Wedding Days

By Albert Chen

Originally written in 1997 as the first draft of "Soulmates."

Intro, and Piano sequence written in 1999 Ė 2001.

Revived on December 8, 2002

The sun is unseasonably warm and only a single flash of color in the green of the New England trees betrays the end of the long days and the coming of winter. A light breeze ruffles through the leaves and the air is filled with the nutty smell of maple and beech.

"Autumn again," he thinks, sniffing the air and he lays back into the wicker chaise. He closes his eyes and lets the sun beat down upon him and basks in the warmth of its rays. "Autumn," he thinks again, and in his mind's eye he sees the leaves turn color and begin to fall.

* * *

"Hello?"

"Did I wake you?"

"That's okay; what time is it?"

"3:37"

"Mm. Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I dreamed about you just now."

"You did? What did you dream about?"

"You didn't necessarily look like yourself, but I knew it was you, you know? ... Anyway it seemed real."

"So, what was it about?'

"I..."

"Yes?"

"I ... I dreamt we fell in love."

"You did?"

"Yeah."

"That's really nice."

"Yes, it was."

* * *

I am about to get married. A lot runs through your mind when you are about to be married. You think about the carefree days of high school and college, you wonder about the future, you worry about the present and at times you regret the past. A lot happens when you get married. Your friends come from all over to see you, family you barely know come to find you and congratulate you, Say nothing about the arrangements and planning that happen for the event itself. It is said that the worst fights you get into with your spouse happen before you get married, while you are planning the wedding. I will have to agree for now, though I wonít be sure about it until I die, I suppose.

The story I have to tell you is more about something else, about a night three days before the wedding, when a dear friend I hadnít seen in years came over to keep me company, to relish the occasion, to reacquaint and catch up. I would not tell this to anyone publicly, but it is something that happened and I need to tell someone.

My fiancťe is Erika, my friend is Virginia and I love them both, but I love them in different ways.

Virginia came out early to help with the wedding; she was a friend of Erikaís before she was a friend of mine, but she and I had a very special relationship that always seemed to be beyond reproach. Virginiaís husband was to come later with the kids and join her for the wedding itself.

A lot had happened in those days, meetings with caterers, emergencies here and fires there and a lot of arguing between Erika and I. Three nights before the wedding, there was a lull while Erika went with her mother to get fitted yet again and take care of some incidentals that I had by then, washed my hands of.

It was the first time since Virginia had arrived that we were alone.

"I can't believe you are getting married."

"I couldn't believe it when you got married either."

"That was seven years and two children ago."

"Still, I remember when we all first met up."

"Yeah, you hated Erica."

"What a thing to say; I did not."

"I thought you might say that, so I brought your letters as proof."

"You did not."

"Yes, I did."

"What are you going to do, read them at the wedding?"

"I wouldn't do that to my best friend; but I will read them to you now. At least so you can see how far you and Erica have come."

"This isn't fair."

"Sure it is. You promised me one night of hanging out before everything started. That's why I came out early."

"Yeah, but I didn't think I would be tortured by my own letters. I can't believe you kept them."

"I kept everything. It'll be fun and considering your ego, you probably love it."

"I'm a megalomaniac, not an egomaniac."

"Oh, I think you are both."

"Thanks a lot!"

"Like you didn't know this already."

"Okay, I concede. What are we going to listen to today? What did I write?"

"Well, lets just say you didn't think much of your fiancťe at first."

"So she irritated me at first."

"That is an understatement."

"Didn't we see each other then too?"

"Yes, you sent me this letter when we first met."

"What did I write?"

"Do you want me to read it?"

"Sure, why not?"

"Okay, ĎDear Virginia, I want to tell you how amazing it has been to meet you. In life there are many people, fewer that you meet, even fewer that you befriend. And then there are those few that the moment you meet them, you know that if you do not make friends with them, then you will regret it for the rest of your lifeÖí"

"Okay, stop, I am embarrassed."

