On how it’s gonna be.

The Final Episode: “How’s it gonna be//when you don’t know me//anymore.”

So, where did he and I go from there? For starters, he lied to me about dating her in spite of the face that I had also attended one of their first dates. He insisted over and over that he wasn’t dating anyone, and the flirtatious texts and behavior continued. I remember being in a poorly lit bar with him and other colleagues. I was sitting on a stool, sipping on a sweating bottle of lite beer, and he was standing before me in light colors, in shades of blue. He was emphatically insisting he was not dating anyone, stomping his foot against the dark carpet and smiling at me, almost like he knew that I knew I should know better. There was another time we were drinking together at a different bar (better lighting and better crowd). He said he had to get going and I asked him to stay. I asked him for just fifteen more minutes. He thought about it, but he ended up leaving, no matter how reluctantly. The next morning, he sent me a message that simply said, “Good morning! You suck.” He never explained what that meant exactly, but I knew. That went on for nearly a year.

I was traveling to Indiana to attend the wedding of one of my oldest friends. I was traveling with other friends, and it was a completely wonderful trip. The whole way there, I was texting with him as I usually did. It was the night of the rehearsal dinner, and I was waiting to meet friends. He had been unusually uncommunicative and I wondered why. Then I received a message from a mutual friend, telling me he was engaged and with his fiancee. She could see the ring. If we were really such great friends, why didn’t he tell me? I walked from the hotel to a liquor store. I bought a handle of vodka and a pack of Marlboro Reds. I sat and smoked and drank from the bottle until it was time for dinner. But at least I didn’t cry until I was alone in bed that night. When I confronted him, when I asked him why he didn’t tell me, he told me he was “a private guy.” But he was comfortable enough to tell me all about his past and his feelings? I bought it, though. I bought it hook, line, and sinker. And we stayed “friends.”

Then his fiancee told me she was pregnant. I smiled and congratulated them. I waited until they left, and then I drank until I threw up in the parking lot and my friend had to drive me home. I promised myself that was the end of it. But his hooks were so far in me that I lied to myself. I convinced myself we could really be friends.

But then I found out he was married. He had lied to me on multiple occasions, swearing that he wasn’t. He shoved his hand in my face to show there was no ring. But once I confronted him and he knew that I knew, he told me he only got married for a reason I won’t share here because it’d just be embarrassing and hurtful. He told me that to keep me stuck, to keep me right where I was, to keep me hanging on. Friends don’t do that; real friends wouldn’t need to do that.

So I finally told him we couldn’t be friends. I told him everything; how I felt and what I was thinking. I didn’t throw a drink in his face. I didn’t turn on my heel and storm off. I was trying to be honest and kind, but he told me I was being “dramatic” and “gay.”

We didn’t talk for three months. He didn’t even reach out on my birthday.

But he sent me a message exactly a week later. I answered because I’m an idiot. I answered because I still have intense feelings for him, though they range the gamut, to be sure. If I’m being honest, and if I’m serious about moving on, then I have to admit we were never friends. We cared about each other, definitely, but we were never friends. And we can never be friends because I can’t get over what was, or what almost was. I think he likes the attention and won’t let me leave, but that’s mostly bullshit because I didn’t really want to leave.

But I think I’m ready now. Thanks for reading. ❤

On not telling anybody anything.

Hey readers! What do you think of the updated site? I’ve included a homepage and designed myself a logo. I think it looks cleaner and more professional.

Episode Three: “Two can be undone by three / But it only takes one shot.”

In J.D. Salinger’s classic novel Catcher in the Rye, the main character Holden Caulfield offers a final piece of advice: “Don’t tell anybody anything.” There’s more to it than that, but it’s that first bit that applies to what I learned from this whole situation. I don’t tell anybody anything anymore (these vignettes aside, obviously) because when you let people in, they can tell you certain things that affect your judgment. And once you let people in, everything changes – for better or for worse. For the purposes of this episode, I need to give everyone fake names or else it gets too confusing:

  • Me = Hermione (obviously)
  • The Worst Thing Who Ever Happened to Me = Ron
  • The Woman Who Came Between Us = Lavender
  • The Guy Who Came Between Us = Cormac

Cormac was another guy who was interested in me while I was falling helplessly and hopelessly in love with the worst thing who ever happened to me, now referred to as Ron. Cormac was friends with Ron; he occasionally worked in the building and they seemed to hang out a lot, especially during the spring. Cormac asked Ron about me. Ron later told me that he didn’t know what to say at first. We were texting about it, and I saw him type, then stop…then type, then stop. Clearly, he drafted some responses, but decided against those for various and indiscernible reasons, but then he told me that Cormac needed to pass the “Big Brother Test.” Big Brother? Like I was his little sister? That killed me. Had I been relegated to the friend zone so easily, so quickly?

But then I thought about it. People don’t drunkenly try to kiss their little sisters. Or unbutton their shirts. Or text until 2 am about anything and everything. And then Ron sent: “Even though I’m way cooler.” Cooler than who? Than Cormac? What did he want from me? So I thought I’d use Cormac to make Ron jealous, to force him to admit he had feelings for me. I texted Cormac and hung out with them a couple of times. Then, emboldened by the alcohol flooding his system, Cormac asked me on a date over the phone. He was with Ron and some others at the time, so I felt pressured to say yes. I couldn’t turn him down when he was surrounded by older, male friends. And what was the harm in one date? But right after I accepted, the phone was passed to Ron, who demanded to know what I was doing. Like an idiot, I played it like I was too cool to care. I should have told him. I should have told him everything. But I was scared of rejection. I was scared of my own feelings. He called me drunk later that night and we talked until nearly three in the morning and still, I didn’t say anything.

Cormac and Ron were hanging out and they were both texting me. Cormac knew I was answering messages from Ron while ignoring his and still, nobody said anything real to anyone.

Simultaneously, Ron was fielding interest from another woman; we’ll call her Lavender. I can’t say much other than she has quite the dramatic and tragic tale of woe herself. But he told me he wasn’t interested in her. He even blew her off to come hang out with me. He talked to me about her. He promised me that if he was ever interested in anyone that I’d be the first to know. But Lavender’s father was close to Ron, and helped sort of fling the two of them together. She was older and more experienced, so I guess she was assertive and not as much of a chickenshit as I am. She let him know she was interested while I tried to act indifferent. So when he told me he was looking for his future wife, I didn’t say anything. If Ron wasn’t going to be honest, than neither was I. I thought I was following his lead.

At the end of it, Cormac and me and Ron and Lavender all ended up on a double date. I sat next to Cormac, who was obnoxiously drunk by the time arrived, and across from Ron. He wouldn’t look at me. He wouldn’t talk to me. I did my best to be my usual, happy-go-lucky, entertaining self. Back in the nearly empty parking lot, I sat and screamed in my car. I sobbed the whole way home. This wasn’t where I wanted to be. Why didn’t I say anything? Ron gave me an opportunity that night, when he texted me to ask if I got home safe. I should have unloaded, told him what a shit I thought he was because he swore they weren’t dating and there I was on their first date. I should have told him I made a mistake. I should have told him so many goddamn things. But it was more important, apparently, for me to be cool. I told him I got home safe and that was it. Using Cormac to try and make Ron jealous was stupid and narcissistic and in the end, I guess I got exactly what I deserved.

