Unbuckling her seat belt, she leaned over the wheel of her car to reach for her purse laying on the floor of the passenger side. Pulling out her lipstick from the heavy black bag, she looked into the mirror above her and quickly glided a bright red hue over her dull pout. Despite it being a cool 70ish Fahrenheit with the sun out, she had just finished drinking a hot chai latte to soothe her nerves.
After getting one of his texts, she hurried from the pond to the supermarket off College Avenue to meet him in the parking lot. But she had waited in an anxious frenzy for 10 minutes before finally seeing him hurrying over to her car.
Unlocking the doors as he made his way in, he opened the door and propped himself into the passenger side as his eyes darted back and forth from the bodies making their way into the grocery store.
“You okay?” she asked as he sat inside the car with his eyes up front. “I feel like it’s been days. I missed—”
He turned to her with a calmness as their eyes met. Sighing, he leaned into her, his hand scooping the back of her head as he pressed his mouth onto hers. She could feel the warmth of his breath, sending a tingle all over her body. His tongue glided gently against her lower lip, sending a sudden quiver to the surface of her skin. Feeling him smile in her mouth, he pulled back, but not before their noses touched as their eyes were stuck on one another.
“I’m okay,” he said, laying his head back on the head rest, looking at her.
“Where’s…” she asked.
“At church, with my parents,” he answered, his eyes on the dashboard of her car. Leaning over, he picked up a car brochure and turned to her. “What’s this?”
“I’m thinking of getting a Jeep — what do you mean church, though?” she asked. “Today’s Mother’s Day. You’re not at church with them then to celebrate Mother’s Day?”“No,” he answered. “I got your email from last week and wanted to see you, get an update about your life, work — are you moving up here? I don’t want to talk about that other stuff.”
She frowned. “I get it, I’m sorry.” She placed her hands in her lap, atop her dark denim jeans.
“It’s okay,” he said.
“You live with them still, so I guess that’s enough family time, right?” she said with a smirk.
He turned to her and nodded his head almost somberly. “So you want to buy a Jeep? I thought you liked this one…”
“I do, it’s just it’s been acting up —”
“I told you to go to Dave’s,” he interrupted.
“Well, I could but it’s just something I’ve wanted since I was 16…” she scoffed.
“Get the Wrangler, don’t get the other crap…”
“I was getting a good deal on the Compass…”
“You don’t want that…I’ve pulled over enough Compass drivers to know all of them are idiots,” he said.
She brushed her hair behind her ear, scoffed lightly and turned to him. “Are you really okay?”
“Yeah, why?” he asked.
“You’re coming off a little detached…”
She nodded and turned her attention to an elderly woman outside his side window getting into the sedan parked beside them. The two watched the woman as she carefully placed a single bag of groceries in the seat beside her. As she had started her engine, they could hear big band music pumping through her car. The elderly woman caught sight of the two watching her and waved with a smile as she backed out of the spot.
“You think that will be me?” she asked. “Like, Mary Hatch the librarian?”
He laughed as he turned back to her. “No, never. You don’t have time to read books anymore, anyway. They keeping you busy at work, flying back and forth?”
She laughed. “Oh yeah, they are…lucky for me. Too busy not to care about myself though, just get the work done, if that makes sense.”
“I get that,” he said.
“You seem a little off today.”
“Can’t you just enjoy this moment? We hardly see each other anymore. You don’t need to worry about me.”
“Why not?” she asked. “Look, I mean, you wanted to know about work and the new job, I ended up being in town this weekend — like, I got it, I got the job up here and I’m going to move here. Dad’s here anyway and I know you said you moved back home with your folks like, last May. Maybe we can…”
“Stop, don’t say what you’re going to say…”
He took a deep breath. “You don’t want to buy or rent a house here, in this neighborhood. You don’t want me as a roommate…”
“I would have got an apartment — and you wouldn’t have to be living at home with your parents anymore, you can still work things out on that side of your life, and I would help support you until you find your own place…”
“Stop, I mean it,” he sighed, looking at her. “You can’t keep looking out for me. I want you to know you should do these things for yourself. If you said I inspire you, I’m happy to hear that and proud of you, but don’t involve me.”
“I am…doing this for myself.”
“I don’t want you to ever consider me,” he said sternly.
“I’m not,” she stressed. “I’m just suggesting that we — look, we meet up in the city, we have these conversations in my car, get intimate in here, of all places sometimes, or at a hotel, I’m confused — what’s going on here?”
