“She’s just so moody you know…”
“So was I.”
I rubbed the handle of my coffee cup as my eyes traced the lines of the wooden table. He sighed again as he looked at me. A single breath traveling the lengths of many seasons to finally come to rest. I looked up.
“I know you. You get lost with people and you think you have to look beyond them to fix it. You think that talking to a girl who isn’t moody will make up for it. You’re not a boy anymore, it’s time to stop the games.”
This whole afternoon had become a game. From the embrace of our greeting to his eagerness to talk about all the good times we had. What was he trying to remind me of? What did he want?
“I’m not playing games, it’s just I know an ongoing problem when I see it. I feel like she doesn’t even try anymore.”
“Don’t you talk to her about it?”
“Of course I do.”
“Hm.” I pondered taking another drink. His eyes were pleading with me, looking for guidance. I had coddled him for so many years of our friendship. I had dipped sweet words into his heart when I called him mine. I was used to being the wrong one, the “moody” one. He was rarely keen on his own reflection. I wondered when he’d learn.
“I think you talk to her about it but you just focus on her, you don’t ask what you could be doing wrong. You make people tired Mark, you should know that.”
Something clicked in that beautiful little head. His gaze averted as he realized the truth in my words. He didn’t like saving other people but was drawn so much to being saved from himself. He made women tired. He made us wary. He made us crumble into wet sheets and fervent texts. We cracked under the weight of accusations and began believing that we had lost our own vibrancy. But he wasn’t all bad, no. I liked to believe he was a boy simply unaware of how much a woman’s love can bend under the weight of uncertainty. He didn’t realize how many awful words he said to our tearful faces or how many conversations with his exes had gone so very noticed to our jealous eyes. I mean here he was, months after I thought we were done, explaining his troubles to me as if we were on some sort of twisted movie scene. I saw all the pictures of his fiancé online. I saw all the trips that we had planned to go on that he finally went on with her instead. I saw that she had red hair, his favourite. I saw that he’d occasionally write about how much he loved her and that he couldn’t wait to get the next chapter of his life started.
I also saw him here.
Trying to justify himself to me. I didn’t know what he wanted me to say. I didn’t know if he wanted me to give him some sort of green light to leave or whether he needed the reassurance to stay. I don’t know why he called me three days ago at 3 am out of the blue. I just don’t know.
“I always realize when it’s too late you know…” he said quietly. “I give her so much shit without even knowing that I’m half the problem. I mean, no she’s not perfect but neither am I right? Despite whatever you or Sara told me. I’m just not that great of a person.”
“It’s not that it’s just…When we tell you that we think you’re perfect, we’re not talking about the whole picture. We’re talking about….more like you, in that moment were perfect. And being imperfect makes you human, the human that we fell in love with. And when you love someone you think that they’re just right for you despite the flaws.”
The corner of his lip curled into a smile and he laughed. “You always just, blow my mind. I could talk to you for hours and it’s just…wow.”
I laughed weakly. “Yeah…”
My heart was tugging again. I remembered all the times I did call him perfect, those times in the low lights kissing his neck, his back, or his face. And he did seem flawless to me then. I really did believe in forever and the ring on my finger. I thought I had finally found him. The one. But too many restless nights and unanswered questions shook our foundations. Again, he has returned to that place.
“I don’t know if maybe…I feel like I’m making the right decision. I always get so doubtful and seeing you here the way you are it’s just…”
His trembles rocked me like thunder.
“Mark, you’re always looking on the outside for happiness. You have to stop doing that, hell even you told me that. You think I don’t have mood swings anymore or that I don’t wake up crying like I used to? You think I don’t question Ben about every girl I see on his phone? Of course I look good when you’re not spending all hours of the day with me. I mean that’s what marriage is all about isn’t it? You move in, you see each other for everything that you really are and you love and accept it. I don’t think she’s any different than I was.”
“Yeah but it’s just like, I don’t know what it’s gonna be like every day y’know? I don’t…I don’t know why I’m so confused right now. I love her to death. I do.”
“You want the girl you talk to three times a week when she’s feeling happy to be the girl you’re spending twenty four hours a day with that’s dealing with real life. I’ve met girls that are truly difficult. I don’t think she’s one of them. You can’t rely on her to make you happy 24/7, you can’t rely on anyone for that. Happiness should be there but you’re really the one in control of it.”
“You’re…you’re probably right. I know she doesn’t like dealing with me all the time.”
“Stop looking on the outside then. When you fix yourself you will fix her.”
“You’ve got such a beautiful mind Kate.”
“And Sara does too if you’d just stop and see it.”
I don’t know why I started to feel upset. Perhaps angry. Maybe it was all the emotions swimming around in my stomach. Across from me was this man, this man who I used to call my own. Still handsome and charming. Still in love with me, at least in one way or another. A part of me wanted to grab his hand again and run away. But another part of me wanted to release him and let him grow on his own so that he could stop this cycle of running to other people to find happiness. I couldn’t let him do it again. Besides, I had Ben in my life now. A man unlike Mark, a man within my capacity for love without confusion or malice. Even now I was thinking of him. I missed him and I felt odd about being here with Mark.
“What if things were different…” he said in a low voice.
“I mean what if I had figured this out months ago. Would we still be…?”
“Why are you even worried about that Mark?” I was irritated. He looked at me for a moment, knowing he was testing the waters.
“I mean…I worry that she’ll leave me too eventually. But if I did change could it save us? If I had changed, would you have stayed? I’m just asking from your point of view.”
