Two (Ex)Lovers At A Wedding
Not one to say no to an open bar, Rick was easily spotted, in the same old suit he wore for every wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah, or visit to his Grandmother. His sandy blonde hair is longer than she remembers, and he really should have shaved before coming, but those blue eyes tell it all. It's him, it's Rick. Just as if it had always been.
She looks good, but then again, didn't she always? That curly brown hair, that buttermilk skin, the way her black dress hugs her curves. Blame it on the booze, but Rick can't help but remember falling into bed with her, recalling the scratches and bites he found on himself the next morning. She took her coffee black. He always liked that about her. Black coffee, simple girl.
“Hey, Maria. You look good.”
He smiles, of course, trying to act like he's not nervous. But he's doing that thing with the beer bottle, tapping it with ring finger and pinky. That's always been his tell. It's the reason he's a horrible liar. Never did learn how to tie a tie, if today is any indication, either.
“You look sloppy, come here.”
His heart skips a beat as he walks towards her. How long has it been? Too long if you can't remember, right. Her hands glide toward his throat, his tie. She fixes it for him, pulling it tight around his throat.
“Whoa, darling, that's pretty tight, don't you think?”
“Price of looking decent, Rick. Didn't expect you here.”
He smells good. He hasn't changed his cologne, or maybe it was the soap he used? Whatever it may be, the smell of Rick engulfs her, hitting all the right receptors and synapses, the electrical currents in her brain becoming charged, turning on. She reminds herself to focus, not loose herself in him, not again, not again after she had told herself not again.
“Your mom, actually. Said I might want to be here. I'm sorry I missed the actual ceremony, was it nice?”
“It was perfect. Abby glowed up there, in her dress.”
“How long has she been...”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, Maria. I can tell.”
It was a lie, of course. Her mom hated Rick, despised him. The last time he had seen her, she had wished him dead. Of course it hadn't always been that way. The Sunday dinners, in particular, were always so nice. Perks of a big Italian family, right?
“So it wasn't that, huh. He loves her.”
The way he takes a sip of his beer, the loud suction he always does, the quiver in his voice. The essence of Rick, boiled down. It hurts him, doesn't it? Being here, seeing her. Was that even a question? He loves her.
“That's good. Abby she, ah, well...she deserves that, right?”
“I always did hate your SAT word of the days, you know that, right?”
“Okay, now you're just trying. Let's grab a drink?”
She laughed. Maria has two laughs, that loud obnoxiously drunk laugh, and that quieter giggle laugh, the singy-songy laugh. That was the one she just gave. That's a good sign, right?
“So how many of those beers have you had?”
“I just got here.”
“I meant today in general.”
“The Italians drink for their meals, the Irish drink for their nerves, darling. Here, Black Russian, right?
“That a nurse who guzzles coffee while working would naturally pair coffee with vodka with her coffee during the leisure time. Just watch yourself, I know how you can be with liquor.”
“Yeah...so remind me again, why do the Russians drink?”
“The Russians? Hell, they drink to win, obviously.”
“And what are you, again?”
“Me? I'm Rick. Just Rick.”
The way he smiles, the way she says his name, takes Maria back to when they met. Abby brought him to the bar, introduced him to everyone. He had that same fire in his eyes, that same flicker when he laughed. And that grin...That grin always did get her in trouble.
“Are you sure my mom invited you Rick?”
“Because she just gave your the dirtiest look you could imagine.”
“Well, maybe she's just flirting.”
“Heard it from some people, last night. I just wanted to...You get it, right? You get why I'm here, yeah?”
“Yeah. I get it.”
“You look good.”
“You said that.”
“I wanted to say it again.”
She has her shields up, he never thought he'd see her with the shields up, but here it is. Her poker face. It's starting to seem like he shouldn't have come. He shouldn't shaved, at the very least, he looks like an idiot, doesn't he?
“Do want a cig?”
“I quit, three months.”
“You want to start up again?”
“Well...it's wrong to say no to beauty, right?”
