"Scene from the End of One Story"
By Stephen B. Bagley
...This is how one story ended...
Eve walked into Milligan's with her friend Bette, and as always, her eyes searched the restaurant for his shoulders and that ratty leather jacket and his soft worn hat that felt like velvet when she touched it. For seven weeks, she had searched all their places. The coffee shop, the bookstore, the library, the pier, the Seafood Shack. But Jeremy had disappeared from her life.
She didn't know how to live without him, but she was trying to learn how. She took a gym class, went out to movies with Bette and her other friends, and focused on work, turning out reports with an efficiency that even her boss noticed. A couple of guys--Kevin from Sales and Joel from Receivables--asked her out, and she said yes. Nice enough dates, and she had enjoyed them. Kevin even made her laugh, and Joel was sweet. But she kissed them good night at the door.
Bette threaded her way through the crowd, looking for a table. Eve followed, wondering when she would stop feeling that pit in her stomach when she didn't see him. She stumbled and caught herself on the edge of a table. The men seated at it smiled at her. She apologized, backed away, turned toward Bette, and saw Jeremy.
He didn't see her. He stood by a table talking to two other men. The crowd closed between them, and she lost sight of him. For a moment, she paused, feeling her heart beating hard. Then she pushed forward, leaving Bette behind, weaving her way forcefully toward her last chance.
"Jeremy," she said.
He turned and saw her. He started to smile, but it faded away.
"Eve," he said. "How are you?"
"Fine," she said. But that wasn't what she meant to say. She meant to say she was falling to pieces, her heart broke, her life in shambles, but the words wouldn't come.
"Where's Ben?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said. "Back with his wife, I guess. We're not together."
Jeremy nodded. "Sorry to hear that."
"I broke up with him," Eve said, wanting him to understand. "I sent him away. I remembered what you said. 'If he cheats on his wife, why wouldn't he cheat on you?' I should have listened."
"He cheated on you," Jeremy asked with a flash of anger in his voice.
Surely that meant something, she thought. "No, but I realized he would. I realized the love of his life was him." She laughed.
Jeremy took a deep breath. "Well, I'm sorry to hear things didn't work out. It's good to see you. I've got to go. I'm leaving New York in a couple of days. I have a lot of packing still to do. Got a job in Boston."
"Oh," she said. "Boston. Good. Good. Is it one you wanted?"
"It's a job," he said. "I've always liked Boston." He grinned. "Great clam chowder."
She laughed to keep from crying out. He's moved on, she thought. He's moving away.
"It's good to see you," he said. "You look...beautiful." He smiled. "Well, take care. Tell your parents I said hi."
"I will," she said. "You take care. Enjoy that chowder."
And he walked away while she stood in a crowd of strangers and she realized that would be her life--to always be alone in a crowd.
"No!" she said. She took three quick steps and grabbed his arm. "Jeremy, wait."
He turned back, his face surprised. "What?"
She couldn't find the words.
"What, Eve?" he asked again. "I need to go."
"Okay," she said. "Can we talk outside? Just for a minute."
He looked down at the floor. "I don't think that would be a good idea. Don't you think we've hurt each other enough? I can't take any more."
She swallowed. "Just for a minute. I need to tell you a few things. It won't take long."
He took a deep breath. "For a minute."
They found a bench in the tiny park across the street.
"Well," Jeremy said. "What do you want from me, Eve?"
"Nothing," she said, but her heart called her a liar. "I needed to apologize."
"No," he said. "No. I don't want to do this."
"Please," she said. "I just wanted to know how sorry I was. How I would give anything to go back and fix things."
"I know you're not in love with me anymore," she said. "I know we can't go back. And that you don't want to. You've moved on. Good. I'm glad. I want you to be happy." She could feel the tears behind her eyes threatening to overflow. "I wanted you to know I will always want the best for you."
He looked away.
She wiped her eyes. Time to go. Time to walk away. Time to let him walk away. Time to face the bleakness ahead. She needed a few moments to gather her strength.
He stood and took a couple steps away. She wanted to weep, but she didn't. This was the result of her decisions. She had made them, and she would live with them. She had enough courage to do that.
She rose. "I'd better let you go. I'm sorry if I hurt you."
He turned, his face shadowed. "I'm at a place in my life--"
"You don't have to explain," she said. "I understand." She shook her head and wiped her eyes. "We had something lovely, and I broke it. I didn't mean to. But I guess that doesn't mean a thing. I wanted you to know I miss you. Oh how I do."
"Let me finish," he said. "I'm at a place in my life where there are more good-byes than hellos. More people lost than found."
She watched him, almost afraid to breathe.
"Comes with getting older," he said with a short laugh. "You can't imagine how...lost I've felt without you. How empty. But then I saw you with him, and I was angry. It was better to be angry than empty. But now...."
He was silent for longer than she could bear, but she bore it anyway. Please God please, she prayed. Another chance and I won't blow it. Please oh please.
"Too many goodbyes," he said finally. "Not enough hellos. I don't want that for my life. I don't want to tell you goodbye." He looked at her. "Hello. How are you? I missed you. I missed you."
She sobbed and launched herself into his eager arms.
...This is how one story ended and a new one began...
(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thanks for reading.)