Wait! This is the second part in a series of three. If you haven't read go do that now. Part One: Inevitable I think each section can stand on its own, but I would recommend reading all three.
Part Two: Lust
His voice was so soft every time he said something to me that morning, he sounded defeated, deflated. I don’t remember ever being that angry in my life. And over what? Because he smoked some pot? It’s not like he hadn’t done it before, or that he had lied to me about doing it. Maybe I was just tired, so tired of it all, and when I woke up the next morning surrounded by his pillows and his blankets, freezing, I was scared to death that I had done something with him. I was shaking sleep from my memory, thinking, Did I sleep with him? Where is he?
I haven’t spoken to him since that morning, a year and a half ago. “Bye,” was the last thing he said to me. “Thank you, though,” was the last thing I said to him. We were saying so much more, though, with our eyes and our bodies. I think we both knew it was over.
It is so warm out here, and everyone is talking in a slow, excited whisper. It’s June, the air is moist and hot and there are bees buzzing and the thick scent of honeysuckle runs along the breeze.
“Ah, it’s the perfect day for a June wedding,” Tammy says to me. I look over at her and she is beaming, a perfect, toothy smile and lined raspberry lips.
I nod. She’s right. It is the perfect day for a wedding.
I turn around, scanning the audience. I thought he might be here, but I don’t see him. That’s why I took a little more care in getting dressed this morning, fixing my face and my hair. This dress is a little clingy, it’s yellow and I thought it would make me look tan, but when I went inside to the bathroom a few minutes ago, I realized it just makes me look sickly. It’s too short, too. It looks like I bought it when I was twelve, and at twenty-one, I am still trying to prove I can fit into it. I suddenly feel bare, and tug at the bottom of the dress nervously.
There is a gray headed man singing “Moon River” under the arbor, and when I look around me to check if he is here one last time, I see him. He is just coming in and he is sitting three rows behind me. I quickly turn my head around. He won’t recognize me if he only sees the back of my head, because a year and a half ago my hair was short, but now it’s long and in a ponytail.
He is sitting just a few rows back, and I can feel his presence like a fire burning behind me. Something both strange and excitingly familiar runs through me and I can’t suppress a sigh.
“What is it?” Tammy asks, leaning a little closer to me, and I can see straight down her dress. I suddenly find myself worrying that he’ll see her at the reception and he’ll be able to see straight down her dress, and he’ll want to take her home with him.
“I’m just tired, that’s all.”
“Well, from the way that windbag is blowing, we’ve got a while to go.” She smiles at me and runs a perfectly manicured finger along the length of my nose.
I haven’t been friends with Tammy for very long. Maybe two months. I don’t know why I felt the need to ask her to come with me to this wedding as opposed to someone I have know for longer. I guess it’s because she’s talkative and charismatic and easy to get along with. All during the wedding she turns to me and makes funny little remarks, or sighs melodramatically.
We all turn our heads and stand when the music begins to play and we see the bride coming in from the walkway. I imagine everyone catches their breath. I catch mine.
When she gets to the altar the groom looks at her like she is the only woman in the world. Tears prick at my eyes, and I shut them for a second to see if I can get a hold of myself. No one has ever looked at me like that. When I open them back up she is looking at him like he is the only man in the world, and I can’t control the tears as they fall one after the other down my cheeks, onto my neck and throat.
Tammy looks at me from the corner of her eye. “Are you alright?” she asks, and she is very concerned. I half expect her to pull a handkerchief from her dress and hand it to me.
“I’m okay,” I say, licking the tears sticky and salty from my lips. I am. There is just so much running through my head that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with this wedding; sex and drugs and lost causes; hope and the lack there of. Something very heavy tugs at my heart, pulling it downward into my stomach. I sigh again, and am glad I opted for clear mascara.
When the bride and groom make their way down the aisle and the bridal party follows, knots began to twist themselves in my stomach.
“Why don’t we skip the reception?” I say in a sort of absurd desperation to avoid the meeting I know is bound to happen. Maybe it’s destined to.
“What?” Tammy asks. She cocks an eyebrow and looks at me like I am crazy. “The reception is the only good part about weddings.”
“I dunno,” I say, my eyes wondering off, avoiding hers. “I really thought this one was lovely.”
She shrugs, ignoring me, and then loops her arm through mine. It makes me nervous being this close to her, as everyone around us will see us side by side, and Tammy is dark and beautiful and I am not. I feel myself shrinking, my shoulders rolling forward, my eyes falling to the ground. However, once we get to the reception, where there are tables lined with food and mosquito candles and people in beautiful dresses everywhere, this fades from my mind as I pull away from her and head straight for the champagne.
It doesn’t surprise me that Tammy sees him first.
“He is hot,” she tells me. He is at the table getting a cup of the spiked punch. I almost laugh, but something catches in my throat. I feel sort of lost all of the sudden. Like, after a year and a half I thought maybe things would be different, that he would be different. I am. But here he is, making his way through his second glass of rum punch, catching Tammy’s eye and running his gaze down the length of her body before he sees me.
His face is leaner than I remember, and he has some dark growth on his chin that makes him look rugged, but I know it is just a façade. From this far away I cannot read his expression, and I wonder if he can tell my mouth is hanging open. I promptly close it and look away. My face is hot now, and there is a rising feeling of nausea in my stomach. I set down my bubbling, half-empty glass of champagne and don’t pick it back up.
