Dear Hunter: From, The Butterflies In Your Stomach
I’m nervous. But it’s not the kind of nervous that I get before going on stage; the good kind that serves as adrenaline and allows me to be energized for hours on end. And you would think that after playing hundreds of shows to stadiums filled with thousands of people, going on a date wouldn’t give me butterflies.
Yet here I am, standing outside Mia’s apartment door, trying to psych myself up to knock, but ending up postponing each time because my palms are too sweaty. I finally dry them off enough to actually make a move and the door swings open almost immediately, and she’s standing there with her hands stuffed into the pockets of her pea coat, blushing and beautiful.
“Hi,” she smiles brightly, stepping into the hallway.
She turns to face me once the door is shut and locked and our eyes meet and just like that, all my nerves vanish, and I wonder how she could possibly have that kind of power over me.
“Hey,” I breathe out, because I can’t seem to make myself speak much louder. “You look amazing.”
“Thanks.” She reddens even more as she steps into the hallway, shutting the door behind her and looking up at me from beneath her eyelashes. “So…where are we going?”
Seeing as I was the one who insisted our date be tonight, it only seemed fair that I be the one to actually plan the date as well. The trouble is that I still haven’t really explored the city, which means there’s about three restaurants that I know extremely well.
I confess this to her as we’re leaving the building. “Okay, so I have to be honest…I haven’t been very good about exploring this city, despite having been here like two months, so I’m taking you to the only Italian restaurant I have been to, but I promise it has amazing food.”
I don’t know why I let out a sigh of relief when she smiles and says, “Sounds perfect,” because from the encounters we’ve had so far, she seems to be up for pretty much anything.
“Also,” I continue, shoving my hands into the pockets of my coat. Her hands are in the same position in her jacket and I momentarily wish they were swinging to her side so that I could intertwine my fingers with hers. “I wanted to apologize.”
She lifts her eyebrows in surprise. “For what?”
“For yesterday,” I say, almost cringing at the memory of the paparazzi taking pictures of us through the diner window. “I promise that I’m not always that difficult to be around.”
“Oh, that’s alright,” she shrugs calmly, “It’s not like you can control that stuff.”
“I know, but that doesn’t make it any less weird,” I reply.
She hesitates before she responds, chewing on her lower lip for a few seconds before quietly saying, “It really bothers you, huh?”
I suppose the fact that there’s tension between me and paparazzi is pretty easy to figure out. “It’s just not something you ever get used to.” I can tell she wants more from my answer, but that’s not a conversation I’m quite ready to have with her, so I change the subject. “Can we talk about something else? Like you. How was your day?”
Luckily, she doesn’t push the issue, getting distracted when we arrive at the small Italian bistro I’d found my first week in the city. She waits until we’re seated and our glasses of wine are on the way to answer my question. “Pretty average. You know, read letters and emails and updated the blog. The usual.”
“Any funny situations?”
“To be honest, I don’t remember,” she admits, scrunching up her nose sheepishly and smiling gratefully at the waiter when her white wine is set in front of her. “Is that awful?”
“No,” I assure her. “I mean, I’m sure you get a lot of letters, so it must be hard to remember all of them.”
She flashes me a smile once we’ve placed our orders, becoming pink as she speaks. “It’s actually not that. It’s just that sometimes I feel like I have trouble separating what’s real and what isn’t.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, thoroughly intrigued.
She pauses as she thinks of the best way to phrase her answer. “Like, someone will write me saying something happened to them and a week later I’ll be telling a friend that it happened to me, only to realize while I’m telling it that it wasn’t my story to tell. I got called out on it once and since then I’ve found that it’s better if I don’t try to actively remember the stories so that I don’t get them confused with my actual life.”
I try my hardest not to laugh, but end up succumbing to the chuckles after about five seconds of holding it in. “That’s kinda hilarious.”
“You must think I’m the weirdest person ever,” she says softly, casting her eyes downwards and suddenly using extreme focus to tear off a piece of bread from the loaf in the middle of the table.
“Nah, I’ve met a lot of people,” I reply, wanting to put her at ease. “You’re definitely not the weirdest.”
She looks at me shyly, but I see her relax a little. “Feel free to elaborate.”
“Oh, man, you’re putting me on the spot,” I laugh, racking my brain for a good story. The truth is that I’ve met too many notable people to keep track of, so I settle for an encounter that happened a few weeks ago. “I once had a guy outside a hotel ask for a bag of my toenail clippings.”
There’s a moment of horrified silence as she decides whether or not to believe me before scrunching her nose up in disgust and saying, “Ew.”
“I know.” I let out a sigh of relief. “See. At least you don’t do that.”
“True,” she laughs. It’s a beautiful sight: her smile so wide that her eyes crinkle up and her shoulders shaking a bit as though she’s laughing with her entire body. I decide that if I can just keep her smiling for the rest of the night, this date will have been successful. Lifting her chin, she keeps her gaze steady as she continues to speak. “Thanks.”
“For what?” I ask, tilting my head to the side.
“I don’t know…,” she says softly, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. “I guess sometimes I feel like you don’t want to tell me stuff, so it’s nice when you do.”
I blink in confusion. “I’ve told you stuff before.”
Or at least, I felt as though I’d spilled my guts to her, because we’ve already had conversations that lasted for hours. But maybe she’s right and anything I told her wasn’t really that much. Maybe it just felt like a lot to tell her anything because I’m so used to only revealing my deepest secrets to the boys.
“I know, but not the deep stuff,” she replies, her fingers lifting cautiously on top of the table as though she wants to reach over and grab my hand. I keep her from having to make the first move by intertwining our fingers together on the table top. She blushes and smiles a little wider as she goes on. “And that’s okay, because we don’t really know each other that well.”
