Open and Honest – Part VI
“So I have an admission,” she says. Her eyes stay on the road. My eyes stay on her. She glows warmly in the late afternoon sun.
“What’s that?” Despite her angelic aura, she’s stiff in her seat, her hands gripping the wheel. Her demeanor doesn’t match the languidity of the moment, the relaxed haze that embraces so many of my moments with her.
“You know the Gogol Bordello concert? The one we’re both going to?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“So Patrick bought tickets for my roommate and me.”
“He didn’t know that me and my roommate were broken up. So apparently we’re all going together.”
“It might be better if you weren’t there.” She winces as she says it.
“That’s ok,” I say.
For the first time in what feels like minutes, she glances at me. In the reflection on her glasses, the ones she plucked from my collection, I can see that I look calmer than I feel.
The concert is a point of contention for me. I was invited by other friends, by another girl in which I have interest. When she revealed weeks ago that we’d both be there, I had a moment of dread, a crisis of loyalty and desire. We probably won’t even still be together, I told myself.
But now, with the concert approaching, with nearly every free moment spent with her, I’m not so sure.
His being there with her complicates and simplifies at once. On the one hand, there’s a chance we’ll run into each other and things will get interesting. On the other, I now have an excuse to keep two of my favorite women from a scenario that might be competitive or uncomfortable.
“Really?” She asks, incredulous. She expected disappointment. She expected me not to be ok with it. She expected resistance.
“Yeah,” I tell her. “I was planning on going with other friends anyway, so I can just hang with them.”
“Are you sure?” Her face mimics my emotions, a strange mix of relief and disappointment.
“Yeah. It’s fine,” I say.
“Good,” she says after a beat, as much telling herself as me.
“Dude,” her friend Patrick says, “you should come party with us! It’ll be a blast!”
“Thanks, but I don’t think I can.”
“Why not? Don’t have a ticket? We can fix that!” His excitement is infectious, his eyes energetic. It makes it that much harder to decline.
“No, I already have one,” I say with a smile. “But,” I hesitate as I wonder how much to say, “her ex will be there and she’s worried it’ll be trouble.”
“Wait, you and her are dating?” It’s more a statement and less a question, everything falling into place in his head. He’s high on adrenaline. His band is fresh from their first gig and the celebratory shots we just took have already kicked in. It was only minutes ago she had told him how the relationship had fallen apart, how his act of goodwill and friendship might be difficult for all of them. And now, he’s receiving another revelation of the events of the last months.
“Yeah.” I’m surprised the admission comes out so casually.
“Well, fuck it! Come anyway! It’ll be fine!”
The idea appeals, but it’s more complicated than I want to explain. I like her. I like her friends. I even think her ex seems like he might be a nice guy if he ever stops the glowering and cock-measuring stares he gives me and actually talks to me. She’s said it’s doubtful that’ll happen.
Instead, I’ve been unwelcome at her house while he’s at risk of being home. I know she’s trying to avoid an uncomfortable situation, a possible altercation, and while I’m not afraid of her roommate, I’m terribly afraid of disappointing her, of taking things too far, of making a bad situation worse.
Not to mention my friends attending the show, my other plans. I’m not a party animal, nor the show-going music-lover I once was. I worry my friends and theirs won’t mix, that my lawyer ladyfriend won’t want to hang with the counter-culture crowd no matter how similar to her old circles they may be.
“I don’t think it’s going to be possible. Besides, I’ll be there with some other friends.”
“Just think about it, man,” Patrick says. His smile inviting and understanding.
“Thanks,” I say. It’s the most genuine response I can give.
The thought scares me.
I imagine feeling a tap on my shoulder, or maybe no warning at all, and then it hits me square in the jaw, his fist connecting solidly. I wonder if I’m quick enough. I wonder if I’d swing back, if I’d purposefully physically hurt someone for the first time in years. And I wonder how everyone would react.
The whole scenario scares me. I feel on edge, stiff, nervous.
I wonder if I should tell my friends, no, how I should tell my friends. “I might get in a fight tonight,” sounds so bad. “My ladyfriend whom I’m not sure I can call my ladyfriend is going to be there with her ex/roommate,” feels too complex. And not to mention the problem of interest in and from my friend.
I walk into Fate Brewing excited for a drink, shockingly tired from the walk over, and wary of the upcoming night. “I was here on a date a couple weeks ago and this coffee IPA was so good, I gushed about all through Beer & Bikes the next day,” I say as we’re looking over the menu. I hope she’ll ask about the date. I hope it’s an easy way in. But instead we just talk beer, joke, and enjoy ourselves.
“I’m nervous about tonight,” she says. “I forgot to print my ticket and I’m not sure if they’ll let me.”
I snicker uncomfortably. “I’m nervous about a bunch of stuff in regards to tonight,” I reply. “I think your ticket issue is easy enough.”
“Oh yeah? What are you nervous about?”
“This girl I’ve been seeing is going to be there with her ex.” Her face drops just a little. “So if some guy comes up and slugs me, you know why.”
“She’s going to be there with her ex? Isn’t that a little weird?”
“Well, the guy who bought them tickets didn’t know they were broken up, so they’re going as a group.”
