‘We’ll have to keep the conversation snappy,’ the man with no cardigan on half-whispered to the girl with the shy smile, ‘I’m soluble. ...

The Slightest Hint of Moisture

   ‘We’ll have to keep the conversation snappy,’ the man with no cardigan on half-whispered to the girl with the shy smile, ‘I’m soluble. The slightest hint of moisture in the air, and I’ll start to dissolve. I’ve never had a shower in my entire life. I shouldn’t have even come out today; I can feel my skin melting already.’

   The girl with the shy smile and the Starbucks grande skinny latte smoking in her petite, feminine hands giggled a laugh that was a little overenthusiastic, and the snort that followed it made her stop herself abruptly and blush so intensely that her face felt like it might be on fire. She would never admit it to her friends, but a man with a quirky sense of humour and the confidence to show it off was just what she went for. Especially when he was this attractive.

   ‘This will probably be the last conversation I ever have.’ He smiled politely after delivering this deadpan line, and this time the pretty girl with the shy smile and the penchant for a man who told strange jokes hid her keen amusement behind the coffee cup she held, which was almost the size of her forearm. Normally, she would have drunk it on the train home from work, but the rain came out of nowhere today and she just had to take shelter before she was washed away. What luck, she had thought as she reached the awning under which she now stood, that I should be stuck in the same doorway as this hunk in a wet t-shirt. She hadn’t slept with anyone in a while, this pretty girl with the shy smile and the penchant and the coffee and the inner monologue. ‘I’m Steven, by the way.’ Steven, the man with the wet t-shirt that clung to his skin and the quirky sense of humour and the handsome face that had somehow managed to remain bone dry, didn’t hold out his hand for shaking.

   ‘I’m Lillian,’ she replied, sipping again from her coffee cup and smacking her delectable lips after swallowing the warm liquid, ‘but my friends call me Lil.’ 

   A moment of silence passed that didn’t seem awkward for Steven from Lillian’s perspective, and as a result was not felt as awkward by her either. She breathed deeply and calmly and absorbed the atmosphere – the chilliness of the air around them; the endless stream of businessmen and businesswomen half-running along the pavement with newspapers and briefcases held over their heads as makeshift protection from the surprise summer downpour; the loud thumps of the heavy raindrops beating their tribal drumbeats on the awning above their heads – as she tried to think of a witty response. Failing completely (and blaming that on the fact that Steven was making her heart flutter with his skin-tight t-shirt and chin that was carved from marble), she replied, ‘So being dissolvable, huh, that must be a real drag.’

   Steven, the man with the chin of marble and the wet t-shirt and the supposedly soluble body, grinned a warm and toothy smile at Lillian, who cringed at the fresh memory of her just-uttered sentence. ‘It’s a downer, Lil,’ he replied, noticing for the first time just how beautiful Lillian really was, with her tied back brunette hair and slim neckline and acceptable-yet-revealing business attire. ‘The biggest problem is the fact that I can only really eat dry biscuits. I’d give anything to drink a cold beer like all the other men do, but if I did I’d fizzle away from the inside out. Sometimes I think I’m going to turn into a digestive, the amount I have to eat to stay alive.’

   Lillian giggled a third time, and as she began to loathe herself for the shrill tone of her exhalations and the abrasive grind of her snorting inhalations, Steven warmed to her further for the very same reasons. 

   ‘So tell me something interesting about you,’ said Steven the soluble man who claimed he couldn’t drink beer, ‘you know I can’t get wet or I’ll melt, so it’s only fair that I should know one of your secrets.’

   Lillian, the beautiful girl with the slim neckline and the suit that did all the right things for her figure and the coffee that was now reaching its end, tried desperately to think of a lie that was equal in quality and imagination to Steven’s. Again, she failed. ‘You’ll hate me for this,’ she replied with regret, ‘but I work for a company that bottles and sells natural water. And that’s not a lie.’

   Steven grinned again. ‘Who said anything about lies?’ He joked.

   They held eye contact for a moment. Lillian wondered again why Steven hadn’t even been wearing a cardigan; it was not, after all, a fantastically warm day before the rain began to fall. Not warm enough to be in that top. Not that she was complaining, but still.

