"Goodbye, don't cry
You know why
And it'll be just as quiet when I leave
As it was when I first got here."
~Rachael Yamagata, "Quiet"
I hesitated. I told you it wasn't a good idea. But you just wouldn't take no for an answer; I would never give you a flat out "no" to begin with. And before I knew it, you had taken me by the hand and led me inside, and as I tried to put on a smile—no matter how fake it might be—you brought me to the place we are now. But if I think about it, it's not the worst thing in the world to be asked. Will you dance with me? certainly wasn't what I was expecting, but it's better than some of the things that popped into my head while you were standing in front of me.
"Come on," you say with a smile as we get to the dance floor. "Will and Jack have already done it. I've been looking for you. It's just one dance." Quickly, I glance over at the table Will and I were sitting at and see that he's still there, Jack sitting in my place, watching it all. He gives me a smile before turning his attention to Jack and whatever conversation they're having. And then I feel your arms wrap around my neck, your expectant gaze on me, and I slide my arms around your waist, sway you to the beat.
"It's not so bad, right?" you say, and I know you're trying to make the situation lighter. But I also know that this is the only opportunity I'm going to get to talk to you about all the things I never could in public. No one would know—except Will, maybe, if he's smart enough to catch on, and we both know he is. They would be none the wiser; we look like two friends celebrating a joyous time. We don't look like former lovers trying to make friendship work again.
Maybe if we don't look like that, it'll be easier not to be that.
"You know," I say quietly. There's nothing else to say but this, and if we stay here in silence, it will only become awkward. "You could have told me that Will knew. I wouldn't have minded. In fact, I think it would have been easier on us knowing that we didn't have to be one hundred percent secretive." I see the shock on your face, the shock that you're trying to hide, and I can't help but give a little smile, because I caught you off guard. "He said something earlier tonight. He was looking at me throughout the ceremony, and I couldn't figure out why. Until he told me."
"I think back then," god, back then, like it was five years ago and not only a couple of months (remember, you jumped into this marriage after knowing the guy for two months), like we had such a long history, "I was afraid that if you knew it wasn't a secret anymore, you would want out. I was afraid things would change. I was just a confused mess the entire time we…you know. I wanted it. I really did. I have no reason to lie to you now. But I wasn't sure why, and I didn't want anything to change until I figured it out. I thought if I told you, things would change."
Amazing how willing you are to talk about this, at your own wedding. I was expecting a fight, a clumsy change of subject from you. But I think you realize we both deserve some closure on this, and we're half of the way there now that you married Leo. I want to get to that place, Grace. I want us to be okay again. And I'm glad that you're willing to do this, too.
"Nothing would have changed." It's simple, what I have to say, but it's true. And I realize instantly that it sounds like I'm trying to guilt you. "But I appreciate the fact that you cared enough to try. And I just want you to know…" I wonder if it's appropriate, I wonder if I should even say it. But I started now, and it's going to be too awkward if I stop. "I was never angry. You were only doing what I had done."
You give me a half smile. "And what was that?"
"You followed your heart. Honey, if I was going to go outside my marriage, I wasn't going to be with just anybody. You got to me. Everything about you got to me. And I knew exactly what I was doing. I'm not trying to make you feel bad, because you shouldn't. If you had stayed with me, and I knew that I was the one that kept you from Leo when you thought that he might be the one, I would have ended it. It didn't matter if I was happy. If you weren't, I couldn't have gone on the way we were."
"God, I wish you would get mad at me." Your voice starts to falter and you laugh it off, but I can see it in your eyes. They're starting to glass over with tears, and I hate that I'm the one who's making you do this.
"Because somehow, I think this would be easier. I was awful to you at the end, Karen. I still think about it." I always wondered if you still thought about us. I guess I have my answer. "And you deserve to be pissed off, you deserve to scream at me. But you never did. You never were. You should have called me names, you should have given me hell for doing that to you. You give everybody else hell for nothing at all. And I know that's just a front, but why won't you do that with me, when I've actually done something?"
