Goddamn I hate to love you
FICTION, SHORT STORY, WRITING

Goddamn, I Hate to Love You

Alone, I sit by a dying fire. The predawn hours blanket the ocean heard calmly tiding in the distance. Nostalgia flows through an open window. It smells of ocean- mildew and decay and salt. A distinct smell, which when trying to describe is indescribable. I would bottle it if I could. The scent is carried by a brisk, not quite breeze and far from gusty, air. My bare skin is chilled. I should close the window, I’ve thought many times but haven’t moved from the gray, oversized chair. Warm when the fire was roaring, my skin is now goosed. As it does with both pleasure and pain, thought as I sink deeper into the cushion. Its color is reminiscent of ash. I adjust the straps of my tank top, as if the inch-wide pieces of cloth will provide warmth.

I miss seduction. The type felt when an afternoon sun begins its descent. And warm summer air gives way to a cool breeze. Watching, as day turns to night and sunburned tourists return to the sanctity of their rented rooms, readying for a New England evening. Bliss turning to pain as a flirtatious hand brushes against a reddened shoulder. The long-haired tourist smiling through gritted teeth, waiting for the rum punch to soothe. Liquid courage, an internal aloe sipped through a clear, lipstick-stained straw, mixing with blood as the sunburn is forgotten and bliss reappears. A stolen kiss had in a darkened stairway, as the flirtatious hand slips lower on the slim woman’s hips. Drunken sex had after fumbled keys unlock a room with a view. A romanticized dream, playing out on a random Friday night, in a small beachside town.

The Revivalists play in the background. It’s the witching hour. The time between dream and reality, when memories mix with zen. I rise and head to the shore. The house fades away as I steady myself on the ghost of an untold story. The gentleness of your breath is felt on a reminiscent soul as I stroll down a green needle lane. Vacancy signs sway in the wind as a small town hibernates and I turn down the less-traveled road. Varying shades of red, orange, and brown line empty sidewalks. The underfoot crunch of sand and ice cream cones lost to happenstance, replaced with mosaiced patterns lost to time. Summer’s bliss is now a romanticized dream as winter takes hold. Flannel shirts are worn on deserted beaches as time weaves a fantastical tale. An embellishment of once upon a time.

***

The chime of my doorbell echoed through the house. Heard, as a hose sprayed in the backyard. Water, nurturing the spring buds of summer’s flowers. Your eyes were covered by polarized lenses as we hugged on the gravel walkway. Time looked good on you. As it does on all men. Women age while you all grow more handsome. Our looks become vintage. Yours, dignified. I could see you were tan and still in the same, perfect shape as the day I last saw you. Cass, you said in a hushed whisper. You raised the lenses covering your eyes, resting them atop your head, and looked at me. I wondered, for a moment, if I imagined your voice.

For five and a half years I yearned for this moment. I willed for you to corner me in the darkened hall of the local bar as I waited for the one-toilet bathroom to vacate. Surprising me. Grabbing me by the shoulders, and kissing me so passionately your disappearance would be forgotten. We wouldn’t speak. Your eyes saying what I desperately needed to hear. We’d take a shot for old times before closing out my tab. Stumbling down darkened roads, to your motel or my front door, and fuck like we used to. Using your power to control me into orgasmic bliss I’d come two, three times before we finished together. The happily ever after to our once upon a time.

Small talk made as I gained courage: what are you doing here? Laughing, you pointed to a house down the road: rented it for the season. I turned my head in the direction of your hand. The house is a few years old, built when the real estate market was a buyer’s paradise. The lot was purchased by the contractor who remodeled my home. Not long after I made my final payment, the lot sold. A house taking shape months later. A for sale sign staked into the newly sodded yard of the beautiful gray brick home, on a warm late May day the following year. It sold quickly, in a seller’s market, when the awe of the surrounding beauty was felt, seen, smelt, and tasted by a visiting tourist’s soul. In the three years they’ve owned it, I’ve seen them a handful of times and spoken to the married couple once: we bought this during our first trip to Maine. I couldn’t tell you their names.

We walked out back, the ocean before us as high tide encroached. The house isn’t how I remembered it, you said as we wandered through the gate and headed to the rocky coast. The power of nature was on display as you marveled at the size of drowning rocks and rising water. It’s been remodeled, I replied. I missed this, said in spoken words and silent thoughts as we stared at the coast before us. Both- words and thoughts were carried away by the wind.

