tagNovels and NovellasOf Friends & Lovers

Of Friends & Lovers

bySandraElwin©

It was shaping up to be just another one of those quiet evenings at home alone. Not ordinarily something catastrophic in its own right because as a guy in his late twenties in the midwest I was fairly accustomed to them on a regular basis, but tonight was different. My hopes were up; tonight I was meeting someone.

I had been really looking forward to this date all week. It was with a girl named Julie who I had met online and with whom I'd been chatting with for a few weeks now. She lived a little further away than either of us ideally had in mind, but the more we chatted the more we felt that maybe there was something there to give an honest chance to.

The reason it took us so long to come to the conclusion that we should get together was that we lived nearly a two hour drive from one another and despite our multitude of common interests we were both pretty upfront with one another that a 'long distance' relationship was not something either of us were looking for. We stayed in touch anyway, nearly everyday - talking about everything really. Architecture, life in our twenties, the short comings of other people we were getting messages from through the dating site. We talked about art, family, religion, even politics. It all felt pretty effortless which was something I'd experienced only once before with a girl I still thought about from time to time - it didn't work out and, well perhaps this was my way to move forward. After a few weeks Julie and I were beginning to wonder if maybe we should make an honest attempt to overcome our perceived obstacle of distance. Unfortunately as fate would have it, on the night we were to meet up Mother Nature appeared to have other plans entirely.

Earlier that afternoon a winter storm had decided to blow just north of where I lived and blow right overhead of where Julie lived in the north east. While my area had missed the brunt of the storm - the temperature outside had dropped considerably and ice was forming in patches on roads and on just about everything it could including power lines. Needless to say Julie was pretty much homebound, unable to make our date.

I was beginning to feel that like most things during the midwest winter months - dating, love, hell even basic human interaction would simply just have to wait until Spring.

I settled in for what I knew would be an exciting and adventurous night of cable television. Or so that's all I expected from my evening now - I would soon find out just how wrong I could be.

About an hour into watching some wonderfully inaccurate world war two documentary my phone buzzed on the couch cushion to my left.

It was a text that simply read 'And... my power just went out.' . It was from my friend Emily and judging from her choice of verbage and strategic use of elipses I figured she must be having a rough day.

I tapped out a response. 'One of those days I take it?'

'Yeah. Ugh and I called the power company and they said power was out all over town and it could be the rest of the night before it's back on.' I sensed her frustration through the little black letters on my phone's screen.

'Temp inside?' I asked.

'Chilly, I didn't think to stockpile heat through the night :( ' came her response.

Well power is still on here. I'm in for the night. You're welcome to stay warm here. Have a wood burning fire place if it goes out here too. ' I made my offer knowing pretty surely she would thank me and say she'd be alright.

'Are you sure?' she asked.

What? Her response took me a little off guard. 'Uhm, yeah. Wouldn't have offered if I didn't mean it. You can stay in my guest room.' I typed back to her.

'Thanks. OK, I'll leave here in a few then.' came her last text.

* * * *

Thirty minutes later she was knocking on my front door with a small bag of whatever she thought she might need for the night.

"Hey, come on in." I welcomed her.

"Thanks, ...so everyone's power is out from my place by the mall all the way up until about three blocks from your house," she said stepping inside and looking around. "So this is your place. It's really great. We've been friends all this time but I guess I've never actually come inside."

"Well, you never really had a reason to come in I guess, you've seen it from outside before - with the rest of the gang to come pick me up to go out a few times." I watched her switch her bag from hand to hand. "Here, you can sit that wherever."

I took her bag from her hand and sat it in a nearby chair in the living room.

"Thanks again for the invite. My Grandparents live just a few streets over from you and I did think about calling them, but the idea of spending the night ...well it's not exactly the end to the day I feel I need right now," she quipped. "Wow, you know what I'm really appreciating right now?" she remarked. "Your heat. My God it's so cold outside."

I chuckled a bit. "I bet. God that storm just decided to mess everything up. Yesterday it was fifty something, today down to freaking twelve degrees."

"Oh I know!" she exclaimed.

