Mezzanine

I love the smell of sweat, because of John. Even after all these years, I remember what he smelled like. Coming inside after wrestling weeds away from the soil. Weedkiller? Never. No poisons for Mother Earth. (Save those for her doting son.)

The righteous sting of hard-earned sweat. That glorious smell. Whatever I was doing I’d drop it, and hurry to meet him at his shower. Savoring the smell while we soaped it all away.

Just thinking about it got me going. I guess that’s for forever. My reaction to the stink of sweat embarrassed me at so many of the kids’ track meets. I was alone in this elevator with its stale smells, but ducked my head to miss the thrill in my eyes, bouncing from wall to mirrored wall.

The fresh smell entered the elevator at the Mezzanine. Meeting rooms, fitness center. I ducked my gaze lower, taking no chances this stranger might see.

“‘S’cuse.” He reached across to press button 34. One floor below mine.

Impossible. But. His smell was exactly like. “John?” I looked up, our gazes locked in a mirror. I didn’t bother to hide my desire. Subterfuge is for the young.

“Wow,” he said, and turned to face me. “I wasn’t expecting someone who – you.”

Mother nature favors her sons. After all these years, he looked not a day older. Hair still a bit thin and a little long. Wet like this, framing his jawline, exaggerating those cheekbones. Funny light in here, his eyes a watery blue not the creamy gray of my shower memories.

He reached for me and I let him. Plenty of time later for catching up on the how-ya’-beens. I stepped toward him and away from it all. The vows, the soccer tourneys, the 401k. Maybe later I’d feel guilt. Maybe later I’d feel shame. Right now I felt whole. How big the hole had been, the pit he left inside me.

This close to him was overwhelming. Day to day I couldn’t admit. How much I missed him. Ached for him. Every hour of every day of all those sixteen years. When I lost him. My heart lost its soul.

Some feelings you can’t let out if you have to get through the day. Those feelings flooded me and swept desire downstream.

He shoved me away, held me at arms length, noticed his grip, yanked his hands away. My skin shivered in the absence of his touch.

“Wo-ah! I thought that you – we. I am so sorry, lady. Please forgive me. I thought you wanted – Please stop crying.” He stepped as far away as the mirrored walls allowed.

What I wanted was to sob against him. Breathe him in. One last time. But it wouldn’t be fair. The poor kid was shaking. I stepped into the opposite corner, away from him.

“My apology,” I reassured him. I swiped at my tears, too rough! Scratched my cheek, kept a finger there. He didn’t need to see the blood. “You’re exactly like someone I lost, years ago.”

The bell of arrival. When the elevator released him to floor 34, the kid stepped out with relief, but held the door with deference to give me closure on our conversation. “Hey, I hope you find him.”

“Oh, not that kind of lost. I know where he’s buried.” My attempt at humor fell all 34 floors and hit with a crash.

“Ah. So, nowadays he and I maybe look less alike. Oh. Sorry. Awkward.” And he was gone.

“Too soon,” I whispered to my mirror faces, and we all grimaced a laugh. John liked to end with a laugh.

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