I admit, it was hard not to glance over at Teresa during the event. It was hard for her not to as well. The ride back home was quiet, but we pretty much held hands the whole time. That night, she and I were snuggled in bed watching TV. Well, the TV was on anyway. I think we were both lost in deep though as she laid her head on my chest as was the common practice with us. "I pretended that was us." She said from out of nowhere.
I hesitated my response. Once I did respond, I merely replied, "Me too."
Things were going well at the school. I was becoming quite the hit. It felt good to be somewhat in charge. Maybe Kaps was right, I do long to be the alpha dog. Still, I took my responsibility to heart. When Thursday night rolled around, I found Sanoki on the couch watching TV with the girls nowhere in sight. When I inquired to their whereabouts, he only said, "They went to do laundry and some shopping."
I then asked him the obvious. "So, tell me, how does it feel to be married?"
He took on the appearance of digesting that question with a smile before answering. "It feels pretty good."
He got up to get a soda out of the fridge. "Not that I'm pushing you," I began, "you know you're welcome to stay as long as you like, but how's the apartment search going?"
"Greg says he has an apartment that will be available after the weekend." He said. "We're going to take a look at it when we get back from Georgia this weekend."
"From Georgia?" I quipped.
"Yeah, we're going to go visit her parents."
For some odd reason, this didn't settle right with me. You see, Karen and Teresa were sisters. They share the same parents. I took a shot in the dark. "Is Teresa going with you guys?"
He almost looked ashamed. I don't think he was supposed to tell me. "I'm not sure." He relayed. "She hasn't decided yet."
"So it has been discussed behind my back?" I presumed.
"I don't think she knows what to do yet."
He sat back down on the couch. I joined him. After mulling it for a few minutes, I started to figure it out. "They're talking about it now."
"What do you mean?" He looked over at me.
Like a sleuth, I began to put it all together. I looked at him. "When you're not at work, how often are you and Karen apart?"
"Never." He answered. "Now that you mention it, this is the first time since we got together."
"Same here." I told him. "That means they're discussing it as we speak."
He tried his best to comfort me. "Look, I'm sure she'll come back with us even if she does go. It doesn't mean anything."
"Yes it does." I said. "She's going to make her final decision tomorrow. The fact that she hasn't brought it up to me yet tells me so."
"Maybe she'll mention it tonight."
"No she won't." I told him. "I know her. If this was just a case of her visiting her parents or gathering up her stuff to come back to be with me, she would have said something by now, maybe asked me to come along to help get her things. Oh no," I wrapped up. "She's going to make her choice tomorrow. If she stays, she's mine forever. If she leaves, she never was mine to begin with. I'll never see her again." This is when it hit me. "Tomorrow is Valentine's Day."
I could tell he was a little uncomfortable with our conversation. "Maybe you should bring it up to her tonight?"
"No." I quickly deflated that idea. "It's up to her to bring it up."
"I'll talk to Karen about ...."
I cut him off. "No. Don't mention anything to her about it either. Not a thing."
I got up and began to grill some chicken.
The girls returned shortly carrying some packages. I didn't give it too much thought. Teresa came up from behind as I was finishing up the cooking. She wrapped her arms around me. "Miss me?"
I nodded. "Much."
Despite my thoughts, I still made love to her that night. I carried on like nothing was wrong. She never mentioned a thing about going to Georgia. I kept my promise to myself of not mentioning it either, although, I really wanted to.
The next morning, we got up together and took a shower before I was to head to school. Our love making continued through it. As I finished getting my clothes on to leave, I turned to her passionately. "Happy Valentine's Day." And gave her a kiss.
"Happy Valentine's Day to you, too."
I left her there on the bed like normal. I was not about to tip her off to what was racing in my mind. All through that day, I couldn't stop thinking about it. What was I going to do if she weren't there, waiting for me? My concentration was lacking. As slow as the day seemed to go, it did come to a fateful conclusion. Driving home, I was a total wreck. My nerves were jumping.
I sat in my car for a few minutes when I parked it. Karen's car was missing. I took a deep breath. Here goes nothing. Here goes everything.
As I entered into the apartment, I was reminded at the last time it was so quiet and still. That time, she was sitting on my bed waiting for me. That time, I could have probably dealt with it better if she weren't there. This time? Not so much. My whole body was shaking as I slowly approached the bedroom door. I placed my hand on the knob. I turned it. I opened it.
She wasn't there.
My heart sunk into my throat. I could feel tears starting to form in my eyes. My heart pounding like it wanted to just jump from out of my chest. My whole world started to spin. I noticed a red Teddy Bear in the middle of the bed holding a big heart. I moved towards it and saw a sheet of paper lying next to it. I was still trembling all over, holding everything I was feeling back.
I was losing that battle.
I almost couldn't read the note she left. The tears were now coming out. But it really wasn't a note. It was the poem she wrote me. It was those three words that I came to treasure so much when she spoke them. Now, it's the three words I hate.
I LOVE YOU
I fell to the floor. To my knees. I placed my hand to my head. She made her choice. It wasn't me.
If I live to be a million years old, I will never forget how I felt that night.
