as she finds a wad of tissues for him to hold until it’s time, quiet as they approach faroff midnight with her hand against him, quiet punctuated with one more beautiful and his whispered name. His frame shakes into hers as she brings him closer, and she thinks idly and pleasantly of how different it feels to concentrate on this when it’s truly dark, darker than either of their bedrooms ever get—how attuned she can be to the changes in his breathing, the heat he gives off as she touches him. He stays hushed when he comes, pressed so close against her she can feel him biting back a moan.

Nothing bad happens, even though Rebecca is a person who always tends to expect the other shoe to drop and even though Ted is a person who tries too hard not to think that way. But it’s fine. There are no consequences, no immediate punishment for taking the risk. They haven’t made very much of a mess, and Ted is dressed again and they sit on the floor holding hands when the elevator lurches up to the second floor with no warning. “Sorry about that, ma’am,” the repair man in coveralls says when the door opens. “Coach,” he adds, with a nod in Ted’s direction. Rebecca tries not to squint in the glare of the bright light from the hallway as she thanks the man with as much dignity as she can muster.

Ted stands up first and pulls Rebecca to her feet. “We don’t need to stick around for anything, do we?” he asks the repair man, who shakes his head no and looks at Ted with an only slightly quizzical smile, which broadens into a more genuine grin at Ted’s effusive thanks.

They take the stairs back down to the parking lot, and they’re nearly to the car again when Rebecca stops. “My fucking laptop,” she exclaims.

But it’s so late, and Ted says as much, and Rebecca pictures a weekend without it, a weekend reading the newspaper on actual paper, tucked into the couch at Ted’s flat with coffee she doesn’t actually hate, an elaborate frittata or quiche in the oven for Saturday breakfast. She opens the door and buckles herself into the passenger side.

Ted doesn’t start to drive right away. He turns to look at her, and even though they’re enclosed in the car together, the space they can take up feels enormous after the elevator—the parking lot, the entire polluted but pretty night sky, the easy exit onto Nelson Road, the short drive to Ted’s flat, which is only a drive because it was raining too steadily this morning to walk. They’ll spend the weekend there because they spent the prior one at hers. It’s so simple to picture, so well-lit and free.

“I’m glad—” Ted says. The rest of the words live behind his eyes—live in all the places she’s touched, all her ideas and expectations, all they’ve asked of each other, all the gifts he’s worked so hard to receive. Instead of finishing the sentence, he starts the car. He leans back as the engine kicks in, closes his eyes as briefly and firmly as he did when they were stuck upstairs. When he opens them, he’s alert again, hands on the wheel.

“I am too,” Rebecca replies. For once, she’s glad for every little thing.