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“Is it not blatantly obvious that feelings expressed through touch have a deeper engagement?”
They had known each other since primary school. Or at least they had known of each other. She was a year older than him, always a part of the ‘in’ crowd, the beautiful seniors who seemed to own the school. They followed each other into secondary school, and again he had looked up to her from his lowly position. He stood no chance. They went their separate ways when it came to sixth form - different colleges, but then, by some strange coincidence, met again when they went to university. The campus was vast, split into colleges and they, by some strange turn of the cards, found themselves in the same one. She lived off campus, him in halls, but they bumped into each other in the common room and the bar - this time, as both had eased into their young adulthood, they spoke. They found they had lots in common, a love of art, music, books and post-war social housing.
They came to frequently mix and see each other, as their Venn diagram of friends overlapped - the difference in ages meant nothing - what was once strangely taboo became natural. He was devastated when she started dating his best friend. He just hadn’t seen it coming. He had woken one morning to a loud knocking on his student room door to find a bedraggled friend who hadn’t slept all night in a gushing love-drunk mood wanting to tell him everything. The pain must have been written across his face, but for some reason, perhaps the emotional high and lack of sleep, his friend simply misread the situation completely.
It was a blow that he never really recovered from - young loss of love, betrayal - on both sides, he felt - sadness, hopelessness, a burden to carry. His life, he thought, was over - how grandiose the emotions of the young are. Reflecting upon this in his later life, he never forgot those feelings and his relationships with everyone moving forward were always tinged with this first, and most painful, loss, as if an injury from which you always bear the scar, limp or itch from.
She married his best friend - less painful than he had imagined back then. They saw each other frequently. He was the best man at their wedding, and godfather to their child. He married a woman he met after a string of relationships that never went anywhere. They went on a couple of holidays together with their combined children. The children grew up and away to lead their own emotional adventures, leaving a vacuum of purpose behind.
Needs and feelings mature, change and recalibrate with the flow of time. The feelings he had when he was young started to raise their head again, and he was always thrilled when the chance arose for the couples to do something together so that he could see her. But he did not know how to let her know his true feelings. Should he call her and ask her out? Should he write a letter? Would her husband, his best friend, find out - would she tell him - was he misreading the whole situation?
He felt awful, as he did back in the early days at school where she felt so far out of his league, even though they knew each other, seemingly so well. He felt bad for his wife and his best friend. But the overarching feeling was that this was what all four of them needed: change. Were this to happen, it would be the catalyst for positive momentum.
They bumped into each other one morning by chance. Both out on errands. He was being unable to find a birthday present for his wife, and she had to run an errand for her husband. This was the first time, he realised, that they were together alone. There was always the perfunctory peck on the cheek when they met as couples, but for some reason, by some unified and incomprehensible force of attraction or moment, they drew each other into themselves. It was not that act that sealed their fate, but rather the touch of the hands - the tenderness each other felt through the fingertips of the other - a pure, unequivocal expression of their true feelings.
Their new life began here. Began with that unspoken acknowledgement of forty years of feelings.
Photo: Weymouth, Dorset. May 2021. Nikon d750
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