“Well, this is all bollocksed up,” I muttered to the burnt slice of bread peeking out from the silver top of the toaster. I stood in a pair of his clean knickers that I had nabbed from the laundry basket on his bed and a black tank top, puzzling over how to rid the smell of burnt toast from the apartment. It was almost alarming how comfortable, and moreover at home, I suddenly felt. Before I could make a move, I heard the lock turn and the door open. “Oh fuck, burnt toast. My favorite,” he said, coming into the kitchen and giving me a smile. “I know,” I replied, grimacing. “Sorry for the smell.” I walked over to the balcony door and gave it a pull; the glass slid open easily with a rumble along the track. “Are those my shorts?” he asked as I came back into the kitchen. “Erm, ya, sorry,” I said, shrugging awkwardly. He smiled, relaxed as always. “It’s ok. They look good on you.” He reached for a bag of what I knew was bakery contraband. “Thought we’d have a proper breakfast,” he said, bringing the bag to the table and fetching a few plates, knives, and miscellaneous breakfast elements from the fridge. “I thought you’d be in the studio by now,” I remarked, scooping coffee into the french press and setting the kettle to boil. “I was there already. I’ll need to go back.” He checked his watch. “I don’t have much time actually. I didn’t want to work on an empty stomach, though,” he added, winking at me. “Of course,” I replied as we sat down. “And I wanted to see you, of course,” he said, very seriously. I smiled and shrugged a shoulder. We had slept separately last night, but there had been an undeniable gravitational shift to pull us towards any surface we could get into a supine position upon. A lion’s heart had enabled us to resist. That, and the feeling that I would’ve been making love to a man who technically still belonged to the lingering energy of Lila.
I cleared my throat of bread crumbs, sipped a tangy bit of coffee, and wiped at the corners of my mouth. “So, I, uhm, well I’ve been in Berlin for awhile now, and I was thinking I should probably do another travel piece rather soon, and I was going to book a trip, four days I think, to Spain, Costa del Sol, and I thought perhaps, maybe, you’d like to join me?” I offered, reaching defensively for the butter knife and smearing a hefty glob onto the soft white bun. “You know we can go as friends or something,” I added, shaking my head, hoping to make the situation less forward. I had never asked a man to accompany me on a writing trip. Ever. The words sounded more foreign to me than the language I had produced them in. “Mira, I don’t look at you as a friend, and I suppose I never have,” he replied factually. He went on. “I’d very much like to have a holiday. I think I’ve been on two or three since the studio opened. I’ll need to speak with Lila to get this all—settled first, and then I’d be free to join you.” We let that bit about him speaking with Lila sink over us before he spoke again. “Are you sure you want company? I didn’t think you much liked travel companions when you are writing,” he said, a knowing gleam in his eye. Sometimes, I somehow forgot how well he did know me. “Aaahh, yea, that’s still true, but I thought, I dunno, it could be an interesting change,” I replied, laying my palms face up on the table. “Indeed,” he said, cutting into another roll. Indeed.
He departed without ceremony or display of affection. We were in a precarious state of limbo that demanded us respect both Lila and our newly rekindled emotions. A large part of me was wishing that he would come to Spain with me that very weekend, getting things straight with Lila so that we could finally figure ourselves out without that uncomfortable presence hanging about in the background. Another part of me, though, wished him to decline the trip, from which I would then never return, sending my regards via courier who would also collect the rest of my belongings from his apartment and send them on to London while I drowned my sorrow in Tinto de Veranos and the waves of the Atlantic all along the Spanish coast until I made it to the shores of the Mediterranean on the Costa de la Luz. “Oh fuck off,” I told myself, “Give him a chance.” “Its a fucking mistake,” the other side of reason argued. “You’re fast approaching middle age, and now is not the time to fling shit at the wall and see what sticks.” I closed my eyes against the late morning sun flooding the balcony, and tried to focus my attention on the emails I was sending to various editors and employers. Instead, I opened a new tab, punched in the URL of my blog and logged in. After several clicks, I hit ‘post’ on a raging impulse, and uploaded to the homepage was a selfie of Marius and I, taken that very morning on the very place where I was now sitting to bask in the summer sun. We’d see what my readers would think of that. God knew that what the readers wanted, they always ended up getting. One way or another.
