(If you haven’t started reading this series yet, please click here for Part One.)
“So what makes you think that?” He picked up a clean towel and dried his hands.
“She leaves,” I said. “Days at a time. Never any explanation, only some mumbled words about finding herself, taking a breather. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never asked where she goes.”
Just then I realized how pathetic I must sound, the confused boyfriend alone in a bar while his girlfriend wanders constantly into some adventure unknown to him. No questions, no accusations, he allows her to bounce from their bedroom to her own secret destinations; she could be writing a novel by the ocean, or she could be telling her worries to someone else’s bare chest. I watched as he took the towel to a spot on the bar and moved it for a while in the same circular motion, searching for a bit of bartender wisdom.
“An ultimatum,” he said. “Either she fesses up, tells you what she’s been doing all this time, or you leave.”
“She leaves,” I laughed, taking another sip of my drink. “It’s my house, after all.”
“Right,” he said, walking away to help a customer waving an empty shot glass at the other end of the bar. I watched her, a woman with long blond hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. She leaned across the bar and put her lips to his ear. She spoke for a while; I was finished my beer by the time she flopped back down onto her barstool and they were both staring in my direction, avoiding any attempt to not look obvious.
I dug in my pockets for a ten dollar bill and threw it in a water ring, careful to avoid the gazes that were now digging into the left side of my face. I’d made it halfway outside when the shouting started.
“Wait!” Her face was as tight as the ponytail, so close to me now. “Matt,” she smiled. Her lips were cracked and smothered in layers of sparkling gloss. My chest tightened at the sound of my name.
I stepped back inside. “How do you know who I am?”
Two hours later and Jamie and I were downing shots and bumping shoulders.
“Yeah, Lily was a riot in college,” she laughed.
Slowly we eased off our barstools and headed for the door. Outside it was dark now and the edges in my mind had begun to blur, but it felt good. My worries were hazily bouncing off one another and I let my hands move freely to Jamie’s waist. She stopped laughing and caught her breath in her throat.
“I don’t want to talk about Lily anymore,” I said.
She started to speak but I caught her words with my mouth.
I spent the rest of the night in bed, swaying from sleep to guilt to anger at Lily’s absentness. My lips were still tacky with Jamie’s gloss and her words before we parted were still turning over in my head.
“She’ll turn up,” she’d said as she got into her car, too drunk to drive. “She always does.”
Stay tuned for more installments!