Izzy sat where she was, silent, apparently too startled to speak. She seemed to have been caught completely off guard by Emma’s question, and her surprise made Emma feel quite smug. It made Emma feel, for once, as though she was capable of being surprising, too. Surprising, and interesting, and all sorts of good things which she didn’t usually feel she was.
“Well?” Emma said happily, after a moment. “Are you going to answer me or not?”
“I don’t know,” Izzy said slowly.
“Oh,” Emma said. She looked at Izzy carefully. “Are you okay?”
“Except that you don’t want to answer…?”
“I’m not sure I do, no.”
Emma thought. “But you said you’d answer. If I actually asked you…”
Izzy looked up. “Did I?”
“I think you did. Didn’t you?”
“Oh,” Izzy said, and thought for a moment. “Actually, I don’t know. I don’t think I said I would definitely, did I? Not definitely?”
Emma wasn’t sure. She tried to remember. After a moment, she shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe not.”
They looked at each other. Something had changed, and it had happened quite suddenly. All at once, everything felt a little uncertain. Emma looked at Izzy, and wondered what to do. She still wanted an answer to her question, now that she had asked it. She wasn’t sure if it was sensible to press Izzy, but she wanted an answer, so she decided she would have to press. Because really, she thought, Izzy had started this whole thing, so it was Izzy’s fault if it went wrong now.
“So?” Emma said. “Are you going to answer me? Or not?”
Izzy didn’t say anything. She just kept looking at Emma.
“Are you?” Emma said, insistently.
“Probably,” Izzy said, after a moment.
Emma smiled. “Good.”
“Only probably,” Izzy said quickly.
“I know. But still, you really should.”
Izzy started to smile, too. “I should, should I?”
“Well, maybe,” Izzy said. “Maybe I should. But it’s still only probably.”
Emma shrugged slightly.
“You don’t mind?” Izzy said.
Emma shook her head. “It’s fine. It’s good.”
“The probably part?”
Emma nodded. “Yeah, that. And that you aren’t upset or anything. That too.”
“Oh,” Izzy said, and thought. “No, I’m not. Why?”
“I don’t know, really. You might have been.”
Izzy nodded slowly. “I’m not.”
They looked at each other for a moment.
“So,” Emma said. “If you were going to answer anyway…”
Izzy smiled again. “Probably going to.”
“Yes,” Emma said. “That. If you were probably going to answer anyway, then you might as well just get on with it. Hadn’t you?”
Izzy kept smiling, slightly knowingly. She seemed to thinking about doing it, though.
“So…?” Emma said.
“Still thinking. You’ve been thinking for ages.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Well?” Emma said.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”
“Why not?” Emma said.
“You know why.”
“I really don’t.”
“Yeah?” Izzy said. “Well then, I don’t either. So there.”
Emma grinned, wondering whether she should be clever. She decided she would. She couldn’t help herself. “So not because it might make things complicated?”
“Maybe,” Izzy said.
Izzy shrugged. “Yep. Maybe it might.”
“So,” Emma said, pretending to think. “Complicated…”
Izzy seemed puzzled. “Yes, complicated. Why?”
“Complicated, like I said it would make it, you mean?”
Izzy glared for just a moment. Then she sighed. “Yes,” she said. “Complicated, exactly like that.”
Emma grinned happily, feeling rather clever. “Just as long as you admit it,” she said.
Izzy didn’t answer, so Emma decided not to say anything else. She had made her point, and Izzy’s reluctant admission of that was enough, but now she thought she’d better stop teasing or she might upset Izzy. So she sat, and smiled to herself, and felt quietly clever.
“Is it really that big a deal?” Izzy said, after a moment. “Whether I answer or not?”
Emma shrugged. “Not really. I don’t care if you don’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“I might not then,” Izzy said slowly. “If you don’t mind?”
“I don’t mind,” Emma said, then added, pointedly, “Not if you don’t mind being that kind of person…”
Izzy thought. “What kind of person?”
