She was leaning up against an oak tree, sucking on a long, slender cigarette. She flicked the ashes on the damp ground with her long, red thumbnail as she stared off into space. The memories of him trickled through her brain like a haunted stream, as tears floated down her cheeks. The breeze of the warm spring air dried the moisture on her face into dusty silhouettes, as she tried to regain her breath.
She never understood what happened to them. They were best friends who turned into complete strangers over the course of 17 hours. She trusted him and she thought he had the same decency toward her. She was wrong. One minute there was laughter and hand holding, the next….they were done.
During their date the evening before, he was acting strangely. She couldn’t put her finger on the issue, but he was distant and edgy. He could barely sit still as he sipped from his glass of beer and chewed on his rare steak. The restaurant was busy, and he continually searched over his shoulder for something, or someone. It made her uneasy. When she asked him if anything was bothering him, his response was a quick “no, all good.”
They had rushed through dinner and she was hoping he would come home with her and watch some TV and spend the night together, in a quiet, dark bedroom, surrounding each other with naked warm bodies and intimacy. She loved the way he smelled, with his expensive musky cologne and his natural scent. He was rugged with a slight beard and a tight physique. He loved to work out at the gym, and he loved the sight of his own reflection, She loved it too. Maybe it was too early for “love”, but he definitely made her feel amazing and he was kind enough to win her heart.
He paid the check and drove his Mercedes to the front entrance so she didn’t have to walk in her high heels in the rain. He opened her door for her, as always and she climbed into the shotgun leather seat. They never spoke much as he drove her to her condo, and when he pulled into her driveway he told her that he couldn’t stay. She swallowed to hide the disappointment and surprise and she felt angry at herself for making the assumption that he would stay, like he had many nights before. She didn’t ask questions and got out of his car, kissing his cheek quickly before she slammed the door.
“What the hell just happened?” she muttered to herself as she turned the knob on her condo door. Sitting on her couch, watching the spatter of a light rain hit the pane, she went over the evening in her head. They had never actually said that they were monogamous with one another, but the time they spent together suggested that they were a “couple”. They had just never made it official.
They started out their relationship as friends. They had been working together in the same office building for the past 5 years and saw each other Monday to Friday in the lunch room. One Wednesday afternoon, there were no free seats at the long tables in the cafeteria and he asked if he could sit beside her. She patted the seat and welcomed him into her life. They sat together daily for months until they decided to try and date. She was already falling for his charms long before their first dinner out. She found it fascinating that a man of his stature, who drives an expensive car and wears Armani suits, had lunch in the work lunch room. He was appealing to her.
So, now what? She sat alone and flicked on the TV. Her phone beeped beside her and her heart skipped. As she checked her phone, she realized that she had been holding onto a navy blue and white striped tie that he had left on her couch the evening before. It smelled like him. She held it against her cheek, careful not to smear it with her makeup, as she checked the message.
“Hi Willow sorry I couldn’t stay. See u tomorrow?”
She replied with a heart, a smiley face and a wink, followed by “of course”
She hoped she didn’t sound desperate or sad, as she replied.
She poured herself a glass of Merlot and sat down at her computer, trying to find a Netflix show to watch or a movie to download. She still had his tie in her hand, wrapped around like a large cloth bracelet, snaking up her arm in a tight grasp. As she searched through endless shows, she knew they would not distract her from thinking of him. She wondered to herself, why he had never left anything in her condo before. He had spent regular nights, at least 3 a week, even work nights, but he hadn’t left so much as a toothbrush in her bathroom for overnight emergencies. Perhaps he was uncomfortable leaving his “stuff” with her. He probably didn’t know his tie was left between her couch cushions the last time he was over, and they had ravaged each other during a mindless movie. The memory gave her the flutter of butterflies. The sex with him was amazing.
After almost an hour of idly searching through shows, she knew she wouldn’t focus on, she changed over to Facebook and scrolled through her newsfeed. Even all of her friends were boring her, and she felt pains of envy seeing that her girlfriends were on dates with their guys or at clubs with their besties. She closed the computer windows and sat staring at the rain soaked darkness outside again. She missed having him near her and missed having company.
He didn’t have any social media accounts, as he thought they were childish and replete with drama and bullshit. She tended to agree, but she needed to keep in touch with her friends and family, and Facebook was her go-to for keeping up, especially since she was now in some type of relationship that she would eventually brag about.
Absentmindedly, and giggling to herself, feeling the effects of her first glass of wine, she entered his name into a Google search engine, searching for photos of him she could pine over in his absence. As soon as she clicked the enter button, multiple photos of him popped up into the Images screen on her monitor. He worked for a large real estate firm and was kind of a big deal in their city.
