They stood looking at each other in the lamp's golden light.
|Submitted to: Crazy Creative Colors Contest for June 2012. Prompt used: 1. "Journeys end in lovers' meetings." ~ Shakespeare.
Tough Good Bye
The marque's glaring lights brightened the sidewalk and reflected from the windshields of cars driving past on the street. A page from a discarded newspaper skittered across the pavement in the warm summer breeze. Occasionally someone walked out of the lobby and the aroma of buttered popcorn escaped into the night air. A women walked by, her cane clicking rhythmically on the sidewalk, and when she noticed Greg's uniform, smiled at him and said, "Thank you for your service, son."
Greg paced under the garish lights and checked his watch every minute or so. He began to think that maybe his watch had stopped working. Each time he stopped to check the time, it was as if the hands hadn't move since the last time he checked. After checking the time he also peered into the lobby of the theater hoping to see her, and once he thought he had. The plate glass shook when he rapped his knuckles against it, trying to get her attention. The startled blond turned and stared at him wide-eyed, then turned and walked away, shaking her head.
It was getting late.
He knew she was here. He had called her mother right after arriving in town, and it was that conversation that made him fear that everything was not alright. "Hi, Mrs. Davis," he had said into the phone. "Is Alison home?"
"Oh, Greg." He heard the surprise in her voice. "No, she's not home."
He waited to see if she would tell him where Alison was. She didn't. "Do you know where she is, Mrs. Davis?" He heard the sound of her breathing in the phone as she paused.
"She went out..." she hesitated, then added. "...to the movie."
"Okay, thanks. I'll see if I can find her there."
"Greg?" she said before he could hang up.
"Yes?" He waited, listening to her breath loud in the phone.
"She's with friends...from school."
This was the only movie theater in town and he had come here hoping to see her, hoping they could talk.
He ran his hand over the stubble of hair on his head and wondered if he would ever get used to his hair being so short. He replayed the conversation with Alison's mother over and over in his memory, hoping to detect something that would make him think he was wrong, and that everything was alright. Drops of sweat began to form on his forehead. The grey haired woman in the glass ticket booth looked at him and smiled, then quickly looked away. He looked at his watch again. It was getting late.
Three young girls came out of the theater talking excitedly about the movie. Two couples came out shortly after them. They were followed by a steady stream of people, all chattering as they walked out into the warm, night air. Using his hands, he cupped his face against the glass doors and looked into the lobby. The crowd was thinning quickly. A couple of girls walked into the restroom, others read the movie posters hanging on the walls.
And then he saw her.
She was walking between two other girls, their arms locked together, chatting and smiling. Her blond hair shimmered as she walked through the shaft of light falling from the recesses in the ceiling. It reminded him of the first night he had ever seen her. The first time he had said hello to her. It was the same night he had fallen in love with her.
When she saw him through the glass she stopped walking, and her smile faded. Her eyes darkened. His heart sank.
Her friends looked at her with concern then followed her gaze to where Greg peered in at them. They turned back to Alison and one of them said something to her. She nodded, and the two girls looked at each other and shrugged, then turned on their heels and walked away. Alison stood alone in the middle of the carpeted lobby. She sighed deeply, wrapped her arms around herself and walked to the door. Greg felt his stomach tighten as she walked out into the bright light and frowned at him.
"How did you know I was here?" she asked as soon as she stepped out of the theater.
"It's Friday night," Greg said quietly. "We always went to the movie on Friday night. I just thought..." He didn't finish the sentence. She began walking and he joined her.
"You look different," he said as he walked next to her and gazed at her face. "You're wearing makeup, that's different." She had never worn makeup when they dated. With smooth, flawless skin she didn't think she needed it, and he had always agreed with her.
"A lot of things have changed, Greg," she said without looking at him, then turned to look into his eyes. "I've changed."
"You look the same to me," he said. "Just more mature, that's all." He put his arm around her shoulder. "You're still beautiful." He felt her body stiffen under his touch.
