Gordo and I wake early these days. We spend our summers at the cabin on the lake, and when I come downstairs at 7, the coffee’s already going. Gordo’s been up for an hour. Invariably, he is on the back porch, looking out over the lake as he writes. He calls these his “morning pages,” the thoughts that flow directly from his unconscious mind to the paper. I do not ask to read them.
I put on my bathing suit. The sun has faded it from black to grey and it pinches at my thighs. It’s an uncomfortable reminder of just how long ago I bought it, that first summer we came here. The first summer we were together. I swim across the lake and back and pretend that Gordo is watching me, even though I know he isn’t.
When I finish my swim, he is done with writing. He leans against the porch railing. I wrap my arms around him from behind and stare out at the lake.
“Beautiful morning,” I say.
“Not as beautiful as you,” he says. He takes a sip of his coffee. A splash of soymilk, two spoons of sugar. I could make him a cup of coffee in my sleep after all these years.
We never talk about her anymore, but her name hangs unspoken between us. Lizzie. Lizzie McGuire. When I met him they’d just ended things, or rather things had never even begun. “One kiss in Rome, that’s all it was,” he told me over double Americanos at the café where I worked. I’d boldly sat down beside him on my break and introduced myself; that confident girl seems like a different person now. He just wanted to talk about that recent non-relationship, which didn’t seem so bad at the time. It was a fresh wound, and he was still raw. I didn’t mind listening. It makes me laugh now, that I thought I could be the one to help him get over her. As if anyone could. He soon stopped talking about her, but he didn’t stop thinking about her. I knew that much.
I remember a story he told me, that first day at the café. “She wanted to be voted best dressed, in the yearbook. She wanted to beat Kate.” He shook his head. “She hated Kate. So she—Lizzie, I mean—she bought these expensive jeans to wear on picture day. She thought she’d return them later.” He laughed, a short exhalation. “Of course she spilled something on them. Of course she did. Classic Lizzie. So she ended up wearing these other pants she had, and you know what? Everyone loved those pants.”
He turned to look at me. “Everyone loved those pants.”
I knew he wasn’t talking about pants, but I don’t know if he knew. It was the most honesty I ever found in his eyes, those murky waters I’d been trying to navigate for years.
He is singing to himself softly, barely whispering. I don’t think he even knows he is saying the words out loud. “Sometimes we make it, and sometimes we fake it. But we get one step closer each and every day, figure it out on the way.”
I press my face into his back and feel a sharp stinging in my eyes. It might be tears and I might be getting pink eye again; it happened once before from the bacteria in the lake. How strange it is to have a physical hold on something that isn’t really mine. I can wrap my arms more tightly around him, but it will not change a thing. I will never know him more than I do at this moment.
“Let’s go inside,” he says to me now. “We’ve got that Will Shortz Sudoku book to work on.”
I am awful at Sudoku. He takes my hand and I try to smile. Gordo might as well be one of Will Shortz’s puzzles, completely indecipherable to me no matter how long I stare. But maybe not. This might be the day I master Sudoku. I don’t know where we’re headed, Gordo and I, but for right now, this is enough.