The room was cold combating the hot air from outside. The announcers from the main baseball game was a little on the loud side as it competed against the conversations floating in the dark wooden room. The walls were decorated by a few new televisions that held a variety of sports, but the main one mounted over the center of the bar held a small captive audience.
The conversation at one of the front tables had slowly ground to a halt.
Chris sipped at her beer to cover the awkwardness. The conversation went nowhere yet again. One step forward and a hundred back. She had come to realize that neither one wanted to go first, neither one was ready to walk out into the open for an easy shot.
The short redhead fidgeted with her phone, pretending that she hadn’t noticed as Chris watched her face for the slightest sign that she was going to say something that had any meaning.
“You need to stop hoping that something will happen between us,” Jenn said firmly clipping her phone into the black holster on her hip.
Chris laughed, “You say this a lot.”
“Because I know you. I can read you really well.”
“No you can’t,” Chris said shaking her head. “You haven’t been able to read me in a long time.”
“Good grief. This is getting old. Let’s put it this way — I want you in the same way that you want me. Ok?”
Jenn choked on her beer, her blue eyes meeting hers briefly as a quick wave a red flashed over her face.
The cold glass made the tips of Chris’s fingers numb. The actions and words not spoken as they aligned was almost deafening.
“Jesus,” Chris swore under her breath as the waitress stepped up.
“Jägermeister,” Chris said watching Jenn as she shook her head. “I’m buying,” she continued holding up two fingers as the waitress nodded and disappeared.
The music faded to the background and Chris’s heart tightened as she struggled to maintain calm.
Jenn closed her eyes briefly as if fighting back tears.
Chris was stunned. Jenn had never wavered in the months since they started talking again, that she felt nothing for her, that being friends was all she wanted. Chris had agreed with the statement wholeheartedly. She was not in a place where she wanted anything more than friends in her life. She didn’t need the complications. She was still trying to lose her baggage at the airport, but they kept bringing it to her when she least expected it.
Memories of the life Chris had left behind, the struggle, the pain, the emptiness landing like a thud in the middle of her mind. She pushed her short hair off her forehead forcing the thoughts of her crazy ex out of her mind. The pain of her last relationship dropped into the pit of her stomach.
The shots were slid on the table. The noise of the room came rushing back in.
The woman on the other side of the table watched her intently. The awkwardness of the past few months lay silently between them.
Who was going to say out loud the words that could never be taken back? Who was going to confirm the unspeakable?
“How can you be in love with two women at the same time?”
Jenn picked up her shot and downed in quickly.
Chris waited, that was all she go put out between them for the moment.
A cheer from the bar rang through the room as home team scored.
The silence at the table stretched on.
“I don’t know,” Jenn answered into the din of the end of cheers during the replay.
Chris felt the dark liquid slide down her throat as the trail of black licorice burned into her stomach. God, would there be enough Jägermeister in the tiny bar?
“Please don’t,” Chris whispered as she blinked back tears. “I’ll be the one to lose.”
How did she keep falling for women that always wanted someone else before seeing that she was a better fit for them? This wasn’t the first time, but this woman was different.
Logically she knew this was not a good fit. They were too different in what they wanted in life, and yet Jenn had crawled into her heart, into her soul, and she couldn’t figure out how to get rid of her.
She had biked hundreds of miles in anger, til exhaustion, she traveled every chance she could in the guise of work, she had written story after story, and yet there she was. Jenn still had the ability to pull her back in at the drop of a hat.
It was an idealized version of what didn’t exist. She had created and softened the person who currently sat across from her. She didn’t have the qualities that Chris was looking for. She wanted someone strong, someone who knew what they wanted. She wanted a woman that was comfortable talking to her, to hold her, to let her lean on her, to hold her without words.
Jenn was rough. She often didn’t care about things past a momentary flickered interest. She seemed to float along in the direction that life pushed her – she coasted. She did what she wanted when she wanted and didn’t expect or care if it impacted anyone else.
If only she could get her emotions to replicate her logical mind. Chris had found friends and created a life and she could easily forget Jenn and any thoughts of her for a few weeks, but then something would happen and Jenn would pop up out of the blue and then Chris would be overwhelmed again.
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Say something,” Jenn replied.
A cacophony of words assaulted her. Which ones would hurt less, which ones would allow her to keep this woman in her life with the promise of nothing more than friendship?
Chris fished in her pocket for her phone. She opened a web site and surfed to a photo album pulling up a picture taken a couple years back. Jenn in a green shirt looking relaxed, her red hair falling softly over her ears just below her cheeks. The light in her blue eyes sparkled as she posed with her arm around an old friend.
“The woman that I feel for isn’t here. This,” she turned the phone around and handed it across the table. “This is the woman that I am looking for. She was my friend, she wanted to know about me, she talked to me, she made me laugh.”
Chris looked for a moment into the blue eyes that could make her lose herself completely, did she dare.
“That woman is my friend, that woman made me feel safe, she talked to me.”
“I don’t follow. I haven’t changed that much.”
Reaching across the table to retrieve the phone, Chris flipped through and found another photo and handed it back to Jenn.
“That woman, look at her. Look at her eyes.”
Jenn studied the photo of her a year back at a new year’s eve party with her arm around her wife. The blue eyes did not sparkle and the smile did spread easily across her face.
“I don’t understand.”
“Dammit woman. You do,” Chris leaned across the table matching her dark eyes with the blue ones. “The woman I met wanted to do more than coast in life. She was alive and ready to do things. She wanted to talk, to laugh, no matter how bad life was. She always had a positive outlook and could make me smile just by laughing. She asked about me, she cared what I thought. She would explain things I didn’t know and present a different perspective. I felt warm and alive and interesting. That’s the person I want as a friend. That’s the person I want in my life.”
Chris leaned back grabbing her beer. That’s the person I fell in love with.
“I’m still the same person,” Jenn started.
Even in the dark bar Chris could see the glassy eyes of weariness.
“So now what?”
Inhaling deeply, all was right at this moment, the elephant was acknowledged. Could a friendship be salvaged, would even that work? Could she be ok with that? “That’s up to you, Jenn. I have no problem being friends, but that means being friends. Talking and doing things, movies, biking, dinner, whatnot.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
Chris’s heart sank to the pit of her stomach and she closed her eyes against the unexpected pain and sadness that came over her. She knew this would be the end result. Maybe that was the only way to completely let go. She couldn’t do it so she had to make Jenn do it for her.
Swallowing back the tears Chris opened her eyes, willing her hand not to shake as she nodded and picked up her beer.
The front bar erupted in a roar from the crack of the bat. Limbs shook and the fire spread, even the beer couldn’t put it out.
Suddenly the game seemed more interesting than the conversation.
Chris tried not to squint at the print on the screen which she could have read a few months ago and was quite sure for those who could read would tell them the score.
The waitress appeared and disappeared.
It was only when two more shots and beer were placed on the table that Chris returned her attention to Jenn.
Jenn turned the shot in a circle studying it as if it was the most fascinating thing on earth. Was she really going to toast to the end of their friendship, if that is what one could call it?
The small shot of dark liquid lifted from the table and stopped half way across.
She frowned, what the fuck?
“To friends,” Jenn said waiting.
“To friends,” Chris responded tapping her glass against the other.