She didn't even think what they had could be categorized as a relationship. After a reading, they stole to his place, had sex, and ordered in. Afterwards, they talked about nothing of consequence, her head nestled in the crook of his arm, her finger outlining the loose cluster of seven fine hairs on the center of his chest. There was an eighth one that had just started to sprout, and Ally wondered if she would see it grow as long as the others.

They were never supposed to be together, but circumstances and powers beyond their control were at work, or at least that's what she told herself to alleviate the guilt. Last November, after their third day of reading, they were walking from the studio to the Starbucks on 17th when a black man in a tattered black leather coat stopped them in the middle of the street with one word and the glint of a long, hooked blade, the kind you use to filet a fish. A big fish, Ally thought, or a belly.

"Money," he said quickly, softly.

It was Sunday night, and because they were on a tight deadline, the session had taken them to half past midnight. Ally looked around and saw not a single person, not that they'd help, anyway.

Then she saw Bill's hand on her arm - long fingers, sharp knuckles, the hand of a fighter. Earlier that evening, before they read the lines between the drunk comic relief and the high and mighty princess, he had told her that he took karate for three years. Imagining Bill throwing one lightning punch after another, she suddenly saw the thief for what he really was: scared. You could see it all over him - his jumpy, bloodshot eyes, feet that never stopped fidgeting. He held the knife, but it was too deep inside his jacket, plenty of time for a quick kick to the knee that'd knock him down.

"Hurry up," Bill said, nudging her purse. With his other hand, he gave the man the cash contents of his wallet.

There wasn't much in her handbag, almost all of it in singles, her tips from the night before. The guy snatched it and took off without saying another word, his footsteps growing faint as they watched him disappear into the darkness.

"Let's go," Bill said, taking her hand and sprinting to the end of the street, where there was more light and people. At the corner, they slowed down and Bill leaned back against the neon-trimmed window of a take-out Chinese shop, sun-faded photographs of their popular entrees behind his wobbly legs.

"Oh," he said in between bursts of tears and hitches, looking at her with such candid, childlike terror, "oh ... we ... could've ... died."

Ally did the only thing she could do, which was to take him in her arms like a mother, shield him away from the evils of the world. Weeks later he'd ask about the stain on the left shoulder of her suede coat, and she'd tell him it had always been there.

That night they made love for the first time. "I've heard of this," Bill told her in bed, the studio apartment smelling of sex and pizza. Bill had half a pie left over from the night before, so they reheated it and ate it all up right down to the crust, surprised at their late-night hunger. "People, when faced with life-threatening situations, get sexually charged, like us." He turned, his face so close, less than an inch away. "Is this what happened?"

Ally kissed his eyebrows, then his nose, then his mouth. She'd fantasized this situation since the first day, naked in bed with Bill, and in that fantasy she knew pity existed, but never in a million years would she have believed it would've originated from her. "Is your life threatened now?" she asked.

"No, not particularly."

"Do you want to fuck me again?"

That smile. How was it possible that a mere human gesture could so thoroughly satisfy her? She knew it was shallow to love something so physical, but that smile would wipe out a rainstorm, make the heavy clouds burn up in an instant to reveal an everlasting sun. As she felt him slide inside her again, she thought she'd do anything to see that living work of art blossom across his face. She didn't care if he was engaged to be married in the fall. She wouldn't have cared if he'd murdered a flock of nuns and ate their holy hearts.

Secrets; I Tried To Keep Us Together, You Were Busy Keeping SecretsWhere stories live. Discover now