It’s all the things you’re not supposed to notice. That’s the real challenge. Without those, it’s easy. Playful.
Then harmless kissing.
Don’t push it. Nothing serious. It’s just fun. Meaningless.
It’s supposed to be.
And it is. As long as you don’t notice the way he looks at you. At first you think it’s a secret, he does it when no one’s looking, maybe when he doesn’t even think you’re looking. Then you’re in a ballroom surrounded by political leaders, people who could make or break alliances that he desperately needs - and he still does it. In front of everyone. He sees you and he smiles. A little half smile, an acknowledgement that he’s glad to see you, glad you’re there. That he cares for you, in a place where anyone can see. You feel like you could fall right through the floor. Then you feel foolish. Scandalous eye contact. What will the neighbors say?
He asks you to dance and you’re evasive. Don’t take it too seriously. It won’t happen. Even if it did it would be a joke to everyone here. Play it off. A bit of scandal. A prank. He leans in and squeezes your hand. One heartbeat and he’s gone. You remember the way he looks at you. Pretend the dance wouldn’t mean anything. Pretend you aren’t imagining it while you listen to the rumors already forming in the group behind you. Pretend the things they’re saying don’t cut deep under your skin.
He’s exhausted, leaning over the railing. There’s blood and sweat and dirt muddying up his clothes. His hair. His skin. He looks so weary. Smaller than you’ve ever seen him. Stand close, shoulder to shoulder. Try to banter with him but he’s worn out. Nothing to do. Remind him that he asked you for a dance. You’ve come to collect. Heart in your throat but you act like you might be kidding. He takes your hand. Then an arm around your waist. For a moment you don’t truly understand what’s happening. Tired as he is, he leads the waltz you asked for. He leans in to kiss you and you still don’t understand. This is too much to be a game. Let yourself believe it’s real. One heartbeat.
He never seems embarrassed to be with you. He never pushes, either. You stay at a respectful distance while people are watching. He places a hand on your shoulder, your back, your waist. Softly, briefly. He wants to touch you, but he’s afraid of upsetting you. You thought he’d be afraid of upsetting everyone, anyone else. But it’s you. He worries. It’s only fair. You worry all the time. You wish you didn’t. You wish you didn’t care so much. You’re barely holding the façade together. He’s in constant danger and you want him to know that he means something to you.
You’re afraid of holding hands in the garden. You have no problem saying any raunchy thing that comes to mind. As long as it’s not real. You want to give him real. It’s terrifying. The world is ending and you can’t bring yourself to hold his hand. Too intimate. Too suggestive. No way he wants something that suggests any form of commitment. He touches your arm to get your attention. Softly. Briefly.
You need his help and you hate yourself. You explain the problem, but you don’t have to ask. You never have to ask. He always offers. His time is a commodity. His presence is a bargaining tool. Everyone thinks you’re using him. You hear the whispers everywhere you go, barely concealed. He must hear them too. You wait for him to say it’s over. It will end. Better not to let it drag on. You don’t want to be the one to end it. You don’t know if you could make yourself. He doesn’t tell you to go. He doesn’t even seem to be thinking it. He comes to you whenever he can, looks at you as though he’s waited his whole life just to look at you. Asks for your time. Asks for your time. You give it to him gladly.
He helps you and asks for nothing in return. Turns down the very idea of there being a debt between you. He wanted to help. You let him. As far as he’s concerned, that’s the end of it. You want to pay him back. Not just for the favor, despite what you say. It’s the way he looks at you. The way he can’t resist touching you. The way he gives you his time. The small things. Things you shouldn’t notice. Dangerous, small things.
You go to his room. Finally. The wait hasn’t been for lack of wanting. This is the tipping point. The first time is just sex to you. You say this to yourself. You don’t know what he’s thinking. After, you finally talk to him. You can’t pretend any longer. You have to ask if this is all he’s been waiting for. You wait to be cast aside. The game is complete. You tell him so, though not in those words. This is all you expect from him. He looks at you like he didn’t hear you correctly. He asks what you want. You can’t say what you want. You can’t even admit it to yourself. You finally say that you’ve never hoped for more than this. Not with anyone. He takes time just to look at you. He says he doesn’t want to end it.
He doesn’t say anything else, but he wants you. All the half-touches are made up for. He holds you like you’re precious. He treats you like you’re all he wants. He’s not waiting for better. He’s not passing time. He’s not playing a game. He never was. He runs his fingers through your hair, down your spine. Trails kisses down your neck. Looks into your eyes. All he’s ever asked you for is time. You are enough to him.
You are enough.