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Two Slow Dancers

3rd of March, 2023

A sinking feeling grasps the pit of my stomach as I sit on the floor of your kitchen.

You're cooking lunch. I'm leaving in an hour and a half. I get the overwhelming sense that if I leave now, it will have been the last time I ever see you. A stifled sob finally escapes my lips. I cry silently, letting the tears flow with occasional, racked gasps for air in between.

You notice. Wordlessly, you turn the flame low and come to sit on a stool across from me, reaching down to hold me. For a second, that sense of it will be okay returns, but it's quickly replaced by something far more primal, that builds inside of me like a guttural, rending scream, but no sound leaves me. The hope is gone. Only dread remains.

It's been three days since you picked me up at the train station. You smelled sweet, faintly of cloves, and you pulled me into a hug I didn't expect. I only managed an awkward H-hi. You didn't seem to notice or care, as if you'd known all along that I'd be this way, and took me by the hand, pulling me along to the exit where you'd parked. Along the way to your place, we made small talk, but I was too nervous to commit anything we talked about to memory. I just navigated and teased you on your driving and poor sense of direction – that, and I tried not to think too much about how nice your hair smelled.

Memories flash through my mind as you hold me. It's only been three days since we met in person for the first time, but cliche as it sounds, that morning already feels like it was a lifetime ago.

I don't want to leave our little bubble and go home, to return to a life where I can't see you.

I am entrenched in you. I've come to realise love is an entrenching of the self, a fossilization of the heart. It doesn't sound very healthy, but it's true. The music you listen to, the brand of cigarettes you smoke at the time, the way you speak and cook and eat all become changed, linked irrevocably to the person you're in love with.

I separate myself from you and reach for a nearby pack of cigarettes. Your favourites. I light one, and silently bring it to your lips. You take a short drag and I return it to mine.

We smoke. The ashtray I brought you is already brimming over with butts, but it doesn't seem to mind accepting the ash from this latest cigarette. You return to your cooking, and I stand up to be with you. I hug you from behind and alternate the cigarette between our lips, taking care to not let any ash fall in the food.

The glowering end of the cigarette draws closer and closer, until only enough of it remains for one last drag. I bring it to you and you take it. I stub it out into the ashtray, and almost as if on cue, you turn around and kiss me. A brief kiss, but it seems to say a lot more than words ever could.

The thought suggests itself to me that this is a segmentation point in our lives. A thousand fracturing realities threaten to spill forth from this point, held back by nothing but the few feet of distance and hour or so of time separating us from the threshold of your door.

And I will never come back here. Not to this point in my life. The great unknown looms before me.

I think back to a conversation we had, about living with the distance that would be separating us in only an hours' time.

We'll be fine, I'd said. We managed all this time, didn't we? You sounded small as you responded. That was because we had something to look forward to. I didn't have an answer. I still don't. But an awful hope has gripped me and penetrated every quantum of my being since I've met you. I need to make this work. Us. The desperation of the unloved. Does that make me a bad person? Probably. But this has to end well. Which is to say, it has to not end at all. And that stupid hope was the thing fueling my insistence that we'd be okay.

I hold you again as you turn off the burners and proclaim quietly that lunch is ready.

I let go of you and you put the food into two bowls as I put on my travelling clothes. A comfy hoodie and some jeans. I pour us a couple of drinks and sit down as you arrive with the food. You lean over and we kiss again. I try not to think about the fact that I don't know when we will kiss next, and stand up to hug you as close to me as I can without crushing you. It doesn't work. I need you closer, I need you to see me. I want to cry and beg you to pack your bags and come with me, but I do nothing. I just stand there and hold you.

A slow song comes on the little stereo we've been using and I sway gently with you. What are we doing? You ask. Dancing, I say.

You sigh, and pull away before speaking. Eat. You're leaving in a half hour. We eat quietly, me asking you questions about traffic along my route and meaningless things like that. We sip whiskey, and when we're done eating I ask, One last cigarette?

Mmm, you say, and I pick up a pack again. My favourite brand this time. There's two left. I light the first, and put the last one into your pack. For after I'm gone. I say. It's the last one in the pack, it's lucky. You come sit in my lap and I put my free arm around you. We kiss between drags of the cigarette. It's juvenile, but I love it anyway.

When the cigarette is over, we sit like that for a bit, holding each other.

The tide of anxiety in me refuses to still itself. I don't have a plan for this, and I don't like being without one. It doesn't matter, though. I cannot fight life itself. The thought combined with your arms around me helps calm me a bit.

I check my watch. It's time, I say halfheartedly. You stand, and so do I. We hug again, and you stand on your tiptoes to kiss my forehead. I peck you on the lips like I'm leaving to the grocery store and not eleven hundred kilometers away.

I love you. I say. I love you, you respond.

I shoulder the lone bag I brought and turn to leave. I step over the doorsill. The bubble has burst. It doesn't seem like anything has happened, but I already feel myself hurtling toward one of those thousands of realities, incomplete without you.

It is done.

I turn, and blow you a kiss. You blow one back, and watch me as I walk down the stairs, out of view around the corner.

I only hear the sound of the door closing behind me.

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