For a split second, I think that’s the end of that conversation, because she’s right about us not knowing each other well enough to reveal the deep secrets, but there’s a flash of sadness in her eyes, so I say, “But…”
“Huh?” She lifts her eyebrows in surprise.
“It seems like you want to say something else,” I reply, squeezing her fingers reassuringly. “It’s okay, you can say it. I won’t be mad or anything.”
And I would do my very best to keep that promise. I want her to be able to be honest with me whenever possible. There’s too many secrets between us already.
She swallows nervously and takes a deep breath and when she speaks it’s so soft that I almost don’t hear what she says.
“I like you.”
It takes me a moment to process her words but it takes all of five seconds for my heart rate to quicken and entire body to feel as though it was buzzing in excitement. My eyes widen and I can’t stop my lips from stretching into a smile. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” she repeats, her voice gaining volume as well as confidence. “I do. I really like you.”
“I like you, too,” I reply, bringing her hand to my lips for a soft kiss.
She lets out a shaky laugh. “Well, that’s good, I guess.”
“No, it is good,” she assures me, though the way she’s shifting in her seat indicates there’s still something on her mind. “It’s just…I don’t want to get attached to you if this isn’t going anywhere.”
I feel my heart stop beating at the thought that she might think I’m not completely interested, partly because that’s not true at all and partly because I need her more than she knows. “You don’t think this is going anywhere?”
“You tell me,” she replies steadily.
I respond slowly, not entirely sure what to say, because there’s so many things I want to tell her but none that Bennett will approve of. “This is because I don’t share the deep stuff with you.”
“Sort of,” she admits. I’m not sure if she’s aware that her thumb is stroking the side of my hand, but I find the gesture comforting. “I mean, I don’t expect to know all of your deepest darkest secrets, but I just feel like you’re holding back. And I guess I’m thinking that the reason you’re holding back is because this is as far as whatever is between us is going to go.”
That’s a perfectly reasonable rationale. Of course she thinks that the reason I’m not completely open with her is because I don’t see a future between us, because that’s what any normal person would think. If only she knew how badly I wanted to be able to open my heart to her; to trust her completely. Maybe I’m just too jaded by every relationship I’ve had in the last few years to allow myself to go there with her just yet.
“That’s fair. You’re right; I am holding back,” I admit. “But it’s not because I don’t want to tell you those things; it’s because I’m trying to protect you.”
“What do you mean?” she asks, genuinely confused.
I take a moment to come up with the best way to respond, grateful for the momentary distraction of our food arriving. I finally answer once she’s cutting into her chicken parmigiana. “People who are associated with me have a way of becoming targets for public opinion and the public can be cruel and I don’t want to subject you to that.”
“I see,” she says softly.
“Do you?” I ask, wondering if she truly means that. She’s so good and pure and untainted by my world and I want to keep her out of the chaos and destruction as long as possible. It’s bad enough that I’ve already dragged her into my mess.
“Yeah, I get it,” she says, smiling a little. “I don’t understand your world and it would take me a long time to get there even if I did live in it. I’m grateful that you want to keep me safe.”
“I just want to make sure you know that me not being fully open with you has nothing to do with me not feeling something for you,” I reply, twirling my spaghetti around my fork. “It might take a while, but I’ll get there eventually.”
She looks me directly in the eyes and nods. “Okay.”
“So we’re good?” I ask hopefully.
“We’re good,” she assures me with a soft smile. “Let’s talk about something else.”
And we do. We change the subject immediately and we tell each other about our favorite family vacations and traditions and movies and music. I enjoy the way her eyes light when she talks about her parents or her dog and can’t keep myself from smiling at her expressive hand gestures and melodic laugh. Once we’re walking back towards her apartment, I realize I’m not ready to say goodbye just yet.
“You don’t have to walk me inside,” she says as we approach the building.
I know that, but I want to stay with her for just a little bit longer. “I’d like to, though.”
She doesn’t insist that I leave her be, so I follow her into the building and she pauses again outside her door, fiddling with her key in her hand as she smiles up at me. “How chivalrous.”
“I gotta confess, I did have an ulterior motive,” I say. I instantly scold myself for that phrasing because it sounds like I’m expecting her to invite me in and that’s not the case at all. We’re not ready for that. Hopefully someday, though.
Her eyes widen a bit, as though she’s a little frightened of what I might say next. “Which was?”
“I want to kiss you and I don’t want the entire world to see it this time.”
There was a man with a long lens camera standing on the end of the street as we walked up to the front door of her apartment. I spotted him out of the corner of eye, but I didn’t want to alarm Mia, so I didn’t mention it then, and I wasn’t going to mention it now, because she didn’t need to know.
Bennett probably would have preferred that I kissed her goodnight where the entire world could see, but I still wanted some semblance of privacy. I meant what I said about liking her, and if our relationship progressed as I hoped it would, any privacy the two of us had would inevitably decrease by the week. So for now, I want to cherish the moments we have while no one else is around.
She blushes lightly and the corners of her lips turn up into a smile. “Okay.”
Lifting one hand, I cup her cheek and lean in, pressing my lips softly against hers. I kiss her slowly and deeply, wanting to remember this kiss for as long as I could. She flattens her palm against my chest and smiles against my lips and I find myself mimicking the action, my lips stretching even wider when we pull apart.
“Goodnight, Mia,” I whisper as I take a step back, feeling as though I’ve been doused in sunshine and knowing that if I don’t put some distance between us, I’m going to want to kiss her forever.
She lifts one hand in a wave, watching as I walk backwards towards the elevator. “Goodnight.”
I’m still smiling when the elevator doors slide closed, thinking that maybe this situation has some perks after all.