95. Touch

She’s out of words and he’s out of questions. This won’t get resolved tonight.

He saw it first in her shoulders as she was walking to his car. Then he saw it in her stride. Finally, she was in the car and he could see it course from the top of her forehead to the tip of her chin – centered around eyes that had forgotten how to see.

Through most of the ride to the coffee shop, she didn’t say anything and he wasn’t sure yet how to begin. He was there for her even in this silence and she knew that. And so he waited and gave her time and space.

And then a crack, a chink, a whispered expletive.

The service industry is just a minimum wage away from slavery. People pay for their meals then think they have the right to shit on your shoes, spit in your face, and poke at your self-esteem. And she has to swallow it all with a smile.

They never make it to the coffee shop. Instead, they find a park parking lot and they sit on the curb.

And he lets her go. On and on about the injustice and incompetence of the customers, and about managers who have all the empathy of a dead battery. As she talks he can see the life welling up within her again as if each word takes a bit of tension with it as it’s spoken – out into the dimming twilight air.

And then a corner is turned. She’s out of words and he’s out of questions. This won’t get resolved tonight.

So he takes her hand, weaves his fingers between hers. With a firm, confident squeeze he lifts and they stand. He brushes away a stray bang from her forehead and tucks the strand behind the curve of her ear. He draws her to him, gently at first and then with purpose.

She lets go of his hand. She wraps one arm around the small of his back and the other she uses to press his shoulder into her cheek. And he reciprocates, holding her closer as well. And she feels the last of her tension draining away as if squeezed out by the pressure of this embrace. All this sensory information floods the synapses and somewhere deep within the old, primitive part of the brain, something bursts and all her defenses are gone. She cries like a racehorse down the final stretch – she pounds her fists into his back.

And then it’s over.

She slackens and instead of holding her close, he’s holding her up.

And weightless, in these arms, she wonders how she ever got on without him. And he wonders what use he ever was to anyone before she needed him.

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