The First

March 28, 2008
By Meg Rueden, Cumming, GA

She�d had no preconceived intention of going anywhere in particular when she started up the old Buick and pulled out of the driveway. But- whether out of habit or longing she couldn�t say- before long she founded herself geared inexorably towards the place where it had all began. She parked just off the road and struggled in the dark to find the path, now overgrown with weeds and brambles, which wound its way up the mountain. The climb was as laborious as it had been the first time, and before she reached the top her legs and chest burned so terribly she needed to pause and rest for a moment before continuing on her way. The water tower shone blue-gray in the cool, dim light of the moon. However dark, she could vaguely discern the spot on the structures curved side where she had written their names so many midnights before. She grasped a rung of the ladder, the bar icy beneath her fingers, and began the ascent. She remembered then how frightened she had been the first time. Afraid of falling, of being caught, of a thousand unlikely scenarios. But with him at her side, she�d known she�d make it out alright.
She felt almost godly, standing at the top with the sleeping city sprawled at her feet. She watched the blue and gold lights of a thousand homes flicker in the darkness, some extinguishing as the denizens of the city settled themselves for sleep. She sighed weakly and sat at the railing, her long, thin legs dangling between the bars. Calmly she withdrew a matchbook from the pocket of her coat. She lit the things one by one and dropped them, watching them plummet to the ground far below. Lost in a nostalgic reverie, she was oblivious to the sounds around her. The soft squeal of brakes, and the low, metallic thumping of someone climbing up the ladder to join her.
�I didn�t expect to find you here, Babyface.� She said nothing and moved not at all. Frozen, her fingers poised mid-match strike. It was a voice she�d not heard in far too long. He came to sit beside her and plucked the match from her fingertips, using it to light his cigarette. Christ, he still smoked those same damn cloves. The sickly sweet, cinnamon-like scent unlocked the memories of a long ago summertime, a bygone age. �Do you come up here often?�
�No, tonight�s the first time since�� he nodded knowingly, exhaling a cloud of smoke through his teeth. She watched the writhing silver forms undulate and vanish, vaguely intrigued by the knowledge that they had been inside of him only a moment before.
�I still come up here every so often. To get away, to think about the way things used to be.� She glanced down at the tarnished wedding band on his hand. Sensing her gaze, he frowned and tucked the hand into the pocket of his leather jacket. �I kind of destroyed you, Edie, didn�t I?� he whispered softly. In his eyes she could see a childlike fear, anticipating her response. Though he knew damn well what the answer would be. She couldn�t bring herself to say it, and so merely nodded.
Five years had passed since the last time they�d sat this way, and yet it didn�t feel any different. Her slight form seated with her legs between the rails, watching him silently as he smoked his cigarettes. It had been their tradition for a time, back before the weight of the world fell upon them. It was only five years, but they felt as though they�d aged a lifetime.
She�d known she wasn�t the only one in his life, and God knows he wasn�t the only one in hers. But something between them ran deeper than they gave it credit for. It was never just sex, as it was with all the others. She thought he�d be more careful.
�I have to,� he�d said on a lonesome midnight before the turn of autumn. �It�s the only honorable thing to do.� Hurt was too weak a word, devastated was better. But of course, she�d understood. And as she let him slip away that night, she cried for him for the first time.
Here, now, he could see the shadow behind her eyes. The almost imperceptible tremble of the lower lip that indicated she was near tears. Wordlessly he slipped his arms around her too-thin shoulders, knowing exactly what was on her mind. She should have been the one to slip that gold band onto his finger. Tonight, as he always had, he couldn�t have agreed more. They passed an hour or more in civil discourse, belying little of their emotions. He stood when a blue-gray tinge came to the horizon, his hand lingering on her shoulder.
�How�s Elizabeth?� She asked distantly, her eyes focused on someplace far away. He finished off his cigarette and ground it out beneath his shoe.
�Well enough, she�ll be five next month.�
�Only five,� she breathed. �I feel as though I�ve passed a thousand lifetimes since that night.� Something in him broke then, and he went to her side again, enveloping her in his arms.
�Edie, you may not have been the only one in my life, but you were always the first.� He kissed the top of her head swiftly and withdrew. They said their goodbyes and he was gone. She sat silently, listening to the sound of his car starting in the distance. And as she watched good Apollo in his chariot chase the darkness from the sky, she smiled for the first time in far too long.

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