Geoffrey shut his eyes, telling himself to focus, focus. See the Mona Lisa, not the world beyond. He steadied himself and took a deep breath. Now.
When he opened his eyes she was directly in front of him.
‘You okay, stranger?’ she said.
‘He gazed at her features, her lively green eyes, the fair skin, the coils of red hair that had escaped the pony tail, her slender cheeks, her wide and welcoming smile. And not a whiff of anything beyond the present. His heart leapt.
‘You can kiss me, you know.’
He pulled her to him, wrapped his arms about her and hugged her close. Even though she bore the heat of the flight in her hair, the memory of her body reared within him, the warmth of her and the willingness. He put his hands on her face and kissed her. It was tentative at first, but she searched for him, and they kissed with longing and reconnection. Then he hugged her again. His heart was singing, his thoughts overcome with adoration.
When they separated again, he said, ‘I’ve missed you.’
She smiled, and still he saw nothing but the smile.
‘I missed you too.’
‘Let’s grab your bags and head out,’ he said.
His arms over her shoulder he recalled the rhythm of her stride, her upright posture, the latent strength in her step. His heart floated. She wore a day pack. He offered to take it for her, but she declined. It was an unnecessary offer, but he wanted to do something for her, show her he was keen.
They waited in the baggage area amongst the crowd. He didn’t look at them. He only had eyes for her. Anxiety raged in the back of his mind, but he was holding himself steady, thus far at any rate succeeding in keeping only the present in his eye.
She leant against him. They were both silent. They were reconnecting physically first, before the talk began. This was a good sign. He nuzzled her hair and she looked up and kissed him. He wanted to make it longer, but the rattle of the baggage carousel started up. Her bag was not long. She pointed it out and moved to retrieve it, but he said,
‘Let me, you’ve had long flight.’
He carried her bag to the car, and opened the door for her.
‘Laying it on, are you?’ she said.
‘Just making you feel a bit special,’ he said. When he got in she leant over and kissed him again.
‘Thank you for picking me up.’
‘Thank you for being picked up,’ he said.
She chuckled. He had to broach the elephant in the room. He said,
‘I didn’t know how you’d be, after our conversation yesterday.’
She smiled. ‘I have a squillion questions, but I thought, Lucy, if this is going to work, you can’t hold back. And besides, my memories of you are too great to chuck way. So if you you’re up for it, I’m taking the risk.’
Tears threatened him. He was overcome with love and gratitude and relief.
He took her hand, and said, ‘Thank you. I was so worried. I so want this to be.’
Her arm reached the back of his head and pulled him to her. Their tongues met and clashed and circled and played and he pulled her close across the console and gear stick. Foreheads touching, he was all smile and brushed the hair from her face.
‘I’m all twisted,’ she said, ‘and I badly need a shower.’
On the drive to her apartment he inquired about the flight, he last days on the west coast, how the fortnight had gone, and in between reminded her and himself how much he had thought of her and had wished she had not been away.
At her apartment he followed her in with her bag and set it down. He offered to make her a cup of tea, or get her some water but she turned to him, a step away.
‘Big question,’ she said. ‘Okay?’
Here it was, and he felt prepared.
She looked him directly in the eye.
‘What do you see?’
“I see a very beautiful woman with light in her eyes, grandeur in her smile and great wisdom in her heart and mind.’
He saw a smile bend the edge of her mouth, but she must have suppressed it.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Only the red hair, the freckles, the oh so beautiful face.’
‘Nothing at all? I’m just making sure.’
‘I am sure. Nothing.’ His mind was racing as he brought the full force of his focus to bear on Lucy. He wasn’t sure if he needed that level of effort, but didn’t want to risk it. He hoped he was calm and reassuring on the outside.
