There were hugs, words exchanged, but I didn't catch much with the Jen's standing in front of me, until finally Jenny stepped back and pulled me forward, presenting me with a flourish and an excited, "Here she is Jimmy, isn't she freaking beautiful! She's all grown up!" My face was flaming red, and after staring daggers at Jenny I looked at the man standing before me.
And there he was.
He had grown nearly a foot since I had seen him last. He had the sculpted body of a military man, accentuated by his snug black thermal with the sleeves rolled up over his muscular forearms, and the top button opened, revealing a chiseled out collar bone. His face was so beautiful it almost hurt to look at. His jaw and cheek bones were perfectly chiseled, as if out of marble, and they showcased a dusting of stubble. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. As if reading my mind, he finally spoke.
"Wow." He said, and the way he looked at me made my stomach knot up even more. Like he had just seen light for the first time in ages. His face broke out into a heartachingly beautiful lopsided grin and he leaned in to hug me, whispering in my ear as he did so.
"You look beautiful, Val." I couldn't breathe, and I felt betrayed as I felt my body break out into goosebumps from his whispered words.
When we pulled apart, I looked at Jenny who was standing there, grinning ear to ear like a maniac, with her hands clasped before her mouth as if trying to hold something in. And then she exclaimed, "You guys make the most beautiful pair! It's insane how perfect you look together."
In that moment I was so overwhelmed, and I felt too dizzy and breathless to feel completely embarrassed by Jenny's comment. I stepped back in attempts to yank myself out of the orbital pull I felt from James. I bumped into my sister and immediately latched onto her arm as if to anchor myself down. I looked from the ground, to Jenny, to my sister, back to the ground again, too afraid to look back at James just yet.
There were so many people, so many conversations circulating around us, yet my mind and body were insanely aware of James standing across from me, just a few feet away. I felt as though I was drowning in this sense of awareness, the feeling just way too surreal. I couldn't look at him, but I felt him staring at me.
When I finally snuck a glance, he was looking at me with that same look of wonder. No one had ever looked at me that way before. I felt a shudder go through me, and I looked back at my feet, instantly shouting a mantra in my head, "I have a boyfriend. I love my boyfriend."
I couldn't handle his penetrating gaze, so I gave Jen's arm a subtle yet frantic squeeze. Call it sister intuition, she knew exactly what it meant and helped to make excuses so that we could escape. We walked away, back towards the building, and the second we were a safe distance away I began hyperventilating and fanning myself. I looked like a frenzied bird. Jen laughed and grabbed my arm dragging me in close to her, and told me to calm down.
After that, I tried my best to avoid him. Even still, he could be yards away and I was still hyper aware of his every move. Jen pushed me to socialize with her, but I kept brushing it off.
"Val, just talk to him. He knows that you're with someone. He's still got a wife for chrissake... look all I'm saying is, this is your first reunion in, 13 years.. he's got AT LEAST one more year left in the army... now is your chance to catch up with him. Quit being a coward and go talk to him, because if you don't you'll probably regret it." I could always count on my sister to cut straight to the shit. Before I could defend myself, James himself appeared before us catching me off guard once again.
"Ladies, would either of you like a drink?" He asked, staring intently at me as he spoke. Jen smiled at him, gave me a look, and said ,"I'm okay jimmy. Val on the other hand is in dire need." And with that she walked away, leaving the two of us there. James sat beside me on the bench where I was perched, and wordlessly handed a drink my way. Without even bothering to see what it was, I took it, and gulped half of it down.
IPA. Not usually my first choice, but right then I was glad for the bitter bite and the warmth that spread up to my cheeks. I could feel his eyes studying me and I stared down into my cup as I quietly asked, "Why are you watching me?"
My question didn't embarrass him or even phase him for that matter. He was quiet for a moment, continuing to watch me with a grin before he responded.