For the most part, if I am not traveling for work, I am spending the night with E.
"You have another date?!?!?" Olivia asked as I came down the stairs with my tote on my shoulder. "You never have dinner with us any more."
It was totally true. Typically around six o'clock, I will wind down what I am doing (constructing Ikea tables, responding to work emails, furiously rifling through my unorganized piles on Leslie's dining room table in search of a receipt I don't have but desperately need in order to file my expense report). I meet E at his place and from there we start our night. Twice I have cooked dinner. Otherwise we have headed out for a bite to eat.
"It's okay if you want a night off," E said earlier this week.
"Why would I want that?"
"To have time to yourself or to do something with Leslie."
It has been over a decade since I dated someone locally. And that guy turned out to be gay. But I digress. My point is that I would go days without seeing Ex and months without seeing Alaska. Suddenly, here I was tangling myself up with a boy residing in a neighboring zip code. It requires less than ten traffic lights to get to his place. Even more curious, I am enjoying his close proximity.
A few times a week, Leslie asks me if I am falling in love. She asks when we're sprawled out in the upstairs hallway folding laundry and when we're in the kitchen searching for a late afternoon snack. It's a fair question seeing how much time we spend together.
"No. But I know it could happen."
When we're lying in bed, both of us turned on our sides and facing one another, there is a warmth that coats my skin. When I feel his chest pressed against mine, I can't help but exhale. And the way he smiles at me knots my tummy in a good way. This is all on top of him insisting, INSISTING, I take the best bite when sampling the food on his plate.
Last night, before going to sleep, the topic of exes came up. We swapped stories, turned on the computer and shared photographs. He thought Ex was better looking than Alaska, though both tied for first place on the jerk front. I marveled at how his former girlfriends all hailed from other continents, their faces young and smiles so innocent. After he set the computer on the bedside table, I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
At five o'clock in the morning, or so I assumed based on the darkness still filling the bedroom, I awoke in a panic. I glanced over at E sleeping peacefully and then set my gaze on the ceiling. My jaw clenched as I replayed conversations we have had. My body tensed with fear that I could have said the wrong thing in the present or shared an unforgivable misstep from my past. I rolled onto my side and ran my fingertips across E's shoulder, the gesture offering a brief moment of comfort.
When he woke, he asked me what was wrong, why I was so tense.
"This," I said as I gently tapped my head, "is trying to control this." I moved my hand to my chest and rested an open palm atop my heart.
I don't recall what he said. I have no recollection of the words he offered. I just remember feeling relieved. There in his presence, I had every reason in the world to turn off my head and lead with my heart.