The two of you eat dinner. There's too much curry in her curry--the star system that the restaurant used to indicate a dish's spiciness was horribly disproportionate--and she keeps pulling antacids from her purse, her teeth grinding them to powder.
The two of you talk. You flirt. You both feel out the situation. She laughs when she should and looks so far into your eyes you consider warning anyone sitting behind you: "Don't worry," you'd say, "she's just looking at me. Sorry."
You pay in cash and she gets the tip. You're uncomfortable with this, but your own regressive ideas of gender relations are not relevant.
What is relevant: the flare in her pupils when she smiles. The gentle hesitancy with which she brings her coffee to her lips. The way she walks half a step behind you, as if you were leading her somewhere.
But you don't know were you're going.
You drive her home. You pull into her driveway. You put the transmission into park, but leave the car running.
Because you're not an audacious man. You're not a man of boldness. You're a man of concern and possibility.
And now you're a man that's walking, each step jangling the keys in your corduroy blazer, into a small split-level that she shares with her two best friends and a black calico named Larry.
You approach the front door. Her feet crunch on the sidewalk's snow like broken glass being ground down by an ashtray. "Come on," she says, key to lock, hand to doorknob, closed to open. "Sorry if it's a mess."
Her roommates are gone. Larry's taking up a solid third of the living room's otherwise-inviting loveseat. Don't even think about it.
"He gets grumpy when he's been left alone." She removes her green toggle coat and tosses it onto the unoccupied cushion. Larry rises and crawls to it, nesting himself in the wool. "We can just go into my room." Her feet pitter patter left across spotless linoleum. You follow her and can hear Larry scratching a toggle as she closes the door.
There's a Paul Newman poster on the wall, hung in a stark black frame that leaps off of the ivory walls. Even sepia can't hide the depth of his eyes' blue, and you wonder if this is something you'll have to live up to. No one lives up to Paul Newman. And you know it.
A small bed--Larry's, presumably--sits at the foot of hers. His is covered by clumps of dander and a few water spots. Hers, however, is much better-maintained: crisp white sheets tucked evenly across rounded corners, a maroon comforter draped on top. A modest two pillows stand at their ready.
"This is it," she says, her eyes darting to ceiling corners like she was looking for a hornet's nest. "This is my room."
It takes the direct light of her floor lamp for you to notice just how thick her burgundy hair is. It hangs like rope from her head and ties your eyes up in itself, drawing your gaze like wine.
You take a soft step toward her. You tread lightly. As you bend down to her mouth, you see a Henry Miller book on her nightstand. Her eyes close at your approach and she smiles. You kiss her teeth and her smile expands. She giggles when you kiss them again. Her hand finds the back of your head and slides behind your ear. She closes the door with her foot. Even though her roommates are gone, even though you two (and Larry) are the only ones there, you appreciate the gesture.
She's fallen asleep. Her camisole is only two or three shades lighter than her hair. In the dark, they look interconnected.
Her breathing is loud enough that you can hear it, even from the other side of the bed, even over the PJ Harvey drifting to your ears, even over the screeching tires of sliding cars caught in a merciless blizzard not fifty feet away.
She stirs, turns on her side, and throws a sleepy arm over you like a baby blanket. You smile loudly enough that her eyelids flutter open, leaving the green inside the freedom to peek through to you. She smiles in return. Her teeth catch a reflection of the her alarm clock's readout and reflect its red back at you. You can see your eyes in hers. And you look around the room and can see yourself in here. You fit here. You both fit here. Her, this house, this bed, these covers: they've all welcomed you.
You expect her to whisper something, to verbally seal this and put it into some sort of memorial lockbox that you'll both hold onto on colder nights. On nights when paths don't cross and futures aren't made.
But she stays silent. Her eyes graze across you. Your hair to your hairline to your eyebrows to your eyelashes to your eyes to your nose to your upper lip to your lower lip to your chin to your neck and back to you.
There's something in her eyes, but you can't discern its nature. But whatever it is, it's honest and good. And that's going to keep you warm tonight.