"Why? It was sweet, and true too."

"Skip to the Erika part."

"All right, hang on, okay hereÖ"

At that moment, while Virginia read the part of my letter about Erika, I remembered how we all first met.

* * *

I've never enjoyed frequenting the bars at night, I've never fit in; the music is always too loud, the wine cheap, and the smoke stifling, all of which meant meeting an intelligent person to have a conversation with was unlikely. Erika was a neighbor from my building who genuinely enjoyed meeting people in the dark establishments. What this meant, I was not terribly sure. We were waiting for Erika's friend Richard and his fiancťe to join us, but we arrived before them and were waiting at the bar. Erika had already had a beer to my unidentifiable wine and was steadily working through a second.

I met Erika the very first week in the city; I had been coming home from shopping and she had run me down with her shiny black and chrome Vespa in front of the apartment. Fortunately, she hadn't been going all that fast, but just the same, the potted plant I had just purchased went crashing onto the ground and the novel I had been reading went skittering across the pavement.

I looked up in amazement as this woman sat unmoving on the bike, hands still on the grips of the handlebars and her feet planted on the sidewalk. Her face was clenched tight and her red full lips scrunched as if afraid to open her eyes. There was a moment without breathing and as I struggled to catch my wits about me. I watched her breasts heave behind her white blouse. When it finally occurred to me what had happened, I moved my limbs to see if they were still working and, quite unintentionally, I snapped at her.

"What do you think you are doing?" I said. "Don't you know you aren't supposed to ride on the sidewalk?"

She opened her mouth to speak and promptly burst into tears. My male hormones ignited instantly. Tall gorgeous girl crying upon a Vespa.

I was on my feet in an instant.

"Are you all right? Are you hurt?" I kept asking, as if it had been me that had hit her. When she wouldn't stop crying I put an arm around her and kept telling her it was all right, it was all right. She put her manicured hands against my chest and buried her face in my shoulder to quiet her sobs.

I asked again, "Are you all right?"

She didn't answer.

"Are you hurt?"

She shook her head in my shirt.

"Why are you crying, then?"

"I thought I'd killed you," she said in a muffled tone.

"But you haven't, I'm fine, really," I stepped back and flexed my arms and legs to show her I was okay.

"I'm so glad," she said mollified. "I thought I had hurt someone again."

"Someone else?" I thought incredulously. Indeed the front of her Vespa showed signs of hastily repaired dents and scratches. I reconsidered my testosterone levels.

I gave her a weak smile and was rewarded with a resplendent one in return. My consideration was quickly forgotten and my attraction reignited.

"Did you lose control?" I asked as she got off the bike. "Did something happen to you?"

She shook her head and pushed past me.

"So what happened?" I asked gently, still inspecting her bike.

"I forgot to stop," she said guilelessly.

I was flabbergasted.

"You forgot...," I choked and turned to face her.

She was kneeling in her clingy blouse and black skirt inspecting the remains of my plant.

"You broke your plant," she said, looking forlorn. My brain and hormones fought a tremendous battle.

"That's okay," I said, writing off the rhododendron.

"The poor plant. What are you going to do?" The plant's death was more traumatic to her than the accident.

I scooped up the plant and dumped it in the garbage by the front door. Then I picked up the two halves of the pot and prepared to throw them away too.

"Wait!" She cried out.

"But it's dead already" I said.

"No, not the plant you silly, the pot."

"This?" I asked, holding up the pieces.

"Yeah," she nodded. "The pot. Can I have it?"

"You want the pot," I said, looking at the broken terra cotta critically.

"Please?" She asked with her long eyelashes.

I handed her the pieces and she placed them into her bag. I then went and found my book which had slid under a parked car. When I returned she stood there looking pleased with herself.

"Do you live here?" I asked

"Yes!" She gushed; all thoughts of the accident had obliterated themselves from her mind. "How did you know?"

"Just a guess," I said. Her energy sapped mine.

