Here's the story from the top: I grew up in Maine. With Sean. And my Mom. On Hawthorne Drive.
Sean lived across the street. We were friends from birth, it seemed. Inseparable, all that. I had feelings for him once I reached the age when that sort of thing was fashionable. It really isn't as Dawson's Creek as it sounds. We did have a lot in common. We're both artists. He's a photographer. I'm a journalist. We're both closet laser tag enthusiasts.
Enthusiasts: the term which is used when describing something one should feel vaguely ashamed of but really doesn't.
Oh...and we both like boys. As in, we both love boys. In that non-platonic, stay the night, 'wow, you have a great ass,' kind of way.
It only took me four years to get over that.
I stayed in Maine for college. He went to school in Vermont.
I found out he moved to Soho after graduation.
A week later, I was on a plane headed south. I packed the essentials.
He was understandably flummoxed by the spontaneity of my visit.
He was more than slightly peeved that I took a picture of his reaction. Frozen forever on film. And...instant gratification. Thank you, Polaroid.
Sean asked me inside after the pleasantries were said and done.
Then it came.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"Shouldn't that have been phrased, 'Why, Lynna, it's so nice to see you after all this time. I apologize for not having called in well over a year and for having moved without so much as a word and for your having had to hear it from my mother. How've you been?' Because I'm pretty sure that's how that should've been phrased. It would be much better received that way, methinks."
"Rewrite it however you'd like," he said. "So long as you answer the question."
"I'm here to see you, doof," I retorted. "What are you doing here?" I looked around the room. It was well-furnished. There were inlaid bookshelves in the walls. Nice furniture. Not just manageable furniture, but the nice kind. Certainly more than the average grad student could afford. "Pretty swank digs. Did you find a patron of the arts or what? And if so, can you send him or her my way?"
"Nothing so impressive," he assured me. "My roommate is well off."
"Roommate?" I asked with more than a slight tone of jealousy. "And is that a roommate in the we-share-a-flat sense or an actual room-mate?"
Sean chuckled. "Just a roommate. Nothing more. Wes is of the female persuasion."
"Wes?" I repeated.
"Yeah," he grinned. "Short for Westley. His mom's Welsh."
"Ooh, does he have an accent?"
"No," Sean replied. "Speaking of mothers, how is yours?"
"She's not unwell. I find it amusing that you ask about her before you ask about me."
"Ah, yes and it does always come back to you, doesn't it?" Sean leaned in with a slightly threatening expression. "My dearest Lynna, how has life been treating you?" Our faces were inches apart. I didn't flinch. Nor did he. "How are things? Do tell. I'm all ears." He broke into a half sweet, half wicked smile, easing the tension. He fell back onto a chaise. "Regale me, old friend."
"Forgive me if I don't begin right away, I have to wade through the drama."
"Oh, can you blame me?" he asked coquettishly. He hugged a pillow. "Two old queens like us?"
"Yes, we're practically ancient. Regardless...to answer your question, I'm writing the weekly music column for the not-so-prestigious paper at home. It's a no-frills job. Still living with Mom. Met someone at work. Not sure how I feel about him. But he'll do for now."
"Same old Lynna," Sean sighed.
"What does that mean?" I half-laughed.
"That you're a love 'em and leave 'em type."
I was about to protest when a foreign voice rang out through the apartment.
"Sean?" it called.
"In here," he beckoned.
A somewhat striking man with a ruddy complexion wearing a perpetually impish expression entered the...what could one have called that room? The study? Sitting room? ...anteroom? Either way, he stopped in the doorway upon seeing an unfamiliar object seated on what I can only assume was his usual perch.
"Hello," he extended his hand to me. "I'm Wes."
"Lynna." His grasp was well met. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"Hmm...that's a bit beyond the normal, 'Nice to meet you.' Where'd you find her, Sean?"
"On a corner back in Maine. She followed me home."
"Next thing you know, he'll be asking if we can keep you," Wes grinned in a manner that most people would describe as dry, but I would describe as roguish. He had my attention. Whether or not he wanted it was another question.
