Fall [Part I]

She was awake before the alarm went off.

She’d been awake most of the night. She liked to be prepared, so naturally, she’d spent hours evaluating scenarios and her behavior in response to them.

* Always hold the door open for her.
* Hold out her chair for her.
* Stand when she leaves the table, and again when she returns.
* Hold her elbow when she ascends or descends steps.
* Don’t stare at her lips.

The list went on as did time, and before she was ready, the alarm obnoxiously buzzed at her. She clicked it off and stood, alert and anxious and slightly dizzy from the lack of sleep.

She went about her morning as she usually did, only with an air of anticipation. She never mulled over what to wear, but she found herself looking at her clothes suddenly wondering why she owned nothing fitted or attractive. Laughing at the unknown shallow part of herself, she closed her eyes and picked out pants and a t-shirt. There. That would just have to do.

She got dressed with more attentiveness than she normally did. She left a little early to fill her gas tank. A man asked if he could pan handle some of her gasoline to which she replied, “I can barely afford to fill the tank, sir,” and he went away. She entered the address into her GPS and headed off.

The last time she’d driven this route, she was beside a girl with long blonde hair and sensual lips. They listened to mixes made specifically for the trip. They stole kisses when they could. She was barraged with bittersweet memories and turned the radio up. She listened to a story about a folk singer, about Chinese and American relations, about Eisenhower. The drive was peaceful enough, and she didn’t get lost.

Things turned greener. Roads became emptier. The sky grew brighter. She cracked the window and could smell the Puget Sound. She was almost there. It was as if a line had been drawn from her chest, and in a house in Gig Harbor, someone sat, tugging on the other end. But she’d be sure not to mention that. She didn’t want to startle her with the intensity of her feelings. They were frightening enough to experience.

She relaxed a little when she saw shopping centers. It made her feel silly that a Home Depot sign could provide such relief, but she was nervous. She clung to anything that would still the fluttering in her heart.

There, a mailbox with a roof over it. She turned left into a gravel driveway. She could see the house in the distance. Her foot pressed the brake pedal and for a moment, she just sat still, trying to count her breaths. This was it. They were going to meet. Anything that she may have imagined was between them could be proven false if she drove just 20 feet more. But what if everything was as real as she’d dreamed?

She had to take the chance.

This girl was worth the chance.

She let up off the brake and eased the car down the gravel. She called to tell her she had arrived. Her voice was disarming on its own, but she knew that just a few feet away, the voice on the other end was standing at a door, ready to receive her. She parked and got out, stretching her arms and bending her legs. She didn’t have to. She was just stalling.

There. She was in the doorway. Her back was facing out as she appeared to be speaking with a black cat. She seized the opportunity and drank in the sight of her. She wasn’t wearing shoes just yet. Dark denim hugged her legs. Yellow lace tickled her waistline. A sleeveless, white button-up shirt hugged her long torso and thin frame. She could only see the back of her head, but her hair fell in loose waves and touched the base of her neck just barely.

She was stunning.

She whispered a silent prayer to literary gods and then walked up the driveway. Her heart was pounding, and she was unsure if she should look up and make eye contact. Out of habit, she watched the ground as she made her way across the gravel. She spotted a caterpillar and picked it up, placing it out of harm’s way. She wouldn’t concede to herself that she’d just been stalling again.

There was nothing left to do but meet, so she stood tall and straight and looked her directly in the eyes. Mistake #1. She was gorgeous, her eyes bright and inviting and honest and so, so clear and beautiful. Oh no. How was she going to get through this day?

They hugged briefly, platonically, but the scent of her had already made its way into her system and she felt a little intoxicated. She followed her into the house, down the steps, and into her apartment. It was lovely and open and made her smile. She’d imagined what it might look like and was pleased that she wasn’t far off.

She surveyed the place hungrily. She’d spent so many hours fantasizing about meeting her, and here she was in her apartment. The coffee table that she desperately wanted to replace. The couch that she sat on when they spoke over the phone. The clunky box where she kept all her tea. The little knick-knacks about which she had been forewarned. The lights along the ceiling and random doorways. And there, her place of creation: a desk, a computer, and a picture of characters that she’d known for a decade.

They spent some time looking at her books, her movies, her video games. She sat on the lush carpet and wondered what it would feel like to lie down. They laughed over common hobbies, teased each other about nerdy knowledge, and smiled when there were breaks in the conversation.

Her breath caught in her throat when she entered the bedroom. It was small, intimate, and smelled like her. She knew she shouldn’t have looked at the bed, but she did. It had been neatly made and smoothed over. She imagined herself on that bed, sleeping beside her. She immediately pointed out a hanging quilt so that she could focus on something else.

And so the tour of niceties went. She soaked up every anecdote carelessly mumbled. She memorized the room and tested the weight of a sword replica. She felt a little like a spy looking through someone’s things and making determinations about her character. But everything fit, like a puzzle, and she found herself smiling.

They eventually set out for lunch. She watched her put on glasses before backing out of the driveway. Mistake #2. Oh, she looked sexy in glasses. But she kept her eyes on the road as much as she could. It was difficult, seated beside something so compelling. But once they reached their destination, she ran out of opportunities to sneak glances at her in the driver’s seat.

They parked the car and for a second, she debated whether or not she should open the car door for her, but she had already gotten out. She’d be sure to perform an act of chivalry once they were seated at their table.

She’d made a reservation. The table was well-decorated and nicely set. She went to hold out her chair for her, but the hostess was asking her how she was. Damn. She’d missed her chance again.

She smiled warmly when the hostess greeted her by her first name, and then when the waitress came to the table. She wondered if the staff could tell that she was on a date. (Wait, were they on a date?) Did they approve of her? Did she have proper table manners? The ladies reminded her of mother hens protecting a little one. She hoped she made a good impression.

They browsed the menu. She made recommendations. She couldn’t help but notice how delicate her fingers were, how they turned the pages of the menu almost as though she were tucking someone into bed. Unexpectedly, she wondered what her hand would feel like in hers. She blushed and hid it by placing both hands on her face and saying something about how there were so many options on the menu.

Once they had ordered, she panicked. There’d be no buffer, nothing to look at, nothing to focus on but the angel seated beside her. A family came in to order tea. A young blonde boy peeked at them from behind a chair. He was cute and reminded her of a puppy. She thanked the literary gods for sending her something about which she could converse.

The boy dedicated much of his time to hovering at their table. It was adorable and gave her the chance to watch her interact with children. She was even cuter than the child himself. She was attentive and animated and honest and sympathetic when he said he couldn’t be a pirate because he lacked the hat.

She asked her, “If we were a story, what would the boy represent?” She replied with a thoughtful “Hmm,” and for that alone, she would’ve worshipped her. No raised brow, no chuckle of indifference, no confusion or scoffing at her unusual question. Just a simple “Hmm.” She wanted to reach across the table and take her hand and press it against her heart. The thought startled her and she fiddled with her teacup to alleviate the urge.

The meal was lovely and the company lovelier. Once, she rose to use the bathroom. She moved to stand as well, but she stopped herself and thought perhaps that the gesture would embarrass her. She was compelled to stand when she returned, but caught herself.

There were times when she thought she might get away with a fleeting touch, but her courage failed her. It was particularly hard not to hug her when she took out a handkerchief to blow her nose. It was so damnably adorable that she bit her tongue to keep from blurting out, “You’re mine.”

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