Friday, February 17, 2012

Yes

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.

He 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?”

With 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.  

He 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.

Someone 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?).  

When 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.

Later, 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:

“Yes.”

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.  

Even 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.”

Her 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.

This 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.

Finally, 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.

Finally, 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?

But 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.

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