To Those Who Wait Ch. 01

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Hello Readers! This is Part One of a Three-Part story. All three parts are written and will be posted in order.

Chapter 1: Memories

So there I was standing beneath the ivy-covered trellis, wearing my white dress, and carrying a bouquet of the most beautiful red roses I had ever seen. In fact, I didn’t even like red roses! But these ones were beautiful. We were outside, in a garden. Some…mansion or something that was rented cheap, but didn’t look cheap. The garden itself sat near the river and it was a cool autumn day. There was a slight breeze in the air which tossled my veil and distracted me, for one moment, from the butterflies in my stomach. I smoothed the veil and took a deep breath of the crisp air. And, in that brief reprieve, one thought stood out in my mind.

“Can you believe this? Two years ago, I never would have expected to be back here again.” And I smiled to myself at the thought. Hell, two years ago I wouldn’t have imagined that anything like this was even possible! It was almost surreal, that…

From beneath the trellis, I heard the music strike up. The music was very loud for a moment, and then receded back. The burst had interrupted my musing and pulled me instantly back into the moment. We didn’t want to spend money on a band or even a lone cellist or something. The ceremony was going to be small. A second marriage for me and all. It was an iPhone piped through the stereo system that my fiance’s cousin had brought. But now that it was under control it sounded lovely, really. And the butterflies were back.

The music was a cue and I turned slightly to look at the entrance to the garden. And there, standing just outside of a small brick arch, was Lisa. She saw me look to her and I saw her eyes brighten, he mouth spread into a pleased grin that was as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror. In a certain manner of speaking, Lisa had been my best friend for, God, what was it? Over twenty years. She was, I believe, the only other person here who was present at my first wedding, a particular irony. And she looked absolutely, stunningly beautiful. Just as beautiful as the day I’d met her. I was overwhelmed by the feelings I felt for Lisa in that moment and, once again, my mind drifted back two years earlier.

* * * * *

“Holly, we are really just so glad that you are here!” Lisa said, as she dropped a mass of pillows and linens at my feet. We were in the lower floor of a split-level home that Lisa shared with her husband and two children. I was in a large room that contained a sofa bed and a pool table. Lisa smiled as she spoke. Smiling too hard, in fact. Coupled with the fact that it was the fourth time she’d said that since I’d arrived half an hour earlier, I sensed that maybe Lisa wasn’t all that glad to see me.

No, that would be putting it too harshly. I think she just…didn’t know what the hell she was supposed to do with me.

“It has been a long time,” I said, trying to downplay the awkwardness that we both felt. For a moment, I asked myself what I was even doing here. It was crazy. Two days earlier, out of the blue, I had called my former college roommate and basically invited myself over. She had, hesitatingly, agreed that I could sleep in a spare bedroom (which doubled, evidently, as a game room). I’d driven for the better part of two days and showed up here almost at midnight. And now I was here and…Christ, was I insane?

“I think the last time I saw you was…” Lisa trailed off, looking up at the popcorn ceiling of my temporary bedroom. I remembered that little quirk! Staring off into the distance when she thought! Though, I had to say, while her mannerisms had remained the same, Lisa had changed a bit in the years since we’d graduated from college. I mean, hell who hadn’t, right? It was twenty years or so earlier!

But I felt like Lisa had changed a bit more than I had. She looked like a suburban mom. Maybe because that is what she was. Her blonde hair was tending towards gray at the roots and was cut much shorter than it had been in college. Her face was the same. The same big, brown doe eyes, the broad (but short) nose, the freckles on her cheeks, the thick lips and pointed chin. But there were crows feet at her eyes now, lines on her forehead. Her body had gone from waifish to something approaching curvy, with much larger breasts and wider hips.

I don’t want to give the impression that Lisa’s aging had, in any way, diminished the beauty she’d possessed when we were in college. On the contrary! She was still achingly pretty, enough to make me jealous. It was just…different. I had, of course, seen in many times over the years since college and kept up with her on social media and on monthly phone calls. But this was the first time I had thought about the cumulative effect of the changes the years had caused.

I felt like I had changed less. My hair was still raven-black with no dye needed. I had some wrinkles, I was sure, but I felt like I’d had crows feet in college! My breasts were still ümraniye escort small and high on my chest, my body still slender. Lisa looked like she had grown into a life. I looked like I had been in a holding pattern.

