Monday, December 9, 2019

Kissing Old Friends

We approach the large brick house slowly. The tires of the car crunching down on the snow covered path of a driveway. The house is quite a way back from the road, which must be great for knowing ahead of time when someone is arriving. The perfect amount of time to prepare for company. No driveway could be long enough to prepare me for what is ahead. The bigger the house gets, the faster the panic is spreading through me. I question everything that brought me to this point. To this house. To him. The decades of silence. The years of pinning. A sudden burst of curiosity that put me in the passenger seat of this rental. Of course some of that could be credited to the driver. The kid who brought it all together. Who waved a wand and created magic. I wouldn't be here, listening to the tires drive to a destination I never thought I'd see. I owe him. But I'm not celebrating just yet. We're only over the threshold, barely on the property. We're not even at the front door yet and I simply can't fathom the reaction we're going to get. If I had to guess, it would be an anything but pleasant one. It's not like we're on good terms or anything. Ten years is a long time to think about everything that went wrong. A long time to hold a grudge, too. Ten years can turn a dislike into a putrid hatred. He didn't like me all that much to begin with. But I'm not here for him. No. I'm here to put this skeleton to rest. Standing face to face, seeing his hatred with my own eyes, that's a closure I need. Me. Not him. He'll have nothing to say and I'm well aware. I largely think this entire trip was for nothing anyway. A week long drive across the country from California to New York. That's a lot of time to think, too. Come to think of it, I've had a lot of time to think in my life. Yet somehow, the thoughts of this driveway seem to be the most important. This is either the bravest or dumbest thing I've ever done in my entire life. But I know there's only one way to find out which one it is.

My steps are cautious as my feet drag towards the front door of his house. My eyes look anywhere but the door itself. It's not a mansion, but right now, I feel small in comparison. Like an ant, trying to climb over an SUV. It's too big. Too much. Yet, here are my feet heading in the direction I've dreaded for the last four hours. At first, I thought this whole idea was a joke, nothing more than the kids way of getting me riled up. I had no idea what he planned or where we were going. At the same time, curiosity has always lived inside of my heart, so when he told me about his plan to drive across country, I sort of went along with the insanity. He told me somewhere in the middle of the trip where we were going. A part of me wanted to demand he turn us around and take me home. It's not like I could have left on my own. I don't have a drivers license and I'm terrified of flying. Especially alone. The rental is in his name, but the rest of the trip fell on me. Hotels and food and even gas were all somehow my responsibility. It's not even like this was my trip. Yet, the thought only occurs in hindsight, I didn't stop to complain, even given the chance. I didn't ask him to turn around, either. Largely because there was some part of me that wanted to do this too. He said it was for closure, but I'm not so sure of my own reasoning. It's been a plague on my thoughts for far too long, that I'm sure of. Maybe being here, under-dressed for the cold weather of a city I've become a stranger to, is exactly what I need. Maybe. Maybe it's just an excuse to see him again. It's been so long, I'd like to say I forgot what he looked like entirely. But I know that would be a lie. His image has never left the vast space of my mind. His name has never become a foreign sound to my speech. I see him as clearly ten years later, like it might have only been yesterday we parted ways. It's no wonder I've been driving myself insane with the memories of him. He's still fresh in my mind. It's hard to let go of someone who makes themselves at home in your soul. I mean, it's not like I can just remove my insides and start over again. I think I might, if I could. I think I'm stalling, too. My hand, hovering over the wooden door. The kid, beside me and looking eager. I think he's wondering what I'm thinking. I am too. I let my hand drop without bothering to knock. It was stupid to come all this way. He's probably forgotten about me anyway. I may want to bury my own skeletons, but I don't need to be dragging his up to do that. I don't need to hurt other people to heal my own wounds. I can take care of this another way. Or not. The doorbell chimes and I notice him taking his finger away from the piece of plastic beside the door.
"We came all this way." He reminds me. Like I had forgotten. Like that long in a car was enough time to completely day dream that I was somewhere else. Maybe, if the car was more comfortable. The next time we take an impromptu trip across country, he better get a car with bucket seats, so I can actually melt myself into them. There was no getting comfortable in this one. Big as it was, it was hollow feeling. Like my soul. Vast and hollow.
"I know." I manage to mutter, hiding the shakiness I was sure would be present in my voice. It's certainly present everywhere else in my body. An uncontrollable shaking. The kind that people mistake for a seizure and call the ambulance over. Only, the kid isn't going to call anyone. I know that much. The best he'll do for me is press the doorbell again. But he doesn't have to, because in the background of my racing thoughts, I can hear the footsteps coming down the staircase. A wooden staircase, too. The kind you can hear creaking from up the street. Well, if he had any neighbors or lived anywhere near the road, maybe. I'll have to ask him what's with the need for privacy. Maybe he has stalkers he's trying to avoid. You know, like me, for one.

It's too late to back out now, but if my feet were responding to the signals my brain is sending, I'd still be bolting for the SUV behind us. Damn the curiosity that brought me on this trip. Damn it all the way back to California. Oh, I already miss the sun. The heat. Not that it was particularly warm when we left, but it wasn't quite as chilly. Granted, only some of the chills running through my bones are because of the temperature. It's mostly because of the doorknob in front of me, turning slowly. My heart sinks to the ground and I feel like it's melting the snow all around us. I'm hot, then cold and it's coming in flashes too quick to differentiate. He looks supportive, with this big silly smile across his freckled face. I don't know why he thought this was a good idea. Who asked him to become the pilot of my life, anyway? Who said I needed help out of my own destructive ways? Who said I wanted to bury the skeletons of my past? Maybe I was planning to turn every last one of them into some twisted masquerade. Something similar to the one my life has become, denying and pretending that none of this ever mattered to me. At times, it feels like he was the only thing that did. My mind goes blank when the door in front of us opens. Slowly at first, cautious of the unexpected visitor. But it flies open just as quickly as my breathing hitches. There he is, standing in front of me. Exactly like I remembered, only a little older. Of course, part of the reason I couldn't forget his face was because every few years, I felt the need to look him up, see where he was in the world. That's the only reason I knew he was in New York. I must have mentioned that to the kid one drunken night. I'd like to say I should probably stop drinking. I end up saying things I don't mean to say out loud. Things that come from the heart, but belong underground and abandoned. Then again, right now I think I need to drink more. To handle the situation, of course. I should have brought a flask. Or, I did. He took it away from me somewhere a few states back. I mean, I should have just bought another one. Forget the flask, a bottle. But the kid said I needed to stay clear-headed for this. He's right. Too much alcohol and who knows where I'll think my invitation is?