"You wouldn't want to keep me," I replied. "You don't know where I've been."
"We could always take you in for shots and then give you a flea bath," Sean quipped.
"You're lucky you're not within slapping distance," I replied.
"Lynna," Wes called from the adjoining room into which he'd disappeared. "Are you going to be with us for longer than a few hours?"
"Splendid. In that case, shall we dine?" He returned with fans of take out menus.
"Oh, can't we please go out?" Sean whined. "I need outside air."
"And by outside, he means smoky bar air," I corrected. This was during those dark ages when smoking indoors was not yet outlawed.
"I only do it for the atmosphere," Sean insisted. "And besides, you're a writer, aren't you? Don't you thrive around maudlin lushes and nicotine-poisoned bohemians?"
"You're confusing me with the kind of writer that doesn't get paid. I'm a journalist. The dirty kind of writer."
"So...where'd you crazy kids meet?" I asked Wes. Sean was hitting on the bartender.
"School. He roomed with my ex-girlfriend."
"You two are no more?" I asked.
He shook his head. "I have this problem with girls. I'm attracted to the crazy ones," Wes whispered.
"I'll let you in on a little secret," I confided. "We're all crazy. Some of us simply hide it better than others."
"Hmm. That's good to know." He nursed his rum and Coke. "Where did you meet Sean?"
"Across the street from my house. We grew up together."
"Oh, how quaint. Did you have a lemonade stand together?"
I laughed into my drink. "Hardly. Nothing so picturesque. You could say we were school chums. Thicker than thieves, blah blah blah. We still would be had he not run off to Vermont. It did give me time to mend my fragile, black, little heart though."
Wes looked at me quizzically.
"Look at him," I nodded toward the bar. Sean was exchanging knowing glances with the barkeep. "He could charm the pants off the Virgin Mary."
"The Virgin Mary didn't wear pants," Wes said straight-facedly.
"Says you...anyway, my point is, it's hard not to be at least a little in love with Sean. And I was a grand leap past 'a little.'" A hush fell over us then. "It's funny," I mused. "I've seen him do this a hundred times. And yet a little part of me hurts every time it happens."
"Are you still in love with him?" Wes asked. It wasn't up front as all that. He said it tenderly. There was segue, I'm sure. And there was no pressure for me to answer.
"No, thankfully. I really did get over that. There's just that other part of me. The part that I'm worried will never heal."
"The part of me that's still eleven years old and mad as hell that we're not the best of friends anymore. That the camaraderie is gone." I glanced over to Sean again. Phone numbers were being exchanged, I'm sure. "But enough of that sob story. You're at an unfair advantage. I've spilled my heart's contents on the table and I don't even know your last name. I don't even know what it is you do."
"My last name's Klein. I'm an editor for a rather well-known publishing house."
"So that's what Sean meant by saying you're well-off," I nodded.
"Oh no, don't misunderstand. I own the building we live in. It was left to me when my father passed. Editing makes me little to no money at all."
"Do you at least enjoy it?" I asked.
"Today, I enjoyed it immensely," he said with a quickly fading grin. "Ask me again tomorrow, my story may be different. It depends on the material; it depends on the writer; it depends on how badly I'd rather be tilling soil on some farm miles away from everywhere."
"Well, why don't you? If you don't need the job to support yourself..." I trailed off.
"That's just the trouble though. I own the building so I can survive. But that keeps me in the city."
"Hmm. I guess it's not a commuter kind of job," I said, finishing my drink.
"Not really. When a tenant has a problem, they want it fixed yesterday. And in New York, that means last week."
Four bars and six hours later, Sean wasn't fit to walk a straight line. His gait, if traced, looked more like a crooked line drawn by a blind grade school student. He could barely keep his head up on the train ride home. Wes and I each took an arm over our shoulders and deposited Sean in his room, promising that no, he wouldn't have to go to school tomorrow, but that didn't mean he could piss his day away watching cartoons and scrapping in the alley. He'd have to earn his keep. Clean the leaves out of the gutters, polish the good china, that sort of thing. At this, he looked at us crossly if not blearily and quickly passed out.