"I've changed in a lot of ways." She stopped walking and shrugged her shoulders; his arm fell to his side. "I'm in college now." She looked over her shoulder and mumbled, "Damn!" Greg looked back and saw the two women who had been with Alison in the theater following them on the sidewalk as Alison began walking.
"I missed you," Greg said when he caught up to her. "I thought the last six months would never end." He had finished basic training after three months and then spent the next three months in school. When he gently took her arm she stopped and spun around to face him.
"What do you want?" A breeze lifted her hair from her face and neck as she stood looking at him. Her eyes had turned cold. "You come sneaking up on me in that, that...uniform. You embarrassed me in front of my friends."
He had always thought of her eyes as warm and soft, but now they looked like blue ice. "What's wrong with the uniform?" He saw a flash of anger in her eyes. "And I didn't sneak up on you." He smiled and tilted his head. "I was standing right out there in the light." She didn't respond to his attempt at a joke, instead, she glared at him.
"You know what I mean, you could have called."
"I did, and I spoke to your mother."
"So she told you where I was?" She looked over her shoulder again and frowned. "Why did you come looking for me?" She turned to him. "I thought you'd understand how I felt when I stopped writing to you. Can't you take a hint?"
"Alison," he said with more pleading in his voice than he liked. "We dated for three years before I went into the army. Don't you think you owe me more than just stopping your letters?" He pressed. "Don't you think you should explain?" His eyes locked on hers. "Can we talk about it?" he asked. He looked back at her friends who had also stopped and were watching him. "Can we at least talk?"
"What is there to talk about?"
"Us..." He brushed a blond curl away from her brow. She smiled, then looked over his shoulder at her friends and the smiled disappeared. She took a step back, moving out of his reach.
She stood facing Greg, her eyes moving over his face. His nose still turned up just a little at the tip, and freckles still spotted his cheeks. She let her eyes roam down his body. Six months of physical activity had hardened him. His arms had thickened, and his chest had gained a couple of inches. She looked back up into his eyes and remembered how their color reminded her of polished mahogany.
A loud exhale escaped from between her clenched teeth as her jaw relaxed. "There's really nothing to talk about, Greg." She spoke softly, her words no longer edged with annoyance. "You joined the army and went away. I went to college." She turned and looked at her friends standing a discreet distance away, but watching them. "I've made new friends, people you don't know." She looked at him. "We've moved on with our lives. The us you're talking about is now just a memory." She turned and began walking again.
"Wait!" he said and edged his body in front of her. She stopped so close to him he smelled the familiar aroma of lilac. She still wears the same scent, that hasn't changed, he thought.
"I'm only home for tonight. All I ask is that we talk, that's all. We can go get a drink, coffee, or just walk. Don't you think you owe me at least that much, Alison?" His eyes locked on hers as he waited for her answer.
She turned and looked back down the sidewalk, sighed, then turned back to him. He could almost see the anger leave her body as she took a deep breath. "Alright, I guess we can do that." She took a step back. "Wait here." His gaze followed her as she walked back to her friends. The three women leaned in to each other and whispered, their eyes fixed on Greg. Smirks played on their faces.
After another moment of discussion, one of the girls took something from her purse and handed it to Alison. They all hugged and smiled as Alison say good-bye and walked back to Greg. "Come on," she said.
Greg looked back at her friends who were frowning at him. They turned and walked in the opposite direction. "Where are we going?"
"I'm supposed to be staying the night with Carla and Daisy," she turned to Greg and held up a key ring. "I have the key to the empty apartment above the garage at Daisy's house." She frowned. "They'll be right next door, so don't get the wrong idea."
He had followed her up the wooden stairs attached to the outside wall of the small building and couldn't help picturing her naked. He had always found Alison attractive, but it was this view from the rear that he always appreciated the most.
Alison unlocked the door and held it open as Greg walked past her into the apartment. She closed the door and leaned against it, shut her eyes, then took a long, raspy breath.
