Aer Lingus flight EIU517 was on final approach coming into Boston. Home. Well, almost home, an hour and half drive north, but still New England, still home. As the landing gear clunked out of the belly of the plane I looked out the window, the familiar city scape of Boston getting closer. My heart hurt. My brain kept asking, what if?
For Twenty-six years, almost to the day, I've wondered what if. If ‘what if’ was a cancer I'd be dead of it by now. If I had a nickel for every time I'd wondered ‘what if’, I'd be a millionaire. Instead, I’m here, alive, not a millionaire, and a part of me, the part that wishes I'd said the thing I wanted to say; that little part of me stays in the past. Wishing. Why didn’t I just say it. “SAY IT” my now mind screams at my past-self..
What ifs. The mother of all recriminations.
What if I'd stayed…
What if I’d looked over at him while we sat on the god-awful green velvet couch…
What if I’d opened my eyes…
What if, what if what if.
But the big one, the one that haunts me. What if I’d said the thing I wanted to say…
Sitting on the couch we were less than a breath apart. The others were there, scattered in various seats around the room. Several of us squashed onto the couch, staying close, keeping the grief at bay. John was on my right, his elbow pushed in close to mine, but the only persons presence I felt, as if my entire being was wired to his, was Keller. He'd rolled his head over to look at me, the movement causing the velvety cushion to pull me ever so slightly toward him. I could feel the weight of his eyes waiting for me to roll my head toward him too. If I did that, we'd be less than three inches apart. His mouth would be right there, and it would take only the slightest of movements to connect with his. To be in the place I wanted. I could feel the desire and want and need in me rising. Debating. There'd be no going back if I rolled my head. There'd be so much disaster immediately following that. Even in my slightly drunken state I was clear enough to know that, to understand the outcome of a decision that hasn’t been made.
I was taking too long debating and he was getting impatient. In my periphery I could see his brows dip down in aggravation, which was in direct conflict of the way his mouth curved up in a sexy little half smile that made my heart race. I’m pretty sure he could see my pulse thrumming in my neck.
“Sid,” his whisper felt soft on my cheek. Just an exhale with my name mixed in sending goosebumps skittering down my arm. I refused to look. If I looked I’d be pulled into the depth of his sapphire eyes. I drown in them. I’d say idiotic things like I love you. I want you. Go to bed with me. I might even end up crawling onto his lap right there in front of everyone and letting him hold me so that all the other pain, the reason we were all crushed onto the couch, in the chairs around the room, sitting on counters, all that pain would go away.
I let my eyes slide closed and shook my head in small increments, not wanting to give away this private conversation we were having. John shifted in his seat, his elbow cracked into my ribs and the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding whooshed out of me.
“Sorry Sid,” he said, which seemed to break the spell between Keller and me. I was thankful, I wasn’t sure how much longer I could ignore the pull of my feelings toward him. John stood up, stretched, and grabbed the half bottle of bourbon from the table. “One more toast,” he said, weaving a bit, I worried he’d fall over. Apparently so did Keller, he shifted in his seat, pulling his leg up onto the coach, I could feel the solid muscle of his thigh resting on mine, the heat of him radiating through his jeans. He sat facing me now. I kept my eyes on John as he listed slightly left. Keller put his hands up, as if he’d be able to break John’s fall should the six foot two, two-hundred-and-eighty-pound man topple over onto me. John’s gaze slid over me to Keller and he smiled. “No worries Kell-man,” He said, “I’m okay.” He filled his shot glass, “One last goodbye, one last fuck-off, you no good bastard!” His voice broke, “one last,” he had to stop and breathe, clear his throat, “One last we love you.” He raised his glass above his head, bourbon sloshing out, “To Teddy!” His voice boomed out of him, as if it could reach heaven and Ted could hear, but then his head fell, and we all heard the sob he tried so stoically to subdue.
I’d held in so much emotion for the past five days I couldn’t contain it anymore. I felt the tears hot and fast spring to my eyes. With the slightest of movement, Keller was holding me. There was no stoicism in me. I fell apart. All the things that were going wrong were ripping me up. Teddy was gone. The void of his absence opening like a black hole that would swallow us all. Coupled with the fact that I was on the verge of moving away. I’d not see this clan of mine for at least a year while I worked overseas. The fact that I wanted the man holding me to ask me not to go, wanting things I didn’t have the right to ask for, given that he wasn’t free to give them. I felt his tears wetting the top of my head as he pressed me close and we cried for Teddy, but then we were crying for us as well.
We weren’t the only ones crying. As if John’s toast signaled the release of our sadness the lot of us sat weeping, crying, holding onto the person nearest, gaining and giving comfort. I was glad for it. Inside the pretense of being comforted by Keller I could come to know that feel of his arms wrapped around me, I could take the scent of him away with me, know it forever. I could listen to the rhythm of his heart and keep it inside my chest. I could feel the skin of his neck pressed hard against my face and I would always know that the curve of his body was meant to take in the curve of mine.
