She hit him.

In fifteen years she had never raised her voice to him, let alone a hand. She rarely touched him in any context. Now her full palm cracked against his lower jaw. He never saw it coming, never imagined it could come at all, and so while it wasn’t a particularly felling blow, the surprise was enough to make him rear up on his heels and nearly stumble back into the subway turnstile. A hand to his stinging cheek, he gaped at her, speechless and stunned. She glared back, her hand balled in a fist at her side and the other white-knuckled at the strap of her purse. She had her chin up but it trembled against the set of her teeth, and the edges of her eyes were liquid. His mind was empty except for the bizarre notion that what she had just done was stunningly intimate. He couldn’t have been more shocked if she’d kissed him.

“There are very few women who love you more than I do,” she said quietly.

Like her slap, it was the last thing he expected, a perfect verbal backhand. For the life of him he couldn’t formulate a reply, he just stared. Thankfully he saw her fingers relax and her shoulders begin to drop.

“Do you understand?” she said.

And slowly, he did. Seconds stretched out, threading like a needle through his mind and sewing her beauty and anger to his memory. They looked long at each other, inhaling and exhaling each other’s breath, and finally he dropped his hand from his face and nodded. She took her eyes out of his and put them on the puddled, littered floor of the station.

“I’m sorry I hit you,” she whispered.

His own eyes burned hot but he kept them on her face and answered, “I behaved badly. I apologize.”

A corner of her mouth flickered. She rolled her lips in, ran the edge of her finger along her eyelashes, and then unfolded a miniaturized version of her smile for him. Her hand, soft now, reached to brush the sleeve of his trench coat. “Asshole,” she mumbled, and that customary, underlying note of benign affection was back in her voice, filling him with relief. Her hair lifted up briefly as she turned on her heel, settled again like a curtain between her shoulder blades, and she walked off.

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