You've Taken To Phoning My House When You're Drunk, Confessing All Your Love, I Wish You Could Have Said So Before Now
As promised, Part III, the concluding part to this little experiment of ours.
Find the other parts here:
Part I. He Wants Me Back
Part II. Then It's Real
Part III. Humanity Chose The Stars
HUMANITY CHOSE THE STARS
a story by E. Patrick Taroc
The first thing he did when he arrived at the Sheraton, when he first saw her after nine years of not seeing her, was kiss the ground. Whereas most people would take this as a figure of speech, he quite literally got down on all fours, lowered head to pavement, and kissed the ground right in front of her. It’d been a long journey—starting the evening before, flying through the night, landing at Midway even though the hotel was near O’Hare, and finally arriving to meet her after she’d already been at the hotel for almost two hours—which may have had more to do with his gratitude than merely seeing her again.
Yet he was glad to see her again.
He was so glad, in fact, that he splayed himself, arms and legs akimbo, on the ground when she approached to greet him. He had decided the moment needed to be remembered and what better way to remember it than to make into a scene worthy of recollection. There he laid, feigning to have fallen asleep at the doorstep to their hotel, for a few minutes before she collected him and they both entered the hotel’s lobby to begin their vacation finally.
That was in marked contrast to the scene tonight. As soon as he entered the train taking the pair of them back to the hotel, he felt the heavy drift of tiredness across every inch of his body. This night when he fell across her lap, he wasn’t feigning sleep, he was fighting it. This night he didn’t want to make a scene to remember the moment, he just wanted to be a part of the moment. That first day had been all about spectacle. Tonight was different. Tonight was about trying to make it feel like this was their routine and always had been.
He looked up at her and continued the discussion.
“I don’t care about you?” he yawned. “You’re the only thing I care about.”
“I’m not questioning your sincerity, just your tact,” she replied.
He just wanted to lay there. He didn’t want to be engaged in a deep discussion. When she said that he didn’t care about her, he had been joking. He had been ribbing her because there was this silent ribbon of unspoken passion that tied them together. She had a husband, he had a hatred for her husband—it was as simple as that. Rather than talk openly and honestly about what this vacation was, they talked around it. It was the most taboo of subjects and yet the one subject that their entire days in Chicago centered around. If not for rekindling a lost romance, then what was this trip for? If not for her, then what had been the point of coming all the way out here for?
“Sincerely, that’s as tactful as I can put it. I’m too tired to elaborate. Can’t we continue this discussion tomorrow, when I’m prepared to compliment you rotten?”
He looked at her, really looked at her. She still was as beautiful as she was when he first laid eyes on her. She still had the same dimpled cheeks, the same chestnut brown hair, the same oceanic blue-green eyes she had at thirteen. All of those features had only deepened somehow, gotten more invested into her. Back then he had thought her features striking, catching him unaware and placing him at risk for losing his breath. This night, though, her features were no longer surprising. They were just her. They were just all part of her portrait and nothing to be studied apart from the overall work.
How she looked and his reaction to it he was desperately trying to make all part of the routine.
“As you wish, sugar. Forget I even brought it up,” she whispered, stroking his hair. It was the stroking that finally did him in. They calmed him sufficiently enough until nature could take over.
He slept in her presence for a good while before waking up again.
“You should try to get some sleep too. It’s going to be awhile till we get back to the hotel,” he said. He didn’t feel right taking advantage of her like this. What he really wanted to say was she could sleep while he watched over her. That’s what he thought he should be doing anyway, but he wasn’t one to push away a gift that was dropped in his lap—more importantly, he wasn’t one to give up a lap that was freely offered to him. Still, if she had asked, he would have gladly switched places with her.
“I’m worried it’s not safe for both of us to be sleeping. What if someone comes into the car?” she asked.
By the tone of her voice, she wasn’t really scared. She was really keen on poking fun of the fact she acted more like the man in the friendship than he did. Decisive, bold—that’s what she was. And what was he? He was the man who liked to lay in her lap.
“You’ll protect me. I trust you.”
