She gave him a smile then that moved across her face like the opening chords of a great song, small and almost hesitant, but with the sort of command and power that suggests something much bigger is to come. It was the kind of smile that means more for what it isn’t than for what it is. She didn’t need to show her teeth or allow the expression to spread upwards and put crinkles around her eyes, this tiniest of grins had him in raptures. If she were a song he would turn up the radio, lean in close, bring his face to rest against the speaker and feel it pulse with every word.
Even as he stood before her in the obvious lurch of a man who thought seriously about reaching out to touch the lovely creature before him but couldn’t quite reconcile body and mind, or impulse and logic, to make the action occur, she let him have that smile. Right between cheeks of creamy silk, which refused to redden with any conciliatory embarrassment to ease his, she proffered a tiny gift of inordinate worth. Her glance fell on his ineffectual hands, now busying themselves with papers, and she smiled. He didn’t feel like he deserved it yet he swallowed it whole, and it tasted like a punishment and a reward all in one.
Her smile, that little mouth, those moody eyes, told him in no uncertain terms that she was fully aware of what had nearly happened here, right here in the place for waxing romantic over Jay Gatsby and decoding Melville, for papers with careful little red marks in the margins, and for note-passing and gum cracking in the back row, but it was careful not to say anything more.
And then she moved to adjust the straps of her backpack against her shoulders, those fluttering, purple nail-polish clad hands at work again, and the smile was gone.
It was replaced with the neutrally pleasant expression that she wears all day long. This is the perfectly agreeable face that greets him with a nod as she moves to her seat in class each afternoon, but now, in comparison, it hurt something inside of him. That she, this seemingly wide-eyed little thing, could slip so easily into such false propriety as he stood mouth agape made him feel incredibly foolish.
“See you tomorrow, Mr. Keenan.”
Her long, quick strides carried her out of the room before he could manage a reply, and as he craned his neck to watch her dark ponytail swish down the hall the intensity of the moment gave way to something else entirely. The sensation that he had stepped, without meaning to, over some invisible edge, and was barreling downwards toward something, a grand crash, or oblivion, or Nirvana, or the fires of hell, overwhelmed him. He winced at a physical ache as exhilaration and panic attacked his heart in tandem.
He flopped into his seat again, deflated, gripping the arms of the chair with sticky palms.
(Note: the image is from http://www.princetonol.com/groups/iad/lessons/high/tina-parody.htm)