EIGHTY-ONE, 2.0

Alice watched his brake lights turn the corner, then allowed the drapes to close. She pushed his name out of her head — he would be a pronoun from now on. After all, what did HE think of HER that he would just drop her like this? Out of the blue, almost. Right in the morning. Before coffee, before a shower. He just showed up and — that was it.

A year ago, they met. And now a new year, turning another corner, but now she was on her own again.

She’d believed he was different. He actually believed in her. Or, he said he did. Alice normally didn’t put a lot of stock in what anyone told her. But he’d stood out for a while.

Now, though…

She had to rethink everything for the past year. What he said, what he did, and how he’d acted. No. No, I can’t let it get that far.

She went immediately to the shower, let the water wash her tears away. She quickly dressed and got in her car. She was at work within a half hour, record timing for Los Angeles. When she sat at her desk, she saw the picture frame — and tossed it into a drawer. It was a nice frame, a souvenir from their trip to Hawaii.

But she couldn’t look at it, not now. If there was anything that reminded her of HIM, she had to step away.

She pulled up some news websites, chatted with the ladies as they all walked in. The good thing about accounting is that the work never stops. The bad thing is that the chatter never stops. Enough of the work is mindless that you can talk and keep a conversation while scanning for mistakes in the purchase orders. Alice tied in her headphones, popped on the music that kept her mind reeling, and went to work.

She worked through lunch and it was almost quitting time when her boss nudged Alice on the shoulder. “Did you take lunch?”

Alice muttered a reply but was quickly cut off. “Not another word. Take off early. I don’t know what you’ve got going on, Alice, but you haven’t been yourself today.”

“I’m not feeling well.”

“From what I can see, you’ve either got a disease or you’re heart’s broken. Or you’re just miserable for a day, which is, you know, okay. Go home. Sleep.”

The last thing Alice wanted was another argument today, so she went home. She climbed into bed and stared at the fishbowl. Roddy and Piper were swimming in circles, occasionally looking towards Alice, mouths open in perpetual fright, waiting for food. She imagined that had been the look on her face this morning when — HE — appeared at the door. She’d been ready to accept a sweet gesture, an unexpected moment of love that he rarely showed.

Boy, was she wrong.

Or was she right?

She couldn’t really tell, but it’d only been twelve hours. In a week’s time, she’d see everything she did wrong. She’d find the signs of where she went wrong, how she’d lost him. She’d analyze the start of their relationship, at the cafe when — NO!

She could hear herself scream in her head. NO. Do not do that.

This is on him, not on you. He can’t control you, and you can’t… control him. He had his reasons, weak as they were when he’d made his case. She’d have to trust that life was working this way for a reason. She wanted more than anything for them to get back together, next week, next month, in two years.

Any time.

She’d given everything to their relationship. Maybe not through sacrifice, but if one could imagine a bucket full of love representing a relationship, the amount she’d given sloshed over the sides of the bucket. His bucket was probably half full. He was wholly unprepared for their fishing trip of a relationship. For their lifetime getaway together.

Alice could see it, for a moment, before the image of him turning away rather than look her in the eye filled her memories again. She cried herself to sleep, and the smell of coffee the next morning woke her.

Her roommate, Stella, was up early, and she’d silently brewed the last of their coffee. Wordless, Alice joined her at the table, sipping away. “Pick up some coffee on the way home?” Alice had been considering ignoring work today, feeling that her face puffed up and wanting to focus on what went wrong, again.

But coffee, that’s important. She looked at Stella, realized that she was pushing her, forcing her to accept the task, however banal, of picking up coffee. This was movement, this was what she needed. She nodded to Stella, then finished her mug of coffee and got ready for work.

And she did so every day going forward, forgetting more and more about the mess HE had caused.

When she saw him again two months later, he seemed as happy as she was. In fact, he looked almost relieved when he saw her, as though surprised she was still alive.

Alice even managed to smile.

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