David’s life was ruined.

Her name was Edie. She blazed into the shop, a burning-white ball of honesty, to find him waiting: a twenty-six year old balding man with many female friends and a single-digit list of sexual conquests. It’s probably a cliché (and possibly an excuse) to say she was old beyond her years, but there was indeed something solid about her; a self-assuredness that he had never himself experienced, even though he was ten years further into life than she was. Edie had no care for fashion, nor even for looking good in the conventional sense. Her hair was shaved almost to the skin and in the summer months (the months he spent watching her) she wore baggy vests with loose shorts and trainers, her legs and armpits always well past stubble, her bra always showing, strap or clasp, one way or another.

It wasn’t that he found her attractive, at least not in the beginning. Sure, he found her fascinating, in an almost nostalgic way, watching youth unfold into adulthood in someone so completely unlike anyone he had known before, male or female. The lack of cynicism, the questioning of everything, the fearlessness and obtuseness. He liked to imagine how he would have turned out had he been friends with someone like her growing up, what sense of adventure and don’t-give-a-fuck attitude he would have gleaned from her presence. And sure, he thought about fucking her, but only in the vaguest of daydreams, the same as every woman he met.

“Hey David,” she said one day as she stacked a shelf with cassette tapes, her baggy T shirt and too-big shorts separating just enough to reveal the curve of a pale hip bone in their yawn, “I like your mug.” It was a Spiderman mug. David was a comic-book fan, a superhero fan, a lover of all things fantastical and sci fi, but – sadly for him – at that point in the history of nerdiness, this was not a good thing.

She teased him a lot. It always seemed good-natured to him, and he enjoyed the interaction, though he never knew how to react and never felt his wit was quick enough to try. Hers was sharp and fast and seemingly uncensored – there was nowhere she would not go for a comeback. Somehow though, she managed to inspire laughter and friendship in those who she insulted, a knowing tongue in the corner of her smiling mouth taking the edge off everything she threw at them; and her attacks always felt like a lavishing of attention more than an act of aggression.

He obsessed over the comment. Had she really liked his mug, or was it sarcastic? He played it back in his head, tuning in closely to the tone of her voice, the inflection, the pace of each syllable; but he couldn’t decipher its meaning. Replaying the moment gave him a thrill. It felt like a touch. It was intimate. It was meant only for him.

It was only when she straddled him and took his dick in her hand that he really believed there was anything between them. Even when she was naked in front of him and he was kissing her breasts and she was moaning with pleasure, her fingers in his hair and her mouth on his ear, even then he thought there had been some sort of mix up on his part and that any moment she would laugh and turn away, and he would have to laugh along with her as she left. She had been so firm and new, so unencumbered by her own nudity, so glad to share it with him, so proud of her sex. There was art in the way she moved on top of him, a well studied and thought-about performance that she loved to give, like she had some secret knowledge, some well of experience to draw from that no one else knew about. It was as if, he thought at the time, an old woman had died then been reincarnated into this body, filled with the knowledge of how short life was and how none of it fucking mattered and how beautiful human bodies really were and how incredible it was to be a sixteen year old woman-in-waiting.

Sixteen. He didn’t know if she was a virgin, but he suspected not. It seemed impossible. And it wasn’t as if it was just about sex; the evening leading up to the grand event was by far the best of his life. They had laughed until they cried, they had massaged each other’s necks, they had told stories of their childhoods and their most humiliating moments. Intimacy had never come easy to David – he was far too fearful that he had nothing of interest to share, so had long since decided not to try at all – but she had coaxed it out of him with a piercing lack of convention that drove straight through him. She wanted to know everything. Not just about him. Everything.

“Show me how you masturbate.” she had said to him, halfway through. In any other circumstance, with any other woman, in any other second of his whole life, this would have killed it; but her placid stare, the curious, non-threatening frown of genuine interest, and her completely naked, open body, stretched out in front of him, had pushed him on.

It had been her doing, the whole thing. He’s not even sure, looking back, that he had agreed to it, let alone come up with the idea.

Now he was forty-six and his life was ruined.

Every woman he ever met was not her.

Every sexual encounter he had was not that.

And every single day of his life, he wondered how he had got there. How he had gone from that dazzlingly high point, that moment of pure perfection, of delirious happiness, of utter awe and bliss, to the point he was currently at. It was too far of a fall.

There had been other women, but not a single one of them had inspired anything in him. Each face made him sneer with boredom, each conversation made him nauseous with apathy, each fuck left him flat and lonely and bereft.

Sometimes, he wished it had never happened. Then he cursed himself for thinking it, because he knew it was the only good thing that had ever happened to him.

Had he not met her though, he would be happy now, happy as a pig in shit, living in ignorant bliss with a wife and children and a normal job and a decent home, completely unaware of the door inside him that would still be locked shut.

He wanted to lock it again.