Pursing his lips, he leaned his head back on the headrest and turned to her, nodding in disbelief.
“I don’t want you to be mad at me,” he said. “You know I care about you and everything — everything I have done is to protect both your feelings and—”
She raised her eyebrows and sighed, letting out a scoff. “You lied, didn’t you? You did it again. Like, you two just…” Turning to him, she nodded her head. “I can’t believe I fell for it again. Get out of my car…come on, get out.”
“Wait, let me explain…”
“Get OUT!” she screamed, leaning over him and pushing the knob of his lock back. She pulled the door handle and pushed the door, as if to let him out.
“I am not leaving until I explain. Stop it, stop it,” he yelled, saying her name and pushing her back to an upright position as he closed the door.
With her eyes staring straight ahead of her, he could tell she was furious. Her hands shaking, her one foot tapping against the floor of the car and her bottom lip trembling. A million thoughts were running through his mind during the silence between them, but a question she asked him months ago made its way to the forefront of his conscience: how in love could you have really been if you cheated this long?
“Look, I care about you—” he started. “So much, or I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t and you have shown me that—”
“Shut up,” she said. “Sugar coating everything, you’re just a fucking liar.”
He said her name softly. “Let me explain, I’m not good with opening up — or, or sharing my feelings like you, writing essays declaring your affection. I don’t know what this is.”
She wiped the corner of her eye as she could feel a lump of emotion just bursting through the walls of her throat. She wanted to scream, punch him in his ears and push him out of the car.
With his attention on her, his head lowered as if to catch her gaze. “I didn’t lie when I said I moved back home last year, last March — it was a hard time, especially in April. He died, had a stroke on Thursday, another one the following Monday and just never recovered. They took him off the machines and he passed in his sleep, and it all just got me thinking…”
“You told me you moved out last April-May,” she replied softly, her eyes staring off into the opposite direction.
“Yeah, around that time, okay? I did move back home, so all those times we hung out and hooked up, we were separated, but I moved back in last year too, like, shortly after we met in September, around October,” he said.
“Why aren’t you ever specific? Why are you always so cryptic?” she asked annoyed, her eyes hitting his like darts.
“It’s always this and this, never just one thing. It is never two things at once. You think one month or two is going to make me feel like, ‘Oh, that’s okay, offsetting lies by a month makes it better, thanks I understand, makes sense, now let’s make love in the backseat!’”
He sighed and rolled his eyes. “I am trying to explain to you that I didn’t lie, I just never got around to giving you the update — a lot was happening, you know that and sure, we worked things out, but you said you wanted me to work things out. Why are you mad at me?”
“Don’t put this on me,” she said nodding her head repeatedly. “We met like, weeks ago before you headed off to work and we did it again in this car — do you remember that? Ripped my buttons, kept repeating how you wanted us to drive away together? You might remember the sex, but before that, we talked for 40 minutes before you clocked into work — 40 minutes and you couldn’t tell me then, that ‘Hey, I moved out of my parents home to work out the quintessential life with someone I actually don’t think I see eye-to-eye with anymore, but I’m fine, everything is totally cool.’”
“I don’t know what to do!” he yelled. “I don’t know! What do you want me to do? Do you have an idea? Things are not ‘cool’ because I have this whole life carved out for me and, and she and I made a life together and I don’t know how to live a new life on my own without her or you — but I don’t want to —”
“Repeat family history? What is so wrong with that?” she asked angrily. “You are the typical, textbook male, always itching to not be lonely.”
“You just don’t get it. I don’t want any kid going through that,” he said.
“But you’re unhappy! You kept moving from one relationship to another, how happy could you have really been if you have been doing this now since 2009?” she screamed with tears welling up in her eyes. “I’m not okay with seeing you like this, you’re depressed — the kid’s the only thing you have that makes you happy.”
“My job makes me happy too…” he retorted.
“But that’s it? Not your relationship?” she asked. “That’s sad and kind of pathetic.”
“Look at you, you’re still single and clearly don’t want to be, yet work makes you happy and you don’t need anything else…so why do I?”
She gaped at him, mouth open. Tilting her head over to the side, she looked at the time on the clock and sighed. “You don’t know what I want. I think you should leave.”
“Of course I do, and I want that too, but we have to stay friends again. Look, don’t be mad at me…” he said.
