pilot light

When Upstairs texts, asking if he can come by, my place is still a mess from the night before. A last minute invitation to an Oscar-watching party had me scrambling to pick out a dress. Virtually every one I own has been pulled out of my closet, draped across the couch or my desk, or hung in the window.

rejected contender #1

The party itself hadn't been anything spectacular, but that was mostly because I was the invitee of an invitee. I barely knew anyone there, and wasn't feeling especially mingly. I hung back with familiar faces and did my part to deplete the catering table of ahi tuna and sea-salted chocolate chip cookies. The hosts had gone all out decorating, complete with a red-carpet entryway outside their apartment door, and a blow-up Oscar for photo ops. They even had small plastic statuettes to hand out to the best red-carpet ready guests.

After the party, a friend and I had gone to Faultline, though we did even less mingling there. We planted ourselves at the bar and talked for hours, the bartender occasionally buying us shots and joining in the conversation. He clearly had his sights set on my friend. I wasn't in the mood to drink heavily, but had felt it my duty as Wingwoman in Chief to partake.

I'm still feeling the lingering effects of my good sportsmanship when Upstairs knocks and lets himself in, a heavy glass jug with a narrow neck in his arms. Inside is a plump goldfish named Roscoe. I'm going to be fish sitting for the next five days while he's out of town.

Upstairs puts the jug on my kitchen island, carefully positioning it like a centerpiece. He comments on the spread of formal wear and shoes around my apartment. Though I explain that the mess was occasioned by a party with friends, he teases me, insisting I've been on a date.

He takes a seat on my couch, and I sit opposite him on the edge of my bed. We chat about his pending trip, about his work. After a minute, I stand and return to the business of tidying up. He lays down lengthwise, twisting his body to face me, and extends his arms in a wordless invitation: come. This is a direct, blatant regression of our reclassification efforts, and we both know it. But he's an appealing sight, stretched out on the sofa. I can't resist the temptation to be held, so I only hesitate for a moment before laying down with him.

And that's when it happens. It's something in the kiss he gives me, gentle and soft. Reserved, even, as if to acknowledge that this is an anomaly in our new paradigm. As if reading my mind, he confirms this verbally. "I know we're just friends. But I like kissing you."

But whereas before when he'd kiss me, I'd feel myself floating away mentally, detached and frankly, uninterested in the physical experience of it, at this moment, I am very much present. My senses are fully registering, and I am dialed in. What got shut off so forcefully late last year, at the hands of another man, is suddenly back on again.

It is unexpected and wonderful and intoxicating. I can't explain why it's happening, but I don't care.

He feels and hears my response, and pulls us upright on the couch. After a few minutes like this, he stands, still holding me wrapped around his torso. He yanks the curtain sheers closed and we tumble onto my bed. For some reason, I'm acutely aware of colors: the white of both our shirts, of my sheets, and of the afternoon light filtering through the soft cotton drapes. The blue of our jeans, which are almost the exact same dye of denim. The red of his lips and the deep gold of his eyes. He knows and understand the significance of my reaction. He recognizes that I'm suddenly miles apart from where I was just a week or so ago. He's solicitous and encouraging, whispering in my ear how sexy I am, and how pretty.

In the midst of the passion, my brain takes a moment to pause for gratitude to him. He's refusing to let me worry about his side of things, and insisting that we completely focus on me. It feels like a gift. It has everything to do with him. It has nothing to do with him. What he's passing on to me, I'll take back for myself and use again, without him. We both know it. And that's ok, and understood. It's a beautiful thing.

I won't let things go far. I keep the original boundary I've established in place. But the twenty minutes we steal, before he leaves to pack for his flight, is dreamlike. He holds me, grinning with a mixture of genuine happiness for me and some undeniable satisfaction at his part in the process. "I feel like a shell has broken off of me," I say. "There's a warmth and a glow deep inside of me that I haven't felt in so long. It's like, I don't know...the pilot light got lit again." He tells me that I'm a spectacular person, and that I deserve all good things.

He goes soon afterward, assuring me that Roscoe will be fine without a water change. After I watch him turn the corner of my hall, I return to lounging in my bed, luxuriating in my senses. I feel, once again, like a whole human being.

A bit later, he texts to ask if he can stop by again, before he leaves for the airport. He pops in the door to quickly hand me a small plastic container on which he's written in Sharpie: Puddin Pie - **Homemade** "I got the urge to make pie crust last night," he explains. "It crumbled and broke, so I made pudding pie. Chocolate. It's good." He kisses me and turns to go. I call down the hall after him, wishing him a good flight. I make a request for beach pictures from Florida. "Every grain of sand," he promises.

Once he's gone, I rummage in the closet for my Nikes. For the first time in weeks, I feel like running.