Fool's Gold

I wonder what you'll say to me this time. I've never been good at reading you, quiet mockery staining your words in blood-red pricks of self-delusion, sometimes a sedate gray that hides away your frustration. I'm the first to admit that I can't understand you, even as you read me like a half-forgotten article in the foreign papers you devour.

I'm waiting hesitantly, caught in the bustle of another airport, another meaningless place. At least this time I'm not here to see crumbling cathedrals or rotting ruins, a blur of time and space that in the end mean nothing. This time, rather, I'm here to see you.

Hesitant, you might laugh, confident that you've taken my number, played the national lottery with its digits, and found only another disappointment. Hesitant, not me. But you've stopped reading between the lines and so you missed the fine print, smashed in sooty syllables between those harsh, jagged letters that draw your gaze away, following the rules of linear perspective. And so when you greet me, all you see is the focal point and not the truth.

I've got my luggage strewn around me, that haphazard sort of chaos that you always seem to find endearing, even while your disapproval seeps beneath my skin. I can't organize myself to find yesterday or tomorrow, let alone the day of the week. It's Tuesday today. I know that because the pilot announced it after takeoff, and again before we landed.

I even managed to concentrate long enough for it to penetrate, despite the glazing over that always seems to happen when the flight attendants take center stage. Air masks, flotation devices, exits, and please don't panic… Anymore, it all smears together. I've heard it so many times I can't imagine forgetting, and yet, in an emergency, I'd be the first wondering what to do.

"I missed you," you say. The first words out of your mouth, and already it's a lie.

"I'm sure," I answer. An awkward fidgeting ensues while I wonder what to do with my hands.

You solve the problem for me, stepping close enough that I have to tilt my head back to see anything but the lower part of your upper chest. And then, as gently as if I were made of glass, you meld your lips with mine, softly catching my lower lip between your teeth before stepping back.

I can't help but hate you, I think, eyeing you from beneath lowered lashes. And I don't know what it is about you. At home, my friends all see pictures and exclaim over your exotic good looks, foreign in a way that our southern neighbors no longer are. I can't say I see it. You're good looking, yes, but there's an imperfection about your features that I find intriguing. You're not quite handsome, not quite pretty, and your nose is just a little too large. You're the perfect height, but a little too lean even for my tastes. Me, who would rather have lanky than pecs and a washboard stomach.

We've both agreed that there's no accounting for taste, and especially ours.

"I did," you insist, that mocking twinkle taking flight in your thickly lashed chocolate eyes. "And hi."

"Hi," I sigh, half-leaning, half-squatting to snag one of my many bags. I'll only be here for the week, but this time I didn't travel light. You didn't expect me to, and I'd hate to disappoint. I did that already, remember?

Meanwhile, you shoo me away and carry far too much, but what you're trying to prove is beyond me. We both know you're lazy, you take pride in it, and I'm perfectly capable of carrying my own suitcases. I'm not a girl, I told you once, and you laughed and asked me what that was supposed to mean.

My physiology told us both that I was lying, and I gave up trying to explain. You didn't believe me anyway.

You hook the bags across your shoulders like Christmas ornaments, and then with your one free hand – you've only got my backpack across your shoulder – you pull me into the curve of your arm. I fit perfectly, just like always. I'm short enough that you can hold me close and use me as an armrest at the same time. I think the former bothers me more than the latter, and I wonder again what half-sane idiocy induced me to buy that ticket. I could've gone to Mexico, after all, and at least there I wouldn't be able to pretend that any of this means something.

As we leave the airport, stepping into the salty air, inane conversation skipping like pebbles across windless water, you, as always, ask me about my life. I wonder if you're really interested in the answer, and why you even care. I wish we didn't always talk about me, but I can never get you to say anything except that you're not that interesting.

"How is your new job?" you ask.

Instead of answering, I stare at the keys in your hand. When did you get a car? I wonder. You always lecture me on how possessions weigh you down and how you hate to own things. You won't talk about your childhood unless the questions are specific. I wonder if this has something to do with your economic status as a child, but then I remember that your closet was always full of Armani when we were in New York.

Finally, I shrug. "It's okay," I say, more than a little noncommittal.

You shake your head and I know what's running through your head, although I'd put into different words. I'm wasting my potential, you're thinking. Underpaid and working far beneath my talents. We've had this conversation a million times; this makes a million and one, and still it's always the same. You think that I should do something, be something, be someone… And I can't seem to make you understand that I'm just not ready.

"Just okay?" you ask me slowly, in your strangely slurred accent.

