His voice cracked when he called her hotel and told her the Bengal Tiger Restaurant was right where they’d left it. She was in town for the evening and would meet him there.
He looked at his phone — she was late, she was never late — and kicked himself for not asking for her number. He’d been sure she’d meet him.
The French maid’s outfit he’d brought home one night flashed through his mind, and he chuckled at his youthful fantasies. His chest ached remembering the photographs she’d let him take. He’d felt the softness of her skin every time he’d looked at them. Later, he would crop his favorite. He wondered if he’d ever make a woman’s face light up that way again.
He’d lit a candle on the floor between the pillow — for her — and his heavy bag. He took her favorite samosas and mango chutney from their takeaway containers and reached for some dishes. Watching, she was filled with warmth. He’d remembered.
“Come with me.”
“I’ll visit.” She smiled over her shoulder at him. He wrapped his arms around her, nuzzling her ear, his chest against her back.
“Come with me,” his voice hoarse.
She laughed, hopping onto the counter and wrapping her legs around him. She traced his features, lightly, pulling him close, oblivious to her mistake. One she would revisit when her mind wandered.
Her stomach had fluttered when she’d first seen him. Sitting in the reserve section of the library, reference books piled around him. The librarian told her someone was using the materials she’d requested. “Here,” his voice low. She turned. His elbow on the table, holding files in his outstretched hand.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “I can wait.”
“Yeah,” he shrugged. “Lots here to keep me busy.” The tattoo on his shoulder glistening under his deep suntan.
“Thanks,” she said, hoping the quiver in her voice wasn’t noticeable.
“Hey,” he called after her.
She looked over her shoulder at him, her hair falling into her eyes.
“Bring them back when you’re done.”
Had she replied?
“I’ll be here.”
She rushed along the sidewalk, slick with rain. She shivered remembering his hand on her knee as he stepped over her lap to take the seat next to her in the auditorium. She stopped under an awning to catch her breath.
“You’re not listening.” He said, laying on the wood floor, propped up on his elbows, the Economics textbook between them.
“How can you tell?” She’d responded to all his points.
“I can feel you looking at me.” He raised his eyes to her. “The exam is tomorrow.”
“Yes,” she said, her gaze drifting from his fingers, up his arms, to his shoulders, over his tan lines, and down his back.
She opened her umbrella, glancing at her new manicure. How he’d loved to paint her nails. Then she saw the brown spots on her skin. How many years had it been? Enough that he wouldn’t recognize those hands, those hands he’d held tight in his sleep.
She closed her eyes and imagined him in the restaurant. A table against the wall, his back to the kitchen. His square jaw, a hint of the five o’clock shadow that had left her skin tender. He beamed when he saw her, then a split second of disappointment clouded his face. She’d been such a beauty.
Her heart in her throat, she fled down the darkened street.
The maitre d’ hung the closed sign in the door’s window.
“Has any unaccompanied woman arrived since I’ve been here?” He’d been watching the door, but she must have slipped past him somehow. “Anyone at all?”
“But I could have sworn….” He’d felt her near.
He pulled out his phone. “What do you mean she’s checked out? Please look again.” Where did she live now? He couldn’t be losing her again.
“This isn’t possible.”