I choose my words carefully, but evidently, not nearly enough because every statement cheapens what we share. Not just this relationship, either, but every relationship I have been struggling with for the past three years. I am flippant. I play these hurts off like they were nothing, merely scratches that did nothing to mark the surface. Nothing that could wipe this sheepish grin off of my face. This is what he does to me. I haven’t seen him in years, even longer since we have properly talked and yet, everything falls back into place and I am seventeen again. I am perched on his lap in a crowded car late at night, again. Listening to Dashboard Confessional’s ‘Hands Down’ while he softly kisses my neck while no one notices, again. We are quietly singing the words and catching each others’ eye in the rear-view. We are C and L again. It’s a friendship that defined me, made me so much of what I am today, and one of the biggest setbacks, deepest hurts that I have survived emotionally. When he didn’t choose me. When our friendship was abandoned for what was a new relationship at the time. I try to understand. After all, since then, I’ve done the same. But, still, it is a thinly covered wound. Precarious and vulnerable to sudden change.
We are sitting side by side in the filling bar watching the open mic and sneaking snippets of conversation here and there over the singers voices; leaning close to hear.
“You are exactly the same.” He says it with a mischievous smile and I wonder for a second if he means it in a negative or positive way and more so, if I am the same or just the same with him. I decide to take it as a compliment and we fall back into our age-old banter peppered with suggestive comments and flirtatious turns in the conversation. It’s easy to navigate once you get the hang of it. I’m finding my stride and becoming more and more confident until what he says next throws me for a loop and I choke on my beer.
“Well, you know, we were never platonic friends, anyway.”
I sputter shooting Ricard’s Red all over the table and he laughs uproariously.
“What do you mean?! We were platonic friends for years!” I screech in his ear, indignant.
“Only because we had to be. You got a boyfriend so we were, but we were always supposed to be what we started out as in the beginning.”
I raise an eyebrow at him.
He laughs again and continues, “Not just platonic friends, better. Friends with benefits. No strings attached, you know.”
I know what he’s doing here. I can see what he’s putting back on the table but I hesitate not wanting to lose for the same reason what I finally regained. Not wanting to complicate the matter further. What if he ends up back together with her. The love of his life, I mean. Will he disappear again? All because of the next choice I make? Besides, we were great platonic friends and he knows it. But, he’s right. More was definitely better.
“I don’t know if that’s such a brilliant plan. What if you get back together with her and it turns out we’ve proven her right?”
He scowls for a second and I think I’ve hit a nerve but just as quickly the storm has passed, the sun is out, and he is smiling at me again.
“Hey. I’m single. You’re single. We can do whatever we want to do. Why not?”
I mull it over for a minute, returning my attention to the stage. A girl in a red Obama t-shirt and black-framed glasses is singing a song about heartbreak. They always seem to be singing about heartbreak. Maybe it’s time to simplify things. Take the heartbreak out of the equation. Spend time on the other bits, instead. But, I know myself now better than the girl he remembers and despite what he sees, how I play myself in his presence; I am different. He doesn’t fool me. What it comes down to, really, is that he’s just as lonely as I am. Just as torn open and confused. Looking for a warm body to fill the void with nothing attached: No baggage, no strings, no expectations… no problems. It’s a relationship we have mastered; a friendship we have perfected and far less risky then finding myself next door again. I finish the last of my beer and finally turn to look him in the eye.
“Want me to get you another one?”
“Sure.” I say, “why not?”
Why not, indeed.