Time’s Up

By James White

“I don’t know what to say.  You’d think I would but I don’t.  I just can’t get to the heart of it, of what happened.  You’d think I’d know myself better, be able to tell you how it all went down but now I’m not so sure.  I haven’t slept these past nights.  I’ve been tinkering, fitting bits and pieces together in the dark.  Anyway, we were in her apartment when it happened.”

“Go on.”

“Well, we met earlier in the afternoon at O’Connell’s.”

“What’s O’Connell’s?”

“An Irish bar near my place.”

“You were drinking?”

“What do you think?”

“So you met at the bar.  Were you glad to see her?”

“It’s weird.  Yes and no.”

“Why is that?  Because of what happened the night before?”

“Yeah.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I don’t know where to start.  I’m still a little shaky from the whole thing.”

“When did you two meet?”

“About four weeks ago.  I didn’t mention it because I was planning on blowing her off.”

“But you didn’t.”

“I don’t know how it happened.  I’ve told you before, I’m out of that business for good, but something about her got to me.  I’m not sure if it was the long red hair or her icy blue eyes or the way her little nose twitched when she laughed but when we’re together, I can’t keep my eyes off her.”

“You’re attracted to her.  How does that make you feel?”

“At first, good, I suppose, but it’s also scary.”

“What scares you?”

“Everything.  You know my policy since Irene threw me out.  No more relationships.”

“It’s been five years now.  Maybe you’re ready to try again?”

“Well that’s the thing…I mean, that’s what I’ve been trying to avoid.”

“This has happened before.  What’s the difference with this girl?  What’s her name?”

“Lise.  She’s incredible.  Beautiful and smart—which as you know, turns me on more than anything.  She could be ugly and I’d probably feel the same—but the beauty is a nice bonus.  She’s exactly my type.”

“What does she do?”

“She’s a concert pianist and she teaches, too.  A real grown-up.”

“How old is she?”

“A couple years younger than me.”

“So what made you change your mind?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t think I made a choice.  I just couldn’t resist her.”

“You’ve resisted other women who’ve tried to get to know you.”

“Yeah, I suppose, but that’s the thing.  I mean, I think I really fucked up.”

“How so?”

“OK, look.  The very first time I met her, we really hit off.  It was weird—like we’ve known each other all our lives—seamless.  You know what I mean?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, anyway, I could sense the danger but in the back of my mind all I could think about was getting her into bed.”

“Did you sleep with her that first night?”

“No.  She’s not like that.”

“But you would have if she wanted that?”

“Definitely.  And it would have been easier to blow her off later.”

“So you’ve been seeing her since then?”

“Yeah.  That’s where I fucked up.  I guess I knew I was playing with fire but for some stupid reason, I thought I could pull off the old, hit and run.  You know what I mean?”

“You wanted to have sex with her and then drop her?”

“Yeah…basically.”

“But you kept on seeing her.”

“Well that’s the thing.  I mean—that’s what’s so confusing.  Somehow, I managed to swallow my worries and for a couple weeks, everything was really nice.  We talked on the phone, would meet up in the evenings and hang out or go for a bite to eat.  You know the routine.”

“So you made a choice.”

“I guess I did but when she pulled that shit the other night, I thought I going to explode.”

“You were angry?”

“Maybe.  A little.  I don’t know.  Sad is probably a better word.  Confused, too.”

“What happened?”

“I was at work when she sent me a text saying she was in the bar, watching hockey with a couple of my buddies.  She said she’d be there waiting for me.”

“And?”

“I was really psyched to see her but when I arrived, she was gone.  Then she sent me a few more messages saying she had some small crisis having to do with school—she’s the dean of keyboard skills.  Anyway, she went to meet a colleague to talk about it—some kind of fight about the curriculum.”

“How did you feel about that?

“I was cool with it.  I’m not unreasonable but what pissed me off was that at first she said she’d be back in an hour.  An hour later and half later, still nothing.  I texted her to see what was up and it was wacky—like she was someone else.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“She responded with a bunch of nasty messages saying shit like, ‘I don’t need to report in…I’m with someone I’ve known for fifteen years and I won’t apologize for that.’  What else?  Oh, yeah, then she dismissed me like a child, saying, ‘You’d better not wait—go home.  I’ll read your texts tomorrow and maybe we can talk then.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.  What could I do?  That’s what made me crazy—how powerless I was.  I never saw any of this coming and I couldn’t figure out why she was behaving the way she was.  And then it got worse.  I started freaking out, wondering if she was giving me the slip and was with some other guy.”