“One who promises she’ll do something and then doesn’t.”
Izzy sighed. She seemed to be thinking, though. “You’re awful,” she said finally.
Emma smiled. “I know.”
“No, completely awful.”
“Yep, I know.”
Izzy sighed again. “I was right, though,” she said. “What I said before. Because whatever I say next, whether I answer or not, that was still a much more interesting question than asking about who I like in general, don’t you think?”
Emma shrugged slowly.
“Don’t you think so?” Izzy said. She seemed less confident than usual. She seemed almost unsure of herself.
“I don’t know,” Emma said. “Is it?”
“I think so. Don’t you?”
Emma shrugged again. “I suppose so.”
“Well, I think it’s a much more interesting question,” Izzy said.
“Good. So answer it.”
Izzy didn’t. Instead, she just sat there, apparently lost in thought.
“Well?” Emma said, eventually.
Izzy simply looked at her.
“So are you going to answer?” Emma said. She was pressing Izzy, perhaps pressing too much, but she was starting to feel slightly irritated by Izzy’s reluctance. It seemed unreasonable of Izzy to refuse to answer now, when a moment ago she had fairly much insisted that Emma ask her that question. It didn’t seem fair of Izzy to change her mind so suddenly.
Emma waited, but Izzy still didn’t say a thing.
“What’s your answer?” Emma said, impatiently.
Izzy shook her head, and kept her mouth firmly closed.
“Please?” Emma said.
Izzy shook her head again.
Emma looked at Izzy, annoyed. She looked at Izzy, and suddenly became very aware of Izzy looking back at her. Aware in a different way to how she had been until then, a way that was especially conscious of soft lips and dark eyes and a hint of warm breath teasing against her face. She suddenly noticed all of those things, without quite knowing why, and suddenly, her annoyance was gone.
“Tell me,” Emma said, a little desperately. “Please?”
Izzy shook her head a third time.
“You’re not going to?” Emma said, dismayed.
“No,” Izzy said. “Not yet.”
“One day, perhaps. But not yet. Not right now.”
“Oh. Why not?”
“I don’t want to.”
“But…” Emma said, and then stopped, taken aback. “You mean you just won’t?”
Emma began feeling resentful again. “Fine,” she muttered. “I don’t care.”
Izzy grinned. “Yeah you do.”
“I really don’t.”
Izzy shrugged, smugly.
Emma sipped her tea and glared at Izzy, unpleasantly aware that now it was her turn to frown. It was almost as though a kind of a teasing contest had begun, she thought, in that they were each taking turns to provoke the other, and she wasn’t sure she liked it.
She sat and glared, and Izzy just looked back at her, smiling.
“Hey Em,” Izzy said suddenly. “Could I ask something? Something else?”
“Nope,” Emma said firmly. “Not until you answer me.”
Izzy looked at her for a while.
“Fine,” Emma said, giving in. “Ask me, then.”
“I don’t have to if you’d rather not?”
Emma sighed. “I suppose you might as well. Now that you’ve started to anyway.”
Izzy grinned. “Yep, I suppose I might.”
Emma waited for a while. Then she said, “Well?”
“I’m thinking. I will.”
“So do,” Emma said, feeling slightly frustrated.
Izzy seemed to notice. “Hey,” she said. “I will.”
Emma waited again, but Izzy had gone quiet, and seemed to still be thinking. After a moment, Emma opened her mouth, to ask Izzy to hurry up.
Izzy seemed to notice that too.
“Okay,” Izzy said quickly. “So. It’s this. Have you ever actually slept with a woman?”
Emma blinked. She didn’t know what to say. “What?”
“Have you ever slept with a woman?”
Emma hesitated, then shook her head, uncertainly. Then she sipped her tea.
“Oh,” Izzy said.
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing. Just, oh.”
“You sound surprised,” Emma said.
“No, not really. Not surprised.”
Emma thought. “You sound something, though. Something complicated.”
“Not really, no.”