The apartment was small, the same size as the garage below it. One wall served as a kitchen with a sink and refrigerator and a small stove. There was a room in the corner, and through the open door Greg saw that it was the bedroom. A sofa, a recliner, and an over-stuffed chair huddled in the middle of the room where he stood.
"Nice place," Greg said as he looked around.
"Daisy's parent's rent it out, but no one is living here right now."
He turned to her and spoke softly. "Thanks for this, Alison, really—"
"—So, what did you want to talk about?" She opened her eyes and waited.
"Don't you even offer a guest a glass of water or iced tea?" He let his smile fade when he noticed her frown.
She closed he eyes slowly, sighed, and then opened them again. Greg thought that maybe she hoped that when she opened her eyes he would be gone. She hung her purse over the door knob and walked to the wall that served as the kitchen. "Let me see what they have." She opened the refrigerator door and bent at the waist to look inside. The light silhouetted her slender body and made her blond hair glow as she searched for something to drink.
"There's Coke, water, something amber in a glass jar...and a six-pack of beer." Without straightening up she turned to look at him. Her cheeks turned apple red when she saw him staring at her behind. She stood quickly and shut the door. A frown creased her face.
"I'm sorry, Alison." He dropped his gaze to the carpeted floor. "It's just that I've missed you so much. I had hoped we'd see each other while I was home this weekend." He looked around the room and nodded at a recliner. "Mind if I sit down?"
She shifted her weight from one foot to the other as her eyebrows raised high onto her forehead. "You might as well. I said we could talk, so let's talk."
"How about that beer you mentioned?" This time he allowed his smile to linger on her face. Alison put her hands on her hips and stared silently at him, then turned and opened the refrigerator door and reached in for a beer.
"Do you want another beer?" Alison asked. "There's one more left." She started to get up.
"No, I don't think I should." After Alison had given him the first beer they began talking. At first their conversation was strained and uncomfortable. He talked about his training and how tough his first eight weeks were. She showed no interest in what he did in the army. When he talked about his next assignment in Afghanistan, she became angry.
"We shouldn't be there," she had said, her voice rising. "You guys are killing innocent people over there."
"Who said we're doing anything like that?" He tried to hide his offense, but he felt his ears get hot.
"Professor Langley," she replied matter of fact. "He's my Political Science teacher and he says that it's an illegal war and we shouldn't be there."
"Yeah, well, he's wrong," Greg said. "Those people were being mistreated by the Taliban, but now they have more freedom than they ever did before."
"That's just American propaganda."
When she turned and looked away, her face tight with anger, Greg decided to change the subject.
He had been surprised at how easily they fell into their old patterns of talking and laughing once the subject changed from war and the army. They talked non-stop about the things they did together. Two hours had passed without a single argument.
They had smiled when they reminisced about attending their senior prom together. She remembered how handsome and grown up he had looked in his tuxedo. They laughed when they remembered how Greg's fingers trembled as he pinned the corsage on Alison's dress, her parent's looking on sternly.
They talked about their lives since graduation. It had only been nine months ago, but a lot had happened. Alison had nearly finished her first year of college and had decided to change her major from Accounting to Environmental Studies. Greg had learned how sophisticated military weaponry had become. Greg nearly admitted to Alison that, yes, they certainly had grown in different directions and were moving on with their lives...separately. But he had kept his thoughts to himself, fearing that if he acknowledged the fact, she would think he was okay with the separation. He wasn't.
They had a good laugh when they talked about the evening they were nearly caught in bed by her parents. It was during their senior year, and Alison's parent's had come home much earlier than expected from a party. Their laughter increased as they remembered how Greg had to spend four hours hiding under her bed until her parent's fell asleep, and he could sneak out of the house.
"And you wanted to do it again before you sneaked out!" She laughed.
"Well, sitting there with you all that time, I figured, why not?"
Once they'd stopped laughing, a pronounced silence had fallen between them and they both found something to look at other than each other. It was during that silence that Alison remembered how much she loved his shyness and the way they had always been able to share silence as much as anything else.
