I'm not apprehensive about my reunion with Portia—even after sixteen years. We had shared too many hours on my four-poster, dissecting the most intimate details of life—which, of course, centered on love. It's a wonder we didn't get sick of analyzing those bridal magazines we fanned out like royal flushes. Two silly girls, searching for the winning combination of musical scores, color swatches, and menu items.
How had it not mattered to us that down a single flight of stairs my father was hurting my mother? Yes, silly girls.
Portia seemed happy to hear from me, as far as I could tell from her exclamation points to my email. And though she's never been to this particular house, her coming here seems natural.
I'm waiting at the stereo when the bells chime. The pressing of a chrome switch releases the beginning strains of Mozart's Concerto for the Clarinet. My heels rap along Brazilian hardwoods leading to the front entrance. There I find that Portia's honey-colored beauty hasn't faded. On the contrary, I imagine there are several lenses left to click into place—each bringing her loveliness into sharper focus.
"Portia!" I kiss her cheeks. "You're gorgeous!" I won't begrudge her beauty, not when I've been blessed with the means to create and maintain my own. "For goodness sake, come in."
She steps into the house. Neither she nor her leather flats make a sound. I watch to see if her eyes roam over gleaming surfaces, rich fabrics, the well-placed objet d'art. The Portia I knew would be curious, have some degree of awe for each element.
"Have you gone mute?" I joke, pulling her across the foyer to the front room.
"I was just so surprised to hear from you, Bridgette—out of the blue like that."
"Please, sit—relax." I proffer a tray on which two tall glasses sweat. "Lemonade?"
She lifts one in a weak echo of our familiar salute as Mozart's concerto enters a forlorn passage.
"What on earth is wrong, Portia?"
"I just can't believe you got in touch."
"But why wouldn't I?" Even as I say it, I'm remembering what it was that had torn us apart. "You're not still worried about those letters, are you?"
"Listen—we were young. To be honest, I'd completely forgotten all about it."
"Really?" Portia scoots forward, returns her glass to the tray. Her eyes linger on nothing. "But we were horrible to him—to each other."
"What I remember is how funny it was. How many letters do you think that idiot wrote? Fifty?"
"What a fool. Do you remember the one he sent inviting me to the movies? He'd sketched a ticket stub, asked for the pleasure of my company." I smiled in lingering mirth. "That was the first time I stood a guy up—"
"He was completely in love with you."
"Like I said—a fool."
"I married that fool."
Light from my diamond wedding band refracts onto the west-facing wall. I had painted it the color and texture of parchment paper. My wedding pictures used to hang there. All that's left of my marriage is to take off this ring. Ah, Edwin, maybe you would have been a better choice. The smartest boy in school, in love with me, and it had been so easy. Lying is only difficult when you have to look someone directly in the eye. My penned sentiments to him had been bold fabrications. Words on paper allowed for far less scrutiny—even as they took on an authenticity that increased with every reading. "He was a nerd, but so darn sincere, you almost couldn't help but like him."
"You were cruel."
"And you were right there with me—dictating the very best lines."
"But I regretted it." Portia presses her lips together, flattening the curves. "What did you do with his letters?"
"Threw them away."
"Every single one?"
"It's just as well, I suppose." Her lips retract.
I squeeze her knee. "Maybe it's time I make this right—the poor guy. I could do it in a long eloquent letter—fitting, huh?"
"He doesn't need your vacuous apologies."
"Ouch—why would you say that?"
Portia shrugs. "Because I never told him you didn't mean what you wrote. News flash: love protects." She pushes herself off the silk brocade. "Strangers on the Shore?'" She's referring to the clarinet selection that's begun playing. "Now that's fitting."
So much for not having been apprehensive.
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