In Love, With You

Olivia Semple
Jun 21 · 10 min read
Art by Tom Sibley

Oh, how I loved you, B.

From the first time you flashed that show-stopping smile I knew I’d at least enjoy looking at you. You greeted every day with sunshine on your face and sand on your toes, toes that moved to the rhythm of the opposite coast.

We were all from elsewhere, fast friends in a house full of gypsies. For weeks I came and went, pulled back like the tide, and for weeks you smiled. I’d watch you sail into the kitchen and dance back to the patio. You would sit with me and chat, but there were always distractions. You had classes. I had plans.

Then one day, over tea, there were none of those things. My defenses were down, you talked for too long, and I discovered you, too, were older than the others. I realized there was meat to your soul, marinated and salted. I watched you cook that night, and I saw love.

I cracked open, a little.

The next day I was craving salad, and you needed a new paintbrush. Just like that we left our comfort zone and headed for the mall together. Six hours later I’d return with smashed spinach in the bottom of my purse. I never did eat my salad. That day, over and over, I fell in love instead.

I’m still not sure what started it all. Was it the nerves you flashed at the pharmacy when I popped in for toothpaste and found you by the condoms? The happy dance you did when you found the economics bible in the used bin? Perhaps it was the whispers about your grandfather, and how proud he would be, when I convinced you to buy the good paintbrushes.

Or maybe it was all in how you polished off my shakshuka while half the restaurant watched.

“This beautiful couple,” the hipster hostess said, handing us off to our waiter. We shared a laugh, but we knew she was right.

I don’t remember whose idea lunch was, but it was a good one. I told you things, while we sopped egg yolks off our plates with fluffy strips of bread, things I hadn’t told anyone in so long that I hesitated more than once, but you were listening. You didn’t recoil, so I continued. We passed a point, sometime before the coffees got cold. The air in the restaurant thickened. The music faded. It’s that point two people pass and can’t ever return from, whether they like it or not: the point where I have seen you, and you have seen me, as if the boundaries of personal space dissolve.

Had I actually seen you though? Or was I feeling so naked and vulnerable that I imagined you felt it, too? The check came, the music resumed.

Weaving behind you back to the street, I heard someone gush about what beautiful children we’d make. For a moment I hovered on that branch between childhood and motherhood, unsure which I longed for. You reached for my hand then, as if you knew.

“Let’s not go back yet,” you said.

We walked into the wind, the one the locals call the Doctor because it blows the bad away, and to another bookstore you wanted me to see. Outside you stopped dead in your tracks. “Wow!” you pointed at a hardcover through the window. “So good.”

I followed your finger to the book: my favorite writer. Remember? I laughed and told you no man I ever knew had ever been that happy about her. I told you about the one book, the one that changed my life, and you confessed you hadn’t read it, as if it were a sin.

We went inside, safe from the screaming wind. You said I had to see the basement. I watched you down there, in your element, a book tucked under your arm and another in your hands. I snapped a photo. Did I ever send it to you? Later, when we sat shoulder to shoulder on the old leather chair, I read you a passage from the one. You took a deep breath and looked — almost — as if it seized you in that way, too. A quickening.

Outside you cradled my face in your hands and pulled me close, and right there in the broad daylight of Saturday’s sidewalk windstorm, I finally tasted your smile. My hair swirled into your mop with the last heavy gust, and you held me tight as if I may, actually, fly away. I giggled like a teenager. Was this happening?

I loved you then. More than I possibly ever will again.

For one delicious moment, I got lost in your arms. When I gazed up at your lips they unfurled that smile of yours and I knew I was cooked, but also that I didn’t care. I would enjoy you, I decided, come what may.

You took me by the hand and we traipsed around the city. Under the shade-giving trees at the Square, we talked about Marquez while you twirled my hair. We debated religion, magic, and sincretismo, which sounded so much truer in Spanish, neither of our mother tongues. When I stopped to buy sparkling water on the walk home, you proposed to me. The sun hovered low in the sky, kissing the crown of your head. “Be careful,” I smiled. “I might say yes.”

I didn’t realize until now how true that was.

“Are you in love with him?” my friend asked me later.

“I’m in love,” I said to her, “But I don’t know if it’s with him or if he just happens to be in this space I’m in.”

Because you inhabit spaces, B.

That night, once I cleaned the spinach out of my purse, you snuck up to my room. You’d asked for help with your computer, and though we both knew we’d never turn it on, you’d brought it anyway. It was a humble gesture, half-sweet half-artificial. “Full of surprises,” I’d said to you many times that day, because you had been. You still were.

The more you bared your soul the more I saw you. You shut the door behind you and the room got warmer. It wasn’t exhilarating to be with you, B. It was normal, easy. You inhabited my space like you inhabit your skin — fully, exuberantly, raw nerves screaming below the surface. Your breath was halting, your hands staggered. Mine did, too.

In the end, we found our rhythm. Still-shy smiles were traded, soft giggles bounced between us. Night stood still.

The sun came up and you crept out, quietly but not secretly. It was loose and happy, that goodbye, perhaps for the last time, perhaps only because the universe knew you’d left your phone on the nightstand and would return for it in minutes.

Because you leave spaces without looking back, B.

I didn’t know that about you yet. We’d reunite an hour later in the crowded kitchen, as if nothing happened, and join the other gypsies for a lazy Sunday at the park. In the shade of a giant pepper tree, we shared food and stories from home. You tickled my foot with a blade of grass and laughed when I nearly kicked you, that full-head-tilt, from-the-gut laugh you do so well. The shadows grew long. Our stories grew thin. Back at the gypsy house, I made dinner for our tired, sun-kissed army. You watched me dance in front of the flames. I cooked with love.

