Now, Part 3.
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All the Crawling Beetles, Part 3
Aidan’s bedroom smelled like sandalwood. I sometimes had trouble falling asleep because of the blinking light on the bottom right-hand corner of his computer monitor. His scanner made noises at night, too. He called all of his photography equipment his robots. We would joke about them coming alive while we slept, scanning our brains and stealing our memories.
The Wednesday before we broke up, I woke at 6:15 with my head on his chest. We often slept that way—me half-sprawled across Aidan’s muscular swimmer body with his right arm around my upper back. Over the three-months of sleeping over, I had learned his sleeping habits. For instance, I knew when he was waking up, because his open palm would slide to the base of my spine and tickle my bare skin.
At 6:16, he made his morning noise. It was a low but somehow playful growl that he always made when he knew his girlfriend was in his bed. His hand moved down my spine; his hand stopped at the curve of my lower back. I sighed and kissed his neck, and in the light of his digital alarm clock, I could see the stray gray chest hairs he tried to pluck before I would notice. Aidan was, after all, thirteen years my senior.
“Good morning,” I said, knowing I had to leave in fourteen minutes to get home, take a shower, and be to work on time.
“Morning,” he said. He always sounded sick in the morning, thanks to his allergies and occasional cigarette habit. He used the hand on my lower back to pull me closer and kiss my left eyebrow.
I put my hand against the scar on his chest from when he’d almost drowned off the coast of Folly Beach the summer before. I thought about the stories of his childhood in Miami, Florida—all the drugs and all the guns—and the miracle that he had survived it all. I thought about how happy I was to have him in my life. How had I gotten so lucky? And he said, “What are you thinking about?”
“Coffee,” I replied.
“Coffee, it is,” he said, even though his eyes were barely open. He rolled me off his chest and sat up. Before heading to the kitchen, down the hall from his robot-infested room, he rubbed his eyes that were so dark, they looked black in the dim restaurants we frequented. “Did you sleep all right?”
“Yes,” I said. “The robots only stole a few of my memories.”
“The robots or the red wine at dinner?”
“Uh-oh. Maybe both.”
“Caffeine,” Aidan said. This time, he stood up, and wearing nothing but his skin, he headed to the kitchen to brew the coffee he’d brought back on his last photo shoot in the African bush.
That happy Wednesday morning, I fell back against the wall of Aidan’s green flannel pillows and listened to the water run in the kitchen sink.
I met Aidan at a sports bar—my sports bar—on upper King Street in downtown Charleston. It was the place I watched football every Sunday, the entire football season, from approximately 1 to 6:30 PM. If my team was pissing me off, I took a cigarette break. Aidan was the same way, and since his team was the Miami Dolphins, he was outside a lot.
I didn’t notice him immediately. I didn’t notice him until he called me “Bettis,” in homage to the antique Jerome Bettis jersey I wore every week.
He said, “Hey, Bettis! You’re not on your stool!”
This comment was in reference to my usual position at the bar—up on my knees, balancing on a bar stool, and screaming at the TV screen.
For the first time since football season had begun three months prior, Aidan had made contact. I don’t remember being wowed. I don’t remember thinking, “Damn, that’s a fine looking man!” I remember thinking he was funny. I remember Emma commenting that he must be funny, because whenever I went outside to meet him for a smoke, I would be laughing.
He didn’t ask for my number until the Superbowl.
“Can I get your number? I’m not going to see you every week anymore.”
So I gave him my number.
For our first date, he took me to his favorite French restaurant. It was a tiny place, hidden from tourists, and owned by a wine importer who was also one of Aidan’s good friends. When I walked in, there were jokes all around from the bartenders.
“Oh, you’re meeting Aidan?”
“You’re too pretty for Aidan.”
“Aidan is here with a girl!”
It endeared me to him. It made me laugh, because it was obvious these people were his friends. They gave him shit because they cared about him. They gave him shit because he was a good guy, and they were happy to see him with a good woman.
That first night, my initial perceptions of Aidan were shattered. From the sports bar, I remembered a tall, skinny dude in a baseball cap and dorky Buddy Holly glasses. At the French restaurant, I was met by a tall, slightly older gentleman with unkempt black hair, sexy spectacles, broad shoulders, and arms that could have easily tossed me over his shoulder and carried me home.
I learned he was a photographer full time. His work had appeared across the country, as well as overseas. He had grown up in Miami, where he had spent his summers surfing and fighting with local gang thugs in his backyard. He had to spend at least a half hour a day doing laps at the gym just to decompress. Soon, he would disappear to Africa for two weeks to shoot brain surgery in the jungle. And I loved every bit of it.
For three months, Aidan and I never stopped talking. We never stopped making each other laugh. We never stopped spending intimate nights on his porch, in his kitchen, in his bed, in the hallway outside his apartment, in the elevator; yet, I kept my head. Aidan didn’t make me feel crazy. He didn’t make me nervous or insecure. I never had reason to doubt his affections. He was older than I was. He didn’t play games. He never hid from me. We never hid from each other.
Back in his bedroom that Wednesday morning, Aidan returned to my side. I could hear the coffee maker whirring in the kitchen; I could smell fresh grounds on his fingertips. I rolled away from him, and he put his arms around me from behind. He kissed my neck, and his hand slid across my rib cage and down my stomach. With a start, I realized I was in love with him.
With a start, I realized I was afraid.
Part 4 will be with you tomorrow.