||TIMES WHEN WE WERE HAPPY
Truth was, he’d been the one to dump her. Still, she followed him around whenever their paths crossed, which wasn’t often because she couldn’t drive. Sometimes they were at the same parties. He couldn’t stand others touching her, their lips in the same vicinity. Even when she was with one of his traitor friends, her eyes drilled into him, watching, waiting, waiting.
He lost track of her, then she reappeared at her tenth reunion. He didn’t pay attention to such things, was glad high school was over, not that the rest of life had turned out much better, much more exciting. That distant summer she looked better than he remembered, and she’d looked plenty okay to him before. He wanted to run his hands through her dark, wavy hair. But he didn’t. He’d kissed her, quickly, so he wouldn’t get carried away and make her think something was there that wasn’t, even though it was there, and he was mostly denying it because it was easier.
But then she’d written him a letter. With a poem. A published poem all his own, but the funny thing was, he didn’t clearly remember the place she wrote about because at the time he’d been tripping. She must not have known that he was always stoned or tripping when he was with her. He liked her, maybe too much, and it was easier in an altered state, it was.
She’d sent another letter that he hadn’t bothered to read. He threw it in his junk drawer, boxed it up with other items, and moved it from hovel to apartment, house to house. It was probably more of the same, how she loved him, always had, always would. It felt good and bad at the same time, nice that someone cared, at the same time it burdened him, because he didn’t love her back, not really. Not the way she wanted him to. If things were right, which they’d never been, he’d love to take her to bed, but so what? He’d love to take the waitress down at the diner to bed, too.
Decades after that letter, she reappeared, first as a slim envelope in his PO Box. She was coming for her thirtieth reunion. The only person they knew in common denied having spoken to her although he waved his own letter in Wyatt’s face. “She says she has hairs on her chin.”
“Did you write back?”
“The wife would have a fit. Even if she does look like an ape. No way.”
He didn’t want to see a hairy old girlfriend, even though he didn’t quite believe her. She’d been prone to exaggeration, and he’d caught his last girlfriend, a size 2 bleached blonde, tweezing a long hair out of her own chin; he hadn’t dumped her immediately. Besides, as middle-aged and bald as he was, what chance did he have to sleep with anyone new?
So he printed on a piece of paper, “I’ll be waiting,” didn’t sign it, sent it off, and hoped she’d realize he’d appear.
Which he did. From across the street he saw the rental car pull into the B&B’s circular drive. He recognized her hair, shorter, but thick, not gray. She got out of the car and opened the trunk and lifted out a suitcase and she looked good. She pushed her hair out of her face. From the opposite sidewalk he couldn’t see much, just that her body was willowy, not as thin as she’d been, but then almost no one was, except the size 2 bitch. He didn’t want her to see him if she scrutinized the street, which she was. He should have left the top up on the car since it was kind of hard to pretend to be looking for a map. She lugged the suitcase into the house.
After awhile she came out wearing a black sweater and pants that made her look even better. Then she was at the side of his car, and said, “Wyatt?” and he said, “Yeah?”
He was almost completely bald and his clothes didn’t look as nice as hers, didn’t look nice at all, just washed out jeans with worn knees and a t-shirt. As if he couldn’t afford something better, which he couldn’t.
“I didn’t expect to see you right off,” she said. She didn’t sound like the shadow that used to waft after him. Here she was old enough to be a grandparent because he was himself one, three times over, not that he spent much time with the kids. They hardly seemed connected to him, three little blonde girls who pouted if he didn’t buy them ice cream. He never went in the ice cream store if he could help it because he didn’t much like to eat, which came in handy when you didn’t have a lot of cash, the way he hardly ever did, the way he’d hardly changed since he was sixteen.
“Said I’d be waiting.” He patted the passenger’s seat. He kept his car nice; that’s where his money went, to waxes and polishes and new upholstery. The Datsun was almost fifty years old and tinkering with it ate up his spare time.
She walked in front of him, but he wasn’t sure if it was so he could see the curve of her ass, that her stomach was still flat, that even with short hair she looked younger than he. He wasn’t sure if she was teasing him, enticing him, or if that was the easiest way to get to the vacant seat. She pulled open the door, but didn’t get in, and glanced away from the sun glinting off the edges of his sunglasses. “Are we going somewhere or should we just talk?”
That was the problem with women, they talked. They asked questions he didn’t like answering. He didn’t like thinking, he liked doing. He wanted to touch her—run his fingers over her lips—but she might think his hands were dirty. He’d had to check the oil and they probably reeked like a greasy rag that had been stuck in the corner of the garage for a decade. Which it had.
He grunted. Shrugged. Said nothing. She climbed in, pulled the door shut. Sat looking straight ahead. Then said, “So what are we going to do?”
In her tone he heard all the words from her letters, even the one he hadn’t read, and what he wanted to do was kiss her, so instead he stared out the windshield. “What do you want to do?”
He thought she wanted him to look at her, so he turned the key and screeched away from the curb. They were too old for these games, too old to keep pretending and getting nowhere.
The engine rumbled, and the wind lashed their ears, and she had to raise her voice for him to hear. “So we’re driving?”
He didn’t answer until after they’d sailed across the bridge and were on the highway. “Looks like it,” he said. He supposed he should be watching the road, not her, watching the speedometer, but it was okay with him if it clicked higher and higher. She was eyeing it with a stricken look as if she didn’t get that the faster they went, the more he wanted her. That’s what it meant. Speed and danger usurping desire.
“Wyatt.” She put her hand, her fingers individually warm and frosty, against his wrist. “Wyatt, what are you doing?”
“Didn’t you want me all those years?” he yelled into the wind, and she nodded, at least he thought she did. “And I wanted you. So what are we going to do about it?” He watched her again instead of the road.
“What can we do?”
And he knew she meant she was married and she wasn’t the type to deny her vows, which he kind of liked, or would have if she’d been his, but which also infuriated him. He knew she wanted him, maybe more than life itself, and she was denying them both.
“What we can do,” he said and at the same time regretted it, because he hadn’t even kissed her yet, “is this,” and he drove off the road, and they were flying over the embankment, over the bushes and weeds, into the river, going over a hundred because that was the way he proved he wanted her. He only hoped she knew.
|AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY:C.A. Cole lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. She has recently had work accepted by QWF and Cantaraville. She recently finished a novel and will soon start on another.