I remember that he’s married now, so I ask about his wife.
“Pregnant,” he says.
I wait for details, but he only adds, “Very pregnant.”
Out of decency, I think to congratulate him, recite some drivel about how happy I am for him, how I wish him nothing but the best—all lies.
“How’ve you been?” he asks. Such a generic question, but there’s a hint of genuine concern in his voice, as if he’s picked up on my misery—I make no effort to hid it, and he had always been empathetic toward my feelings, even when he was the cause of my grief.
I look up into his eyes, and their weariness makes me feel safe. Reason would convince me that his visible tiredness is because of a demanding wife who, big with child, has driven him to take extra shifts—ringing up chips and smokes for night owls and runaways like me being less strenuous than whatever hormonal crisis is unfolding at home—but I hold onto hope that seeing me again for the first time in five years has brought him to hate his own life, as I do mine.
“I’m being stalked by my boyfriend,” I tell him.
He laughs at what he thinks is an obvious joke, and a customer I don’t hear approach from behind taps my shoulder. It startles me so that a current of electricity shoots through me, surging underneath my skin, and it’s as if I’ve literally jumped out of my own body. I drop my bag of nabs along with the gallon bottled water onto the floor, hitting my big toe, and bite my tongue to keep from crying out.
“Excuse me, ma’am, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he says. He bends down to help me, but I push him away and quickly gather my things— I’ve stayed too long anyway. What good will it do me to explain to an ex, happily married, that I’ve continued making bad choices, even after he was gone? I’d be giving Craig more time to find me and force me back into his bed. I’ve wasted enough time; I must leave.
But I make the mistake of turning back before I exit the door, and he stares at me as he takes cash from the other customer. And I am still frozen by the door when the man rushes past, and we are again left alone in this silent gas station, save for the hum of the coolers on the back wall, there to let us know we are still being watched.
“Why don’t you call the police?” he asks.
I’ve tried. Even amid campaigns to end domestic violence, to look for the signs, pay close attention to the most subtle, they don’t believe me. The absence of physical scars doesn’t help, and the fact that they know Craig further discredits my case.
“He is the police,” I say.
“Damn.” He drums the tips of his fingers against the counter. I notice the nails are clipped too close to his skin, and I wonder if he still makes a habit of chewing them. He turns his head toward the short-circuit television, which displays the security cam footage in the store, and I step back, just out of shot, as another customer walks in, drawing the cool air outside with a draft. The bell above the door jingles, and I look down at the time on my wrist watch. Fifteen minutes and counting.
“Hey.” He comes from behind the counter, and in two strides he is right on top of me. I forget how tall he is—almost seven feet. He towers over me. I remember how he frightened me at times, even more when we argued. Now his eyes show a fierce anger, the deep amber in his irises pops out as in those of a predator, and all I want to do is faint into his arms like a damsel.
“I get off at eleven. Will you wait?” he asks.
I know I shouldn’t, and it’s selfish of me to keep him from his growing family, to worry him with my own feeble problems, especially when I’ve done this to myself, but his breath on my lips drowns me. My eyes roll closed, and I imagine how different my life would be if five years ago I had only said those four simple words he was desperate to hear come back to him as he cradled the velvet box behind his back: “I love you too.”
We’ve finally reached the last day Short Story A Day May, and today’s prompt sought to mock me. In attempt to write a story about a writer, I decided to write a story about a writer who couldn’t think of anything to write, and . . . well, I couldn’t think of anything to write. So I went back to an earlier story, and added to it. I’ve decided this will be the story I write for literary magazine submission (since the other one didn’t come together like I had hoped). I hope you enjoyed all of these short stories. Some were harder to write than others. Expect a reflection and “What next?” post to come soon!