Immediately after a break-up, there is always the small and yet sharp pain in the pit of your stomach when you come across one of his personal articles among the mess of the rest of your life. Even something as insignificant as a lone sock can hold great power over you and cause you to do things that would never enter your mind under normal circumstances. At first I kept it, not in a place of honor, nor in the same small drawer that housed my own unmentionables. It was stuffed in an oversized coffee cup labeled 'Shoe Goddess' that he had bought me, one I hadn't yet had the heart to destroy. I allowed the intruder to stay for a few days, tucked away inside the cup in the corner of my bookcase. But eventually, its presence became unbearable; the silent mocking in the back of my mind had grown to an animalistic roar of "Here I am, the constant reminder of your failed relationship."
Enough was enough, I had mustered up a sufficient amount of courage, enough to text him at any rate. I was able to calmly relay the information about the lone sock. He agreed to meet and was surprisingly anxious to see me and confessed that he wanted to catch up, after only two months of being apart. A date and time were set and as it neared I became increasingly self-conscious, playing through all the possible scenarios in my mind. While also trying to find an outfit in my closet that said both: 'come and get it' and 'look what you can't have' in the same breath.
Somehow I pictured him looking different when he opened the door, less happy and maybe a little underfed. But his cheery attitude helped set the mood and it put me at ease, it almost felt like the breakup had never happened and all was right with our world. We were able to talk about some of the safer topics like family and friends, although somewhat haltingly and then the conversation took a sharp turn.
"So, it sounded like you had fun last weekend, huh?" his expression was unreadable, an impossible mix of humor and anger. I stared at my feet, knowing that this would happen.
Not 48 hours earlier I had gotten rip-roaring drunk with a friend, and although she successfully hid my keys from me, my cell phone turned out to be the more dangerous weapon. Somewhere between the sixth vodka concoction and my fourth cherry flavored cigarette, calling my ex sounded like a grand idea. Little did I know that he would answer, hearing my slurred speech and the loud music in the background he was able to discern the obvious: I was drunk. After inadvertently hanging up on him the drunken texting began, eventually "I miss you and still think about you" became "Tell me you never loved me and that you hate me." In my altered state this all made sense, it would be so much easier to get over him if we hated each other rather than breaking up on mutual terms like we did.
As I sat perched on the edge of his bed in his apartment, he dug his phone from his pocket and proceeded to reread the messages from that evening, watching my face for my reaction. After he finished dishing out my well-deserved humiliation I threw myself into the traditional three part apology.
"Okay, about that….I know that it was wrong and I shouldn't have-"He held up his hand to silence me and I bit my bottom lip awaiting the tongue-lashing that was sure to follow. Tears fell unguarded down my cheeks and seeing me in that state tugged at his heartstrings. He offered to buy me some food and the use of his shower, seeing as I hadn't consumed anything but alcohol for the past 48 hours, nor bathed in as much time. After waking up at the crack of noon the night after I had initially texted him and checking the inbox on my phone to see if it had all been a dream; the harsh reality drove me back to the bottle.
Twenty minutes later we were both seated at a red vinyl booth in a local chain restaurant, each of us waiting on a salad and carefully avoiding the other's gaze. I began rubbing my temples with my fingertips, a headache threatening to form.
"So, how much did you have to drink? He asked with a smirk.
"Enough." I replied flatly, he shook his head at me and chuckled at my response.
"Have you learned your lesson?"
"Nope, probably not." I said with a joking smile. "Besides, you responded to my texts anyway, why didn't you just – Oh, shit!" I shrank back as he turned to follow my gaze, some of his friends had just entered the restaurant. One of the many curses of living in a small town is the inevitability of running into people that you know, usually people you don't wish to speak to. Three of his fraternity brothers, including his new roommate, happened to sit in the booth across from ours. Imagine the irony. Not only were we out together after having broken up two months before, but my lack of funds from buying the aforementioned liquor prompted him to pick up the tab, so now it looks like we are on a date. After a hurried dinner and some awkward conversation with his buddies, trying to convince them that we were there as nothing more than friends, we returned to his apartment. It was gaining on midnight and my headache had finally defeated me. I threw myself onto the couch once we entered and closed my eyes, cursing the artificial lighting in his living room.
"How about that shower?" he asked, sitting down beside me and awkwardly patting my shoulder. I nodded my consent and started to make my way to the bathroom, "You know, it's getting pretty late…and I know you don't want to wake up Sarah when you get home. I'm sure she is still recovering too…" I turned to stare at him, a question clearly etched on my face. "You could stay here, I mean…you know, only if you want to."
A little game had quickly formed in my mind, encouraged by the stolen glances we kept giving each other over dinner and him mentioning four times how great I looked. "Okay." I said, turning away so he couldn't see my wry smile.