And so it came that after nearly twelve years, I felt a calling to return to Berlin. God only knew why. I certainly hadn’t a clue. If the city had been bubbling with life when I had been there before, by now it was bursting at the seams. Prosperity and trendiness marked every corner and window front. The hum had grown louder, the personality of the city stronger.
I waited a few days before contacting him. Marius. Often on my mind but never on my lips, his name and his smile resonated with me since I left him on the platform all those years ago. I debated whether I should write him, but in the end, curiosity won out, and I wrote him a clipped, friendly email asking him if he was still in Berlin. Seeing the words of his response on the digital page a day later gave me just as much excitement as being back in this city. After choosing neutral ground on which to meet upon, I took a deep breath and submerged my head under the metaphorical waters of what I would come to know as unfinished business.
Not the bright-eyed young man I had known, but rather an established, well-kept forty-three year old man stood to greet me at a small table of a bustling restaurant. His eyes and smile, though, remained exactly as they had been. And our easy art of managing conversation made me feel as if it had been a few months, and not over ten years, since we had last had a proper chat.
“Marius?” A woman’s voice from behind. He turned to look and stood up.
“Hello darling.” He gave the woman a quick kiss and helped her out of her jacket. “This is Mira, the friend I was telling you about. Mira, this is Lila, my girlfriend,” he said proudly, looking from her to me and back. We shook hands and sat down. I hadn’t known what I should expect. I did know he had a girlfriend, yet her edgy, fashion-forward style threw me for a loop. Her thick blonde hair pouring over her shoulders and down her back, voluminous and straight, and her perfectly penetrating jewel-toned eyes made her attractiveness undeniable and almost uncanny. She was tall and thin and otherwise intelligent and remarkable and if I hadn’t already finished my first glass of wine, I may have even been a little intimidated by her.
But there we sat, we three. I wondered how much Lila knew about the origins of Marius and I, but in the end found it irrelevant; we were only heading forward in time, never going back.
The bristles on his face that composed the shadow of a beard were a mix of browns, blondes and grays. His hair, now a bit more clipped than it had been back then, was still dark, with the occasional strand of grey falling to light. My hair, on the other hand, had held back on the grey, the first appearing, or becoming noticed, during my three day mini-crisis. So far, it was just the one, hidden under a layer of curls on the back of my head. Proof that nothing stays the same—not even something as simple as hair color.
Feeling welcome by everything, I decided to stay in Berlin. Not having been there in ten years, I allowed myself to think that it was high time for something to be written about the city. Much older than I had been the first time, I found myself in a completely different place—both literally and figuratively. Mostly though, I spent my time with Marius and his colleagues, headphones clapped over my ears listening to the recordings they made, or practicing my rusty German in conversation with them. I would write a feature on them, I decided, and if the editors didn’t like it, I would publish it on my blog.
The neighborhood where the studio was located had become even trendier than it had been ten years ago. With shops, cafes, bistros, and hotels lining the one-way streets, it was a almost only accessible on foot or bicycle. I spent my days drinking coffee at a little blue table in a corner of my new favorite cafe, shopping at the boutiques, and dining with Marius and Lila almost every night.
“How long do you plan to stay in Berlin, Mira?” Lila asked me casually one evening over post-dinner gin and tonics.
“Until I become inspired or coerced to go somewhere else,” I replied, half-joking. She smiled.
“You know you don’t have to stay in a hotel. You can stay at my apartment if you like. It’s not nearly as luxurious, but I promise it’s clean,” Marius offered. I flicked my eyes quickly to Lila, who looked accepting enough.
“That’s a generous offer. Thanks very much,” I replied, smiling.
The next morning, I appeared on his doorstep toting my three bags. He opened the door wearing a pair of fitted grey jeans with a black t-shirt, hair still damp from a shower.
“Come in, come in,” he said, “welcome.” I smiled a thank-you and rolled my luggage over the threshold.
The apartment was an enormous upgrade from what we had shared back in the day. Two spacious and airy bedrooms with private bathrooms attached to each stretched out the length of either side of the open living room. The back wall of the living room was all glass, sliding open to the wide concrete balcony. Above the living room was a loft, his office, set up with a desk with recording equipment and a computer, a violin rested in one corner, a guitar next to it, and an electric keyboard stood against the wall across from the desk. The living room itself was dressed with a grey sofa, a love seat in front of the glass wall, and two matching chairs across from the love seat. In one corner was a a compact bar, and in the other was a baby grand piano. Luxurious was precisely the word to describe the place.
