Joe. Did Ben ever cheat on Anna?
Your brother has been back every night this week. Bringing me wine and fresh flowers each time he visits. He spends these hours by my side, we sit facing forward as we speak. Words coming easier now, revelations and little stories we trade. Some things danced around, but also this. Certain sentences fired like bullets into the air. Joe was right, it is easier to talk side by side. Easier to ask, and much easier to answer, too.
I wait, staring straight ahead for Joe’s response to this latest bullet between us.
How did you – he catches himself. What?
I don’t know where that came from, Joe. A lie.
It’s just … I get letters from Anna, and she says stuff I can’t figure out. Or I can, and it makes me wonder. I just … well I’d really like to know what Ben was like. I didn’t mean to suggest …
We reach in tandem for our glasses of wine.
Ben’s marriage was rock solid, Joe says, and I sneak a glance at his expression. Neutral for now, but I can see a nerve twitch furiously at his jaw.
Anna is an extraordinary woman. I did not know she was writing to you. But then, ah – she doesn’t exactly know I’m here, either.
They were well suited, he adds after a pause, moving away from this confession. And, I realise after, my question too.
You never said no, I think, after Joe leaves.
When I’m already wishing he was back here, sitting beside me.
We don’t touch each other these nights, we only speak into the emptiness before us. We talk about life, we talk about you, Ben. About death, and God, and fate, and violence. Joe says he has never been so open – it’s something special, Lucy, the way you make it all so easy to say.
He doesn’t know that I’m just learning. He doesn’t know that I preferred dancing to talking all my life until now. That this is a new way for me to be. He doesn’t know that I used to say it better with my body.
I desire him. Your brother. I haven’t been touched or kissed in centuries. When Joe leaves, I allow myself to feel it. The memory of those seconds with his hand pressed against my cheek. What do you make of this mooning about over a married man, Ben? Someone I’ve only known for days. This is getting far too complicated.
I am careful to only think of your brother when he is no longer within reach.
He comes back to say goodbye on Friday night – I can’t stay long, my flight is at nine. I’m not sure when I’ll be back. Maybe a day, next month – but not a week …
This trailing off, we both know what it means. This week we had was borrowed, and rare. It will not come our way again.
It was something, Joe says as he walks to the door. Getting to know you like this. I feel – nourished – by our conversations. If that is the right word to use?
Like a well in the desert, I say, and his look turns quizzical.
The Little Prince. It was Charlie’s favourite book, and that’s a line I always remember.
Ah. The crumpled face again, a flash of sorrow, before he pushes it down. I am learning how to move this man, and using it too. I realise that it is for the best that he will not be back tomorrow night.
We hug goodbye, and Joe’s kiss to my cheek slides softly to the corner of my mouth. The lightest touch of lips, a pause, and then we move apart. What I wouldn’t give, Ben, for this to be the worst thing that could happen. To kiss a married man who makes my heart push out of my chest. To shed something of this day, and this life, in his arms. What I wouldn’t give for this to be the worst thing that could happen to me.
But we know better than others, Joe and I.
Don’t let anyone tell you that it goes away, I tell your big brother as he walks out the door. You just get used to missing them, somehow.
But you never get over it? Joe turns back to me one last time, and his expression hurts my heart.
There are some things you never get over, Joe.
And now you know that surviving is one of them.
Eidyia’s Note: Back to the book after a summer break. Six weeks to get these edits sorted, and then it’s time to let go …