He walks out with her, finishing his drink first, of course. She admits to herself, that when she first saw him, she didn't believe it. An apparition, a figment, a memory of what can't, shouldn't, won't. She almost afraid to touch him, afraid he might fade upon touch, the mists of mistakes. But she wills herself, and grabs him by the hand, briefly. He doesn't disappear, he stays tangible.
“Always. I flirted with Camels for a spell, but you always go back to your first love.”
“Ah, so...the ice sculpture?”
“The ice sculpture. In the entrance, there's a giant ice sculpture of a swan, whats that about?”
“I don't know. They like swans, there's some kind of story behind it, don't really know.”
“Christ, an ice sculpture. He's three digit?”
“Three plus. They might online, y'know.”
“Well, here's to the future.”
Is he trying too hard? He wants it to be like how it was, he wants her to laugh again. He wants her to smile, and play punch him, and do all those adorably cute things she would do. He didn't notice them before, but now? He'd kill for it.
“Why'd you quit?”
“Got sick of coughing, I guess.”
“What was it you used to say, Rick? What was it, “Coughing reminds us we're alive.” Or was it some other nonsense you'd try to tell me in your fits?”
“I was young.”
“We weren't that young.”
“Yeah...yeah, we were dumb.”
“You weren't a bridesmaid?”
“I'm just happy to be here, Rick.”
“You said that.”
“Saying it again.”
She watches him flick the Newport off the balcony, it landing somewhere around a Prius in the parking lot. For a moment, if you look closely, the flicker in his eyes dulls, grows dark and cold, and for an moment Maria expects him to cry. But the moment pasts, and his flicker is engulfed, and he walks away from her. She panics, she betrays herself and panics. This is it, this is good-bye. A flick of a cig and the turn of heels, and he'll walk away. She hasn't seen him in over a year, to see him for what, twenty minutes? It's unfair. It's cruel. Deep down, she knows she deserves that.
“Do remember the rum?”
“The rum, the, ah, the Kraken rum we had that one night. We started to drink it around midnight, on what, a Tuesday?”
“Yeah, Rick, I remember. What about it?”
“Nothing, nothing, I just...I remember pushing you in the shopping cart. 3 AM, the parking lot of Superfresh, and I' pushing you in a shopping cart, and you're just laughing and giggling, and clutching the Kraken jug like it's you baby.”
“We couldn't handle the Kraken.”
“Yeah, yeah. Like I said, we were young.”
He was ready. He was leaving. He didn't think he could handle this anymore, seeing her, seeing her family, seeing Maria. What hurts more? That's what they'd have him ask himself everyday while he was away. What hurts more? Visions of whiskey and rum and vodka flicker in his brain, bring saliva and yearning to his mouth. And then she says his name, it it dissipates, sated and safe.
“Would you like to dance? No one has really spoken to me, and I'm just, it'd be nice to dance. It'd be nice to be out there instead of over here.”
“Okay, come here.”
She sees his extended arm, his hand reaching for her, and her chest tightens again. But it's not the pain, its the anticipation, its the falling. You're constantly in danger of falling, and right now, she is on the edge, hanging on the very tips of her fingers. His hand is warm, soft, and it guides her from the outside to inside, the dance floor. She realizes of course, that this isn't the smart thing. This might actually be the worst thing, after all the hard work, everything she has done to try to make things right. Rick mine as well be a magnet.
“So...what're you doing now.”
“I write obits.”
“Scranton. It's okay, nice place to live. Not too far away from Baltimore.”
“What's it like, writing obituaries?”
“Well, I mean, isn't everything autobiographical?”
He knows it won't last, but for a few moments. But this feels good, holding her, feeling her breath. It won't last, though, they've made that certain.
“Oh...hey, Abby, hey. I came...”
Yes, why did you come?
“I, ah...is this...I mean, I don't know you name...”
His name is Daniel. Daniel, this is Rick. We used to know each other.
“Pleasure, Daniel, and congrats. Lovely woman, you're lucky. I liked the, ah, the swan. The swan was a nice touch. “
Thanks. It's kind of a funny story, actually.
Maria. Did you invite him?
