You Can Never Go Back
Scant hours had passed since two former lovers, Alexander and Carrie, found each other in the local library, a moment where divine providence tipped its allegorical hat and offered a chance at righting monumental wrongs. For Alex, running into Carrie was exactly what his famished, exhausted soul needed, and he hung on every word that left her trembling lips as she relayed story after story of relationships that started as badly as they ended.
But, as he began to formulate in his mind scenarios of these myriad drunken, cheating, half-cocked men that wove in and out of the life of the woman for whom he would easily have given anything, he began to feel a strange pang deep within. Unexpectedly, his mind began buzzing, his heart beat haphazardly, and he felt terribly anxious. He was getting angry, and, to his surprise, it was not only at the men who had so mistreated the woman he always yearned for, but also at the very woman for whom he had always yearned.
What kind of woman gives up a man who loved her so deeply he would lay down life and limb for her? What kind of woman chooses men who bring to her life nothing more than heartache and sorrow, anger and cruelty, in lieu of a man who wanted nothing more than to give her everything she ever hoped for? What kind of woman have I been pining for all these years?
As they chatted over coffee and cake, Alex looked carefully at the woman sitting across from him. Suddenly, it was as if a bolt of lightning reached through the tiled floor and encapsulated him in its ambient glow, forcing into him an epiphany to rival any other. He understood it clearly now. You can never go back.
It was the first inkling of clarity he had had in years.
Life had been cruel to him, sure, and he was certainly no fan of fate, but maybe it was doing him a favor here. As his eyes dragged the surface of her aging, tired skin, he felt it all the more succinctly. He began to see past the infinite beauty of unrequited love, and could suddenly view her for what she truly was.
She was a train wreck. She was a beautiful, nostalgic, tattered sinking ship inviting him to go down, and drown with her.
That simple acknowledgment enraptured him, and his heart broke wide to bask in the glow of this new understanding. His body suddenly felt as if the million anchors that had been dragging it down to the bottom of an ocean of sorrow and regret were instantaneously cut loose. He felt freed; he felt so much wiser for it. But as his train of thought broke away from this revelation, he began to hear her blubbering on about how she was desperate to find a man who would treat her right.
“So, you know, after all the terrible things I’ve been through, I am just ready to find a nice guy.” A nice guy? A NICE GUY?!
He knew he should be angry, and yet he wasn’t. It was more so a pinch of bemusement that jutted through him as she made this declaration.
“Anyhow, so imagine how shocked I was to see you standing there? Oh my God, it’s like angels sent you to me!” She just simply rattled on incessantly, and it occurred to him that she might as well be talking to herself, for she seemed wont to seek any sort of feedback from her audience. She was too caught up pitying her own sad story. Angels, huh?
But, no, it’s true. There was
a force beyond either of their own understandings, and it had clearly pushed them into the same path that day. And, whatever it was, it did it for a reason.
That Carrie assumed he was again available and only happy to be with her should have irked Alex, but it didn’t. Now that he understood her true nature, how could she not
have made that assumption? She was a broken person, and her perspective was forever turned inward because of it. Was she broken when he loved her, when they made plans together and shared dreams with each other? He began to realize she must have been and, yet, the sting of knowing he had spent so much time being that vulnerable to a person who could only devastate him, well, it didn’t really ache as it used to. In fact, with this new understanding of what she really was (especially after all he had been through), it really didn’t hurt much at all.
“I just think that you’ll be so good for me, Alex. No one has ever treated me the way you did, and—“
“Will you excuse me?” Alex asked, and he stood, placed his napkin on his plate, pulled his wallet out, and threw down enough money to cover cost and tip. With nary a word, he walked away. He headed toward the double restaurant doors, and as he pushed them open, he instantly felt the warm, bright air of late spring gratefully welcome him. He felt good. For once, he’d done what was right -for him
As he strolled along the mall of tightly-packed storefronts, Alex felt exhilarated, so much so that he was almost inclined to stop people to tell them how much better life suddenly felt, but he didn’t. He was mystified. How could just running into someone who was part of a painful past so unexpectedly lift the veil of heartbreak that had suffocated him for so long? He didn’t understand it, but he appreciated it immensely and, for the first time in a long time, he began to think about all the things he still had left to do in his life.