The second part of Holden Caulfield’s final statement from the novel Catcher in the Rye says, “If you do, you start missing everybody.” And that’s true. Because I miss him. But I miss him as he was, and we can’t go back.

On “A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.”

From Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club.

So it’s like the fifth week of being quarantined and it’s only getting more difficult. I’m blessed to have a home and steady income, and I’m not sick and my family is happy and healthy, so it’s a shitty thing to complain about being bored and lonely; aren’t we all? To pass the time, I’ve been reading a lot and I’ve also started re-watching CBS’s 1994 miniseries “Stephen King’s The Stand.” I watched the second episode yesterday morning and had the sudden urge to tell everyone I know to watch it because it totally explains what we’re going through right now (not totally…that’s me being dramatic). This is NOT a new idea; King has apologized for us all feeling like we’re living in one of his novels. Still, I feel like Randy in the movie “Scream,” when he’s freaking out in the middle of Blockbuster and imploring everyone to watch horror movies so they could be better able to survive the slasher attacking Woodsboro. Only I’m alone, in my living room, urging everyone to read The Stand.

Another way to pass the time is writing and thinking. The latter, unfortunately leads to overthinking, which then leads to crying and mourning the past. But I think it’s mostly good. One day, I’ll be numb.

Episode Two: “A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.”

One of the best books I’ve ever read is Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. And one of the best scenes from the novel is when the narrator comes upon Tyler Durden on the beach. Tyler has built a statue from driftwood. The narrator can’t tell what it is at first. He explains, “I asked if Tyler was an artist. Tyler shrugged…What Tyler had created was the shadow of a giant hand. . . he said how at exactly four-thirty the hand was perfect. The giant shadow hand was perfect for one minute, and for one perfect minute Tyler sat in the palm of a perfection he’d created himself. One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.”

The beauty and tragedy of my moment of perfection is that it’s come and gone.

To be fair, we had two perfect moments. One was during an all-day drinking event on a sunny day in March. That day was the most attracted to him I’ve ever been. The place was crowded and being that we had been drinking for hours, I was mostly stumbling and having trouble keeping up. He told me he didn’t want to lose me. He was leading me through the crowd at the one bar, holding hands as he stretched out his arms behind him. Then he brought them around so that I hugged him from behind and it took all the self-control my drunk ass could muster not to bury my face in his hoodie and breathe deep.

We kept drinking. Day turned to night. We ended up at another bar. The thumping bass boomed incessantly, sounding more like war drums than anything else. Everything was vibrating, everything was shaking almost imperceptibly, and I used that as an excuse to hang onto his muscular forearm and steady myself. I put my ear close to his beautiful, smooth mouth to try and decipher the slurred nonsense that tumbled out. He sloppily smashed his lips against my cheek. It was over before I was even sure it had happened and both of us stood there looking at one another stupidly. Everything was bumping and booming and loud and hot and close and he drunkenly smiled at me. At that moment, I knew that if I were to push close against him and grab him and hold him and decimate his mouth with mine, he would yield and he would succumb. That is an unfamiliar and dangerous amount of power and I resisted. It would mean something cheap and tawdry. I wasn’t as drunk as he was, and I was worried that if it went as far as it possibly could, we’d have different feelings in the cold light of the next morning. It would have meant so much more to me than it would have to him. It wouldn’t be what I really wanted.

Instead, I touched his face and escaped to the ladies’ room. Later, when it was time to go pass out, I walked him home.

I’m an idiot, though. That wasn’t enough of a green light for me to tell him how wonderful I thought he was, how all I wanted was to be with him. Naturally, our next moment of perfection also passed me by. It was a few weeks later, and I was out with colleagues, staying overnight at a beautiful hotel for some weekend-long conference. The first night was pretty laid back, so we all went to bar just cross the street. I texted him, practically begging him to come down.

And he did.

The bar was closing and we needed to go somewhere else, and I invited him to my shared hotel room on the condition that he bring playing cards. He smiled but rolled his eyes, saying there was no way he’d find playing cards and that he was tired. Again, I begged him. He shook his head and said goodnight.

Back at the hotel room, I was commiserating with my roommates about the missed opportunity when there were three, loud knocks on the door. They were serious sounding knocks, reminiscent of the way a cop bangs against door. One roommate hurried to the bathroom. The other tried to hide in the mess of pillows and coverings on the bed. That left me to open the door. I tried to calm myself, rehearsing what to say to the authority figure who’d probably been summoned because we were being too loud. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and opened the door.

No one was there.

I stepped out and looked to the right. There was still no one there.

When I looked to the right, he was leaning against the wall, twirling a deck of playing cards in his hand, smiling slightly. All the blood rushed to my face and I laughed out loud; there was nowhere else for my joy to escape to. It was like something out of a movie. It was the personification of every romantic fantasy I’d ever had. He came in and we played Kings for a couple of hours until he had to go, quiet suddenly.

And then it was all over.

On “poetry”-perfect beginnings.

“The moment I fell in love with you was a moment I’d been waiting my whole life for.”

Episode One: Poetry-Perfect Beginning

I know I’ve used this line before (and probably for a very similar reason; I really am a one-trick pony), but T.S. Eliot famously wrote that April is the cruelest month. I can’t be sure because I haven’t read his poem in forever, but I’m fairly certain that Eliot is referring to the false promise of Spring because not everything comes back from the dead the way nature does.

So what better time to pick at fresh scabs of lost love?

To be fair, I really should have known better. The first time I ever mentioned him in my journal was significant for three reasons:

  1. Only people I really and truly care about get mentioned in my journal. And if a name appears more than once? Consider me obsessed.
  2. It was right after a personal tragedy that fell just short of cataclysmic … for him (and it could be a novel in its own right). So he was all wounded and vulnerable and brooding and NEEDED to be saved … NOT. Personally, I think that’s the worst rationalization women use for engaging in and/or tolerating selfish, manipulative behavior. And I am SO fucking guilty of it, I’ll never get these hands clean.
  3. I fucking told myself it was a bad idea. I KNEW I’d get hurt. On January 12, 2014, I wrote:
I know I’m a stupid fool. I know I’m building him up in my mind into something impossible to make him unattainable so I stay safe. He’s completely out of my league on SO many levels. I’m an idiot [...] I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s fun to have a crush, but this is going to hurt. I have a bad feeling ….

I vividly remember that moment I knew I was a goner. It was one of those nights that come out of nowhere, where pure, unadulterated happiness blindsides you so that by the time you realize you’ve been hit, it’s passed you by and all you are is bruised and sore.

Given the nature of my career, most of my colleagues are older women. And given the time in my life, all my colleagues were my friends. I’d gone to college away from home and all my childhood friends had gotten the hell out of dodge, so my social circle was a product of circumstance and I was only partially looking forward to spending a Friday night in the basement of an older, female coworker’s house. Lots of coworkers were going though, and what the hell else was I going to do? Armed with low expectations and a six-pack of some lite beer, I walked down the basement stairs, already planning my exit in my head.

The basement was fully finished. It was bright and cozy, everything seemingly washed in a warm, welcoming shade of yellow. It was carpeted. There was a bar, some exercise equipment, and a pool table. There were some couches, arranged around a low coffee table. And familiar, friendly faces of coworkers were scattered about the basement – sitting youthfully on the carpet and lounging on the couches, playing pool, perched on the exercise equipment, and leaning against the bar.

I decided to make my way to the bar, the most logical place to properly unload my six-pack.