I smile uneasily, nod, and scramble for a subject change. "So you missed me, did you?" Flirtation is safer with you, although with anyone else it would be the atomic bomb mushrooming across our conversation. I can pretend it doesn't mean anything and you can misinterpret it like art, imagining that those brush strokes of angry red really are a sunset. "I can't say the same."

Clasping a hand over your heart in mock hurt, you stop in front of a slightly used, surely secondhand car. I may not be able to put you in a box and label it – not with pencil let alone indelible ink – but I still know you better than I should. I wouldn't call you cheap, per se, but even with your fancy job (I always knew one of us would make something of ourselves), you remember what it's like not to have money. And you still don't like to waste it where it isn't necessary.

That's one of the many differences between you and me – you see my addiction to things as a weakness. You once suggested, smirking (I know you were even though I couldn't see you), that I could come to live with you, take care of you instead of working. I immediately threw up those defensive walls – three feet thick now and made of granite – and dismissed the idea with the reckless excuse that I wouldn't be able to support my clothing habit. Neither of us was surprised when you told me I wouldn't need clothes anyway.

I, in turn, see your rejection of things as a deficiency. An inability to connect, a disassociation of symbols that allow us to understand each other. You see things differently, and I wonder at your ability to be truly human. You like to tell me that things don't matter, but for me, they do.

I like them because they're an anchor, something solid that I can cling to in front of blankness. I think you don't believe me when I tell you I don't remember, and sometimes I think I use it as an excuse. Whatever the reason, whatever the problem, the disability's still there. I've learned to compensate, and you see the compensation as unnecessary. I know you're wrong, but I can't say that to you. You wouldn't understand me if I did.

Sometimes, with you, I feel like iron pyrite, fool's gold, sparkling in the light and tricking you into believing – yes, maybe this is the real thing. I know I could be, with enough self-confidence, not the manufactured kind you pour into every conversation and every carefully chosen word. I don't know why it matters to you what I think of myself, or why you insist on telling me that the diamond in the rough – yeah, that's me.

I'm somebody's diamond. Of that I have no doubt. I'm just not yours.

But in the meantime, I've traveled around a thousand miles to see you, and it would be end game if we didn't keep up the charade a little longer. So we throw the suitcases in the trunk – anyone else and I would've brought just one – and I let you open the door for me, wait until I get in, and shut it carefully behind me. I have to admit I'm a little surprised. When did you start to care whether courtesy was floundering in the dirt?

"Since when did you become polite?" I ask aloud what I'm thinking, which surprises neither one of us. What does surprise me, though, is that I can't quite check my anger. It leaks through from time to time, but even I'm astonished that it appeared so soon. I figured the frustration wouldn't rear its ugly head until after we'd shared a bed. There's nothing quite like intimacy to bring out the worst in people, and especially me.

"I'm always polite."

As usual, you don't bother to take offense. It deepens my aggravation that you can't take me seriously, even while you insist I do. Everything's diversion to you, and somehow I can't forget the fact that once, not so long ago, I was fascinated by those idiosyncrasies that are so uniquely you. For a minute, if I stop lying to myself, I can admit I still am.

But then again, we're only friends. Isn't that what you told me?

"So you didn't miss me," you state, keeping your eyes on the road. If I didn't know better, I might think that odd catch in your voice is disappointment or disbelief. But that couldn't possibly be true.

I close my eyes and settle into the seat, resigned to what will probably become an hour's drive with the traffic. I'm still uncomfortable with the idea of being alone with you for a week and my defensiveness shows. "Don't pretend you care," I answer, fighting to keep the bitterness out of my voice and failing. "I'm too tired to think of a witty comeback."

There's not even a moment's pause before you change the subject. "Are you hungry?"

I shake my head, 'no,' and sink farther into the seat. I remember when we would go out in Long Island and I would relinquish my keys (you were the only one I trusted to drive my car… funny, that, because you're the last person I'd trust with my heart) when I was too tired to drive home. This feels oddly like old times, except then I was simply infatuated with you instead of lying broken in the crater of unrequited love.

It seems strange to finally admit that to myself, and Lord knows I would never admit it to you. Oh, no, that secret I will be taking to the grave. I think you might know, but I'll never confirm it. You already broke my heart once, shattered into a thousand pieces that I glued back together with silent tears and aching regret. If I don't lay my heart on the line, at least I can pretend it's not cracking again, the fault lines widening with every whispered word.

In the meantime, I still taste you on my tongue, that kiss in the airport lingering along with the tang of salty air. You taste like cigarettes and secrets, something I never noticed before. I wonder if this is because I gave up smoking, or if it's because finally I realized maybe you aren't quite as honest as you profess.

