A Conversation

Posted on: August 8, 2013

We both sat quietly. Our breath, labored at times, came erratically but somehow remained synchronized. We knew why we were there, but neither of us had the courage to break the silence and speak first.

I studied his face while he tried his best to avoid my eyes. His lips were thin and quivered slightly with each drag from his cigarette. His nostrils flared with every breath. His nose was crooked thanks to a break he sustained as a child. He told people it was from a fight he won at age 12; I knew it was actually from running into a sliding glass door when he was 11.

My heart stopped as his eyes came up to meet mine. Why was this so hard? We had spent so many hours together, unable to stop talking even as the bar dozed off around us. Every moment that I spent with him was full of lively conversation and just enough light-hearted banter to make it easy to consider him my best friend. Our relationship was effortless but carried so much weight, and his eyes conveyed that heaviness.

I held his gaze for a few seconds before I looked down, trying to find the bottom of my beer. We were both halfway through our second, and we didn’t seem to be coming up for air anytime soon. We needed the courage. Maybe I needed the courage.

He put out his cigarette and cleared his throat.

"So, this is awkward."

"Right? Why is this so weird? It's just us," I said, hoping this would prompt him to initiate the conversation we both desperately needed to have. I knew as I looked up at him that I had fallen for him and I could only hope that he had done the same.

I remembered meeting him two years ago. I hated him at first. He was cocky without cause, but I quickly grew to appreciate that about him. Even when I beat him in every Backgammon battle, he insisted that each victory came from beginner's luck. As infuriating as it was, we spent all of our free time forming an inseparable bond based on this silly competition. It became clear that we needed to address this once we both found ourselves out of our previous relationships.

He took a sip from his beer and let out a heavy sigh.

"The most important thing is that I don't want to lose you as a friend."

My heart stopped again, this time from the fear that he didn't want anything more than we already had. Doubt overcame every part of me and manifested itself as my mouth opened slowly and my eyes widened. He laughed at my reaction.

"That came out so poorly," he admitted, backtracking to lighten the mood a bit. "I just don’t know how to say this.”

He trailed off, leaving nothing but uncertainty between us.

I reached for one of his cigarettes and he followed suit. We didn't know what else to do in that moment to fill the silence. He lit a match and raised it to me. My cheeks flushed as we looked at each other through the flame. He looked at me the way he always did, but something felt new about his gaze.

“I want more than this,” he murmured. “I want to be more than your friend.” He paused again, struggling to find the right words.

“So, if you want to make a go of it, I’m game.”

“You really know how to woo a girl,” I said eagerly, trying to bring us back to some sense of normalcy. Smoke gathered around us and I asked the question I had been ready to ask the moment I entered the bar.

“What happens now?”

He took another drag from his cigarette and smiled his sly smile. I loved that smile.

“We just take it slow,” he said.

He was right. If we wanted to delicately transition this friendship into something more beautiful, we only needed time.

I told myself we had to take it slow, but I couldn’t resist building our life together in my head. It all worked out perfectly. We would get married and move to Omaha. We would live in a small studio while I worked as a freelance web designer and he went back to grad school. We would wait until I had established my career to have children. We would be happy and we would never fight, just like we never did now.

I tried to bury these hopes for the future and live in this moment. Whatever we build together will be perfect for us. I know it will be. It has to be.
He smiled at me again as he ran his fingers through his hair. His hand stopped at the back of his head as his forearm rested on his crown, exposing the tattoo on the back of his arm. I never really understood why he thought getting the same Viking compass as Bj√∂rk would go unnoticed by our friends. It didn’t. I swore I would never let him live it down, but seeing it exposed at this moment felt comforting.

Once again, we found ourselves in a silence we didn’t quite know how to break.

“I have to go,” he uttered, his voice trembling. “I have to go before I kiss you and ruin everything.”

I knew he was right to walk away.

I couldn’t bring myself to say anything as he got out of his chair, and I couldn’t stand to watch him leave. Instead, I glanced at our glasses, two empty and two half full, and dreamed of our life together.

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Valerie Gleason

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