It was raining in New York, the kind of weather that used to make Allison hate to be in a long distance relationship when she was younger. Because what good did it do to have a girlfriend when they couldn’t cuddle under the covers. But that was in the past and, at the moment, Allison had other reasons to stuck her forehead to the cold glass of the window and scowl at water that slid down in rivulets.
Had Nicole heard her song? Had she understood what Allison meant with those words, what she was asking of her? Allison had hoped to land in New York, turn her phone on and find a text or a voice mail from Nicole, asking her to go back to San Francisco or that she was boarding the next flight across the country. But she had given her the CD on a Friday and it was Monday already and Allison hadn’t heard from Nicole.
She tried to convince herself that the other woman would not call, but it was hard to believe that they were really over, that they had always been.
Allison stepped away from the window and took a seat on the couch. Her guitar was propped to the side and she picked it up, placing it on top of her crossed legs and started drumming a few notes that had been playing in a loop inside her head for the last few days. She couldn’t finish the song or add lyrics to it or stop thinking about it, like it was waiting for something. Or maybe calling out.
The New York traffic was even heavier with the rain that fell over the city. It felt like every car had been taken out of their garages just to keep Nicole away from her destination. If she had been feeling restless on the plane, she simply couldn’t keep herself still inside that cab that didn’t seem to have moved an inch in the past ten minutes.
When she was a couple of blocks away from the address she had given the driver, she told him to stop. He looked at her through the rearview mirror and gave her a questioning look. Nicole told him to stop once again and threw him a few bills through the partition and stepped out of the vehicle. Despite the rain that fell down on her and soaked her clothes in seconds, she took a deep breath and felt like she was home, at last.
Nicole used those last steps towards the building she knew so well to calm down her racing heart. She had bought her plane ticket on impulse and now that she had had hours to think about what she was doing, she wasn’t as sure of her plan anymore. Not that she had had one to begin with. All she knew was that she needed to see Allison once more, ask her, while looking into her eyes, if she had understood correctly that song she left behind.
The building’s entrance looked just as she remembered, with its worn-out steps and the green door that creaked every time it was opened. It was maybe just a little better taken care of. Nicole was gathering her strength to press the buzzer, when a known voice startled her.
“Nicole? Is that really you?”
The journalist turned around to find Mrs. Thomas, Allison’s neighbor from the time the two were still dating. Back then, the woman was in her mid-sixties, but she had never had a problem with the girl’s relationship. She said it was none of her business who people decided they wanted to share their lives with, that she had grown up with a lot of limitations and obligations to place them upon other people.
“Hello, Mrs. Thomas. It really is me. How are you doing? It’s so nice to see you again.”
“What have I said about calling me Mrs. Thomas? My name is Anna.” Nicole chuckled at the woman’s stern voice, remembering all the times she had been admonished for the exact same reason. “I’m doing well, my dear. But what brings you to this little corner of town? Don’t tell me you and Allison have gotten back together.”
“I-I’m not sure yet.” She smiled like she had been hiding a secret. “That’s what I’m here to find out.”
“Well, I hope you do. You two made a lovely couple and she hasn’t found anyone quite as yourself so far.”
“Neither have I.” A small blush crept up Nicole’s cheeks.
“Well, Nicole, it was lovely seeing you, but I have to go. I have a date, you see? And I can’t be late for that.”
“A date? Wow! I would wish you good luck, but I don’t think you’ll need it.” The older woman gave her a brilliant smile and Nicole realized she was feeling a little more at ease. “But, could I ask for a favor before you go?”
“Of course, dear. What is it?”
“Could you open the front door? I was hoping I’d get to surprise Allison.”
Anna smiled and moved back up the stairs, followed by Nicole. The door creaked exactly how Nicole remembered and it made her smile. She held the door open and turned back to the woman who had helped her.
“There you go. I hope it all goes well with you two.”
“Thank you, Anna.”
Before the door closed behind her, Nicole was already sprinting up the stairs. There was so much nervous energy running inside her body that the idea of waiting for the elevator hadn’t even crossed her mind.
As she walking along the hallway on the eighth floor, slightly out of breath, she thought back on Mrs. Thomas and what she had said. Speaking to herself, Nicole corrected the woman’s appraisal.
“No, Anna. We make a lovely couple. Present tense.”
Allison was lost in the song she couldn’t finish, strumming her fingers along the chords on her guitar, when she heard the doorbell. At first, she didn’t give it much attention. Only a handful of people knew she was there; Mike and maybe two or three neighbors, so surely it wouldn’t be anything serious and the person would just leave her alone. But when the doorbell sounded again, longer this time, more desperate, Allison stopped her strumming mid movement. There was someone else that knew she was in that apartment. Someone she tried not thinking about.
Despite her best efforts, a nervous smile split her face in two. She couldn’t be sure that it was indeed Nicole on the other side of the door, but the mere possibility was enough to make Allison’s breathing pick up. She threw her guitar on the couch and crossed her living room in just three steps. The blue door was the last thing standing between her and the possibility of seeing Nicole again.
She pulled it open in a single movement and stopped, face to face with the woman she had loved for so long. Nicole stood there, her hair stuck to her head from the rain, clothes tousled and soaked through, dark bags under her eyes, still a little out of breath and a half, nervous smile on her face. She had never looked more beautiful to Allison.
“Nicole.” The name escaped Allison’s lips with her breath, filling the air between them with unasked questions.
“I finished the story.”
It was the one answer that Allison had been waiting to hear. It meant no more obstacles stood between them, no more barriers. They could simply be and feel and love with nothing holding them back, with nothing hanging over their heads.
