I Wish I Could Unremember, Everything My Heart's Been Through, I'm Finding Out It's Impossible To Do, Oh, Oh, Oh, It's No Use, I Can't Unlove You
...continued from You Melt Your Doubt, And Fall Into Me, I Find Your Mouth And Try To Hold It, You Blame Your Love, You Know It's Harmless, We're Both Wise For Falling
Part III to follow next week some time...
Part II. Then It's Real
THEN IT’S REAL
a story by Breanne Holins-Meier
You don’t know why, but you can’t escape the images of you crying in the shower by yourself that day you left. You have no reason to think of it and it should be the furthest thing from your mind at this time, but that’s where your attention keeps wandering back to. The decision had already been made. You should have been fine with the idea it was out of your hands now. You had been set. You had been ready.
But that day, the day before you were supposed to leave, the realization of the enormity your choice washed over you and you were left in that shower alone contemplating the mistakes you were about to make.
“I don’t care about you?” he half-heartedly asks, only stopping to yawn. “You’re the only thing I care about.”
“I’m not questioning your sincerity, just your tact,” you reply quickly.
It is just the two of you on the train. Everyone else has gotten two or three stops before. It is just the two of you left talking about everything but what you want to talk about. There you both are—his head in your lap, your head still tracing back to that last shower before you left on a plane to Chicago—and you are still acting as if nothing is amiss. You are sure he could see right through the act, though. You are as sure of that as you are sure that that too would be another topic taken off the table during this ride.
You blankly begin to stroke your fingers through his hair, willing him to nod off so you could get back to your thoughts. Yet he will not oblige you. This is about the fourth interruption to your idea of “letting” him sleep on the way back to the Sheraton. This is about the fourth time he swears that he is done talking and still continues to jaw away like a baby with peanut butter in his mouth.
Stubborn as a donkey, that one.
“Sincerely, that’s as tactful as I can put it. I’m too tired to elaborate. Can’t we continue this discussion tomorrow, when I’m prepared to compliment you rotten?”
“As you wish, sugar. Forget I even brought it up,” you say with a smile on your face. Half of it’s real. The other half is for his benefit. You never thought it would be this hard.
The closest thing you can compare it to is homesickness. It’s the sort of homesickness you had when you used to spend a week away at your cousin Shelly’s. You were glad to have the distance from your parents, but there was always this gnawing pull that you belonged elsewhere. You weren’t where you were supposed to be. And, even though you knew you were coming back home in only a matter of days, that still didn’t prevent you from the thoughts of home and from thoughts of people who were awaiting your return.
That’s what this Chicago trip is, something to distract you from thoughts of home, but it is the thoughts of the home that is your reality. It is thoughts of the shower that you’d been having all night, almost as soon as you left the restaurant after dinner.
You watch him close his eyes again. You watch him fade away as if he is dying with the background of the train on the tracks blurring any of the normal sleeping sounds. It is funny. It hadn’t taken you that long for you to get used to the particular way he sleeps, the particular noises that come from his sleeping form. For a long time last night you just listened, listened and noted for later. Ten minutes later, after you had your fill, you went to bed as well. You suspected last night, that first night, it would have taken you a lot longer to get used to his habits. Instead, it was as if you had been sleeping next to him all your life.
Of particular note is the fact he didn’t sleep at all like your husband Greg.
You look at the man at rest in your lap. You note the manner in which he seems at ease in your company, how he looks so peaceful on his face and in his body language. It had taken a long time for Greg to get this comfortable with you and you with him. But the individual sleeping in front of you now had orchaestrated his position within the first moments of boarding the train. You allowed it because you didn’t see anything wrong with it. You didn’t see anything wrong with it because there isn’t anything wrong with it. There was about much wrong with it as the waves crashing on shore or the wind blowing; this is just the way it is between you and him.
You watch as he adjusts his head and his eyes slowly pry open.
“You should try to get some sleep too. It’s going to be awhile till we get back to the hotel,” he tells you.
“I’m worried it’s not safe for both of us to be sleeping. What if someone comes into the car?”
