My professors like to say that being a nurse is really about being a compulsive observer, about catching little details that others would miss, and using that information to help treat the patient. Earlier this week, I was at the library at school and I saw a guy sitting at the table right in front of mine. I then notice that, when this young woman walked in, he perked up immediately and, almost imperceptibly, I saw him catch his breath. I noticed the way he looked at her as she approached his table, and how he simply swallowed it all up as soon as she sat down and went about pulling out books to study for their class.
That little scene stuck in my head; I felt there was a story there. I tried to tease out what it was over the next couple days but my mind wanted to run too rampant. I felt it needed to be a very short story for a very short moment. It was his breath catching that made it click for me. In order to get it out of my system, I set myself a one-man flash fiction challenge: write about the scene at the library in less than 1000 words. An hour and a half later, I had exactly 1000 words and a new short story entitled “Breath.”
I hope you enjoy it.
She walks into the library and my breathing stops as time stands still. She smiles slightly as she’s wont to do, like she’s constantly remembering an old joke that only she knows and the rest of us must wonder about. Her lips, round and moist, draw my gaze and I linger on them, wondering what it would be like to feel them against mine. Her dark eyes scan the tables past the students loitering at the entrance to the library, looking for me. I secretly enjoy the few seconds that pass between her searching and me being found as it makes me feel sought-after, not a feeling I get to enjoy a lot in life.
I see her weave her way through the distracted drones moving about the room and at that very moment, looking at her body shift left, then right, seeing the curves of her body as she zig-zags around the morose students, I decide that I simply cannot be without her a moment longer, that I must risk everything and tell her how I feel. So I stand up and walk towards her, not with cat-like grace as she does, but brusquely, determined, unyielding; I part the crowds as I walk as if I was Moses at the sea.
When she sees me approaching, her secret smirk opens up into a wide smile that dispels any doubt that may have been creeping in. She extends her hand, waves hello to me. As I take that final step that brings me right up to her, I take her hand in mine and kiss it. She stops, the smile still on her face but clearly confused. She searches my eyes, which I imagine are way too serious and looking too intensely at her, but she can’t quite figure out what’s going on, why I have done this gesture for the first time. As she looks up at me, she even tilts her head just the slightest, asking silently the question her still-smiling lips can’t quite shape: what’s going on?
I inhale deeply and the words spill out of me before I even know what’s going on. I tell her. I tell her everything. I tell her how I wake up every morning thinking of her, how I look at her profile pic on my phone and it makes me smile, how I have these overwhelming feelings for her that I’ve keep quiet for fear of ruining our friendship, how I simply can’t be silent anymore and had to tell her, had to risk loosing my study partner, my drinking buddy, my late-night rocky-road ice-cream-run accomplice, my friend. How it is all worth it simply to be honest with her once and for all.
I forget we’re standing in lobby of the library, surrounded by hundreds of students and staff, all of whom it seems have suddenly stopped, pretending to check phones, pockets or purses, just to see this small piece of real-life drama develop. Her smile fades a little, and I wonder what I’ve done, then it returns. Her cheeks turn a slight shade of red and her eyes close in a blink that to me seems to last a century.
When she opens them again, we are holding each other tightly, trembling, naked in a candlelit room in a cheap hotel not far from Disney World, where we’ve come to celebrate our first month together. I feel her pressed against me, skin to skin, and I cannot believe how lucky I am to be holding this amazing woman in my arms. She reaches up, puts her hand behind my neck and pulls me down into the incredible warmth of her lips, into a kiss that absorbs me into her whole. I am all too happy to fall in.
I come out from the kiss to the cheers of all the guests assembled as we are finally declared husband and wife. I beam as I hold her delicate hand and walk next to her down the aisle, our first few steps as a married couple. She steals a glance at me and I melt as I drink in her stunning beauty on this day, her tanned skin gorgeous against the white of her dress, her sparkling eyes hiding coyly behind sleepy eyelids that remind me of the pleasures that await us later this night.
I open the doors at the end of the aisle and walk into the waiting room at the hospital where our family has gathered to wait for the news I bring them. I laugh loudly and tell them it’s a boy, a boy that looks just like his mother, though she insists he looks like me. I am hugged by happy grandparents, uncles, aunts, and friends. I show them photos of the child on my phone, email them copies to send on to others, and promise to return as soon as she is able to receive visitors. I run back down the hall, anxious to spend every possible moment I can next to the woman I adore and the child born of that love. I open the door to the room and there she is, exhausted, craddling our baby in her hands as he feeds from her breast. She looks at me with the most perfect smile on her face, the same smile she gave me years ago in that library when I risked it all and told her how I felt. My breathing stops as time stands still.
I realize I’m holding my breath and I let it out. She reaches the table, plunks down her books and begins telling me about the bitch of a time it was to find parking at this hour. I look at her, and smile a little smile. She says we should go over the material for the final next week and I just nod silently, pull out my book and notes, and sigh away my breath-long daydream.