(This is a novella and, therefore, isn't going to be an abbreviated bump-and-rush, as stories go. Patience is a wonderful, rare virtue in a reader; rest assured, those with it will be happily rewarded.)
They were in the library when she saw him. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d checked a book out and, now, seeing him there felt utterly serendipitous…for, in truth, he could scantly recall his own last sojourn to the stacks.
She noticed him first. He was too deeply entrenched to be distracted by anything at all, as he leaned against the wall while intently surveying a large book on the Civil War. Her heart suddenly felt as if it were trying to break free of her anxious skin; it thumped so strongly at that moment of recognition that she almost had to kneel. This was the man she’d always loved, the man she thought of when her many boyfriends would slam into her in their fervor to please only themselves—the memory of his gentle touch always the homing beacon to bring her back to civility. He was the one she missed on lonely nights, both with and in between men. He was the one whose reluctant dismissal she rued to this day.
It’d been eight years since she saw him, and he looked better than ever. He was as fit as ever, his face showing no indications of the worries of life. It was as if time had forgotten to leave its impression as it circled around, then beyond him. She ached for him instantly. He was right in front of her yet, hard as she tried, she could not will her own feet to move--to make the ten or twelve steps that would close the gap between them. Her throat felt instantly parched as she tried to convince it to squeak out his name. Alex
. It was so simple, she had unleashed it a thousand times from her mouth in their lifetime, and a million in her mind. It sounded as sweet as ever. Alexander. Her love; her only real
He was suddenly startled by a raspy cough: something that was high enough in pitch that he recognized it instantly as being feminine, and contorted enough that it could have been a word. As he looked up he saw, standing before him, feminine curves that felt familiar to his eyes, the darkened form of a woman standing before him outlined by the aura of sun that shone brashly behind her. He closed his eyes, quickly trying to compute the familiarity of those dimensions. He knew them. He knew them well. Opening his eyes slowly, he was able to see her face clearly before the strength of the sunlight overwhelmed his struggling pupils. It was exactly as he had hoped. It was her
She was once his love; the one for whom, twelve years ago, his heart first discovered it could flutter. She was his everything, though he tried desperately to hide it, as he’d quickly been relegated to FRIEND status almost from the onset (a casualty of the Nice Guys Finish Last
principle). He was nothing but
nice. His parents raised him to be painfully respectful, but he also worshipped her and when, after each affliction of Bad Boy Attraction resulted in another broken heart and she turned to him for comforting support, he was there and he was infinitely reliable.
When she then became determined to not allow her wanderlust to push her toward another asshole (or ten), she finally came to rely on him for all the emotional support necessary to resist the calls of the wild. For three years, they were almost inseparable; his heart grew to ache for her the very moment they parted, and he knew she was the woman he needed in his life…forever. She was his soul mate; he realized it long before she even suspected he had been hiding amorous feelings for her.
Then one evening, amidst a flurry of self-pity coupled with the ingestion of much wine, she capriciously decided she wanted him also. As they sat on her couch, her head spinning with intoxication, she looked over to see him staring at her with what can only be interpreted as innocent, unabated love and affection. She threw her arms around him, slurring professions of gratitude to have such a true and diligent friend, and she held him tight as he resisted the natural inclination to become even further intoxicated by her.
As she sloppily brushed her lips across his neck, he felt his inner animal kicking in--that basal response to a long-craved stimulus--and he pulled her head back and looked deeply in her eyes. She returned the gaze hazily, then felt embarrassed and looked down with a slight giggle. His primal drive pushed on and he lifted her chin to recapture her gaze as he began to profess, with the poise and verbiage of a gentleman, his everlasting love to her. She tried to look away but his grip tightened, and in the flicker of his eye she was convinced she saw a fire had been lit; something pulled at him from beneath the realm of civility and grace, and it demanded acknowledgement. He gathered strength and, with all the chivalry his mum would expect, asked if he could kiss her. But the tone in his voice did little to hide the wonton urge in his eyes; he needed her, and his instinct was to have her. She was no one to fight and, so, she gave in to him easily.
For a year, the two fell into a sweet--if uneventful--lull of domestication as they dutifully abided by their partnership in all venues of their lives. They moved in together, bought his and her accessories, and settled into the quiet comfort of deferential coupling. There was the obligatory talk of the future, peppered with daydreams of elaborate nuptials, fantastic honeymoon getaways to lush island resorts and, soon, a ring.
