Jack didn’t think much of the building on Chadwick Street when he first saw it and he knew Sarah felt the same way, but Casco Bay was close and a thick, restorative breath of salt hung in the air around the weathered brick, and for the moment that was enough. Sarah would grow to love the Chadwick Street building, despite the fire that would scar her right hand and arm and leave Mr. Morganstern dead, sitting upright in his favorite wingchair, a scorched copy of Go Down, Moses in his lap. But that was still years away. Before the fire would scar Sarah and kill poor, old Morganstern, she would lose her virginity in apartment 4B, in the back bedroom, to the boy who made her laugh for the first time since her mother’s death, though it would be nearly four years between the moment she laughed and the moment when she opened her legs as he climbed on top of her. He—Bobby—was her first lover, and they would sneak off and have sex whenever they got the chance. They would stay lovers for seven months and then Bobby would move away. They would try to talk and Facebook and text, but that would eventually end. The distance was too great. It always is.
Of course, Jack wouldn’t know any of this. Sarah wouldn’t cry to him. She would cry to Aimee. Jack would never know any of it beyond a few comments dropped by Sarah on holidays in years to come when they tried to remember Aimee. By the time Morganstern died, Sarah knew how to experience loss in a productive way. This was a skill that would stay with her for her entire life. Sarah would cry to Aimee about Bobby. She would cry to Aimee when she woke from a dream, her crotch wet and aching for the boy. She would sneak out and knock on Aimee’s apartment door. Aimee was always up late, and was a light sleeper anyway. So, Sarah cried to Aimee about Bobby. She cried to Aimee over the abortion. She would cry to Aimee when she didn’t even know why she was crying any longer. She would cry to Aimee until Aimee wasn’t there anymore. But by then Sarah had learned to deal with loss productively. Aimee taught her to do so.
Jack would never know any of this.
Jack first met Aimee on the second day he and Sarah lived on Chadwick Street. Aimee was outside in the courtyard sitting at a little table, drinking a cool glass of Pinot Grigio. She wore her hair up this day, but brown strands fell across her face and she swept them back behind her ears as she lifted the Pinot to her mouth. She would never drink Sauvignon Blanc, and she preferred Bordeaux, but it was a warm spring day, and the flowers were blooming and Pinot seemed appropriate. On that first day, Jack wondered what it would be like to kiss her. He would eventually taste many different types of wine on her lips and tongue. The first time he kissed her, though, she was drinking coffee. Her taste was dark and rich and sweet. They quickly moved from the kitchen of her apartment to the bedroom and made love for the first time. The sex they had that first time was fast and powerful, and after just a few moments of being inside her, they both screamed their orgasms. Jack and Aimee spent the rest of that day together, walking the Portland waterfront, stopping to have an oyster and white wine lunch at Catch 91. Later, in the early evening, they again went to bed.
Years later, when Jack had bought the house on Sanibel after writing what he thought would be his last book, he and Sarah discussed firsts and lasts. Sarah watched her husband and children play on the beach from the kitchen window while Jack made an arugula salad. “You always remember your firsts,” said Jack. “Your first kiss. Your first boyfriend. The first time you see someone. But you don’t really remember your lasts. And that’s because you usually don’t know you’re experiencing a last. Do you? Usually you look back and realize that was it. That was the last time. It doesn’t stick with you like a first because you don’t know it’s a last at the time. Am I making sense?”
Jack’s eyes fell on Sarah as she lifted a glass to her lips. He briefly thought of Aimee. Had he already seen her for the last time? Sarah thought of Bobby, the boy who took her virginity so many years ago, and wondered what happened to him and who he had become. But she would never know. Her Google searches would become less frequent over the years, and she would never discover that Bobby, the young, beautiful boy she had loved, had grown into a friendly and easy-going man who would die at twenty-nine in a diving accident in the BVI. He thought about Sarah from time to time, but she wouldn’t ever know that. She wouldn’t know that he was happy and satisfied with his life, and that earlier in his last day alive she had popped into his mind for a brief moment and that moment made him pause. Nine hours later, Bobby was dead.
Aimee left on an August day that had been cooled by rain. She pulled out of the small lot and drove off. Jack stood with the rain washing him. She put a blinker on at the top of the street, the only indication of where she was going. She turned right. She was gone. Six months later, Jack would look out at snow covered Chadwick Street and decide to leave for good. He would leave in the spring, driving down Chadwick Street for the last time, driving by the water with the windows down so that the salt from Casco Bay would sting his nose.
Matthew Ortoleva, PhD, is an Associate Professor of English at Worcester State University in Worcester, Massachusetts. His writing has appeared in Praxis, The Community Literacy Journal, and WLN. He is past director of the Writing Center at Worcester State and teaches courses in writing, film, and literature.