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We've Met Before
There were snowflakes dancing across the window as she rushed about the small apartment space. Still in her socks, she slid on the hardwood floor and into her desk. Yelping at her stubbed toe, she continued to tie her hair back into a braided bun while slipping into tall boots. Her long brown hair was messily woven, but she paid little attention to it and quickly shrugged into her long coat and wrapped a scarf around her neck. She hardly remembered to turn off her lights before she was sprinting down the steps to her cab that sat in the snowy street, it’s yellow and red lights illuminating patches of bare frosted concrete sidewalk.
Inside, it was warm and she finally exhaled in calm relief against the worn seat. She directed the cab driver to her destination and laid her braided head on the frigid glass of the car. She didn’t mind it so much, though. It was nice to watch the city speed by her face, so close she sometimes thought it would creep into the car. Tonight, it smiled at her with crooked brick teeth and blinking bright eyes. Not that it usually didn’t, but tonight it had a particular grin. One that had spread curtains and fresh piney wreathes and warming christmas lights twinkling from the porches. For a brief moment, she wishes she wasn’t so far from home.
The moment is fleeting however, and the cab slides on ice right into the curb in front of a small sliver of brick in between two other small slivers of brick. But the one in the middle is the small sliver of brick she was supposed to be at two hours ago. She threw the cab driver a twenty because she didn’t have any change, and she hurried out into a wind of noise and snow flakes. Careful of the ice coating the staircase, she takes the steps two at a time, knocking on the door. As she waits, she hears the ruckus of too many voices and too many bodies and she knows by now the crowd will be on their sixth round of drinks. When the door opens, a smiling face greets her with red rosy cheeks and bright eyes.
“You couldn’t be early for once?” She asked, a smile decoding her facade.
“I’m sorry Jane,” She responded with a small embarrassed look, and walked into the bustling room. In the small living room, plenty of people were scattered around drinking and eating and talking. Some waved as she made her way into the room, dodging others, but some she had never seen before. But this was as to be expected, she had only known Jane from work and only knew other co-workers. She found a closet near the back of the house and hung up her coat and her scarf among many other jackets.
In the closet, she saw a soft black coat that reminded her of different times. With a smile, she returned to the party. Jane, a little more outgoing than usual, ran around the party introducing her to everyone she didn’t know. She smiled warmly at strangers and spoke to them as friends. She spoke about the holidays and work and the weather. It was only as she was growing bored of the conversation when Jane yanked her away to make another introduction. Green eyes met hazel and they were introduced formally for not the first time.
“I’d like to introduce you two” Jane said.
They both harbored a discreet smile, and the man across from her made a small confession; “We’ve met before.”
He wasn’t sure what it was that was making him impossibly nervous: that she was as quiet and calm as a summer night or that her skirt had inched up well above her knee and she hadn’t noticed yet. The movie was almost over and he had to do something about it, and fast. He’d received plenty of advice for the night, and all of it had escaped him the first moment he caught a glimpse of her translucent eyes veiled by long lashes and she shyly looked away. He knew the movie was only minutes away from the ending, as all the characters problems were nearly solved. His heart was hammering quickly in his chest and he wiped his palms on his jeans to prepare. He was incredulous at her serene expression, watching the movie and not even seeming to have her head about to burst from nerves.
In a swift movement, he just gave in and swooped her hand up in a less than romantic way. Hers was much smaller than his and he was surprised about how warm it was. He glanced at her to see a little grin etched on her mouth but she quickly hid it when he turned his head towards her.
When the movie had ended, they both walked outside in the late fall weather. She shivered slightly, looking away, waiting for their mother’s mini vans to pull up and take them on their separate ways.
“I’m glad you came with me,” He said through chattering teeth and fragile nerves. She looked at him seriously, her eyes wide and unreadable.
“I am too,” She eventually responded after an agonizing pause. He breathed out, swinging his arms as he often did when he was nervous.
When their mother’s had collected them and they drove off to separate parts of town, not far from one another, he laid his head on the side of the window watching it speed past him. He wished for her right then.
“That’s so weird,” Jane said, “From where?”
Neither had removed their eyes from one another until that point, and it was he who spoke again.
“Home,” he replied simply.
She was quiet, scanning an old friend from a distance was at that moment distinctly painful and she wondered if it was for him as well. And she also tossed the word home around in her mouth too, and it tasted weird and familiar.
“That is bizarre!” Jane said on her final note, and then rushed off to join in the conversation across the room.
Her hand lifted and she attempted to comb the loose hair back into her braided bun, and rub her cold red cheeks to a normal color. She was surprised that she was so nervous. She quickly glanced up to see him looking away, swinging his arms together in a pattern she’d seen once before and she thought for a moment maybe so much time doesn’t pass as one would think.
