[A short story]
It had taken me months to get up the nerve to finally say something to him. It just seemed like it was time. We’d gotten so close to each other and I couldn’t deny anymore how strong my feelings for him had gotten. Today felt good. I was relaxed and in a good mood. The weather was nice. It’s spring. So what the hell, carpe diem, right? I’m in my car talking to him on the phone. We’re talking like we always do, three or four times a day – about nothing in particular – and I’m trying to figure out my opening. How to finally tell him how I feel. And then he says “Cass sent me something in the mail.”
Cass. Shit. I have never met Cass, but I know a lot about her. I know she lives near me. I know she was widowed young and has three kids. I know she likes dark chocolate and hates almonds – of all things. She doesn’t drink coffee. She talks in her sleep and says “clever things”. I know the last three jobs she had and that she can’t seem to keep track of her phone charger, because she always needs to borrow his and then he has to borrow mine. I know she likes his son, especially taking him to the park with her kids. – His son, who he rarely sees, because his ex moved out of country for work.
I know how much she screws with his head. I know how she manipulates him. Disappears for months and just when he seems to have finally moved on, bam there she is again. I hate Cass. And this is now the only thing I’m thinking, like a mantra, as I circle the same three blocks, over and over again, not looking for parking anymore. Even though I’m late for an appointment and really should have grabbed the last three spots I saw. I hate Cass not least of all for stealing my moment. Again.
“Of course she did.” I say it before I can stop myself. He snorts a single “heh” in acknowledgement – acknowledgement of what, though, I’m not sure. My irritation? Why I’m irritated? The fact I blurted it without meaning to? Or that she was predictable after all. I roll my eyes. He can’t see, but I know he knows I did anyway. I sigh. “And? What did she send you?”
Don’t tell me! I want to scream, even though I asked. That or tell me it was something menacing and disgusting that finally made it impossible for him not to see her true manipulative nature.
“A movie. That’s it. Just the DVD, no note or card.”
I remember to suppress my sigh. “What movie?”
“Life is Beautiful?”
Jesus christ I hate her. “Throw it out, and forget about it.”
“But what does it mean?” He says, already gnawing at the bone. And there it is. That, right there. The mystery and allure of the puzzle. It’s like kryptonite for men. Works nearly every fucking time, and I’m so sick of it. So tired.
“Does it matter? She’s too passive aggressive to actually have a direct conversation with you. It’s immature and pathetic.”
“Wow. Don’t hold back.” He says, a mixture of surprise and challenge in his voice.
Well I guess this is it, here we go. “I can’t stand her. I can’t stand what she does to you, and I don’t trust her.”
“Okay,” he draws the aaaay out. It was too much. I let the venom drip and now he’s going to feel defensive on her behalf. Have I mentioned how much I hate her? Too late to back down now. I can’t back off and not have a direct conversation after aiming that at her. Shit.
“I have four reasons for not liking her.” Deep breath. “One, she uses her kids to appeal to your white-knight instincts. Two, she uses your situation with your son to get to you, and I find that to be unforgivable. Three, she isn’t honest with you and doesn’t actually want you, you’re just a shiny thing. She only puts her hooks in when she needs something; money most often.” I paused. Shit shit shit. I feel my heartbeat pounding through my body. What the hell am I doing?
“Four?” He prompts. Calm… waiting. It feels ominous.
“Four, I’ve been competing with women like her my whole life and I always lose. She screws up my mojo and it’s pissing me off.”
He laughs, thank goodness, but is it a good thing? “Your mojo huh?”
“Yeah.” I can barely say it. Holding my breath. Silence. I hadn’t really thought this through, so I’m not sure how to proceed. I’m going to panic. I need to pull the car over. I need to stall. Deflect.
I stammer out. “You know it’s kind of ironic, but everyone at work,” we used to work together, “told me that you had a crush on me. Used to follow me around like a puppy. Stare at me in meetings.”
“Really, they said that?”
“Yeah, everyone. All the time.”
He laughs a little, “that’s kind of funny, you know?”
Funny? Did he just say funny? Like it’s ridiculous that he’d have a crush on me? What, am I that awful or laughable? It’s my turn to have an edge in my tone, “Yeah, I guess.”
“That’s funny,” he says again, still chuckling. Bemused. This was a mistake. I should have just kept my mouth shut. Listened to him wingeing about her and made non-committal, but supportive sounding comments like I normally did.
“Yeah, ok. Well do whatever you want about the video. Don’t say I didn’t warn you though. I’m late I gotta go.”
“Hey.” His voice warm and soft, the way it gets when I’ve called him up in the middle of a panic attack and he’s trying to soothe me. Tender, the way it gets when I’ve done something unexpectedly nice and he says thank you. Gentle, the way it gets when we’ve had a fight and he’s trying to apologize.
“Your mojo’s fine.” Intimate, the way I’d always imagined it might be, if I ever let this moment happen. “I thought no one had noticed. That’s why I thought it was funny.”
That’s when I see the cop’s lights flash in my review mirror. Shit. But I’m smiling. Give me a hundred tickets, it was so worth it.