Note: I published this, then took it down because it just felt too personal to have posted on a website. Still, since all involved read it in the time it was up, might as well keep it there anyways. Here's to brutal truths.
I rounded the corner of the stairs to head up to the bathroom, when I saw him outside. I'd stuck to my time-honored tradition of flat-out ignoring him all night, and it was just not working. It was awkward and painful and hard on all our friends. Still, the alternative-- actually talking to him-- just seemed too much to bear. He saw me hesitate at the top of the stairs and turn around.
"Em..." he called after me, "do you have something you wanted to say? What are we...?" he trailed off, not sure how to finish.
I laughed in a rueful, bitter kind of way, even though there was nothing funny about this. "I dunno," I said, staring at the wall and not at him. "I mean, do you know what it's like to want to punch someone and hug then at the same time?"
"Well," he replied, "yes, actually."
"So then you know how I feel."
"I really was sorry, you know. You can't imagine how much I tortured myself afterwards, asking if I'd done the right thing and knowing I didn't do it the right way."
By this time, we'd moved to a bedroom down the hall, where we saw the steady parade to the bathroom through the half-closed door. Geoff, our host, was the only one who saw us back. He appeared in the doorway, full of the kind of emotional sincerity that only comes after the first eleven beers.
"Look," he slurred "I dunno what you guys are talking about, but I really like both of you. Like, I really love both of you. So if you could..."
Matt and I both laughed, the first genuine laugh eithout agenda or attention to audience I'd laughed all night. "Yeah, yeah, OK." we said.
"Why did you end it?"
We'd been upstairs talking for over an hour. I'd told him earlier I didn't need to know why. Clearly, I was full of shit.
"Do you really want to know?" he asked. "I don't know how to say it really. I thought about writing you an email once, but I--"
"Try." I interrupted. "Please, you owe me that."
He told me. It was what I expected to hear. It was what I'd been coming to realize, mixed in with his own stuff I'd guessed at. And it hurt, and I cried, and he cried.
"I was so afraid you'd tell me you loved me," he said. "I knew I couldn't say it back, even though I wanted to so much."
"I know. I almost did say it a few times, but it wouldn't have been true." I paused to catch my breath, because I need strength to say what needed to be said. "I just was so... proud of myself. That I could be someone's partner, that I could need someone and he could need me. I had been so scared that I wasn't capable of really being with someone. And then you came along, you were there already and it felt easy and right and it didn't matter that I knew we weren't right for each other because I thought if I worked hard enough then we could be--" I broke off as he put his arms around me.
"I'm so sorry" he whispered into my hair.
We lay on the stranger's bed in a familiar pose. I curled myself into that crook of his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around me, tracing an abstract pattern on my shoulder. Hot tears squeezed through my eyelids as I tried to commit this feeling, this moment to memory. I knew it would be the last time we would ever hold each other like this.
"Should we go downstairs?" I whispered.
"Do you want to?"
"Me neither." Pause. "We were really good at this part."
And at that, I cried a little more.