Unrequited love. We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt the pain. But every love story has two sides. Whether you believe it or not, someone, sometime will adore you from afar. When you discover it, how do you tell them they’re not the one for you? If you’ve paid attention to your own pain, perhaps you’d do it this way.
It was early morning in mid-August, 1975 and Steve Linsky was driving down to Brighton to visit Heather. Later the day would turn hot and humid but now the air was cool and misty. As he drove, shrouded figures emerged from the fog, shimmered into trees and shrubs then faded back into the haze as he passed. Gingerly Steve peeked under the edges of what he hoped was coming. Now that her relationship with Mark was in tatters, her attention had turned to him. She had surprised him by inviting him to come to Brighton to spend the weekend at her parent’s home. Lord, he had been waiting a long time for this. When he first met her two years ago, he was immediately attracted. He thought she was beautiful, fun and endearing. Now that he knew her better, he still thought all those things; he just spent more time fantasizing about making love to her. He was unashamedly, joyously smitten.
Every now and then, he would look down at the speedometer, and realize he was driving too fast, his eager thoughts kept urging speed. He had to keep reminding himself to slow down. It would be a total bummer if he got a ticket. For a time he would bumble along at the speed limit, then wake from his musings to find he had to throttle back once again.
He kept thinking about last year when he offered to teach her to roller skate. He picked her up on a Saturday morning, and drove to a nearby rink. He held her upright, his hands firm on her waist as she tried to get her wobbly legs under control. He breathed in her vanilla perfume. It reminded him of baking and warm cookies. Every molecule in him vibrated with the joy of having her close. He grinned at her as she gathered her courage, risking a few short seconds of unattached freedom before grabbing back onto him with a squeal. He contained his laughter when she missed his arm and spiraled like a ragdoll across the floor. Over and over he picked her up, set her upright, loving how she clung to him. Then, like magic, her body caught the knack and she got her unsteady ankles to stay under her. She sailed around him then, laughing and delighted, making little duck feet circles that enclosed him, before giggling as she crashed back into his arms.
The fact she had invited him to visit though, that fact was fuel to his hopes. It was fire to his imaginings. God, he wanted so much more. It would be the beginning of the next phase in his relationship with her. The next phase, which he had been imagining and hoping for since they first met.
He was surprised at how noisy and chaotic Heather’s family was. As she showed him around the house and grounds, her youngest siblings tagged along like ducklings, peep, peep, peeping behind them. He found their eagerness for attention amusing, touching and a little sad.
As soon as he could, Steve asked Heather if she’d like to go for a drive. He was relieved when she suggested they take her car because his van, while spacious, was not set up for romance. He used it primarily for transporting his sound equipment, keeping the back of it open and empty. While he had taken the precaution of throwing some mats and blankets in the back, he knew it would be hard, uncomfortable and unappealing.
Heather had lined the back of her station wagon with bright yellow & orange shag carpet, choosing to cover the seats with soft orange upholstery that matched. Laughing as he looked around at the vibrant colors surrounding him, he asked, “When you chose to redo the interior, did you consider it would look like a flaming sexmobile?”
Smirking she replied, “Damn, is it that obvious?” Then she laughed and admitted, “Of course, I thought about it. I even thought about putting a purple feather mattress back there, but I decided it was best to go with the hint of possibility.”
Heather suggested they drive down to the piers. There would be an off shore breeze to cool them; walking and talking would be more comfortable there. When they arrived, she stood leaning against her car listening to the seagull’s raucous overhead calls and watching how they seemed to float in the air, their wings spread wide, delicately balanced on an invisible current. Steve took in a deep breath of the salty, slightly fishy smell in the air and noted the sound of the waves lapping against the ships.
Holding hands, they slowly walked up and down the line of docks, inspecting the huge ships, and admiring the elegant sailboats gracefully tacking by. They decided to stop for a cold beer and some tacos at one of the little restaurants dotting the shoreline. They chatted about their summer jobs. Steve, who had been helping with the orientation sessions for incoming freshmen at Rockingham, started by talking about the astonishing ignorance and lack of basic comprehension displayed by some of the attendees.
Remembering her own orientation session, Heather snorted, “I was such an innocent the first night I stayed on campus. My roommate and I had missed dinner and were really hungry, but we didn’t know if we could bring food into the dorm.” Pressing the edges of her taco together, she bit into the shell. It crunched and cracked apart, diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce dribbling down the side of her mouth.
“Come on, you really thought food wasn’t allowed?” Steve said, as he gently wiped her chin with his napkin.