She sucked in her breath, a gasp followed by a bolt of lightning. He was so incredibly handsome, in company photos in his suit and tie. She could see the outline of his bulging arms under his dress shirt in one photo. As she looked at his chiseled face, she could smell a waft of cologne float through the air. He was literally taking her breath away, as she sat on her dining room chair.
Then she clicked on a photo that made her curious. It was a studio shot from a photographer who was identified as a watermark on her man’s handsome chest.
She shouldn’t have clicked. She shouldn’t have creeped him. She should have just watched a movie.
She sat staring at his perfect teeth, his strong chin, and his steel grey eyes shining back, as though he was looking through her. There on his left, was a beautiful brunette with an equally perfect face and body. She had the bluest eyes Willow had ever seen. She was petite and smiling without a care in the world, holding his hand. The little boy who sat between them had the same blue eyes as the woman and the same chiseled face as his daddy.
He was married with a son.
She sat there staring at the image. Her heart beat so hard and fast, she felt as though it was trying to escape her slender body and shatter on the tiles of her floor. She searched through the album of the photographer’s family photos and saw the happiness the couple shared; the kisses, the hugs, and the love that the man behind the camera had captured. His subjects all wore blue jeans and white shirts to advertise that they were together. They were a family.
Willow couldn’t look anymore and slammed her laptop shut. Tearing the tie off her wrist she screamed at the top of her voice, knowing her neighbors would probably hear her, and not caring.
She should have known he was too perfect. She was angrier at herself than she was at him. She wanted to smash the empty wine glass in her hand. She wanted to run, or hide. She wanted his beautiful wife to know that she was with him now. She wanted to get even, but she didn’t want to hurt an innocent child. She crumbled onto her sofa for a moment to get grip and think.
She looked around her house and tried to block out the memories of their lovemaking, the memories of their laughter and cuddles, the memories of him. The faint scent of his cologne lingered in the air around her, or at least she imagined it was there. She couldn’t cry. She was too cluttered in of a web of emotions that cancelled each other out in her heart and her brain. Anger, love, regret, hate, resentment, self-loathing, betrayal and jealousy beat her from the inside out as if she had multiple personalities kicking at her guts.
She picked up her phone to text him, and then put it down. She couldn’t stand to look at his name with its red hearts saved beside it. She remembered their first date when he gave her his number and she thought it was cute to embroider his contact info with hearts, when she thought they had a future. The memory of that night infuriated her and she threw her phone across the room, leaving a black mark on her freshly painted white walls. The cracked phone landed on the tiles glaring at her.
She stormed to her door and took her car keys off the hook. Her condo was reminding of her of him too much, and she needed to get out. If she knew where he lived she would drive by his house and stalk his ass, just to see if he was with his wife, or out with some other idiot who had fallen for his body and charm. She climbed into her Toyota and sped off down the road.
She had no idea where she was going, but she had to just GO. She needed to blare some music, open her windows, and sing at the top of her lungs to some 90’s breakup bullshit music on the radio. She settled for Spiderweb and screamed along to Gwen Stephanie as she raced down the mountain lined highway. Her broken phone lie beside her on the passenger seat and she felt as though the shattered screen was an extension of her heart.
She pulled into a bar that rested at the base of a mountain, where she had never drank before. She never came to this part of her suburb, as it had a rough reputation from the transients that frequented there. Most of them were hitch hikers who stopped in for a beer to wait out the darkness or cold. She sat at the bar and ordered a shot of tequila. She downed it without lime or salt, and put 7 dollars into the cigarette machine, pulling the lever angrily as she waited for them to drop into the metal tray. She had quit smoking for many years, but this night seemed to be a reason to start again, if only for as long as it takes to get over that asshole. As she pulled a long cigarette out of the package and placed it in her mouth, a bedraggled looking hippy offered her a light. She accepted it and sat back on her stool, ordering another shot of tequila with a beer chaser. She was in no hurry to go anywhere now.
The hippy asked her name, and she quietly responded, “It’s Willow, and I honestly need to be alone. Thank you for the light.” She looked at her beer glass and remembered their earlier dinner date. He had drank his beer much more quickly than he had on their previous date nights. As she watched the bubbles dance in her lager she wondered what had happened tonight,’that differed from other date nights. What did he tell his wife on the nights when he never came home?
She searched her bag for her broken phone and looked at the webbed screen. It was as though he was thinking of her at that moment as those fucking hearts popped up with a message.
“Hi Willow baby. I am just going to bed and missing you. Sweet dreams”
She thought long and hard about what to text in reply, and opted to not say anything…..not yet.
