Her nail picked at the soggy label, sending tears of condensation down the contour of the bottle. She’d met him at the beer garden on her lunch hour because she was eager to see him, like always, but also because she had something she needed to tell him. Now, though, she wished she’d gone to the Olive Garden with the girls from the office instead.
“You knew it would come to this, eventually. It was just later, rather than sooner,” he said. He looked so cool and composed sitting across from her in his paisley tie and white dress shirt that she began to wonder if the heat was radiating from inside her body instead of the blazing August sun above them. “There aren’t going to be any problems, are there?”
She sighed and gave up. The label wasn’t coming off in one solid sheet, but was ripping in sticky globs the width of her fingernail. “You mean, am I going to call your office six times a day and wait by your car in dark parking lots? No, there won’t be any of that.” She reached for a napkin, considered mopping up the trickle of sweat pooling between her breasts, but wadded it up inside her damp palm, letting the recycled paper soak up her nerves instead.
“Good. Like we always said, this was just for fun, not for real.”
She watched as he took a long swig from his Corona, the lime floating like a bobber inside the bottle, and thought about the “fun” he was referring to: wine and flowers, romantic dinners on the boardwalk, perused travel brochures, Hawaiian honeymoon dreams, apartment hunting, eco-friendly floor plans. “Fun,” she said, and tipped the bottle in his direction, a salute to all the not-real-just-for-fun things they’d shared the last two years.
He smiled his glad-that’s-taken-care-of business smile, drained the bottle in a final gulp and stood to leave. “Ya know… if you ever need anything….”
She looked at her watch and felt her anger swell like a kite in the wind. Up, up and up her anger billowed — from stomach to heart to mind — soaring above the humiliation and naïvety and sadness that percolated beneath the surface of her soul. It had taken him exactly nine minutes and thirty-seven seconds to undo twenty-four months of what he’d always referred to as fate and then ended the conversation with if you ever need anything?
He stood beside the table waiting for some sort of reassurance that everything was going to be fine. She wanted to slap him, knock that look off his face, the look that held more concern for his own continuum of happiness than any real concern for her feelings. She took a deep breath and held it, her cheeks puffing out like two ripe figs ready to burst. She counted to five and slowly let the air seep from her puckered lips. Heartbreak hung in the humidity like pyre smoke. “I don’t need anything,” she said finally.
His shadow fell across her as he left, shielding her from the scorching heat for a split second. She closed her eyes and thought about the phone ringing at her desk earlier that morning, just before her ten o’clock break, the twenty-second phone call from her doctor that changed everything before he changed it all again.
The smell of fried fish, greasy onion rings and ranch dressing swirled through the air like a pot of burgoo as the waitress came outside. “Need anything else?” she asked, looking quizzically at her untouched beer.
“Just the check.” The odor was too much and before she could stop herself, she retched. “I’m sorry. Please. Just the check.” She wondered if it would’ve mattered to him that she was pregnant, wondered if it would’ve changed anything at all.
Her car was a hand-me-down from her sister and in desperate need of a new muffler, but the air conditioner worked and she turned it on full blast when she got in. Like a flower stretching for sun, her head bent toward the cool air coming from the vents while she weighed her options and tried to settle her queazy stomach. Sighing, she put the car in reverse, looked over her shoulder for vehicles behind her, and spotted his Volvo still parked in the lot. She scanned the area and found him talking to a blonde she didn’t recognize through the open window of a beige Lexus. The sun shone on the brilliant chrome of the bumper, matching the woman’s perfectly white teeth and manicured nails, and suddenly she knew why she’d been dumped. She watched as he bent to kiss the woman, watched as his lips suckled her mouth and parted her lips with his tongue. Her stomach convulsed in waves of nausea and shame. Considerate of the promise she’d made to never wait beside his car in dark parking lots or call his office six times a day, she dug the cell phone from the belly of her purse, snapped a picture, and prayed his wife was home.
Casey Curtis lives in the Midwest with her husband, three children, two cats, one dog, and the longest-living pet rabbit in the history of mankind. When she isn’t working at her day job or scratching out short stories with a No. 2 pencil, Casey can be found scouring the local antique dealers or (much to her husband’s chagrin) repainting the living room… again.