“So bummed you’re not coming with me”, he found it hard to let her go.
She didn’t say anything. The ways in which life always found to be cruel to her were astounding.
“Don’t look so sad, Mag”, he bent to kiss her. “It’s just two weeks. I won’t spend all four weeks there. I’ll switch my tickets as soon as I get off and come back in two weeks”.
She felt strangely lonely. She had never had friends and a boyfriend wasn’t even ever on her mind after all the asks that life and time always had of her. And now that she had him, she wanted to claim some of what women want.
“I’m not sad”, she smiled bravely as her insides crumbled, “We will talk everyday”.
“Yup”, then he paused, “Actually it’s a good thing I’m leaving for a few days. You had been taking me for granted a lot”.
She stared at him for many seconds but then realized that he was joking.
“Jason, you ass”, she shrieked as people looked at them, “Don’t get too cocky. I might date someone for two weeks just to get myself off”.
“That’s fair”, he said calmly, “I was going to date someone too in Texas. One of my nubile beauties, like you call them”.
“Fair enough”, she didn’t take his bait, “We can both date other people, realize that we are ruined for anyone else and then get together to never part again”.
He laughed at her not becoming predictably emotional.
“I love you”, he squeezed her voluptuous body. “No one holds anything for me anymore”.
They kept kissing and touching until it was time for him to board. He finally walked off after a final many-minute-long kiss. She couldn’t move from her spot. It was like her heart was walking away from her.
It was hard to ignore all the female attention Jason got. He was tall, athletic and very charming. He had an old-world charm mixed with a certain roguishness that is so characteristic of millennials. He smiled easily and was always ready with a laugh. He was extremely affable and made friends easily. She wondered how they were almost polar opposites and still had so much love and attraction for each other.
He waved a final goodbye at the gate and then he was gone.
She left the airport with a heavy heart. Her steps were burdened by her own inaction at claiming happiness that she had paid for. The tickets were expensive for her but she hadn’t cancelled them. It felt insincere to cancel them. She had bought them and was not going to use them as a way to give a menial and meaningless sacrifice at the alter of love.
Happy couples surrounded her. Two men shared an ice cream cone together as they whispered their own secret language of love. A woman with two kids ran after her husband asking him if he had the passports. The man turned around smiling and one of the kids broke free of her and ran to the man who picked him up and swung him around as the woman ran up to him and embraced her entire family. A man and a woman who looked like they were in their eighties were dressed in Hawaiian shirts and flip flops and looked like they were ready to take a trip of a lifetime.
She felt getting sick. She could’ve been on that plane with the love of her life had she seized the moment. David and Caroline had both told her to go but she hadn’t. She knew in her heart that Jason was important, very important, very very important. But somehow being a caregiver had clouded everything. Her vision didn’t extend beyond her parents’s needs.
She saw a famous fast food restaurant right outside the airport and sat there, wondering what Jason might be doing now. She wondered if the euphoria of seeing his family was marred at all by the separation that was going to last between them for a full two weeks.
Just then her phone lit up,
“Don’t think about me too much”.
She stared at the screen. Did people still have soulmates? In this world of consumerism and corporate overwhelm was finding a soulmate still possible? Wasn’t that an archaic concept of modernism-influenced love and the shenanigans of love? No one had soulmates anymore. People had hookups, extramarital affairs and rushed sex in seedy hotels. Who ever found a soulmate anymore?
But she couldn’t deny that she had found what many couldn’t. She couldn’t ignore the fact that life was making up for everything in huge ways. Jason was a huge way in which she was rewarded for the drudgery that her situation had been. Residency and a career were another.
Her sadness and self-pity started to evaporate. She wanted to hold him and kiss him.
“I can’t help thinking about you”, she texted back.
He had likely turned his phone off because the message didn’t go through but her heart was calmer and even a little happy. She felt like a big girl in a big relationship. Happily she boarded a cab and left for home.
She slept fitfully after she got home and found a hundred texts by Jason when she woke up, most of them pictures since he had gotten off the plane until he had gone to bed that night. They texted for what seemed like a hundred texts and then he left for a family dinner.
There was also a text from Holly about meeting the next day. She quickly texted her back and they decided to meet at a club in Brooklyn. She was grateful for a distraction. These two weeks without Jason were going to be long.
She woke up the next day excited to meet Holly. She again persevered over what to wear but decided it wasn’t important and settled on a black halter-neck top and a short skirt. It looked very dressy to her and so she changed the top to a full-sleeved ruched silk shirt. She looked at herself carelessly in the mirror and realized she looked about 12 but didn’t care and left for Brooklyn at noon.
