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"We were together as teenagers so we were in a kind of teenager love once- a long time ago."

"And that's not real love, like it is now?"

"Oh, we are not in love, just friends."

My responses were automatic, like a rehearsed poem or song. We had both answered these questions so many times before, but to a stranger over dinner tables was a first.

We ate, we drank, we laughed about old times and shared in each others sorrow in more recent years. We caught up. And somewhere in-between the second and third glasses of wine, we found ourselves holding hands over the table, like we once had many moons before. In passing comments we disguised the discomfort in the comfort by comparing nervous shakes, blown out pupils and warm palms. He left to speak to his friend who worked as the chef to thank him for the meal. I watched him walk away and questioned everything I'd ever known. I missed how he could make me do that.

"Do you mind if I say? It certainly looks like real love to me."

I smiled at the stranger knowing only too well to say the answer out loud would be emotional suicide. I watched him at the kitchen top talking, watched him keep looking back over at me as he spoke.

"What's the issue darling? Don't you think his friend is telling him the same thing? Everyone in the room can see it but you two."

I sighed and said the words aloud: "Its always been real between us, always. It's just also always been the wrong time, wrong place, wrong situation. We just never seem to be able to make it right. We always manage to say Goodbye when we mean Hello."

The stranger gave me a sympathetic smile. There were no words that could respond to that.

He came back and I nipped to the toilet. I noticed he too was chatting with the stranger as I walked back. He took my coat of the back of my chair and held it out as I slid my arms into both sleeves smiling politely at the stranger as we tried to squeeze by.

"Well maybe this time..." the stranger grinned at me as I broke through the gap, "...maybe this time it's right."

He reached his hand to mine and wrapped it in his arm as he shook the hand of the stranger with his other. I wondered what had been said in my absence, if I should dare ask or just pretend not to notice, I wondered what he was thinking too as he strolled me around the city sights at night stopping in barely lit cobbled streets to dance outside live music pubs in the street. But I did not ask. I did not want to rock the casual boat we had both boarded. I did not want him to stop kissing me for fear of breaking my heart. I did not want to be the one who fell in too deep. 

But those words have haunted me ever since, replayed in my mind: "Maybe this time..." What did this stranger know that I was so clearly missing?

But alas, maybe time is eventually on our side but not this place, not this situation.

Created: Jun 20, 2017


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