“No, no he was just here, I saw him by the bar-”
“Hey, Abby, it isn't her, don't do this. This is me, I came because I heard, about you and ah...?”
“Right, you and Dan.”
Maria, I didn't think I'd find you dancing with him, on my wedding day?
“Abby, I didn't invite him he was just, he-”
“It's true. Honestly, Abs, I came to see you. Come on, can I have a dance with the newlywed. Dan?”
I don't see why...
“Awesome. Come on, Abby. It'll be just like old times.”
And again, he is away from her. And again, he is with Abby. She wonders, what's it like? Does it feel the same for those two as it did for Rick and herself? Or is it different? Better? Worse? These thoughts always ate at her. It took her a while, a long damn while, to accept that she was the second choice. Rick had wanted Abby first. But did he change his mind? Or did he just settle for Maria. She watches the two ex-lovers dance, talking about something, Maria can only guess what it is.
You shouldn't have come.
“I wish you had told me. I didn't even know you were seeing anyone.”
It's not for you to know, Rick.
“Come on, Abs. I thought I would at least be told, I thought I was owed that.”
For what? What are you sorry for this time?
“Just, everything. Sorry for what happened between us.”
Don't sugarcoat it, Rick. Say it.
“It's the past, Abby. I just came to say I'm sorry.”
What about Maria?
In truth, it had stunned him. The question, that is. He had fought the thoughts of Maria from his mind for so long, but seeing her, brought back all the memories. He had done a terrible, horrible thing to Abby. But it was worth it, as horrible as it is to say, and he would do it again. Because, the truth is, he loved Maria far more than he had Abby.
“I don't know.”
Stay away from her, Rick.
“I don't think that's...”
I'm serious. She has gone through hell. She hadn't touch a drop, not one drop, in almost ten months. It took five minutes. Five minutes of you being here, and she's gripping a drink. It didn't even faze her.
“That's not on me.”
Grow up, Rick.
She had lost count. She knew she had her first drink when she saw Rick. That was, maybe forty five minutes ago? Is she on two or three? They always say when you forget the number, stop. That's what they told her. She decides to walk away. Staring at the two dance won't help anyone. She needs air, so she walks herself back to the balcony. A slight breeze cuts at her, and she sips the reminder of her drink, and lets her mind wander. It is a horrible, terrible thing, but the taste brings back such good memories. Maybe not so good, in hindsight, but at the time? At the time, she couldn't be happier. Waking up to Rick took away the hangover and hurt. It was worth it. It was, wasn't it?
“Hey. Done dancing?”
“Yeah, I think my dancing shoes are off for tonight, now.”
“How was it?”
“Dancing with her, how was it.”
He looks down, and sees the empty glass in her slender hand, and realizes that Abby was right. He should walk away. He should leave Maria be, leave Abby be, and just move on. But that isn't him, and Maria is right there, and she looks amazing, smells amazing, and the look in her eyes...
“...No, no, Rick.”
Standing in front of her, it was clear to her. The memories are great, and she wouldn't change them. But they should stay memories, shouldn't they? And then he went to kiss her, every part of her body, save one, said yes. It was her heart, not her brain, that saved her.
“I went through hell, Rick. With my family, with everyone. You just left...”
“You kicked me out.”
“Yes, I needed space but I thought....I did it alone, Rick. I got myself to this point. I did it, me. I can't let you back in my life, I'm sorry.”
“It'll be different, Maria. We're not the same as we were.”
Gone. Gone, baby, gone. Left alone on the balcony, left alone in this town. Why did he come? To go through this? It doesn't take him long to leave. No one wanted him there anyway. He weaves through the crowd, the happy crowd for the newlyweds, and it burns at him. He thought it'd be different. He was so sure he would end the night with Maria in his arms, and wake up the next morning thinking how happy he is.
But instead, instead, Rick is sitting here, on a bench waiting for the bus back to Pittsburgh. All he can think of is the hurt, every urge in his body is to go to the nearest bar. Vodka, beer, whiskey, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. Because tomorrow morning, he will wake up alone, wanting. Wanting, wishing, and wondering.