A Good Morning
The first time Charlie wakes up next to him, she is shocked at the sight of his naked body in the sunlight. When he curls away from her, the covers slip off, and there is his body, all of it, the toned and beautiful muscles, the fullness of his skin. She wants to reach out and touch it, doesn’t quite believe that she had, last night. It is glowing with life, even in repose. She studies the reddish freckles peppered across his shoulders, like a constellation of stars. She watches the way his brown curls move ever so slightly with his breaths. She is grateful he is not awake, or maybe not. Maybe she wants to see him open his eyes, lazily, and then for his lips to turn up in a smile, for his hands to fold her against him. It must be unusual, she thinks. In the stories it is always the man who longingly brushes aside the girl’s hair, presses a silent kiss against the nape of the girl’s vulnerable, exposed neck.
She slides off the bed and walks, barefoot and naked to the bathroom, where she spends a long time standing before the mirror, hands perched on either side of the sink, with the cold water running. She stares into her own face, unfamiliar in this light, with the charcoal dots of mascara around her eyes, and its washed out, unnerving paleness that’s always haunted her, made worse these days with the stark blue toned black of her hair. She stares at her face and does not understand how he picked her, when at the bar there were countless others, their full fleshed bodies wrapped in colorful silk dresses, their lush lashes fluttering, their skin sun soaked and vibrant colored, beautiful and alive. He belonged to their world. He could have had, if he wanted, all of them at once.
But he had stopped next to her, Charlie, sitting alone at the very end of the bar, swirling the thin red straw in her Manhattan, which was too sweet. His suit jacket was draped over his arm, his top few shirt buttons undone. He had leaned in and told the bartender, I’ll have what she’s having, and, then, to her: mind if I join you? She nodded, surprised. I’m Daniel—he offered his hand. His handshake was firm and held on a moment too long. It seemed that as soon as he settled next to her, she could not keep very good track of how the rest of the night went. There was his smile, and his voice, and his presence, his heat next to her, that distracted her to no end. And wasn’t that what she had came for, in her uncomfortable wrap dress, a sad mimicry of the other women there, in her strappy heeled shoes that pinched her toes?
Charlie tries to cup the cold water between her palms and brings it to her face. Her exhale is audible, delightful. She can shower. Perhaps that is the thing to do. Shower, dress. Hope that he’ll wake up before then. Or kiss him on the forehead and leave a note, with her name and number. An elegant, graceful exit. She smiles at the image, the idea. But she knows she won’t do it. She waits another moment in front of the mirror, brushes the mess of her hair with her fingers. Then she returns to the bedroom, careful not to touch him as she readjusts the covers of the both of them. She lies awake, with her eyes open, her heart beating steady, for the rest of the morning, until it is no longer morning. Until it is late enough for him to stretch, groaning awake, and finally look towards her falsely closed eyes, her feigned half sleep. He touches her shoulder, lightly, and she stops pretending, smiling. Good morning, she says, her voice bright and orange hued.
Hi, he says. It is that sweet, tender, lover’s voice, and it makes her melt a little. Makes her glad she stayed. Breakfast? He says. Before he leaves the room, he places his hand on the back of her neck and squeezes. A possessive, strangely familiar gesture. Charlie feels a thrill of delight, and also, a sliver of discomfort. She has been awake too long, she thinks, to keep dreaming like this. And yet, she can hear him in the real life version, running the faucet, flushing the toilet, and later the clinking in the kitchen, where he must be preparing, cooking, and where she knows she should go, but doesn’t.
Later, she’ll say that her favorite thing in the world is waking up next to him. Later, after too many drinks with a very old friend, her friend will ask, laughing, but seriously, how did you end up with him? And she’ll laugh in response, though inside she’ll feel like someone is wringing out her lungs, and say, love works in strange ways. But it is not love that works in the strange ways, it is people. She knows that he made a mistake, but convinces himself that it is the right mistake. The right woman—different. She knows that she won’t correct it for him.
But on that first day, before it has become anything, after he kisses her goodbye in front of the subway station, she is happy. Even the sticky heat of the platform can’t tear apart her good mood. On the platform, with the prospect of her own, cluttered room and resentful roommates before her, she relishes the memories of last night, this morning, because already they are allowed to be memories, and memories are hazy and beautiful. She believes that no one else on this same train feels the same pleasure. She gets off her stop, humming as she walks.
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