Five years. It’s been five years that she’s been gone but it seems like my whole life I’ve been without her. I stir the milk into my coffee and consciously ignore the sugar. I wasn’t getting any younger and every calorie counted. Staring out my kitchen window I don’t see the noon day sun shining on the blue hydrangea bush blossoms. Normally they bring me peace. But I have to see them first.
Five years to the day. What have I done in five years to show her that I loved her? I take the sugar and pour it into my coffee and stir. Better. Giving in is better than living with the pain sometimes. I rub my face trying to get myself more alert and out of this funk I’m in. There’s nothing I can do about what’s happened. I’ll just work a little and then go to Hugh’s for dinner tonight. Smile and laugh and make him and Maggie happy that they tried to help me one more time. One more year.
The pain in my chest is too familiar. It feels like a tire iron shoved through my sternum then someone squeezes my heart trying to stop it from beating. I have to get out of here. There is no way I can work today. No words will come to me worth reading.
I dump the coffee in the sink and rinse the cup out. I think it’s best for everyone if I went for a ride on the bike for a few miles and burn off some of this gloom. Maybe fresh air and sunshine will help. Probably not, not with my attitude at the moment, but it will help my health. Hiding inside all day writing isn’t the best thing for one’s blood pressure and physique. Not that I have to worry much about that. I rarely eat out and I love to cook my own meals so I know what I’m eating. I guess you could say I eat clean.
Some might call it my being antisocial. I’m not antisocial, I just don’t like being around people. I do get out at times and people watch, I have to. Part of being a good writer is the ability to write how people speak and describe reality in a way that is believable. I could do that in my imagination but I don’t want to become a complete hermit. I’m reclusive enough as it is. I order everything I can online rather than go to a store. My only indulgences are farmers’ markets, and organic food shopping. And no, I’m not a vegan. I’m okay with it having had a face at some point, I just don’t want to see it when it gets to me. I live in the South and like barbeque but I don’t want to see the whole hog on the fire. I did that once and was reading Lord of the Flies at the same time and had nightmares for weeks.
That’s not to say I don’t like vegan food. Most of what I eat would be called vegan. I just don’t make the claim of being one. I know as soon as I do I’ll want to go to McDonald’s and order six number fours with extra onion. And I’m all for everyone eating how they like. Just leave the rest of us alone to eat how we like. Once your food becomes your religion it’s time to become an atheist.
I change into my bike shorts and shirt and hit the garage door opener with my elbow as I put my helmet on. Making sure I have my keys in my pack I pull the door shut. Then I’m off.
20 miles of pedaling to go and I’ll be, at the least, tired enough for a nap and an escape from the memory of this day for an hour or two before my performance at Hugh’s tonight.
Oh bother, why did I agree to dinner tonight? Because you like Maggie and Hugh and they always have nice food. I think all of this in my head. If I spoke out loud I would begin to worry. I would get a cat so I at least am talking to something, but I can’t be bothered with the hassle of taking care of anything. I like my freedom. I want to be able to get up and go if I want to, not have to find a cat-sitter or a kennel or whatever it is for cats to stay.
I keep looking through the contract I brought home from work. If not for that pointless meeting yesterday where Thomas kept spouting on and on to hear himself speak I could have finished this then. My home time is my peace time. I like my peace. I want to listen to my classical music or maybe some jazz, read a book, or meditate. Not read through a contract for a toilet tissue company. But it is a job and one I am happy to have. It allows me to live in a nice apartment and drive around in a nice car.
An apartment my father thinks is a waste of money when I could invest in a house for resale later. He likes the car, especially when I let him borrow it. He doesn’t know I see him run his fingers through his hair and check his appearance in the mirrors every time he gets in it. I can just see him pulling up to a light and young girls in the next car smiling and him giving them his serious look with a raised eye brow trying to be all mature and sexy.
I smile at the image and drift from the contract. I need to go see the parents soon.
I jump when the phone rings.
“Jade, lovely one, how are you doing?” Maggie’s smoky voice comes through the phone.
“Just reading through a contract I didn’t get finished at work.” I slap the paper on my desk.
“Thomas was a bore, wasn’t he? I barely got my work done before I left yesterday. At least I think I did everything. Everything important anyway.” She laughed. You couldn’t help but smile when Maggie laughed. It was in part due to her appearance. At six feet tall and a dark ebony skin tone she looked like a super model. When she laughed she opened her mouth wide and unashamedly let go with all her decibels.
“And I’m sure if you didn’t no one will say anything once you flash them a smile. I’m not so lucky.”
“That’s because you don’t work it. You’re a gorgeous little thing. So, what if I’m a foot taller than you, girl? You can rock it if you wanted to. You should try it tonight. See if you can scare Hugh straight.”
I laughed at that. Hugh is her roommate and the most gay man I have ever met. That’s not to say he was effeminate so much, although there were slight edges of it at times, but he didn’t notice women at all. His eyes and attention were 100% on men. It didn’t bother Maggie any. She only had eyes for women. So, it actually made me feel good what she said about me. She was honest and wouldn’t say something just to be nice. She would only say it if she meant it or say nothing at all.
“Thank you, but I don’t think I know how to ‘rock it’.”
“Do you have a little black dress?”
“Three inch heels?”
