Love the only one

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             It was like all those years ago. The familiar clench in his belly, his breath hitched as he saw her walk to the table across. She wore a white dress with black polka dots that clung to her form before flaring out at the hips. The form that he remembered every day of his waking life; his dreams were filled with memories. She ordered a Montalcino. Soft voice, breathing and speaking at once.

 "I can't see you." The voice was forlorn. Sid stared at the green rotary phone.
"What do you mean you can't see me? You just did. I just dropped you off!" He laughed as he said that. That look on her father's face didn't mean that he was unhappy with him. Just that, well, she was home past curfew.
"Sid, I...I can't see you ever again." Her breath came out in a little sob. Her voice, husky even then, was uneven. "Dad doesn't want us to be together. He ..."
"Wait, Rhea, is this about the curfew? Look, I'll tell him that I'm sorry. He'll get over it. I'll make sure we don't go to band practice in the evenings again. It's not such a big deal."
"Sid, it's not just the band practice. It's not just the curfew. He just doesn't like you."
He went quiet. He had sensed discomfort before but he'd thought that it was a father's protectiveness. The looks she got made Sid uncomfortable too. He couldn't cover her up in a gunny sack, but he wished that he could sometimes.
"Dotty saw us in the park yesterday and told Mom. I don't exactly know what she thought was going on. But it was enough for Dad to break the vase by the entrance."
"Nothing happened. I can tell your folks that. What do they think I am? We...we...we were just fooling around. Rhea, really..."
"Sid I'm going away. I was going to tell you sooner, but I'll be gone by the summer. Mom and Dad have been unhappy here and after Dotty tattled, they want to leave."
Sid's heart dropped to his knees. He sat on the chair by the phone, holding on and tried to imagine his life without Rhea. He looked forward to her smile, her laugh and most of all, just her. Watching her move, play and walk eagerly toward him. He was sixteen. She had just turned 15. They had talked about him going away. About how he would come back to see her every summer. And how he would marry her...this last was his own thought. In moments when he couldn't bear it, he would beg the universe to bring that time closer. So she would be his in every way.
"Rhea, you aren't really upset are you?" Sid asked.
"I don't know. I've wanted to go out, live a little more. There's so much in a big city Sid. I want to look at the options I have. Wellam High takes you only so far. There's so much that I don't see here, get to know here."
"But you have me Rhea...don't you?"
The soft crying without words gave him the answer.
"Do you love me?" He asked her, unable to stop himself. He hadn't told her how he felt about her yet. How he had watched her since she was but eight. How when his parents spoke of being married for fifteen years, he had thought of her as the only possible wife.
"I don't know! Why did you ask me that? I don't know. It doesn't matter does it? You'll find someone when I'm gone. You'll move on." She was openly crying now.
"Why are you crying if that's all this is about?" Sid yelled. His stomach cramped and panic filled his chest.
"If this is about YOU moving on Rhea, why play the charade. Tell me you don't want to see me. Your dad's just an excuse isn't he?"
"Sid....Sid please...please hear me out. I think that maybe...we're too young. My mother's right. There's so much to this world. So much that we have to see and explore. Maybe, if it's meant to be, we'll see each other again. Maybe we'll outgrow each other if we hang around too much. You can't love me that much Sid."
"But I do!" Sid burst out, needing to say it. "I've loved you for a long time! If you can't see that Rhea Samuel, then you're just a fool. An attention grabbing waste! Just like the other girls!"
"Don't say that. Don't be mean Sid. I'm not sure of anything. I've been thinking of us doing more by ourselves for a long time. It's not healthy that we don't see anyone else. I...I've just been around you for a year and a half Sid. I don't see friends or hang out with anyone else!"
"Is this you or your mother talking Rhea?"
With a quiet finality that told him just how far he was from changing her mind, she said, "It could be my mother talking. But it's also me saying it now. You've asked me for weeks why I turn quiet. This is why. I need to move on. I need to live my life some more. Go to the city and aim higher."
"What do you think I'm aiming for?! The gutter?!" Sid shot back angrily.
"You never talk about your goals. We never talk about anything solid do we? It's rarely anything. And if we do talk, it's about stuff that can't do a sparrow's hop toward our futures."
"I thought you felt the way I did! Rhea, in those moments of silence, I...I thought you saw what I did. Felt what I did."
"I did...I felt all that. Where do we go from there? You're going away soon. You don't expect me to wait until you get back do you? If you do? You promised me Sid. But why should you? Why shouldn't you live your life? Date other girls. Maybe there's someone different there for you and me?"
"You feel that way Rhea. I don't. Don't waste my time trying to shove your ideas down my throat. They mean nothing right now. Nothing at all."
She went quiet for a moment. Then only said, "I won't waste your time. Not now. Not ever again. Take care Sid. This is the best thing for us."

