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there isn't an Arab proverb about this

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Freddie’s memorized the feel of her hand in his long before he knows the sensation of them anywhere else. Through Paris and Switzerland and Florence, he’s watched her speaking with the natives and pulling off her stockings at the end of the day and setting her hair after a bath. He knows her habits, her mannerisms, the things that he’s never learned about a woman before.

He sleeps next to her at night, like they’re siblings or an old married couple, not touching, but very much aware of the fact that there’s someone across the way. That they’re not alone. He eats the things she puts in front of him and practices the pleasantries, trying to form his mouth around the strangeness of the vowels and consonants that occasionally get easier, over time.

It’s not like there’s a longing for more that they’re denying, it’s almost like feeling it out. Playing house the way they used to as children, never getting further than a chaste kiss, a gentle brushing back of out of place hair.

And then, one night, in Athens, where he can just make out the ocean through their open window if he squints, he notices the strap of her brassiere slip off her shoulder. It’s the same brassiere she left hanging over the shower curtain bar on the Rue de Richelieu, that he’s watched her fold and pack within her suitcase any number of times. But seeing it there, loose against her tan arm, sneaking out from beneath her blouse, it sets something off inside of him that will never be content with casual affection again.

She’s flipping through a paperback copy of Love Story he thinks she picked up along the Ivory Coast that she’s read and cried over at least three times and, which, previously belonged to a young woman named Celeste, if the inscription on the inside is to be believed, and she doesn’t move at all to adjust the wayward strap.

He reaches over, grazing at her bicep with his fingertips, and she still feels warm from the day in the sun. “What do you want to do for dinner?” she asks without even looking up, giving him the time to fail at catching his breath.

He says, “I don’t want to go to dinner,” thinking about how she has freckles along her collarbone now, at the apex of her arms. The strap is still caught in his grasp as she turns to say his name like a question, and he wants to kiss each and every one of them. See if they taste differently on his tongue. He repeats himself, tucking the strap back where it belongs, under the bright tangerine of her top and slipping his hand down to hover over her breast.

He can’t feel her heartbeat accelerate, or her breath catch, but he pretends he can, as they stare at one another, locked on. “Freddie?” she asks again and he thinks of her with her camera and applying perfume to the pulse point on her throat and the way she rubs her feet together before falling asleep.

“You changed my life,” he breathes out in a sigh. “You changed the whole bloody thing.” And then he kisses her, leaning her back onto the bed, Oliver and Jennifer’s love forgotten on the floor.