Jessie’s Girl

“There’s a problem with a site launch. No one seems to be able to tell their ass from their elbow. I’m sorry, babe. I’m gonna have to go in.” He starts to rise from his chair, pulling his wallet out from inside of his coat, and right then, I’m so thankful, so utterly relieved to escape my own personal hell that Jessie’s hand hardly registers. He has stopped my ascent with a gentle nudge.

“No, you stay. Catch up with Matt. Do you mind making sure she gets home okay?” he asks over my head. I can feel the color drain from my face, but I keep my eyes locked on Jessie’s face, hoping he reads my silent plea. It’s no use. His attention is already on work. He’s as far from me as if he was already in the office.

“Sure,” Matt murmurs. “And dinner’s on me. I’ve already asked them to charge it to my room.”

Jessie reaches for Matt outstretched hand one more time and shakes it. “Thanks, man. Well, it’s good to see you. Next time, don’t let it be so long.”

Jessie kisses the top of my head and then he’s gone. And I’m finding it hard to breathe.

Matt’s hand is gentle when he places it on top of mine. His thumb rubs tiny circles on the side of my wrist that makes me catch my breath before he runs one finger up the inside of my arm and back again. I could pull my hand away and storm out of this restaurant. Go after Jessie. But I don’t. And it’s then that I know I’ve sealed my own fate.

“Jessie’s been my good friend for a long time, Jess.” He says it quietly. It’s a moot point and we both know it – a half stab attempt to absolve the blame – but we play along with the charade anyhow.

“And yet you still want it.” My voice is quiet like his.

“You know I do.” His words ignite the desire in my chest and I feel ludicrously giddy as he bows his head for a second, breaking eye contact before changing his mind. When he glances back up, he looks more defiant. “And you know what? It doesn’t feel wrong to me. Maybe there’s something broken inside me, Jess, but I just don’t care.” When his words don’t elicit a response right away, he becomes almost truculent. “Don’t pretend like I’m the only daring one here. Not now. Not like this.”

And I know he’s right. I know it like I know my own name. My voice trembles, but I don’t stop the words from coming because what I say next is the truth. “I know. I’m surprised myself, but you’ve always had that effect.”

He gives me a cheeky grin but he doesn’t stop his hand. “It’s good to know it’s not wasted on you.”

Always the tease, always the joker . . . always my soft spot. But I need to know where I stand. I need to know how far this goes, what the outcome will be. I pull my hand away. “But that doesn’t change things, does it? I mean for us . . . after.” Matt pauses before saying anything and when he does, the words surprise me.

“Are you happy, Jess?” he asks. He plays with the fork on his left, pushing it across the table.

I want to say I thought so until you showed back up in my life and showed me what I was missing and now I want what I can’t have, but I don’t say that. I say what he wants to hear.

“Of course.” That’s what I say instead.

“Then that’s your answer. I’m happy, too. I don’t do affairs.”

Confused, I want to ask him what he means, but then it clicks for me, what he’s trying to get at that I’m too obtuse to see right away. There is no future, there is no us, there is only now. This night. After that, he’ll disappear just like he did twenty years ago. Could I handle that? That’s what he’s asking me. Am I willing to check our box and walk away?

I frown, knowing he can see it. “You make the assumption that by scratching the itch, it’ll go away, but what if it doesn’t? What if it gets worse, Matt? Even after all these years, all it takes is this,” I motion between the two of us, “and look where we are.”

Matt pushes his chair closer and places his hand palm side up on the table. I bite my bottom lip and look around us nervously. No one is paying any attention to us. He knows. He takes a sip of wine and clears his throat, seeking my full attention. No matter what, he has it.

 “I have always lived my life closer to the edge than you, Jess. It’s the way I like it, but the choice is yours. I’ve wanted to make you mine, well, forever, but I won’t promise something I can’t deliver. If you want to come with me, all you have to do is take my hand.”

And my heart cracks just a little more. There it is. Lying out on the table. No promises. No strings attached. Just right here, right now. A final opportunity to answer the question that has plagued me for half a life-time.

I slip my hand into his. Matt squeezes it gently but firmly, his eyes solely focused on my face. But he doesn’t ask me if I’m sure, he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he nods his head and gives me his winning smile.

He takes me by the hand and leads me to the elevator.  

 

 

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