He's not saying anything, staring in shock if I had to take a guess. I mean, it's not like he ever expected to see me again, so I understand his nerves. He's doing a good job hiding the distress, but lousy at hiding the confusion. It's mirrored when he steps outside, a sudden smile spreading across his face. He seems, happy? That can't be right. I know it can't be right. But here he is, wrapping his arms around my frigid shoulders. Another chill runs down my spine, but it has nothing to do with the temperature. This one is entirely him. Entirely the contact of his cheek brushing against my own. I fake a smile as he moves back, crossing his arms over his chest to keep himself warm. He's only wearing a thin red turtle neck. He looks cozy, like a man would in his huge home, far back from the road. Christmas decorations all around the door and window frames. It's a few weeks away still, but he always loved a good celebration. Decorating was half the fun of any holiday. Or at least, that's how he was back when I knew him. Maybe now, it's purely the wife's decision. Or the kid. I know he has one of them. Maybe that's why he's living so privately. He wants to keep his family tucked away from the maniacs. Too bad one just showed up at his door. I fake a smile, trying to make eye contact. My eyes stop just below his chin. He laughs, and I can watch the muscles moving in his neck as he does. I'm waiting for the punchline, but he only says,
"Long time no see." It's so casual, like two friends who are catching up after a year away from school or something. Like a long weekend. Certainly not the way you would greet someone you hadn't seen in a decade, right?
"Yeah, I came with," I stop, noticing the kid is no longer standing beside me. I look over my shoulder, just in time to see him climbing into the SUV. My jaw drops, but only slightly. I resist the urge to yell something obscene, but so many things are coming to mind. He leans out the window, still smiling wide.
"I'll meet you at the Fat Cat around 8?" He offers, like it's a question. But he's not giving me the chance to argue. Instead, he's right back in the window, rolling the damn piece of glass back up. This is his safety right now. He knows it. I can't hurt the car. I wouldn't want to pay the fines. Although, the car is in his name. It would be him who got in trouble. At the same time, he's not worth the effort.
"Your friend is leaving?" He asks, motioning down the driveway. The SUV is already pulling back onto the street. It's funny how the driveway seemed so long on the way in. It seemed only a second as the kid scampered to get away from any drama that might unfold from him dropping me on someone else's doorstep. I turn back to face him, still trying to make eye contact. My eyes only get to his chin this time, before dropping to his feet.
"Apparently. I don't know how he thinks I'm getting across town on foot." I mumble, more to myself. He laughs, still sounding so casual.
"I'll drive you in later." He offers, now stepping back into his warm house. Later? What is that supposed to mean? He widens the door and motions inside.
"Come on, it's cold out." He insists. I look around the place, feeling like a criminal who is about to break and enter into someones house. I certainly believed that was the only way I would ever step foot inside his home. I never imagined in a million years, I'd be invited. But here we are. I step over the metal, kicking the snow off my shoes, and there I am. Standing in his house.

My feet reluctantly follow him deeper into the house. My eyes darting around as if they were looking for an escape from the hell I've just entered. Only I know the escape is behind me and it's the one direction I'm not looking in. Instead, I'm scanning the room for possibilities. The people who might be in this house, just getting ready for dinner. The loving family, for instance. The adoring wife and bashful son. Unsure of how to react to this stranger walking deeper and deeper into their family home. He sits down on the chair, motioning towards the couch. I nod, taking a seat as far away from him as I can possibly get away with. He doesn't stay sitting though. He jumps up and heads into the kitchen. I wait, awkwardly looking around some more. I see the pictures on the walls. The pictures above the crackling fire place that sits to the other side of where I am. I see the stockings, hung up and ready for the treats that might find themselves inside on Christmas morning. This is what a normal house looks like. A normal family. This is what he has now. This is a picture I can't see myself in, yet, here I am. Waiting. But my life has been one long waiting game when I think about it. There's nothing I can do to fix it now. I'm not cut out to be impatient. I'm cut out to be indifferent. That's just the way it is. I fake a smile as he comes back into the room, two white coffee mugs in hand. Only it's not coffee he's offering me in the mug. I let the smell wander up, filling my lungs as I breathe it in. Then he sits back down without a word.

It's silent as we're sitting here drinking the hot chocolate he brewed. But somehow, it doesn't feel like an uncomfortable silence. I can't speak for what's going on inside of his head. Why he even let me in the front door and didn't threaten to call the police. But I know what's going on in mine. I'm trying to process this. All of it. From the dreams that lead to the conversation that sparked this trip. I'm trying to process the drive to his house, his welcoming arms. Now, this. Sitting here, in his living room, with a hot chocolate. Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I had a hot chocolate. This isn't even a store bought blend, but something home made. I can always tell the taste difference. There's a quality in something made at home. Manufactures can't seem to mimic whatever that quality is. When they figure it out, home made won't have the same charm. It's not even just the hot chocolate that has this comfortable, home made charm thing. It's this house. The decorations. The Christmas sweater I've only just noticed he was wearing. I knew it was red. I wasn't looking hard enough to see the little snowflakes all around the chest. Likely a gift from his adoring wife. Maybe he mother. She was always making him stuff like that. I don't even know if she's around anymore. Maybe she's passed away. She was sick the last I heard. But, who knows how long ago that was? Who knows how long I've been out of touch with his family. I can tell you I've been out of touch with my own for just as long, though. Hell, I've been out of touch with myself. This hot chocolate is slowly putting that into perspective for me. What have I been doing with my life up until this point?
"So, what brought you here?" He finally asks, breaking the silence I was desperately holding onto. He's already asked me that, but there's a different tone now. This time, he really wants to know. It's not for the sake of conversation, nor curiosity. He wants to know what I'm doing in his house. Funny, I want to know the exact same thing for myself. Only I don't. I don't think answering the question will help either of us figure it out. This is a situation with no solution. Or, a solution with no situation. I haven't a clue anymore. Everything feels weird. There's a disassociation thing happening to me right now. I'm not shocked about that. I'm only shocked it took so long to kick in. I disassociated from almost everything, after all. Myself, most commonly.
"I was in the neighborhood." I joke, hoping the humor is conveyed, even though the situation isn't funny. He nods along, lightly laughing. He slowly leans forward, placing his mug on the coaster on the table in front of him. The table between us. I'm glad something is. I wish it was a wall. I wish it was the world. I think I was better off when it was.

