The Trip (Short Story) – Throwback to 2010, From the Archives

She faced him in the restaurant. At the booth by the window. The same spot.

“I don’t know what I want” she had said.

“I don’t know who I am”

“It’s like I left myself, somewhere.”

He sat, listening. This is the end, he thought. Her lips were moving but no sound came out.

Or maybe he had become deaf to the sound of her voice.

No, there it was.

“I love you.”

At this he looked up. The waitress walked by again, stopping, asking, something about a coffee refill? He wasn’t sure. No wait, coffee, yes that I can handle, yes please more please. Easier than saying no thanks when you’re jerked awake by reality.

If he was sleeping in the first place.

She was looking at him, waiting for his answer. He waited for the girl with the coffee to leave. She walked off without making eye contact. Then he said it.

“Why?”

That was the wrong thing to say. Why did I say that? I’m such an asshole.

The corners of her mouth flinched for just a second. Her eyebrows. Her eyes. Subtle, quiet, veiled. Movement. Emotion. Registration.

Conversation without words. He was used to this but not in this way.

“I don’t know” she said at last. “I mean, I want to know. That’s why I need this, because I don’t know and I want to. I need to. I want to.”

She had begun to weep, but wiped at her eyes before tears could form. He could tell. He could tell because he had known her for a long time. Flashbacks. They were younger. Grade School, High School. It had happened one night. The kiss.

It had happened one starry night.  So unlike tonight. Today. This time.

“I’m sorry.”

“Will you be back?”

“I don’t know. Yes. No. Yes. I will. I promise.”

She took his hand and he didn’t pull away. He couldn’t move.

“I promise, I will come back.”

“But you won’t love me then. Not like you do now. Nothing will be the same.”

“No. But I love you. I promise.”

She had begun to weep. A tear. Another. Silently like the beginnings of a rain. Like the first whisper of wind against your cheek. The first that hints at more that washes everything away and starts the world anew. Tears.

“Goodbye,” she whispered. At this she stood up, wrapped her coat in her arms.

She was wearing a red shirt. He would remember that for the rest of his life. The red shirt, loose over her shoulders. Her brown hair was gently trailing behind her as she moved. She walked quickly, purposefully. Slowly, unsure.

She turned around, ran back into his arms. Kissed him. Saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I love you.”

He stood up and watched her go, allowing the fantasy to play out in his mind. She didn’t look back.

The waitress came back with the check. He picked it up, made his way to the counter, paid. Without words. Without movement. Without eye contact.

She would be back.

“I love you.”

She would be back.

Maybe he understood. Maybe he couldn’t. He wasn’t sure so he got into his truck and drove.

Just drove.

“I love you.”

She would be back.

He drove.

_

Photo: By Smith, Bob, Photographer (NARA record: 8464481) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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