“Funny. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? It’s like my daddy says, you don’t have the sow shepherding the stallions.”
“Why? I’m not worried. I have nothing worth stealing anyway.”
He watched her roll her eyes. But she didn’t just roll them, she employed them as weapons of contempt at him. He knew what the next three words coming out of her mouth would be.
“That’s just great,” she mocked. “Well, I’d like to hang onto a few things, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, I mind.”
“Just let a gal have her insecurities, please, thank you. Besides, shouldn’t you be getting to the sleeping already? Isn’t that why you’ve been laying your head in my lap this whole time? Because if you’re not going to rest, then I think it would be best if you sat up like proper folk do.”
“I thought you didn’t mind?”
“No, I’m happy to let you nap, but, so far, I’ve heard a lot of the yapping and not so much napping.”
This was how it worked. Bickering one grade shy of actual fighting was how the two of them got along. He didn’t take it personally. He regarded it as the two of them speaking words in a play. Of course, that’s what she’d say in this situation. That’s the part that was written for her. And, of course, this how he’d respond because that was his part to play. Before he understood this, he used to get upset at the way they had fought so often and so harshly. It used to upset him that she never got better in the letting things be department. There was always something she wanted him to do, someone to be. He always took things more evenly. She was smart, she was funny, she was pretty, and, at times, she liked him a whole lot. There wasn’t a lot he wanted to change about that dynamic. However, for those first few years, every word out of her mouth seemed to be about how he wasn’t measuring up and how the two of them weren’t moving fast enough to please her.
They used to fight. He used to be confused.
Now he understood that she had to say those things because that’s who she was. She meant her words, but she didn’t always mean the anger behind them. He knew how to handle her anger; they had worked out that routine long ago. Nope, the words she said more often than not came from a different emotional plateau, more subdued and less violent.
“Is that how it is?” he asked her blankly.
“That’s exactly how it is.”
“Fine. Nodding off now, Breannie.”
He slept again. He dreamed of skipping to school in a way he never did when he was young. He always had trouble looking forward to the day ahead of him. He was troubled by the disparity in the image of him being happy at the prospect of something hadn’t happened to him yet. And skipping? That was unheard of. He watched himself smiling all the way to the school and tried to remember a time when something or someone had ever made him that hopeful.
He was awakened by the sound of her voice whispering again.
“I would kind of mind if somebody took you,” she said, her voice barely audible.
He felt her hair form a tent around his face. He watched her eyes get closer to his.
“I’m saying I don’t want anybody to steal you. You were talking about having nothing worthwhile to steal and I was mulling it over in my head. That could happen, you know? Somebody steals you.”
“Off the train?”
“Worst things have happened I’ve heard,” she said.
This was also how it worked. Just when he thought they had worked out a system of not saying what needed to be said, one of them would blurt out in a display of absolute honesty something that was probably better kept to themselves. If their relationship did resemble a play, these bits of frankness were like moments of improvisation. On one hand, it made him nervous when the rules changed. On the other hand, it made him kind of glad to realize in moments like this that they had been around each other long enough to have rules in the first place. After all, you’ve got to establish the basis of relationship before you can set about to redefining it, right?
“Yeah, like somebody stealing you away from me.”
He saw it in her face, the nod of recognition. That’s what she was talking about, all the nonsense of somebody stealing him from her. He had told her many times it felt like her husband had stolen her away. By rights, she and him should have never married.
This was where she was steering the conversation.
“Sleep. Now,” he heard her say.
Obviously, her idea of steering involved more gradual turns.
“I’m just saying that I know what it’s like to have someone stolen away from me,” he responded.
“Nobody stole nothing. Now shush up and take your nap…”
He threw his hands across her and begins to stretch out. He didn’t want to fight. He wanted his pillow back more than that.
He too could take gradual turns.
“You know what I’ve been thinking about?”
“…and yet his mouth never stops moving despite his protests of being tired.”
“I’ve been thinking that we should go look for a place that does Cincinnati spaghetti tomorrow. Don’t you think that would be fun?”