"Do you live here too?" She asked. I nodded and made my way to the elevator. "I knew that, you know. You play the cello too."

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"I'm psychic," she said seriously. "Really, I am. Besides, I saw the cello when you moved in."

Mildly exasperated, I didn't reply. By then the elevator doors opened and we stepped in.

After pulling the gate shut, I pushed the button for the tenth floor then asked her what floor she wanted.

"That's all right," she answered.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I live across the hall from you," she said. "Silly."

The elevator was interminably slow and I waited not knowing what to say. She, on the other hand, seemed bursting to say something. I glanced up and gave her an opening Ė fully expecting something else vacuous to escape her mouth. Instead she pulled the book from my hand.

"What are you reading?" She asked. Somewhere she found a piece of gum to chew.

"Chekov," I replied aware of the irony of the situation. Actually, I found Chekov kind of boring.

"Any good?" She asked.

"Yes," I said mildly relieved that there were not Star Trek references.

"Are you alone?" She asked dropping the book as she returned it. She bent over to pick it up and sent me off again in my brain versus hormones battle. In my discomfort I turned away and faced the door.

I felt her behind me and she breathed into my ear.

"I watch you go to work," she said.

I felt the warmth of her body behind me.

"I watch you come home too."

I felt her breasts press against my back.

Her tongue licked my ear.

The elevator stopped early on the third floor and in hot embarrassed confusion I stepped out of the car thinking it was my floor. By the time I realized my mistake, the elevator moved again and her bewildered face passed into the floor above.

* * *

Erika played in my mind from time to time in the next several days. She wasn't really the type of girl I imagined I would be friends with, much less get involved with. Sometimes, though, you make friends with people simply because there is no one else around. There's nothing wrong with that, so long as you don't judge those friends too harshly. People are social animals anyway, and loneliness is something we all dread from time to time. Sometimes we get involved with people we don't intend on for much the same reason, or perhaps that is just another idiocy of being male.

One afternoon after practicing the cello, I found myself bored trying to listen to the radio and washing my dishes. I contemplated calling home, but decided against the expense. I debated between reading a book or writing another chapter in my now interminable novel and felt like doing neither. What I wanted was someone to talk to. The only person I knew in the building was Erika, though, at the time, I still didn't know her name. I didn't really want to talk to her; I just wanted to talk to somebody. Feeling as though I had nothing better to do, I went across the hall to her apartment and rang her doorbell. No one answered, and I felt a surprising lurch of disappointment at that. Before turning away I knocked on the door once more for good measure. There was a crash and the sounds of scrambling before the door opened.

"Oh, it's you!" She beamed through a flour-covered face.

"Hello, am I interrupting anything?" I asked.

She grabbed my sleeve with a sticky dough covered hand and dragged me into her apartment.

"I'm just talking to a friend, I'll be right off."

She made no mention of the smells of baking as she scrambled over piles of clutter to pick up the telephone, which must have fallen when she had gone to get the door. I shrugged and made myself a space on the couch and waited for her to return. After a while though she was still on the phone, so I made my way around her apartment peeking at the various curios and pictures that adorned the lack of space. Unrestrained laughter pealed from the other room as the conversation continued. Among the framed pictures of various men, I happened upon the pot she had salvaged from the incident the other day. She had rejoined the halves with a rubber band and filled it with an assortment of stones and broken pieces of colored glass and Pez dispensers. The collection seemed child-like, and it made me smile.

Eventually, I found a copy of the local gazette buried under some clothes on the coffee table and leafed through it. In the course of the next half hour, I had discovered fantastic predictions of the future, evidence of bizarre murders, and miracle cures for everything from gout to lumbago. I was just reading about a ghost that had been said to haunt the plaza, when I smelled cookies burning. Erika, I had discovered her name among a pile of letters, did not seem to notice, so I went to the kitchen and stemmed the smoke spewing from her oven. I turned off the oven and opened a window. When I finally opened the oven door, I removed what had to be the most pathetic looking collection of burnt cookies I had ever seen.