“Something’s wrong though, isn’t it.”
“No,” Izzy said. “Not wrong. Not really. I just wondered, that’s all.”
“You wondered?” Emma said, wondering herself whether she ought to be offended. Or pleased. Or perhaps just taken aback.
Izzy shrugged slowly.
“Why did you wonder?” Emma said, carefully. Carefully, and being deliberately casual about the way in which she asked.
Izzy looked at her for a moment.
“I mean, why do you suddenly care?” Emma said. “Why now?”
“You must have some reason or you wouldn’t have asked.”
“No, not really. No reason at all. I just wondered. I thought you might have done, so I asked.”
“Well, I haven’t.”
“No, not ever.”
“Oh,” Izzy said.
There was a silence, which felt almost awkward. Emma wasn’t sure what to say, or do. She felt uncomfortable. She felt defensive. She decided she did actually feel slightly offended, after all. It wasn’t nice of Izzy to put her on the spot like that. It wasn’t nice of Izzy to be so pushy, and demanding.
“But why ask?” Emma said, sadly. “I mean, why now? And why should I have done, anyway?”
“You shouldn’t have done anything at all,” Izzy said. “I just asked. I wondered. That’s honestly all.”
“Well,” Emma said. “Now you know.”
Izzy smiled quickly. “Yeah. I do.”
They looked at each other for a moment, and Emma felt like something was changing. Some complicated sense of herself, and of what this thing with Izzy was, both seemed to be changing, and she wasn’t completely sure why.
She sighed, and sipped her tea, and looked at Izzy.
Izzy seemed to be thinking, too.
“What?” Emma said, mostly just to ask, to say something, and show she wanted to keep talking. She spoke, and only then heard her own tone, and realized her voice might sound a little sharp.
If Izzy noticed, she didn’t say anything, though. She just shook her head.
“No, really,” Emma said, trying to speak more gently. “What is it?”
“Just… You’ve never slept with a woman?”
“Well, I’m just wondering… I mean, if I can still wonder? If it’s okay that I do?”
Emma was surprised. “Of course you can still wonder.”
“Good,” Izzy said, grinning. “Thank you. Because I am.”
Emma decided that was just a little sarcastic, but made herself not say so. “Well?” she said. “What are you wondering?”
“I’m wondering…” Izzy said and then stopped.
“What? Just ask me.”
“Well, you’ve never slept with a woman.”
“But have you ever wanted to?”
Emma kept looking at Izzy for a long, uncertain moment. Then she said, “I’m not answering that.”
Izzy grinned. “You have to.”
“No I don’t.”
“You do so. We made a deal.”
“What?” Emma said, taken aback. “The deal you broke yourself, just a moment ago?”
“Yeah you did,” Emma said firmly.
Izzy grinned. “Yeah, I know.”
“So why would I answer you? When you wouldn’t answer me?”
Izzy shrugged. “I don’t know. You just might, that’s all. You might want to.”
“Oh,” Emma said, and thought. “Nope, I don’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep, pretty sure. I don’t want to answer that.”
“Okay,” Izzy said. “So then, don’t.”
“And anyway,” Emma said. “I don’t have to answer. That wasn’t the deal. I just have to not lie. That was all we agreed.”
“It was,” Emma said, surprised again. “That was the deal.”
“Maybe it was.”
“It was. That was what we agreed.”
Izzy grinned again. Teasingly, Emma thought. “Says you,” Izzy said.
Emma looked at Izzy, uncertain whether she was serious. “We did. We agreed. That’s what we said.”
Izzy sighed. “Yeah, I know. I know that too. I’m just…”
“Being awful?” Emma said.
Izzy smiled. “Yep. That. I suppose.”
“Well, don’t. It’s confusing.”
“And kind of mean,” Emma said.
“No you aren’t.”
“I sort of am.”
“Well don’t anyway,” Emma said. “Don’t tease like that. I can’t tell when you are.”
Izzy grinned almost smugly. “Okay then. I won’t.”
