She thought Robert must have conquered his feelings for her because he no longer seemed to despise her. He had stopped making it a point to behave as though he found working with her to be intolerable. The nasty little remarks ceased, as well as the deliberate flirting with attractive women whenever he spotted her near enough to notice. It had happened slowly since the wedding, like a helium balloon deflating. They weren't generating enough pressure to keep the tension at the necessary level. She was certainly relieved to go to work without having to anticipate what cruel comment he might make next.
If she was secretly disappointed, she buried the feeling.
Of course they never went back to flirting, and they weren't precisely friends, but they talked. Mostly about minor things - a charity reading he was helping to set up to raise money for a library, the trip on which she sent her kids with her brother's family because she couldn't get time off to go with them. Often they were both present when a staff group gathered for conversation, and they found out about one another's lives that way. She made it a point not to speak too much of Tim when Robert was nearby. And although she still saw Robert with a lot of pretty girls, he didn't deliberately bring them around when he spotted her.
When he mentioned he had tickets to hear a singer she liked, it seemed appropriate enough to express envy. Later she wondered what had come over her; her mother would have reminded her that it wasn't as though popular music could really uplift her the way a symphony could, and outdoor concerts were only really worthwhile when one went with someone one cared about deeply, with whom one could share a bottle of wine, excellent hors d'oeuvres, and good conversation. Then a ride home anticipating shedding the sticky clothes as the first stage of slow, delicious lovemaking.
She did not know what was wrong with her - maybe the early stages of menopause - but sex had held no interest for her ever since the week after the wedding, when Tim had had to rush home to Cleveland because his daughter broke her leg. Not with him, not with anyone. She was happy and comfortable, yet seemingly incapable of becoming aroused. That wasn't really a problem, in fact it could keep her out of considerable trouble, except when Tim wanted sex. Then she closed her eyes and pretended, and prayed for a flare-up of his prostate troubles.
"Want to be my date?" Joking words, a careless grin, and Robert whipped the ticket from his pocket to point at her. There were at least four people watching with smiles, glad to see the two of them were getting along again. She had laughed, certainly, if either of them got off work before eight, and promptly forgot about it since it wasn't real. But five hours later there he was again, approaching her with wary eyes, neck slouched and hands shoved into his pockets as if to make a point that he expected to be treated like a slob. "You really want to go tomorrow?" With all the pretty women around, he was waiting to hear from her.
By then she knew it would not be a late night at work for either of them; her kids were off on their trip, Tim was visiting his own; the concert was, at least in theory, a possibility. To be sure, she could have made excuses anyway. Moments later when she watched Robert saunter away, his posture transformed by her affirmation as she wondered why in the world she hadn't, the only response she could find in herself was not obligation but an electric curiosity about what he would look like sitting on a blanket half-protected by the dark sky, legs stretched out in front of him as he leaned on his hands, head tipped back to see the stage with his lips half-open and his eyes half-shut listening to the music. She'd have bet that he already had a date for the concert, which he'd already admitted he'd blow off for her.
One ticket to wrestle with a can of worms.
To formalize the evening, she volunteered to bring dinner and offered to drive, which he accepted. Only when she had passed the second exit off the freeway, with the overstuffed cooler on the back seat atop a carefully chosen blanket that resembled a Laura Ashley rug more than a sleeping bag - along with the wicker basket containing glasses and silverware which were nicer than necessary, but would contribute a defensive formality to the evening - then did she realize that without lawn chairs to sit in, personal boundaries might be harder to establish. Oh well, she would have to let the price of the wine and the tenor of the conversation work in her favor.
Robert dressed up for her, which could have been a good sign or a bad one: might have been meant to send the message that he would rise to her level, or might have suggested that he wanted to impress her. She chose to think well of him and to treat him as an esteemed colleague, hoping that by starting off the evening on such a note, he would respond in kind. They made extremely small talk on the way to the concert (weather, traffic, baseball playoffs), forcing her to doubt they had enough in common for any real connection ever to have been possible. But when they started to touch upon the topics both of them had been careful to avoid - work, Tim, marriage, family, other concerts, other dates, the heat, the moon - she started to remember some once-upon-a-time thoughts.
