Fallen Angels

By Arthur Davis

Hi, is that you?”

Chris Logan moved the receiver away from his ear. The voice echoing from the black plastic handset asked the question again, but this time it sounded faint, frail, and doubtful. He returned the device to his ear. “Carol?”

“My God, for a moment I thought I had gotten the wrong number.”

“No. It’s me.”

“It’s me too,” she said, finally relieved. “How have you been?”

“I was just going to ask you that,” Chris said, though he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the truth.  He wasn’t sure what he wanted to hear.

“It’s my call, so you have to answer first.”

There was no urgency in her voice although she sounded nothing like the Carol Saunders he knew and loved and lost. “I won the New York State lottery about two years ago, invested all that money in a high-tech firm whose stock quadrupled, margined that profit, and bought some tract land in Pennsylvania that a large mall operator is buying from me at a five hundred percent profit. And, oh yeah, I’ve developed a cure for the common cold.”

“Funny, is that all you accomplished while I was away?”

“Okay, I’m fine. Just a few years older I guess.”

“Two years and two months and a few days.”

“If you had given me another second I would have gotten it.”

“I know. You were always good at figures.”

“Well, anyway, I was good with yours,” Chris said, still studying the brief he had been working on. His client had embezzled funds from his company and the state of Connecticut wanted him in jail so badly it was as if he had looted a hospital of all its money instead of twelve thousand dollars from an international conglomerate to cover his gambling debts. Life could be very unforgiving, he thought remembering how frightened the man was when he first came into his office. He wanted to keep the arrest quiet but there was no way to keep it from the local newspapers. With his wife at his side, the man cried for almost the entire length of his initial consultation. “You sound like you’re calling from next door?”

“Actually, I am,” was all Carol could bring herself to say and was glad to have the confession over with. “At least a few blocks away.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m in town to see old friends.”

“And some old, less than friends?”

“You were never that.”

“Have you called Kim?”

“I intend to.”

“She’ll be delighted to speak to you,” he said, then added with some reluctance, “So where is Hal?”

“Home with the kids.”

Kids. “I didn’t know you had children.”

“Twins. Matthew and Jonathan. They’re adorable.”

Chris’ heart sank to a level of desperation he might have once considered impossible. This was something he didn’t want to hear right about now. He stacked up the partially completed brief on several volumes of Connecticut Criminal Practices, pushed them aside, and thoughtlessly fingered the pill vials he had collected on the corner of his desk like little orange, enemy toy soldiers. It was already well past noon. He had missed his morning volley of medication and was feeling weak and irritable. He failed to prepare himself breakfast at six like his nutritionist prescribed. “You have to keep up your energy,” she scolded on more than one occasion. He had been attentive for the first month or so since his diagnosis was confirmed. Recently he felt himself slipping, or simply not caring. It made little difference. Though hearing Carol’s voice suddenly made him feel guilty that he was acting irresponsibly. “Congratulations.”

“Hey, have you had lunch yet?”

He was surprised that she didn’t hear his stomach growling through the receiver. In a way, he wanted to refuse himself nourishment. The doctor said he would go through a phase of bitterness and resentment. That was supposed to come after the denial he had already experienced. He could hardly wait to complete the phases, or his life. “Are you calling from ‘The Burger House’?”

“Sheila, a friend of mine, maybe you don’t remember her, dropped me off while she went to meet her brother. It was a kind of spur-of-the-moment thing. When I saw where I was and ‘The Burger House,’ I, well, you know the rest. So, are you up for it?”

The only thing Chris had managed to concentrate on since he woke was taking a shower. Since the exploratory surgery, he found himself talking more showers. Sometimes as many as three a day. It wasn’t that he worked up such a sweat working a few hours a day from home. It was as if the more he bathed, the more chance there was that he could wash away the grotesque incision that cut across his body. The biting red gash was a symbol that would forever mark his remains as defective and soon to be in complete default of life.

