I was trying to be happy. Your smile was radiant, and you wore the necklace I gave you for your birthday. Rumbling down the dirt road in your jeep made me feel like a kid again, but then I felt embarrassed for being so old to begin with.
Could you tell what I was feeling? I think you could.
We had the beach practically to ourselves. A biting, misty wind whipped in over the waves. We huddled close together on the pale sand. You slipped your hands beneath my jacket, clung tightly to my sweater. “You’re so warm,” you sighed.
Were you just trying to make me feel better? I’m not sure.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “This was a bad idea.” I felt your body go rigid, felt you begin to pull away, felt everything start to fall apart. No point in putting it off. I lowered my gaze to meet yours.
Your eyes were hard, and I felt myself break against your glare. I didn’t want to lose you. A smile curled your lips. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” you said. “I’m right where I want to be.”
Melissa could hardly pick a detail to focus on. Dark purple polish, chipped and sparkling, the tattooed rings stacked on her upper arm, the delicate way she tucked her hair behind her ear, the pale green eyes darting back and forth, or the way a slow smile spread across Alina’s face as she read the back of the DVD case. Then suddenly the eyes turned to her, alight and vibrant.
“Have you heard of this one?” Alina asked, stepping closer. The fragrance of vanilla bean and cloves filled Melissa’s senses. Alina’s body was right next to hers. She couldn’t focus on any details of the movie, just the soft cool touch of Alina’s arm brushing against hers.
“I think you should get it,” Melissa said.
“We could,” she swallowed the lump in her throat, “watch it tonight. At my place?”
For a moment, Alina’s face was perfectly still. Melissa couldn’t feel her heart beating, and she wondered whether time had stopped or whether she had simply died right in that moment. A slow smile. “Sure,” Alina replied casually.
“And maybe we…” Melissa couldn’t find any words to encompass her hope.
Then fingers with chipped polish folded between hers. “Yes.”
On their third date, Candace and Michael were still getting used to seeing each other without masks. They grinned at each other constantly all through dinner until Candace pointed out a seed stuck in Michael’s teeth. She laughed so hard at his panicked expression that water squirted out of her nose.
Michael had been mortified, but Candace still invited him back to her apartment for drinks. “You look warm,” she remarked. “Why don’t you take off that sweater?” She indulged herself in a quick peek at his narrow hips and flat stomach as his undershirt pulled up with the sweater, but then he started writhing awkwardly, stuck halfway with the sweater covering his head. With one forceful tug, Candace freed him from his woolen constraint, but the static electricity left tufts of his hair standing on end.
“What is it?” he asked as Candace stifled a giggle.
“Nothing,” she insisted, leaning forward to kiss him. A bolt of static electricity crackled between their puckered lips and both jumped, clutching their mouths.
Then Candace started giggling.
Michael’s shoulders slumped. “I guess I should go,” he sighed.
“No!” Candace said. “Stay! This is the best date I’ve had in a long time.”
It shouldn’t have taken so long for her to get someone’s attention. Finally, she caught a clerk’s eye. “Is there . . . something I can help you with?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said with a bright smile. “Those.”
His eyes followed her pointing finger to a shoe perched on the highest display shelf. The double take was unmistakable. “I can show you something a little more . . .” she saw the hesitation as he glanced at her chair, then said, “practical. If you want.”
“No,” she answered. “I want these. Size eight.”
She sat with the box in her lap, surprised by her own giddiness. Despite already knowing exactly what the box contained, she couldn’t resist feeling elated when she lifted the lid and saw the shoes there, nestled in the folds of parcel paper. They were perfect. Bright red, thin, elegant straps, a spiked heel. She lifted first her left foot, then her right to put them on and swiveled to face the mirror. They were perfect.
She rushed to answer the doorbell’s chime. Turning the knob, then rolling back, she opened the door to admit her date. He stepped in, smiling.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hi. You . . .” his grin widened, “you look great.”