She says, Let's pretend it's all new. 2,700 words.
And if I shoot at you, you should shoot at me too
We can drown in the ghost of the thick dark words we throw
- Frightened Rabbit, Foot Shooter
It's not strictly a happy ending, but it's an ending just the same, and it's happy in its own way.
And so it happens one day that nobody expects; it's gone undiscussed for years, so long that nearly no one remembers -- not you, nor her; not her friends, and most especially not yours.
You're on vacation alone in a place unfamiliar when you run into her again, in a narrow side street. She still has that distinct air about her that makes her recognizable from a distance, even after all these years. Something about the way she walks, you think; the way she holds herself upright.
Expectedly she does not recognize you right away; she holds your eye right through the moving crowd and for a moment or two, you think it's long enough for things to sink in, but when she turns away anyway, it dawns on you then, how her eyes are still the same after all this time: Hopeless.
That's how you don't meet for the first time in this city, and a part of you is actually thankful. You haven't seen her since it ended and you don't exactly remember all the details; you didn't exactly pack all your old journals with you, though you clearly remember where they are: in a cupboard somewhere in your flat a couple of time zones away.
(The room you're in now, in a cheap hotel just behind the church, has no cupboards at all, but its cabinets are enough; or at least they are for someone who's just about to live off a couple of suitcases for a couple of weeks. They're both just open inside the closet, all the clothes still neatly folded, barely touched.)
Of course, you need reminding; the years between have eroded the details, and only very little remains intact; you're not even sure which of them are entirely true, to begin with, considering that brief period you spent overanalyzing them in the wake of the end.
(Remembering's a tricky thing.)
What you remember: that skirt she wore when you first introduced her to your friends; the way she was damned uncomfortable in them that she'd ended up changing into newly bought jeans. She'd been too worried then to come off as "too queer." You remember laughing and asking, "What's the point? We *are* queer."
(She'd said, "I wasn't, before you." Maybe that should've warned you enough, but then again, it didn't.)
What you remember: that perfume she wore during freshman year; that way she kept pushing her hair out of her eyes; the small scar at the back of her left knee (from a freak motorcycle accident); the sound of her keys at the door.
Always, the small things. Looking up at the lights slipping and sliding across the ceiling, you find yourself asking about the things you don't remember: Why had it ended again?
(If everything you remember are all the too sickeningly sweet small things)
Somewhere, something started slipping -- a forgotten errand; all too many nights spent alone; all too many trips made alone. She was a big fan of the whole 'finding yourself' thing. (And then perhaps, one day she did, finally. You were a month shy of twenty two. Finally alone and on the cusp of a now wider open world, bigger than ever before.)
And then, before anybody knew it, you're here -- well past the required overanalytic phase (Was it love? Was it real? What's the point?) and now it's years later. You've just opened the new year in a new city, marveling at the fireworks from the balcony of your room, a glass of wine in hand. (Seven years earlier, it would have been beer; incidentally, that was also several pounds ago.)
For sure, you saw this coming. The world was small, after all, and if anything the shock that coursed right through you when you saw her that morning was not because she was who she was, but more because it itook this long to begin with. (And -- of all places, HERE.)
(It's not about her, you think again. There's a curious sort of relief there.)
The next time it happens, she finally sees you; you are walking out of a restaurant when you bump into her just as she looks up from her phone, and you, from your iPod.
The first thing she does is reach for her sunglasses; you, on the other hand, tug on your earphones. The music fizzles out of your ears, replaced by the oddly muted humdrum above your heads.
When something shifts in her eyes, it's almost like the both of you are enveloped in silence. She opens her mouth tentatively to say something, before closing it again, clearly unable to make a sound or come up with a word first.
"Hello," is what you say, barely recognizing that shaky sound as your voice.
Her eyes widen; the moment shifts from potentially sentimental to something altogether comic. That face she wears as she says, "Oh," is priceless.
After a moment she starts laughing. Just like that, all the sounds around you seem to start up again, climbing slowly toward the crescendo.
There's a drumming in your lungs, and you find yourself laughing along -- a long, round one; a full one that starts from the pit of your stomach and rumbles upward, the sound coming out a hoarse bellowing that puts a shiver in your throat.
