As he saw her from across the bar, panic ran down his spine. He doubted that it was really her, I mean it had been a long time since he had seen her last, maybe she cut her hair or something. Jessica came over after a few minutes of chatting with friends. As she moved toward him the other members of the room began to disintegrate in his mind. He pushed his hair back and felt his wedding ring against his ear. Jessica was getting closer and he decided to grab his bottle resting on the bar next to him.
“Hi David, it’s been a little while, how have you been?” she said cheerfully. She touched his elbow, looking at him with a welcoming smile.
“I’ve been good, running around Los Angeles with work. It’s been a busy few months.” He replied, speaking to her as if she was someone he had just met.
As they made small talk in that Manhattan bar Jessica asked if he wanted to go for a walk around the corner. It was getting a little warm in the bar, or maybe it was just him. It had rained earlier that afternoon, but David had an umbrella in his car just a few blocks down the street and he figured the skies were done pouring by now. As they left, a rush of cool air flooded the few feet by the door that they were now exiting, a welcome relief from the heat of the crowd. As they walked the streets, illuminated by the streetlights, they talked about the last six years. The projects they had worked on, the people they had met, and the places they had been. Their conversation fell into an old comfortable rhythm.
It is now six years ago. Jessica is crying in the passenger seat of his car. They have just graduated from Rutgers and David has received the job offer he has been interviewing for. Jessica knows about the interviews, but she didn’t think he was serious. David says that he has always wanted to work on startups.
“How can you leave me like this?” She says to him.
“I have to go, opportunities don’t come up like this that often, and I have to do this.”
David puts the car in gear and they drive around for what seems like hours. He hopes this will make her feel better but he starts to feel like that may be an impossibility. The streets are wet with the remnants of rain. David loves the way it looks, the way it shimmers in the headlights, it reminds him of home. Jessica continues to plead with him not to go and David continues to defend himself, saying that they will write and call and fly out to each other when they have time. He doesn’t want to break her heart, but he knows he cannot fill it. Pittsburgh remains dreary for the next day, but this does not delay David’s flight to California the following morning. She refuses to drop him off at the airport, so his father takes him.
It is now an hour past midnight. Jessica is a little drunk as they walk through the New York streets together. “The only interesting things happen after midnight”. He remembers how Jessica used to say that in college when they were at parties and he wanted to go home. Her voice still sounds the same. She still has that strange inflection that he can’t put his finger on and he hasn’t met anyone else who speaks with it. It is her trademark. Jess puts her arm through his as they walk. They reach a waterfront overlooking the Hudson, absent of nearby people.
She looks at him and asks him flatly “Are you happy? Do you ever miss what we had?”
He pauses for a second to make sure he knows how to say what he is thinking. Cross-referencing facts and theories in his mind.
“Yes. But it took a while. I spent a lot of time missing things. I was in a new place surrounded by strange people in LA and all I could think about for a long time was the past. Everything in college was gilded and everything in the moment was grey. I felt trapped and alone a lot of the time.”
He pauses for a second and looks out over the water and collected his thoughts. He has started to shiver a bit because of the dropping temperature. He remembers that he has left his jacket in his car.
“But then I met Tori, and it was like a light went on in the back of my head and the light was so bright that everything else got blurry and the past didn’t even matter. And the past is still gilded, but the future is so much brighter.”
There is a long silence and then Jessica grabs the railing and stands up between the bars. She is smiling a bit, like she is watching a natural disaster, like a tornado or an avalanche, something completely out of her control. Something completely terrifying to feel, but wonderful to watch. They stand there looking out over the water, as if six years could span the distance from where they are standing to the shore opposite of them. As if they can pick out any point on the water and review their relationship history, like skipping around on an old movie. In this moment, they are completely alone with each other. They study the water for a long time. The light’s reflection jumps across each adjacent streetlamp.
Thoughts are shooting through Jessica’s mind. She wants David to tell her that she isn’t going to die alone. She wants David to prove it. She wants to go back in time. She wants David to go back to the car in Pittsburgh. She wants him to say that he will stay.
But she can’t go back in time.
And he won’t lie to her.
Resting on the edge of the railing, they both stare out into the past, as Jessica dreams about what could have been and David reminisces about what was.