The moment before sunset—when the earth was not yet dark—I reached over and took Eaden’s hand.
I’d been searching for something to cheer us up when I brought her to Gatlinburg to see the sunset. She didn’t say a word the entire ride upstate, shrinking further into the quiet as I tried everything in my power to make our being together seem normal. As the day wore on, we both gave up, going out to the woods to sit until the silence wore us out.
The snow fell into the sunset, glazing the earth in a rosy powder. The wind danced between the clouds, curling its tips into powdery blonde curls. And the glittery flakes shone so bright against her black eyes. Even as they fell, they were so bright.
She was so beautiful that I couldn’t stand it.
And the air was too cold. So I took her hand.
I expected her to drop it, anticipating the Paisley, you’re not doing this before it left her lips. She opened her mouth as if she wanted to say this, but glared at the sky instead.
My fingers curled around hers; she didn’t pull away.
Then it came: “You don’t have to do this.”
Even though she was wearing mittens, her hand trembled under mine, like my touch was enough to trigger paralysis then subsequently wash it away.
My voice came awkward and fast. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”
Her laugh was hollow. “Don’t lie to me.”
“Then don’t tease me.” Her eyes cut through mine. “It’s not fair. And somehow, makes this worse.”
I was stunned silent but still didn’t move.
“I don’t want things to be weird between us.”
Offering a smile that even I knew was phony, I said, “It’s not going to be, I promise.”
She shook her head. “You can’t promise that.” Her free hand swept across the grass. “You couldn’t even talk to me today.”
I blinked back at her twice. “Truthfully? I don’t understand what you want from me.”
She scoffed. “I’ve made it clear what I want.”
“And I told you what it was I wanted."
“Then why are you holding my hand.” It came out as a statement, not a question, even though she had no way of knowing the answer.
The chill cut through my layers of clothes and I pushed back the urge to warm myself up. I couldn’t decide what was worse, the cold or her touch, but did nothing to calm the quivering that came with both. I closed my eyes and turned my head upwards, the bitter air caressing my cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” she said, bringing me back to the present. “I didn’t mean to make this weird.”
I pulled my body upright and urged her along. “Come on, we should probably get going.”
She stood up off the ground but still held on, pulling me back towards the road. Snow continued to fall around us, absorbing the shades of orange, amethyst, and eventually navy as the night began to fall into place.
We walked through the trees and the cold hand in hand, and every so often, I caught a glimpse of her face. I couldn’t make out the looks she gave me. She was happy. She was sad. She wanted to kiss me. She wanted to run.
Even as I thought the last phrase, she wanted to kiss me echoed against every nerve ending in my body. It pulsed against my brain, each letter making the blood flow a little faster, the heat in my cheeks rise a little bit more.
I’d known, on some level, that she felt something for me. She was a serial romantic, and even though she was gay, I thought the line distinguishing our friendship had always been clear. But those friendly days turned into dark, intense nights. Even in the sheer blackness, I couldn’t deny her beauty; the sultry way she’d pout over her shoulder was too alluring to fight off. A few drinks in our system eclipsed my senses, and as the night progressed, she’d revealed more to me than her feelings.
What those cerise lips felt like against my neck. The brightness of her breath and how that felt felt tickling my veins. The bliss that surged through me with every slip of her skirt. How every whimper and cry felt so good on my ears, how she’d do anything to get those same sounds from me.
Digging myself deeper into her hold, I could feel her under my flesh, pulling up the back of my dress, sliding her fingers along my backside, stroking the sweat and anxiety out of my skin pore by pore until I was melted in the palm of her hand.
I’d wake up the next morning with the champagne still teasing my eyes, convincing me it was just the alcohol making me feel everything. The words would taste so wrong on my mouth that I wanted to wash them out, if for no other reason, then to make up for the hurt that I knew they caused.
But it was easier to let her think it was an accident, to convince myself it was nothing. Because it only took a few nights of intoxication to show me what she’d known the whole time; that the nothing between us had turned into everything so fast, and neither of us knew how to deal with it.
Piles of slush puddled around my feet, and it wasn’t until Eaden dropped my hand that I realized I’d stopped.
“Are you okay?”
I looked up at her for the first time today, truly drinking in her presence, acknowledging the glow curling into my stomach.
The silence wavered between us as she closed the space, her chest almost touching mine. I anticipated her kiss long before we met and did my best to hold my breath as she took me in.
The tips of our noses touched, our eyelashes swooned against our fluttering lids, strands of her hair fell along my collarbone, sprinkling my skin with the flakes braided between the shades of brown.
Her lips stopped before mine, recoiling at the sigh I let out at the loss.
My eyes followed hers to the ground. The tip of her boot dug into the dirt, pushing aside the snow that now reflected silver from the moon.
Her wet glove pet my head, and I plucked it off her hand, tucking the bundle into her pocket. Taking my own off, I looped it through her fingers, closing my bare hand tight around her tight.
“You don’t want to do this,” she said, looking down.
My lips slipped over hers. “Then why am I holding your hand?”
Anna Keeler is a poet and fiction writer attending Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. Her work has been published or is upcoming in Crab Fat Literary Magazine, Red Fez Literary Journal, Indiana Voice Journal, Leopardskin & Limes Literary Journal, Smaeralit, and here, on Potluck.