My perception of a familiar presence was followed by the pronouncement of my name in a known voice. I stopped breathing momentarily, while the adrenaline coursing through my veins catapulted my thoughts into a frenzy.
My fingers tightened around the glass in my hand. I turned to face him. “Hi.”
He smiled pleasantly, remaining at a distance.
I bid myself inwardly to keep an unruffled exterior. I addressed him with a smirk. “I didn’t see you at the ceremony…I suppose you were late.”
His smile swelled, he stepped closer. “You were looking for me?”
“Absolutely not! I was not looking for you!” I groped for what to say next. “Enjoy the reception.” I took off, frantically searching the reception hall for safer company to land in. Alas, Friend and her husband were being photographed with some of the remaining guests and the other bridesmaids reveled in the festivities on the dance floor. I inhaled the drink in hand, set the glass at my table as I passed by, and turned toward the dance floor. My plan of evasion was foiled however.
“Mary!” He called out after me.
I feigned deafness and continued toward the cluster of bridesmaids at the center of the dance floor.
His voice drew nearer till I was inescapably encompassed by it. With no room to advance any farther, I stopped. The upbeat song that the bridesmaids had been dancing to died, giving way to a fatally slow song indeed. My gaze swept across the dance-floor in rhythm with the tempo of the new song; the single people withdrew from the floor, some to their seats, some toward the restroom, others to the bar. Meanwhile couples filled in the spaces they left. I turned to face him.
One hand extended to me, he spoke. “Dance with me.”
“No.” I meant to appear stern and aloof, but my face refused to hold tension in the appropriate places. Hence, the fear that ran wild just beneath the surface was unmasked.
He took a cautious step closer. “Just one dance.”
“Did Friend talk to you at all?”
“Oh yes she did!” He perked up as though suddenly recollecting their conversation. “She told me you were still recovering from a very peculiar contagious disease, that I should stay away from you…but–”
My right fist found his arm before I could prevent it. “No she did not!”
“First of all, ouch. Secondly, yes she did, but I told her it was a risk I was willing to take.”
Dumbfounded I stared at him. “You’re insane.”
“Is insanity a quality you find attractive?”
“Well in that case, I’m not insane….Friend told me to stay away from you…but when I saw you at the ceremony, which I was not late for by the way, I knew that wasn’t gonna happen. So–”
The humor I had momentarily found in his attempt to charm me, was suddenly hijacked by another bout of fear. “What do you want from me?”
He extended his hand once more. “I just want to dance with you Mary.”
“I’m not talking about right now at this very moment. I mean in general, what do you want from me?”
He seemed taken aback. “Wow…that’s bold.” He laughed a little.
“Would you prefer if I were coy?”
He took another step toward me. “No,” he responded with resolute sincerity.
I stood still, although the lessened space between us inspired me to take off. “Well?”
“You…” he started nervously. “You seem like a great woman …and I wanna get to know you.”
I folded my arms abruptly across my heart, an extra precaution against him. “Well, I’m not…” My breath grew unsteady and soon it was difficult to swallow. “I’m not some dainty little princess and I have no interest in being swept off my feet…”
He stared back at me quietly; in his eyes I discerned some tender sentiment, but it wasn’t pity. I resented it.
“I don’t always know how to express my feelings…I’m not a very good friend…” It became increasingly difficult to breathe as a tear crept slowly down my cheek. “…and as it turns out…I’m not a good daughter either.”
He closed the gap between us altogether.
“What are you doing?” I asked, stepping back with urgency.
“You look like you could use a hug…don’t hit me.”
“No. Please don’t.”
“If I just stand here watching you cry, what kind of jerk does that make me?”
“You can walk away.”
He hesitated, then, “I don’t think I can walk away Mary.”
He stood with expectant gaze just beyond the grip of my fear.
“….I don’t…I don’t know…”
“I don’t know how to do this.” I drew in a deep breath.
“Well, first you open up your arms, then–”
“I wasn’t talking about hugging…I don’t know how to do this,” I painted an invisible string in the space between us with my hand.
Again, I saw it in his eyes, faintly illuminated by the soft lights on the dance floor: a tender sentiment, present also on the day we first met.
I wrested myself from the choke-hold of fear in order to speak. “I like you…and that scares me….I don’t know how to be in a relationship.”
