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if it's not forever

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It happened so fast. Or maybe it didn't happen at all. It was an alcohol-induced blur, an imagined blending of the senses. It was all in his head, windows of what could've been, might've been, already was, already done.

They weren't meeting by chance; one waited for the other every other week in the same corner of the same bar on the same street in the same area of the same city in the same state in the same country. Over glasses and snifters and bottles they traded the unglorified details of the mundane and the outlandish, cracked wise about backstage and off the set, joked about each other's fame and loathing in print.

What changed tonight? This wasn't habit. There was a spark, a trail of shimmer in the air. Magic? How cliché, how conventional. He knew. Of course he knew. Pushing the boundaries, breaking through the invisible wall, entering the private world, probing, sensing, possibly, maybe, are you, will you?

The air was charged, but this wasn't a clubbing scene. This quiet bar is their hideaway from the spotlight, from the unnecessary, the unwanted adoration and obsession. He twisted the band around his finger; it snapped with the static, lashed at him, asking him, Do you dare?

Do I dare? He knows, they know, but he doesn't, he won't, he'll bury it away. And the bottles, they go by so fast, one after another, until the lines blur and the soundscape becomes the deafening roar of a heartbeat too fast, of the touch on his arm, the light, tentative caress.

In the faraway distance, the speakers overhead and strung throughout the room – lay where you're laying, don't make a sound; I know they're watching, they're watching.

Tonight is in its teens and he says let's leave. Where? Elsewhere. Away from the crowds, the people, the eyes of the Other. Out of sight, out of mind, into the street and the blinding lights. Stumbling, staggering, into the dark, behind the scenes, Manhattan's backstage. The wall is cold and rough and warm and smooth, and suddenly he's there, the smell of booze and aftershave. No polish. Out loud? He giggles, loud in the silence, silver and shimmering.

The bar likes this song, plays it repeatedly, again and again over the speakers while they complained about middle age crises and old age and fear – soft lips are open, knuckles are pale, feels like you're dying, you're dying.

Stealing them, drunk, shameless, in and out of lamplight, down the streets, forget the eyes on the sidewalk, the cars flashing by, they're out of the picture so look at me when I miss and land one on the corner of your shy smile. You made the move, leaped across the aisle, but now you're ducking, hiding, shy, blushing, or is it the orange light, am I seeing things?

Stairs, the fumble for keys, swaying and missing and let's just do it here, do it now, while the night is still in its prime. He whispers no, murmuring, Inside, come inside.

The radio was on and a song was playing, and he laughed nervously, the song's following us – if it's not forever, if it's just tonight, oh it's still the greatest, the greatest, the greatest.

Forget the music. Forget the words. There's no conspiracy here, just coincidence. Where are we going? Stumbling, against the door, the wall, the couch, the hot breath and the soft lips, fumbling with the artificial constraints, the taste of sweat and alcohol, tugging and caressing, the murmurs and the muffled cries. But wait, wait, is this, should this, I don't, should we?

What is it? You want, you need, but for how long? No lights, you're hiding, we're hiding, what are we afraid of, what are we doing wrong? Nobody's watching, we're alone, breathe in the darkness, this night is ours even if it's just one.

Tomorrow he'll open his eyes, rise, shower, dress, leave, go to work, call her and apologize, hide the wrong aftershave – his aftershave – and smile, greet his friends and colleagues and guests and audiences, wave to the camera, revel in the cheers and the applause, go home to his loving family, and spend the night lying awake in bed, listening to the rhythm of her breathing and wondering if last night was all his imagination.

But tonight, tonight we'll forget, let go of the last handfuls of reality, and carry on like there's no tomorrow. It's just you and me, and the question we'll never stop asking.

What if?