Monday, May 23, 2011

A friend to love

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photo credit - worradmu; freedigitalphotos.net
The steam flattened the last crease on his dark blue shirt. Amy hung it up, propped the iron and disconnected it. Harry entered, drying his hair, still in his bath towel.
Smiling at Amy, he asked, "Done?"
"Yes," she said, unconsciously mirroring his smile.
"You don't have to you know." Harry sat on the edge of his bed, and surveyed the ironed clothes. About twenty shirts and ten trousers. He won't have to worry about it for a month now.
"I know. But then, I won't have to see you crumpled when you read the nightly news to thousands!" Amy ran her fingers through his hair and laughing, he held her close.
Five minutes, she told herself. Five minutes when the rest of the world would fall away and this would be her reality. Five minutes when she could imagine his embrace leading to it's natural conclusion.
Instead, she spoke out loud, "I made some of that pasta you like and left it in the freezer. There's the hot pepper soup too. Stop eating junk!"
His eyes held hers as he said, "Once in a few months. What difference does it make to anyone what I eat?"
     Pulling herself away against the resistance of his arms, and walking toward the door, she said flippantly, heart hammering, "Stop being dramatic! If you decide to learn cooking, you'd care about what you eat. You wouldn't have to outsource the concern." She smiled mischievously.
Harry's face softened as he watched her walk away. If only she would stay and talk to him. If only they could visit one more of those silly museums she enjoyed so much. He'd follow her anywhere. If only she would...
      He saw Amy going through her laptop sprawled on his sofa. Her dark blue jeans against the chocolate leather. A knife twisted somewhere deep inside. She belonged there, yet neither of them had the right to assume a single thing about their relationship. Who decides these things? he wondered. Someone did. Someone in the eons gone by who was clueless about how love could alter landscapes. Someone who held them all down to the mendacious. 
     Amy was staring at the screen. She remembered their first meeting. Sitting side by side on an international flight to Australia. They had ignored each other initially, but natural gregariousness surfaced and there hadn't been a silent minute since. They met every time she arrived in D.C on work. It was restaurants, or the shopping she had to do, or the places she had to visit. Harry spent as much time as he could around his newscasting schedule. 
     They were like excited kids, never really giving a thought to where their friendship was headed. About six visits later, he invited her to his apartment. She had walked around, marveling at his photographic art and picking up books at random. It was snowing and they couldn't go out. She made pepper soup for lunch and they sat, dipping baguettes into bowls of fiery warmth and reading passages aloud from their respective books. The next time she visited, he mentioned that he had dreamed of her pepper soup twice. She dragged him to a store, bought supplies and made a big pot that he devoured for a few weeks. The following visit, she saw him with his coat off; his white shirt crumpled and messy. After her disgusted harangue, he stood in his undershirt as she smoothed out the wrinkles, the iron meandering between buttons and crevices. There were other visits where they spent mornings on a park bench, met after work and dined in dimly lit spaces. She would head back to her hotel after and he went back to his bed, holding his arms out, envisioning her within their circle.
     Amy packed her bags again. There was that silence filled with the words each of them spoke in their minds. Nothing said aloud. Nothing declared. Everything safe and orderly as he solicitously dropped her to the airport, again. 
     "Did you leave those insurance papers and the GPS case in the dashboard?" he asked her, "I'll be returning the car this evening." He didn't want her to waste time returning it. When she could be with him.
"Oh. No, I forgot. Here." She bent to retrieve the items from her trolley case as her laptop bag slid from her shoulder. He bent to catch it and they straightened together. Her head against his chest, his pounding heart reaching her senses. He let the bag crash and embraced her. Fiercely. His thumb drew circles on her back. 
He said, "You can't forget the case silly. They won't take the car back. It's theirs." His palm under her hair now.
She nodded, silently. "Yes. Things have to go. Where they belong." she said, seemingly flippant. Just the shimmer in her eyes telling him that she knew. Their eyes spoke in words never avowed. Gazes holding long, sensing a precipice, afraid to fall over it, together.
     It was surreal when she landed in San Francisco. Surreal and yet, her only reality now. Mark waited by the curb in their silver Lexus. He jumped out as soon as she appeared, letting Ricky and Mia out. Three year old Mia vaulted into her mother's arms and squealed, "I missed you mommee! Did you miss us?"
Ricky chimed in before she could answer, "Hey Mom! You promised me that dinosaur model. Did you get it?"
Smiling,  Amy said, "I missed you sweetie. And yes, I have your skeleton!"
      She looked at Mark as he asked, "How's Harry? Did you see him this time?" 
Her eyes unchanging she answered, her voice light, "Yes, we spent a little time together. He had his reports to do and I had work."
He nodded and slung his arm over her shoulder and said, "Monday morning beckons. But, the night is still young. Let's get the kids to bed quickly shall we?" His eyes bored into hers meaningfully.
"Yes. But I have work to do," she said, meeting his eyes briefly, irritation flashing in them. Answering to more than just getting the kids tucked in.
"Hey!" he said, stopping her, arms on her shoulders. The kids stared from inside the car.
Amy looked at him, startled. 
"Let's get the kids to bed," he said, quietly, "And then, you leave your work behind for a little while, and be with me. For an hour or half an hour. Be with your husband who is right here."
Her breath caught, and she choked as he continued, "Your husband whom you're married to. Not your work and definitely not your friend in D.C."
      Dissolving in tears against his chest, she tore her mind away from Harry. Away from his apartment and away from any future there. The next day, she requested, and was granted by the day's end, a different area of supervision. Right within California.
     Unknown to her, Harry had gone home that Sunday evening after she had left, and sobbed his heart out. When he was done, he gave her freshly prepared pepper soup and pasta to the guard at the entrance and took out all of his ironed shirts. He threw them all in a pile on the bed. Just the way they used to be. Then he took the books she loved, and put them away in a good will bag.
     That's all he was determined to be left with this time. A ton of goodwill. 
Amy saw him during a broadcast a few weeks later. He stood without his coat, talking to a flood victim. Her heart skipped a beat before resuming it's steady rhythm.
     He wore a dark blue crumpled shirt. 






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