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Thirty seconds past orgasm, his heartbeat stopped roaring in his ears and her fingers loosened their death's-vice on his hair. He buried his face against the curve of her shoulder, tasting the sweet-hot-salt of her skin. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out.

She stared into the darkness, her eyes fixed on the ceiling. The sweat that had beaded on his forehead dampened the sheets as he exhaled against her skin. Where their bodies still joined, they were damp and clammy; the cooling unit had been out for months. They'd never bothered to have it fixed, but now summer was marching relentlessly forward, and over the past several days they had both found the heat leeching their good humor.

She was first to move, her body protesting his weight across her ribs; he shifted and slid from inside her. He couldn't tell if he'd satisfied her -- the first time he'd ever been in doubt. A thousand false starts and missed cues. She wrapped the sheet around her shoulders and drew her knees up to her chest as she sat up, reaching over him to the nightstand. Her breasts, nipples still pale purple pebbles from his tongue, skimmed across his back. His shiver had nothing to do with the heat.

Crimson and ochre, the lighter flashed against the backs of his eyes; slate and blue in the moonlight, the smoke danced as she took a drag and passed him the cigarette. Tiny trails curled behind it, and he wondered what fortunes were being spun away, unread, on the wind. Outside, a siren shrilled, shifting frequency and wavelength as it careened by. She'd changed brands of cigarettes, and he could taste the difference, acrid unfamiliarity layering over the coffee-and-whiskey taste of her on his lips. It left a sour note, a discordant chord.

"Thank you," she said, the way she always did. The words weren't important; it was the voice in which she said it that always told him what he needed to know. Sated and lazy, playful and quick, rough and broken; breathless, tender, sleep-drenched or sultry, he had heard them all.

She sounded pre-rehearsed, scripted. For the first time, he remembered that this was her bed, and wondered who else had been in it before him. Or perhaps, who had been in it after.

"Julia," he said, testing the shape of her name.

She glanced back at him; a lock of her thick hair slipped over her shoulder, falling down into the valley of her breasts. "Yes?"

After a moment of watching her watching him, he shook his head. "Nothing," he said, and closed his eyes. It was easier for him not to see.

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