We stood there a brief moment with very little to say.

"Uh, so are you hungry, thirsty? I haven't eaten myself I can fix us something." my offer broke through the silence.

"I haven't eaten actually, food sounds good." came her chipper reply and we began to move into the kitchen to see what looked good.

And just like that, not even two steps distance from the fridge - the power goes out.

Shaking my head, "Ohhh You!" I pointed at Emily, spinning in her direction. "You brought this affliction upon my house, You're going to have to leave now."

"No, I didn't I swear!" She laughed. "...Oh fuck my life! I think the universe hates me today."

The kitchen was dark, really dark. So was the rest of the house. I pulled my phone from my jean's front hip pocket and tapped my finger to the little lightbulb icon that illuminated my phone's LED flashlight. "I have oil lamps in the pantry."

"Oil lamps?" she inquired with some level of amusement.

"Yeah, a legacy from my Grandmother. Here hold this." I handed Emily my cellphone light asking her to point it upward toward the top of the pantry where I reached up to pull down three very old, fully filled oil lamps and a box of matches. "When my sister and I were growing up, every time the power would go out she would pull out these oil lamps and we would always have light that would last through the night. We didn't have to worry about batteries or holding flashlights; one match was all that was needed."

I handed her one of the lamps and I carried the other two over to the kitchen table as she followed me.

I pulled off the glass dome from the top of one of the lamp's and turned the antiquated brass knob on the side that fed the oil soaked canvas wick upward and out of the lamp's ruby colored oil filled base. I struck a match against the side of its box and lit the first wick. The oil soaked up the match's fire and the room illuminated with a warm flickering light. I touched the same lit match to the other two lamps and the room grew brighter. "You can go ahead and put the glass globe back on that one and sit it on the coffee table in the living room." I instructed her. "I'll leave one in here and sit the other in the bathroom."

We had light now, but the house wasn't the newest of houses and I felt like it didn't retain heat as well as it possibly could. "I'm going to bring in some wood and start a fire to try and keep the heat we already have."

"Do you want help?" Emily asked.

"No, the wood is in a stacked pile right outside the kitchen door." I stepped outside and filled my arms with as much wood as I could carry in them. I made two trips. I put a little bit of kindling near the bottom and stacked a few pieces of wood on top. It took me more than one match to get the fire started - it may have taken me more than four actually, but I managed. I opened the flue and the fire began to grow steadily.

"What do you know! Light and heat! I am truly the master of my own domain," I proclaimed proudly.

"I'm pretty sure that mean something else entirely in a post-Seinfeld world," she countered.

"...Probably, but don't steal my thunder."

She was sitting on my couch. I flopped back into a chair and watched the fire grow and the flames crackle and dance.

"So I guess dinner is out of the question now, unless you have non-cook items like... dinner-cereal," She said sounding a little hungry.

"Well I don't have any food that can be eaten without being cooked, but I'd be happy to describe food to you and be as descriptive as possible. What sounds good? What are you really in the mood for? "

"Oooh you're an ass! Are you and the universe working together tonight, because I'll take my chances in the cold. It's really been that kind of day."

"Not really working for per se - I'm more of an independent contractor. But, OK, I may have a few things, but you can't tell my boss I fed you."

We both moved into the kitchen and I repositioned the oil lamp sitting on the kitchen table to the counter behind us opposite the refrigerator so its light would illuminate the fridge's shelves.

"Oh!" I exclaimed, seeing a plain white bag tied in a knot at the top. That day my boss and I had met a client for lunch at a sushi bar and I had spent so much of the lunch as the one talking over logistics and details pertaining to what we were working on that I had only eaten two pieces of the four sushi rolls I had ordered. "Do you like sushi?" I asked Emily. "It's today's. Fresh. It would have to be eaten today or tomorrow anyway and since the power is out - might as well be now."

"Yay, yeah I love sushi. What kind did you get?" she inquired.

I grabbed two pairs of chop sticks and two soy dishes that my Mother had given to me as gifts one year for my birthday knowing how much I lived for good sushi.

"What would you like to drink?" I asked. "I have beer, wine, soda, and water."