The lady in the polka dot dress glanced at her watch. The afternoon sun glowing in, bounced off her hair. She waited, patiently. She answered her phone once. Her head tilted slightly, letting a rain of shiny black hair cascade down to her waist. Her fingers curled lightly over the phone. No wedding ring.

Sid got up and walked to her, saying, "Ms Samuel?"

She looked up, startled. The maitre'd bowed and pulled out his chair for him. He glanced at her once as he rapidly ordered his sparkling water and a salad platter. Her mouth was still open. Her eyes dark in shock. Her back was pressed against her chair and Sid had to repeat himself to ask, "Do you want anything else for now?"
"What are you doing here?" It was the only thing she could think to ask.
"We have an interview. You're five minutes late."Sid quickly shut off his cell phone, looking down at it. Refusing to meet her eyes. Refusing, really, to show her any of the storm raging inside him.
Rhea shook her head, just slightly. "But...I've been waiting ten minutes."
"I've waited longer."
The undercurrent and undertone were unmistakable. Rhea sipped her wine. It was hard to push it down. Her hand trembled as she held on to the stem of the glass.
"I was supposed to meet Rob Carney. He told me so."
Linking his fingers together, Sid said, "Yes I know. He had to be in Arizona. I always take over when he's not there. I think it's best. Knowing what talent you're hiring."
"You're hiring?What do you mean?"
"I mean, that I get to interview my employees. That's best. I know who I'm getting."
"You own...oh!" she said, her hands covering her mouth. "Sid Malone?! You're THE Malone?"
"Yes." He stared as she covered her eyes. While she couldn't see, he stared openly at her hands, her whole body.
"How did....when did you start?"
"I imagine it's all over the internet. All about my rather humble beginnings. You know about that."
She stayed silent.
"To get on with it, I see that you've built up a strong portfolio. Worked with various brokerage firms. Spent some time in Switzerland?" He was looking into his black folder. Exuding a controlled neutral detachment that took away from memories of him. Her memories. The ones she hung on to every night that she spent alone in bed.
Sid frowned. "What happened between 2006 and 2008? I see nothing. No work?"
"I...I had to stay home. For some personal reasons."
"Kids." He stated it rather than asked, acid burning his gut. Someone else's kids.
"No. I can't talk about it. But I've put an attachment there to show the trading that I've done from home."
He glanced over it. Closing the folder, he signaled to the waiter. She told him what she could eat. He frowned because it was nothing almost. He rapidly ordered something else for both of them and then sat back.
"What have you been upto?" he asked.
"Well, you just saw it." she said.
"Not all. Not the silences. You married?"
"No. That is, I was. But not now."
"Yes. You? Probably found a nice woman huh?"
"Yes. Yes I did find a nice woman."
"Okay.'re married then."
"It would seem likely wouldn't it?" he asked. "How're your folks?"
"They aren't." she said.
"What do you mean?" he looked up from playing with his cuff links. Gold, embossed with his initials. Expensive.
"They passed away. It was an accident. Five years ago."
"Sorry to hear that." he said, shocked. Then suddenly he said, "Ah. That explains the two year break."
"No. That explains my husband leaving me as I was having a breakdown. They died, and I met his mistress at the funeral. Actually, I caught them behind a tree in the graveyard."
Sid looked on. So quiet, she thought. Like he used to be. But there was something leashed. Something dangerous now. Not like her memories of him. Not the calm, placid boy who lost it just once with her.
Sid sat with anger and relief rushing over him in waves.
The food arrived. He picked at his plate and she devoured the food. He took his plate and gave it to her. She finished that too.
"Thanks." she gasped. "That was really really great."
"Why're you drinking in the middle of the day? It could've gone against you."
"Is it going against me?"
"I don't know yet."
"Well, considering how much I already have going against me, it doesn't matter does it?" she sipped at her refilled glass.
"What do you have going against you?" Sid asked looking at her openly.
She took a deep breath.
