The night became a blurry, soft stupor. The agony was there, hanging out at the fringes. But in here, in this shelter of inebriation, it was okay. I could still breathe. My heart was still beating. Lumping away in there like a fucking heartbeat (‘cause that’s what it was) that had lost its tune. All erratic. Skipping sometimes.
That’s what she’d taken with her. Those beats of my heart that just didn’t happen sometimes.
We were on the beach, somehow. I was lying there in my tux and it was covered in sand. And wet. My shirt was open. My tie was long gone. I was barefoot. “Did we go swimming?”
“You wanted to. But I pulled you back out.”
“Oh.” Something occurred to me. “You should’ve just let me fucking float away.” It would have been peaceful out there.
He was sitting up, a few feet away.
“You should have,” I said.
“What would I tell Lila when she comes back?”
“She’s not coming back.”
“She hates me. I’m an egomania … egomagical … ego –”
“Yeah, that. An egomaniacal asshole.”
“And now this.” I still held the bottle of whiskey. I took another swig. It was fucking empty. “Who drank all this?”
Jake just laughed a little. “You, mostly. Me, some.”
I sat up a little. The whole world tilted and swirled for a few seconds. I looked out where Jake was looking, at the glimmer of the moonlight on the rippling waves. It was a while before I got a focus and even then the moon was divided into two, sometimes three perfect circles.
“She did it on purpose,” I said.
“Who did what on purpose?”
“Shawna. Since when do condoms just randomly get holes in ‘em?”
Jake turned to look at me.
I felt like talking. “I just couldn’t love Shawna. I tried but it just wouldn’t stick. She could tell. Damn, the moon’s beautiful tonight. I wonder if Lila’s looking at that moon. Would’ve been a beautiful night to be married.” I was ranting, but I didn’t fucking care. Sometimes ranting feels like the right thing to do. “But with Lila, it was just so easy. I fucking fell in love with her right off the bat. I didn’t even mean to love her but I just did. I mean, fuck. I’m so crazy in love with her, it’s killing me. And now she’s gone. And you know what? I don’t know if I can take it. I really don’t know. I’m not sure I can handle not having her. I don’t want to be without her.”
“She’ll come back. She just needs a little time.”
“What if she doesn’t?”
“Then you’ll get on with your life.”
“What if I don’t want to get on with my life without Lila in it?”
“You have to. You have to try. You have to skim along the surface each day and ignore all those big, mean fire pits and absences and memories and just pretend like they don’t exist. Some days it’ll be more than you can bear. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’ve lost your mind. Some nights you’ll feel like it isn’t worth it, all this soldiering on. But it is. Because some days will be beautiful. Some days you’ll remember what the good stuff feels like. That day Lila comes back to you, you’ll think: See? This was worth it. Worth all of it. I think she will. You just have to wait it out and let her come back to you without forcing her hand. Keep going, brother. Because that’s what we do.”
“Yeah. It is.”
God, I felt tired.
“How’d you like that apple pie?”
Silence. After a while, he spoke. “I liked it a whole lot.”
“You think you might go back for more?”
He smiled at the sea. “I think I might. Since it’s in the neighborhood.”
We were quiet for a while. A wispy cloud drifted across the moon.
“You know,” Jake said. “It might be a good idea to court order a pregnancy test by one of your own doctors. Just in case she’s lying.”
“Yeah.” My voice sounded exhausted, defeated.
“I’ll take care of it if you want.”
Somewhere, in some layer deep down, I was glad he’d offered that. Because I didn’t feel capable of doing anything. Not now, not ever. I had serious doubts I could even drag myself off this beach before high tide. I almost wished he’d go away, so I could float away with the surf, and just be free. Not have to deal with anyone or try so damn hard anymore. I felt like my trying-hard mechanism had broken, along with my heart.
“Come on,” Jake said, standing and holding a hand out to me. “We’ll get some sleep, then head back to the city in the morning. I have to be back by noon.” He made a salute gesture in the general direction of west, putting on a hillbilly accent, for no apparent reason. I think he’d drunk a fair bit of that whiskey, too. “Yes, ma’am, your honor. Don’t lock me up for three years. I’ll kiss your honorable wrinkly ass and everybody else’s. Don’t lock me up and throw away the key.”
That reminded me of Lila. The key I’d given her.
I couldn’t go after her, I knew that. I had to trust her and hope she’d find her way back to me.
My chest felt unbearably heavy. Goddamn it, I could only hope and pray she did find her way back.
And I hoped I lasted that long.