“You’ll protect me. I trust you,” he smiles at you.
“Funny. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” you slightly laugh back at him. “It’s like my daddy says, you don’t have the sow shepherding the stallions.”
“Why? I’m not worried. I have nothing worth stealing anyway.”
“That’s just great.” You roll your eyes at him slowly. “Well, I’d like to hang onto a few things if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, I mind.”
It was this sort of patter that convinced you to go on this trip in the first place. Whatever else your relationship with him has been, you’ve always been able to talk with great ease to him. About anything. About everything. So when he propositioned you with the idea to fly you out to the Windy City as a belated birthday present, you didn’t reject the idea outright. That would have been rude. You didn’t tell him that your husband’s feelings were more important to you. You didn’t disclose to him that Greg and you had been making real strides to working a few issues out, and that a trip to Chicago now probably would be bad timing. You didn’t say any of that because you really wanted to go. Away. With him.
It wasn’t until later, in the shower the day you flew out, that you had any clue this was a bad idea.
He had a way of making bad ideas into good ideas. And you had a willingness to believe him.
“Just let a gal have her insecurities, please, thank you. Besides, shouldn’t you be getting to the sleeping already? Isn’t that why you’ve been laying your head in my lap this whole time? Because if you’re going to rest, then I think it would be best if you sat up like proper folk do.”
“I thought you didn’t mind?”
“No, I’m happy to let you nap, but, so far, I’ve heard a lot of the yapping and not so much the napping.”
“Is that how it is?” he asks you incredulously.
“That’s exactly how it is.”
Again he rolls his head to the side and closes his eyes.
“Fine. Nodding off now, Breannie.”
You let him sleep again for a good fifteen minutes. During that time you try to forget some of the worries and try to concentrate on him. This is supposed to be a good time. Hell’s bells, this is supposed to be your birthday present. You owe it to yourself to have a good time and to allow your friend to provide that for you.
You turn to look out the window. You watch as the darkened skyline of the suburban houses pass in front of your eyes. You realize that, with all this hustling around, you haven’t seen how resplendent everything looks during this twilight time. That’s you, though. You’d rather be the driver concentrating on where you’re going and how fast you can get there rather than be some idle passenger noticing the world moving past. You have no time for noticing anymore. You lost that right the minute you took up the mantle of adulthood.
You lost that ability the moment you graduated and started your career, your business.
It’s too late for you to get that back now.
Some things, once they’ve been taken from you, you simply can’t have again.
“I would kind of mind if somebody took you,” you blurt out unexpectedly.
You watch as he shakes himself awake once more and turns his head to look at you.
“I’m saying I don’t want anybody to steal you. You were talking about having nothing worthwhile to steal and I was mulling it over in my head. That could happen, you know? Somebody steals you.”
“Off the train?”
“Worst things have happened I’ve heard.”
You watch as his face straightens. He appears on the verge of saying something, but backs out at the last moment. Then he finally responds.
“Yeah, like somebody stealing you away from me.”
You feign the answer taking you by surprise, but it really isn’t. Something of this trip has always been about Greg and you, has always been about Patrick and you. That it’s taken this long to surface is what surprises you the most.
“Sleep. Now,” you try to order him.
“I’m just saying that I know what it’s like to have someone stolen away from you.”
“Nobody stole nothing. Now shush up and take your nap…”
You scrunch your face, preparing for a fight that never comes. Instead, he throws his hands across the seat and stretches.
“You know what I’ve been thinking about?”
“…and yet his mouth never stops moving despite his protests of being tired.”
You wait as he finishes his stretch and returns to a position more conducive to conversation.
“I’ve been thinking that we should go look for a place that does Cincinnati spaghetti tomorrow. Don’t you think that would be fun?”
Again, your eyes roll.
“You want to look for Cincinnati spaghetti? In Chicago?”
“I mean—we’ve done the whole pizza and ribs thing. Think of it as a quest.”
“Yeah, your quest.”
