This was a lot of fun to write. The title and theme were inspired by a line from the album Dirtbike by Buck 65, which I believe can still be downloaded here. This is also the first story that I’ve put through the critique process at Critique Circle, and it was a very good experience. In a way, it’s the opposite of a romance story, but I don’t know if unromance is really a good name for the genre.
What kind of ridiculous idea is a last date, anyway? That’s what I asked when she brought it up in the first place. Yet there I sat overlooking the ferry station, unable to control my anticipation as I waited for my lover to arrive.
I sighed. Maybe I was the ridiculous one.
It was all Melyssa’s idea. She was always the perceptive one, so she probably knew our relationship was ending long before I figured it out. It wasn’t something either of us wanted but, there seemed no alternative. Her plan was to bookend to our first date, just over a year ago. One last day together as lovers, then we’d both walk away with good memories and a feeling of closure.
Why I agreed, I’ll never know. She’d always been difficult to refuse.
Despite my reservations, I found myself in the park overlooking the ferry, fidgeting despite myself. It wasn’t as if she was late, in fact she was never late. Yet I was on edge as if I’d been waiting for an hour.
“Claire!” came a voice from nearby. I gave a little jump. Melyssa’s perfect timing always took me by surprise. I turned as my lover approached, her smile breaking into a full grin. I smiled too, realizing she was as excited as myself.
She reached me just as I got to my feet and we slipped into a hug. “Mmm, good to see you, honey,” I said, giving her a quick peck on the lips.
I gave Melyssa an affectionate squeeze before taking a step back to get a good look. She’d dressed in her favourite colours. A coral summer dress with a single teal pendant for accent and a matching belt. She had a weakness for bangles, and as usual wore a collection. I always liked how they jingled when she walked.
For my part, Melyssa asked me to keep it more casual than usual. I’d chosen a pair of dressy jeans and a yellow top, edged in a southwestern design. Normally I preferred more dressy outfits, but this seemed appropriate for such a lovely summer day on the waterfront.
“Such a lovely day,” said Melyssa, causing me to glance at her in surprise. “Perfect for a stroll on the waterfront, don’t you think?” There were times the things she said or did made me wonder if she could read my mind. Probably I’m too easy to read, but I really should have been used to it.
“Well,” I replied, shaking it off, ”I wouldn’t want to see this date out of them all was ruined. This is a special occasion, after all. I must admit I’m kind of looking forward to it.”
Melyssa chuckled. “That’s a relief. I was afraid you’d feel too awkward to enjoy yourself.” She glanced to one side, pushing her hair back past her ear. “Truth be told, I was a bit nervous too.”
“I told you before that the idea was silly. But you know, now that you’re here I’m warming up to it.” I hesitated a moment. “I suppose we should get started.”
“Absolutely! Since we’re already at such a lovely spot, I thought some time on the boardwalk might put us both in the mood.”
It turned out to be a good choice. The sun warmed us as we walked, dazzling as it reflected off the waves stirred by light sea breezes. The smell of salt water and a few distant vendors selling confections mingled in the air, creating a comforting atmosphere. My tension began to slip away, the familiar pattern of walking with Melyssa’s hand in mine helped calm me, putting my earlier fears to rest. Through her palm I could feel the same happening to her. The realization made me smile a bit.
Walking along the edge of the water felt pleasantly nostalgic. This was a good, familiar place, the starting point of many dates with Melyssa and before her, Anj. Anj and I had come here on our own first date, years ago. It wasn’t so different from today. I could even remember the feel of her hand…
I shook the thought from my head. This wasn’t right, Melyssa was with me now. Today of all days I had to keep my mind from wandering. I glanced to the side, wondering if she had even been able to detect those unwelcome thoughts.
Fortunately I saw no sign that she was upset with me. She simply spoke about little bits of trivia about what the city had planned for the area. The talking helped, and before long we’d come to the end of the wooden path, continuing down a nearby street. I looked around, wondering which way we were headed from there.
“Don’t you worry, chérie,” Melyssa said, catching my unasked question. “Just leave it to me.”
I smiled, in part because I was indeed happy to leave it to her, but more because of that little slip in her accent. Melyssa had been born in French-speaking Haiti and spent part of her childhood in Montréal, so there was always a hint. For much of her adult life she’d been self-conscious about speaking as clearly as possible in English; hearing it now was a sign of how relaxed she’d become.
I let her lead me through the streets of the old city, past the little round park in front of the hotel, past the row of restaurants which served tourists from the nearby cruise ships, past the ships themselves. They were always an impressive sight up close, but we didn’t stop to admire. Melyssa’s target was elsewhere, and after more walking and chatting I realized where we were headed.
“We’re going to the Point?”
A smile came to her lips. “Bravo! On the first try, as well!”
