It was a particularly rainy and chilly April evening.
The last couple of days had been blessed with the sun and a warm, southerly breeze. It was beginning to feel like spring, at least the kind of spring we have here in Montreal.
Tonight, however, the weather had taken a turn for the worst, as if foreboding some bad times to come. I had a feeling Mother Nature was, in fact, correct, as I sat at the table in this utterly upscale and ridiculously overpriced restaurant. He was late, as usual, almost a half an hour so.
Growing increasingly impatient, I nibbled on bread, slowly filling my stomach. By the time he gets here I won’t have any room left for the pretentious portions they call five-star cuisine, I thought. The waiter brought my second glass of wine, avoiding eye contact. Surely he was mocking me, probably thinking I’d been stood up. I could imagine him walking back to the kitchen, wagering with his fellow waiters about how long it would take before I left. Whether or not I would leave crying or with my head held high. Part of me wanted to join in on the bet. Might as well make some money off my own misery, right?
I was becoming very aware of my surroundings—fellow couples, all whispers, and kisses, playing footsies under the table. I wanted to leave. Checking the time on my phone, it was now eight o’clock, I decided I would give him another fifteen minutes. Not one second more.
I felt him brush past me, pulling out his chair with a loud scraping sound. I cringed. I could never quite understand why someone obsessed with these hoighty toighty restaurants, and who was always concerned with his appearance, could be so unmannered and crass.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said, insincerely. “Been here long?”
“You did say seven thirty,” I answered, annoyed. I noticed that he hadn’t even bothered to give me a kiss.
“Right.” He said nothing more and picked up his menu, not bothering with an apology. I watched him, trying to see if he was trying to formulate one, or at the very least, a reason why he was late.
“Listen, Liz,” he began, taking a deep breath. The waiter came over and Paul brushed him away. Mother nature was right—shit was about to hit. “I’m sorry to have to do this, but I don’t think we’re working out.”
Typical, I thought. Only he would bring me to a fancy restaurant, make me wait and all just to dump me. Why couldn’t this have been done at my apartment or even at his for that matter? I couldn’t really blame him. I should have known better.
This wasn’t the first breakup between us. By my last count, this would make it our third. I was the idiot who kept coming back. I was the one who, for some inexplicable reason, couldn’t see his breakups coming from a mile away. I was the one who always thought that maybe this time things would last. Yet again, I was wrong.
As I chugged the rest of my wine, listening to his empty, repetitive words, I looked at him. Like really looked at him. I looked past his looks—which were probably the main reason I kept crawling back to him—and I focused on the real person behind those incredibly blue, deceptive eyes. I let the realization of what was happening, and how I was so utterly done with it this time, really sink in. By the time the waiter returned to take our meal order I knew what I wanted. Without a word, I stood up and left the table. I could hear him unemphatically calling my name and noticed some people were trying not to stare. More notably, what I really noticed was how he never came after me.
I stood at the front doors, putting on my coat, getting ready to walk into the rain. I took my time, the eternal romantic in me expecting him to stop me any second. My efforts were futile, I knew it, but the “stupid optimist” as my Mother called it, kept hoping. I thought maybe he’d come, grab me at the last second, apologize profusely for being a jerk and take me in a passionate embrace, making the fellow onlookers incredibly jealous. I knew that even if he did make such a gallant effort it would be insincere and wouldn’t last, but I was a victim of cheesy romantic movies, so I always looked for grandiose expressions of love. Even when love had long since left the building.
I glanced back at our table. I could see him giving his order to the waiter, a small grin on his face. His lack of interest was obvious. Asshole, I thought, as I walked out into the cold, damp night.
When I got home, I threw my purse on the floor and removed my now drenched coat, hanging it up. I’d barely turned the light on when I heard my phone ring. I rummaged through my purse, cursing at the amount of crap I had in it, and, finding my phone, I read the caller ID. Half expecting it to be Paul, calling yet again to apologize and make up, I was surprised when I saw the number.
“Hi Dad,” I said, immediately struck with a bad feeling. Something’s happened. Why else would he be calling at this hour?
“Hello, Elizabeth,” he replied, his tone dark and serious. “Did I wake you?”
“It’s nine o’clock,” I replied. I always found it funny how my Father presumed I went to bed at seven, as I did when I was a child. We hadn’t spoken in a few weeks, maybe even months. The sound of his voice brought me immediate comfort. As I waited for him to speak, I could hear him breathing on the other end. His silence began to bother me.