“You want to look for Cincinnati spaghetti? In Chicago?”
“I mean—we’ve done the whole pizza and ribs thing. Think of it as a quest.”
“Yeah, your quest.”
“It doesn’t sound that appealing to me. Besides, we have that whole list of places we wanted to hit, remember?”
“Yeah, but we still have a couple of days. I just don’t want to be stuck doing the whole touristy thing the entire time here.”
“Well, we already kind of junked yesterday by staying in.”
By junked she meant they hadn’t left the hotel room till it was late afternoon. Tonight by his estimation she was acting put off by the lack of activities. He happened to think that yesterday had been the highlight of the vacation so far. He had thought it would have been weird to sleep in with her, to sleep next to her at all. He had thought that being next to a married woman would have made him nervous or scared. He had thought he would have more reservations about the whole thing.
When the time came, though, it was just her. She didn’t scare him. Far from it. When he felt their skin touch for the first time in a long time he lost all trace of moral ambiguity. He wanted her. That was no secret. And when the time came he felt no shame acting on that impulse.
Did he feel sorry they hadn’t gotten done what they had set out to do yesterday? No, he wasn’t sorry.
He was only sorry that today they had to get back to the business of vacationing.
“And whose idea was that?”
“I believe that was you.”
“Incredible. It’s incredible how adept at lying you’ve gotten since I last saw you.”
“Hell’s bells, I wish there was a camera in the room so I could show you whose brilliant idea yesterday was.”
“And that would be yours,” he answered her, turning his face as avoid to the fist she was now raising. In time, she felt her lower it back to her side. As he turned back to her, he saw the smile return to her face.
“I don’t think so,” she finally responded.
“Are you sure you weren’t drinking while I was in the bathroom? It’s hard to believe you’d forget an entire conversation.”
“Believe me, if I’d been drinking you’d have known it.”
He shook his head as he struggled to remember something.
“What’s the phrase again?”
“Like when you want to agree to disagree. How do you say it again?”
He saw the nod of recognition again. This time it was a very noticeable nod accompanied by a very noticeable laugh.
“Let’s cut the cat; you get heads, I get tails.”
“Something like that.”
“’Was I drinking?’” she asked, trying mimic his voice.
He laughed, opening his mouth wide.
“Good night again,” he finally said after the laughter had died off. He was about to settle in again for a nap when she said something he wasn’t expecting at all.
“’No, I am not drunk. It’s me, Breanne.’”
“No, I am not drunk. It’s me, Breanne.”
He had had it with her and her drunk calls. How dare she even try to call me at this late hour, he thought. He tried to disguise his feelings in a mixture of pleasantry and obvious sarcasm, but he wasn’t ssure how good of a job he was doing. It was hard to disguise anything from her. She had known him too long to be fooled by any half-hearted attempt at masking his true feelings. No, his only hope was that she was too inebriated to decipher him to any sizable extent.
He had made his peace with her. He had lost her and that was fine. The audacity she had to call him now, after all these weeks, after they had both agreed that this friendship was all but over was appalling. He just wanted it to be over. He just wanted to start healing again.
He didn’t deserve this. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He hadn’t been the one to decide to end things.
Even if he wanted to give her one more chance, she should have gone about it better. Calling her half-crazy out of her mind was not any way to apologize. It wasn’t sincere. It wasn’t heartfelt. It was the courage of a few too many drinks from a cowardly woman who didn’t have the courage to just say how she felt, right or wrong. It was feeble and beneath him.
He didn’t want to be listening.
He wanted to hang up.
But he didn’t.
“’Yes, by the tone of your voice, I’d say you’re drunk,” he said, smiling, remembering that night as clearly as yesterday.
“’I’m not drunk. It’s me, Breanne, Eeyore.”
God, he loved when she smiled like this. He loved watching the dimples form on her face like small ripples in a skin-toned pond. She always remarked to him that her dimples were something she wished didn’t define her. He always thought it defined her in a good way. It spoke of how often she smiled and how she took pleasure in pleasure. She had a great smile. Seeing it now, he wished he could have seen it more often in the last few years.
