“So is it your boyfriend?” Izzy said suddenly. “Or someone else?”
Emma stopped thinking about words. “What?”
“Is it your boyfriend who isn’t like that? The one who isn’t boring? Or was it someone else, from the past?”
Emma looked at Izzy, unsure how to answer. “Why would you ask me that?” she said.
Izzy seemed surprised. “Because we’re meant to ask each other anything. So I did. I was curious. Why not?”
“But why would you even think that. I mean, why assume he bores me…”
“I didn’t say bore,” Izzy said, sounding confused. “I asked if he wasn’t like that.”
“Oh,” Emma said, realizing. “Yeah. Shit.”
“You might be jumping to conclusions or something,” Izzy said, smugly.
Emma glared at her.
“What?” Izzy said, still smiling, still smug. “You were.”
“Good,” Izzy said. “So does he?”
Emma opened her mouth, but didn’t answer. She couldn’t answer. She looked at Izzy, unsure what to say. Answering seemed disloyal. It seemed wrong to actually answer. But it also seemed as though she ought to, since she had made the agreement with Izzy. She ought to answer, she thought, and answer truthfully, too, since they had decided to talk to each other this way. But that seemed to be betraying Mark, if she did.
She didn’t know what to do.
“Well?” Izzy said, sounding a little as though she was teasing, rather than she actually cared about Emma’s answer. “Tell me. Is it him who doesn’t bore you?”
“No,” Emma said, reluctantly.
“So he does bore you?”
Emma hesitated. “I…”
Emma was quiet.
“Well?” Izzy said. “Does he? Or not?”
“I didn’t mean it was him,” Emma said, defensively.
“Oh, you didn’t? Well, that’s okay then.”
Emma was relieved. She must have looked it because Izzy started to grin.
“You’re teasing, aren’t you,” Emma said.
Izzy nodded slowly.
“It really is.”
“Yep,” Izzy said. “So it is him?”
“I said it wasn’t him I meant.”
“I know. I heard. And that’s absolutely fine. Except that now I’m actually asking you, as one of the incredibly personal things which we ask each other. Does he bore you?”
Emma felt trapped.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Izzy said.
Emma looked at Izzy, suspiciously. She seemed a little smug again, Emma thought.
“I don’t have to?” Emma said.
“Of course not.”
“Except I do, don’t I?”
“Well, by your rules, I think yes you do.”
Emma looked at Izzy, feeling caught, and a little treacherous too. She hesitated, wondering if she should answer, and then decided this wasn’t any worse than other things she’d said to other friends about boyfriends before. It wasn’t, except that it was, because with Izzy she might be flirting, and if they were flirting, then saying anything bad about Mark would be a terrible thing to do.
Except actually it wouldn’t, she thought suddenly, because nothing was going to happen with Izzy anyway. So, for Emma, Izzy was just a friend, and it wasn’t so terrible of Emma to want to talk.
“Yes,” Emma said, in the end. “Sometimes, I suppose. And not badly. And not all the time. But like we just said, sometimes everyone makes you feel like that…”
“Bored having sex?”
“Yes,” Emma said, reluctantly.
“Except that one person who doesn’t?”
“Yeah,” Emma said, noticing the odd vagueness about gender again. “Except that person.”
“So do you have a guy like that?” Emma said. “In your past? Or now?”
She said guy on purpose, to see how Izzy answered, because she was still wondering whether Izzy was interested in her and trying to find a discreet way to ask. She said guy, hoping Izzy would say yes, but Izzy just kept grinning, as if she knew exactly what Emma was doing and being difficult on purpose.
“Do you?” Emma said.
“I have someone,” Izzy said carefully.
“Someone who you’re with now?”
Izzy shook her head. “Someone from a long time ago.”
Emma waited, hoping Izzy would say more, or say who, or at least tell some anecdote that involved the word he or she. She waited, hoping, but Izzy just grinned and waited too.
As if she knew perfectly well what Emma was waiting for and wasn’t going to help.
Emma wanted to ask Izzy for more details, but couldn’t bring herself to. She was still a little worried that asking anything directly about Izzy’s romantic life might become complicated. She gave up, grudgingly, and tried to think of something else to say instead, something harmless and interesting, which would keep the conversation going. It felt like it was her turn to say something, and that it ought to be something clever. It felt like it was that, or she should just give up and go home, and she wasn’t ready to go home just yet. She was having fun, in a peculiar way. It was fun talking like this, being honest with one another, even if it was a little startling at times, too.
She wanted to keep talking, so she tried to think of something else to say, but unfortunately, most of what she could think of right then was either to do with relationships or with sex.
“Okay,” Emma said, thinking carefully. “So this is a bit different, but maybe not. It’s sort of the opposite to being bored.”
“It’s just something I thought about once, and then started noticing all the time.”
“Okay,” Izzy said. “Go on.” She seemed to be waiting.
“Not all the time,” Emma said, correcting herself. “But sometimes. Occasionally.”
“So what is it?”
“I don’t know if it makes any sense or not.”
“So tell me what it is. And then I can tell you.”
Emma smiled. Izzy was grinning, teasing a little again, she thought.
“Tell me,” Izzy said, sounding interested.
“All right,” Emma said. “Have you ever had the feeling that someone you’re having sex with is actually, at the same time, having sex with their ex?”
“Imagining them, you mean?”
