If you missed part one, go here.
Sunset turned into moonlight as we drove north through Greenville County. After a while, I didn’t recognize the roads, but I didn’t ask where we were going either. Instead, I asked him about the pen and if he still had it.
“No,” he said. “I lost it. I’m sorry.”
I shrugged, “It’s okay.”
“No it isn’t. I hate that I lost it. I really do.” He found the spot where he wanted to park. “But I still did some writing. Some of it was about you, if that helps any.”
I liked hearing him say it, but I stayed quiet. I felt him looking at me. Finally, he asked, “So why did you agree to come out here with me?”
He was always asking questions like that — inquiring about things he knew about me but wanted me to say. I didn’t feel like indulging him right then.
“Why did you ask?” I asked.
He only smiled, and a familiar flip-flop bounced in my abdomen. So much of him I still missed.
“Are you more attracted to me now that someone else broke my heart? Am I more intriguing now that I’m not a virgin?” I asked.
He shifted in the driver’s seat and rested his elbow on the back, propping his head up on his hand, “You know I’ve always been attracted to you.”
I still remembered the night he told me. I met him over winter break during my junior year in college. We worked at the same restaurant. He was dating someone else, but after a couple of weeks he asked for my phone number. I gave it to him, trying to stay determined to not get involved with a guy who was unavailable. We talked almost every day until I started spring semester, and then on the weekends I came home.
One night during spring break, he told me about his thoughts on marrying his girlfriend. “I could spend the rest of my life with her. I think she’d have me,” he paused. “But on the other hand… on the other hand, I’m very attracted to you.”
I tried to maintain composure, even though my heart felt as if it was exploding, but he continued, “But you are so good and pure, and I would mess that up.” It became his reason for pushing me away. A year later, I got tired of all the words and told him not to call me anymore, and I talked myself into dating a guy who was the opposite.
I looked at him through the darkness of the car, “You had a funny way of showing it.”
He dropped his arm, “How?”
“You never laid a hand on me,” I said. “You never — just once — reached out and touched me. I sat on the phone with you and listened to you saying how you cared about me and how I was the last person you wanted to talk to at night, but you were sleeping with someone else.”
“You were different,” he said, drawing out the sentence. “I have hurt people. Some deserved it, but hurting the people who didn’t stays with me. And with you… I just couldn’t handle doing that to you.”
I counted the months since I had last seen him — 15. Fifteen months ago, I was too scared to reach out and take his hand and place it on my cheek. I had no idea that pressing my lips into his palm would feel as if an electric current passed through me. Fifteen months ago, my virginity would have stopped him from kissing me. I would have hoped that I was changing him, saving him. I would have waited for him to reach for me, instead taking his hands and guiding them to me.
Fifteen months ago, the physical culmination would have completed the puzzle that was our relationship. The only missing piece was the experience of running my fingers over his shoulder blades and letting them press into his bare lower back when I wanted more of him, the moments when he was so close that I couldn’t tell which heartbeat was his and which was mine, and the instant when everything overwhelmed me making my thighs shake and my breath shudder out of me.
Lying underneath him, I realized that 15 months might have been too much time. Perhaps it wasn’t enough. The innocence was missing — the idealism, the mystery, the optimism. All of it was gone, and I wanted it back to give to him.
He pressed his cheek against mine. A tear slipped from my eye and trickled between our faces. He lifted his head and wiped the tear away.
“He was an asshole,” he said. “A bigger one than I was.”
He held my hand as we drove back to my car at the bookstore. The parking lot was empty. The gas station across the street was closed. Everything had shut down, and it was past time to go home.
“I go back to Charleston next week,” he said.
Fifteen months ago, I wanted to go with him. I wanted us to find a house on some isolated marsh accessible only by boat, where he would play his guitar and I would sing and we both would write and no one would know about his demons.
“Take care, then,” I said and opened the door. He whispered my name as I turned to get out.
“I asked you because I missed you,” he said.
I leaned over, stole one more kiss and ran my fingers along the nape of his neck a final time, “I missed you too.”
“You are so different.”
I nodded, “I know.”
Leaving the parking lot, he turned left; I turned right. I knew I would always care about him. I would always think about him, but those things were better left unsaid. He probably knew it already anyway, and after that night, I had no doubts that he felt the same.