When she entered the room Christopher rose, took the tray, and placed it upon the coffee table. His movement spoke of a chivalry familiar to him and for that she was grateful. Some of those cold spaces within her began to warm, if even ever so slightly, at that small demonstration. He seemed to shift back, as though to make space for her so she could pour out the tea and, she realized, that was exactly what he had done.
Before he had been weak, haggard, displaced and now he seemed as comfortable as any guest would. And, through out all the uniqueness of their meeting she hadn’t felt vulnerable, but now that it felt as though the role of protector and beneficiary had switched assignments, she felt exposed, awkward, new.
No, that couldn’t be right, she thought, chancing a glance in his direction. The dark hair was no longer stringy but held a wave; dark eyes previously guarded and pained seemed warm and friendly; clumsy mannerisms born of hunger were now absent. There was only one thing keeping her from forgetting his destitute state and that was his clothes. She wondered at why he hadn’t put the others on and, hearing him talk, realized she had spoken aloud.
Heat born of an embarrassed flush crept up her neck, her cheeks, while she listened to him answer softly that it was because he heard her say officer when he was in the bathroom. He had been concerned he would be accused of thievery, of being laughed at in holding then finally having to bear the brunt of the streets in the not hardy garb she had supplied. There was a pause at the end, she could swear she heard it, as though he were going to say something else, but he then took a sip of tea and paid her a compliment.
The room fell into silence again when she looked at her son, a disapproving look upon his face as he eyed Christopher. No words were spoken again for a while, only the soft crackle of the logs in the fireplace. It clung in the air, this strange and uninvited guest of awkwardness, until the gentle clink of cup and saucer greeted her ears. She didn’t know what she expected in that never ending pause when the man to her right rose, making his excuses and attempting to take his leave as though at a party but it certainly hadn’t involved seeing her son ask him to sit.
Shock must have read clearly on her face as he caught her gaze and asked if he could speak to her in the kitchen. Quietly he asked if she knew what she was doing, if she trusted the vagrant now sitting, waiting, in her living room. Susan thought about it, about him, and gave the only answer that seemed true to her- that she did. The only fear she felt at his presence had little to do with the man himself, but that thought she kept to herself.
Her son, with his very serious blue eyes, his father’s eyes, told her how very cold it was outside and asked if she would be comfortable letting the man stay with her. That he would, of course he would, have him at his own home but he couldn’t upset his wife, nor his children, with such a request. He continued by telling her if she wasn’t comfortable with that he knew someone who worked at a shelter in the city and he could easily transport the gentleman there.