"This is really good," he said around a mouthful when they had settled in what passed for grass during the hot summer, the picnic basket placed carefully between them as she leaned back against the cooler and he rested on one arm. It was unpleasantly muggy until the sun dropped behind the high, curved wooden admission gate, but once the afternoon heat had faded, a calming breeze blew through the lawn. She'd brought cheeses and pasta salad, sandwich quarters, grapes, and he surprised her with homemade chocolate chip cookies melting in a plastic bag, for which he apologized. They were delicious.
It took awhile to talk around the awkwardness of having to pretend that neither of them had harbored fantasies of doing something like this before...or if not this, then something else. Despite what she had told herself, they were not friends, had never been friends. It had never been anything so safe. Still, now that it was all past - now that she was married, and the turmoil at work was over, and she no longer cared whether he'd fucked that redhead from the network in the field office as everyone had said - it was easier. Especially once the music started. Even when the temperature dropped and he helped her put her sweater around her shoulders. They inched closer together on the now-stained blanket and shared the rest of the wine.
Then the couple one blanket back and two over started to make love. Robert noticed before she did; it was his reaction that alerted her to a change, so she turned her head discreetly to see what had caught his attention. The pair behind them were wrapped in a blanket, with the woman slumped low against the man's body; her hands were buried under the cloth, it wasn't so much that one could see what they were doing as that one could tell from the charged expressions on their faces. Within a few minutes, the girl had slid beneath the blanket altogether.
The desire seemed to be contagious. Suddenly the lawn was filled with romantic pairs where before there had been families and friends. The couple directly behind them began to snuggle, the kids who had been singing along were now too busy kissing, the two men on folding chairs were holding hands. Exaltations of the flesh. Families were covering one another with bug spray, wiping faces with astringent towels, kids were giving one another massages, young men were urinating indiscreetly in the nearby shrubs while a woman a few rows forward appeared to be squatting on the ground right next to her blanket. Robert kept his eyes averted but she knew he noticed everything - the smell of the sweaty bodies, the layers of clothes put on and taken off and shared as people grew cool and damp and sticky and warm.
She was acutely aware of her own physicality, the places where her clothes were wet and clinging, the coolness of her toes freed from her shoes, the itchy line of her bra strap. Her date - well, that was what he had called himself, hadn't he - shifted to let the night air strike his perspiring neck and she caught his scent, charged with pheremones, clouded with chocolate and wine.
Still, music soothes the savage beast and all that. When she shifted uncomfortably away from the cooler and stretched, she didn't object when he momentarily rubbed her shoulders. Instead, she grumbled, "I'm getting too old for this," which had nothing to do with sitting on the ground and everything to do with the young people around them. Some of them weren't much older than her own kids, though this wasn't the sort of concert which would have interested the boys; one could actually hear oneself think over the music. Nonetheless, the unsnapped cut-off shorts and the strapless t-shirts, and all the twining limbs, belonged to an earlier time in her life.
She watched her companion's gaze sweep over her, appreciative, though perhaps it was her expensive summer dress that impressed him. All right, it would have been a letdown if he hadn't even looked. He offered her a hand.
"Want to take a walk?"
They didn't go far, just past the concession booths to the tent with the liquor, which she wanted but wouldn't think about since she was driving home. The wine had left her with a tiny buzz, though the flush in her face could have been left over from sitting in the sun - her makeup was probably baked to her skin. She was tired, but not sleepy, and it felt good to walk in the breeze where other bodies moved instead of pressing together, generating muggy heat. Robert kept a respectful distance but she could feel his presence, and knew he could feel hers, pulling them like magnets together as the crowd concentrated and dispersed while they moved through the waves.
Back at the blanket, they finished off the cookies even though she hadn't intended to eat so much, then debated leaving during the encore to beat the traffic. They decided against it even though neither of them had really gotten excited about the concert, which was pleasant enough but not the sort of overwhelming experience where the entire crowd is transported together by the power of the music. Odd, considering that it had been their excuse for being together here. She had hummed along and it was apparent Robert knew all the lyrics, but neither of them had gotten carried away on the sound. Which was a pity: despite being relaxed, she felt a bit edgy, lacking the fulfillment which accompanies a true aesthetic experience.
In the rush for the parking lot afterwards, they were forced to run to avoid being trampled, and he took her hand to prevent her from being separated from him. By the time they arrived at the car, they were once again sweaty and it was exhilarating to fight the currents of the traffic patterns to get onto the road. With the windows open, Robert tilted his head back, and she thought he looked then more like someone appreciating wonderful music, letting the night wash over him. They spoke little but it felt like companionable silence, so that when he asked her in for coffee to counteract the wine, she didn't hesitate.