When Lila walked in two hours later, unbeknownst to us, we were sitting together at the piano; I was plinking, he was playing, and we were both singing, an open bottle of Chardonnay and two empty glasses on the table next to us. We both turned around upon hearing the sound of something large and heavy thudding onto the counter in the kitchen.
“Lila?” he called. She came out of the kitchen smiling.
“You guys sound great,” she said lightly, looking from him to me. “I see you’ve opened a nice white to start the day.” She disappeared and came back with a wine glass for herself. She filled the three. “Cheers to you and you,” she said, never taking her green eyes away from mine.
I had been in Berlin for almost four weeks, two weeks longer than I had stayed anywhere since I left Switzerland. I had a budding friendship with Lila, and found myself on a coffee date with her on a warm April Monday. She had asked me to do some shopping with her, and we had spent the morning under the soft lights of the boutiques, each of us toting three full bags by the time we seated ourselves outside a fairly empty cafe for refreshment. We had just finished talking about how she and Marius had met, and she was lighting a cigarette.
“He’s not been very affectionate lately,” she said, turning her head to the left, the cigarette smoke escaping casually from her lips. If I had been paying better attention, I would’ve seen her watching me from the corner of her eye. Instead, I shrugged.
“I dunno. I mean, as a friend, he’s usually a great big hug-giver,” I said, smiling smally into my half-drank coffee, and then at her. She took a calculated drag from her cigarette and stubbed it out in the small white ash tray between us on the table. I waited for her to speak; she looked as if she needed to say something. Instead, she averted her eyes from mine to look at the activity surrounding us on the outdoor terrace. Four o’clock: time for the cafes to fill up with people in search of a nice piece of cake and a coffee to accompany it. This cafe was no exception. I joined her in people-watching, oblivious to her observations of me.
“He’s been different, you know.” Her voice startled me. “Since you got here,” she said. Then, I felt her green eyes boring into my cheek.
“What do you mean,” I asked, cupping my cooled off coffee mug. She was silent, still staring at me.
“He’s in love with you.”
I said nothing but I felt my brows crease together. She huffed a breath of air out through her nose. I noticed my hands, warm and moist against the cool ceramic of the mug. Then I began to shake my head.
“That’s not—really, it’s not like that. He and I, I mean, it was a long time ago, we don’t—he’s not, in love, with me, anymore. We’re just fr—“
“Don’t,” she said, raising her hands, palms facing me. She lowered them slowly, as if she meant to push away the earth beneath us. “Don’t,” she said again firmly, coldly.
I was still shaking my head, frantically almost.
“I knew it, from the first moment I joined you at the restaurant that first evening. I felt like,” she waved her hand and rolled her eyes, “like I was the third wheel, like I had joined an exclusive party of two,” she finished. She rummaged in her purse. As she looked down, her blonde hair fell like a curtain between me and her face.
“I, I don’t know why you think that, really. We, we haven’t seen each other in such a long time,” I reasoned, trying to keep the rock slide from turning into a crushing avalanche.
She made a sound in her throat as she began sprinkling tobacco onto a small paper.
“I hate you for it, you know. Not you as a person, really. But the idea of you. That you could come here after all these years and he just—,” she shrugged, “forgets that there was ever another woman in his life,” she said, rolling the paper carefully shut, bringing it to her lips to be sealed. As she lit the end, I tried to think of something, anything, to say in my defense. I was speechless.
“I don’t think it’s any fault of my own, though,” she went on. “I just, well, it fucking still feels like a betrayal. From both of you,” she said, taking a deep drag and pushing it right back out.
“Lila, I—“ My speech faltered as she pushed angrily back from the table. She stood up quickly, slinging her bag over her shoulder.
“No, Mira, you don’t get to say anything.” She stubbed the cigarette out aggressively and straightened up. “I just need you to fuck off right now, ok? I like you, really, I do. But, just, fuck off.” On that note, she turned from me and walked to where her bike was chained to a light post a few meters away from the cafe’s terrace. She slid a pair of dark sunglasses onto her face, mounted the cycle, and rode away without a backward glance in my direction.
My coffee was empty and I was alone. I flagged the waitress down and asked for a glass of wine, please. While all the others drank their caffeinated hot beverages and over-indulged in sweets, I finished off my glass of wine before asking for the bottle.