I heard the click of the phone as she hung up in the other room.

"Where are you?" She called out.

"In the kitchen," I replied.

The door to the kitchen burst open and Erika, in her black knit sweater and equally racy pants, leapt to me and gave me a prolonged kiss square on the lips.

I hadn't kissed a girl in over a year, and I felt a twinge of guilt for my ex-girlfriend before succumbing to the delicious feeling of her lips upon mine. Her tongue briefly touched mine and before I knew it, it was over.

"Hello!" She said brightly.

I was still dumbfounded.

"Hey, what's this smoke? Oh yeah, my cookies."

I turned to show her where I had put them by the window and promptly burned my hand on the pan. The cookies went scattering to the ground.

* * *

Stunning in appearance, though otherwise unremarkable, it turned out Erika was not bad to talk to once you got past her star-struck notions and bouts of absent-mindedness. There were things that she didn't understand Ė like why it was that I liked to write sad stories, and I never told her why it was that I left Cambridge, but we did talk about other things.

Over the course of the next several weeks, I discovered that she had come to the city a few years after school, when Richard, the man she had been on the phone with, had asked her to come out from their town to be with him. At first she had been reluctant to leave her family and friends, but he had cajoled and persuaded and talked of love and marriage, and in the end she had agreed. When she finally arrived, she found him always on medical call and never around to be with her. Within two months, he had dumped her and met someone else.

I was incensed for her and said so, but she said that, in the end, everything worked out all right. Richard was still her best friend, she said. You should stay friends with people you break up with, she said. No one knows you better than the people you are close to, she said.

I made the call to my ex-girlfriend that day and the conversation was stilted and short. After a long uncomfortable silence, we said good-bye and hung up. Erika said that was okay too.

Erika wanted me to meet Richard and dispel my antagonism towards him, and that is how we found ourselves in a smoke-filled tavern waiting for the doctor and his fiancťe.

It was late when Richard and his fiancťe finally arrived. With scarcely a glance my way he came up to us and he gave Erika quite the hug. I glanced at his fiancťe and saw her turn away in discomfort. Her profile was exquisite and the sadness in her face struck me deeply. She caught me staring at her and catching her in her privacy. She turned to me turned to me with an embarrassed smile.

"Pardon my husband's lapse of manners. My name is Virginia," she said softly, yet her voice was clear beneath the music. Her smile was dazzling and the now-hidden sadness behind her eyes lent a depth to her that I imagined myself drowning in.

I introduced myself with a slight bow only to become acutely aware at how foolish it might seem.

"It is a pleasure."

"The pleasure is mine," I shook her hand and her fingers touched mine.

"Ah! You've met! Good, good," Richard boomed over the horns and the bass. A hand was scooped around Erika's waist. "Ginny, you know 'Rika."

I watched as Virginia nodded almost imperceptibly, I imagined some secret embers smoldering within her.

"And you must be Erikaís friend!" He continued.

My eyes lingered on his fiancťe for a hint of a moment longer before turning to the gregarious man. In a flash of guilty selfishness, I envied the man his fiancťe, and felt that he could not possibly deserve her.

"Do you play snooker, old man?" He asked and not realizing that no one answered him, he boomed: "then let's play!"

"After you," I offered towards the table.

"Och, get me a tankard will you Ginny?" He boomed again.

In my discomfort, Virginia slipped away quietly.

I returned my attention to the table, my own anger quietly smoldering behind a complacent stare. Erika had taken possession of a snooker cue and was listening to some bawdy joke from Richard who was rapping the butt of the cue in time to the staccato jets of her laughter. I looked at Virginia at the bar, and back again to Erika and Richard. Erika's laughter once again bounced off the wall and to me it became scratching upon a schoolboy's writing slate. I felt disgusted and dirty. And just as I felt as though I might let my annoyance loose, Virginia spoke into my ear.