Inside his house, it was different, of course. He permeated the place - his belongings, his style, his scent, even over the excellent coffee he served her, which she wondered whether he'd bought in anticipation of an occasion like this. The thought warmed her more than the drink that she consumed slowly, pacing his living room looking at his collection of theater memorabilia and Spanish art. Robert put on some music, one of those nightly request shows with a lot of overplayed romantic ballads. Despite his distance, which seemed like a deliberate attempt not to hover over her, she could feel how much he liked having her there. When eventually he offered to show her the rest of the place, and caught her elbow as they stumbled on the stairs, and they touched passing together through doorways, there was no awkwardness. She observed his resolve to impress her as a gentleman, and wondered whether that meant he had banished the urge to sweep her off her feet.
She decided to kiss him goodnight in the kitchen - it would be insulting just to shake his hand, and kitchens were usually safe places. Nicer than right by the door which had a sort of nostalgic adolescent romance about it, plus she didn't think it would be a good idea to kiss him beside the car where his neighbors might see them and ask questions later. But she splattered her clothes when she washed out the mugs in his poorly-designed sink, and he helped her remove the damp sweater, offering half-jokingly to loan her one of his. When his hands touched the bare skin of her arms, something stronger than "goodnight" crept into the air of the room.
Still, she kissed him goodbye as she came around the table. It was sweet and rushed, just as it should have been, so she thought it was a good note on which to depart. Yet he kissed her back in the doorway to the living room, also sweet and rushed but a little bit more intense, so that by the time they stood near his front door awkwardly saying goodnight, she felt funny about leaving with this odd disappointment in the air. Music from the living room drifted into the silence - a popular, hummable love song, making her feel the sort of musical rush that had been absent at the concert - the song becoming an integral part of who she was at this moment, pulling all present together within its sweep.
"Dance with me," Robert said suddenly, drawing her into his arms in a movement so fluid that she was surprised to find herself there. He whirled her for several moments, too quickly for either the melody or the furniture, making her shriek as they nearly smacked into a table and her head spun dizzily. When she lurched against him, he slowed, holding her more carefully close to him but somehow not invading her personal space. Looking into his eyes, she saw only affection - nothing complicated, nothing that made her uneasy. She smiled at him.
The acute desire that washed over her when he returned the smile and began to dance again was so unexpected that for a moment she thought she had to run to the bathroom, or that she'd had more wine than she thought. It felt good, though frightening, yet Robert didn't appear to notice anything - he was enjoying the dance, his eyes focused over her shoulder on objects elsewhere in the room as he hummed along with the tune. Surprise and the exertion of movement made it harder for her to breathe. He seemed completely calm, glancing at her curiously when she slowed in resistance to his lead.
"I should go."
"Okay." Once more he kissed her, cupping her face momentarily in both his hands, lips parted but undemanding. She stepped into the embrace without meaning to, creating an electric moment of full-body contact. The erection he'd managed to hide for who knew how much of the evening pressed into her belly. Her mouth opened in surprise, then closed abruptly when she realized what she was doing, catching his upper lip between her own as they pulled apart and his eyes flew open. She wanted to drop her gaze, but managed to keep focused rather than let him think she was staring at his groin. "Sorry," they both said at once.
Because Robert was clearly embarrassed, she did not flee immediately but took a moment to push her hair back and adjust her wrinkled sleeve. Mentally she took inventory of the damage: shirt damp where it had gotten sprayed in the kitchen, and under her arms and across the back of her neck where she was sweating, skirt possibly tearing along the side seam, panties hopeless. She couldn't really fault him for having a hard-on when she was hiding an equivalent state, could she? Especially since he hadn't made a gesture or said one word out of line; she was the one who had kissed him in the first place. Bad move. But how was she to know that whatever chemical reaction they seemed to set off in each other would start up again after such a long dormancy? And what was she supposed to do about it?
Especially since she knew now that she'd wanted it?
She felt a sudden burst of pity for Tim, who tried so devotedly, yet could do nothing for her. She could continue to fake it for as long as Tim needed to believe she wanted him, but that seemed as unfair to him as it did to herself. It was a kind of unfaithfulness, or at least dishonesty - worse than the accidental sexiness Robert brought out of her, quite beyond her control. It was nice to know she could still feel this way. It was nice to know she could make Robert feel this way, without teasing or flirting, and he did not resent it.
