“You look exactly the same,” he says.
It’s been a third of a lifetime since we last seen each other. Physically, he’s changed a lot but it takes me barely a moment to conclude that the changes are only skin deep. He smiles and gives me a little wink – that deadly combo that used to be my own private kryptonite – and I’m more than a little pleased to find that it’s lost its potency.
I smile a secret little self-satisfied smile and he mistakes my expression as evidence that I’m still susceptible to his charms. He takes a confidant half-step towards me, reaches out to put his hand on my arm – he always did like to establish contact early – and says, “You really do look great.”
It’s been a third of a lifetime since we last seen each other. Physically, I know I’ve changed some, but deep down – where it counts – I’m an entirely different person. I don’t tell him this, or any of the dozen or so other witty remarks that suddenly pop into my mind. Instead I let my smile widen slightly and say, “It’s good to see you Jay.” It’s a lie. A mutual friend warned me that he was in town and had been asking about me and I’d been hoping to avoid him. I wouldn’t have even come to the party if I’d known he’d be here since I worried that some small part of me would still be hung up on the guy.
First love is one hell of an addiction to beat.
But there we were, face to face, and I felt nothing of that old obsession. There is a part of me – the responsible, no-drama-allowed part – that tells me it’s time to say ‘goodbye’ and slip away. There’s another part of me however – some horribly wicked part – that senses sport on the horizon; she wants to play.
I’m aware of a lot of eyes on us in that moment; people love a good scene after all; but I’m not overly concerned by the interest. There was a time when I used to daydream about this – about a reunion with Jay – and in at least a few of those fantasies I would paint an epic scene that would have made all the little drama mongers gape in awe. That time has passed however, and at the moment I’m just sort of playing things by ear.
Jay suggests we find somewhere a little quieter to chat. He wants to talk, and though I’m not overly interested in what he has to say, the wicked little imp within, is. We end up settling on a couple of lawn chairs on the back deck. There’s a few people lingering about, but none of them are aware of our past and so we are of little interest them.
Jay’s sipping some foreign beer from a bottle and I’m nursing a Mojito. I’m intentionally drawing to his attention to my mouth every time I brush the straw with the tip of my tongue or lick my lips. There are about a million subtle little things that a woman can do to tease a man’s interest, and though I’m not typically big on playing games, for some reason I can’t seem to stop myself tonight.
As Jay talks about his life since we last knew each other, I’m feigning undying interest. I keep looking up at him from under my lashes, smiling shyly, laughing at all the right moments, demurely reaching out time and again to briefly touch him – all those little things that I remember he used to like so much. And he’s responding – I can tell – though he doesn’t seem to suspect that I’m doing any of this on purpose.
He tells me about his failed marriage – I’m not shocked to learn it was his penchant for infidelity that brought it to an end – and I’m careful to select the appropriately empathetic words when he looks to me for comment. I frown sadly when it seems fitting, and lay a reassuring hand over his now and then because it seems to be what he wants.
At one point, I think I see something like vulnerability in his eyes and the more rational part of me almost regains control. Then he switches topics rather abruptly. “Hey,” he says. “Do you remember that time we made out under the stage at the Dayglo concert?”
I remember leaving the concert after catching Jay making out with that weird Star Trek girl we went to school with… that’s enough to get the imp back in the game.
“I remember,” I purr.
Clearly satisfied with himself – and completely unaware of his error – he sits up and swallows down the rest of his beer in a single gulp. Knowing his eyes are fixed on me – but pretending not to notice – I wrap my tongue around the tip of my straw and draw it into my mouth. When the drink’s gone, I slowly stretch and take off my sweater. Underneath I’m wearing a rather tightly fitting top with a plunging neckline – I really hadn’t intended on wearing it without the sweater, but Jay was always a big fan of cleavage and the imp wants to make sure he’s paying apt attention.
There’s no questioning where his eyes are focused when I look back at him, but he has the decency to glance away and then quickly excuses himself in order to get us a couple more drinks.
While he’s gone, I’m trying to figure out what exactly it is that I’m up to. I’m not attracted to him anymore and I certainly don’t want to sleep with the guy. I’m not even angry with him after all this time – or so I think – so getting him all hot and bothered before saying ‘dasvidania’ seems a little peculiar, even for me.
I’m still no closer to discovering my motives when he returns. He hands me my drink and adjusts his chair so that he’s sitting directly in front of me. He sits and gives me another of the old one-two combo; the smile and the wink; and again I thrill at the knowledge that it does nothing for me. Still, I smile back a little coyly before taking a sip from my straw; for whatever reason, I’m going out of my way to make him think his charm still works; maybe I just want a chance to reject him even if settling the old score doesn’t make a lot of sense.
We chat idly for a time – he does most of the talking like he did back in the day and I’m glad for it; I really don’t have a lot to say to him. After awhile he glances around to make sure no one is in earshot and says, “I have a confession to make.”
My sensible side cautions that this could be very bad, but the imp insists that this could be absolutely perfect. I’m not sure who’s at the wheel exactly, but I smile a little nervously and motion for him to continue.
“I came here to find you.” He says. He’s gotten extremely serious all of a sudden, and his voice has dropped a couple of decibels. “I don’t just mean the party… I mean I came to town to find you.”
My initial response to this admission is mistrust. Jay was always proficient in the ways of charming women; I know, because I used to fall for it time and again. Of course, that was then and this now; now I’m nothing if not proficient in detecting bullshit, even if he doesn’t yet know that. Still, I’m not really sure how to respond.
