His hand moves in a slight hello, an involuntary reaction from far away, having to wait until you approach the table. Your smile is big, round and open and you don’t take your eyes off him as you bustle hips and thighs through the frustratingly random placement of furniture and fellow patrons in the restaurant.
The warmth of your hug together is hard to ignore, the hands and arms wrap around each other tightly and intimately, embracing in the real kind of way. It’s something that after so many years neither of you have any way of stopping nor do you wish to. It is entirely organic and unselfconscious.
“It’s been so long, much too long.” You find yourself saying the things that you rehearsed over and over in the car ride to the restaurant, the things you decided were okay to talk about, “The last time we saw each other has to be four years ago, at your wedding!” You exclaim the last part rather loudly. It really does surprise you, not only the length of time but that it was his wedding. That day was too much for you, even though you had been married two years previously and held the arm of your husband throughout the whole thing, you felt a little lost in watching someone else’s body, mind and soul swear fealty to a man you love.
He smiles and it’s reserved, you wonder what he’s hiding, “Yeah, so long.” Pausing he looks down, “Take a seat.” He offers you a chair he pulls out, you can’t remember him having such gentlemanly manners but relish the attention.
He catches the eye of a waiter, orders a bottle of wine you both enjoyed during long ago nights, drinking it over bad takeaway and movies together. You are grateful for the shared memory.
You smile and lean forward, marvelling at his face and how it’s aged but still stays the same. He is self conscious and taps the table for a minute before drinking water from a wine glass and smiling, “So how is everything?”
You nod, “Good, good. Kids are fine and marriage fine. How about you and your lovely lady?” You smile encouragingly and hiding the slight wilt you feel when talking about your own life and how apparently ‘fine’ it all is.
“Yeah we are well, I’m starting a new position in the firm and she is doing really well too,” He nods perhaps more times than necessary and reaches again for the water.
You feel the thick air of reserved knowledge and feelings; coming from the uncontrollable need to expel thought and mind, escaping and filling out an atmosphere around the two of you. “How is the menu here?” You ask, encouraging different conversation, different topics.
“Oh yeah it’s great.” He picks up the menu and in no time at all you both have shared small talk about coq au vin, ordered entrees and mains and have a full bottle of wine both of you are afraid of consuming because neither of you have a filter of right and wrong when drinking alcohol together.
Suddenly you don’t care and you need the crisp wine in hand to breathe properly because the tension around you is suffocating. You drink three quarters of your glass quickly and laugh, not because you are drunk but the abandon of reservations you decide to no longer have and the incredible lightness you feel by simply being there at the table with the man you’ve never stopped loving.
He watches you closely, laughs with you and drinks his glass of wine much too quickly, spluttering, laughing and coughing after his own impulsive gulps.
If a sound could be put to that moment, a track of specific noise, it would be an almighty crack, one which echoes and reverberates through body and mind. It would be the ice, split in half and the flowing, ever moving water spilling out all over the great gulf of an iceberg you both created in life, which can only shatter and melt in the presence of each other. The relief is as palpable as the happiness which accompanies it.
The entrees pass through talks of ridiculous expectations and awful tasks at work. About no matter how much time and effort you put in you will always feel sub standard and guilty for trying to maintain family and work. He discusses that the more he works the less he feels welcome at home, that work is easier to do than walk through his front door.
Attached to every deprecating comment is a personal joke and a story that makes you both laugh and feel better for being inadequate together.
The mains are served with another bottle of wine and great moans and groans over the delicate flavours being described with hilarious consequences as thought and verbosity become more vulnerable to the shadows of wine.
As the mains fill the gaps between glasses, you both lean back and become honest and open.
“Are you happy?” You ask.
He thinks and gives you a funny smile you aren’t sure you recognise, “I thought I was.”
“When did you realise you weren’t?” You ask, worried for him and his choices.
“When I saw you.” His eyes keep contact, he waits for you to pull away but you don’t.
“I make you unhappy?” You are finding it hard to process his statement, not sure if the wine is making you stupid or if it’s your own shallow clarity.
He shakes his head, “No, I wasn’t saying that at all. Never mind.” He shakes his head again.
“You realised you were unhappy in life when you saw me tonight?” You try to follow his thoughts still, in a vain attempt of understanding an old friend.
He nods and takes a sip of wine, leaning back into his chair, giving an air of cockiness but to you it’s transparent, all bravado and intoxication.
“You can’t say things like that.” Your face feels rubbery and you don’t want to have this conversation now, life is too complicated to talk about the ‘what if’s’ you never really discussed.
“I know.” He leans forward, knowing you won’t play the game he thought to chance with.
“You have a wife.” Your reminder to him is more importantly for you, to remind yourself why you cannot continue the conversation.
“I know.” He picks up the water glass and drinks it very quickly.
It’s silent for a short time but it feels like an eternity. “Should I go?” He asks, quietly, small and he becomes that boy of your youth you loved and treasured so long ago.
You reach across to him and grasp his arm, “No, please stay.”
He holds your hand on top of his and makes sure you keep eye contact, “I miss you.” He breathes quietly and you remember those lips and the way you wondered about them throughout teenage years, the way you envisaged them against your own. Often those lips come to you in errant thoughts on random days in these later years and you have to swat at them, but they always return.
You hold and try to count yourself away from him. ‘Back in three,’ you promise yourself.
Three, two, one.
You still don’t let go. Then a bright, blinking light catches your eye and you suddenly break your contact as your rings on your hand gleam. The tokens given and sworn with your husband make you snatch the hand away. It cannot come to this.
“Let’s change the subject.” You propose, because you simply can’t walk away from him.
He nods and smiles warmly without it reaching his eyes, “Sure. How about that awful rendition you did of Queen at Karaoke night on my twenty second birthday, can we discuss that?”
You shake your head, “If we must.” And you laugh because it will always be like this, never anything more. You are both two players in a much larger game, a bigger stage and without the connection, without your attraction the plot thins and becomes nothing. You are the glue and it mustn’t give way or it will be the end of the story.