I welcomed the long shower and the private time to think over his offer. The hot water helped to clear my head and I could think more clearly, but as I buried my face in a towel his distinctive smell engulfed me and I yearned for the past. I allowed myself two minutes to bask in our former glory as a couple and then I dressed and ran a comb through my damp hair. On entering his room I found that he had left my favorite pair of his pajama pants out for me to change into. Just as my jeans pooled around my ankles he opened the door and the surprised look on his face was almost comical, he blushed immediately and I slowly stepped out of my jeans and into the pajama pants saying,
"What? It's not like I don't have anything you haven't already seen before."He nodded at the floor and placed a glass of water and two aspirin on the bedside table. After swallowing the aspirin I asked politely for a spare pillow and a light blanket. His mingled look of confusion and embarrassment was met by my raised eyebrows and seemingly innocent expression,
"You don't have to sleep on the couch, you know, you can sleep in here with me . . ." he said this quietly to his nightstand instead of to my face. I shrugged, pretending that it was no big deal, but as he reached over to turn off the lights I saw him pause and quickly collect himself. I slowly climbed in and snuggled down in the blankets facing a mountain of indecision about what would happen next.
As my eyes adjusted to the dark I smiled a little to myself, remembering the good times and how it felt to fall asleep next to him every night for the past four years. He stiffly rolled over so we faced each other and I could see his mouth open and close, trying to form words that just wouldn't come. Since we had touched on all the relative high points over dinner I decided to take the lead and test his resolve.
"I started dieting," I whispered, "now that I don't have to keep my house full of junk food and soda." He chuckled and I grabbed his hand and ran it smoothly over my newly toned stomach, I heard him take in a sharp breath. "What do you think?" I asked in an innocent tone.
"Um….that's nice." I could feel him stiffen beside me. I felt his hand come up to cup my face and he scooted closer to me. "But I've always thought you were beautiful."
Immediately, my mouth shot off a response before my brain could register it, "You're my boyfriend, your opinion is biased." This was my token response every time he told me I looked beautiful, in my mind the sentiment was vastly overused. I immediately regretted saying this, easily slipping into my comfort zone now that we were sharing the same bed once again. His reaction was not what I expected though.
"I still think you are beautiful, no matter what." I could feel his breath on my face as he inched his lips closer to mine and his arms found their way around my waist. I allowed him to cradle me in his arms, but kept my face apart from his.
"Mmmmm….oh, yeah?" I purred into his ear, smiling slightly when I felt him shiver. He tentatively rested his head in the crook of my neck and I felt him press his lips at my collarbone, a whisper of a kiss. He waited, his heart pounding against my chest and both our resolves slowly crumbling. I pulled back and looked into his warm eyes, silently asking permission. What caught me off guard was the rough, almost painful way that he crushed his lips into mine. His arms tightened around my waist and he molded himself to my body. My initial shock lasted only seconds as we fell into our old routines, our hands mystically guided to certain pleasure spots. He rolled over on top of me and pulled away for a moment, resting his forehead against mine.
"What the hell are we doing?" he whispered with a small smile.
"Missing each other…" I replied, trying to hide the tears in my voice as I closed my eyes. He stroked my cheek and kissed the tip of my nose. I was not prepared for this conversation, especially with him lying on top of me with one hand underneath my shirt. I opened my eyes, determined not to let him see my weakness and he propped himself up on his elbows.
"I know, it just feels…Oh, I don't know." He said, leaning down on me once more. He glanced to his right and flashed a smirk at the wall. He yanked the sheet up over us and said no more on the subject.
For the first time in my life, when I awoke suddenly at 4am to see him sleeping deeply next to me with his arm across my waist, a single thought crossed my mind. For all of three minutes I seriously considered gathering my far flung clothes and sneaking out before the morning. But not because I was afraid of the awkwardness the next day, but because of the way I still felt about him, the tiny part of my heart that still held on to the past. I wanted to keep this one fleeting moment special and not ruin it by the unrelenting guilt and regret that would follow when we woke up naked beside each other.
In the end, I never could get his heavy arm off of me without him fidgeting and pulling me closer, so I stayed and eventually succumbed to the slow rhythm of his breathing, letting him lull me to sleep. As the first rays of sunlight crept through the curtains I opened my eyes to find his face inches from mine, still sleeping. So I made one last move in my dangerous game and slowly snaked my arm under the covers to a place that I knew would rouse him. He sighed deeply and smiled, I kissed his cheek and the second inning began. Afterwards, while we sipped coffee silently in his tiny kitchen I recalled the original reason for my visit in the first place. I went to his room, grabbed my purse, and found the lone sock; when I placed it gingerly in his hand he looked up at me and smiled. He winked at me slyly and pulled me in for a hug and as he pushed me back to see my face I could see it just as clearly in his eyes as I was sure it was reflected in mine. The taboo relationship that we had shared last night had just become awkward and the uncomfortable silence that followed had cemented what was to become an avant garde friendship, that occasionally amounted to bouts of forbidden, yet great sex.