"Aren't you going to play?" She asked passing the stein of beer to her husband.

"I may pass, I donít find myself up for playing," I replied.

"Then would you keep me company?" She asked. "I am not altogether fond of billiards either."

"Are you playing?" Erika's called to me, her voice once again playing itself upon the chalkboard.

"Let them talk!" Boomed Richard. "We'll have more fun without them."

Virginia and I made our way towards the back of the room away from the horns and the bass.

"We can almost hear ourselves think here," she said when we had been seated.

"Almost," I replied. I was rewarded with a smile.

"What brings you to the city, Mr...."

I asked her to call me by my first name instead.

"If you call me Virginia," she replied.

"Not Ginny?" I asked.

"If you wouldn't, I'd appreciate it," she said.

"By all means then, Virginia it is."

"Thank you."

I glanced momentarily at Richard and Erika at the billiard table, then focused my attention back to Virginia. "I'm studying literature at the institute," I said, in answer to her question.

"Really?" She asked. "What kind?"

"Classical and Neo-classical," I replied. "And some contemporary thought as well."

"Do you enjoy it?" She sipped a glass of red wine and rolled the liquid in the glass.

"I suppose so," I didn't seem to be able to taste the cheapness of the wine anymore. "Of course I'd rather write."

"You are a writer?" She asked.

"I pretend to be," I said.

She gave a light laugh. "I pretend to be too."

"Really, you write too?" I asked.

"From time to time I put some feelings and ideas together."

"This is remarkable," I replied.

"What do you like to write about?" She asked.

"The genre?"

"The genre. Or whatever it is you enjoy."

"I've been fascinated with the Catacombs of Paris," and thinking that sounded puffed up, I hastily followed with, "but most of my stuff are usually contemporary stories."

Surprisingly she did not belittle me for the Ďcatacombsí reference.

"Tragedy is somewhat romantic isn't it?" She sipped her wine.

"Yes, it is. And yourself?"

"I write about a lot of things," she said cryptically.

"Most recently then," I probed.

Her eyes focused and looked into mine.

"Unfulfilled love. Most recently, that is."

"That's so sad," I said in response. "Unrequited love is so tragic."

"Unfulfilled love even more so," she said in reply.

I gave that some thought.

We spoke of other things as the music played on.

"Ah, Richard is drunk again," she said finally. "I have to go help him."

She excused herself and rose from the table to return to the snooker table. I followed behind her.

Richard was quite drunk and looking at the number of shot glasses near the table, it was not surprising. Erika sat sprawled next to the snooker table upon a bar stool and appeared insensate.

"It appears the night is at an end," I said to her.

"Pour another," Erika mumbled.

"You should get her home," Virginia said.

"How about you?" I asked.

"We will get a cab," she said. "Don't worry about us; this has happened before."

I propped Erika up.

"I had a lovely evening," Virginia said, clasping my hand.

"As did I," I replied. "It is so rare to find intelligent, articulate individuals."

"Why, thank you."

"May I see you again?" I asked. "Friendships of choice, rather than of convenience, are a rarity."

"Our place tomorrow?" She asked. "We can talk about writing."

"When shall I come?" I asked.

"Four o'clock then? 38 Chateau Rouge," she said. "Richard will be at hospital then."

"Four o'clock it is. I shall not fail."

"Ah, melodrama," she said. "Very cute."

* * *

I brought Erika to her apartment door and reached into her pocket to get her keys. She turned and pressed her lips against mine, but this time I felt no response.

"Make love to me," she said, hanging from my neck.

"Not tonight," I said in reply.

"Make love to me," she whined, kicking her feet.

I led her to her bed and took off her shoes. She reached up to kiss me, but I gently, firmly, disentangled myself and put her into her bed. She fumbled around a little more, then settled as I placed the covers over her.

"Make love to me," she murmured in her sleep. I left the keys on her coffee table and slipped out of the door.