Wes and I retired to the aforementioned front room.
"Do you like music?" he asked me, putting on something low and instrumental.
"Who doesn't?" was my reply.
"You'd be surprised."
"Over someone disliking music? Yes, that I would be. Music is life. It's joy and sorrow and music is something that can disarm you without words. It's action without action."
He looked at me for a moment. I let it sit. That silence. I let it hang there. I enjoyed looking at him, so why not?
"Come here for a minute," he said to me. I obeyed. "Dance with me."
"Well, there's a sentence a girl could live her whole life waiting to hear," I smiled. We embraced and swayed to the slow melody echoing softly against us. "How long have you edited?" I asked him without pulling back to see his eyes. He answered in the same fashion.
"Ever since I got out of school. Halfway through my senior year, I had the job lined up. I just knew the right people, that sort of thing. Even if I didn't though, I have this place. It's not as if I was in need of a place to live."
"Or income," I finished his thought.
"Or income, yes. I feel like I'm cheating that way." He stopped to look at me. To really prove his point, he needed eye contact. "I mean, I earn my living, but at the same time, I feel like if it weren't for a bizarre set of circumstances, I'd be...well, I'd be just scraping by, like everyone else."
"That's not your fault. You had the opportunity and you took it. Nothing wrong with that," I told him. "Besides, you could always sell it."
"That's true." He nodded and went back to pressing his cheek to mine. "You dance well."
"I don't actually, at all," I chuckled. "This isn't dancing. It's more like standing to a beat."
"Killjoy," he whispered directly into my ear. It sent a very distinct chill through me. A very distinct, wholly pleasant chill. He didn't move his head. I could feel his rhythmic breathing in my ear. When I was on the verge of barely being able to take any more, he said, "What kind of shampoo do you use?"
"Umm...whatever the generic ninety-nine cent brand is," I said, touching my hair self-consciously.
"Wow. They ought to hire you. The things you do for that shampoo." He inhaled deeply through his nose and said, "Yeah. They'd make a fortune."
I couldn't help laughing. "Are you always like this?"
"Like what?" he asked in a tone which communicated sincere innocence.
"Like this. With the dancing. And the leading man dialogue. Charming. Dashing." I searched for the right word. I settled on, "Poetic."
"Oh no, not all the time. Sometimes I'm very stoic." His expression became cartoonishly rigid. I brushed my hand over his face as if to wipe the expression from it. He smiled warmly. "No, I'm only like this on special occasions."
"Special occasions? Is it your birthday?" I asked, enjoying the game.
"Nope." We were standing still at that point, no longer dancing but not letting go. I would probably blame my behavior on the alcohol if I'd had any. He traced the line of my jaw with his hand. "If I'd known moving in with Sean meant meeting you, I'd've done it ages ago."
If he'd said it to you, you would've kissed him too. You'd have held on to that dear boy as if your very life depended on it. And when you opened your eyes, you'd have been a different person. Seeing the world for the first time, all that. You'd have wanted to show him how you felt. Tell him somehow. Hope he understood. But all you could have managed would have been a breathy, "My God."
I woke the next morning, stiff and bones cracking but not alone.
He'd brought me tea and an English muffin.
With raspberry jam.
"Oh, I'm undeserving of all this," I said, rubbing the slumber from my eyes.
"Nonsense," he shooed the thought away with a sweep of his hand. "Besides, I'm going to join you, so it's not fussing merely for you. It's simply that I'd rather not dine alone. Cheers," he said as he poured my tea.
"So," I said, smiling at him in that morning after sense.
"Yes?" he returned the smile.
"You know, despite whatever Sean has said, I usually don't do this," I told him.
"Do what?" he asked playfully.
"Well, amongst other things, I usually don't meet unsurpassingly charming men who wine and dine me with words. But I was referring to the sex."
"Aha," he mused. "Are you feeling the subtle pangs of regret?"
I thought on that a moment. "I wouldn't say that. No."
"Then there's really no need for explanation, is there?" he said. "Unless you feel the need to justify the actions of two consenting adults." I silently parted my English muffin down the center.
