Most mornings Tamar is awakened by ambient sounds of her husband moving about in the early darkness from bed to bathroom, bathroom to bedroom closet, and finally out the house—nary a word shared between them. Today she realizes she has slept through his morning routine. Lying on her back she stares at the ceiling thinking about the day ahead of her. The threat of a smile tugs at the corners of her mouth as her gaze drifts to the closet where inside hangs the peony pink colored dress she purchased two weeks ago.The salesgirl had gushed, “YOU LOOK AMAZING! If I am to be honest I don’t know that it has looked better on anyone else.” Tamar thought it had been a hard sales pitch, but when she looked in the full length mirror, she blinked several times as if to bring her reflection clearly into focus. She had looked… stunning. The good feeling had inspired her to splurge, resulting in a stop at the hair salon and nail spa, then at a café she and Alan used to frequent during their first years of marriage.
Tamar slides out of the bed, retrieves her cell phone from her pocketbook, and re-reads text messages between her and Justin Powell. Justin is in town and has asked her to meet for lunch. She and Justin had been best friends in college. Although they had never dated, having made a pact to never cross the line for it would potentially destroy their friendship, Tamar often wished either of them had been brave enough to give it a shot. There had been moments over those four years— moments of lingering glances, lips only inches apart, teasing tickles, hands held longer than friendly, and warm embraces, but never an admission of what either was feeling.
They’d had a tearful parting with Justin going to graduate school in Texas and her in Washington, D.C. In the beginning they would call each other weekly. The excitement of a new city’s culture and its people, and their interesting classes had supplied much fodder for conversation. During those rare instances, when they had run out of things to say, the comforting sound of the other breathing, or the clicking away on a keyboard filled the silence. Tamar had sometimes fallen asleep to the sound of Justin turning pages as he studied. Time passed, and as the novelty of their respective graduate school experience faded, communication dwindled. After graduation, deeply immersed in their first professional careers, they had attempted to re-establish communication, sending an e-mail every now and then; however now and then eventually became rarely ever.
A few weeks before Tamar’s twenty- ninth birthday, she had received a pearly white envelope in the mail. She’d felt sick to her stomach when she opened it and read:
Together with their families, Anissa Collins and Justin Powell request the pleasure of your company… Although she had been happy for Justin, she’d also felt aguish for never having revealed how she felt for him all those years. That day, she’d reconciled all had been lost and promptly discarded the envelope.
It had been Alan who turned her world upside down over take-out Thai food a week later. “Check it out, babe,” Alan had said, grinning from ear to ear. “You owe me big time. This…” He had produced the white envelope, seemingly from nowhere, and waved it under her nose. “Almost got shredded. Luckily, I decided to see what it was. I RSVP’d for us.”
Four months later, she and Alan were on a plane to Dallas. When the reception was in full swing, only then had Tamar gone to the bathroom and cried her eyes out for the first time since receiving the invitation.
On her thirtieth birthday, her beloved Alan proposed. The day of her wedding—minutes before walking down the aisle, Justin had snuck into the back room of the church and convinced her bridesmaids to give them time alone. Justin had taken hold of her hands and said, “I just wanted to let you know you are and always will be my best friend. Don’t forget that. No matter what. No matter where we are in the world, or who we’re with, or what our condition.” His words had only added to her already overwhelmed emotions. Before leaving he’d asked her a question.
She cannot recall the question this or her answer this many years later; however, she remembers his expression that day—the slight smile upon lips and sadness in his eyes.
Tamar runs a warm bath and luxuriates in the rose scented bubbles while humming songs from her college years. Afterward she moistens her skin with scented cream then sits at her vanity to apply make-up. Studying her reflection, she notices the subtle changes time has made in her thirty-seven years of life. Despite the changes she can still see the old Tamar shining through. She feels beautiful again. Out of nowhere a sensation overcomes her. Her eyes widen in disbelief. She cannot believe she feels butterflies in her stomach. She hasn’t had this feeling since Dean and Tricia introduced her to Justin nineteen years ago.
The silver frame on her vanity glints in the sunlight, drawing her attention. She picks it up and looks at the picture of Alan and her laughing in each other’s arms. Taken without their knowledge it had captured the sincerity of their love.
She wonders what has happened to them. Alan has become the man who retreats to his home office and sits in front of his laptop for hours on end. Tamar can’t remember the last time they had a discussion. Mostly they are roommates who share a sleeping space. She isn’t certain why they have become this. There have been no major events or circumstances that have impacted their finances, professions, or personal lives. Alan, simply, does not see her. They are not a unit. She is often frustrated and confused, but it’s his seeming apathy over their situation that angers her the most.
Tamar shakes off the negative feelings threatening to ruin her early morning quietude. She slips into the dress, puts on pearls, steps into her black heels, and checks her appearance. Well done, she says aloud, admiring her reflection. Her make-up is subtle, her skin glows, and her hair is shiny. The dress perfectly showcases her small waist and toned legs. She can’t remember having looked this good since she and Alan started dating.
