I wasn’t sure I’d get to post this, since the website is still acting wonky and I don’t have the time to work it out. Money first, yanno…and I’ve been fortunate to have non-fiction work to pay my bills and, not so fortunately, eat my time. However, I was challenged by a dear friend – you can check him out here – to write and post this week. And so I have. (Thanks, Mr. Haines.) For this story, I blame Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video. Heh.
Mark used his key to open the apartment door, and stopped short at the sight of a mountain of boxes blocking the entrance to the living room. What the hell is this? he thought, his pulse quickening and stomach clenching. Just what the hell is this?
“Joey?” he called. “Joey, where are you?”
He picked his way carefully through the maze of cardboard, and made it to the back bedroom without knocking anything over, although he felt like grabbing a baseball bat and smashing it all. He tried to swallow, but was only rewarded by a dry click in his throat. He stood in the bedroom doorway knowing the shit was about to hit the fan. His stomach clenched so hard he thought he was going to hurl.
Joey looked up and smiled. “Hey, baby.” She folded a sweatshirt and placed it deliberately in the box on the bed and reached for another. Mark smiled back, but the muscles in his face felt like distended rubber bands. He noticed blank spots on the walls where there were once pictures of the two of them.
“What’s going on?” It was a herculean effort to get out those words, but he managed. He braced himself. Sooner or later, he thought. Sooner or later. I had to pick a smart one.
Placing the next folded sweatshirt in the box, Joey crossed the room to the closet for another load. Her voice was muffled, but Mark felt every word like a poison-tipped arrow. They burned and they clawed.
“Packing, dear. I’m out.” She emerged from the closet, her hair charmingly mussed and her eyes fixed firmly on the box. She can’t even look at me, Mark thought. He shuddered.
“Out? What do you mean, out?” His phone vibrated soundlessly in his pocket, but he ignored it.
“Out. Kaput. I’m done.” She looked up briefly and he saw reddened eyes and puffy lids. His heart thumped.
“D-d-done? What does that mean? What’s the matter?” He tried to swallow the lump in his throat so it could join the rock in his stomach.
Joey dumped the new load of clothes next to the box, put her hands on her hips and met his eyes directly. He felt their power all the way to his balls. He’d loved her eyes from the beginning, but he didn’t love what he was seeing in them now.
She sighed. “You know. What kills me is you think I didn’t. Don’t play dumb.” She crossed her arms over her chest and said, “I had a visitor today. While I can see your reasons from our…encounter, truth is, she had you first and that’s really all there is to it. I’ve suspected from the beginning, but I can’t ignore this anymore.”
He was afraid if he took a step forward he’d fall on his knees. He was afraid if he opened his mouth he’d either vomit or blubber, and he didn’t want to do either in front of her. He took a deep breath and said the only thing he could think of.
“But, I love you.”
Her face started to crumple, but he saw her dig her fingernails into her elbows and gain control. Mark started to speak again but Joey held up a hand and he stopped. He didn’t know what was going to come out of his mouth next, anyway.
“Don’t.” Joey turned slowly and sat on the edge of the bed, and kept her face averted. “I know you love me,” she said quietly. “And I’ve loved you for two years, Mark. Now you’ve put me in this position. Do I stay or do I go? Either way, it’s an unasinous decision from my point of view, you understand?”
He crossed the room on shaky legs and knelt in front of her, taking her cold hands in his. “No, I don’t understand,” he said. “You can’t use big words with me, I can barely handle words with single syllables. All I understand is I love you and I can’t live without you.” Tears burned in his eyes but he babbled on. “Don’t leave me. I know I fucked up but I’ll fix it. Just don’t leave me.”
Joey reached out and brushed the hair from his forehead. “You don’t have to live without me, baby.” His heart lifted at her words as her cold fingers left a hot trail tracing the contours of his face. Mark’s chest hitched, and he felt the tears start to fall. Her expression was implacable, and he knew what was going to happen just before the knife slipped between his ribs and sliced into his cheating heart.
Had to pick a smart one, was his final thought.