Love happened like this.
At first quiet and slow so that I couldn’t have noticed it if I tried. I couldn’t have looked it in the eye and made a plea, begged for some time, some security, something solid to stand on before I jumped out into the abyss of hopeless romance.
Because it happened this other way.
It slid down my throat like warm maple syrup and it settled in my stomach to twist and gnaw at its lining every time she glanced in my direction. It callused my fingertips because the muscles there tingled with some kind of telepathic knowledge of her and I couldn’t keep them from tracing her name across my pillow in the middle of the night. It ushered in a certain sort of exhaustion, bone-deep and twitching in the corners of my false smiles and forced understanding.
I loved her like this.
Silent and regretful.
She would often grab at my empathy and hoist herself up onto it, and so I would stay still, refusing to breathe for fear that she would realize how much of me she had covered with herself and retreat back out into the ocean of her life.
She would sometimes wrap smiling lips around my inner ear so I could hear the words nestled into her commas and question marks, my mind filing them carefully away in case I would be diligently tested at a later time.
She would lace her stares through mine like they were strands of a spider-web spun between us, weightless and practically invisible but somehow impossible to ignore.
She owned me.
I’d been wallowing in it for hours that night, wallowing as if I was thirteen or as if I was Hamlet, making mountains out of molehills and feeling immobility sit down stubborn on the tops of my shoes. I sat in my bedroom and I flipped through a rolodex of emotions, choosing anger one moment and self-pity the next while simultaneously channel surfing on my thirty two inch television because the rhythm of it suited me.
Chilies, I thought, were peppers that kicked at your tongue and brought tears of shock to your eyes.
That seemed appropriate.
It had been three hours since I’d left that parking lot, and I still had some specific taste in my mouth.
Some specific tear in my eye.
Because it seemed, for me, that love had to happen like this.
Love, silent and regretful with ghostly tastes of things and vague half-certainties.
Love happened to me and then paused in endless thought, took its time so that its romantic lack of gravity could ware off, and the harshness of the earth could settle in and pull me down.
Love tightened its fists in indecision and chewed on its lips to keep them from speaking.
I bit down and tasted the tang of chili peppers.
A knock at my bedroom door made me heave a sigh and roll my eyes, preferring solitude to the rambling monologue of which cashier at the grocery store had struck Mark’s fancy that day. He didn’t wait long enough for me to put together a request to be left alone, and so his palm pushed the door open slowly.
His head poked into the room carefully like the head of a turtle and his eyes blinked, owlish against the strangeness of the bluish light flickering across the walls. I mustered a half-interested jerk of my eyebrow and waited for him to explain why he was here.
The silence lingered and I thought I heard it crack a mocking grin.
“What are you doing?” he mumbled and I licked my lips, still tasting the tang of her, waiting until my mind could discard its first impolite response to Mark's question and come up with a more appropriate second one.
“Watching T.V,” I eventually offered, my voice flat and uncaring and my unblinking eyes ignoring his nod of recognition.
“Well someone’s at the door for you.”
And my head bobbed in his direction, shocked, staring at him before turning a bit further so that I could glance over my shoulder at the clock on my night stand. 1:40 AM. Late. Much too late for normal.
“What?” I wondered stupidly. He shrugged, walking away, and I was left with my previously coveted, now suffocating solitude. I was left with my hyperventilating solitude that inhaled ‘what if’ and exhaled ‘calm down’ too fast for my lungs and my pepper-stained mouth to handle.
I stood and put one foot in front of the other purely because it was what I had learned to do as a toddler.
I rubbed at my eyes once I got to the front door.
It was standing open, swaying in the autumn breeze, and I could see her back, her head hanging low between her shoulders, her whitest-sneakers restless against the worn out wood beneath them.
I saw her standing there and I thought I had to be dreaming because love happened some other way to me, not middle of the night visits and moonlit hair. I had to be dreaming, I thought.
I just stood for a while, endless moments ticking, watching her wait for me and feeling like maybe I could hang there, weightless, loving, and without gravity for just a little bit longer. I thought maybe I could cheat this scenario and load the dice in my favor by holding my breath, memorizing the silence, tugging at the web of whatever was strung up between us.
I just stood there.
