Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why Love A Man Who Loves An Ugly Car?

When Alex collapsed into the narrow seat aboard The sparsely occupied Airbus, she rubbed her throbbing temples. It would be another five hours until the multilevel plane touched down again. Her eyelids drooped against the reality of her decision to meet Charles despite his change of heart. The flight attendant’s began their announcements as Alex tightened her seat belt and closed her eyes. If she slept now, her mind would be a fog when she arrived in  New York. She didn’t want to see Charles like that, and she wasn’t sure she wouldn’t have to navigate the large airport for them both.  Charles was going to be in no condition to handle much of anything at the crack of dawn after his last foray through the bars of Manhattan. With a gulp  she pulled her mother’s manuscript from her bag. Maybe if she skimmed it, she could finish it before DE-boarding at La Guardia.

 Entry #15 May 18
I let everything go too long and now I have to catch up. The last few days, especially have been, well…weird
Laura and I have been hanging out together and with her new ‘boyfriend’. I don’t know if she considers him that, but he calls all the time, they go  out, sometimes with me along, and they seem pretty serious. I really like him, he’s funny, quiet, but easy with his smiles and sweet. Laura acts as if she is all about him when he comes over or she talks to him, but something’s not right.
He’s only hung out with us for a few weeks and she says she likes him, until other guys are around. A group just moved in up the road from us and she invites them everywhere we go. We went hiking the other night to go watch the moon rise.  One of the other vehicles in the caravan to the base of the trail blew a tire. When he went back through the caravan to help she was all irritated with him. After he’d fixed the car and come back she yelled at him. He was quiet. He didn’t argue or yell back but I heard him grind his teeth.
Anyway…she doesn’t even answer his calls anymore, I do. She says its because she knows how much I like hearing his deep voice. I think it’s something else though. She just seems…Undevoted. Is that even a word? It feels off to me. He’s a really nice guy. Maybe he makes a better friend than a boyfriend.
  Alex pulled out the pencil again filling the margin. ‘Who is this  I need some names here Mom, at least tell me he dumped your roommate and you went out with him.  How does this take you to angel’s landing with dad???  Alex dropped the pencil from her hand as the slight sound of the  ‘fasten seat belt sign.’ blinked off.  She took a deep breath, removing the uncomfortable strap from her waist and sliding lower into the seat.  The whispered hum of passengers reclining their seats and asking for pillows brushed across the plane’s cabin as lights went out and tired travelers began putting the long night behind them.  Alex picked up the pencil from her lap and put it between her lips.      
Entry # 19 May 31
It was one of those nights. Not one of those like I was expecting when he asked me to have dinner with him. One of those where things fell into place practically against my will.  I never expected to find myself with him. I thought he just wanted to talk about  the girl he was dating, or what he could do about so and so, or how to get his girlfriend to understand him. You know…standard ‘ask Trish about how to solve my girl problems’ kind of stuff. That’s what they all want. If I’m lucky it ends there. If I’m not I end up needing restraining orders to keep them away. My mom calls it my tractor beam for losers. This night though wasn’t like that. Since Mike I haven’t been open enough with ‘a friend’ to let anyone get close. Maybe that’s why after we’d laughed and talked all night long I wasn’t expecting him to kiss me.
Yeah, Kiss me. Nobody does that. I’m everybody’s best friend and big sister. He took me in his arms though, told me he’d been waiting for me to get over Mike, and kissed me. He said it was his turn to be my best friend. “Best friends with benefits.” I was so completely unguarded that I didn’t let my mind get involved. I hadn’t felt anything like this since Mike, It was soooo good to be held, wanted, kissed. I didn’t feel like his big sister anymore. Ann and Melanie  know there is someone, but being with him, the way we were the other night doesn’t happen enough to give the girls anything to go on besides what little I’ve said. I feel it wash through me like a sudden wave when we are together, but he is careful not to move too fast.

Alex’s concentration on the manuscript was shattered when a quiet voice broke through Tricia’s words. 
“Can I get you anything, Miss?”
    a thin blond flight attendant asked, leaning toward Alex’s studious expression. She looked up quickly smiling and asking for a Coke, before turning her gaze back to the manuscript.
   Entry #20  June 13
” I’ve been talking to, instead of kissing him. Every other if not every night. It’s costing me. Anne brought me the phone bill in the middle of our phone call last night. I may have to give up eating for a while if I’m going to pay it off.
“Trish, why isn’t he calling you? Who is this guy? Why is he making you do all the work?”
