The door opens, and my eyes are immediately drawn to the terrier yapping around Chris’s ankles. Chris is wearing maroon sweatpants and a white tank-top
The cold must be getting to him. He usually goes shirtless.
“If the dog bites you it’s my sister’s fault,” he says. Those aren’t exactly what I thought would be his first words to me after almost a year, but they work, and I can’t help but smile. Chris uses his foot to push the dog away and pulls me into a hug.
I follow him inside. He leads me into the kitchen where there’s two steaming mugs on the table. He hands one to me.
“I don’t really do coffee, but I’ll give it a try,” I say.
“I know. It’s hot cocoa you five-year-old.”
“Twenty-five. Kill me.”
He grabs a bottle of peppermint liquor off the counter and pours a splash into both of our mugs.
We go into the living room and sit on the couch, swapping stories about the past year. He tells me about the series of guys he dated. One was an Abercrombie boy, one of the many that worked at the stores during college and moved into the headquarters after graduation. He dated a doctor in the hospital where he nurses. He went on half of a date with a guy who was obsessed with him because he was Japanese, and Chris had to explain that he was Chinese before kindly but firmly leaving his rude and creepy date alone at the restaurant.
I tell him about Australia. I tell him about the Navy boy, the surfer, the brilliant and witty science student, and the college lecturer. I tell him about odd jobs and music shows and my life-saving roommates.
Our drinks run dry and our mugs go cold. I hand my mug to Chris to set at the end table near his side. After he sets my mug down he runs his fingers over the beds of my fingernails.
“You’re picking at them again,” he says. The skin at the ends of my fingers is torn and dry.
“You say that as if I ever stopped.”
“How many meltdowns?”
“One and a half?” I say, as if I don’t even know the answer to the question.
“All right, sit down, I’ve got a year of tension to work out of you,” he says, and before I can make a crass joke he adds, “don’t I heard it as I said it.”
I sit on the floor in front of him and he sits on the couch behind me, digging his fingers into my shoulders. He makes a minimum of six gym visits a week, combined with six to eight shifts a week at the hospital. The muscular build mixed with his gentleness as a nurse allows him to dig into my shoulders without causing pain or discomfort. I always tell him he should have been a masseuse. But being a masseuse doesn’t provide people with dental benefits, so he’s a nurse.
“Does that feel all right?” he asks.
“Don’t,” I say as I smirk.
We spend some more time catching up before it’s time for me to depart and head home. He follows me to the door, the dog skittering about our feet. Chris pulls me into a deep hug and squeezes my shoulder.
“We need to do a better job of keeping in touch,” he says.
“I know, I know,” I say, “I’ve been flaking on everybody. I’ll figure something out.”
“You’re not listening,” he says, “I said ‘we,’ not ‘you.'”
“I know, I know,” I say. I rest my head on his chest. His hand massages my neck.
I laugh and mumble, “Deeper.”
And he digs.
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