“But I don’t want you to go.” I reached across the table, clasping her hands. “I mean, think about this.”
“I have,” Shannon said, finishing her wine. She raised her glass. “More wine, please.” She waved the waitress over. “I don’t know what I want, but this isn’t it.” I knew what I wanted, and it was her. It was always her. Maybe she loved me only in my head. Or perhaps I was the one who didn’t know what I wanted. Either way, I seemed to be the last to know. Shannon sent mixed signals. She always sent mixed signals. I’d gotten caught in the cross-hairs of her long blonde hair that cascaded to the small of her back. “I’m leaving. I’m going to New York — to find myself.”
I dropped my gaze. I traced back through my memories for the good times we’d had, but I couldn’t find one that’d make her stay. There was nothing left to say. When Shannon had her mind made up, there was no changing it, which is part of the reason I loved her.
“Oh, come on.” Shannon reached for my hands. I pulled away. I’ve got to get out of this small town–right now– or I never will. This could be my big break. Writing for the New York Times is the stuff dreams are made of.” Shannon’s wild eyes told me she was serious.
I took a deep breath and blew out a sharp sigh.
Shannon stood and pushed her chair under the table, leaving her second wine glass full. “I got to go. My plane leaves in the morning.” She made her way through the crowded lobby and waved a cab. I sat, yawning from staying up all night praying. I thought I could make her stay. But even I wasn’t smooth enough to convince her to stay. She came into my life as quickly as she left it. I couldn’t forget about her. It’d been ten years, and I still missed her. I caught myself driving by our old hangouts and tearing up when I thought of her head on my chest. I’d rake my fingers through her hair as she snored. We were supposed to be watching a movie, but she hated movies.
I’d sit on my porch after work and drink a beer. Well, maybe not just one, but no more than five beers. I’d think. And before you go thinking I was an alcoholic, I poured most of the beers down the drain. I’d hold one to my lips and think about my drunk mother and her son-of-a-bitch husband. I didn’t want to be like her. I didn’t want to be anything like her. Reading the New York Times made me feel smart, but I graduated from college by the skin of someone else’s teeth. I rested my glasses on the end of my nose and licked my finger, flipping through the New York Times pages with a Playboy magazine tucked in front.
Shannon made it, after all. She got a job at the Times. I was proud of her and mad at the same time. She wrote columns on foreign policy, which I’m not ashamed to say educated me.
I noticed an unfamiliar girl moved in three houses down. She had long, jet-black hair and pale skin. It appeared she had people help move her in—no family or friends. I’d sit on the porch, reading, and caught glances of the new neighbor.
“How ya doing neighbor?” a voice said.
I lifted my gaze. “Shannon?” I rubbed my eyes. “Shannon Dillinger?”
“In the flesh.”
“You colored your hair…”
“Black. I know. Do you like it?”
I shook my head. “Yes, of course.” I thought about how we jumped over where the hell she’s been and what she’s doing back in this shitty town. I hadn’t talked to her in ten years. Back then, she was skin and bone. Now she’s filled out well. “Where have you been? And what brought you back?”
“Several factors. The Times downsized, and I got axed. I got a generous severance, though. Mind if I join you for a beer?” she asked, holding up a Bud Lite six-pack. I hated Budweiser, but I couldn’t resist her smile. “Well, what do you say? Can you forgive a girl?”
“Sure, yeah,” I said, waving her in.
“You hear about that bombing near the US embassy in Nigeria?” she asked.
“No, I didn’t.” I pretended I hadn’t read her work. It almost seemed stalkerish to admit that I read the New York Times. It might sound as if I hadn’t gotten over Shannon. I didn’t want her to know she had this kind of hold on my heart.
“It’s on the front page of the paper you’re reading.” Damn it. I forgot I’d had the paper in my hands. I gulped back a lump and spit. “I look at the sports page first,” I said.
“Right,” she said, giving me a cocky wink and a confident smile.
I looked around her and beyond the fence. “Is this some kinda joke?”
“A neighbor can’t drink with another neighbor?”
“What really brings you back to Seattle?”
“To be honest, I hated it there.”
“But it was your dream to be there—”
“Well, it’s just not for me,” she said, standing to her feet. I hadn’t a clue what I said to piss her off. I traced back through how she could have taken it wrong when nothing comes to mind; my eyes went cold.
“Take it easy,” I said, guiding her back to her seat. “Cheers to being fuck ups!” Our beers clank, and her fizz spilled. She sips it before it trickles down the can and spreads her jeans.
“You must think I’m a complete psycho,” she said as she slams her second beer.
“Not in the least.” I patted her shoulder.
She drew a cute drunk giggle. “We’ve you been all these years?”
“Here and there.”
“Details,” she said. “Tell me what you’ve been doing?”
“I tried my hand in the corporate world and—”
“Couldn’t take the stress, could you?”
“—I made a couple million and came home.”
“Wait, you’re a millionaire?” Shannon asked.
“Listen, if that’s the only reason you want to talk to me—”
“Oh, stop it,” she said, playfully punching my shoulder.
“I couldn’t take the whole screwing the poor to get rich. I mean, all we do is transfer wealth from the poor to the rich.”
“And we teach the middle class to hate the poor.” Shannon placed her beer on the table.
“And we teach the poor to blame the immigrant.” I almost teared up, saying it out loud.
Shannon crinkled her eyes. “Where did you work?”
“I was an executive at the New York Times. I voted to approve your application.”
“The board said one person voted for me,” she said. “It was you!”
“It was me.”
“That’s why you quit, right?”
“I knew you deserved the job, and when they gave it to a less qualified candidate, I could no longer work there in good conscience.”
“I got a job at the Seattle Times today…wait,” she said. “You got me the job, didn’t you?”
I smile and nodded. “I just wanted to help a neighbor.”
“I don’t know what to say?”
“I’ve always loved you.” I knew it was her the moment I saw her unloading her boxes. Even her change of hair color couldn’t replace her pale, freckled pale skin.
“Be careful how you use the phrase me too.”
She straddles me, kissing me. I could taste her breath, and red lipstick stuck to my tongue. “I want you right now,” she says in a whisper.
I stood, her legs still wrapped about my waist. I carried her to my bedroom. We twisted, sweating in bedsheets, where dreams are made.
(sample not professionally edited yet)
(© 2020 Andrew Cyr)