Right there. That’s always been the crux of how your discussions with him always manage to turn into fights. You both want to steer, except he wants to steer it in all these random directions and you’ve always tried to steer straight to the point. This is not to say you haven’t gotten into your share of hijinx and hilarity, but it was always as a side effect of doing something you thought was a good idea.
There are times when you think the man sleeping across you goes looking for bad ideas just to say he’s tried them.
Yet, seven times out of ten, like a loyal hound dog, you end up doing what he wants anyway. You’re not against adventure. You’ve always merely been against pointlessness and tedium.
You know or long ago realized that at the outset his ideas might be pointless and tedious, but they inevitably turn out to be some type of adventure.
After all, there was a time where he thought it would be a good idea for the two of you to be friends. You thought nothing would come of it. Instead, it’s worked out to be one of the greatest adventures that you’ve been on.
And sometimes the worst decision you’ve ever made.
“It doesn’t sound that appealing to me. Besides, we have that whole list of places we wanted to hit, remember?”
“Yeah, but we still have a couple of days. I just don’t want to be stuck doing the whole touristy thing the entire time here.”
“Well, we already kind of junked yesterday by staying in.”
You hear him scoff.
“And whose idea was that?”
“I believe that was you,” you state matter-of-factly.
“Incredible. It’s incredible how adept at lying you’ve gotten since I last saw you.”
“Hell’s bells, I wish there was a camera in the room so I could show you whose brilliant idea yesterday was.”
“And that would be yours.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Are you sure you weren’t drinking while I was in the bathroom? It’s hard to believe you’d forget an entire conversation.”
“Believe me,” you retort, “if I’d been drinking you’d have known it.”
Again, yesterday was not another one of your best ideas. You had steeled yourself to tell him no when it came down to the issue. Under no circumstances would anything be happening between you and him on this trip. This was strictly going to be two friends spending their vacation together, not you and your ex-boyfriend having one last romp in the hay.
The only excuse you can give is that the situation was new to you. It’s not like you’ve had a lot of practice at resisting someone else’s advances. You weren’t weak. You were merely out of practice, you try to excuse yourself. But in your heart of hearts you know. This is how it was going to turn out as soon as you accepted. It was inevitable. You already knew that.
What you don’t know was what it all meant.
What you still can’t figure out is what it means now and if you’ll be able to go home with some type of clear conscience.
It’s not like you can still love him like that, being married and all. That wouldn’t be allowed. This isn’t real, you try to remind yourself. The stopwatch on your real life begins as soon as you board the plane back to Macon. This, all of this, is just an extended time out.
He shakes his head at you.
“What’s the phrase again?”
“What phrase?” you ask.
“Like when you want to agree to disagree. How do you say it again?”
“Let’s cut the cat; you get heads, I get tails.”
You listen to that laugh of his before you eventually join in with him. You can’t remember another day when you’ve laughed this much, not for awhile anyway.
“Something like that.”
“’Was I drinking?’” you mock him.
He laughs once more and then tilts his head to the side.
But you’re not ready to give up the good feelings that have welled up inside of you. Not by horseshoe’s toss. You toss another line out there to get a feeling of how serious his intent is about going back to sleep.
“’No, I am not drunk. It’s me, Breanne,’” you say simply.
That’s when you feel him remember more than see him. Suddenly, you feel his body tense in preparation for a good belly laugh. He then replies with the appropriate counter phrase.
“’Yes, but by the tone of your voice, I’d say you’re drunk.’”
“’I’m not drunk. It’s me, Breanne, Eeyore.”
Then you hear it, the laugh that erupts like a geyser. He doesn’t bother to turn his head to face you. He just laughs at the seats in front of you guys. He just laughs because he doesn’t know how else to remember that night.
“I still can’t believe you did that. What was that? Four times in one night? I think that was some kind of record for drunk dialing.”
“Four times in one hour. And it wasn’t even that I didn’t remember calling you. I kept coming up with things I had to tell you immediately.”
“Like how the bartender was out to destroy you.”
“That’s handy information to pass along. What if she had destroyed me? You could steer the police in the right direction, you know?”
“Or how the drinks were better when you held them in your left hand.”