The silence between us is getting to me, and once again I start to fidget. This time it's with the radio dial, flipping it to something between punk and hard rock that I know you'll hate. It keeps me from telling you those three words I never, ever want you to hear. And that's when I vow to stay away from even a drop of alcohol, because, darling, we both know drunken confessions are my forte.

Finally, after several moments of nervous shifting, I sigh, turn down the music, and face you. You take that opportunity to lay your hand on my leg. Something strange has been happening between us lately. It seems weird to say that, because it's been so long since we've seen each other face to face, but that doesn't make it any less true.

For just a moment, I'm struck by the possessiveness of the gesture. You'd deny it, of course. In the same breath you breathe accusations of seduction against my throat, you murmur that fidelity has never been one of your lifelong goals. It's hard to think when you're that close to me, except about you. It almost makes it easy to pretend you never said it.

And God knows, you don't care who I'm dating. You've never cared what (or who) I'm doing as long as, in the end, I somehow end up back with you. Nothing permanent; you'd rather a few hours of sweaty sin than decades of devotion. Both of us get bored a little too easily, but that doesn't stop me from dreaming.

"So," I say, sucking my lower lip between my teeth in a nervous gesture, "tell me something exciting."

I already know what you're going to say, and you don't disappoint. "I'm boring," you answer slowly, sliding a appraising glance out of the corner of your eye. I can see the lust shimmering slick in your eyes. This, at least, is the one thing that's honest between us. "I don't have anything exciting to tell."

And I see you waiting for me to launch into the next line in this farce, the one where I tell you that excitement is relative and that somewhere, buried under a rock or four, your childlike wonder and awe are hiding. Instead I smile and push your hand off my knee, needing the space between us. Intimacy – the physical kind, not the mental kind I can't seem to get away from – will come later. "Well, at least some things never change."

Surprise replaces lust momentarily, and you shrug. "You tell me something exciting." You missed a beat, but not your line.

"I'm in Florida."

"No, you're in Orlando," you correct me. Only you would bother to make the distinction. I remember when you were trying to convince me to come here, throwing out all sorts of bait. In the end, I refused them all, and you told me that the only thing was left was Florida as a state. I responded that it was one of fifty, and we were at an impasse.

I still somehow managed to end up here.

It's only a week, I remind myself. Maybe reminding myself will get me through it. Maybe not.

"Same difference." I ignore the fact that your hand has managed to creep its way back onto my leg. "Did you make any plans? What are we doing? Can we explore?"

This time, you laugh at me. "There's nothing to explore. What would you explore in Long Island, for example?"

Sighing, I reply, "It's not the same." But maybe to you it is. I need you to remind me why I came here, again, before I escape from the car and go running home to D.C. like the coward that I am. Let's not kid ourselves, though. You already know all my deepest secrets, even though I like to pretend otherwise.

The car glides to a stop, suddenly, and I look up to see that we're now parked in front of one of those huge apartment complexes you see on television, perfectly proportioned balconies in endless rows of banality. This is it. Now, finally, I can't put you off, push you away, protect myself from the heartbreak I know is coming. Because in these next few days, it would be only too easy to take that final plunge headlong into love with you, and I don't want that any more than you do.

"We're here," you say. Squashing the butterflies in my stomach, I follow you out of the car. Carrying my luggage to your apartment is uneventful, but as soon as we get inside, I suddenly feel like I'm back at the airport, my bags strewn haphazardly around my feet. Except that this time, my back is against the wall and there's nothing gentle about your kiss.

I suddenly want you so badly that even with everything I've told myself running in broken sentences through my head, I'm not sure I can tell you to stop. No, that's a lie. I won't tell you to stop. Your mouth slides across my jaw and my breathing is ragged as I tilt my head so that you can nip at my neck, your hands sliding beneath the scratchy lace of my shirt. I tug at yours, wanting it off as much as I can't stand the weight of mine. I remember the feel of your bare skin, the torrid heat that always seeped between us.

We don't bother to move out of the hallway, three years, six months, three weeks and two days suddenly a lifetime. And as you trail your long fingers up my back, I think that maybe it might not be such a bad thing to be broken. There will always be more glue, and maybe I can piece my heart back together this time.

You may not be my diamond, but you can be my cubic zirconium for a while.


Based (oh, so loosely) on true events, imagination, and several someones I never wanted to care about. Severe artistic license taken with any of the "true" events. Enjoy, though that seems the wrong word for this.

-K