I open the front door when I hear the series of surprisingly loud raps. I have been waiting for her all day, all week. A whisper would be a shout, so primed am I to hear it. I have joked more than once that Melanie might back out, that I should not depend on her arriving at all, to lessen the sting if she actually does. It has been so long, so much as occurred, the concept of seeing her again is so wrought with meaning.
Amber's and my apartment is the cleanest I have ever seen it. Though Melanie is one of my best friends in the world, someone I adore, she is also my ex-girlfriend and has that French streak of criticism in her that was so useful when writing my first novel. However, it might not be as pleasant when she is examining the artifice of the life I have built with Amber and I want to make certain she has nothing to disparage.
Melanie stands on my porch, hair short and swept to one side, in the fashion of the modern lesbian or Bieber fanatic. She is rounder in places, leaner in others. Overall, different enough to be almost new. She is lovely, in a way, though I can't imagine she would appreciate the adjective. I know that she can dead lift more than her body weight and look for evidence of this in the split second beyond she steps over the threshold and pulls me into an embrace that last a minute, squeezing me against her and lightly rubbing my back.
As long as we made a space for her to sleep on the air mattress on the floor, I know she could not care in the least about the state of our apartment. All that matters to her is that she is in the presence of someone she loves.
I lean back and get a good look at her again, as though I missed her entrance.
"Well, hello!" Melanie says.
I smile widely and welcome into our home. I introduce her to Amber, though they have seen one another in words and pictures, once in a Skype video as I tested out voices for a series of book readings I have scheduled.
We go outside to help her with her bags, though she can carry them all on her own. She wants the company. She wants, having been out of my sight for over a year, to be beside me. She doesn't want to let me go.
I do not know how this weekend will go. From tonight, Friday evening, to Sunday afternoon, Melanie is our guest. I know that this should be strange, hosting one's ex-girlfriend. Melanie was not someone I idly dated. After we broke up, my former ex Emily said that she thought I loved Melanie more than I did her because I was finally ready to love someone in that way. Then, I could not deny it. I let Melanie into my every facet, even when she played at finding me inadequate. I have made my peace with most every slight in the relationship. She was young and this was how she learned what to do and not to do. I truly forgive her because, for the most part, I understand. All of the drama and pain fell away, because they belonged to a level of relationship that is no longer ours.
After liberating her luggage from her car and opening a Christmas present from her seven months late (one that, she notes, traveled from New York, to France where she bought it, to Ohio where her parents live, and back to New York to be given), we are a bit unsure what to do. Melanie cannot very well stand around hugging me all night, at least not without earning Amber's glare and polite request she bunk elsewhere, gay or no gay.
"I am thinking... Holy Cow," I say.
"Was that displeasure?" I ask.
"Never," she says. "That was the sound of the most supreme delight."
We walk and I wonder when things are going to begin to feel strange. Certainly, after a year apart, certainly with a relationship such as we share, one where the pieces are still falling into place, it cannot be this effortless now. It is as though Melanie is someone I see often, akin to Daniel. Someone I joy in seeing, but whose presence is no rare treat. I missed her like mad, but nothing in this feels dire or permanent. Melanie and Amber seem to have no issues with one another, though it likely decreased Melanie's threat level that she happens to be gay. Most everyone else I have told about Melanie's visit - and they are few so as to avoid hungry acquaintances of hers - has been confused that I would allow Melanie to spend two nights in my home. Amber did not particularly care, a testament to her confidence and trust.
I wonder at holding Amber's hand. Melanie is, of course, quite aware of my relationship with Amber and its specific tenor. We've been living together for over six months. My one year anniversary with Amber was a few days ago, for which Amber decorated our bathroom as my present. But Melanie had earlier said that part of the weirdness of seeing me would be that she would be unable to continue the physical affection that had led our interactions previously. For a few minutes, I felt it might be tasteless to rub her face in the fact that someone else nuzzled me now, but it was impossible not to grab at Amber and squeeze her as we walked and Melanie, of course, did not notice or mind.