“It’s a lovely place, honey, but is this a good idea? We’ve already been walking quite a while.”
“Wait and see, my love,” Melyssa replied. “All shall be revealed.”
My mind wasn’t really set at ease, but I didn’t object further. The Point was a large public park that covered the tip of the peninsula occupied by the oldest part of the city. Known for its long network of walking trails, which provided access to both the water and old fortifications left over from centuries past, it was a place more suited to walking than sitting. I trusted Melyssa to have a plan. At least it kept my mind occupied, which I needed.
Once at the park, following a brief obligatory stop for ice cream, I was led to a large clearing. Old stone and concrete structures were half-buried along one side, forming a convenient stage for the busy group of actors gathered to one side. The whole clearing was bustling, the troupe at one end preparing costumes and props, the growing audience setting up chairs and blankets on the grassy mound near the entrance. I could smell coffee poured from Thermoses mixed with the usual scent of flowers and trees, and the steady murmur of light conversation around us overtook the usual sound of wind among the leaves. A lively, friendly energy filled the air.
I turned to Melyssa, finally recognizing what I saw. “The Shakespeare troupe?” She grinned in return.
“I thought a movie would be classic for a date, but sitting in the dark and ignoring each other for two hours didn’t seem like such a good choice.”
“So you found a place to sit in the light. Clever!”
“And for the occasion,” she continued, producing a tightly folded bundle from her bag. “I thought ahead.” The bundle turned out to be a light ground cover. Not very big, but sufficient if we snuggled close. Probably what she had in mind.
As the play got underway, my mind turned to Melyssa’s choice. It was a good decision, one that definitely wouldn’t have appealed to Anj. She absolutely hated interruptions during a show, preferring to lose herself in a story and discuss it afterwards. Going to see something for the purpose of spending time together would never have crossed her mind. My attention should have been on the show and the woman I had my arm around, but I couldn’t keep from remembering.
Anj, or rather Anjali, had been with me for years before the accident took her away. We’d gotten together not long after she’d arrived in the country for university, an exciting time for us. We were in different faculties so we only met by chance, although it felt like we’d been searching for each other all along. We married shortly after graduation, and were saving for our first house when our plans all came crashing down. Bad road conditions, a mechanical failure, it was really nobody’s fault. There wasn’t even anyone to be angry at, possibly the most frustrating part.
I took her death hard. Melyssa, a friend to us both, stepped in to put my broken pieces back together. Keeping me sane and functional was a thankless job; in many ways it was as hard on her as for me. She never complained though, and eventually, months later, we found our way out of that darkness together. It was almost a year later before we realized that what we had was deeper than friendship and allowed ourselves to fall in love.
The audience laughed then, pulling me back to the present. I gave Melyssa’s waist a gentle squeeze. Hopefully she would take it as a sign of affection, rather than something I needed to keep from crying. Even after all this time, when I looked at her I had to wonder what it would be like with Anj here instead. I hated myself for thinking it.
After that, I didn’t absorb much of the play, making me feel even worse for all the effort Melyssa had put into planning it. It was a shame, given the show seemed to be very good, and in such a beautiful setting. But I was too invested in not falling into the trap of my memories. My date deserved that much.
She noticed my discomfort, of course. Not a word was said, but glances, reassuring smiles and the occasional squeeze of my shoulder communicated everything. She knew I was troubled – and why. There was no point pretending otherwise. It was sweet of her not to press the matter.
Afterward, we strolled a little longer before finding a cab back downtown. Thankfully, Melyssa avoided discussing the play. I’m certain I wouldn’t have even remembered the title, as distracted as I was. But the act of walking around, chatting about little nothings, changed my mood considerably. Before long I was in better spirits.
We whiled away our time in a coffee shop after that and indulged in a bit of window shopping before our dinner reservations. Thankfully, the light mood kept memories of Anj at bay, and for a while I was able to free myself from worrying.
Dinner time brought us back to the waterfront, and a little bistro right on the docks. For ages I had written the place off as just another tourist trap, before Anj practically dragged me in. The quality was much better than expected. Every table had a lovely view, and Melyssa had made certain to reserve the very best.
“Isn’t coming here a bit risky?” I asked her as we took our seats. After all, this was a frequent destination during both relationships, and a reminder in itself.
“I’m pretty confident,” she replied with a smirk. “This is for me, too. We’ve had good times here.”
“That’s the truth. We’ve had a lot of good times here.” I reached across the table to take her hand. “Good times with you. I need you to know that.”
She gave a squeeze in return. “I do. Believe me, I know. I will always be proud to have shared them with you.”
We spoke little during the meal, opening the door to memories. Not unhappy ones, all revolving around the fun times the two loves of my life had enjoyed in this very room. Sometimes this particular table. It began with Anj, who brought me here at the beginning. After she passed away I brought Melyssa, who took on my role as skeptic to be won over. In a sense, I paid that little bit of her legacy forward.