Her cheeks flushed with rage and the alcohol seeping through her blood. She ordered another tequila to drown the pain in her heart. Her head throbbed in time with the pounding in her chest and she lit another one of the Virginia Slims. Her body felt as though it was trembling, and she held her beer glass to see if the liquid moved with her hand. It didn’t. She appeared cool and calm, and she downed another shot.
After the bar closed down, she knew she couldn’t drive. She slid into her car, after stumbling over the dirt and gravel lot, and fumbling with her keys. Maybe, she thought, she was numb enough to sleep now. She reclined her seat and drifted off into a drunken slumber in the bar parking lot.
The sun and early morning heat woke her with a start. It took her a few moments to figure out where she was and why, and suddenly her hurting soul reminded her. She wished it was all a nightmare. As she checked her reflection in her rearview mirror for damage control from a night of boozing and emotions, she decided her driving journey wasn’t finished yet. She would find a spot somewhere to gather her thoughts before she texted him. She drove down the road to a clearing in the lower mountain range. Oak trees scattered the valley beside an emerald green lake. She parked, took her phone and her disgusting renewed habit and sat at a picnic table. She held her phone as if it were an injured kitten and stroked it lightly. At least it still worked and she could get the text out that would end her time with him.
She pulled a smoke out and relaxed, leaning back against the table top while the sun grazed her temples. She breathed in the smell of the clean mountain air and the acrid taste of tobacco and nicotine. As she flipped over her phone, the only words she could think of, that resonated in her head, let the tips of her thumbs as she texted:
Those were her only words to him. No emojis, no cute phrases, no lies. She waited.
As she lit another cigarette she could see the all-too-familiar, 3 dots in the bubble, pop up, scarred by the cracks. He was replying. As she sat and watched her phone, she wondered what he would say. She bet he would play innocent and ask “Know what?” or “What do you mean” or the typical “Huh?”
He didn’t. He knew her well enough to know that she actually “did know”.
“I was going to tell you”
She never responded. More dots and bubbles popped up after she let him stew for a few long moments.
“I’m sorry Willow”
She couldn’t make her brain, her heart or her fingers connect together and she sat and watched her screen with more and more messages:
“I do care for you”
“My son, he needs me”
“I don’t love her”
“ I really wanted to tell you in person”
“You’re my best friend”
“ We could talk if you want to meet me. I’ll come over”
“I need you”
“Willow, are you there?’
“Please talk to me”
“Ok, fine don’t talk to me, but please know that I didn’t want to hurt you”
“ I want to see you. I miss you”
“I want to hug you and show you I care”
“You mean so much to me and I love being with you”
“ What do you want me to do, Willow? Please tell me”
“ Ok, clearly you don’t want to talk. Can I call you?”
As she sat at the picnic table hearing the beeps between every message, and watching the one sided conversation, she struggled with what to do. He was relentless and although her heart strings were being tugged at, she couldn’t force herself to respond. She smoked another one and watched as the dots and bubbles subsided. She inhaled a long drag of her smoke and played with the cover of her phone, trying to think of how she could handle him.
“Please talk to me. Tell me we can work this out. Tell me we can still see each other”
The cracks in her phone framed his words profoundly and she had an idea. She scrolled through the first pages of his messages, and she forced the broken phone to screen shot them. She continued through his persistent, begging, words taking photos of everything he had sent her. She emailed the images to her email account and sat quietly. She knew he would go too far…
“Ok Willow, be a bitch. Don’t talk to me and just ignore me. I get it.. you’re pissed”
“ Look are you going to talk to me like a mature person about this or just shun me?”
That made her laugh to herself. The man in a marriage with a child indicating his “other woman” is immature. She was almost starting to look at his messages as entertainment now. It was as though she was watching some rom-com on her phone, with a one man cast.
“Did I leave my navy and white tie at your house? I will need that back. Can I come get it?”
“Seriously, stop ignoring me!”
“You can bring my tie to the office. Lets have lunch on Monday like we always do”
She finished her smoke and stood up. She snapped photos of his last and final messages and emailed herself the photos. Without hesitation, she gripped her phone, and as it made one last beep, she threw it as hard as she could, hearing a splash in the emerald lake. She leaned against an oak tree and cried her last tears for this man, enjoying one last Slim.
She slid into her driver’s seat, started the engine and drove home, throwing the rest of her cigarettes out the window, as she stepped on the gas. She was going back to her house, where she would forget about him, forget about his amazing scent and body. She would forget the steely eyes staring back at her while they made love.
And she would email his pleading text messages, along with a photo of his precious tie, to his beloved, beautiful wife.
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