“I still can’t believe you did that. What was that? Four times in one night? I think that was some kind of record for drunk dialing.”
“Four times in one hour. And it wasn’t even that I didn’t remember calling you. I kept coming up with things I had to tell you immediately.”
“Like how the bartender was out to destroy you.”
“That’s handy information to pass along. What if she had destroyed me? You could steer the police in the right direction, you know?”
“Or how the drinks were better when you held them in your left hand.”
“Come back to me when you conduct a thorough taste test and tell me it ain’t true.”
“Or what about your confession about how much you loved me so much?”
He watched her smile fade into a half-held grin. She didn’t embarrass often, but he knew enough of the signs to know when he had gotten to her.
“Yeah, well, you know. It was important that you knew that,” she hesitatingly spat out.
“But you already knew that.”
“For some time now,” he said, trying to settle back into sleeping.
She loves me, he thought. What am I supposed to do with that information? I’m with somebody else now.
He continued to listen over the phone as she poured out all the reasons why she loved him, even while the person he was living with slept on in the other room. He should have stopped listening at word one. There was no reason he should have been humoring her like he was. But he didn’t know how to stop the compliments or the heartfelt sentiments. Words like forever and soulmate were words he wasn’t accustomed to hearing everyday and to halt them came at the risk of never hearing them again.
He should have retained his anger.
He should have shut his life on her just as she had shut her life on him.
But this was Breanne and he just couldn’t close the door on her that easily.
“At least I don’t lie in the street when I’m drunk,” she awakened him with yet again.
This time he greeted her with a slight growl and baring of teeth. Friend or no friend, he really was tired and they had a good while left before they got back to the hotel.
“Just other people’s yards, right?”
“Pigpens and palaces. Pigpens and palaces. The worst that could happen to me is the owner wake up and shoo me off. It’s not like somebody would decide to run me over in the yard.”
“I was only asleep for five minutes at the most. There were no cars anywhere.”
“I worry about you sometimes, Mr. Patrick.”
“Well, I think you should worry more. I kind of like it when you worry more about me.”
He thought a lot of things when it came to her. Originally, when they had met, he had considered her out of his league. He thought of her as some shining star, too far to reach and too lovely to be real. Then, when they had gotten to know each other, he started to see she wasn’t a star—she too had her imperfections and foibles when he started really closely at her. Maybe that was his problem; he started to notice all the flaws more than the perfections. It was an easy problem to come by. He got used to the ways she made him feel good and it was the times and ways she hurt him or disappointed that were the surprises.
He had thought a lot of times that they had simply been friends too long, talked too long, known too much, and that their friendship simply had run its course.
Yet every time he thought the end was near for both of them, something would bring them around again. They would fall into a whole new routine, a routine that wasn’t the same as the routine that preceded it, but would bring along with it a whole new set of rules. He wouldn’t say they had drifted farther, just in a different way closer. There were times he felt about her like he would a sister; other times, a best friend; and still other times, like an ex-girlfriend. But usually it was a combination of the three and usually the two of them would alternate between the dynamics in the blink of an eye till he was totally confused as to how he should be treating her.
All he knew was that they were close and that, whatever routine they fell into it, they would continue to be close for the rest of their lives.
“Who am I, your mother?” she asked.
“Of course not. You’re my little sis, remember?”
“That you’ve always had a crush on.”
“Always and forever.”
“And who’s always had a crush on you too,” she said, stroking his cheeks with her suddenly warm hands.
“Always and forever.”
“Forever is a long time. You can’t promise me forever, especially while you’re drunk.”
“I’m not drunk. It’s me, Breanne.”
“You’ve said that before.”
“I promise it, darling. Ask me anything. I’ll promise that too.”
“Why don’t we just wait and see how things go, you know?”
“No! I want you to know so you’ll know. Forever, Patrick. That’s what I’m promising.”
“Okay, okay. I believe you.”
“And I believe you. That’s my point. We believe, we believe, we believe…”
“I think I’m starting to knock down too.”
