His breath is in my hair. I am curled up in his lap, his arms wrapped tight around me. I’m resting my head in the curve that his shoulder makes where it meets his neck. I’m inhaling his light scent, and scratching my nails through his curly hair he grew out because I asked him to. His hands steady me, one on my ass, the other on my thigh tracing lazy circles. Beyond the window behind us, night has settled and for once his neighborhood is silent. For a moment we are the only two people in this world we’ve shaped for ourselves, and I like it. We’re talking about the draft, flipping through a couple different ESPN channels and discussing what we think the draft picks will do for their teams during the upcoming football season. We are surprisingly eloquent despite the fact that we’re both drunk. Very drunk.
It occurs to me for a second that when I allowed myself to think of the possibility of marriage, this is what I dreamed it would be. I never really thought about the wedding or the honeymoon. Those weren’t really important to me. I always pictured coming home, throwing on one of his shirts over old cheerleading shorts and cooking, staying in bed on Sunday mornings to watch football or basketball all day, depending on the season. Most recently, it has been his t-shirts I’ve gotten into, his bed I stayed in Sunday mornings to watch ESPN. Sometimes in reality, other times only in my head.
He’s talking, but I’ve missed most of it, lost in my own reverie. I turn quickly from my awkward position in his lap to see what he said. He catches my eye and I turn away swiftly, knowing I just did something I shouldn’t have done. I moved too quickly, too instinctively, didn’t take a moment to close the door on the things I’ve been keeping hidden down in the basement of my heart. He turns my head with his index finger and looks at me. I gasp a little because I realize he knows.
I bolt from the chair to the door, faster than I’ve ever moved in my life. I need to run so badly that my legs are itching. My hand is on the knob and turning when he puts his hands above me on the door, gently pushes it shut. I lean my forehead against the cool wood of the door, not realizing until right then that my skin is on fire and without even the benefit of a mirror I know I’m probably scarlet from head to toe. He puts his hand on my hips, applies pressure to turn me around. I fight. I don’t want to turn around, I can’t bare to look in his light eyes because if I do I’m afraid I won’t be able to stop myself from saying the things I haven’t been saying for months. I know I won’t be able to keep my mouth closed, not because I’m drunk, but because I want to.
He pushes a little harder on my hip, the impatience and insistence of a child on Christmas morning. He leans into me, the length of his body pressed into my back. He rests his chin in the curve of my neck.
“Don’t be scared.”
On the inside I feel something fall down. I don’t know how not to be scared.
He turns me and I open my mouth in hopes that somehow I can articulate this, that if I speak fast enough I can stop him from saying what I know he’s about to say. Before I can barely part my mouth he puts his fingers to my lips.
“Shut up. Don’t talk. I have something to say and I don’t want you to say anything.”
I look him square in the eye and I am a deer caught in headlights, rooted to this spot and unable to tear my eyes away from the impending crash.
“I love you. I love you and I know you love me. You don’t have to say anything. I know. I feel it. I already know.”
“Don’t-” I try to counter and he cuts me off.
“Just shut up. I know better. And you better not lie to me.”
He hugs me to his chest and for the smallest second I am still on the inside, as I am very, very rarely. Almost immediately I come back to myself, remember who I am, where I am, who I’m with, who we are.
“Ohmygoodness there’s something in my eye,” I stammer and reach for the door again. He grabs my hand in mid-air, wraps himself in a bear hug around me. I forget, because he is so gentle with me, just how strong he is. I wish I were stronger, emotionally that is, to fight his embrace harder. He sighs into my hair.
“Babygirl do you really think I’m gonna let you run away that easy?”
Why doesn’t he know like I do that no good will come of this? Doesn’t he see the glaring red flags, like gaping wounds across the fragile skin of this entire situation? Doesn’t he know me? Doesn’t he know it’s in my nature to push, to run? To be alone? Isn’t he scared as I am? Why does he tread so heavy through this minefield we’ve created for ourselves? Doesn’t he know at any moment I’ll blow up in his face?