Instead of crossing to my apartment, I went outside and found a quiet walk along the river. Watching the moonlight paint the water, I imagined Virginia 's smile and found one of them slip its way onto my face too. The concept of another manís fiancťe would hit me in the morning, but that night, in the dark, I relished in the glow.

* * *

Three-thirty pm and a little more subdued, I made my way across town to 38 Chateau Rouge. I had avoided Erika all day by shopping in the city; I had nothing to show for it save an antique fountain pen I had picked up from a local merchant.

Threading my way through the inner streets, I found myself before a window-boxed apartment complete with bay windows and stoop.

After ringing the bell, Virginia answered and led me to the sitting room and then excused herself to the kitchen. In contrast to Erikaís apartment, Virginia and Richardís flat was meticulous in its dťcor and tasteful in its design. In the sitting room was a full grand piano resplendent and imposing in the sunlight. The top was open and there was music before the keys. I didnít see any dust and knew that it had been recently played.

Virginia returned with a tea service and poured.

"This is a beautiful piano," I said.

"It was a divorce present from my father."

"A divorce present?"

"My sister got a car, and I got a grand piano."

"Itís not a baby grand."

"No, its not. A bit extravagant I suppose, but I had always wanted one as a girl. I wanted to take it to school with me, but it was too big."

"Itís beautiful; I don't think I've ever seen a piano in a deep stain before. When I think of a piano like this, I always think of a black concert piano."

"Its pretty, isn't it?"

"Absolutely..."

"Is it a Steinway?"

"No it isnít. I find Steinways to be too heavy in the low notes. Itís usually what you learn on that you prefer Ė though Steinways do sound beautiful. This is a Yamaha. We had one when I was a girl. Do you play?"

"No, I never learned. Rather, I took lessons but they never took. I picked up cello recently as a response to the regret."

"You play cello?"

"I pretend."

"You pretend a lot of things; you seem to have many hobbies."

" I get bored easily. I never learned to read music, so my cello is really just playing by ear."

"You must be talented."

"Really, I am terrible; I just like playing for myself."

"Do you enjoy it?"

"As a matter of fact, I do, I am always quite pleased with myself when I play. I know I am bad, but I enjoy it anyway. Egomania I suppose."

"Then I am just as guilty."

"I take it you play."

"At times."

"What do you play?"

"Mostly classical. I was playing just before you arrived."

"Would you play something for me?"

"Until today, I hadnít played in a long time."

"Thatís okay."

"I'll make mistakes."

"It wouldn't be vibrant if you didn't."

She sighed, then asked, "What shall I play for you?"

"That wasnít very hard."

"Pardon?"

"To get you to play."

"I am not one to protest too much, it can be unseemly."

"Oh, I agree," I said.

She sipped her tea and then put down the cup. She was barefoot on the rug and as she walked, her long knit skirt was silent as it moved. Before she sat down she looked back with a slight wry smile on her face.

"Anyway, I thought we agreed we were egomaniacs," she said then settled herself behind the piano. "So, what shall I play?"

"Anything. Do you have Chopin? ĎFantasie Impromptu in D?í"

"I can't play Chopin any more, my hands donít move that fast. And donít ask for Liszt, his hands were too big. How about some Bach?"

"Bach will be fine."

"I warn you, it has been a while."

"Trust me, I wonít mind."

I watched her face as she prepared to play and her eyes focused in concentration. I knew for certain that I was no longer in the room for her and I found myself entranced by the sheer intensity of her focus.

The moment is transfixed in my mind like a fly in amber; there was light from the open curtains streaming across the room to touch her face. And though I couldn't see from where I was sitting, I could imagine her hands dancing across the keyboard; filling the room, filling me with music.

I closed my eyes.

I am sure she made all the sorts of mistakes passionate piano players are prone to make; only sterile, technical players make no mistakes. Flawless playing is more often than not devoid of emotion and passion.

All too soon, it was over and I opened my eyes. Her face was flushed. Passion, exertion, embarrassment, I couldn't tell.