“It was six years ago, I think,” I finished for her, “When Ray had that conference in Seattle and I drove over from Tacoma.” Ray was Lisa’s husband. He was upstairs, already asleep.

“I had almost forgotten about that! That was a really lovely afternoon,” Lisa said and that time, at least, it sounded like she was saying something that she meant. I smiled. We stood then, for several seconds, in complete silence. I could hear the sound of a mini-fridge kick on next to the pool table.

“We are just…” Lisa started.

“So glad I am here?” I interrupted and Lisa laughed sheepishly.

“Sorry,” she said and I shook my head, ‘It is just…I mean we barely see each other anymore! It is a little overwhelming to have you here! Overwhelming in a good way! But, Jesus, when was the last time you were even on the east coast? Let alone here in town?”

“I think like…15 years ago, when my sister graduated,” I said. Ray had gotten a job at the university we’d all attended right out of school. They’d never left our old college town.

“Oh, that is right!” Lisa said, shaking her head, “I almost thought you hadn’t been here since…”

“Since I married Justin?” I asked and Lisa’s cheeks got red, “You don’t have to be embarrassed and you can say his name! We are divorced, he isn’t the Candyman or something.” Lisa laughed a little. The divorce, a long and surprisingly bitter thing for a couple with no kids or even pets, had come through the day I’d called Lisa. In fact, it was getting the actual decree in my hand that had pushed me, almost unconsciously, into calling her.

“No, I know,” she said, “It was just, on the phone, you said you wanted to come out to get a little distance from…all of that, and I am bringing him,” she said that word with a kind of disdain you can rely on a good friend to provide, “up first thing.”

“It really isn’t a big deal, but I appreciate that you hate him now,” I said and Lisa laughed. But her mouth pursed a moment later and she tilted her head at me, seriously,

“You know, I never thought it was my place to say anything, but…well, you know you deserved better than Justin, from the beginning,” she said. I smiled wearily and shrugged.

“He was…okay when we first got together. When you knew him” I said. I’d met Justin at the very end of my sophomore year in college. That had been Lisa’s senior year. Lisa and Ray had remained in town after they graduated and we’d all stayed close those two years where I was still in school and Lisa and Ray were still sort of living like college kids. Justin and I had spent half our free time at Lisa’s new apartment.

“If that was okay, I can’t really imagine how it got worse!” Lisa said, and I was a little surprised. I’d never even suspected she felt that way. Maybe that was a good sign. Maybe it meant that what was coming next…well, I would have to see.

“How so?” I asked, trying to draw Lisa’s thoughts out further. She just winced a little and shrugged.

“He was just so…controlling,” she said, “I just remember, that year you were engaged, he was just…He would make you call him before we went out, and then when we got to the bar or whatever, and then again when we got home. And you said it was sweet, that he cared, but…”

“But he was really controlling,” I agreed, “It got worse when he got that job out in Seattle. He trusted you, you know,” I said and Lisa’s eyebrows raised.

“That was trust?” Lisa asked, I laughed a little, but it came out sadder than I’d expected.

“It got a lot worse,” I said, “Actually, at first, when we got out West, it was better. He thought that job was going to be the start of a career and he sort of dove in head first. We never really had that many hobbies in common or anything anyway. So I made some friends and it was okay. For a little bit.

“But the job never really panned out. Justin ended up stuck in the entry-level job he’d been hired into. People who came later got hired over him. And he couldn’t get anything anywhere else. At the same time, I’d sort of fallen into the job at the museum in Tacoma and met a lot of great people there. Justin hated all of that. He didn’t like when I started making more money than him. He didn’t like that I liked to go out in the evenings. He was invited to come with me, of course, but he said he hated my ‘artsy-fartsy’ friends and made snide comments. He said all my male friends were gay, except when he said I was sleeping with them. Oh my god, Lis, the jealousy! You would not believe how jealous he would get. And I didn’t think it was cute anymore.”

“Was he violent?” she asked softly and I shook my head.