I wish I knew how to explain. He is trying to figure everything out with the two of us, his ‘other life’,  and he’s kind of frugal because he doesn’t have any money. He’ll call, but I usually hang up and call him back because he can’t talk if he has to pay for the call. It’ll show up on the bill and then there will be trouble. That ‘other life’ which is complicated. I’m going to have to work extra shifts and skip dancing but hopefully it is temporary. Hopefully, he’ll figure out what he wants. I need him to make a move one way or the other.

The flight attendant had  appeared and disappeared again, leaving Alex a plastic cup of Coke. The red pencil was moved from between her lips to sip at the warm liquid while she pondered. why were phone calls such a big deal, Who was this mysterious guy? Alex shook her head, remembering when her mother was in college everyone used a land line and paid for long distance calls.  the pound of exhaustion thrummed against her temples while she finished the soda. She spent a few minutes rubbing her stiff neck and releasing her hair from its too tight knot against the headrest. The hair clip was dropped into the open mouth of her bag, before she returned to the typed pages.
Entry #22  June 18
 He scared me to death tonight, but ever since I got home I haven’t been able to stop smiling. I should be furious, I hate strangers or anyone coming out of nowhere but what he said to me still sounds like a line from a corny movie and I have to write down that it really happened.
    First, I all but jumped out of my skin when his deep voice drifted from the darkness.  It was after midnight in an empty parking lot. A gruff voice from nowhere did not exactly arrive inconspicuously. When I heard him call my name, I  jumped, dropping my keys with a crash onto the parking lot at my feet.
     “Sorry,” he said, with a low chuckle, stepping from the shadows, and   squatting  on the balls of his feet to pick up my keys.  as I bent over to retrieve them  we collided again, physically this time and he stepped back from me.
     “Sorry” he said again.
    his jaw was  set against the wild look he threw around the empty parking lot, checking to see if we were being watched.  A couple of the bus boys were smoking outside the service door and he grinned at me.,.
     “What are you doing here,  In the middle of the night?”
" My accusation sounded harsh even to me, but I couldn't help smiling despite our clumsy interaction.  I sighed, trying not to be too happy to see him.
    He stood back from me, arms crossed over his chest. His features becoming illuminated as He shifted further into the swatch of light spilling from the light post.    “Laura said you were working an extra shift tonight and I was on my way home when I thought you could use this.”
      He held out his right hand to me and I saw for the first time that he'd been carrying a bottle in it. I took it from him, turning the bottle to see the label.
     “Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice.” My elation was obvious as I smiled broader at him.  “I love Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice.”
     He chuckled again, stuffing his hands into his pockets and kicking at the graveled asphalt.
     “I know. I heard you telling Laura how you were going to have to give them up to pay for your phone bill.  I just thought this would make your drive home a little shorter.”
 He fought his smile  again and I became aware that my mouth was hanging open as I stared at him in dismay.
     “Thank you.” I said closing it and glancing back down at the bottle.  “What made you think of it tonight?”
     I must have looked like an idiot, trying to hide my confusion, fumbling  with my keys and the trucks door.
     “I stopped for a Coke on the way home from dancing and when I saw the juice I just thought of you, that’s all.”
    “Did you need to talk…about Laura or something?
That was the wrong thing to say. Most guys  who do nice things for me are after something and evidently to him this was not only a foreign, but offensive idea.
      His jaw tightened,  and his brow furrowed as he stared at me
       “Why would you ask me that?”
 I just thought maybe you needed something and I wasn’t there tonight, so…”
     I gestured slightly with the bottle still in my hand.  He shook his head with a dark smile in his eyes and then pulled his car keys from his pocket.
     “No, I just wanted to say goodnight.”
     He turned back toward the shadowed lot With another glance over his shoulder. and a flash of his crooked smile.
I stood there for another minute just watching the bus boys staring after his car, the crooked tail lights merging with the traffic on the street.
It’s been a few hours, but I’m still  wondering why he didn’t asked me for anything.”
Alex squinted at the typeface. How in the world had her mother managed to talk so clearly about these moments and still forgotten to name her characters? She shook her tired thoughts and drooping eyes alert and then skipped to the next entry.
Entry # 31 June 24
    I don’t understand girls. I never have. Some guy tries to get forgiveness for being a jerk or  he wants  a date. So… he flirts with another girl at a flower shop, wastes money on something that is going to end up dead, And these girls with the dead flowers get all weak in the knees over it?
