"Turn around, you went the wrong way" I said as she picked up the phone. I didn't even wait for the customary "Hello".
"I wasn't sure where I was supposed to turn" she replied with a laugh.
I knew she would take the wrong turn, which was why I was downstairs waiting for her. It'd been almost a year since I'd seen Stacey, but some things don't really change. I still knew her better than I knew myself in some ways, and I'm sure the reverse would hold true.
For some inexplicable reason I'd offered to take her out for her birthday. In fact, I'd gone a step further and gotten two tickets to Ballet Arizona's production which included a piece from George Balanchine, her favorite choreographer. It was the birthday that Jesse from five years ago wouldn't have been thoughtful enough to make. It was the birthday that Jesse from now would like to kick him square in the ass for not thinking of.
I hopped in to the passenger seat as she pulled around and found her smiling back at me with a quick, "Hi".
Stacey has two, almost indistinguishable lines on either side of her smile. They're the only marks on an otherwise perfect face; they're the only sign that 10 years have passed since I met her. These "laugh lines" are so small that nobody else would notice them, but I do. They could be described as blemishes, but to me they're a mark created from years of smiling, years of happiness. They are a visual sign of who she is. They are beauty.
At one point in time I would have liked to take some of the credit for these lines, but I knew in my heart that they were not my doing. Her's is a happiness not dependant on external things. It's something I've always been simultaneously jealous of and attracted to.
I snapped back to reality as we pulled up to my condo. There was time before the ballet so we went up stairs to catch up. Within moments I fell back in to a familiar role. Old jokes were told, laughs were had, memories were reminisced. I love hanging out with her. Why did I wait 10 months to call her? I wondered to myself.
After an introduction to the neighbors, who were dying to meet her, we headed off for lunch. I had planned to take her to Postino's, a small sandwich/wine place. It was a favorite of the twins, and somewhat hidden. I knew that Stacey would like it, and was surprised when she said, "Postino's? Tara and I go there all the time." Oh yeah. Just because we haven't hung out in the past 3 years doesn't mean she's been at home knitting.
We decided instead to go to a sandwich shop close to the ballet as we didn't want to show up late. Lunch was great and we were soon on our way.
"So you're going to spend half the summer in Europe?" I asked on the car ride to the Orpheum, continuing our conversation from lunch. "Why so long?"
"Well, I'm going to a wedding in Italy, and one in France. I didn't think there was much point in coming back in between"
"That makes sense, who's getting married?" I knew an answer I wasn't looking for was coming, but I asked the question anyhow.
"My boyfriend has a friend who's..."
The words hit with an unexpected weight. I knew Stacey had someone in her life now. She has a way of letting me know without flat out telling me. It's an uncharacteristically sensitive approach to my feelings. Whether on purpose or not, it's something that is greatly appreciated.
It wasn't that there was someone that surprised me as much as the usage of the word boyfriend. In 3 years, she'd never used that word to describe somebody and had even gone so far as to protest when I had used it to describe someone she was "just dating."
"Oh, I guess I should have turned back there" I commented, trying to not seem affected even though the realization that I had missed my turn came almost a mile late.
We got to the ballet with plenty of time to spare, and discussed the only other time we had been before. I believe she had taken me last time because she needed to go for some school project. We couldn't exactly establish all of the details, but the one thing we both agreed on was that I had upset her in some way.
"I think you were making fun of the dancers and wouldn't shut up."
"I thought I was making fun of the people in the audience and wouldn't shut up."
"No, I got mad at you for that the time we went to..."
With that in mind it was my intention to make up for the past failings, and I think that for the most part I succeeded.
After the ballet we went back to my house, then later out to dinner. After spending the majority of the day together she decided it was time to go. I was quite happy as I walked her downstairs to her car. The day had gone better than I had thought it might, and I again felt a connection to a person who's had a major impression on my life.
As I closed the door to her car and watched her drive away I felt a slight hole in the pit of my stomach, a slight loneliness that I had forgotten I could have. Oh Yeah... That's why I don't hang out with her more often.
I paused for a moment to let the 10+ hours I had just spent with her sink in before finally turning to go back into my building.
My condo was an 11 floor elevator ride away, but I didn't end up making it home for quite some time...