I will always remember the night we first met. I was too busy, working behind the bar. It was New Year’s Eve, and Josh, one of the other bartenders asked me to cover him for a second, that there was someone he had to say hello to. I thought you two were a couple, an item. So I barely glanced in your direction. Looking up, I said “hello,” when he introduced us. And then I had to get back to work. I don’t remember if you smiled, if there was any hint of our future written across your face in those fleeting moments. I doubt it though. You were looking after Rhiannon, almost too drunk to stand. I thought that you and Josh were together. I forgot your name. But I didn’t forget your face.
I asked Josh, the next shift we worked together, if you two actually were seeing each other, asked him, after he said no if he minded that I was interested. He told me it wasn’t like that, that the two of you were just friends. He didn’t know if you were seeing anyone. He knew where you worked though. Once I found out it seemed perfect. A friend of mine worked with you, so whenever we needed anything at Common People I made sure I was the one to go to Woolworth’s. Stood and chatted to Bridgid while I bought a dozen packets of straws, a bag of ice, anything. Just so I could maybe have the chance to see you, to say hello again, exchange small talk. It had been a long time since a girl had made me nervous, had thrown me off my stride. But you managed it. I doubt that you even knew that I was interested in you, I was so shy whenever I saw you behind the cigarette counter, it took an age before I could work up the courage to say the hello which seemed fastened like a button to my lips. There was no chance that I could ask you out. No chance that you would say yes.
Girls came and went, that was no secret. I had to do something to show that I wasn’t interested, especially after I hadn’t seen you at the club for a while. I figured you weren’t interested in me, or that maybe there was someone else. So I tried to forget, and I nearly succeeded. Until that night. I had built a reputation, and not a good one between then and the night I next saw you. The night when Stevie decided that she would try to pick me up. She leaned over the counter, horn-rimmed glasses and a low-cut top, trying to match me Jäger bomb for Jäger bomb. The boss told us to drink, told us to pick up the girls. That it was good for business to have us young lads living it up. She waved you over, from the dance floor, and my heart stopped for what felt like a minute as you skolled a drink too. It was on me, this round.
We drank and I turned away, serving more customers. You pushed your way through the mob crowding the bar and asked me a question I pretended I couldn’t hear over the music, but really I just wanted to hear you ask again. It was more of a command than a question, really, “Come and have a dance with me later?” I had to wait, trying to play it cool, trying to be nonchalant about the fact that you had just asked me onto the floor. I must have waited for a whole song before I came out, found you with your friends, dancing to Muse. It was either Stockholm Syndrome or Plug-in Baby, and you shouted to be heard over Matt Bellamy’s angelic voice. “Please tell me you know the words to this song!” I nodded, dumbly, I was lying. I lip-synced my way through the chorus. Before I knew it we were kissing.
I had to keep working so I eventually tore myself away, back into the cage that was the bar, ignoring the girls flirting and desperate for my attention. I saw you start to leave, managed to catch your eye. You smiled then, and waved. I stood helpless, watching you walk out of my life passing the bouncer, bouncing down those stairs and onto the street.
I dashed away as soon as I could. I tripped down the stairs, emerged onto the street only to see that you were gone. Disappeared into the Brisbane midnight. I cursed my bad luck, swearing at the top of my lungs. It felt like I had missed my chance, my only chance. Until I saw Stevie standing in the harsh neon lights of the 7/11 doorway, saw she was talking to you. Your friends wouldn’t leave us alone for an age, they were looking for somewhere that sold milkshakes at four in the morning in the Queen Street mall. When they finally did go I walked you to your bus stop. The sun was beginning to rise, in the half hearted way it does in autumn, casting it’s light in a gentle orange glow across the lower edge of the sky, barely visible through the thicket of skyrises that mark the city’s boundary. It would be another two hours until the bus came, and neither of us could afford the cab fare.
So I offered to walk you home. You seemed incredulous, until I insisted it wouldn’t take long, only an hour or so. I still can’t bbelieve you agreed. But we walked along the river, the bikeway deserted, the world quiet still in the early hours of that Sunday morning. It seemed like we were the only ones left alive, as the city slept. We didn’t hold hands, we just talked. Talked like we had known each other for most of our lives, our conversation revealing things that lay deep inside ourselves, things we wouldn’t normally tell someone we had just met. You knew the names of the trees that we passed, something that seemed incredible to me. We kept talking under the trestles of jacaranda trees that led along Coronation Drive, kept talking as we walked the almost never-ending hill that led to your house. I kissed you there, finally, on the couch in your living room, for what felt like hours. You took me into what I thought was your bedroom, pulled me down onto the bed, surrounded by an army of teddy bears. It later turned out to be your mum’s room, which was a relief when I found out that the legion wasn’t yours.
We kissed, but you wouldn’t sleep with me, so I walked home, on the other side of town. It was the first time for a long time that a girl had turned me down, particularly after I’d gone home with her. That piqued my interest, kept me wanting more. I couldn’t stop thinking about you for the two hours it took to walk home. I still can’t stop thinking about you.
I love you, sweetheart, and on our second wedding anniversary I still feel like I’m the luckiest man in the world. I’m so lucky I found you, so lucky that you love me. You looked so beautiful on our wedding day, and you look beautiful every time I lay my eyes on you. You’re such an amazing, intelligent and warm person, a fantastic mother both to Amelie and Poppy. You make me so happy, and everyday when I wake up beside you I feel that same rush that I felt on that first morning we kissed. Thank you for loving me, for agreeing to be my wife and for challenging me everyday to be a better husband, father and man.
I love you, Heidi.