"It does seem a bit silly, doesn't it?" I said.
"Quite. Jam?" he offered.
I thought over the last evening's events in fast-forward. Something struck me. "You mentioned you had an interest in tilling the land. Would you really do that if you could?"
"Oh, I don't know," he gazed off for a moment. "Sure. Why not?"
That set me thinking.
"If you could do anything, what would it be?"
"Anything?" he asked.
"That's the idea," I answered.
"I'd buy a boat," he said without so much as a second thought.
"A boat? Like a fishing boat?" I asked.
"No, just a boat. A boat where I could live. Dock it for a while when I missed the land, but otherwise, yeah, I'd just live on a boat. Get a nice tan. Catch my dinner every night."
"You wouldn't want to be a rock star or cure cancer or be an astronaut?" I teased.
"Mmm," he shrugged. "I'd like to try everything. Working on a farm, ladling out wares in a soup kitchen, healing the sick--"
"Walking on water?" I interrupted.
"Nothing so grandiose," he laughed. "It's just that...I want to see things. Do things. Not worry about security and stability. I want to lead a simple life. Do whatever feels right to me that day, ya know? If it's helping people, I'd do that. Paint a house, watch someone's kids, whatever. If it's traveling down a river in Portugal on a boat made of cork, I'd do that. I would do whatever came to mind. I'd be strings free."
He didn't speak of this wistfully. He said it like he was rediscovering an old love and it was as if no time had passed. He was just as excited as the first time they'd met. It made me admire him. It also filled me with a deep melancholy that I couldn't describe and wouldn't admit if you'd asked.
"Wouldn't you miss, I don't know? Familiarity?" I asked him.
"Nah, I'd find a girl. We'd settle down without actually settling down. She'd come with me and that would be all the familiarity I'd need. And when we'd seen everything there was to see, we'd pick a spot, maybe an island off the coast of Scotland. Maybe an igloo somewhere or a house I'd build out of balsa wood...we'd have a troupe of kids and they'd live with us until they got married and had their own kids."
"Well, then we'd build additions onto the house and they'd live there with their families."
"That'd be some igloo," I said.
"Oh yeah. A mansion of ice," he grinned. "What about you?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"What would you do if you could do anything?"
This. I'd do this. I'd spend every morning with you. Discussing whatever was on my mind. Getting to know you. Intimately. How I hate that word. It makes love seem so smarmy. I'd accompany you in whatever endeavor you'd undertake. I'd chronicle all of it. I'd be your dutiful reporter.
Of course I didn't say that. How could I?
I looked introspective.
"I'd spend my days doing whatever I felt gave me purpose. I'd spend it with people that mattered. I'd seek out inspiration. If and when those things stopped inspiring me, I'd find something else. I'd find something new. I'd build my life on desire and meaning rather than responsibility and duty."
"Sounds very much like my answer only worded differently and a bit more generalized."
"Well...that comes from having to be articulate, eloquent and having a specific word count that keeps my inner wordsmith at bay."
"Ever the journalist," he quipped.
"Can't help it. Gets in your blood."
I boarded the appropriate train and traveled silently to Port Authority.
Once on the bus, I switched to auto-pilot. Overdose of stimuli. I barely remember arriving. Same with waiting to board the plane. I just wasn't there. But as soon as I sat and looked out the window, past the wing, across the parking lot littered with luggage carts, portable steps and the occasional airport employee out for a smoke break...as soon as all that hit me, as soon as I knew I was leaving, I wished for slumber. I didn't want to remember each stage of physically leaving him. But I did. I was awake for each instant. And even though the early parts were blurry, the blur was cemented in my mind. The train to the bus to the airport. And then painstakingly segmented thereafter. Waiting and sitting and boarding, etc. If I didn't hate medication so much, I would've hit up the women next to me for a Valium. You could see in her glassy stare that she was well-equipped for the journey.
I love and hate flying. The gradual ascent. Never smooth. Never. The landing, equally as shitty. But during. You're surrounded by weightless light. You're in the midst of that which mesmerized you as a child. Walking on a cloud, all that.