They were kissing way too fast, and he didn’t know if he could maintain it for much longer. Her long brown hair was tickling his shoulders and her mouth marched down his neck. His hands were shaking as they grazed across her shoulder blades, and he felt parts of her he had never before: her knees, the small of her back, just below her neck where she bent up to kiss him.
For just a brief moment, he pulled back to see her and he whispered her name. When she opened her eyes, his stomach sank. He pulled her mouth back to his quickly so he could forget how it felt to see the inside of someone so raw.
The house was growing hotter inside, but she hadn’t decided whether it was from the excessive bodies for such a small space, or that being so close to him was making her body sweat.
“You look different,” He said quietly and his voice didn’t reveal much about the distinction between and good and bad, so she remained undecidedly silent. Allowing herself to glance at him enough to recognize changes that years could only have done to him. When she was done, she hadn’t arrived at any conclusions besides that there was a large gaping divide between the two of them. She couldn’t say she expected any different, it was just strange to see it in the flesh. Staring right back at her. With green eyes and an unreadable smile.
“Do you want to go outside?” His voice was gentle and unwavering, and she had no choice but to follow him.
He had never comforted a girl before, and stood there for a moment unsure of what to give her. He didn’t even know why she sat there crying, her head balanced perfectly even between two small child like hands. Her head bobbed slightly under her heaving sobs, and he considered taking a step back as was his first reaction. But maybe, he considered, it wasn’t what she wanted.
Her brown hair fell limply on her shoulders, and it didn’t look the same as the other days. Her knees were bent together, and her shoulders slumped. He just looked at her, his green eyes scanning for some escape.
Then, he found one. And he said it, and he didn’t even know why.
“I love you.”
And she stopped crying.
“Its cold,” She breathed, a cloud of white smoke released from her mouth. She hugged her jacket to her, her scarf knotted like a noose around her neck, and she stood feet away from him. She didn’t know what to say, what to ask, what to feel. So instead of deciding, she stood on the iced pathway and looked up icicles that dangled ominously above both of their unsuspecting heads.
“Do you want to share a cab home?” He asked, another white puff emitted and then dissolved quickly into frigid air. She watched him rub his hands together and blow into them, then swing them back and forth.
She didn’t even know where he lived, so before she told him yes she made sure it was on her side of town.
“Don’t.” He demanded, as her hand went up to the side of his face to comfort him. It sank back to her side, but her eyes remained wide and eager.
He didn’t know why he was doing this. Sometimes he just couldn’t control it. There she was, sitting too close to him, her hands not able to keep from touching him, and he sat there with a barrier built sturdily between them. He wasn’t proud of it, though.
He couldn’t understand how he did it, watching her pained eyes give way to deeper feelings. He looked down, pulling back slightly from her and tapping his feet as he often did when things were done and decided.
His head was spinning but his voice was brave and harsh, and when he left her there, he knew he was a crook.
She sat on the opposite side of the cab from him, both of them looking off into different windows, seeing different things. Her hands were warming up, the cold disappeared in a shorter time than she had expected. She wanted to say something, speak up, ask questions, get to a spot where she knew him again. And as she was about to open her mouth, she saw his feet tapping on the other side of the cab, and she decided against it. She was content then, and she stared back out the window, seeing the night smile back at her. Things were alright.
She couldn’t grasp it, and sank to her knees the moment she was alone. Her face pounded with tears and pressure and she did her best to keep her thoughts from spilling out the sides of her head. Her skin was too tight, and she wished she were anywhere but home. She laid her head down and fell into a deep sleep that she didn’t want to wake up from, and when she did she swore she’d never be happy again.
For some strange reason, he enjoyed the cab ride. The rough tweed of the seat, the cold glass supporting his head, and the nauseatingly sharp turns the driver took. It looked miserably cold outside but from inside the cab, it didn’t seem so bad. The driver took a few unfamiliar turns and slid into the curb outside a grey slab of apartments he assumed was where she lived. He knew it must be below freezing outside, and wasn’t sure if he should walk her to her door.
But the furry of the snow flakes that had just begun, the ice sheltered the roads, the wind knocking at the window, and she didn’t look cold at all.
Without a word, she exited the cab, and shut the door softly. They made a brief moment of eye contact in which there was too much space in between to hold anything more than recognition of distance and time. Somehow though, as she took the icy steps to her building two at a time, he imagined her walking into her room, unwinding the scarf from her delicate neck and hanging her jacket. She’d undress and get into her bed and not have another thought about him. He’d hope he could do the same.