Throughout the evening, my eyes keep finding her. I participate absentmindedly in the idle chatter at the table, but I’m not really listening. I just want to watch her.
I want to know what she is thinking as she scans the room and sips champagne.
People start to fill the dance floor. She laughs while watching them, and blushes when Enya tries unsuccessfully to coax her to dance.
Just as I’m taking a sip of champagne I glance to where Hugh has been sitting all evening, and am shocked to see him half way to my table. I swallow painfully, because despite the drink my mouth has gone completely dry.
“Hi Nessie.” He greets as he leans over the table.
My voice nearly fails me but I manage to answer, “Hi”
“You look really beautiful.” His eyes scan me quickly as he speaks.
I look down at the table and I know my face must be ten shades of red by now, I put the glass of champagne to my lips.
Hugh gives me a lopsided smile and mischief twinkles in his eyes, “Do you remember that one time…” He says wistfully,”That you called me while you were drunk?”
Such a punk.
I set the glass on the table and raise my chin defiantly, “Actually…I don’t” I state truthfully.
He laughs. “Well, I do. And you seemed to think that if I had been there that night I would have asked you to dance.”
My heart jump-starts and I can feel my pulse in my neck, my breath is shallow…he’s not…is he?
He extends his hand, “I’m here now.”
As if in a trance I put my hand in his and he leads me to a spot on the dance floor.
“I’m gonna step on your foot, you know that right?” I giggle nervously as I place my hand on his shoulder.
He shrugs, “I’m sure I can handle it.” I feel his other hand on my lower back and he applies slight pressure to pull me a little closer. Unable to look at him, I direct my eyes to the floor beside us.
I close my eyes as we move on the dance floor, the only parts of my body I can feel are the places he is touching. I can feel the heat of his body, like warm sand on a sunny day. I inhale, and his scent takes me to the coast where the wind blows through my hair and the sound of waves crashing drowns out my busy thoughts, and I’m calm.
His voice pulls me from my reverie. “You’ve been a hard girl to get a hold of this week”, he said, smiling.
“Yeah, I know. I don’t ever want to be that busy again.” I replied, looking around the reception hall. “But it was worth it, I guess, the place looks great.”
He didn’t take his eyes off me. Starting to feel nervous, I searched desperately for something to say. There is something, I guess now is as good of a time as any.
“Listen, um, I never really thanked you properly…for what you did for me.”
His brow knit as he questioned, “What do you mean?”
“The trip, and my parents and all that. You pushed me to go and now things are getting better. I mean, I think we could have worked things out eventually…but it wouldn’t have been for a long time. And ever since I came home, as silly as it sounds, I’ve felt…braver. I feel like I can do something, I don’t really know what yet, but something.”
His smile interrupted my thoughts and I realized I was starting to ramble.
“I guess I just want to say that…I’m grateful. And thanks for being there for me.”
He took a moment to answer,”I just want to see you happy.”
“Well, I am feeling pretty happy.”I said cheerily. “And you should know that you had a big hand in that.”
“Are you sure that’s not just the wine?”
“You!”Giggling and rolling my eyes I pushed at his chest. He responded by tightening his grip on my waist, pulling me a little closer than before.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
“Apparently nowhere, but seeing as the song is changing might I suggest we sit? This song is a little…energetic…for my taste.”
He scrunched up his face as the song changed, “Yeah okay”
We sat and talked for the rest of the evening, settling into the familiar ease of our conversation despite all the nerves I’d worked up all week.
Around the time Dermot and Enya made their exit, I was feeling pretty tired. I had to stay a bit to do some clean up, but it didn’t take long.
Hugh gave me a ride home, and walked me inside.
“I’m so tired.”I said through a yawn.
“You’ve been really busy this week.”
“Not to mention the champagne.”
“Sit down and I’ll get you some water”
I watched the water fill the cup and exhaled.
This is it. You got this. Just man the fuck up and say it.
Giving myself an encouraging nod, I turned and headed for the living room.
The sight that greeted me deflated the confidence I’d just built, though I couldn’t help but laugh at my luck. She’s asleep. Of course, why wouldn’t she be?
I set down the glass and fell onto the end of the couch, hoping slightly that it would wake her up. She didn’t stir.
“Oooh Nessie”, I groaned, leaning my head back on the couch. “Fuck it, I’ll say it anyway. I suppose if I say it once maybe it will be easier the next time, whenever that will be.”
I absentmindedly fiddled with the heel of her shoe.
