I take a small sip of this champagne, feeling it warm my senses as it travels down my throat, attempting to smile at each guest my husband introduces me to, all the guests he does business with. Most are men of course, their wives by their sides, smoothing their tuxes as they shake my hand or kiss me on both cheeks. They would introduce their wives to me, wearing diamond necklaces and silk dresses, and the women would smile as a sign of greeting as if they don’t have a voice of their own. With my husband, it’s always about business with these men, never about pleasure.
My hand is resting on his forearm as he leads me through the jazz club, occasionally caresses the back of it to make it known to men that I’m currently unavailable. If I had to be honest with you, it’s quite flattering when they stare, when their eyes roam the length of my body in this silver satin dress, when their lips open in awe at my mere presence, when they pause in their step to take a peek at a woman who doesn’t mind the attention. I’m delighted my husband worries about the men I can get. It reminds him to respect me more, especially when they are times he doesn’t.
A man jokes about a colleague of my husband’s and I laugh when they do. Surely, they are convinced I’m listening to every word said which you see, is hardly the case at all. I’m looking for someone, a man I should say, someone I once knew long ago. I’m aware that he would make an appearance, that maybe I’ll catch another glance at the man who makes women fall at his feet. He said he might stop by, that I should save him another dance, like old times. I try not to seem desperate in looking, my eyes falling upon the jazz band that plays in front of the room. A handsome young man plays the saxophone as if he’s making love to it, pouring out his heart and soul into the instrument, letting you feel his emotions within the jazzy tunes. I always admired musicians; the way they are able to find passion in something they love and make a living out of it. My husband says I don’t need to work, that my hands are too beautiful to be ruined. I’m still trying to convince him otherwise.
“Are you doing alright, my darling?” I hear my husband ask beside me, placing his hand over mine.
And then I see him, a man leaning against the bar with a glass of whiskey in his hand. He takes a sip before noticing me, and grins. I do the same. I have to say, he was right about having the best tailor in town! His suit fits him quite well. His hair is cut and styled and he has an aftershave glow, having a sudden urge to feel it against my cheek. He places the glass on the counter and begins walking towards me.
“I’m doing just fine, darling,” I say to my husband, giving his arm a gentle squeeze. “Just fine.”
My husband notices the man approaching his wife and I hear him quietly clear his throat, wondering what brings him to us.
“Mr. Callahan, I’m sorry to interrupt. My name is Mr. Jake Bentley, ” they both shake each other’s hands.
“Jim Callahan, and this is my wife, Isabel,” I give a nod, and Mr. Bentley, like a true gentleman, takes my hand and gently kisses the back of it. “Jake Bentley. You wouldn’t happen to know Dave Bentley, would you?”
Mr. Bentley chuckles, “Know him? I’m his son.”
Dave Bentley owns one of the top five successful businesses in the state, but Mr. Bentley doesn’t like being known for just being Dave Bentley’s son. He wants to make a name for himself, especially since he remains distant with his father.
Both of the men become well acquainted with each other for a brief moment before Mr. Bentley asks my husband if he can dance with me. My husband suspects nothing, and agrees to his proposal.
Mr. Bentley leads me to the dance floor and a new song begins to play. He takes my hand in his as his other rests against the midst of my back. I bring my arm up to place mine behind his upper shoulder and we begin to dance, swaying against the soothing tones of jazz while he leads each step and movement we make. We look into each other’s eyes in utter bliss, both of us remembering what it was like to be this, to be us again, to finally dance the night away and forget the realities we created for ourselves.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t come, Mr. Bentley,” I say.
“Of course I would, Bel. Why wouldn’t I?” he smiles.
We don’t speak for a while, letting the music take us far, letting ourselves be within this moment. We lean in closer to each other, our bodies almost pressing against one another. I hope we don’t draw any suspicion, but I feel as if we’re both attempting to withhold temptation, understanding that he too wants us to embrace, he too wants our lips to touch.
We have so many memories, so much history; of us leaving town together and exploring the city, of us laughing at the mud on our shoes and sweat on our brows, of us telling stories at dusk, slow dancing in his kitchen, lying in bed and kissing fears away. But then he left, unexpectedly, for a reason I couldn’t comprehend. My heart broke; I ached for him, I needed him. It’s been over ten years since the last time we spoke, and then I saw him at the garden shop yesterday, looking as if he hasn’t aged a day.
“Do you love him, Bel?” I hear him whisper.
Something inside of me collapses. I was hoping he wouldn’t ask tonight, at this moment in time. I thought he would wait, give us time, space, hopefully grace. I look up at him, “Oh, Jay. I, I wish things were different. I loved you, I did. You don’t know how much I did.”
“But you love him,” he says, seeing a bit of sadness in his eyes. It’s as if he was young again, that same young gentleman who whisked me away on a bike, as if we were young again.
“He was a good man, and he still is a good man, Jay,” I sigh, fighting the urge to smooth the back of his neck, like I used to. “If I would have known you’d come back, if I would have known I would see you again, I, I would have waited for you. I loved you then. I loved you once.”
He closes his eyes for a brief second, attempting to take in my words. He nods to himself, “I know…I know. And I’m sorry. I’m…I’m so sorry.”
I hush him, briefly shake my head, “It’s okay now. It’s okay. It’s all in the past.”
And that’s all that’s been said as we continue to dance, knowing the timing of this is not aligned to fit our souls, that sadly, it is too late for us to just be, for us to be together.
So we dance and dance and dance, dance until we can’t anymore, until reality speaks its harsh words and reveals our woes, until we become aware of the people who dance along with us, until I see my husband from behind the tables watching our movements, until the song finally ends. We applause the band and look into each other’s eyes, knowing we can’t ever embrace or kiss, that we can’t escape the present and travel into the past.
He then leans down to whisper he loves me in my ear, to whisper goodbye. Before I can speak another word, he acknowledges my husband and then leaves, just as he did before.
*Originally published in my college newspaper in 2019, now edited/revised.
*Also published under my pen name Celena Woods https://celenawoods.wixsite.com/mypersonalescape