This time he was prepared for when she woke him up. He didn’t even bother opening his eyes. He knew she would be looking down at him. She was expecting for him to be agitated. He just settled in further into his lap, placed her hands on his hair, and waited for her to stroke through it again.
“I can’t knock out because we both can’t lay down.”
“So I can only half knock out, hence, the knock down.”
“Tonight will be the longest I’ve gone without sleeping next to Greg since I married him,” she said without warning or regret. She said it as a point-of-fact, something to be mulled over.
He still didn’t open his eyes. He didn’t want to call attention to the fact of what she had just said. That was just push them in a direction they didn’t need to go. Not yet, at least. That was a discussion best saved for after Chicago, when the questions of what they were and where they wanted to be headed could be fully explored. If he didn’t open his eyes, then he could pretend it was some problem that was facing the outside world. If he didn’t open his eyes, he could push it off as a duty for later. If he didn’t open his eyes, it wasn’t real. He was still sleeping and this train ride was just like any other train ride she had taken with her. He could still pretend they were together like they were supposed to be, like they were meant to be.
“Well, I had first dibs so he can have your lap back when I’m done,” he said.
“Do you ever think about how this may be the last time I get to hold your hand or anything? The last time I get to just fall asleep with you or go out to dinner even?”
“Not especially. I have faith I’ll see you again.”
“That’s why I’m invoking my right of first dibs. I saw you first. I’ve known you longer. I don’t have to let you go until I’m good and ready.”
“You sorta have to let me go when the plane is good and ready.”
He attempted to get up, but she gently nudged him back down again. She made a shushing sound through her teeth and he fell back to his place again.
“No, no, no. It’s kind of like eminent domain. Greg can have you for awhile, but I retain the right to take you back if it serves my best interests without warning, without compensation, and certainly without remorse.”
“So your argument is, since you had first claim to me, that my husband is only a title holder in name only. In essence, you “own” me perpetuity.”
“In essence. Eminent domain, remember?” he said in a slight huff.
He felt her kiss him on the forehead causing him to lose his train of thought for a moment. He was only half-kidding. Half of him truly wanted her to know how jealous he actually was of the person who got to keep what he thought of as originally his. Half of him really ached to think of her sleeping next to somebody else.
All of him, however, wanted her back.
He shook off her kiss.
“Yeah, I think I liked it better when you were asleep, sugar,” she said, disappointed.
“Hell’s bells, I disagree. You don’t own me. Nobody owns me. Nor are you the boss of me. I come and go as I please.”
“And oh how you please when you…”
“If you know what’s good for you, you won’t finish that sentence,” she said, slowly closing his eyes for him.
He opened his mouth for a comeback, but decided again to forego turning this into a full-blown fight. He decided sleep was the better part of valor.
She was being unfair. She was being unreasonable. What did she expect him to do? Leave the person he had decided to live with for her? That was unfair. That was unreasonable.
She sounded inconsolable, though. She sounded like she really desperately wanted him back. The question was whether or not he really wanted to be back. He had gotten along fine without her for the last few weeks. He had his girlfriend so it wasn’t like he was lacking for companionship or love. He had his job to occupy his time and his friends to talk to. In time, he had even begun to think that she had no place in his life and that he had only been wasting his time humoring her. He didn’t need the anguish of probably the most stubborn person he’d ever met. He didn’t need the heartache of never been close enough to her. He didn’t need the misery that seemed close on her heels.
He had started to believe he was better off without her.
Then when she had called finally, he had only picked up to give her a piece of his mind.
The whole being drunk thing derailed that plan. It was one thing to pick a fight if she was sober, but being drunk his first instinct was to take care of her, to make sure she wasn’t in trouble, to make sure she wasn’t running away from home again.
He had started during that first call to work up the nerve to let loose at angry she had made him.
During the second call he had even put down the phone for a few seconds to make her believe he had hung up on her.
But by the third call he couldn’t stop talking to her like nothing had happened.
And by the fourth call he knew, for better or for worse, she was back in his life again.
