* “You don’t really want to be talking to me, do you?” I asked, cocking my head to the side to keep my eyes in the shade of the column outside the small shopping center.
“No, really, I don’t mind,” Lynn replied. “I just worry about you because you always get so down.” She turned her face away from me.
* When I flew from California to a little town in middle America just to see my ex-girlfriend’s wedding, most people mistook me for a jaded lover attempting to win back what I believed to be mine. But I was just a guy in a blue shirt.
* “I almost had a wreck last night,” Lynn continued.
“I hit a patch of black ice and ran the red light at Markham and Rodney Parham.” Her face was now focused upon her hands, which trembled like mine sometimes did when I would stop drinking for a few days.
“Did you get a ticket?”
“A ticket. For running the light?”
“No, no ticket.”
I wanted to put my arm around her but had to keep it pinned to my chest instead.
“Don’t worry about it, then. You’re ok now. No wreck, no ticket, no problem, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.” She stared straight ahead now.
* On one of our first dates, I was taking Lynn to a spot down by the dam on the lake where the night was pitch black and all the stars could be seen. We started talking about close encounters with accidents, and I wasn’t paying too much attention to the road as I talked and offered my hand gestures. I missed the turn-off, and shortly thereafter a sign was posted: “STATE MAINTENANCE ENDS.”
The road turned to dirt, and there was a large bump before I could stop or even slow the car’s momentum, and we went flying through the air for about thirty feet. All I could see as we went through the air was her head hurtling forward toward the windshield. It took a few minutes before I realized that I hadn’t killed her.
The stars were more beautiful and clear that night than at any other point in my life.
* “Are you ok?” I asked her.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. You?”
“I’m good, I guess.”
* Each night, or each morning, as the case would be, as we were departing each other’s company, Lynn would always utter two words before saying good-bye: “Be good.” I would always answer with a good-humored “You, too,” to which she inevitably responded, “I always am.”
She even told me to be good the weekend that I almost allowed myself to be totally seduced by another woman. It was Halloween, and I was pretending, I guess, to be someone who could afford to be seduced.
The fact that I couldn’t go through with it didn’t matter much at the time, and I spent a lonely week with this other woman before dropping her by the wayside and running back to Lynn, sobbing and pleading.
She was good enough to take me back then. I waited for her to come home that night, sitting in the cold on her front steps.
* “Geez, I’m freezing,” she shivered.
“Yeah, it’s a little chilly out here. I’d warm you up, but you probably don’t want that, huh?”
“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
* There was a time when she referred to me as “the human heater.” I always had all kinds of body heat whenever she was around, and whenever she was cold I could just wrap my arms around her and stop her shaking at once.
Of course, the last few weeks of our relationship I didn’t touch her much. Every time I did I ended up thinking about someone else. Julie. We had a few long nights at a local bar, sharing opinions on movies and politics and even literature. Some of our mutual friends had a party one night, and we all got drunk and I ended up making a complete ass of myself trying to get into her pants.
That was just a couple of weeks before Lynn left me for another guy.
* “So, how’s what’s-his-name?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“He’s good. He thinks he knows someone who can give me a job for the state in data entry. He treats me well.”
“That’s good. I’d hate to have to kick his ass – just kidding, of course.”
She sat there, shivering, silent as the winds that whistled through the southern air; only her breathing made sound.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, fighting the instinct to wrap my arm around her and pull her to me.
“I don’t know if I should tell you.”
* “I don’t know if I should tell you this,” I said, looking at her naked for the first time.
“What’s that?” Lynn had a slight smile on her face as she stared at the wall above me.
“I think I love you.”
She stopped moving her legs momentarily, then she slowly leaned up and kissed me just before wrapping her legs around my bare middle, sliding her inner thigh against the side of my waist. Her skin was slightly prickly with short hairs; she hadn’t meant this to happen so soon.
That is the last thing I remember as a virgin.
* “Chris asked me to marry him,” she said, almost as though she were describing the weather to a deaf person. “I said yes.” Her face turned away from mine.
“Wow. When did that happen?”
“That’s funny. I had a dream Friday night that this was going to happen, and I was about two steps away from driving up here and asking you first. Not that it would have made any difference.”
She sat still with her face turned from me.
“That was quick, wasn’t it?”
“Three months, to the day.”
“Why do you say that?”
“It’s just that there’s so much you can not know about someone at three months.”
“There’s a lot you can not know about someone after four years.”
* The last time I cried around Lynn was the last time that I saw her as my girlfriend. My tears tasted like whiskey as she told me that things weren’t going to work. Things weren’t going to work because I was over an hour late for our meeting time. It was her final effort to save what little of a relationship we still had.
“You’ve been drinking again, haven’t you?”
“Just a little.”
“A little, huh? Sometimes I worry about you.”
“Don’t worry about me,” I managed to respond between sniffles. “I’ll be fine.” Scotch always made me too emotional, especially cheap scotch. “You should probably go now. I have to get inside.”