Luckily, I had the good sense to cork it and take it with me while it was still a third full. But where was I to go? Back to Marius’s? He and Lila did not live together, but she still might be there, insisting that he throw me out to go back to the boutique hotel I had crawled out of. I decided I would leave, but first I would have to get my belongings.
I arrived back at his building after moseying through the alleys, taking the long way, occasionally taking a pull from the bottle of wine stashed in my bag. My shopping bags bumped against my legs, threatening to trip me and send me on a trajectory that would end in a meet-cute with the ground. I pulled the key from my pocket and let myself in to the hallway before taking the lift up to his floor. I tried to be as inconspicuous as I could when I came in, muffling the sound of the door closing with my body.
“Mira? Is that you?” he called, coming around the corner from the kitchen. Something smelled really good. He was smiling at me. “Did you have a good day? It looks to have been productive,” he said, gesturing to the bags. I remembered to breathe, and then smiled at him.
“It was good, thanks,” I said politely, walking past him to head towards the guest room.
“I’m just preparing dinner. I hope you’re hungry,” he said to my retreating form.
“Let me just, erm, freshen up, and I’ll be out in a jiff,” I replied. I shut the wooden door behind me and found myself in the welcome silence of the sleek bedroom. Before I even realized what I was doing, the clothes were stuffed and rumpled in my suitcase, and I was gathering everything I had in the bathroom and funneling it into a cosmetic bag. I straightened up and glanced at my reflection. “Get a hold of yourself Mira,” it muttered to me. It was right; if nothing else, I had to say a proper good-bye to Marius. I quickly changed my clothes and tentatively stepped out into the living room. He was putting on a record, a bottle of wine stood next to an empty glass. He turned around, bearing a full wine glass and a smile.
I took a deep breath and went for it. No point tiptoeing around it. “Marius, I’m not really sure how to, well, I just had this rather startling conversation with Lila, actually. And she, well, she said that she believes that you, that you, well-oh fuck it, that you’re in love with me,” I said at last. His eyes dropped to the floor.
“I know what she thinks,” he said to the wooden paneling of the floorboards. “She’s been telling me since you arrived in Berlin.”
“And what did you say?” I asked very quietly, feeling a mounting discomfort that I had not ever known before.
“I told her she was out of her mind and left it that,” he said, shrugging. “But you know,” he continued, looking up from the floor and into my eyes, “that Lila is a self-assured woman with exceptional intuition. That’s what attracted me to her initially. And so, after awhile, I realized that she was right.”
My stomach dropped. He poured wine into the second glass and handed it over the space between us. I took it with a gulp.
“Why don’t we eat some dinner? None of this can be solved on an empty stomach,” he suggested, leading me gently toward the kitchen, toward the something that he had cooked for us. For us. Bloody fucking hell. There hadn’t been an “us” in over ten years. I grabbed his arm rather suddenly and he looked back at me in surprise. I let go immediately. “Eh, sorry, I just—do you think we could have a cigarette first?” I asked, wiping my suddenly moist palms on the thin fabric of the dress I had changed into. He smiled and gestured toward the wall of windows, the balcony an open-air piece of relief behind it.
My hands shook as I tried to gently perform the art of creating a hand-rolled cigarette. I knew he was watching me in his nonchalant, unbothered way. Finally, he gently took the crumpled, gossamer rolling paper from me and began crafting me a perfectly executed version, which he handed to me and pulled the lighter from his pocket to offer me use of its flame. I puffed deeply, coughing several times, looking away in embarrassment. For fuck’s sake.
We smoked in silence, watching the Berlin sun drop away to be borrowed by another part of the world. It was still warm, but my arms prickled into gooseflesh every time the gentle wind whispered past. He stubbed the end of his cigarette into one of the flower pots housing robust blooms. I watched him with a calculated amount of reserve, feeling painfully self-conscious while alone in his presence. I thought of the parts of him beneath his clothing I had seen, almost memorized, those years ago and found myself blushing profusely. “Jesus fucking Christ,” I muttered, casting the butt of my cigarette into the same pot. He pushed the door open and we went back indoors. I moved into my bedroom to find a shawl to drape around my shoulders, and when I came back, he was back in the kitchen removing a large pot from the stove. I hoisted myself silently onto a stool and waited patiently for the meal. Instead of offering my help, I poured a generous amount of wine into both of our glasses.
