What Does We Want Mean?
By Ana George
I was drinking coffee when he first came up to me. "I'm Rob,'' he said.
Extending my free hand, I said, "Renée. I've seen you around here, I think.''
"Yeah, this coffee hour is nice. Mid-morning is the perfect time. I get into the day's musing, charge up on caffeine, and the day is more productive.'' He chuckled. "Well, usually.'' Unlike most men, he seemed to look only at my face, or away somewhere.
I nodded agreement. "Caffeine and a bit of warmth. It usually seems to be chillier in here than I counted on. Hence today's sweater, even though it's not that cold out.'' My hair, which I wear very long, was under my sweater; perhaps he'd decided to approach me because he found me less intimidating with my hair out of sight or something. I've given up trying to guess. We were talking, and that was enough for the moment.
He nodded, checked out the sweater, and the woman inside. "Indoor weather is often very different from what's outside,'' he agreed. I found something arousing about the way he reached out with his eyes.
Over the next few weeks we met at coffee a few times each week. I could see him check me out from across the room, and, what with being a statistician, I noticed a correlation. When I was wearing something feminine, or had my hair down, he would usually stay on the far side of the crowd, sneaking glances at me between the knots of conversation. If I was wearing something loose and shapeless and had my hair braided or under a sweater or something, he was all chitchat.
A week or two later on a chilly morning, Rob and I were chatting again. The fickle spring weather had turned a bit too cold for my long skirt, sandaled feet, and tie-dyed T-shirt. So the warmth of my cup was delightful, pressed into the crook of my elbow, tight up against a breast, steaming. But whenever I moved, a lock of my (somewhat uncharacteristically) loose hair kept trying to take a dip.
"Hold this,'' I told him, handing him my coffee.
I started braiding my hair, combing it with open-fingered hands, lifting both arms over my head, which pulled my shirt against my breasts. My hair is curly enough to stay braided without a fastener; this also seemed to fascinate Rob, being yet one more physical thing about my person he could caress with his eyes.
I dropped the braid down my back, out of trouble, pulled my shirt down to resume its habit of hanging loosely about me, and put out a hand for my coffee.
He spluttered a bit, handed me both his mug and mine, and went into a paroxysm of coughing.
On the third try, he managed a weak, "Sorry. I don't know what came over me.''
"Well, actually I do,'' he continued, after clearing his throat again. Raising his eyes to mine, he continued, "Sometimes you're just sooo attractive, I can't resist.''
"So don't,'' I said, with a smile.
His eyebrow crooked. "Don't…?''
"Didn't want to be impolite,'' he murmured.
"Politeness and, um, whatever-comes-after-friendship aren't actually compatible ideas,'' I told him.
"True. Would you…'' he hesitated.
I smiled, and nodded almost imperceptibly.
"Dinner?'' he finished, omitting the verb.
Usually when I'm cooking for myself my hair's braided, out of the way. Tonight Rob's presence called for exceptions to most of my customs and household rules, so I was moving carefully around the kitchen. I handed him a corkscrew to use with the bottle he'd brought. The stereo was playing the Vivaldi Gloria. He hummed along, until my notice made him self-conscious.
He stood in the doorway for the last few minutes of the preparation, watching. The chitchat subsided. I looked at him through the lock of hair that had fallen into my face.
"I'd like to photograph you, just like this,'' he said.
And so it was that, after dinner, I learned a bit of what visually oriented people (read: men) see in a woman's appearance. He had some lights in the trunk of his car; he seems to free-lance as a photographer in his spare time. "Something non-academic,'' he explained.
One particularly nice picture was taken from two feet off the floor, with a toddler's-eye-view of my bookshelves in the background. He had me crouching frog-like on the floor, bare toes just peeking from beneath my long skirt, hair everywhere. In printing it, he's pushed the color or played with the light or something, so one stunningly green eye was visible through streaks of a lock, contrasting with the color of the wine I was holding by the stem in pale hand. The nose and chin seem almost disembodied. He had clicked the shutter from his position sitting cross-legged on the floor, just as I was deciding whether it would be OK to check out his crotch. So what's visible of my face has a look at once puzzled, calculating, and lusty.
He printed it out full-page size and framed it for me. I have it still, these years later, as a reminder of what he taught me about life, friendship, attraction, and, well, lust, actually.
"I am enjoying this,'' I told Rob, as he reloaded his camera. "I mean, I usually don't go in for being photographed; it's a little too, I dunno, intimate? Not quite… Maybe narcissistic? Exhibitionist? But you seem to know what you're doing. You've put me very much at ease, tonight.''
"Well, I've been taking pictures and selling them for 15 years; I guess I know my way around the camera by now,'' he said, not looking up from his work. " There. Besides, if I may say so, you're really photogenic, and the expressions on your face are just astonishing; but they come and go so quickly. A quick trigger finger is a must in the business of taking pictures of people.''
