by Joan Summers
...and they talked until 5 am.
| I didn’t know if her parents were home when I walked up her steps and through her front door. I didn’t care enough to make small talk with them about the sermon last Sunday. I closed the big oak door behind me and made my way through her parlor and up the great staircase. The route was so familiar I didn’t even have to think as my feet led me down the hallway to the left, where I knew her door would be waiting for me. I opened it without a second thought, and immediately my eyes fell to the girl sitting on the end of her bed. She looked like my best friend. She had the same long blonde hair, and the same fair complexion, and the same short and slim body, only that wasn’t Alex. That was someone else entirely.
Alex would have been smiling, white teeth that had been painstakingly corrected all throughout middle school peering through her glossy pink lips. This girl’s mouth was turned down into a shaking frown. Alex’s teal eyes would have been wide and welcoming. Her’s were puffy and red. She was nearly unrecognizable. I shut the door behind me and walked over to where she was curled up at the foot of her bed and kneeled in front of her, my gaze searching to meet hers.
“You came.” Her voice cracked as she spoke. The light and carefree tone was gone. I felt a twinge in my heart as I realized that this, sadly, was Alex. Barely Alex.
I shook my head. “Of course I came.” I was half-offended she would have expected any less in response to her frantic call. It didn’t matter it was half past eleven, and her parents were sure to have a fit if they were home. It was Alex we were talking about.
“God Mar… It was awful.” She spoke slowly, like every word she said was harder than the last to form. I could feel my fingers brush her knee as I placed my hand on the bed beside her, and my spine shivered. Her eyes met mine, and for a blissful moment we stayed like that. She broke it quite dreadfully.
“He hates me.”
My eyes fell, and I could feel the trance break and proceed to shatter to pieces beneath me. “What happened?” I asked, my eyes still lingering on the carpet, my hand pulling away from her leg.
“I told him I couldn’t.” She said. Her voice was so soft now I had to watch her face just to see her lips move.
“Couldn’t what?” I inquired, but I had a feeling I knew the answer.
She was looking in any direction but mine. “I couldn’t do it anymore. I told him it was me. I told him I loved him…” her voice trailed off so soft I couldn’t make out even her lips anymore.
“Did he do anything to you?” I asked sternly, wanting to get the notion out of the way. She shook her head. A pitiful wash of relief fell over me.
There was a moment of silence, with only the sound of her sniffling and catching her breath every once in a while filling the damp silence. I would have asked her more, but I already knew most of her answer, and I hated to see her speaking in so much pain. I had memorized everything she was feeling over the past few months. She had been talking about ending things with Kyle since August, but she always fell one step short of just brave enough. Kyle was not the kind of guy you broke up with. He was beautiful, charming, popular, and smart. Alex matched his endowment quite well, and so it made sense that they would have ended up together. The power-couple. The example of good faith, and strong values. Her life was a picture.
But a picture contains no explanation. She was unhappy. She never did explain to me why in any significant detail, but I could tell by the way she spoke about him and her feelings toward him that she wanted a way out. And that was enough for me to be on her side. I liked Kyle, but I liked Alex miles more. I had no idea she was planning on making tonight the night to end things. I always figured that night would come following a pep-talk dinner with me at our favorite coffee shop down the road from the library uptown. I’m not sure she knew why she chose tonight either.
“Why aren’t I in love with him?” Her question broke the silence between us quite forcibly. I met her eyes again, and for the first time I could remember I saw her big eyes completely fill with tears. My heart shriveled as her face did the same, and as she broke into a sob I leapt from my position on the floor and held her. Each time her chest would heave, grasping for more oxygen to fuel her sobs, it felt like a part of me was dying.
After a while, I answered her. “Because you don’t.”
I think my answer startled her a little, as she broke from her crying, as well as my grasp, and looked at me again. Her face was even farther from ‘Alex’ now.
“You don’t owe anyone, including yourself, an explanation.” I finished. She sniffled a few more times, and used the back of her hand to wipe away the sticky tears that stained her cheek.
“If I can’t love him, who can I?” her voice was steadier now, this time laced with a more frustrated tone. I lifted my arms again and draped them around her shoulders, bringing her into a hug.
“Anyone you want.” I said. “You’ll be just fine. There are plenty of boys—”
“What if I had an explanation?” My eyebrows furrowed and I dropped my arms, releasing her from my embrace. She refused to make eye contact again. Her eyes kept searching around the room for something I was sure wasn’t there.
“What is it?” I asked slowly, not wanting to push her.
She sheepishly pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, and peered up at me. When our eyes met again, she quickly looked away. “Alex?” I repeated.
She shook her head fiercely. “Never mind. I don’t know.” She let a forced laugh escape her lips to fill the room, but I was persistent.
“Alex, you can tell me. What are you afraid of?” My assurances were met with a continued avoidance of my gaze. I finally dropped off of the bed and onto my knees in front of her again, so she was forced to look at me. “I’m not leaving until you tell me.”
I knew I was really pushing now, and I hoped she took my threat with all the emptiness I said it with. After a brief moment, her pale hands began tracing their way across the bed, and I watched motionless as they made their way onto her lap, and then reached out for mine. She said nothing, and when I looked up at her she made it a point to keep her eyes locked on her hands. Without looking down, I slowly moved my hands into hers, and all of a sudden she grasped them desperately.
My heart began to pound. I became increasingly aware of the sweatiness of my palms, but she didn’t seem to mind. Kneeling there, with her hands interlocked into mine, I began to feel all of the emotions I had been pushing so far down for so long begin to creep up. Out of habit, I begged my heart to keep them down, but I was slowly becoming a victim to my own desires.
