FYI – Each of these chapters is exactly 620 words long. If any one of them looks longer than another, it’s probably due to the number of paragraph breaks, especially if it contains more dialogue.
She set free the tickling hair that collected in her back collar as she moved, but she was grateful her black fringe hid her eyes while she was thinking. When she was ready, she tucked the wispy layers behind an ear and said, “How would you know I was out of orange juice?”
“The first time I came over was the only time you asked if I wanted a drink and actually brought it.” He turned to face her. “After that …?”
She began to smile. “I point you to the fridge,” she recited on cue as if reading his mind.
He added, “… and the glasses.”
“Is that rude, too?”
“You ask as if you don’t know.”
“But if I let you get what you want … how’s that rude?”
Miller looked away and rubbed his forehead with one palm. He groaned, “Ohhh.”
She was laughing now.
“Damn, Aliss. Were you raised in barn?”
“Maybe I was raised on a bed of straw, in a litter of ten …”
He began to laugh as she went on, ” … all female and feminists. ‘You horrid man!’ ”
“Then I should be thankful my sort is countenanced here at all.”
Aliss put an arm around his shoulder. “I rather like men who watch PBS and talk all romantical like that.”
Miller turned a wide grin toward her, sheepishness around his eyes making them wander the areas near hers. He dipped his head down, gently grazed his temple against her cheek, and lifted it again to return his gaze out into the street.
Aliss kept hold of him and pressed the side of her face to his shoulder. She studied the street, too. “You can watch it with me next time,” she said as the sidewalk on the opposite side came into focus in all its pools of shadow, pitches of darkness, and beams of reflected light.
“I’d be honored to watch it with you,” he said, “as wordless as you want me to be. As silent as you need.”
A quiet moment passed, broken when Aliss asked, “Was it your mother who taught you how to treat guests?”
“Yeah. But I know that kind of thing isn’t written in stone.”
“So you don’t really mind?”
She didn’t need to see him to be sure the sound he made was a mixture of a sudden, truncated impulse to laugh at her question and surprise that she’d asked it.
“I come back, don’t I?”
Across the street, between the first and second buildings at their left, north, not so far away from the end where Aliss’ building was, a face familiar to her was almost visible. She knew him, as always, from his shaved head, filling in for herself the sharp eyes and lips and expanse of brow that she’d never seen broken by expression, and the nose, large though not overpowering, fitting somehow to soften the air of authority he had that made her avoid him each time he appeared. The sight of him gave her a start, provoking a small movement that Miller noticed.
“Something wrong?” he said.
Her hand dropped down to his waist and held there, tighter even as she thought of letting go. She was weary of wanting to let go of Miller and hold on to him at the same time. She was tired of feeling that she wasn’t making decisions, but letting a series of things happen to her because she couldn’t feel them as choices. She felt as if the thing she was missing, the piece of herself that must have been there once, but hadn’t come back, would irritate her until all her choices would be made out of that feeling and nothing else.
“I …” she said, “I don’t know.”