The only sounds were that of cooking and the plating of food, and the swallows of wine slipping down my throat which only I could hear.
While I had been alternating between staring at the dwindling contents of my wine glass and at the fresh manicure I had given myself that morning before shopping, Marius had been laying the table with beautiful things. “Do you want to come and sit down?” he asked me, a certain amount of hope in his eyes. I slid, somewhat unsteadily, from the stool and, clutching my glass, made my way to the place he had set for me across from his at the dining table. The fixture over the table was turned to dim, a handful of tapered candles took over the job of providing light. There was a mass of wildflowers in a vase, and a basket of freshly baked bread beside it. There was a platter of cheese, and a colorful green salad alongside it. The round white plates were artfully arranged with sautéed greens, roasted carrots, asparagus and potatoes, and there was a lush looking cut of beef glazed in a succulent sauce. “I meant to serve in courses, but I thought the meat might overcook,” he explained, gesturing to the elaborate spread. We sat down and he poured me more wine. We ate in silence until I ventured a compliment. “This is delicious. You’ve become an excellent cook. I hope you didn’t do all of this just for me,” I said, smiling. He smiled back. “Actually, I didn’t. I thought Lila would be joining us as well and we would have dinner altogether, but I gather she is otherwise indisposed,” he replied. I focused on cutting my meat, which took very little effort, and said nothing. “Mira,” he said, making me look up from my fascinating plate. He smiled smally. “Cheers.” I wiped my mouth. “Cheers,” I said, raising my glass. They came together with a delicate clink and then were drawn to our lips to have their contents ravaged.
At some point or another, normal speech resumed, and we put a form of temporary amnesia into place in order to avoid the elephant lurking, stomping about, just outside the dining room. As the wine warmed my body and I laid the shawl over back of my chair, I felt my soul warming as well. Warming to what, I could not say exactly. But I knew it was happening. Somewhere, some great mechanism was turning, creaking back to life, bringing us together again. Most importantly, I knew Lila was right; either he loved me very much, or was in love with me. The difference hardly mattered. I was not here to trifle with technicalities. No, I knew why I was here, and it had everything to with what his eyes were saying to mine, and how the now comfortable moments of silence said what words could not.
It was the longest travel day of my life: Sydney to California, California to New York, New York to Berlin. Over thirty hours of flight time, not including layovers. My flight out of New York was delayed due to the rains that had been drowning the state for days, and I sat in the airport, a half a step from brain dead, not knowing what time it was or what day it might be. My fellow delayees and I did our best to sprawl out and make ourselves comfortable at the gate, and by the time a message from the loudspeaker that we would begin boarding in an hour had awoken me, I had gotten a reasonable amount of sleep and no longer felt like dog shit thrown into the bin. I straightened my clothes and headed for the bathroom, wiping at my smudged eyes as I looked at my sleepy reflection in the mirror.
Whenever I felt too hassled or troubled by traveling, I remembered that I had the job most twenty-six year olds would commit murder for. As a writer working for a prestigious travel magazine, I had been given the world on a platter, so to speak. I was paid to galavant across Europe, put up in the best hotels, and supplied with lists of the best places to shop and dine. I kept a small apartment in London, but rarely ever saw its interior. And currently, I was on my way back from a corporate trip in Sydney, Australia, where we staff had been treated to Sydney nightlife, Adelaide wilderness, and Victoria’s beaches. And I hadn’t paid a thing for it. Berlin was my next assignment; a city in Germany that I had not yet explored.
As always when it was time to board, it was also the time to put my thoughts away and get settled in for the next seven hours.
It is a known fact that crying children are never truly welcome on an airplane. Neither are men who insist on sitting with their legs spread wide apart, or individuals who have been too liberal with their fragrance. Unluckily, I was seated in the middle row of the plane, between a mother with a crying toddler and a man doused in cologne. I wondered very briefly if my boss would take pity on me and upgrade me to Business Class if I called and asked him very nicely. Instead, the presumed father of the unhappy child, a trendy New Yorker by the looks of him, leaned across the aisle and asked me if I wouldn’t mind trading seats with him. I glanced over to his row of three seats; sure enough, the guy at the window was slouched, knees apart, with a bowler hat over his face, taking up precisely one and a half seats worth of legroom. Luckily, the middle seat was open. I agreed to the exchange, and arduously moved myself and my belongings to the new location. My seat mate did not stir, and I busied myself with arranging my book, magazines, and tablet in the seat pocket in front of me.
