in Friends

We’ll move out of the shelter, buy a big house and live in the suburbs

The Pacific shimmers a radiant electric blue and the wind rustles our hair. Crystal has put the top down on the red Nissan 350Z roadster. The engine sings a sweet harmonic note as we trace the tight curves of the Pacific Coast Highway.

“Speed under control,” she says to me, her dark sunglasses reflecting the horizon. The bare skin on her shoulders is the color of vanilla ice cream. “You learn how fast you can push it. I had this Yamaha R6 for a time; I took it to Laguna Seca. There’s nothing like hitting a curve at seventy and feeling the bike respond underneath you.”

In the meadow to our right, stud horses stand in uffish thought, meditating upon the silver-white waters below them. We fly past them like wind.

“I did love Anthony at one time,” she said. “I was in Reykjavik, he was in Boston. We kept in touch with e-mails and Internet chat messages. I didn’t speak the language. And through the ones and zeros I found a sympathetic voice. We wrote to one another. First it was once a day… ‘how’s your day been’ and that sort of trivia. Then we started to discuss our favorite books, our philosophies, our childhood memories, and ultimately, our darkest sexual fantasies.”

“Hey, watch –” I said. A rental truck whooshed by, swerving a little. Crystal had veered into the left lane. Crystal gave me a look of subtle reproach, then continued.

“Three years after I was married to him, I met Blaine. He worked in the cubicle next to mine. With him, in person I felt something I never felt with Anthony. I knew we were going quickly, but it was my choice to do so.”

Coyote brush, sage scrub, strawberries, roses; a thousand scents pass us in a microsecond. Crystal checks her rear view mirror and gently touches the accelerator. The tachometer tweaks and the engine changes key.

“I broke up with Blaine in April. He had already decided to divorce his wife. Monday mornings, I see him at the coffee maker and nod politely. We’re civil to one another. I don’t regret anything and neither does he. The break was a clean one.”

I decided to change the subject. “Do you still ride your bike?” I asked.

“I crashed my bike a few months ago. Took a turn at Thunderhill a little too fast. A fracture in my ankle. It swelled up larger than my kneecap. I couldn’t walk for a few weeks after that. But you know something, John?”

Crystal kicked the accelerator and the little car howled like a nest of bees: ninety, one hundred. An indicator on the tachometer flashed.

Crystal dropped her sunglasses and showed me her dark eyes. “You have to push it,” she said, smiling gently at me. “You have to learn what’s possible and what’s not.”

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