by Ladee Caid
Looking for something better means she's leaving the best behind.
It’s a foggy, quiet morning. Leaves the color of pumpkins cling to the dark Maple tree branches lining my parent’s driveway. Damp, fallen foliage coats the gravel drive with autumn orange and sticks to my boots as I stroll. My dark hair, still wavy from a braid, lay limp down the front of my cardigan. Because of the chill in the air, I wrap both palms around my warm coffee mug that’s cooling as I walk. I breathe in sweet decay, and my body smiles. Moments like this could go on forever, and I would be content. I can escape my botched life with the flawless still, the perfect quiet, and my coffee.
I’d ambled down this driveway many times until my bags were packed for a more exciting life. Prior to graduating high school and running from my small town; my boyfriend, John, and I held hands along this lane. Both of us loved wondering into the woods, hunting mushrooms, and just hanging out.
We were destined to be together forever. However, I didn’t talk about marrying John like the other girls in my senior class with their boyfriends. I didn’t need to. Anyone looking could almost see a tangible bond between us. John and I were inseparable until my soul grew restless. What was in my little burg to keep someone chained except the local glass factory?
John’s parents owned the only grocery store in town. I decided I didn’t want to be the wife of a grocer. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to walk on busy sidewalks. I heard about the hustle of cities, and I wanted to be a part of that scene. I begged for John to move with me, but he wouldn’t leave his aging parents. His folks needed him to run the store when they no longer could. He told me I’d be back and that he’d wait for me.
People grow and individuals change. I missed John every day, but the newness of my situation distracted me. I met Mitch who worked in the same office building as I. Mitch made me laugh and watched chick flicks with me. I could tell him my secrets, and we never argued. The two of us loved spending our leisure moments together at the end of the workday. However, Mitch never held my heart. Mitch was Mitch, and I was me. Mitch asked me to be his, but that which pumped my blood and gave me life belonged to John. I didn’t expect John to wait for me, but I knew he would.
While I dealt with my busy life, John nursed sick parents and managed the store. We’d stopped talking. Time sped. Before I realized it, two years had come and gone without a word to or from John. I started wondering how he fared. Memories of his touch, his smile, the way his hair stood up in the back no matter how much water or gel he used, began disrupting my work.
Mitch prodded me for my thoughts. His concern spurred me to tell of the man I’d left at home. Mitch was so loving, caring, and gentle; and I knew how he felt about me. I didn’t want him to think he was anything but golden. I didn’t want to cause him pain, but I did. The crunch of his smiling face told me I’d stabbed his heart. He stepped away from me.
The sudden rejection from him shocked me. Why should it have? I deserved it. I told a perfectly wonderful man that he wasn’t good enough, and I expected what? I awaited him to hold me, caress me, to tell me I was still the woman of his dreams? He didn’t do any of that. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and told me I should go to John.
As I tilted my head back against the airplane seat with my eyes closed, I envisioned John’s reaction of delighted surprise as I walked into the grocery store. I pictured him dropping whatever he carried and throwing his arms around me. I napped with John on my mind and a smile on my face.
Taking a taxi to my parent’s property bit a chunk out of my wallet, but a rental car would have drained me. After the squeezing, kissing, and tears; I asked to borrow the car. Mom and dad deflated. I’d just arrived, and already, I acted like a teenager. However, I needed to see John. I promised my parents I wouldn’t be long. My father pulled the keys from his jeans pocket and dropped them in my hand before slobbering on the forehead.
I parked beside the building instead of the dirt lot in front of the store. John might have recognized my parent’s car. After climbing out of the vehicle, I trotted toward the wall. Just as I rounded the corner, I flattened against the brick. I tilted my head to peek through the plate glass window. Glee bubbled from my chest, and I giggled.
The store had changed. Shelves were rearranged and the cash register’s counter had been moved closer to the door. John stood at the till giving change and to an elderly woman. The dimpled grin he bestowed upon his patron warmed me. My heart fluttered. John was even more handsome than I recalled. I decided it was time to reveal myself.
Just as I straightened to step, John received another customer. I waited. A very pregnant woman set cleaning supplies in front of him. I recognized the woman to be Kitty from high school. All of the years I’d known her, she’d kept to herself. I had a hard time imagining her holding a guy’s hand let alone being intimate.
Just as a bottle of dish soap started to fall, Kitty and John grabbed at the same time. Their hands collided knocking the soap to its side. John’s eyes sparkled as he lifted Kitty’s knuckles to his lips and kissed. I gasped.
