It would never work. It never had before. They were too far away. In more than one area of their lives. But he couldn’t help reminiscing while he ate his chicken parm. It was his favorite. Not exactly the best in the world but pretty damn good for Denny’s. The waitress came back to refill his Coke. He smiled up at her and was caught again by her blue eyes. They were perfect. And sapphire. It was those eyes that started him down this train of thought in the first place.
It had been years since he’d talked to her, longer since he’s seen her. But he felt that familiar tug in his chest to call her again. She had loved him once, could she spare a few minutes of conversation for an old boyfriend now?
He tried to shake off the feelings he was having. He hated how she could always make him think deeper than he would otherwise choose too. And she wasn’t even there.
Not a soul knew him better, it seemed. She could always read his mind and called him on his bull before he had even gotten it all out. She allowed only small lies, to protect himself. But even those, he knew, she could see right through. Right to the quick of him. She unnerved him like no one else. Yet he couldn’t completely cut her out of his life.
Their lives had taken decidedly different turns. She might even be married by now. She should be. She was amazing. Any man would be lucky to have her. It could’ve been him… But it wasn’t. He had chosen something closer.
He paid his bill, tipping the girl generously. He made his way back to his motel. Alone in his room, with his thoughts. He couldn’t shake the image of her face in his mind.
He let go and remembered the last time he had seen her. He had held her. They danced to a country song filled with clichés but it had been a perfect way to say goodbye. Wasn’t it? If it was so perfect why did he always see her when he closed his eyes?
Many girls had come in and out of his life since then. Hell, he married one of ‘um. They had a child, lost another and then divorced. He never stayed with a girl for longer than a night or two after that. But she was always with him, in the back of his mind. Waiting around for him to get lonely.
He tossed his cell phone around, toying with the idea of looking up her number. She only lived 100 miles away from where he was right now. Maybe she would come and see him. It had seemed so much further when they were younger. When she had cried and asked him to please come and get her. But he didn’t want to wait that long. It was too hard at the time. He was only 17, he had a lot going on in his future and she just didn’t fit in his picture.
The last time they spoke, was almost 2 years ago. He called her from Korea. He was stationed there for the army. His wife had left to go back stateside and instead of calling home, he called her. Always. And she was always there, telling him to work things out with his wife. Keeping the conversation focused on him and not on them. It irritated him that she wouldn’t let him toy with the idea of a ‘them’. He would flirt shamelessly and she would laugh it off. She had pointed out that he had made his choice.
She was right. She was always right. In an infuriating, predictable way. But he still wanted to talk to her. It wouldn’t hurt to just talk, would it? Besides, his marriage was over now, maybe she’d be more open to talking about them…again.
He called information and got her parents number. Her mom seemed happy to hear from him, that was a good sign. She’d moved to her own place. He called her number with a twinge in his chest, hoping she wouldn’t have ‘company’. Voicemail. He left a message with his number. Then he waited.
She called him a couple hours later. He couldn’t believe how good her voice sounded on the phone. He told her so. He told her about the waitress that looked just like her. She pointed out that she wasn’t 16 anymore, it had been…5 years? Wow, it didn’t feel like that long ago.
It was easy. Talking to her. Laughing with her. Making her laugh. He loved her laugh. It was rich and loud and made him feel funnier than he was. She was single. He was surprised but didn’t say so. He asked her to come to him, just to ‘catch up.’ She hesitated noticeably. He knew he had wrecked her heart and he knew he didn’t deserve anymore chances. But he could never resist her. Wanting her. It was always her.
They talked for hours before she had to go because she had to work in the morning. He told her to call him, she said she’d think about it. He regretted how he had made her so gun shy. There had been a time when she would call him every day just to tell him she missed him. And now he knew she wouldn’t be calling him, he would have to call her.
He got back on the truck the next day, his head filled with possible scenarios of the future. A few days and he’s be back here, he’d eat the same food and have the same waitress and he’d make his phone call.
Every time he called her, he asked her to come to him. She always said no. She told him that if he made the effort to come to her first than she would make the next trip. It was fair. But he couldn’t do that. He felt himself pulling away from her already. He couldn’t explain why. Habit maybe.
The phone calls started to stray into worn out territory. She could never be with someone who wouldn’t even try going to church. He refused to ever get married again. They never specifically talked about ‘them’ but it was all in the sub context. He couldn’t play by her rules, it was against his nature. And yet, he always called her, ‘just to talk’.
She started dating a guy. He tried not to be jealous but he was. He hated picturing her kissing someone else, being held in arms that weren’t his. She had always been his. It didn’t matter what the reality of it was, in his mind, she could never be anyone else’s. He knew that if he made the big gesture, went to her, fought for her, he could probably have her. But what could he really offer? He would leave her eventually. He knew enough about himself to know that he wasn’t what she deserved.
Then she called him, her and the boyfriend were coming back to her home town for a visit. She wanted to know if he wanted to see her. Of course he did. He’d be crazy not to.
He met her at her hotel, she followed him back to his house. They had a couple of beers and talked. She was older. But she looked the same. It wasn’t her face that had aged but her eyes. She’d gotten wise along the way. The innocence and naivety were absent. She still laughed easily but her heart was carefully hidden away and not on her sleeve like it had once been. She was happy. He didn’t want to take that away from her. He walked her to her car and she gave him a big hug. She kissed him lightly on the lips, surprising him. She laughed, a sparkle of the young girl he once knew bubbling out. He watched her drive away into the night. Knowing she was going back to him, the boyfriend.
He would wonder about that kiss for the next week. He didn’t call, it was her turn, he justified in his head. She did, eventually. She sounded good, happy. Not wistful and longing like he had…feared?
They talked as friends for awhile before he asked her about how she was feeling about their kiss. She didn’t understand so he was more specific. He didn’t want her to think that that kiss meant more than it did. He didn’t want her to be lead on like she had been years ago.
Her laughter tore through him. Her words verified his fears, it had been a kiss goodbye. Her closure. Now they could be friends without strings. Nothing weird or unfinished hanging in the unsaid things of their long distance conversations. He numbly agreed, it sounded perfect but it hurt like hell.
The phone calls started to space themselves out over time. Once a week, every other week. Once a month. He had found a girlfriend of his own. She was perfect and everything he needed and wanted. The phone calls became even more infrequent, unnecessary, like before. Then she called to tell him she was engaged.
It had finally happened. He knew her well enough that marriage was a big deal to her and not taken lightly. It would be a forever thing for her. She would be officially out of his reach.
She tried to invite him to the wedding but he refused to go, citing his hatred for formal gatherings and people in general. But he knew the real reason he wasn’t going was because he couldn’t see her pledge herself to another man. To promise forever to someone besides him. It was hard enough to know it, it would be torture to watch it.
The last phone call came a week after the wedding. She was filled with joy and exuberance. She said she had missed him at her celebration but that she understood. Did she? She encouraged him to marry the girl he was with now, he played in close to the vest, per his usual.
That had been a painful last conversation, at least for him. He was happy for her but he selfishly wished it had been able to be him that had made her so complete. He never called her again.
It had been almost 5 years since then. He looked down into his coffee at the truck stop and let himself think of her one more time. He had married again after all, they had two precious daughters that he wouldn’t give up for the world. And he loved his wife. But there was something about the loneliness of being on the road that always turned his mind back to her. The girl in his past, the one that got away. That wasn’t completely true. He had let her go, asked her to go. No one knew him like she did. He looked at the waitress refilling his cup and saw something familiar in her sapphire eyes and young smile.
He looked at his phone. Maybe he should call her, just to talk.