Ok. So... where should I start?
"So, Nat, what's been going on in your life for the past... I dunno....Two months?" I ask, feeling nervous.
She turned towards me. "Not much, really. Studying. Parties... Lots of stuff."
Parties? This makes me wonder. "So have you turned into a party girl again? I ask, than then I let out a laugh to hide how curious I am. Curious and worried.
"Me? No way. I did that once- not going back there again!" she said, laughing it off as though it was preposterous. "Henry- do I look like a party girl?"
"No," I honestly answered. "But a lot can change in two months."
She sighed. "You can say that again."
Then our conversation drifted over school, work, people we both knew, things going on in our lives. But nothing special. Meanwhile the clock was ticking and I hadn't said any of the things I wanted to tell her.
I thought about reaching for her hand a couple times, but I just can't do it. I don't want her to pull away.
The ride home's been much more talkative than the ride to the hospital, but that could just be because now I know mom's ok. But I keep thinking of having to go home soon and call Ben: should I tell him over the phone? Nah, that might be too mean. Event though he deserves it. Maybe I'll stop by his apartment right after work or something. We all live kind of close by and I can easily walk.
Henry is very chatty right now. He sounds like he used to when he had something to say and never got around to it. I wonder what it is... well, I sort of know. But I don't know if I want him to say it or not. We pass the time chatting about a bunch of crap we used to know about each other- and he's right. A lot can change in two months. I used to know everything about what he did, when he did it, and even the specifics of what was going on in his classes. Now he had a bunch of stories I haven't heard before, and I realized I had stories for him, too. With so much to say, I didn't realize how fast the time was going by, until all the sudden we were on campus. And then a few minutes later we were turning onto the street of my apartment complex. I wasn't sure if I wanted to get out of the car yet or not. All I knew was that I didn't want to go another two months without seeing Henry.
He pulled up in the driveway and shut the car off, sighing.
"So," he said, not looking at me.
"So... thanks a lot, Henry. You're... a really good friend." My words sounded cold and distant- that wasn't how I meant for them to come out, but they had anyway.
He gave a grim smile. "Yeah. So I guess I'll... see you around or something."
He looked disappointed. Like he had something to say that he never got around to.
"Are you alright?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. Always have, always will be." Again with the grim smile. I looked away. Maybe it was best if I just left now, before I could hurt him again.
I reached for the doorhandle, but it wouldn't open. I checked; the doors were unlocked. I looked over at Henry quizzically.
"Oh, right- sorry. The doors are finicky- you know... old car and all that. Here," he said, leaning across the car to help me. I leaned back, away from him, as he tried to unlock the door. But I didn't lean far enough away. His head was right under mine, looking over at the door handle, and in this closeness all the sudden I smelled something familiar.
They say that your sense of smell is linked more closely to your memory than any other sense, and they- whoever they are- were right. All night I've been with Henry, but until now I hadn't remembered what it had been like to really be with him. You know how certain things- like your house, your mom, or your dad- smell like home? Or a certain kind of perfume reminds you of a time in your life? Well, Henry smelled like home. And I'd forgotten.
Something in me broke then. I wanted to cry- how could I have ever been so stupid? How could I have forgotten? He used to be everything to me- love, home, safety- and I'd forgotten that. It had been much longer than two months since I'd stopped thinking of him that way. I'd been wrong. I hadn't stopped loving him- I'd only stopped noticing it. But not for long- now it was back, full force, hitting me like- well, pardon the expression, but like a ton of bricks.
I don't know if he'll take me back after this. But I can't let this oppurtunity pass by without trying.
What happened next was natural, really: I don't even remember thinking about it. I just put my hand on his back, and he looked up, abandoning his task of opening the door. Then I leaned down and kissed him, short and soft.
I pulled back right away, not sure whether it had been the right thing to do. But before I could apologize, he kissed me again, and then I was kissing him back, and then I couldn't tell who was kissing who anymore. And it was just so, so right.
After a few minutes, he pulled away.
"Nat?" he asked.
"Yeah, Henry?" I responded, and despite knowing he'd kissed me back, I started worrying.
"Can I see you tonight?"
I smiled, genuinely and relieved. "Yes. I'm done with work at 7:30."
"Perfect. I'll pick you up from work- I... we have to talk about this some more. But right now," he yawned. "I need some sleep."