“No, nothing like that,” I said, “I mean he would threaten to beat up men I worked with, but never to their faces. And he never laid pendik escort a hand on me. He was more…manipulative than anything else. I would tell him I was going out, and invite him to come. Sometimes, he wouldn’t say anything and let me go. Then he’d call me or, later, text me and whine about how I wasn’t there. Other time, even before I could leave the house, he’d make a big production about how I didn’t want to be around him, that I didn’t love him. How I resented him. He’d work on me until I was guilty enough to stay home. And then we’d sit in the house, silently, while he watched TV. And Drank. He drank alot.”

“He drank a lot before you got married. Then you’d rush off and take care of him,” Lisa said and I nodded

“Eventually, I just stopped doing anything. Sat at home and lost touch with people. And I didn’t even have anything to talk to him about. I just found, over time, that he was right. That I resented him. I resented him more and more all the time. And I didn’t love him. Couldn’t make love to him, couldn’t force myself to do it.”

“I didn’t realize you were so unhappy,” Lisa said. She reached over and rubbed my shoulder.

“I didn’t even realize how unhappy I was,” I said, “I did that for years, Lisa. Well over a decade. And then, it just dawned on me one day that I felt guilty and resentful all the time. I despised my husband, even if I tried not to think about it. I didn’t enjoy anything other than working anymore. And if the only thing you like is work…” I trailed off.

“And so you left,” Lisa said, smiling. I nodded, “I am so proud of you!” And Lisa suddenly grasped my shoulders and pulled me into her arms for a hug. She’d hugged me when I’d first arrived, but this was different. She enveloped me in her arms, and I felt her warmth running through me. The years of separation flooded away and it felt like we were in college again. Finally, Lisa broke the hug, pushed me back. I missed her arms immediately.

“Thanks,” I said, sheepishly.

“So, how long ago did you leave him? We haven’t really talked about it,” she said.

“Oh, god, almost a year ago. More than year!” I said, trying to do the calculations on when I’d left our condo in my head.

“So long? You said the divorce just went through,” Lisa said.

“Well, yeah, I mean you have to go through the legal separation and all of that kind of stuff. Getting lawyers. And he made every step as miserable as he could. Thank god we didn’t have kids.”

“So have you gotten back in touch with your old friends and everything?” She asked. I smiled at her and raised my eyebrows. Lisa laughed, “Oh yeah, I guess so!” I laughed too.

“I mean some people I still knew from work, so I started spending time with them again. I don’t know. It is tough. New professionals in their mid-twenties make friends. I am 39 now. It doesn’t come easy anymore,” I said, ruefully.

“Dating is easier, with the internet,” Lisa said slyly, “Over a year…have you started dating again.” She raised her eyebrows suggestively and I laughed. She hadn’t changed a bit! But I just shook my head.

And I suddenly realized that the time had come. I hadn’t planned it. This was not what I’d planned. Well, if I was being honest, I hadn’t really planned when and how I was going to do this. I just knew what it was that I had to say. I guess, in the back of my mind, I had expected to visit for a couple of days, get comfortable again first. But the conversation had arrived here. And, anyway, how could I say anything after Ray got up in the morning and I spoke with him…There was no question, the time was now. It had snuck up on me and I was nearly overwhelmed. I felt butterflies in my stomach and took a deep breath. I tried to sound casual, assured.

“Honestly, in the first couple of months, I didn’t even want to think about dating. Justin was still pretending like I was going to change my mind and he was…relentless. But, eventually, you know, when I had some distance from him, I thought it might be fun. I signed up or one of those apps. And I got some bites. A lot, actually. And some of the guys seemed nice enough, I guess. But the handful dates I went on were…not good. I mean they weren’t terrible guys or anything just…I mean they were pretty terrible guys. One guy had two pet iguanas. But even the better ones…Like I would play out dating someone long term in my mind and it always ended up like Justin.”

“Not every man is like Justin, Ray…” Lisa started and I spoke over her. Now was not the time to talk about Ray.

“I didn’t have fun dating,” I said, “I didn’t want to hold hands or kiss or…any of that stuff. Stuff I thought I’d want to do again. Do it right. And then it got me thinking that maybe I never had like any of it. Maybe it was all terrible the whole time and I should just be celibate. I am not even joking. I thought maybe I just wasn’t made for that type of thing.”

“No, come on, Holly, you don’t…” but I had to interrupt her again.

