Everyone is laughing. Someone must have made a joke or said something funny so I force a smile and try to at least chuckle. I think it comes out as more of a choke. The others are too busy to notice but HE does. I feel his hand on my thigh, squeezing reassuringly.
When I turn my head to look at him I see the questioning look in his eyes. He's relaxed and enjoying himself but he can tell I'm not. I'm trying, I really am, for his sake. But it's so difficult given the circumstances.
I give a weak smile and shrug in answer to his unspoken question. He gives me a wink in turn and refocuses on the conversation again. His hand stays on my thigh. I like it being there.
Looking at the people sitting around the large table I try and pay attention to the conversation. I soon realise there's more than one. There are quite a few people here after all. Little conversation groups have formed, some of them reaching half way across the table.
My mind is too distracted to try and focus on any one of them. So I turn to look at him again. His dark brown hair is rather messed up and he didn't shave this morning. There was little time for that. His eyes are sparkling though. He really is enjoying himself. Surrounded by all the people he cares about and that care about him.
His lips are moving, he is talking to someone but I don't hear the words. His voice I do hear however. Silky smooth. It's a little huskier than usual maybe, but I'm certain I'm the only one that notices and only because I know why.
I lower one hand to cover his, still lying on my thigh, stroking gentle patterns on my skin through the jeans I'm wearing. Just lightly covering his hand I run my thumb over the back of his hand. Every little touch has taken on new meaning. There will be few of them in the future. Just a few more hours.
Weeks I've spent ignoring this moment. I knew it would come and when I thought about it, I was dreading it. So I ignored it. It has come faster than expected, faster than it should have...
Still we did our best to use what little time we had. This weekend proves it. We went off on Saturday, just the two of us. Spending the day away from everyone and everything. We even left the city so we wouldn't see any familiar faces. The only familiar faces were those of our favourite band at the concert we went to in the evening.
For the first time in a while I was completely carefree and living in the moment. Without the big clock hanging over my head, counting down to zero, I managed to enjoy myself easily. We were singing along, dancing together and having a great time. A few pints were had and we got rather tipsy.
Afterwards we went for some food which helped sober us up a bit. Once we'd eaten there was no question as to what would happen next. We headed straight for the hotel we'd booked for the night. And we made full use of the privacy it gave us. Again and again and again...
I can still feel him. And I'm certain he can too. It was amazing, he was amazing. Unsurprisingly. I grin to myself at that thought. Somehow he notices, or maybe he just looked over by chance but he saw my grin and raised an eyebrow in question.
"Yesterday," is all I say in barely a whisper so the others wouldn't hear it. A grin spreads over his face, mirroring my own.
"Still feel you," he whispers into my ear and I can't help but shudder a little at the tingle it sends down my spine, when his breath caresses my ear.
"Same," I manage to reply. He grins a little more and winks again.
It makes me want to grab him, kiss him, hold him and never let him go. But he's turned his attention to the others again so he doesn't notice. I'm glad for that. Let him enjoy this moment as much as he can. They are his last few hours with his friends.
Someone had joked early about it being the last supper. One of the few bits of conversation I got. It was sort of funny but not entirely untrue. At least our last dinner together with him here for a long time.
I've been picking on my food more than anything. It's delicious but I just can't eat. My mind keeps going over things that were said or not said, things we did and things we should have done.
We never did move in together. We'd spoken about it on various occasions. We always said we would. Eventually. It never happened. Somehow we were content with the way things were. Both of us in separate houses, sharing with random people. We were still neighbours so it was easy to come over and easy to have some alone time if needed.
There never seemed a need to change anything. Now I wonder if we should have just done it. Then again, if we had I would soon be alone in the house or flat. With memories that might be too overwhelming to handle when he is no longer there to share them and to add to them.
I snap back to the conversation around me when I hear something about heading home. Is it that late already? A quick glance at my watch says it is. The others are making suggestions what to do next. I don't like the sound of any of them. So I lean in to him and after placing a little kiss just beside his ear I whisper. "Maybe we can go to a pub and sneak off early. I want to be alone with you."
I can feel as well as see the shudder going through him. I think he likes my idea and that makes me smile. A little flick of my tongue against the outer shell of his ear leaves him in no doubt what I mean. When I move away again he is looking at me, his eyes slightly dazed, his tongue licking over his dry lips. I've definitely got him.
This time I wink at him, a playful little smile on my lips. I know how to work him. Just like he knows how to work me too. I'm not surprised when I hear what he says to the others.
Going to the pub was really just an excuse to get away. I got us both cokes pretending it was JD and coke. I didn't want to get drunk or even be remotely under the influence. We both finished them quickly. Then he made his round, saying his goodbyes. It was teary and long. Lots of hugs were given along with some farewell presents.
Eventually, after what seemed like forever we got away. I was getting impatient watching him with the others but the moment we were outside the pub I felt a sudden calm. I wanted to stop time forever, which of course, I couldn't. But somehow time seemed to move slower anyway, there was no longer a need to rush. The rest of the night he would be mine, and mine alone.
Hand in hand we walked through town. We came to the river and stopped. The place was deserted. I leaned against the railing and pulled him close, burying my head in his neck. With our arms wrapped around each other, faces pressed into each others' neck we stood for some time. Drinking in the moment, breathing and feeling each other.