And there he was behind the bar, wearing blue.

I had to do a double-take. I thought it was a girls only type of thing but there he was and he was so handsome. Granted I could have thought that because gentlemen were in short supply, but I still find him incredibly handsome, even after all he did to me (which is definitely a problem). I’d only hung out with him once or twice before this, and we hadn’t spent much time talking with each other or anything.

But that night, with him in blue behind the bar, was different. We were witty, we were flirty, and we were the warm center of the universe that everyone gathered around. Well, at least that’s what it felt like.

On the bar was a bowl of those awful, chalky hearts with corny messages that become popular around Valentine’s Day. Given that it was early January, either the candy hearts were nearly a year old and brought out as a last-minute snack, or the hostess had purchased them early. But that seemed unlikely. So as they were inedible, I spent the night filling the hood of his blue jacket with them whenever he was talking to someone else. He would sigh in frustration and tell me to stop, but he loved it.

Later, someone spilled something on the carpet behind the bar. I was on my hands and knees, trying to clean it up to be remembered as a good guest who would keep getting invited places. To someone in front of the bar, they saw him standing and smiling, and then they saw my legs poking out the side. I reveled in the innuendo.

He had somewhat of a reputation which coworkers with good intentions kept reminding me of. I didn’t care; he was attractive and he was fun to hang out with and it was all so harmless. He got my number from someone and the texting started. We were almost in constant contact with each other. It was addictive and wonderful. We’d stay at bars until the lights came on, still smiling though we were blinking and nearly blinded by the sudden brightness. He’d blow my hair to get my attention. He’d encourage me to unbutton a few more buttons on my blouse. He’d offer to dance with me when no one else would, but he didn’t really want to, so he’d talk me out of it by the time we got the dance floor, distracting me with shots. He’d let me wear his scarf when it was cold. He rescued me from the women’s restroom when I had too much to drink and was puking my brains out. He held my hair back. Unfazed, he threw me over his shoulder and got me to a car like some knight in shining armor. I thought that’d be the end of it, especially since I vomited on his expensive shirt and shoes, but he met me out the next night. He paid for drinks and an entire dinner with like six of us. He was charming and magnificent and I had never been happier.

But we worked together. And we hung out with coworkers. Suddenly, everyone had an opinion about us spending so much time together. People were actually calling me to warn me to stay away. I was told he was a user and abuser, that once he got what he wanted from me, that would be it. I was told the name of every woman he’d been with, real or rumored. I was told he was just being friendly with me to get a more beautiful coworker – and truth be told, that one fucked me up more than anything else. I let that idea sink its fangs into my psyche and suck it dry of self-confidence. It made me suspicious of him and I misinterpreted so many conversations. I’m ashamed, looking back.

He read my favorite novel and could talk to me about it for hours. The connection with him was unlike anything I’d ever had before. He told me the truth about himself (as much as a man can) and invited me to do the same. I didn’t, because I was scared and stupid and listened to some bad advice from jealous women.

We had one perfect night. And I’ll happily relive it next week. Xoxo ❤   

On mediocrity … especially in thinking of titles.

So I’ve neglected this blog for two weeks. I wish, I really, really wish I could tell you it was because I’ve been furiously working on a new novel or that it was because I’ve been off having all sorts of romantic adventures that I will fill you in on. Sadly, neither one of those excuses presented as valid, interesting reasons is true. We started a new semester at school on Wednesday, February 6th and ever since then, I’ve been pretty much consumed by work. That coincided with a last-minute visit from my sister and her four kids, so I was swamped with family and work obligations. I haven’t written anything, haven’t been taking care of myself or my house. I’ve barely been reading. To be honest, I haven’t been doing anything to inspire my writing life or my Bohemian endeavors. I’ve been mediocre, limping through the daily rat race.

It sounds overdramatic, but that’s the only way I know to make things interesting.

Anyway, here’s a short story I wrote based on the following prompt:

 

“Mom, you’ve got to stop dragging me into the middle of things.”

The glass of chilled white wine was sweating in front of me. I hadn’t had a sip. I wanted to walk outside and have a cigarette, but I couldn’t leave Mom alone at the table. And she’s a smoker too, so I couldn’t go without her. She’d be pissed. I had to just sit there in nearly unbearable silence and take it.

“You’re not going to say anything?”

I blinked. “About what? About being a child of divorce at 31?”

Mom rolled her eyes. “Don’t be dramatic.”

I laughed even though nothing was funny. “I think taking me for lunch to tell me you and Dad are splitting up is dramatic.”

“What? You wanted me to tell you over the phone? Should I have texted you?” Mom rolled her eyes again and shifted away from me in her seat. She took a long swallow from her chilled glass.

I rubbed my eyes. “What do you want? For me to go to pieces? For me to ask why when I don’t want to know why?”

Mom still wouldn’t look at me. She wrapped her arms around herself and just sat there, breathing. I finally started drinking my wine. I took a long, slow, deliberate swallow so I wouldn’t have to say anything. I couldn’t think of anything to say anyway.

“I want you to talk to your sisters for me.”

I choked on my pinot grigio.  “What?”

“Please. I can’t -”

“Mom, you’ve really gotta stop dragging me into the middle of things.”

“I’m not-”

“Yes, yes you are! That’s exactly what you’re doing! That’s what you’ve been doing my whole life!”

Mom looked like I’d slapped her. I was disappointed when she didn’t grab her face and turn away. She didn’t say anything, so I kept going. “When Cora was sleeping with Mr. Slattery, you told me to tell her that you knew and that she needed to stop because it was shameful to have a slut in the family.”

“I never said that,” she lied. Mom started blinking rapidly.

“Okay. When Timmy was hiding the empty vodka bottles in his closet and the maid found them, you sent her to me. I found the rehab, I packed his bags, but you dropped him off at the airport.”

Mom shook her head. “When I left my therapist’s office and I couldn’t breathe because I was crying so hard, I called you. I didn’t want to drive because I couldn’t see the road for all the tears in my eyes and I wanted to talk to you, to hear your voice, so I called you.” I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back in the chair, away from her. “What did you do?” She looked away, shook her head once, quickly. I asked my question again. “What did you do?”

The complete silence that followed let me know I had been talking too loud. The complete silence meant that conversation had stopped, forks had stopped moving, and that everyone was listening. I leaned closer to Mom and lowered my voice. “You didn’t answer. You never called me back.” I was speaking through a clenched jaw. I was gripping the edge of the table so hard my fingertips were white. “You need to call your daughters and you need to tell them. Your divorce from Dad has nothing to do with me.”

Mom cleared her throat. She reached up and delicately brushed the single strand of pearls hanging around her neck. “I just thought-”

“What if they ask me why, Mom? What if they have questions?”

Mom paled. She looked away from me. Her face turned red.  “I guess I didn’t think at all.” She swallowed hard. “I’m sorry.”

It was the first time my mother had apologized to me for anything. Naturally, I felt inexplicably and incredibly guilty. “I’m sorry, Mom. I should-”

“No, no, you’re right,” she said.

I wasn’t sure what it meant that we rarely let each other finish our sentences.

Sheepishly, I stabbed at my salad with a fork. When I looked back up at my mother, she was crying silently.

