“Jesus Christ, you’re wearing that? She said as I emerged from the bathroom with a prescribed nonchalance, stopping to dust the sand off of my toes.
“Yeah, isn’t it great?”
“You know he’s going, right? Did you know he was going to the show?” Her voice angled upward with annoyance and disbelief.
“No. I mean, I thought about it maybe but I didn’t know.” I said, avoiding eye contact because I was mostly lying. “Why, is he, you know, for sure going?”
“Yeah. He is. And so are you. Wearing a fucking 70’s prom dress.”
"It’s not vintage…or mine. It’s from H&M.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I look good though, right? Do you want me to change?”
“Yeah, of course. And no, it’s fine. But, like, you can never just be a shrinking violet, can you? You will always find a way to stand out."
“That’s not true, I don’t think. I shrink all the time. You just never know who you’re going to run into that’s all.”
“But you do know.”
“Listen, I work 40 hours a week at a job I hate and never go anywhere or do anything anymore. I just want a night out with my friends in a red dress. Can we leave it at that?”
“Okay, fine. Just…are you going to be okay? You almost….I mean….you tried to….and I don’t want to see him as much as you don’t want to see him, you know?”
“I can’t make any promises. But I’m going to try, okay?”
“Deal.” She paused, her eyes scanning my full body like a mirror. “It’s a really pretty dress.”
I twirled, lifting the skirt and letting it fall slowly; a distant curtain over a final performance of things we should have done differently.
“I won’t ruin your night. I promise.” I couldn't be sure of this but I said it out loud to manifest the possibility and I knew that no matter what happened the only night that would be ruined would be mine. After all, this would be our first encounter in almost five months, four if you count that time I caught his silhouette in the window when I left a garbage bag of his sweatshirts I used tosleep in on his mothers porch.
“Anyway, who wants to get high?”
When I talk to my dad he likes to refer to M as “a horse that will never finish” and when he says this he laughs. A lot. He has convinced himself that he has single-handedly coined the phrase to describe a struggling musician incapable of long-term commitment unaware that it sort of hurts my feelings though he isn’t entirely wrong, either. He worries about me, my dad worries about me. He has his own way of expressing his concern over the fact that I sleep too little (or too much, depending on what stage of depression/mania I am experiencing) the fact that I don’t have a savings account, health insurance or a life plan extending beyond Google search results for “jobs for writers” and “symptoms of a brain tumor.” He’s also concerned that M is still a frequently used word in my vocabulary and questions if my therapist is doing the best she can, as if it is her responsibility.
“A horse that will never finish…that’s a good one.” He repeats, usually from the passenger seat of my car while we drive from bookstore to bookstore, his hand in a bag of french fries.
“Yeah, dad…good one.”
There he was. Standing just beyond the security gate with his arms spread, his face panicked at the sight of me. 'Don't worry.' I thought. 'I won't bother you.' I opened my purse and pretended to look for something, aimlessly moving stray vitamins, bobby pins and pennies around with my index finger sneaking my eyes upward to soak in the final remnants of his frantic mirage. We both wore red.
"Oh fuck. Oh fuck." She said, grabbing my arm. "Why is he dressed like an usher? Are you okay? Why does he have to be right fucking there?!"
"He's not dressed like an usher." I said, calmly setting my keys, purse and phone into a bin.
"He's playing a character." The security guard waved a wand over me and by the time I had a clear view he had disappeared. He ran from me. He was nothing if not consistent.
"It's fine, I'm fine." I said, reassuring both of my friends that I would uphold my feeble promise from earlier.
"But I would like a drink."
The bar was immediately past the first set of doors and I allowed her to plan the best route for avoidance, her arm linked in mine treating me as if I had just been released from the hospital after months of enclosure.
”Let’s go here, this is good." She'd say, attempting to obscure my view of a likely sighting. Leaning against the bar to steady my internal earthquakes, I ran my hand through my hair and looked up. In the exact same spot on the opposite end, there he stood.
"This isn't one of those magic ball moments, you know that right? This isn't a coincidence and this isn't some sign." She said. "Are you okay?"
"It's crystal ball, actually. That's what we used to say…$10 for a beer? Jesus.”
“Crystal ball, whatever. Stop looking for him.” She ordered.
If only.” I thought. “Roger that.” I assured.
I’ve almost said it. Many times, in fact. Sometimes I think of saying it to him as he is half asleep or that time it was raining and people were shooting guns at the fireworks and I am often tempted to say it from behind our champagne toasts on our Monday nights. I almost said it after a couple weeks when he showed unwavering patience for my persistent distance and spells of quiet discontent. “You met me at a bad time.” Sometimes I want to say this, too, because sometimes it feels true. Can l silently love someone forever and love someone new, now, out loud? Is there enough? How can I expect someone to drink from a river run dry while I sip from a gracious ocean between my hands?
Am I cruel?
It was all very funny. Until it wasn't. His eyes burned through me from ten rows back and like a mirror I tried to burn back. My chair could not contain me. I stumbled though immobile. I crumbled though never touched. My laughter faded into stray tears and I wondered if he remembered me the way I remembered him; a delicate balancing act of doom and celebration, always one misstep away from floating far from reach. I tried to silence the crowd in my brain and find his voice but my intoxication left me deaf.
I closed my eyes and went to the beach, instead. The tepid waves lapping up my thighs as I blocked the sun with my hand so that I could make out the details of his face, his restless halo, the one who wants nothing more than to be seen by me. 'I am happy.' I thought. 'This is what happy feels like, now.' It's not the same, but it's kind. It doesn't hurt, not yet. Very few things actually happened the way I remember them.
I opened my eyes. Applause ensued and I told myself that I would make room, even where there is none.