Socially Distant: Part 3
The sun had nearly slipped below the horizon, painting the sky a rosy pink. Owen smiled at Kat from where he sat in his camp chair, six feet away from her on the lawn. The park was empty except for them. Kat smiled back, but then Owen’s eyes went wide in mock horror.
“What?” she asked, worried there was an enormous bug on her.
“Sunsets are kind of romantic. I hope you’re not going to beat me up,” he said with a grin.
“Ha. Ha. Very funny,” She shot a withering glare in his direction.
The light was fading, but he caught it. “I like that I can see you.”
“Yeah, that wall was cramping my style.”
Kat smirked again.
“Plus, I like that now I can see every time you give me one of those looks,” he added, still giving her that lopsided grin that made her insides do things she’d rather they not do.
“This is my signature look,” she told him.
His laugh filled the spring evening, so she went on. “My mom got a call from the school about this look.”
“Nope,” Kat laughed as she told the story. “In middle school, one of my teachers called home and told my mother that my face was scaring people.”
“And what did your mom say?”
“She said, good luck! I can’t get her to change her face at home. At school, she’s your problem.”
He laughed again, taking another sip from his beer. “Well, I like seeing your face, and every pretty scowl it sends my way.”
She sent him one such scowl now, even as her heart fluttered obnoxiously in her chest. She hated that he had this effect on her, even from six feet away. This whole date had been pleasant. She didn’t know what to do with that.
“It’s getting dark,” she said into the awkward silence that had filled in between them since his odd compliment about her face. “We should probably go.”
“We probably should.”
Neither moved to get up. The night was chilly, but there was the first hint that things would warm up soon.
Kat sat curled up in her camp chair with the hood of her sweatshirt pulled over her head. She didn’t want to return to her tiny apartment alone. And she wished she didn’t have to.
“This is weird, right?” she asked.
“What, specifically? Sitting far away from each other in a darkening park? Or life in general?”
“I mean not being able to touch each other.”
“You want to touch me?” Owen asked.
Kat could hear the smile in his question. She was glad for the gathering darkness.
“I feel like we would have by now. Under normal circumstances.”
“I am known for my firm handshakes.”
Kat couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up out of her. It startled her. Who was she?
“If things were normal, we would have had sex, and things would be screwed up by now,” she blurted out.
She didn’t know why she had said it. Maybe because the thought had been going around in her head since they sat down in this stupid field, and because he kept doing that damn smile thing. And because he had said her face was pretty, even when she was scowling at him.
The low laugh that came from across the space between them only slightly reassured her. At least he wasn’t appalled at the suggestion.
“What makes you think I would have screwed things up by now?”
“That’s just the way it normally goes.”
“I guess it’s good that things aren’t normal right now, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she said.
Kat wanted to believe Owen would be different from every other guy, but she knew the pattern by now. Meet a guy that seems cute and normal, sleep with him a few times, he freaks out about feelings, and she ends up alone. So, in the end, she was thankful for the wall and the six feet of distance, even if that damn grin of his was just asking to be kissed.
Their Friday night picnics in the park had become a ritual. A ritual that Owen looked forward to all week. It was a little ridiculous how much he looked forward to sitting in his uncomfortable chair, with a bag of take-out and a beer, too far away from a pretty girl that he wasn’t allowed to touch, but he did.
Of course, he wanted to touch her, especially ever since she admitted that under normal circumstances, they would have had sex by now. He could not seem to stop thinking about her saying that.
The entire situation felt like middle school. COVID might as well have been an overzealous parent chaperone at the spring dance, keeping everyone at a chaste distance. It was all very frustrating and yet oddly exciting.
Kat was at their spot out in the middle of the baseball field when he pulled into the parking lot. He gathered his things and strode down to meet her.
“Sorry, I started eating,” she told him with her mouth full as he approached. “I was starving.”
“Don’t stop eating on my account. You had a busy day of saving lives.” He grinned at her.
Kat rolled her eyes. “Shoving a giant Q-tip up people’s noses isn’t exactly saving lives.”
“You are the linchpin! Without you, this whole thing falls apart! Well, it falls apart even worse than it already has,” he added grimly.
“I don’t even know what a linchpin is.”
“Me neither, but it means you’re important. I know that much.”
She rolled her eyes again but didn’t argue, so Owen was satisfied he had made his point. He happily unwrapped his sub, and the two ate together in amicable silence.
By the time the sun was setting, Owen had that drowsy, satisfied feeling he always got on these nights. The one that made him wish he had his arm around Kat’s shoulder with her head tucked perfectly under his chin. That was the only thing missing. And that was why he said what he said next.
“Maybe you should be in my bubble.”
“Your what?” She was laughing at him. Not off to a great start, but he kept going.
“You know, my bubble. Like we could see each other… closer, I mean. We could… I don’t know… be in the same room or something crazy like that.”
“I don’t think that’s safe. I’m a linchpin, remember?”
“Right, but don’t your coworkers have boyfriends and husbands they go home to?”
“Are you proposing to me?” Kat was laughing, but her voice had risen several octaves. Her feet were no longer folded under her, as though she were getting ready to flee.
Owen raised his hands in mock surrender. “I am not proposing to you! Just to be clear.”
“So, what are you proposing then?”
“I’m proposing that I want to be close to you. I want to be near enough to actually touch you, put my arm around you. Kiss you! Normal human interaction.”
Kat had gone silent at his frustrated outburst. He was screwing it all up.
“I just thought since I’m home by myself all the time and you wear protective gear all day, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if we got closer. You know, just with each other…”
Kat was standing now, and Owen knew for certain he had screwed it up, but he wasn’t sure how until she started talking.
“So, let me get this straight. You are home bored all day, and so you want me to be your quarantine wife so you can touch me and kiss me?”
“You’re the one that said we would have had sex by now!” Owen was standing now too, unsure why they were fighting, but still unwilling to let it go.
“I told you right from the start I didn’t have time for a boyfriend, that I didn’t want one! And now you are asking me to be exclusive with you?”
“Who else are you going to see? We are in the middle of a pandemic!”
The look she gave him was enough to shut him up.
“Look, Owen, I know you’re bored and lonely, but you’re going to have to find someone else to fuck during quarantine.”
“Kat, come on! That’s not what I meant…” he called after her, but she was already walking away from him. He slumped back down in his chair, watching her go, trying to figure out why things had gone so epically wrong.