A young woman sits up in bed. She’s 25-years-old, 5’1”, tan, sericeous blonde hair—brown at the roots. You’re 25-years-old, too, both naked. A dim lamp points at the ceiling in the far corner; the TV flickers, casting intermittent explosions of shadows and light. A white sheet covers her left leg, leaving half of the right side of her body exposed—from the mid-knee up to her abdomen and right breast. She cries without sobbing. Tears slide down her cheeks, creating shiny patches near her dimples. There is no eye shadow to smear because she doesn’t wear any. She doesn’t wear makeup when she’s with you. She simply holds the sheet up to her nose, covering her mouth. She stares straight ahead, the blue of her eyes magnified by the tears.
You have just returned from the bathroom to discover her like this. Minutes before, you had taken off each other’s clothes. Maybe you excused yourself to go to the bathroom because you had to relieve yourself, or maybe you excused yourself because you’ve known each other for a decade and have never slept together and you’re unsure if you should.
And so you find her crying, not because she doesn’t want to sleep with you, but because she does. And you wish, in that moment, that you could take a photograph of her like this because she looks so beautiful there, in bed, with half of her body exposed, but all of who she is.
She’s terrified of ending up alone. So are you. But what she’s terrified by even more is being with someone who sees her for what she really is: vulnerable, empathetic, sinking—sinking because of the gap between how things ought to be and how things are. You know that her brother is an alcoholic and a drug addict. That he should be dead. That instead, he’s in prison. You know that you are an alcoholic, but somehow you’ve been sober for 14 months. You know, too, that she cares about you, in part, because she sees in you the redemption of her brother. But that doesn’t change how she makes you feel. AA has taught you that feelings aren’t facts. You know that’s not true.
She lies on top of you. You both want to let the one sacred thing left in life still be possible: anticipation. You want to still feel yearning. You want to stay in her life. You want to prove that she is more important than sex. Maybe the timing will never be right, but you know it’s definitely not right now.
And so you run your fingers over her body, and she gets goosebumps and smiles a sad smile. She runs her fingers through your hair and you close your eyes.
You leave at four o’clock in the morning to give her space. As you weave through the dark streets of your youth, you wonder how much longer this can go on. You wonder if you’re angry or sad or disappointed. You wonder if maybe—just maybe—this is what it feels like to be in love.
Geoff Watkinson is the founding editor of Green Briar Review, an online literary magazine. He has an MFA from Old Dominion University, where he taught writing, and has contributed to storySouth, Guernica, Switchback, Moon City Review, The Roanoke Review, Bluestem, and The Virginian-Pilot, among others. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter: @GeoffWatkinson.