“I wish that I didn’t have to leave tomorrow, but then I suppose if I hadn’t choked earlier in the week we wouldn’t be in this predicament, huh?
We glide across the dance floor, and I’m lost in his eyes. I’m vaguely aware of people around us but they fade away as we turn around and around, spinning our own universe, and we are the only two inhabitants.
“Nessie…” He whispers.
I can’t speak, but I beg him with my eyes to continue.
“…I really fucked it up.”
My eyes pop open.
“I mean, why is it so hard for me to tell you I love you?”
My stomach clenched. What??
“First it’s me being an idiot, then it’s like all the forces of the universe have converged to prevent me. But, God, Nessie…”
This is still a dream, it must be. I bit the inside of my lip to test it.
“I love you.”
This isn’t a dream.
“But since you are asleep, I guess I’ll try again later…or tomorrow…or something.” He sighed and I felt him start to get up.
“Wait!” I cried, sitting up suddenly.
He stared at me as he settled back into the cushion,”How long were you awake?”
I shook my head dismissively, “…do you mean it? Really?” I was on my knees on the couch now, facing him.
He looked me straight in the eyes, “Yes.”
My head swam, tears stinging my eyes, I try to blink them back. I had been so nervous all week long and all the tension and emotion welled up inside me. A thousand questions tore through my mind, spiraling out of control. What happens now? How long have you felt this way? Do your parents know? Do I move in with you? Do we get married? What will our kids look like?
“Are you gonna say something?”He asked, a bit anxiously.
I snap back to the present. The tears escape and I nod my head, “I love you too, Hugh”
Without thinking I leaned in and placed my lips on his, but I quickly pulled my head back realizing I have no idea what I’m doing.
He smiled and grabbed my waist, pulling me onto his lap. “I think you owe me for tricking me into thinking you were asleep.”
“I was asleep!”I replied, laughing.”Your dirty sailor mouth is what woke me up”
He leaned forward. “You might come to appreciate this ‘dirty sailor’ mouth”
He kissed me softly and felt my body melting, then I was electrified when he sucked on my bottom lip.
I laced my hand into his hair as he deepened the kiss, exploring my mouth with his tongue. I did my best to mimic his actions when he receded his tongue, inviting me to reciprocate.
We came up for air and he shifted his body so that he was laying next to me, almost on top of me. He trailed kisses along my chin as his free hand glided down from my shoulder to my waist to my hips, causing a stirring deep inside my belly. As his hand curved around my butt, I pushed myself up against him.
“Wait, Hugh” I stopped him, pushing lightly at his chest.
This is too fast…too fast
He just looked at me, waiting.
“Uh…umm..I..I’m not ready…for this.”
He understood what I meant and nodded, “Of course.”
He laced his fingers with mine, pulling my hand up to his mouth. “We won’t do anything you don’t want to do.” He kissed my fingers.
“I’m sorry” I murmured.”For avoiding you this week. I was…I was afraid that I wouldn’t like what you were going to tell me.”
He embraced me, “I was kind of afraid of that too. But no, if I hadn’t acted the way I did you wouldn’t have felt like you needed to avoid me. So I should be the one apologizing.”
“If you insist.” I replied playfully.
The corner of his mouth tugged into a half smile as he drew me into a kiss. I tightened my grip on his shoulders, pulling my self tightly against him reveling in the warmth of his body. Our lips separated and he nuzzled my neck. He planted kisses slowly on my neck, working his way up until he reached just under my ear. I felt a chill run down my body as goosebumps raised on my skin. I laughed, “Hugh stop, that tickles.”
“Oh really?” His lips touched under my ear again.
It dawned on me what he was thinking. “No!” I squealed, throwing my hand up in an attempt to block access.
He restrained my free hand, burying his face in my neck. I laughed uncontrollable trying to squirm out of his grip.
“Hugh!!” I screamed, breathless. “No!!”
I did the only thing I could, pushing with my legs I tried to slide off the couch to the floor.
“Oh no you don’t!” He caught me, but was off balance so I pushed again with my legs against the couch causing him to concede and roll onto the floor.
I quickly pinned him, breathing heavily. “I….said….no…”
He laughed, “You are stronger than you look.”
My triumphant expression turned to surprise as he easily rolled me over, reversing our positions. I was ready to protest but I saw the look in his eyes had softened, and he caressed the side of my face with the back of his fingers. He drew his face closer to mine and I closed my eyes in anticipation.
“I love you.” He breathed against my lips just before making contact.