Please, please keep in mind that it's pretty rough, and hasn't been edited at all.
He met Louise in the lobby of the theater, as she had requested. He still hadn’t gotten her phone number, and so when she was a few minutes late, he worried that she had perhaps decided not to come. He wandered aimlessly around the lobby, looking at the movie posters for films he had never heard of, films in other languages that had won awards at independent movie festivals, stared out the slightly dingy windows and down the darkened street, trying not to look like he was nervous. It was entirely unsuccessful; the couple of employees could tell immediately that he was waiting for a girl. After a few months working at a movie theater, especially one as small as this, the signs were unmistakable.
When she walked in, he radiated visible waves of relief. He walked up to her, put his cheek against hers for a split second, then kissed it. He pulled back to look at her.
“Wow,” he said. “You look gorgeous.” And he caught her hand and pulled it so she spun around in front of him.
She was wearing a dress that was simple, one shouldered and to her knees, made of a light fabric with threads of silver running through it. She’d done something to her eyes so they looked even greener, and she smelled . . . heavenly. When she twisted in front of him he could smell whatever she’d put on just faintly.
He had let her pick what movie they were going to see, and he bought her ticket without the title of the show even registering on his consciousness. It was filled with her, and there was not much room for anything else.
As they walked across the worn, red patterned carpet, not touching, the air between them nearly shimmered with electricity. Every movement she made was somehow echoed in the way he moved, as if they were dancing some sort of subtle choreography. He didn’t even realize the way he was responding to her, but he knew it was going to be a good night.
He was going to let her pick where they sat, too, but she stopped in the back and said, “I never pick the seats. You choose.”
He was startled. “Why not?”
“Well, everyone always has such particular tastes. I don’t really care that much, and if I pick, someone always ends up not liking it. It’s just easier to not do it myself.”
“Alright.” And he chose the center seats in the third row from the back. He would have liked to go in the very dark back side corner, but he had a feeling that would have been pushing his luck—and Louise was the type of girl who would refuse to give in, then, just on principle.
The seats were a sturdy sort of imitation velvet, and as the images spun by on the screen and glimmered on the face and body of the girl next to him, he breathed so shallowly that he started to feel slightly lightheaded. He had forgotten what this was like, the tension so thick that it was a tangible thing in the air, the newness of an attraction so powerful that it enveloped his whole existence. It had been three years since he and Julia had first started dating, and even then, the feeling hadn’t been this strong.
Her hand was resting lightly on the armrest in between them, and in the dark he slid her hand beneath hers, gently, running the tips of his fingers down her palm and the length of her fingers, not actually even trying to hold her hand, yet. She flexed her fingers a little, but didn’t pull away.
He did that for several minutes, achieving that state of focus on a single thing that he had reached only a few other times in his life, a focus so intense that for that moment, the only thing that existed in his consciousness was the feel of his skin against hers, tracing the tiny indentations where her fingers bent, almost memorizing the lacey crosshatchings of the surface of her palms.
And then she breathed in, and sighed, and shifted, her hand coming to rest on the inside of his knee, almost casually, almost as if she had done it unconsciously. He glanced at her face and saw that she was still engrossed in the film, her other hand cupping her jaw as it rested there.
He ran his fingers up her arm, then, twirling them in small circles as he did so, fully conscious of how that motion in particular set the body on edge, fed it with anticipation so strong it couldn’t be ignored.
In the dark next to him, she shivered slightly, and he saw a smile tug up the corner of her mouth that was closest to him; and he leaned over, gently, and kissed that corner as it smiled, pulling back again, gently, very gently. And then he pretended to watch the movie.
Suddenly, and without any warning, the movie screen went blank. He heard someone cursing in dark above and behind them, and then the fire alarm went off, piercing the air, shrieking so loudly they both put their hands on their ears.
They filed slowly out of the theater with the few other people that had been in the audience, following the lighted signs that had seemed superfluous until now, into the dark, star-lit night. John and Louise stood for a moment, looking at each other.
“Were you really watching the movie all that closely?” he asked.
“Not as closely as usual,” she admitted.
“Do you want to wait and see if they let us back in?”
She considered. “What are our other options?”
“Well,” and he paused, trying to figure out how bold he could risk being. “We could go get some cheesecake. Didn’t you say something the other day about loving cheesecake?”
“Yes,” she said, and looked at him with unfathomable seaweed eyes.