Emma shook her head. “Not like that. Not on purpose, and not to be cruel to you. Just… doing what that other person used to like them to do, I suppose I mean. And doing it subconsciously, completely without meaning to. Forgetting who you are, I guess, and going back to old habits they had with someone else. And not realizing they are, because they’re distracted by having sex. So they’re half-expecting you to respond how the other person would, doing that thing they really liked to do, rather than remembering its you they’re with right now.”
“I have actually,” Izzy said, thinking.
“Oh,” Emma said. “Really?”
“Of course. Now you say it, I know exactly what you mean.”
“And you’ve had it happen too?”
Izzy nodded. “I think so. Doesn’t everyone do that sometimes?”
“I actually don’t know. I’m not sure.”
“It seems like people do. I’ve done it. You probably have too.”
Emma thought. It had never occurred to her to wonder whether she was as capable as other people of that little slip. “I suppose so,” she said, doubtfully.
“I think you have. I think everyone does, sometimes.”
Emma nodded. Izzy was probably right. “Yeah,” she said. “I suppose.”
“But once you start looking for it,” Izzy said. “You’ll see it all the time.”
“I suppose so to that too,” Emma said. She thought for a moment. “Well, anyway,” she said. “I can’t decide if it’s rude or not. Or if it’s just… I don’t know, exactly what you should expect.”
“It’s probably what you should expect,” Izzy said. “I mean, just how people are, once they’re tired or distracted or whatever.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
They sat for a moment, both thinking. Probably both remembering having sex, Emma suddenly realized, a little uncomfortably.
“So,” Izzy said. “Do you do it?”
Emma shrugged. “I suppose I must do. Now you point it out.”
“Remember we’re being honest.”
“I am. That’s why I said I must do. Rather than that I couldn’t and never.”
“Do you?” Emma said.
“So here’s a chance for some more honesty,” Izzy said. “Since you like it so much. Does your boyfriend do that too? While he’s having sex with you?”
Emma opened her mouth to say she wasn’t going to answer that, but then changed her mind. She had to, she decided. Because of the honesty between them.
She still hesitated, though.
“You don’t have to answer,” Izzy said.
“No, I will.”
“Good,” Izzy said, and waited.
“He used to,” Emma said, self-consciously. “Early on, he did. Not any more, though, really. I suppose he’s got used to me, and does what I want him to do.”
Izzy nodded. She seemed to be thinking. “So now he just imagines his exes…”
“He does not,” Emma said, a little surprised, and a little offended too.
“Have you asked him whether he does?”
“Of course not.”
“I bet he does.” Izzy was grinning, teasing again.
Emma was quiet. After a moment she said, “Please don’t…”
Izzy looked at her, and realized she was serious. “Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean…”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I won’t again.”
“I’ve been called the wrong name,” Izzy said, after a moment, as if she was trying to make amends by saying something that was uncomfortable for her. “During sex, I mean.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“I’ve never done it, though.”
Emma smiled. “Well, not as far as you know.”
Izzy laughed. “Yeah. True. But I don’t think I have. I’m pretty sure.”
“You could have forgotten, though. Or not noticed. You might have just let it slip out, and neither of you noticed, if you were busy.”
“Yeah,” Izzy said doubtfully. “I suppose.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I think I’m sure.”
“Because you’re better than that? More attentive or whatever?”
Izzy grinned again. Her confident, smug grin. “Pretty much,” she said, and seemed suddenly sure of herself.
Emma didn’t know what to say back. She sat there for a while, thinking, and then she looked at the clock on the stove. “I should probably go.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Nah, this was just coffee. I shouldn’t take up more of your time.”
“And besides, your roommate is probably sick of hiding in her room.”
Izzy seemed surprised. “How do you know about my roommate?”
“She answered the phone…”
“Isn’t she in her room?”
Izzy hesitated, then nodded.
“So she must be sick of hiding,” Emma said. “And so I should go.”
Izzy nodded, and stood up.
They went to the door. Izzy opened it, and Emma went outside, and then stopped, and turned around. They stood there, looking at each other through the doorway, and Emma felt like she ought to say something.
Something other than thank you. Something important, to make this end properly.
“I want that,” she said, after a moment. “What we talked about. Not being bored. I don’t know if I’ll ever have it again, but I want it.”
Izzy nodded slowly. “Yeah, same. Me too.”
They looked at each other for a moment, and Emma almost said something else. Something dangerous, something foolish. That she might still be looking for not being bored, and willing to try quite hard to find it, or that Izzy should be looking too, and perhaps in different places to where she might expect.
Emma stood there, a little too close to Izzy, looking at her through the doorway, wondering about what else to say. Then, quite suddenly, she realized she couldn’t say anything. Not without being a terrible person. Not without betraying Mark.
“Well, bye,” Emma said quickly, and stepped backwards.
“Come back if you want,” Izzy said.
“Okay, I will.”
“Any time. Just knock. Or call.”
“We could go for a drink sometime,” Izzy said suddenly.
Emma stopped, and looked back at Izzy, thinking carefully. “A drink?”
“Yeah,” Izzy said. “We should, actually. We should go and have a drink.”
Emma wondered if she was being offered something more than it seemed. She wondered, and then decided not. If Izzy intended to mean more, she seemed like someone who would probably just say so.
“Yeah,” Emma said. “All right. I’d like that.”
Izzy looked at Emma, thinking, and then shrugged as if she was disappointed. “I mean it,” she said. “We should.”
“And I meant it too. What are you on about?”
“Oh, nothing. That just sounded… polite.”
“Polite like I’d say yes and then never do it?”
“I’ll do it. How about tomorrow?”
Izzy grinned. “All right.”