the lunch

Posted: November 5, 2011 in Fiction
Tags: , , ,

He didn’t need to see her. God, no. Yet he stood listening to that voice, that voice of yesterday, that voice of a thousand years ago, that voice which shattered his world. “Jake, I want to see you. Call me back. You know the old number.” Click. It was the sound of echoes. No identifying greeting, no ‘guess who’, no whispered code, no hesitation. And no hint of doubt he still had the old number.

I want to see you.

No, he didn’t need to see her. He didn’t need to see her for he knew exactly what would happen. Already it started, once he hit ‘play’ and listened to the message. His stomach clenched, his neck muscles tightened, his spine fused ramrod straight as if zapped by a burst of voltage potent enough to power a city.

I want to see you.

No, he certainly didn’t need to see her. That plane left the gate, hit the runway and faded into the endless sky. Yet for all his denial, for all his steadfast determination, he could not shake the familiar rush of blood which hijacked his reason, which drove him into her web in the first place. Logic cried one thing; everything else wailed a different tune.

He played the message again.

I want to see you.

He picked up the phone and dialed. He knew the old number by heart.

* * *

At his insistence they agreed to meet at Jimmy G’s on Garrison and Lake. Well lit, informal and excessively plain there wasn’t a hint of romance about the place. During lunch hour Jimmy G’s was haunted with beaten office workers looking for brief restitution. There was never a wait for a table. Nonetheless, Jake arrived 20 minutes early. No surprises, no traps would be sprung today.

Five years had passed, five years of retreat, regret, sadness, relief, growth and finally stability since he last spoke with Sarah. Sarah. Her birth certificate read ‘Sara’, but at 18 she added the ‘h’ mainly because her family didn’t approve. She told people it was a biblical thing, but Jake discovered the real story in those secret hours between midnight and dawn. It was one of the good moments, moments that shone blindingly bright in his memory and still disoriented him.

They had parted on bitter terms, epitaphs blurted in anger and hurt, epitaphs designed for anger and hurt. It crested on May 23 and Jake would never forget the date. Most people celebrated the dates of anniversaries, birthdays and happy events, but not Jake. He soaked up pain and let it infect him until the molecular composition of his body changed. Three daily regimented doses of medication was his reward. Yes, Jake took hurt, stamped it with a big red “Confidential” and owned it. Then again Sarah always said he had a martyr complex.

Jake prepared for whatever onslaught was coming. By her very nature, Sarah brought conflict through the sheer force of her personality, by the subtlest inflection in her speech, the mere twist of a phrase. She pushed buttons is what she did. She bathed in it like a life force. And the worst part was she knew all of Jake’s buttons. Every last one. But after five years what possible reason could she have for stirring him up. Perhaps she’s changed, Jake thought, perhaps she’s no longer the hurricane and I am no longer the eye. Perhaps she just wants to reminisce, ex-lovers hurdling towards middle age. Perhaps she was mellowing.

I want to see you.

Whatever Jake imagined the reason for her renewed contact I want to see you crowded his head and he instinctively knew that was not the voice of someone mellowing.

* * *

She breezed in and quickly scanned the room before her blue eyes fell upon him. Her red hair hung past her shoulders and was pulled into a ponytail. She wore a sun kissed cotton sweater which was a pinch too tight, a small touch Jake knew was not accidental. And black jeans with boots, always black jeans with boots. As she neared Jake noticed her crow’s feet had deepened, but it was her only visible sign of aging. Five years down the road and she was still bringing it. He instinctively sucked in his small stomach as he rose to greet her.

She immediately took him into her arms, warmly hugged him, and whispered, “Jake, it’s good to see you.” He stepped back, breaking the embrace. “Good to see you too, Sarah. You look terrific.” The corners of her mouth betrayed the smallest hint of pleasure. Sarah, for all her bravado, could never resist a compliment.

What do you do in situations like this? How do you start a conversation when the last words echoing in your head are “Fuck you, I’m gone.” The words still stung, but common sense and manners told him this was neither the time nor the place to bring up that bitter finale. Hopefully, that time and place would never come.

At first they spoke about small things – the weather, basketball (one of several shared passions), film. Then came the light memories of good times. “Remember the look on that waiter’s face when I ordered clams on the whole shell,” Sarah laughed, throaty and deep. Her smile still mesmerized him. He forced his way back into the fortress shielding his heart. He wasn’t going to let her seduce him. Not this time. Never again.

