The city was not the place I wanted to be tonight, but I’m here. Promising myself that I’ll stay only an hour so so, long enough to make an appearance, long enough to congratulate my good friend on her new job and catch up with the rest of the book club, I take a minute to brush out my hair and unbutton the top few buttons of my blouse.
Funny how on nights like tonight everyone digs out the fun shoes and my friends throw on everything from jeans to slinky one piece numbers that sometimes make me feel like I missed the memo on required attire.
No matter. I’m coming from work anyway and can’t stay. Another project deadline… or so I’ll tell them when I’ve hit the point where it’s time to leave while I’m still having fun.
When I arrive, everything is in full swing. Bev brings over a glass of red for me and I settle in for the update on David and what he’s done or hasn’t done this time.
I run my fingers through my hair, weave it to the side with my fingers and anchor it behind my ear and then turn my earring a few times as I listen to her elaborate on another Dave situation.
Across the room I catch the eye of a man with very short dark hair, who looks back at me with surprising calm as I search his face to figure out why he looks so familiar.
His nostrils flair just a bit and I see his jaw clench, then his lips part as he takes in a breath that matches the exhale I’ve released to the room. I am breathless for a second, as though my air has been stolen from me; this stranger has it. He holds it hostage, for a heartbeat and then sends it back to me, leaving me with an ache in my chest. I want to sit down but can’t break away from Bev and I have to steel myself and stand taller so no one notices my week-kneed reaction.
A quick hug to my sad girlfriend and I excuse myself to move to the other side of the room. As I make my way through the crowd I stop for more hugs. I get to tease Jessica a little bit about her recent lit class. I hand my good friend T a copy of In the Skin of the Lion by Ondaatje, hastily wrapped in tissue and anchored with a ribbon recycled from our family Christmas up north. I swoop over to smooch Erin for a missed birthday.
I’ve looked for him as I move through the room, trying not to be obvious, but unable to stop myself, and each time I steal a glance in his direction, he is blatantly staring at me, taking me in. Pulling me in, somehow. So unusual for me to have such a physical reaction to a man. He is like walking sex, and I know it, and he knows it, and I am both flattered and appalled at my own willingness to prolong this reaction.
With a confident stride, he is walking toward me now.
I look at my friends’ faces, guessing which one he knows, assuming he is there to celebrate. But he does not seem to see them. I raise my wine glass in his direction in toast fashion and with a nod, acknowledge his approach and allow him to step in close to me, close enough to feel the heat of his body. His scent fills my head and swirls around over my tongue and into my lungs and settles there, like it must remain so as to get to know me, whether I am ready to share myself or not.
He leans in and grazes my cheek with a gentle kiss and I close my eyes for a just a moment, attempting to push this crowd out of this room, clear the space for this stranger, make a place for more than gentleness, make a place to act on what my body tells me it needs.