While the idea of seeing Carol had a tender tug to it, Chris was not interested in explaining his circumstances. He had spent the last few months doing that to family and friends. And, if it weren’t for this case that practically fell into his lap through an ex-partner at his old law firm; he probably would have the time to take a dozen showers a day. He glanced up at the clock as though it made a difference. Carol was two blocks away at their old hangout, one of the last places in New York City with authentic and uneven sawdust floors, low beam ceilings, and the best garlic burgers and barbecue string fries on the planet.

“Are you buying?”

“I’ll leave the tip,” she said, exactly as she had when they had their first date and he started to pay for the bill and she wanted to share the cost of the meal.

He hastily took all his pills in one gulp, threw himself into a pair of jeans that were a lot looser than they were in December, a blue turtleneck, and construction boots and fell out of his apartment and down the stairs into a brisk March day. This wasn’t so bad, he thought, and then searched with his hand for the gash on his right side. What did his insides look like when the surgeon pried him open? They knew what they were looking for; it was just that they thought they had caught it in time. They hadn’t. There would be no wonderful life, a loving wife and twins for him. There may not be another Christmas, one of the more cynical surgeons cautioned, even if he did take the full battery of medications.

Chris moved cautiously through the lunchtime crowd along Broadway and 77th Street so as not to bump into anybody and cause his body more insults than it had already endured. The last time he saw Carol she was wearing a baggy pair of denim coveralls with a bright yellow jersey underneath. Her hair was pulled back revealing the strong side of an otherwise soft and gentle face. A wave of brunette hair cascaded over her shoulders.

According to Carol, she had spent the better part of three years loving him without being able to convince him to marry her. She didn’t want to be just friends forever. Bitter as that sounded, it even made sense to Chris. It was time to move on, at least according to her. It was only later that his sister Kim informed him that Carol had married a computer analyst, a vice president of an internet startup, named Hal. She also told Chris that from her one conversation with Carol, that she seemed happy.  He wished her luck, admitting to himself that she might have known this guy even before they had broken up. She married him so soon after she left New York.

He opened the door to ‘The Burger House’ and inhaled the firestorm of garlic that filled the air. Immediately he saw Carol was occupying their favorite booth. He had to smile at the coincidence.

She saw him and jumped up as though they were still lovers unable to endure another moment absent each other’s embrace. “You’ve gotten even more handsome,” she said, then stepped back. “And lost a few pounds in the process.”

“I’m just getting over the flu,” he said not knowing how hard to hold this married woman with two adorable twins, in his arms. They spotted each other kisses on the cheek and settled down opposite each other in the booth. “So, let’s see what you’ve got?”

She looked at him as though he had asked her to take off her clothes. “What I’ve got?”

“The twins? The proud mother? Pictures by the bushels?”

“God, you still don’t beat around the bush.”

“I want to see your pride and joy. I know it sounds unlikely, but your happiness still has some importance to me.” Chris could hear himself take that professional tone. The one he would use to interrogate his clients and their adversaries. He was all business and just friendly enough to get all the facts from his usually resistant flock of sociopaths.

“I only came out with a few dollars. Everything is back at Sheila’s.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound cold.”

“More side effects of the flu?”

“Yeah. Probably. Something like that.”

“Maybe something more than the flu?”

“Maybe.”

They ordered coffee. “You want to talk about whatever it is to an old friend who still feels your happiness has some importance to her?”

He couldn’t hide the truth of his future from his family. Most everybody was at the hospital and heard the bad news from the surgeon who performed the exploratory procedure while Chris was still in the recovery room. After the shock and hysterics subsided those closest to him understood, and stood by as the thirty-four year old man began to recede from life and all the opportunities open to those who would come to embrace their future. If there was anybody Chris felt had no reason to know, it was Carol Saunders. Maybe in the past she would have been the first who would rush to his side, but not now. This was different. Everything was different. It was better that she just go home to her family and let him and nature take its course. And he certainly didn’t want or need her pity. He had seen enough of that from several of his friends.

