After All These Years

 

October-All those Years Ago

The room was dark and the music was a little too loud, just like it always is in strip clubs. They pump as much excitement into the air as they can, hoping that it’ll make people open their wallets for expensive drinks and lap dances. I  saw Riley from across the room, our eyes meeting the second that I passed through the door; she was who I was there to see.

Riley hugged me and took my face in her hands for a moment before I took a seat in the chair and she took one on my lap. She has long dark hair, pale skin and smoky eyes; her typically warm smile seemed to be weighed down a little by something that night, but I didn’t quite understand just then what it was.

She ran her fingers through my hair and was affectionate, but something felt different; she touched me the way that you do when you have something hard to tell someone that you care about. I felt that something to say coming and I could feel my heart beat a little faster while I waited for her to be ready to say it. She leaned in close, whispering over the music and the noise, her face out of view.

“I got married today” she said and I closed my eyes, trying to let those words sink in.

I knew she was engaged; she told me when her boyfriend came back to town that they had. It was an effort to save their on again, off again relationship and it was what she felt she was supposed to do. We’d spent a lot of time together while he was away and even though we kept respectable boundaries, there were so many times when it had been a challenge for both of us. There was always something unspoken between us and if I’d ever doubted that before, it was plain as day in the face of that news.

She sat back and looked at me; I studied her face and I  saw all sorts of things, but happiness wasn’t one of them. She smoothed my hair down from where her fingers had been in it as we both tried to figure out what to do and what to say. I offered my congratulations and wished her well, which I’m not sure was what she really wanted from me but it’s what you are supposed to say when you hear what should be good news. There wasn’t much else either of us could say; we both knew that we’d missed our moment and saying it out loud wasn’t going to make anything easier for either of us. We looked at each other and did our best to smile like we meant it.

**

Four Months Ago

Riley texted me on a Saturday evening, when it just so happened that we were both back in town on the same day. She sent me a message saying that she was going back to the club to work for the night and that I should come out and see her if I was up for it.

I’d given her my number via social media and I wasn’t sure that she would use it. It’d been a long time since I’d seen her and I wasn’t sure if she was just being polite when she told me that I should tell her if I came back to that town where neither of us really lived in anymore. When she texted me that she was here, I was surprised and I  knew that I had to see her. I walked the dozen or so blocks from where I was staying and I  found myself back in a room that on the surface hadn’t really changed since that night eight years ago when she told me that she was married.

She led me out on to the courtyard and we sat beneath the nights sky while we caught up. There were lights strung between the buildings and a slow night meant that there were a handful of others dancers sitting out there smoking, waiting for customers to come in.

A lot’s happened since then, for both of us. I’ve been in and out of relationships; she’s gotten divorced and had a baby. We’ve both done a lot of living since then and lot’s of things have changed, but there was an instant comfort in being near her that proved to me that some things never do.

We talked for a while before she had to go back inside and work and it often felt like old times. When the subject of what happened all those years ago came up, we both shied away from it a little and found ourselves in a silent moment.

“I think I’ll always love you in some way” , she said and I knew just how she felt; she’d just been the braver of us for having said it out loud.

I left that night feeling like it might be the last time I saw her, but I hoped that wouldn’t be the case. In the days to come I texted her, telling her when I extended my stay once, twice more but slowly I started to believe that was the end of our story.

***

This Friday Past

 I was surprised when I heard from her again early on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago. We met up briefly that day and again this past Friday, before she went in to work. I sat at the bar with her while she put on her makeup and we caught up on each others lives. I told her about Maeve and the struggles I was having navigating non monogamy with her and she told me about the last person she’d dated.

“Oh! Listen to this: my ex texted me today and reminded me that eight years ago today, we got married.” she said.

The timing was uncanny, as I’d just been working on this post before I left the house to meet her and that day eight years ago was heavily on my mind.

“I didn’t want to tell you” she said of that long ago night.

“There was unhappiness all over your face and that’s what made me sad. If we couldn’t be together, I at least wanted you to be happy” I admitted for the first time.

“That’s the thing though, I wasn’t sure that we couldn’t be together.” she said, which was both wonderful and heartbreaking to hear.

We fell into a little silence then, one that broke when the bartender came by and asked us if we needed anything. It wasn’t long after that she told me she had to go; she paid for my drink when she settled her own tab and we left the bar together.

“I’ve got to go get lashes, do you want to walk with me?” she asked.

“I’ll take any excuse I can get to spend a little more time with you” I  said. She smiled, glancing at me out of the corner of her eye.

Inside the costume shop she talked about her daughter and their plans for Halloween. We walked through the isles together before she asked the man behind the counter for the lashes that she needed. I watched her; the way she moved, the way she spoke to others, the way that she looked at me. It made me happy and also a little sad at the same time; just like it always had.

She paid for the things that she bought and as we walked toward the door, she reached out and ran her fingers through the back of my long hair. I  closed my eyes for an instant and felt like time had folded, bringing those eight years together into one moment.

She apologized for doing it and I didn’t have the right words just then to tell her how much that little tenderness meant to me. Out in the streets we talked as I walked her toward the place where I knew that we had to part company;  she was headed to the strip club and I  was headed to the movies with a friend. She put her arm on my shoulder playfully as we walked; I liked that closeness and even the ache that it made me feel.

“It’s funny how full circle these last eight years have brought us” I  said.

“I can’t think of anyone that I’d rather be with today” she said as we both smiled at the ground.

We got to the corner where we were going to part ways and she put her hand up for an awkward  high five as I  said goodbye. Our fingers intertwined for a split second as we started to pull away and she looked down bashfully as she walked away. I  continued on down the street and looked back, catching one last glimpse of her before she was swallowed up by the crowd.

In my heart a forgotten ache turned over and wrapped itself up into a feeling of new want, twisting again and again, making it hard to tell one from the other. I  also couldn’t quite tell if we were picking up the thread or finding a more fitting end to what happened in the past. I  don’t know what she feels, but I  know how I do when I’m with her or when I feel her fingers in my hair.