I turn to him, my best poker face on, ready to go to war with him until what one of us feels for the other is slain. I will not lose a battle, I will not lose this war. I’ve lost too much already.
I look him square in his eyes. I hope he can’t see my heart tremble through the facade I’m putting on. I stare him down, the way a hunter sizes up his prey and I hope I look more menacing than I feel.
“I don’t love you,” I state, my voice surprisingly steady despite the fact that there are a million little earthquakes going on inside me.
“Just shut up,” and he dismisses me with a kiss. Strong arms on either side of me, torso leaned against me so my back is to the door. I have nowhere to run.
“Stop fighting. I already know. I already know.” And with that he takes my hand and leads me towards his bed, each step taking me closer to salvation or starvation. I haven’t decided which yet.
He lays me down softly, like if he’s too harsh I might break, and that is probably not far from the truth. He kisses me. I try not to respond. He pulls away and looks at me, pierces me with his hazel eyes.
“Kiss. Me.” He commands. I do but not with whole heart. He snatches his head back.
“No. Kiss me,” and I try to think of something else, anything else to make the weight of this moment less heavy.
I have an important decision to make. I can kiss him, halfheartedly, eyes slightly open and heart safely in my chest and still leave this room with my dignity in tact… or I can kiss him, eyes closed and vulnerable, with my whole heart, and let the tears forming in my eyes confirm all the things he claims to know. I know my desire. I know his desire. And I fear the weight of it might crush us both.
I try to think. Think of times he made me angry, times I suspected he lied, times I felt I couldn’t trust him, any kind of distraction from his cloying scent smothering me. I’m everywhere and nowhere but here.
“Look at me. Kiss. Me.”
The muscles in my thighs flip him, heavy thick ropes of muscle built, ironically enough from running and I straddle his torso, my own power move, my own not so subtle way of taking back the power I’m quickly losing. I lean down to kiss him, distract him physically from the emotional intimacy I fear and I choke on my breath. He puts his hands in my hair and he makes me look at him. It hits me.
He’s telling the truth.
The fight leaves me. I am no longer a soldier in this war we’ve fought for the better part of a year. I am just a woman, soft around the edges, and stripped down bare. Exposed for the fraud that I truly am.
“Kiss. Me.” And I do because this time I realize I had no choice from the beginning. He knew. Probably always did. When I thought I was being coy, aloof, distant, he read me with the ease of a Dr. Seuss book. I feel foolish. I can’t believe how ignorant I’ve been.
“Why?” I ask, my formative years stripped down to the vulnerability of a child. “Why do you love me?”
“Lemme show you.” And he does. He kisses me, and for the first time in many kisses, I close my eyes completely, giving into the feeling and it feels like someone has set fire to the bed. I’m burning, melting, shaping into the real person he knows me to be under the careful sculpting of his hands. It’s like a song the way we move, each chord perfectly orchestrated to produce the right harmony, each touch a note he plays and I sing, not a measure of discord or chaos. Symphonic. Perfectly composed music, a song I’ve never heard before but we’ve played a million times.
After he falls asleep, my head on his chest, his arm cradling my head, our legs intertwined, I push myself onto my elbows and watch him sleep. I’m like a child, curious, watching something I feel like I’m not supposed to see. I study him, the lines in his face, the faint smile of his lips, the exact color composition of his skin. I reach up and scratch through his curly brown hair that he grew out just because I absentmindedly mentioned that I liked to play in it. He listens.
“I dunno what you want from me,” I whisper. “And I dunno how this is gonna make our situation any easier. I mean why would you say that?” I stop myself short of any more questioning. At least one of us is brave enough to speak truth into the universe.
“I love you back,” I say as I kiss his forehead, his eyelids, his lips and then snatch myself quickly away from him. I curl myself into a ball, the intense drug of the last couple hours wearing off, completely sober now. I hope that I’ve pulled far away enough, wrapped myself up tight enough that he won’t hear me cry.