My dinner companions were very different women, but there were times when their similarities were striking. They both loved me of course, and I them, but there were more subtle things. The foods they liked, how they both ate in an oddly careful way, their preferred wines, and so forth. They weren’t the same, but in moments like this I was amazed how they overlapped.
It was an oddly pleasant feeling as if I were having dinner with both of them. Melyssa, Anj’s ghost and I, sitting together for a meal. Was this part of her plan, to give me a place to enjoy my memories without feeling badly? I felt a small a twinge of guilt, but it didn’t overtake me.
Afterwards, still lost in the past, we took to strolling again. As I finally returned to reality, it came to me that we hadn’t returned to the boardwalk despite being the perfect night for it. Instead we’d moved to a narrow street nearby, lined with buildings erected a century or more before. After a moment of kicking myself for being so inattentive, I turned and was surprised to find a faraway look on her face as well.
“So,” I ventured, “there’s still a surprise or two left?”
Melyssa gave a start. “Oh my, yes! The night isn’t over yet. I think you’ll like our next stop.”
Always with the surprises. But that was her right given the date was her idea. Totally different from…no, no. I tried my hardest not to continue that thought for the next couple of blocks. Finally we came to a stop before an old brick building with a façade that looked like it was built in the forties. A lavish, music-themed mural was visible in the fading light. Melyssa led me inside as I wondered just she had in store.
Inside was mostly one big open room, a counter near the door and a small stage at the far end. Not hard to figure out the purpose of that, particularly with the trio setting up. I could feel the vibration as one of them tuned an upright bass. Around us, various couples milled about, chatting in pairs or small groups. Some of them were dressed oddly, in archaic fashions that matched the room itself, which was decorated in a pre-war style to match the exterior. I looked at Melyssa, at a bit of a loss.
A tremendously self-satisfied smirk was my answer. “I know it’s been a while since we took classes, chérie, but tonight they’ll be paying off.”
“Wait, classes?” My brain ran at high speed for a moment trying to solve the riddle before it hit me. “Swing dancing!”
Every head in the room turned to me briefly, most of them giving a chuckle before returning to their conversations. My face flushed, knowing she’d gotten me good this time. Dance classes had been part of her attempt to pull me out of depression, on the basis that physical activity would ground me. It was hard to tell if she was right, but it certainly hadn’t hurt.
“But it’s been ages!” I hissed, trying to keep my voice down this time.
“You’re goin’ have to remember fast, then!” Melyssa laughed and grabbed my hand, just as the band launched into its first number.
Suddenly, I was in the middle of a lively group of couples, all of them clearly skilled on the dance floor. So was Melyssa, leading me through the first steps with a surprising confidence. She’d obviously been practicing on the side, the sneaky thing. It was all I could do to keep up, preventing me wondering how long she’d been planning for this. Not much time to think when you’re in the middle of a dip, after all.
I had never gone dancing with Anj. The activity hadn’t appealed to me at all until Melyssa practically dragged me to lessons and proved me wrong. Anj, even if she was interested, never pressed the issue so it never became part of my life. Whirling about now, laughing and gaining confidence as what I’d learned came rushing back, part of me wanted it to be.
An hour or so later, the two of us stumbled, half drunk with laughter and exhaustion, into the street. “You absolute cad!” I laughed, giving her a playful smack on the arm. “I can’t believe you pulled that on me! What a way to cap off the night, whee!”
Melissa grinned as she linked arms with me to skip down the sidewalk. “Not the end just yet. One last trick remains.”
I was intrigued. “Will you tell me, then? Or do I guess?”
“No need to guess, darling, we’re already there.”
By now the street had opened up onto the little park we’d passed earlier in the day, in front of one of the city’s grand old hotels, its century-old facade illuminated by coloured spotlights. It was an impressive sight in the evening, and in turn a light came on in my own head.
Melyssa, as usual, seemed to read my mind. “Our last night should be special, my love. Certainly more than having a nightcap at my apartment.”
I nodded, speechless. Once the first moment of surprise had passed, I had to admit she was right. Tonight was our grand goodbye, and there was no question it was a wonderfully romantic gesture. There was to be no holding back.
As we arrived at our room, it struck me how much thought Melyssa had put into making our last experience memorable. Planning the whole day, coming up with activities we could enjoy together, keeping my problematic memories at bay. And now a luxury suite, offering an incredible view of the water at night. For a moment I stood, lost in the beauty of it, until an arm slipped around my waist and a pair of lips found my own.
Melyssa had always kissed well and the atmosphere of the room, combined with the flush from dancing, made her lips all the sweeter. I returned the pressure, fingertips stroking her cheek, losing myself in the luxury of it all.