 Tonight when he brought the bouquet over I was totally unimpressed until he told me the story of what he went through to get them. He told me how Laura  mentioned her favorite flowers were Sunflowers. She complained that nobody ever sends those kind of flowers. He had spent the last few hours scouring local wild fields of flowers trying to make her happy. I about slapped her when she came in tonight and found them.
     She made an ugly face, like He’d brought her a dead frog or something. even after she read the card and I explained it to her she was disgusted.
      “He didn’t actually buy them?”  Laura asked..  “I don’t know whether I should be relieved that he didn’t waste any money on those weeds, or furious that he was too cheap to buy real flowers.”
      The glass vase holding the bundle of sunflowers stood in the middle of the kitchen table where I'd put them so she would see them when she came home from work.  I sat, staring at her tirade as she stomped around the kitchen.. She had immediately noticed the flowers and card with her name on it Now, the card, along with her refusal to be impressed, were both in the trash.
      “I thought you love sunflowers.
    ” I narrowed my eyes, turning from her tantrum, as she sank defeated into the chair beside me. 
     “I do, “but if he was going to send me flowers he should have spent some money on roses or lilies, even daisies would have looked better than this.”
     She turned away from the bright faces of the blooms to sigh and roll her eyes at me.
      “Laura! He tried to buy them and the florist said they were out of season.  You told him they were your favorite and he didn’t want to get you something else that wasn’t what you said you liked.”

     I didn’t hide my chastisement from my voice, but I don’t care. She missed the whole point.
     “I do like sunflowers, but…” her voice broke off.
     it’s not the flowers that are important, look how hard he worked to get you what you like.  He picked them himself and then took them back to the florist to make the arrangement.”
    standing and walking toward her bedroom door, she grumbled under her breath.
     “I know.”
 She threw another dirty look back at the bouquet.
     “I’ll make sure I’m super grateful, just don’t tell him how lame I thought it was.
    ” She disappeared into her room and I shook my head.
    “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t do that to him.”
  Something’s not right about this whole thing. I am sorely tempted to just tell him she’s not worth it. He is the nicest guy we have ever hung out with. She’s been saying stuff  about how he just can’t see he’s crowding her, how he refuses to date other people because he’s crazy about her, How she’s trying to let him down but he’s oblivious. It doesn’t match up with what I know about him.
 An hour ago Melanie, Anne and I were talking about the flowers and I told them what she said.
     Anne got an uncomfortable look on her face, mentioning  she knew Laura would get tired of him. When I looked confused she told me that last week he came to pick her up for dinner and Laura complained that his shirt was wrinkled.
     Maybe it’s just me but that doesn’t seem like a reason you break up with someone. Melanie just shook her head at me. "she isn’t breaking up with him, she wants him to break up with her."
 “Why? She worked so hard to get him.”
     “She wants to be able to date…er…other people?”
     I know what that means. She wants to get Brian Coleson, this guy we met at the lake a few weeks ago, to ask her out.
     “Why don’t you go out with him Trish, you are better friends with him than she is.” I’m sure my cheeks flamed with the suggestion, and my thoughts immediately flew to my last long distance phone call earlier. “Do you only date your friends?”
his question haunted me now.
"I don’t want to go out with him, I just want her to stop treating him like this. He is going to get hurt and we will never see him again. He only hangs out with all of us, because he is dating her. If she does this too him, we’ll never see him again."
There’s a part of me that knows It’s me that may never see him again. The thought is sharp against my mind..
     Anne suggested that I go talk to Laura about it, but it won’t do any good. I’ll have to think about it, but if it weren’t for my personal stakes in this, I’d just go tell him what she’s doing.

Alex laid her head back against the maroon seat. She stared up at the dim light above her, watching it cast shaky shadows along the ark pathways between seats. The Weak, in congruent figures wouldn’t  force her heavy eyelids open.  The flight felt as if it had been, hovering, suspended in midair and she checked her watch to make sure that at least time had passed, since the blackness of the night held no landmarks to indicate progress.  She tried popping the tension from her neck with a twist of her head but only groaned as her tight shoulders  protested the movement.  Another section of blacked out type face covered the rest of the page and she curled the manuscript back reclaiming her pencil’s perch behind her ear.
    Entry # 33 July 5
I finally had the Mike discussion with him tonight. He knows Mike and I have a past together, and it worked out badly but I have never talked about the details. I know what my failings were with Mike. I don’t understand why he needs to know the specifics. I distracted him with kisses, but   I wasn’t planning on needing to keep him away from the subject of Mike. he’d been so upset with our conversation I was desperate to convince him his worries were  unfounded.