“Come back to me when you conduct a thorough taste test and tell me it ain’t true.”
“Or what about your confession about how you loved me so much.”
That one stops you in your tracks. You don’t let on, but you’d forgotten how you’d just announced that to him that night. The two of you had been fighting for so long and so heavily. Then, as heated as it had been, it quickly got icy between you. You stopped calling each other. You stopped talking. You stopped being friends. To you it felt like you stopped caring about each other for good.
You both thought that was the best idea for you both. You pretended that all the years you’d spent being friends just hadn’t happened. You went back to dating to occupy your time, while he went back to carrying on with her, living with her, sharing his life with her in a way he never seemed to want to live it with you.
Then you’d gotten drunk one night (on a date no less) and it suddenly occurred to you how childish all of it had been.
“Yeah, well, you know. It was important that you knew that.”
“But you already knew that.”
He flashes you a smile, gives you a small wink, and goes back to sleep. But not before getting the last word in.
“For some time now,” he says, trailing off.
You repeat to yourself, once he has fallen asleep, that none of this is real. This is what he’s supposed to say to make you happy, to keep the good times flowing. This is how he’s supposed to act when he’s trying to be on his best behavior, when he’s trying hard not to get into a fight with you. This is the person you’ve always wanted him to be for you. But you’re only seeing this side of him because he knows he only has to feign good behavior for another four days. It’d be a different story if he were to try doing this for any longer. He couldn’t hack it. And you couldn’t handle being disappointed in him again. You’ll enjoy it as long as it lasts, and it is kind of nice having a few days to pretend that everything is honky-dory between the both of you again.
But the wedding ring on your hand tells you relations with him will never be as smooth as they once were. Nothing will be as they once were. You can’t have the same feelings for him you once had because he isn’t the person he once was. This whole trip is a wait out the clock situation. You promise yourself that you’re not going to allow yourself to feel any sort of permanence to this situation. There is no permanence when it comes to Patrick. There never has been. It’s always been stardust and snow, stuff that looks pretty at the outset, but gets spirited away in the end.
Greg is real. Your home is real. Your love for your husband is real.
When you wake him up again, he seems slightly agitated. Rather than greet you with a smile, he welcomes your intrusion with a slight growl and the concerted actions of a person who wants to go back to bed.
“At least I don’t lie in the street when I’m drunk,” you tell him, saying what you wanted to say to him.
“Just other people’s yards, right?”
“Pigpens and palaces. Pigpens and palaces. The worst thing that could happen to me is the owner wake up and shoo me off. It’s not like somebody would decide to run me over in the yard.”
“I was only asleep for five minutes at the most. There were no cars anywhere.”
“I worry about you sometimes, Mr. Patrick.”
“Well, I think you should worry more. I kind of like it when you worry about me.”
“Who am I, your mother?”
“Of course not. You’re my little sis, remember?”
“That you’ve always had a crush on.”
“Always and forever.”
You both pause in speaking to allow that nugget of truth to sink in. Once the moment passes, it’s you who speaks up first.
“And who’s always had a crush on you too.”
“Always and forever.”
Then he’s off to sleep again and you’re off to worrying about what you’re doing again.
This isn’t the life you dreamed for yourself, dividing your time between the man you love and the man who loves you deeply. If life were fair, they would be one of the same. If you could only reconcile that, your life would be better. And if only you could figure out who was the former and who was the latter, your life would be better.
You watch the night disappear into the highway and into the neighborhoods. You wait and watch, glancing down at him every once in a while to make sure that he’s sleeping soundly. There’s no reason he needs to know what you’re going through. More to the point, there’s no reason to go through what you’re going through. You made a deal with him. Whatever happens here wouldn’t change anything back at home. This is a momentary release from a life where the two of you had drifted slightly apart. This isn’t a beginning to a new chapter to your lives. This is the same old story that you’d been writing for some time now. Nothing was bound to change. This is about righting what had gone wrong for the two of you. This was about fixing a mistake, not making three more in its place.
“I think I’m starting to knock down too,” you say, waking him.