Smiling and patting were friendly gestures, but smooching the customers was sexual harassment. John needed to be told, but I didn’t want to barge in and embarrass him. After Kitty left, I’d surprise him then gently let him know what I’d seen. However, Kitty didn’t leave, and John didn’t let go of her hand.
John guided her until she stood in front of him behind the counter. He caressed her arm and then her cheek. He crooked his finger under her chin and kissed her lips. Kitty smiled. John looked down at Kitty’s protruding belly, stroked the sides, and leaned to kiss it. Bile rose in my throat. Kitty fondled John’s hair and smiled.
I couldn’t watch longer. Once again, I flattened myself against the wall. A paralyzing dread glued me to the brick. I struggled to keep my legs from collapsing. I feared moving but was terrified of staying longer. What if someone saw me? What if John or Kitty decided to come out? I willed my legs to support my weight and ran to the car.
For what seemed like hours, I sat in the graveyard’s last row that I had to pass to go home crying and bellowing. I felt comforted mourning among the dead, for I wished to be one of them. The image of John kissing Kitty’s belly, his baby no doubt, wormed into my head. An invisible force crushed my chest pushing gasps of air from me. I sobbed, and I wailed. Torturous scenes of intimate acts between John and Kitty crept in, and I pushed them away. I’d lost. I left, and I’d lost. He lied. He didn’t wait for me. I’d never felt so alone in my whole life. I’d been abandoned and unwanted. But, it was my fault: all my fault.
What about Mitch? I’d thrown him away to come back to nothing. I deserved every tear I shed. Both men had loved me, and I left them for something I thought would be better. I deserved to be alone: to have no one to hold me, to kiss me, to tell me they loved me. Oh God, I wanted to wake from the nightmare I knew would never end.
Exhausted and pummeled, I drove back to my parent’s house. My childhood bed with its yellow frilled comforter called to me. As I entered the home, my mother came from the kitchen. The look on her face told me she knew how I felt and why. For an instant, my temper flared. Why hadn’t she told me? I could have been saved from the slap in the face. But, had I even give her a chance to warn me? Didn’t I grab the keys and run from her like I did everyone…for something better?
I muttered that I loved her, but I needed to lay down. She agreed and told me she’d bring me supper when the timer dinged. I dismissed her offer with a wave of my hand, but I knew she wouldn’t listen. I fell asleep and didn’t wake until after the sun had risen the next day.
I take a sip of my now tepid coffee and look around. Fog obscures the woods. I push memories from my mind and try to focus on the moment. I don’t want to think about what was or what will be because reality is a tender bruise.
Through the haze ahead, a doe emerges and saunters across the drive. Just as she clears the gravel, she stiffens. Her head erects, and she looks down the driveway away from me. The doe leaps into the high grass and disappears. A moment later, I hear a vehicle’s engine. Who would visit my mother and father at such an early hour? Were my parents even expecting company?
The noise gets louder, and a tiny, red car begins to materialize in the fog. Mitch owns a little Mazda the color of a fire truck, but this visitor couldn’t be him. He doesn’t know where my parents live.
I step into the dewy grass trying to make out the driver’s face through the windshield, but the dim interior won’t allow me. As the vehicle nears, the driver’s window gapes open. I almost spill my coffee. Mitch leans out as the Mazda rolls to a stop.
“Hi beautiful,” he says.
“What are you doing here?” Perhaps I sound upset, but I’m not. I feel like a beam of light is shining inside me.
“I wondered if it was a good idea to come.”
“No, no, Mitch, I’m happy to see you. I’m just wondering why you’re here after I was so horrible to you. And, how did you find my parent’s house?”
Mitch runs his hand along the steering wheel. “Well, I kinda called. I just wanted to see how you were doing, you know. I mean, I didn’t exactly handle…I just missed you, okay. I called here looking for you to make sure I really wasn’t what you wanted. I talked to your mom instead, and she insisted I come. She said you needed me. I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t have come. I’ll leave if you want.” Mitch grimaces.
His pained expression makes me laugh. It feels good to laugh.
“My mom is right; I need you. I don’t deserve you, but I’m glad you’ve come.” I let out a belly full of air. “My mother, she always seems to know just what I need. Why don’t you come to the house with me and have breakfast? You can properly meet my mother…and my father. However, before we go anywhere, I want to say I’m sorry. Do you forgive me?”
Mitch jumps out through his door, and within two steps he's crushes me to his chest.
“I love you; there is nothing to forgive.”