Even if she found a hundred things to hold against Holly just the fact that she was always on time and still was impeccably dressed was something to respect and love. And she had come to like Holly a lot. The fact that she was Jason’s ex came up a lot in conversation and Maggie was always surprised at how any man could be bored of Holly. She was a brilliant woman with a body to match her intellect.
She was wearing a sequined miniskirt paired with a leather purple top that had a dangerously plunging neckline. She had large earrings on and an expensive looking pendant at her throat. Six inch heels completed her look. Maggie instantly evaluated her relative shabbiness compared to Holly but comforted herself with the thought that she could never be as fabulous as Holly anyway. Holly was in a league of her own.
“I just love you so much for being available”, Holly came over running and knocking a few people off their feet as she elbowed through the crowded club. “The guy I sleep with was busy this weekend and so I had no one to keep me company. Loneliness kills me”.
Maggie laughed uncontrollably. It wasn’t hard to pick up on Holly’s derision for how many men talked about women and so she talked about men like that. It was passive-aggressive but also uniquely refreshing.
“How are you?” She asked her new vivacious friend, eyeing her glowing skin with envy. She realized that her skin was fast losing its suppleness from family stress and the demands of residency.
“I’m fantastic”, Holly said loudly, fully aware of many men’s eyes on her and her cleavage. She was a peacock in every sense of the word and thrived on attention and adoration, “And I have good news for you, my friend, but where’s Jason? I thought he was coming too”.
She hadn’t realized it but the mention of Jason caused a pang. Suddenly the weight of these two weeks got heavier. She felt her lungs filling with water as it came to her, full force, that she just couldn’t see him or touch him whenever she liked.
She composed her face into a smile and said,
“He went to see his parents and sisters”.
Almost instantaneously, Holly’s boisterous manner disappeared.
“Oh”, she said softly, “So he went to see his parents?”
“Yeah”, Maggie said, trying to understand this sudden change in Holly’s demeanor, “He hadn’t seen them in eighteen months so wanted to”.
“You should’ve gone with him”, Holly said finally, “He probably needs you”.
Her heart was constricting now. She had been so tired and sad since yesterday that she hadn’t really considered that he was likely away for four weeks, at least two.
I can’t think about it now, she thought ferociously, I just have to focus on Dad. I’m going to spend all my time with him and read to him and even may be take Mom for shopp…….
“Let’s talk about this”, Holly said abruptly. She had reverted to her usual self.
They sat down and Holly showed her some amateur work that needed proofreading and editing. As Maggie looked at it, her trained and astute eye that was particularly apt to picking up grammar and punctuation marks, she instantly picked out four or five mistakes on the first page.
“You’re a genius”, Holly looked at her with awe, “Complete genius. But before I forget”, she withdrew an envelope from her little snakeskin wallet, “Here’s your payment for these”.
“Oh already?” She was a little taken aback.
“Yup”, Holly said, winking at her, “So you could buy me a drink”.
They ordered drinks and appetizers and chatted. Talking to Holly was never difficult. She met so many interesting people everyday that she was never short of stories.
“Let’s dance”, she grabbed Maggie’s arms and they got on the dance floor.
As soon as they got on the floor a man approached Holly and she disappeared in a crowd of dancing bodies. Maggie watched from the sidelines. She had no desire to dance. She was intrigued and even slightly worried at the look of alarm that had crossed Holly’s face when she had mentioned that Jason had gone without her. She meant to ask her and figured that now was as good a time as any.
But before she could make it to Holly, someone touched her shoulder from behind.
She turned around.
“Zach?” She said, incredulously, “Dr. Brown?”
“Zach’s fine”, he said, hiding a smile and surveying her with naked interest in his ice-blue eyes.
He had been with many women. He had been briefly engaged to two. None of his relationships had lasted very long. He didn’t know what it was but he got bored easily. He also was turned off immediately by women who were easy to get. For some reason, Maggie hadn’t been easy to get. She was dating someone, he knew, a man who didn’t look like he particularly deserved her but whatever! He thought wryly.
“Erm”, she said, hunting for polite words to say that she didn’t have time for him, “I’m going to go look for my friend. She might need me”.
And with that she fled.
She found Holly still dancing with the same man, their hands touching each other without shame or restrain. It looked like Holly became unavailable to unavailable men immediately. She was apparently now going to sleep with this one over the weekend.
“Holly!” She came up to them, panting slightly, after all the effort it took to locate her on a busy dance floor. Some people had asked her for a dance and she had plainly ignored them.