She strode to him and embraced him. He felt her hands knead his hair, and move to either side of his head. Her face was close, and she said, ‘I have been so mixed up by what you told me.’ A tear sat on the edge of each eye. ‘Part of me wanted to run, part wanted to interrogate you, part just wanted you, despite it all. It’s weird, and worrying even, but I’m giving in to the part that just wants you. Because I do, and it scares me a bit, a lot, but here I am, wanting you and telling you I want you. Have I confused you now?’
He held her close.
‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ he whispered. ‘It has been a weird and worrying time, and it is so good to have someone who won’t reject me because of it.’
They stood arm in arm for a while. He knew there was unfinished business, questions to be answered, but he felt relieved that she had declared her hand. What he had to do now was honour that.
They pulled apart again. She wiped her eye and said, ‘I should unpack. I didn’t sleep much on the plane, thinking about everything. So I feel grubby with the flight, and dog tired. I so want you to stay over now, but I’d be hopeless and fall asleep halfway through, and I want to make it special. ’
‘That’s fine,’ said Geoffrey. ‘I hate the red eye. I can’t sleep sitting up on planes. It’s all so stuffy and hot.’
‘You don’t mind?’ said Lucy.
‘Of course not.’
‘I’ll call you when I’m awake.’
He looked at her for a moment, and then walked to the door. She was behind him. He turned on the doorstep.
‘You should have seen the look of surprise when I crept up on you at the gate,’ she said.
‘I was getting myself ready,’ he said. ‘You know, for how you might be.’
She nodded. ‘I was indecisive all night and only really left the decision to when I saw you.’
‘That close, huh?’
She nodded again.
‘And was it the right choice for you? It was for me.’
‘It was. It is,’ she said.
‘You make me very happy,’ he said.
He placed his hand on her shoulder. ‘Call me as soon as you wake up?’
‘First thing,’ she said. ‘And if you keep talking like that I might ask you to stay,’ she said.
‘Like what?’ said Geoffrey.
‘The beautiful woman with lively eyes stuff. I’m a sucker for compliments.’
‘But you do have light in your eyes, and life. And you are very good looking.’
She leant forward to kiss him. When he returned the kiss they lunged at each other. Between short breaths she said, ‘Don’t go,’ and dragged him inside and where they crab walked to the bedroom.
He sat up against the bed head as she slept, her body partly covered by the sheet.
He turned his head and looked through her curtains to the street outside. There was light but no images otherwise. Steeling himself, he looked at her again, carefully, deliberately.
Her face was turned away from him, her hair honey rivered on the pillow beside him. Her breathing was scarcely audible. She appeared to him to be in deep rest. Even in sleep he thought life emanated from her, as if she was regenerating reserves of great energy she could draw upon when she woke.. A smile spread throughout his body as he saw only her, now, not then, not in the future at that point, the unthinkable, and – what he wanted – the unseeable. and thought She is hard at work, resting.
He rose gently, so as not to disturb her, and crept over to the window where he closed the blind. Shrouded in darkness he thought he was a shadow, a dim spirit whose task was to care for the body in the bed, the soul who drank of sleep. He picked up his clothes and closed the bedroom behind him with only the faintest click of the lock.
In her living room he dressed. He wondered if he should leave or stay. To resolve this issue, he asked himself what he wanted. He wanted to stay. He realised that the trauma of the last fortnight had obscured a burgeoning desire for her, an inchoate love, which had suddenly surfaced in him and now commanded his attention. He wanted her to sleep, to shake off the stain of the night flight and refill the air of their lives with her smile and good humour. He wanted to watch her, to delight in her, to see her triumph amid the storms of life.
Goodness, he thought, I’m like a little kid. Mr Sensible has really lost it now.
Had felt like making a cup of tea or coffee, but decided not to boil the kettle in case the noise woke her. He didn’t turn on the TV for the same reason. Instead he picked up an old magazine and flicked through it with faint interest as he sat on the couch.
After some time – he did not know how long – her bedroom door creaked open.
Geoffrey closed his eyes, drew upon his focus then looked up.
* * * * * *
Photo by Gregory Pappas via Unsplash