Like Being in Love
by Katya Uroff
Steven and I went somewhere in two cars. I can't remember why I had my car. At the end of the night we came back to the parking lot. The idea was that I was going to follow Steven back to his house. He said good-bye to me and got into his car. He had said something smart to me that night and I was still upset about it. I watched him back out of the parking lot and then I got into my car. But instead of putting the key in the ignition and starting up, I just sat there. And then I leaned my head on the steering wheel. Even though it was late at night, it was still steamy outside. That's the south for you. There's no break in the summertime. I couldn't roll down my window because I hadn't started my car yet so I just sat there in the stifling heat.
I waited a long time. Every time I thought, OK. Time to get started, I'd straighten up, adjust the rear view mirror, jiggle the steering wheel a bit and then I'd stop. I tried to imagine driving, but not going to his house. I thought about going home. Back in my apartment, I could turn the air conditioning on full blast and pet my dog, faithful thing with round, wet eyes. I could read a book or flip on the television or maybe I could just go to bed and close my eyes and try to pretend like this hot, sticky night had never happened.
But, for me, loneliness is like someone holding a gun to my head, making me do things that I shouldn't do. My life has a lot of silence in it, long stretches of time in which nothing moves and the phone doesn't ring and there's nothing to do. There was one weekend when I didn't talk to anyone from five o'clock Friday evening until eight o'clock Monday morning. And it's more than loneliness. It's hope also, hope that what I'm waiting for is right around the corner, just waiting to be found, hope that things change, that someone will suddenly look at me like they've never really seen me before. I am twenty-four years old. Of course I have hope.
So I drove to his house and I reminded myself as I drove of the night when we first met and how he came back to my apartment and there was a wonderful moment right before he leaned over and kissed me. I put my hands on his shoulders and he put his hands on my hips and everything felt fresh and new for the first time in a long time, too long. We made love on the carpeted floor of my living room with the window blinds up, so that all the neighbors could see in if they wanted to. Afterwards he looked at me and said, "Unbelievable." Then he told me that there was something I should know. A drunk driver had killed his brother and sister-in-law last year. "Head on collision," he said, "They didn't stand a chance." We stayed up the rest of the night talking about that accident, how stunned it had made him feel, how some days he was sad for hours and hours, something that he just couldn't shake.
That's what got me over to his house, thinking about that good, incredible time between us. Even though I was twenty minutes late, Steven just said, "Hello," when I walked in. That's all. He never asked me what took me so long.
A few weeks later, I'm in a restaurant with him, sitting at a small, circular table. Our knees are touching. We haven't ordered yet. It's a Saturday night and he's talking about what he did all day. He keeps mentioning someone called Rebecca, which I finally realize is the same name as his ex-girlfriend and then I realize that the "Rebecca" he's talking about is his ex-girlfriend. Apparently, they played tennis together all day long.
"And then you come over to my house tonight," he says, "My neighbors must think I'm a wild man."
"Well," I say, "Tennis. That's good exercise, Steven."
He just looks at me.
"Yeah," he finally says, "But look at how it looks. First I'm with Rebecca and then I'm with you."
He laughs again and shakes his head as if he can't believe it himself.
The night before we had been lying in my bed together. Steven was sleeping and at one point he flung his arm across my chest. It was like I wasn't even there. So I got out of bed and went into the kitchen. I sat on the counter and smoked a cigarette. I moved the curtain back from the window over the sink. I looked at the dark sky and smoked. When I came back to bed, Steven had moved. He was on his side with his hands curled up near his face. I slid next to him and he didn't stir.
The restaurant door opens and a group of men walks in. Some of them have big guts. One man's face is red and he has a double chin that wobbles as he walks. They get the table next to us. I hear them order three pitchers of beer. "Keep 'um coming," one man says to the waitress.
I watch the men and then I remember what Steven said that was so smart the night I almost decided to leave him in the parking lot. We had been to a bar. I was drinking a lot of beer that night because I could sense that something wasn't going right. Steven was sitting on a barstool and I was standing next to him. He seemed distracted that night, always looking away from me as if he were waiting to see someone he knew. Finally I said something about his brother, something I probably wouldn't have had the nerve to say if it hadn't been for the beer. I said, "Your grief will heal in time," and he looked at me and raised his beer bottle and before he took a sip, he asked, "What do you know about anything?"
The men at the next table start laughing about something. They put their hands to their mouths and laugh loudly, too loudly.