Reluctantly pulling away, she passed me a glass of champagne. “There’s only the two of us now,” she said, leading me toward the luxurious bath. I don’t remember losing my clothing, only the sensation of the foamy water, the taste of champagne, and the feel of her lips between every sip. My head was filled with the most pleasant fog, even as my appetite for this tantalizingly naked woman grew sharper.
And yet, while in the bath we did little but kiss, holding ourselves back. Not because we didn’t want each other, we obviously did. But we held back, as if by unspoken agreement, if only for a few more minutes.
By the time we were dry and reached the bed, hunger consumed us both. Neither of us wasted time letting our hands roam over each others’ bodies.
My lips moved down her neck, leaving a trail of kisses and bites along the way to her collarbone. In reply, her hands caressed my back and sides, lightly brushing my breasts in a maddening fashion. Intoxicated by the taste of her flesh and her gentle, teasing touches, my kisses moved further downwards, towards her breasts.
Just before I reached that goal, she pushed me onto my back, her need apparently fiercer than mine. She fell upon me with lips and hands that were no longer gentle. She was in no mood to play around, and neither was I. My whole body was sensitive; her lips on my breast felt like an electric shock. Holding back had done its magic. In moments, I was writhing under her, wanting even more.
Melyssa knew just what I needed. Once she heard my breathing grow husky, the movement of my hips more insistent, she dipped her hand between my legs. Her head rose to look into my eyes as experienced fingers found my centre, bringing a deep moan from my lips. Satisfied with my response, she dipped her head to return to my breasts, the gesture she made identical to one I’d experienced many times in the past. Exactly the way Anj used to do it.
Suddenly, Melyssa’s hands and mouth both left me, their absence making me breathless. It was several seconds before I realized that the sound filling my ears was not the passionate gasps of our lovemaking, but my own heavy sobs. I looked to Melyssa without comprehension, my eyes filling with tears. The look of concern and understanding on her face brought realization, and with it all the memories and grief I thought I’d left behind. Worse, a wave of guilt came over me at what I’d done to the woman who now held me close.
In that moment I broke down completely.
Melyssa said nothing. She held me in silence, slowly rocking as I cried. How could she be so kind, when all I could think of was another woman? I compared them constantly, every little similarity and difference. Our relationship had been forced to make room for Anj’s ghost, and it was anything but fair.
I looked up at her and tried to speak, but she shook her head and stroked my hair. She knew my thoughts. She always knew. Her understanding made me hate myself all the more, as I fell back into tears.
After what felt like a very long time, I was able to control myself enough to speak. My throat felt tight still, making it hard to speak. “Why,” I managed, hoping she’d understand.
“It’s not something you can help,” she replied. “I wish it were different, but this is how it is.”
“I’m so sorry.”
She shook her head and resumed stroking my hair. “You didn’t do anything, my love. Anj and I, we are simply too closely linked in your mind for you to separate. It wasn’t something you planned, and I doubt you could change it.”
I nodded. She was right, although I’d tried hard to do so anyway. Somehow, early on, I had associated the two women deep in myself and it could not easily be undone, if it was even possible. All the same, I hated myself for it. Worse, Melyssa was perceptive enough to see that I did, and could only stand by and watch. All my guilt and self-recrimination must have hurt her badly.
“That’s why it has to end,” she said, her own voice husky from the tears she too was holding back. “It has been hard on me, I admit. But if we let this continue it will completely tear you apart. That is one thing I absolutely cannot live with. You need time to heal, and the only way that will happen is if I am not there to keep your wounds fresh.”
“I don’t want to leave you.”
“It won’t work, Claire. You know that. Being together hurts both of us. You’ll never be free if we you’re with me. But at least I wanted us to have happy memories at the end, so this wouldn’t make a new scar for you.”
I tried to reply, to find some flaw in her reasoning. But I knew there was none. That was why I agreed to this last date, because there was no other choice. “I love you,” I said at last, and we held each other until we faded into sleep.
The next morning I was alone. The hotel room seemed much larger without her.
I sat up and gave a deep sigh. The previous night had left me drained, but somehow I felt cleansed. Finally breaking down all the way and being forgiven made me accept what happened. As unhappy as parting with Melyssa was, it was the right decision.
It took a little effort to find my clothes; I was impressed at how desperate I must have been to get them off. The thought brought a chuckle, which I took as a good sign. Melyssa had faith I’d be able to move on. To heal. All I could do was justify that faith. She deserved as much.
Dressed, I stood before the door. One last task I thought as I pulled out my phone. Such a mundane act, but it carried a heavy weight. My hand hesitated a moment and I took a deep breath to steady myself before deleting Melyssa’s number and email.
From the doorway I took one last look at the room, now brightly lit by the morning sun, before turning and letting it lock behind me.