Then, one day (a day not unlike any other) he came home from work to find she was gone. If it hadn’t wrenched his heart apart as it did, the intent with which she left a sense of complete finality in her disappearance might have impressed him. She was, if nothing, thorough. But he came home to find their domestic bliss indefinitely torn into shreds. Their apartment took on an appearance of reckless abandonment, their sweet fairytale love story carelessly discarded with not so much as a slipped insinuation of dissatisfaction to warn him. Gone were all hints of her presence; left behind was everything that could possibly remind her of him. It was as if she’d not only abandoned his life, but spontaneously erased him from her own. The dishes, the furniture, the matching sheets…all became nothing more than shrapnel he now had to pick out of and remove from his bleeding, broken heart.
And, so, the years passed. For a year or so, he couldn't help but dwell in the failure of the most important relationship in his life. Finally, though, he began to discover the sharp stabbings of lament and loss were scarring over, slowly giving way to an almost indiscernible slow and constant ache that seemed content to reside deep within his private, now-guarded soul.
The rest of his body, however, moved on, and he even met, then married, a truly kind, sweet and good woman. From the outside, his life seemed complete. His wife long suspected he yearned for something he never cared to define, but theirs was a happy, stable life and she was unwilling to push the issue, for risk of rocking their idealic, fantastical boat of tandem dreams.
Then, in what at the time could only be interpreted as fate delivering to him its most aggressive assault, his wife was suddenly killed in a car accident. The happy couple had been chimerically prattling on about the doctor’s appointment to which they were headed, and he didn’t see the man who’d darted into the intersection to retrieve a tire that had fallen from the back of his pickup bed. He swerved to avoid the man and his tire, but as he was in the far left lane, the new obstacle in his diverted path was an unrelenting cement median wall, and his car flipped twice before tumbling over the barrier and landing in the emergency lane of the opposite highway. She died before the ambulance even arrived, something he did not know until he awoke in a hospital room and found himself covered in a patchwork of casting, with several members of both families red-eyed and solemn, cautiously awaiting his return.
Husband and wife had been about learn the gender of their first child.
His heart could not handle the loss. He threw himself, from then on, into a furious schedule of long work hours, brutal work-outs, and as much sleep as he could muster, with weekends rounded out through travel to historical battlefields or other landmarks--anything to resist the relentless indications of karma’s apparent personal grievance with him. He was not interested in being reminded.
But there she was. Was this destiny coming to deliver the final coup de grace? She seemed nervous, and he knew he really ought to be.
“Carrie?” he asked, almost as if to no one.
“Hi, Alex. This is so strange.” She looked down, as if she were suddenly reconsidering the conversation.
"Yes, it is. Wow,” he stammered. He had an inclination to look upward, almost as if to curse whatever deity felt compelled to fuck with him so mercilessly. “How are you?”
“How are you
, Alex? I read about…uhhh...well, you know…in the paper. I wanted to call you. I really, really wanted to call you, but I figured it would be so, well…out of place. Probably unwelcome, I figured…” She caught his eye, held it, then looked away out of guilt.
“Oh, yeah…um…Well, it’s been a couple of years, so I’m kind of to that point where you just get on, day to day, you know?” It sounded self-pitying, he thought, but he couldn’t take it back.
“I was so sorry to hear. I just felt, well…” she stopped, then suddenly her feet were now ready to travel, and she rushed to him and hugged him. “I think about you all the time!” she gasped as his arms encircled her and pulled her in. It was a hug unlike any she’d ever experienced. It said, there is no one I’d rather see.
“There’s no one I’d rather run into,” he whispered, and as he nuzzled his nose into the cleft of her neck, she could feel the damp intrusion of something wet as it slunk slowly down her skin. A tear?
She pulled back to look him square in the eye, and was almost spooked to see his eyes filled with fluid. Suddenly, her own began to swell. “Do you live near here?” she asked, wiping her eyes furiously as she tried to push the emotion back down—deep, deep down. He doesn’t need you acting like a blithering idiot
, she thought to herself. He has enough on his plate already, I’m sure.