We three get ice cream, which Melanie insists upon paying for. We are liberal in sharing, as Melanie thinks her creamscicle swirl is not quite up to snuff and I must test this hypothesis with my tongue. I keep prodding one or the other of them to tell stories, but they both refrain in their own way, Amber with shyness and shrugs and Melanie by rambling. I note small gestures and eccentricities of Melanie I had not forgotten, but to which I was so inured as to have previously rendered them all but invisible. I see the spoon shake with her essential tremors, those tiny manual shakes of hers that my parents, in meeting her for the first time, took for utter nervousness rather than a permanent but harmless condition. I remember now the sheer variety of Melanie's unconsciously slipping into other voices to give her words their shading, traveling from a Russian bear to a dotty old English woman and back to her baseline voice in the course of a few sentences.
The night is warm and sweet. Amber and I fight our dipped vanilla cones, mine cherry and hers chocolate, cracking the candy shells to prove the victor.
Our ice cream nearly exhausted, I say I need to find a bathroom, as enough dripped on my hand to make me a bit tacky.
"Oh, stickiness! I hate it!" Melanie says and I recall that, yes, she does. It is as though this is an actress playing Melanie and I am impressed how well she has the character down.
We mean to walk to the grocery store and get drinks along with a thorough hand washing, but we end up going back toward my apartment. Midway there, Amber and I get into a dandelion fight, finding the puffballs and blowing them at one another. There is little cute in this game. It involves running, subterfuge, broken alliances, and outright tricks to assault the other party with seeds.
Fine, it may be slightly cute. Melanie does not question the game, just waits until we return to her.
She talks of her friend in France, a girl with a lovely name in French that translates poorly on the Anglo tongue, who feels far more fervently for Melanie that Melanie has ever felt for her. Melanie likes the girl, no doubt, but it is a connection of touches and bedrooms rather than one in which she can be emotionally invested. Said girl promised to visits Melanie when she is settled at grad school. "But, by then, I might have a good group of lesbians in Colorado and I can just turn them loose on her."
"It's quite all right to be guaranteed sex when she gets there," I say, "but it seems a bit off to be setting a pack of dykes on her."
"No, she'd love it," Melanie assures me.
Shortly after, Melanie spots a tree and without another thought jumps up it, pulling at the branches. There is no need to do this, though I start to remove rings and mala to attempt to join her. A dozen feet up, she decides she does not wish to be in the tree any longer and scurries down. On the ground, she shows me her hands, scraped and bloody from this minute long adventure.
"These trees have rough bark," she says, as though validating what my eyes see. I contemplate the redness, wondering at the fact that I have to treat this blood as that of a stranger. It is not that I suspect it is tainted by some vile pathogen - I know enough about the transmission of STDs during lesbian sex that it warrants a bit more than a shrug - but this blood is not directly my concern.
We veer off from walking directly to a playground so that Melanie can patch herself up in our bathroom. When she comes out, wiping her hands and applying unguents and bandages to her satisfaction, she notes a green and yellow vase on my bookcase.
"You kept this?" she asks. It belonged to her and she left it with me during one of her trips home for the summer. It is the "Melanie vase" and I have joked to a few people that it is the equivalent of her soul. Some friend of hers - I don't recall whom - made it for her. I know I offered it back to her when she left me, but she did not wish to take it then. "Can I have it?" she asks.
"Of course," I say, after a moment, not completely sure I want to say this. "It's yours."
She picks up a green and gold object next to it. "And this lamp, I think this is mine too."
"It's possible," I say, considering. "I wouldn't know where I would have gotten something like that."
"So I can have that, too?"
"If you want it. I'm not going to stop you. It's kind of just clutter," I admit. I pick up a stuffed rabbit, one she rescued from moldering in my parents' yard because she liked the cut of his topcoat. "While you at it, do you want to take Archibald? I meant to mail him to you in France so you'd have company, but the shipping seemed too great for what would amount to a joke."
