“Have I changed?”
He was older, heavier-set, slightly balder. Success adding an unshakeable tower of confidence to the foundation of arrogance that he had always possessed. She took all of this in before pronouncing her verdict.
“You’re Jack, ten years later.”
“Better or worse?”
Ten years was a long time. Long enough for people and situations to change. But they hadn’t and it had only gotten worse. Or better, depending on where you wanted to come to it from. More intense, either way.
She thought about him constantly through the weekend, grimacing with each thought. It went against every principle she had imposed on her life, every value she had struggled to uphold. It was also secretly delicious, the feeling of being helpless in the face of forbidden thoughts.
On Monday, she was awakened by the sound of her phone ringing. Probably a salesman pushing a credit card, she thought and rolled over. But the caller persisted and with a grunt she rolled over. She had to prise an eyelid open to see the screen but when she saw his name, her eyes flew open.
“You’re still asleep?”
“Umm, yes. Was up late last night.”
This exchange had always been enough to terminate the conversation in earlier instances of sleep disruption. But curiously enough, ten minutes later, they were still talking and she didn’t even realize it until he made her catch her breath with,
“You do realize what’s happening here, don’t you?”
And sleepy or otherwise, she was alert enough to toss it back to him as she thanked a decade of mental discipline. To her surprise, he didn’t volley about. Yes, some things had changed. Maybe they had both grown older, more willing to accept things that were beyond control, less inclined to hide away.
“I’ve been looking forward to talking to you. I feel the need to call you, every day, every morning. That’s unusual, for me.”
She wanted to laugh with relief and exhilaration. And also curl up under her covers and never come out and face the world again. Or at least, never have to face him again.
On Tuesday, she begged off the morning conversation, citing work. In the evening, she refused a text invitation to meet saying that she just wanted to be ‘quiet’ for a bit.
“You can be quiet with other people but not with me?”
His message burned into the back of her mind and she had trouble falling asleep. Wednesday, she hoped would wash out uncontrollable feelings with wine. Instead, she found herself fumbling-thumbed messages of an erotic variety.
He called as usual the next day but his tone was cautious.
“What was that about last night?”
“Umm, nothing. I was drunk, that’s all.”
He didn’t comment further and their conversation proceeded. But in her mind, a wall had been breached. The much-discussed point of no return was in her mind and she had passed it some ten hours earlier. There was no going back on those messages, no turning back on the fact that she had propositioned a married man. That his response has been most receptive was of no concern. The horrific inappropriateness of it all was the most savagely desirable thing she had ever tasted. She had been a willing and more than active partner and the deed had already been set in motion.
Curiously enough, she only felt a sense of relief. You can’t be hanged twice she thought wryly, recalling a line from a movie. And now that she had begun down that road, she was just going to have to go all the way across to get through this.
Alive with these thoughts, she awaited his call the next morning. And told herself he must have gotten busy when it didn’t come. The day after was spent much the same way, albeit with a vague sense of panic camouflaged as restlessness. And then it was the weekend.
On Monday, her fingers shook as she held her phone and dialed his number. It was fear, from doing something she had always been petrified of – putting herself out there. And it was shame, of going back on her high principles. And it was resentment. And pain. It all tasted sweet, like blood in her mouth.
They met that evening. Three hours sitting in the carpark, the tension enveloping them both like a security blanket. Their relationship had always been defined by it, the crossed swords and it felt comforting to hold them again.
But when the clock on his dashboard clicked into place and he commented that he’d have to leave in ten minutes, she saw a glimmer in the darkness. His eyes, the ever hypnotic enchantment, full of intrigue and dangerous promise, were swimming in something she had never seen in them before. It moved her to something else, too.
He patted her on the head and told her to sleep well and not worry too much. The gesture made her smile and she in turn, put her hand up to his face and repeated the same thing. It made him smile too and then he pulled back his face into its brooding expression.
She completed his sentence,
“A scared child.”
It made him laugh, a deep, throaty rumble that made her innards twist with a familiar queasiness.
He wouldn’t speak to her for the rest of the week or the weekend. She spent the first few days in an uncomfortably suspended state of desperate desire. This was probably what it felt like to be a guy, she surmised, with a perpetual hard-on and no sign of release.
On Tuesday, she got up from her bed, her mind made up. They had repeated the cycle every few years. This time she had been sure would have been the culmination. But then again, she had only realized it was a cycle, this time round. It would occur again. It might be five years or five days. But they would dance around each other till, till…till fulfillment.
Her best friend, long-suffering from such stories told her that he had just lost interest. But Jill, she shook her head and firmly said,
“I don’t think he lost interest as much as he lost nerve.”
Burning with passion, she realized required courage under the fire. Maybe next time.