He had worked in construction. A period of teenage rebellion after his family’s move and he’d found himself outside everyday, building, sweating, making his way in the world with his hands. The physical labor had given him the space to think and find himself. Ultimately he’d moved into the supply side and dealt in cement. He told her more when they met for drinks on the first night of his business trip. She couldn’t say that working in construction sounded interesting to her. But she was extremely grateful for what it had done for his body. From what she could see at least. It was a coolish evening, following a humid day. He was wearing a light olive green polo shirt, tucked into a pair of belted khakis. His clothes were very polite, extremely correct and respectable, but it was the casual, latent, unassuming muscle at rest underneath that forced her to continually check that she wasn’t drooling, ogling or losing track of what he was saying.
His shoulders were broad. No longer the angular capital T she remembered that looked like a hanger under the too large shirts that had been the style when they’d been young. Now, there was lean, hard power underneath. Just enough filling out his upper arms, deltoids & trapezius. He turned his head to look for an empty table, and again to look up at the waitress while she took their order, and the muscles in his neck, lean and powerful, almost feline, simply doing their job to turn and lift his head, drew her gaze down the tendon to the hollow just above his collarbone. It took everything in her not to throw herself across the table so she could glide the edge of her tongue there where the skin was taut.
He and the waitress looked to her for her order and she snapped back to the polite, courteous present.
They laughed. A lot. About long forgotten anecdotes. Embarrassing stories from their more recent, separated lives. She didn’t bring up her questions. Or the picture. She asked about his sister and he told her about visiting a theme park with his nephews. At one point, he raised his arm in a gesture to protect his face from the cascade of water in his story. Her gaze shot down the indentation along his forearm that ran from wrist to elbow. Her breath caught. It was just an arm, but intoxicating in its very maleness. He caught her and glanced down, asking what was wrong. She hurried to smile and say nothing, sipping her drink too quickly. He mistook her embarrassment at being caught for shock at a large scar on his arm. It was only when he began to explain how it had happened that she noticed it was even there.
They parted awkwardly after drinks. He seemed a little rushed and she didn’t want him to go, but didn’t know how to say so. She didn’t know what was wrong with her. He mentioned that he’d be downtown around lunchtime. She hesitantly suggested they have lunch. He agreed, gave her a quick platonic hug and left. She felt odd. Maybe he was gay? It wouldn’t have been the first time she’d realized she had a crush on a gay guy.
In her car, she chastised herself for being such a chicken and acting like a nervous kid again.
He had to cancel lunch the next day. She was devastated. He was leaving in two days. Was she just going to let this go on forever? She began to seriously beat herself up about it. And had trouble concentrating at work when flashes of his arms and shoulders popped into her head.
He called around 3 to ask if he could make up for lunch with dinner. She had plans, but she decided to reschedule. She’d have to shake off her timidity and get some answers.
He was still in the suit he’d worn that day. His back was to her as she approached; he was leaning against a railing looking at his phone. She wanted to jump on him, rip off his clothes and straddle him right there on the street. She told herself to get a grip in spite of the burst of wetness between her legs.
She approached carefully, not wanting to surprise him. His face looked tight and determined until he raised it to smile at her. He told her she looked beautiful in purple.
He gave his name to the hostess and they went back outside to wait with the pager in hand.
There was a bench and they sat side by side not looking at each other. He seemed tense, irritable. She hoped it was about work.
She crossed her legs away from him. She noticed his glance dart down to her ankle and suddenly he was talking.
“I’m afraid of making a mistake.”
She wasn’t sure what to say. She looked down at her purse, he looked down at the pager in his hands. She started to try to say something – she wasn’t sure what – but he continued.
“Hanging out with you has been great, but I don’t know if I can do it anymore because we’re friends and we go way back but I can’t look at you and think friend. Actually I can’t really look at you and think. But if it’s weird for me to say that or if I’m making you uncomfortable…”
“You’re not,” shot out of her mouth before she knew she was going to say it.
They both continued to stare into their respective laps.
“I’m not what?”
“You’re not making me uncomfortable.”
“Do you want to stay and eat?”
“Yes. And no. I’m not really that hungry. But I’m afraid…”
“…afraid of… me?”
“Well, no, not exactly.”
He was silent. She began to panic a little, this wasn’t going very well and her anxiety was getting the better of her. She was trying to think, but her thoughts were all over the place.
“I’m sorry, maybe I’ve been taking up too much of your time – I…”
“No, not at all, it’s just…”
Their laps remained very interesting.
“But I’ve always wondered.” There. She’d said it. Out loud. It came out in such a rush, she wasn’t sure he’d heard her.
He looked up. Surprised.
“You’ve always wondered? Wondered what?” He was looking at her hesitantly.
“Yes, of course. You’re the one who got away. My ‘what if’ guy.” She managed to meet his gaze, her face hot.
He didn’t say anything. Just looked shocked.
“You’re surprised?” she asked. His tension seemed to dissipate. Morph into something else.
“Well, yeah. I just, never…”
“Well, you should. Especially now.” She smiled at him. She was regaining the ability to flirt. There was a gleam in his eye. Then a worry.
“What?” she asked.
“I’d like to invite you back to my hotel room, but it doesn’t seem…”
“It doesn’t seem right. I feel like I shouldn’t. That it would be…”
“Yeah. Cuz it’s a hotel room. I don’t want it to be… like that.”
“I don’t think it’s… like that.”
“So would you like to go?”
“Yes. Very much.”
The pager went off in his hands. Their table was ready.
“We could order room service instead,” he said.
The pager went off again. On an empty bench.