They’re waiting on dinner and she’s opened a bottle of red she knows he’s quite fond of and sits close to him on the couch.
She describes the menu, sitting on her feet and touching him as she talks. She’s excited and between touches, brushes her hair behind her ears and takes soft sips of her wine. She makes a point and leans forward, puts a hand on his chest and he watches her hair cascade forward, brush her cheekbones.
He leans in for a kiss – it would have been their first – and she’s taken aback.
“This isn’t that kind of relationship,” she says, slipping off the couch to turn down the Jazz playing on the stereo. “And I think you’d better leave.”
He’s stunned. For weeks they've bantered by phone and by e-mail; it’s a story of increasing comfort, intimacy. She's recently divorced and they talk openly about dating and relationships. Their shared wants and desires.
He’s been divorced, happily so, for years.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that, I guess I got my wires mixed up,” he says in a truncated apology of sorts. He’s hurt and confused and grasps at what to say next.
“I never meant anything other than the fact that I like you very much.”
She stands with hands crossed at her chest, holding the wine glass by the bulb in a tilt, her head cocked. There’s a slight, simmering irritation in her doe-brown eyes. She turns and walks into the kitchen.
He follows, after a time.
“Is everything OK between us?”
“As long as it’s just dinner – and friends,” she says, lifting a lid on the dahl she’s trying to re-create from the Indian place they frequent for lunch on weekends.
He stays behind the kitchen island, hands on the concrete counter and contemplates her still-charged words. He holds his hands up, palms forward, and nods.
“Just friends, I’m good with that.”
The evening ends after dinner and an old movie, a 40s romantic comedy she fancies and one he finds hokie and boring. He gets up to leave and he steps in, wraps her arms under his and grabs onto his shoulders. She rests her head in the crook of his neck and he takes in the warm richness of her hair. He wraps his arms around her, takes in her lithe figure, rests his palms on the small of her back. She closes the remaining distance by straddling his legs with hers.
“Thanks for coming over tonight,” she says.
He’s prepared to apologize again, for good measure, but the moment feels so right that all he wants is for it not to end.
“It was my pleasure,” he says.
She raises her head and looks into his eyes. There is heat in their embrace and he’s aroused and trying to hold it together for this moment, which he’s hoped would transpire for weeks.
But she releases him and gives him a playful shove with both hands.
“Can you get away tomorrow for a run?”
He smiles, reins in the crushing sadness that wells inside him, and simply nods.
He turns for the door, grips the handle and over a shoulder tells her to meet him at the trailhead at noon. She gives his ass a playful swat that propels him through the door.
She closes it behind him, shuts off the porch light. He seems not to be able to catch a breath. He stares at the stars as tears well in his eyes.
He balls his fists and begins forward motion. He still can smell her hair, feel her warmth.
“Just breathe,” he calls out to the night.