I don't recall how long I sat there, leaning against the bed. It could have been five minutes, or it could have been forever. I really don't remember. What I do remember is, getting to my feet and stumbling to the door, the paper still in my hand. When I reached the deck, I opened the top of the grill and pulled out my lighter. I lit the paper on fire. I watched it burn before going back inside and laying down on the bed with the bear. I held it close to me and fell asleep.
Glen finally showed up the next day. I wasn't one for talking. He asked where everyone was. I told him I didn't know and blew past him and his two friends he had with him. I went out to the deck and grabbed a chair. I walked to the beach and sat down to watch the ocean roll.
A few times, Glen asked me if I wanted a beer, or something to eat. He and his friends were cooking out. I just politely refused. He could tell something was wrong. When I had enough of him and his friends laughing and talking, I got up and started to walk the beach. I walked for a very long time. When it got dark, I turned around and headed back home. My head wouldn't stop turning. My mind was a blank. I was numb throughout my body. I couldn't feel a thing. By the time I made it back, the place was quiet again. Glen and his friends must have went out to the bars. I retreated back into my room and closed the door. Once again, I fell on it and held tightly to that god damn bear.
Sunday was a repeat of the day before, minus the long walk on the beach. I sat there on the chair looking at the ocean. I heard Karen and Dan when they returned. I turned real quick with some kind of fatal hope. She wasn't with them. Dan and I connected eyes. He appeared to excuse himself and started heading my way. I turned back around towards the ocean.
"I'm sorry, Carroll."
I took a deep breath. "It's cool."
He put a hand on my shoulder before walking away. Later that evening, Karen came up from behind. She was feeling really bad. "I don't know what to say." She half whispered.
I didn't want her to feel responsible. It wasn't her fault. "We're good." I said. She walked over and gave me a side hug. I patted her on the shoulder. When she released, she said the only thing I could imagine she would think of saying at that time. "She really does love you."
I nodded. "Yeah, just not more than she loves him."
That's about all I remember from that exchange.
I kept up the wall. I didn't want to show anyone how I was feeling. I doubt I was successful with it. But I did keep it together that week during school. It was still hard to concentrate and I had to take so many deep breaths to keep from falling apart. To keep from breaking down. Each day was an eternity and a half that led to the same place each night, me sitting in that chair and watching the ocean. I honestly can't remember if I ate that week. I'm pretty sure I did at some point, I just can't recall. I knew my friends were really feeling for me. They tried everything they could think of to try and cheer me up. Maybe I would put on a fake smile, but it never lasted long.
Karen and Dan got that apartment and were moving out that Friday. All they really had were their clothes. Glen was still popping in and out periodically. Finally, that Friday night, Dan came up from behind me to give me his keys. I took them, shook his hand and wished him all the best. Then after watching him disappear around the corner, reclaimed my seat. I was kind of glad to be alone again. Even if for a little while. By that I mean, it was a short time later when I heard a voice behind me. "Hey you."
It was Hrisko.
He stood next to me as I sat there, looking up at him. He had a bottle of whiskey in his hand. "Heard you haven't been yourself lately."
All of a sudden, I was happy to see him. I mean, I was really happy to see him. He was the only one I could ever talk to about this kind of thing. I got to my feet real fast and walked up to him. I wrapped my arms around him as he dropped the bottle. I held onto him like a life preserver or something. With it, all that emotion and pain I held in for a week just exploded out of me. I broke down and started balling like some kind of baby. I mean, I couldn't hold it back to save my life. "I love her, Dave. Oh my fucking God do I love her."
He hugged me back, tight. "I know buddy. I know. Let it out my friend. Let it out"
So I did.
I don't know how much time had passed. We eventually found ourselves sitting on the beach next to each other. He wasn't saying much, hardly anything at all. He just sat with me quietly as I would randomly break down time and time again. Once I was able to compose myself, I would blurt random thoughts. "What am I going to do now?" Was one of them. He never answered. "How could my life be over at such a young age?" Or, "I don't know what to do with myself anymore."
Each time, he just sat there quietly.
"I have never felt so lost in my life dude." Then, I broke down one more time and squealed helplessly on the sand. "I miss her so much."
He leaned over and laid on me to semi cradle me. Still, I can't remember him saying a word.
It finally appeared at one point that I had gotten myself together. We sat there for quite a long while in silence before he finally reached over for the bottle he brought. He opened it. "Here, take a drink."
I shook my head. "No. Not this one. I'm not going to numb this one. I want to feel it. I have to feel it."
Somehow, he understood. He took a drink and remained sitting there. I turned to him. "God, I can't even remember the last time I drank." Then I started to break out in giggles. I was acting like a nut. "I always knew she was going to be one or the other." I mumbled. "She was either going to be the one, or the one that got away."
He just patted me on the shoulder. "I'm here for you man. I'm not going anywhere."
From out of nowhere, I made a declaration. "I'm never falling in love again."
"Yes you will." He softly rebutted.
We sat there a little longer. I saw him take a few more swigs. I took a second look at my situation. I rethought it promptly. I decided to give it a try after all. I reached over with my hand. He read that action well. Once I felt the bottle in my hand, I lifted it to my lips. I took a drink. Moments later, I took a few more and handed it back to him. "To hell with it." I summed up.