“It’s Grandma.” The words lingered as my gut instinctually knew what he was about to say. “She died.” Luckily, I was standing near my sofa. My knees buckled and my legs gave out.
“Died?” was all I could manage to say. Sure, she was old, having just turned ninety-one, but she had seemed the image of good health the last time I’d seen her. As I quickly did the math, I realized that I had actually not seen her in over a year.
“The doctor says it’s most likely natural causes.” Natural causes. I never understood how death could be caused naturally. There was nothing natural about it. “Funeral’s this Saturday,” he added.
“I’ll drive down tomorrow.”
“Good, we need your help with certain things,” he said. I could hear the desperation in his voice, the sadness at losing his Mother. My heart broke for him.
“I’ll be there, Dad.” With an awkward goodbye, I hung up and threw my phone onto the table. The reality of the situation came crashing down on me within seconds, as did my emotions.
Overwhelmed, I walked into the kitchen and poured myself a large glass of wine. Taking a deep breath, then a long gulp, I tried to calm down. Over the past decade, ever since I’d left home, I tried to focus on my life in the city. I’d come to Montreal for school and had expected to be halfway around the world by now, living life fully, using my expensive education to make my dreams come true.
Instead, I found myself living in a cramped apartment, with no real claim to anything. I worked as a freelance writer, which left me with far too much free time and far too little income. My only long-term relationship had been with Paul—which as tonight reinforced, wasn’t a very healthy one—and with my cat, Max.
As if by coincidence, the doorbell rang, surprising me. Looking through the peephole I saw it was Paul. Sadly, I wasn’t that surprised. I hesitated before unlocking the door. Maybe seeing Paul right now wasn’t the best idea.
“Listen, babe, I’m sorry,” he said through the closed door. I’d been through this too many times, I could already hear his speech resonating in the back of my head. “Can I come in?” Though subtle, I could hear the drunken slur in his words. With a heavy sigh, I wiped the tears from my cheeks and let him in.
He came in, his suit wet, his hair disheveled. I knew I shouldn’t, that I should send him on his way. Sorry, not this time, buddy. As he walked past me, I could smell the scotch. Mixed in with the rain, the cold, and his usual scent, something within me quivered.
“What do you want, Paul?” I asked, knowing full well what he would say.
He reached for my hand. “I don’t want us to be over.”
“You don’t do you?” I asked, laughing. Yanking my hand away, I walked towards my glass on the table. Finishing it in one swig, I headed for a refill. “Want some?” I offered, knowing his visit might last a while.
“Sure,” he said, removing his damp jacket. I watched him peel it off slowly, revealing the white soaked shirt, which clung to his chiseled chest. Look away, I told myself, pouring him a measly glass of wine. The sooner he drank it, the sooner he’d leave. Hopefully.
“I don’t know what I want anymore,” he said, taking the proffered glass. I rolled my eyes. “But I can’t help it—we’re good together.”
“Damn it, Paul!” I snapped. “I’m not going through this again.” I was nearing the limit of my patience, which I had to admit should have been reached ages ago. “Tonight is really not the night for this,” I added, handing him a towel.
I sat down on the couch, sinking into its softness. He knelt down in front of me, drying his hair.
“What’s wrong?” He seemed genuinely concerned, which stunned me.
Feeling rather vulnerable and appreciating having the shoulder to cry on, I told him about my Grandmother, Dolores Williams. He looked at me as if he didn’t understand my attachment—why would he? We’d been together for years, and I’d maybe mentioned her two or three times. And each time was probably in passing. In general, the topic of my family had usually been a subject I’d kept to myself. Not that he’d ever bothered to ask about them. Paul being who he was usually focused on himself more than anything.
“I never knew you were so close to her,” he said.
“Used to be close,” I corrected. The confession killed me. The first couple of years after I had graduated, she would call me weekly to see what I was up to. Eventually, my lack of career updates and my slight shame at my failures began to make me less interested in speaking to her. I felt as if I was a disappointment to her. Towards the end, we barely spoke. It was just easier avoiding her altogether.
Quickly feeling ashamed and regretful, I recognized how I would never have the opportunity to speak to her again. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. I’d never before shown much emotion in front of Paul.
“I’m sorry, Liz,” he said, reaching up and using his thumb to wipe away my tears.
Before I could stop myself, I took his face in my hands, finding his lips with my own. I knew it was probably the worst thing I could do at that moment, but I didn’t really care enough to avoid it. I didn’t want to face what I was feeling. I knew I was making a mistake, but all I wanted to feel was reassured and to fill the void I now felt in the pit of my stomach.
Paul was good for that.