Work the next day kept me busy. I made excuses to work late so that I didn’t have to go home -- while Tina left early to get a jump on the weekend and her ever present social life.
Saturday afternoon’s “girl-time” with Charlotte was successful. I showed up at Emile and Charlotte’s place promptly at 4:00 p.m. with a movie, Chinese food, and some magazines to keep Charlotte busy after I left. Emile left after a kiss for Charlotte and a grateful hug for me.
“Bless you,” he whispered, conspiratorially, as he headed out.
“I heard that!” Charlotte yelled from the other room, as I laughed.
Sunday morning, I slept late and then got ready to head down the street to meet my sister for brunch. She liked the little cafe on the corner of my street. So, when she had texted me the day before saying she ‘urgently’ needed to see me, I had suggested it as a place to meet.
The day was sunny, and I admired the beautiful sight of the sun rippling down through the leaves of the trees. As I approached the cafe, I saw a small line of people outside and, past them, my sister Michelle, her blond hair shining in the sunlight, waving to me from where she sat at a patio table. She was talking on her cell phone, but she motioned for me to come over as she continued to talk. I excused myself and cut past the people waiting outside the gate. As I approached Michelle, she was getting off of the phone.
“Hi,” she said, smiling, as she put away her phone. “Sorry about that.” She patted the seat next to her. “I hope you don’t mind, but there was a table open when I got here, so I thought I’d grab it.”
“Perfect,” I said as I pulled out the chair and sat. “I’m starving! I had an early dinner last night with Charlotte, so I’m in the mood for something big.” I picked up the menu and started scanning it.
“How is Charlotte?” she asked, as she, too, looked over the menu.
"She’s doing okay. Her doctor put her on bedrest last week, so she’s going a little stir crazy. I brought over Chinese food, and we watched a movie.”
“Uh, hum,” she nodded distractedly, still deciding on her breakfast choice. “How’s Emile holding up?”
“You know,” I said, looking up at her, “I think he’s doing great. Honestly, I think he’s very excited about being a dad, but he doesn’t want to admit it. I think he thinks it’ll blow his “too cool” image or something. Anyway, he wasn’t really there last night. He went out with the guys from the band to watch a game. Charlotte told me all of this, but I think she’s right. It would be so like him.”
She stared at me for a second and then returned to perusing her menu. After a while, she closed it and reached out to take a drink of the water the waitress had brought before I arrived. I made my breakfast decision just as the waitress came back to take our orders and retrieve the menus.
I reached for my own water glass when I noticed Michelle’s blue eyes turned my way again. I ignored her while I took a drink and set the glass back down.
“What’s up?” I finally asked, not meeting her gaze.
“You look tired,” she said.
“Yeah, well, I haven’t exactly been sleeping well the past few nights.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Why?” I said incredulously, and, I realized, a little too loudly. A girl at the table next to us looked at me, giving me a “what the f” sort of look as she decided whether she was, in fact, sitting next to a crazy person or that perhaps I just needed my morning coffee. Or both. Michelle smirked a little as the girl scooted her chair a little further away from us.
The waitress returned with our coffees, and I started making myself busy adding cream and sugar to mine. Coffee preparations done, I lifted the cup, raising it in a mock toast to the girl, who continued to steal glances my way. I took a tentative sip before setting the cup down again.
Michelle continued to stare at me, waiting. One thing my baby sister was good at was drawing out my secrets. It sort of sucked growing up when she went blabbing them all to my mom. Or, when she told Bobby Barnes in the 7th grade how I wrote his name over and over again in my notebook. I still hadn’t forgiven her for that one.
“Why?” I asked again after a moment, a little quieter this time. ”I’ll tell you why. My boyfriend of over a year told me on Tuesday he needed a change and left me for someone else, that’s ‘why’?”
“Mike broke up with you?” she asked.
“Yes.” I picked up my coffee cup and took a longer sip this time, scalding my tongue. But, I refused to let on how much it hurt. I was tired of feeling hurt, be it burnt tongue or crappy relationships.
Michelle picked up her coffee cup, too, eyeing me over the rim before taking a sip. “Well, that sucks.”
“Yes, it does. I was going to ask if you and Mike wanted to come out with me on Saturday night. I met this new guy – Zach – and I wanted you to meet him and give me your opinion on him. I don’t want to come on too strong, so I thought a double date would make things a bit more casual.”