“Why? Why do you have to leave now?”
“There’s a lot more drinking to be done.”
“Damn you! God damn you! You fucking bastard! What the hell is wrong with you?”
She stormed to her car. As much as I tried to stop her, she wouldn’t be stopped. As she pulled from the parking lot and came around the corner, I had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit. A girl who lived in the same building was coming out the door at the time, and she ran back inside, yelling that someone had just tried to run over me in the parking lot. I was just trying to stop her from leaving upset.
* She stood up, finally.
“No, don’t go. Please.”
She sat back down. “Let’s talk about something else. Anything else. What’s going on with you?”
“Not much. Oh, I did get accepted to that school out in California. But I’m still waiting to hear from Emerson.”
“That’s good. I’m happy for you, really. I think that will be good for you. Good luck.”
“Thanks.” My face was now the one turned away. California was the last thing on my mind. “You know I would have proposed, if I had just been smart, right? Right?”
* “Can I use your internet?” Lynn’s roommate Anne looked up at me, as did her boyfriend, and nodded.
“What are you going to use it for?”
“I’ve been having a real pain, and I’m just wondering if it’s bad enough to go to a doctor.”
“What kind of pain?” Brian, the boyfriend, asked.
“The worst kind,” I said.
Lynn’s Uncle Tommy was a jeweler, and although she had told me that I should go through him for an engagement ring, I had gotten the information on the kind of ring she wanted through not-so-casual conversation. I began looking at princess cut diamonds on various web pages, comparing prices, trying to decide what I might be able to pay off in the next year or so.
I had no worries about Lynn walking in on my search and ruining a surprise. She was out studying with a fellow classmate by the name of Pierce. Little did I know then that he was attracted to her, and that, by the time the night was through, they be enveloped in each other’s arms and lips.
When Anne asked me what I was doing, I told her of my ultimate plan. On my twenty-first birthday, I would allow Lynn to give me all the gifts she had to give me. Then, when she was finished, I would pick her up and put her on the kitchen counter and tell her that I knew she had one more thing to give to me. At that point, I would follow the tradition and drop to a knee and ask her to marry me. Her answer of “yes” was my final and most precious present.
Of course, when she finally told me about the infidelity with Pierce, I was both relieved and heartbroken. To make matters worse, it took her two days after she told me to make her final decision on whether she would remain with me or go with Pierce. Luckily, she stayed, and I was the first to tell him to stay the hell away.
* “I really think that maybe I should go.” She was beginning to fidget with her hair, which was a sure sign of uncomfortability.
“No, don’t, please.” It’s all I said, but it was enough to make her stay.
“I like that shirt,” she said, trying to change the subject onto the bright blue shirt I had bought from the Goodwill just a couple of months before for three dollars.
* I wore the blue shirt to Lynn’s wedding, knowing that I would be seen, knowing that it was the shirt that looked the best on me. I sat on the aisle near the back of the church, and as the wedding march began, as her father grabbed her hand and began to lead her down the aisle, her eyes were drawn to me, and she either smiled or grimaced. Her vows were given in a sense of both disdain toward me and a newfound alliance with the man to which she spoke. As the two of them left the sanctuary, I sat still on the aisle, head in hand. Her father led her mother down the aisle shortly thereafter, and as her mother passed, she reached out and grabbed my hand from my head, giving it a slight but empathetic squeeze.
* We sat there, silent, for quite some time. Finally, I spoke.
“You know what I’m going to miss most?”
“Curling up with you at night, sliding my arm in between your breasts, rubbing my legs against yours, and waiting for dreams that are inevitably of you.”
“Yeah. Even when Michelle slept over, I didn’t do that.”
“She slept over there?”
“Yeah. I thought I told you.”
“No. You didn’t.”
* Michelle was a girl I knew slightly before I met Lynn. I thought that I was in love with her at times, especially when things were bad between Lynn and myself. We had gone to see a couple of movies that Lynn didn’t know about, and over the Christmas weekend after Lynn broke things off with me for the last time, she came down to a party I had told her about and spent the night at my place. Even though I kissed her that night, noting how smooth the skin around her stomach was, even though it was the first time I had actually seen her bare breasts, let alone touched them, the passion I had come to take for granted with Lynn wasn’t there. On top of that, she broke my passenger window when trying to roll it down to smoke a cigarette on the way back to her home.
* I put out my third cigarette on the curb, rubbing the ash so that it fell off and continued to burn on the ground at my feet. Lynn didn’t smoke.
“Aren’t you going to ask when it is?”
“What? The wedding?”
“Well, when is it?”
“October 29th. That will be our one year anniversary.”
“That’s convenient. Only one date to have to remember.”
“Do you remember the 30th ?”
“Not really. What was the 30th ?”
“I called you from work and you made me cry. I cried for half an hour in the back room. My boss was pissed, because I couldn’t go back out onto the floor.”