I knew that he missed me. I knew that even after all the times he had left me we would always drift back together. But when I finally walked away because I was unable to deal with the stress and confusion, he couldn’t accept that it was truly the end. He may have realized his loss but he was given something new. Another chance. A good girl. Why should any of this matter? But he’s just as lost as he was before, clinging to faded memories and the idea that the weight of the good was more than that of the bad. This was his chance to change. I believed that things happened for a good reason. This was it.
“Maybe? I don’t know Mark like, I can’t say for sure because you always had the ability to change, you just didn’t. You can change now, you can start owning up to yourself and be the man you deserve to be. You’re always running away from the blessings in your life, it’s got to stop.”
“I…” His eyes were weak. “I wish I was that man for you. I honestly do.”
“I’m sorry,” I didn’t know what else to say. My heart was sinking faster every second. He reached across the table and took my hand. It felt like fire.
“I love her, but she’s not you. And I know I told you I couldn’t stand you sometimes and that you were too much to deal with but I realize now that it wasn’t your fault. And I just don’t know what to do right now because every time I see you it’s like seeing you for the first time again back in April. You were the first girl that treated me right and supported me no matter what. You stuck to me and while I love Sara I just…feel so much regret.”
I pulled my hand away. My nose stung and my eyes became heavy. I started speaking fast, each word bringing me closer to tears.
“How can you just come out of nowhere and tell me all of this? With a wife to be? What if she heard this right now? Has she even done anything wrong to you? You need to let go of this, of us. I gave you so many chances and you took none of them. No one is ever good enough for you when you’re actually with them. You’re always looking at nothing but the good in other people and expect that in your life all the goddamn time. You don’t even put that out into the world, so why would you expect it? You blame everyone else around you for your problems. You always, always do this shit Mark. How many times did I catch you talking to some girl or spending more time with her than me because she was oh so wonderful and perfect? How many fucking times? And there I was thinking I wasn’t good enough, just because some chicks knew how to put on a front to gain your attention. And you fell for that shit every time. You’re doing it right now with me and its bullshit. She loves you, she’s going to do everything I did for you. Go be good to her and leave me alone.”
I stood up and he moved to stop me. My coffee sat on the table, cold and barely touched.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”
“You need to grow up Mark. You can’t keep doing this forever.”
“I know and I’m so stupid, I’m sorry. I love her and I wouldn’t trade her for—“
“You’d trade her for me right now. I mean that’s actually why you came here isn’t it? You expected me to just disrespect her and Ben and take you back with open arms? I didn’t even want to come here today. I should have known that you’d try to change my mind. All you’ve done is show me that you’re still the same.”
“No, you know me better than anyone. I needed to know what to do. I just want to be good for someone, for once in my goddamn life.”
“Well it’s not for me. Go home to her and just leave me alone.”
I was glad he had picked a day where the café was quiet. My heels clicked as I opened the door to leave, the bells chiming as I did. He followed me right out.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t make you happy.”
“You did make me happy and that’s what pisses me off. I loved you more than anyone but I couldn’t take all the stupid games and the fact that it took an ultimatum for you to ever make up your mind. I couldn’t take the fact that I kept letting you creep out of another woman’s bed and back into mine. I don’t need you to make me happy now. Go make her happy.”
“I want to. I really want to. I just regret what I’ve done to you, more than anything else in my life.”
“Good,” I can’t remember the last time I had the strength to say these words. “You need to. You fucking hurt me. You’re lucky to have another girl willing to put up with you now. So stop fucking it up.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“How many coffee shops did you go to with someone else to talk about our problems huh? How many times did you go home with them after?”
“Kate it wasn’t always like that! I made mistakes, I took you for granted. I’m sorry!”
You’d think that my skin had turned to marble. I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t wipe the anger off of my face or the cold inside of my heart. I hated that he made me feel this way. I hated that I could still feel compassion for someone who had made me hate myself so much.
He grabbed me then and pulled me into his arms. I was weak, holding the weight of anger and sadness over my shoulders. I felt him rest his head on top of mine.
“Seeing you moving on like this just hurt you know. And I thought I moved on too. I thought I did. But then I saw you again and I lost myself. I can’t believe I let you go. I just wanted you to be happy,” He whimpered.
“I am happy now, and you are too. You would make me happy by doing better for yourself. You’ve gotten another chance, take it.”
“I feel like I’m letting go of everything with you. All that history. Gone.”
“It’s not gone. Go and create new memories. Look forward to the future. If it doesn’t work then…”
I pulled away from him and looked into his eyes, the anticipation glimmering in them lightly. I wanted to hold him and hurt him at the same time.
“You move on,” I finished.
“I hope you’ll still be part of my life.”
“She’s your life now.”
“I know,” I folded my hands together. There was silence.
“I have to go now. Take care of yourself Mark.”
“I will. I’m going to really try this time. For…For her.”
“Goodbye,” I said. It felt like I should have said “I love you” after.
“Goodbye Kate,” He left a kiss on my forehead before I turned away. The spot stung long after.
His eyes followed me down the street for a few steps. He finally turned to walk back to the parking garage. I wiped the tears from my face and pulled out my phone. Ben had called and left a message.
“Hey babe could you meet me at the park at 6? Wilson Park, where we had our first date y’know. I have a surprise for you and I just thought I’d call and let you know since I got off work early. I love you honey. See you soon, bye.”
I looked at the time. 5:40. I turned and saw that Mark was gone. In a deep exhale I breathed out the emotions planted by the afternoon. With lightly trembled hands I went to call Ben.
“Hey beautiful,” he said when he answered the phone. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too baby.”
I was home.