‘I should pull away. She is hurting. We shouldn’t do something we’re both going to regret.’ My mind continued to plead with my heart to make the right decision.
And then like two notes hitting in harmony in a song, we both looked up and our eyes met again, but this time I wasn’t staring into the eyes of my friend, I was gazing into that of a lover.
And it was magnificent. Her dark hazel eyes, her smooth freckled skin, her lavish, long dark hair. She was beautiful. She sat beneath me with her shoulders back and her neck straight. Contrastingly, I was slumped over my bed above her, my eyes puffy and my face inflated with tears and shame.
The room I had grown up in suddenly felt so foreign to me. It was smaller, tighter, and darker. Not only did I feel out of place in a place I had known my whole life, but my body felt like it was being inhabited by someone brand new. I didn’t feel like the pretty, shy but sweet girl at school who never made a noise and never caused a scene. I was filled with a newfound desire to tell her what I had been keeping a secret for so long.
And so I didn’t let go of her hands. I held them for dear life, deathly afraid of the pain I would feel if I dropped them, but more afraid of how I would feel if she did.
We must have been staring at each other for so long now it would have looked silly to anyone watching us, but to me it only felt like a moment.
All our lives, she had always been the strong one. She made the decisions. She called the shots. But I was the one who reached out for her hands. I was the one who opened my mouth and began to say something I had been wanting to say for as long as I can remember. And I was the one who was going to have to see this through.
As the seconds passed I began calling on some higher power to give me just a little more courage. It had taken everything to end things with Kyle. It had taken every ounce of myself to not give my body to him as he began to unhook my bra. I told myself I was being stupid. I told myself I was just nervous and that it was just new and I would get used to it. But I didn’t want to get used to it. I wanted…
I don’t know if on reflex or by the power I had been calling on making a move for me, but my hands involuntarily clenched, and suddenly the trance we were both locked in was broken. I knew I had to say something. I was going to have to be Mar of the situation.
“Mar…” I started, and I clenched her hands again. That she offered no response, and instead looked at me with an expression so emotionless I couldn’t hope to decipher any aspect of it, was not helping with my infrequent bursts of bravery. “You have to promise me something.” I said.
Instead of demanding to know why I was acting so weird, or taking control of the situation and getting into the driver’s seat of the conversation, she just nodded lightly.
I could feel my throat tighten, and I cursed myself for being such a coward. I didn’t want to cry again, so I bit my lower lip and continued. “You have to promise that you won’t leave me.” And then I began to cry again, slowly at first, and then all at once. Her face softened slightly in unison with my tears.
Her voice cut through my muffled sobs with a clarity I could only expect from someone like her. “I can’t leave you.” She said.
And then she did something I had never seen her do in the entire time I had known her. She began to cry with me. And so we sat there, two seventeen year old girls sitting in my bedroom, crying face to face at nearly midnight. Everything was usually so easy around her, but tonight was different.
Her tears looked like gold running down her cheeks. Her face didn’t puff, her eyes didn’t bulge, she just frowned as specs of moister danced down her. She was a goddess. I couldn’t live without having said it any longer.
“I’m in love with you.”
Everything stopped. The world stopped spinning, the stars stopped shining, and the wind stopped blowing. The entirety of the universe as I had known it was motionless. After three long heartbeats, Mar said,“I’m in love with you too.”
And then we were kissing.
I don’t remember how we started, or when we ended. All I know is that we kissed, and the wave of cool relief that washed over my burning body was euphoric. Every weight that had ever been laid on top of me rolled off as her hands grasped my face.
We kissed for a very long time, but no amount of time would have been enough. When we stopped, I realized she was now sitting in front of me at the foot of my bed, and I had been pushed back to the middle.
I smiled a little, and her face was filled with a noticeable lightness now too.
“I don’t really know what to say.” I said, my hands fiddling in my lap. She remained still, like a perfect statue.
“Alex…” Now hers were the words lost. “How long?”
I thought for a moment, wanting to answer her honestly. “Since the day I met you.”
The corners of her mouth tugged up again, as she responded, “You wanted to kiss me when we were eight?”
I laughed, my subconscious happy to return to a degree of normalcy between us. “Are you kidding?” I began, “Those pigtails were hot.” We joked with each other for a little while longer, and then the silence struck again. I was happier than I had been in a long time, but there was still a question I had to ask.
“Where do we go from here?”
Mar pressed her lips into a line. “You have to promise me something now.”
“Anything.” I assured her.
“Just for tonight. I have work tomorrow at 6. Just for tonight, let this be it. I love you, and I know that this next conversation is going to be…” She gazed up at the cross hanging above my bed that my parents had placed there before I was born, “a process.”
I didn’t want it to, but my heart felt that twinge of anxiety again. Mar picked up on this easily, and again joined her hands with mine.
“Six hours. Give me until 5AM to just… be happy with you.”
Her proposal was easily one of the most attractive I had heard in a while. I wanted this as badly as she did; to just be ourselves for one night. To just be with her. It felt right.
And with that we talked into the night, lying side by side. At one point she got up and put in a Morrissey CD, and we laughed when she couldn’t figure out how to play it correctly.
When 5AM finally came, I wasn’t afraid for the day to come. I welcomed the sun like I hadn’t since I was a child. I was so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open. I knew I must have been in love, because for the first time in my life my reality was better than anything I could have ever dreamed of.