"I'm not a beer girl. Um I'll have wine," She said.

I pointed over to the small selection of four bottles that made up my entire wine collection. "Why don't you look through the bottles I have over there and pick out whatever you think looks good."

"OK, Mmm, what do you like?" she asked as she scanned the four labels.

"I think I'm going to have a beer myself." and I pulled a bottle of dark, stout beer from the back of the fridge then closed the door.

We took our food and drinks back into the living room and laid everything across the coffee table. Emily unwrapped the white plastic bag and pulled out the plastic container housing a large sum of sushi.

"You were going to eat this much at lunch?" she asked.

"It's four rolls. I would have eaten most if not all. So ...yeah." I poured soy sauce into my own little dish and then reached into the container to grab some wasabi which I stirred into the same dish with my chopsticks until the green paste clouded the sauce.

She plucked a piece of sushi from the end of one of the rolls "I love that you have a dragon roll, it's one of my favorites," she said popping it into her mouth and chewing.

Unsure as to whether it was due to the satisfaction of finally getting to eat dinner or whether she just really enjoyed having sushi - I noticed that she was kind of wiggling in her seat, her upper body swaying a bit back and forth as she chewed. She wore a small smile on her lips as she carefully selected the next type of sushi she would try. Emily was full of quirks - perhaps this swaying was one of them, perhaps this was her happy dance.

"This is nice," she said looking up at me momentarily and smiling bigger. "Beats the rest of my day by leaps and bounds."

"Hmm, anything you want to talk about or is it a day better off forgotten?" I slipped the piece of salmon that had been soaking in my wasabi soy into my mouth and it was incredible. I was all too happy to be sharing with her - but a tiny selfish bit of me kind of hoped that she didn't care for salmon and would leave that for me.

"No it's ...I mean. Well ok it's a bunch of tiny things that have all been building up slowly over time so I guess I should have seen some of them coming, but they all came to a head today and did so within hours of each other. ...So they've been talking about the possibility of furloughs at work for about two months now. They even gave people the option of voluntary furlough last month which some people took, but I guess it wasn't enough to make a difference because today they told my entire department we would be furloughed for a month," she explained.

"That's... really awful. I'm sorry to hear that."

She went on. "Then on a whole other front I had started seeing this guy, Adam, about three weeks ago. We went on several dates; we were having fun, things were going well with no signs pointing to worry. And out of no where he tells me today that he doesn't think that it's working out."

"Ooh..." What could I say other than I felt for her. "You are having a bad day."

Her eyes got big and she held her chopsticks up in front of her as if to continue. "Oh there's more. Not only does he decide to tell me this within an hour of my being told I was no longer needed at work - he tells me via text. Because you know. That's the classy thing to do." She was shaking her head as if she couldn't believe her own story. "Oh and my brother quit college without telling anyone and my closest Aunt was admitted to the hospital."

All I could do was stare back at her. "You have to be making some of that up. All of that today?" I asked.

"All of that today." And for a split second her countenance changed from that of amused storyteller to a look of being overwhelmed and feeling hurt. Through all the years I'd known her she was always chipper, ever the optimist, things could attack her but never truly get her down. So while that moment of hurt or whatever it was she was experiencing was masked over again just as quickly as it had emerged - my eyes had seen it and all the platitudes - the things we say to each other when things happen 'Oh I'm so sorry.' , 'It sucks, but things will get better.' , 'I understand.' - none of them seemed to hold any real value and so I said nothing. Just sat there. Willing to listen if there were anything she felt like adding.

* * * *

We polished off every bit of the sushi and the last bite was as delicious as the first. The house did in fact begin to chill as the night went on and we moved from the couch and chair to the floor in front of the fire place where it was several degrees warmer. I was on my second bottle of beer and she was on her second or third glass of wine.

We talked. I told her about a side project I was working on - how I was hoping that if it took off I would try leaving my current job and try my hand at launching into a business of my own. We talked about travel and she filled me in on a recent trip to Spain she had taken sometime between now and the last time we had seen each other - which through the course of conversation we realized was fast approaching on six months. We had texted. We had sent the occasional e-mail, but we had not actually seen one another in person now for nearly half a year.

