Edit: Special thanks to Humdah (who tweets @redvelvetjacket) for providing the inspiration for this post. ^^
Curiosity, more than anything, had driven her there. Her hands had trembled as she had fingered the pattern on the gilded card, seeing her own solitary name written, in his handwriting. Opening it, she’d seen the pre-printed invitation. Her eyes skimmed quickly from “Celebrating 30 years in business” to the date and venue of the event, but her mind was elsewhere. They had given up on meeting frequently several years ago. Life, as it often does, had carried them on very different courses and with the passing of time, their involvement in each others lives diminished.
It was a wonder to her, that she found herself in the lobby of the hotel, gazing at the large mirror. Every iota of her being screamed at her to turn around and leave as soon as humanly possible. The reflection before her was distraught, as it patted down it’s dress and smoothed it’s hair. It looked at her deploringly. She didn’t have to do this. But she was curious.
Chandeliers bathed the hall in a jubilant glow, and the room was abuzz with polite chatter. She had chosen to come towards the end of the event, after the speeches and dinner; as neither had interested her. It didn’t take long for her roving eyes to locate him. He was across the room, surrounded by well-wishers, many of them young women, she noted with dry amusement. Dapper as ever, he clearly hadn’t lost his charm. His eyes shone, as they always had, when he smiled, but she noticed crinkles in the skin around his eyes, a tiredness that permeated throughout his body. His posture was forced, upright. She noticed the grey, as he raised his hand to run it through his hair exasperatedly, at one point, speaking a particularly spritely young thing who’d been pulling at his arm.
The hall had cleared, just about, and the cleaners had begun their work sweeping the confetti laden floor. She approached him, silently wrestling her heart which was trying to pound a way out of her chest. Having merely reached out to tap his shoulder, she was left open mouthed, as he swung around to face her. He wasn’t quite sure what had compelled him to turn around. The surprise was apparent in his face, as it reflected hers openly. He shifted his gaze, almost guiltily, to the young thing beside him, who was glaring at the new addition, clearly annoyed at the interruption. Her annoyance soon changed to shock and then to frustration, as she was rather curtly dismissed and promised a meeting on a later date. Watching her storm out, the remaining two knew that damage had been done, though one of them had viewed it with a secret pang of pleasure. She was glad that she at least had some importance, yet.
A few minutes and a couple of barked orders later, they sat at on of the now cleared tables, drinks provided.
“I’m curious.” he said finally, placing his glass on the table, his gaze not leaving hers the whole time.
“You should be.” she laughed lightly, suddenly unable to look at him. She traced the rim of her glass with her fingertip. “I surprised myself, to be honest. Didn’t think I’d come.”
“Well, I’m glad you did,” his smile was warm, dispelling any further discussion on the whys and hows of that topic. She knew he genuinely meant it, however, and responded in kind.
With that, they fell into conversation that had an uneasy veneer of friendliness. Never once, did they step out of the bounds of politeness and formality. She felt as they were acting, that any time his face would crumple into the boyish grin and laughter she had almost forgotten the sound of. They exchanged pleasantries and each became up to date with the other’s life. They paused only, when he’d turn to snap instructions to the various workers scurrying around them and once while he took a call, in short, curt tones. All the while she watched him, this familiar stranger before her. She longed to speak as openly as they once used to, and she had detected a similar hesitance in his manner too.
“My eyes are burning.” He placed a thumb and forefinger on his closed eyes and sighed. He visibly deflated, as if giving away an exhaustion much heavier than a mere eventful day. When he opened his eyes, he was looking at her, doleful. She longed to place her hand on his, to ensure him of her support. No sooner than she lifted her hand, she froze, knowing that she’d be acting out of character. His expression changed, became more guarded, as if he too thought he’d stepped out of line.
“How long more will it take?” he snapped to the nearest cleaner, his apprehension covered thinly by a veil of annoyance. “What do I pay you people for? Is it really this impossible to find reliable help these days?”
“It’s so easy to be ungrateful.” she began incredulously, but then held herself. That was something she would have said, in that previous life of theirs. She would have chastised him, bringing him down from his childish stubbornness a notch. Any chances of opening up, had any presented themselves before, wouldn’t appear now. She knew she should leave. Her frame tensed as she merely watched him, biting her lip, taking in all that she could of his presence.
“We’re not getting any younger.” he shrugged, shifting uncomfortably in his chair, as if that were explanation enough. He took another pull of his drink, and watched one of the sweeper’s brooms move back and forth, a pendulum counting down the time of their exchange,
“Heh.” a dry laugh was all she could manage, as she drained the remaining contents of her glass and rose to leave. Putting on her coat and picking up her purse, she smiled sadly in his direction. She didn’t say anything else; she didn’t have to.
As before, the unspoken words between them hung thick, like smoke. Smoke that she had been inhaling and exhaling, for what felt like a lifetime, reliving what they once had, what had ended. And as always, meeting had only added to it, obscuring their communication lines even more. Memories came back to her frequently, like an unwelcome cough.
How long it had been since they stopped communicating, while continuing to talk, neither of them knew; but it seemed to be very long. Too long, maybe, to undo the damage. They had held on, however, to the fraying ends of what they once were, perhaps in the hope that a time would come, when they could straighten it out and mend it. Time, the elusive mistress, waits for no one. Their case was no exception, and they had been left behind, bereft of the solace they once found in one another.