I watched Henry from beneath my eyelashes as he paced the studio apartment, sitting then standing again, picking up my belongings and inspecting them with a curious eye though he’d seen them a thousand times before. Although his expression remained calm, something lurked under the surface. Short, jerky movements and glances at the door spoke of restless tension and a desire to flee.
He grabbed his jeans from where I’d tossed them on the orange flowered couch the night before. He slid them over his lean hips, and I held my breath when his fingers hesitated on the zipper.I didn’t want him to leave, but I was afraid if I spoke it would spook him.
I’d fully expected to wake up to a politely apologetic note on the pillow.
Sunlight glinted off his salt and pepper hair and kissed his sculpted shoulders and abs as he began to pace the room again, fly still open. He picked up my beloved Mamiya RZ67 and turned it over. He’d posed in front of that camera the day before and my fingers itched to photograph him once more.
“I know you’re awake,” he murmured, aiming the lens at me and leaning in to peer through the top viewfinder.
I sat up, the rumpled sheets falling down to my waist and I fought the urge to gather them up and cover myself.
“And I know you’re itching to leave.” After a night of passion, my voice was huskier than it had been in a long time.
“It’s not why you think.” His tone was apologetic.
I pushed my hair behind my shoulder—finally long enough to do that—and I heard the quiet whirr of the autofocus. I shielded my face and reached for the covers, drawing them up over my chest. “Don’t, Henry.”
When he set the camera on the nearby bookshelf I lowered my hand. His expression was apologetic as he crawled toward me, the motion making his jeans slide down so his ass was partially bared. “I’m sorry.”
My smile was tremulous and sad. “Sorry for what? Finally doing the photoshoot I’ve been bugging you about for years? Fucking me? Or are you sorry you woke up to this?”
I gestured to my body, the one I’d been fighting with for years. It was only recently that I’d begun to feel comfortable in it.
“Hey—“ Henry gently nudged me down onto the mattress with his body “—you are beautiful and last night was incredible.”
“Then why were you pacing my apartment like a caged lion?” I murmured, running my fingernails across his biceps and shoulders.
He shuddered and placed a kiss just above the swell of my breast before rolling off me, onto his back. “Because I’m shit at commitment. I stayed because I knew if I bolted you’d assume the worst.”
I flipped onto my side so I could see him better. “So it wasn’t weird or awful?”
“Well, maybe a little weird, but certainly not awful. In fact, if you were listening, you’d know I used the word incredible. I meant it, Eth—Evelyn.”
He still slipped up sometimes, calling me Ethan. With most people, it made me bristle, but Henry and I had been friends for too long for me to be angry at him.
“So what now?” I asked.
His head lolled to the side and he gave me a serious look. “I stop at home and feed the cat and then go to the university to grade some projects.”
I swallowed thickly, tears stinging my eyes. “So that’s it? We chalk last night up to too much wine and an erotically-charged photoshoot and leave it at that?”
It was a terrible thought. Henry was the first man I’d felt safe enough to get intimate with in years. He’d made me feel beautiful. Desirable. I wanted the feeling to last but it had already begun to slip away, disappearing like sand through my fingers.
“I didn’t say that.” Henry sat up on one elbow. “I was thinking that tonight we’d grab dinner at that stupid gastropub you like so much and go to the film festival. Just like our usual Saturday nights.” He leaned in to brush his lips against mine. “But with one difference. We’ll come back here after. And I don’t mean to develop the film in that camera.” His tone was teasing, gentle.
“You know I develop film at the university anyway,” I replied, my heart beating fast in my chest at the prospect of another night with Henry. It wasn’t much of a clue about where this was going, but I’d take it. Unsaid words crowded together on my tongue, but all I could speak of was photography. It was a safer topic than my fears and doubts.“I haven’t had a darkroom here in years.”
Henry gave me one last kiss, and stood. “I gotta go. Starla’s going to shred my curtains if I don’t get back to feed her soon.”
I pushed myself up on my elbows and watched Henry dress. His cranky cat was the only creature he’d allowed to get close to him and vice versa. Truth be told, I was a bit like Starla sometimes, but Henry had kept me in his life despite all of my snarling. That had to mean something.
Fully dressed, he stood at the foot of the bed and looked down at me. “You sure I can’t take a photo of you in bed?” he asked. “You have no idea how beautiful you are in this light.”
I swallowed hard and nodded once.
Rather than reach for my camera, he slipped his phone out of his pocket. He must have seen the wariness in my eyes because he gave me a reassuring smile. “Just for me, Evelyn, I promise. I just want to carry it with me.”
I trusted him. So I wet my lips and looked up at him.
Naked and vulnerable.
With Henry, I could be no one else.
This was a flash I wrestled with for a long while, until I heard Evelyn’s voice. It’s nearly twice the usual length, but the words were needed to tell her story.
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I look forward to seeing you next Monday!