“’I’m not drunk, I’m Breanne,’” he said, taking his turn to mock her even before she had known he had fully awaken again.
He expected her to be greeting with a warm look on her face. When he sees she is concerned, he gets concerned.
“Can I tell you something?”
“I was only drunk because I wanted to make up with you.”
“And you needed to drink to do that?”
“Well, it had been awhile. I didn’t exactly know if I’d have the courage to do it straight up.”
“I know that it’s true that I shouldn’t have called you so late, but…”
“But you got tired of the silence, right?”
“I think it was more a case of getting tired of all the noise that didn’t mean anything. I wanted to hear something that meant something for a change.”
He watched as she lowered her head again. They kissed as if it was the most natural act on Earth, as if they were conducting small talk by touching lips. It ended quickly and neither of them entertained thoughts of furthering it with another kiss.
“Were you even that drunk or were you just faking?” he asked.
“Exactly,” she laughed as he laid confused. “Like my daddy says, sometimes a wolf can catch more sheep by dressing up as a sheepdog.”
He watched the ceiling fan overhead, not sure as to how to respond.
“Ceiling fans. That’s what this train needs, some big ‘ole fans.”
“Why? Are you hot?”
“No, I just like being a little colder when I’m trying to sleep.”
“Is that why our room is forming glaciers as we speak?”
“As long as the air conditioning is not on my dime.”
“Plus, it give me an excuse that isn’t so saccharine as wanting to cuddle to stay under the covers with you.”
“As if you can hide that.”
By the time she slipped into nasal incoherence, he’d already made up his mind to take her back. Sure, she wasn’t perfect but she’d stopped being perfect a long time ago. He still saw her as a star shining in the distance. But she wasn’t there so much to guide him or be an inspiration to him. She was there to be a constant companion, that one person that somehow managed hang around through the thick and thin of it.
By the time she slipped into syllabic foolishness and laughing at her own randomness, he’d already make up his mind the fight was over. It would not due to hold onto a grudge that he didn’t start. That would be vanity. What was best for the two of them was getting back to the two of them and not letting petty fights over other people get in the way. Whatever anyone else was to them, they were a package deal.
“But I think ceiling fans would be nice on a train,” he continued. “You know where else they’d be nice in?”
“Where?” she reluctantly answered.
“Cars. I always thought it would be cool if cars had ceiling fans.”
“I can only imagine. I’m surprised no one has tried to invent that sooner.”
“I know. It could be the next silent velcro.”
“I bet you could make your first million off of that.”
“Imagine that. I could finally get the K-car I’ve had my eye on, maybe buy some Art.”
“Garfunkel, that is?”
“You could get anything you wanted.”
“It certainly would make it easier to come see you.”
“The question is how often you’d want me to come see you.”
“That is the question. It’s not often I like to be seen, you know? I’m right up there with Elvis. Never expose myself too much, that’s my motto.”
That was both their mottoes, actually. At least that was the mottoes they said aloud. In truth, they were all about honesty and telling it how it was. He knew they both liked to pretend that they were mature enough to talk around their problems and encode them in banter. But inevitably the discussion would end with some sort of honesty seeping in. It was a characteristic of theirs, start off circling the subject only to dive right into. He imagined they were much like vultures in that aspect. It wouldn’t do to go after the prey until it’d been sufficiently tired out. Nope, it needed to peter off and die on its own. Only then could they begin to really dissect it to their satisfaction.
He placed her hand on her thigh, taking stock of the way her smooth skin goosepimpled at his touch. He had always been intrigued by this reaction. He had the same reaction when she breathed on his ear, that cold chill of something familiar yet intimate. By that point in time he would often touch her thigh just for the reaction and not because he felt like touching her. By that point in time there were several examples of the shorthand that existed between them.
“Says the girl who perfected the art of mooning,” he continued.
“Hey, I don’t make fun of your life’s goals. Do me the same courtesy…. And I think it might be nice to see each other more often. I’ve always wanted that.”
“Quite the pickle, these lives of ours.”
“I don’t know. Right now isn’t looking so bad.”
