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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by Noah Ruderman

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Before he even turned around I knew. And there I was, wishing I was wrong but hoping I wasn't. Hoping it was him.

I remember standing in front of my bedroom mirror after putting on my prom dress. It was just after five on a Friday. My mother was yelling from downstairs. My friends had arrived. Everything was about to start. But I just stood there. Frozen.

It's been five years. Five years since he's touched me. Five years of trying to forget how it felt. And now, on this Sunday afternoon, beside the little league baseball game, beneath the swaying trees shading the paling sun, here he was. His arms around me again.

The very first night I knew. Devon was different.

There were plenty of things I could have done today instead. My car needed a wash. My dresser needed to be dusted. The floor had to be vacuumed. I had phone calls to make, laundry to wash and dishes to scrub. There were birthday cards to send, closets to organize and chicken to marinate. But here I was, standing in the park. And it wasn't even a nice day.

I laid down, my fingers pressed against the black frame on my bed, waiting to fall.

What should I tell him? That I have a husband now, a one-year old, in-laws, diapers and toys scattered across the den? Should I tell him that I have a den? There was so much to think about. But I didn't have time to think.

Devon smiled. I remember because he used to smile.

"Does your blush mean anything to me?" He gazed with want.

"Yes, it means everything." His want was my drug.

Five years ago I was a different person. I used to have girlfriends and guy friends and happy hours, lunch breaks, hotel rooms, evites, cab rides, office memos and new underwear. I used to have buddy lists, sushi, Ben Harper CD's, theme parties, plane reservations, condoms, yoga, cheap wine and inside jokes. I used to have Devon.

But things suddenly changed. Looking back, it doesn't matter what went wrong. It's pointless to try and remember who gave up first or who cried last. I was a human being in a world of human beings. And in this world, getting over someone is an accepted certainty. Just ask your friends and they'll tell you. It's what we do. It's how we survive. It's our courage. Our strength. Our resilience.

And so I did what I was supposed to do. I found someone else I could love.

"If I touch you now, I'll never be able to go back."

"Then touch me."

When I was eleven years old, five minutes into recess on a Tuesday afternoon beside the soccer field, Jake Robson asked if I wanted to be his girlfriend. When I was sixteen, on a Thursday morning in the back seat of the bus, Greg Michaels kissed me on the lips. When I was twenty, on a Saturday night on the quad, Rick Jennings put his hands up my shirt. And when I was twenty-five, on a Sunday afternoon in the rain beside the Lincoln Memorial, Devon told me he loved me.

For the first time, he saw the sadness in my eyes.

I wasn't trying to hide it.

Sometimes it comes in the morning. Before the light. As my eyes open. Before I realize what's happened. Before I remember how I got here. And for a moment, a short moment, I'm somewhere else. I'm reincarnated.

But mostly it comes at night. In the darkness. When I do remember. And all I can do is turn my head, hiding the tears before he notices. Before he suspects.

I remember my mom yelling. But I still couldn't move. I was scared because I knew it would be over soon. And I'd be wishing I was back here again. Putting on my dress. Standing in front of this mirror. When everything was still possible. I didn't want to lose that feeling.

Before he even turned around I knew. And there I was, wishing I was wrong but hoping I wasn't. Hoping it was him.

But just like hundreds of times before, he did turn around. And it wasn't him. It wasn't Devon.

And as I stood there, the wind frozen atop the sky, I realized I made a mistake that can't ever be fixed. The regret hidden in the depths of my soul, forever my lonesome companion.

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