His eyes are tired.
That’s the first thing that I notice when the café door swings open.
The picture of a man overworked and sleep-deprived, he walks towards me, eyes downcast, and I feel my heart break a thousand times over.
It’s his eyes that do it. They still haven’t met mine, but I can see the fatigue that claws at them, dragging the surrounding skin into shadowy ghosts of premature crow’s feet.
He sits on the bench across from me heavily, and his shoulders seem to sink into themselves.
I want to hold him – my heart aches for it, and I strain against the immediate, clawing instinct to touch him, to clutch him against me.
A moment of silence stretches between us and then his eyes slowly rise.
As soon as they meet mine, I feel myself unravel. From the depths within me, I feel myself ungracefully fall apart. It manifests itself as a small parting of my lips, as if in surprise, and then I let a small gasp slip, and then the tears are sliding fast down my cheeks.
His brow softens, and his spindly brown fingers cross the table between us to tentatively brush my ink-stained pale hands.
Another heartbeat, eyes still locked, and we are clutching each other’s hands, his gently grasping my cracked and shaking digits, his thumbs smoothly tracing circles on the backs of my hands. Our eye contact still unbroken, his caring hands envelop mine and hold them there.
More than anything, this is what I have been missing – his quiet presence, his slightest reassuring touch.
The renewed realisation of what I have lost slams me in the chest. Feeling hollow, I cry harder.
His grip loosens and I squeeze my eyes closed. I cannot watch him leave me again. I can’t do that again. I cannot – I will not – watch him leave. I cannot stand to watch him leave me here. Not again.
I hear him stand and move away.
I breathe slowly, trying to steady myself.
There is a brush of fingers against my shoulder and my breath hitches in my throat. My eyes snap open as his arms envelop me and I momentarily forget how to breathe.
Hesitantly, as if unsure of himself, he rests his chin on my head and I hear him exhale.
I press my face into his shoulder, our equally ragged breathing filling my ears.
We stay there, unmoving, indefinitely holding each other, not a single word spoken.