"The absence. The two year lull..." she tapered off
"And?" he asked.
"The...the...past." she said, and looked at him. Meeting his eyes squarely for the first time, she realized what he was trying to hide.
"The past can't interfere with the present situation. You'll be working far away from me. I'll barely be around. I travel a lot."
"Yeah? How come?" she asked.
"I did mean to move past Wellam. You just never believed me. There's always something going on. Some deal to seal. I still go back home to see my family. But, mostly on the road."
"What about your...your wife?" she asked, haltingly. That word.
"What about her?" he asked, looking at her, hiding nothing now.
Rhea choked first and then asked, "How...doesn't she...mind? That you travel so much?"
"Oh...guess you're lucky then. My ex just took off to his own party."
He signaled for the check, sensing danger ahead.
"Do you still love me?" she asked, point blank, unable to bear it.
"Why would you ask me that?" he asked. "What's the use? You've moved on." Her words to him, she realized. Her words before she wanted to go explore the big wide world without him. The world that took away everything from her and left her with nothing but memories. Of her family. Of him.
"You can't lie Sid! I can see it. I see it in your eyes." She said, intensity making her voice tremble and her eyes grow heavy.
"Rhea. Of all the impossible situations to bring up! You didn't WANT me! I did then! You left us in the dust. This is a job interview. Nothing more. My feelings, your feelings don't matter!"
Sid signed the check and thrust it at the waiter angrily and stood up.
"I'll let you know my decision tomorrow." he said curtly, then turned and left.
Rhea sat there, watching his tall frame weave through tables that were suddenly buzzing. Feeling a distance that she knew she would never get the chance to cover in this life, she stood up.She forgot her wallet and ran for him.
"Sid! Sid! please...please stop!" There was silence around them. But the deepest silence came from the certainty she felt.
He turned around, his face flushed, eyes wild. He looked like he wanted to attack her or kiss her. She stopped. Suddenly afraid, she stayed a few paces away from him. They were at the exit.
"Sid. Sid I was stupid."
"Yes." he said, using an arm to support himself against the wall.
"Sid I should've known it then. I was cruel. I should've said it then."
"Yes. You should have." He looked unable to move or stay still.
"I knew I did something terribly wrong. But I couldn't think for myself. I didn't. I wanted to be out there. were right. I did have something in Wellam. I had you. In all these years..." she took a deep breath, "even when I was with my husband, I couldn't forget you Sid. I couldn't forget the things you never said. The things you left unsaid. But I knew and I was afraid that I'd never know another life. I love you. I'm sorry I'm saying it now. It's bad timing. Again. You're married and all. But I've never forgotten. That you loved me so."
He was leaning toward her. Eyes dripping with emotion that she couldn't name; some emotion that had tears flowing down her face.
"What do we do now?" Sid asked, reaching for her face.
"Why...why you go back to your wife...and work.." Rhea said, clutching at his fingers that caressed her cheek.
"What wife?"Sid asked
"Your...your...wife. The lady who you said doesn't care...about the travel."
"I'm looking at her."
It was how it should've been, she saw.
Rhea walked to him, pulled his face down and kissed him.
The world stood still. The restaurant patrons, also standing still behind them, cheered.
He pulled her into a side room that the maitre'd, overjoyed, ushered them into. It was high time that Sid Malone had a lady friend! he thought.

When Rhea stood inside her bedroom, their bedroom, on their wedding night a few weeks later, she saw pictures of her on the bedside table. Herself when she was eight and he nine. Twelve with braces. Fifteen in shorts with him by a bike trail.

She was home. Neither referred to their past again. She always told him that she loved him first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Sid Malone never traveled alone. He couldn't bear to be away from Rhea.
It was a life time, he said, spent apart from misunderstanding. They needed another lifetime to make up for it.

The End


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