It seemed, though, that the weight of my silence gave me away because she turned instinctively and met my heavy stare with her own. She looked at me honest with ‘I kissed you’ scrawled guilty in the flush of her cheeks. ‘I kissed you’ was painted dimly in the slope of her shoulders and the somehow sexy cut of her conservative pencil skirt. ‘I kissed you’ was pulsing in the rise and fall of her breath and the slow, dreamy blink of her eyes. She announced quietly and over and over again in the span of only seconds: ‘I kissed you.’
Unless I was mistaking her silent ‘I kissed you’ for my own silent ‘You kissed me,’ which was grinding at my spine and flashing through my mind like lightening. I blinked hard and tried to remember what I might normally say in a situation such as this.
“Pam?” My voice was sandpaper-rough against the air in my lungs. “Is something wrong?” I asked, obligatory, casually concerned, exhausted. She frowned and I couldn’t help the way that I begged her silently for something, anything. She watched me. She let her stare sweep the dust from my veins and I felt them pump hot in response.
“I kissed you,” she whispered, her extremely sober eyes flooding with both acknowledgment and confusion. My own eyes were wide and I felt myself struggling to keep their gaze from travelling the length of her. I felt myself struggling to stay so far away from the body of her that I wanted so badly to grab onto. I waited, suspended, at her mercy as always and fevered with impatience.
“I know,” I breathed eventually.
“I mean I’m,” she started and her feet carried her toward me. God her feet carried her toward me and she landed in a spot where I could feel just her cells reaching out to burn me. I could feel her burning on my tongue.
“I’m,” Pam pushed out again, shaking her head, dazed, dumbfounded. I found myself commiserating. “I’m always just wanting to…”
And I held my breath when her fingers landed soft against my cheek.
And I closed my eyes when those fingers slid heavy into my hair.
And I breathed her name when she pressed her palm to my chest.
“Why is it like this?” she asked me honestly, simply. I blindly shook my head, reaching out to span the dip of her waist with my hands, sincerely unsure why, as she'd said, it was like this. Heated and charged and full.
I grabbed onto her. Air gushed out of both of us and mixed chili-hot between our bodies. Fingers did what fingers do, gripping at fabric and slipping against skin, and I was no longer certain of the difference between dreams and real solid things.
Did I dream or did it happen?
She pressed her mouth to mine.
“Jim,” she murmured into me, desperate, wanting, silently hoping to make sure, just the same as I was, that things were real instead of imagined.
She’d imagined, I suddenly knew, what my lips would feel like open against her skin. She’d imagined, I was certain, how needy my hands would be and how hard I would breathe down into her.
My tongue slid into her mouth because it was the only way I knew to really tell her something.
She tasted like pepper and my tongue sizzled hot against the burn of her. I was hungry for it, cold inside without it, teased by the promise of a slow careful cooking. Hands clutched tighter against skin and my legs fumbled, boneless, tripping us back toward the wall in the shadowed front hallway where I leaned our weight and imagined us horizontal.
I pushed her name into her mouth.
She answered with mine and I felt everything tighten.
She pressed her leg against me and I found myself stunned into helplessness because I had never let my mind wander quite this far into her. I had never let myself imagine quite this clearly.
I had never thought she would seem so sure of herself.
I was frozen against her, then, and she let her mouth sit gentle upon mine, our breathing heavy and our eyelids low.
Both of us stood as statues, pressed together, leaning for fear of our fall.
"What..." I started, unable to finish the sentence, unable to speak to her the way that I should've. I swallowed. "What are we doing?" I asked, wondering if I should think something besides her name and her face and the taste of her.
She lifted both hands and cradled my face, careful, steady and slow and still seeming astonished by the state of things, still seeming unsure of reality, somehow. Her lips pulled warm against my mouth.
“I’m kissing you,” she whispered, the sound of it like amazed prayer, like calming promises. I nodded slightly, making sure I did nothing to jar her from her spot against me. “I’m kissing you,” she said again, this time declaration and reassurance.
I moved my mouth against her, felt the slide of her and felt the dampened flutter of her eyelashes and I sighed some kind of relief, reaching up to touch her hair and reaching out to lace my fingers in between hers, pulling her along behind me, up the stairs, into the cool blue of my former solitude.
We fell down to float against feather pillows and I offered her pepper flavored kisses. I promised her that sometimes love happened like this.
She smiled into my shoulder and said she believed me.