It took a moment for the question to register, he was so entranced by the presence before him. So many feelings came flooding back…so, so many painfully intense feelings. “Yeah, ummm….about three blocks away.” He forced a smile, hoping chitchat could keep suppressed so many of the sudden, strange and overwhelming thoughts that raced through his mind.
“Oh my gosh, I do too! Well, about seven blocks away. North or south of here?”
“North.” He answered rather absentmindedly. His thoughts were elsewhere. God, she looked amazing. She looked older, of course, as time has a way of doing that to you, but she was still as vibrant and beautiful as the day he last laid eyes on her. What the hell happ
“Oh, I live seven blocks south.” She blurted out, a welcome interruption to his meandering, self-punishing thoughts. “I just moved there two months ago—had to get away from another CRAZY boyfriend,” she mustered a weak, self-mocking laugh that instantly rung as a bit too genuine for her. “I know, guess I'll never learn.” He looked at her queerly and there was a silence, if only for a moment, that threatened to become even more uncomfortable. “That’s so crazy, though! I can’t believe we live so close to each other!” She offered quickly, then looked up to find his eyes searching hers…what is he looking for
He was looking for a spark--some indication that love and longing still lived in her heart, perhaps, as it did his. Seeing her again, he immediately knew that the loss he’d always felt panging at his otherwise now-ruined spirit was, in fact, authentic. He still loved her. At least, he still loved what she was then, and he always would. That’s what he was searching for, he realized. He was searching for some proof, some sign that she was the same girl she used to be.
“It’s really great to see you.” He sighed, and clumsily grabbed her hand. She was hesitant but she allowed him to take it, and he surprised them both when he brought it to his mouth and placed upon it several tender kisses.
“It’s so….wow…it is so wonderful to see you too,” she gushed, then grabbed his shoulders and brought him close to her again. “I have thought of you forever.” She broke away from him quickly, in order to look him dead in the eye. “Alex, I’m so, sooo sorry for what I did. I was scared, I was….terrible.” She looked away sorrowfully, and contemplated words that could make it all better. But there were none. The truth, then.
“I was not good for you then, Alex. I needed—I NEED—to clear my stupid head. My stupid, stupid head..." she sighed sadly, as she leaned against the same wall he’d been against. “I would never have been mature enough to appreciate you before, but BELIEVE me, a lot’s happened and I now know how fucking stupid I was!” Her voice cracked and a tear, singular and defiant, rolled away from her lids. He was touched. He was….suddenly, it hit him. My God, for the first time since Darla died, I can feel. I FEEL! I’m not numb!
The realization was such that, for a moment he felt foolish for not recognizing it, his cheeks blushed ruddy with embarrassment.
“So,uh, what are you doing now?” he asked, clearly offering to guide the conversation away from her insistent self-deprecation and move it toward something more positive. Always thinking of others
, she thought to herself, and it brought a smile to her face.
“Well, I was trying to find a book on something—you know, never mind. I’m not doing anything important. How about you?” She was anxious, worried that they may again part, and she wanted desperately to avoid that. So, instead, she grinned her toothiest grin, and wiggled her eyebrows at him.
Her smile still captivated him, and he quickly reminisced, within himself, over the first time he ever saw it. They were in college. She was studying in the west wing of the university library, and he came in with a cup of hot black coffee and tripped. They didn’t know each other yet, but that set the stage for introduction, and as he struggled, with his sweatshirt, to mop up the coffee as it seeped into the rug (under the reprimanding eyes of her very own TA), she couldn’t help but laugh. And it made him feel better.
“Um….no, I’m not doing anything that can’t wait.” Yes, she
made him feel better.
“Wanna go to lunch?” she offered with an enthusiasm that reminded him of better times--times together, when he was hers and she was his. Picking out a sofa they both liked. Hanging the large baroque frame that awkwardly encased a giclee print of her favorite Kandinsky painting. He missed her passion. He missed everything about her.
“Yes!” he blurted out, and wasted no time finding the proper spot for the book he’d been perusing. He always does the right thing, she mused. He’s such a good guy... (to be continued)
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with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.
<a href="http://www.lushstories.com/stories/love-stories/the-good-guy-finally-wins-chapter-one.aspx">The Good Guy Finally Wins (Chapter One)</a>