“Well, sorry to ruin your plans, Michelle," I quipped. “It’s not like I could help it.”
“Oh, sorry, Kate. I didn’t mean to make it about me. That was selfish. I’m just disappointed, that’s all. And, I really feel bad for you. I do.”
“And, this is why you urgently needed to see me? To ask about going out?”
“Well, yes,” she admitted. “Plus, we haven’t seen each other in a while, so I thought I’d check in with you, too.”
I sighed. I could tell Michelle wouldn’t be content until she could spill her guts about the new guy she met, so I started asking questions, diving into my food as soon as the waitress brought it to our table. I half listened to Michelle as she continued on about this new guy she went out with two nights before, giving me all of the blow by blow details of the evening, where they went, what they did, and how funny he was.
“The thing is, he’s way older than me,” I heard her say. “Okay, well not way older, but he’s 33 and I’m 25, so do you think it would be weird? What do you think Mom would say?” Michelle had never cared about what Mom would say, and I wondered why she was asking me about this now. She must have really liked the guy.
“I’m probably not the best person to ask about relationships right now,” I said.
Michelle reached out and grabbed my hand. “Oh, honey. I’m going to leave here today and kick Mike’s ass. Where does he live?” She pulled out her phone, ready to tap in his address.
“No,” I laughed, but it came out sort of like a squeak. “Part of it is my fault, you know.”
“How so?” She looked confused, but she put her phone down, ready to listen.
“I guess I just expected more, you know? Like, waiting for this magical relationship that never really materialized.”
“You aren’t still going on about that spark thing, are you?”
“The Spark Theory,” I insisted. “And, no. Not anymore. I think I’m finally done with all of that. It’s not real. I mean, maybe what mom and dad have is just once in a blue moon sort of thing. I should have just accepted the relationship that Mike and I had as it was, given more to it, tried harder.”
“C’mon. You can’t really believe that anything you would have done would have made the difference.” She shook her head. “Okay, sure, he broke up with you. Yes, he met someone else. That sucks. It really does. But, don’t you feel a little relieved?” she prodded.
“Relieved?” I asked. I thought I knew what she was trying to get at, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go there, yet.
The look she gave me was one you’d give to a child who wasn’t understanding what you were trying to teach it. I knew that look well -- our mom had that same look.
“Kate, did you really love him?” she asked me. “Honestly, did you?”
I took a sip of coffee as I decided how to respond. Should I be mad, outraged that she should even ask me that question? I was a jilted woman, for heck’s sake! I set the cup down and leaned back in my chair.
“Yes, no, I don’t know,” I finally said. “I mean, yes, there is a part of me that did love him. We had a great time together, and I really care about him.” She waited for me to continue. “But,” I said finally, “if you mean was I in love with him, I guess I’ve come to realize that I’m not sure. Maybe not in the way I should have been."
“There you go,” she said, patting my hand. “Kate, don’t take this the wrong way, but I am relieved,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I didn’t understand the turn the conversation had suddenly taken.
“Okay, I might as well get this over with,” she said, almost to herself. She looked up at me. “I knew about the other woman.”
“What?” I asked in disbelief, my cup raised halfway to my mouth.
“Don’t be mad. Maybe I should have told you. I might have told you if I thought your relationship with Mike was going anywhere. But, I knew you didn’t love him. It was just a fun thing, so I didn’t think it would really matter.”
“What do you mean you knew about the other girl?” I asked, ignoring what she just said and setting my cup down.
“Okay, okay,” she said. “A few Fridays ago, I was downtown at a bar with some friends from work, and I saw someone who I thought was Mike, but I couldn’t be sure -- the bar was pretty crowded. He was sort of turned to the side, and he was with a girl. They were talking and laughing and, at one point, she leaned over and they kissed. That was it. Like I said, I couldn’t be sure it was him and by the time I tried to move close enough to investigate, they were gone. I figured if it was him, you would find out eventually or maybe you didn’t want to know. If it wasn’t him, then telling you would have opened up a can of worms that didn’t necessarily need to be opened up, right? Honestly, I’m sorry. I should have said something, but then I sort of forgot.”
“Okay, I didn’t forget. I should have told you. Then, maybe you could have found out sooner and broken up with him first.”
