PREVIOUSLY: PART THREE
The crowd at the champagne bar was typical: older professionals who wanted to wind down after work. We sat next to each other at a huge table that ran the length of the bar. I caught her up on my life in Rio.
“When I first came here, I fell in love with the city and imagined myself living here, but now I don’t know if I’m ever coming back.” I took a sip of champagne, which was extremely cold because of the salt solution the bartender had put into our ice bucket.
“Why don’t you like Rio?” Mariana asked.
“Well, it’s expensive and dangerous, the traffic is bad, the nightlife sucks, there’s too many gringos, it’s either unbearably hot or raining, it’s dirty, smelly, making friends is hard, and I don’t even like the beach that much. It’s like Rio was a girl who I fell hard for, but once I got to know her, I realized we didn’t have a lot in common. I think it was you who…”
“Me who what?” she asked.
“The first time I was here, you made the city better than it actually is.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“You don’t have to, but there’s no reason for me to stay here now, or even to come back.”
I noticed that she was touching me often and shifting nervously in her seat. I had gotten her to meet me under the guise of friendship, and while I didn’t expect more, I was sure hoping for it.
“Remember that guy you told me you had just ‘started’ seeing?” I asked.
“Well, I think that was a lie. I think you invented him to make me feel better.”
“No, I really was seeing a guy! But I’m not seeing him anymore.”
“And then there was another guy.”
“But it was really quick. Very short.”
“So you’re not seeing anyone right now?”
“Well, good, because after this bottle of champagne you can come to my place and we can make love one last time.” I smiled, but not too hard since I wanted her to believe I was mostly serious. Just testing the waters.
“Oh, baby, no.” She shook her head. “Let’s just be friends. ”
“I’m leaving in ten days—it’s not like I’m asking for more. But anyway…”
“So did you meet any girls?”
“A couple, but nothing serious. After you ended it I wasn’t too upset because I thought it would be easy to find your replacement, especially since I met you only a week after I arrived in Rio.” I paused a moment. “But I haven’t been able to find another Mariana.”
She smiled, but said nothing. I asked if she was still on her allergy medication. She said she wasn’t. I kept filling her glass and eventually ordered a second bottle.
I was having trouble containing my feelings and said some things I knew I shouldn’t have, but it felt right and she seemed to be getting closer to me. I went with it. There was no need to lie or pretend.
“When I came back,” I said, “I was ready to give us a shot, to see only you.”
“I don’t believe that. I know your type, going from country to country. You probably have girls in each country that you keep in touch with.”
“No, well… no, you’re wrong. No one I really care about,” I said, searching for the right words. “The last time we talked, I got the feeling that you wanted me to make a stronger commitment, to invest more.” I paused again, then asked the question that was on my mind for the past couple months. “I guess what I’m asking is… if I lived here, would things be different?”
She looked at me for what seemed like eternity and said, “Yes, they would.”
I nodded, then the conversation drifted into silence. I tried to kiss her a few minutes later, but she turned her head at the last moment.
“We’re only friends,” she said. “Friends don’t kiss.”
“Well, sometimes,” she said softly. Then she gave me a look that said, “I’m going to be vulnerable now… please be gentle.”
I approached again slowly, and when our lips touched, I felt something unusual—something electric that seemed to paralyze my body. Only my lips and mouth were alive, and they were heating up. For the next thirty seconds I felt this heat coming into my mouth, increasing in temperature with every moment. The movements of her tongue triggered flashes of white light on the back of my eyelids. My head seemed to separate from the rest of my body. The people and the music faded into the background until we were completely alone, until I processed not a single thought or sensation besides the heat in my mouth and the lights dancing in my vision. I don’t know how long the kiss lasted, but she pulled away first, leaving my lips hanging in the air. It took several seconds for the sounds of the bar to reenter my consciousness and for my body to reattach itself. I looked at her, confused, as if coming out of a hypnotist’s trance. I swallowed hard and began to rub my hands over my face. Then I excused myself and went into the bathroom so she wouldn’t continue to see the effect she had on me.
The champagne continued to flow and like an octopus I let my hands explore her body, slowly creeping up her leg until she smacked them back down. I just wanted to have her one more time, and then we could be done for good.
Getting her back to my place took quite a bit of convincing. I had to basically sign a contract stating that she’d stay no more than fifteen minutes and that we’d only hug and kiss. Of course she couldn’t help herself once she was lying on my bed, and neither could I.
When it was over, I lay on my back, staring up at the ceiling fan, trying to keep my eyes focused on one of the rotating blades, wondering how a petite Brazilian girl gained so much power over me.
I turned on my side to face her and said, “I don’t see you for three months and I’m leaving, but now we’re… doing things.”
“Well, yes, that’s why,” she said. “This is how I protect myself. Why would I get too close to someone who’s staying a short time?”
We stared at each other for a long moment, and then I said, “I love you.” I didn’t smile.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Because you’re not serious.”
“How do you know I’m not serious?”
“Because you’re not ready!”
I saw her twice after that, once for a movie and the other for a walk through a park. Things were decidedly more friendly and nothing got past simple hand-holding or light kissing. She made a reference to having “drunk too much” the night at the champagne bar, and I got the hint. We were just friends—and there would be no additional sex.
After the park, we went for a quick açai and grabbed the same bus. I was emotionally numb. I wanted to get off the roller coaster ride she had put me on and if she wanted to only be friends then fine. It didn’t matter anyway—I was leaving in two days. Even if she wanted to stay with me, I wasn’t ready to move to Rio just for her. She was right.
I told her my stop was coming up. I looked over to her and saw tears streaming down her face, more tears than when I had first left her about two years earlier.
I had trouble understanding why she was so upset. I stared at the back of the seat in front of me until I broke the silence with, “Quero cafuné.” It was a phrase she had taught me, which means, “I want to gently stroke your hair.” She laughed and told me to be sure to use it on other girls.
“I guess our time was two years ago,” I said.
“Yes. I was more open then.”
“I’ll always remember it.”
We both knew I wouldn’t be coming back to Rio again. I gave her a quick kiss, then pulled the cord and walked towards the back of the bus.
It was finally over for good.
If you liked the epilogue, download the first chapter for free to see how it all started.