Clare counts. I race around picking underwear and socks from the floor, collecting spoons and coffee cups from various horizontal surfaces and chucking them into the kitchen sink. As she says "Nine hundred and sixty-seven," I remove the tie from her eyes. I have turned the sleeper-sofa into its daytime, sofa self, and I sit down on it. "Wine? Music? Candlelight?"
I get up and light candles. When I'm finished I turn off the overhead light and the room is dancing with little lights and everything looks better. I put the roses in water, locate my corkscrew, extract the cork, and pour us each a glass of wine. After a moment's thought I put on the EMI CD of my mother singing Schubert lieder and turn the volume low.
My apartment is basically a couch, an arm chair, and about four thousand books.
"How lovely," says Clare. She gets up and reseats herself on the sofa. I sit down next to her. There is a comfortable moment when we just sit there and look at each other. The candlelight flickers on Clare's hair. She reaches over and touches my cheek. "It's so good to see you. I was getting lonely."
I draw her to me. We kiss. It's a very. . . compatible kiss, a kiss born of long association, and I wonder just exactly what we've been doing in this meadow of Clare's, but I push the thought away. Our lips part; usually at this point I would be considering how to work my way past various fortresses of clothing, but instead I lean back and stretch out on the sofa, bringing Clare along with me by gripping her under the arms and pulling; the velvet dress makes her slippery and she slithers into the space between my body and the back of the sofa like a velvet eel. She is facing me and I am propped up by the arm of the sofa. I can feel the length of her body pressing against mine through the thin fabric. Part of me is dying to go leaping and licking and diving in, but I'm exhausted and overwhelmed.
"Why 'Poor Henry?' I'm overcome with happiness." And it's true.
"Oh, I've been dropping all these surprises on you like big rocks." Clare swings a leg over me so she's sitting exactly on top of my cock. It concentrates my attention wonderfully.
"Okay. I'm finding this evening highly entertaining. I mean, Knowledge is Power, and all that. Also I've always been hugely curious to find out where you live and what you wear and what you do for a living."
"Voilà." I slide my hands under her dress and up her thighs. She's wearing stockings and garters. My kind of girl. "Clare?"
"It seems like a shame to just gobble everything up all at once. I mean, a little anticipation wouldn't hurt anything."
Clare is abashed. "I'm sorry! But, you know, in my case, I've been anticipating for years. And, it's not like cake . . . you eat it and it's gone."
"Have your cake and eat it too."
"That's my motto." She smiles a tiny wicked smile and thrusts her hips back and forth a couple times. I now have an erection that is probably tall enough to ride some of the scarier rides at Great America without a parent.
"You get your way a lot, don't you?"
"Always. I'm horrible. Except you have been mostly impervious to my wheedling ways. I've suffered dreadfully under your regime of French verbs and checkers."
"I guess I should take consolation in the fact that my future self will at least have some weapons of subjugation. Do you do this to all the boys?"
Clare is offended; I can't tell how genuinely. "I wouldn't dream of doing this with boys. What nasty ideas you have!" She is unbuttoning my shirt. "God, you're so . . . young." She pinches my nipples, hard. The hell with virtue. I've figured out the mechanics of her dress.
The next morning:
Clare: I wake up and I don't know where I am. An unfamiliar ceiling. Distant traffic noises. Bookshelves. A blue armchair with my velvet dress slung across it and a man's tie draped over the dress. Then I remember. I turn my head and there's Henry. So simple, as though I've been doing it all my life. He is sleeping with abandon, torqued into an unlikely shape as though he's washed up on some beach, one arm over his eyes to shut out the morning, his long black hair splayed over the pillow. So simple. Here we are. Here and now, finally now.
Excerpted from The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Copyright Audrey Niffenegger 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without permission from the publisher, MacAdam Cage.
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