“Nice mask,” he said.
I didn’t hear him clearly because of the wind, but I felt his presence. I turned around to see it was the man standing behind me in line: devilish eyes popping out above his sea-blue disposable mask. Six feet tall and six feet away, he stood on his spray-painted green dot, and I on mine, as we waited outside in the middle of a cold parking lot.
“Nice mask,” he repeated, louder. Strangers don’t talk to each other much these days unless they’re fighting over the last box of Grape Nuts, so this was enticing. I remembered that my mask had an embroidered mustache on it.
“Thanks, I grew it myself!” I joked and playfully hoisted my NPR tote back up on my shoulder. He gave my line a good hearty chuckle, way more than it deserved. I craved this connection but was so out of practice. I hadn’t flirted since March 14th, 2020.
Gusts of icy wind tousled his hair.
“You excited?” I finally shouted back.
“Kidding?! I’ve been looking forward to this for almost a year. And this is my second,” he yelled.
“Same! I can’t believe it. It’s been such a lonely time,” I said with a coquettish frown that he couldn’t even see.
“Yeah, isolation…” he muttered. His eyes drifted to the concrete. “It’s been bad. Really bad.” I soaked up his vulnerability. I wanted him bad. Really bad. I wished I’d at least put on mascara.
The line moved, so we both filed forward one green dot. He stood on what was once mine. It felt strangely intimate, like I’d left my Mrs. Meyer’s lemon verbena scent on it.
“Are you a first responder?” I asked, hoping to hear some sexy acronyms like EMT, EMS, or FBI.
“Firefighter,” he replied. I deeply inhaled.
“You?” he asked.
“Essential worker. I set up Pelotons,” I replied.
“Oh, I bet you’ve been busy,” he teased. I’d like to clip into your pedals, I thought while trying to arch one eyebrow at him seductively.
“Hey,” he gently motioned forward with his hand. “It’s your turn.”
I’d forgotten where I was. I gave him a small wave and stepped inside the tent. Minutes later, I zipped up my winter jacket, a changed woman.
It was getting darker as another cold front was rolling in, but I felt warm and hopeful. I decided to linger in that parking lot.
Finally, he emerged. I could see a sparkle in his eye when he noticed that I’d waited. My heart was pounding. There were no green circles spray-painted on this side of the lot, so he stopped respectfully five feet away.
“How long does it take for the second shot to work?” I asked coyly. My arm was sore, and I begged the genetic code to rush through me.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he held my gaze and sinfully stepped closer by another foot. He smelled like Starbucks Reserve coffee. We stood there for a moment, feeling the world, or what was left of it, melt away.
“So…” he started, “I know this bar backyard that has strong heat lamps and a dining yurt if you want to…”
“Oh,” I blushed, “I have a Zoom meeting about a new glute challenge that I really can’t blow off…”
“Of course, of course,” he nodded.
My body felt like a tenement radiator stuck on high. I took a daring step toward him. I could hear him breathing, his chest heaving, or maybe he was double-masked? I unwrapped the elastic from around my ear and threw my mustache to the ground. He ripped off his own mask. His mouth looked swollen and hungry, like an endangered tiger regarding its keeper, or perhaps it was just the first time I’d seen another mouth in 10 months. I lunged and fell into him. Our lips met and we made out urgently, feverishly, while gripping at each other’s bodies through our Uniqlo coats and Thinsulate gloves. I could feel his muscles bulging through his navy nylon puffer jacket.
We stopped and studied each other’s full faces. I should blow off my Zoom, I thought. I wanted nothing more than our bodies and antibodies to be intertwined. Too bad I’d stopped waxing, but he’d take me anyway. After all, we were vaccinated, and it was Valentine’s Day.