"I'm not so good dancing to this kind of music," she tried lamely. Robert furrowed his brows before heading over to the stereo. He dug around the CDs for a moment before pulling out a battered vinyl record, which he struggled to get onto an old turntable. Scratchy popping noises filled the room for a moment, then the beginnings of a piece of bluesy dance music. Approaching her formally, he held out his hand, the beginnings of dimples defying the seriousness of his pose.
"Better?" He put one hand firmly on her hip, leading more deliberately, not the wild abandon of a few minutes before. She had known he was a good dancer, but had never danced with him like this. It looked a little incongruous with the both in the disheveled clothes of the concert, trying to avoid his furniture, but his body felt relaxed and he looked like he was enjoying himself, so she let him swing her around the room a couple of times. Then he grinned and toppled her onto the couch, falling to sit beside her, not too close. His arms relaxed at his sides, he looked over and grinned at her. "Well, I've had a really nice time. Thanks."
She blinked - that had sounded like a suggestion that the evening was over. Which it should have been, she'd said so herself, yet she was sorry. "I've had a really nice time too," she said, brushing her hands down her sides to smooth her clothing as she stood, observing in her peripheral vision that his eyes followed the movement. He rose beside her. The song came to an end as they faced each other. "Goodnight," she said again, and looked at him, anticipating that they could get at least one kiss right - well, it would be puerile to shake his hand now, wouldn't it. Robert's eyes rounded when he realized what she was waiting for. Putting both hands on her shoulders, he urged her towards him.
The kiss was hesitant, not very passionate, but he seemed as reluctant to break it as she, and the feel of his mouth lingered when they finally stepped apart. Another piece of music from the record began as he moved toward the door. He turned suddenly to put his arms around her waist. She reached her hands over his neck as his head came down, swaying to the pulse of pleasure in her body even before her mouth touched his. Neither of them pretended this time that it was not a romantic kiss. Lips parted, their tongues met gently, then eagerly as liquid rushing together. When they finally came up for air, Robert said her name and bent to kiss her throat, leaving a wet trail towards her ear when she pulled his mouth back to hers. He began to swing to the music as he kissed her, so that they were dancing back towards the living room, wrapping their bodies together in a hot rustling rhythm. His cock rubbed against her as they circled, imposing no demands yet impossible to ignore.
There was no moment when a decision was reached, no sense of a line being crossed; his hands moved quite naturally over her back and buttocks, her damp pelvis rested on his thigh as he twirled her around. Later she realized that he never touched her breasts. She started to moan when he kissed her again, undulating her body until he moved one of his hands around her hip to caress her belly. She gyrated against it. Robert stopped for a moment as if she'd changed the dance and he was waiting for her to lead. When she rose on tiptoe and tried to grind his fingers between her thighs, he pushed her skirt out of the way, but didn't try to dislodge her panties. Somehow it seemed like part of the dance, even though she was moving too fast, and she could feel it all quickly approaching climax. Maybe she could get Tim to dance with her at home. She doubted whether he was as good at finding the rhythm as Robert.
The room spun with them. For a moment she thought her legs would fold and she would collapse to the floor, but Robert held her up. His hand, caught between their bodies, continued to cup her pubic bone as she rolled against it; she threw an arm over his shoulder, trapping her face against the side of his throat. It felt safe, holding him, supported by him, just letting herself feel, she moaned and rocked and rose up on her toes and pressed into him until all the tension in her body discharged in a dizzying burst of pleasure. She went limp in his arms. The record stopped before her fading cries of gratitude.
Then it was silent, they weren't dancing, and the wetness between her legs began to make her uncomfortable in every possible way. She moved back a step, looked at Robert and quickly down again, back to his eyes when she caught a glimpse of the bulge in his pants, across the room when she saw the disbelief on his face. Oh god. He probably expected her to... She shifted away from him in a hurry. "I need to borrow your powder room." Without waiting for a response, she turned, fleeing towards the nearby bathroom door.
No matter how hard she wiped with toilet paper, she couldn't get dry, but that was the least of her worries. She had to get out. Surely he would understand that she had had a little too much to drink and this had all been a miscalculation on her part - she needed to make it clear that she didn't blame him, so he wouldn't hate her for it, but no matter what, she had to leave. When she went to the sink to clean up her face, the woman who stared back in the mirror shocked her. She looked not like a contented and respectable woman in her forties, but flushed and glowing like the young women at the concert. Pretty. Satisfied.