It was the first time I had ever seen my mother cry. I watched the tears roll down her delicately powdered cheeks, leaving sparse but unmistakable inky black trails from the mascara she always applied in generous layers. Her hair was moussed, blow dried and then sprayed so it wouldn’t move, not even in a hurricane. She was wearing a smart looking pantsuit with a ribbed turtleneck, all in safe, neutral colors. And she was crying.

I didn’t say anything.

 

writer's block

Happy Writers’ Wednesday!

Personal side note: I need to get a handle on my weight. Last weekend, I went to my local ShopRite to buy some groceries. Really all I needed was capers (I was making chicken piccata), but I couldn’t help myself and also purchased French fries, ketchup, chocolate donuts, Oreos, and Spicy Nacho Doritos. I had ice cream in my basket, but put it back (like it would have made any difference). And to be fair, I thought I was going to be snowed in and wanted to devour my snacks while being all warm and cozy with nowhere to go. When I got to the checkout lane, I recognized the cashier. She was more friendly than she was awkward, but she was definitely awkward. As she’s ringing me up, we’re chatting, and she mentions how she wants to go to this certain restaurant for her upcoming birthday, and how she wants to order a bottle of wine but her mom won’t drink it and won’t let her – whatever, it’s small talk. I do okay with small talk.

But she asks, “Want me to drink for you?” I smile and say “of course,” or something like that. We talk about drinking in the shower (an escalation, to be sure, and so awkward but whatever, I’m trying to be nice) and she asks me again. “Want me to drink for you?” She asks me that same question at least two more times before I leave the store. It definitely gave me pause, so I’m replaying the encounter in my head as I’m walking out to my car, occasionally looking down at the bagged groceries dangling from my hands.

I bought pickles, too. And that’s when it hits me: she must have thought I was pregnant! Because aren’t pickles universally craved by pregnant woman? Coupled with the cookies and donuts and fries, what other conclusion could she have come to? I was mortified! Ashamed! Embarrassed!

To be clear: I’m so NOT pregnant and I’ve never ever needed someone to drink for me. Ever.

Since I’ve completely stopped eating (joke!), I’ve had plenty time to revise my second completed manuscript, MOODY BLUE. If I don’t get a publisher this summer, I’m abandoning the manuscript and moving on. This is my third – or fourth? – revision. I’m stuck on chapter three … so I’m asking YOU, faithful, dear reader, to provide me with some FEEDBACK. Please, please, please read the following excerpt and tell me what you think. Would you keep reading? Is it boring? Do you want to know more?

As always, I am forever indebted.

Three days after bumping into Adam at her favorite wedding venue, Melanie’s Jeep was parked outside his house. They had been flirtatiously texting in the time between, and Melanie marveled at the way Adam always left her wanting more. The messages never seemed like enough, and Melanie was never satisfied. She’d re-read the messages in bed, smiling like a fool but also battling a nagging suspicion that Adam didn’t really like her. It seemed an impossibility to Melanie that someone so handsome, someone so smart, and someone so perfect could be interested in someone as dopey and messy and needy as her. She must have tried to talk herself out of meeting Adam a million times, pacing in her living room with the television on for company, enumerating to herself all the ways she’d likely be humiliated because Adam was so beyond her reach, so out of her league. But here she was, outside his house, and she was viciously chewing on her bottom lip and drumming the pads of her fingers against the steering wheel. All of her nails had already been bitten down to the quick, so her lip became a sacrificial victim to her mounting anxiety.

Melanie was trying to convince herself to go and knock on the front door, reminding herself that Adam was sweet, and that his texts had been clever and engaging. The truth of the matter was that on more than one occasion, Melanie had thrown her head back in laughter at something Adam had sent. Her days had begun to revolve around Adam’s messages; her mood was determined by whether or not Adam reached out. Luckily for Melanie and those she interacted with on a daily basis, the contact had been consistent.

Until today, the very day they were meant to see each other again.

Adam had been unusually uncommunicative that morning. His responses were all clipped and finite. Melanie had to do real work to keep the conversation alive. Even then, the quality of the conversation was so poor that Melanie wondered why she was even trying. And now, Melanie wondered why she was parked outside his house, placing and removing her hand from the keys dangling in the ignition.

Melanie sat up straighter to start the engine, but then she saw Adam’s front door open. Melanie was surprised to see that it was a woman and not Adam who ventured out onto the front porch, the same woman who waved when Melanie had dropped Adam off before. This time, the woman had traded in the scrubs for an unremarkable pair of jeans and a plain tee shirt, but the purple highlights were unmistakable. Melanie realized the woman was yelling at her. With nervous, fumbling fingers, Melanie opened the car door. “Sorry?” Melanie called. “What were you saying?”

The woman smiled bright and beautiful. “You’re Melanie, right? Adam’s friend?”

Melanie gulped. “Yeah, that’s me.” She gulped again. “Hi.”

“Hi,” the woman laughed. “I’m Melissa, Adam’s sister. Turn the car off and come in for a minute.”

Before Melanie could respond, Melissa was already on her way back inside the house. Melanie figured she didn’t really have an option. Exhaling in a great rush of breath, she climbed out of the Jeep. She entered the house and found herself on the outermost edge of a living room. The walls were just one shade of beige lighter than the plush carpet that flattened beneath her black boots. Against the wall to her left was a large couch, also beige, and seated upon it was a gorgeous, muscular man. He had dark hair and his dark eyes had been focused on the television mounted above the gas fireplace in the adjacent wall. Now, he turned towards Melanie and got to his feet, revealing that he was tall, dark and handsome. When the man moved closer and extended his hand, Melanie had to fight like hell to keep from blushing.

Adam sat on the love seat opposite the couch beside his sister. He hadn’t made eye contact with Melanie, but she could feel his eyes burning into her skin as she shook the hand of Tall, Dark and Handsome. “Hey there, Melanie,” he said. “My name’s Bobby and I’m Melissa’s boyfriend.”

“Oh,” Melanie said. She ended the handshake and shoved her hands into the pockets of her coat. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“He’s a cop,” Adam blurted.

The silence that followed was painful.

“If I pull you over, you don’t have to cry to get out of the ticket now,” Bobby said, winking. “You can just go, ‘Hey. Remember me?’” He proceeded to laugh harder than was necessary, but it broke the tension. He invited Melanie to sit beside him but before she did so, Melanie walked over to shake Melissa’s hand. Melissa didn’t stand but she smiled warmly. Melanie seated herself beside Bobby.

“Thanks for coming in. I know it wasn’t planned, but I wanted to meet you,” Melissa said. “You’re the woman who drove him home from the bus stop, right?”

“Well, from the coffee shop, yeah,” Melanie answered. She caught Adam’s eye, but he looked away just as quickly. Melanie noted how he sat on the very edge of the cushion with his arms wrapped around himself. He looked miserable.

“Thanks for getting Adam home safe. Sometimes-”

“He’s a free spirit, so he doesn’t always check in,” Bobby interrupted. Melissa’s smile became strained and it was all Melanie could do to keep from bolting for the door. She ran her finger along the silver hoop pierced through her nostril. She was trying to think of something to say. The silence was suffocating, unbearable. Melanie shifted in her seat and cleared her throat, just to have something to do. Bobby jumped to his feet beside her. “Can I get you something to drink? Soda? Water?”

“I’ll have some water, please.” Melanie smiled politely. If her mouth was full, she wouldn’t have to speak. She could guiltlessly ignore the building pressure of uncomfortable silence and shove the conversation responsibilities at someone else.