"Are you visiting family for the holidays?" He asks. Oh yeah. My family lives in New York too. I hadn't thought of that. Them. I guess I should swing by and say hello. Only I never really know if I'm welcome there, either. It's not like we're on bad terms or anything. I left when it was time. I was 18, I wanted to see the world. My mother was supportive of that. She did the same thing when she left home. Of course, she always told stories of hitch-hiking across the country. I couldn't be bothered. I just bought a plane ticket. I hadn't discovered my fear of them back then. Dad, he wasn't thrilled about me leaving. He didn't think I was ready for the world. Back then, I was more worried the world wasn't ready for me. But he was right. I wasn't ready. It was bright lights and Hollywood dreams for me. Or at least, I always sent letters saying that's how it was going. I lied, but, I couldn't help it. I didn't want to prove Dad right, and I didn't want my mother to worry. She's the type who would have still hitch-hiked across the country to help me out. I knew I put myself in the situation. It was my job to get out. I did, eventually. A few bad years, sure. But one handsome smile pulled me back to my feet. The next time I spoke to my parents, I was in Germany with the band. The last time I spoke to my parents, was from a hospital bed. I'd say it's been equal parts good and bad. If it weren't the holidays, I think stopping by would be a nice change. They haven't heard from me in a while. I wanted to get back on my own two feet. I wanted to do it myself this time. But I couldn't. Thank God for the kid, or I might not be breathing right now.
"No. I mean, I didn't come to see them. I don't want to intrude or anything." I mumble. Isn't that exactly what I'm doing right now? Intruding on a happy family that has long forgotten the tragedy that is me? He laughs, like I might be kidding. It's been too long for him to know that I'm not. I have no disillusions about the reception my family would have to my unexpected arrival. Or maybe, I do. Because I expected my arrival here would be met with distaste and disbelief. I expected a door slammed in my face. I expected cursing and a few choice phrases, including, but not exclusive to, "you have some nerve". Instead, I was invited in, given a sign of hospitality in the form of liquid chocolate and he's making small talk. It's not like the thought hasn't crossed his mind. It may have been a long time since I saw him, but he remembers exactly why that is. The same way I do. Etched into our memories like the name engraved on a tombstone. Only, I've just risen from the dead, so now the "rest in peace" seems pointless. The whole ground is dug up around the area I crawled out of. It looks like something terrible might have happened to the final resting place. But I guess that's what resurrection is. Death is simple, the end of everything. Coming back to life is complicated and messy, the way living always was in the first place. A disaster, but I like to think I rock it sometimes. I like to think every once in a while, I do something so amazing that it makes my mistakes look better in comparison. I've only done a handful of things that I'd even classify as amazing. Sitting here is one of them, but in a whole different context.

I'm still trying to avoid eye contact, still looking around the room. I can see many pictures on the walls, on the surfaces of furniture, of their happy little family. His son must be around 3 now. Looks just like him. I can't help but wonder where they are. Maybe out, grocery shopping? That's something normal people do, right? I can't remember the last time I went grocery shopping. The kid does it now. He's taken to cooking and cleaning and organizing the disaster I call my life. He seems happy to try and sort me out. I question his motives on a regular basis. He gets nothing from this. A place to stay, maybe. He was on the street a few seemingly short months ago. I didn't know him all that well, but he seemed like the type of kid who can't hold himself together. No job. No friends. No family. No prospects, really. I couldn't leave him on the streets. Especially with the holidays coming up. That's right. It's been over a year since he first came to sleep on my couch. A whole year has passed and here we are. The same, but completely different, too. I think I only took him in because it made me feel better that I was exactly the same. I support him financially, he supports me in every other way. A kindness I don't deserve, I don't think. But one I've been given none the less. I can't really say I mind. My house is even bigger than this one. But empty. There's no laughter from an adoring spouse. No yelling and running around from loving children. It's just, vacant. An empty house for an empty vessel. Or at least that was the case. Everything has changed, because of the kid.
"What about your friend?" He finally asks, absently looking towards the door. Maybe expecting a knock from the other unexpected guest that is bound to show up when he gets too bored to be out alone. Or waiting for his wife to open the door and his son to come running into the living room. I can't imagine their reaction to having me here. I can't even process my own. What is his wife going to say when she sees me? Does she know who I am? Did he ever mention me? Why would he? I can't see the logic in bringing up a past lover. But won't that only make it worse when I'm spotted? I shouldn't have come here. I'm likely to only cause problems. That's the whole reason I'm not going to see my family. We'll be going to visit his family, though. Extended, not immediate. He told me his mother passed away and his father threw him to the curb. It's not like he's really young, but it was a cruel move none the less. Most twenty year olds don't have their lives figured out yet. It's just not right to expect perfection from someone of that age. Hell, I'm a decade and some older, but I don't even have my life figured out. Suddenly, I remember he just asked me a question about the kid.
"What about him?" I ask, not really sure of the meaning.
"Does he have family here, or?" He pauses, looking over at me. I look back at the hot chocolate, which is almost gone now. I shrug, now looking towards the door myself.
"To be honest, I don't really know. He said he did, but, I'm not sure." I admit. I don't really know that much about the kid, after all. I know he's a mess and someone needed to help him get through the state he's in. I don't know why I decided for him to become my own charity case. Maybe because I was lonely enough to need the companionship. Maybe that inferiority complex and wanting to keep people around who are worse off than me in some attempt to feel better. Who knows? It's been too long since I went to Columbia to remember a thing about the psychology course I had once been taking. Another decision I made rash and likely wrong. Had I not dropped out, I might have stayed in New York. I might have stayed with a certain someone. This might be my life, my house, my husband. Not that I could see myself in those shoes. They look uncomfortable and awkward. So do we.
"I honestly don't know why we're here." I add, slowly shaking my head. He laughs again.
"In the world, this city, or," He pauses.
"All of the above." I add. I look up, finally making eye contact. I can't help but laugh nervously as I try to casually look away. But there's nothing subtle about my moves. It's obvious to everyone that I'm not fitting into this picture. This was never meant for me. This was a bad decision. I stand up, shaking my head.
"I should go." I finally conclude. I've been here maybe half an hour. Yeah. I've definitely over-stayed my welcome. He shrugs, like it makes no difference either way. It's a quiet walk back to the front door. We both stop as he slides his shoes on. I raise my eyebrow.
"What are you doing?" I ask. He motions outside, towards the garage to the side of the house.
"I said I'd drive you in." He reminds me. I had forgotten that generous offer. I also forgot how far out of town he was. I sigh, shaking my head.
"I think I'll walk. It's a nice day." I lie. The wind outside is bitter, picking up in speed. It's too cold for me. But, I feel it's better than being in a closer proximity to him. He laughs again. I don't know what he finds funny about the situation, but I really wish I was in on the joke.