“Why can’t I be mad at you? Why can’t I hate you? Loathe every bone in your body?” she asked angrily turning to him. “You HURT me, and keep doing it. You’re a liar, you’re scared, you’re a cheater who can’t own up to his choices and now you compare your relationship to my choice of being single? Well, maybe it’s because of inept, selfish men like you that I am, get it?”
“You want a relationship — with me — otherwise you wouldn’t have asked me earlier what you did,” he said with a slightly louder, frustrated voice.
“Of course I do, and I always have and so did you — once. We thought about moving on when we first met, and then shit hit the fan, we reconciled and then you moved back home — you mentioned it one night, how it could be just me and you and, God, I love you, you idiot,” she said through tears. “You told me… when you went your own way, we spent so much time together in those months. You encouraged me to move here, get a job here and we’d… you said you would co—”
Crossing his arms, he pressed his lips together as if to lock his mouth from rebuking her claims. But he knew it was true. He had led her on again and wasn’t sure why he did it once more. He knew how she took it the first time, but he was confused as to how he was compelled to return again. Taking a deep breath, he turned to her, watching her place her face in her palms and cry. Her shoulders shook from crying so hard.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly, pressing down on her thigh. “I should have told you…you are my friend, please.”
“But we haven’t just had friendship. We’ve had plenty of benefits, right? Does she know about this ‘open’ relationship?”
“Of course not, no,” he said.
“Look, I only ever wanted to be your friend and you just, you kept making it into this ‘are we or aren’t we,’ having us meet up, screw in the back of my car…tell me how you wanted us to move forward together, how I should move somewhere new and you just…you can’t stop lying. I’m more than mad at you, I’m disappointed in you — you wear a badge and uniform, but you have no integrity,” she said in a broken voice. “And look at you now… can’t even look me in the face and mean it when you’re sorry.”
He sat still, his head to the side as he watched a man push a shopping cart with his son by his side.
“Did I ever tell you about the time we bought our first house in 2010?” he asked.
“No,” she said through tears. “But I don’t care…”
“We put a down payment of like, less than $1,000 on the house. It was really bad, it was like, half of that amount, $400 actually, and I knew then, we were trying too hard to make it work,” he said while watching the father and son load groceries into their trunk. “It didn’t feel natural, organic…forcing things to happen, doesn’t make it happen.”
“If you were trying too hard then, what’s it like now?” she asked, sniffling as she focused her attention on his gaze directed to the father and son.
“Same, not organic…like you and I. You don’t have this problem like me, but pushing and pushing doesn’t make you stronger. It just weakens you and the very fabric you try to uphold. I’m not bullshitting you about this. It’s like what you told me, had we been anywhere else in the world — whether you in Calgary or me in Chicago — we would have still met because this wasn’t a coincidence. There’s some element of fate here, us meeting and knowing each other, and life would have…”
“Don’t,” she said, crying again. “Please stop.”
“Look, I didn’t tell you in 2009 about her because I didn’t want to lose you and I did the same thing now. I want to see this through in some way, but I need you to be patient with me, and I need you to just keep working, living life, but be there for me how you can, you are…my true friend. I’m sorry it takes us weeks or even months to get back to each other, but I’m still around,” he said. “And just stop writing about us.”
“So people don’t change,” she said.
“Possibly. But you’ve changed. You are not the type to play it safe, ever. Look at you, traveling for work, broadening your mind by working in different companies, fearless and confident, meeting new people…”
“You’ve changed. I like to think you’re…more like that,” she said, watching the father buckle his son into the car, the two exchanging a moment that was full of laughs and a tickle. “Or at least you have the potential to be more like that, in time. Parenting gives purpose, helps define yourself…”
He smiled at her, feeling a bit reassured about their conversation. “What do you think defines you? And don’t say work, because I know you’re a workaholic. You type too much, you’ve got bony hands now…” he said reaching over to hold her right hand, examining it as he caressed and intertwined his fingers into hers.
“I’m not sure,” she said returning the gesture and locking her grip with his. “The only thing that comes close to defining me correctly is how I love…maybe that’s all I’ve got in me.”
He turned to her, his head resting on the seat rest. “This is why I like seeing you…”
“You should go,” she said, looking at him with a slight pout.
“Nah, I’ve got a few more minutes,” he said picking up the Jeep brochure again. “Tell me about your new job up here…I want to know all about it.”
Secondary image: Martinsky / Tumblr