As our eyes met, he mouth spread into a wide smile. He reached the bottom step and we embraced. I wrapped my arms around his torso, noticing that his body had softened into adulthood in a surprisingly comfortable way.
“Hey,” he said warmly.
“How are you?”
“I’m well, how about you?”
“I’m doing really great actually.”
“Did you come alone?”
“Yeah, I can go places myself,” I said coolly.
“What a trooper.”
I shrugged with a half moon smile. I had considered dragging my girlfriend to the show, but didn’t think it was fair, when I was really there to talk to him. It was easier to let him think I was frighteningly confident.
He paused, then without thinking grabbed my shoulders and searched my eyes, finding comfort in years of history. “It’s nice to hear your voice. I can’t believe how long it’s been since I heard it.”
“Well that’s what happens when you don’t call for four years,” I chided. He smiled in agreement and asked if I wanted a drink. I accepted the offer and we headed to the makeshift bar in the corner.
My ex politely grabbed me a beer and we caught up on the status of family mutual friends, and important life vitals, huddled in an enclave near the stairs. When it was time for him to perform, he left me to fend for myself, seeking refuge in my new friendship with and old friend.
After a fairly quick set-up, my ex and his band took the stage. It wasn’t good, and it wasn’t bad. It was just sound. The colorful psychedelic oil wheel projector mesmerized me, watching these boys in their mid-twenties find their musical way with far too much hair in their eyes. I engaged in the obligatory head bob, foot tap, and even a sway, but I couldn’t find a chorus to save my life.
Once their meager thirty-minute set came to a close, I indulged my new/old girlfriend in singing the band’s accolades. Her boyfriend was the lead singer, and I convincingly gushed at what a great voice he possessed. I had come here for a reason, and this wasn’t it.
By the time he had found me once again, I had removed my coat and was feeling warm from the alcohol. He procured two new drinks and led me up the same old stairs I’d first seen him. We settled on two stools and continued with our casual banter until the conversation naturally turned to more serious matters. We got down to the brass tacks, relationships, fears, career goals, and how much we had or hadn’t changed.
He was still with that same girlfriend as four years ago, only now they had been loosely engaged for a couple years now. She was moving to Denver in a month, but he was staying here. When I asked why he wasn’t going with her, he squirmed. I was the single one, and I still had the power. I had nothing to lose, and he knew it.
Our sentences wandered their way into lamenting about the very clichéd twenty-something struggle to find creativity and purpose while still staying afloat.
“I just feel like if I don’t do music now, I will regret it,” he admitted.
“Then that’s what you should do,” I agreed. “You aren’t going to get twenty-six back, or twenty-seven, or twenty-eight for that matter. This is the time do the things you want to do, and to try to succeed, even when you know you’ll probably fail. You don’t get this time back.”
He nodded his head slowly, like no one had said anything more true. Like no one had ever reassured him that any choice he made, was the right one. Maybe I was projecting; I’d always loved to see myself as special than everyone else in his life. I never wanted to find out if there was any truth to that.
I stood up from my stool, turned to the table and grabbed onto the edge with two hands as I bend backward from the waist down, letting the weight of my body stretch my arms and legs.
“What are you doing?” he asked with a laugh.
“Stretching! I was standing too long watching your show,” I retorted my head faced down. “Did you forget how weird I was?”
“Nope. You’re still the same.” I came back to a standing position facing him, leaning on the table with one arm; my other hand gently grabbed a chunk of his hair just below his chin.
“It’s so long,” I said taking in this new version of him that was still just the same as before.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” he said staring back at me,
“Just because you never called, doesn’t mean I stopped existing.”
It was getting late, and I didn’t want to be the groupie who overstayed her welcome, so I decided to leave. I asked if he would walk me down the block to my car. Usually I’m not such a girl about it, but it was a less than safe neighborhood. As we came back down the stairs, I said good-bye to the people of my past.
As we approached the door, my good friend the door an said, “There are no ins and outs.”
I sighed, done dealing with this asshole. “Well, can my friend please walk me to my car?”
He gave me a funny look, “Um, no.
“Oh really? Well, I hope you’ll be satisfied with yourself once I’m beaten and raped in front of my own vehicle.”
His mouth went agape, as my ex and I pushed past him. My ex shook his head as I ranted about my violent plans for that insolent punk, remembering that I had more spunk than most petite girls wearing red lipstick.
I opened my car door and turned toward him.
“Thank you so much for coming,” he said as he put his arms around me.
I instinctually lifted myself onto the balls of my feet and wrapped my short arms around his neck, “Of course, anytime,” I said into his collar.
He pulled away just enough to look at me. “It was so good to see you,” he said with the most sincerity I had ever heard.
“I know, you too. Don’t be weird. Let me know when you’re in LA. You always have a place to crash with me.”
“I know. I’ll actually be up here a lot more in the coming months.”
“I look forward to it then.”
We went in for one more squeeze, physically fighting the impulse to kiss
“Don’t be a stranger,” he called as he started to walk away from my car.
I lowered myself into the drivers seat. “I’ll always be strange, Stephen. Let’s just make sure we see each other again soon.”
As I pulled away, I saw his large body loaf away back to the life he had created for himself, the one where I didn’t exist. I haven’t heard from him since.