"Well, if you insist. I'm not going to stop you. I remember how stubborn you can be." He adds, leaning against the wall. I look over at him, still struggling to put my own shoes on.
"Oh do you?" I ask. It comes off more playfully than I wanted. I was hoping for a more accusatory tone of voice. He nods, moving off the wall.
"You know, if you want to catch up while you're still in town," He stops talking. I shake my head.
"I don't know if we'll be staying." I lie. The hotel is already booked for a full week. The kid did say he had family somewhere in the city. He did say he wanted to meet up with them for the holidays. Then again, he also planned this unexpected visit to this unsuspecting family home. I just don't know if I can trust him right now. I open the front door, expecting to be met with a bit of snow, swirling around the front porch. Instead, it's a full blizzard, worse than it was even a few minutes ago. I can't see even an inch past the door. I go to head into the mess anyway, but he shuts the door.
"Don't be that stubborn." He insists, putting his hand on my shoulder. There it is. That spark of contact. The longing I've done my best to deny over the years. He's in my space. Close. Too close. I step backwards, taking a deep breath.
"I just," I pause, biting the side of my lip. I can't give too much away, right? He shakes his head, turning and heading to the left towards the kitchen.
"I'll make dinner. Just, sit." He demands. There's something playful in his voice now. Something testing the waters. I'm confused by the entire situation. But, do I really want to be stubborn enough to go out in this? I haven't been to this city in years. Plus, I'll catch a cold in any temperature that isn't ideal. Am I stubborn enough to die to avoid facing the situation? Maybe. But for now, I'll wait it out.

I once again drag my feet as I follow behind him. This time, he heads straight into the kitchen. Because I'm paying no attention, I don't even realize when I follow him in.
“You must be starving.” He announces, like I must be. I look around the kitchen, but the details aren't what I'm taking in. I'm merely looking, analyzing, trying to figure out why I'm here. Still. I haven't answered when he starts digging out dishes and pans and anything else he needs for whatever he's making. He goes to the fridge and pulls out a container. It's got a white label on the front of it, but it only says “soup”. That could mean pretty much anything. The broth for a home-made soup, or a can of soup that was poured into a container because it wasn't finished when it was opened. There's really no way to know what such a generic label even means. Yet, here's my brain trying anyway. I lightly shake my head and direction my attention to the kitchen table. It's a cherry wood and it looks old. Older than this house. Older than the two of us. It doesn't feel as old as I do though, I'm sure. It's still stable, able to stand on its own legs. It's got everything figured out, at least for now. Regardless of age, it knows what it is meant to be doing. Simply offering support to the substances that might be stored on top. I guess the table is in better shape than I am, because I have no idea what I'm doing. Now or in general. It's a mystery to me. But it kind of always was. I never really had things figured out. I sort of went from idea to idea. Friend to friend. Lifestyle to lifestyle. Whatever shoes fit at the time were the ones I slid onto my feet. I don't even remember where I left my own shoes. Someone else is walking around in them now. That's a possibility, literally and figuratively. I have no idea. I don't keep track of that sort of thing. I'm not even paying attention now, but I hear him turning the stove on. Pressing a bunch of buttons and beeping noise. Then he's putting a bowl down on the table in front of me. It's a soup his mother used to make, back when he was a kid. One she stopped making as years went on, simply because she had no reason to continue. Once her two boys grew up, there wasn't much need for homemade soup. He asked her for the recipe when he became a father himself. He only briefly stops rambling to make sure I'm following his story. Largely, I think so he knows I know that he has a son. I did. I knew when he was born. I can't tell him that. Or, I can. But I won't. I don't think it's healthy to stalk your ex. Especially when they don't even know you're doing it. He never had the luxury in return. He couldn't have looked me up. I made damn sure that when I left, nothing came with me. Not even a name. But, yeah, I know he has a son. I know he's married. I wonder why he hasn't mentioned the wife. He goes on to talk about his mother's second honeymoon in Cape Town. Married and remarried. But he still isn't mentioning his own wife. He isn't talking about his own life at all, I've noticed. It's almost like he doesn't want to dive too deep into the details. Like he's relishing being out of his life for a little while.
"Where is the kid?" I ask, rudely interrupting his sentence. He seems shocked I would ask such an outrageous thing. I guess he doesn't remember I'm just an outrageous person. Not that I think it's particularly far-fetched to ask. He shakes his head, like he's not going to answer.
"With his mother." He dismisses. But he doesn't start talking again. He just lets out a deep sigh and begins sipping at his soup. Previously, on The Drama Network, he said the soup was too hot. When faced with the choice between conversation and a burnt tongue, he chose the latter. I only wonder why that was the less painful choice. I nod anyway.
"Okay." I realize we're not getting any further into this conversation. His son is with his mother. His mother is, somewhere else. Not here. Not in this house or on her way back shortly. But his grandmother is Cape Town with her new husband.
"His name is Luca." He finally states, randomly and borderline outrageously. How dare he tell me the name of his son, like I didn't already know? I don't say that though. I laugh internally and nod.
"After your father." I observe. He nods as well.
"Sarah wasn't crazy about it, but," He stops, now shaking his head again. I just nod. What else am I really going to say? I wouldn't have been crazy about it either. It's unoriginal to simply name your child after your parent or uncle. Come on. With a million and more names floating around, he could have come up with something more original. Or maybe I only feel that way because I'd never name my child after one of my parents. Hell, I'd never have a child because of my parents. I'd be a lousy parent. Well, if the kid is any example of my parenting skills, maybe it wouldn't be too bad. Naw, my kids would have to grow up too fast in some twisted attempt to raise me.
