I have to make things right.
I stand outside the coffee shop, waiting. Heat seeps through my paper coffee cup and through my too-thin glove. The back of my hand is freezing in the wind, but my palm is beginning to burn. I transfer the cup to my other hand. Traffic goes by, rustling the leaves on the sidewalk. What did the leaves ever do to them?
He hasn’t said anything. Hasn’t even hinted. Has he forgotten it already? Maybe if I let myself forget it, it will go away. Fade as the memory fades, until it never happened.
But it can’t be that simple. It’s never that simple. Life has a way of always complicating things, always tearing things apart. Why can’t he just understand what I’m thinking? Life would be so much easier that way. No misunderstandings. No confusion. No pain.
I never meant to hurt you, I’ll say.
I’ll stare into my coffee, and he’ll stare into his.
You did, he’ll say.
I can’t let this keep eating away at me. I can’t take it. I need to understand how he’s feeling. I can’t handle not knowing.
“Excuse me.” He pushes his way out the open door, juggling a pair of gloves, a coffee cup, and a small white bag in his right hand. “Sorry, honey,” he says with a smile. “It’s a zoo in there. Everyone needs their caffeine fix, I guess.”
“I guess so,” I say absently, looking away.
He pauses, takes my hand. “Are you all right?” he asks.
“I’m fine,” I say.
He doesn’t understand.
We walk down the street. He pulls two scones out of the bag and hands one to me.
“Blueberry,” he says.
“Sounds good,” I say.
He polishes off his scone in three bites and washes it down with sips of coffee. I can feel my own cup growing cold.
I’m sorry, I’ll say. Shorter is better. I can’t let him see the cracks in my composure. I’ll look away and wait. Wait for a hint of…something. Wait for him to show the cracks.
But he won’t get angry. He never gets angry. He never feels anything.
It’s my fault, too, he’ll say, because that’s the kind of thing you’re supposed to say about something like this.
No, it’s not, I’ll say, because he shouldn’t take responsibility for my actions. That’s not the way to build a relationship. It was my decision, I’ll say, and it’s my fault. I know you’re probably upset with me now, and I’m sorry.
I’m not-, he’ll start to say, but I’ll stop him. I hate it when he lies.
Maybe we should take a break, I’ll say; sort things out.
Maybe you’re right, he’ll agree.
But it can’t end like that. Not after all we’ve had. If I break it off now, we’ll never get it back again. Things will never be the same as they are now. But the way they are isn’t the way they should be. Always worrying, always wondering. Something has to change.
I forgive you. That’s all I need.
He puts his arm around me, and I lean into the embrace. Maybe I shouldn’t; maybe I don’t deserve it. But he needs to know that I still love him. I love him and I don’t want to let him go because if I do, I know that I’ll never get him back.
A man pushes past me, jostling my cup. Coffee splashes over the side. Some drips down to the ground, making tiny splotches on the sidewalk. Some soaks into my glove. It’s lukewarm now; it doesn’t hurt.
“Excuse me! Sir? You dropped this.”
A young woman is calling after us, holding up one of his gloves. He takes it with a smile.
“Thanks. I didn’t even realize I’d dropped it.”
She smiles back. “You’re welcome,” she says, and melds back into the crowd. One day she’ll learn the hard way not to be nice to strangers.
I turn around. “Let’s go,” I say.
“Go where?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” I say.
We continue silently on our way. Morning traffic rushes by us, people on their way from empty, lonely homes to empty, lonely jobs. He puts his arm around me. I pick my scone into crumbs.
I wanted to tell you I’m sorry, I’ll say.
Sorry for what? he’ll ask.
For hurting you, I’ll say. I didn’t want it to turn out like that. I don’t want anything to come between us.
Maybe he’ll say something; maybe he won’t. Maybe things will be easier if he doesn’t. The truth is, I’m scared, I’ll say. I’ll be completely honest with him; he deserves that much. I’ve never had anything this good, I’ll say, and I’m terrified that I’ll do something to ruin it.
But it’ll be too late to go back. I’ve already broken things beyond repair.
Maybe he’ll hold me, take me into his arms and stroke my hair. It’s all right, he’ll say. He’ll cradle me in his arms until the crying stops, and then he’ll keep holding me, forever, never letting me go, and we’ll get married and have a house with a nice big yard for our two point three perfect children and maybe a dog, and they’ll run around in it and never get dirty, and why do I keep making wishes that can never ever come true?
What is it that I really want, after all?
I need time to think about it, he’ll say, and I’ll go home alone.
The traffic has gotten quieter. I look up and realize that we’ve been walking through the park. The wind blows gently. Leaves fall off their trees, a shower of red and gold. A tired mother pushes her young child in a carriage while an older child holds on to her hand. Teenagers stand in a pack, smoking stolen cigarettes, at least until someone calls the police to drag them back to school. An old man sits on a bench, waiting. Maybe this is his only home.
Pigeons gather around the garbage can, pecking, searching for some trace of discarded food. The old man shoos them away; he doesn’t want any competition. The older child moves to investigate. The mother walks faster, pulling him by the arm. One of the teenagers gives a bird a kick. It flaps its wings for a startled moment, then stops at a safe distance to preen its feathers, wounded only in pride.
I scatter pieces of my scone to the ground. The pigeons dive in on the crumbs.
“What was that for?” he asks.
I don’t like blueberries, I’ll say.
“They seemed hungry,” I say.
He laughs. “I love you,” he says. I wish he meant it.
I’ll tell him that. How can you? I’ll ask. How can you say that after what I’ve done to you?
I don’t understand, he’ll say. He never does.
I hurt you, I’ll say. I hurt you and I’m sorry.
He’ll shrug. Stuff happens, he’ll say. It’s okay, he’ll say.
It’s not okay, I’ll say. He won’t understand how serious it is. He never understands. Why are things always so easy for him? Why won’t he realize how hard they are for me?
It’s a big problem, I’ll say, and it won’t go away if we just ignore it.
You’re blowing this way out of proportion, he’ll say. It was just a little misunderstanding. Nothing to get excited about.
You never get excited! I’ll say. I’ll raise my voice a little. I’ve never yelled at him before, but maybe he needs it. Maybe I need it.
You never get excited, I’ll say. You never get upset or lonely or scared. You never cry; you’re never weak. You’re barely human!
And no one will be staring, because there will just be me and him, him and me, standing together in our own little universe-a universe that has little relation to reality, and little bearing on it.
Except for the part where I’m crying.
What good do I do you, anyway? I’ll say.
You’re being too dramatic, he’ll say
Why don’t you just let me know what you’re feeling? I’ll say.
I love you, he’ll say.
No, I’ll say, you can’t. I can’t. It’s too complicated.
He’ll want to take me into his arms, to hold me, to comfort me, but he’ll know-I’ll know-the right thing to do.
We can’t be together, he’ll say.
We’re better off apart, I’ll say.
It’s all for the best, I’ll say.
It always is.
“Hey, look where we are,” he says.
We’re back at the coffee shop. The crowd of people has gone-at least until tomorrow morning.
“That’s funny,” he says. “We must have turned…” And then touches my face. “You’re crying,” he says. “Are you all right?”
I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand. “I’m fine.”
He takes my hand. “No, you’re not.”
I pull him to me and hold him tightly, and I don’t care who’s watching. “I’m sorry,” I say.
There’s a pause. He seems confused. Maybe he really has forgotten. Maybe it really doesn’t matter.