“I can’t knock out because we both can’t lay down on this seat.”
“So I can only half knock out. Hence, the knock down.”
You feel the train stop at the next station. You don’t see anyone get on and it bothers you that you stopped at all. You want to get back to the hotel as much as you wish you could ride this train forever. But you know it’s bound to come to an end sometime. You might as well get it over with.
“Tonight will be the longest I’ve gone without sleeping next to Greg since I married him.”
“Well, I had first dibs so he can have your lap back when I’m done.”
“Do you ever think about how this may be the last time I get to hold your hand or anything? The last time I get to just fall asleep with you or go out to dinner even?”
“Not especially. I have faith I’ll see you again.”
“I don’t,” he says to you dejectedly, most of which probably is genuine.
“That’s why I’m invoking my right of first dibs. I saw you first. I’ve known you longer. I don’t have to let you go until I’m good and ready.”
“You sorta have to let me go when the plane is good and ready.”
You watch him try to sit up and you gently push him back down. It won’t due to have him get worked up about this. You’d rather have him reclined because you think there’s no possible way he can get angry when he’s still laying there. Who ever heard of a person conducting an argument while laying in someone’s lap, you know? You’re not ready to move this lazy conversation to turn into a heated debate so you don’t bait him. You let him know subtly that you’re both just talking here, there’ll be no dustups tonight… or for the rest of this trip.
He continues what he was saying.
“No, no, no. It’s kind of like eminent domain. Greg can have you for awhile, but I retain the right to take you back if it serves my best interests without warning, without compensation, and certainly without remorse.”
“So your argument is, since you had first claim to me, that my husband is only a title holder in name only. In essence, you “own” me in perpetuity?”
“In essence. Emminent domain, remember?”
You give him a playful kiss on the forehead. He shrugs it off.
“Yeah, I think I like it better when you were asleep, sugar.”
“Hell’s bells, I disagree. You don’t own me. Nobody owns me. Nor are you the boss of me. I come and go as I please,” you state calmly.
On the inside, you convince yourself what you’re saying is true. You don’t know, though. Sometimes you wonder exactly how much of your behavior is dictated by not being dictated by anyone. You seem to want to march to your own drum so badly that you have yet to get to the hang of what you want your drum to be playing… or to realize that following someone else’s drums might not be so bad.
Eeyore’s drums tell you that you’ll end up together eventually. You go and marry Greg.
Greg’s drums tell you not to go on this trip. You make up your mind the next afternoon that you will be going.
It really is madness in independence’s clothing.
“And, oh, how you please me when you c…”
You lay your fingers on his mouth, closing it for him. Then you shut his eyes.
“If you know what’s good for you, you won’t finish that sentence.”
You made sure his eyes were again closed before you started staring out the window again. You started to reminesce of Mrs. Harvick, your old dance teacher, and how she had taught you to chase your dreams no matter what. Even when you broke her heart by hanging up your dance shoes, she still had faith enough in you to still repeat the same message, that it doesn’t matter what you dream as long as you have one. You’ve always remembered that lesson. Even when you can’t get to the dancing all the time, you still always find time to chase that bit of happiness that seems to elude almost everyone. Finding your bliss has become a sort of mantra to you.
Yet time after time it seems, you find yourself what exactly is going to make you happy. It was simple once, really. You had defined goals and a head full of steam. No one could deter you. You were Breanne Holins, full of piss and vinegar. Woe betide anyone who dared get in your way. You knew what made you happy and you chased after it with a vengeance.
Now you’d be happy just to know what would make you happy eventually.
You hear him rustle awake and quickly hide the seriousness on your face.
“I’m not drunk, I’m Breanne,” he laughs.
But you can’t hide it quick enough. His smile quickly fades to a look of concern.
“Can I tell you something?” you ask.
“I was only drunk because I wanted to make up with you.”
“And you needed to drink to do that?”
“Well, it had been awhile. I didn’t exactly know if I’d have the courage to do it straight up.”
“I know that’s it’s true that I shouldn’t have called you so late, but…”
But the guy you were with only served to remind you how much better it had been? But the fight had been a stupid one? But you were miserable without him?