"I should get the chicken out." He stands up, heading towards the stove. I only raise my eyebrow. I don't recall him doing anything with a chicken. I thought the soup was dinner. Uncreative, but filling none the less. Plus, there's fond memories associated with the smell. One of the only home-cooked meals I've ever had was at his parents' house. I think his mother always thought I was just some lost kid. She tried to mother me ever now and then. It felt weird. Welcoming, but, weird. But it didn't last. Nothing good in my life has ever lasted. I think I'd be more shocked if it did. If there was something good, worth holding onto, fighting for. Good. I can't get above neutral. I think some of that is the hereditary alcoholism passed down from my father. That's all I got. Not a name. My parents didn't even name me. There was a movie on TV in the waiting room. I got the name of the lead actress. I know all about uncreative names. My attention finds itself on the man in front of the stove, pulling out this tray with chicken on it. Grilled, with tinfoil underneath. I remember that recipe too. Seems he asked his mother for a lot of help in the kitchen by the time he was an adult. Who knew? I would have expected the wife to be the one cooking. I always believed that was exactly what wives were supposed to do. One of the reasons I never became one. I wouldn't know where to start. I can't measure water. I'm not a chemist. (It's a joke, get with the programming.) I'd be too worried to burn the house to the ground. If I'm going to do that, I want it to be by choice, not because I forgot the oven was cooking a damn chicken. Where the hell did the chicken come from? When did he start cooking that? Did I look away? Was I not paying attention? More importantly, why is he cooking a chicken? Actually, why is he pulling out all of the recipes from his mothers cookbook? Was he already planning this meal, or is he simply improvising because I'm sitting here? He looks over his shoulder at me and smiles. I look right back down at the soup, pushing the bow tie noodles around the bowl. I've never felt more uncomfortable and awkward in my entire life. He doesn't make it any easier when he comes back to the table. He's taking the oven mitts off as he drops back down in his seat. He wipes his hands, loudly, like he's trying to get them clean. Only, they weren't dirty to begin with,
"What were we talking about?" He asks. Seriously? It's only been half a minute. How could someone possibly forget such a serious subject in such a short time frame? I've got the worst memory in the world, yet, I'm not that bad. Alcohol will do that to you. I mean, fry your brain cells over years of excessive use. I'm shocked my motor skills still function half the time. The other half, they don't, which is far more expected.
"I don't know." I dismiss. I didn't really want to carry out the conversation anyway. I should be able to ask about his wife, what has been going on. If we were normal friends, I could break the ice. Hell, there might not be ice to break. If we were friends, we'd have talked about his life. I'd know. He'd know mine. Maybe. I was never really one to share, but I've been doing my best. Or, I try to do my best. The kid really wanted me to open up, thought it would help me get over some of the issues that were dragging me down. Those were his words. I didn't know I was down. I thought I was flying through the air. All I could see was an endless sky. It felt freeing until he informed me I was laying in the ditch and the sky was far beyond my reach. Not literally, though I could have expected that too. I guess it's been a bad couple of years. When the band broke up, it was, I didn't know what to do anymore. We had been together for 8 years. It was all we ever knew. Suddenly, it was gone. The years of our lives, of touring and writing music together, was gone. There was no more schedule, no more performances. No one was on our case about where we were and what we were doing. We were off the leash. But, you can't let a dog who has never been off leash run free. It only leads to disaster. Only I wasn't lucky enough to get hit by a car while trying to catch a flying disc. I was the poor owner who watched everything I loved get crushed into nothing more than a memory. It's hard to watch the things around you slowly dying off. I think that's the only thing I can relate to human beings about. Everything else feels distant. Even when it comes to the kid. Sure, I don't have my life together. But I made something of myself for a little while. I have something they can never take away. A life time that was more magical than anything I could have thought of. People like him, they never get that luxury. They get to live in mediocrity, work simple jobs and live simple lives. There's nothing wrong with simple, it just wasn't my thing. I needed something different, something more. I needed to be more. I guess I got what I wanted. But I should have been clear that I wanted those feelings to last, too. Instead, the whole thing blew like the wind passing through the trees. I haven't talked to them since. I mean, I briefly spoke to Daniel. Last time I saw him, he was working at a coffee shop. Had blown through all the royalties, became a drug addict. He had fallen hard down the rabbit hole. Hit the ground and couldn't get back up. I hit the ground running and I'll be damned if I ever really slow down. Instead, I make the kid run with me. It's go big or go home and I never thought I could do it. But, here we are. Home. Or at least some place that vaguely looks like a place I used to call home. With someone who vaguely looks like someone I used to know. A smell filling the air around this cozy home, reminding me of a life I used to live.
"So, what about you? No family back in California? Just you and your friend." He asks, breaking the silence. I wonder why he can't just relish in the lack of conversation, the way I do. Cherish the fleeting moments. Appreciate the awkwardness and understand the complexities of the situation. Instead, he just has to keep making small talk. Only, the question doesn't feel small at all. I pick up something in his tone this time, the way he says the word "friend", like it's not really what he's thinking. The thought is ridiculous to me.
"He's like a little brother. Just as annoying." I dismiss, shaking my head. He nods.
"I just didn't want to step on any toes." He adds, like it clarifies his question. It doesn't. Firstly, it's not really his right to know anything about my life. Secondly, why would he want to know anything about my life? Lastly, how the hell does he know where I'm living? I guess my confusion about the last one is obvious.
"I read about the car accident. It must have been awful." He offers without me having to ask. I nod slowly. Oh yeah. The accident. I forgot about that. I never thought about it again. I just, blocked it out. It happened so fast, just, a blur of lights and loud honking. We all survived. It's not like anyone got hurt. But I guess it was news. Not because of the accident itself. That was pretty boring. It was just because of who was in the car when it flipped over on the ice. A few months of physiotherapy and it was like it never happened. Well, a few bottles, too. I couldn't have moved on without the help of my good friend Jack. I mean, they blamed me. All of them. The band, the media. I was driving at the time, back before I let my drivers license expire. I had nothing to drink, but, I guess I was under the influence of something. My reaction time was shot and I just didn't manage to hit the breaks properly. Too much pressure, they said. We steered into oncoming traffic, taking three other cars out in the collision. The next few weeks were complete isolation. My own method of repentance. Then, I met the kid. He was living on a bench near the hospital, where I had been taken when my neighbor finally had enough of me laying in her grass. He joked that it was just easier, in case something happened to him while he slept. I shake my head of the memories, but another thought occurs me to. Why was he checking in? Yeah, it would have been news, but, he could have changed the channel or not ready the story. He didn't have to become enthralled with a daring headline the pinned the demise of the band on the drunk guitarist.
"I think it was a sign." I offer, pointlessly. Both in response to his statement and to my own thoughts. If my eyes were open, I might see this situation for something different. Instead, I close them tightly and count to 10. He doesn't press the subject. He simply nods, standing back up. He's back at the stove, sliding the oven mitts back on. When he comes back to the table this time, he's got two plates. The chicken breast is to one side of the plate, while the other holds a baked potato and steamed vegetables. I raise my eyebrow, looking up as he puts the plate in front of me.
