There was something about her. He knew it almost immediately. She had the kind of energy he had not felt in a long time. There she sat, the cousin of his closest friend, an alarmingly beautiful woman, looking at him while he was at his worst, and he knew she meant something.
He had no reason to put on his best face, his best clothes or prepare himself for this. He had no reason to expect to prepare himself for anything. After all, he was married, and at that time happily so. This was just an unexpected collision on life's highway. She was deeply involved with another man as well. This was just her vacation, visiting her cousin and brother in Florida and wanting to relax and have a good time. Yet, he could not escape it. There was something in her eyes that felt familiar, comforting and all too real. It was so strong he could not stop thinking about her, and so he avoided seeing her again. Nothing good could come of this. It was too complicated and there was no reason to take any risks.
A year and a half later she returned. This time there was no one in her life that the tabloids would have considered "special," as the tabloids like to put it. His marriage was over, save for the legal paperwork. This made it more dangerous. Seeing her again, it all came back to him. The energy. The eyes. The familiarity. The reality of it all. She was there and he wasn't going anywhere.
"Whatever you do, don't buy me a shot. I'll lose control and I don't want to lose control."
It was a curious thing for her to say as he looked at her and she looked back at him. He was holding on tightly to himself, not wanting to reveal what he saw in her and the emotions she stirred in him. All he could do was wonder if her statement meant it was mutual. There was one way to find out. He would call her bluff.
He went to the bar and brought back the shot. As his friends, her brother and cousin, watched, she looked at him and laughed. "I thought I told you NOT to buy me this shot."
"Don't worry about it, but whatever you do, don't buy me tequila. I'll lose control and I don't want to lose control."
She looked confused, so he tried to answer the question she had not asked.
"Don't worry. I'll protect you."
"Whatever it is you're worried about."
Alcohol as a social lubricant. And something more.
She accepted and drank her shot and then walked him up to the bar and bought him tequila. She watched him drink it and smiled. He felt the familiar burn, the rush and the room melted away. This was the danger. He wasn't sure where it was going to lead him now.
And then, spontaneously and as much unexpectedly as on cue, she kissed him. It was the second most powerful kiss of his life and for a while it changed everything. It was a kiss that would not end.
"I think we need to go outside," he told her. "I need a cigarette like I've never needed a cigarette before."
His friends were her family and that was who she was staying with when she asked him to come "home" with her. He turned her down. Then he turned her down again. She looked to him for a reason. Was it that he felt uncomfortable because of the situation with her accomodations? No. That wasn't it. That actually amused him far more than it bothered him.
"Why won't you come home with me? Don't you want me?" She tried every tool of seduction she could muster.
"More than I could possibly explain."
"Because you're drunk and I'm drunk and this means more to me than that. I'm going to go home and bang my head against a wall instead."
"Please? I really want you to."
"This is about more than sex. This is something else."
She looked at him blankly, the stare of a woman who was not accustomed to being turned down. Then her expression changed. He knew what she meant before she spoke.
"You're right, but isn't that kind of scary?"
She thanked him for it the next day, before telling him she was now sober and there was no way he was going to get away from her that night. It was the kind of story that could have been a Hollywood movie with a happy, neat little ending that landed it in the "romantic comedy" section of your local video store. The truth was, it meant more than that, and he would bang his head over it more than a few more times.
Perhaps it was just once of those cliche whirlwind three day romances. The midwestern girl on vacation meets the charming local in the vacation town and falls for him before heading home. They tell you these things are supposed to burn out and fade away. They were never meant to last. Just as there wasn't a contrived sappy ending there was no burn out and fade away. It just kept getting stronger.
He made plans to come and see her. There were plane tickets and a scheme to spend the weekend together in her hometown.
"When my brother drove me to the airport, you pulled up alongside us and you wouldn't look at me. What was that about?"
"I was already missing you and that pissed me off."
"Because, I didn't want to miss you. I didn't want to feel the way I was feeling. I thought if I tried to stop thinking about you then you would stop being real."
"I'm sorry, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss you as well."
"I'll fly up there."
"And then what?"
"I don't know. I just need to know what this is."
The trip never happened. He bought the tickets and made all the necessary arrangements. A week before the trip she left him a message. She needed to talk to him. She did not sound like she was looking forward to talking to him. There was something wrong in her tone of voice. It sounded like the bottom falling out of a velvet goldmine.
There seemed to be a curse surrounding his relationships with the women he truly loved. It was like a series of tests, one tragic turn after another, as if to see if they could weather those turns and if the love would survive. When she told him the story, it tore him apart, but not for the reasons she believed.
Her former boyfriend, who she often referred to as the great love of her life, had returned. They had run into each other and things had begun again between them. She told him he did not have to cancel his trip, but to make the trip would have been uncomfortable and unreasonably absurd. It was the first time he had felt genuine emotional pain in many years.
He was a man who reads the signs and watches the signals, seeking the keys that fit the locks in his pockets. It had always been one of the signs that the emotions were not a passing fancy. To feel that pain again and to know it would not change a thing, this was the sign. For a moment he thought about how else the story could have possibly gone and how it could have had a different ending. Then he realized there is only one story, the one we're all living and everything happens exactly the way is needs to happen.
"It isn't going to work out," he told her, referring to her reunion with the lost love.
She thought he was attacking her and reacting to pain and disappointment, but he wasn't and it was difficult to explain. He had a sense of these things. There was something wrong in the story she told him. There was something that just was not right. She was upset and told him he was being cruel by insinuating that the happiness she was feeling in this reunion was only temporary.
Until she found out it was.
Before their reunion, the lost love had managed to get another woman pregnant before leaving her. He told her he was going to deal with it and that he would still be with her.
