They stood next to each other on the railing, the cooling rush of the black New York City night sweeping through them across the balcony.
“Aeli,” she began.
“Don’t,” he said.
“Don’t what?” she asked.
Aeli sighed, his body folding forward over his elbows. His back was arched forward and his body levered, like a superhero preparing to launch into flight off the perch.
“Don’t start,” he said.
He stole a peek at her – she looked at him like a baby lamb gazing at a child holding a palmful of pebbled, brown feed at a petting zoo.
She wasn’t going to make it easy for him. He couldn’t hold it in any longer. It was so unlike him, though – he didn’t know why now, he could suddenly do the thing he’d been pushing back – but he did it anyway. He told her. Everything.
“Every time you say you like me,” he began. “Every time I say that I ‘like you’ like you.
“I mean it.”
Aeli looked into her eyes, searching for a spark of recognition. He looked at her mouth, silently willing her lips to form words, to say, “Me, too,” and then for her to fall into him like a leaf into the bosom of a forked branch.
It was not quite what he had been hoping for. But he was too on edge to be crushed – he felt the adrenaline coursing through him, felt the hard pound of his heart itching to burst out of his chest, and there was too much energy for him to subside.
“I do,” he said. “Every time we hang out, it’s the best part of my week. Every time I see you smile at me, when your eyes get large, it’s the best feeling there is. I want that feeling all the time.”
With his body louvered against the chest-high railing, he just kept talking, eyes casting out now into the Manhattan darkness like a line from a fishing rod. He didn’t even notice how lyrical he was being, how the words fell from him with ease. He just kept talking.
“Being with you makes me happy. And you mean a lot to me. And I think I mean a lot to you, too. I want to see you every day.” He turned to her once more. “I want to look into your eyes when I wake up.”
In that way that time sometimes slows, when the whole world around rushes to an utter halt, the party raging behind Naomi and Aeli briefly faded away into nothingness, leaving just the two of them on a ledge in an immotile universe, where no one else at all could enter or live.
How long the world stopped, Aeli couldn’t say. But the moment passed, and, sluggishly, like the wheels of a train car being pulled from a standstill, the earth resumed spinning, first at a lurch, and then more confidently, until once again it found normal motion.
He still stood quiet, waiting for Naomi to speak. He watched her cheeks flush with color.
“I do,” she, at last, admitted. “I do, too.”
She turned to him and placed her hand into the crook of his chest.
“I’m just -”
Aeli stopped her. “I know.” He almost said, “I’m scared,” but didn’t – something stopped him, and he was glad for that. He tried again.
“I know that I’m not perfect. I know we’ve both been burned. But I think – I know that I want to try.”
Hamlet, it was not. He could have ended stronger – he knew that as soon as he spoke. But she didn’t leave; she was still right there, with her hand pressed into his cave, and it was good. When he wrapped his free arm around her waist just between the taper of her stomach and the swell of her ass, she didn’t move away.
So he drew her in.
And they kissed.
It was like…