“Bad time. Bad place.”

Flipping her hair back over her shoulders she asked, “Do you remember when we first came here?”

Chris did. He had been so in love with this girl he could hardly contain himself. How could he have ever let her slip away? He was a fool. He knew that the day she told him she was leaving. He could have stopped her. He knew she wanted him to. What kept him from picking up the phone that day was as much a mystery to him today as it was to him two years and two months ago. “I remember you had so many onions on your burger you smelled for a week.”

“I remember you put so much ketchup on your cheeseburger, it dripped onto your pants. They were blue?”

“They still are,” he said thinking how the color matched his spirits. “Well, this is a surprise. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to pick up the phone but had no idea where you were and didn’t want to ask Kim.”

Carol had no idea where she was or where she had been or why she let herself talk herself into leaving this man. He was handsome, kind, very bright, a gentle and unusually affectionate lover. He had a range of subjects in which he was interested and a wicked sense of humor that kept her and her family glued to his every word. What could she have been thinking? “There were times I had no idea where I was.”

He reached out and took her hand in his. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she said, tentatively pulling away. “I just wanted to see you.”

Something had brought her here and it was more than curiosity. Something was bothering her. In some ways, Chris knew her better than Carol knew herself. “And here I am in all my staggering amazingness.”

“Except for how tired you look, you haven’t really changed at all.”

Except for the thirteen-inch scar running from my lower back to the center of my chest, I’m just perfect. Couldn’t be any better. Was she really seeing someone else before they broke up? He couldn’t purge himself of the suspicion, any more than he could of his need to see her. “I’m the very model of health and good fortune and suddenly so hungry I could bite my own hand off.”

“Okay. You’re on,” she said grabbing a menu.

After some deliberation and banter about diets and favorite burger combinations and how thankfully the place had remained creakingly true to the neighborhood, they ordered the same dishes they had on their first date. Chris lifted his glass of water. “To old friends. May they always call you when you least expect it.” And when you need it most, he added.

“To old friends who can forgive and forget.”

“The hell with them,” Chris groaned. “To us.”

Carol’s laughter filled the front of the small cafe. The sun radiated off her glowing cheeks. Chris was suddenly taken with how really beautiful and sexual a woman she was. And how terribly he missed her.

“Right. To hell with all of them. Every last one,” she agreed.

“Except for Hal.”

Carol caught herself hesitating. “Yes, except for Hal.”

Sadness and a resolve of disappointment framed her voice. After interrogating a decade of witnesses and victims, either you developed a second set of ears or you won very few cases. Chris set down his glass. “What’s going on with you and Hal?”

“Nothing. Everything is fine.”

“Once more now, and this time pretend I am not your friend and ex-lover and the man who wishes he had called you long before you called him but your priest, your rabbi, your very best friend from junior high school with whom you pledged to reveal every secret your heart held to the day you died.”

“Well, how can I refuse all that?”

You can’t, his heart murmured.

Carol set down her glass, coincidentally right next to his. The veins on the back of his arm stood out like coils of rope. Strong, reliable, and sexual. She loved to touch them and feel the blood rushing into the hands that so often touched her with a tenderness and love she had never experienced. She wanted to get up and sit beside him and be held in those arms she had come to so many times in the past. His expression of concern didn’t mask the love in his eyes. She had seen it the moment she looked up at him when he came into the restaurant.

Chris wanted her to confess that there was no Hal or children in her life and that she had made it all up to cover her fear of being sucked back into the intensity of the love she fled from. He wanted her to wash away the sins of two years and hold him tightly for fear that she might plunge into an infernal abyss if she should let go.