After I dropped her off, I drove back to my apartment, completely dazed. What had just happened? Were things back how they should be?
I didn't have an answer as I plopped onto my bed. But I know I'm a lot closer than before.
At two, a knock woke my up from my nap. I didn't want to answer the door- I had looked absolutely disgusting when I got home, and probably only looked worse now- but no one else was home, and I felt obligated.
I opened the door, and there stood Ben. I realized that my crumpled pajamas, flat hair, pale skin, and puffy eyes probably made my battle a little easier with him than it would have with Henry.
"Oh. Hey," I said.
"Hey," he said, shuffling back and forth. "Can I come in?"
I stepped aside, and then shut the door, folding my arms. "You shouldn't be here."
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because I don't want you here. You were a jerk last night, and..." I didn't want to really let myself go, because I felt like I could just start screaming insults at him. That would not be the mature way to handle this. "Look. I just think you're not right for me, and we should end it now, ok?"
He shuffled back and forth again. Why wasn't he saying anything? Whatever. I continued.
"And you know- I'm not right for you, either."
He nodded this time. An improvement.
"I'm glad I met you, Ben," I said, meaning it. "It didn't work out, but I learned some things about myself. I hope you find someone someday to make you happy, because I know that's not me."
He nodded again, and then finally spoke. "I'm sorry for being a jerk last night. You're a nice person, Natalie, but you're right. We weren't ever going to work out, really. We're just... different."
I smiled. "Right. Thanks for understanding." I leaned over to hug him, and then let him out.
Work was boring- pouring coffee can only go on so long before getting tedious. I was constantly checking the clock, counting the minutes until Henry would come to pick me up. I was nervous and scared- would we be as easy around each other, or would things be awkward? Should I kiss him when I see him, or not? I couldn't say. I'd never really gotten back together with anyone before.
At seven-thirty I hung up my apron and left work. Henry was standing right outside the door.
He held out his hand, and I took it, and that was that. I realized I didn't have as much to worry about as I originally thought.
We went out for burgers, and just talked. I found out that she had missed me, and that she broke up with Ben today. I laughed a lot, too. We didn't just talk about us, and whether we were an item or not. We talked about everything, both easily and naturally. I had missed her more than I even knew.
She bought me dinner- "For picking me up in the middle of the night and driving me," she'd said. I had said no, but she insisted. Of course. She could never, ever, be indebted to anyone. Everything always had to be an even playing field.
Later, I was driving her home, and I walked her to her door, like I used to. She had said once that it was sweet, and since then, I had done it every time I dropped her off.
I kissed her again then, but this time neither of us pulled away. She wrapped her arms around me neck and I held her close, and it became clear that neither of us was going to be the first to say 'goodbye' tonight. We'd spent too long apart to go our separate ways now.
"My roommates aren't home," she reminded me. Problem solved.
Afterwards, we lay together on her bed in each other's arms. I looked over at the clock; it was still only 10:45.
"Nat?" I whispered. She looked almost like she was asleep.
"You know what's weird?"
"What?" She looked up at me, her brown eyes wide, and I couldn't help but smile. I realized then that no one in the world could be happier than me at that moment.
"Just that, not even a whole day ago, if someone had asked me about you, I couldn't have said what you'd been up to. We were still completely not together. I hadn't even seen you... and then now..."
She smiled and leaned up, kissing me. "Now, things are right back where they should be," she said. I couldn't help but agree.
In the morning, I opened my eyes to see the familiar surroundings of my room in my apartment. It was quiet; I remembered my roommates (two sisters) were home visiting family. And then I rolled over and saw Henry asleep in my bed. Happiness washed over me like warmth; I hadn't felt the feeling in so long. I didn't know how I could have forgotten that I loved him, but I did. Well, it wouldn't happen again.
I couldn't help smiling, it was like a natural reflex that I couldn't control. I rested my hand on Henry's back and kissed his cheek. His eyelids fluttered.
"Good morning," I said, softly, kissing him again. "Welcome back."
He rolled over, opening his arms to me. I gladly snuggled up against them. "Welcome home," he corrected.
I didn't know if he was talking about me or him- was he welcoming himself back, or me?
And then it realized he wasn't talking about either.
He was talking about us. We, together, had made it home.