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This is how it starts. A crowded Friday afternoon subway car, and my stop coming up. I'm trying to squeeze past you to get to the doors as you're zipping up your jacket, and you catch my hair and necklace in the zipper. We're stuck, tangled together by happenstance and fate, and I can't help but laugh at the consternation on your face. We're jostling the passengers around us, trying to free my hair and your clothing, drawing grumbles of complaint and annoyed looks, as the doors clatter closed and we're still stuck, my stop sliding away as the train moves on. I hear you curse, your voice a lovely, soft depth in my ears, and you finally laugh too, pulling me into the shelter of your arm and holding onto a strap with the other hand.
"Let's just get off at the next one and fix this mess, shall we?" you say, and I have to agree, despite the fact that you're tugging at my scalp with every breath you take. I lean in closer to ease the strain, and sigh.
"I guess we'll have to," I say, and I can smell your cologne, something sweet and spicy and rich, mingled with the clean scent of soap. When the train slows for the next stop, you maneuver both of us to the doors and help me onto the platform and out of the bustle of other passengers heading home for the night. Under the fluorescent lights that buzz and flicker, we huddle against a wall until the chaos dies down, and then move apart as much as we can.
Our hands clash and fall away as we both reach for the snarl at the same time, and then you chuckle and reach for the long auburn curl caught in the dull gleam of my silver chain and the zipper. Slowly, you work the hair and jewelry loose and suddenly I'm free, rubbing the sore spot on my scalp and smiling up at you. Your eyes are blue-grey like Pennsylvania slate, so dark they must turn black with emotion, set in a face that reminds me of every Viking hero I ever read about in trashy romance novels. You're fingering the long curl you liberated, smoothing it between your fingers, and then you tuck it behind my ear with a sheepish, boyish smile.
"I'm Tomas," you say softly, and offer me your hand. I take it, your long, thin fingers wrapping around my gloved hand and squeezing gently. You have an accent, light and lilting, almost British but somehow gentler and more musical.
"Marian." My voice sounds higher, more girlish than normal, and I can feel heat rising in my cheeks as I look at you through lowered eyes, fascinated by more than just your accent. Your hair is pulled back in a long pale braid, and you're taller than me by six inches or more, even in the heels that bring my height up to a whopping five-eight. You huddle inside a battered brown leather jacket and faded jeans splotched with faded paint, heavy work boots on your feet, and I feel awkward and stilted in my carefully chosen wool skirt and trench coat, with the long black boots I bought because Jason said they made me look sophisticated.
I shove the thoughts of my ex-husband away and let go of your hand, blushing harder. "Thanks for, well, untangling me," I manage to blurt out. You smile, a slow, lazy curve of lips maybe a little too thin for conventional attractiveness, and tilt your head towards the stairs.
"It was nothing," you say graciously. "But, perhaps you would join me for a drink?" And I'm blushing and smiling as I manage to stammer out a polite acceptance. Out of the station, on the sidewalk, the wind whips our breath away and we quit trying to talk, until you touch my arm and guide me through a door into a hole in the wall bar two blocks down. It's warm and smoky, and the music is a little too loud from the jukebox in the corner, but they have an old, portly bartender with a friendly wide smile who reminds me of my Uncle Bob, gone these five years, and they have Guinness on tap and an Erin Go Bragh banner over the bar mirror. We take our beers, with their creamy thick heads and rich dark color, to a table wedged into a corner. The working-day chatter seems to fade away as we relax over our drinks and make conversation.
"I'm a painter," you say, and I can see the self-mockery in the smile that flirts with the corners of your lips. "Excuse me, this is Boston, so I must say- I am an artist." We both laugh, and you suddenly become a different person as you realize I don't care. I'm a librarian, no one special, no one pretending to be a cultural snob, and you're a painter. We're both just rambling through our lives, looking for a place to belong. You tell me about your wife, divorced for two years now, and how unhappy you made each other.
"She wanted to be married to Michaelangelo, and got a street painter instead," you explain, and I have to laugh. I tell you, without knowing how I got there, about Jason, four years of my life and his new wife and baby girl, and how hurt I was at first.
"And now?" You raise an eyebrow, and I swear, for the first time, there's genuine interest in a man's- in your- eyes about how I really feel.
"And now, I'm a librarian. I have good friends, a good life. I can't begrudge him the same." I watch you smile, watch almost in a trance when you reach out and touch my hand, rubbing a thumb lightly across my knuckles.
"Then let's drink to your generous spirit and new friendships." We touch glasses and our eyes meet as we raise them. I know then that it's not friendship in those lovely slate-hued eyes. It's good old-fashioned lust, pure, simple desire, and my womb gives a quick hard pulse. I'm still here, it seems to remind me. And you've ignored me for so long, I'm not really going to listen to you if you tell me to shut up.
I wasn't planning on it. I get up and bring us another round, and we laugh as we try the old trick of standing a match stick in the foam. You light a cigarette, and offer one to me. I just smile and shake my head, and you shrug.
"In Europe," you say, a wicked little light in your eyes. "We believe in moderation. Enjoy good food, enjoy good drinks, enjoy your cigarettes, enjoy a beautiful woman. But never, never over-indulge."
"Is that so?"
"Naturally." And even as your smile gives away your own disbelief, you're reaching out. This time it isn't my hand you touch, it's my face, sliding those long fingers into my hair and balling the thick curls in your fist, gently, holding my head as you lean in and brush your warm lips lightly over mine. You're leaning back before my eyes open, still smiling.