We were sitting at a table in Monk’s. A wood paneled wall adorned with pub appropriate art was to my left and you were resting to my right. Robin and John slid in across from us and we began our evening, ordering heaps of food and rounds of beer. As we finished our dinner of mussels and burgers, two more guys pulled up chairs to your right at the head of the table. I high fived John about visiting him in Denver over the wintertime, the stretch of months during which you’ll be in Afghanistan. We drifted off on tall tales of powdery slopes while you jokingly muttered ‘I hate you’ in my direction. I listened as Robin explained with controlled frustration why she had to be behind a desk in Iraq instead of out front like her male counterparts. She mentioned the drama of Jessica Lynch and the media and the way it all gets perceived by the public. And then I asked that guy to your right, the guy perched on a pulled up chair where he was from. You were leaning on your elbows with a beer sitting between them. I rested an outstretched arm along the back of the bench and spoke behind you.
“I’m sorry but I totally don’t remember your name,” I confessed as my words drifted over the echo of the bar and the hum of Aretha Franklin playing in the distance.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m Jason. And hey, thanks for showing us all around tonight.”
“No problem. Where are you from?” I inquired.
“Missouri,” he answered, knowing the town was too small to mention on its own.
“Are you psy-ops like the rest of these guys or civil whatever?”
“Civil whatever,” he replied, his smile embracing my inability to keep it all straight.
Then you turned a little. Leaving your elbows on the table and your fingers knotted into a single fist, you inched your head ever so slightly in my direction. With your chin now even with your shoulder, simple words fell from your mouth.
“You’re warm,” you quietly noted.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said as I looked down to see my hand on your back. I wasn’t sure when or how it ended up there. My last memory was wrapping my fingers around the curl of the bench. I halted my conversation with Jason and quickly lifted my hand as if it had been scorched. I examined my open palm and extended fingers hovering in midair, my focus interrupted by the sound of your voice.
“It’s okay. I’m just saying,” you offered before turning to rejoin the conversation you had momentarily stepped out of.
I uncurled my position to face the table. I lifted my hand, the one that had moments earlier been connected to you, and wrapped it around my beer. The warmth of my flesh collided with the chill of the beverage. Cold droplets of condensation dripped over my fingers. I raised the glass to my parted lips and let the beer slide down my throat. I took another sip, this time letting the bubbles dance across my tongue. And then I indulged in one last gulp before resting the glass back on the table and returning to my previous position.
I twisted my hips, I rested my shoulder against the wooden back of the bench, I bent my arm at the elbow and I slowly extended my hand. I dragged the heel of my palm across your back to smooth out the wrinkles of your shirt. I pressed against soft cotton shielding strong flesh. My fingertips dipped against the rut of your spine before peaking on your shoulderblade. Then I stopped, my open palm and extended fingers gently resting against you. It felt familiar and calming and, well, it felt right. So even though there was nowhere for it to go, I lingered in the comfort of you. The kind of comfort I know and crave with men I let in. The kind of comfort that since the start of spring had felt unfamiliar and awkward.
Maybe I was being selfish, using you to momentarily fill a void. Maybe I was being inappropriate, offering a subtle flirtation where there shouldn’t be. Maybe everything I felt was right but timing was all wrong and so I stepped forward knowing it was as far as I could go. Or perhaps it didn’t need to be disected or explained or excused. Maybe the intricacies of an unintended gesture driven by unexpected feelings weren’t meant to be understood or defined or spoken aloud. Maybe a bunch of maybes were merely a waste of words. Because in the end, I know you felt it too.