And somewhere in the second roll he got the other really good picture of me. I was trying to make up my mind how the evening should progress after he ran out of film; looking at him; watching him play with his equipment; wondering if I wanted him to stay or not. And there I am in the picture, slouched on the couch, hair falling down like a waterfall onto the floor; feet up, the long skirt misarranged. An elbow underneath me, my figure visible in the light and shadows as my clothes crumpled in places where they were empty. And with a gleam in my eye which is certainly not an "on the street'' kind of expression, but is enigmatic enough that I hope he couldn't read my musings.
"I remember, in school in the late 60s, when we girls started wearing skirts like this. It was an era of miniskirts, and a time of dress codes. The rules said if you're female you wear a skirt to school (do they ever try to enforce that any more?) and the length shall be at the knee, plus or minus two inches. I don't think anybody in my whole sophomore class ever wore such a thing to school. Most wore minis, because that's what was in. So some of us uncool, rebellious types decided to go the other way, and wear long skirts. Very practical, really; I could never understand the appeal of minis (unless you're being blatant about trying to seduce some guy; I never got into that either, and that's another story).'' I was babbling, trying to get the idea that he was ogling me with his machine out of my head; trying to look more or less natural.
"And tie-died shirts, when somebody figured out how to do that. Some were really stunning. One nice thing about them is that they're loud enough to act as dazzle camouflage. It's almost impossible to see the detailed shape of something painted in wild colors.''
"Um, unless…'' he said.
"Well, yeah,'' I admitted, following his gaze. This particular shirt was a pale blue with a bright orange sun-burst neatly surrounding my left breast.
Snap! went the camera shutter. Oh, great. Now he'd have a photograph of me, looking at my own breast.
"Can I ask you something?'' I asked him.
"You just did,'' he answered, very predictably, grinning. "Sure.''
"Um,'' I stammered, coming right down to the point. "How much film do you have left?''
"Three more shots. But I don't think that's what you were going to ask.''
"I want… I mean, I'd like… Er, harrumph. Women are supposed to be more aware of conversational gambits and moods than men are; here I'm flustered, and you just sit there, smiling.''
"Take your time. You're very cute when you're flustered,'' said Rob.
I sat up, ran fingers through my hair to get it out of my face (Snap!), glared reproachfully at him (Snap!), and then had to laugh (Snap!). Counting three shots, I crawled over to him, with hair dragging on the floor, and took his camera from his hand.
"Lens cap?'' I demanded.
He produced it, affixed it to the lens. I carefully placed the infernal ogle-machine, eye down, on the couch.
Then crawling ever closer to him, I kissed him, kept advancing, and he tumbled over on his back with me on top of him.
"Wow,'' he said, coming up for air.
"Is that a good wow or a bad wow?'' I asked, genuinely perplexed.
"A really good wow. I had no idea,'' he bumbled. "I mean, well, I don't know what I mean.''
So I kissed him again. Then I took his hand, stood up, and led him to the staircase. There we'd be able to kiss standing up, using the stairs to negate his eight-inch height advantage. And, in due course, the staircase might lead to other things.
Just at this moment, the stereo finished a disk of Bach, and, much to my horror, Tori Amos from the next room sang, "Look, I'm standing naked before you, don't you want more than my sex?'' It seems I'd left some, ahem, controversial music in the nether regions of my CD magazine. The ambiguity of the song seemed to feed into our situation. He smiled.
He was not taking hints. It seemed time for something direct. "In about ten minutes…'' I started, then hesitated. I'd chickened out several times already, so this time I decided to plunge right ahead. "…I'm going upstairs to get naked and finish what you started, what with fondling me with your camera. If you'd like to join me…?''
He visibly shook, as if I'd hit him. He looked at me, red-faced.
His mouth opened, and then closed, and then opened again. "Another time, for sure,'' he said. "I'm just starting to get to know you, and I'd like it to be perfect.''
"I understand. I'd like that too. And I respect your attitude. A lot.''
Silence. For a bit too long. I started to babble.
"I don't usually proposition my colleagues,'' I said, "Heck, I usually don't even date my colleagues. But for you I figured I'd make an exception. But not one of those if I make an exception for you I'd have to do it for everyone kinds of exceptions.''
"We wouldn't want that,'' he said. I loved him, just there in that moment, for helping to ease my embarrassment.
"No, we wouldn't want that,'' I agreed. " You know, what with desires being such private things, I've never been able to understand what We Want could ever mean,'' I told him. "Sorry if I've been too forward.''
"Don't be sorry. I like your explicitness. I know where we're going now; I just don't know how long it'll take me to catch up with you.'' He smiled. "There will come a time when it will be clear what We Want.''
He collected his gear. We kissed at the door as he left. I sat down on the bottom step, shaking, unfilled, wondering.
"What Does We Want Mean?" was originally posted at Perpetual Passion, Toasted Cheese's romance writing forum. Ana can be reached at ana54writes[at]yahoo.com.