She takes a step back and then gives him a squeeze. "Oh no, you keep him. He should be somewhere he can be loved."
We find our way to the playground after a false start down the wrong road. Melanie muses that all Linden streets in the world should connect via a series of interdimensional portals, compromising one extremely long avenue (the same with every other street in the world sharing a name). We three pick at this hypothetical concept, pointing out that this would release all sorts of invasive species throughout the world and that robbing banks would be easier when one's getaway could take one to whole other countries through a series of careful turns.
"And I could always get back here, to you. I wouldn't be stuck in the horridness of Colorado," she says, but I had been thinking it as well.
Melanie applied to several graduate schools in the US. While a few nibbled at her, none were as generous as Colorado, who offered her a generous stipend and scholarship. But, as she is to repeat, as she has said to me a dozen times, she does not want to be there. Colorado is a distraction from the East Coast, which is where her heart lies. She will complete her Master's, but she does not want to be stuck in academia when the field is calling to her.
Once in the playground, we travel only past the immediate barrier before falling in the grass in a pile. I find stars through the clouds as we talk, mostly about annoying associates who mean well and are all the more infuriating for that. These moment with her seem very right and very common, as though this is what Melanie, Amber, and I get up to fairly regularly. As though this night is nothing special rather than the beginning of a dwindling series of hours before I lose Melanie again for a year, two year, maybe more. But it all feels as it should be and I cannot at all feel the sense of impending loss. Melanie had been in other continents, and I still found a path to her. This is not the beginning of an end.
We do not last long in the playground. We simple get up and wander back to my apartment, our talk of Linden streets continuing as though it had never been interrupted.
Back at the apartment, I broach the topic of where Melanie would like to sleep (further from the bedroom will give her more privacy and liberate her from the need to see Amber asleep in my chest, closer to the bedroom will give her a more comfortable night) and we settle for having her on an air mattress in the bedroom.
The next morning, we are due at my parents' house for a birthday brunch for my brother Bryan. This might be torture for Melanie. When we were together, my family functions were not her cup of tea, which is to say that she avoided them if at all possible. It is not that I believe she dislikes my family or, at least now that we are no longer a couple, that they dislike her. It has been well over a year since any of them saw Melanie in the flesh. Unlike with Emily, I do not think they went through any particular animosity toward her as the result of the breakup, since she was acting as they expected given that she was a Bard undergrad. Our relationship dissolved with a great deal less fallout than my last and with rather a lot more inevitability. It was simply that she was a busy college student, slightly more so in her head than in reality, and perceived an activity outside my apartment or Bard College as a threat to her down time.
Though amply forewarned, I admit some nervousness as to how Melanie will be received. This, blessedly, is for naught. Aside from an ill-tempered and ungrateful Pekinese poodle nipping her ankle for the sin of being slow in giving treats before having the audacity to speak, my family reacts to her in a friendly way, full of affectionate teasing. Even my niece Alyssah, who in meeting Amber for the first time announced that I have two girlfriends, gets in on it by affirming that I only have one now. Still, she is far cuddlier with Melanie than ever before. The presence of bacon, sausage, cinnamon buns, waffles, and quiche in prodigious amount no doubt smooths interactions.
We leave after a few hours because I have a signing outside Notions-N-Potions in Beacon. I do not know it will be outside until I get there, but Cheryl the owner is hosting a psychic in the nook I occupied last year. Amber, Melanie, and I settle on the chairs left in the front and try to harass passersby to check out my books. This does not happen, though I sell to Melanie and, when she arrives as a surprised with Dan P, Suzie. I am not wholly certain how Suzie will react to Melanie's presence and, as her presence is a very pleasant surprise, could not have mentioned that my ex-girlfriend who precipitated more than ten sniffling phone calls from me when our relationship was in its death throes.
