part four ... The Present
here is a small dried flower from a walk you went on, across the entire city, from midnight until dawn.
here is the catch in your throat when you hear her sing the songs she's written, even when they're not for you.
here is the list of places you made together, that you'll one day visit, down to the minutae of hotel room prices and attractions you want to see.
here is the funny way she pronounces the word "crayon" and the way her eyebrows arch slightly when she's applying lipstick.
here are his keys on your keychain, here are yours on his keychain.
here is the cup of coffee she makes you every morning, buying that gross fake creamer because she knows you secretly love it but would never admit it to your other friends.
here is the curl at his temple that simply refuses to join the rest of his hair.
here is the way she answers the phone, inflecting her 'hello' exactly the same way every single time.
here is the tip of his tongue, that sticks out the left side of his mouth when he's working at his drafting table.
here is the tiny furrow in her brow, the shadow that crosses her eyes, when you make her angry in public.
here are the the truckloads of one-word exchanges that signify the important events in your life - the shorthand of your knowledge of each other.
here are the exhausting tears that come from fighting, and here is the unique kind of nauseating pain that surfaces at the thought of losing someone.
here is the moment you wake up, open your eyes, and see yourself reflected in someone else's.
here, this is love. except, there is no perfect love. the future always looks rosier than it turns out to be, and the past leaves scars that defy the very definition of the word 'past'. the present, that minute, is the only thing that can really live up to the expectation of perfect love. anyone who says they haven't loved... hasn't looked hard enough at the tiniest of movements, the simplest of actions, and found what they're looking for.
there is no formula. no one is perfect. nothing stays the same. except your little batch of quirks, and words, and memories, and intimacies. so here. this is love. enjoy.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
part three ... The Future Perfect
she'll meet him during her off-year, when she flees to another city and lives with some crazy friends of hers in a mid-twenties attempt to recapture the wildness of youth. he'll be dating someone else, someone completely wrong for him. she'll know it the minute their eyes lock across the room, the two minutes he helps her with her bag. they will look into each other's eyes and see a kindred spirit. her friends won't believe this is possible, she who is so afraid of love. but when she says his name on the phone to them, they'll know he's the one.
"are you two together?" her friends will ask.
"no," she answers, with a new depth in her voice, a new honeyed dimension to her quiet southern accent.
"so what is it?"
"we're friends," she'll say. but she'll hear his voice coming down the hall over any other din. he'll seek her out at every party. he'll stand next to her, dangerously close, just to smell the clean freshness in her curly hair or to see the way she fiddles with her collar, rubbing the point between her thumb and middle finger. they will not be able to divert the current of electricity between them.
she will be torn between her privacy, her natural reticence, and the lure of his companionship. he will be torn between the girl he's dating who doesn't understand him, and the girl he's not dating who knows the words before he says them.
they will sit at a kitchen table together in the waning summer heat and drink countless beers. they will talk about their childhoods. they will offer to drive each other on errands, only to experience the forced intimacy of her tiny car. skin will brush against skin when they pass each other. the ticking clock in the dingy kitchen will mean more to both of them than the mere passage of time.
one night, at a concert, with the ever-distancing girlfriend a mere ten feet in front of them, he will turn to her. his hand will be on her small, firm shoulder.
"i have to tell you something," he will say as his voice cracks under the strain of being both quiet and loud at the same time.
"no," she will respond because she knows what he wants to tell her. she will move away because she's afraid. but these fears can't last long.
perhaps they will finally kiss in the parking lot. perhaps it will be at the grocery store on another contrived errand. perhaps, they will find themselves driving far away from the town they live in, distance themselves from their daily life to build up the courage to fall into each other. it will happen with the delicious clasping satisfaction of two magnets finally allowed to click. perhaps he will hold her small, porcelain face in his guitar-calloused hands and find it hard to breathe. perhaps her eyes will well up with the kind of tears she rarely allows herself to cry.
one thing is for certain in this future she does not yet know. that first kiss will be completely unavoidable. it is written the moment she walks into that room and sees the light in his eyes. the moment he saw her push her glasses up by touching the corner with the knuckle of her forefinger, a gesture which will reduce his heart to shreds in its delicacy and subtlety.
one thing is for certain in this future that none of us know. they will fall in love. it will be inconvenient. painful. complicated. emotional. but it will be the first kiss to end all first kisses and they will live happily ever after.
for beth and josh, my greatest inspiration
* * * * * * * * * * * *
part two ... The Past Progressive
he sits across from her at the tiny sun-dappled table but his legs are long and they sneak under her chair. for her part, legs are crossed, her ankle bone resting lightly against his shin. the only contact. the coffee mugs before them have been drained, but periodically she picks up hers, tipping it back to lick some of the sugar from the sides. he watches her pink tongue flick into the mug.
"so how's old new york these days?" he asks. his long arms stretch out across the table, his chin tips up and his back arches the slightest bit - a habit of his she is well familiar with, something he never realizes he's doing, as if refocusing himself into the room.
"the same as it was when you lived there. it's good to get away," she smiles, tapping a cigarette out of the pack, leaning in and shoving a curl away from her face as she lights it on the little red candle. she's inches away from his hand, palm-down on the table. he almost lifts it to hold her hair, she sees, and he thinks better of it.
