Writing makes me feel better. Always. And the SHORT STORY rolls on. If you missed:
Onto Part 4. Two more days to go, and it’s DONE! (God willing.)
All the Crawling Beetles, Part 4
I’m back in my magnolia tree, and I can see the outlines in the old lady’s yard from the cars that parked there for the after-funeral brunch last weekend. It rained last week, so the ground was soft when the family arrived with their casseroles and jell-o molds to say goodbye to dad, grandpa, uncle—whatever the old guy had been to whomever. It damaged the yard, and no husband was around to do yard work.
The police haven’t shown up, so I don’t think the old woman called them. I glance down at the shoe she tossed away before slamming her screen door. It’s in the street, and I hope a car doesn’t roll it over. I look back up into the blue sky and wonder if my boss has called my cell phone, wondering where I am. Maybe he’s even called my mother to see if she heard from me. Maybe Mom booked a plane ticket in a panic. Maybe they’ve sent out the National Guard.
I think about Emma. If my boss called my mom, my mom probably called Emma. And poor Emma is freaking out. She has probably called Tom to see if I’m in his bed. She probably called Aidan, even, as awkward as that call would be, to see if we were back together. Shit, Emma is better than the National Guard. She probably rented a helicopter and a megaphone. She’s probably flying over Charleston Harbor right now, screaming my name.
But I’m not in Charleston Harbor. I’m not downtown. I’m not at my office or my apartment. I’m at the top of a magnolia tree, and who would think to look for me here?
– – – – – –
That last night, I knew it was over when we hugged.
Aidan had been busy with a big project for the local hospital. He was trying to edit and compile the Africa photos on a Friday deadline. I met him for a drink that Wednesday, and he was way behind.
We met at the sports bar—our sports bar—for a quick beer before he headed back to the studio to pull an all-nighter. I felt beautiful. I was wearing a red linen dress and black heels. My dark hair was free and falling in soft curls across my shoulders. I felt like I did when I woke up in Aidan’s arms every day, but for the first time in our relationship, I felt sad.
Our bar looked strange that day. It was dirty and dark—nothing new. It was full of mixed clientele of mixed ages, professions, and drinks of choice. The TV screens were cued up, and I had arrived just in time to catch the end credits of Pardon the Interruption on ESPN. And although these things were same as always, it looked cloudy inside. It felt unfamiliar, and for a moment, I couldn’t find him. I didn’t recognize Aidan, even though he was standing in our usual meeting place, at the end of the bar to the left of the entrance.
I was relieved when I saw him, because I was afraid to be alone within the mysterious cloud of unfamiliarity that had descended upon this familiar place. Then, Aidan hugged me, and I knew. I knew he knew he couldn’t keep this up.
We sat down at our table, and our bartender brought us a round of Coast IPA. “You’ve been busy,” I said.
“I know. I’m so sorry. This editor I’m working with is a moron. The whole project is taking longer than it should.” He shook his head; he looked tired. For the first time since I’d met him, he looked his age.
“Are you sick of me? Or is this really about work?”
“No, I’m not sick of you. I haven’t been avoiding you. It’s just work.”
“What are we doing, Aidan? You and me. Where do you see this going?”
“I don’t think I can do anything serious right now.”
“I think it’s a little late for you to be saying that.”
“I know,” he said. He wasn’t nervous. I didn’t feel nervous either. I felt a cold calm that would scare me later. It reminded me of the cold calm you hear serial killers talk about when they’re hiding bodies. “What do we do?”
I shrugged. “I don’t think I can see you anymore,” I said. “I think I’m in love with you, and I can’t just be your girl on the side. I’m out on a limb, and you may never be out here with me. If we keep this up, I’ll just end up getting hurt more in the end. That’s not fair to me, Aidan.”
He looked at me, his dark eyes protected beneath panes of glass. “You really just put it out there, don’t you?”
I smiled at him and nodded. He smiled back. We both chuckled a little because we knew how much the whole thing plain sucked. We were great together. We were so very happy together. And we would never be what I wanted.
“Are you ever going to settle down?” I asked.
“I keep trying,” he replied, shaking his head. “Sara, you are one of the most beautiful, smart, and amazing women I have ever met.”
“And you’re old, so that’s saying something.”
“Ha,” he said. He was still smiling, but his eyes were sad. I had never seen his eyes sad before. His eyes were usually laughing or fogged over in the bedroom—never sad. “Well, can I still…call you?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I knew I wanted to say yes. I wanted to hear his voice the next day and the day after that and the day after that, but I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. “I feel awkward,” I said. “I think I should go.”
“You didn’t finish your beer.” I always finished my beer.
“I know.” I got out of my seat, because I knew tears were on deck. The back of my eyes burned like matchsticks. “I just feel awkward.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, standing up.
“It’s okay. It’s nobody’s fault.”
He reached out and crushed me into a hug. My cheek was against his chest, and his arms threatened to collapse my lungs. I pulled away out of self-preservation. I turned to leave our sports bar—my sports bar—but he pulled me into a second embrace.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
This time, I shoved away. I shoved him backward and ran for the door. Once on the street, the burning lava behind my eyes poured out onto King Street, downtown Charleston.
I remember thinking that I hadn’t planned this when I’d woken up that morning. I hadn’t planned on saying goodbye to someone I loved.
Part 5 on deck.