She was puttering about in front of the stove, wearing house slippers that were really heels and an apron over her short, too formal dress. He couldn’t believe she was dressed this way; that he’d shown up at her door with a bottle of wine and no warning -and still she’d been dressed this way. She looked impossibly lovely for someone who had just been in transit for nearly 36 hours.
tried to appear focused and calm, but like it mattered. She was hardly
paying any attention. In fact, she wasn’t paying any attention at all.
Someone had rung and with a blithe yet apologetic wave of her delicate
hand, she had fluttered out of the kitchen while simultaneously
answering the phone with a brusque yet impossibly friendly, “Yes?”
her absent from the kitchen, he was left alone with her guests -a
random amalgam of people she knew from the city and from the university;
people who were strangers to him, yet so friendly and so curious to
know him. It hurt him, a little, to know that they didn’t know him;
that he hadn’t existed in their minds at all -at least, not until he’d
shown up at the door with the now empty bottle of wine.
would never admit that hurt though. Other things he would freely share
with her, but not this. Instead, he smiled and made small talk with
the young woman nearest him, a bright, sharp creature whose presence
didn’t surprise him at all. He couldn’t imagine anyone being in this
kitchen but people he respected, admired, and more than a little bit
looked up to.
new came through the door -a tall man in a suit who looked awkward -who
was swiftly greeted and welcomed and whisked off into some back room
(wherever she was) for whatever it was he needed (from her? with her?).
they rematerialized in the kitchen, he took his leave with a polite tip
of his chapeau and a slight backward glance that seemed to suggest
things, but she was already looking at whatever she was pulling out of
the oven with great care, and so the door closed behind him without her
once looking up. This satisfied him, which -again -he would not admit,
but it did, as did the incredible aroma of whatever it was she had
decided on a whim to make for dinner.
after he’d found his way to her bed and they’d rolled around together
in the old way, he asked her if she missed him, the one question he’d
promised -swore -he wouldn’t ask, and she’d answered, after a long, much too long pause:
He squeezed her in his arms and she curled up inside him, like a sweet little cat, and neither of them said anything else.
The next two weeks were a bliss of blurred activities -listening to her lecture; taking in the city, her city,
through her eyes and through his; tasting her foods; watching her
change her clothes as easily as she changed her personality.
though they’d never fallen out of touch, he was learning her all over
again, and it was like visiting a city he’d once known -he still needed
the map. Where once it had been he, now she was skittish -bouncing from
project to project, showing him in her studio the things that she had
done that he’d only ever imagined or talked about. He propped himself
up on one arm in her bed, and tugged at the back of her hose while she
tried to keep them on.
“Come back with me,” he insisted, something else he’d decided beforehand he should not say, “Come back home with me.”
heel hung in her hand, dangled by a finger. The shoe was delicate, but
strong, like her, with a sharp heel -also so like her. It swung back
and forth on a small trajectory, waiting like he waited, for her.
time the long pause before she responded really cut him. This was why
his pride had told him not to ask. He knew the other women upset her
or, at least, he thought that they did. But, there would never be
anyone but her. The intervening years had made that abundantly clear.
There had seemed to be a limitless supply of foolish young women to
prove that point -and he’d dated many of them.
she slipped the shoe from her hand and slid it neatly upon her tiny
foot and then pulled up her skirt, all in one smooth motion. She turned
around to face him -still on the bed, still wanting to tug on her hose,
and still wanting to make love (not sex) -and tilted her head to one
side. Her gaze was passive, but he could tell she was pondering her
response. She was the kind to take care of every syllable, even though
at times she could seem careless.
when she said, “Yes,” he felt the stress that had been bottled up in
his shoulders release like small waves breaking over his body. Of
course she had said yes; when had she ever told him no?
when he drove back from the airport, the passenger seat in the truck
beside him empty, he just stared at the road straight ahead. Now he
wished he’d never told her no.