They’d only been seeing each other for a few weeks when he had invited her to go out of town with him for the weekend. They were only going a few hours away but he thought it would give them a chance to spend some time getting to know each other a little better without all of the daily nuances getting in their way. He thought she would say no but she had surprised him. She could use the quiet of a weekend on the lake, she’d said.
The met on Friday evening after work at his place. She looked a little nervous but still so lovely. He put her bags into his car and they hit the road. He asked about her day and listened while she laughed her way through a funny story about a co-worker. He liked her laugh. It was so effortless and breathy. The story relaxed her and she sat back into her chair with her hands on her lap and looked out the window. It was raining again, outside it was dark and gloomy and rain lightly spattered the windows. She had on a sweater and he watched her slowly move the cuff down over her hand to where the tips of her fingers were the only thing still showing. She got cold easily but said she liked it that way. She loved sweaters and pajama pants and scarves and soft fluffy blankets. He wanted to unwrap her from all of those things. He was distracted by the idea.
She changed the song on the radio. He’d told her she could listen to whatever she wanted, interested to see what she might choose. The song was slow, about a boy who loved a girl, weren’t they all though? She turned her head back towards the window and rested it on the seat. He thought she may have even closed her eyes. He wanted to hold her hand but also didn’t want to disturb her. This was the most relaxed he’d seen her, she was usually either very full of energy and life and talking with her hands or nervous and quietly fidgeting. This was new, this calm.
They drove that way for so long that he was certain she’d fallen asleep when she turned and looked at him and asked if he was really ok with them having dinner with some friends of hers that evening. He was, he was curious to meet her friends, interested in seeing her with them. He did take her hand then and she smiled at him but he felt the calm crack. Felt her energy spike just a little, showing her nerves again. He almost regretted it but enjoyed to much the feeling of her fingers intertwined with his. They were cool, almost cold.
Her phone rang and he listened to her talk to her children one at a time. She laughed and asked questions and listened as they talked. She was a good mother, he knew this. She was passionate and fair and concerned. Her kids didn’t know about him yet. This weekend she had used work as an excuse for leaving. She wasn’t ready to introduce him to the kids or have the kids ask questions about him. That was fair and really he felt a little relieved as he was still getting to know her, still learning about what kind of person she was. She went from talking about a football game to homework to a teacher who was being mean to a boy that was being nice. She was one hundred percent present for them and he noticed that it was the same way she spoke to him. She was always present, he liked that about her.
When she was off of the phone, she summarized the conversation for him. She was full of love when she talked about her kids but he could also tell that she held back a little, like she didn’t want to give too much of that part of her life away. It was valuable and special to her. He listened and brushed his thumb over hers. He knew that she didn’t like being dishonest with them, he’d heard it in her voice when she talked about how she wished she didn’t have to work this weekend too. He made a silent promise to make sure she didn’t have to lie any more.
They talked easily and lightly for the rest of the drive. She told him about places she had lived as a child, about her parents, about her friends they were meeting later. Despite his holding her hand, the calm came back. He liked it when she was calm, he felt like everything was stripped away, like when they were both naked under the covers and he was stroking her hair. He smiled at the memory.
They pulled into the driveway of her friend’s house just as dark was fully setting in. There was a light drizzle and he grabbed her umbrella from the backseat. It was polka dotted. He told her to stay put and he’d come around and get her so that they could share the umbrella. They walked up the sidewalk hand and hand, he could smell her hair. She always smelled a little like fruit, today he could smell oranges. He wanted to grab her and kiss her in the rain, bury his face in her hair and feel her cold fingers on his back. She rang the bell and he kissed her on her temple. It surprised her and she smiled at him but the door opened before she could say anything.
The man that opened the door was smiling and she embraced him. She looked him in the eyes and told him how great it was to see him, how well he looked and then introduced the two of them. He invited them in out of the rain and shook his hand. A woman with neon yellow hair and an apron straight out of the fifties walked around the corner and the two women hugged hard and long. When they stepped away from one another, he saw tears in both of their eyes. She introduced them and to his surprise, she hugged him as well. She had kind eyes and tattoos of flowers on her arms. She led them into the living room where both men were quickly abandoned to get to know one another while the women went into the kitchen.
