They haven’t seen each other in over a year. The last time they spoke, he called her ‘difficult’ and she still thinks of this often, admonishing herself for not challenging him on it, and worrying if perhaps there was some truth to his comment.
The last time they’d seen each other in person, he’d broken up with her, and told her he didn’t see a future. She never wanted a future, only a chance to get to know him better. Again, she wishes she’d said this to him at the time, but he is so sure of himself and it takes her too long to decide how she feels about things. Even now, she doesn’t know what she wants from him.
She’s on her way to meet him, he’s invited her for a drink but she’s not sure why. There was no hesitation in her yes. She checks her reflection in every shop window she passes. Does she look good enough? She wants him to want her again, but she also wants to appear unattainable. At no point does she worry about what he might look like to her. She knows she’ll look at him and adore him again.
When she gets to the bar, she’s early, but still there’s a fluster to her cheeks, and it takes some time for her heart to slow. He arrives, and she feels that tug in her stomach, the pit that she’s about to fall into. There’s no kiss on the cheek, or even an embrace, he just sits down, then looks at her.
She calls him by his surname, an intimacy they established long ago that slips off her tongue so easily, burrowed inside the muscle memory of her heart. He looks different, not quite as neat as she remembers. They talk about how they’ve been, he says she looks good, and she flushes with a pride that she’s almost ashamed of.
She’d like to tell him that she’s missed him, but he hasn’t said it and she’s not going to go first. There’s the same frisson between them, an energy they give to one another that puts them on edge and that they mistake for excitement. She asks him about his weekend plans, fishing for evidence about a new lover, but he gives nothing away.
After two drinks, she’s brave enough to ask him why he’s invited her here. There’s a flirtation in the way she asks the question, and it masks the anxiety she feels about the answer. He thought it would be nice to see her again, he’s always enjoyed her company. The vagueness irritates her. She asks him again, blunter this time. He repeats himself, but when he adds that he’s still not looking for a relationship with her, she feels something break inside her. In all the ways she’d imagined this meeting, this was not something that he would say.
There’s a pain in her throat – the hot beginnings of tears – but she won’t let them out whilst he can see her. It stuns her, how much she still wants him, even after he breaks her heart again. Why this man? Why is there nothing she won’t forgive? She does her best to smile at him, she wants to leave him with a good memory of her. There is still some part of her that wants him to return to this moment, and regret what he has done.
It takes all of her resolve to slip her jacket over her shoulders and gather her bag into her hands. She’ll never want to say goodbye but if she doesn’t let him go now, she’ll never leave. There’s a brush of their skin as he goes to shake her hand, and she leans in to kiss his cheek. For a moment, she’s lost in his touch. To never feel his skin on hers again feels like agony.
She says goodbye, and calls him by his surname, one final time. It’s a word she knows she’ll never say again. There’s no sadness in his face, just a blankness that she knows now has always been there. She’s loved for the both of them, but he will never give her what she wants.
Outside, back in the cool air, she hugs her arms to her body, and feels the hope drain out of her. She’s ready now, she thinks, to erase him from her mind. She is ready to say no.
Written by Sophie Raoufi
Illustrated by Afternoon Delight
Sophie is a British Iranian poet and writer who takes inspiration for her work from love, loss and technology.