The sun was setting when they sat down
together on the porch swing behind her house. Their conversation drifted
carelessly from one thing to another � they didn�t care what they talked about,
they just wanted to talk. He loved to look into her eyes � to see the life and
light behind them, and a conversation was the perfect excuse to do it. He gave
the conversation enough attention to prevent awkward silences (which might cause
her to look away), and devoted the rest of his attention to absorbing her eyes
As time passed, he began to wonder more and more if he was even able to look
away. It was a perfectly clear night, and as they spoke, the sky darkened to
absolutely pure black and the stars burst forth in such numbers and brilliancy
that their light lit the landscape nearly as well as the sun had when it could
still be seen above the horizon. She was nearly as absorbed in the conversation
as he was, but it was she who broke the eye contact in a momentary pause to
gather her thoughts. She looked out, then up at the sky and caught her breath.
He looked as well, and it seemed to them both that the only reason the stars
were there was for their enjoyment that night. The distance above her made her
feel small and insignificant and the white starlight made her feel cold. She
shivered and moved closer to him.
�Tell me about the stars.�
She knew if she could get him talking about a topic like this, only an
occasional question or even just a sound of interest was required to keep him
going indefinitely. He put his right arm on the back of the swing behind her,
and looking to the stars themselves for inspiration, started off. She looked at
the stars and listened to his voice and began to feel her eyes grow heavy. She
wished she had something to rest her head against. She tried leaning her head
back against his arm behind her, but found she had to bend her neck backwards
too far to be comfortable. She yawned and indicated his shoulder.
�May I lay my head here�
He said she could, a little impatiently because he had just gotten to the most
important part when she interrupted. He wondered for a moment whether she was
even listening, and decided she must be because every time he paused, she urged
him to continue with a question or comment. Gathering his thoughts, he returned
to his discourse on stars and galaxies and the nature of the universe.
She closed her eyes and listened, not to words, but to sounds. She could hear
the rising and falling hum of his voice through his shoulder, along with the
thump of her own heartbeat in her ear. She wondered if the sounds of his voice
would be clearer if his shirt wasn�t in the way. She blushed (What a thought!),
and opened her eyes, surprised at how hard it was. He hadn�t noticed her blush.
His eyes were fixed on the sky and his mind was fixed on whatever it was he was
talking about with such interest. He seemed to have forgotten she was even
there. She smiled. Even if he had noticed, there was no way he could have
guessed what she had been thinking. Her eyes closed, and she drifted dreamily on
the sea of words once more.
She was almost asleep when she realized that he had stopped talking. Why had he
stopped? She tried to remember what he had just said. It must have been a
question. She couldn�t remember what it was, and she didn�t want to answer
anyway. She was too tired. She didn�t want to move a muscle.
He spoke her name again. When she didn�t answer, he looked at her, and his
breath caught. So beautiful! So beautiful and peaceful with her eyes closed and
her head on his shoulder. What a fool he had been to think she enjoyed hearing
him jabber about astronomy. What a fool to bore such a lovely creature to sleep.
And such a lovely face � only . . . inches . . . away. As he thought it, he
reached out with his left hand, and with the back of his finger touched her
cheek, very lightly. Slowly, slowly he traced the line of her jaw to the tip of
her chin. Tears stung his eyes. Nowhere, anywhere was there beauty like this.
Even more slowly his finger moved down her neck . . . down . . . down.
Her heart thundered. Did he dare? She knew she would open her eyes and slap him
if he did, and that a relationship would then be out of the question. Yet her
neck burned where his finger had traced, and something in her, something that
frightened her, didn�t want him to stop.
At the base of her neck he lifted his hand. His heart thundered. Did he dare? He
knew so light a touch would not wake her. If he had looked back at her neck, he
would have seen her throat almost fluttering with the intensity of her
heartbeat, yet he didn�t look at her neck. Rather his hand moved reluctantly to
her shoulder, meaning to shake her awake. As soon as his hand touched her
shoulder though, she jerked rather violently. Her hand went back like she was
going to hit him, but no, she was only stretching. His taut nerves were playing
tricks on him.
�Oh! You startled me. I . . . I was sleeping.�
He was too caught up in what had just happened to notice the tremor in her
voice. For the first time that evening they had difficulty making eye contact.
After a moment of silence, he noted that it was getting late, and that he ought
to be getting home. So with a few friendly if slightly strained parting words,
he left. He didn�t even realize he had left his coat at her house until he was
After he had gone, she walked inside, her mind a jumble. She saw his coat laying
on the couch and picked it up. She buried her face in it and breathed deeply.
With that smell, she could almost imagine he was there. She put it on and went
up to bed. Her last thoughts before sleep took her were that sleeping in his
coat that night was about as close as she could get to sleeping in his arms.
Copyright �1998 by J. R. Willett. All rights reserved.
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