Things were happening too fast.
When I played high school baseball, we faced off one day against a pitcher named Reynolds from a rival school. Big dude, rangy and athletic, so dominant he went relatively high in the major league draft to the Twins before blowing out a knee in Double A ball. He was a man facing boys. The day we had to play against him, our coach kept telling us to step out of the box and take some pitches to disrupt his rhythm. We tried, but he just stood on the mound and glared at us until we got back in and he blew us away. He threw a two hit shutout, and hit two home runs.
He had a momentum going, and we were just swept along in the current.
That's what today felt like- events were pressing, causing me to take everything too quickly and think too little. I had blown off Mo's presumed offer of a dash home for a quickie without really thinking about it when Aimee presented herself in my office, teary and hysterical. Was that what she meant? She certainly sounded hurt when she hung up. Was I in trouble again? Of course I was. Silly question. No matter what I did, it seemed like Mo always ended up getting hurt.
I looked at the food in front of us, decaying salad, a sandwich that suddenly turned my stomach, half finished drinks. Aimee's last words hung in the air, almost visible. There was no job in Philadelphia? What could that possibly mean? Was she leaving the job to get away from me? That can't be right- I'm not that significant. It was monumentally self aggrandizing to think she would throw a job away in this economy over a crush on a coworker. But what else could she mean? I had contrived this lunch quickly, intending what? To comfort her? I just couldn't leave things as they were, but I didn't know what to do. That happened to me a lot.
I remembered the Christmas party she had mentioned, everybody enjoying catered food and beverages in the hotel ballroom. I didn't remember it the way she did. She pictured Mo and I as connected at the hip that night, together even when separated. Cosmically joined. I remember feeling just the opposite. I watched my beautiful wife, trim like a teenager even after two kids, in a group with Dave and some others. I had heard all of Dave's stories, deciding I'd rather mingle than hear about the nationally known politician who was too drunk to say his lines, or the one about how nice Jay Z really was in person.
I circulated around the outskirts after Aimee left, feigning illness I now knew, talking to John's impossibly tall daughter who was going to play basketball at Texas Tech, trying to commiserate with Sylvia about the 7th month of pregnancy, asking Allen if he still played pickup at the YMCA. I was looking back at Mo, Aimee was right about that. I watched her as she listened, tilting her head the way she did when she was pretending to care. She laughed with her whole body, bending slightly at the waist, putting her hand on Dave's meaty arm. It may have been the beer, but it seemed like she kept touching him, and her hand stayed there longer than was strictly necessary.
She was laughing too loud, unnecessarily. Dave's stories weren't that funny. I watched her feet, like they taught us to do in psychology. She was open to him, receptive, her palms facing him, her head high, her neck bare and vulnerable. I knew I was being stupid, but I couldn't help the flash of lizard brain anger. Dave would. Would she? Would Mo have an affair with my boss? She hadn't done anything except for that laugh- that flattering laugh, that aren't-you-so-funny laugh, that I-love-a-man-with-a-sense-of-humor laugh. That unnecessary laugh. I never did bring it up after that night. She would have laughed in my face, probably tell me I was being ridiculous. Certainly made a crack about Aimee and those late nights over a drafting table. I couldn't say anything, but I remember the look she gave him. The laughing- the impress-you, I'm-happy-to-be-around-you laugh. I remembered the laughing.
Like any couple, we joked about it. At times, she would say with a laugh, "If somebody wants you, she can have you!," burying a genuine disagreement in a one liner. We never really pondered it deeply. I didn't. You knew it was possible, but you assumed there would be warning signs, danger signals. You assumed you'd see it coming, like the slider away on an 0-2 count. I thought about the Paul Simon lyric, "As if I never noticed/the way she brushed her hair/from her forehead." Was I missing something?
The diner was filling up. Other professionals, some couples, a mother eating with her college age son, an older man reading Gibbon at a table by himself. Dozens of little dramas, my role only as an extra in the movie in their lives. I looked around the room, listening to the bubbling sound of several conversations, the clanking of plates, the sound of a mixer in the kitchen. I felt Aimee's absence at the table, like a hole had been carved out of the room.
The waitress was hovering nearby. She had noticed Aimee's sudden departure, I assume. and was protecting against losing her tip. I felt a vague urgency. I had to do something- catch up to Aimee before she left. I felt strongly I would never see her again if I didn't. I thought about Mo, laughing hard at Dave's story, opening her body subtly towards him, her touch lingering on his forearm. The way she glowed as he looked at her. I set a ten on top of Aimee's on the table, left our lunches behind, and ran down the aisle and out the door. Aimee's car, a gray sedan that was trying to look like a Audi, was still parked under a large pine tree. I could see the exhaust puffing from the rear, and I begn to sprint, stones kicking from under my feet. I felt a hopeless yearning to cover ground, like I was trying to steal second while knowing I was too late and was about to be thrown out.
[Author's Note: This is part nine of a collaborative effort between Maid Marian, the marvelously talented proprietor of all the beauty at RunawaySentence.com, and the stupendously less talented myself. Part Eight is here, and Part Seven, which includes links to parts 1-6, is here. My character is married to Marian's character, Mo, and both of them seem on the verge of adultery. My character works for Dave, who just fired Aimee.]
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kurt challenged me with "'I'll laugh until my head comes off, swallow until I burst.' -Radiohead, 'Idioteque.'" and I challenged Billy Flynn with "?"If you're a good person, hiding who you really are is just another way of saying that you've decided to let others establish your self worth." -Robert J. Sawyer"