All the while they had been turning a slow circle to the music. Their bodies now had something to do but their eyes were still helpless. After two or three clumsy glances, their gazes slid away over each other’s shoulders. She looked out at the revolving panorama of the terrace, the river, the bridge. The terrace, the river, the bridge. How long could this go on? She couldn’t judge by the music – she didn’t know the song. It seemed some improvisational jazz thing, heavy on the saxophone, which was not her preferred music to begin with, and certainly not what she’d imagined dancing to with him. There was no emotional connection to the song. This was nothing like she’d imagined, and sadly she realized this was something that could never be. Expressing her affection for him physically, even in the guise of a dance, was a road better off not travelled. They were where they were and there was no reasonable way around it. What they had at work was good and it could be enough.
She let go. Turning her head, she laid her temple against his shoulder and even smiled as she let go of impossible dreams, set them free down the river along with the last vestiges of this idealistic crush, and accepted that he could never be anything but what he was. As they continued to turn in a circle, the motion seemed to spin a coccoon of serenity around her thoughts. She breathed, closed her eyes, let herself alone, let him be.
He squeezed her hand; she thought she detected something complicit in his touch, as if he’d been following her inner monologue the whole while. She squeezed back, nearly laughing aloud at herself, at them, at the whole situation. She was actually about to open her mouth and crack an apologetic joke when his fingers let go of hers, and he took her wrist and gently put it up on his shoulder, then his hand went around her waist, joining the other one at the small of her back. Cautiously she turned her head, forehead against him now, close enough to see the warp and weft of threads in his shirt, and the dull gleam of buttons. She glanced up at him but his eyes were shut, his boyish face closed up. He could have been sleeping. He might have been praying.
The sound of the band was morphing into something familiar, a lilting melody just at the edge of her mind. The saxophonist stepped up to the mike and just as he opened his mouth to sing, she had it, and was already singing softly along:
You can take all the tea in China, put it in a big brown bag for me
Sail right ‘round, all these seven oceans….drop it in the middle of the deep blue sea
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey…
A recognizable song seemed to relax both of them. He didn’t actively pull her in, she didn’t feel herself deliberately move closer, but somehow the space between their bodies slowly dissolved. His hands expanded, pressed full and flat against the small of her back. He was beginning to hold her. Still cautious, she took in the moment, the sensation, this is me in his arms. His touch was sliding, moving experimentally up her back and down into the curve of her waist, feeling the shape of her, having his moment of discovery, this is me according to her. His arms overlapped behind her, winding full around her body like vines. “You’re so small,” he whispered. “But you’re always so strong for me…”
Her own hand moved then, to the side of his face, sliding to find what she wanted, that juncture beneath his ear where she could snug his jaw into her palm and run her finger along the edge of his sideburn. He inhaled, his chest expanding against her; she could feel his heart. When he exhaled, his head settled into her hand, and he let go, gave her some of his tall weight and rested against her, and then she was holding him and he sighed.
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
She’s an angel of the first degree…
Her own heart splashed in her chest, for it was clear then, that this was all she had ever dared to wish for: just these isolated minutes and seconds to feel him sigh in her arms, to soothe him. Not to wreak havoc, not to upset the balance, but to soothe. To soothe him, and in doing so, soothe her own curiosity to just know, know what he was like, know how he felt in her arms, know that he could and he would let down to her if circumstances allowed. She just wanted to hold him and know; to survey the lay of his land, take one bite from his plate, take one sip from his cup and let it be enough.