     “I understand that you guys are friends and everything, and I appreciate the ‘demonstration’ of the difference, He said brushing his fingertips across his lips.  “But you have a dangerous habit of falling in love with your best friend, and you spend a lot of time with him.”
     I was confused by his desire to talk about this, but tried to ease his tension.
     “how do you get habit out of that one time with Mike?”
       Sighing  again frustration clear in his features,  he shifted away from me.. I did not want to talk to him about this and the elongated silence between us only animated that fact too clearly. Somewhere in the boiling tension, I  felt his touch as he picked up my hand and held it.
    “What happened with Mike?” he asked. “I can see it still hurts you.”
  I should have kissed him again or tried to change the subject, but I figured it was as good a time as any to get it all out.
         “We were best friends. I fell in love with him, and he…”
     I didn’t have words to make this better for either of us.
     “He, What?”
        “He wasn’t in love with me, can we just leave it at that?”
“I don’t think we can. “Isn’t this what best friends are for?”
.     I paused only long enough for him to beg with his eyes, and then I focused my gaze out the windshield. There was so much I had been able to let go of since that time with Mike and I was not in a hurry to bring it all back.  I knew he was right. If I was going to fall in love with him and still remain true to my belief that with love came trust, then I had to trust him with the very parts I wished had been left behind.
     “we spent all our time together,” I started, “we knew each other’s secrets, he helped me through a time in my life when I needed someone to not only want to be my friend, but want me.”
 Want you?
     Mike wanted me around, he wanted to talk to me, to do nothing as long as I was there. He was the best part of my life. “For three weeks.”
     His head snapped back to look more closely at my  stricken features.
     “Three weeks? I thought you were friends for years?”
      “We were, nothing but friends…” “until his parents left town for three weeks and I spent them at their house
Even now, just remembering this conversation, I don’t know why I kept talking. I  guess  I wanted…something to change with my confession. As I told him the story I felt that change, I still feel it like a cold stone in the pit of my stomach.
         “He needed help with family responsibilities and his sister and I were trying to make things run while he focused on the family business and keeping track of the horde of teenagers that made up the family. “We were inseparable for those three weeks., taking kids to school, doing homework, eating together, putting the family to bed each night, and I fell in love with them and him.”
I remember glancing at him, stiff and glaring out the window. His expression, cold and unrelenting should have kept me quiet, but I felt the desperation of needing his understanding pushing me like a blind tight rope walker, toward a fall.
     “we became like our own family., early in the morning when we got up, in the middle of the night when someone was late for curfew. When the house was quiet and we laid on the couch to breathe in the few moments of peace.”
     The memories were bitter sweet in my mouth and I felt him turn and watch my expression. I tasted the rise of bile in my throat along with a quiet disdain as my eyes hardened and I finished giving voice to my pain.
    “ “we spent hours in each other’s arms when we got the chance, talking, laughing, holding each other,  and eventually kissing. I knew it was just the necessity of the circumstances that had deepened our connection, but it felt so real…so right.”
     It still sounds like its pretty real for you. “How long ago was that?”
     Is voice was gruff and I felt tears push against my eyes.
     “A year and a half ago.”
    The look on his face told me, he didn’t understand. I was quickly losing my nerve the more distance I felt from him. I had to finish it . I could tell it was becoming just  as difficult for him to hear as it was for me to say. I regretted trusting him with this, I know that now, but I’m still wondering why he was judging me so harshly.
I loved Mike in increments. He was easy to be with, I loved that, He was a good guy. I loved that. I knew how he felt about me. we walked different paths for a while but I loved him, he was my best friend.  I thought there was a chance that we could be…together, but until he kissed me and held me and we slept together every night, I had never known his feelings. I believed he wanted  more  too.”
      The silence echoing through the cab of his car was like claws in my heart..
“You slept with him? You had sex with him?” he asked his voice bitter and harsh.
     “No. We had a house full of kids. We were careful not to get physical around them. Besides after all I had been through my sophomore year in college, I had very careful rules about sex.  after everyone had gone to sleep though, we would get tangled up in each other. It just got easier to fall asleep together.  We woke up before the rest of the house to get everyone off to school. We went to his room at night long after everyone was asleep. it seemed innocent enough.”
   “But it wasn’t."