"Play it again."

"Again?"

"Yeah, play it again. I love hearing you play."

She blushed furiously and began playing again.

I rose from the couch I was sitting upon and crawled beneath the piano.

She stopped abruptly.

It was my turn to be embarrassed. I poked my head from beneath the side of the piano.

"I'm going to lie beneath the piano and let the music wash over me. The way I figure it, if the music comes out of the top of the piano, it must equally come out the bottom. Donít worry, I am not looking up your dress, I sincerely want to let the music surround me."

She crossed her ankles as if she had not considered that I might look up her dress. She bent over and looked under the piano.

"You are a curious man you know."

"I know. Most people say Ďweirdí or Ďstrange,í but Ďcuriousí will do. Really, please play; I want to feel the music around me. Trust me."

"I trust you," she said and then began to play again.

There are many magical memories I have, the million-dollar eyes my cousin had when I gave her the stuffed panda, the moment my father said he was proud of me, the first time I kissed a girl and the first time I made love to a woman; but I will tell you, and be sure of my conviction when I say this, there was never a more magical moment for me than laying beneath the grand piano while Virginia played. Other than reassuring her about looking up her dress, it never occurred to me to do anything else than to let the music dance around me, suffuse me, swallow me. It was as if a felt a part of Virginiaís soul touch me and though I had only just met her, what I wrote the next day to her was true:

It was amazing to meet her. In life you do meet a few people, and even fewer that you befriend. And then there are those few that the moment you meet them, you know that if you do not make friends with them, then you will regret it for the rest of your life. I knew then that I was okay with her being Richardís fiancťe. And if I would never be anything more than Virginiaís friend, I would be content, for the risk of losing that friendship to the strife that often follows romance would be too high.

Erika, Virginia, Richard and I would become close friends in Provence. As ex-pats abroad, we had a common bond in our apple-pie mentality. Thanksgiving was a particularly special time whereupon we almost had to cook a goose because a turkey was so difficult to find. Luckily we found one in a market that catered to Americans two towns over and we all slaved to put dinner together. None of us had ever made Thanksgiving dinner before.

Virginia and Richard were married the next year. I was unable to attend the wedding because of some obligation I had in Germany. I suppose in retrospect, I could have tried harder to go, but I didnít and found myself thinking a lot about them. A psychologist would have a field-day analyzing that, and would probably be right. In moments of truth, I think about the day with the piano and do wonder about the Ďwhat ifs.í

In reality, Virginia and I probably became closer precisely because nothing ever happened between us. Over the next few years we would talk every week, sometimes twice a week or more. Conversations were unfettered, without judgment and without fear. I would be more comforted with five minutes with Virginia than an entire night with whatever woman I was seeing at the time. By then, I had moved to New York and began writing for a magazine there, and by then, she had become a best friend that I never saw face to face.

At the same time Erika and my path would cross from occasionally, and as the years passed, she seemed to grow out of her vacuousness and find maturity in lifeís experiences. Her acting brought her also to New York, and corrupted with a European eye, she and I found ourselves feeling out of place back in America. Perhaps because of that, or perhaps because of our mutual and extensive friendship with Richard and Virginia, Erika and I spent a lot of time together.

* * *

"You arenít paying attention are you?"

"What?"

"I was reading, and you were a million miles away."

"Iím sorry, I was thinking of that day with the piano."

"You were? I think about that day a lot too. It was a wonderful day, you gave me a fountain pen."

"An antique one, I had bought it that day."

"I still write with it."

"Can I ask you something?"

"Of course, what is it?"

"Are you happy?"

"I'm happy, I really am. I love my husband, I love my kids, they love me. He's good to me."

"Iím glad."

"Why? Arenít you happy?"

"I think I am. Maybe its just cold feet."

"What do you mean?"

"I am about to get married you know."

"I know, thatís why I came out."

"I know."

"Donít you love Erika?"