"Can you point me toward the bathroom?" he asked.
She tilted her head and smiled. "You still can't hold your beer, huh?" She pointed to a door that could have been a closet. He stood and stretched, then walked across the room, wobbling slightly. With the door closed, Alison sat in the dim light and thought about the things she and Greg had spent the last few hours talking about.
She sat back against the padded sofa and closed her eyes. She thought about how unfair the world could be, and how much that unfairness could change lives. But after a moment she came to realize there was nothing she could do about it. Nothing Greg could do about it.
Her thoughts turned to Greg and the future. He was in the army now and would be going to war. She would be starting her sophomore year at state, after a summer of anti-war rallies and demonstrations. It was during her first semester that she had met Aiden. She hadn't mentioned him to Greg during their conversation. She saw no point in bringing that up. Thinking that she didn't want to hurt Greg made her realize that she still had feelings for him. She knew now that she always would.
The bathroom door opened with a squeak and Greg walked back into the area lit by the small table lamp. He didn't sit down. He reached into his pocket and took out his cell phone. "I better call a cab."
"Are you leaving?"
"Yeah," he said quietly. "I have an early flight in the morning."
Alison looked up at him. "Listen, I don't want you to get the wrong idea," she said. "But it's really too late to check into a hotel. You can sleep on the sofa if you want."
"I can sleep at the airport," he said. "I've learned that my duffel bag makes a pretty good pillow."
"Duffel bag?" She stood. "That settles it. You're sleeping on the sofa." She walked into the bedroom and came out with a pillow and blanket. "I can't have you going off to war with a bad back from sleeping in an airport terminal."
"—It's settled. You can stay here," she said, then added with emphasis, "on the sofa." She tossed the pillow and blanket to him. "You should know you can't win an argument with me."
'Yeah," he smiled. "I remember."
He dropped the pillow at one end of the sofa and spread out the blanket, then turned to look at Alison. "Look, just so you know. I'd like nothing better than to join you in your bed, but you don't have to worry about it, okay? I promise I won't make this any more difficult than it already is."
The dim light cast a golden glow on them as they stood looking at each other. Greg thought Alison was still the most beautiful girl he had ever met. She could say what she wanted about how they had changed. But standing there looking at her, her golden curls alive and sparkling in the dim light, her blue eyes as bright as the flames of a gas stove, and her warm smile, she looked exactly like the girl he had always loved. He knew he would never forget his high school sweetheart.
A shaft of silvery moonlight spilled into the room as Alison lay in bed staring up at the dark ceiling. Memories of high school proms and afternoons of sexy exploration danced in her head as her breathing became slow and regular.
On the other side of the bedroom door, Greg pulled the blanket across his bare chest and listened to his rhythmic breathing. That Alison was in another room when they could have been together reminded him that she was a separate person now—separate from him. And it scared him.
Closing his eyes, he heard a train passing in the distance. He listened to the broad, low sound become faint, rise louder, then fall faint again. A thin whistle beckoned, and then it was gone.
Greg opened his eyes and blinked. He sensed, more than saw, movement. A shape detached itself from the darkness and stepped toward him. He wondered if he was dreaming.
"Greg?" Alison's voice sounded far away. "Greg, are you awake?'
The silver moonlight fell on the curve of Alison's bare breast as she stepped tentatively toward the sofa. Greg turned and sat up. "Alison? What's wrong?" He stood up and the sheet fell into a puddle around his feet. They stood, both naked, staring at each other, their breathing the only sound.
Alison spoke first, barely above a whisper. "I, I, ah, couldn't sleep. I keep thinking about the things we talked about tonight."
"Yeah, me too," Greg said. He wanted to take the two steps that would put his body against hers. He wanted to close the distance, a distance so great just a few short hours ago, and now so much longer. But he was afraid to move, afraid that if he did she would vanish and he'd awaken from a dream.
