Surprises

Everything looked the same in the Firehouse Bar and Grill.

I hadn’t been here in five years, I realized.  This was always the place that I met up with Dennis at, and tonight was no exception.  He wasn’t here yet, which was unlike him, so I found a seat in a booth near the back and readied myself to see him again.

My phone call to him a week ago had all the hallmarks of my teenage needy self needing affirmation and advice.  We hadn’t talked since our breakup, other than a few awkward phone calls right afterwards.  But somehow, with my separation from R nearing the one year mark and it becoming more and more plain that our marriage was likely over, I felt the need to catch up.

I didn’t want to rekindle anything with Dennis, whom I knew was still married and not planning on changing that status.  Somehow, though, I wanted to share with him that I had grown up some, and that I understood more about the world, about marriage, and that my vision of everything as either black or white had softened.

“Wow, look at you!” he said as he approached the booth.  “I’ve never seen you with such long hair before.  It’s different.  I like it.”  He reached out for an embrace, and I stood to step into it.  He felt warm and safe, as he always had before.  It would be so easy to turn to him for some comfort, something to feel excited about for the first time in such a long time.

“Thank you,” I said, smoothing down my summer skirt and sitting back down.  “You look exactly the same.  You never age,” I said, smiling warmly.

“So you’re married,” he said simply, putting the cards on the table from the start.  “And I didn’t get an invitation.”  He thrust out his lower lip in mock dismay.

“Don’t be too upset.  It might be over already, so you might not have missed very much.”

The expression on his face changed, twisted somehow.  “What happened?”

The hours passed quickly as I went into the details, me trying to leave some of the worst ones out, and Dennis asking calm questions to pull them out of me.  The wine and beers kept coming to the table and before I knew it, it was after midnight and I had cried four times.  “So what do you think is next?” he said as we walked out of the bar together, me frankly a little worried about my ability to drive the three straight miles home.

I exhaled loudly into the cool summer night breeze.  “My head tells me that it must be over.  We’ve been separated for nearly a year now, and now he lives in another state.  My gut says that my reluctance to just chuck it all must mean something.”

“I’m so sorry you’re going through this.  I remember all too well what it is like from my first marriage.  The second guessing yourself, the self loathing, the feeling that you’ve screwed up your kid for life.  I get it.”  His face looked down at me warmly.  “But you’ll get through it.  You’re a tough kid.  You’ll do the right thing, whatever that is.”

“You think so?” I asked, looking at the traffic breezing by.

“I do.  I’ve seen you come through much worse than this,” Dennis said, reaching out to hug me.  I hung on to him like a liferaft.

“Thank you,” I answered.  “I needed to hear that.”

“Anytime,” he answered.  “I’ll never stop caring what happens to you.  I hope you know that.”

“I didn’t,” I choked out.  “I always thought it was about the…well…the sex.”

He looked so tender, so soft.  “It was never about that.”  He squeezed my shoulder and smiled.

I smiled back, tried to open my mouth but stopped for the sobs that were closing my throat.  I nodded as the tears started to fall and got into my car.  I watched him grow smaller and smaller as I drove away from him, until he was gone.  The tears kept coming, the whole way home.

It had been such a long time since I’d felt special, or important, to anyone.   I wanted to feel that way again.  It was time.

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