“Why was he here?” He was still just standing there, suspended in a colloid of emotions.
“He just came over – if I hadn’t thought it was you, I would never have opened the door. So really, it’s your own fucking fault, ya dipshit, for being all weird this week. If you were normal, I’d have known you would never ring the doorbell and I would have checked to see who it was before I answered it. But no, you’re all silent and sullen and blah blah blah.” She made a little duck quacking motion with her hand.
She was teasing him. His brain comprehended Fran’s teasing as an attempt to soothe him. But, like a caress on sunburn, it just irritated him and he flinched away from it.
“I’m…” he said. But he didn’t know what he was. He sat in his chair, the chair he sat in every Friday, propped his elbows on his knees, and clasped his hands behind his neck. He stared at his feet. He heard Fran moving, heard her chair slide out, felt her sitting across from him. She would be looking at him.
“I knew it would be bad if you saw him here.”
They sat in silence for a long time.
“I can’t put a bandage on it if you don’t tell me where it hurts.”
He threw himself back in his chair, eyes on the ceiling, and clutched his hand into the center of his shirt. “I don’t know where.” His brain tried to analyse, but there was nothing, no language, no logic, no law. Just…
“Okay. So, I’m going to confess something now. Ready?”
He kept his eyes on the ceiling. “Okay.”
“I had a plan for tonight,” Fran said, “I was going to explain to you about how I’m a dope because it turns out I’ve spent the last five years in love with you and how actually we belong together, but then Charles came over and he said… I don’t know, all this crap about how he saw that I was right about him and Sarah – which, let me just say, I completely was – and I realized that my whole plan with you was almost the same plan I had for Charles. And look how well that worked. So I’m not going to do the same thing with you that I did with him.”
She stopped, waiting for him to respond, he thought, but he had no response to give. Or rather, he had too many, and they were all bottlenecked somewhere around the center of his chest.
“The difficulty is,” she stopped and swallowed. Her voice had become a little unsteady. “The difficulty is that I don’t have a backup plan, so now you’re here and all I’ve got is the news that I’m a dope. And possibly also a hypocrite. And… did I mention the thing about I’m in love with you?”
Run, his whole body said. That was all the insight he could get from inside himself. “You’re in love with me.”
“This is not going well, is it?”
He glanced at her. She was rubbing her hands over her face.
Why could he not feel that this was good news? Didn’t it mean that he would get his brief window of happiness? In fact, because it was Fran, might he not get a long window of happiness? He had come with the expectation that she would accept his love, take what he had to give for as long as she wanted it, and then that would be it. Wasn’t this better? If what she was saying was true, that meant they were in love with each other.
That just meant more to lose.
RUN, his whole body said. That’s all he had.
“I think I gotta go,” he said, and rose from his chair.
“Are you kidding? Oh my god, you’re not kidding.” She stood too.
“That asshole Charles…” he started.
“That asshole Charles nothing,” she said, she exploded, as if her leash had just broken. “You’re the asshole in this situation because it is precisely at a time like this that I need my best friend, only I can’t talk to him because he’s the problem! How can you leave? Don’t you have anything to say to me? Even just, ‘Gosh Fran, I’m not in love with you and now it’s gonna be awkward’?”
He looked at her. She was staring at him, her eyes appealing him, Don’t go, tell me it’s okay. All the things he wanted to say battered against his chest, birds against the windshield, oh god Fran, I just don’t have the words. Give me time, time.
“What,” she said. “Is going. On.”
“I have to go,” he said.
“You have to go. You have to go. That’s fine. You have to go. Okay. Go ahead.” She was breathing like she’d just raced him to a finish. “You go right ahead.”
RUN!! his body said.
So he left.
Mick shut the door behind him.
Heart racing, still breathing hard, Fran picked up the grocery bag he’d left on the floor, filled with the meal he’d brought her. She took out each container, lay them on the counter in a row, and saw what he had done. Spinach with hollandaise, red onion, and egg; roast lamb with pomegranate reduction; sheep’s milk yogurt and agave. Every one of her favorites.
“Oh Mick.” She shaped the words on her mouth, but no sound came.
Not knowing if it was a sign of hope or a sign of utter and unending loss, she looked at their dinner and her heart filled. He loved her. He loved her.
Well that was one one good thing. And there was another: through the whole, abysmal scenario, not once had she thought, “It’s because I’m fat.”
And she had Mick to thank for that.
So she sat down on the kitchen floor and wept.