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Writing Class – Week 2 – Life Changing Moment – “The Returning”

January 23, 2022

We stood, shoulders just brushing, looking out at the vermillion and amber maple leaves languidly falling one by one onto the surface of an azure lake. It smelled like fresh earth and hay as I drew a breath deep into my lungs. Silence invaded the drone of big city life my ears had become accustomed to since I’d moved. My dark puffy coat sheltered me from the faintest breeze and the world had clear edges for the first time in six months.

“I’ve been thinking a lot,” he said without making eye contact. “I miss you, and I think I’d eventually like to end up in the same place as you.”

I turned from him, clenching my fists, and walked back toward the car as the edges of the world blurred again.

— —

Later that afternoon, the smells of turkey, sweet potatoes, butter, and sugar painted memories of Thanksgiving leftovers shared near hidden campfires, and falling asleep under the stars with him. I pulled myself away from nostalgia and focused on the droll run-on sentences of my student’s lab reports until the rest of his boisterous family arrived to celebrate. 

— —

“So when are y’all getting back together?” His step-brother’s shiny new wife asked me across a plate of brie. Her words hit me like bird poop; right on the head, still a little warm and gooey. I’d been relegated to “best friend” for the last six months and thought I’d finally convinced myself it was okay. But there it was, just a big pile of shit in my hair. I stumbled on the creaky wooden farmhouse floors as I made a quick retreat to the steamy kitchen without answering. 

“Sit, sit, sit,” his stepmother commanded after I’d grabbed my towering pile of food, balanced on grandmas hand-painted china.

Conversation easily ebbed and flowed around me. Peals of laughter emanated from one side of the feasting. They all interacted like a fine dance. Between bites of buttery mashed potatoes I studied him across the table. I was familiar with the crook in his nose and the scar just hidden by his hairline where he’d run into a fence on a playground as a boy. I knew the slight crease that appeared between his eyebrows when he bumped elbows with his half sister was from only one of the frustrations he had as a left-hander. I was not, however, familiar with his returned gaze, both reverent and curious, like I was a newly discovered species and he was taking notes.

“Thank you so much for inviting me,” I told his stepmother as I balanced stacks of plates in the kitchen. “I love your family, and frankly I’m a little sad it took this long to finally meet y’all,” I told her as I snuck past to wash dishes. 

“Honey, we love you too, and I hope you know you’re welcome here with or without that stupid boy,” she replied with a warm hand on my shoulder.

— —

The eight hour car ride back to my apartment at then end of the holiday weekend was never-ending. He was too close in the passenger seat, smelling like worn wood and cherished quilts, promising comfort and familiarity. The white lines and gentle turning of the road became my world. The smell of pumpkin pie leftovers wafted toward us from the plastic cooler gently nestled in the back seat. 

Two hours from home, where I could put him on a plane the next day and send him across the country a safe distance from my still-healing heart, he started babbling. I tried to ignore his voice, but my ears wouldn’t obey when they caught a pleading, hopeful tone.

“Are you listening?” He said. “I still love you. Can we talk about it?”

My fingertips slipped from the worn grooves in the steering wheel of my sedan and caustic bumping reverberated through the car as my tires collided with the rumble strips along the side of the highway. My breath came sharp and tight from my diaphragm. 

I jerked the car all the way over to the shoulder and ripped the keys out of the ignition when we stopped. I threw them in his lap and said, “You can’t just say shit like that to me out of the blue. You drive. And don’t talk to me until we get back to my apartment. I need to think.”

— —

We arrived back to my sparse one bedroom apartment. It smelled stale with a side of kitty litter. My cat meowed softly from under the futon in the living room as the door clicked closed. I collapsed on my stomach with my head hidden under the futon cushions, where my cat sunk her teeth into my knuckles when I attempted to pet her. I allowed it, letting the pricks of her canines draw beads of blood.

“Can we talk now?” His voice was distant and echoed through the room.

“No,” I sighed. I gave up on the cat and hauled my body to a sitting position, letting the wooden frame of the futon dig into my vertebrae. “No, you’re leaving tomorrow, you live on the other side of the country, and you’ve made it very clear that you’re not into long distance relationships.” I kept my gaze on my lap and pronounced each word slowly.

His shoes squeaked as he kneeled next to me. His tentative finger under my chin guided my face upward until I could see his blue eyes searching mine. His breath warmed my cheeks. “Just answer one question for me and then I’ll leave you alone,” he said. 

I shuttered my eyes closed, but gave a slight nod.

He inhaled sharply and then asked, “Do you still love me?”

“Yes,” I replied and opened my eyes.

“Then we’ll figure it out,” he promised before stroking my cheek and pressing his warm lips to mine.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Yael Kisel permalink
    January 24, 2022 4:05 pm

    Wow! Intense. And I feel sneaky reading this. We’ve both been through a lot, eh. ❤️

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