She has coffee with him a few times, just to talk, because he’s friendly and he has good advice and she feels a very particular sense of comfort when she’s around him. She’s only 18 right now. She meets him every couple of months. It’s always nice to catch up. That’s what she tells herself, anyway, and what she tells her family when they ask questions, and what she tells her friends when they wonder why she keeps seeing him. She can admit to herself that it might be a little more than just catching up. It might be really nice when he touches her shoulder or smiles at her, or even when he makes fun of her or says something a little hurtful because he’s in a bad mood. But nothing more than that, of course not, not when she’s 18 going on 19 and he’s some age she isn’t sure about, probably almost 60. Give or take. They first met when she was 13, so of course he doesn’t think about her that way. She’s almost certain.
They stick with coffee for 3 years until she’s 21 and they’re in line at Peet’s and she asks in a low voice whether he’d mind getting something else, something with a bit of a kick. He laughs exuberantly, planting a lighthearted palm on her arm. She wonders, not for the first time and not for the last, whether he thinks about that — the arm pat thing — before he does it. Does he do it just to comfort her? Or out of habit? Or out of the need to be in contact with her?
They resume the usual conversation at a bar. He holds his liquor, but she gets hit hard. She keeps trying to fix her eyes on a stain on the floor, but her vision won’t stop shifting. Everything is very warm, and warmest of all is his presence. She gets quiet when she’s drunk, but he gets talkative. Her leg brushes against his while he’s talking to someone else. She’s not sure if he notices, so she just keeps it there. Suddenly his hand is barely touching her knee. Barely. She’s still unsure whether he’s paying attention. She always thinks she’s reading too far into things.
He tries to talk to her, but she can’t follow his words. He seems to pick up on that, because she can hear him saying “It’s already 10:15. Can I drive you home?” and she nods but being apart from him is somehow the worst thing she can imagine. She’s sleepy, but she doesn’t want to go home. Just wants to fall asleep in his lap, because he’s solid and warm and capable and she keeps remembering that one time, three years ago, they made eye contact and it felt like an anchor being thrown to hold her down in the physical realm. Something possesses her to ask him about it. “Do you remember…” she starts, her lips numb, and her hand reaches out to grab hold of his forearm and softly knead his skin between her fingers. She can’t figure out how to end the question. “…nevermind.” His hand is on her hand, now, and she knows he’s smiling but she doesn’t look up at him. “I’m sure I do. Let’s take you home.” He’s standing up, holding her arm, leading her out of the restaurant while she leans a little too heavily against him. She’s hyperfocused on the thin little hairs sprouting between the joints of his fingers.
When they’re outside and about to get into his car, she stops him by putting her hands on each of his arms and leaning her forehead on his shoulder. She falls a little closer against him than she’d intended. “Don’t take me to my house.”
“I shouldn’t take you anywhere else. Especially not when you’re drunk. Come on.” But he doesn’t push her away.
For a second, she doesn’t say anything. Then she puts her arms around his neck. “Isn’t it tempting, though?”
His hand is on the small of her back, now. “Of course it’s tempting,” he says, in something tantalizingly close to a whisper, but she can tell he’s not going to give in. Not even when she presses closer against him and rakes her fingers through the hair at the base of his neck. She’s just a little 21 year old. But she’s with him right now and he hasn’t driven her home yet, so she’s not giving up whatever closeness he’s willing to offer.
She puts her hands on his neck, and he gently removes them. He runs the back of his index finger down the side of her face. “Not right now.”
She hardly remembers the ride home. Only the aching, receding energy of leaving his car and stumbling to her door, of looking back and finding he hasn’t left yet. He doesn’t leave until she’s inside, and even then, he sits and stares after her until he can’t feel the residual electricity of her desire. Then he drives away.


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