I look across the dining hall and see her softly tapping the back of Mike’s hand as she leans close and whispers. I remember the first time she touched me, a playful shoving as we fought for the arm rest between us in the movies, our first date, such a high school choice. Walking out of the theater into the fall evening, I remember her slipping her arm around my elbow. I pressed it against my side, and she smiled up at me with her full attention.
I watch her sit back in the chair, now, and pat Mike’s forearm as if to comfort some confusion. I remember the first time she took my hand across the table and squeezed it gently to reassure me.
Months have passed since she last touched me. I sit at the table with my buddies, no longer eating cozy dinners sitting European style in a secluded corner. The tablecloths are still starched white, the cutlery battered silver, and the glassware foggy crystal, but the waiter talks and jokes with us. He’s no longer the daydreamer longing to replace me at the corner table.
“What time’s the game?” Nick asks, glancing at his wristwatch.
“Seats by seven-thirty for eight o’clock tip off,” Chip answers.
“Joining us, Phil?”
“I’m ready.”
Why she, a senior, ever culled me from all the freshmen, I never fathomed, but I certainly felt flattered.
She and Mike are done with dinner, and I watch them walk to the coat rack by the door. He holds her jacket for her, and I remember holding her camelhair coat, the one with wooden pegs and leather loops, as she slipped her arms into the sleeves and then, rather than step away and turn, she pirouetted in place. When we faced, she shared my personal space, and I could smell her shampoo. I smile, now, as she shrugs her spring coat up to her shoulders and steps away from Mike; saving her special pirouette, I speculate, to invite the evening’s last kiss outside the dorm as curfew falls.
Gone now, I shove my desert plate aside, the sweet memory lingering.
“Time to hit Cameron?” Nick asks, and the five of us stand and move off, looking forward to the noise and the frantic energy of the regular season’s last game, forty minutes of college sports greatest rivalry.
On the walk over, I remember our first time together, snow falling so thickly outside her dorm window that the street lamp cast only the palest light on our bodies as we lay on her narrow bed, and she reached for me again. But the sharp edge of memory is wearing smooth, the images fading, and the hollow in my chest only an echo of its former self.