For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Sherree challenged me with Oscar Wilde's "The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of life," and I challenged Princess Dardar with "Just my imagination/running away with me".
Kelly waited for the moment to be right. She knew she had to call him. She had to tell him. He needed to know, deserved to know. But she didn't want to tell him. Her stomach roiled with tension. Her mouth felt dry, so she took another draw on the takeout iced tea she had bought on the way home. She watched the condensation on the outside of the cup, which was emblazoned with an appeal to come and work for the restaurant. The cup had pictures of smiling multicultural people on it, which she suspected wasn't entirely the truth. The people there never looked happy.
She looked out through the windshield. There was a fence there, covered over with shrubs and other greenery. She knew that the other side of the fence was a softball diamond, where the girls' softball team practiced during the spring and early summer. Kelly tried to remember what it felt like to be carefree, to be worried about fielding, running, and throwing, things which feel so minor now. Nothing's minor, though, she reminded herself, while you're going through it.
She thought briefly about starting the car and driving home, and calling him from there. But she had promised herself that she would tell him right away. No secrets, he told her. You can trust me, he said. She wanted to believe him, and she needed to believe him. But there was a tiny part of her that didn't believe anyone, an insistent voice that told her that she was essentially unloved, that anyone who claimed to love her was just waiting for the chance to let her down.
She had to call him, and call him now. She had warned him last night that she had to find out for sure, and she took the morning off from answering phones at Hoffman Auto Parts to find out. She could picture him at work, stacking up the juice boxes or the frozen food, hauling, lifting, twisting. He came home from work exhausted, hardly able to move, listening to her as she prattled on about what this friend was doing and when that friend was getting married and when this other friend was due. He didn't care, and she knew he didn't care, but he was patient enough, or smart enough, or exhausted enough, to just sit and listen to her.
He wasn't supposed to be on his phone at work, but he always assured her she could call if she needed to. He would find a quiet corner to talk with her unobserved for a minute or two so they could say what they had to say. She knew she needed to tell him now, just like she had promised herself, just like she had warned him she would. "No problem," he said, like he always did. Nothing she needed was ever a problem.
When she pictured his face, she felt herself seize up inside. His face, with its long angular lines and pointed jaw, the way it looked when she admitted fatigue or weakness or bouts of onrushing, overpowering sadness. It broke her heart, the way he just took her pain, absorbed it, just held her in their tiny apartment on their third hand couch until the shuddering stopped and she was out of tears. She had never shared so much of herself with anyone, and all he did was quietly shoulder it all, without fighting or complaining.
She knew she had to call him and tell him. She knew he would brood about it, revealing nothing, and then he would come home from work, and then she would come home to him, and she would cry, and he would hold her, rocking back and forth, taking in her pain like a paper towel soaking up a spill. They would talk, probably long into the night, and they would reach an accord, and he would let her do what she wanted. He always did.
She watched the water droplets making paths down the plastic of the takeout cup. She supposed it was little imperfections in the plastic that made the droplets take one path or another. She felt like one of those drops, heading downward, your path altered by things you couldn't see and can't control. She took another deep swallow of the iced tea, now watered down almost to nothing by the ice.
She had to call him. Either way, she said, I'll call you and tell you. "OK," was all he said, headed out the door, his mind already on pallets and boxes, merchandise to be put up or taken down. She felt deep, full tenderness for how much he did, how much he swallowed, how much he didn't say or didn't do. She had never been with anyone so sweet and caring. She loved him, but she had to do this.
She hit the button. She put the phone to her ear, listening to the ring. She tried to picture him, unloading pears or toilet paper, feeling his phone vibrate, moving quickly into the back room, finding a deserted corner next to canned green beans or soda.
"Babe?," he said.
"Yeah, it's me," she said. She let out a long sigh. She didn't know how to say it. Her eyes watered.
"Did they tell you?"
"Yeah." She swallowed. "I am."
"I am." She felt sick, like someone had just punched her.
She heard him let out a breath. "OK, babe. We'll talk about this tonight. OK?"
"Sure, hun. I love you."
"Love you too, babe."
She stared at the phone screen until it signalled that the call was disconnected. She had to get back to the shop, where Janet was patiently covering for her, and think of what to say to her. To her, and to him, and to everyone. She wanted to crawl into a corner and hide, to drive somewhere where nobody knew her name. But that wasn't fair to him, and to her friends, and to her mom, and to her sisters. And to someone else.