When this is all over…
We will hug. There’re two types. A proper one starts off gentle, a soft caress as two people’s arms find a way through each other’s limbs, as chests start to touch, as each pulls the other tighter to them, as you inhale deeply. You learn to rest and recover in those. The other is a quick flash in, two thumps kind of thing. Those are for uncomfortable friends, or boys not wanting their emotions, or a victory over a game.
We eye each other up from across the room, threading ourselves gingerly between the few others there. And then here we are, in front of each other, staring into each other’s eyes. Wondering.
I wonder if he remembers how I used to nibble his left earlobe. If he knows that I remember how we met – both reaching for some packets of ketchup at a bar counter – but neither really looking at what we were doing. Our first touch was one of recoil and apology, then shy smiles and stilted conversation, before I dragged my big girl pants on and asked if he wanted to grab a drink. For our first hug I inhaled his scent – hint of lemon, crushed garlic and wool sweater – but it was gone too quickly, one for awkward friends. We got better at them: lingering cuddles where we moulded to each other, his chin resting on my head or my nose in his neck. We grew into the two of us. We taught our friends those hugs; we embraced our parents and siblings. We leaned in, like two timber-framed houses holding each other across an alley.
He glances around at the others in this room, doubting. I see it scatter across his face and my heart cracks. Of course we must dare to stand closer than two metres.
I reach for him first, hands outstretched, as if I’m calming one of the nervous dogs in my examination room. My fingers graze his jumper – wool – and I can’t help it but my heart bounds in hope.
Our arms reach round each other’s waists, I lean in for a sniff.
Sharp and medicinal.
Pulling away, I glance up into his eyes and see the hurt reflected before he pulls me tighter. I pat him lightly on the back and extract myself.
We will start slow.
Hanne Larsson is a permanently-abroad Swede, using her many-cultured upbringing as story fodder. Her stories have been published in anthologies by Hammond House and Green Stories, with most success on long/shortlists. She tweets at @hannelarsson