Six months and still it was like this for him. Half a year and he still
felt as though he were falling. Practically every day since that afternoon
in Macy's he had allowed himself to play back the memory in his mind. He
closed his eyes and with them went the ocean, the sky, the sun, the boat.
His lungs filled with sea air, but the scent filling his mind was of fresh
leather gloves and the nondescript mix of every perfume behind a department
store counter. She turned and he could see half of her face over her shoulder.
He felt the adrenalin rush now just as he did in that moment. His fingertips
tingled and his breath was cut short. It became very clear for the first
time in his life what was meant by the saying "my heart skipped a beat".
She turned her body slightly more, her eyes drifted a bit further and finally,
after an eternity, met his.
The beauty of the memory was that he could slow it down infinitely, stepping through every detail at an achingly slow pace. The way the strands of her long, brown hair fell off of her shoulder one by one. The way she had her lower lip trapped between her teeth as her eyes searched the store. The black boots, the blue jeans, the tan top, the leather jacket, the black beret. In his mind he could scrutinize her, stare in a way that one is unable to do during those first moments. Except that is exactly what he had done in those first moments, completely taken aback by her. Completely unbalanced. Completely overwhelmed.
At first she didn't smile. He traced the line of her lips, the curve of her chin, the edge of her cheekbone until finally reaching her eyes again. Now she was smiling, but he quickly realized it was only her reaction to the vacuous look on his face. He suddenly became aware that his mouth was hanging open. He snapped it closed with an audible click, felt his face grow hot with blush and immediately his eyes found the floor. He didn't see it, but her smile broadened, the flattery was not lost on her. She turned and reticently walked away, still in search of what she came for, but slightly distracted.
Once her back was to him, he lifted his eyes and watched her as she became increasingly distant with each step, eventually disappearing around a corner. Heart racing, he felt the sweat bead up on his palms and fought back an embarrassed smile. His awareness of the world around him suddenly reemerged and he gave a cursory look to see if there had been any witnesses to his blunder.
"Schoolboy", he said to himself, rolling his eyes.
He snapped around to leave the store as if fleeing the scene of a crime, taking three steps before realizing he still had the boxed perfume in his hand. He stopped, closed his eyes and exhaled slowly, trying to expel the electricity popping and crackling through each and every nerve ending of his entire body.
After a beat, he turned again, partly looking for a clerk to check him out, but mostly hoping for another glance at her, this time from a more discreet distance. He weaved between the makeup counters and clothing racks, scanning in all directions, passing two clerks along the way.
"Do you need to pay for that?", asked one of them.
Startled, he only half-acknowledged her with his eyes. "No... I... I'm still looking", he answered.
He moved quickly, trying not to look hurried, but aware that his steps had an urgency to them. She had probably already gone, the moment had passed, The memory was set in concrete, its inclusions defined, it was already all that it would ever be.
The thought hadn't completed in his mind when he saw her again. Her back was turned, standing at a checkout counter. He slowed his pace and walked up behind her. A second clerk was standing behind the counter and motioned to him.
"I can get you right here", she said.
He stepped up to the counter, now standing beside her. He handed the perfume to the clerk and realized his hand was shaking as he released it. He kept his eyes locked on the counter, holding himself back. Just like Christmas at seven. Just like mornings (later) on the boat.
The register beeped as the item was scanned. He handed his credit card to the clerk and she began the charge process. Every motion seemed to simultaneously drag on forever and yet rip by at light speed. It was as if the quantum sense of his mind was being pulled in two directions by the fleeting nature of time and his struggle to harness it, to make it crawl. As each second disintegrated he felt a sort of panic rise up, the need to do something, anything. Anything other than be a bystander to the moment's parade.
When he couldn't take it any longer he ventured a cautious gaze in her direction. She looked over and smiled brightly. Again, he couldn't believe how incredibly attractive she was. Every curve of her face, every hue of her skin, every strand of her hair seemed to exert this pull on him. The attraction he felt was almost gravitational. The holding back became literal and again he found himself unable to break his gaze from her. In a few moments she would be a memory, a face he briefly saw for a few evanescent seconds in a life of long years. He struggled to imprint her on his mind.
"Want a girlfriend?" Her voice shattered him, the shock of it almost physically knocking him askew.
"Excuse me?", he practically shrieked, his mind struggling to deal with the moment in any rational fashion.
She motioned to the perfume as it was dropped into a bag. "For your girlfriend?" she asked again, her smile once more reflecting pleasure at the flattery of his dumbfoundedness. It was clear how smitten he was and clear that she found it endearing.
"What? No.", his mind finally catching up to the situation, his smile settling into a comfortable baseline, "No. For my secretary."
Now he could look at her without feeling as though he were committing a social felony. He pondered her question for a moment and realized what she was doing, subtly probing for information. The thought widened his smile, amplified his elation.
"Ah", she let out a pleased sound.
"And is that for your boyfriend?", he asked, motioning to the obviously-feminine silk blouse she was purchasing.
"Oh, of course.", she stated sarcastically, "He likes to feel pretty. You know.", she ended with another liberal dose of her addictive smile.
He feigned being offended.
"Now what makes you think I would understand anything about a man wearing women's clothing? What exactly are you trying to say?", he wittily returned, adorning his face with a playful smirk.
She played along, mocking a deep, thoughtful look.
"I don't know, there's just something 'sassy' about you.", she shot back. She held the blouse against him.
"I'm pretty sure we could get this in your size.", she added with a playful smile, then handed it to the clerk.
"Easy...", he returned slowly, the flirtatious grin covering his face once again.
"I'm playing.", she scrunched her nose and laughed back, reaching out to lightly grip his arm for a moment.
They held each other's eyes, an unspoken exchange of which they were both aware, and which they both questioned as perhaps only being in their imagination.
The clerk handed her a bag and receipt.
"Well, have a nice afternoon.", she offered with a final glow, holding his eyes as she turned. Another slow-motion nanosecond before breaking free and moving off.
The second clerk was holding his bag over the counter, waiting for his attention to return to the transaction. After a moment it did. He apologized and took the bag but remained in place, contemplative for a moment. After very little consideration he moved hurriedly after her.