It wasn’t until several hours into the flight that the man stirred, straightened his posture, and pulled the bowler hat off of his face. He stretched a little, looked out the window, and noticed me. “Oh, you’re not the guy that was sitting here before,” he said smiling, nonplussed.
“No, he opted to be next to his family,” I replied, looking up from my reading.
“Have we been flying long?” he asked, peering out the window as if he may get an answer from the blackness.
“About three hours, I think,” I replied, turning the page of my book.
“You’re reading; sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you.” Something in his smile, though, made me want to smile back. And I did.
“No bother,” I said. “Going home?” I asked, somewhat presumptuously.
He nodded. “Yea. Well, Berlin isn’t technically where I’m from, but it’s home for now,” he replied. I nodded, and not knowing what else to say, went back to my book, only pretending to read. He was handsome; nice blue eyes, dark hair, good style…..
“Have you been there before?” he asked. I shook my head. “Nope, this is my first time,” I said, closing my book for good. I was ready to pursue conversation. He seemed like he might have an interesting thing or two to say.
“You’ll like it. It’s a great city. There’s a lot going on. Do you know where you’re staying?”
“Eh, yea, a pace called Das Stue,” I said, rather conscious of my shitty pronunciation.
“Hm, I don’t know that one, but I’m also not very familiar with the hotels in Berlin,” he said, smiling again. “Are you on holiday?”
“No, actually. I write for a travel magazine and Berlin is my next city of discovery,” I said, smiling. It always felt good to answer that question.
“What a great job. You’ll have a ton to write about. Berlin doesn’t disappoint,” he remarked.
“What about you? What do you do?”
“Well, I often ask myself that same question.” He smiled again. “What I’m trying to do is finish my Uni degree in Film Studies, and simultan—, simulta—fuck, what’s the word? Si-mal-tane-e-us-ly, trying to open a studio where I can record film music.” He shook his head.
“That’s really interesting. Is it working out?” I asked.
“It is. Slowly, but it is.”
I smiled. “That’s great.”
We talked. For the rest of the flight, the four hours remaining, we made conversation about you name it. Just as the final ‘beep’ went off to initiate the clicking of all passenger’s seat belts, he said, “I don’t know how weird this is, but if you ever need someone to, you know, take you around the parts of Berlin that not everyone knows of, I would be happy to do it.”
I smiled, squeezed my eyes shut briefly and thanked the gods, before turning to him.
“I think that would be very helpful indeed, can you give me your number?”
And from then on, it was game on.
I spent half of my nights in Berlin in that swanky boutique hotel. The other half, I spent in his one-bedroom apartment located in an up-and-coming neighborhood. He took me out, showed me the sights, brought me to his studio, played me music, and made love to me. Believe it or not, this was not typical of me. Very rarely did I ever make anything past a superficial connection with a man while traveling, and certainly never slept with the ones who bought me drinks.
It was three years, two of which were actually the embodiment of unparalleled happiness, before we finally decided we had to go our separate ways. We had begun to slip into a mutual understanding, a mere friendship that transferred us into the roles of roommates who occasionally slept with each other. When it came to the heart of things, we were both artists; artists who both had careers that had taken flight and recently begun soaring. I was approaching thirty with gusto, never slowing down, not even for a moment. How could I? My writing had, thanks to social media, gone global. I was freelancing and contracting as a stay-on for not only travel magazines, but also fashion and lifestyle publications. In addition, I was glued to my tablet or mobile phone, constantly tweeting or posting about something when I was wasn’t updating my blog, which was making me enough money to live on by then. For his part, he was working long hours, composing, going to meetings, and networking. He had already gotten his foot in the door of the German film industry and had begun reaching companies well outside of Berlin and even Europe. Between his twelve hour days and my erratic travel schedule, we saw next to nothing of each other outside of video chats where we gobbled down some take-away food and talked about the weather.
My mother, every time we would speak on the phone and no matter how briefly, would insist that we were going to start arguing if we didn’t spend more time together, and inevitably one of us would become bitter. As a result, I called her five minutes before I was due to board a flight so as to have a savvy excuse for not being able to listen to her full lecture. In all fairness to my mother, though, she loved him, and he her, and she wanted me to settle down a bit more since I was getting, as she so kindly put it, ‘older’.
