I murmur something along the lines of "no worries here" because we are both aware there is no room for feelings in this place. Not Those Feelings, anyway. It's cool to be friends and it's ok to flirt; frolic is fine but let's keep it there, yes?
I can hear her one-word answer in my head — "yip" — and I reach over and almost touch her cheek before realizing that would be too tender a gesture. I settle for a squeeze of her shoulder. She pokes me in the ribs.
She has no sobriquet — I call her by her last name and she calls me RonDavis. We are friends but nothing more; just ask us. We talk about everything and nothing, over hours that flash past like seconds. We talk about books and words and childhood dreams; about cats and tequila and her vacations out west; about her boyfriend and my exes.
"I'm jealous about how much you cared for the Cheshire Cat," she said. It's her nickname for Calliope, one she coined after seeing a Facebook photo of Calliope with a toothy smile ("she looks sinister").
"I feel nothing now," I reply, and it's weird to say because it's true. The place where there was fire is now cold and lifeless. "Nothing except some lingering anger."
"That was before my time," she says. "I'm sorry you feel anything now."
"Why are you jealous?" I ask, but I don't expect an answer and it's good that there isn't one. That would be opening the door for a conversation that probably should remain unspoken.
We have been friends since summer and we could be friends for many summers to come — that's the stated hope, but no one knows the future. Her career is just starting and soon enough we will be separated by distance and new adventures. We will promise to stay in touch, as friends always do, but we have no illusions. The timing isn't great here. Maybe next go-around we'll get this right.
The atmosphere between us crackles, but it's winter and there's a lot of static electricity in the air. It's rough on the skin but she says I have soft hands.
She is right — you can never plan on feelings, especially when you're dead set against them coming to life. Feelings can lead to decisions and actions that change the future, and once you start bending destiny there is no turning back.
"It's settled," she says. And then she tells me how she feels, and the road we are on starts to curve.