"Holding Back"

I still felt terrible at the end of the week, and I knew it was going to be a bad one. Everything still reminded me of him, whether it had anything to do with him or not—the curtains he came with me to buy, the books he gave me for my birthday, the rack that had so often held his stylish shoes. It was the end of the week and I felt like I couldn’t take the effort of bearing up his presence, so I decided to go out.

It would be better to be around people, I decided, as I busied myself in the bathroom redoing my makeup from work. Nothing fancy, nothing serious, just a drink and maybe some dancing. Even if it didn’t actually cheer me up it was better than sitting around here with Jun on my mind. The pulse of the crowd and the rhythm of the bass would pull me through.

And if this was Emi’s night out, then I was going to spoil myself. I went for the comfortable old backless dress, the one I’d had since my first year of college, and the beat-up sneakers my girlfriends always teased me about but which were the best blister-free dancing shoes I had ever known. The novelty of the dress had mostly worn off by now, but I knew I could still pull it off. Besides, I didn’t need to impress anyone tonight.

My girlfriends. It occurred to me that I could call someone—Ying, Adela, Izzy—and they’d understand immediately, come out…pay for the drinks. I still needed to meet up with them before the move. But an impish impulse told me no, that tonight it should just be me. Their well-meaning sympathy would put me right back in this place, or keep me there, rather. Thinking about Jun.

The fading light made the buildings look almost purple, modern LED streetlights insufficient to wash that away. It was a familiar club, but not, thankfully, one I associated with Jun. I’d been coming here since I met Adela and she introduced me to the others, almost four years ago. The bouncer tonight was someone new, but I smiled anyway and thanked her as she returned my ID.

“Emi! Hey!”

The voice came as I was heading for the crowded bar. I turned and looked across the tiny tables and saw Jack there with a big grin, waving in my direction. I felt my own face break into a smile and changed course. I wasn’t sure yet how I wanted the night to go but this was a hell of a way to keep options open.

Jack and I had long been…friends with benefits? Fuck buddies? Whatever you want to call it. At some point we’d actually become friends as well, but we both knew—and agreed verbally—that we’d drive each other up a wall if we ever tried to live together. I was pretty sure Jack had stronger feelings for me than vice versa, but when we talked about it he laughed and said he could handle it. Jack had even met Jun on multiple occasions, and Jun had given him his stamp of approval.

Jun. It kept coming back to handsome, intellectual, well-dressed, understanding Jun.

Jack must have seen my face fall, cutting his cheerful prattle off in mid-sentence. “Hey,” he said. “Sorry to hear about you two.”

It’s okay, I told him, even though it wasn’t. With the move and everything it’s understandable. I just thought we were further along. Jack was nodding sympathetically. It felt a little anti-climactic, now that the topic we’d been avoiding was out in the open. I glanced back towards the bar, hoping the crowd had gone down a little but knowing it hadn’t.

And froze. The man who had just come in…looked a lot like Jun.

There was a chance it wasn’t him. Minds play strange games on us. But it was his build, his black hair…on a normal day I’d never find him in a place like this, but if he were going to a club he’d pick one of the few he knew. Stupid, stupid…

“Do you…do you want me to buy you a drink?” Jack offered, a hint of wryness at the corners of his voice. He hadn’t seen. Of course he hadn’t.

No, I replied, breaking my gaze. I took his arm. Let’s go dance.

A little bewildered but still up for it, Jack followed me out onto the floor as the next poppy, upbeat number started playing. There was a cheer from a group of younger girls to the side and I felt like joining in. Maybe it would help.

But I couldn’t help looking past Jack back towards the bar, to see if Jun was there. He raised his eyebrows and started to turn his head. No, I said. Don’t you dare look back. Just keep your eyes on me.

He looked amused, but gave me a smile anyway. We were both dancing, and I’m not sure he could hear me over the music. He leaned in a bit with a slightly mischievous look. “You’re holding back.”

I consciously looked him directly in the eyes, made myself smile back and mirror his expression. “Shut up and dance with me.”

I danced with Jack, and what may or may not have happened after is our business. It wasn’t like I could forget, and the emptiness was back in full force the next day. But for a while perhaps it mattered less.


I literally woke up with this idea today, and having woken up earlier than usual I decided to write it up. (It’s good to be writing something; Morning Glory has me in a bit of a rut right now.) Yes, it’s an “I see what you did there” story. Sue me.

Despite the female point-of-view, I’m well aware the voice is still very much me. (At this point I think the em-dashes are a giveaway.) However, this story does owe a bit of a nod to Sarah W from the writing group I’m in, whose pieces have had poignant illustrations of both dancing and this sort of casual relationship.

And yes, poor Jack does indeed have stronger feelings for Emi than vice versa, although I’m leaning rather heavily on “I realize this is my last chance”. May be appropriate having just watched 5 Centimeters Per Second last night, by the same director as Kimi no Na wa. (Between 5 Centimeters and The Garden of Words, though, I think most of us preferred the latter.)