I felt you in the bookcase, a shadow walking along its wide, deep grains. Wiping my hand over the oaky marks, the eye-prints trapped within the wood, I saw you there, you spoke to me, you whispered my name.
Dipping the brush into the cherry-colored stain, its acrid smell swirls in my nostrils as I carefully carry it to the naked wood. I look for you as I brush it on, wondering if the wooden eyes will blink open and you’ll see me, as coat upon coat the grain begins to shine, blossoming under the glossy sheen.
“You have to brush it on in the same direction. Apply it evenly,” his voice startles me, commanding, waking me up from my trance. “Here, let me see. You’re doing it wrong,” he says, shaking his head in disapproval, taking the brush from my now frozen hand. Dipping it back into the can, his brown eyes — eyes that are not yours — look back at me, waiting for my attention to instruct.
“Sorry,” I apologize meekly. “I’ve never stained a bookcase before.” My eyes meet his, the amber flecks calling to me, reminding me of this relationship, of this man I’m with, in the here and now. Smiling at me, he laughs and softly pushes a strand of my hair back behind my ear. The bookcase had been a gift; a blended offering that recognized my love of books and his love of carpentry. Asking me to stain it had been his way of carefully asking me to make it mine. He didn’t know I would find you there, never suspected the seed it would plant.
I laugh in response to his laughter, knowing it’s what he expects, immediately understanding it will lighten the tension. It’s always grated me how his laugh sounds like a wrenched gurgle, mirth clawing desperately to get out. At the last minute he somehow cuts off the gateway of his trachea, trapping his joy just before it can all leak out.
“..and you don’t want to apply too much,” he continues on, as I realize he’s already begun talking. Meeting him mid-sentence I nod, the dutiful student, annoyed with his tone but genuinely interested in the lesson. “When you finish with that first coat, you can let it dry and we’ll go grab some dinner, yeah?” he asks, handing me back the brush, giving me access to the secret key that will bring me back to you.
“Sure, sounds good,” I say as the hilt meets my skin. “Thank you again for the gift. It really is beautiful.” Smiling, he leans down to plant a light kiss on my forehead, and as my heart warms, my stomach reaches up to meet it. I love this man, we live together, he’s my boyfriend. But as I hear his sock-clad feet pad into his office, I resume the gentle strokes, looking for you again, waiting to find you.