Tammy has a very shocked, unattractive look on her face. I feel a bit of grim satisfaction at this. I can still feel his eyes on me.
“What’s his deal?” she asks, and flips her dark hair over her shoulder in a pretty, flirty manner. “He’s staring at us.”
Normally, she wouldn’t even pretend to be offended that someone was looking at her, but the problem is, he’s not looking at her. I mean, he did, but then he very rudely began to stare at me.
“I dated him,” I tell her, and the pleasure I get from her unabashed shock fades quickly. I feel like I have exploited whatever we had with each other. I said it like he was every other guy that I saw in the past year and a half. He was just one of the guys that I kissed, fooled around with and fooled around on. Just another one I dated.
“He dated you?”
My eyes flicker in annoyance, but I’m glad for the interruption of my thoughts. “Yes.” My voice is monotone, but contains a layer of sharpness, challenging her.
“But, he has a tattoo.”
I narrow my eyes at the Latin inscription “veritas” on his wrist. I can’t tell that’s what it says from here, but I know. “Actually, he has three.”
All of her shock and disgust fades away and she melts into a full laugh. The bracelets on her wrist jingle and a little bit of the champagne in her glass spills out and runs down her arm. Her face is so flushed from laughing, and her smile is a mile wide, I can’t suppress a sheepish grin.
I walk over to one of the tables to get a napkin for Tammy, checking first to make sure that he is not over there. As I reach for the napkins, I see him heading straight for me, and I wonder why in God’s name he is doing so. He looks like a man on a mission, and when I see that his punch glass is empty, I know exactly what that mission is.
“Hey,” he says, and smiles a small, crooked smile, as he reaches for the ladle and fills the glass up to the brim.
I don’t return his hey, but I do mirror his smile, eyeing his punch glass, though seeing this actually makes me want to cry. I’m looking at him, in his eyes, and we exchange, “How have you been?” He’s been fine, and I’m glad, I really am. He’s not working at AllTell anymore. He works at an advertisement agency in the more developed part of town. He’s their marketing manager. He goes on a little, dancing around the complexity of our relationship and its 24 hour demise. I dance around it, too. I talk about how I’m managing the bookstore, and he’s staring straight into my eyes and he looks lost in his own body and it’s like we were never apart.
Soon we have wandered away from the reception, like several others, and into the garden behind the bride’s family estate. It’s big and there are ponds and waterfalls and roses. The wind tugs a little bit of my hair from my ponytail, and so I pull it down and it falls in a dark cascade to my shoulder blades.
“I didn’t recognize you with your hair so long,” he says, and gives it a playful little tug. He doesn’t say whether he likes it or not, he just notes that it’s grown.
There is a heavy scent of summer musk and flowers in the air. He starts to feel comfortable again around me and he moves in closer. He smells different than I remember, less like cloves and more like black pepper, but it’s still strong and I’m intensely attracted to it. I feel like I haven’t felt in a year and a half. I am completely relaxed, but my senses are heightened and everything around me is intense. I’m giddy with the soft sounds of the garden, and the scent of him and of the earth, and the feel of the wind on my face, and my high heel catches on a stone in the path and I fall.
He catches me and pulls me up. I stare down into his eyes and he looks infinitely older to me, crows feet at his temples and dark circles smeared underneath his eyes. He doesn’t let go. I don’t pull away. It’s so familiar and it’s so right. I can smell the liquor on his hot breath, and it makes my blood pulse like molten lava in my veins. When his kisses fall on my neck instead of my mouth my knees nearly buckle, I thank God that I’m still standing. He finds the hollow of my throat with his lips, and I can’t think of how many other guys have kissed that same spot.
As his mouth moves downward to my collarbone, there is something tugging at the back of my mind. I can’t figure out what it is, or what it is trying to tell me. Maybe it is my lost religion. Maybe it is my common sense. I start remembering things: rolled marijuana in the ash tray with cigarette butts, that thick smoke and stale liquor smell, our fights, and his apathy…how gentle his hand is running up my thigh, inching up my skirt.
“We can’t.” I am shocked by the sound of my own voice. “We can’t do this to ourselves.”
“Yes,” he nods impatiently. “Yes, we can.” His voice is harsh and urgent, and it snaps me back to my senses.
“No,” I say, and push him away with more force than I intend.
“Godammit, Lily! Why are you like this? Don’t tell me you don’t feel it, I know you do. I can see it in everything about you.” He runs both his hands through his hair in frustration, and turns around for a second, trying to get a hold on himself. All of the sudden I am angry with him again.
“Don’t yell at me!” I tell him, even though I am ready to fall right back where we were and his yelling is the only thing that will stop me. “Don’t talk to me about the way that I am.”
He shakes his head and his hair falls into his eyes. Instinctively I reach to brush it back, and he grabs my fingers, blowing a cool stream of air against my palm. My heart jumps to my throat. He would always do that when I was upset with him. “Chill out,” he would say, and then let his breath fall light and cool against my neck, my face, my opened hand.
He does it so naturally, like it was a year and a half ago and I had just gotten off work from the bookstore.
Don’t you dare do that, I am thinking, but I can’t pull away because he has melted my heart.
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