Dane(4)

By: Leddy Harper


She slipped her hand off the table into the safety of her lap and tucked her chin, ogling the wooden table top between us. Her shoulders rose and fell with each breath. If I were a betting man, I’d say she was in the midst of calming herself.

Because I was in the midst of doing the very same thing.

“Why do you do that?” My voice was low, barely a whisper, but it was enough to catch her attention.

Her almond-shaped eyes met mine, and I could literally feel her stare through my entire body. It touched everything. Like it physically reached inside me and caressed every part of my being. My heart raced and my throat closed. All from one stare.

“Why do you look away like that? Like you’re insecure.” My God, this woman had nothing to be insecure about. I had no right to take notice, but it was impossible not to.

“I don’t know…I guess I get shy. Sometimes I don’t know how to react to compliments. I don’t know what to say to someone who comments about my appearance. It’s not insecurity; it’s more like feeling nervous, I guess.”

“Well, you shouldn’t be shy or nervous. It’s just a compliment. I’m sure you get them a lot. You should be used to them by now, and if not, then you’ve been around the wrong people.” I hadn’t meant for my words to come across as flirtatious, but they did so anyhow.

“Thank you.” Her gaze never left mine as her eyes sparked—no, flared—widening slightly. The taut corners of her mouth twitched and the light in her eyes brightened, but it wasn’t until the tension in my expression loosened, my own lips turning up, that I saw hers do the same. I couldn’t remember the last time I had the ability to trigger someone else’s happiness.

“That’s better.” I couldn’t take my eyes off hers, no matter how hard I tried. I’m sure it made her uncomfortable, but she never turned away, either.

She twirled her straw around in her cup, shifting around the ice at the bottom. “Well, it’s getting late and I’m finished with my drink. Do you have any more advice before I leave?”

The notion of her leaving weighed heavily around me like a dense fog of despair. I didn’t like it. I shouldn’t have wanted her to stay, but thinking of her walking away left me teetering on the cusp of misery. As if my happiness had been tethered to her. I didn’t want her to go. I longed to bathe in her presence for a little while longer. But I knew she couldn’t stay. And I shouldn’t want her to stay.

“Just be you,” was all I had to offer her.

“Thank you, Dane. I really enjoyed your company tonight.”

“Anytime, Eden.” I wanted to tell her how much I’d enjoyed hers as well, but I didn’t. The words wouldn’t leave my tongue. I knew they’d sound desperate and pathetic, giving away the sorrow deeply embedded within me. She’d been so easy to talk to, and I only wanted to live in that moment with her for a little while longer.

To forget for a little bit more.

As she walked away, leaving me alone at the table, I knew I’d be left thinking about her for days. Maybe not her, but the feelings she’d brought to the surface. She’d offered me a sense of normalcy for the first time in eons. And she’d made me smile. I’d been convinced I no longer had the ability to do anything other than scowl. But for thirty minutes, I was able to remember how it felt to enjoy life, to be carefree. I was able to recognize that piece of me hadn’t fully died.

I didn’t want it to end, but I knew it had to.

I sat on the stool for a little bit longer until I knew I had to leave. I had to go home. I didn’t want to, but I had no other choice. At least I knew there was hope for me yet. I wasn’t sentenced to a life of sadness, surrounded by tears and heartache. Enjoying Eden’s company may have been wrong, but at least it proved to me there was still something worth fighting for.





2





I rushed to work, forcing myself not to look at the time. Usually, I was the first one to walk through the main doors, but this morning, it wouldn’t surprise me if I’d been the last. I’d had one hell of a morning so far, causing me to run behind. Exhaustion weighted my feet, but my irritation over being late fueled my steady pace into the building.