“Or we could go sit in the park and stargaze,” he tried.
“Or you could show me your apartment. I am interested in seeing your book horde.”
“I think I could stand that. It’s better than waiting here in the cold.”
So he grabbed a passing taxi, and when they got in and she gave the driver her address, he realized that her apartment building was only a block away from his own. Internally, he groaned. Of all the women in the city he could fall for, could want to sleep with, could be so intently focused on, he had to find one that lived close enough to his place that Julia would walk past it on her way to work.
He shoved the thought aside. He was not going to think about Julia now, was not going to spoil the perfection of this night with any kind of guilt.
They climbed into the tiny elevator, and before he could register what was happening, she was kissing him, her lips warm and soft and incredibly intimate, her hair brushing the sides of his face in a way that made him wish he could stop the course of the evening in this one spot. But the elevator doors were opening, and she pulled away.
They walked to her door, and she turned toward him, key in her hand. “I’m not going to sleep with you tonight.”
She laughed at him. “I probably shouldn’t have agreed to letting you come back to my apartment. It gave you the wrong idea.”
“No . . . no, I wasn’t—” he tried unsuccessfully to make it sound like that hadn’t been what he was thinking.
“And I shouldn’t have kissed you like that just now in the elevator. I’m not quite behaving well.”
“No, it’s fine.” His voice was a little higher than usual.
“I guess I can let you in now,” she said, and did.
He calmed himself as they looked through her books, even managed to pull some obscure facts about a few of her editions that she hadn’t known, and impressed her. And as they talked, and flirted (the remains of her icy reserve entirely gone, now), there started a slow, drizzling rain outside the window.
“Well,” she said, “Since I can’t keep you here much longer without risking taking you to bed, why don’t we go for a walk?”
He groaned. “I like the risking taking me to bed better.”
“Too bad,” she said, slapping gently at his knees as she stood up from the couch so he would move them as she went by.
“A walk,” he repeated, and thought to himself, again something to remind me of Julia. Julia is the one I go for walks with. Fuck. What am I doing?
“I’m going to change into something warmer,” Louise said, and as she closed the door of her bedroom behind her, the thought of her easing out of her silver dress pushed Julia from his mind.
Louise emerged in a dark grey trench and jeans, and they left the soft glow of her apartment.
When they reached the street he offered her the bend of his arm, and she took it, and they paced beside each other without speaking for a long time.
They walked to the end of the street, and John assumed they would turn around, but Louise said mischievously, “Have you been through this graveyard, before?”
He had been trying to imagine what her bare stomach looked like. “Uh, no,” he said, peering at it through the misty rain.
“Are you adverse to hopping fences?”
He stopped and faced her. “I think I might have gotten the wrong idea of what kind of girl you are. I can’t imagine you hopping a fence, near midnight, in the rain, to go wandering around a graveyard.”
She made a face. “Clearly, you have no idea what kind of girl I am.” And she went around behind a tree that grew close to the wrought iron of the fence, and used a couple branches to help hoist herself over. He followed.
The experience was almost surreal. Most of the light came from the lamps that bordered the road, which left them in a darkness just thin enough to read the headstones. She showed him her favorites, showed him the section where children were buried. They paced through them and he was amazed at all of the toys left behind on the ground, on the stones, most of them worn from sun and rain and covered in earth. His heart ached for their unknown parents, for the brothers or sisters these children had left behind. Some of the stones even had pictures of the children etched onto them.
It was one of the loveliest moments of his life, this walk through a cemetery with a girl he wanted and kept dancing just out of his reach, emotionally and physically. The delight of her and the counterpoint of the memento moris all around him blended into a bittersweet infusion of emotion, wormed its way into his heart and stayed there, throbbing slightly in a way he had never experienced.
And then she was yawning, and said she had to get home, so he took her, and kissed her sweetly in the hallway, not even expecting that she might bring him in. And when he left and paced softly through the rain, he felt he had left some part of himself in the midst of the stones on the hill behind him, and somehow, he didn’t mind that at all.
Julia was still out when he got home, and he showered and then sat on the couch for awhile, reading and drinking the leftover wine from dinner, and then he climbed into bed and slept, so that he was asleep when she came home and didn’t have to deal with questions about his evening. He knew he couldn’t keep up a lie like that, with the glow he knew was suffusing his face—and with that thought, he drifted off with the pillow covering his face so that she might not see when she returned.