“(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands”
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
They were as close as strangers. Their hands were the only thing that gave it away.
That first time, colliding in the hallway on the way to class, her hands brushed over theirs in the bounce back, seeking purchase to keep from stumbling. Their hands reached, grabbed slender wrists. Grip strong enough to hold her steady, gentle enough to leave no marks.
Both let go a beat later than they needed to, dark eyes locked on blue. Both knew it, both said nothing. I know you, the touch said. I’ve known you all my lives.
Then the moment passed, and there was shy smiles and sheepish laughter as reality resumed around them. An “after you,” with a flourished bow.
Either luck or destiny decided they’d be seated together. All either could think about was the other’s hand on the table, edges oh-so-nearly brushing. A gap so small both could feel the warmth of each other’s skin, so wide neither dared to cross the edge.
A name – Sam – and a shared class; that was all Alexis had to go on, so they assumed that sweet torture twice a week was all they would get. But suddenly she was all they could see. Walking past each other in the halls, the first time with an exaggerated attempt on Sam’s part to get out of the way that earned a giggle and a shaking head.
Other times, hands would brush just the tiniest, fingertips running over palms, excusable by the crowd around them bumping them closer together. Their eyes would never meet, then, both looking firmly where they needed to go. Both questioning the intentionality of the other.
It felt like fire every time.
If all Alexis ever got was this, they would be willing to spend the rest of their life in this hellish heaven, this heavenly hell.
“Could you pass me the worksheet?”
Alexis did, their disbelief that they were actually studying together giving way to nerves and probably-too-obvious stares.
Sam’s hand ran over theirs in the attempt to grab the paper, so natural and unthinking that Alexis still wondered if they were imagining everything. Probably.
They had to stifle a choking sound when Sam reached out again, fingertips just barely touching the back of their neck as she refolded an upturned corner of their shirt collar. “There,” she said with a satisfied smile. Alexis stared, and the smile faltered. “I’m sorry, was that crossing a line? Your collar was-”
“No! Um, no, it’s fine. Thank you.”
The smile came back, and she returned to her worksheet. Somehow Alexis managed to do the same, their glances at Sam serving as rewards for every answer completed.
They sat across from each other, in a quiet corner of the library, textbooks and notes and pages strewn on the small table between them. Neither spoke, and to the outside world they were as close as strangers, just two students sharing a table.
But each, unacknowledged, had a hand loosely resting on the upper corner of whatever page they were on. And whenever they moved, the air crackled in the small space between their knuckles.
The first time they see each other in a non-academic setting, it’s at a dorm party on Alexis’ block.
Neither had told the other they were coming. Both had hoped the other would.
Like almost always, Alexis saw Sam first, a shift in the air making them glance up and spot her wandering through the crowd. Sam felt their gaze a moment later, blue eyes meeting black, and her smile softened as she approached.
They took each other in for a quiet moment, before Alexis made a show of doing a quick once-over. “You look nice.” No preamble, no flirty wink or smirk, just a fact awkwardly and forced-casually spoken before they looked away.
“Thank you. You too.”
Then Sam’s friends arrived and whisked her to their corner, barely sparing a glance at Alexis. Sam smiled apologetically over their shoulders, Alexis tipped their head.
They didn’t speak the rest of the night, remaining with their groups. But sometimes they’d catch each other’s eye, lips quirking up the slightest as if to say, “All our friends are idiots sometimes, am I right?” or, “You good over there?” or, “I wish I had the courage to ask you to dance.”
Then again, Alexis was certain that last one was just them.
When they left, they walked past the couch where Sam was perched, the tip of their index finger running softly along her pinky. They blame the little alcohol they’d drunk for making them so bold, though still not bold enough to look back.
If they had, they’d have seen Sam look up sharply, then smile, bringing her hand closer so no one else could taint the touch Alexis left behind.
The next time they had class, Sam was late, and Alexis had to force themselves not to look every time the door opened. They still felt the absence on the seat beside them like a missing limb, and they hated it. You’re an addict, and you’re an idiot.
Almost as if Sam had heard them, the next time they heard the door, they knew it was her. It was. “Sorry,” she mumbled quietly, a hand barely touching Alexis’ shoulder as she slid past their seat and into her own.