If it didn't take so long, I would've bussed it. Something romantic about the landscape whipping by. It's a quality that gives every truck stop and seedy diner a charm akin to homemade cooking and visits from college. But you don't get to stop. That which is untouched remains pristine in your mind.
Home again, home again...
My plane landed. I was home. Home. I looked around. Everything seemed suspect. It was all as I had left it but everything was different. It had all been changed.
Could it really have been the town I left?
The setting which held, for me, endless reels of memories and aspirations felt shaky and unstable. It was veiled in half-truths…no. That's not right. They were former truths.
It was where I grew up. Where I found my first love, writing. And my second love, Sean.
Or so I thought.
But Sean never danced with me. He never looked past my eyes to see the part of me that needed so badly to hear kind words. I wanted to be held. I wanted to be loved and adored. I wanted back what I gave. Wes saw that. And knowing that...seeing what he saw in me, I still boarded that motherfucking plane and came back home.
How could I do this, you may ask.
The exchange I had with Sean before leaving should sum it up nicely.
As we hugged goodbye, before I walked to the train, he told me it was good to see me. I returned the compliment. We smiled the way we always had. Like we shared a secret. The truth is, I don't remember what the secret was or if there ever had been one to begin with. I turned to go.
"Yes, dear?" I looked at him. He was hesitant. He wanted to say something, but he didn't. "What?"
"He has a girlfriend."
I'm not sure what emotion registered on my face. My lips were pursed. Tears stung behind my eyes, but my vision didn't blur. I simply said, "Okay," and left.
Everything seemed so unreal. Not surreal, but really beyond belief. I went over the trip in my mind. I lingered at the unexpectedly sweet moments.
"If I knew moving in with Sean meant meeting you, I'd've done it ages ago."
God, did he really say that? Please tell me I didn't just imagine it. That would be crueler than even I knew myself to be.
I trudged upstairs to my room and plopped myself in front of the ol' standby. The laptop. A note was taped to the screen.
Hope your trip went well. Will stop by later tonight. See you then.
I hated that he signed his name with a period. Was his name so monumental that it needed punctuation?
I sat in front of my laptop. On the screen, I typed two words. The List.
Happy Little Journalist.
Those three names surrounded by so much white. So much space. So much left unspoken. I dragged the mouse across Sean's name. I changed the font so there was a strike through it.
"Not that I don't love you, dear," I spoke an apostrophe to the screen which was Sean for me at that point, "but this is hardly the time for it. I'll rehash things with you later. Though I suppose it would be a rehash of a rehash of a rehash at this point. Ad infinitum, amen."
Wes and Neil.
I suppose it's time for an explanation.
Neil is six years older than I am. When I met him, he was charming. Well, actually I wouldn't even go that far. It was that he was charming enough. He was funny enough. He was smart enough. And that was enough for me. Because really, who wants a real relationship when she can have a sexually gratifying, intellectually stimulating, soulfully powerful, wholly hypothetical relationship in her head with her gay childhood pal? Yeah, I couldn't come up with a good answer for that either.
We met at work. Really, it wasn't as by the water cooler as it sounds, but we do work at a newspaper, so it wasn't romantic or anything. He just made me flustered and when he smiled at me a certain way, I got wet. Every time.
He's originally from "out west." He moved here because it was "more sane." The west coast was "too much." Neil was one of those people who spoke with finger quotes. We all have our flaws.
He met my mother. My mother. I was terrified. They got along. He enjoyed her quirks. She stopped pestering me about my personal life. No more, "When are you going to meet someone nice?" I almost preferred that. She didn't call me at work anymore. And when she did, it was brief and always ended with, "You tell Neil that I just love him to pieces." Yeah. Okay, Mom. Thanks. You bet. Bye.
So this should be what I wanted, right?
I think I have a condition. Whatever chronically retarded people have? Yeah. I have that.
I held a torch for my childhood best friend for over ten years and then I met his flattering, witty, tenderly perfect roommate who just so happens to understand why I am the way I am and he just got it.
I'd never felt a stronger connection to anyone in my adult life.