“Ah. And why would he hit you?”
“Well, they weren’t broken up when we started dating.” The words flood my head: jerk, bastard, cuckold, homewrecker. But I know it wasn’t like that. The stipulation of an open relationship doesn’t allow for that. It’s her choice, her decision, and his job to know that all he can do to be with her is let her be free. I just happened to show up at the wrong time.
“What?” Her eyes narrow and I realize that the long drawn out story she needs to hear now isn’t something I want to tell.
“It’s not like that. It was an open relationship. Apparently he handled it badly, I guess.”
“Huh.” She seems unconvinced.
“We’ll talk more about it later,” I tell her, but it feels like a lie. I don’t want to talk about it. Not with her. She deserves to know, and I owe it to her, but I don’t want to make it happen.
I can’t stop thinking about her as I walk into my room.
The entire drive up, I explained the oddity of it all to my friend, to the other girl I’d want to pursue. The conversation came more easily than I expected, my heart and mind opening on a whim. Perhaps it was the alcohol, or the fact that I trust her, but whatever the case, it’s out in the open now. And while my friend drives home, I can’t stop thinking about the woman in my life.
“I hope you had as good a time at the show as I did,” I peck into my phone. “I was disappointed (and a bit relieved) I didn’t see you and your crew there. Say hi to Patrick for me.”
Setting my phone aside, I slide into bed and into the sweet embrace of sleep.
It’s pitch black when I wake slightly. I wonder how long I’ve been asleep. I reach over and grab my phone, flipping it open to check the time, wondering if my companion for the evening made it home safely.
It’s 4:47 AM, the phone tells me. And I have a message. It’s from her.
“I will, and I’m sad I didn’t see you, especially since I didn’t hang out with my ex at all,” it reads.
My heart flutters, a knot wells up in my throat. I’m filled, for the first time in ages, with regret. If only I had texted her sooner. If only I had sought her out. If only I had searched through the crowd and greeted her with a kiss as I had imagined. If only…
“I wish I had known,” I type. “Every moment I wasn’t lost in the music, I was looking for you. Had I known, I would’ve tried harder.” My finger hovers over the send button.
And then I delete it.
I throw my phone aside, rolling from my bed in the darkness. I do push ups. I go to the bathroom. I shiver in the cold staring at the flimsy line of light eking from beneath my shutters. I do anything to take my mind off her. But still, her eyes haunt me in, glowing beautifully on the back of my eyelids.
I snatch my phone as I dive back beneath the covers, and I stare at the light radiating from the screen. Slowly, I start thinking about the epic I would write if I weren’t restricted to 160 characters, all the things I want to say which I can’t.
Why? I wonder. Why can’t I tell her I love her? Why can’t I tell her that every spare moment of my life, she burns like an after image of a solar flare? Why can’t I stop caring about her desire for openness, for lack of commitment, for opportunity? And I know it’s for exactly the reason that I care so much that I can’t express how much I care.
“I kept running into people I knew: old friends, coworkers, and acquaintances,” I punch in “Yet I didn’t run into the one person I really wanted to see: you.”
I set the phone aside and stare at the dark ceiling, the glow from the screen lighting small green eddies in the paint job. This is how I fall asleep, message unsent, love unrequited, mind muddled with the complete and total lack of clarity.
I awake to dawn creeping between the blinds. I check my phone to see if she’s messaged, to see if she’s ok, if she cared enough to tell me how her night was.
My message glows at me.
I read it carefully, my heart speeding up, my body and mind coming awake with each word. I read it again, wondering if I should send it.
My mind is flush with two different conversations we’d had.
“Why would you be in an open relationship,” I had asked, “if that’s not what you wanted?”
“It was a compromise,” she said. “He wanted more; I didn’t. My last two relationships have been open and they’ve both been compromises.”
“Why would you do that?”
She curled her head upwards, her hair sliding against my chest, her eyes soft looking into mine. Her eyebrows raise so she can meet my gaze, but her brow furrows with confusion. “What do you mean?”
“You shouldn’t have to compromise your ideals. If they’re unwilling to meet you on your footing, why would you do that. You deserve the relationships you want, no more, no less,” I told her. And yet I knew I wasn’t heeding my own advice, instead compromising my ideals to be in this strange amorphous relationship with her.
We lay there, silence and warmth enveloping us. And I wondered how long it would be until she realized that I would compromise everything for her. And would that mark the end.
My thumb hovers over the send button, wondering if even this is too much. I can feel my thumb shaking slowly.
“I still think its hypocritical,” I told her, my embrace softening, “that a girl who doesn’t want a relationship can end up in one.”
“I don’t want to compromise my relationships,” she said with conviction. “I want to experience everything to the fullest. I don’t want my interactions to suffer.”
“They shouldn’t have to,” I said. But I knew that wasn’t how it worked. Everything’s a compromise of some sort.
Fuck it, I think. My thumb hits the button. I shouldn’t have to compromise what I want, and this is what I want to say at this moment.
And like that, the decision’s made, the message sent.
I roll over, pulling the covers tighter, sleep overcoming me once more. In my dreams, I see nothing but her eyes.
Open and Honest – Part VII