“You should try it from my angle,” he said, sliding his head into her lap further, so her chest covered almost every inch of it.
He fell back asleep.
It was difficult, being so near to someone, being touched by someone he couldn’t have all to himself. It was as difficult as trying to fly a chair, trying to balance remaining close with her with the idea she was with somebody, married to somebody else. But as hard as it was for him, he could only imagine the baggage she was carrying with her. He, after all, wasn’t doing anything wrong. He hadn’t made any promises to be faithful. He hadn’t stood before whatever gods he believed in and swore his fidelity. He hadn’t decided on one person to be with forever… well, he hadn’t married her at any rate. The fact she was willing to disremember all that spoke a lot of her convictions about the two of them. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he should’ve been more vigilant in warning her off the proposition of taking this vacation. Yes, it was his idea, but he had had second thoughts more than once. He wanted to be the better man and do what was right by her.
But it was like the sleeping in her lap conundrum.
She’d offered to come and he just wanted it too much to tell her no.
He wondered if she could hear him thinking about her. That’s all he seemed to be doing on this trip, thinking about what it meant, where they were headed, how lucky he was.
Yet he didn’t dare to think any of this would continue far after the point when both of them got on their respective planes. These few days would be all they had. This was it. This was the last they could perform like the youthful innocents they used to be. Sure, they would talk about future trips and trying to establish a better schedule of catching up in person, but it had been nine years since the last time they had flown to be together. In the meantime, they stayed in touch the old-fashioned way—e-mail, phone calls, and texting.
However, he had recently begun to wonder if he could long for more. He started to question if it was right to chase after somebody that had already been caught.
He had gotten some kind of response when she agreed to come. What that response finally meant was still being written as they continued to ride.
“Do your feet still hurt?” she asked him, looking down at his shoes.
“A little,” he said, stretching awake again.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. You need to take up running. Then you’d have more energy for when you decide it would be best to walk everywhere when, you know, we’re supposed to be on vacation.”
“I just never saw the fun it it.”
“Are you joshing me? It’s a hoot-and-a-half.”
“Hmmm. Maybe we’ll try jogging in one of the parks for a bit. I’m sure there’s a thousand places to do that here.”
He watched her face up light like an electric company.
Sometimes he said things too just because he knew what kind of reaction they’d produce.
“You swear?” she asked, barely able to hide her glee.
“I swear. I mean—if you really want me to try it out, I might as well do it while you’re here. I just know if I try taking it up on my own it won’t stick.”
They had this ongoing debate whose metabolism would win in a race. What that meant and how that would be decided was always a matter of contention. He still liked to think he could give her a run for her money.
Besides, he liked making her happy.
“I never thought I’d see the day.”
“I’m not committing to any marathons or anything. I said we can go jogging for awhile to get my feet wet, not that I’m going to instantly fall in love with it.”
“You won’t be sorry. I love running.”
“Well, you’re just that kind of person, Breanne. It doesn’t take you long to decide on something. Some of us take a bit longer.”
“Too long sometimes.”
“Yeah, there’s that.”
“How come I never heard you say that you only want to be with me, Eeyore? I never heard that once.”
“I’m sure I told you that before.”
“Never. I kept waiting.”
“But you could say it to her? You could move in with her after knowing her a year? Hell’s bells, how fair is that?”
“The timing was just off, Breannie.”
“It didn’t feel that way to me. It never felt like that.”
“I didn’t mean to make you wait. I mean—I didn’t expect you to wait.”
“Maybe next time I won’t. We’ll see how you like it.”
“Probably not much.”
He had had a shot at her once. She had said as much a few times. The question did he have a shot now. Now she was even more coveted by him. She was no longer that far-off star, alluring in its mystery. Now he knew what she was like. Now he knew what he’d be in store for if they ever did see fit to become romantically involved. There would be no mystery. It would be all allure. He could handle her now. More to the point, he wanted to handle her now. He wanted to be spending the rest of her days like they were now, comfortable in their crotchetiness. He was already used to this routine. He liked this routine.