“And besides,” Emma said. “It doesn’t matter anyway. What we said before about not answering, I mean. It doesn’t matter any more, not when you just did it yourself. Even if it wasn’t the deal we made in the first place, it is the deal now. So now I’m going to not answer too.”
“So there,” Emma added. She wasn’t quite sure why.
Izzy grinned again, and stayed silent, but didn’t actually seem to be disagreeing.
“Is that okay?” Emma said, uncertainly, after a moment.
“Are you sure?”
“Good,” Emma said.
“Isn’t it good?” Emma said.
Izzy didn’t answer. She just sat there, silently. Almost as if they had run out of things to say, Emma thought.
Emma waited for a moment, wondering what happened next. That odd uncertainty she had noticed earlier was back between them again, she thought. That odd uncertainty which was equal parts alarming and unsettling, but just a little bit exciting, too.
Something had just changed between them, she thought. Or more precisely, it had just changed again. They had been back and forth ever since they sat down at the kitchen table, back and forth about something, although she wasn’t completely sure what. Something which was deeply a part of this situation with Izzy, something dangerous and attractive and definitely wrong, but also something which wasn’t completely unwelcome to Emma. Something which Emma felt she almost wanted, even without quite knowing what it was. Something welcome, and which interested her, and something which Izzy appeared to be aware of too, even though she was trying to hide behind grins and jokes. They were both trying to hide it, Emma supposed, but it was nonetheless real and terribly there.
It was there, and whatever it was, whatever was causing that hesitant connection between them, it had just happened again. Something had just changed, the mood of the conversation had changed, and become something less clear, and a lot more confusing, too.
Something had changed, Emma thought, and although she didn’t quite know what, she was fairly sure she knew why. They were talking more seriously now, in between the jokes and teasing. Their questions were becoming serious, and rather complicated, and their answers were as well. The tone of their conversation had changed as they talked, she supposed, becoming more open and somehow more honest. It was still mostly teasing, she thought, mostly it was, except for occasionally when it wasn’t. Because now, sometimes, that gentle teasing had become a teasing which hid a deeper truthfulness, which she found a little unsettling, and which she wasn’t completely sure she liked.
Truthfulness was always little unsettling, she supposed, although she wasn’t completely sure why that should be so.
She looked at Izzy, wondering what was happening. She thought she knew, as she sat there. She was almost certain that she did. They were reaching some decision, between themselves. They were deciding what this was. They were either working out the details of a friendship which could survive the lingering hint of attraction between them, or, in a subtle, secretive way, they were flirting with each other appallingly.
They were either becoming friends, or flirting, and Emma honestly wasn’t sure which.
She wasn’t sure, so she looked at Izzy uncertainly, wondering what to do next. Wondering what to say, or ask, and how to keep the conversation going, knowing what she did.
Emma wasn’t sure what to say to Izzy. She wasn’t sure of anything, really, not about Izzy. She wasn’t sure why she was thinking the way she was, worrying about attraction and friendship and what Izzy meant to her. She wasn’t sure how she could explain those thoughts to Izzy, either, or whether she should even try.
She didn’t think she should try. She was almost certain she shouldn’t try.
In fact, she thought, instead of explaining, she really ought to just not worry. She ought not worry about any of it, not about Izzy or what was happening or what they each were feeling. She really shouldn’t worry, she thought, despite being uncertain, because even though she was uncertain about everything to do with Izzy, she also wasn’t sure her uncertainty was unusual, or mattered especially much. It didn’t matter yet, anyway, not right now, and it probably wouldn’t matter any other time, either, because really, she didn’t have to be sure of everything. Or even, sure of anything. She didn’t need to be sure about any of it, not really, not when she could simply wait and see what happened next.
And so that was what she would do, she decided. She would simply wait and see. She wouldn’t bother trying to work out exactly what she was feeling, and she wouldn’t worry too much about what she knew and didn’t know, either. She didn’t need certainty, she decided, not yet, not now, and if she didn’t need certainty then she also didn’t really need to worry especially much about anything else. Not about the situation with Izzy and all its possible complications, anyway, not when she could just be patient, and see what happened, and in the meantime concentrate on other, simpler things instead.