After seconds that could just as well have been years he started moving his hands over my back, gently, teasingly. One hand came up to the back of my neck and with just his finger tips he stroked through my hair, just the way I love. Then I felt him placing little kisses on my neck, and along my jaw until he reached my lips. My answer was immediate.
For a while longer we just stood there, kissing, connecting. Eventually he pulled away. A little at first so he could look at me. In the darkness of the night it was difficult to see his eyes but I knew they would show the hunger I felt. He took a step back, pulling out of our embrace only to hold a hand out to me. I took it without question and we continued walking.
"I want you to know that I don't regret anything," he says quietly into the night, looking straight ahead. I turn to look at him wondering what he is getting at. "I've had the most amazing time with you. You taught me so much about so many different things. But I want you to know that I would understand if you don't want to wait."
"Is this you trying to have the talk we've been avoiding for weeks now?" I ask because my mind has suddenly gone a bit blank. I'm confused.
"I guess so."
"So what are you saying?" I stop walking but don't let go of his hand, instead I tug until he stands in front of me.
"Just that I would understand if... you know... I mean... oh jesus!" He sighs heavily.
"I'm not going to make this easy for you. Say what you think you need to say."
"If you find someone else... I'd understand." He can't look at me while he says it. Even in the darkness, he can't look at me and I know he's lying. He wouldn't understand. He would hate it.
"Are you saying you want to be free? So you can see what's out there?"
"No! Hell no! You know I care about you." He's running a hand through his hair, the way I know he only does when he's nervous or worried. When he feels misunderstood.
"You're a bloody idiot if you think I'll let you go." I'm almost hissing at him. He's tried to have this conversation before and I blocked because I know he's being stupid but apparently he has to get it out of his system. "You might be moving half way across the bloody planet but you're not getting rid of me so easily."
"I don't want to be rid of you!" He reassures and I know his voice well enough to read the honesty in it.
"So why bother with this 'I would understand' shite?"
"I just... I thought... in case you wanted your freedom while I'm away... I had to say it."
"And lie to me? Because I know you wouldn't understand if I were to find someone else. Just like I would not understand if you leave and find someone over there. That's not what we're about. It never has been!"
"I'm sorry." He's hanging his head.
"No, you're not. Not yet. But I will make you sorry." I let my voice go from angry frustration to a husky, teasing whisper. "I thought the weekend had driven home the fact that you are mine but obviously I didn't do a good enough job." I put a hand under his chin and lift his face. Leaning in I brush my lips against his, just barely. Then I whisper. "Home, now."
He nods and we quickly hurry home, our hands once again entwined. His grip is tight but he is letting me lead. Yes, he is all mine.
Once we get home I remind him of what I tried to tell him over the weekend. I can't make him feel me for the whole time he will be away for. But he will definitely feel me for a few days. And that thought is reassuring. While he is trying to settle into a new life, I will still be there, in a way. He will have no problem remembering me.
When the times comes that he needs to get ready, I just sit on the bed and watch him. He has been packed for days. The last essentials went in the bag before we went for dinner.
He almost didn't shower, saying he likes to smell of me but I know he will be on the plane for hours so I force him to have one by going in with him. My hair is still wet as is his. It glistens in the light from the lamp. As do his eyes. And I know mine do too. This is the part I was dreading most.
"All ready I think."
"Money for the taxi?"
"Picture of me?"
He looks up at that and notices the glistening. I see him bite his lip but he comes over and kneels before me on the bed. I lean in and hug him tightly, his arms wrapping around me, holding me just as tightly.
"I have more than one picture of you but even without them I could never forget you." He is whispering but I still notice that his voice is a little hoarse with emotion.
"Let me know when you land so I know you're alright."
"Of course, I will."
"And use your damn Facebook so I know what's happening."
"I'll try." He hates Facebook. I know he does. He got it because of the pressure from others but he hates it. But I told him before that at least it'll give me a sense of knowing what's happening in his life. Even if I'm not really in it. "I will call you loads."
"No, you won't. I'll be sleeping when you're awake and vice versa." I say being ever the realist.
"It's only a few months."
I force a smile. We don't know for how long he's going. It could be years.
His mobile rings. It's the taxi, he's outside.
I'm only in my bathrobe but I don't care. I help him get his bags to the car. Then I stand in the door. He makes sure the bags are all loaded and then asks the driver for a moment before he comes over.
He wraps his arms around my waist and I lean against him. "Take care, alright? Don't get into cars with strangers."
He chuckles and tightens his hold. I feel him place a kiss on the top of my head. "Same to you."
"I never get into stranger's cars. I get to know them first," I say trying to make light of the situation.
"Stop trying to be brave. This fucking sucks and I hate it. I wish I could stay."
"Well, I've been wishing that for weeks and look where we are." He wants me to stop being brave? Well this is what he gets.
"Oh shut up. There's no work here and this is a fantastic opportunity. I'll live."
"Make sure you do!"
He knows me too well. "Don't forget me, ok?" I whisper.
"Never!" He lifts my head and makes me look at him. "Never in a million years, you understand? I may be going half way around the world but I'll always be yours."
I smile almost genuinely between the tears. "Go on then."
He leans in and places the gentlest kiss on my lips. Then he wipes the tears from my cheeks. "Yours." He says before he gets into the taxi.
They drive off and I wave after him until he turns the corner. Then I go inside and close the door. Back in my room I shed the robe and lie down in bed. It still smells of him. I inhale deeply and pull the cover tightly around me.
At least one more night that I get to still smell him, if not feel him.