I sat there trying to take in what Michelle had just told me, and I felt like I had a big “L” for loser attached to my forehead. I realized that it jived with what Mike had already told me. He met someone at work and had grown closer to her. It only made sense that they would see each other outside of work. I guess his Friday nights were not always with the guys. It just made me wonder if there were any other things Mike had ever lied about. It also made me seriously doubt that I would ever date anyone again, and I felt like such an idiot. Trying to break the moment, I picked up my coffee cup again and took a sip. Michelle ate a few bites of her breakfast before speaking again.
“One more thing,” Michelle continued. “I told Mom about it.”
“That’s who I was on the phone with when you walked up.”
“God, Michelle!” I sat back, nearly spilling my coffee. “Any other news to tell me? I don’t think you’ve sufficiently made me feel bad enough for the day.”
“Sorry!” she cried out. “I didn’t realize you had broken up with Mike. When she asked me what I was doing, I told her I was meeting you, and then it made me think of the other night.” She hesitated. “Mom wants you to call her later.”
“Of course,” I said sarcastically. ”That’ll be a really fun conversation.”
“She just wants to make sure you are alright, and she’ll definitely want to hear about this! She didn’t really like Mike, either.”
“Either?” I turned to her.
“Okay, I never told you. Mom and I both thought he wasn’t the right person for you. Yes, he was great on paper. It seemed to work for you to start. But, after a while, you were always sort of closed off around him. So, yes, I am relieved you guys broke up. I was worried you would end up wasting your life on someone who wasn’t right for you.”
“And who exactly do you think is right for me, oh wise one?” I asked angrily, as I shoved a bite of eggs in my mouth. Although Mom and Dad had been married for over 29 years, Michelle had never had a relationship that lasted longer than a few months.
“Someone more free spirited, like you.”
I almost choked on my eggs. “Free spirited?” What was she talking about? Michelle was the sister with the bubbly personality, the one with fiery, free spirit.
“Yes,” she looked at me thoughtfully. “I’ve always admired that about you. You do your own thing. You decided to go away to college, you were the first one to move by yourself to New York City.”
“It’s not that far of a move,” I laughed. “Mom and Dad only live on Long Island.”
“True, but it’s the idea of it. You always wanted to do it on your own. Even when we were kids, you weren’t afraid of taking chances. Remember when we went to California to visit Mom’s cousins and they took us to that pool with the really high diving board? They were all saying how high it was, but you climbed right on it and jumped off. You were my hero.”
“That diving board scared the heck out of me.” I said, remembering.
“But, you jumped anyway, Kate. Even when it scared you, you still jumped.” she nodded, thoughtfully. She hesitated, then continued. “I guess I haven’t seen you jump in a while, and it makes me kind of sad,” she said quietly.
First Emile, now Michelle, I thought. Had I let getting my heart hurt one too many times affect me? Had I really changed that much? It was something to think about, and I sat there, ashamed but too stubborn to care. So what if I’d changed? So what if I were more -- cautious. I’d probably analyze and plan and decide a long time before I leaped off that diving board, now. There was nothing wrong with that.
I looked up into Michelle’s expectant face. “I’ll be fine,” I told her. “Fine. Maybe you’re right. I have changed a little, but I’ll figure it out. I do know one thing, though. I’m through looking for some magical relationship that just doesn’t exist."
Michelle looked doubtful, and I saw a look of pity in her eyes that made me want to change the subject. ”So,” I said. “Tell me more about this new guy.”
She smiled, and her entire face lit up. She then launched into more details about Zach, how they’d met and hit it off instantly, how handsome he was, and funny, too. The conversation carried us through to the end of brunch, and I only had to sit and nod at the appropriate times or ask an occasional question to keep her going. Anything to keep the subject off of me. Finally, we were done, and I left with a hug and a promise to call Mom when I get home.
As I walked home, I noticed a huge moving van in the street. Distracted, I barely missed running into a couple of guys carrying a big couch into the building two doors from mine.
“Whoops, sorry,” I said, sidestepping the movers and the couch. After I walked past, I turned back to watch them maneuver the heavy couch up the stairs of the building, wondering how they would ever get it through the door. Finally, after a bunch of grunts and groans, they finally conquered what had before looked like an impossible task, and I turned around and continued home, shaking my head in disbelief and wonder.
"I guess anything is possible," I thought.