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She wondered whether her relationship with the carpenter would stand the test of time. She had kissed him and held his hands enough times that it had become routine. He’d kiss her on the cheek hello, and she’d kiss him on the lips farewell. The butterflies in her stomach must have migrated elsewhere. Was that okay? She let that question simmer in her mind until she closed up shop and led the carpenter to her room. As they sat down, she realized that the answer was obvious—why else would she spend evening after evening in silence together with him?
He rarely bothered her while she was reading, and even when he did, she didn’t mind. Because it was him. Anyone else, and she would have shushed them until she was satisfied. As much as she loved books, she loved the time she spent with him more.
Will I think the same a year from now? Or two? Or ten? The rest of our lives?
She wanted certainty that her answer would remain yes, so, as if to confirm, during their reading time, she casually interrupted by curling up on his lap and kissing him on the cheek. He seemed to find it increasingly difficult to focus on his book, finally reaching around her shoulders to recover his pressed flower bookmark on the table and setting the book aside, bookmark in place.
It still doesn’t suit him, she thought. It was reluctantly his—Kosuzu had gone to her garden on a whim one day, and pressed the flowers onto the bookmark herself. Still, the fact that he kept that on his person made her want to kiss him more.
So she did. It was the kind of kiss where she could barely reach him—Kosuzu had to wrap her arms around his neck, hoist herself up, and crane her neck to brush her lips against his. The carpenter’s chair, however, did not appreciate her efforts and toppled over, taking its two humans with it. After the clatter, Kosuzu found herself straddling the carpenter. Her cheeks burned a modest red, though she took the opportunity to lean down and kiss him again—an honest one, this time.
Their eyes wandered not to each other but to the closet where the futon was stored. There was a brief moment of mutual understanding as they looked back at one another, and they put aside their shame, getting off each other at once to lay out the bedroll.
There’s something wildly indecent about a man and a woman laying out a futon for two, thought Kosuzu as she took out the comforter. I wonder if he thinks the same.
He must have. Dozens of implications had to be running through his head as he sat cross-legged on the tatami mats, next to the futon, and staring into the set of pillows. Kosuzu, however, couldn’t wait and dragged him to the bedding.
As the two sat neatly on the futon, he pulled her in closer, and, as much as Kosuzu hated cliches, she found his calloused hands to be quite lovely. Her mind wandered to those racy books found in the corner of Suzunaan where a rugged foreigner with a wild mane and a hulking body would whisk a small-breasted woman away to make love to her all night—and sure, the carpenter was no blue-eyed, chiseled man, but he was close enough, right?
His hand traveled to her cheek, and then closer to her lips. She gave his index fingers a playful bite, and the two laughed together as they sank deeper into the mattress. Her dress came off, slowly, piece by piece by the hands of her lover, and shame colored her cheeks when she was laid bare to him. Though her embarrassment rose, she quelled it and pushed her breasts together with her hands, laying upon the man her expectant gaze.
A few things went through her mind as she did this: One, she was stupid. Two, she wondered whether her modest chest was good enough. And three, she was irredeemably and undeniably stupid. It wasn’t like she was jealous of the other women in the village, but girls two-thirds her age had a figure better than she did, and she wondered if that mattered to him.
He softened his gaze and smiled as if to say that she was fine.
Of course I was fine. He only had eyes for me. Stupid me. Self-conscious me. She berated herself some more but found herself giddy because she knew—and she knew well—that the carpenter would only look at her, that he had chosen her and not any of the other girls.
An embrace took her out of her mental preoccupations. As the physical space between them closed, he put a tender kiss to her cheek.
Instantly, Kosuzu fell apart. She liked him, very much so. And she liked him touching her. She liked a lot of things—like how he would wait until she finished her page to say something, or gently take her hand when they’d walk through the village together, or how he loved books but would never show it, or the way he’d stare at her as if she were something so precious to him.
She let him take off her dress piece by piece. First was the sash—as he untied it, her skirt fell unceremoniously into the futon. Then he moved onto her undergarments. Kosuzu preferred to spare herself from the slow and deliberate process of undressing by degrees, but he loved being overly meticulous. Either way, she didn’t mind as long as he enjoyed it, and from the look of his face, he did so immensely.
He then unfastened the straps on her robe, and what was left of her clothing was then stripped away. There, he admired her, taking all of her in with his eyes. Kosuzu wasn’t the type to let herself be fine art, so she brought her face closer to his and kissed him, first on his neck, and then on his cheek.
Oh, the sweet joy it brought her when he looked at her stunned, thoughts probably swirling with her. She disrobed him and climbed onto his lap. They looked at each other—and there was an unspoken agreement that she would be okay with him, and he would take care of her for the rest of their lives. Or maybe she just assumed that, but she was rather good at reading his expression.
They connected. She felt his warmth through his hands. She felt him inside of her. And while she would have loved to keep herself dignified, her shortness of breath, her cries, and her stupid-looking expressions—all that made it difficult. Maybe if she weren’t sitting on his lap, directly facing him, she wouldn’t be so self-conscious, but she was emotionally naked. Still, despite her shame, she thrust against him.
Hideji ran his hands down her waist and onto her thighs, his fingers tracing invisible lines to her knees. Kosuzu knew that he only did it because it got her unbelievably turned on every time. It made her drool a little—she hid her face, looking down, wiping it quickly with the back of her hand. It made her feel more unattractive than she usually did, enough to make her feel cross—but she knew Hideji wasn’t paying attention to her drool. Just her.
Usually, this would be when she’d make some snappy, self-deprecating comment, and they’d share a laugh together, but this time, she wasn’t really in the mood. Today, she felt too good to care. She felt so good that she decided that, for once, she would shut up and enjoy herself.
So Kosuzu did. If she hadn’t already been clinging tightly onto Hideji, she would have buckled under the pleasure, but she was no dead fish, and Hideji wasn’t either. Sitting on top of him, she had the luxury of cradling his head, a rare but welcome circumstance when she was an entire head below him in height.
When he grew increasingly rougher with her—one hand firmly gripping her hip, the other on her shoulder, both pressing against her tightly—she was sure he was growing close to the end. Maybe he’ll leave a mark, she thought, and it brought her an uneasy happiness. Nobody would see it except Hideji, since it’d be hidden underneath her clothes. Still, it was lascivious, very much so. Yet she kept rocking back and forth, breathing in soft gasps as they touched each other.
But it must have been Kosuzu who came first because whatever she was thinking suddenly took backseat to pleasure. She fell on top of him, and it reminded her of the first time she had collapsed onto Hideji—except this time it wasn’t heatstroke.
He finished, shortly after, and she was glad because she could breathe.
The two cleaned up. By the time they finished, moonlight bled into the room. Kosuzu watched Hideji as he put his clothes back on and left her room. Then an ineffable feeling overcame her, and she threw her clothes on, quickly, chasing him to the door to grab his hand. He was already halfway out when she caught him, his hand still nudging the door open. Many words swirled around her head, but none of them could come out. All she could do was try to convey everything she wanted to say through her eyes—and she stared, hard, so that she could impart something—maybe not everything—but something to him.
Hideji understood. He sighed and shut the door closed.
And he, for that night and evermore, stayed with her.