“Adam tells me you work for your aunt’s catering company?”

Melanie nodded at Melissa. “Yes, and I’m a barista.” She pressed her hands together hard. “But what I really want to be is a writer.”

Melissa blinked with a blank smile. Bobby had yet to return and when Melanie looked to Adam, he was staring at his feet. Her offered no sign of support or direction. She wet her lips and said, “Adam and I met properly last weekend when I was catering an event, and I got to see some of his handiwork with the landscaping there.” There was no reaction. “The venue was beautiful because of Adam’s great work.”

Adam whipped his head towards Melanie. She wasn’t sure what that meant, if she was doing well or if he wanted her to shut up. Luckily, Bobby returned with a tall glass of cold water. Melanie took it eagerly, rushing through her “thank you.”

“Adam’s only recently started landscaping,” Bobby said. He sat back down next to Melanie. “I’m glad to hear he’s taken to it so quickly.”

“He used to be an English teacher,” Melissa said.

Melanie nodded. “Yeah, I think he mentioned that. And I just read an article all about how teachers are leaving the classroom in droves. Underpaid, overworked, -”

“That’s not why Adam left,” Melissa said, interrupting. Adam flinched and lowered his gaze again.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Melanie said. “I didn’t mean to imply or insinuate anything. I’m just trying to make conversation.” She gulped down water.

“Of course,” Bobby said kindly. “I just think Melissa and I are sad Adam left teaching.” He shot his girlfriend a pointed look. “He was great with the kids and he loves to read and write.”

“Bobby,” Melissa and Adam groaned in eerie unison. Melanie didn’t understand what the big deal was and clung to the conversational lifeline Bobby had flung out to her.

“Actually, Adam and I talked a little bit about that, too. We’re going to a writer’s workshop today.”

“And we don’t want to be late,” Adam said, getting to his feet. Melanie set the glass down on the coffee table and stood, following Adam’s lead. “I’ll be home late.” He grabbed Melanie’s hand and pulled her to the door.

“Call and let us know where you are,” Melissa said.

“And have fun,” Bobby said with an easy smile. Thank God for Bobby, Melanie though as she returned the smile.

“It was a pleasure meeting you.”

“You too,” Bobby said. Melissa stayed silent. “We’ll have to do this again soon.”

Before Melanie could say anything else, Adam had pulled her onto the front porch. “You can relax now,” Adam said. He was pulling his pack of cigarettes from his back pocket.

“Oh shit, was it that obvious?”

Adam nodded, walking towards Melanie’s Jeep. “Let’s not rehash that painful encounter here. Melissa’s probably at the door listening.”

“Seriously?” Melanie asked in a whisper. She was following Adam.

“She’s ….” Adam’s voice trailed off and he sighed. “She doesn’t like anyone that I do.”

“Aw, that’s cute,” Melanie said. “No one’s good enough for her baby brother.”

“More like I’m not good enough for anyone.”

Melanie halted. “Adam, that can’t be -”

He stopped outside the front passenger door to light his cigarette and take a drag. “Bobby seemed to like you, though.”

“He was nice.”

“He’s a piece of shit, is what he is.”

Melanie gasped. “What? He seemed -”

“Yeah, I know. He’s got Melissa all convinced he’s the Second Coming, too. But trust me – he’s manipulative and conniving and self-serving. I knew him before Melissa did in a different context and he’s awful.” Adam climbed inside the Jeep and shut his door.

Melanie scrambled to the driver’s side and climbed in. “How did you meet Bobby?”

“Look, I don’t want to talk about Bobby. Or my sister. I don’t want to talk to what you were just subjected to in there. Let’s just go.”

“Oh. O-okay,” Melanie said. None of this was going like she imagined it would. She knew she had to salvage the day but she didn’t know how. They drove in silence to the local library to attend the writers’ workshop Melanie had mentioned to Adam. The workshop was held in one of the smaller conference rooms on the second floor. Melanie and Adam remained standing on the opposite side of the heavy, wooden entrance door because the sign displayed there had given Adam pause. Melanie hadn’t told Adam the entire title of the writers’ workshop was “a therapeutic writers’ workshop for survivors of traumatic experiences.” She also did not tell him that the workshop was led by Ben Fields, the man who had at one time been the love of her life. Adam hadn’t wanted to start out with tension and lies, but Melanie didn’t mind the duplicity. Sometimes, it was easier and safer to not tell the truth.

Adam hadn’t said much after reading the sign, but he hadn’t moved either. Melanie thought it was a good thing, that Adam had obviously survived traumatic experiences and was in desperate need of a therapeutic outlet. But to be fair, Melanie was not confident in the benefits of the writing workshop as she only started attending the workshop because she’d been fucking Fields at the time.

Melanie didn’t want to dwell on Ben and what happened or what might have been. She turned to Adam. His face was a blank canvas; he could have been thinking anything, making a million and one decisions without Melanie even being aware, and that worried her because Melanie did not want this first outing with Adam to go more awry than it already had. Something at the house with his sister must have set him off, made him moody and distant, which was really unfortunate timing for a first date. Melanie feared that if this all ended so quickly and with such disappointment, she’d find herself without anything to do other than drink wine, watch a beloved movie she’d already seen a thousand and one times, eat food terrible for her figure, and fall asleep on the couch with the majority of the lights on. It was a lame and pathetic existence and she didn’t want to live it anymore. Meeting Adam had been the start of something special, Melanie was sure of it. She said, “Let’s go in, huh? It’ll be fine.” Adam was still immovable, so she added, “If it sucks, we’ll bail. I promise.”

Adam finally looked at her. “Promise?”

Melanie stuck out her pinky. “Promise.”

Adam wrapped his pinky around Melanie’s and together they walked through the door.

Every single head turned towards the pair. The group never had more than a handful of participants, so the arrival of Melanie and Adam brought the gathering to record-breaking capacity. The surprised stares turned into friendly smiles, with the exception of Fields. Fields looked more confused than anything else. Fields cleared his throat. “Melanie?” he called.

Melanie grabbed Adam’s hand almost painfully. Her face paled, but she tried to look confident as she led Adam over to the older man standing behind a table at the front of the room. “Hi Ben,” she called and even though it sounded friendly enough, Melanie was sure that both men knew she was full of shit.

“Uh, hi,” Ben sputtered. He dropped his voice and asked outright, “What are you doing here?”

“Well, this is my friend Adam and he wants to be a writer.” Adam extended his hand on cue, like he and Melanie had planned this all out, and though Fields hesitated just long enough to make things uncomfortable, he did shake Adam’s hand. “He’s my friend you almost met at the café, remember? Well, we thought we could both use some writing inspiration and the price of this workshop is right.” She laughed alone, and then added, “Besides, you told me you’d love to meet him. Remember?”

“Right,” Fields said. After a moment, he added, “Why don’t you and Adam have a seat and we’ll get started.”

Melanie nodded and turned Adam around. She spotted an empty table in the back, as far away from Fields as possible. Adam asked in a whisper, “That was your ex?”

Melanie nodded.

“You didn’t tell me it was his workshop,” Adam hissed. “Are you sure we should be here?”
“It’s fine, totally fine.”

“Well, he didn’t seem very friendly.”

“Yeah, well, it’s complicated,” Melanie said as she threw herself down into one of the two chairs arranged behind the low table. “But he didn’t smash a wine bottle over my head or burn my apartment down, so there’s that.”