“But then I bostancı escort thought back, and I thought, ‘was there ever a time when I was in any sort of relationship and I was happy? Was there a time when it didn’t feel like a chore.’ And at first I couldn’t think of any. The guys in Tacoma. Justin. Before that was what, Richard Sizemore in 12th grade? God. A never ending series of nightmares. I was just about to decide to buy a bunch of cats, and I thought of something,” I said, my heart thrumming now and it almost felt like the corners of my eyes were darkening. I could just see Lisa standing in front of me, her brow furrowed.

“What?” she asked. I took a deep breath. And then another.

“Do you remember Halloween your senior year?” I asked. And then there was a long silence.

* * * * *

In 1997, Lisa was a just-turned 22 year old senior. I was a sophomore, 19 years old. We’d known each other over a year at that point. She had been my RA my freshman year, when she was a junior. I recalled that she hated being an RA and vowed never to do it again. She hated organizing all of the events and “narcing” (as she called it) on all of the students who tried to sneak in beer.

Why she took an interest in me, I really can’t say. I don’t even remember the first time we did something together. I remember meeting her when I moved in. I know some time passed. And then all my memories sort of pick up, full steam, in the glow of my friendship with her. My guess is, one day she came into my room without preface or warning and just sort of told me that I was going out with her and that we were going to have fun. That would be Lisa, forceful and mysterious all at once. I would have been absolutely powerless to resist. I think I might have been the only freshman student that she talked to willingly, which was a source of pride for me. Because Lisa was fun!

She seemed to have a preternatural ability to sniff out an adventure or a party and then, somehow, to become the focus of that party. And if you were with her, it was like you were draped in her aura. Whereas, in high school, I had always been a bit of a shy outsider, with Lisa I was somehow front and center on everything. And comfortable doing it too, because Lisa was just so damn confident about it. And if she belonged absolutely, and she thought that I belonged too, well then she must be right.

It was sort of like that on Halloween night in 1997. I was still living in a dorm at that time (I got a grant for on-campus housing and my parents insisted). Lisa was living off-campus with a couple of our other friends. I had decided at 4:00 p.m. that day that I wasn’t going to go back to my room and sleep. It was a Friday and I had had three exams during the week. I was exhausted and I hadn’t had time to even think about a costume. I wanted to go to bed early and wake up late and then do something on Saturday night.

Lisa, as was her way, had other plans a few hours later. She had barged into my dorm room (somehow, she had gotten herself a key and because she had once been an RA, security always let her into the building).

“Come on,” she’d said, “We are going to a house party I just heard about from this guy in my psych class. It is going to be fucking crazy!” she said, jittery and excited.

“No! I already told you, I am sleeping!” I said, but I could already feel myself growing interested. Lisa was so enthusiastic. Her excitement was intoxicating, infectious.

“You can sleep when you’re dead, which might be tonight if you don’t get dressed, let’s go!” she said. I was wearing a massive t-shirt as pajamas and she picked up some jeans and threw them at me. I laughed. I could feel Lisa’s energy sort of flowing it me, I felt less tired, just with her in the room.

“I am not going out tomorrow night if we go out tonight,” I said firmly, “I need to sleep!” I insisted.

“Pfft,” she said, “I am going to be sleeping with whoever I meet at this party to night. I am not going to have time for an underclassman like you!” she said and I laughed again. She knew Ray at that point, but they weren’t dating. But, even single, I knew she wasn’t just going to leave with some guy. She just liked that joke. And the joke won me over. I silently agreed that I was going and Lisa had silently informed me that she was probably going to make me go out on Saturday night too.

“But I didn’t buy a costume, what am I going to be?”

“Bimbo college coed?” she said, lifting one of my bras up off my dresser and raising her eyebrows suggestively. I giggled and grabbed the bra out of her hand.

“Try again,” I said, walking towards my closet. Lisa followed me, and we looked around at my clothes.

“You’re boring,” Lisa said, looking at my sweaters and jeans, “Nothing even remotely costumey.” I knocked my hip against her, throwing her off balance.

“You don’t have a costume either!” I said and Lisa shrugged.

“I was relying on you. Let me down again Holly, you are such a disappointment,” Lisa said, smiling in case I didn’t realize it was a joke.

“Well I…” I started.

“Oh god, what is this!” Lisa said, reaching down into the bag of junk at the bottom of my closet. In a second, she had pulled out a short-haired, blonde wig. I laughed.

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