It was barely daybreak, and that new-morning feeling was in the air as we stood in the alleyway. He lit a cigarette then handed me the pack and the lighter. I watched him pull in a deep breath, the hollows in his cheeks like black holes pulling my gaze. As I lit one he exhaled with the back of his head against the brick wall behind him, gazing at the sky. The ends of his long hair brushed the faded beltloops on his jeans and I could just see the tops of his bottom teeth through the smoke.
I picked at the fraying rips in my jeans as I smoked, rolling up stray threads and dropping them one by one on to the asphalt. Close to my knee were his initials – he’d written them there in black pen the night we met, in the dark at a dirty bar, his hand on the inside of my leg. Mine were on the inside pocket of his paisley jacket; the pocket where he kept poems, or up until about forty-nine days ago, drugs.
When I looked up again he was watching me, unsmiling, but with a kind of burning in his dark eyes.
“What,” I said, feeling a flush rise to my cheeks.
He grinned. He had a really good grin; you could see very little of his eyes, since his whole face would scrunch up to make room for all his teeth. I’d seen him slip it to countless girls at parties and shows and on crowded streets. It wasn’t just for me, I mean. That grin was just how he was – he had everything he wanted and so he couldn’t fail; that abyss didn’t exist for him, so he just strode forward.
He put his cigarette out on the wall behind him and crossed the alley, bending his legs as he reached me and placing his lips at the base of my neck. I locked my arms around his shoulders, flicking the still-burning cigarette away and watching the smoke writhe through the air. My fingers wound through his hair and he began to hum, the notes vibrating against my skin right into my bones. After a moment he stopped, turned his head slightly to one side, and said, “It’s about you.”
He nodded, brushing my hair away from my ear as he straightened up. He was almost a full head taller than me, and when I needed to I could fit against his chest, tucked under his chin.
“You’ve already got one,” I said. He did, too. He’d written it on my bedroom floor two months ago, right before we fucked for the first time, and shoved the page into his pocket as he dropped the jacket on the floor.
“That’s a whatever song,” he said. “Shit. This one’s…”
I kissed him as he stared at me, trying to find words. But whatever “this one” was, I didn’t find out. A door slammed open a bit further down the alley and a curly head appeared.
“Are you guys still out here? Come on, Tony, let’s get going. See you on the flip side, Lydia.”
The door slammed shut. He sighed.
“Well,” I said. “Better go.”
“Yeah. I’ll see you in September,” he said, brushing my cheek with his hand, his eyes bright with the promise.
I smiled. That was his way: to love so fiercely that everything else was blotted out, every fibre of his being devoted. But then one day the love would just fall away, and he would float on until he found someone new to love. He plunged into love again and again, but we were the ones who fell. He would not see me in September.
He kissed me one last time and strolled down the alleyway. I didn’t stay to watch the door slam again, and if he turned back to smile at me before he left I never saw it; I walked down the alley and out into the sunshine as fast as I could. I didn’t look back. By September I was far away. I didn’t know if he’d come back, searching for my face in a crowded bar, asking my old roommates for a new address. I didn’t stay to watch.
It was fifteen years before I heard my song. My daughter brought home their new album and I listened to it late that night while she slept in the next room. Through the headphones I could feel his voice, still, against my neck and in my bones; his lips around my nickname.