Oh, he thought.
That was it: Oh.
He tried to find other words for it, real words, words with some actual syllables, words that felt like something more than a full-body sigh. For years, he would try.
Weird, he would say. Strange. An acid flashback.
Not that he'd done much acid -- definitely not enough for flashbacks. Mostly he'd read about it in books. But he would say it anyway, an acid flashback, trying to add some hard-rock irreverence to something too sacred to name.
He would smile as he said it, one-sided, his chin tucked, his hair curling over one eye. He would seem shy, baffled, humbled -- and he would be. He'd turn up the drawl and reach for some Southern aw-shucks charm to wrap around himself like a security blanket. Bigger than me, he would say, and he'd feel smaller every time.
But on that first day, he thought, oh.
She walked through the door late, a big nervous smile on her face, dark eyes darting to his ink, his cuffs, his hair. She had a flower in her own hair and flat California vowels and she'd cut a few records as a solo artist. Contemporary Christian pop, she said, and he thought, oh. She didn't want to be there any more than he did.
But they were there, the two of them and this other guy Greg, and JP thought, fuck it, and he started playing. Joy's head tilted. Her eyes closed. She looked down, listening, and there was something rapt on her face that he hadn't-- he couldn't--
Oh, he thought, and started singing. Her head came up, her eyes opened, she swayed closer. When she started singing with him, the harmony was in perfect startling resonance, and her voice was-- and together they were--
Greg, JP learned much later, also thought "oh," and he slowly faded to the edges of the room and let them be.
In the bathroom, not that much later, JP splashed cold water on his face and stared at himself in the mirror, wondering what the hell he was supposed to do. He wasn't completely stupid. He knew what he'd felt and what it meant, even if he couldn't find any good words for any part of it.
A double-edged sword, he thought, something beautiful and dangerous, but maybe something he could handle for a while before he cut himself so many times he bled out. Or maybe he was wrong, and the sword would dull over time. One day, only its beauty would be left.
Or he could give up on that tortured metaphor and just stay the hell away from her, which was the option least likely to end badly.
In the parking lot, she walked next to him, tiny, her shoulders hunched against the cold. Neither one of them said anything. They got to his car and she pulled on the door.
"We got along pretty well in there, but that doesn't mean I'm letting you drive," he said.
"What?" She glanced up, startled, looked at the car, at the keys in her hand, at him. Then she started laughing, a loud deep peal of utter delight. "We drive the same car," she said, smiling at him, her eyes--
Oh, he thought. And: Of course we do.
She got halfway to her own car before he went after her. "Hey," he called out, and she turned around with that same huge smile. "We should do this again."
She nodded, eager, her smile growing. "You could come to my place. It's not far." She looked off east, like she meant right now, my place is ten minutes that way, come home with me and never leave.
Get a fucking grip, he thought. "When?"
She glanced over her shoulder and bit her bottom lip. "Now?"
Oh, he thought. "I--"
"Wait, no," she said, shaking her head. Thank god, he thought, and she pulled out her phone. It was very businesslike. "Friday. Can you do Friday?"
He pulled out his own phone and scrolled through his calendar. He could be businesslike. "Sure. Friday works." So much for staying away from her.
"Great." She grinned up at him, her bare palm sliding against his as they shook on it. "I'll see you then."
"Oh," he said softly, looking at their hands, her smile, their hands again.
"Right?" she said, in a heart-stopping second of understanding, and then she threw back her head and laughed.
- END -