He made me come, she thought. The word set off a new thrill in her body which was obvious on her face. The irony was that if she told Tim what had happened - at least the vague details about the music and dancing - if she was tearful and contrite and guilty, he would probably be affectionate and understanding, happy for her, eager to try it himself, laughing with her at the poor slob who had so little going for him but his body and his juvenile desire to please her. Tim wasn't likely to feel threatened by Robert - would more likely be disgusted with her than hurt, if she didn't make it clear first that she was disgusted with herself. If she told him. Better to make apologies to Robert and go home now, he really had nothing to gossip about anyway, no one would believe his version of events over hers would they. Yes, she would tell Robert it was just the night, the weather, the music, her hormones, thanks for the concert, goodnight. Fixing her chin in place, without looking again at her reflection, she strode out of the bathroom.
Robert was in the hallway by the kitchen, apparently having anticipated her plan to flee. "You all right?" he asked, but held up a hand mid-apology to forestall her. "It's okay. Here." His hand came out from behind his back, holding a plastic bag of something. More chocolate chip cookies. "For the road." His smile revealed neither mockery nor hidden agenda, just an earnest desire to end the evening on a pleasant note.
"Oh," she squeaked, and found herself speechless. So much for brusque and businesslike. She took the cookies, her stomach twisting. "Thank you. For the concert, too - thanks for inviting me to c-, um, go." The stutter was more obvious than a flat double entendre, though he didn't react beyond a quick purse of his lips. "I'll see you at work Monday." Robert nodded. "Well - thanks," she said again awkwardly. "I had a really nice time." Again she studied his eyes. She felt as though she had taken advantage of him, and added as she reached for the doorknob, "I hope you did too."
"I had a great time." For a split second his face contorted with longing, then he opened his eyes and forced his nose to un-wrinkle. "Enjoy the cookies. Let me know if you ever want to do this again."
She should have left then. She should have taken his words at face value and walked out while she had some semblance of control, but for some reason the cookies undid her, and her hand slipped from the knob back to her side. "We can't," she said, with genuine regret in her voice. "I can't."
"We could skip the dancing." Now there was a little bit of a smile playing around his eyes, but he still wasn't gloating, or trying to pressure her in any way, which was almost unnerving.
"Aren't you frustrated?"
Robert looked surprised. "No."
"What about...that?" She jerked her head towards his pants.
"It's always like that." The voice was so serious that she had to meet his eyes. Then she could stop neither the furious blush nor the laughter that rose in her throat at his wink. Putting a hand over her face, she leaned back against the front door, shaking with amusement until the bag of cookies slipped from her sweaty hand. They both knelt to retrieve it at once, bumping foreheads. Robert sat back onto the floor since she was cornered against the door and she almost fell into his lap, her crotch positioned over his legs as she caught herself with her hands on either side of his body.
And she moved up and reached for him and held him, sitting on his floor, because something had snapped. Finally she accepted the feeling from all those months ago when she'd thought they were a little in love with each other but his actions made her believe otherwise. After all, she'd been dating another man the entire time; they had both played it safe, as it were. Robert's arms went around her cautiously at first, he thought she'd hurt something falling down, but once he realized she wasn't letting go, he held her tightly and let her feel his heart beating and the sweat breaking out all over him. She kissed him the way he'd kissed her earlier, moving her mouth in a trail from his ear to his chin, until he lowered his head and reciprocated so softly and sweetly that she wanted to cry.
From there it was a relatively easy decision to clamber to her feet with him and stumble back through the living room, tripping over one another's legs as if they were still trying to dance. He made no pretense of that, kissing her over and over while she led the way, both his hands clasped between both of hers from the moment she helped him stand in the hallway. It was she who tugged him onto the couch this time, though once he sat, she crouched over him again, hands on his shoulders pinning him against the cushions.
