Sam wanted to know how he felt.
How he felt?
Martin had spent the last three days trying to explain it to her, telling her his life story, telling her everything no one else would ever know to look at him, but she still wasn’t satisfied. She could tell he was holding something back.
What did she want? What could he say?
How did he feel?
“You…” he began, but she was looking at him. She was looking through him. She’d said she didn’t hold it against him, that he wasn’t bound by anything. He didn’t have to say anything at all.
But her gaze tapped impatient fingers on the windows to his soul.
“Penny and I used to have this thing. We’d stay up late talking on the phone. We were teenagers before smartphones, and that’s what teenagers did.”
Sam nodded. She remembered.
“But when we saw one another in person… It was almost like we were strangers.”
He took a swig of his beer and motioned to the bartender for another round.
Martin sighed. “We’d tell each other everything. All of our fears and wishes and how we were making it in the world and how we’d never know exactly what to do next. All she wanted was to know that someone loved her, and all I wanted was to tell someone that I loved them and have them believe and accept it. We’d talk and we’d write and we’d tell one another that when we were actually in each other’s presence, it was ‘comfortable silence’ time.”
He drifted off, and they both thanked the bartender for their new beverages. After a time, Sam raised her brow as she sipped her vodka cranberry.
Martin squirmed and began talking again.
“In our early twenties, she was on her way to graduating, moving on to get her master’s, and already teaching at the college level. I was… I don’t know what I was. I was staring at a tree and trying to make it a forest.
“And I started thinking about how to categorize things. I started trying to categorize her and how I felt and the place she held in my psyche.”
“I kept coming back to how everything in my life, I could label. I could put in in a box and shove it into a closet, and I wouldn’t have to think about it again. Sure, some things would get dragged out and I’d spill it all over the floor, rummaging through for something I’d forgotten, but everything had a box and a place on a shelf when I was done.
“I could put it away.”
“But she wasn’t like anything else. She was that tennis racket that always falls out on an overstuffed closet in the movies.”
Sam shivered. It was Martin’s turn to raise his brow, but she shook her head. “I’ll tell you why when you’re finished.”
Another swig. Was his beer really almost empty? Again?
“She was a ball of yarn with knots tied everywhere, and I had some sort of programming in the back of my head that kept telling me that I had to pick apart all those knots before I could do anything else. Before I could move on.
“But I eventually forgot about it. Years went by, and I forgot about it. I shoved it down deep and cut off all the dangly bits that kept getting caught on shit.”
Yes. That beer was definitely empty. He couldn’t read the look on Sam’s face now. There was a buzzing in his ears.
“You…” he tried again.
He looked around at all those people. He tunneled into a man laughing and a woman running a hand on his upper arm. He zeroed into a adamant story told by an expressive face to a table full of delighted listeners. He came to focus on Sam’s lips and her neck, her shoulders and the way her dress sank into her cleavage, and he wondered why he’d been keeping her such a secret.
“You feel like a new ball of yarn,” he said in lower tones. This was the heart of it. This was the truth. “Something knotted up inside me. Something I can’t figure out what to do with. Something I haven’t even tried to box up because I recognize the feeling, and I know you’ll just keep spilling out. I haven’t felt inspired by anyone or anything so intensely in so long, and I don’t want to question it.”
He took her hand. She let him.
“I don’t want to question it, even if my programming tells me to pick apart these knots. It isn’t that I don’t want to bring you into the rest of my life. I want to introduce you to my friends. I want to take you dinner with the folks. I do. I just… You’re so… So completely different. So new. I just don’t know how much more… If it gets real between us, so real that it blocks everything else out…” He trailed off, his eyes down to watch his thumb play across the ring on her finger.
Sam took her hand away.