This is an exclusive look at K.M. Cholewa’s work in progress. You can find Part Two here.
On the surface, it was coincidence. But it felt ordained. And that’s a combination that messes with the head.
Before seeing Mike walk down the jet way in an airport in Bozeman, Montana, Ursula had remembered almost nothing of that first love but the shared loss of virginities on his parents’ bed and in the end being jerked around as teenage boys with the world opening to them will do. Mike taught Ursula what love is, then turned, and taught her what it isn’t.
She had forgotten the good that had existed between them. She had forgotten it simply because she never thought about the time they had shared. Any thought not thought sinks or disappears and Ursula did not have the habit of parsing through her past and she was not one to hold precious in memory that which had not held her precious in its time.
But thirty-five years after their final kiss, a kiss she did not remember, their eyes met in an airport terminal and they were a fourteen year old girl and a fifteen year old boy, in mad love from a time when there were no warm-up cocktails or other grown-up glamours as they rode their bikes and looked for places to hide. Under trees, behind buildings, under fences and onto golf courses in the night, they laughed, and talked, and touched.
For almost three years, they had touched in love and sex for the first time in their lives, and they did it all with each other. The first everything. It all came back and both could tell you where what happened – the teen center after closing, her parents’ basement, between the mobiles behind the school. And, they could tell you if it were July, or after the Junior Dance, or on the ski trip that a new way of touching was discovered between them. A first kiss on the neck.
The first time they had actual intercourse, it had hurt for Ursula for just a minute and felt as much like a hard, firm pinch inside, tugging upward, as it did a steady press from below. Mike was on his elbows above her and controlled the pressure. “Wait,” she had said, but he didn’t, and it snapped, more so than tore, and sensations ripped, and rippled, through her in a place in her body she hadn’t known was there, and it was wonderment.
It hadn’t been bloody. The pain was strange and brief. For Ursula, sex was good from the start, and she took to it.
Three months later when Mike broke her heart, it wasn’t for free. She was seventeen and just newly awakened after almost three years of the two of them exploring each other and building up to what would be the final intimacy. Ursula had loved Mike, but she had loved his best friend, too, also named Mike. But the love for both Mikes didn’t mean she hadn’t made her choice. She had. But when after several months of small cruelties and that first Mike saying good bye, she was not going to turn her back on the love waiting for her all those years on the other side of her in the 1971 gold Monte Carlo, thighs sometimes brushing, through so many teenage drives in the night, going nowhere with the music loud. He wasn’t going to turn his back on it either, and the Mikes’ friendship that reached back to playing with trucks in a sandbox was shattered in a fight on Ursula’s front lawn after the first Mike had lain in wait for them to return from one of their first nights out together without him. Ursula’s mother had to call the police to break up the bloody friends, eyes reaching each other in guilt and betrayal.
This Mike loved Ursula more than the first, of that she had no doubt, and they loved as madly as had she and the first Mike, a love newly freed from the loyalty that had silenced their simmering, unexpressed bond. They became lovers at seventeen and eighteen and ran together further forward into the body’s warmest mysteries.
A year later, Ursula left him for the bigger life, just as the first Mike had left her, and they were all lost to each other.
The second Mike was dead, now, and Alive Mike and Ursula, who hadn’t spoken for decades, had circled back around. His re-routed plane and her return from L.A. brought them back together and the love happened fast, arrived with a plain clarity, just as it had on the overpass near the softball fields over thirty years before. They focused on each other now as they had then, both frankly and furtively.
One drink turned into seventeen days in the Paradise Valley where Ursula was holing up in a friend’s empty home. It was twenty five miles from Yellowstone National Park, nearly 4000 square miles of pristine wilderness, wolves and buffalo, grizzlies, geyser basins with simmering heats close to the earth’s surface, and micro-organisms – extremophiles – making their home the boiling boundary where the pressure of what’s beneath finds hot release.
The first night, unable to separate, they fell asleep together on the sofa. The next morning, they made love in her bed. He didn’t go to his brother’s for Christmas and instead he and Ursula chopped down a fir tree up Mill Creek and bought Christmas decorations for it at the Sinclair station at the yellow flashing light, the only light for a fifty mile stretch on the two lane highway that shot through the valley beneath the peaks of the Absoroka range. For seventeen days they’d walked white snow paths under blues skies, grey, and pink, and beside a river running like a slushy, and together examined the crow’s feet of each other’s eyes and fault lines of each other’s hearts.
They also danced. Whether at the local saloon or in Ursula’s kitchen, they held each other’s eyes as they moved, just as they did as kids. They dipped, and they shuffled tangled in each other’s arms. They held hands as they moved through local taverns or as guided to their table in small restaurants. Ursula had never been one much for hand holding, even with her ex-husband. It was a vulnerable act to Ursula, too tender to fake unlike kisses that can be delivered closed-eyed or sex that can be undertaken self-absorbed. Not only had holding hands seldom felt natural to Ursula, it had even often felt like a leash. But with Alive Mike it was done without thought or question, and Ursula and Alive Mike, in middle age, were lovers again, meant-to-be.
On his last morning, they had left the house at 3:30 a.m. for an hour drive so he could make a 5:45 a.m. flight. As their bodies parted the fingertips let go last and he turned his head to look back once before disappearing past security.
K.M. Cholewa is the author of Shaking out the Dead. She is hard at work on her next novel, Last Call for Yesterday.