Simpler things such as coffee.
Coffee, because Izzy probably wanted coffee, since she always seemed to be drinking it whenever Emma saw her, and also since that was actually what she had said she was there for when she first arrived. Izzy probably wanted coffee, and now that Emma had drunk her tea and was a little more awake, it seemed slightly rude of her to still be making Izzy drink tap water when she was probably up to dealing with more complicated drinks.
Drinks like coffee. Which was what she ought to be concentrating on right now, she decided, rather than what everything that was happening with Izzy actually meant.
“I think I’m awake,” Emma said.
“Oh,” Izzy said. “Well, good.”
“Finally,” Emma said.
“So do you want actual coffee or something?” Emma said. “Because I could probably make you some, if you did.”
“Oh,” Izzy said, and thought, and then shook her head. “Nah. Actually, I should probably go.”
“Really?” Emma said, surprised. “Why? Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I don’t know. Just… that was sudden. You deciding to go. Especially since what we were just talking about was a little… intense.”
“Oh,” Izzy said, and thought for a moment. “No, nothing like that. I just have to go.”
“Are you sure?” Emma said, still slightly worried. “That’s really all?”
Izzy grinned. “Fairly sure, yeah.”
Emma thought. She still felt slightly uncertain. “So you didn’t mind us talking about all of this?”
“What?” Izzy said. “No, of course not.”
“And you didn’t mind me not answering your question, either?”
Izzy shook her head.
“Or me asking what I asked?” Emma said. “About, you know… who you like? And how much you might like me?”
Izzy smiled slightly, and then shook her head again. “I didn’t mind you asking that.”
“Are you sure?” Emma said, still slightly worried.
“Yeah,” Izzy said. “I didn’t mind you asking. I honestly didn’t. I don’t mind talking about it with it, or you asking me things, and in fact, I’m glad you did. It’s just that I have a thing I need to do now. That’s really, honestly all.”
Emma nodded slowly. “Okay,” she said. “Well that’s all right then, I suppose.”
“Are you sure?”
Emma smiled. “Yep.”
“So I can go now…?” Izzy said. Teasing, Emma hoped.
“Yeah,” Emma said. “Of course.”
Izzy stood up, and glanced around, and then held out the water glass she had been using towards Emma. Emma took it, but then wasn’t sure what to do with it, since the sink was in the opposite direction to the front door, so she carried it with her as they both went down the hall.
“Are you sure everything’s okay?” Emma said again, as Izzy opened the front door.
Izzy stopped, and looked back at Emma. “Completely. Totally. I really just have a thing.”
“And you really didn’t mind me asking about all of that?”
“I really didn’t. I just have a thing to do at home.”
Emma hesitated. She suddenly felt slightly suspicious, and wasn’t quite sure why. “What kind of thing?” she said.
“Oh, a meeting,” Izzy said. “Why?”
“A meeting at home?”
“A meeting on the computer. A videoconference. Why?”
“Oh,” Emma said. Then, “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m just… nosey, I think.”
Izzy grinned. “Yeah, apparently you are.”
“Do you mind?” Emma said.
“That you’re nosy?”
“Nope,” Izzy said, still grinning.
“Hey, um,” Emma said. “Come back another time, okay? When it isn’t so early. I’ll make you coffee then.”
“Or you can come to mine?”
“Nope. You come here. And I’ll make coffee.”
Izzy nodded. “All right. I’d like that.”
“So would I. So do.”
“But warn you first?” Izzy said, smiling.
Emma smiled back. “Yeah, warn me first.”
“Okay,” Izzy said. “Well, I’d better go.”
“Okay,” Emma said. “Bye.”
Izzy smiled, and turned, and walked down the path and out the gate. She waved as she pulled the gate closed, and Emma waved back, and then watched as Izzy walked off down the street.