“But you got tired of the silence, right?” you heard him say simply and you couldn’t have put it any better yourself.
“I think it was more a case of getting tired of all the noise that didn’t mean anything, Patrick. I wanted to hear something that meant something for a change.”
You feel him tilt his head up at you and you oblige him with a kiss. You don’t know why you do it. You never know why you do half of the things you do with him. You do them because they feel right sometimes. You do them because they make sense. But most times you do them because you’ve always done them and there’s a certain comfort in the familiar, like standing by the fireplace even though it’s only slightly chilly or tap dancing in the middle of a funeral. Sometimes you feel something and you just have to go with it.
After he lays his head back down, you don’t smile. You proceed to put on your most neutral face. That wasn’t a kiss. That was a portrait of the people you used to be remembering a night that happened once, a night when you found each other again.
“Were you even that drunk or were you just faking, Bree?” he asks you.
“Exactly,” you laugh. You have to have some secrets from him. “Like my daddy says, sometimes a wolf can catch more sheep by dressing up as a sheepdog.”
He smiles and continues to look up at the ceiling of the train.
“Ceiling fans. That’s what this train needs, some big ‘ole ceiling fans.”
You place your hand on his forehead.
“Why? Are you hot?”
“No, I just like being a little colder when I’m trying to sleep.”
“Is that why our room is forming glaciers as we speak?”
“As long as the air conditioning is not on my dime.”
You shake your head. He’s a strange one, that one.
“Plus, it gives me an excuse that isn’t so saccharine as wanting to cuddle to stay under the covers with you.”
“As if you can hide that.”
You watch as he gesticulates the exact placement of his imaginary ceiling fans.
“But I think ceiling fans would be nice on a train. You know where else they’d be nice in?”
“Cars. I always thought it would be cool if cars had ceiling fans.”
“I can only imagine. I’m surprised no one has tried to invent that sooner.”
“I know. It could be the next silent velcro.”
“I bet you could make your first million off of that,” you offer, patting him again on his poor deluded head.
“Imagine that. I could finally get the K-car I’ve had my eye on. Maybe buy some art.”
“Garfunkel, that is?”
“You could get anything you wanted.”
“It certainly would make it easier to come see you.”
You look down at him. You see how much he wishes the offer would please you. The two of you’d been debating the finer points of visiting each other more. Unfortunately, it has always been one of the tougher arrangements to iron out. Promises to come visit inevitably get filed away as rainy day wishes. You find yourself making plans while the life where two friends could visit as often as they wish slowly ebbs away. You find yourself on the other end of nine years without seeing his face like you are now. It’s far too long.
“Certainly would,” you answer.
“The question is how often you’d want me to come see you.”
“That is the question. It’s not often I like to be seen, you know? I’m right up there with Elvis. Never expose myself too much, that’s my motto.”
“Says the girl who perfected the art of mooning.”
“Hey, I don’t poke fun of your life’s goals. Do me the same courtesy… and I think it might be nice to see each other more often. I’ve always wanted that.”
This isn’t supposed to be happening to you. This was supposed to be one of the deals where what happened in Chicago stayed in Chicago. All this talk of extending seeing each other into the future was against the ground rules. This was supposed to be a wait-and-see kind of affair, where no future entanglements could be pinned on it. You both agreed that it would be safer that way, kinder that way. However much you might pine for the kind of life where he could drop in on you and your husband like a best friend is supposed to do, the reality of the situation dictates that to be a dream Little Miss Chipper once had. Mrs. Holins-Meier can ill afford such wanton fantasy.
Yet there you are, on a train bound back to the O’Hare Sheraton, taking part in another white lie to see each other soon. There you both are perfecting the art of saying what you want to hear and meaning only half of it as well as you once perfected the art of dropping trou in public.
You can’t help yourself. Bad ideas sound like good ideas.
“Quite the pickle, these lives of ours,” he says.
You take a look around. Empty train. Only you and him looking forward to sleeping next to him one more night. You take a look at him. Some of the worry about what’s right or wrong seeps away.
