“I want to tell you a secret,” Bez whispers in my ear.
“We don’t have any secrets,” I say softly. “We just have things we haven’t told one another yet.”
We are in my bed, which honestly has become our bed over the past few weeks. Juteau still occupies the guest room, when she’s not sleeping on the sofa or in the bath. Bez wouldn’t be sleeping in the guest room even if Juteau weren’t here. The time when I bothered with thinking it was odd that we sleep together has long since passed for me. For Bez, it’s never been anything that was odd to her. She does what she wants, and doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
“Wait here,” she says. She throws back the blanket and gets out of bed. The light from the streetlamp outside slips in through the parted curtains and wraps itself lightly around her body, not strong enough in its grip to do more than paint an amber glow on her pale skin as she moves silently across the bedroom floor. She disappears through the doorway. I do as I am told, and in a minute, she comes back into the room. She is carrying her sketchbook under one arm and her box of pencils in her hand. She gets back on the bed, sitting cross legged beside me.
When I reach to switch on the bedside lamp, she puts her hand on my arm. “Leave it off,” she says. “I like it better this way.”
“It’s too dark to see properly,” I say.
“I can see fine.” She opens her sketchbook, puts it on her lap, and takes a pencil out of the box. “Just do what I tell you.”
“It’s too late at night for you to be pushy,” I say. “Or too early in the morning. One or the other.”
“It’s only one,” she says. “Now hush and sit up.”
“It’s cold.” I pull the blanket up over my head.
She pokes me in the side with the flat end of the pencil. “It’s not cold. Sit up.”
I make a show of reluctance, but I can never refuse Bez anything. I sit up, one hand holding the blanket against my chest, the other against my bare hip.
“Put the blanket down,” she says, and I do. “Put your head forward,” and I turn my head toward her. “Pull your hair over your far shoulder,” and I run my hands through my hair, gathering it and letting it fall over my shoulder, over the top of my breast. Satisfied, she leans in closely and again whispers into my ear: “Don’t move.”
The light is behind her, and it isn’t strong enough for me to see features, but I know how she looks when she is working, how her brow knits in concentration, and how her eyes flit back and forth from subject to paper. Her hand moves quickly, and the only sound is the rasp of the pencil against the rough texture of the page.
“Put your hand on top of your thigh,” she says.
“Turn your face to me,” she says.
“Part your lips a little,” she says.
I do, and I do, and I do, and then I am still again.
Five minutes pass, then ten, then no time at all and everything is still, everything but the pencil scratching against the paper.
Finally, Bez puts the pencil back into the box. She looks at the drawing she’s made in her book, then she closes the pages and puts both the book and the pencil box onto the nightstand.
“Don’t I get to see it?” I ask.
“It’s a secret,” Bez says. She gets back under the blanket, and pulls it back over me as I lay down again.
“You told me you wanted to tell me a secret.”
“That wasn’t the secret,” she says. She moves closer, and her legs touch mine beneath the blanket.
“What was the secret then?” I ask.
She leans in to me, and puts her lips against mine. She has a taste that is uniquely her, cinnamon and pencil wood and oranges. For a moment her tongue darts against my upper lip, then it is gone again, leaving an electric spark where it has touched. She takes her mouth away, and touches her forehead against mine.
I lick my lips. “That’s not a secret. I already knew that.”
I can’t see it, but I know that she is smiling when she says, “That wasn’t the secret. This is.” Then she puts her lips up to my ear, and she whispers words to me that are made of breath and heat and stardust.