Dear Henri, there was a man at the restaurant this evening who looked so much like you that I winked at him and laughed.
One letter from his ex, Isidor, is all it takes to turn Henri’s world upside down. It’s been a decade since they broke up, a decade since they couldn’t make their long-distance relationship work despite their best efforts.
Do you ever think back on the decisions we made and wonder if we could’ve tried harder?
Isidor was the one that got away, the one who’s impossible to forget, and Henri still questions the decisions they made back then. Could they have fought harder for what they had?
My darling Henri. I still dream of you after all this time.
Is ten years apart too long, or will old feelings reignite when Henri and Isidor meet again?
I recognize his handwriting immediately, the exaggerated loops, the flamboyance, the indents in the paper because of his heavy hand. The envelope is creamy and thick and its texture reminds me of linen as I run my finger across my name. Henri Björlin.
He always rolled on the ‘r’ and over-enunciated the finishing ‘i’ in my name to make sure no one thought it was spelled with a ‘y’ like a plebeian. “Kiss me, Henrrrrri,” he would whisper in my ear, his breath hot and voice rumbly. My knees go weak at the memory, and I almost fall, landing hard on my ass on a kitchen chair.
It’s been years since we last spoke, years since we realized we’d never be able to make our long-distance relationship work no matter how hard we tried.
We’d made plans to move together; he’d only come to Lund temporarily for a master’s program but would go back home to Uppsala, close to seven hundred kilometers away, when he’d graduated, to do his doctorate. I would follow him across the country; I’d easily find a job—electricians are needed everywhere—leave Lund behind and we’d live happily ever after.
Then my dad died unexpectedly, leaving my mother heartbroken and devastated and unable to function, and I couldn’t move away from her.
So we made new plans, determined to make a long-distance relationship work; cell phones and the internet would make it easy for us to keep in touch, and we swore we’d always prioritize and make time for each other. Our intentions were sincere, and we both tried our hardest for a long time before we saw no other way than to give up and call it quits.
Our lives were too busy, too hectic writing a thesis (him) and learning to run my father’s company (me), and we could barely find the time to text or talk on the phone, much less visit, even though we desperately wanted to see each other.
In the end, we parted amicably. After one last night together, after hundreds of tender kisses, we said goodbye. Stoically, with sad smiles and touches lingering for as long as possible, but had I been the type to cry, I would’ve gone straight home and bawled my eyes out.
Instead, I allowed myself to go out one night and get roaring drunk, but after that, I threw myself into the company, my dad’s small but successful electrical business, growing it from two people, my dad and a part-time employee, to thirty. But work wasn’t enough to distract me from thoughts of him; I desperately needed to keep my hands and my mind busy, so I bought an old house in dire need of renovations that I’ve spent five years or so making into my dream home.
Ten years. It’s been ten years since we kissed each other goodbye. Why is he writing to me now?
He always preferred to write real letters instead of emailing; he wasn’t a fan of what he called the “new digital era” as though he was born in the nineteenth century, and still doesn’t have a social media presence, or at least he hadn’t the last time I allowed myself to look him up. “Writing letters, using pen and paper, is more personal, Henri, more intimate,” he said once when I complained because his letters took too long to reach me compared to my email replies. “When you receive it, you’ll know I took time to sit down and write to you, that I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”
I never complained about the lack of emails again after that.
But why now? After so long? Did something happen to him? Is he sick?
Is it a wedding invitation?
Suddenly, I can’t breathe, I can’t wait another second to read what he’s written, even if it’ll break my heart.
Because I never got over him; he was the one that got away. And while I don’t want to see him alone and miserable, I won’t be able to watch him get married to someone else. I couldn’t take seeing him look at someone else like he used to look at me, like I was the best thing in the known universe, like I was more necessary than the air that he breathed.
I want him to be happy, but I couldn’t do that to myself. If it’s a wedding invitation, I’ll politely decline, wish him all the best, send him a gift, and then get even more drunk than I did the day after we said our goodbyes.
I grab a knife from the kitchen drawer and open the envelope. Inside, is a thick sheet of folded paper with his name, Isidor Lejon, printed at the top in shiny gold letters.
There was a man at the restaurant this evening who looked so much like you that I winked at him and laughed. But it wasn’t you. It wasn’t you this time either.
The man didn’t appreciate getting winked at; he scowled at me and muttered something I’m sure included the f-word, and when I looked closer at him, I realized he looked nothing like you after all. Yes, his hair was long and dark like yours, but it wasn’t lush and shiny and irresistible. (Do you still braid it? Would I still be able to grab it and hold you close if you’d go down on me?). His beard was black, his eyebrows too big for his face, his gaze intense, his lips full like yours, but his sneer made his mouth ugly, his scowl made him unattractive, and I lost my appetite. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to call you and apologize for believing he was you, even for a moment. You would never look at me like that (you’d never look at anyone like that) not even after ten years of silence.
Do you ever think back on the decisions we made and wonder if we could’ve tried harder? Was it so impossible for us to make time for each other? Was this particular doctorate program really my only option? Could I have taken a sabbatical and helped you with your mother? Why didn’t I explore my options?
These fucking regrets are going to make me a bitter old man. I’m going to be grumpy and growly, like when I am tired and hungry and impossible to please, but ten times worse.
I bet you can imagine it.
My current research project is coming to an end. There’s an opportunity for me in Lund if I want to take it. Do I want to take it?
My dearest. My darling Henri. That guy’s lips were nothing like yours. I still dream of them occasionally. I still dream of you.
4 out of 5 (very good)
LOVE, ISIDOR is a short standalone that details a second-chance romance. We join Henri after he and Isidor have been separated for a decade. He receives a letter from his old flame out of the blue and he has a decision to make.
For all this is a short story, it has everything you could ask for. Told from Henri's perspective, you still manage to hear Isidor's words in the letters he wrote. And, my word, they are so heartfelt. You find out the reason they split, and what they've been up to since, as well as catching up with them now.
This was a great story that was full of emotion and I loved every word. Absolutely recommended by me.
** same worded review will appear elsewhere **
* A copy of this book was provided to me with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read this book; the comments here are my honest opinion. *
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Nell Iris writes gay romance, prefers sweet over angsty, short over long, and quirky characters over alpha males. She published her first book in 2017.
Nell is an author with a day job that steals too much time from her writing, her reading, her gardening, and her crocheting. She’s an introverted tea drinker who loves her family, her books, and her home in the Swedish countryside.