Adam turned to Melanie with a strange look on his face. He obviously wanted to say something, but Fields spoke first. “Alright,” Fields said, getting the attention of the room. “Let’s get started, shall we?  I see a few new faces tonight, so welcome, welcome.” He looked pointedly at Melanie and Adam. “Tonight, we will begin with an impromptu poetry prompt. I’m asking you to write at least fifteen lines of verse about whatever it is you’re feeling right now, right in this moment, in this very room.” He offered a smile to everyone, most of whom returned the smile genuinely, even eagerly. Part of what had been so attractive about Fields for Melanie, and other young coeds even though Melanie had never asked for confirmation on that point as she wasn’t a true masochist, was his ability to captivate an audience. Fields could command a room like no one Melanie had ever known, and he looked comfortable in any conversation. He was a quiet, powerful leader. Melanie released a shaky breath and tried to regain focus. Fields asked if there were any questions. There were none, so pens and pencils began to scratch against paper and both Melanie and Adam lost themselves amongst the soft silence.

Thirty minutes later, Fields extended an open invitation for the attendees to share their poems. It was all crickets and tumbleweeds; no one was feeling brave or feeling enough like a genius to raise his or her hand and stand. Melanie kept her eyes locked on the table in front of her lest Fields mistake eye contact for volunteering and exact revenge for Adam’s presence.

Adam stood and raised his hand.

Melanie gasped. Fields looked shocked. He took a moment to regain his composure and said as smoothly as he could, “Ah, yes, the newcomer; Adam, right?”

Adam nodded.

“The floor is yours,” Fields said, and then seated himself.

Adam cleared his throat, and read his poem aloud:

Love spread out in crimson rivers
I didn’t know how to say it

Exposed spaces split open and made vulnerable
I didn’t know how to close them

Splatters and tattered skin

I never knew how to begin

Expanding, filling and then deflating

I never knew how quickly it would end

Beating, beating, beating

Inside and out until it stops

Bleeding, breathing, leaving

It was over

I didn’t know how to stop it

I didn’t know how to save you

I didn’t know

I didn’t know

Adam sat when he finished, and there was a short stutter of applause. Eyes met and looked away, throats were cleared, but no one spoke. No one knew how to react. For her part, Melanie appreciated the bravery and she took Adam’s hand in hers beneath the table and gave it a gentle squeeze. Adam returned the soft pressure but did not release Melanie’s hand. They held hands, hidden beneath the table, for the rest of the workshop.

Another thirty minutes later, after discussion filled with constructive criticism, Fields said, “So we’ll meet two Tuesdays from now in this same place at the same time; any objections?”  Fields’ plan of action was met with consent so with nothing else to discuss, he began to pile and consequently file his papers away in a shiny briefcase.

Melanie leaned over and in a husky whisper, she asked, “Do you feel like going home?” Adam just shook his head. Melanie took a chance and suggested, “Well, there’s a cozy kind of dive bar, believe it or not, less than a mile from here. Hell, we could leave the car and walk.”

Melanie’s suggestion was met with a silence that was devastating. She had been sure, so sure, Adam was waiting for her to take the lead again, to make a decision. He was still holding her hand and he hadn’t started packing up. Melanie had assumed those were universal signs of wanting more. Crestfallen, she moved to slip her hand from Adam’s and begin packing up, but Adam strengthened his grip. She turned towards him and found Adam wearing a strange expression, some sad mixture of longing and resignation. Whatever it was, he did not seem excited, but he said, “That sounds great.”

Melanie nodded, and Adam released her hand. They both began gathering their bags and books and pens and in a matter of quiet moments, the pair had moved from the smaller conference room on the second floor of the local library to the sidewalks and pavement below. The silence was pregnant with tension. Melanie eased into conversation for some relief.

“You know,” she began, falling into step beside him, “it’s been a really intense day.”

He nodded.

Melanie sucked her teeth, an honestly unattractive quality but a habit she couldn’t seem to break ever since she was freed from her braces a little over a year ago. She watched Adam walk beside her. His eyes were dark, but they were thinner and colder than they had been before, stonier than before. The eyes made his handsome face sad so that whatever joy he could express had to come from his precious, perfect mouth. Without thinking, engaging in another peculiar habit, Melanie ran the pointer finger of her right hand along the silver hoop pierced through her right nostril. She did so whenever she was trying to figure out how best to proceed in social situations. This social situation was proving difficult because Adam was impossible to read, and that simultaneously enthralled and exhausted her, which was not altogether an unpleasant mixture of emotions. “That poem was good, real good. But it seemed sad, too.”

Adam stayed quiet.

“Unless you don’t want to talk about it, which is totally cool, totally fine.” Melanie said, hoping her tone was comforting.

Adam said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh,” Melanie offered lamely.

“What did you write about?” Adam asked.

Melanie hadn’t been ready for the question, and she nearly tripped. Adam caught her and helped her stand straight. They were inches away from each other, and Melanie was thinking of the best way to continue. “I didn’t write anything good. I mean, I didn’t write anything of substance. It rhymed and it was corny,” she admitted.

“There’s nothing wrong with just being happy and corny,” Adam said.

“I’m happy now,” Melanie grinned and fell against him as they walked the last couple of yards to the bar, crossing a busy intersection. The bar was mostly wooden, lamely and predictably modeled after a pirate ship, which Melanie attributed to its less than impressive proximity to the Jersey Shore (another ten miles or so to the east). The pool tables, dim lighting and abundance of locals attributed to the atmosphere. Melanie led the way towards a high-top table in the back, located down a ramp and next to a pair of what was sure to be wildly popular Skee-Ball machines. On the other side of the table was a flat-screened television airing sports highlights, and then more high-top tables, each surrounded by four worn and decidedly less than comfortable stools that were poorly made and rocked side to side on even the most level of floors. Melanie claimed a stool by draping her light jacket over the seat, and then ventured to the bar to purchase a pitcher of light beer.

Not too long ago, Melanie had ventured to this bar with Fields. She remembered walking up to the main bar, maneuvering around three billiard tables and another row of high-top tables, which she did expertly, placing a gentle, lingering hand on the backs of the good-looking gentlemen. Melanie was polite and always said “excuse me” while flashing a dazzling smile and she was usually rewarded with more than a few free drinks before last call, even with Fields sitting and waiting. She’d look back to him and smile, and she suddenly felt gross. She paid for the pitcher without her normal charm and ease, and hurried back to the table, but Adam wasn’t there. Melanie poured herself a glass and waited for Adam to return. When he did, he held two shots of jaeger in his hands. “Shots?” she asked. “Seriously?”

“I’m going to need one to be charming, and you’ll need one to think I’m charming too.” Melanie thought he looked nauseous as he spoke. “Listen, I’m what they call ‘socially awkward,’ even though I wasn’t always that way,” Adam said. He raised a glass and patiently waited for Melanie to do the same. Melanie raised her glass, gently knocked it against its twin in Adam’s hand, and then drained it. “You were right when you said the poem was intense. The poem was incredibly personal and I just think-” Adam sat beside her and he had been speaking to her without looking at her. When his speech abruptly broke off, Melanie assumed he was lost in thought. She touched his forearm gently, and then Adam turned to her. “Sorry.”

Melanie shook her head. “I’m glad you shared your poem,” Melanie said. “I firmly believe we always say exactly what we mean.  Anyone who says differently is only using doubletalk.”

