I picked her up from the airport. I had insisted on it even though we were in this weird place, her getting up and leaving for weeks without a word the most obvious of indications. I don’t know why I had even suggested it, but it came out in the midst of a rather awkward conversation, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I felt stupid, standing there waiting with all of the other people who were clearly much more prepared than I. Men clutched bouquets of roses while mothers and fathers held up signs with welcome homes emblazoned on cardboard with exclamation marks. Maybe I should have tried for more of a grand gesture.
She came out of the doors all disheveled, and I swear my heart hit the floor. She had thrown her hair into a ponytail, and her skin was the slightest bit more freckled than it had been before. She shrugged her shoulders at me as she came out, and I loved her.
We were just friends now, I had to remind myself of this as she walked toward me, both of us already anticipating the awkwardness of this first hello. She stopped herself a few feet away from me and just shrugged her shoulders again, a small smile spreading on her lips, and I loved her even more.
I smiled right back and put my arms around her, smelling the residual salt on her hair and the faint perfume on her clothes. We stayed like that for a little while, maybe a little bit too long, but I didn’t care, I loved her.
We walked back to the car, pleasant small talk being exchanged, even though every time I said anything I was trying my best to say something else:
“How was your trip”
I missed you more than you know
“Did you meet anyone interesting”
I hope you didn’t meet anyone more interesting
“What are your plans for New Years?”
I want you to want me
We walked back to the car quickly, winding through the different aisles of the parking lot. I asked her if she wanted to grab a drink, maybe dinner or something? A feeble attempt at spending more time trying to tell her, trying to say something. I tried my best to sound nonchalant, to make sure that the invitation was casual enough that she wouldn’t be put off by it, even though I loved her.
She said she was too tired.
I made my way back to her place, the winding roads so memorized I even knew when the lights changed, and exactly which stop sign the cops usually waited by. The air in the car was thick and uncomfortable. I pulled up slowly, tapping my thumb on the steering wheel as a stopped, I had to say something.
I had to say something.
The christmas lights outside her house flickered softly, keeping in time with the soft music coming out of the lawn speakers as the snow fell.
She just left then, picking up her bag and leaving with the most unceremonious of sentiments, “see you around” and “thanks for the ride”.
And as the door closed, and I watch her walk up to her front door I say the most important of words to the most useless of audiences, some old paper and an empty front seat;
“I love you”.