Robert was so relaxed that she wondered for a minute if he'd been serious about his erection not having all that much to do with her. He didn't try to rub against her; he didn't make any aggressive moves at all, other than returning her kisses, pressing his mouth against her bare shoulder and throat. From the sounds he made when she pressed down against him, she concluded that his passivity was a form of strategy rather than a reflection of his desires. He went absolutely still when her hands wandered over the rise of his groin, then eagerly helped push the pants down over his hips when she tugged his belt and zipper open. His skin felt hot and smooth and swollen, like a child's. She pushed his shirt up under his arms to rub her face against his hairless chest, the skin velvet-soft above the hard layer of muscle underneath. His nipples rose, dark crests of temptation, but she did not take one into her mouth as she knew they both wanted; that seemed like it would be crossing a line, to use her mouth for anything other than kissing.
Her hands worked in an almost mechanical motion now, right wrist getting sore from the unaccustomed activity. Normally she would long since have stopped so she and her partner could engage in real lovemaking. How long had it been since she'd made a man come with her hands? Certainly she never had with Tim, and she didn't want to think further back than that. A twinge of adolescent embarrassment made her blush; not guilt that she was cheating, more like the high school humiliation of doing everything possible to avoid sexual intercourse. Robert's eyes flickered open to look at her. "Your dress..." he managed to warn.
Lunging forward, she straddled him, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing his earlobe as the damp, silky bottom of her panties slid over his penis. It was as easy to rationalize as dancing - just a hug - she snuggled him up and down with his erection pressed between them and felt no shame at the sudden hot spurt of fluid covering her belly and his, drenching her underwear. Some of it did get on the hem of her skirt, but that was headed for the dry cleaners anyway after being on the ground at the concert. Robert's throat was still vibrating with musical moans. She pressed her nose into the damp indentation between his jawbone and his neck, stealing a tiny taste, enjoying the swift beat of the blood in his carotid artery. They sat until the moisture cooled on their arms and got sticky where they touched. When she started to rise, he flinched uncomfortably and she realized that his leg must have fallen asleep but he hadn't wanted to dislodge her.
"Excuse me," she whispered and beat a retreat for the second time that evening to the bathroom. No point in wearing the underwear home, she peeled it off, wondering whether she could manage to get another one of those Ziploc bags like the cookies were in so she wouldn't have to throw it on the floor of her car. The mirror beamed rosily back at her. She couldn't believe how young she looked, and how attractive, swollen-lipped and bright-eyed with her hair falling down around her face. She did not think she was going to be sorry later. From outside the door she heard music again, an opera. At first she assumed he had put it on for her, but when she stepped into the living room, she realized he was singing on the recording - something he must have performed in years earlier.
Robert had cleaned up and put a different shirt on. He also had retrieved the cookies from the hallway, putting them on the kitchen table beside her purse, where she quickly jammed her panties when she entered the room. At the counter he poured diet soda into tall glasses, handing her one with a smile. They drank in silence, standing side by side while they listened to his singing from the room beyond. Several peaceful minutes passed that way, as she realized that she was very tired, and had better leave before the idea of staying started to seem tempting. As soon as he saw her putting her drink down, he did the same. She started to explain that she had to go, then realized as he met her eyes that the words weren't necessary.
Once more Robert followed her to the door, cookies in hand. He didn't speak either, didn't have to: the music was doing it for him. "Thanks," she said with a shy smile as he handed her the bag. "I really enjoyed the concert." Then, blushing at his cocked eyebrow, "And the dancing."
For the first time all evening, he let his irrepressible grin light his features. "Dancing, yeah!" he intoned in the sarcastic voice of a comedy sketch she barely remembered from years earlier. "That's all it was, dancing, yeah, that's the ticket." As she squirmed in embarrassed pleasure - pushing her hair behind her ear with one hand while the other buried her panties deeper between her sweater and her purse - she felt him step into her personal space, stroking her bare shoulder with one finger.
"It's okay with me if it's okay with you," he added quietly. She could not remember the last time anyone had made her feel so beautiful. Then, as if he needed reassurance, "I'll talk to you at work?"
"See you there." Robert's eyes crinkled with another grin, but when he looked at her, they had gone black with intensity beyond difficulty seeing in the dim hallway. He crushed her in a tight hug, knocking the breath out of her, letting go before she'd found a way to return it with her hands full of clothes and cookies but she shifted everything and pulled him back into a gentler mutual embrace which, along with the music pouring his heart out in the background, said more than either of them ever would.
A final kiss, soft and melancholy, sealed the farewell which was thanks and regret but not renunciation. They said goodnight on the other side of his door, in the cooling night air, almost beyond the fading cries of the song.