Two heaping burgers were delivered replete with a mound of thinly cut barbecued fries, slices of onion, a tub of cole slaw, and one filled with medium-hot barbecue sauce. “You know we’re going to get sick if we eat this all in one sitting,” she said, her hands already hovering anxiously over her plate.

Chris knew he could eat whatever he wanted and not gain weight. How great he once thought, and then realized the origin of this magic immunity. “Who cares? You’re going to die anyway. Better off being pleasantly porky than stiflingly thin,” he said and groaned with the delight of his first bite. “My God, where have you been,” he said endearingly to the swollen, gravy-drooling concoction.

“Right here,” Carol said without looking up.

He stopped chewing and said “What?” between a generous mouthful of the onion and freshly ground sirloin.

“Right here,” she repeated, but this time matching his confusion with the truth.

He finished the mouthful and wiped the sauce from his cheeks.

The burger on Carol’s plate stared back up at her like a disloyal subject who was about to betray her innermost secrets. A subject that she was secretly praying would allow her to expose those inaccessible truths to the man she never stopped loving. She toyed with the pickles. She never liked pickles, almost as much as Chris was suspicious of olives.  Somewhere in the recesses of her psyche, she wondered if there wasn’t a traumatic incident associated with the total rejection of the pickle family. Then again, like Winston Churchill said, maybe a “cigar” was just a “cigar” and there was nothing more to her dislike than dislike.

“Yes, well, the fact here, now, is that I’m not married.”

Chris had been suspecting little else since she phoned. It was the only present he had wanted from her. “How long have you been divorced?”

“Well, that’s not entirely the issue either.”

“Then you’re still married?”

“Not exactly.”

“…not exactly?”

“We’re separated. Probably permanently.”

“And?”

Carol couldn’t lift her gaze to his.

“And, are you telling me you were never married?

“Yes. Never. And now I realize that was probably for the best.”

That was a shot out of nowhere. Something he had not been anticipating. Nothing—and he was a curious and conscientiously suspicious man—could have prepared him for that singular admission. “Could you start from the beginning? I mean, for those of us who have just landed from the planet Completely Confused and have no frame of reference to deal with what you’ve just said?”

“I lied to you. I wanted to get out of where I was with you and knew I couldn’t do it alone. I made up a man to give leaving you, and staying where I was, some credibility. I even lied to Kim. There was no one when I walked out, then a few weeks later I met Hal and found a great job with a magazine in San Diego.”

“And had twins. Adorable ones at that.”

“Yes. And had twins. Really, very, adorable ones at that,” she said, wishing they were neatly tucked in her arms right now so Chris could see the joy they were.

And, still no pictures. Whoever heard of a mother without a wallet stuffed with stacks of pictures or a cell crammed with albums of their babies every first gurgle and giggle? “San Diego is a beautiful town.”

“It is.”

“Great weather. Great views. Great food and people. Great place to hide.”

“A perfect place to hide.”

“If it was so perfect, why did you come three thousand miles for a burger?”

How quickly he brought the conversation around to the essence of the issue. To all issues.  Chris had a rare ability to focus and drive to the heart of issues, to the kernel of an argument, to the essence of right and wrong with blazing, bone-rattling, speed. It had taken her the better part of two years to get to this point and he reached it in two mouthfuls. “I missed you.”

How long had he waited to hear those words, fantasized about how they would sound.  “I know I’m devastatingly handsome and charming and witty and brilliant and did I mention handsome and well, you know the rest but, you know, I sense there’s’ more to this story than my insincere modesty.”

She was feeling cornered, and not quite as prepared as she had hoped. “You underestimate yourself. And maybe overestimate me.”

“Are you sick? Is that why you’ve come back? Because if you are, I would be devastated to find it out from somebody other than you.”

“Sick?” She considered the irony, as well as the napkin in her lap. It demanded her attention, offered a welcome respite from the truth.

“Are you ill? Are you more than just ill? You would tell me wouldn’t you?”

There was something about how he was putting the words in her mouth that rattled her badly. “You’re getting cold,” she said.