On a cold and blustery Fall day, he brought me to the train station where I would catch the nine o’clock train to Geneva and from there, go on to the city of Montreaux. We were both running late and had not much time for a proper adieu. We stood together on the platform, hands clasped, a single tear rolled down my cheek as I watched his eyes well up. He brushed the water away hurriedly with a knuckle. “I’ll call you when I arrive,” I said, trying to smile, trying not to think of the stack of boxes in the foyer of our shared apartment that would be shipped to my flat in London the next day. “Have a nice trip,” he replied, smiling ever so smally.
“I’ll miss you.”
We kissed for a moment, looking and feeling like lovers, but we knew we were saying our last goodbye.
A whole decade passed in which we had little more contact than the occasional and very impersonal social media blip. Ten years is a long time for life to work in its mysterious ways, and the decade went by in a flash. I took up residence in a beautiful, sunlit apartment in a pre-war building standing on the banks of Lake Geneva in the Swiss city of Montreaux, home of a world-renowned jazz festival, and the exact city to which I had traveled when I left Berlin for the last time. I was not residing alone; in fact, I had met a Swiss man who had given me what had remained for me to desire from the world, including the recognition and acceptance of my occasional cultivated bi-sexual preferences. He was in his fifties and aging very well; a banker with a surprisingly docile demeanor. He was also divorced, on friendly terms with his ex, and childless. He liked me for my creative mind and wanderlust tendencies, and I liked him for his good taste and ever-present patience. Together, we made up a team of steadfast comfort and understanding. He was the type to take me on tours of his friend’s vineyards in the mountains, book a spontaneous long weekend for shopping in Paris, meet me for dinner when I was in London, and allow me to treat him to a stay in some fashionable London hotel. I never took him back to my flat because that had become the place of my very own, housing the part of me that never wanted to share, give up, or compromise anything.
Moreover, Montreaux was a stay in paradise. Beautiful during every season, the lake greeted me every morning from outside the bedroom balcony. For three quarters of the year’s days, the light colored wooden floors became silent underfoot, and the spacious living room became a basin of light all day long. Working from home became much more appealing. So appealing, in fact, that I began to leave Switzerland less and less. Instead, I took train trips to Bern, Lucerne, Interlaken, Geneva, or other cities, and occasionally, I would venture over the border into France. Actually, most of the international travel was done in the company of my dear partner. We breakfasted every morning together; he read the paper, while I exercised my fingers scrolling through emails and other alerts. He would head off to work, while I would place myself at the seat of my desk and begin to write something for someone, somewhere, but had mostly turned to blogging full-time.
One magnificently brilliant summer day as I leaned over the railing of the balcony, taking in the panoramic view that I had grown so accustomed too, I realized that I had grown incredibly established in my habits. There was no spontaneity to my day, and weeks went by in a similar fashion and structure. I wondered briefly if that made me happy or morosely depressed. Instead of answering myself, I frowned deeply and went back inside.
That very evening, over freshwater oysters, I broke the news of my discovery very delicately to my companion. I don’t think he was surprised; yet, I did note the sadness in his eyes when he looked up from buttering his bread after I told him I would be leaving. Truthfully, I was sad, too.
The next morning, I embraced him in the foyer one last time before he saw me to the door. While the doorman loaded himself up with my luggage, I took one last look behind me to see him standing there, hands in his pockets, sad smile on his lips, and the balcony doors thrown open to the breeze, the glistening lake winking behind him.
Opening the door to my flat in London, I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been a monstrous mistake to leave Switzerland. I looked around at the coffee table, sofa, and bookshelves, all dusty from months of disuse. I unpacked my things, straightened up, and, all the while tried to sort out the consequences of my actions. For three days, I hid from the world, keeping myself within the confines of my bed, crying over ridiculous movies and devouring tea sandwiches. By the time I knocked a bit of sense back into myself, my friends, family, and followers had all dropped me some kind of line, each sounding more concerned than the one before it.
And that was the end of my self-doubt and regret. I stayed no more than two nights in England before jetting off to the south of Italy, meeting up with friends and making new ones along the way. That first dive into the clear chartreuse waters of the Mediterranean gave me credence and clarity like nothing else could. This was where I was meant to be, and tomorrow it would be somewhere else. The rolling stone had not yet turned into sand.