I felt overwhelmed. So I did what anyone would do in my place. I laid my head down on my desk.
I dreamt of Wes.
A knock on the door.
I open it. He's standing there.
"Wes," is all I can stammer.
"I hope this isn't a bad time," he acknowledges politely.
"No. Please, come in," I step aside and make a grand sweep with my hand.
He sits. I stand.
"Pardon the intrusion," he apologizes.
"Not at all. Really," I assure him.
He looks at me a long time.
"I had to see you," he says finally. "I don't want that to seem something like I simply blurted out. I've thought about it. It's not something I wanted. I needed to be near you again. To smell your hair. To see your face. To just…take you in."
He crosses to me. He holds my hands between us at chest level. I'm taken aback. I'm without words. I'm gripping his hands so I don't fall backward.
"Lynna…" he whispers.
"Lynna…" he repeats.
"Lynna..." he says to make it an unnecessary third.
This is getting ridiculous. I go black.
Neil shook me, brought me back.
"Lynna…" he said. "Lynna…hey..."
I woke. My eyebrows communicated so much pain. I welled up just seeing him. I can't choose an emotion, there are far too many. Default mechanism: sobs. Not the big, Hollywood kind. Just soft, body-wrenching sobs.
"Hey…" Neil said. "You alright?"
I shook my head and mumbled, "Bad dream." Then it occurred to me. "How did you get in?" I asked.
"Your Mom let me in."
"Oh..." I sighed, regaining a bit of my composure.
"Working on something?" he asked, motioning to my computer.
"Hmm?" Recognition hit me like a drunk driver. "Christmas list."
"Okay, I won't look," he smiled.
I nodded. He sat on my bed. "Neil? If it's okay, I'm going to get back to sleep. I still haven't really readjusted from the trip."
"No problem. Get some rest." He kissed me chastely on the corner of my mouth. The wrongness of that action, I cannot even begin to describe. He took his leave.
I heaved a sigh. A knock at the door made me jump.
"Yeah?" I called.
Neil poked his head in the room again. "Don't forget, deadline tomorrow."
"I'm on it."
He came back in and I knew for what. I stiffened. He kissed me again, squarely this time. It was so empty. He couldn't tell the difference. "Sleep well."
I waited until I heard his footsteps receding until I turned back to my screen. I had a lot to figure out before I could get into a headspace that would allow me to write an article.
I wrote. Just whatever came to mind. Not stream-of-consciousness, per se, but not anything that could've been salvaged or made sense of other than to me. During the last bits of it, I was able to break into complete sentences.
I have met someone who has shaken the very foundations of my being. Or at least I think he has. Half of me hopes that he has. The other half, I don't know. I want so much to be near him. I want to at least figure things out before discounting it down to overprojection and the right place at the right time. But what if I'm wrong? What if he's in love with his girlfriend and just needed to be sure? I'd lose what I had with Neil, but really, that doesn't exactly make me shake with longing. I'm not torn; I'm just confused. I'm wary of being hurt. A large part of me wonders what would be worse: to act or do nothing at all. If I turn my back on this, will I always wonder, "What if…?"
I read it and reread it. I tacked one closing thought on it.
Every kiss I've kissed since kissing you has been false.
Sitting there, looking at those two names on that screen, I realized there was no choice.
I decided to take a walk. I dragged my feet for most of the beginning. Just let the scenery pass, not allowing the memories to sink their teeth in quite yet. When I was making my way back, it hit me. I trudged along Masonry Avenue, past Jenkins Way, through the baseball field, cut through all the nameless blank backyards to Hawthorne Drive. I stood at the entrance of our street and took in the memory. I shuffled up the sidewalk opposite the side of the street where we lived, the left side. I saw the tree where we'd attempted to construct a tree house. We were kids in our architect phase. It didn't last long; our fort was forgotten and we moved on.
I saw the segment of cement in which we'd written our names. Sean, in his youthful, boyish scrawl, and I in my looping, prissy script. There we were. Here we would always be inseparable. By time and concrete, it appears.
In one deep breath, I took it all in. And then I let it all go.