Adam asked, “So you don’t believe in taking anything back?”

Melanie said, “Nope, never.”

Adam ran his thumb along the edge of his cheap, plastic cup that Melanie had filled with beer and handed to him. “That’s interesting. You’re the first woman I’ve met to deal in absolutes.”

Melanie shrugged. “Well, I’ve been told it is an extremely negative thing, so you’re … uh, interest is appreciated; thanks.” She took a deep breath. “Does Melissa not deal in absolutes?” She paused. “Is that why things are so fucked up at home with your sister?” Adam drank his beer, and Melanie knew better than to try another question. “We don’t have to talk about it.” She again gripped his forearm leaning on the table. “But I hope you know that you can talk to me.”

Adam drained his beer and set about pouring another cup, so Melanie had to release his arm. He hesitated before bringing the cup to his lips, and he must have thought better of it, because he placed it back on the table. “I’m afraid to tell you some things.”

“Why?”

“Because I really like being around you. I like the way you look at me. I don’t want that to change.”

“And you think the truth about you and your sister will make me change the way I look at you?” Melanie asked, confused.

“Well, there’s more to it than that,” Adam said. He studied Melanie for a moment. “But let’s not do this now, not here. Let’s have a good time, okay? Let’s play pool.” Adam abruptly got to his feet and turned to Melanie with expectant, pleading eyes. Melanie thought about protesting further, about forcing Adam to have this incredibly difficult conversation with her while sitting on rickety stools under the low lights of a dive bar. It seemed like a lot to ask, so Melanie shut up and followed Adam to the pool tables.

Later, when the date ended, Melanie and Adam’s drunken giggling shattered the silence of the deserted library parking lot. It was just beginning to subside as Melanie stood beside the driver’s door. She was digging in her purse for her keys when hot breath caressed the back of her neck. She became very still, even stopped breathing. “I’m not supposed to feel this way,” Adam breathed. Melanie turned to face Adam, but before she could offer any response, Adam planted his mouth firmly against hers. His hands gripped her waist, kept her close. “I’m sorry.”

Melanie gently placed her palms on Adam’s chest, her purse sliding from her wrist to dangle from her elbow. She kept her mouth close to his, speaking against it. “I don’t know why you’re sorry. You don’t have to be.”

Adam kissed Melanie again, pulling her hips hard against his. He parted her lips with his tongue and sucked on her bottom lip. “I don’t want to be alone,” he gasped, snatching breaths between every kiss. “I don’t want to be crazy.”

Melanie dropped her purse and slid her arms around Adam’s neck. “You’re not alone,” she said and slid her legs between Adam’s legs and held him tight, pulled him close. They kissed and grabbed and laughed, and Melanie completely forgot the other thing Adam said. It only occurred to her later, after she dropped him off. Adam had said, “I don’t want to be crazy.” Melanie didn’t know what Adam meant by that, but it seemed like an odd thing to say.

Please comment with your thoughts and constructive criticism!

feedback

On playing tiny violins.

New year, new me.

That’s what everyone says. Now me, I’m not quiet as ambitious, but I am pleased (more than pleased, actually) to share that I am making good progress with one resolution: to write every day. What I have to share with you for this blog post isn’t another self-pity party or a list of attributes I wish I possess or anything like that. It’s … a short story!

Without further ado, I present for your reading pleasure: “BARBARA AND HER VIOLIN.”

Wooden violin on a sheet music.

Barbara sighed deeply. She was seated on a low, plush stool on a similarly plush rug in the center of her small, sparse living room. Her violin case was resting quietly beside her. Its golden clasps shone magnificently against the hard, matte black covering. It was beautiful to behold, had been a birthday gift from the first and last man she had ever loved, but at the current moment, it was not beautiful enough to hold her attention. Instead, Barbara was focused on her hands.

Her worst fears had been confirmed earlier that morning during a routine visit to her doctor. Barbara hadn’t told him about the pain in the mornings and she kept quiet about the way her finger and wrist joints would scream after a few hours of playing. Her mother had taught her that ignoring a problem made it go away, so Barbara never spoke about what was going on with her hands. And she made no mental notes whatsoever about how often she rubbed them to soothe the throbbing aches in her fingers and wrists. No one had to know because nothing was happening. Nothing to see here, folks. Just move it along, Barbara thought with a rueful smile.

But then Dr. Gabbison handed her a clipboard with some routine paperwork to sign. “Oh, Barbara,” he moaned. “Why didn’t you tell me about your hands?”

Barbara looked up with wide eyes. She had been struggling to grip the pen, wincing as she struggled to curl her fingers. She couldn’t bear the pity in the doctor’s eyes, so she averted her gaze to the appendages in question, the very things she was trying so hard to ignore. There were bony knobs on all of her fingers, and the skin around each was red and inflamed. They were awful and hideous to behold. Their ugliness viciously betrayed their former grace and dignity. Those hands could make wonderful music and remind people that humans were capable of more than just eating and shitting and dying. Now, they were discolored and gnarled and she hated them. When she looked back to Dr. Gabbison, she thought she might cry.

She left his office an hour later. Barbara left with a prescription for some super strength pain reliever and an impending sense of doom. Dr. Gabbison scheduled Barbara for another appointment in a week and tried to be optimistic, but he mentioned steroid injections and splints and even surgery, all of which scared Barbara half to death. All of that meant getting better was not an option. Dr. Gabbison talked about life0changing measures, alterations to her beloved and comfortable daily routine. Dr. Gabbison talked about not playing the violin anymore. She could never – and would never – understand how anyone could demand that someone else stop creating, stop making beautiful things for this grotesque world and its morally disfigured inhabitants. Barbara did not know how she would cope with the daily disappointments without the violin. She didn’t know how to keep from crying herself to sleep when the other side of the bed had been so cold for so long without the violin. Barbara didn’t know what she was going to do.

Daunted by the enormity of the tragedy she was facing, Barbara simply sat on her low, plush stool situated in the center of the plush carpet in the middle of her nearly empty living room. The blinds were drawn. The air was stale. Dust mites apathetically floated in the narrow streams of light that slipped in. Barbara sat with her hands curled about themselves in her lap. They seemed like they were not part of her, like she holding a weak and dying thing that she would be happy to see go as it meant the suffering was over, but mostly because she was disgusted by its continued existence. The hands she had cared for and admired for so long were useless to her now, and so she despised them. And the worst of it was that they were still part of her, and she couldn’t just ignore them until they were better. She couldn’t act like it was all okay because the hands riddled with arthritis had betrayed her and sat now as useless stumps, daily reminders of what she once had been and could never be again. As if growing older wasn’t enough of a travesty. She’d have to continue on alone, without the only companion she had known for nearly two decades. The music was gone, red and inflamed and silent, and now Barbara had nothing to help her temporarily forget that all there was left to do now was die.

She wondered if she should make herself a drink.

Barbara slowly got to her feet, thinking now that every single joint in her body was seizing up on her. She grabbed her lower back with a grimace and shuffled slowly, hunched over, into her small but tidy kitchen. It was a good thing she didn’t pass a single mirror on the way. She was moving like a woman twenty years older. It would have depressed the hell out of Barbara to see herself so frail, so weak, so near the end.