"That won't happen. He'll go back to her."
And he did.
Over the next year they corresponded with telephone calls here and there. They talked about their lives and the people who had been in them. Then she asked him why he said their first kiss had been the second most powerful kiss of his life. What was the first?
"I was a teenager when I met the great love of my life. We knew each other for many years before she disappeared from my life. Now that I'm in Florida I'll probably never see her again."
"You need to find her."
"You need to find her and talk to her. You need closure. It hangs over you like a ghost, and one day I'm going to come back to Florida you know. Get closure."
"I've been attempting it for years. Last year I finally found her, tracked her down where she worked and she called me back on her cell phone. She blocked the number and said she couldn't deal with it right now but would call me back in a month. When she didn't I said 'fuck it.'"
"You need to try again. You need to get closure otherwise I don't think anything could ever really happen between us, and I am planning to move to Florida soon."
"Not for me, I hope."
"No, I've been planning this for a while. It would be nice if you were here when I arrived."
She had gotten her closure and she wanted him to find his, but she did not know what she was really asking. Her insistence was what led him to take stronger steps than before to find the woman he had lost years ago, and when he did, there was no closure. There was the opposite. They were reunited and it was not temporary.
"Okay, for you, I will find her. I promise."
"I'm not sure how you mean that."
"Whatever happens, happens."
It did not stop her from returning, and he would come to call her The Nightingale because she always flew south in the winter and because at night she sang the sweetest song. Her words were always music to his ears and her voice moved him in ways he still cannot describe.
She expected him to brush her aside now that he had found the great love of his life and was soon to move back to where he came from in order to begin a life with her. The Nightingale watched him carefully, expecting him to be distant and cold. He had gotten what he wanted and she was no more than a meaningless complication in his life's plan.
She was wrong about that.
"I told her about you."
"What did you tell her?"
"That you are in town for a week and that it will be a few months before her and me can be together, and that I love you and whatever happens this week is between you and me."
"And she accepted that?"
"She knows me better than anyone alive. She knows I will not walk away from anyone I love."
"So, what do you think is going to happen with us this week?"
"I don't know, I just want you to know that as far as I am concerned, this week there is no one else in the picture."
"Whatever you do, don't buy me a shot."
"I was hoping you would say that," he said with a smile.
There are different kinds of energy and there are different ways in which that energy can flow. The possibilities are infinite, minus the one possibility that is. Two years before, the energy had read danger. A year before the energy had flowed through the river of possibility, uncertainty and newfound passion. Now it was taking a different course, although it was the same energy, stronger and more desperate.
"So, is this about closure with me instead of with her?" The Nightingale asked him as they sat in bed together.
"No. This isn't an ending. It is a beginning."
"You have a girlfriend."
"And that defines everything?"
"It means I can't have you."
"I've never wanted to be possessed."
"I can't help thinking this is some kind of revenge for what I did to you last year."
"You didn't do anything to me last year. You took a chance on something you believed in, and I'm sorry it turned out the way it did for you. I was upset because when you told me about it, I realized I loved you more than I thought I did. I could never turn my back on you and I could never stop loving you, no matter what."
The next night she told him something. She spoke the words she had never spoken before and has not since. She told him she loved him. She told him it was all mutual and always had been. Then she changed the subject.
"I date a lot, you know. It just always bores me. And no one does it right. They all just take you out somewhere and expect something or they think all of a sudden we're in some kind of relationship and won't leave me alone."
"I'll take you out on a date."
The next day he took her back to her brother's apartment before heading home. Later that night he showed up wearing a jacket and tie and carrying a box of chocolates and a long-stemmed rose.
"I'm here for our date, if you're still interested."
They were together for New Years and brought in the new year together. They kissed at midnight. He bought her another shot. It was tradition now. Later she told him it was the best New Years Eve ever.
"I'm coming back in February. You don't leave until March."
She could tell he was nervous at the announcement.
"Aren't you excited?"
"Don't worry, I'm coming with people I work with and my mother and I'm going to be staying in a hotel..."
"That isn't it. I just wasn't expecting..."
It was a different kind of weekend. They saw each other, but only in radical spurts. The last time he would see her was during a Superbowl party. She needed a ride back to the hotel. He wanted to take her but needed to be at work early the next morning and it was a long drive. No one else was willing to take her. He felt like a criminal for resisting. This was how it needed to be.
"I'll drive you."
They drove in relative silence, saying very little even though they each had too much to say. He intended to walk her into the hotel and say goodbye, but the hotel had an overly zealous valet crew. They spirited her from the car and tried to take him as well, but he explained he was just dropping her off. He had only a moment to kiss her goodbye before the hotel traffic starting pushing him out of the way. He wished he had found a parking spot. He needed more time.
He looked to the front door of the hotel to be sure she had gotten inside and was okay before driving off. Then it happened. She told him everything in an instant.
There is something called "The Look." It is the most powerful form of expression I've ever known and it communicates without words or gestures. It begins in the eyes and radiates out from the face of the person. It communicates something you cannot define. It is more powerful than light, sound, time and the fabric of tenuous reality. It is beyond what is beyond.
As he looked to the door of the hotel, she was standing just inside the glass door looking back at him. If an artist could have copied the ultimate and complete beauty of The Look, he would have painted her in that instant.
It broke his heart and healed it at the same time.
Weeks later she asked him if he was happy in his new life. He confirmed that he was. She did not sound disappointed, but something in her voice sounded hollow.
"Do you want me to forget about you?" he asked her.
"I don't want you to ever forget about me."
He still tries to sing to The Nightingale, but he knows it is easier for him than it is for her. One day he hopes that will change, but he has to change the world first.