ALSO I RETURN
By Hedeia

Now I am curious what sight can ever be more stately and admirable to me than my mast-hemm'd Manhattan,
My river and sun-set, and my scallop-edg'd waves of flood-tide*…


"Well?"

I glanced up, uncertain.  "Well, what?"

John was studying the wall calendar, tucked discreetly in the tall kitchen cabinet.  "Are you losing your touch, darling?"

"What are you talking about?"  I wrapped my arms around him from behind, resting my chin on his shoulder, and scanned the calendar for clues.

"It's Thursday already."

I could feel my brow furrowing, but I hung on tightly to John and waited to be enlightened.  I rubbed the side of my face against his neck - scratchy and smelling comfortingly of John.

It was indeed Thursday.

It was Thursday of post-deadline week for John, which meant that I got picked up from work and taken to a lovely dinner and John was, if possible, even calmer and more cheerful than usual.  "You'll see when you sell out," he teased me.  "Monthlies are great for the blood pressure."

Who was he kidding?  He was in perfect shape even at the Sun.  His doctor tells him he has the vitals of a man ten years his junior.  And he loves it.

"I know it's Thursday," I told him patiently, taking advantage of my position to kiss him at that too-often ignored junction of neck and shoulder, that perfectly-positioned little hollow.  Mmm, he's tasty, my John…

"It's Thursday before Columbus day, Tris.  Which means you're overdue to hassle me about vacation.  Are you feeling all right?"  He turned suddenly, caught me around the waist, and pressed mock-concerned lips to my forehead.

"Keppe gets the all clear," he announced.  "All right, let's have it.  What have you planned? Should I be frightened?"

"No," I assured him, pausing only for a second.

"Too late."  He sighed, dipped me backwards, and kissed me deeply.  I was somewhere far away by the time we pulled, reluctantly, apart.  Who needs vacations? 

"You're suspicious," I informed him when we were done distracting each other, quite thoroughly thankyouverymuch. 

"Only because you're extremely suspect," he said, giving me a searching look. 

"What?"  I threw my hands up.  "I get no respect."

"You get respect, plenty of respect," he assured me firmly.  "But darling, in all the time I've known you, you haven't let so much as Secretary's Day go by without trying to escape to the beach, so I'm hardly likely to think you want to spend Columbus Day in Central Park."

"I like Central Park.  We saw Hizzoner at the reservoir last weekend, didn't we?"

John's mouth quirked.  "And you dragged me to hide behind a tree."

I shrugged.  "I hear he doesn't really like me."

"From whom?" he asked, a definite smile across his face now.

"Well…him."  I blushed.  "But you know, politics and the media…."

John scooped the day's papers into his arms and deposited them in the recycling bin before giving me yet another rather insultingly curious look.

"Are you going to tell me what you're planning?"

"Ye of little faith.  Geez." 

He slung an arm around my neck.  "Let's plan to spend the weekend in bed then, shall we?" he growled in my ear.

"Fine by me."

**************************************************

"Are you sure you don't want to go away?"  John looked puzzled over breakfast the next morning, pouring a neat serving of rice dream into his cereal.  I supposed I should be grateful he'd stopped thinking I was planning something terrifying.

"For Columbus Day?  What should we do, take the ferry to Staten Island and call it India?"

"You're an enigma, Tris Cates."  He shook his head.

"I try," I told him seriously.

***************************************************

We hadn't gone away, a month or so ago, for Labor Day.

We'd spent a great deal of time in Bedford over the summer, had taken two weeks off in August, and it just made sense to stick around the City for that hot three-day weekend.

That was what I'd told myself at the time.  Justifying, maybe.

The year before, we went to Cape Cod.

It seemed like a million years ago. 

I lost Simeon at a press conference, I faced the Wrath of John, and we went to Cape Cod.

We came home.

The next weekend we went to a colleague's wedding at the Players' Club.

And then we kissed each other good-bye on a clear, sunny Tuesday morning, left for work, and our world changed.

Just like that.

It hurt to think about last Labor Day, an odd protective sort of hurt, wrapped in layers of soft tissue like the bride's preserved veil.  For months after that I longed for the week I spent begging John for a vacation, when the scariest thought in my life was how dull a holiday weekend in the city might be.