“Then you can rock it. Wear that tonight and wear some red lipstick. You never know what might happen.”
“Okay, I’ll do it but I don’t think Hugh will change.” Not that I really want Hugh to change. He is handsome but just not my type. I like my men tall and brawny. That just isn’t Hugh.
“Dinner’s at 7:30 so don’t be late.”
“Bye, lovely one.”
I feel myself smiling. Then I notice the contract in front of me and the smile vanishes. Expelling a large breath of air, I plunge back in and start to work. I wish I could be a writer and work anytime I wanted to. I always wanted to write an erotic novel. But the embarrassment of people finding out keeps it from becoming a reality. But maybe someday.
“What are we having, Hugh?” I lean against the island in his spacious kitchen.
Hugh smiles and goes to one of his two ovens and with a flourish opens it. Inside sits a beautiful golden brown chicken.
“That smells amazing. We should open a restaurant.”
Hugh takes oven mitts and removes the chicken from the oven while I close the door behind him. “Then we would hate cooking. We’re obstinate like that, Gil.”
“True. I liked to paint until Mom and Dad bought me a paint set and easel. I liked the walls better.”
Hugh laughs. “I don’t think they minded so much except when you graduated to people drawing and you were anatomically correct. Mom almost died when the pastor’s wife came in and saw the family portrait you had done of all of us in the dining room.”
“Until then I had kept it to my room, but I needed a big canvas for all of us. Two parents four boys and two girls.”
“Don’t forget the dog. He was a boy too.”
“Oh, God. I forgot that part. That’s what they get for having a bulldog with shorthair. Those big ones hanging in back like that, I just had to paint Sid with all his belongings.”
“Dad loved it.”
“Yeah, he took a picture and put it in his office at home. Then he had to paint the whole dining room a new color because Mom decided he needed punishment for encouraging me.”
Hugh takes some asparagus on a pan, drizzles it with olive oil and some salt and puts it in the oven.
“Anything I can help with?” I look around at the spotless counters. Hugh cleans as he cooks, just as I do. Mom had always liked to be able to sit down to eat with as little clean up afterwards as possible.
“You can set the table. Everything is in there already just put it all where it goes.”
The dining room of Hugh and Maggie’s apartment is right next to the kitchen in an open floor plan. I take the plates and begin putting them around the table, and I notice there are four plates, not the three I am expecting. Maybe Hugh had grabbed one too many.
As I set the napkins and silver at each plate I notice there are still four of everything. I turn and stare at Hugh. “Hugh, tell me the fourth person is gay.”
“Don’t I wish. Maggie is getting sex-grumpy and really needs to find someone soon.”
“Tell me this is not a fix up.”
“Not exactly a fix up.”
“What does that mean?”
“You need a new contract lawyer since you fired Felix for scamming you on those book contracts. Maggie has a colleague that is a contract lawyer. So, if that’s a fix up, then I’m guilty.”
“Just a contract lawyer?”
“No strings attached.”
“Would I set you up with a lawyer? And I honestly thought tonight would be a good time to help you in your business and as a distraction. I don’t really know any contract lawyers that well. My own practice is more criminal and corporate. Sometimes at the same time.” He smiles.
I can’t help but smile at that. Some of his client stories had been the basis for a book or two of mine with some heavy fudging. But the catalyst was there. He never told me names but gave me interesting facts that he knew I could run with in my writing. Whenever one of those books did well I always made sure to give Hugh a present. Usually a trip or a cruise. A living book escape. Where I do it with the written word, a cruise does it with buffets and margaritas.
I hope they like this wine. They’ve liked everything else I’ve brought before. Too bad I can’t drink it. Alcohol intolerance is a . . . pain. It’s literally a pain. One glass and ow. I smooth down the front of my dress. I checked my lipstick in the elevator and none had found its way to my teeth.
I push the doorbell and wait. I hear Maggie coming. She always wears heels, which make her at least 6’3” and her confidant strides on their hardwood floors make for a nice warning.
The door opens with verve and there she is, all her goddess like glory. “Lovely, about time you got here. Don’t you know being on time is so not cool? Come early so we can talk and stare at men doing women’s work.” I look at her with surprise at that statement and then she throws her head back and laughs. I know the look on my face is priceless. She knows I am a feminist through and through.
I smile and hold out the bottle of wine.
“My entrance fee.”
“Enter, child, enter.”
My heels click on the floors as I try to look up at Maggie towering above me. And yes, she played basketball while in school and volleyball at university.
I hear voices from the kitchen area. Who else is here? Maggie had not mentioned any other guests coming.
“I swear to you Maggie’s colleague is exactly perfect for you.” Hugh’s voice comes through the air.
“I hope so. I’ve asked around but so far, I haven’t really had a good vibe yet. I’m almost ready to start looking in the phonebook.” I don’t know that voice. It’s deep and has more of a Southern drawl than Hugh’s.
“Maggie will fix you up. This was her idea. And you know she knows what she’s doing.”
I walk into the kitchen and there stands a tall man with dark hair and blue eyes leaning against the island. And he’s brawny.
I stop walking and feel Maggie behind me but can’t move. I have been set up. He looks past Hugh and sees me and his mouth falls open. Then it snaps shut and he does not look happy.