She shuffled restlessly from foot to foot as she stood there, the silence between them becoming uncomfortably long. Stuffing her hands in her pockets to keep them from wandering, she feels a lucky penny there. Warm from the heat of her thigh. She rubs it lightly with her thumb, wondering just how lucky it is.
No longer able to hide her gaze, she looks up at him. His brown eyes are studying her intently, with a slight frown around the corners of his mouth that she cannot decipher. He does not speak, and she wonders if it is time to go. Lately it seems he cannot stand her presence for very long, and experience has taught her to leave before he asks her to. It is more painless that way.
“Do you know anything about psychology?” He asks this abruptly, almost with a challenge. She shakes her head, wondering what new sort of weapon he is using in his emotional arsenal.
“psychology 101 states that you hurt the people you love most, rather than strangers. Isn’t that interesting? You spew horrible garbage and hurtful remarks at the one you care about the most, rather than the ones who actually upset you. You do this because those who love will always forgive you. It’s rather like venting, you see.”
She did see indeed. He had hurt her many many times, and she always forgave him. Never stopped caring any less, even though it made her feel horrible. He could hurt people very well.
“Really?” She replied with a feigned surprise, “I don’t know anything about psychology, but that makes sence to me.” She looked back down at the floor and continued to play with the penny, hoping he did not notice the pain in her eyes. They lapsed once again into that now familiar silence. Not merely an absence of conversation, but two people surrounded by unspoken things, choking on all the words never uttered. Drowning slowly in a well of apathy, locked behind the walls they built to defend themselves.
He looks at his cell phone. “Well, I’m gonna head out now. See you later?” He says this lightly, as if he is not running from her.
“Sure.” She responds with a casual shrug, pretending the invitation was a meaningless one.
It is four hours later and she has decided not to go to his house. She turns up the music in her truck and heads to the bar. She knows it isn’t very good to go drinking when you’re not all right in your head, but she needs to get out for a bit. When she walks in through the front door, a friend is at the counter ranting about the football game. He turns when he sees her and gives her a genuine hug, saying he misses her company. Another notices her and demands a hug for himself, wondering if she can help him settle a bet on who sings “Happy Jack”. She tells him it is The Who, and he says he just lost 20 bucks. They all laugh about this, and for a moment she forgets why she came.
Grabbing a beer from the bar tender, she heads back to her juke box and pool table. The box has the worst music on it in the world of bad bar music, and the table is warped and bumpy. She loves them both. She is halfway through clearing the first rack when she hears his voice behind her.
“Ahh, wasn’t expecting you here, wanna play a game?” She cannot control the effect of that voice. She cannot understand how his mere presence can make her so incredibly aware of her body. She most DEFINATELY wants to play a game, especially on the pool table.
Shaking herself mentally, she replies without looking at him. “Sure, you in a hurry?” “Nope.” He is smiling now, she can tell without turning around. She grabs her jacket and flees to the beer garden for a smoke.
The wind outside is cold and sobering. Pushing the leather against her skin and creeping beneath winter layers. Shivering in the darkness, she is scowling as she rolls her cigarette. Not angry with him, she is frustrated with herself and her apparent inability to get a grip. Fleetwood Mack drifts around the cracks in the door and she smiles. The moon is almost full, riding the snowy mountains with a silent promise. Pine and cedar trees dance wildly in the wind, like heathens beneath the silver glow. Random litter is traveling around the city on it’s own little roadways, occasionally plastering itself onto light posts and store fronts like graffiti. Laughter pushes through the walls behind her, riding away on the wind… The world continues to turn, and she has finished her smoke.
It is a good round. He wins of course, he always does. Playing just enough to keep her in the game, having fun with the whole thing. She tries hard to play well, which only hinders her skill. At the end he will ask her which pocket she would like the Eight ball in. She will choose a seemingly impossible scenario just to enjoy watching him take it. One of those shots you swore a person could never make.
It is 5:30 the next evening and she is tired from a hard day at work. A stop at the store for some munchies and a hot chocolate, is where she runs into him once again. She is invited to play a game of chess, and agrees, despite her better judgement.
She does not play chess very well, he will win this one too.
The game is abandoned, the music gets louder, the bottle gets lighter, and soon it doesn’t matter who won. They are dancing and laughing about things that are not very funny, and soon they will take a spur of the moment walk at 2a.m.. They will go down to the river, where they will finish the wine. They will both feel comfortable there, on that neutral territory, but somewhere along the road back reality will strike. It has suddenly occurred to them that the alcohol is gone, they are in no state to play chess, and both of them are brimming with far too many things that they will never tell the other.
Both of them become uncomfortable and another loaded silence falls into the space between them. They begin to walk a little further apart to make room for it, without noticing what they are doing. No longer an easy companionship, a unified duo, but two separate people walking down the street together. She feels the loss and her heart empties out, like the bottle she is carrying.
In the house they face each other across the table like gunslingers, with their hands hovering over the trigger. She is the first to draw, she always is, and the bullets begin to fly. When the smoke clears they are both wounded and bleeding, but neither one is willing to admit it.
He will tell her to leave… It will hurt, even though it was something she expected.
At home, she will lie in her bed without sleeping. She will berate herself for the things she said, and especially the ones she did not… She does not know he does the same. She will tell herself he does not love her, and that she should just walk away… She does not know he does the same… She cannot bring herself to take the first step… Neither can he…
Both will turn away with all the words trapped behind their lips, never knowing what would actually happen if they should leap. Complete strangers in a small town, politely cordial and slightly distant…. And somewhere down by the river a fuzzy little caterpillar dies, having never been given a chance to spread his wings.