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The Test

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 and face.

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 almost home.

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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