She flits around, dropping her bag in one place and removing her shoes in another. Two glasses appear, filled with red wine, and she leads me into the bedroom. She turns to face me, smiling. Petra has become more attractive—even her plain hair seems to sparkle. It is the alcohol, yes, but it's also her happiness. I get the feeling she has not been this happy in a while, and I'm not sure why. Petra is attractive enough.
She presses up against me, her body warm, her breath soaked in wine. She takes the glass out of my hand and puts it down.
I do not finish drinking it until much later, when we are in the dark and the only light is from my phone. We type back and forth, making fun of ourselves and the fact that we do not know each other.
Lime green. Ice cream?
Bubble gum? The blue stuff?
Who says that?
What's your favorite?
French vanilla. Pizza topping?
We're done here. Are we?
Wait, are we still talking about pizza?
We are not talking about pizza.
Afterward, she dozes off first. I think about leaving, then about staying, and the idea bounces around so long I doze off.
When I wake up, it's still dark. I slip out of the bed without waking Petra. She is sleeping facedown, one leg askew and her hair spread out on the pillow. I cannot decide if I really like her or not, so I don't decide at all. I do not have to.
On the nightstand, her earrings. They are made of colored glass, a swirl of blue shades, and they look like her eyes. After getting dressed, I slip the earrings into my pocket. I take them to remind myself not to do this again. I almost believe it will work.
I walk toward the front door without looking back. "Are you really deaf?"
She says it out loud, to my back. I hear her because I am not deaf. And I keep moving.
I pretend I don't hear her, go straight to the door and shut it behind me, then continue until I am out of her building, down the block, and around the corner. It is only then that I stop and wonder how she figured it out. I must have slipped.
My name is not Tobias. I use that name only when I want someone to remember me. In this case, the bartender. I introduced myself and typed out my name when I first walked in and ordered a drink. He will remember me. He will remember that Tobias is the deaf man who left the bar with a woman he just met. The name was for his benefit, not Petra's. She will remember me anyway, because how many deaf guys could she have slept with?
And if I hadn't made a mistake, I would have been an odd footnote in her sexual history. But now she will remember me as the "fake deaf guy" or the "possibly fake deaf guy."
The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I slipped twice.
Maybe I froze when she asked if I was deaf. It's possible, because that's what people do when they hear something unexpected. And if I did, she probably saw it. She probably knows I lied.
On the drive back home, everything is uncomfortable. My car seat feels scratchy, and it hurts my back. Everything on the radio is too loud, almost like everyone is screeching. But I can't blame that all on Petra. I have been irritable for a while now.
At home, all is quiet. My wife, Millicent, is still in bed. I have been married to her for fifteen years, and she does not call me Tobias. We have two kids; Rory is fourteen, and Jenna is one year younger.
Our bedroom is dark, but I can just about see the shape of Millicent under the bedcovers. I take off my shoes and tiptoe toward the bathroom.
Millicent sounds wide-awake.
I half turn and see the shadow of her propped up on an elbow. There it is again. The choice. From Millicent, a rarity.
"No," I say.
"She isn't right."
The air between us freezes. It doesn't thaw until Millicent exhales and lays her head back down.