   ‘Why aren’t you wearing a jumper?’ She began, bending slightly to place the empty coffee cup beside her high-heel clad feet but holding eye contact the entire time, ‘I mean, it wasn’t even that warm this afternoon. Not warm enough to just be in a t-shirt, anyway. And if you’re soluble, surely you should take every precaution.’

   Steven grinned a third time, and Lillian noticed a hint of melancholy in his smile that indicated a secret meaning to his inviting facial expressions. Some people laugh when they’re nervous, she thought to herself, and wondered if she was making him nervous or uncomfortable. Perhaps she was coming across too keen again. Had she mentioned anything about marriage? Babies? Not that she could remember. For now, she was safe. Steven, however, was suffering with a dilemma – to tell Lillian the truth, or to make up an amusing lie.

   ‘To tell you the truth,’ replied Steven, the man who claimed he was soluble and didn’t wear a cardigan on cool days and smiled a smile behind which lay a sad secret or tremendous nerves, ‘I came out today hoping for rain. I’m at the end of my tether, see, and I just can’t go on anymore. I left the house hoping that it would bucket down and I would melt into the rain and be washed down the drain. I didn’t count on meeting such a beautiful lady; if I knew I’d meet you, perhaps I would have worn a rain mac to save myself.’

   Lillian’s flawless cheek skin turned cherry red once again, as she bit her bottom lip without even realising and looked up at Steven with unabashed admiration. ‘I’m sure you’ll be fine,’ she muttered sweetly, almost too quietly for Steven to hear, ‘your t-shirt is quite wet already, and you haven’t dissolved yet. Besides, you seem like you have a hell of a lot to live for.’

   ‘Believe me, Lil,’ Steven began at the same volume as Lillian, his tone betraying a hint of genuine sadness for the first time in the conversation. So often, Lillian’s interminable inner monologue piped up, men with a quirky sense of humour only display them so proudly to hide the other emotional baggage they’re carrying. She wondered in this fleeting pause whether that was one of the reasons that she was so very fond of those guys – that they were like birds with broken wings, who needed nursing back to health. ‘You couldn’t be more wrong. I have no reason at all to go on, and underneath this top my skin is melting faster and more painfully than you could ever imagine.’

   This time, Lillian did not giggle, and it was her turn to return a smile that was only polite and not genuinely amused. In just a few minutes, Steven had transformed from a funny boy to a vulnerable man in Lillian’s estimations, and although it made her heart warm and her desire for this stranger grow, it didn’t make her any happier. ‘Well, I guess it’s good that you’ve met me now then,’ she whispered, with a hope in her heart that she could save him.

   ‘It is,’ he responded, grabbing her arms with his manly hands and standing face to face with her as they looked each other in the eyes, both wondering how the relationship was moving so fast when they had never even met fifteen minutes earlier, ‘because I get to steal a kiss from a beautiful girl before I walk off to meet my maker. Kiss me, Lillian.’

   And even though Lillian’s mother, the woman who couldn’t play chess and loved parmesan cheese and gave all the best advice, had always told her not to kiss strangers, Lillian joined mouths with Steven, the man who claimed he had hoped for rain to wash him away. She kissed him passionately and hungrily, running her fingers through the back of his hair as he pulled her body toward his with his strong hand on the small of her back. The feeling of his tongue against hers made her knees feel weak, as she felt the fizzing electricity between them and the sparks flew so high and he tingled against her tongue so much that she almost wondered if she was kissing Angel Delight. They kissed like it was the end of the world, and even though Steven’s tongue was shrinking with every second and it felt like popping candy in Lillian’s mouth and she could only taste digestives, Lillian felt truly happy and unconditionally wanted for the first time in months.

   When they finally withdrew, they spent a while staring into each other’s eyes. Lillian’s were filled with desire and contentment, and Steven’s were filled with the same degree of melancholy as his smile. The longer he stared, in fact, the sadder they got, until a single tear ran down his perfect cheek. In the wet trail left by the tear, his skin fizzed and popped like that of a freshly salted slug. But before Lillian could react to this strange sight, Steven turned, and walked off into the rain to leave Lillian’s life forever. As he walked, he became shorter and shorter, and thinner and thinner, until he was just a pile of empty clothing that sat, inanimate and drenched, on the pavement.

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