You’d enter my orbit again that night, after we’d all had our fill, after the rugby and the wine, the bonfire chat. I heard your anklet down the hall and cracked the door open as if I’d done it a thousand times. When you slipped in, you caught me packing. We both knew I was leaving, but the suitcase made it real.

You showed me the lights from the garden, showed me how they reflected in the open window because you’d already learned what catches my eye. I took a picture. Tossed my phone into my open suitcase. You stripped my clothes. Your hands didn’t stagger, and neither did mine.

When we turned the lights off later, and both our heads landed on the same pillow, we chattered on, and on, touching skin, laughing, squeezing all the words in before sleep overcame us. It felt like the end, yet I threw the invitation out because, I remembered then, I’d decided to enjoy you.

“Come,” I said.

I would only be down the street, writing in that beautiful space I had found. I wanted you to inhabit it, too. Was it simply decoration I yearned for? Distraction? Or did I long for more pillow talk? I must have, a little. My heart does secret things.

It was only when you didn’t come that I learned how you leave.

Spaces are places and moments and feelings, B. You’d withdrawn from mine without so much as a backward glance. I had left the house, but you had left the thing — whatever the thing was we’d inhabited together. Here I found myself, elsewhere now, looking for the thing with you in it, unaware that it no longer existed.

I loved you enough to carry on. I loved the thing enough to keep it alive on my own.

For days I woke with the sun, my heart full of song. I wrote. I ran. I ate with friends. Ate alone, book in hand. Talked with my girls and bumped into handsome men I’d just as well have never met, so far were they now from my radar. Oh, I’d pined for you, too. Coffee in hand one morning, I tiptoed around the bookshelf and tried not to think of the titles you’d reach for, even though I already knew which ones they were.

I saw you one afternoon when I stopped by the house. Your smile lit up the room but something was off; you were right there, but elsewhere. Fighting off a cold, you said. I was just coming up for air. Back I went, to my desk, to my solitude. It would be days before we danced again.

Friday, to be exact. I’d come by to see the girls, but watched you cook, from afar. You were outside, manning the meat, fanning the flames, trying and failing to keep the smoke out of your hair. You joined me later, in my lair, smelling of soap and back in your body: warm, alive, exuberant. Perhaps it’s the weekend that does that to you. It’s possible you really had had a cold. You’re full of surprises, this I do know.

There was so much I wanted to say to you.

Here you were in my space again — in all the spaces. It had been hot that day; the Doctor was gone. You peeled off your shirt and sat on the windowsill to roll a joint. I tiptoed up the stairs to the loft, your eyes burning a hole in my side, and rolled off my stockings, deliberately, as much because of the heat as because I was comfortable in this space of ours. The breeze from the fan kissed my thighs and I joined you on the sill, watching your eyes squint behind a puff of smoke. There was so much I wanted to say to you, but it had been a long day, and we were chatting about lovely, inane things, and the need to speak whatever truth I felt so heavily when you walked through the door dissipated with the last bit of smoke that wafted over your cheekbones.

I don’t even remember what we were going on about before we started picking through the bookshelf, reading random pages aloud. I know I poured you a sparkling water with a fresh slice of lemon. I know you compared me to Iñárritu, because of visual poetry and magical realism, because even your compliments are exotic — especially when you’re high.

I know at some point between Goethe and Proust I brought up your countryman, Coelho. Your eyes turned to fire. “He is a witch! Um bruxo!” you insisted, so emphatically it awakened the rhythm of the opposite coast, and you told me the story about his best friend and the fly, and it turned into a sway of your hips, and you reached for my hand, and before I knew it we were moving to the beat you hummed.

Dancing with you, barefoot by the bookshelf, nothing else mattered anymore.

There had been things I had wanted to say to you, but they were gone. Sometimes words are best left in books until the day we decide to crack their spines. I read you the first page of Lolita, kneeling on the rug between your legs. Lo-lee-ta, you repeated after me, laughing. You asked me what loins were.

It’s where I feel you, I wished I could say.

You would bite me, later, to the left of my spine. You would pull my hair and kiss me, maybe even make love to me a little in between, those times you flipped me over and made eye contact so piercing I couldn’t hold it.

I can’t know for sure. What I do know is that far beyond the stories in my mind, the song in my heart was one of joy, and trust — safety, even — when I watched you leave in the morning, your coffee kiss still on my lips. “See you,” you crooned, without turning.

I would see you again, B, but it would feel like chasing a high.

I had wanted for it to make sense — wanted to see the border between spaces, wanted to see them coalesce. We all have invisible spaces behind the visible ones. Sometimes they glow, allowing us to see what’s over in the dark, on the other side of someone. Sometimes we shrink back while we still can. Perhaps that’s what happened to you.

It could be that I missed the mark, and this was all just the thing you do, and do so well that no one notices it’s a thing. Not even you.

I wanted to love you more but never got the chance.

I want to ignore the magic I felt with you in that space, in all those spaces, but my heart won’t let me. And that’s okay, B, because to fall in love every day, to live in love, also means you learn to nurse its wounds. But I think you know this, too. I decided to enjoy you, and I don’t believe in regret.

Perhaps someday our spaces will merge again. Until then, know there’s a space where you exist as an unread book does, full of promise, waiting for the day its spine cracks.

Olivia Semple

Written by

Gypsy lady, chocolate fiend. Forever dizzy at Kierkegaard's abyss. I should be editing my novel but I’m procrastinating here instead.

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