One by one the others stepped apart, snuffled, whipped their noses. He kept holding me, even when I tried to pull away. “Please Kel,” I whispered in his ear, “you’ve gotta let me go.” He did so reluctantly. He pulled his head away first, looking in my face I’m sure he saw every emotion I tried to hide. Sorrow, need, want, pain, lust…love. He dragged his hands down my arms to my hands then moved to sit back on the couch, he kept my right hand in his. Tucking it down between us, his thumb rubbed the back of my hand in slow circles. Keeping me aware of how on the verge we were.
John left his spot next to me vacant and moved to the kitchen, talking with a few of the others. Some stepped outside. The few remaining soon stood, finding the quiet too overwhelming they moved to be in the places the others were.
The living room grew quiet. I’m sure he could hear me breathing. The sun fell behind the tree line and the light in the room grew softer. Even with space on the couch I didn’t move. I felt his head roll toward mine again and I knew the moment was coming. There was no one in the room to hear us now. “Sid,” he said again, soft as before, but this time he moved his other hand to my face, he let it slide around the curve of my jaw and the air I sucked into my lungs was spiced with the scent of him. Sandalwood and lime and lust. “Sidney.” He cupped my jaw, dragging my face to look at his. I let my eyes slide closed and felt tears leaching out. These weren’t for Teddy. These were for me, and all the things Keller and I could never be. I felt the sway of the couch as he angled toward me. “It’s just you and me now.”
I tucked my chin into my chest, refusing to open my eyes. If I opened my eyes and looked at him I’d end up ruining all the things I had planned for the next year. I’d stay here, I’d wait for him to finalize his divorce, I’d admit how madly in love with him I was, I’d take his hand and lead him upstairs to one of the bedrooms and not care who in the kitchen knew or who won the bet of when-and-if we’d end up together, as Teddy had so often predicted. But I knew that after a time he’d realize he hadn’t loved me. That I was just the girl that made life better when he’d found out that the baby he and his wife were having wasn’t his. I’d be the rebound girl. One morning he’d wake up, and while I slept, he’d quietly get dressed and slip out of my room and slip out of my life and he’d be gone. I saw all of that disaster waiting for me, so I didn’t open my eyes. I’d rather be his friend forever than the girl he didn’t love.
“Sid?” he said again, this time his mouth was so close I felt his lips brush my hair, the seductive tone of his voice pulled me toward him, and I wanted, wanted so badly to open my eyes and drown in the depth of him. He stood, taking my hand with him, tugging lightly. “Sid will you come upstairs with me?”
Say yes! Say yes you idiot! Say yes! My mind was screaming at me. More tears burned behind my closed eyes. All I could do was shake my head. No. He stood there for an eternity holding my hand with the slightest of pressure on my fingers, tugging, asking, wanting. It took every fiber of me to stay seated, to not look, to not take the step toward a future I knew would end in ruin…but the now would be so very, very good. I was leaving in sixteen hours. I had a plan. A job. A life on a new continent waiting for me. But yes, I would throw it away for him in hot second if he asked me to. Say yes say yes say yes…
His voice was resigned to sadness, “Okay then.” I knew this moment; this single frame of time would be crystalline in my memory. I knew I’d take it with me and use it to flog myself. But this regret would be easier than the larger one of him not loving me back. His hand slipped from mine, I let it drop to my lap, kept it there while the warmth of his fingers left mine by slow degrees. I listened while his footsteps moved toward the kitchen. He paused once, and I know he must have turned around to look at me, but I was terrified to look. Then his voice spoke to the others in the kitchen. I fled the room, fled the house, fled the country and stayed so much longer in Zurich than I’d ever intended.
The wheels bumped down on the tarmac and I was jolted from the past back to the present. My son would be waiting for me at the curb, his twenty-first birthday just a few days away. I was thankful he’d decided to come live in the States. We’d had a good life together he and I, but something had started pulling me home long before he’d decided to go to Boston College. I’d loved his father; for the brief time we lasted, but in my laptop, in a folder marked K.L. were emails, text messages and photos from the man I would love forever.
He’d remarried three years after I’d left. I’d sent a lovely card and my best wishes to the happy couple twenty-two years ago. I’d sent another when their baby girl was born and another when they’d had their son. I’d sent condolences on the passing of his mom, and four years ago I sent a bouquet of white roses with pink tulips and silk ribbon for the loss of his wife.
As I walked from the terminal to the busy curb I looked for the red bronco my son said he’d be picking me up in. I saw the bronco, but the man standing there was not my son. This man was older, with gray peppering his temples. His goatee was neatly trimmed and there were lines at the corner of his eyes, but I could, even from where I was, see that they were still that beautiful sapphire blue. He stood there waiting for me to come to him, and I knew that moment on the couch, my what-if moment had culminated to here, to now, to the place where I’d finally say yes.