"Do you always cook like this for yourself?" I ask, motioning to the stove. He's turning everything off, tidying up the area. He stops, looking over at me. He slowly shakes his head, then the bomb drops,
"I knew you were coming." A part of my brain wants to avoid acknowledging the words that just escaped his lips. Well, acknowledging his lips, in general, is something I'd like to avoid. It's easier to want to avoid them when he's seemingly saying complete nonsense. It's not even possible that he knew I was coming. I didn't even know I was coming. I didn't know until a few states away that we even had a plan for this trip. I can't really remember the reason the kid gave me, though. I'm sure I was filled with doubt immediately. But, he gave me a reason. He must have. There's no way he just, put me in the car. He didn't say "let's go" with no context. I don't respond to threats. I would have stared at him blankly, wondering what was wrong with him. I imagine that's the same way I'm looking at the stranger sitting across from me. Knew I was coming. I say it again and again, trying to make it make sense. But it doesn't. None of this has.
"Knew I was coming." I finally say out loud. He only nods. Clearly, he's not planning to elaborate on what he means. Well, that's all well and good. I guess I don't need to know. I'll just, sit here quickly and enjoy the chicken. It only looks like his mother's recipe. It doesn't smell like it. It's not gently filling my nostrils with this nostalgia, the way the soup had. No, this is doing something else. Or, nothing at all. It's not the chicken to blame for my lack of reaction. I'm sure the chicken is good, great even. It's the words. Heavy. Weighing down like an anchor would to a ship. The only thing I can think of is the kid. He must have known. He must have called. I mean, how did he know where to drop me, anyway?
"Adam." I guess, looking up from the chicken. He slowly nods.
"Okay, so, when did you talk to Adam?" I ask. He shrugs, looking over to the calendar posted on the fridge. I look over, following his eyes. I only now notice that there's a circle around today's date. He really did know ahead of time. Well, his fake shock was impressive then. Or was it more than he thought I'd chicken out? I could have easily been the chicken laying on the plate. No doubt. I was tempted to turn the car around. Hell, I was tempted to leave the kid at the side of the road and go home alone. Tempted, but I didn't. I came. I faced him. Now, I really don't know why the hell I bothered. At least now, I can say I proved them wrong. I did what no one thought I could, myself included. Now I can say I came and I conquered. But what exactly have I conquered?
"A few weeks ago, I think." He loosely offers. I don't know if he's avoiding a time line, or genuinely can't remember. I wouldn't be shocked either way. If this was just a casual thing. But, it's not. Not to me. To me, it's monumental. I'd remember the date I found out he was coming to see me. I think. Maybe not. But I have alcohol to blame and to thank for my complete lack of a memory. What does he have going for him? Is he a closet alcoholic? Not possible. He has this home. Alcoholics don't have that. Well, you can be an alcoholic and have a roof over your head. But it would never feel this comfortable. This, relaxed. There would never be this feeling of ease surrounding it. An alcoholics home feels more like a prison cell. A black hole, sucking everything and turning light into darkness. That's what my home felt like. I mean, before Adam moved in. He even decorated for Christmas this year, even though he knew we didn't plan to be there over the holidays. Maybe he was thinking it would be a nice "welcome home" from our house. I don't care if the house misses me or not. I don't miss it when I leave. I don't miss it when I'm there. I don't miss it. Maybe the way I don't miss anything. But isn't that why we drove across the whole country? Wasn't it because I missed something? Something that was apparently awaiting my arrival. Decorating for the Christmas holidays with his family, while he planned this meal in the back of his head. I wonder if he tried to plan the conversation, too. I wonder why he thought I'd stick around. I was one foot out the door when I got here. I only stayed because of the storm. It's not like that could have been planned too. Maybe it was just the Universe, lining up to make sure this chicken was eaten and this conversation had. Part of Adam's idea was that I needed to verbalize the way I felt. I told him that was crazy. I still agree. But, maybe he knew something I didn't know.
"What did he say?" I ask, finally realizing the weight of a conversation the two of them might have had. The things Adam might have said. The things he might have heard. The planning that took place. I can't believe he went behind my back like this and set everything up. He knew I was going to look like an idiot, completely out of my element. Oh, I am going to give that little brat a piece of my mind, as soon as I'm done this chicken. I can't deny, it's good. It has a familiarity, while also being a complete stranger. Sort of how I feel about the person who made it. While he looks the same, only older. He feels, different. Somehow, more humble. Like everything has changed in his world. You'd think the same thing could have happened to me. But I'm incapable of changing. Incapable of feeling what a typical human being might feel. I can't be typical, I never was. Always destined for greatness and avoid the law. Willing to avoid the rules and play my own game. That's how everything fell apart in the first place. If only I had been willing to try and be someone else, even for a little while, everything might be different. Well, everything is different. I didn't have to change for this difference. But it doesn't exactly have anything to do with me, does it? I mean, how could anything that has happened in his life have something to do with someone who hasn't been in it for 10 years?
"He just," He pauses, which only leads my mind to racing out of control. What exactly? I mean, what could he have possibly said that would have made this trip seem necessary? Warranted. That would have made this entire idea seem less crazy. I don't think enough words in the dictionary exist to make any of this sound like a good idea.
"He thought you needed to see me. For, some reason." He trails off at the end of the sentence.
"Some reason." I repeat, wondering if Adam would have dared to tell him the whole reason. Would he? Would he have broken the unspoken bond we shared and let someone else in on my damaged little brain? Would he have called the man I was dreaming about and told him all about those dreams? Would he have begged, borrowed and stole, just to get said man to agree to see me? I don't know what he's capable of. He seemed innocent enough. Maybe that was me giving him too much credit. I watched him run back to the SUV, scared and unsure of what actions I'd take. I think he thought I'd throw a tantrum, break the window or throw a rock. That I'd yell, scream, maybe even chase after the car as it pulled away. Maybe he thought I'd have a sour reaction. I thought he'd have a braver one, personally. Then again, maybe we don't know each other at all. We're like strangers who bonded over being in a disposition that no one else seemed to understand. Some of the best friendships are born from a need to survive. The basic need for companionship. Only, I'd like to think that one only applies to him. That I don't need that, the way I think he might. But he's still young. Another ten years, a failed band and watching everything he spent his entire life working towards fall apart. He might understand a little better. At the end of the day, we're all alone. There's no one else. No one coming to save you from your bad decisions. No one calling to check up and see if you're okay. No one calling, period. Sometimes, there's just no one. I had gotten used to it. I mean, I think I did. Maybe I didn't have enough time to adjust, to come to terms. Maybe I had just enough to get scared that I'd be alone forever. I can never really tell what I'm feeling since I do my best to pretend I'm not.
"We didn't really dive into it too deeply." He assures, trying to put my mind at ease. I laugh, involuntarily.
