Beth L****** is beautiful. She is a rare breed of slender Italian redhead with brown eyes and a honest face that always wears a sincere expression on its lips. She looks sad when she feels sad, looks happy when she feels happy, looks guilty when she feels guilt. Based on the above description, along with our close friendship and mutual comfort around one another, I really have no excuse not to sleep with her.

…but I’ll never sleep with Beth L******.

Very recently, I had the unpleasant pleasure of meeting Beth L******’s former boyfriend. The first part of the unpleasant encounter was at an after-hours restaurant, after an enjoyable night of drinking and dancing. The event ended with a heated, verbal confrontation between Beth and him, which ended in angry waiters and angrier friends, which ended up with my fingers around his throat and a gesture towards the exit. The second unpleasant encounter happened only an hour later, in Beth’s apartment, which ended, again, with my fingers around his throat, and another friend assisting with the ex-boyfriend-domestic-removal-plan, which ended with police intervention, which finally ended with the aforementioned ex-boyfriend spending the remainder of the night in a holding cell, thus concluding the festivities for that evening.

One week after I began writing this piece, and two weeks after that incident, Beth and I found ourselves late at night on a downtown sidewalk in a sleeping town holding one another’s waists, resulting in some intense prolonged eye contact, resulting in a slow, patient, and comfortable kiss. This is unreal. I show up, get in a physical altercation with her ex-boyfriend, and now I’m making out with her like some sort of chivalrous caveman. How the fuck did this happen?

I first noticed Beth in a Logic course at UNH in 2007, the irony of which was lost on me until just now. The attraction was instantaneous. I needed to talk to this girl. A few weeks later, after class ended for the day, I chased Beth out of the classroom and down the street in an attempt to say “hi.” I wasn’t running, but walking quickly. She wasn’t running, but walking more quickly. I remember she ducked into a convenient store, and following her in was simply out of the question. That would be over the line for some reason…as if stalking her down the street was somehow okay. So I readied myself just outside the entrance for an ambush. I can’t recall exactly what I said when she came out, something like, “You’re a fast walker. I practically had to run to keep up with you!” She was surprisingly amused, probably both at my efforts to pursue her and the fact that I had said them aloud. Usually, one should not admit to chasing a woman down main street; society deems it poor form.

The result of our encounter was a brief conversation and an agreement to rendezvous in a week or so. I’m searching my mind in regards to our first “date,” but I cannot recall when or where it was. All I recall from the first year of our friendship was a string of hardships she dealt with; she had, for some unexplained reason, stolen some money by giving a patron incorrect change at her waitressing job. This didn’t go with the personality of the kind, caring person she was. She understood that. She knew who she was, and knew that this was not she. Self-aware and irritated by her own actions, I somehow convinced Beth to confess to her boss of this misdeed. She did. She felt better. I distinctly recall her gratitude, and even more distinct was how good I felt because of it.

But for whatever reason, we never dated, and we never slept together during those years. On one occasion, when I thought dating was still a possibility, I snuck into her place and left on her table flowers for Valentine’s Day. She told me no one had ever done anything like that for her. The gesture brought us close together, but for that whatever-reason, we still never made the transition from Beth and me to “us.” I can’t for the life of me understand why. Some persistent combination of conflicting schedules and unreturned phones calls kept us at arm’s length. Seemingly the gods and odds were against a physical union. I accepted it.

After a year of knowing one another, our encounters became scarce. From 2008 to 2010, we both were dating other people. Neither of us was an option for either of us. Both of us, I think, understood that a barrier of distance was best. There was still an undeniable memory of a somewhat intense attraction to one another, and by this point, it had been going on for so long that I thought of her as a hypothetical ex-girlfriend, one with whom I never had the chance to love or hate. And since we never dated, and since we never broke up, I began to associate our continuing hypothetic former relationship as a ongoing relationship itself. Whenever an ex-girlfriends-conversation came up, I felt compelled to list her among those lucky few whom I dated. It felt disrespectful not to acknowledge her in that respect. I’d refer to her as my fake ex-girlfriend, an ex-girlfriend I never dated, an ex-girlfriend I never slept with, or simply, “I have no idea.”

Our hypothetical relationship continued for six years. I remember making a sporadic phone call to her while lying in my Pittsburgh bed sometime in 2010. I remember her words felt whispered into my ear instead of sound pushed through a speaker. I remember long pauses of mutually comfortable silence. I remember her saying she wanted me in her bed lying next to her, and feeling like I was, and feeling like I was crying without tears or convulsion. We didn’t talk for nearly two years after that phone call. I thought of her seldom, but every now and then, my mind would send her spectre flying into my conscious thought. She came and went like a benevolent ghost.

It’s now 2013, and we’re both back in New Hampshire. I had been wandering about the country in my new career, and she had been at rehab for…for that nondescript psychological virus that sometimes impeded her from being herself. She had been cured, finished school, and held quite a good job. And with our recent histories and likely incompatible futures fresh in mind, we’re standing a block away from the bar we just left, mouths locked, conscious of the fact that I’m probably leaving for a new job 11 hours away, that she just got out of a shitty relationship, and that this attraction to one another will never change, regardless if it evolves into something “normal” or remains in the hypothetical. Despite all of this, I never had such a perfect kiss in my life. The totality of the relationship and experiences that should have been beginning, middle, and end pressed us together, lifting the weight of curiosity from our minds. It doesn’t matter what happens after this moment. Nothing matters now. I’m free.

It’s two weeks since I began writing this piece since I attempted to make sense of our history and make sense of our present. Beth blew me off for a Saturday night date at the pub. I get no call, no explanation. The barrier had returned. Three days later, I’m smoking a cigarette in front of that same pub and she calls me on my cell. She says she’s sorry. She says she’s ashamed. She says that she got back together with the kid I dragged down the stairs. She says she didn’t call me because she knew I wouldn’t approve.

Sorry? Wouldn’t approve? Ashamed? At that moment, I realized what I was to her: she had adopted me as some sort of parental figure in whom she confides her darkest secrets and greatest joys, and those things…those things she does that she knows she shouldn’t do. I’m not her friend; I’m her fucking confessional booth. That was the barrier. A thin mesh wall separating a sinner from a savior. Someone you can know intimately, yet never touch. Someone you’d have to report to after every misdeed, after every breach of ethics or morals or whatever. Someone impossible to hide from because…because you love them.

The phone comes alive again after a short pause. She asks me if we can meet up tonight. Her voice isn’t pleading. It’s a bold admission wrapped in a timid tone. She fucked up. She knows it. She wants to face the consequences, but all she can find is me.

“No, Beth. I don’t want to see you.”

I hung up, but that phone call has yet to end. I’m still listening to that fucking silence. My head started to echo something she told me a few weeks back when we were in the corner of some shitty Italian restaurant eating shitty Italian food, secluded in a public setting. She tells me, out of the blue, that I am the only person she has ever been completely honest with.

Complete honesty. And that’s when it hit me. I started laughing, staring out into the streets of Dover, past the corner where we shared a perfect kiss.

I will never sleep with Beth L******.