Two hours later she is in Manhattan’s SOHO neighborhood. SOHO has the same vibe from years ago. She walks leisurely among the crowds, stopping to look at the local artists’ jewelry and painting displays, and gets a few cards from several posh boutiques she may revisit for Christmas shopping. In the distance she can see the marquee of the Delacorte Theater where she and Justin used to watch foreign films. Afterward they’d walk these same streets, chatting the evenings away. Several blocks down she finally arrives at Étoile de la Nuit, the restaurant where Justin has made reservations.
The hostess informs her Mr. Powell has instructed that she be seated. Étoile de la Nuit is not like the wanna-be French cafés they used to frequent in the past. It’s sophisticated and very romantic. The ornate chandelier casts the room in a creamy warm glow. The table is covered with a smooth heavy white linen cloth and set with sparkling crystal and gleaming sterling silver. Her breath catches in her throat when Justin appears in the threshold of the dining room dressed in a dark suit and crisp white shirt that contrasts starkly against his deep bronze complexion. She stands when he reaches the table, and accepts his open arms for a hug. They separate a few seconds later and stare at each other with wide smiles before hugging again. He feels solid and warm against her body, and smells of citrus and pine.
“You look amazing, Tammy,” he says. His resonant voice vibrates through her body. “You too.” He shakes his head. “It’s amazing. You get prettier with time.” Tamar smiles. “You always were a master flatterer.” Justin’s expression turns serious. “I don’t flatter, Tammy,” he says firmly. “I speak the truth.” “So, how was Hawaii?” Tamar asks, as they sit. It’s funny how she suddenly feels nervous; when driving across the bridge earlier she’d thought of a hundred and one things they could talk about. “Wish I could have stayed for leisure, but with trying to sell this company—” he smirks. “It could have been better.” “Sounds like you’re due for a vacation.” Justin nods. “Sure am. I’m going to take my time planning it, though. I want to do something different this year. Something adventurous…out there. You know me. I’ve never been into lying on the beach.” “What are you talking about? Jumping out of a plane? That kind of out there?” She teases. “Everyone does that. I’m talking about climbing K2.”
Tamar has no mountain climbing experience, but she knows of K2 from a book she’d read about a man’s humanitarian efforts in Pakistan. K2 is part of the Karakoram Range and the second highest mountain on earth. “Are you going through something?” she chuckles. Being bored or stressed at work doesn’t usually spur people into climbing deadly mountains. She senses something else is going on in his life. “What does Anissa think about this? Is she up for the adventure?” Justin sits back in his chair. “Honestly, I don’t know what she thinks,” he responds. Tamar’s head jerks back slightly, “You didn’t tell her?”
Justin stares at her. “I should have told you,” he says, looking contrite. “Anissa and I divorced—two years ago.” Tamar’s eyes widen. “What? Wow, I don’t know what to say except that I’m shocked and sorry.” “I’m not,” he responds. When Tamar frowns, he quickly explains, “That didn’t come out right. I’ll give you the condensed version since this is supposed to be a fun reunion. When the excitement of being the new Mr. and Mrs. Powell wore off, I started noticing things I refused to acknowledge before. Basically, we realized we were together more for the picture we presented than how we truly felt. We realized divorce was our only option.”
Tamar shakes her head. “No, you have to give me more than that. We’re not talking about something as insignificant as selling an old car.” Justin seems reluctant at first, but responds, “When we were dating I was awed by Anissa and vice versa. We were both upwardly mobile, we knew influential people, and enjoyed the perks of those privileges. There were invites to posh parties, to events some politicians couldn’t even get into, offers to take exotic trips—you know…things like that.”
“I don’t,” Tamar laughs. She and Alan once took a vacation to Goa, India. After extensive touring an entire afternoon they’d decided to dine at a highly recommended restaurant. They’d eaten Xacuti, a Goan region curry made with roasted grated coconut with pieces of fish. Upon return to their room and discovering they’d been robbed she thought Alan, doubled over in the corner, had been reacting to their misfortune. That was until she saw the sweat beading his forehead and his eyes rolling around in his head. The hotel had strongly suggested he be taken to a medical center and promptly loaded him into an old pick-up truck. They’d traveled through darkness filled with strange wild noises, and air thick with mosquitoes until reaching the nearest clinic.
The following afternoon, and several bags of antibiotics, intravenously administered, later Alan had opened his eyes. Tamar wept with relief and thankfulness that Alan had not been taken away from her. As months passed, and the gravity of what could have been a tragedy lessened, they had been able to find humor in the situation. Whenever out to dinner, they would tease each other, asking if they believed their meal would have them Goan to the bathroom or hospital.
“Go on,” she prompts Justin. “In the beginning, I was happy because Anissa was happy. You know me, Tammy. I’m not used to that lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, I live very well now and enjoy it, but without it I’d be fine.” “Would you? I know how we both grew up wasn’t bad, but how you live now is miles apart in difference.”
“I enjoy my comforts, but if I suddenly had to live a lifestyle like the one my parents provided me, I wouldn’t complain. People like us didn’t have everything, but we wanted for nothing.” Tamar nods in agreement. “Anyway, our careers started taking off. People would constantly tell us we were the poster children for beauty and brains. We were in a vibe. Every day was great…on a material level. Let me tell you—power, money, prestige, and flattery, are just as powerful as drugs. Anissa and I were high the day we started dating.”
