I love you, he’d written to me, a few days before. And I will see you soon. I promise you.
I wondered if she was lay in his lap as he typed to me, or if maybe she was in the bathroom. Perhaps she had a class to go to, or had already passed through town.
I hadn’t been surprised to hear via a friend from yoga school that she’d seen him around, with a blonde girl who clung to his arm through the café he’d taken me to. “I don’t think they’re just friends,” she said. “Well no, I’d imagine not,” I replied.
You see: I’m no different. I was distracting myself too. We weren’t together. We were not together.
I’d stopped leaping every time my phone beeped or email pinged or screen lit up. I knew it wasn’t him. It wasn’t my first rodeo – I’ve played this league before. Long distance love never interested me. Promises did not interest me. Words, as delicious as they are when they tumbled freely in his lilted accent, did not interest me.
And yet, like I said, I needed a distraction as well.
With one, I saw him sat at the dining room table, a boy of maybe eight or nine beside him, cut in his image. Both would pour over the problem in front of them, studious and serious and eyes running back and forth. They’d talk quietly, and he’d be patient. So, so patient. I’d sit in a worn leather seat across the room, glancing up at them from my book, fondly, proud at what I’d built.
With the other, the one I met first, he’d scoop up a mass of curly blonde hair and chubby limbs, a girl who looked more like me than him. She’d squeal and laugh and splash in the water as it came up around his ankles and he lifted her to dangle toes in waves. We’d have so much fun. So much adventure. I’d lie on my sandy towel, looking up at them from my magazine, proud at what I’d built.
It’s just… it’s just not our time, he said, as drunk as I was but more truthful with it. If I spoke, if I opened my mouth to even tell him that I’d heard, I could no longer trust myself. And so I didn’t. I let him talk. The less I said the more he filled the space of my silence. You’re… I don’t know anybody like you. I’ve never met anyone like you. But it isn’t right, not now. Maybe one day, in the future, but…
His voice trailed off like my attention. I had no intention of making it easy for him.
He’d stood and watched me give my speech, eyes burning into my neck, forcing my hands to shake and my voice to waiver. He always half-believed in me, always inferred that I would do it, one day. But the way we treated each other - arm’s length, cold, impersonal, just a shag - meant he never said as much.
I said hello, politely, after it was all over, but left him and his new girlfriend to place hands on lower backs and swap smiles made of secrets as we ate. When I had been his guest as the Tuscan lodge, three years ago? Four? I was devastated when I found out he’d been sleeping with the girl we’d travelled on the train with. I couldn’t make small talk with his girlfriend and risk her same humiliation. Best keep my distance, I thought, knowing I seemed as aloof as ever, but unable to communicate why.
He grabbed my wrist as I was leaving. He’d said goodbye over the chatter of the group, as I’d waved, not wanting to spend minutes pecking cheeks and pledging to keep in touch when all knew we never will. He spoke louder than the others and it forced the first eye contact of the day, and then excused himself to say, Congratulations, on all your success. It’s really great to see, and I am truly, really, genuinely so happy for you. I thanked him, stunned and touched, and he turned back on his heel to reiterate: honestly. It is so deserved. Well done.
It could’ve been so very different, I thought.
All of them would be good fathers. That’s the sort of thing I look for now. The one I’d trust to raise my child. But, in the end, none of them fit. For days and weeks and months and years, sometimes I really wished they did. And then I remind myself: they were all fuckers, in one way or another. Lovely fuckers, but fuckers all the same.
It all works out as it needs to.
It all works out as it needs to.
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