He only notices how tall the grass has gotten when Scully drives up and parks, her regularly-rotated tires parting and flattening it like a bristled brush. He hasn’t mowed it since she left. When he sees her, he wishes he’d thought to step on a broken beer bottle sooner. There have been many less-bloody, less-worthy things he’s considered calling her for. Please come home and find my favorite t-shirt. Please come home and make me tea the way you make it. Please come home and lie beside me in bed so I can feel the heat of you sleeping. He has always loved to think of her body hibernating, storing energy, protecting itself. He just never realized he was the one it was protecting itself from.
It is the tail end of her day off and her hair has air-dried in the perfect 72.1 degrees he knows she keeps her apartment, though he has never been there. She’s wearing a big sweater, a soft one she remains loyal to despite its dalliances with moths. It sits over a t-shirt like an afterthought. (The September evening weather is just another thing she mistrusts.) When her legs brush together on her way toward the porch, it strikes him how scarcely he has seen her in jeans, percentage-wise. It is like seeing a different kind of woman in evening-wear: impressive and disorienting.
“Sit still,” she tells him as she sews up his foot. He is lying back on his elbows on the floor. She sits a step below him holding his cold, numbed toe steady with her wrist. She had insisted they go inside but he doesn’t want her to see the other things he has stopped doing since she left.
“That first aid kit matches your hair,” he tells her because he doesn’t know what else to say.
“You ever going to mow the grass again?” she asks, zipping the needle through his skin. He cannot feel it thanks to the melting bowl of ice beside him, but the sight of it, the thought of it, makes him queasy and he twitches each time she pulls her arm up into the twilight.
“I don’t know what for. What do we do anything for?”
“You. Cause you tell me to.”
She ignores him and puts the needle down.
“Hot.” As the sweater comes up and clears her head, he sees that she is wearing his favorite missing t-shirt. He almost comments on it, but she’s looking down at it too, blushing - and he knows she didn’t realize. He decides not to mention it. There is nothing worse for him than watching her bashfulness corrode into shame.
“You’re drinking beer now?” she asks.
“I just thought I’d try it out.”
“Well, try it with shoes on.”
“Come on. You know the whole fun of the porch is going out on it barefoot. It’s the little piece of the outside world that’s all yours…” He gulps and gathers his courage. “Ours.” Her smile is genuine but it is not permissive, it is not a change of heart.
He twitches as her elbow sways and straightens up to the sky. The setting sun is just behind her now, staring down her freckles, its intensity radiating out towards his legs. When it touches him, he thinks of that particular brand of body heat he misses and inches his feet toward her, trying to absorb it, keep it for later.
“Sit still,” she repeats, but does not flinch when his healthy foot accidentally brushes her breast. He moves away for his own benefit. He is vulnerable enough as it is with his skin sliced open in her hands.
He closes his eyes and thinks of the other times they have spent on this porch. The time she fell asleep in his lap while he read to her. The time they hung the hammock. The times they studied the stars, the moon, the sunset. The times he slowly kissed the edges of her body until the mosquitoes came out. The time he lifted her onto the bannister to fuck her, mosquitoes or not. But now she taps coldly on his leg. She is finished and there is no time to make careful keepsakes out of her.
“I’m going to take off,” she says and he wants to beg her to stay for dinner, but he has nothing in the fridge and no desire to place the listing of reasons Scully can’t stay amongst the things they have done together out here.
She stands with a hand on the wooden rail as he sits up and claps his hands, half-hoping he’ll find a splinter she can retrieve. She reaches her fingers toward him and helps him up as he holds his stitched foot up on the back of its heel. When she doesn’t pull her hand away immediately, he takes a chance. It is tiny, imperceptible to most couples, a simple twining of his fingers in hers. But she will know.
And she does. She stares and watches like their fingers are creatures wiggling in the sand, washed up on the shore after a brutal storm.
“This isn’t what I want,” she says and then looks up at him. “Do you?” It is so absurd he almost gets angry, but his eyes fall on the worn threadbare stretches of material over her bicep.
“I’m going to need that back.” She shyly brushes some frizzed hair from her face with the hand that he is not desperately squeezing.
“Sorry. I didn’t even realize.”
“I meant now,” he says and then smiles to make sure she knows he is joking, that foot stitching is not his idea of foreplay or couples therapy. But she suddenly pulls the oversized sweater back on and begins to work her arms beneath it. In a moment, it is falling wide across her bare collarbone, slightly off her shoulder, and the t-shirt is in her hand. So she didn’t bother to put a bra on when she ran out of the house – either because she was too worried about him, or because she didn’t feel she needed to. He is warmed by both prospects.
The t-shirt is dripping from her fingers between them, dangling over the one-step chasm. He struggles, trying to read the emotion in her eyes, and errs on the safe side, simply taking the shirt. But the way she nods and turns, he knows he was wrong and he is tired of living with being wrong. He leans forward, awkwardly limping and grabs at her sweater, squeezing it in his fist as it slides down her arm. She rolls back to him like they’ve been slow dancing this whole time and breathes heavy against his torso. He cups the back of her head up and bends forward. She looks him in the eye just as the sun disappears and her irises become compasses.
When she rises to her tip-toes, he thinks, this is the time he kissed her in an over-sized sweater and she came home.