Turning you looked up at my house. Tall trees hid the fenced yard from overzealous gazers. Seen from where we stood was the second floor, the top of the deck’s off-white railing just visible. The deck looks the same, you said, looking at me. I let the comment hang between us. You were the first to look away. The blue-gray color of the house changes hues depending on the light. Forever blending into the surrounding landscape. The shutters are weathered and stained to look natural, harvested from a felled tree not far from here. The house looks amazing, you said to me. It is, isn’t it, I replied. A statement, not a question. I’m proud of it.

May rushed by as you learned the lay of the land. Pink and orange hues blotted the horizon. No vacancy signs swayed in the breeze as the small beachside town readied for its summer rush. Refreshing streams of summer relaxation flowed through our veins as we swam in marshy tributaries. Water nurtured life as we played among the scenery of our fantastical land. Coffee was ordered on Main Street and mint lemonade in a Cove. Arms entwined as we walked a coastal path, marginal in size yet majestically grand. Pausing as sightseers passed us by. Limbo forming over shared disdain for lobster. A secret no Mainer can know.

Solace was found on hidden drives and in our backyards. You, enjoying whiskey, and I, Modelo. Our differences were lost among laughter as tears fell on happy faces. And stories of our lives were retold. Ignoring the one we both remember well. Longing, the food of a craving soul. Found in the presence of thunderous roars, as the sun gave way to night, and prying eyes turned in. For in the darkness we played, two souls seduced by the question of what would be? If our chance happened sooner. The countdown to dawn, forever present, teasing with temptation as we danced around a fire-lit room. Aware of choices made, as secrecy cloaked truth and neither acknowledged reality.

Summer flowers bloomed as a June morning turned to day. Crickets, the official sound of summer, heard as we passed the small cemetery on the back road leading to the center of town. We bought a six-pack at the corner store, dodging eager tourists vying for prime spots at the beach. Beers in hand, we silently stared at the midday horizon. Seated on a shared towel away from peering eyes, I glanced at the tall dune grass. Its movement, both beautiful and mesmerizing. The sun shone down as the gulls called from above. Hypnotic sounds of heartbeat and water were heard, as inhibitions crumbled and individual choices morphed into crashing waves. The sustenance of life seemingly cosmically aligned, as faces turned away from wonder and eyes met with answers. Moonlight glistened off a tidal pool as we wished upon a starfish. Low tide and towering rocks hiding our shadows, as day turned to night, and whispered words met listening ears. Each of us heard.

***

I pass the graveyard where we climaxed among the weathered tombstones of lost souls. Bodies succumbed as waves crashed and dark water churned. Voices pleading as a seductive breath froze warm tears to ignorant skin. Toughened by the elements yet vulnerable enough to still feel. Calcified bone is all that remains of those saved. Their bodies spared the wrath of a tempting game. Most, drowning in greed. Their existence was lost to wind and sea, as what-ifs taunted and the naive played. It won’t work out, I want to say to the sunburned tourist as she passes through my subconscious.

A silver moon hangs in a cloudless sky, illuminating the calm I seek. Its stillness is a contrast to my racing mind. The ocean beckons with soothing laps as I stare in wonder. Warm tears fall on a frozen face as gulls begin to call from above. Each of us, a victim to the cyclic tiding of life, desperately searching for something. My senses heightened and judgment impaired as the joint’s high engulfs my mind. I look back in the direction of the cemetery. The ocean’s icy water stings my feet as a fine mist brushes against my skin. You were surprised, the first time we innocently passed it by. I proclaimed it to be my favorite sight in town as we walked down the back road. Shocked, you raised your arms and spun around, motioning at the beauty surrounding us. The ocean glistened behind your back. Your eyes settled back on me, smiling down at the unkept graves.

We talked about what’s next, when the season ends and your rented house is no more. Your whispered lies seduced yearning ears as each of us came one last time. One knowing, as the other lay bare. Exposed, as the wind blew outside and a rough sea was heard crashing in the distance. I didn’t know that goodbye would be our last. Your touch fading from unknowing skin as a late October sun began its ascent. Like a coward, you wandered into the shadows never to be heard from again. Like a sucker, I fell in love. Ignorantly playing a seasonal game.

The cemetery is now hidden behind a haze of land and sea. The fog of both blurring perception as traces of our existence erodes with time. Night morphing to dawn as hints of light begin to emerge on the darkened horizon. Your flannel shirt is damp, and my body is cold, as the fog thickens and calm water begins to churn. A broken heart beating quicker as last season’s shoes slip on slick rock. Unprepared, as waves begin to crash and I cling to a threadbare line. Hope, a known feeling. Its invisible tether wrapped around my waist. Holding on, as your ghost haunts me, and saltwater burns my eyes. The next chapter, not yet written as I wander too close to the edge.

“Goddamn, I hate to love you”

The Revivalists, Hate to Love You

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