“Was she?”

“No, thank God.  I know that now but I can’t describe how terrible I felt that night.  I stayed in the bar until five in the morning and when I got home, I wasn’t even drunk and naturally, I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her.”

“What were you thinking?”

“A lot of stuff.  I felt sick, too—like I was going to puke up my heart.  I also felt like an asshole for letting my guard down and showing her the real me.”

“You felt vulnerable.  Why does that frighten you?”

“I guess.  After the break-up with Irene, I was determined to never feel like that again.  I just can’t handle it anymore.  That’s why I avoided dating.  Then, this incredible woman walks into my life and it was over.  I fell right into it and then this weird shit happens—I couldn’t believe it.  And it was all so confusing.  I had no idea what was going on and I think what bothered me most was the pain I felt when I recognized the attachment.  I had barely just got my hands on her and already it seemed like I was losing her.  That really flipped me out.  How badly I wanted her and how rotten I felt thinking she was out there somewhere—not thinking about me—not wanting me.”

“Did she give you any explanation?  You have a right to know why she stood you up.”

“That’s what I thought.  Somehow I made it through the night.  I was off the next day so I was home, sitting at my desk, cruising around the Internet—just trying to keep my mind off her.  That was a useless effort.  By noon, though, I think I started feeling less sad and more mad.  I remember thinking, ‘She’s a monster.  How could she treat me this way?  Fucking savage.’

“And yet, your original plan was similar.  You wanted to ‘blow her off’ once you slept with her.”

“Listen, I’m not an idiot.  All these years on the couch do have their benefits—I realized that but the thing is, it only made everything feel worse.  I took a chance.  I believed all the nice things she said to me then, she pulled a complete one-eighty.”

“Did she call you?  Or did you call her?”

“That afternoon she sent me a couple contrite texts and asked if we could have coffee so she could explain why she acted the way she did.”

“And you met her?”

“At first, I wasn’t sure if I should but I wanted to see her.  That was another round of insanity because I couldn’t decide what to do.  My head was saying, ‘Tell her to fuck off,’ but something deep inside me wouldn’t allow it.  I went back and forth for a couple hours before I sent her a text and told her I’d meet her at the bar for one drink.”

“How did that go?”

“Well, it was weird.  I was all pumped up to play the tough guy.  I thought, if I roll over on this, I can only expect more bullshit later but I also wanted to believe there was a way out of it—that somehow we could get back to where we had been.”

“And?”

“So when I got there, she was sitting in the back of the bar in a booth.  I can’t describe the surge that rushed over me when I saw her—that beautiful red hair—almost like a sustained heart attack.  I took a deep breath and sat down.  Then my heart went cold and sank into my stomach when I saw her lips begin to quiver.  Her eyes were glassy, like she’d been crying and I don’t know why, but as soon as I noticed all that, the smudged make-up under her left eye, the sniffles twitching on her little pink nose, it was like all my anger was suddenly wiped away.  I just wanted her to be happy.  I couldn’t bear to see such sadness on her pretty face.”

“What did she say?”

“She said she felt terrible and I could see, she really did.  She told me she was frightened because she realized she was falling in love with me.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“I’m not sure.  Amazing in one way, frightened in another but I also felt bad because she felt bad.”

“There’s a word for all that.”

“I think I know what it is.”

“Did you forgive her?”

“I did.”

“Is that when you went to her apartment?”

“Yeah.  We finished our drinks and walked up Broadway to her place.  I had my arm around her waist and I remember thinking how wonderful everything was—all the dazzling colors and the vivid blue sky, the bright green leaves overhead—even the sidewalks were sparkling.  It was a perfect spring day.  The air smelled clean and fresh and all around, the sound of singing birds was ringing.”

“Go on.”

“When we got inside her place, she dropped her purse on the floor then she wrapped her arms around my shoulders and just held me.  I have no idea how long we stayed like that—entwined in each other’s eyes and arms.  It was like time stopped.  Anyway, that’s when I said it.”

“I see.  We’ll talk about it more next week, but for now, your time’s up.”

James is a writer who lives and works in New York. He earned an MFA from The City College of New York and he has been recipient of several awards from The City College, Amazon.Com’s International Short Story Contest and the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition. His work has appeared online and in print and you can learn more about James and his work at http://epkorr.wix.com.

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