Friday, October 23, 2009

On a School Night

It may have been the speed of the walk or the rhythm of the crushing leaves beneath their feet, whatever the case the pace of the conversation was quickening. Red and Tess marched along side by side in step with hands buried deep into the warmth of their pockets. Every now and then one would succumb to sniffling like a salute to the cold air. As the volley continued clouds of condensed breath puffed out of them resembling steam from an engine barreling down a track.

The conversation was not serious but it was a serious conversation. Red made the call to Tess the day before in which he admitted to wanting to see her, to being in town and asking to catch up. Tonight they were walking, very quickly, like indeed there was something they were catching.

She wouldn't have known he was there, she would have gone on letting him fade in the background but this line was thrown and with a sense of looming regret she took it. Tess made apologies for the temperature as if she could be to blame for Boston in November. She went on and on about life, Red went on and on about lack of it.

Old friends forgive awkward moments for the sake of reminiscence. The first minutes of reuniting so delicate and fragile, like thin ice, give way. The resulting plunge begs old souls closer.

Here was that fall.

The brisk walk exchanging niceties filled the space and time that was to deliver them to a modest and quiet restaurant on the other side of town. Leaves continued to cushion the path and words continued to fly until reaching an unexpected crescendo. "Is the Moriarty family as I remember?" asked Red with over the top politeness. Tess was thankful for such an open ended inquiry and spent two blocks describing characters Red long ago knew well.

Tess began to overtake Red's long legs. Alarmed, she paused mid-stride to look up from the cornflake leaves. "Red, what's the matter?"

Red stopped two full paces ahead then turned to face her not bothering to hide his tears.

At the sight of him the years distance closed and Tess forgot all the decorum she had been observing to rush to him. She threw her arms around him as Red shuddered then burrowed his face into her offered shoulder filling his arms with her.

All at once Tess imagined the worst. This was how an old friend would tell her bad news, something must be wrong. She could live apart from him but not without him, she couldn't bare to loose her oldest friend. Damn it Red.

"Charles, what the hell is going on." Tess demanded, but her actions belied her urgent anger as she strengthened her hold to the man.

Red calmed.

"How old is this coat?" He asked.

"Damn it, I don't know - ancient." Tess smiled reluctantly as the man made of the boy she knew lifted his head to wipe his face with the back of his hands. She glared at him and said nothing.

"Sorry," he said wiping her shoulder with his sleeve, his lower lip still quivering. With a blink he freed more tears then finally met her eyes with his own. "Tee I've missed so much, I feel old."

Tess could hold back no longer and exhaling matched his bet of tears. Barely able to ask what she broke her stoic pose to ask, "You feel that way cause you see me, and I am old, right?"

Red assumed a dumb founded look.

"Its true, I know, its been so long and I feel gray, I look it too, I know."

"Tess, you are just how I remember you."

"Then what the hell is going on Red, what's wrong?"

Eyes met, moments passed.

"Nothing Tess, I just couldn't take it anymore." Red pressed his temples and let a million deep creases of painful thought cross his brow.

Tess stepped forward to him completely compelled to slap him but instead resumed her unflinching glare despite the blur of pooling tears.

Until Red spoke.

"I felt like we were dead, I came here looking for you and just now it felt like it was painful for you to even be near me. All business where my best friend used to be... Like I didn't know you and may never again."

Red sat down where no one was ever meant to find a comfortable seat. Tess soon joined him.

"I thought you were about to tell me you had cancer or something. I was preparing to hear you tell me how you were going to burn out when I had gotten used to you just fading away."

Now she fell into his shoulder. And for a second if you looked cross eyed at them you could see the wool melt into jersey, denim and worn chuck taylors. As they exhaled fog into the evening air you might think you saw a lit Marb in his mouth with her lipstick on the filter.

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