A Toll Road Apart

By Debra S. Levy

It was time to say good-bye. Much as Alison hated leave-takings, this was even worse; a few hours earlier they’d just said hello.

While their boyfriends talked directions and best routes, she and Davina stood in the driveway, silent for the first time all day. That afternoon they’d leaned over Davina’s kitchen table into the minutia of their respective lives, talking, talking.

Their friendship had begun years ago, in college. As roommates, they’d talked and laughed late into the night, telling stories, sharing dreams–the latter, they’d learned, were so jarringly alike as to be spooky. Then two weeks into the semester came the long-distance call; Alison’s mother was dying and she was needed at home.

Although Alison never returned to school, the two women corresponded veraciously over the years. Sometimes Alison found herself unraveled by her friend’s words, a mysteriousness she couldn’t quite parse–as if a shadow had been cast on the page. Often she imagined having coffee with Davina and asking exactly what she’d meant. But that was impossible. They lived hundreds of miles and a Toll Road apart. And though they did sometimes talk on the phone, Alison was too uncomfortable to ask. Until now, theirs had been a friendship of paper and words. She hoped Davina’s words, imbued with a palpable and transcendent goodness, might rub off in the flesh.

In fact, meeting again proved that Davina was as smart, kind, and beautiful as her words had led Alison to believe.

But Alison herself had not been as forthright. True, they were out west on vacation, but they had driven a hundred miles out of their way to get there.

From the corner of her eye, Alison saw her boyfriend open the car door–a signal he was ready to leave. Davina’s boyfriend stepped over and tenderly embraced Alison, and just as they parted he leaned forward and kissed her on the lips. His lips, so surprisingly soft! When she looked over at her boyfriend he was predictably hugging Davina, and then she saw him extend an open hand to Davina’s boyfriend.

While they shook, Davina and Alison embraced for the second time that day—the first coming that morning when Davina had wrapped her strong arms around Alison to pull her close. This time, Alison tried to imprint the feel of her friend’s body against her own.

* * *

On the highway, Alison touched her fingers to her lips and thought about the kiss she’d shared with Davina’s boyfriend. He’d seemed a good, decent fellow. They’d all gotten along so well. A shame they didn’t live closer.

Her boyfriend turned on the radio. A song she hadn’t heard in years came on. Staring out the window at the passing mile markers, she began humming along, thinking about that kiss and what it might have been like had it been Davina’s lips, not his, brushing her own.


Debra writes from the Midwest and has previously been published in FewerThan500 (“There Once was a Girl”) as well as in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Columbia, Glimmer Train, Cleaver Magazine, Little Fiction, and others.

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