I met my best friend when we were both 15. We rode out the crush we had on each other when, less than a year later, he went to school abroad and ultimately settled down in Europe, which was when we became each other's confidantes. He was the one I called with a broken heart, I was the one he called with girl problems, of which he had plenty.
Years passed and we moved to opposite ends of the world and settled down with other people. We had talked every day of those18 years and met occasionally on our rare trips home. The chemistry persisted, but the hope to ignite any flames had died. We were now adults with families and responsibilities. Too late for that. He was always there for me, he was always there in front of me, the forbidden fruit neither of us dared to reach for.
Years of troubled marriage for both of us led to one Christmas we both happened to spent in our hometown, something we rarely did. We had left our spouses behind. I was staying with a friend, he was staying at a hotel. I hadn't seen him for 6 years.
He called me from the car on his way to the hotel from the airport. He wanted to meet me. Not strange, since we were used to meeting whenever we were in the same city. We met at the hotel lobby for drinks that evening, and I was happy for the first time in many years. My soul mate, my true soul mate, was back. On the same continent, in the same city, in the same room.
He was just as I remembered him, tall and sinewy with close-cropped black hair, big brown eyes behind his hipster horn-rimmed glasses and full, sensual lips. Normally 5'8" myself, I was tall enough in my 3-inch wedge sandals to reach up just a little bit a give him a kiss on the cheek when we met. He smelled like soap and laundry detergent. He never liked to wear cologne, and I liked it better that way. I felt him inhale softly, taking in my strawberry-scented shampoo and Carolina Herrera VIP 212. When I sat in front of him, his eyes rested on my face, fondly and tenderly matching my smile. He kept his long, delicate fingers busy with a napkin on the table as we exchanged news and stories that we had already shared, but the sound of his voice sounded so much sweeter in my ears without the interference of cables and static. I wish you never left, I thought to myself. I wish I had chosen you instead.
Eventually, the conversation took us to our respective spouses and the problems we were both having. His wife, frigid and quarrelsome, and my husband, controlling and philandering, made it even more difficult to continue looking at each other without thinking of what would have been. His long fingers moves towards me on the table as I told him about my husband's latest conquest (that I knew of) and he gently touched my hand. Currents shot from my fingertips to my scalp and I shuddered. He felt my vulnerability and held my hand more firmly, his thumb running circles in my palm, soft pressure increasing, and he looked deep into my conflicted eyes.
"You know I've always loved you," he said. "You know you have always been the one."
I could barely summon enough strength to answer. "I know," I whispered.
He got up, but he never let go of my hand. I had to rise too, to match his movement. He took me by the hand until I was walking next to him, and his arm circled my waist as he led me to the elevator.
"I miss you," he whispered in my ear on the way. "I want to know what it's like to be with you the way I always wanted. I want you to know what it's like to be embraced by a man who truly loves you."
Together, we entered the elevator, and the door closed behind us.
[TO BE CONTINUED]