Then she went back inside and put Izzy’s glass in the kitchen sink.
After Izzy left, Emma masturbated. She tried not to, at first. She wandered around the house for a while, telling herself to calm down, and that there were plenty of other things she ought to be doing instead. She told herself that, even though she knew it wasn’t in fact true. There wasn’t anything else she needed to be doing, and knowing that actually seemed to make her temptation worse.
In the end, she gave in, assuming she wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything else until she got it over with. It seemed dispassionately practical, to masturbate simply clear her head after being around Izzy, but it also seemed to be what she needed to do.
It seemed to be what she needed, so she decided to just get on with it, and went upstairs to do so.
Emma didn’t masturbate especially often, in as much as she had any idea of what was normal, although she suspected it was probably still more often than many people did. She was home by herself all day, though, which she assumed gave her more opportunity. Usually, when she did, she was fairly quick and methodical about it, faintly embarrassed by the whole thing. She just did what she needed to do without much fuss, and then got up and went on with her day. Usually she was quick, but sometimes, when she was in the right mood, then she took longer. Then, she went back to bed and stayed there for hours, until three or four in the afternoon, reading and dozing and masturbating until it was dusk, and the sun had almost gone down, and the shadows were long and heavy, and a whole day had passed. It was odd and slightly surreal, she sometimes thought, to pleasure herself for such a length of time. To pleasure herself as the room first brightened with the afternoon sunlight, and became musky and hot, and then darkened again into evening. Sometimes she worried that she did this too often, and that it meant she wasn’t as interested in sex as she might otherwise be, because she had spent so many hours doing it on her own. Sometimes she was embarrassed about how much of her day it wasted, too, embarrassed enough that she always showered before Mark got home, because she didn’t want him somehow smelling a hint of it on her afterwards, and realizing what she’d been doing, and then also realizing what little else she must have done all day. It was the wasted hours that she didn’t want to admit to, mostly, rather than the masturbation, and that in itself also seemed slightly strange to her, too.
It was all very strange, and slightly embarrassing, but neither so strange nor so embarrassing that she actually stopped doing it.
In fact, she thought as she went back upstairs, she was tempted to spend the whole afternoon in bed today. She was in the right kind of mood, and rather wanted to, but she told herself she couldn’t, very firmly. She was still a little wary of her feelings about Izzy, and of the obsessive distraction Izzy had just caused, and she wasn’t entirely sure it was wise to make too much of those feelings, not yet, not right now.
Instead, she decided to be quick, and to make absolutely sure she got up again afterwards. She lay down, and started, and tried to make herself think about Mark, even though her mind was full of Izzy. She always tried to think about Mark, because it seemed like the proper thing to do. As much as she tried, though, she didn’t seem to be able to manage. Her mind wandered, and jumped to other things and other people, and especially, unsurprisingly, it kept wandering to Izzy. Eventually, she gave in to that temptation as well, and let herself think about Izzy as she lay there. She thought about Izzy. She daydreamed about Izzy, about their flirting and touching and about their kiss. She lay there, thinking about Izzy, not especially in a hurry to finish, but then, to her surprise, she had a sudden and very intense orgasm when she started thinking about Izzy’s smile.
She lay there for a minute, startled at herself. Izzy’s smile, she thought. Not Izzy’s legs or kiss or whatever else it might be, but Izzy’s smile. It seemed a strange thing to get excited about, she thought, but she supposed that there was always something new to learn about yourself.
She got out of bed, and had a quick shower, and then started thinking about what to make for dinner, and whether she needed to go to the supermarket to get anything for it, because if she did, she ought to go before three, when everything became busier because of people stopping on the way home from picking up their kids from school.
She looked in the fridge, and decided that she didn’t need to go anywhere after all. She lay down on the couch instead, and watched TV for a while, idly thinking about Izzy and the odd things she was learning about herself, and barely seeing any of what was on the screen in front of her.