“What’s going on, buttercup?” Holly turned around and asked with concern at Maggie who was out of breath.
She now felt stupid for chasing Holly for something that was probably not even important. She knew Holly could be a little dramatic.
“You looked worried when I said Jason had gone on his own”, she finally blurted, “Why? I didn’t get it”.
Holly was stunned. She hadn’t counted on this evening getting heavy with a secret that her ex-lover had shared with her.
She cleared her throat and separated herself from her dance partner.
“Steve!” Holly began.
“Nathan”, the man corrected, but didn’t seem offended at all that Holly couldn’t get his name right after dancing with him for over thirty minutes.
“Yeah yeah, Nathan honey, mind if I chat with my friend here for a bit? Don’t go anywhere. I promise I’ll make it up to you”.
The man pulled at her but she playfully freed herself and followed Maggie.
“I don’t think I should be the one discussing this with you”, Holly began, “This isn’t a light conversation and certainly not one that I would feel at liberty to discuss with you. It’s a very sensitive subject and one that I know only by default. It wasn’t like Jason wanted to tell me. I just…….. found out”.
Sensitive. Found out. Maggie’s head was spinning.
“I need to know”, she grabbed Holly’s forearm, surprised at her own urgency to know, “I need to know, Holly. I can’t sit here quietly and go about my life like you just didn’t say something that is causing me to panic. What is it? Why should he not have gone alone? Why did you say that?”
Holly was quiet. In the crazy chaos of the club where the noise kept going up as the evening grew longer her silence was deafening to Maggie. Holly’s carefree face that looked like it could never wrinkle or crease like ordinary faces just a few minutes ago now looked many years old. She appeared to be searching for words but seemed at a loss for them.
She finally said,
“Jason will probably never speak with me again if I told you this but…..”, she inhaled sharply, “It’s about Brianna”.
She waited for Holly to tell her who Brianna was. Holly was shaking lightly and was struggling with her words. She kept opening her mouth to say something and closed it again. Finally, when Maggie couldn’t take it any longer, she shook Holly’s shoulder and asked fiercely,
“Who’s Brianna? Tell me now. Who is Brianna?”
Holly looked at her, her large blue eyes rapidly filling with tears and looking strangely large in her majestic face,
She felt her lungs filling up again. The noise around her dissolved into a child crying. There were images of Jason around her, touching her and holding her. His words echoed around her,
“Live death! That’s the only way to get to the other end”.
She got up from the table, steadier than she had expected herself to be. Holly stared at her but something in Maggie’s face prevented her from asking her where she was going. She got up too and went to the bar to get a drink. She didn’t want to tell Maggie more. It wasn’t her life to tell.
Maggie knew she was swaying a little as she walked in a daze to the door. She bumped into someone and almost knocked them off their feet. She didn’t care. She kept on walking, trying to clear her head that refused to stop spinning.
Men and women were laughing and chatting loudly around her. In a distance she saw a man who looked a lot like Jason swinging a little girl in his arms. She wondered momentarily how a little girl was in a club but then shook the thought off. Anything is possible, she thought without emotion. This world is full of possibilities.
She was now becoming more staggering in her gait and feared she’d fall. She stumbled out in the street. The noise was strangely sedating. This was the only sound, the sound of traffic, that she had ever gotten accustomed to. She again heard Jason’s voice,
“I always wanted to date a yankee”.
She laughed uncontrollably. She wondered how Jason could make her laugh by joking about feminism. Underneath all the layers he had strong feministic tendencies. He loved women.
“Never met a woman who I didn’t love”, she heard him say again.
Then why did he hide his daughter from her?
She realized she was swaying dangerously. She had one beer with Holly and usually didn’t get intoxicated with beer. She knew it wasn’t the beer.
It’s the grief, she thought with a strange detachment from her self, of being so close to someone and still not having their trust. It’s pain of having a lover who wouldn’t open up enough to make me a part of him. I’ve been discarded again. I’ve been sidestepped yet again.
Tears like a torrential rain were now flowing down her face. Suddenly she realized that it was raining. She was crying but it was also raining.
Her clothes started getting wet fast. Her gait lost its balance some more. Her headache got worse. Her vision got blurry. The sky roared. The rain got heavier. Her soul continued getting weighed down with the sadness of a secret that someone else was holding.
She tried to regain her balance but her legs gave way and she almost slumped to the ground when two strong arms held her from behind.
Ah! She thought with happiness and relief. He’s back. Jason’s back.
Then everything went black.