The smile on Allison’s face grew larger, bunching her cheeks and making the small wrinkles by her eyes appear. It was the smile Nicole liked the best, unhindered and full. She stepped forward, into the apartment and into Allison’s life, and took the singer’s face in her hands. Her thumbs drew arches beneath hazel eyes and they stayed almost immobile for a moment, letting the moment sink in. At last, Nicole couldn’t hold her body back anymore.
Allison’s mouth tasted just as she remembered, like home with a tint of adventure. She was hooked again from the first swipe of her tongue. Nicole kicked the door closed and pulled Allison tighter to herself, the solid heat of her body grounding and unraveling the journalist at the same time.
They kissed by the front door until the oxygen had vanished from their lungs and they could feel their insides burning with more than just desire. Allison was the first to pull back, but she remained close, breathing in the air that Nicole exhaled.
“I missed you so much.” Allison’s whisper barely carried any sound.
“I missed you too.” Nicole smiled. She knew they weren’t talking about the past weekend.
Nicole claimed Allison’s lips again, tamer this time. She couldn’t find any reason to rush something that felt so inevitable. As she remapped the geography of the other woman’s back, Nicole realized that she had always been meant to go back to that apartment and to those arms. It was the one place where she had felt she belonged wholeheartedly, no questions asked.
When she was alone in that apartment, thinking about what would happen if Nicole heard her song and decided to give them another try, Allison thought she would have a million thoughts running through her head, questions and doubts trying to be answered and quelled as soon as Nicole stepped foot into the room. But when she had the real thing in her arms, Allison found that she had never been calmer in her life. Her head wasn’t spinning with thoughts and her body wasn’t trying to run away from her. She was whole and present and perfect.
“Wait, Nic. Wait.” Allison separated their torsos a bit, just enough so she could see Nicole’s eyes clearly.
“What’s wrong?” Nicole sounded out of breath. “Oh, my god, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to pressure you. I mean, I just got here and we didn’t--”
Allison pressed her lips against Nicole’s to silence her rambling. Her nervousness was endearing and made the singer all the more sure of everything she wanted.
“You’re not pressuring me, honey.” The word she hadn’t used in so long – it has always been Nicole’s – tickled her throat. “I was just going to say that we should go to the bedroom. We’ve been waiting for too long for this to happen on the couch.”
Nicole wanted to say that the couch had been good enough for their first time, back when they were still kids, but she didn’t. She understood what Allison was saying and promising and asking with that. The message behind Allison’s words shook her to her very core. Even if she had known they had both been wanting the same thing, it felt good to have confirmation. Allison took a step back and offered her hand out to Nicole. It was an innocent touch, but Nicole’s stomach clenched at the contact. It wasn’t nervousness per se; it was more anticipation, a giddy excitement.
Nicole knew they were walking towards Allison’s bedroom only because the singer had said that’s where they should go, because, as she took steps forward, she couldn’t tear her eyes from the woman walking ahead from her, pulling her by the hand. She looked at her bare, small feet, that made no sound as they touched the floor; her calves, that flexed and relaxed with every step; the baggy shirt that covered her short shorts and hid the curves Nicole had once memorized; her exposed, delicate neck. She tried to take all in, as if Allison would vanish from her sight if her focus was elsewhere for even just a second.
But Allison didn’t vanish. She led them to the bedroom and closed the door behind Nicole. Her movements were unhurried, feeling like she had all the time in the world – there was nothing more important than that room. She turned her lamp on and turned around to find Nicole staring at her, studying her every movement.
With their eyes locked, Allison pulled her shirt over her head and let it fall to the ground. She wanted to bare herself to Nicole, show her everything she was, everything she wasn’t.
The lamp by the bed bathed Allison’s skin in a soft, golden light. She looked almost holy in Nicole’s eyes. The journalist tried to commit every single detail to memory. After ten years, the details had started to become fuzzy and Nicole could only really recall the things that any of Allison’s fans could know. She liked the idea of being the one to know more, to know everything.
They undressed each other with reverence in their eyes and in the tips of their fingers, taking their time to see again and feel again and memorize each inch of skin revealed. They were baring their bodies, but it felt like a whole lot more. They were stripping themselves from their pasts, theirs presents, their mistakes, their plans that hadn’t included the other. They stripped from everything that wasn’t completely them until they were the only things left.
There is always a kind of vulnerability attached to being naked in front of someone, especially someone who hasn’t seen you in a decade. Usually, this openness is disguised by rushed touches and sloppy kisses and a frantic rush after pleasure. If no one is looking, there is nothing to be vulnerable about. But, somewhere along the way, Nicole and Allison silently agreed that they wouldn’t rush. They welcomed the vulnerability that came along with their reunion, because it was the only way to exist in that moment.
When their bodies were as bare as their souls, Allison pulled the pin that held her hair up and let it fall passed her shoulders in dark waves. The movement pulled Nicole in and she slid the palm of her hand across the curve of Allison’s waist. She could feel goose bumps rising beneath her palm.
Every movement that followed was as studied as it was natural. There was no tentativeness to their touch, to their kisses. There was only the certainty of having found their place on Earth after years of searching.
It wasn’t the same bed as Nicole remembered, but it didn’t matter when it was the same body beneath hers, arching and yielding and curving and breathing in the same ways she still remembered. Allison’s body was a map and as Nicole took her first step, she was able to see every path, every trail, every shortcut she had painted on that skin. It was all there, like it had never gone away.And when Allison fell back on the sheets, sweaty and happy and sated, a small sigh of relief escaped her parted mouth. She was finally alive again.