"I don't think he needed to. I mean, he obviously said enough, or," Now it's my turn to pause, taking a deep breath. He raises his eyebrow, curious to know where I'm going with this. I am too, but I'm not entirely sure what I was planning to say. At this moment, planning seems pointless. Thinking is too hard to consider what words might slip out next. I laugh again, biting the side of my lip.
"I mean, I wouldn't be here if he didn't say what I think he said." I finish. He doesn't say anything, he just smiles. Now he's quietly eating the food he obviously spent time preparing. I mirror his actions, though my mind is still whirling around. Although my actions mirror his, my thoughts mirror the environment around us. In the background, I can hear the snow has picked up. The wind is getting angrier and louder. Trees are moving to an invisible song. One I wish I could hear right now, because I can't take the echoing silence. Chewing and chicken. Anywhere else and this would be my dream meal. But, I can't bring myself to relax enough to enjoy this. I'm on edge. Put yourself in my shoes and you might be as well. It's not easy. Granted, it's not all that hard either. It's somewhere in between and that's even more confusing to my fragile little brain. Minute by minute, the clock ticks in the background. The wind dances outside. The chicken slowly disappears and the conversation goes with it.
"For what it's worth, I'm glad you're here." He finally breaks the silence, clearing the plates off the table. I look up as he passes by the chair I'm sitting in. He grabs a bottle of wine from the cupboard and motions it towards me. I look outside, to where the snow is covering the windows of his house. I can't leave yet. There's no way we'd make it into town. Not by car or on foot. I wouldn't be shocked if the roads are closed. That's how New York responds to blizzards. Everything shuts down, including people. It's natural reaction to something so unpredictable. I only wonder when I stopped having a New York heart. The opposite seems to be true for me. I'm opening up the longer I sit here. Getting comfortable. That's stranger than strange. I shrug anyway, now following him back to the living room. He carries the bottle along with two glasses, putting them down on the coffee table. I resume my previous placement on the couch, once again, looking around at the pictures of his family. Only now, I see what I hadn't before. The woman in the pictures is never standing close enough. Never smiling wide enough. Never seeming happy enough to fit the frame. For a wife, she's sure miserable. Only, I'm thinking I got the wrong information somewhere down the line because he's not wearing a wedding ring, either. I notice this as he's pouring the wine into the glasses, handing the second glass in my direction. I nod, taking a sip. I put the glass back on the coffee table, staring off into space. I know I shouldn't have more than a glass. My head gets foggy when I drink and the last thing I need is to lose sight of reality.
"You seem, uneasy." He observes, dropping down beside me. I shake my head.
"I just wasn't expecting this kind of hospitality, Jonathan." I confess, picking the glass back off the coffee table.
"You can call me Jay, you know." He offers. I laugh, lightly shaking my head for what feels like the millionth time.
"I want aware we were on good enough terms to abbreviate to one letter." It's not as clever of a response as I would have hoped. But it's what comes out. Too playful. I need to pull to back. Way back. Like, to the stone age. I didn't spend this kind perfecting the cold shoulder just to warm up with a simple touch. If the kid saw this, he'd think the body snatchers came and took away the real me. Or he'd think that his influence has finally started to affect my personality. I can't have him think such outrageous things. I could never be as nice as him. As hopeful. For someone living on a park bench, he sure has a way of coloring the sky with rainbows. I wonder the type of people who raised him. What kind of father would have tossed him out? I mean, my old man didn't like me either, but he never made me fend for myself. I chose that path. I chose. That's a luxury Adam never got, I guess. I'd like to step inside his head every once in a while. See what's on his mind. How it works. Or rather, doesn't. But that's not something I can see happening in the near future. I don't like to talk to him about his family. He tenses up and shuts down. It's not suiting to him. He's that overly excited puppy chasing after the ball. No matter how many times you throw it, he never understands you're trying to get rid of him. He just brings the ball back with this look on his face. Happy. Devoted. He wants praise for doing a good job. And you end up feeling bad, so you praise him, even though he did the opposite of what you wanted. I don't know why I take such pity on the kid. I don't know why I arranged my life for him either. He makes me miss a side of myself that I haven't acknowledged in a long time. The side of myself that seems to be showing, here in this house.
“We were never on bad terms.” He argues. I try not to, but I end up laughing. Clearly, we have different memories of what took place between us. I seem to recall a scene, the kind you'd see in any romantic comedy. Only we didn't get to the make-up part where the story turns to happily ever after. We only had the screaming, shouting and show down. That was it. I was gone and I never really looked back. Not literally. I guess in a way, I've done nothing but look back since. But I'd like to think the band provided the right distraction. I never held it against any of them that my entire life was ruined. I never blamed them for the choices I made to leave this life behind. I could have. I remember Daniel was the one who convinced me we were meant for so much more. I mean, I believed it long before I knew him. But he was the one who sort of made the idea into something concrete. He had a van. He had money. He knew people in Los Angeles. He seemed to have it all figured out. We were going to do something. Change the world, even. We were going to go out there and tear the walls down. But, we were young and stupid. The walls never came down. For a while, we were on the other side, saw what life was like. But we only ended up building our own walls it turned out. He was never cut out for the lifestyle. He wasn't ready. None of them were. I wouldn't say I was, but I handled it the best. I was the only one who seemed to keep my head on my shoulders. It became painfully obvious we were never going to change the world. The only thing we were going to change was ourselves. Something that I think happened the minute we jumped into the back of Daniel's van. It took years to realize that everything changed that night. Not for the better, either. I wonder how Daniel would be doing today if his plans had fallen through. If his van had broken down on the cross-country drive. If his contacts had gone missing in action by the time we got there. An endless amount of variables could have changed the way this all turned out. Maybe it was destiny. The kid would say everything happens for a reason. I think that's just his way of trying to believe there's meaning in this world. There's no meaning, but, whatever delusions he's holding onto are his. I don't share them, but I have no plan on taking them away either. I've worn those shoes. The dream smasher. They were uncomfortable and everyone gave me these horrible looks. At the time I would have cared, though I couldn't imagine being bothered now. Now, it would only be a suiting name to be given. The looks, I've already got. People see me as this walking disaster and I just wish I could tell them they were wrong. But they aren't. A part of me accepted that a long time ago, too.
“I'm not sure how to respond.” I finally manage to speak. I wish I could off these inner monologues that keep me thinking at all hours of the day. A bottle of wine and I might be able to. But those inner monologues might start being recited out loud and I just can't risk that. It's one thing to face the strange, it's another thing to dive right in and I think that's exactly where this conversation is heading.