Appearing even more brightly illuminated from within, he didn’t speak.
I reckoned I had said too much and attempted a recovery. “…I mean if that’s what you’re looking for…I’m just not the one…”
He continued his intrigued study of me in silence.
“Could you say something?”
“…Uh…’something’?” He smiled.
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah…” His smile persisted.
“You like me?”
“Look, I already feel stupid enough, I’m not gonna repeat myself.”
He lifted his hand to my cheek.
“Oh God, please don’t kiss me right now.” My heart raced with new found terror, my knees weakened at the prospect of what was to come.
His thumb found the tear that had lingered on my cheek and brushed it gently aside. “I’m only going to kiss you when you’re ready for me to kiss you.”
“What makes you think I’ll ever want that?”
“Well you did just confess to liking me and–”
“I deeply regret it.”
“The song’s almost over Mary, dance with me.”
I was momentarily speechless. I had said all I could say and he remained before me with an open invitation. I took another breath, drawing it deep into the recesses of my heart. As I released the tension I’d held to keep myself from him, my arms fell slowly to my side, leaving my heart vulnerable to him. My defenses disarmed by his relentless pursuit, he drew near to cover me in the warmth of his presence. We swayed slowly to the music. I didn’t dare look into his eyes.
“I really like what you’ve done with the top of your head,” He remarked.
Perplexed, I did what I wouldn’t have dared; I turned my gaze quickly to his. “What?”
“There you are. Look at that; the front of your hair looks just as great.” His face was a portrait of delight.
I realized I had been tricked. “Clever.”
“Thanks.” His smile subsided and his expression became still. “Listen–” The song we had been swaying to quickly dissolved and with it our physical connection.
I looked up, somehow expecting to find remnants of the notes still floating in the air. Of course, I did not. The moment had been unexpectedly sweet; nevertheless it was over. “…Thanks for the dance. I’m gonna go–”
“Listen, before you go…”
The unadulterated sincerity of his tone arrested me. “Yeah?”
“Can we maybe discuss another time to grab dinner or coffee or…whatever?”
My default response was immediately triggered by his question and came tripping right off my tongue. “I’m sorry, I’m busy.”
Disappointment instantly surfaced in his eyes.
“Sorry,” I began in an urgent effort to recant my response.
“No…don’t be sorry, I just thought that–”
“Well here’s the thing–”
“No, it’s fine. You really don’t need to explain–”
“Would you shut up!” I blurted.
Surprise suddenly surpassed the disappointment in his eyes.
Aware that we’d gained an audience of some of the other persons on the dance floor, I gestured that he should follow me. He did. I led him out onto the balcony just outside the reception suite. The ‘click’ as he closed the door behind us was followed by my acute awareness of the stark silence and frigidity of the air on the balcony.
I quickly wrapped my arms around myself as far and as tightly as I could. “Ooh God, this was a bad idea!”
He took off his tuxedo jacket and started to cover me. “Here.”
“I’ll be fine, this will only take a second.”
He withdrew the jacket, but kept it in hand. “What is it?”
“I didn’t mean it.” I shivered wildly as I spoke.
“You didn’t mean what?”
“I didn’t mean to say I was busy…I’m just so used to saying that…it kinda just came out.”
“Well, what did you mean to say?”
“I’ll still need to check my calendar…but I think…I think I’d like to have dinner or coffee…or whatever.”
His smile returned. “We can’t do anything If you freeze up here so…..” He came close and wrapped the jacket around me.
“Do you have your phone on you?”
“Yeah.” He quickly produced it from his pocket.
“I could put my number in, that way you could call me…or text me whenever and we could set something up.”
“I’d like that.”
I could feel the warmth in his voice, but refused to deviate from the face of his phone to his. Once more, I did what I wouldn’t dare. “Great.” I looked up to return his phone.
The stillness, the cold, the proximity of his presence, and the dimly lit balcony were all adversely inspiring. Like a little girl sneaking sweets in the dead of night, I snuck up and kissed him. I turned quickly to run back inside, but as it happened, I was neither as stealthy or as agile as I thought myself to be. His hand caught mine and he drew me into the warmth of his arms where he kissed me slowly in the cold night air.