“This is where you live?” Jeff had to duck to come through the small arched attic door.
“Not anymore, I guess,” I said, surveying the room. Dust motes twinkled in the stillness of the late spring sunlight streaming in through the small open window, which had crawled like a slow spotlight since I’d awakened down the length of my unmade bed, and was now touching the stack of cardboard boxes, stacked furniture, old trunks and suitcases. I pulled a suitcase out and dumped my old baby clothes onto the bed, then started scooping things up and putting them in.
We talked a little while I packed. Jeff hadn’t been over to the house since before Dad married Sylvia. “I remember the last time I was here,” he said.
“We were studying for something,” I recalled.
“French,” he said. “We were watching The Red Balloon, when the Hills came over for dinner. Debra and Donna were sort of fun back then.”
“Yeah, things have changed a bit,” I said, trying to decide what to take, my senses sharp as I realized I was about to leave my home. I was keenly aware of my parents’ stuff in the boxes and trunks around me. The family photos. The old clothes and trinkets. The antique sewing machine. The lamps and chairs in the corner. The hand-hooked rag rug.
“Maybe we could start watching French movies again at my house,” he suggested.
“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgoise?” I smiled, glancing up at his dancing green eyes. Something passed between us.
“I’m such an idiot for not recognizing you last night,” he said. “I’m so glad you tricked me.
I didn’t know what to say.
“Did you read all of these books?” Jeff was perusing the stacks of hardbacks and paperbacks in the shelves around the knee wall.
“Just up to under the window. I’m going to miss them.” Jeff picked up The Once and Future King. “Can I borrow this?”
I smiled. “Of course.” I looked down in my hands, where I held The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity and The Self. “You should read this, too; it's great.” He reached out for it, but instead of taking the book, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me to him.
“Hey, speaking of French,” he said, “we were interrupted last night.” My whole body tingled as I slid my hands up his shoulders and leaned in. When his lips touched mine, it was nothing like the big deal I’d always fantasized; it felt normal and natural and, well, quite delicious. I laughed.
“What,” he said.
I touched my mouth. “It’s my stiff upper lip,” I said. “It’s been that way for such a long time.” He tenderly kissed it; neither of us could keep from smiling.
“You’ve probably been keeping a stiff lower lip, too.” He put his mouth to my lower lip.
“Might take some time to un-stiffen them both,” I said. So we worked on that a little bit.
I said, “Can I ask you a question?”
He said, “Would you like to ask me another?”
“Was it the shoes?”
“The shoes are pretty fabulous,” he said, “even a dumb straight jock like me could see that.”
“Jeff, you're not a—”
“Ashley—why did you ask?”
“I mean—" I blushed. "Do you really want to lick my toes?” He laughed.
“We’ll have to work up to that,” I laughed, and kissed him a little more. Then I grabbed my backpack and took The Dress in my arms. He carried my suitcase downstairs.