We had a beautiful roll of film from the Cape, from last Labor Day, but I'd relegated it to the photo boxes at the top of the closet.  My breath caught painfully every time I tried to look at them.  It sounds clichéd, I know.  But we looked so innocent.

I started a bit as John touched my cheek.  "You're miles away."

"I was just thinking."  I shifted a bit, moved my head to a cooler spot on the pillow.

He brushed my hair back and I turned and cuddled up against him, not ready for sleep yet, not truly awake either.

"Want to talk about it?"

His heartbeat was already lulling me to sleep so I shook my head against his chest.  "Tired…"

I felt his lips against my hair, and then nothing else until morning.

*************************************************

"When are you off today?"

I shrugged, linking an arm through John's as he shielded us both with our giant Sun umbrella.  It was big enough for both of us.  And, frankly, for the whole baritone section of the MoTabs, too. 

"Whenever.  Early.  Fuck," I said succinctly as a passing cab sent a delicate spray of dirty water my way.

In public as we were, John satisfied himself with a mere Look.  "Save the filth for the newsroom, darling, where they appreciate it."

"Four."  He ushered me ahead of him down the stairs, closing the umbrella at the exact moment we descended underground.  He is eternally coordinated, my man.  The last time I tried the don't-get-wet-on-the-subway-stairs trick I ended up soaking wet and nearly beheading two innocent bystanders.  It takes grace, that trick.  Grace, of course, is John's middle name.  (Or it would have been, if he'd been a girl.)

"I'll be home at four.  If we're really going to spend the whole weekend in bed…"  I whispered this last bit, tastefully, as I waited for John to join me beyond the turnstile.

The 2 train rumbled in the distance and then sped through.  I felt the familiar rush, a second of fear, a second of exhilaration.  Stale, warm air blew my hair off my forehead.

Hot, humid and tired, my fellow New Yorkers were a fragrant and cranky bunch for the morning commute.  The floor of the car was slick as a wet dock and my hands slid off the metal pole as I grasped for purchase.  I ended up holding John's forearm as he gripped the rail with Spiderman suction.  My superhero. 

Yuck, you might think, at this scene, this opening scene of my every morning.

But it was mine, undignified though it was sometimes, humbling, the roar of the train and the crush of the crowds.  My city.  Mine.

***********************************************

I called him when I got to work. 

It was a habit we'd fallen into and I knew, from the rhythms of the newsroom, from our friends and our relatives, that it wasn't just us.

I'd call him when I got to work, never mind the fact that we often commuted most of the way together.  Then he'd usually call at lunchtime.  Whoever left the office first would call the other, and then we'd connect again at the apartment.

We'd always talked a good deal during the day, a holdover from working together, first in the same office, then for years in the same building. 

It was different now.  It was the same small talk, but there was something else behind it.  "I'm still here," we told each other, several times a day, every day.  From the desks around me and cell phones in the lobby and payphones on the corner, it was the same thing. 

I'm here.

Still.

I twined the telephone cord around my wrist, listened to the familiar cadence of John's voice across the wires. 

Still here. 

************************************************

John met me at the elevator at four on the dot.

He had bags.

"Turn around."

"Huh?"

He kissed me.  "Get back in, Tris."

I probably looked as puzzled as I felt.  "What?"

He ushered me back on the elevator and we descended to the lobby before I could ask him what was going on.

"John?" I ventured as he popped the trunk and slung our bags into the back. 

"Yes, darling?"

"Um."  I felt as if I were being fast-forwarded through the very crucial parts of this film.  "What's going on?"

He clicked the locks and opened my door, ever the gentleman.  I slid in, as curious as I was confused.

I buckled up, watched the wipers mechanically toss rain side to side as we drove out of the garage, traced the familiar route on foggy streets to the west side highway. 

"Where are we going?"

John squeezed my thigh, maneuvering the wheel deftly with the other.  "Think of it as a mini-break."

I smiled in spite of myself. "Thank you, Bridget Jones."