She stepped toward him and felt Greg flinch when she placed her palm on his chest. She withdrew it, thinking he didn't want her. But Greg reached out and took her hand and held it to his cheek, then moved it to his mouth and kissed each of her fingers, inhaling the scent of lilacs.
"I thought you might not want—" she whispered.
"—Shhh," his lips touched each of her fingers, then he put her hand on his chest. "It's alright. Whatever you want is alright."
"Lying in bed I realized how much I've missed you." She stepped forward and her arms encircled his neck. He shuddered when he felt the warmth of her body pressed against his.
"You don't have to give me a reason," he whispered into her ear. "I'm just glad you're here." He leaned his head back and looked into her eyes, then leaned into her. Their lips met slowly, softly, with the gentlest pressure, as if each wanted to savor the taste of the other.
It was as if electricity flowed through her body when she felt his lips against hers. She gasped when his tongue slipped between her parted lips and began to explore, and then she melted against him, feeling the abrasion of his chest hair against her nipples.
Her mouth was pliant beneath his, warm and salty, and he wondered if she had been crying. He deepened the kiss just a bit and changed the angle of his head and pulled her closer. Feeling her breasts flatten against him, desire flooded into his veins and heated his blood. He felt warm just below the surface of his skin. He deepened the kiss more.
Her fingers clutched his shoulders, and she wiggled closer to him, loving the feel of his body against hers, loving the scent of him, the taste of him. His hands sifted through her long, blond hair, drawing it back over her shoulders where it cascaded down her back.
Everything except the kiss receded from them. He was not in the army and about to go to war. She had not stopped writing to him, was not distressed that he was in the army. Time slipped away, and suddenly they were back in high school.
Greg held her tight and let the warmth of her body envelope him.
And then the kiss was over.
They stood close to each other, panting, their breath ragged.
"I'm sorry," she said and began to cry. "I can't."
"It's okay," he said as he felt her slip from his arms. He sat on the edge of the recliner. "It's probably better this way. Easier anyway."
"I'm really sorry. I wanted to." She looked at him, her cheeks glistened in the moonlight. They sat quietly in the darkness, each looking at the other, their eyes wet with tears.
Greg woke and watched her sleeping on the sofa. He had no idea how long he had been asleep. He stood over her and looked at her face. No lines worked at the corners of her closed eyes, her mouth was slack, relaxed. He wanted to trace his fingers over her brow, her nose—let his fingers feel the softness of her lips. But he feared he would startle her awake. He went into the bathroom and washed, then dressed into his uniform quietly. When he came out of the bathroom she was sitting up, wearing a long t-shirt and panties.
"What time does your plane leave?" she asked.
"Oh-eight-thirty." He thought back to their conversation of last night and remembered Professor Langley. He wished he hadn't used military time.
She smiled. "Are you hungry?"
"No, not really."
"Then I guess that's it," she said with a sigh.
"Yeah, I guess it is." He couldn't take his eyes off her.
She walked him to the door and hugged him tight. "Be careful," is all she said. He smiled and nodded, then walked out the door and down the stairs. He walked to the curb and stood in the early morning darkness, waiting for the cab he had called earlier.
The cab was pulling up when he heard her running barefoot down the sidewalk, still in her long shirt. He stood there, paralyzed. She reached him, eyes brimming with tears, and gave him a hug and a quick kiss and then pulled back.
The cabby had picked up his duffle bag and had thrown it in the backseat. He was back behind the wheel, giving them some time.
She sat down on the curb. "Go on," she said softly, looking across the empty street. "Go."
He looked at her for a long time and wanted to go to her. Instead, he said, "I'll always love you."
"Just go, please," she said. She watched him walk to the cab and mumbled, "I'll always love you, too." He didn't hear her words.
His last view of her was through the rear window of the cab. She was sitting on the dirty curb, bent over, her hands wedged between her face and her knees, shaking with sobs.
As the cab pulled away from the curb the cabby asked. "Shipping out?"
As the cab drove on she disappeared into the darkness.
Word Count: 4378