I can't help but laugh. You're sweet. You really are. When my guard's up, I have no problem saying anything, but I could never hurt you like that. "Oh, you're right, Grace," I say jokingly. "You totally suck."
And there it is. I've always loved your laugh, and even though there are tears threatening to spill, it's still as beautiful as ever. "Thanks," you say as you catch your breath. "That was really convincing." I can feel your body move closer to mine, and for a moment I forget that you promised your love to someone else. For a moment, I'm taken back to the nights when you would press your skin against mine and smile into my back. I can't do this here. I can't do this now. It's not appropriate. But I'm learning to suppress it. I'll get it eventually. "I meant everything I said. I hope you know that. I meant it all. Even if you don't think I did."
I can't respond. Everything you just told me, I already knew. And I think you knew that I knew. To hear you say it, though, means too much, and I don't want to tarnish it with an answer that isn't necessary. So I try to change the subject slightly. "Look, I'm sure I'm going to love Leo once I get to know him. It's going to take some time. I'm not saying that it's going to happen right away. But I just want you to know that I'm trying. And if you're happy, that's all that matters."
You smile, and whether it was that twitch in your muscles that set it off, or you finally willed them to let go, I see the tears start to roll down your cheeks. "I really am, Karen," she said. "I think you're going to like Leo, once you spend some time with him."
At the mention of his name, I shift my gaze to find him. He's over at the table his parents are sitting at, smiling in our direction. I know that smile is only meant for you; you can't see it, but I wonder if you can feel it. I can tell that he's a happier man with you in his life. It doesn't matter that I don't really know him, that up until now, I never took the time to get to know him (and really, could you blame me for not wanting to spend time with him as soon as I found out about him?); I can tell by the look in his eyes. You're the one for him. At least I know you'll be with someone who can love you as much as I do.
"You really think he's the one?" I ask you. And it's not to scout out regret. It's not to prove a point. I just want to hear you say it. Because I think you're afraid to be completely honest with me about this, and I don't want you to be scared. It's me, Gracie. You know you can tell me anything.
The tears start to muffle your voice, but damn it, you still look gorgeous behind those misty eyes. "I really think he's the one."
As much as it's killing me not to kiss those tears away, I restrain myself and offer up a smile instead. "I'm trusting him to take care of you. If you think I'm cold to strangers for no reason when my guard's up, then he better watch out if he ever hurts you." I say it like a joke, but it feels like the truth.
But you take it like the former and give me another little laugh. "I don't think you have to worry about that."
"Then that's all I want to hear."
Ever since I was a little girl, I've been taught by my mother to keep your own feelings aside. That way, it's easier to get through life, because you won't get tangled up in emotions that will stick you somewhere you don't want to be. It was how my mother got through life once my father died. It was also the reason I left home two years earlier than I had planned, at sixteen. Because I knew that ninety-nine percent of the time, it didn't work. You couldn't just be stone, because that's no way to live a life. But as much as I tried to rebel against it, I found myself walking down the same emotionless path that my mother had paved for me. You were the one to finally tell me that there was another road I could turn onto. You let me feel. You let me express everything I needed to express. But at this moment, as you pull me in to hug me on the dance floor, I know that this is the one percent where I have to do as I was told.
It's the only time I can recall that my mother has taught me something I can actually use in real life.
I hear the last chords of the song and know that we have to stop. I see the look in your eyes and know that eventually, we will be okay. I kiss your cheek and linger for a moment, not caring who sees, not caring about whether or not it was the right thing to do. I can still taste the saline from the tears that have dried on your cheeks. I can feel Will's eyes on me as the song ends, and I know that when I go back to him, I'll be better able to handle the night. I see Leo out of the corner of my eye, your new husband, waiting to take my place. I slide my arms off of your waist.
And then I let you go.
To be continued.