“Did you two become competitive?” “No.” Justin goes on to explain how he was pushing himself too hard and wanted to step back. “Anissa thought I was losing my edge. She wanted me to keep striving. I started to wonder what end would be good enough for her. Her family has always had money and while, I guess, we all want to do better than our parents as proof of their hard work and a sacrifice, the bar was set much higher for her.” He stops himself for a moment. “You know what? It sounds like I’m putting the burden of failure on her. Truth is I wasn’t Mr. Fantastic. I realized I wanted Anissa to be someone other than who she always was. It wasn’t fair. One day we had a real talk—all pretenses and careful words were put aside. We finally admitted to each other we both wanted out.” But you once loved each other. Wasn’t it worth a fight?”
“Anissa and I loved each other as people should love their fellow man in general, but we didn’t have that deep abiding love that makes people want to fight it out to the bitter end no matter what obstacles they face.” Tamar can’t help but think about Alan. She feels heavy inside. There had been a time when she and Alan made it a point to discuss anything and everything, especially if it was something that bothered or hurt the other. “Well, I know you two have resolved this and are happy, but I’m sorry it turned out this way,” Tamar says.
“Thanks,” he replies and steers the conversation to a lighter subject. “Know what I’d like to do?” “Tell me?” “Let’s get on one of those cheesy tourist buses and ride around the city?” Tamar laughs out loud. “Are you kidding?” “Not one bit.”
Justin insists on paying for lunch. They stroll casually, stopping at a few galleries and stores. While in Tomlin’s, a family run, upscale bookstore, Justin’s hand brushes against hers, sending a frisson of pleasure coursing through her body. The butterflies flicker their wings again deep in her belly. Eventually, they find a tour bus and take seats on the outer top deck to enjoy the delightful weather. Conversation is interrupted, intermittently, by their joyful shouts of “Do you remember that place?” followed by laughter. At the end of the tour Justin suggests they go to the King Tut exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the cab, as they cut through Central Park, he grabs her hand and thanks her for meeting him before releasing it.
After the exhibit they go for a glass of wine at a local wine bar. Conversation flows as if they’d never lost touch and the hands of time have turned back. “You should probably head back,” Justin says when she yawns. Her eyes widen when she looks at her watch. “Time flies when you’re having fun, huh?” “It does,” he agrees. There’s a beat of silence. Any on-looker would surmise the couple staring at each other is wishing the night would never end.
Justin comments, “We have to do this again.” Tamar smiles, but her throat and chest feel tight. She can’t leave—not like this. “Oh god, Justin,” she groans. “What’s wrong?” “Didn’t you ever want more?” She blurts out then holds up a halting hand. “No, don’t answer. I shouldn’t have asked.” “Tamar—“ She cuts him off. ”I have to say this. Part of me agreed to meet you because I needed to—I was hoping to—” She groans again then her covers her face with both hands, silently asking herself, what the heck are you doing?
He gently pries her hands away. “Can I answer your question?” She can’t bring herself to respond, so he says, “Since the first day we met.” This gets her to look up. “Why didn’t you ever do anything about it?” She cries out of frustration. “I always thought you would hate me if I tried. That if anything went wrong we would never be the same toward each other.” “You could have tried.” “We figured this out a little late, huh?” He jokes. They laugh simultaneously. Sobering, he says, “Guess I messed up.” “Yeah, I think me too.”
Justin brushes away a strand of hair from her face. “Since we’re letting it all out guess I should tell you I had every intention of ruining your wedding day.” Tamar lets out a breath as if she’s been punched in the gut. “Right before Desiree pulled me out the room—
Do you remember what I asked you?” Tamar shakes her head no. “I asked if you loved Alan with every fiber of your being. And you said?” Tamar shakes her head, indicating she still doesn’t remember. “You said you loved him more than that,” Justin tells her. “Are you and Alan still happy?” Solemnly she responds, “We haven’t been. Things have changed.”
“Things always change.” “And what do you do when that happens?” “You already know the answer to that,” Justin replies. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” “We both know what we’re doing, Tamar.” “I can’t,” she mumbles and says no more because she doesn’t know what she was going say. Justin takes hold of her hand. “Come on.”
They take a cab back to SOHO and sit in the lobby of his hotel. When they know nothing more needs to be discussed, Justin asks, “Are you sure about this, Tammy. I want you to be sure.” She nods in the affirmative and hugs him tight. At the revolving door, she looks over her shoulder and waves before leaving. Tamar cries the entire drive back to Westchester. When she walks into the house, Alan takes in her appearance and is off the couch nearly charging at her.
“What happened?” The worry in his voice is apparent. “I came home early…thought we could go to the movies,” he continues to ramble nervously. “The Pennington is running their one dollar movie special. We haven’t done anything together in such a long time.”nShe looks into his peaceful, tired eyes and starts crying again. He walks her to the couch, asking if he should call the police or take her to the hospital. She hugs her husband tight and says, “We need to talk.”