I sat quietly, not curious enough to push, fascinated as always by the view.  I've lived in this city for fifteen years and I still can't carry on coherent conversation on any bridge, not with the water rushing around beside the car and the skyline different every time I see it, grey and muted and smudged, a damp charcoal, as it was today.

Or sharp, silver, and vivid, etched against a solid blue sky.  I blinked, letting the scene shift.  Crossing the river, crossing the years.  John linked his fingers through mine on the console and I squeezed, silently, accepting the comfort.

"We're leaving?" was the first thing I asked, many minutes later, as we drove north through weepy rain. 

"Just for a little while."

"I want to be there," I said softly, not even sure what I meant.

John, though…he is sure when I'm not.  "We don't need to be physically there to be there.  We're not running away, sweetheart."

I blinked back tears.  "I know…"

I dozed off as fat drops pelted the windshield and woke up, heat blowing gently through the car, warm and sleepy. 

"Where are we?"

John was parking by a low stone wall, from what I could tell, in the middle of nowhere.

What on earth…

Years of experiencing his particular brand of creativity, of frank strangeness, had taught me some of the finer arts of patience.  I loved him.  The car was warm and dry and comfortable and John's hand was gentle on my knee.  Middle of nowhere or not, I couldn't imagine another place I'd rather be than next to him.

He pulled ponchos from the backseat and we braved the damp and chill, letting cool drops kiss our faces as we stood at the stone wall, looking out over what I realized was a vast expanse of gray-blue ocean. 

"It's beautiful…" I said tentatively.

John was staring out across the water, one hand idly stroking the dampest parts of my hair out of my eyes. 

And he calls me an enigma.

I didn't press him for more information.  It was enough, for now, to stand here, somewhere on the Connecticut coast, John by my side.  I looped an arm around his waist. 

Later, there would be hot showers and warm, dry clothes, softly heavy blankets, a rustic inn, perhaps, downy pillows and only each other for a day, a night, a day. 

But for now there was simply this, rain running down my face like tears, cold hands buried deep in the cozy hollows of John.

It was a summer rain, chilly just because we were wet, and it was immensely comforting to press myself against John's solid warmth, feel the gentle strength of his fingers on me as I watched the slate-colored water lap the glistening shore stones, velvet-black against a too-white sky.

Still here.

*************************************************

"What's this?"

We were curled on the couch together, back in the apartment, unpacked, dry, blanketed.  He'd handed me a small wrapped package.

"Open it."

I did as he asked, unfolding layers of delicate, pale tissue.  I turned the heavy oval in my hands. 

It was filigreed silver and I recognized the workmanship right away, the silversmith's in Old Mystic Village.  Celtic knots, admittedly overdone, but the theme wasn't lost on me.  They wove over and over each other, impossible to see where and if they ended.

Enclosed in the circle were two men, heads together and bundled warmly against a practically tangible blustery wind, standing where the water meets the sand in one long, gray swirl.  I touched the glass with one finger.  I could feel the crisp thickness of John's big cable-knit sweater, white and downy as the seagulls wandering about our feet.  The sand was cold under my toes.  I closed my eyes.  The air smelled like salt.

John touched my shoulder and I curled against him.  The picture, lifted from the box in our closet, was so familiar it hurt.  But it was a soft hurt, something opening inside me. 

"Thank you," I whispered.

He kissed my forehead.  "It was too beautiful to hide."

"I just…"  I faltered, traced our captured faces with my thumb. 

"I know," he said quietly.

He did know.  He always did.

He set the frame on the mantelpiece. I wrapped my arms around him, his warmth and strength against me as real and comforting as anything, soothing and invigorating at once as I kissed him.  Out of the corner of one half-opened eye I watched our younger selves, our softer selves, windswept on a year-old beach.  And felt them watch me.

They were where they belonged, now.

And so were we.


END.


It avails not, neither time or place-distance avails not;
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence;
I project myself-also I return-I am with you, and know how it is.

Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt;
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd;
Just as you are refresh'd by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh'd…

Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edg'd waves! Gorgeous clouds of the sun-set! drench with your splendor me, or the men and women generations after me;
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!


…*Walt Whitman, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"