He says, “I owe you so many apologies, for so many things. I was such a fuck up. I was going through a lot of shit, but that’s a lousy fucking excuse for what I put you through. When I left, I really… I really believed that you’d be better off without me in your life.” There’s that flash of vulnerability in his eyes again. “There hasn’t been a day of my life when I haven’t thought about you, y’know?”
There was a time when I would have given anything to hear him say these things, but now his words serve only to fill me with guilt and annoyance. I hate guilt, and I thought I was long past being annoyed by this man. All at once I don’t care what the imp wants or doesn’t want; I should have listened to my sensible side from the start. I foresee myself now on the verge of something I’m pretty certain I want nothing to do with, and even the imp seems to have lost interest in whatever game she’s been playing at.
I desperately just want out the situation.
I stand up – pausing briefly to put my hand on his shoulder – and say, “I forgive you Jay” and than I start towards the back steps. He catches me before I reach the stairs and turns me around to face him. “Please, hear me out.”
I don’t like myself very much in this moment, and I definitely don’t want to hear what he has to say, but I stop anyway.
“My whole life, I’ve treated women like shit. I never mean to do it, I don’t know why I do it, but I know I’m a complete asshole. Maybe I’m more like my old man than I’d like to admit, but I don’t want to be that guy anymore.” He seems to be struggling to get the words out, and I can’t help feeling that he’s being sincere. “After my ex kicked me out last year, I started thinking about everything I’ve ever done to hurt the people in my life. I really have fucked up a lot of shit… I’m truly sorry for a lot of what I’ve done… but I have never regretted anything more than I regret hurting you.” He heaves a long suffering sigh and adds, “I really did love you, y’know?”
“Jay,” I say as calmly as I can muster. I’m bordering on the release of a dangerous storm of old emotion and I want to be away before it breaks. “I really don’t want to do this, okay? I forgive you. It’s done. All right?”
The look that’s painted on his face is not one he’d been capable of back in the glory days of our youth. No matter how many times he came back to me pleading for another chance – not even when he forced himself to shed a few tears for emphasis – he’d never had this look. I could handle him still being the whore he’d always been, I could handle him wanting nothing to do with me at all – I’d made peace with that a very long time ago – but I couldn’t handle this. I didn’t know how to handle this.
“Please,” he says, and his voice has a quaver in it. “Please, just consider giving me another chance.”
Some strange mating of anger and exasperation sweep through me the moment he utters the words “another chance”. If he’d chosen any others I might have been able to hold it back, but he didn’t. “Go to hell Jay,” I growl. “I don’t need this.” I twist out of his grip and start down the steps.
He matches my speed on the descent, and just as I reach the grass he grips me by the shoulders and turns me be back to face him again. “Don’t do this,” he begs. “Don’t go. We could start again from scratch. We were meant to be together.”
That does it. “Fuck you Jay!” I twist out of his grip again and take two steps back, scowling at him. “We were kids Jay… that was a long time ago. Did you think you could come back after all this time and we’d… what? We’d just pick up where we left off? We’d just wonder off into the sunset together and have some sort of fucked up happy ending?”
His head hangs –defeated – his voice is low; almost a whisper. “I just thought… I thought we’d get the opportunity to find out if we could have a happy ending.”
I gape at him.
“I loved you, y’know.” He says it so plainly this time that it seems to lend strength to the words.
I’m trembling slightly and I know my eyes are wild, but I can’t yet seem to regain control. Every word he says just serves to further irritate me. So much for ever getting over your past, I think somewhat bitterly. To him I say, “You never even knew me Jay. How the fuck can you say you loved what you didn’t know?”
He’s shaking his head in denial as he says, “I did. I knew you, and I loved you… even if I did fuck it all up.”
I’m wondering how – even after all this time – I’m still foolish enough to get myself into an emotional showdown with this man, but in the same instance I’m realizing that this is the first time I’ve walked into the battle properly armed. I take a few deep breaths and say, “Jay, I don’t even think you know what love is.”
He looks into my eyes, his face twisted with pain. I don’t doubt that part is real. He says, “I know exactly what love is. I’ve spent enough years running away from it and screwing it up to know it better than anyone.”
“Maybe you do,” I say. “Maybe you don’t. I don’t know, and I don’t care.”
“You do care,” he says stubbornly. “I loved you, and you loved me. I still love you… I’ve never stopped loving you.”
“I… never… loved… you.” It’s hard to get the words out, but I’m relieved to hear the truth buried in them.
“Yes you did,” he insists. “Do you remember that last thing you ever said to me?”
I do, but I don’t answer.
“You said that you knew we would end up spending our lives together. You said that you would always love me.” His eyes glisten with unshed tears. “You said that you’d wait for me forever.”
I nod slightly – more to myself than to him – and a strange calm washes through me as I pass from under the eye of the storm. I step towards him, embrace him gently and brush a soft kiss along his jaw line as I whisper in his ear, “Forever turned out to be too long.” I turn away and walk out of his life forever.
It’s been a third of a lifetime since we last seen each other. Physically, we’ve both seen some changes, but deep down – where it counts – we’re entirely different people. I’m happy and I love my life; he’s miserable and regretting his. I hadn’t even realized that I still craved closure from my time with Jay, though it seems my inner imp did. He doesn’t know it, but he’s just given me an incredible gift. I hope he’s able to keep growing, and I sincerely hope that one day he finds contentment… but Jay will never find it with me; I’ve finally realized that he no longer owns real-estate in even the most secreted corners of my heart.