“That’s the point.” I choked, “It wasn’t innocent. I should have known that if I was going to excuse myself from the careful limitations of a an unmarried relationship I would suffer the consequences when it didn’t magically turn into one. Just because I had not broken my final rule, did not mean that the abuse of all the others would not be painful. When his parents got back and we tried to exist in this new place, he got scared or overwhelmed or he had just gotten what he wanted from me, I don’t know.  All I know is, he was done. Done with me, or us, or whatever but everything we had been to each other for so long was over.”
     I forced out my shallow breath letting the silence settle between us, waiting for him to tell me he understood.  He didn’t move from his stiff position.
     “So you broke up after that?””
     “No, “We were never together to break up. We weren’t dating. I was not his girlfriend. I wasn’t anything to him.”
     I was shaking my head and trying to keep the emotions from spilling down my cheeks. I couldn’t wait for silence to linger between us.
      Mike just disappeared from my life
     “When his  parents returned home he vanished. He stopped talking to me, he stopped wanting me around. He wouldn’t stay in the same room with me.  If I came into a room he was in, he would leave. Two weeks after it ended He went out with a friend of mine, on my birthday. He barely spoke to me that day. No ‘Happy Birthday, no phone call, nothing.”
     I stopped again not daring to look at him, as if the release of the words had been an attack against a raw nerve.
     “That’s how it ended?”
I shook my head. “When I couldn’t take the silence anymore. I got him to go for a drive with me and demanded that he tell me what was going on.  He said he was sorry for handling it wrong, but that things had gotten, confused, and he was just trying to put everything back the way it had been before.”
      I paused FOR BREATH again but he was still silent at my side so I  FORCED MY WORDS TO KEEP COMING.
     “There was no ‘before’ for me though, I had lost my best friend and my first love. I didn’t even have him to talk to about it.”
    ”Do you still love him?”
I shook my head again, wiping at the tears. “I loved him until I didn’t want to feel the pain anymore and then I let him go. We still hang out together, we dance, we talk, but I know the difference now.”
      He was leaning his head against the top of the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white and then purple. His eyes flashed from beneath his hooded brows and I shuddered with their coldness.
      “What difference?”
  “The difference between a man who loves you and a man who just loves how you make him feel.”
Putting his hands in his lap, he leaned back against the driver side window with a stern line for his mouth. He didn’t  look down  as I stared into his clear blue eyes focused above my head in the car. I wasn’t really expecting a response, unless dropping me off without another word would have counted, so I was surprised when his voice broke the silent tension.
      “I didn’t realize it had gone that far. Are you sorry?”
    “I  clenched my teeth together holding my tongue as I calmed my racing heart. “I wanted him to tell me he understood, that he hated Mike, that I didn’t deserve that. Instead, he Had asked me the one question I wasn’t sure I knew how to answer. I had a lot to be sorry for, my own romantic notions  in thinking that love was made with your body and not your heart, that just because I loved with my soul did not mean that it would come back to me like that, that it was possible for someone to want only the parts of a relationship that were easy and convenient. I knew that it happened,  but now I faced the consequences of letting my heart take over. Consequences that cost me, not just with Mike but with him too.
      “I’m not sorry that I went through it, Just that I was  too stupid or naive to see the truth.”
       “Are you sorry you fell in love with him?”
     As I looked out the window, I wondered if men ever really loved. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations of finding someone who not only wanted a girlfriend but a best friend and true love too.
The proof of an oncoming storm splashed against the glass breaking me from those thoughts before I answered.
      “No, I liked being in love with Mike. I guess I am   just sorry I loved him too much.”
This should have been the end of it, but I could feel his disapproval in the clasp of his palm where I’d taken his hand.  He suddenly clutched my fingers, releasing my hand back into my lap. His gaze remained focused out the window.
     “I need to think about this.” He said. and I can’t think straight when you’re touching me.”
     I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what he wanted me to do. I reached for the handle on the door of his car. “Call me tomorrow.” It’s the last thing we said to each other before I walked home tonight. I don’t know if he’ll call me or not. I don’t know if it matters.
     Alex gasped, taking a shuddered breath. she shifted uncomfortably against her newly fastened seat belt.  The descent of the plane pressed her back into her seat and she closed her eyes against the motion. Her mind worked backward slowly over the night and her growing knowledge of her mother’s history with men.  Sudden clarity arrived with the lack of altitude and she gasped once more. "Mom! You were sneaking around behind your room mate's back, with her boyfriend."

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