But did he really want to spend all that time and energy chasing after a star he may never actually reach? Is that how he wanted to spend his life?
“It’s okay. Most of the time you come around. You’ve always got to be the last cow in the pasture is all,” she said, stroking his hair once more.
“’I play a cow, but then I get a disease and die…” he said before drifting off to sleep once more.
Most men spend their entire lives not having to work this hard and get this frustrated to be with the one they love, he thought, half-asleep. Most men know their limitations, accept the lot they’ve been sorted into. They don’t chase after women who are spoken for. They don’t chase after women who belittle them, albeit lovingly, everyday. They don’t chase after the high-maintenance women who’ll have them running, both literally and figuratively, after them all the time.
“I have to tell you something too,” he said, drifting back in from sleep.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“I almost didn’t pick up the phone when I saw it was you calling.”
“Which is hogwash because ninety percent of me wanted to call you two weeks, hell, a month earlier. I just never did. I’m sorry, Breannie.”
“I probably wouldn’t have picked up if you had. Everything has a time and a place, you know? I think we were meant to make up that night in that way and there’s no use in fighting it.”
“There’s no fighting fate.”
“We’ll always be friends.”
“Except when we’re more,” he sighed.
“And the brief times we’re less. In the end, though, we always have that to rely on.”
He reached up to pinch her lower lip.
“You have a cute mouth. Did anyone ever tell you that?”
He tried to sleep after that. He slept for all of ten minutes before she woke him up again to say they were nearing the station.
“I think we’re back almost back to the O’Hare station. You need to get up.”
“Funny. It feels like I’ve been sleeping this entire way, but I got—what—maybe ten minutes of sleep altogether?”
“Blame the funny guy who kept trying to talk when he was supposedly trying to sleep.”
“Damn that guy!”
“It’s almost time to say good-bye to our little ‘ole train. Aren’t you sad? Don’t you just want to cry?”
“’I’ve got to go, but it’s important that I love you,’” he said, again echoing words he had said to him many years before.
“It’s important that I love you, did I tell you that? I think I told you that earlier. But if I didn’t, it is important. It’s important. And I want to tell you that so you can hear it from me.”
“Love me. Got it. Anything else?”
“Never leave me. I’ll never leave you.”
“Got it. Anything else?”
“I’ve got to go, but it’s important that I love you.”
“’And it’s important that you’re not drunk, right?’” she said, correctly remembering his response.
“’I’m Breanne and this is farewell, you know?’”
“It’s depressing you remember all that.”
“I always remember important moments. It’s not often that I make up with someone after that big of a fight.”
He also thought it’s not often you have the pleasure and the privilege to be this close to a star. Of course he needed to chase her. That was his dream. That was the dream of every person. When given the choice to remain rooted to the ground or seek the unknown beauty of the stars, humanity chose the stars. If he didn’t take that shot with her, if he settled for someone less than the imperfection she carried along with her then he’d regret it. He knew what it was like to be with people who weren’t her. He knew what it was like to have her married to somebody else. They both were unacceptable to him.
There was only one solution.
“Now when we get back, we’re going straight to sleep, right? I want you well rested if we really are going to jog tomorrow morning.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. I never said anything about jogging in the morning.”
“You’d rather be the guy crying on the edge of the road?”
“I’d rather not do it at all.”
It was true. He’d rather not be in love if it meant being in tears. He wished there was some way to give up all this heartache for good.
“I didn’t make a promise to you. You made a promise to me, remember, Eeyore?”
“Everybody makes promises. ‘But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.”
“I would think so much less of you if you started breaking promises now… and you don’t have that much further you can slide, you know?”
He felt the train come to a stop and watched the doors open.
Still, if he was in for heartache, if that was his fate, well, then he might as well go after the heartache that made him happy. He deserved that much.
“You just want to do me in and make it look like I died of exhaustion. I know your wicked ways. I’m onto you, Breannie. You don’t care about me at all, do you?”
They kissed briefly as they both rose from their seats.
“I don’t care about you?” she yawned. “Sugar, you’re the only thing I care about.”