“Do you think we were?” He asks. And yeah, I do. I think we were on the worst of terms. I don't think two people could be on worse terms than him and I. But he's sitting here acting like that break-up scene never happened. Like it was all a movie or a dream or a vivid acid hallucination. I mean, when I think of it, I tend to remind myself that those are two different people. Maybe he does the same. But he never got to know who I became. That was in his best interest, since I never really changed. I only stopped caring as much. My hormones leveled out and I stopped yelling and shouting about my feelings. I took to a pen and put them on the radio instead. The only time I yelled it was into a microphone in front of thousands of adoring eyes. I think I was better off putting my laundry on the lawn, instead of on a television set. But it's too late to take back those years. I've poured every dirty secret out to the world. I put my failures and regrets into music, hoping they would leave me alone. But I also put him into a thousand songs and here he is. Maybe our problems never really leave, we only stop noticing them. Maybe we're all doomed to continue to question our very existence. Maybe it's just the wine talking and I'm trying to take myself anywhere but here. I'd rather be on a stage right now, because at least it wasn't intimate. It didn't matter how many people were looking up at me. I never saw a single face in the crowd. It's funny, Adam tells me he went to a million shows. That he always got back stage, that he sat in the front row. He told me how he had met us all a bunch of times. I couldn't remember him at all. Why would I? He was a nobody. They all are. Or, were. I guess I'm a nobody now, too. The kid is the only fan I've got left in this entire world. Granted, he makes up for the lack of fans by being a super fan. A super fan who creepily stalked my ex-boyfriend and made arrangements to show up around Christmas. I don't know if you call that a fan. Some people would call that a friend. I just call it insane. And I guess that says a lot about me, because I'm here, right? I followed along, which makes me just as insane as the kid. As, as insane as the person sitting across from me who agreed to have me here.
“Yeah, Jay. I guess I did.” I finally answer, only briefly looking over. He nods, but I'm not sure he's going to say anything in response. He laughs, like that's an adequate answer, then shakes his head.
“I let go a long time ago.” He adds. I raise my eyebrow.
“Just, moved on?” I question. He nods again.
“What else was I going to do? Holding on to negative feelings is a waste of time. It takes away the joy of living. Of experiences and life lessons. It's not like it was all bad, right?” He rambles. I laugh this time, reaching for the wine glass on the table.
“It's hard to see the good moments in your journey when all you can think about is the crash at the end.” I briefly consider the band as I say this. I had been looking for a way out of that long before. Maybe right from the beginning. It was more a lifestyle adapted out of boredom and feelings of grandeur. At the end of the day, we're all the same. Changing the world can't be done when you're too stubborn to change yourself. That's all we really learned. That's all the journey was even about. Sure, we made a difference for a few lost souls. But we never made a difference where it counted, which was our own. That's the kind of thing you can only really see in hindsight anyway. It doesn't make sense when you're living it. Everything's a blur of motion. Constant changes of scenery that prevent you from ever having to stop and look at your own reflection. At how tired and jaded you had become. I did everything I could to avoid ever having to face that reality. I really did. I don't know how it's creeping up on me now. All this self-reflection is actually starting to bum me out. I don't need to be reminded of my failures. There are just too many fighting for my attention. The one sitting in front of me seems to the most important, but I can't be sure of that. It doesn't feel like a failure, sitting here. Not the disaster I've always imagined it would be. Not the car crash I always imagined I had left behind. Just, nothing. Nothing I thought and nothing I could have thought. Just, nothing. It's almost a shame, because nothing means nothing. I guess I wanted something to linger. Anger wouldn't have been my preference, but I would have taken it over nothing. That's all my life has offered me so far. Nothing with a side of obnoxious.
“Is that really how you feel?” He asks, slowly leaning forward. I shrug, mostly to dismiss the topic. It doesn't work and a part of me knew it wouldn't. He just laughs, which seems to be his go-to.
“Do you ever consider that we don't need to have it all figured out?” He asks a minute later. I look up at him. He's staring at the ground, spinning the wine glass in his hand. The red liquid is leaving streaks as it slowly falls back to the center of the glass. A connoisseur would say the legs. I picked that phrase up when we were in France. Not a lot of drinking contests over there, but nice people. A little posh, though. A lifestyle I never would have fit into. Watching him swirling his wine, I think he would have fit in well. He'd like France. It has a lot of the elements that are present in his life. This elegance, this wisdom. It's funny how I never really saw him this way. I sort of figured he'd be, I don't know. A mechanic. Living pay check to pay check and partying on the weekend. Maybe had I stuck around, that would be the life he got stuck with. But I knew I was a disaster and I high-tailed my ass out of the equation. I always believed he was too good for my lifestyle and the way my brain worked, or didn't. I figured he was too good for me. Though, ask me then and I would have said I was too good for him. In fact, I may have said that to him once upon a time. I may have told him he'd never amount to anything and I was destined for greatness. I said it to everyone else. It only makes sense.
“My whole life is a series of not figuring things out. I kind of want to have a good bead on something. Maybe. Just, one little thing. I'm not picky.” I ramble, avoiding directly looking at him. He puts his glass down on the table and I catch myself glancing in his direction. He slides across the seat that's in between us, moving into my space. In the back of my head, I'm panicking, looking for the quickest escape from the situation. But my body isn't moving. Not a budge. I can feel my heart racing when he casually takes the wine glass out of my hand. I have half the mind to ask him what he's doing, but my tongue is as frozen as the rest of my body. It's no shock I'm completely unresponsive when he leans forward and kisses me. I only wish I could maintain the lack of response long enough for it to convey the right message. But I don't. I cave into the closeness. I cave into his embrace. I let myself get lost in the moment, even though I know it'll be impossible to come back from. I could shrug it off as the natural response. My body acting before my mind could. I'd know that wasn't true though. My mind has thought about this countless times. This exact moment, only, I imagined it would follow a fight. A verbal scuffle, him telling me off for everything I've ever done and everything I've ever said. Followed by instant regret, pulling back, dismissing it. Pretending it never happened. None of this ever happened. Not the first kiss, not the last. Nothing in between. We never happened. We exist only in another dimension, signs of an alternate reality that could have never been because there wasn't enough room for both of us. I never pictured it like this. Soft and gentle. The embrace of lovers or friends that have let things linger for too long to save the friendship. Beautiful moments the movies always show that never happen like this in real life. I expect I'm going to wake up at any minute. This is all going to be a dream. He moves back as casually as he entered my space. Only he doesn't realize the tear he made in my atmosphere. He picks back up his wine glass and takes another sit. I'm still speechless. Although a million thoughts run through my head, I can't figure out what I want to say. What the hell is the only cohesive thought. And really, what the hell?

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