Monday, January 16, 2012

5:32 a.m. at Second and Houston

The bartender served the Jameson in a perfect glass: nice weight, clear so you could see the color of the whiskey, solid in your hand. The ocher liquid spilled down the sides of the ice cubes and met up with itself in the bottom of the glass as he poured it, smoking slightly because the heat was on in the bar. When both glasses had been filled they picked them up, one in his right hand, one in her left, and their eyes met. She smiled slightly, and they touched glass.

"To your visit." He smiled, acknowledging her toast. "To tonight." She smiled, acknowledging his. They drank.

Normally the raw feeling didn't start until the whiskey was already making its way down her throat, but this time it had started way before they even ordered. If she was honest, it had started in the restaurant, when they split a beer and sushi. Somewhere along the way she noticed that she was talking a lot and he was listening a lot and then, inexplicably, her mouth dried up and she'd lost track of whatever she was saying. He looked at her like he always does - a split second longer than most, with that knowing - and took a sip of beer. When they'd paid the check, he suggested wandering around the city until they found a bar, and as they walked, she'd slipped her arm through his.

They talked about everything. Well, not everything, but things that were important to them. He asked her about teaching and she answered with some of her craziest stories, making even the bartender smirk as he poured their second round. They spoke about music, dear to both of them, and as he talked she watched his hands move. She'd never really looked at them before, but now that she did, she wondered how they would look if he fingered the lapel on her coat or played with her ring. She took a sip of whiskey, hoping to banish the thought.

"Miss." He called her that as a joke, but it always made her smile. She heard it all day every day but when he said it, it was different.

"Mistah." She half smiled and raised her eyes, meeting his above the glasses. The ice had all melted and the whiskey barely tasted like whiskey anymore.

"You want to get out of here? My friends are having a party and I want to stop by."

"Sure." She went to the bathroom and took deep breaths. She had no idea why she needed them, except that she had the feeling that something was coming.

When she came back out they put on their coats. She was trying to zip hers as she walked out the door and couldn't figure out why it wasn't working, until she stopped on the street corner and looked down to discover that it was broken. She looked up with her eyes wide and genuinely disappointed, and watched him struggle between commenting on how adorable she was and laughing. He took the zipper from her and got it working, sliding the mechanism up the metal teeth. His hand reached her throat and stopped; her breath caught. She looked up again, but his gaze was already searching the street.

He grabbed her hand and they ran to the opposite corner, making it to the curb a few seconds before the oncoming cars. He let go and she stuffed her hands in her pockets, left palm tingling. She stole a glace at him - his head was down, he was on the phone trying to find the building - and then looked at her own shoes intersecting with the pavement.

"Hey!" They looked up and saw his friend hanging half of his torso out a window. He smiled and they had a short, shouted conversation. His friend disappeared back inside the window and they waited, not talking, facing some sort of mental precipice. The buzzer on the door went off and he opened it for her, then followed her up the stairs.

They were sitting on the couch, much, much closer than was necessary. They had kind of just plopped down and started talking to the other people in the apartment, and someone made her a drink and that distracted her. When she finally sat back she realized that her whole right side was touching his, and she wondered if she should move and if she did would he be offended, except that she didn't want to move but if she didn't move would he be offended- his fingers touched her knee and asked her something about the song that was playing. She twisted toward him and they talked close. They reached a quiet moment and she looked at the table in front of her, at the chips and the salsa and her half-finished drink and their knees touching.

"Thank you for coming." He was smiling, looking at her. She shrugged and smiled and gave a casual answer, took a sip of her drink. There was cayenne in it and she nearly spit it out, but instead she swallowed it, her eyes tearing. She coughed a couple of times and he placed his hand lightly on her back. When he took it away a few seconds later, she felt an emptiness between her shoulder blades. She squared them and sat back against the couch. He hadn't moved, and she felt his breaths moving his chest next to hers.

They were quiet for what seemed like forever. All of his friends were talking and she felt kind of awkward, sure that everyone could see the electricity sparking between them. His friend, the one who'd hung out the window and who he was staying with that night in Brooklyn, struck up a conversation with her, and soon they were sparring back and forth, trading verbal barbs. As they talked, couples became more absorbed in each other and, as the three single people in the room, all began to feel like it was time to go. They decided to find a bar and get a drink.

They walked down Second Avenue and found some bar that was kind of empty, with music that was way too loud and girls that were way too dressed up for the area of the city they were in. They found a spot and sat down, the friend going to get drinks. She rested her right espadrille on the rung of his stool, and crossed her ankles. As he drank his PBR and talked to his friend he turned back and forth on his stool, softly brushing her leg every few seconds. She watched and listened to them talk about music and college and people they knew, but she wasn't really focused. She found herself thinking ahead, about the rest of the night, how they would have to say goodbye soon and it was the last thing she wanted. She looked at him as she thought, and something in her gaze caught his attention. He looked at her, lingered, and his friend politely left to go to the bathroom.

"Are you good?" He set down his empty beer can and waited for her to answer.

"Yep." She twisted her stool back and forth and smiled. His friend came back from the bathroom as they were looking at each other.

"Want another?" He nodded yes and the friend looked at her. "Yes?"

"I'm done for the night. But thank you." He nodded and walked to the bar, his weight on one leg.

After finishing their beers they walked down Second Avenue toward Houston. Something was going to happen- she could feel it rising in her throat and it made her steps slightly uneven, though she was sober by this point. They got to the corner and she hugged his friend, who then turned away to check his phone. He stepped close to her and put his arms around her. It felt different and she immediately discerned the change: normally they hugged like old friends, which they were, genuinely happy to see each other, but this time she felt his wanting and her wanting and the uncertainty about what to do about it. He pulled away a little bit, but kept his arms around her waist, her hands on his shoulders.

"I don't want to go. This sucks." He stole a glance at his friend, who had dutifully made a phone call and turned away from them.

"I know, I don't want you to go." She looked down at the zipper on his jacket. When she looked up, his eyes were on hers. She thought he would kiss her then, but instead he pulled her in close. Her chin was on his shoulder and she told him she wished he wasn't leaving town tomorrow. He said he wished he wasn't either, and let her go. He walked a few steps away, then came back and stood in front of her.

"Come to Brooklyn. Just come with us."

She wanted to, so badly. She wanted to be there for the awkwardness, the delicious discovery, and newness and the oldness and familiarity and surprise that it would surely be.

"I can't." Even as she said it, she started to berate herself in her head. Why would you ever say that? It's exactly what you want. What is your problem?

He looked at her, then looked down. When he met her eyes again, his were sad - no, disappointed. She'd never seen them that way before and she hated that it was because of her.

"You're sure you don't want to come? Just come hang out with us, spend some more time." His eyebrows raise and his eyes searched hers, and somehow even the harsh glare of the gas station couldn't cover the hope in his face.

"I should go home and go to bed." You stupid fucking girl. "I have a lot of work tomorrow." But what I really want is to wake up next to you and drink coffee and have the warmth of your body next to mine and see the tender way you would surely, surely look at me. "But I'll see you when you get back." Because I'm an idiot, and I'm scared, and please, please, please don't let this be my only chance.

"I get that. It's a long way to your place from Brooklyn." He wouldn't look at her while he said it, and even though she knew he did sincerely understand, she couldn't help wishing that he didn't.

They hugged again, longer, and parted. His friend hailed her a cab and she got in the back, eyes on his as he shut the door. The taxi pulled away before she was ready, and when the driver asked where she was going, she didn't know what to say.

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