“I didn’t know.”
“It was the last time we really talked, until now.”
* The last word I ever spoke to Lynn was this: “Congratulations.” It was what I said to her at her wedding reception. During the half hour after the ceremony, waiting for the wedding party to finish photos, I looked through photo albums specially prepared for both individuals, counting just how many pictures I had been cut out of. My final count was eighteen.
The only person who would really talk to me at the reception was her older brother, who lived out of state. He talked to me about California, said that he was heading out to the area on a business trip in a couple of weeks. He said he might drop by when he got into the area. I haven’t seen him since.
The conversation was cut short by the procession of wedding participants coming downstairs, beginning the official reception. Family members and friends swarmed to Lynn, who kept her back to me as I leaned against the wall. Some of them looked over her shoulder during hugs and scowled. When the mob had departed, I decided to move in, just to tell her congratulations, and then maybe leave, but she spoke first.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“I wanted to show my support. This is something I wanted to see, not just hear about.”
“You know, I’m not sure you and Chris should be in the same room together. I mean, I’m not sure he knows exactly who you are, but if he found out, he probably wouldn’t be happy.”
That was the moment that Chris noticed me talking to Lynn and decided to come over.
“Oh shit,” she said.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey. Congratulations, man. Take care of her.”
Lynn’s eyes weren’t as friendly as my words.
“Lynn?” Her eyes didn’t change. “Congratulations.”
* “Maybe I really should go.”
“No, no, don’t.” I reached out to grab her arm, a reflex I couldn’t contain. “Stay, please.”
“You just get so down every time we talk.”
“No, really. It’s ok.”
“Are you sure? I just dropped a bomb on you.”
“Well, then, put up a memorial so that you have an excuse to come back and visit,” I replied.
* Every year Lynn made a trip to Tennessee to visit the headstone of her cousin. She would stand over his grave and cry just as hard as his mother. At a younger age, she and Jack had been best friends.
Jack’s sister, after his suicide, started seeing him everywhere. She couldn’t sleep because she would hear him walking down the hall or calling over to her from his room. She had been very pretty before his death. She simply couldn’t forget. When she actually started therapy, almost a full year later, only a ghost of what had been remained.
Jack had committed suicide a couple of months before Lynn’s study sessions with Pierce. His girlfriend had broken up with him a couple of weeks beforehand, but she kept calling him, sometimes to inform him about the other guys she was seeing, sometimes to threaten suicide herself. He finally couldn’t take it anymore, and, as I understand, he told her that she should come over to see what he was up to. He laid the phone down on the couch beside him and put a shotgun to the back of his throat.
* I coughed.
“So, you’re getting married,” I said, still trying to distract myself from silence.
“Are you sure you’re ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just a lot to swallow.”
“I knew I shouldn’t have told you.”
“No, no. Thank you for telling me. Really.”
“I’m starting to think that maybe I shouldn’t have told you.”
“No, no. Really. I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks. That does mean a lot to me.”
We sat there for another minute or so, only the wind having anything to say.
“So, am I invited?” I was trying to break the tension. Someone had to ask the question neither of us wanted to answer.
“I don’t know. Will you make a scene?”
“I’ll try not to. Are you sure you want me there?”
“I don’t know. It’s a little odd asking my old love to come to my wedding.”
“Hey, if you want to be courteous but don’t really want me there, I’ll understand.”
“I don’t know.”
* “I don’t know,” I replied.
“Well, if you don’t know what you want, then I sure as hell can’t help you.”
“Lynn, please. Don’t go. I do want you. I didn’t mean that. I just don’t know if this is right anymore. I don’t know what’s right anymore.”
“I can’t just sit around forever while you try to plan out your entire life.”
“Lynn, please. Just calm down.”
“I’m being calm.” She stalked across the small room. “I need ice cream.”
“Ice cream. I need ice cream. Do you want to come?”
* “It’s up to you if you want to come,” she continued. “God, my family would kill me if they knew that I was telling you this.”
“Your family loves you too much to kill you. Me, on the other hand . . . .”
She laughed. It was as good a time as any.
“I’m sorry, Lynn.”
“For fucking up so many times. I never, at any point, let you know just how much I loved you. I was always too guarded.”
“It’s ok. I’m not mad anymore. Sad, maybe.”
“I’m plenty sad for both of us. There’s no need for you to be sad.”
“Are you sure you’re ok?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“Maybe I really should go.”
“No, I’m the one who should be leaving. I’m the one who doesn’t belong anymore.”
“Billy, please. I knew I shouldn’t have told you.”
“No, no. I’m glad that you did. Really. Really.” I put my hand on hers and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“You know you can come if you want to, right?”
“Yeah. Ice cream.”
“I don’t know. Never mind.”
She smiled one of those contagious smiles and looked up at me with her thoughts in her eyes.
“I know. I know.”
(photo by Amanda Waits)