Before Dawn

Just enough moonlight entered the window to brighten her bare shoulder. Hugging her pillow, she slept on her belly, the sheet coming halfway up her back. Propped up on one forearm, he watched the barely visible rise and fall of her breath. He wanted to reach out and touch her back, but he was reluctant to disturb her.

Should he get up? Sleep had abandoned him for the night; if he wasn’t going to rouse her, there seemed little point in staying in bed. Yet he lingered. It was becoming harder not to reach out and trace her shoulder blades lightly with his fingertips, to caress her skin. He forced the urge away. She needed to sleep.

To break the spell of the moonlight on her back, he looked at her face. Her short reddish brown hair only partially covered her expression, though it was tousled from the way she had fallen into the bed. A hint of a smile on her lips fit the round curve of her cheek perfectly. Her face was made for smiling, he decided.

Now he wanted to brush her cheek with the tips of his fingers, an urge no better than the one to caress her back. He almost decided to wake her just so he could touch her, but still he resisted. Instead, he resolved to get out of bed, if only to distance himself from the temptation of her.

Crawling out from between her and the wall was tricky, but he managed not to wake her. There was a chill in the air, so he slipped his shirt and pants on quickly. She shivered slightly. Carefully, he lifted the sheet off her back in order to pull it further up and cover her shoulders. Now his hand did brush her shoulder, and he froze. Her smile grew bigger, but she stayed asleep. Relieved, he gently let the sheet wrap her safely from the cool air. Before he could make any other mistakes, he left the room.

He turned on the coffee pot in the kitchen. He was grateful she had set it up the night before, since the grinder would have surely woken her. The clock read 5:00 AM. He had an hour before she got up. There were eggs and butter in the refrigerator and bread on the counter. But breakfast wouldn’t take an hour to make, so he poured himself a cup of coffee and retrieved the paper. It should distract him enough from going back and watching her sleep…

…The door of the apartment closed, and he looked up from the laptop screen before him. His roommate had walked in.

“I thought you were staying at your boyfriend’s?”

“He was being a jerk, so I decided to come home. Why are you still up?”

“What time is it?”

“After midnight, not quite one.”

“Oh. I was just trying to finish this story.”

She smiled at him, her cheeks growing rounder. Her short reddish brown hair framed the image perfectly.

“Can I read it?”

“No!” He threw his hands up over the screen. “I… I mean it’s really rough. I’m not ready to show anyone yet.”

“Later, then?”

“Yes… Yeah, later.”

“Promise?”

“Yes, I promise.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.” The smile got a little bigger. “Well, good night.”

“Good night.”

As she closed her bedroom door, he sighed. He turned back to the computer, deleted the file, turned it off, and walked back to his own bedroom.

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