On our 1st date, our hands fidgeted. You twirled the fork between your fingers- an effortlessly graceful motion. It looked impressive, but you said it was easier than it looked. And that you picked it up during long boring lectures back in college, that you do it without even noticing now. My hands were a flurry pair of housewives, as I straightened the cutlery to parallel preciseness and smoothed invisible creases out of the napkin. I told you it was a habit I inherited from my mother and that I too, do it without even noticing. I was lying of course; I only do it when I am nervous.
On our 11th date, our hands were intertwined under the table. Looking back, I wasn’t too sure how it started, was there even a definite point where we decided to do it? I remembered it like how one would remember a painting- in brushes and textures. Our knuckles brushing briefly, the dry warmth of your palm, and the gentle squeeze you seemed to unconsciously give whenever you made a point. Wasn’t it almost comedic how we never acknowledged our handholding throughout the night? There we were, talking about our families, my annoying new neighbor and your disastrous summer vacation, all tinged with an emphasized touch of nonchalance, while our hands clasped in a loose bow beneath the tablecloth. It was our first secret and it made me feel like your every smile that night was meant for me and me alone. I remember our water glasses staying virtually untouched. I remember steadfastly ignoring the dry tickle in my throat.
On our 101st date, you couldn’t see my hands. They were on my lap, clenched and bloodless. Yours were on the table, your fingers drumming the impatience that you couldn’t or wouldn’t convey in words. I remember vaguely wondering how the same table we had shared for so many dates could suddenly feel like a much further distance. I remember desperately flinging questions into the silence between us- like lifesavers from a ship, thinking that if I could somehow throw enough, then maybe we wouldn’t sink. But you taught me that night that lifesavers would only work if you grab onto them, and that replying a question isn’t the same as answering one.
On our 13th date, I told you I am a writer. You looked impressed, and you asked me to show you some of my work. I demurred and said it was no big deal. You didn’t push it, but later that night after we parted, you texted me to say you were sorry but you Googled for my published stories. You told me that you don’t know where I got my inspirations and ideas from, but that you aimed to be all of the reasons for the future ones. My stories were love stories.
On our 30th date, you asked me why I never used you in any of my stories. You said you caught glimpses and snatches of our friends- Michelle’s favorite tattered sweater, the way Bruce honks when he laughs, and Anna’s almond shaped eyes; but you never found any of yourself in the stories. You tried to ask this lightly, tried to pass it off as a casual offhanded question, but I saw the bewildered hurt in your eyes and it broke my heart a little. I told you it was because you were too precious for me to share with the world, and that mollified you a bit, but you weren’t completely convinced. The truth was, you were in the stories, but you wouldn’t recognize it.
You were the part where I described how it felt to have your heart leap into an infinity of stars. You were that giddy happiness that buffers characters from bad hair days, rude people and Monday blues. You were the part where I described how something as innocuous as a slow-forming smile could make such a mess of your insides; you were that intangible weight of contentment that had anchored all my recent stories around falling in hopeless love. You were weaved into almost every ending paragraph of every happily-ever-after. You wouldn’t see it, nor would you ever realize it, but you were the poetry that underlines my writing.
After our 103rd date, I stopped writing love stories.