“I don’t know—right now isn’t looking so bad.”
He stares up at your face, looking on you as if he were a newborn kit.
“You should see it from my angle,” he whispers before closing his eyes again.
You look down at your shoes past his head. You have been walking all day and the train ride feels nice after pounding the pavement. You think it might be a nice place to go jogging if you’d lived here.
Then your thoughts turn to a different matter. You imagine this is what adopted kids feel like after they get to know their birth parents. You grow up thinking somebody is there to love you unconditionally, to take care of you like family is supposed to, to be a person you can trust. Then you find out somebody else is out there wanting to do the same things. It’s not like you can forego the person you had in your heart originally. It’s not like that love goes away simply because you meet somebody new. Nor is it fair to the other person who wants to love you to pretend that all your love is reserved is just for him or her. You’re stuck between the two of them with their only connection being how much they care for you.
For your part, you do your best to keep them both happy. You know it’d be better if they could just iron their differences out. You know it’d make you happier if they could both be in your life. You’d like that very much.
You feel like a ping pong ball sometimes, flying back and forth between them. You’re either in his court or your husband’s court. They keep shuttling you back and forth, driving you to land on one side or the other. You hate it. You hate everything about it. You hate the fact that you can’t give up one or the other. You hate having to choose all the time. You hate the stress it puts you through. You hate yourself for falling so hard for both of them.
But most of all you would hate to lose either of them.
Whatever this is, whatever you feel, it feels real. You don’t think you’re lying when you tell him you still love him as he sleeps. You don’t feel like you’re pretending when you tell him how much you’ve missed him. You don’t feel false at all.
Then you look to his feet and you come back to the miles and miles you’ve walked that day.
“Do your feet still hurt?” you ask him when you see drift back in from sleep.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. You need to take up running. Then you’d have more energy for when you decide it would be best to walk everywhere when, you know, we’re supposed to be on vacation.”
“I just never saw the fun in it.”
“Are you joshing me? It’s a hoot-and-a-half.”
“Hmm. Maybe we’ll try jogging in one of the parks for a bit. I’m sure there’s a thousand places to do that here.”
You can’t hide the glee on your face fast enough.
“I swear. I mean—if you really want me to try it out, I might as well do it while you’re here. I just know if I try taking it up on my own it won’t stick.”
“I never thought I’d see the day.”
“I’m not committing to any marathons or anything. I said we can go jogging for awhile to get my feet wet, not that I’m going to instantly fall in love with it.”
“You won’t be sorry. I love running.”
“Well, you’re just the kind of person, Breanne. It doesn’t take you long to decide on something. Some of us take a bit longer.”
That’s what the fight had been about when you’d drunk dialed him. He had taken up to living with somebody else and you’d blown your stack. You’d yelled and screamed like a cat with her tail on fire. It went way beyond jealousy. It bordered on insanity. In one instant you lost a lifelong dream, a lifelong friend, and an older brother in one fell swoop. It didn’t matter that you never promised each other anything. Your heart had always been promised to him secretly. He couldn’t understand why you felt so betrayed. Or maybe he could. Whatever the reason you had stopped talking for a good long while.
When it was over, when you finally called and talked to him, you both swore from that night on you would never lose each other no matter who else came into your lives. Nothing changes nothing, that’s how you described it. Not Greg, not DeAnn, not anyone. If that someone else couldn’t understand that your friendship was off limits in terms of criticism, then that person would not be welcomed into your life.
Nothing changes nothing. Somebody you love once, you love forever.
“Too long sometimes,” you answer.
You can’t punish a guy for taking to long to ask by throwing him for the guy who asked far too early.
“Yeah, there’s that,” is all he can respond.
You try to cheer him up by brushing him on the cheek. This is a vacation, after all.
“It’s okay. Most of the time you come around. You’ve always got to be the last cow in the pasture is all.”
He laughs. It seems like the two of you have laughed more tonight than you have all year talking on the phone with each other. You laugh like you did when you first met. It feels good.