“You okay?” Alexis mumbled back, half their brain zeroed in on the ghost Sam’s touch left behind.
“Just not feeling well.”
Unthinkingly, Alexis reached out to cup the side of Sam’s neck, meaning to check for fever. They quickly realized what they’d done, especially when the people in row behind them glanced over curiously. They turned their hand backward, pressing it to Sam’s forehead and cheeks, barely leaving it on for more an a split second each time despite desperately wanting to linger.
“Hmm, you are a bit warm,” Alexis finally commented, crossing their arms on the table to keep from reaching out again. “Are you sure you don’t wanna just sleep it off?”
“Yeah, I’m going back to my dorm after this class. Just didn’t wanna miss it.”
Alexis tried not to let their crush-addled brain read more into that than they should.
They both turned back to the lecture. When class was over, Sam used Alexis’ shoulder as an aid a second time, still a barely-there touch that Alexis wished was firmer. She gave a small tired-looking smile as she headed back to her dorm, and they resisted the urge to follow and ask if she needed company, or someone to bring her soup, or a hand in marriage.
Their shoulder tingled the rest of the day, their mind constantly replaying the moments until the swooping in their belly stopped affecting them so much.
It was cold, and Alexis had stupidly forgotten their jacket in their dorm. They tried not to shiver too obviously, or let their teeth chatter, but Sam had obviously noticed.
“Here,” she said, draping an extra hoodie over Alexis’ shoulders.
Alexis was too cold to be embarrassed. “Thanks.” They smiled gratefully at her.
Sam smiled back, before a glint of something flashed in her eyes. “No problem. I mean, I’m cold too, see?” She pressed her hands into the back of Alexis’ neck, making them jump and squeak much louder than intended.
At least twelve other people turned to look at them, the rest thankfully too far down the auditorium to hear. “Sorry,” Alexis and Sam mumbled, Sam unapologetically smirking and Alexis’ face burning with embarrassment.
“Asshole,” they muttered.
Sam just grinned, and adjusted the hoodie around them a little better, by way of apology. Cold fingers brushed Alexis’ neck again, but this time their goosebumps had nothing to do with the temperature.
They tried to give the hoodie back after class, but Sam’s hand just covered theirs, pushing it back towards them. “Keep it. You can’t stay cold all day.”
Alexis didn’t get a chance to tell her this was their only class for the day. Nor did they particularly regret that fact.
Another month, another party, another hope that they’d both be there.
Sam spotted Alexis first, this time. She reached out to grasp their forearm, making Alexis turn and reveling in the way their eyes widened in surprise and pleasure at seeing her. “You look nice,” she said by way of greeting, face already flush from a drink and the warm crowd. She hadn’t let go of their arm yet.
Alexis smiled shyly, their body hyper-aware of Sam’s hand. “Thank you. You too.”
Sam removed her hand, both of them immediately missing the contact. She was trying to gather up the courage to ask Alexis to dance when someone grabbed her waist from behind, turning her around and trying to make her sway with him.
The last thing she saw before being twirled round was Alexis’ face going dangerously cold. It was Kyle who had grabbed her. She knew him from a couple of classes, had always gently rebuffed his attempts at flirtation, but it seemed he couldn’t take a hint. And he was clearly drunk.
She pushed at him, trying to get back to Alexis. “Let go, Kyle. I don’t want to dance with you.”
“Aw, come on, just one dance!” Kyle gripped her tighter, pulling her way too close to him.
“I said no!” Sam struggled. She tried to catch someone, anyone’s eye so they could help her.
“You heard her,” a voice quietly emerged, still audible over the music. It sounded angry. Alexis.
Kyle finally let Sam go. Or rather, he roughly pushed her away, shouting, “Fine, if the bitch doesn’t want me then fuck it, I’ll find someone who does!” Sam stumbled, nearly falling before strong arms caught her and held her up. Alexis. It was the closest they had ever been, the most they had ever come into contact with each other since that first collision all those months ago, and it scared Sam how good it felt.
It was over too soon, Alexis only holding her long enough to make sure she was standing before stepping forward and punching Kyle straight on the nose. “That was for grabbing her,” they growled.