“It was all so very new. I thought there would be rules, like at home. But anyway, since I was the brave one, I offered to go down to the lobby. I practically tip-toed down because I was afraid someone would stop me. I got the pizza and scuttled back to our room and just as I stepped through the doorway — the fire alarm went off. I thought I had set off a pizza alarm and I panicked.”
Steve paused, his beer bottle poised on his lips, “No baby, you didn’t?”
“Stop laughing. Really, that’s what I thought. I was so flustered, I threw the pizza on the desk, slammed the door closed behind me and fled. Out in the hallway there was this, like, chaos because no one knew what we were supposed to do and the RAs were shouting that everyone had to get out of the building. When we got back to our room, we discovered we were locked out. It took another forty-five minutes to get back in. Our poor pizza was ice cold.” Steve shook his head grinning back at her.
After dinner, as dusk was setting in and they were meandering down the shore, Steve put his arm around her shoulders and drew her closer. It had been a perfect afternoon. The time had come to kiss her, to finally feel her soft body melt into his. He lifted her chin up with one hand and bent his head toward her. Heather drew away from him. She searched his eyes for a few moments before saying, “Steve, that’s not why I asked you to come here.”
Shaking his head, he replied, “No. No, the invitation was pretty clear.”
“Oh Steve, I like you a lot. You’re the keeper of my joy. I just don’t feel that way about you. Oh, please don’t be mad. Please don’t be hurt. I’m sorry.”
He pivoted away from her. Fighting his frustration and disappointment he ground out, “Damn it Heather. How could I think anything different the way you carry on and flirt with me? You invite me to visit. What else was I going to think? You know, that really bites Heather. It really bites.”
Walking away, Steve fought to control his anger, slamming his thwarted desires into a scrunched little black globule and jamming them into a hidden crevice.
They drove in silence back to her parent’s home. When they got there, Steve focused on her family, agreeing to play Parcheesi with her younger brother and sister. He gifted them with his time and full attention, which they loved. When the game was over Heather’s father offered Steve some of his potent blackberry wine. They fell into conversation, discovering they had many shared interests. Soon they were laughing and exchanging stories like they were long lost buddies.
Steve focused on Mr. Brochard, drank the homemade wine he offered and did his best to block out the aching hole scrabbling to burst out of his gut. At one point, Steve looked up and noticed Heather standing in the living room peering at them. Her eyes wide and shiny. He looked at her and knew what she was seeing. Two men, reflected versions of each other, one twenty years older than the other, but so similar they might as well be the same person. No wonder he liked her. She had been studying how to keep an older version of him happy for eighteen years.
Later, when it came time for bed, Steve was so drunk he could barely function. Heather guided him to his room. She knew she should probably leave him to fend for himself, but it was a hot, airless night and he would swelter if he slept the way he was. She decided to help him remove his pants and shoes, leaving him in his underwear and t-shirt.
“Christ Steve, you even wear tighty-whities the same as my dad. Come on, it’s time to lie down.”
Before complying, he turned and enfolded her in his arms. His breath heavy with alcohol, he pressed his face against her hair holding her tightly against him. Then he bent his head and laid a heavy, wet kiss on her mouth, forcing it open, his tongue probing thick and liquid. She bore it for a few seconds but soon pulled away, stopping him firmly, “Steve, it’s time to get into bed.”
He wobbled and swayed before flopping down on his back, sprawled across the bed, his legs spread wide, his arms flung out in a T. She covered him with a sheet. As she pulled it up to his chin, he mumbled, “You know Heather, it bites. It really bites.”
Blinking as she brushed his hair off his forehead, she replied, “I know baby, I know.”
The next morning, despite having a throbbing hangover, Steve forced himself to get up and dress. The house was quiet, only Heather and her mom were in the kitchen. They offered to make breakfast, but he declined saying he had to get back to Rockingham. Soon he said his goodbyes and headed for his van. He opened the door, but before he could hop up into the bucket seat, Heather stopped him by placing her hand on his arm. She stepped up, giving his cheek a kiss and said. “You’ve been the best dad I ever had. I’ll always remember you.”
Taking her hand off his arm, he brought it to his lips, then stood looking down as their hands intertwined. “You know, my offer still stands. If you can’t bear life in the dorms this fall and want to break your housing contract, remember I said I would marry you. You can always come share my apartment. I’ve got that second bedroom. No one is using it.”
Smiling she took her hand back from his and stepped back, “I’ll remember that.”
He climbed into the van. Looking down at her through the open window. “I’ll see you when school begins. Remember, I said I’d marry you.” Putting the van into gear, he slowly drove away. He watched her waving in the rear view mirror until a dip in the road cut off his view. He tried to memorize the moment, knowing, somehow, it would be the last time he saw her.
Today’s music selection is Still…You Turn Me On from Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Released: 1973. Track 3.