He could see her, the living room and kitchen were separated by one of those serving bars. They were just far enough away that he could hear them talking and laughing but wasn’t able to follow the conversation. He had to settle for getting to know the man seated across from him. Accepting, he sat back on the couch and began the game of getting to know one another. They talked about the weather for a minute before the women appeared with drinks for them and then quickly went back to the kitchen. He watched her go and took note of the glass of wine she was holding for herself.
As the two men talked, the house filled with the smells of the food the women were preparing. He found the company of the other man relaxing. They talked about where they grew up, college, their jobs. It was easy and for a second he wondered if this was how she felt when she talked to people. She seemed to be able to effortlessly talk to anyone. Or maybe she just surrounded herself with these kinds of people, present people. He watched her for a minute. She took a drink of her wine and laughed at something her friend said. She tucked some of her stray curls behind her ear and then she felt his eyes on her. She made eye contact with him and smiled. Everything in his chest constricted for a second. She turned and went back to her conversation with her friend and he resisted the urge to get up and go to her. When she smiled at him, he felt whole.
He turned back to the man who had noticed. He changed the subject to her, asking how they had met. He told him and then the man explained how special she was to all of them. It didn’t come across like the warning he had expected. It was just a fact, one shared with friendship. She is wonderful, full of love and compassion for others, she is ours and we appreciate her and hope you will as well. She had managed to create these relationships everywhere. Everyone loved her, everyone appreciated her but no one felt like she needed to be protected. Except for him, he wanted to protect her. He wanted to take care of her. He had no idea how.
Very soon, the women rejoined them and food was brought out and the conversations changed to stories and laughter. He hadn’t ever seen her like this with other people. She listened and laughed and responded and told stories of her own. She was funny and so full of life. He took her hand in his again and she squeezed his hand gently. As the night went on, he learned a lot about them all. She and the woman with the bright yellow hair had known each other most of their lives and she spoke about her children much more freely here. The time flew by and before he knew it, it was time to go.
The goodbyes were long and he saw tears again. It was raining heavily as they walked to the car. She sniffled and he couldn’t stand it anymore. He stopped her and she looked up at him. He brushed a tear from her cheek and ran his hand into her hair. Then he kissed her. Her arms went around him, her cold fingers on his neck, in his hair. He could taste the wine she had been drinking, smell the oranges in her hair. He could have stayed there, like that, forever. The rain came down faster and he kissed her harder. He felt her yield, she was his. He could do with her what he wished. He broke the kiss and looked her in the eyes, they were half open and glazed over. The wine, the kiss, it had made her all dreamy. He kissed her forehead and walked her to her door.
He climbed into the driver seat and backed out of the driveway. She took his hand this time. They drove the forty-five minutes to the lake house in silence. The rain was coming down in buckets by the time he pulled into the driveway. They sat in the car, holding hands, watching the lightening and feeling the thunder shake their very cores. He took the umbrella out and walked around to her side of the car again, feeling the rain soak him. The wind was blowing the rain sideways and trying to take the umbrella. In the thirty feet from the car to the front door, they were both drenched.
He closed the door behind them and she laughed. He flipped the light switch on but nothing happened. He told her to stay put while he got towels and a candle or flashlight or something. He found candles in the kitchen and lit a few, taking the rest with him. He grabbed two towels from the hall closet and made his way back to where he had left her. She was taking off her shoes and humming quietly, she stopped to thank him for the towel. The candles were giving off a faint glow from the other room and with their help, he could make out her features. She was drying her hair with the towel. He stepped forward and stopped her. He tilted her head up and looked in her eyes.
He kissed her. He wanted to kiss her all the time. It felt so nice to have her to himself, they had nowhere to go, no one would bother them, she was his for the next two days. He ran his hands down her arms where the cold material was clinging to her skin. Breaking the kiss, he slowly unbuttoned her shirt as he looked into her eyes