(For something that ended as messily as it had, the last thing you expected out of a development like this was laughter.)
She blinks and says, "Motherfucker," in that affectionate tone that only she can muster, and you laugh harder, thinking, Christ, all these years of not seeing each other, and this is all she has to say.
She nudges your shoulder before pulling you back into a hug, her chest still vibrating with leftover laughter.
"Nice bumping into you too," you murmur into her shoulder.
Right then it hits you, how that word describes perfectly what it is -- *nice.* That is all.
You end up walking through the city absently, only stopping every so often to tie your shoelaces. She points to a flock of cyclists, mentions something about an afternoon long ago spent trying to take her bike's training wheels off. You don't remember much, but you can still see in your head the horrible greasy mess of it on your hands and shirts.
It goes on pleasantly; you duck into a small book shop when it suddenly starts raining, and you browse books in different shelves. She's into homemaking magazines now; you want to ask how that happened, but then you feel curiously intrusive, so you just bite your tongue and say nothing.
But when she starts pulling out bridal magazines, your resolve weakens.
"Interested in that now?" you ask finally, biting the inside of your cheek, afraid it still comes off as bitter - but it's not, it's truly not, if she's only seen you through all these years--
"I am, kind of," she smiles, and really, you expected yourself to feel stronger about this -- only you don't, and that's what's most surprising. "Maybe. Thinking about getting married soon. I don't know."
You find yourself smiling. "Life's short," you just say, not even having the other expected urge to find out who it was. (Was he the one who came immediately after? Was he why it ended? It mattered so much, at the time, but now there's none of that feeling.)
"I say you should go for it."
She pulls out a magazine and thumbs through it, the rustling of the pages giving her away. When you look at her over the edge of the book you're browsing through in kind, you try to watch out for any sign of what she's feeling -- she used to wear whatever it was so visibly, like it were a watch. She used to be so plain, so *easy*. There's none of that here now, too. It's like her face is now a different language entirely, and one you couldn't read, at that.
You raise your brow at the question she throws at you, just as she looks up and meets your eye. "I said you should go for it," you say. When in doubt, repeat. "You're the one here dropping all these surprises."
She laughs softly, like she's telling herself: Of course. "Right," she says. Her lips curl up, one corner higher than the other. It's the first time you see it, and you think, Well, it suits her just fine.
She turns her head, looks out the window. The rain has stopped and the late afternoon sun now seems warm and inviting and it all makes you wish you were here with someone else, other than a former lover.
"The city's lovely at night," she says. "Lights and all." She says it all so absently and for a split-second you finally see something that's the least bit familiar. A shadow of that girl you once knew. "What are your plans for dinner?"
She says it so casually that you begin to think, maybe she's as surprised as you are. (And you are really, truly surprised, to begin with, that this isn't as heavy as you'd expected.)
"I'm all right," you say, and it's only after a couple of seconds that you realize your answer isn't the response she's waiting for.
"Liar," she says affectionately. She tucks the magazine back into the shelf. "Why are you here alone if you were?"
Soon enough, you find yourself sitting across her for dinner in a mid-range restaurant she chooses for the both of you. She calls for the waiter and the waiter smiles like she knows her, leaning in closer with the menu.
She looks at you, cocking her brow and biting her lip, and all of it just prompts you to say, "Whatever you're having then," like you were just responding to some kind of spell.
After a while, two plates of salad arrive. You expected yourself to be hungrier, but for some reason, you aren't. You're pushing the leaves around in your plate when she asks, finally, "Why are you here?"
"I'm on vacation," you say simply, thrusting into a tomato and popping it into your mouth, and for a moment you are lost in its taste, the tangy-sweetness of it, mellow in your mouth now after being left out for longer than ideal.
"What happened?" she prods on, lowering her fork to the side and clasping her hands under her chin. You can tell she's looking at you while you're focusing on the edge of your plate. You clear your throat but say nothing, so she continues with, "Choose -- career, love, family?"
You clear your throat harder. "I just left my job."
"The one that had you for what, seven, eight years?"
