At a Crossroads
I can never be in a healthy relationship.
For my mom to basically up and leave us when I was a kid, bumming around in my pajamas on Saturdays watching Nickelodeon and kicking the ball around with Tommy around the corner…that’s just like…I don’t know. It sucks.
Luke takes a sip of his Guinness before continuing. It’s the only beer he drinks, claiming he appreciates the bitterness.
I just don’t do them. I’ve tried, you know? I really have. But I just end up returning the book I borrowed. Or whatever.
Beth sits alongside him on his floor, clutching her own bottle to her chest. She stares at him, expressionless. This isn't the first discussion they’ve had about his past. Especially when he’s had a few drinks.
Your floor keeps messing my back up, she whines. Please invest in carpeting.
He throws a pillow at her head, and she playfully flips him off.
People come to Little Skips on Willoughby Ave for coffee, tea, pressed paninis, and the ‘pastry of the day.’ Most place orders to go, but if they choose to stay, there’s two tables by the window that reap in the sunlight on Sunday mornings.
Hey you. You decided to come after all.
Luke knew it was Beth because her voice sounds like home. He looks up from his phone and notices a strand by her forehead that’s a darker blonde than the others.
Melissa’s meeting me here in a few. I told her the espresso is pretty good. She’s into that kind of stuff.
A wave of nausea settles over her stomach. She will ignore it. She will get rid of it. She will wash down the feeling with a cup of Earl Grey and be done with it.
I’ll see you soon then?
Well yeah ,we didn’t sleep much last night.
That’s cause you talk to me for hours.
Beth extends the last few syllables until they completely disintegrate in the air between them. For a year now, lots of syllables have slipped, becoming lost. Becoming nothing.
She thinks the answer is obvious.
I didn’t realize this party would be so crowded. I need air.
Beth lingers by the front door, desperate to seize the early April wind and contain it within her hands.
Luke follows her outside.
It’s been a few months, he says quietly.
Beth fixates on the headlights in the distance until they blur together, clouding her vision.
Colorado with her parents.
So, what, you’re still sleeping together?
Well, we have fun.
He shifts his Guinness to his left hand; his right hand was starting to shake.
What’s the problem?
The problem? she spats back. Seriously what the fuck is this dance we’re doing?
Beth leans against their friend’s high-rise building, picking at her fingernails, at the forest green polish that’s beginning to chip away.
Why are you even with her?
Come on. You know it’s not serious…you know I don't do long-term relationships.
Uh huh. Of course it’s not serious. How perfect for you.
What’s that supposed to mean?
Jesus, Luke. Don’t act so confused. You want companionship, you want connection. You’re just scared to admit it. You hide behind your past. It’s an excuse. It just makes you feel safe.
I’ve been through —
I know what you’ve been through. And so fine, you half-ass it with Melissa…meanwhile, I’m just like….
You’re just like what, Beth? What the fuck are you like? Like you’re so perfect. You disappear and stop talking to me whenever you feel …I don’t know…weird? You don’t communicate.
She looks at the ground, at the cracks in the pavement, avoiding his gaze. She can still feel it on her, though. She can feel every part of this moment.
She takes a deep breath in.
I stop talking to you because it hurts too much.
He notices the blonde strand by her forehead again, the one that’s darker than the others.
We either try or we don’t, Beth says, now staring right at him. You can’t wait to be ready and you can’t be miserable for the rest of your life. Or you can. It’s honestly up to you.
Silence permeates their space.
And then, Luke lifts his hand, reticently, and reaches out to her face, gently pushing her blonde strand aside.