The time passed quickly. Jake needed to go back to work, needed to take in deep gulps of fresh air, air that didn’t contain the faint scent of Sarah’s perfume. He needed escape before the remembrances became too thick. As their plates were cleared he mumbled he must be going. “Duty calls,” he said self-consciously. Sarah took no offense. Why should she? He made it clear he only had an hour. Yet he knew, he knew, her real reason for wanting to meet remained unspoken. Better to make a hasty retreat. Sometimes there are things we don’t need to know.

They stepped into the bright June sunshine and he hailed her a cab.

“Jake?” His looked back with his arm still raised. “Jake, please come here for a moment.”

No! Escape was so close. But a profound sadness in her posture drew him back. He was careful not to break the perimeter he placed around himself, the perimeter she violated with her hug.

“Jake, I just wanted to apologize for those horrible things I did,” she said looking directly into his eyes. “I’ve always regretted them. I was fucked up, didn’t know who I was or what I was doing.” She paused. “And I wanted to say I’m sorry for leaving like I did. I didn’t want those words to be the last thing I ever said to you.”

But they were, Sarah, they were. They slashed like thousands of razors. Forgiveness comes in many forms, but seeking it now, after all this time, is nothing more than a self-serving attempt to ease your own guilt, assuming you have any. These thoughts sped through Jake’s head as he stood on the corner of Garrison and Lake listening to her. He wanted to sling them at her, make her experience the anguish he felt when she slammed the door behind her all those years ago. He wanted to pour salt into her open sores until she cried out in agony.

But he couldn’t.

“It was a long time ago, Sarah. We’ve both moved on.” He paused, and sensing she needed more, continued. “I appreciate the effort this took. I truly do. Thank you.” He held her gaze for a moment and, for the first time, saw a flicker of confusion in her eyes. He broke away and turned towards the curb.

She grabbed him. “There’s more, Jake.”

He gave a cursory look at his watch. “I really need to go.” He lightly grasped her arms. “It’s okay. Really. You don’t need to say anything else.”

A cab pulled up. Jake opened the door and she hesitantly slid in.

“Goodbye, Sarah.” She looked as if she had something to add, but gave a barely perceptible nod before he closed the door, rapped twice on the roof and watched the cab merge into the flow of traffic.

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Comments
  1. rangewriter says:

    I enjoyed this a lot. Well, no, it made me squirm just a tad. Haven’t we all been there, or somewhere very like there?

    I particularly liked this: He soaked up pain and let it infect him until the molecular composition of his body changed.

    Like

  2. This is wonderful, John. This could be the beginning of a very good novel.

    Like

  3. Amy says:

    This is very good. Great tension throughout the story. I wanted more, but that doesn’t mean there needs to be more. Only that you created a world where I wanted to spend more time.

    “perhaps she’s no longer the hurricane and I am no longer the eye” – Great line!

    Like

  4. whiteladyinthehood says:

    It really does leave you wanting more…!! I kept thinking – Is there a child?..hahaha…always leave ’em wanting more as the old saying goes. I was looking at how you had everything organized by catergory..and I saw me on there at the bottom and let me tell ya – I was Blown away!! I am so flattered! I would “Follow” you – but, it sends that e-mail saying We think this person lives blah, blah…and I know you wouldnt rat me out or anything – but I could sooo lose my job if anyone found out what I was writing about (I work with kids from the prominent part of town as well as the ones from the rough areas) I just felt compelled to tell you that and to say Thank You and that I come check you out all the time.

    Like

  5. sparklebumps says:

    So. When I you going to write a whole book? Because you know you’re just teasing me with the short stories right?

    Like

  6. John says:

    I appreciate it!

    Like

  7. Oooh, this is really good.

    Like

  8. H.E. ELLIS says:

    Really liked this. Can’t wait to see more.

    Like

  9. If you’re not doing nanowrimo you should. This is fantastic and I think we would all read more.

    Like

  10. Thanks for words which evoke the sharp sting of reality we’ve probably all felt at one time, and allowing us to sigh the relief of calling it fiction. Too painful to acknowledge the times we’ve waited too long to apologize…or the times we’ve needed to create a safety perimeter. Fiction rocks.

    Like

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