“’I play a cow, but then I get a disease and die…’”
You laugh back. And he falls asleep again.
All this time you thought you’d been punishing yourself, torturing yourself because you thought it impossible to love them both. The real culprit was time. If you’d met under different circumstances, you’re sure you could have made it work out with him. Conversely, if you’d never met at all, you’re sure you and Greg would have still have had the same fights you have now. You can’t blame one for the other. What will be will be. You begin to realize this as it dawns on you that there is no shame in loving somebody, if it’s real.
The question you’ve been wrestling with all this time is if it is real.
Do you still feel the same?
“I have to tell you something too,” he interrupts.
“I almost didn’t pick up the phone when I saw it was you calling.”
“Which is hogwash because ninety percent of me wanted to call you two weeks, hell, a month earlier,” he sighs. “I just never did. I’m sorry, Breannie.”
“I probably wouldn’t have picked up if you had. Everything has a time and a place, you know? I think we were meant to make that night in that way and there’s no use in fighting it.”
“There’s no fighting fate.”
“We’ll always be friends.”
“Except for the times we’re more.”
“And in the brief times we’re less,” you sigh back. “In the end, though, we always have that to rely on.”
He reaches up and pinches your lower lip slightly.
“You have a cute mouth. Did anyone ever tell you that?”
Then he sleeps again.
Of course, you feel the same. Of course, of course, of course. Feelings don’t change. They may get deeper. They may get wider. But they don’t dry up. Once you bake a cake, you can’t unbake it. The way you feel now is the way you’ve always felt. It just took you the last few weeks and this one train ride to come to the realize that everything that was true is still true.
You could no more change that than change the fact you can only be Breanne—no more, no less.
You feel something strong for him. There’s no shame in that.
“I think we’re almost back to the O’Hare station. You need to get up.”
“Funny. It feels like I’ve been sleeping this entire way, but I got—what—maybe ten minutes for sleep altogether?”
“Blame the funny guy who kept trying to talk when he was supposedly trying to sleep.”
“Damn that guy!”
You lift his head off your lap and he takes up a position beside you.
“It’s almost time to say good-bye to our little ‘ole train. Aren’t you sad? Don’t you just want to cry?” you ask, placing your arm around his shoulders.
Imitating your drunk voice, he responds, “’I’ve got to go, but it’s important that I love you.’”
Mimicking how he sounded that night, you join in, “’And it’s important that you’re not drunk, right?”
“’I’m Breanne and this is farewell, you know?’”
You swallow your laughter and pull his head into yours until they’re both resting on each other.
“It’s depressing you remember all that, Eeyore.”
“I always remember important moments. It’s not often that I make up with someone after that big of a fight.”
It’s not often you do either. You always thought it was a bad idea to forgive someone time and time again. You always thought it was a bad idea to keep putting yourself in a position to get hurt over and over. You always thought he was a bad idea from the start.
He’s the worst idea you’ve ever kept coming back to for fourteen years now.
“Now when we get back,” you begin, “we’re going straight to sleep, right? I want you well rested if we really are going to jog tomorrow morning.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. I never said anything about joggin in the morning.”
“You’d rather be the guy crying on the edge of the road?”
“I’d rather not do it at all.”
“I didn’t make a promise to you. You made a promise to me, remember, Eeyore?”
You’ve both made promises to each other over the years. Some you said aloud and some you kept to yourself.
“Everybody makes promises, Breanne. ‘But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.’”
“I would think so much less of you if you started breaking promises now… and you don’t have that much further you can slide, you know?”
You feel the train pull to a stop. You watch as the doors slide open. But the two of you still linger in your seats.
“You just want to do me in and make it look like I died of exhaustion. I know your wicked ways. I’m onto you, Breannie. You don’t care about me at all, do you?”
You’ve had feelings for him, strong feelings for some time now. You began the train ride question or not if you what you felt was real. Now you know.
If you feel something, anything at all, then it’s real.
“I don’t care about you?” you ask yawning.
You give him a short peck on the lips before you get up to exit the train.
“Sugar, you’re the only thing I care about.”