You shake your head. "No, the one that came after that." And then, "I only lasted a couple of months, give or take."
She nods and says, "Ah," before quieting down a bit. And then, "Were you here on new year's?"
"Watched the fireworks from the balcony of my room."
"Where are you staying?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"Why wouldn't you?"
"My father has always advised me against strangers."
She laughs at that -- a soft tinkle that drips out of the corner of her mouth. "Oh?" she asks softly, the small O of her full lips punctuating the sound. "Is that right?"
To be honest, you're surprised yourself, and you give your head a hard shake once, twice, in an effort to get it out, whatever it is. "Sorry, that was..."
"Mostly correct," she continues. Her tone is not unkind. "I thought we at least had something left."
"We don't," you say.
She shrugs as she smiles into her plate, saying nothing for the rest of the meal.
You don't know what comes upon you, but you go ahead anyway and follow her to her hotel. Walking her to her door becomes coming in for tea and for a change it's all so light, it's like meeting her for the first time.
At the door, she turns to you before entering, a hand around the knob. "Would you like to come in?"
You feel yourself nodding and stepping into her place. It smells like a generic hotel -- clean, crisp sheets and blank, white walls.
She closes the door and you close in on her, kissing her, telling yourself it's only to check if she tastes the same. She doesn't (or is it that you'd already forgotten?)
She says, "Let's pretend it's all new," and when she looks at you, you can read the truth off her eyes, that there's still something there, after all. You try to listen in closer for that familiar thump in your chest, and you almost want to apologize for not finding anything there.
She leans in this time, her fingertips brushing against your jaw. She does this thing where she runs the tip of her tongue lightly over your lower lip and you almost break away from her, if only to ask, "Where'd you learn that?" But she pushes in harder and she takes all the breath out of you and yes, of course it's *good* but it's not something you remember, not quite.
When she slips her jeans off in the half-light of her room, you see something by her hip; it's a tattoo of a small ampersand, too small to be really visible from afar, but then again she's so close now and your eyes are suddenly too clear. You touch it gingerly, wondering when she had it and why, pressing into it with the pad of your thumb. She arches into your hands in reaction, and you fall into bed, taking her with you.
In your hands she feels much more compact; with the passage of the years, it seems she has managed to whittle her body down to the basics. You grip her arms, fascinated with the resistance of the muscle there, the way the skin shifts when she moves and *flexes.* You're unable to disguise the hitching of your breath.
"You all right?" she asks, her head angled just so her hair falls upon your shoulder.
"Why are we doing this again?"
She smiles and shrugs. "I've told you," she says, fingertip tracing the pulse on the side of your throat. "It's all new." When she lifts her shirt off her head and your hands come upon her breasts, you find they're decidedly larger, but not the artificial kind; the give of the flesh there as she pushes against your hand tells you as much. The smile on her face turns into a smirk. "See anything you like?"
You swallow, barely nodding. When she kisses you again, you're all too certain that this is a different girl entirely.
That is how you get through the night -- you give her a different name in your head. You don't speak as you kiss the skin on her stomach; you are naturally inclined to whisper things, but this time you hold your tongue for fear of breaking the spell.
For her part, she tries as well, squirming underneath you soundlessly, even as you push your tongue inside her; when you look up from between her legs, her body's arched taut, and you're certain that your name's trapped somewhere in her throat.
(This part you can't deny; the taste of her is so familiar, it makes you dizzy with want.)
Lying beside her in the aftermath of things, you think about the ways you've changed and the ways you've stayed the same.
She's shed all the familiar things -- she's slimmer now to a degree, and what's with all this *ink*, you think, absently tracing the lines with the edge of a nail -- but then, the way she lies curled up against you in your arms tells you more than you care for, about what exactly it is that she hasn't managed to shed, after all.
*This won't do,* you think, carefully slipping out of bed and into your clothes. On the outside, it must look like *you* haven't changed, not at all, but the way your chest felt obscenely still through everything tells you something important.
Closing the door softly behind you, you don't look back, and when you fly out of the city two nights later, you realize you hadn't even exchanged new numbers nor e-mail addresses.
It's curious, the way you find a sort of comfort in that. #