"take those ridiculous sunglasses off, we're indoors," he says. she pushes them to hold back the curls and smiles at him.
"it's sunny in here," her eyes scan the little cafe. she takes a long drag and curls the right side of her lips, letting the smoke out towards the open window. he almost regrets asking her to lift the shades, now being subjected to the full force of her liquid brown eyes. the first thing he really noticed about her, years back.
"remember," he starts, picking up the thread of the little game they play when they meet again, once a year like clockwork, "the time in your hallway?" she grins a cheeky smile back.
"it was before we went to that salsa club," she prompts.
"you were wearing that red thing, with the strap around the neck."
"the halter dress. and heels. and nothing else."
"right. and that nook, in your hallway-"
"you broke the mirror hanging there," she laughs. he's glad she still doesn't care, after all these years, about the mirror they broke.
"well, you had your legs wrapped around my waist, I didn't have the best balance," he countered.
"you held on just fine," she grins, remembering the strong way his hand always cradled the back of her neck.
"and you pulled my belt out of my pants, remember?" he asks.
"yeah, well, you undid the only hook holding my dress on."
"that was something else, that nook in the hallway. you almost tied me to the coat rack with my belt."
"it would have been fun. then I could have done whatever I wanted," she laughs again and his eyes narrow through his glasses, just once, like a bird flying past a sunbeam.
"to be fair, we shouldn't talk like this," he says, his eyes less searching and open than before. his hands pull back off the table, his chin tilts up again, the shift is all but physically tangible.
"I know. they're just memories."
"and you're the keeper of them."
she doesn't answer.
"but I've got the car, it's outside," he smiles at the thought of her hair flying in the wind, zipping around the city's tiny streets again in that car - she was always terrible with the stick - "and we can stay at our old place."
it's nice, she thinks, looking at his long lazy body and rumpled clothes, these once a year reminders. the red dress is gone, the nook in the hallway long occupied by someone else, someone undoubtedly less passionate and crazy. but the car, and the time of year in their city, and the cobblestones gleaming with fresh rain -
"let's go, then." he sees the playful flicker her delicious eyes once more before the sunglasses come down and the cigarette is extinguished. outside, the car is waiting.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
part one ... The Conditional
he talks quietly on the phone, this late at night. his voice is always scratchy from cigarettes and whiskey. she know he's in bed because she can hear his beard rustling against the pillow.
"tell me more about the Weekend," he asks. how many times have they talked about this, she wonders. but the stories and promises have, so far, kept them happy together with seven thousand miles separating them.
"we'll lock the door," she starts.
"and kick my roommate out for the weekend."
"we'll just have a couple delivery menus and some beer."
"and sex," she adds. he laughs - his voice always goes up an octave with his laughter.
"and sex," he says. "lots of sex."
"eleven months worth of sex."
"it's been that long?" he asks.
"it will have been, when you come home."
"jesus," his voice sounding sad, "that's too long."
"well," she reminds him, "when you left, it was supposed to be forever."
"when I left, I didn't realize how terrible it really is to be alone."
her mind snags on this, still disbelieving his affection, still unsure that he could possibly mean the wealth of caring and faith he's shown. she probes, knowing any minute it could go too far, she could ask too much, and his openness would dissipate like tendrils of steam.
"well, and now?"
"I don't want to be alone any more. I'm tired of the hermit act. I want to be there for someone. and I think I want it to be you."
"and our weekend of sex," she jokes, bringing it back to the light side, knowing his boundaries.
"and our weekend of sex," he replies. she hears smiles in his voice. "we can just stay in bed the entire time."
"no internet," she says.
"no friends," she says.
"just food," she laughs.
"and sex. and cigarettes."
"and the ny times." she says.
"nah, the paper is distracting," he points out, "from all the sex. how about just NPR. you have a radio in your room, right?"
"it'll be perfect. and can we be naked the entire time?"
she pulls a drag from her cigarette, and closes her eyes, gathering memories of their last few nights together, before he left. when it all came tumbling out in the desperate flood of goodbye. the way he first kissed her on the couch, electric. how he resisted her body out of confusion - awkwardness - and then pulled her in to him, him endearingly wild-eyed, and sank into their first time together. the way his legs entwined with hers when they finally slept, his furrowed brow in the morning, his arm stubbornly locked around her waist, hand on her belly.
she breathes out smoke, hearing his mouth take a drag of his cigarette.
"of course we can. it's our lost weekend. we can do whatever we want," she replies.
"yeah. I can't wait," he smiles.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
LOVE, insofar as it can be discussed in tenses and pronouns, is a precise language. he. she. we. then. now. later. before. back then. tomorrow. today. yesterday.
nonetheless, it's confusing. but we love a challenge. so welcome to this week's real tribute to love. not a hallmark card holiday where the cliched smell of expensive roses and cheap chocolates and shaky promises are the bon mots. but an exercise in defining the language of love, through fiction. the identity of my he and she is inconsequential, and shifting. simply enjoy, and if you're a foreigner to this language and need an accurate translation ... go kiss someone.
p.s. here's how to get back to the real petit hiboux.