Barbara opened up the cabinet with glass inserts to find just the right glass to toast her final defeat with. What it was filled with would be inconsequential; anything with alcohol would suffice. Her eyes scanned the shelves to the bottom of the cabinet, and there they widened and filled with tears. Her breath caught in her throat.

Barbara was looking at two glass tumblers with a date from long ago etched elegantly around their middles. Henry had surprised her with them on the last night of their second honeymoon, a trip booked once Henry’s cancer proved indestructible against radiation and surgery and prayers and pleas and oils and creams and everything else, dear Lord, they had tried everything and nothing had worked. Barbara had broken down immediately, burying her face in her hands and letting the sobs wrack her body, sending shudders from her shoulders to her guts. Henry took the news with the same quiet dignity he always had. He shook the doctor’s hand, thanked him for his efforts. He helped Barbara to her feet, kissed the top of her head, and practically carried her to the car. He drove them home (for Christ’s sake, Barbara thought, I wasn’t even able to drive him home) and locked himself in the guestroom for two days.

When Henry emerged, he acted like nothing had happened. He kissed Barbara hard enough to make her knees tremble, made them a huge breakfast, and talked excitedly about what he was calling “his farewell tour.” He wanted to taste the air of great cities he’d never been to. He wanted to make love to Barbara in distant lands and wake up beside her with different sunlight on their faces. He wanted to live the way people are meant to; fearlessly and joyfully. He wanted what little time he had left to be so fucking good (the only time Barbara had ever heard him use such language) that he’d miss being alive.

They sat side by side and planned the whole thing – reservations and itineraries and accommodations galore – on Barbara’s laptop.

They ended the trip in Paris, Barbara’s absolute favorite city. Henry’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. He was always tired and though he put on a brace face, Barbara could tell he was relieved when she cancelled the remaining sightseeing tours. They stayed in the hotel room, making love and gorging themselves on French cuisine via room service. Barbara would play the violin at night. Henry would smile, crying as he watched her play. He told her he loved her over and over again. He told her he would miss her over and over again. Barbara didn’t trust herself to speak, so she only held him and kissed him and loved him the best she could.

The last night, Barbara awoke alone in the extravagant bed. They had made love and afterwards, she had fallen asleep, wrapped in Henry’s arms. When she woken and discovered he had left, she began to panic. He was too weak to go anywhere without assistance and he couldn’t speak a word of French. Barbara threw the covers off and frantically began getting dressed, wondering where he could have gone and debating calling the authorities. She had one leg in her pants when the door opened.

“Henry!” Barbara cried. She ran to him, half-dressed, and threw her arms around him. “I was so worried! You didn’t leave a note or anything an your cell phone was on the nightstand, so I didn’t know what happened to you!”

Henry stopped Barbara’s mouth with his, holding her almost as tightly as she was holding him, with a strength he hadn’t had in months. He backed her up to the bed. “Don’t bother getting dressed,” he said, winking.

Barbara fell back onto the bed and got a good look at Henry. He looked good, looked like he had when the trip started. She also noticed he was holding a brown paper shopping bag. Henry noted Barbara’s quizzical expression and set the bag on the bed. From it, he pulled an expensive looking bottle and two equally expensive looking tumblers. He handed the glasses to Barbara. “Look at the inscription,” he said. Barbara did as she was told. It said: BARBARA AND HENRY, AN EVERLASTING LOVE THAT BEGAN 02/18/1973.

Barbara blinked back tears. “Henry,” she said. She let his name hang on her lips and hang in the air because it was so sweet and so precious, and she wanted to savor it.

Henry held Barbara’s face in his hands. “I love you, Barbara. I love you more than I have ever loved anyone. You are the only thing about this life I’ll miss.” He paused to take a deep, shuddering breath. “So when I’m gone, you need to keep going. Do you understand me?”

Barbara shook her head, tears steadily pouring down her cheeks. “I can’t have this conversation with you, Henry.” Barbara thought that ignoring a problem really did make it go away, that acknowledging the problem was that start of all the trouble, so she shut her eyes and tried to be somewhere else.

Henry released her face and grabbed Barbara by her shoulders, shaking her. “Don’t do that. Don’t refuse anything life gives you. This is hard and this seems terribly unfair, but this is it, Babs. This is the hand we’ve been dealt so we’ve gotta play it.” He kissed her lips. “I know you don’t think you’re strong. I know you believe yourself incapable of facing any kind of adversity. And I know a lot of that is my fault because I’ve never let you. I’ve always fixed whatever was broken and I’ve always handled whatever needed to be handled, and I’ve always spared you the gory details. Barbara, honey, that was a mistake. I’m worried I might have set you up for failure.”

Barbara emphatically shook her head “no.” “Henry, you never ever did anything wrong. I -”

Henry interrupted her. “Barbara, stop. Listen to me, okay? Don’t argue or anything, just listen to me. Life is going to happen to you after I’m gone and you’re going to have to keep living no matter what. If that means finding love with someone else, or if that means moving somewhere else, whatever that means, I need you to do it.”

Barbara threw her arms around Henry again. She was sobbing, smearing snot and mascara all over his shoulder. “I love you, Henry. I don’t want to do this without you.”

“You have to,” Henry said. His voice was thick and he swallowed all that emotion down before speaking again. “You have to and you will. You’ll be an old, beautiful woman with long, gray hair, captivating men and women of all ages and types with that violin of yours. The sky will be the limit without me holding you back,” he said. He laughed softly and kissed her again. “Promise me you’ll never stop.”

Barbara looked Henry in the eye. The only man she had ever loved, the man who would be dead and buried in less than a month. Henry had saved her from countless dangers, both real and imagined, both big and small. He’d always kissed it and made it better. He was her lover and cheerleader, her biggest fan. There was absolutely no conceivable way Barbara could go on without him. It wasn’t a promise she could make as it certainly wasn’t a promise she could keep. But Barbara also couldn’t deny a dying man his last wish. So she kissed him like she’d never be able to kiss him again, like this really was the very last goodbye, and then she said, “I promise.”

Henry kissed her open mouth. “I’ll drink to that,” he said, smiling though there were tears gathering in his dark eyes. He filled both glasses with the bourbon he liked, and they toasted to Barbara’s promise.

Now, over ten years later, Barbara stood in her small but neat kitchen, holding one of the glasses from that tragically perfect evening in a Paris hotel room with a gnarled, grotesque hand. Next to Henry, the violin was her only source of companionship. To lost it would be like losing Henry all over again, would be a fate worse than death. That violin had brought her to Henry. After she had played with a small orchestra at the local community college, Henry had been waiting for her outside. He told her that he just had to tell her she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen or heard. He said it would be his life’s biggest regret if he didn’t ask her out. And so their courtship had begun.

Henry was at every single performance, even when his failing health didn’t really allow it.

At their wedding, Barbara played an original composition she had written for Henry.

When they had their first bad fight, Barbara played her violin until Henry finally started talking to her again. This same tactic was successfully employed time and time again over the years, as the music was a cue for Henry to come and have a conversation or, at the very least, to tell her to knock it off because he wasn’t angry anymore and just wanted some quiet. Barbara didn’t think she could abandon those memories or do such a disservice to the instrument that had helped her keep the promise she made to her dying husband.

Slowly, painfully, Barbara filled the glass with the bourbon Henry had loved. She drank it down quickly and then returned to the living room. Slowly, painfully, she removed the beautiful instrument from its elegant case, and she began to play.

In a couple of hours, she didn’t even feel the pain.

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