His name. I remember it. The full version…not the anglicized version that he used for work.
He was older than I, but the same age I am now when we met.
He was a patron of where I worked. He’d come in about 2 times a week. My coworkers would joke that my “boyfriend” came in while I was on lunch. They would say that he seemed disappointed that I wasn’t there. I laughed and shrugged it off. It’s not like I ever flirted with him. I noticed him though. Big beautiful brown eyes, full mouth, strong jaw line. A gravelly voice that sounded like he smoked (he didn’t). He had that nervous energy that told me that he had lot on his mind. He bit his nails, a lot. I would notice the ragged cuticles every time he handed me a document.
He was always polite. In an environment where I expected rude clients as part of my job, he was genuinely nice. Not just to me, but to all of us. We looked forward to when he or his business partner would come in because they appreciated what we did.
One day he asked me what I did at lunch. It was summer. I would go for walks to get out of work, soak up some sun. He asked if I walked alone. “Mostly”, I replied. I’d head over to the campus to see what was going on, but for the most part, I enjoyed getting lost in my thoughts. He smiled and told me he was jealous…his thoughts were mostly about the business, he didn’t get much opportunity to lose himself in thought. I remember smiling and saying he should give it a shot. He smiled back, nervously, and asked if I could teach him how because he had forgotten.
Whenever he would come in, I would notice the stress. Dark shadows framed his beautiful eyes. The hair seemed speckled with grey. But his smile? It was bigger. He had a dimple hidden in his 5 o’clock shadow. My smiles got bigger too. He would ask when I was taking lunch the next day…from that point forward he would always make sure to show up before, or after. Never when I was gone.
His business partner came in regularly…to him I was a “good kid” and he liked my work. One day the partner asked me how much I made an hour. My defenses kicked in. Why? Turned out they were having a special event all week and wanted to know if I would work for them on the weekend. They’d pay me $2 more per hour than what I was making, cash. I said sure. He said that he kept telling Him to ask me, but that he always forgot. I said, “your son doesn’t seem forgetful…” He wasn’t his son though. With 30 years between them, it was my incorrect assumption.
He wasn’t his son, a very bright lawyer who got bored with what he was doing…he had decided to chuck it all and start fresh with this new venture. His partner was acting like a mentor of sorts. The next time He came in, I told him about my incorrect assumption, he laughed…a full throaty laugh. I was fascinated by the ex-lawyer part. He gave up all those years of study and hard work? Why?
“I’ll tell you at the event. I hear you’re hired.”
That weekend I showed up, and He introduced me to his wife and his son. I still remember their names as well. He was the playful dad, smiling and cracking jokes, making faces. He even had a special nickname for his son. His wife was beautiful. He was an attentive husband; dutiful, said “yes honey” a lot. She gave me a smile and a curt nod hello. His son peeked up at me and said “hi lady” while hiding behind his father’s legs. “He’s shy”, said. “Just like his father…” she said.
The event was busy and I could see why they hired me. The older partner said that he was keeping an eye on me all weekend. If all worked out, then there would be an offer of a permanent job for me. He was offering $5 more an hour and I wouldn’t have to wear a uniform. Win.
The two days at this event went by in a blur. By the end of day 2, I was joking with His wife and playing hide n’ seek with his son. His mother had stopped by to congratulate them. She liked me instantly. Told the partners that they shouldn’t let me go…they both said – in unison – that they weren’t planning to.
The event was over and it was time to pack up. The mother went home. His wife and son went home. His partner went home. He promised to lock up and to make sure I got out safely as it was a remote area and very dark. He promised he would. After everyone left, He threw on the soundtrack to a popular movie and told me how much he loved one particular song. We packed up in silence while the soundtrack played on repeat. There was nothing uncomfortable about the silence. After a few songs, he joked that I had really challenged his son in hide n’ seek. I said I had gone easy on the kid, and that I was much better at hiding and even better at seeking.
“Yeah? How are you in the dark?”
We continued working, filing reports, reconciling money. Finally we were done.
He killed the lights in the space. A space he knew better than I. For ten minutes we ran around in the dark, laughing. I thought I had found the perfect spot to hide…
I can’t describe the feeling I had when I turned around to face him. I could trace the outline of his jaw in the shadows cast from the lonely emergency light. I noticed that he was breathing rapidly….but he wasn’t out of breath. Neither was I.
The silence was not comfortable.
He took my hand and led me towards the emergency light. In the background, that song played.
“Dance with me…”
His hand shook when he placed it on the small of my back. My hand shook when I placed it on his shoulder.
We started to dance, and then…
The song was over. Not letting go of my hand, he led me over to the stereo and put the song on repeat.
“Dance with me…”
We danced six times to the song. I remember the feel of his stubble, the smell of his aftershave. The sweatiness of his (my?) palms. The deep yet shallow nervous breathing from each of us. He would take a breath in and I would exhale…and then the reverse.
After the song ended (again), he went over to stop it from repeating but he wouldn’t let go of my hand. I thought of his wife. His mother. His partner. His son. I thought what was I still doing there? I thought about why holding his hand felt like the most natural thing in the world, even though I hate holding hands.
I opened my mouth to say these thoughts out loud, but he turned to face me.
He had the same thoughts. He looked at me the way I looked at him.
Instead of saying anything that I was thinking, I said, “I should go.”
He said, “you’re right.”
I looked down and said “hey, can I have my hand back?”
“I don’t want to let go.”
He pulled me closer. With his lips grazing mine, he whispered, “not yet.”
That’s how I became “her”.