“You’re going to think this is silly,” Hannah began when they’d settled down in the shade of an oak tree. Seeing Elena frown, she realized she was repeating herself. “All right. The first time I met Patrick, at the library, it felt perfectly natural — and comfortable — when he shook my hand. I usually hate shaking hands with people, especially strangers. Even if their hands aren’t sweaty and nasty feeling, and they don’t grab at you and hold on too hard, it’s just something I’d really rather not do. With Patrick, something was completely different. Like with you. Even when he touched me on the shoulder the first time we walked together, and that’s something I really hate . . . Anyway, we were on our way over here for brunch, and it was the same thing as with shaking his hand. I didn’t mind at all. It felt like he was communicating with me, not barging into my space. That’s the way it’s always been with you.”
“I’m glad you’re comfortable with both of us,” Elena said. “I know it can be hard to find people you trust enough to let them through the barriers. If you’ve regretted trusting someone in the past, that could certainly make you feel uncomfortable when anyone comes close. Trust can be so misplaced that it does permanent damage.”
Hannah nodded. It sounded like the kind of thing people said to encourage you to tell them personal things, but Elena had never tried to pry into her life that way. She was pretty sure Elena wasn’t doing that now.
“You both have . . . I’m not sure exactly how to put it. You both seem to accept a lot of things without judging them, even things that I’d probably judge pretty harshly. But it’s not just individual events or people. It’s as if you have a bigger view, almost as if you’ve seen it all, everything there is to see, and you recognize that things are just the way they have to be and that we can’t do anything about it. So you don’t criticize much. You both have this air of acceptance. And maybe a kind of sadness. I don’t mean you’re gloomy or anything like that. It’s just a part of the mix that makes you and Patrick who you are. That really sounds lame, but I can’t find a better way to put it right now.”
Elena looked down at her hands folded in her lap. “Well. I’ll take that as a compliment.” Her gentle smile made Hannah fairly certain that she hadn’t just put her foot in her mouth. “You’re right, of course. And you’re close to something. Is there anything else?”
Hannah had no idea what Elena meant by being close to something, but she could wait for an explanation. If an explanation was due. “Yes, there is something else.” Maybe this was what Elena meant, this thing that puzzled and disturbed her, even while she tried to make herself believe it didn’t mean anything. She took a deep breath.
“No matter how hot and muggy it is, you both always look cool, as if the weather doesn’t bother you at all. I don’t mean just comfortable cool. Your hands are always cool to the touch. I noticed that about Patrick the day I met him — when we shook hands. You don’t sweat very much, as far as I can tell.” She stumbled over her words, embarrassed. “Sorry. That’s not very polite, is it, talking about someone’s sweat?”
Elena laughed and tapped her hand lightly. “Maybe not in polite company. But we’re friends, not company. Go on.”
Hannah breathed a sigh of relief and smiled back. “Okay. So, umm, I guess there’s something about you physically, both of you, but I can’t figure out exactly what it is. It’s just that you’re different from me. From us, I think,” she added, with some trepidation.
She’d finally said it all and now that it was out, it sounded incredibly stupid. She regretted ever starting down this path. Elena would see through her, finally, and realize there was more nonsense in her than insights. She sighed again. She thought it was probably a good time to leave, but politeness demanded that she wait to see if Elena had any comment.
“Hannah,” Elena said, after a few moments of silence, “I think you and I and Patrick will have a very interesting talk during our next brunch.