"But," Steven says to me as we look over our menus, "You have nothing to worry about. It's strictly a friendship. Rebecca and I have agreed to be friends."
"Just so you know," Steven says, "I wouldn't want you thinking that there was something that there wasn't."
"Why would I think that?"
I look at Steven. I'm not smiling. He looks away from me, down at his menu.
"I don't know," he says.
After we order, Steven stands up and points to the back of the restaurant.
"I'll be right back," he says and I watch him walk to the men's room. He's only gone less than a minute when I grab my purse and get up. It's an instinctual thing. I haven't planned this. I haven't even thought it out fully. I just know that if I don't get up now, I never will. Nothing will ever change for me again. It's that dire a situation. I know that people will think I'm crazy. "It was a bad date," they'll say, "That's all. Why couldn't you just wait it out?" But I can't. I can't wait one more second. I've done enough of that.
Outside, it's dark and the road is wet because it rained all day. I cross the street and go behind a big, tall dumpster overflowing with sweet smelling, black garbage bags. I crouch behind the dumpster and peer out into the road. I don't feel silly even though I'm playing hide and go seek in the dark, stuck behind garbage. After awhile, I see Steven walk out of the bar with his hands in his pockets and his head down. I watch him get into his car and drive away. He doesn't even slow down. I put my hands forward on the scratchy, metal face of the dumpster.
I start walking home. Steven pulls up to me when I'm halfway there. I keep walking. He stops his car, stops it right in the middle of the road and gets out.
"Hey," he says.
I stop walking but I don't turn to him.
"About Rebecca. Is that what this is? Is it about Rebecca? There's nothing going on. Is that it? Hey, she -- she -- she was the one who broke up with me. It's just hard. Hard to let go. We shared a lot. She was there when my brother died. She went through it with me."
I still don't turn around.
"Hey," he says, "Am I talking to myself?"
I'm on the side of the road. My feet hurt. A small piece of gravel has embedded itself into the heel of my right foot.
"I was with Rebecca for a long time. Almost a year. We still enjoy each other's company and what's wrong with that? Are you going to tell me something's wrong with that?"
A car passes us going in the opposite direction. The driver beeps the horn.
"No," I say.
"Then what's wrong? Why'd you just leave like that?"
"Because I couldn't stay anymore. I just couldn't."
I turn to face him.
"Why not? Look, what's wrong with you? You just don't walk out on a guy like that. It's not right."
"I had to do something," I say, "And that's what I did."
Steven pauses for a second. Another car passes us. Another horn beeps.
"I can't stay out here all night like this. Why don't you get in the car and we'll go somewhere? We can go anywhere."
He sounds sincere. And for a moment I wonder what it's like, being in his position, trying desperately to move on with his life, how alone he must feel some nights when he's either by himself or with someone else who isn't Rebecca.
He waits for my answer. At first I don't know what to say. I wish I were behind the dumpster again, completely hidden from view, so I wouldn't have to make a choice. If I don't go with him, I know exactly how the rest of the weekend will turn out. I'll walk my dog and listen to music and shop for things I don't need and call my parents and lie to them when they ask me what exciting plans I have "on the agenda." I'll try to go to sleep early and then get up to watch late night reruns of The Dating Game on TV, wishing that I could take it all as lightly as the contestants do.
There's another choice that I could make. After all, there he is, waiting for me to get into his car, to go with him. Maybe we can start all over again. I'll get in his car and he won't mention his brother ever again, not one word about that tragedy. And Rebecca will, at some point, become just a memory for him, an old forgotten name from the past. We might even run into her one day if I hold out long enough. We'll be taking our kids for a stroll in the park and we'll see Rebecca. She'll be cheerful. She'll hold a tennis racquet in one hand and she'll bend down to peek into our carriage. "Oh," she'll say, "Isn't your baby lovely?" Then she'll go, her short tennis skirt swinging as she walks away with a little bounce in her step. And Steven will look at me and smile and I'll smile back and then we'll keep on going. Together.
Maybe that could happen. But then I remember what it felt like to walk out of that restaurant. How I hurried out, slinging my purse over my shoulder, jostling the small table, spilling water from our glasses. At that moment, I was excited. My heart surged. My fingers trembled. It was like being in love.
About the author:
Katya Uroff lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Her short stories have appeared in The Timber Creek Review and Words of Wisdom.