"Suddenly, he seemed old," my sister lamented. "And for some reason, I'd never imagined that all I ever wanted was to grow old with him."
The diners clicked and clacked their silverware on their plates in their feeding frenzy. Their appetites were insatiable, and they called out for more calamari, extra dipping sauce, and another glass of red wine. The feast roared on. Only a low monotonous hum of conversation could be heard underneath the chewing. I tried to ignore the clamor and only hear my sister, who was greatly in my need now. I retired my fork to my plate and waited for her to go on. She only stared down blankly at her meal, both manicured hands resting, limp over her silverware. Her shoulders slumped, as if she were Atlas, the only thing keeping the sky from falling down on the world. But I supposed she did, in a way. The world as she knew it, the plan for her lifetime, had now been brought down by a single revelation. When the glimmer of tears began to rim her eyes, I reached for her hand. She shifted her stare and I held her hand tightly as I asked her, "Do you still love him?"
At those words, her lips pulled taught, her lipstick contrasting so sharply with the whiteness of her skin that I was reminded of a clown. The cascade of tears slipped past her eyelids, running down her face. She let her palms hold her face as she cried. Behind her, I watched as a family of four wolf down an appetizer in a single minute.
When she began to recover, she straightened her back, dried her cheeks, and brought out her compact mirror from her purse. She hiccupped the rest of it away as she teased her wide red curls and ordered another cosmopolitan. "I didn't know what to think of it," she stated, her voice strong in a "determined feminist" way. "Except that I was hurt, and…I felt so…worthless. Like I've wasted so much of my time, only for him to do this to me."
I retrieved my fork and speared a leaf of spinach from my plate. "Do you know who the other woman is?"
Her hand hesitated in its repetitive blotting. "No," she said. She snapped the mirror shut. "Anyway, I wanted to hurt him." She took up her fork and jabbed at her salmon, then pushed it back off the fork with the plate's edge. She jabbed again. "But I didn't want him to leave, either."
"So what did you do?"
"I went to sleep."
My fork full of chicken alfredo hung in mid air. "What?"
"I went upstairs. Changed into my pajamas. Washed my face. And went to sleep." She took a nibble of salmon from her fork, catching the morsel with her tongue and yanking it back like a cat.
"Did he sleep on the couch?"
"No…" she said, rearranging her meal. "James was asleep next to me when I woke up."
I waved down our waiter and asked for the check.
"I can tell you're dying to scoff at me. You want to rub it in my face, don't you? Well, do it before you explode."
"No, it's not that, Aimee. You just surprise me. I've know you all my life and you still catch me off guard."
She gave up the pretense of having an appetite and sat with her hands in her lap. "Is that supposed to be a compliment of an insult?"
"I'm sure it could work either way."
After many hugs and little European kisses; three of them, back and forth from cheek to cheek, I got myself a taxi and headed uptown. The cabbie was a good one. He was quiet and diligently watched the road, rather than trying to fatten his tip with small talk. I was glad I had the afternoon off, and did not have to return to a blank office full of company logo coffee mugs and insincere 'How Are You Today's,' as Aimee would have to. Being momentarily unemployed allowed me that freedom, gave me a lot of spare time.
We stopped in a wealthy neighborhood. I could practically see women in the fall collection strolling down the sidewalk, wide, confident smiles on as the wind blew back their hair. I paid the driver and stepped onto the street as a biting wind careened against me. I did not run in careful, high-heeled steps like Aimee, but placed each foot firmly on the ground before pushing through the cold and the wind, the doubt and the bitterness. At the door I checked my watch, and it told me that I was right on time. I buzzed his apartment, pressing that button I have pressed hundreds of times since that first time. I still could feel my finger shaking as it had then.
"Hello?" his voice was weaved into the intercom static. He did not say my name today. He was taking a precaution, I reminded myself. He'd say it if he could.
The door clicked and I pushed it open. The stairwell was warm, and now I took the steps two at a time. I barely raised my fist to knock when he opened the door. He was wearing the sweater I like; the green one that really shows his form. The one I got him for Christmas last year. The sweater Aimee thought was hideous.
We smiled and I could feel the relief coming off of him in waves. It was mutual and I threw myself at him, grinning. We kissed and I knew nothing had changed. It made no matter what she knew; it will always be this way. And everything to get here has been worth it. I wouldn't let her do anything to end this.
It wasn't long before our greeting kisses became passionate ones, and we made our way to the loft, where the bed was separated only by heavy drapes.
Our clothes fell once more to the dark wood floor. All I knew after that was the softness of the blankets, the strength of our muscles, the taste of his lips, and our voices sounding together in that empty house.
"Would you?" Aimee had asked me before we went our separate ways. "Still love James?"