“I don’t get it. You’re such a nice guy. Why don’t you have a girlfriend?”
“I told you. I drank too much and screwed everything up.” He kept his eyes on the decorations.
“But that was months or a year ago.”
“So? Maybe I’m choosy. How long has it been for you?” Now she had his full attention, his gaze intent on her face.
“Longer, but that’s different.”
“Was he abusive, or was it a bad breakup?”
Darien was silent for a moment, and he started to speak, she supposed to apologize, but she went ahead and said it: “No. He died.”
“Wow,” he said. “That is a bad breakup. I mean…I’m sorry, that was stupid. I can’t believe I said that.” He rubbed the back of his neck, palpably distressed.
“It’s okay,” she said. It was okay. Enough time had passed that it was safe to joke about it. She wasn’t offended. She was even amused, and she smiled to show him she was. Then she started to cry, and she didn’t want to do that, not here, not now--damn!
“God, Darien, I am so sorry. That was unforgiveable.”
“No, no,” she said. “It’s all right,” but she couldn’t stop. She kept crying, and he put his arms around her, awkwardly at first and then like a friend, comforting her, and she hid her face against his shoulder—his good shoulder—and let it happen. It was so stupid, so unnecessary, so undignified, so downright unsanitary—and she could not stop. It was terrible, painful, and then it started to feel good. It was a real catharsis, letting out what she had held in for a very long time.
When she finally stopped, he asked, “Do you want to tell me about him?”
“No.” She backed away from him and searched her pockets for a tissue, but of course at this moment, of all times, she didn’t have one. He did, though—a whole box stood on the coffee table— and he gave her one, and she blew her nose. Her mascara was running, and her face must be blotchy and red. “This is so humiliating,” she said. “I never do this. I feel like such an idiot.”
“Why? It’s perfectly natural. I’m glad to know you’re not so tough.”
“It’s unprofessional, and it makes me feel ugly. It’s a good thing you’re not attracted to me.”
She peered at him, sniffling, and dabbed at her eyes. “You’re not, are you?”
“Which answer will get me in the least trouble?” he asked.
She laughed shakily. She felt a lot better. “If you were before, you wouldn’t be now.” He gave her another tissue, and she managed to get most of the mascara off. He rubbed away a stray smudge with his thumb, and his fingers brushed her cheek. The soft touch was even more comforting than being held in his arms. She closed her eyes.
He kissed her. It was the briefest pressure of his lips against hers, gentle and sweet, but she felt it deep inside. She opened her eyes. His were wide with surprise. “I think we just went off the clock,” she said.
I was born and raised in San Diego, California. As soon as I learned to read, I knew I wanted to be a “book maker” and I wrote my first story, “Judy and the Fairies,” with a plot device stolen from a comic book, at the age of six. I retired as fiction librarian for the San Diego Public Library in order to spend more time on my writing. My stories, in every length from short shorts to novellas, have been published in numerous journals, including Eclectica, Thema LiteraryJournal, Nebo, and most recently Willow Review. Reluctant Hearts is my sixth book from the Wild Rose Press, and a suspense novella, The Axe, will be released in September. Although I also enjoy reading biography, memoir, and history, fiction remains my first love. In addition to the three R’s—reading, writing, and research—I enjoy Scrabble, movies, and travel.