Daniel and Sarah arrive independently soon to join our vigil over my waning career as an author. Cheryl pops her head out of the shop to mention that some journalism majors from Marist College said they would be back to interview me, but I watch as they get distracted by a folk singer and forget about me.
After several hours of hanging out without selling anything more, we pack up. Suzie and Dan P cannot stay, but those of us who do set off to enjoy Second Saturday.
Melanie used to treat Daniel like a sort of big brother to adore and annoy and that sensation has not dwindled in her. She even resumes referring to him as Danny (though thankfully not Princess) as we flit from shop to shop to indulge in snacks and cupcakes provided to us. I do not think she cottoned to Second Saturday nearly as much as she does tonight, but I am just thrilled she is appreciating it as I do.
"What would be your ideal world?" I ask her.
"Ideally, I would marry Jinx, just so we could always be together. But I don't think that is going to happen. I think she is going to stay in Germany."
I do not know - or do not pay attention - that people (my family, Daniel) for the entirety of Melanie's visit pull Amber aside and ask whether she is really okay with this all. I appreciate the concern. Amber is not always the first to advocate for her desires and wishes, but I would hope the first assumption about this visit would be closer to the truth: that I sat Amber down for a Serious Conversation about Melanie's potential visit because her comfort and emotional safety is a far higher priority than having my ex sleep in our apartment for a few days.
The next morning, we insist upon taking Melanie to Duo, inarguably our favorite restaurant in the world, as we would be remiss as hosts if we did not feed her something more nutritionally worthy than pilfered wine and green tea cupcakes. Really, though, it is an excuse to have a meal with Daniel. We banter and share food as though this is simply our Sunday habit and always has been. It is almost hard to believe this is something unusual. I want this to be an aspect of my life, however unlikely this will be once Melanie leaves for Colorado. I want to feel that I can ask my dear friend to brunch and for us not to laugh longingly because we are parted by time zones.
We exit and decide to walk off our brunch as the day is comfortable and any suggestion of returning to my apartment brings us closer to the moment Melanie leaves.
As we pass the LGBTQ Center in Kingston, I ask Melanie, "Should we leave you here? Pick you up on the way home?"
She rolls her eyes but smiles. "You are so exhausting."
"Oh, do you know them?" I ask. "All of you people know one another, right?"
I push Amber into Art Riot, a consignment art shop that neglected to respond to her inquiry about selling her crafts. Ostensibly, I do this because I want her to fling accusations of favoritism at these horrid people who refuse to respond with a polite rejection, but I actually expect exactly what happens. The woman at the register talks to Amber for a few minutes and then gives her a contract, making this the first store in the area smart enough to sell Amber's wares. Everything today is working out beautifully.
We loaf about in the coffee shop Daniel frequents, restraining ourselves from teasing him overmuch about how well the baristas seem to know him, all their flirtation like that between long acquaintances. Melanie looks at newspapers and just feels like a part of this world.
When the time comes to return home, Melanie sits in the backseat and grins up at me, knowing she has a few seconds before Amber will get to her door. "I like her," she says. "Really like her. Once you get her talking... you are good together. I'm glad you have her."
"Thank you. I am, too."
We return to my apartment and I would like to say we have some deep conversation that puts everything in our past and future into perspective, but my life is not a bildungsroman. We just sit on the sofa, watching silly videos as though we have forever to sit here on this sofa, as though this weekend need never end if we don't look it in the eye.
"Two year," Melanie says, "then I come back here. Hold me to this."
"Where should we meet in two years?" I ask. "Here? Because I'm not sure I intend to keep this apartment, but maybe the new renters-"
She smiles, cutting me off. "Two years, then I am back with you."
We carry her bags to the car in the pouring rain, holding Amber's duck umbrella. Melanie does not need our help bearing the physical weight.
"I'll see you again, before I leave. If that's okay?"
"Of course," I say and she does, another day and another, for sushi or just whatever I am making, each visit feeling devoid of endings.
Soon in Xenology: Male friendships. Burlesque.