I remembered back to that last time we had met in person. We had decided to meet and catch up with what was going on with one another over drinks and appetizers at a nearby restaurant around five in the afternoon on a Thursday. I don't recall what we talked about, but I remembered how we lost track of time talking through the evening until we noticed the restaurant's staff cleaning up around us.

My mind flashed back, further still, to a period of time just a few years earlier - when we were hanging out more regularly and when it seemed no matter how early in a day we chose to meet up we would still manage to close the place down just talking with one another.

One night in particular sprang to mind the two of us out together for no other reason than to get out of our houses. We were at a bar - now likely long out of business. Sitting at a table together I had been talking with my hands as I am prone to doing and as I finished with whatever I had been saying I returned my arms to the table - the little finger of one of my hands landing very near one of her own resting hands and now brushing against her thumb. For a brief moment neither of us moved or pulled away. And then subtly - gently, I began tracing her thumb with my finger. I remembered how it felt when she curled her thumb around my finger just before the rest of our hands slowly moved toward one another. We didn't speak. There didn't feel as if there were a reason to say anything.

The skin of her hand looked so pale in contrast to the darker skin of my own hand - as if she were made of a living porcelain. Our fingers didn't intertwine the way so many couples are seen doing - instead I remember just running my thumb back and forth lightly over the inside of her outstretched palm there in that dimly lit bar - just exploring it. I remembered studying her skin as I traced the length of her fingers between my own thumb and forefinger. ...But most of all, above all else, I remembered how she let me.

A week or so after that in a similar situation I had kissed her. The moment had felt right, but when my lips touched hers she stayed in the kiss only for a moment before sliding her head to the side and settling in for an awkward hug. I didn't try to kiss her again after that, and the times in between our getting together now grew further and further apart.

* * * *

"Things will get better." My own voice carried the words over the crackling sounds of the fire. We were now lying on the floor - bodies outstretched in opposite directions with only our heads near one another. I had pulled a few blankets down to the floor and she had reached up and pulled down a few small pillows from the corners of the couch.

"I know," she said with eyes slowly opening and staring up at the ceiling. "Do you have anymore blankets, would you mind."

"Yeah, I'll be right back." I walked down the hallway to my bedroom on the end. From one of my closet shelves I pulled a large, rather thick cover that was big enough to spread out on the hardwood floor as padding and still have enough left over to fold over herself.

As I turned to leave my bedroom on my way back to the living room I glanced back over my shoulder and out through the bedroom window facing in the direction of town - out towards where Emily's own house sat. My bedroom view stretched over quite a distance because my house was situated near the peak of a hill and I could see over the rooftops of the other houses in my neighborhood. In the distance I could see lights. And then right before my eyes in the quickest of moments I saw an entire swatch of black at least fifteen blocks wide suddenly illuminate - their power returned.

I began to open my mouth to pass the news down the hallway to Emily's ears when she spoke first.

"I wish there was a pause button. I wish I could just put everything on hold for at least a day. Another hour at least." Her voice sounding contemplative in the air.

Now halfway back down the hallway toward the living room her words stopped me in my tracks. I looked back behind me - my eyes tunneling through the frame of my bedroom door and through the frame of my bedroom window out toward the night sky where lights were steadily returning to life on a path that was growing closer to my own neighborhood.

Standing there motionless, I turned to one side, now facing one of the walls there in the hallway. I reached my hand up to open a small metal wall colored door that hung flush against its vertical surface. Inside, my fingers felt their way up a series of horizontal switches until they found the master fuse for the entire house. I looked to my left toward the living room where I knew Emily laid with eyes gazing upward at the ceiling and I felt the heavy resistance of the fuse's switch under the pressure of my fingers as I flicked it into the off position. Not a even a full second later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my neighbor's flood light flick to life and trickle upward gently streaming onto the exterior framing of my bedroom window. I took a few steps toward my bedroom door and pulled it shut then carried the blanket into the living room.

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bySandraElwin© 3 comments/ 8207 views/ 5 favorites

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