"I do. But itís hard to imagine growing old with her."

"How so?"

"I love being with her, holding her, talking to her."

"You didnít always."

"I know, so you remind me."

"Itís good, love that grows is good."

"I canít imagine growing old with her though."

"Who do you see yourself growing old with?"

"Someone like you."

"Thatís sweet."

"You were sad when I first met you. I never asked why."

"Why didnít you?"

"I never felt it was my place, and then you got married and it really wasnít my place."

"Richard and I donít always see eye to eye, but love isnít always about liking everything about the person you are in love with. Itís okay, really it is."

"I hope so. I sincerely do," I said.

"You didn't like Richard much back then."

"Considering what you said about Erika, I guess I didn't like anyone all that much back then."

"Not even me?"

"Present company excepted of course."

"We normally talk on the phone for these things. Its so strange to be in person," she said.

"Yeah it is, isnít it?"

"It is nice to be in the same room as you."

"I agree."

"Think of it, we have been friends for nearly seven years and only really have seen each other in person for one of those years."

"The first one."

"Yes, the first one. I have fond memories of that first year."

"So do I. Remember throwing bread at the ducks?"

"Yes! We were supposed to feed them, but you ended up hitting a duck with a roll."

"They were so hard, I couldnít break them up."

"I donít think I have ever seen a duck so surprised."

"Too bad we didnít have baguettes, or we might have bagged dinner that night."

"That was a funny day."

"How about the time we hired the car to take us all to Paris?" I said.

"Who knew that petrol would be so hard to get?"

"We must have walked for miles just to find a farm house."

"We should never have left Erika and Richard to try to flag down a motorist."

"Yes, we wouldnít have had to bail them out of jail if we had brought them with us."

There was silence as we both sat there thinking about that first year.

Then she said: "I'm feeling sad right now. Being with you Ė I feel so sad."

I didnít know what to say. I felt the same way; I was sad thinking at that moment of all the things that could have been. Three days before getting married, and I was wondering about it all. And then from nowhere, Virginia leaned forward from where we were sitting on the ground and kissed me.

It was like no other kiss I have ever had. Seven years of lost hope wadded up into a ball and leapt to my throat. Virginia held my face with her hands and with eyes closed, touched my lips with hers, probed my tongue with hers Ė touched my soul.

I wanted to hold her, to touch her to make love to her.

But I didnít.

Instead, I held her, my fingers in her hair, and kissed her back for as long as it lasted.

When it was over there were tears streaming down her face.

"What should we do?" She asked in a quiet voice.

"What should we do?" I echoed.

"You are supposed to get married in three days, I have two children and a husband. I donít know what to do, I give up, you have to think for both of us."

"There is nothing we can do," I said. "We have to go on. Jane, Tommy, Richard and Erika - there is nothing we can do."

"You are right of course."

"I wish I werenít. With all my heart, I wish I werenít."

"Me too. God, me too."

Three days later, Erika and I were married.

* * *

"Hello?"

"Did I wake you?"

"That's okay; what time is it?

"3:37"

"Mm. Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I dreamed about you again."

"You did? Were we in love?"

"You didn't necessarily look like yourself, but I knew it was you, you know? ... Anyway it seemed real."

"I know what you mean."

"We were in love."

"Iím glad."

"Me too."

"Good night."

"Good night."

* * *

The sun feels unseasonably warm and I notice that the only a single flash of color in the green of the New England trees is a leaf that betrays the end of the long days and the coming of winter. A light breeze ruffles through the leaves and the air is filled with the nutty smell of maple and beech.

"Autumn again," I think, sniffing the air and lay back into the wicker chaise. I close my eyes and let the sun beat down and bask in the warmth of its rays. "Winter is coming," I think, in my mind's eye I can see the leaves turn color and begin to fall. Before I can fall asleep though, I get called to come in before it gets too cold. My bones seem to creak as I get up, but seeing Virginia at the doorway fills me with youth and I find my way inside.