**I wrote this in a writer’s workshop that took place in a loft much like the one described in this story. It was our last exercise of the class, and the instructor opened a book and read a sentence that was something like, “The one sound that can cut like a knife through a crowd of people talking is the one of your significant other laughing with a member of the opposite sex.” Then, she told us to write for ten minutes. This is what I wrote. I was 18.**
Patiently, I stand by the door, waiting for my other. As the sounds of him brushing his teeth just reach my ears, I silently hope he doesn’t dribble toothpaste on his tie like he always does. I stand next to a mirror, and as I look at my reflection, I share a secret with the woman I see in its frame. “She is so beautiful,” I sigh to myself. She gives me a little smile as I hear my other approaching. He is silently cursing at himself, wiping his tie with a damp tissue. I chuckle inwardly while he grabs the keys. I notice they are *my* keys, which means he is planning to drink more than he should.
He asks if I’m ready to go, and I reply that I am. I look down at my feet, nervously smoothing out the front of my dress. I reach to my shoulder in my self-conscious manner to make sure my bra strap isn’t showing. “I should’ve worn a black one,” I mumble to myself. But nice underwear wasn’t at the top of my list these days. It must have been weeks since he’d seen me in just my panties. He sleeps mostly on the couch, you see. “I get too hot when I sleep with you,” was his excuse. I never questioned him about the possibility of opening a window; I liked the queen-sized bed to myself.
We don’t say much to each other on the ride to the party. The plentiful conversations have vanished, and now my first love and I no longer know each other. Maybe it was me who no longer knew myself. Ignoring my reoccurring thought once again, I look out the window. From the passenger side of my car, I catch glimpses of people watching television or cooking in their houses. “What a wonderful, normal life it must be to be so happy,” I think.
He parks my car and we walk hand-in-hand down the sidewalk to this green-colored door. It sits in the middle of a couple stores in a downtown block of a neighboring town. As I open the door, the smell almost overwhelms me. It’s the smell of old, musty houses and blankets. It even made me smile to myself, thinking of when I was a child, spending nights at my grandma’s house. The comfort of the memory warms my soul. Comfort that is no longer familiar.
I look up the steep, wooden stairway and I feel his hand pull me closer to the top. My toes are already starting to ache as we reach the landing. He lets go of my hand, following his “No Affection in Public” rule. It’s funny, how you can grow accustomed to your heart being broken numerous times a day. Those silent, little shatters inside your soul become whispers as the years go by, but the pain never goes away.
A man that I slightly recognize answers the door. He knows my other very well, and I can feel his eyes groping the area from my shoulders to knees. We step inside to the entrance of the large studio apartment, and I can’t help but notice the vast sea of unfamiliar faces. Everyone standing in their own little groups, laughing at stories with no humor, and attempting to appear interested while people talk at them.
He leaves my side and joins a group of friends he spends a lot of his free time with. I take a moment to remind myself that they are the reason we are here, after all, and once again I am left alone by the doorway. My gaze falls to the stairs and I feel my whole body yearn to sit at the bottom of them, inhaling that wonderful scent, waiting for this night to end. I sigh and look back to the “party” that awaits me, and I realize he is nowhere to be seen. He has once again disappeared into the crowd.
We’ve been together for three years now. Three years of parties I do not want to attend, love given but not returned, and glances that no longer linger. It wasn’t always like this, of course, but this is now my comfort zone, and I don’t know who I would be if it left me. The unknown is not to be explored, my dying confidence has decided. I look around the room once again, taking everything in. Sounds of someone playfully strumming the piano reach my ears, and I think that maybe this party won’t be as terrible as the others.
I shyly venture out from my place by the door to make my way to the next room, cautiously avoiding the eyes of other strangers. All of them seem to look at me in a blank way: their eyes saying, “Who are you and why are you here?” I always had a joke with myself that I should wear a pin on my dress, branding me to my other. Then perhaps people wouldn’t have to wonder why I have made this appearance at a party I wasn’t directly invited to.
In the next room sits a simple, old, grand piano. This marvelous instrument sits in all its glory like an old friend. Its smiling keys are the only welcome face I’d seen that night. Whomever had been playing it was now gone, so I somewhat sneak over and fold my dress underneath me to sit on its bench. After a moment or two, I place my fingers on its smooth, white keys that I know so well. I don’t really push on them, I just pretend to. My fingertips find the notes of a song that only I can hear in my head, where it is safe.
A young man that I knew from school sits next to me with a wide, handsome smile. We know each other’s names in passing, and had often tried out for the same drama productions. “He is very beautiful,” I think to myself, recalling all of the other women’s conversations about him. They spoke of him constantly, always complaining that he was taken. I grow self-conscious as I look into his deep, brown eyes, and I have to practically sit on my hands to keep them from reaching out to caress his tan skin, or run my fingers through the soft, brown hair that has been ever-so mildly combed.
He comments on the song I am not really playing and places his fingers on the keys in the same fashion I had. He begins to play the same notes as I was, only his are audible. A genuine laugh escapes from me as I begin to play the song with him.
He begins a conversation with me, asking if I had ever taken lessons. I just smile at his surprise when I reply that I haven’t. His beautiful hands glide over the keys as they had been trained to do, playing another song that is by the same musician.
He stops, and we glance at each other, seeming to both notice that the room we are in is now vacant. My fingers automatically tuck the hair behind my right ear, covering my blush from his gaze. I dare to look at him once more, just one look at this handsome creature, and then I will go back to the comfort of submission before another.
Then he kisses me.
It’s such a short kiss, one where you just start to feel the warmth of their lips–and then they’re gone. I sit there with my eyes closed, my lips still puckered, a small sigh of pleasure dwindling at my mouth. A pleasure I had forgotten so long ago.
As I feel him kiss me again, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more. His mouth touches mine and he parts his lips slightly, our breath joining with one another’s…and it is at that moment that my other laughs. He has this laugh that I know too well. Well enough to pick out from a crowd of people. But it is at that very moment that I realize what it is that I am doing. I find my hand on the back of his neck, and my tongue toying with the thought of meeting his, and I am completely torn. Torn between leaving the life I know so well, and plummeting into the chance at a new one. My confidence questions my every thought:
“Do I stay here and do something so wild, impulsive, and unlike me? Should I whisper in this young man’s ear as my hands begin to wander that we should escape and make love at the bottom of the stairwell? Or should I go back to the arm of my other, in my meek posture, waiting for someone to notice that no one is speaking to me?”
My heart breaks once again as I pull away from him, feeling his hand reach for my waist, hearing the words he says to convince me to stay. I cannot look at him, I cannot look into those beautiful, brown eyes, for the guilt would overwhelm me. I slowly rise from the piano bench, desperately trying to excuse myself, and I start to run. My shoes echo in the stairwell as I leave my wonderful young man behind, my body breaking into sobs. The familiar, hated sounds of my tears escape from me once again as I begin my lonely walk to the car. The wet pavement welcomes me, and I sit on it, resting my head on my bent knees, not even considering the fact that I am ruining my dress. The want for my other grows inside me like a love-sick cancer, and so I wait for him, avoiding the questioning looks of strangers. He will find me here, eventually, crying and alone on an empty street, knowing that he now has to leave the party. He will be angry, and I will eat his anger like a starving child. For this is my wonderful, normal life.