When I took Ru Hi Na to dinner at my parents’ home, my father noticed at once the way hir scenting tendrils flicked always in my direction no matter where hir many eyes pointed. He asked me for help in the kitchen, and when I got there, he gripped both my shoulders. “What’s going on with you and that alien?”
“Nothing,” I said firmly, as if the word, pronounced with sufficient emphasis, could convince us both. But my blood escaped my control. I could feel the rush of it through my ears, the blush heating my neck, chest, and cheeks.
My father turned and spat in the sink.
Ru Hi Na and I went for a long walk along the river after we left the house. Ze trailed hir scent tendrils before and behind us and let hir eyes drift shut. At last, ze said my name in hir voice made of sighs, the three syllables simultaneous, winding around each other as they formed. I loved hearing it that way, and I’d once spent hours playing with audio software, trying to construct a proper pronunciation of hir tripartite name in my voice.
“Ru Hi Na,” I answered teasingly. Ze told me once that ze likes how I separate hir name, as if I’m calling to each of hir three parts individually. My father was right, I thought. We were fascinated with each other.
“Tonight-at dinner-always with me, the smell-name-breath of you is anxious-expectant-sad. Why?”
I took a moment to savor hir intertwined thoughts as the poetry they were, delivered in the mix of hir language and mine that we had invented together. Then I untangled them painstakingly in my mind, careful not to drop any of the threads.
My father’s disapproval had made me feel rebellious enough to be honest. I answered in my stuttering approximation of hir words, the sentiments isolated in my mouth, though they mingled in my chest. “Fear-desire-love.”
Hir three-fingered hand brushed the back of mine. I caught and held it in the way of human lovers, and I knew ze understood because I could feel hir swallowing the scent of me with every one of hir throats.
We went together to hir room, where I stripped for hir. I had no idea whether my body would be attractive to hir. Human ideals of loveliness had never accounted for the light-and-shadow vision of hir people or their exquisite sense of smell. Hir scent tendrils licked through the humid interior of my mouth, tickled my armpits, then settled between my legs.
“Unknown-thrilling-uncertain,” ze sighed.
“I don’t know how to do this either,” I admitted.
Ze bared hirself as well, turning hir kaleidoscopic skin inside out to reveal its vulnerable pink underside, the nerve endings visible and quivering. For me, the question of beauty did not matter. There was only intimacy, the deeper knowing I had always desired with hir.
I had once tried to read a PhD thesis on the anatomy of Ru Hi Na’s people, but the descriptions had been too human, too separate. It seemed incorrect by nature to examine Ru Hi Na a piece at a time when ze embodied multitudes.
I despaired of this human limitation as I attempted to create a way of making love to hir. I wanted to put my hands everywhere at once, but I recalled that ze enjoyed my humanity. I could not be with hir as one of hir own. I could only be myself.
I eyed those exposed nerves. Did ze want me to look at them? Smell them? Lick them? I didn’t want to hurt hir, but I’d also been with too many lovers who’d seen me as fragile and weren’t willing to do the rough things I enjoyed. “What do you want me to do?”
I didn’t know the words ze breathed in reply. For a moment, we stood helplessly, farther apart than ever in this moment when I desperately wanted to bring us close.
Then ze reached for me and brought me into hir. My body settled against hir soft, pink skin, and hir nerves moved against me. They felt like the ends of pencil erasers. I imagined them removing all traces of other lovers, all previous ideas of what love was supposed to be and how I was supposed to behave.
Ze made an unholy sound as ze did this, trembling everywhere in the sweaty throes of the thing beyond pain and pleasure that is sometimes called ecstasy but ought to be known as revelation.
Was this how hir people ordinarily made love, or something ze did now only for me? Beneath my desire for a territory that belonged only to us, however, was an older knowing, that there is absolutely nothing new. Lovers have always discovered each other, have always searched together for the place where pain and pleasure no longer matter.
I rubbed my cheek against one of hir nerves. I caught the scent of my sex on my fingers and lifted it to hir questing scent tendrils. Ru Hi Na wouldn’t expect me to do what humans usually did, and there was no need to approximate the practices that had always seemed imperfectly fit to me.
Carefully, I showed hir how to give me the feeling I truly craved, how to touch me in the places I’d been taught never to let anyone touch me. An orgasm spilled from me unexpectedly, almost incidental to hir touch.
I knew I could never answer my father’s question. The explanation for what was going on with me and Ru Hi Na would require more words than even ze could intertwine.