Something in a window caught his eye then, and he quickly jerked back and stopped to see it better. Behind him, a woman was carrying a large case of wine glasses, and his abrupt stop surprised her. She lost her footing, fell back and dropped the box of glasses, which shattered everywhere. Alex turned to see what happened and what he saw at that moment struck him as almost mythical. In the middle of a sea of clear, shiny glass pieces rippling against the warm cement walkway sat a stunning woman, long brown hair framing an angelic face, as she carefully stayed tall and narrow, desperate to avoid any shards that might cause her bare arms and legs injury. It occurred to Alex for a moment that she reminded him of a mermaid perched upon her lonely rock, waiting for her sailor to save her as she softly bellowed her sad siren song.
“Oh my god, I am so sorry!” he cried out as he rushed to help her. In short order other bystanders stopped to assist, and Alex offered the woman a hand to pull her up from her jagged new throne. As she took it and lifted herself oh-so-carefully from the remnants of sparkling mess, he was immediately grieved to notice her eyes were glazed, a certain indication of imminent tears. “Here, let me help you, please!” he insisted, and took her waist to lift her up and free.
“I’m so sorry, I should have paid attention,” she lamented, and looked back at the circle of glass and shattered effort. “Two months of work, down the drain!” Tears were now streaming down her face and, without thinking, Alex pulled out his handkerchief and wiped them away. She looked up at him, alarmed at this intimate gesture.
“I’m sorry, that was terribly forward of me. I should have just offered it to you,” he admitted as he handed it to her. He was already feeling intensely embarrassed for taking such a forward approach.
“No, it’s okay. The last thing I need is my mascara running, too!” she explained as she dabbed her eyes with the soft, clean square of fabric. As it neared her nose, she felt compelled to inhale. It smelled of juniper, a manly, welcoming smell. A comforting one.
“I feel incredibly awful, how can I repay you?” he offered, as he turned back to see an employee of the store had come out, and was beginning to sweep the mess. The woman stepped back, reached over the shards of glass and began to sort through it all, hoping to find something salvageable. There was nothing.
“Oh, well, you can’t. They were all hand-made. I am a glass blower. I was headed to the Eisner gallery to drop them off for a show I was supposed to have Friday.” She tried to muster a smile, but with streams of tears breaking free to leave dark trails of mascara marked across her cheeks, she knew it would seem insincere.
As Alex heard this, and his eyes followed those black trails to her quivering mouth, he immediately felt as if someone had torn into his chest and pulled out his heart, just to stomp it flat. He looked up at her, nervously searching her face for some indication that he might be able to make this all right. When she realized he was staring, she turned her head away from him, but could no longer hold back as a convulsion of disappointment leaked out with a cry. This made Alex feel frantic, as his brain twisted in circles with the hope of finding a clean, simple fix for ruining this woman’s hard, careful work. He put his hands to his head and squeezed it, as if this would help dislodge the one solution he couldn’t seem to reach, the one that would fix everything. But it didn’t. He felt defeated.
“How can I fix this?” he urged her, “Tell me what I can do to make this right? I’ll do anything.” Even he surprised himself with this last part, but as she looked up from the handkerchief and broke a slight smile, he felt confident he wouldn’t regret it.
“I’m Annie,” she giggled. It was almost a snort, the laugh compelled to escape but thwarted by a stuffed nose from crying. She offered him her tiny, waifish hand, and as he took it into his, he was delighted to feel its warmth.
“Alex,” he conceded as he gave her hand a polite, yet confident squeeze and shake. It was not as he would shake a man’s hand, yet he wanted to convey to her, through it, that he was a genuine, strong and good man, and he realized it was something he’d never even pondered when shaking the hand of another woman. As he stared into her eyes, he was delighted to see they had turned from a hazel color to a deep, comforting brown. Her pupils were now curiously dilated.
“I think you like me.” He blurted out, and instantly wished he hadn’t. Since when did he say what he was thinking out loud? But she just smiled, looked back at the remnants of her hard work as the last bits were being swept away, and shrugged her shoulders.
“I’ll have to see how good you are with a glory hole first.” (to be continued)
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<a href="https://www.lushstories.com/stories/love-stories/the-good-guy-finally-wins-chapter-two.aspx">The Good Guy Finally Wins (Chapter Two)</a>