They followed him as he stumbled back, landing another punch along his jaw. “That was for not letting go when she asked.” Then they were on Kyle’s chest as soon as he landed on the floor, and smacked him with the back of their hand, twice. “And those were for pushing her, and calling her a bitch.”
The crowd had gone eerily silent around them, all eyes on Alexis and Kyle, who’d barely had a chance to defend himself. Alexis got up, looking down at him with such disgust it left him speechless, his hand pinching his bleeding nose. “Learn some respect, you misogynistic piece of shit.”
“Yeah!” someone in the crowd yelled, and there was a wide cheer, the music coming back on and people thumping Alexis on the back, jeering at Kyle.
Kyle skulked off to lick his wounds, and Alexis seemed to come back to themselves. Their eyes scanned the crowd until they found Sam, features softening at the sight of her.
“Are you okay?” they asked, stepping forward to cup Sam’s cheeks and look her over.
Sam only stared, her hands running up Alexis’ wrists. She stopped when she felt blood, holding their hands out to inspect them.
“You’re hurt.” She ran her thumbs gently over the bruised and bloody knuckles. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“He shouldn’t have done that. And I’m fine. Are you okay?”
Sam nodded, still staring at Alexis’ hands. She then nodded again, to herself this time, and pulled Alexis to the nearest bathroom. “Here.” She turned on the tap, pulling their hands under the cold water.
Alexis hissed at the sting, but ran their knuckles under the stream, flexing and unflexing until the scrapes stopped bleeding as much. Before they could do anything else, Sam was ready with the tissues, helping dry their hands while Alexis watched, her fingers gentle and soft as always.
Once done, Sam still hadn’t looked up, was still holding onto Alexis’ wrists. Then her grasp slid lower, and she brought the knuckles of both hands to her lips.
She looked up, then, almost fearfully. Even through the black, she could see Alexis’ pupils were wide, and their lips were parted as they stared at her. She knew her face looked much the same. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“Always,” they choked out.
Then a banging on the door made them both jump apart.
Neither felt much like a party after that. Without saying more than a sheepish goodnight, both headed to their dorms. Neither slept.
The next time they saw each other was in the halls again, the usual morning crowd bustling past. They had eyes only for each other, drawn closer as they always were.
Neither knew who reached out first, but their hands met more fully than they ever had during these encounters, palm against palm, fingers finding the slots between ever so briefly.
Alexis was the first to pull away, but then something shifted inside them. Enough was enough. They gripped Sam’s hand tighter instead, tugging her out of the busy hallway and into an empty classroom.
“Alexis, wha-” Sam’s words died in her throat as Alexis stepped close, still holding her hand.
“I love you.” No preamble, no flirty wink or smirk, just a fact, firmly spoken.
Sam breathed in sharply, heart pounding. All she could do was blink up at them, waiting to see if there was more they had to say.
There was. Alexis took her other hand, bringing both to their lips in an almost painful memory of the weekend, before continuing. “I’ve known I was going to fall for you from the moment we bumped into each other outside class. I fought it, because it was an insane thing to think. But even then I knew it was pointless to try. And then we kept seeing each other, kept… touching, kept getting to know each other in these little ways. God, there’ve been moments where I went crazy trying to figure out if you felt the same, or if it was all just in my head.
“Maybe I am crazy, and I created some elaborate fantasy that you’re about to shatter with the truth. But at least then I’ll know. Even if you don’t want me the way I want you, at least I’ll know, and then I can happily settle into being your friend. If you’ll still let me.”
They stopped to take a breath. Sam had barely moved during their speech, and her eyes were glistening with tears, but she hadn’t said anything and Alexis was starting to panic. They were two seconds away from trying to backtrack and apologize when Sam reached a hand up to slip her fingers into their hair.
Alexis froze, scared to make any sudden movements or do anything to shatter the moment. Sam’s fingertips massaged the back of their neck softly, thumb brushing over their jawline. They suddenly couldn’t breathe.
“I love you too.”
Just as suddenly, Alexis could breathe again. “Yeah?” they whispered.
Their forehead met hers, their free hand finding its way to her cheek, both their lips oh-so-barely brushing. A gap so small, neither would remember who bridged it first. Only that they were kissing, and the world was in flames, and nothing else mattered.
I know you, the kiss said. I’ve known you all my lives. Just as I will know you for the rest of this one.