It has been a long day.
You sell a few boxes of contacts over the course of your shift, but that’s not enough to make the time go by any faster. The clock ticks away, inching closer and closer to quitting time. You sit at your desk, almost draped over it, exasperated and waiting for the day to end.
A familiar face enters and she looks just as you remember her. You once regarded each other as sisters, and those feelings of affection quickly rise to the surface upon her reentry into your workplace and into your life. There’s a hug, long and comfortable. You ask each other questions about what the other has been up to. Before you know it, it’s time to close up shop and head home. She asks you to accompany her to the bar you used to frequent. You agree.
The bar seems closer than you remember. It’s nestled neatly into a suburban community. The memories begin to flood in; you remember spending New Years Eve here with him, eating chicken wings and drinking rum and cokes. You remember introducing your siblings to him in that booth in the corner while trying to tune out some college kid playing “Wonderwall” on the guitar. You remember ending your almost-sister’s 21st birthday at that bar, dragging your drunken brother and drunken almost-sister through the sleepy streets back to her house. Your brother slept on the futon that night, a wastebasket and a glass of water placed nearby. You shared another night in his bed. You wondered if your brother could hear you having sex, but quickly put that thought out of your mind.
You take a seat at the bar, at the far end, and your almost-sister is nowhere to be found. You look around, blinking, wondering if you had lost her in the dim of the bar, but she’s vanished. Your lack of concern is surprising, even to you, but you shrug it off and turn back to the bar to order a drink.
And there he is.
He’s behind the bar, fixing drinks, and you sit in stunned silence, watching him move about. He looks the same; he’s wearing one of his standard black t-shirts and when he looks back in your direction, you’re reminded of that photo you took of him at the Renaissance Festival, the one just before he shot an arrow at a target. Smiling.
He sees you.
You both stare at one another for a moment. It has been over three years. He approaches you, rag in hand, drying a pint glass. He puts those things to the side and reaches you.
It’s all you can think to say. His lips are as you remember them, and you fight the urge you reach over the bar and kiss him. You know he’s married, but you don’t notice a wedding band on his ring finger. He resumes his composure and asks what you’ll be having. You ask for a dark and stormy, and he pauses for a moment, recognizing that you have ordered his favorite drink. He tells you he’ll be right back.
Your heart is racing. This is the last place you expected to be, and now here, you don’t want the night to ever come to an end. He returns with your drink and he watches as you take your first sip.
The bar is surprisingly empty. He asks about your life and you give him a brief update, only stretching the truth enough to make yourself seem happy without him. He smiles and nods, but you can tell he doesn’t believe you. You two talk of quitting smoking for a moment. You gave up cigarettes over a year ago and he mentions having quit along a similar timeline. He doesn’t mention his wife. You ask about his job at the hospital and he tells you he gave it up in favor of a simpler existence. You wonder what else he gave up to live this life, but you don’t press it.
You become aware of the time and look at the clock on the wall. It’s 9:57, and a manager at the bar approaches and tells him he can go home early. The place is dead and the manager says she will be around in the event anyone shows up.
He’s next to you, almost as if he materialized six inches away from you. You blink, and he’s gone. You blink again and he reappears. He puts a hand on the small of your back and asks if you’d like to come back to his place with him. Without hesitation, you get up from your bar stool and follow him to his car.
A minivan. A Toyota Sienna. A drastically different car from his blue Honda Civic hatchback. You get into the passenger’s seat; the back is reclined and he apologizes and says its been broken for months. You lean back in the seat and look up at him as he drives. He speaks but isn’t speaking clearly. You don’t say a word. You just lie there, fixated on his face.
The driveway. The same driveway you and he smoked countless cigarettes in some years ago. You remember the last time you were in this driveway. It was early October; he had returned from a weekend getaway with his then-fiancee. He sent you a long text message about missing you and wishing you had been at the beach instead of her. You called him moments after receiving the message; you were upset that he would even think to play with your emotions in that way. But you were also intrigued. You stayed on the phone with him as he tried to explain his feelings. He was unaware that you were driving to his house during that conversation. You walked through the door, and both of you looked at each other, phones in hand. You both hung up and hugged. He smelled good, like the cologne you had given him a Christmas or two back.
After the hug, you punched him in the stomach. And you punched him twice more and you screamed at him. He grabbed your arms and held onto them to deter you from punching him again. You two sat in the driveway, smoking cigarettes and trying to figure each other out. It went from sitting across from each other to lying on the concrete of the driveway, next to each other, looking at the stars. You felt small.
“What if I told you I didn’t love you anymore?” You asked.
“I wouldn’t believe you.” he replied. You rolled over, your face inches from his. He looked ready to kiss you.
“I. Don’t. Love. You.” You said. You needed to say it. You didn’t want to hurt this other woman by getting in the way of their relationship. If he was to return to you, you thought, it would be after his relationship died on it’s own, without your influence.
You see outlines of your images in the driveway. He’s standing next to you and he stares at the driveway as if he is seeing the same thing. He turns to you and asks if you want to come in. He offers a back massage. He says he’ll tell you everything.
You’ve been wanting a back massage, of all things, for months. You’ve wanted a partner to care enough about your comfort to offer one. You take him up on his offer.
You follow him into the doorway, wondering if his room looks the same, wondering if the bed will feel the same, wondering if his mouth will taste the same.
And that’s when you wake up. It’s 7:38 AM and you’re in your bed, nearly 2 hours and fifty five miles away from dreamland. You reacquaint yourself with your own room, grounding yourself, taking in your reality.
You check your cellphone. Facebook reminds you of your trip to the Shenandoah Valley, five years to the day, with a photo of the two of you. You were happy then. You were still honeymooning. You were still in the throes of new love.
You turn your phone off, pull the covers over your head, and attempt to go back to sleep.
But you can’t.