“When you call,” said Tim slowly, “I’m just supposed to forward you to security. We have really good security. Do you understand that? They’re looking for you. They will hunt you down.”

Mr. Masterson hung up.

···

“So if you don’t like sports,” Amberly asked, long after they’d stopped counting dates and meeting in motel rooms. “What were you doing at Murphy’s the night we met?”

They sat in her kitchen, a bottle of cheap wine on the counter beside them. It was only luck that she lived on the bottom floor of her building.

“I was there with a friend. A work friend.”

“Yeah? How come you never introduce me to your friends?”

“Like I said, he’s a work friend. We don’t usually hang out socially.” Tim squeezed one of his chair’s armrests. Amberly laughed.

“Look at you,” she said. “You’re so tense. Don’t worry, I’m not actually giving you any shit about why you haven’t introduced me to your friends. I already know the answer.”

“Yeah?” Tim took a drink and tried to relax without looking like he was trying to relax.

“Because you don’t have any,” said Amberly. “I know it should mean you’re already married or something, but I don’t think it does. And I think the reason you don’t ever take me to your house is because it’s messy, not because you’re hiding other women.”

Tim licked his lips. They were sticky with wine.

“I’m glad,” he said slowly, “that you’re not worried. I didn’t realize I was acting in such a suspicious fashion.”

“Didn’t you?” she asked. “I can never tell when men are playing games. They go about it so backwards.”

She poured herself another glass. There was very little wine left.“We could listen to music,” said Tim. “What kind of music are you in the mood for?”

She turned to her CD collection without answering him. It was a beautiful collection, taking up a whole bookshelf, and organized by genre rather than artist. She took great pride in her eclectic taste, but Tim couldn’t stare at that wall of music without a vague sense of unease. It lacked the precociousness of vinyl, the privacy of an iPod. Her technology was already irrelevant.

She put on a song he couldn’t identify. It was instrumental, vaguely jazzy.

“Who is this?” he asked.

Amberly topped off his glass. “Keep listening,” she said. “You’ll recognize it in a minute.”

They sat silent for the whole song, but it never became familiar.

···

The one good thing about the commute home from work was that it was short. The variable hours Tim worked meant that he was almost never caught in rush hour traffic. He could slide along the highway accompanied only by mothers in minivans or drunks in battered four-doors, depending on when his shift ended.

The bad thing about his variable hours was that Amberly always worked nine to five, with weekends off like a normal person. His days off altered every few months, as did his shifts. It was getting harder and harder to find time to meet with her. Their schedules were impossible to rectify.

···

“So were you in New York for 9/11?” Amberly asked.

Tim cleared his throat. They were in bed together. He’d pulled the sheet over his pale, emaciated legs, but Amberly was bare, spread out over the mattress like something golden and important.

“Jesus,” said Tim. “Do you really want to trade 9/11 stories?”

“I just asked if you were there.” Her voice was tight, but her pose was still languid. Her long hair was spread over the pillows so that tendrils of it brushed against his cheek.

“No,” said Tim. “I was here.”

Amberly rolled over to face him, propping her head up on a palm. The movement pulled her hair away from his face. “I thought you grew up in New York.”

“Kind of. I spent the school year with my mom here, and summers in Stapleton with my dad.”

“Huh.” She ran a hand through her hair, pulling it up above her head and wrapping it up, the whole nest resting on a pillow. “Well that’s less cool. So were you there?”

“No. It was September, so I was in school.”

“Oh. Me too.” She tangled her toes in the sheet and brought it up to cover her ankles. “I’d just moved into a new school district. Get this—when the principal made the announcement, I was in my political radicalism class. How funny is that?”

“Oh,” said Tim. “Yeah, I really don’t wanna talk about this.”

“Why? Did you know someone who died?”

“No.”

“Then why not? I skipped class the whole rest of the day. It was beautiful, actually. Still summer weather. There was a boy I had a crush on, and we sat on the lawn outside the school, under this big tree. The wind kept shifting the shadows of the leaves over our faces. We talked about our lives up to that point, in as much as sophomores in high school have had lives. It was the weirdest thing. Everything we talked about was really basic ice breaker stuff, but it was like all those people dying somewhere else lent us their profundity. You know I fell in love with that boy?”

“Jesus,” said Tim. “This is ridiculous. Who trades 9/11 stories? Who ever wants to talk about shit like this?”

“You know what made me mad?” Amberly asked. “All the American flags that went up afterward. Everyone in my neighborhood had one flying within that first week. Even my parents did. So I snuck out that night and took the flag they put up and threw it away. Then they bought another one so I did the same thing.”

Tim squinted over at her. “Why would you do that?”

She shrugged. “I’ve only told one other friend that, and she asked the same question. I guess I just hated it because it wasn’t real.”

“Jesus. How can you say that? 9/11 was like the realest thing that ever happened.”

“Maybe to you,” she said. “Maybe to all the other New Yorkers and part-time New Yorkers. But to me?” she shrugged. “That shit might as well have happened in Estonia. Except that Americans probably have it coming more than Estonians do.”

“You’re a bitch,” said Tim. The words came out without his permission. He managed to keep most of the heat out of them, that she might think he was expressing a general statement about her rather than a personal indictment.

She didn’t seem to mind.

“I didn’t know anyone who died,” she said. “It was just like that Indonesian tsunami, except people had to pretend that they cared more about it.”

“I don’t think people were pretending,” said Tim.

“Then they were just dumb. They took it personally.”

Tim opened his mouth to argue, but realized he didn’t know what he would argue with her about. She was saying something underneath what she was saying. He didn’t know what she wanted to hear, or if he wanted to say it.

“I just hated it,” she said. “The whole thing.”

“Well everyone hated it.” Tim pulled the sheet up higher, to cover them both up. The air was cold. “So at least you’ve got that much in common with the rest of the world.”

“I am the rest of the world. I don’t think I’m the minority here. I think most people are with me, they’re just too afraid to say it. Maybe they don’t know it yet.”

Tim looked over at her. She was staring, waiting.

“Maybe,” he said. “But I don’t think so. I don’t know what your side is, exactly, but I don’t think many people are on it.”

Amberly kicked her feet free from the sheet and got out of bed. She pulled her pants up without bothering to look on the floor for her underwear.

“Hey,” said Tim. Amberly picked the comforter up off the floor and shook it until her bra fell out of its folds. Tim watched her put it on, snapping it in the front and then adjusting her breasts in its small cups.

“Hey,” said Tim again, a little louder. She hunted down her T-shirt and put that on too. She crouched, facing the wall, and put on her tennis shoes, double-knotting the laces.

“I don’t even know what you’re mad about,” said Tim. “I don’t even know what language we’re speaking.”

She turned to face him, still sitting on the floor. Tim hauled himself up to a sitting position so he could see her eyes.

“Maybe that’s what I’m angry about,” said Amberly. “Maybe nobody speaks my fucking language.”

“So take it out on me,” snapped Tim. “Take it out on me for trying.”

She stood up and sneered at him, so rich with contempt that Tim thought it might never matter what side he took again; it would always be the wrong one.

“I care about you,” he said.

“You’re not that great at cunnilingus,” she snapped. “Your penis is curled up like a snail.” The insults were so petty, and delivered with such passion, that Tim laughed. He couldn’t help it. He threw his head back, releasing a loud bark that sounded less like a seal than like Amberly herself at her least inhibited. Tim wanted her, or wanted to be her, or wanted to be some reincarnation of her without this well of pointless rage.

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