He leaned forward. “Please, honey, whatever you do, don’t chicken out now. Just say what’s in your heart and let the rest take care of itself.” Chris was silently praying that he was as cold as cold could be with his query. He also knew that the more he pressed one button, the truth would appear on the unsteady surface of another. He learned that much wrenching out from reluctant witnesses during his early years as an assistant DA in Manhattan. He just knew there was more to her visit than her breakup. And he was going to do all he could not to discuss himself, or how, beyond the fact that he had the natural metabolism of a hyperactive ten-year-old boy, he was never going to get fat in his life.

But this wasn’t quite what she anticipated. Chris was more compelling than ever. It was just too difficult to resist his earnestness. “I think I’ve said enough. For now.”

“I agree, and eaten more than your fair share of the fries.”

“You’ve had your fist in the plate so often I can hardly get one myself.”

“Lies. Slander. Character assassination.”

“The only thing that’s getting assassinated are the fries, and not by me.”

“Still, is that any reason not to tell me why you’re here?”

Carol grabbed a handful of fries, dragged them through a pool of ketchup, and announced, “Well, I’m not sick, if that’s where you’re going with the interrogation?” She calmly wiped the residue from the sides of her mouth and looked up, and waited.

“But,” he began, focusing on the core issue of life as only a man with a limited number of days remaining on the earth could.

“But, after two years there is just no husband.”

“Two years is a long time. Who left who?”

“You don’t know how much I wanted to call you. I wanted to come crying to you and fall into your arms. I was also embarrassed by the lies. Especially the ones I told to Kim. So, instead, I quit my job, packed up, moved out, and came back east. A new start.”

“And you’re living…?”

“Just signed a lease on a large lovely rental on the top floor of a high-rise not three blocks from here. For all three of us.”

Chris got up, came around, and slid up against Carol. “The way it works is you ply me full of French fries and, if you’re really clever, chocolate chip cookies. Then, and only then, I’ll make everything better, and do almost anything else for you except bark at the moon.”

“What will it take to get you to bark at the moon?”

“You only have to ask, honey, you only have to ask,” he said taking her in her arms as she began to weep for the both of them.

The waitress came over but Chris waved her off, then once again until she got the message. Carol pumped out a torrent of tears followed by apologies for calling him out of the blue and falling into his lap like a dead cat. “I like dead cats,” he said. “If I had my way all cats would be dead. Dead is a good thing for cats. There’s nothing wrong with a dead cat that another dead cat couldn’t solve. And, I say that, as the Dead Cat critic for The New York Times.”

“That’s a terrible thing to say and you don’t mean it.”

“You mean the Dead Cat critic for The New York Times part, or is it important that I mean everything I say?”

“I don’t know,” she whimpered. “You think too fast for me.”  Dead Cat critic for The New York Times. Who thinks like that?

“Well, right now there’s one cold burger over there that needs a little warmth and your lovely lips.”

She looked up at him. “You really think I have lovely lips.”

Chris didn’t know what to say. But he did know what he wanted to do. He just wasn’t certain it was the right thing to do. He wanted to go the last few inches until his lips pressed against hers. He wanted to take her in his arms like the desperate old lovers they were and promise her the world, or at least the world for as long as he was a part of it. That’s what he knew she wanted too. That’s what he knew she was hoping to come back to. That’s all he had been thinking about since he heard her voice on the phone. He kissed her gently and withdrew. “I think you have beautiful lips, you know, for an evangelical cat defender.”

She sat up and pounded him in the chest much to the consternation of their waitress who was watching how tenderly this stranger had been caring for the weeping girl. “You’re an evil, horrible man.”

“Who just happens to be in love with you.”

She brushed back her damp hair and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Whom I shouldn’t have called.”

“For fear he would reject you?”

“No, and you know you could have been seeing someone else. Did you ever think of that smarty pants?”

“That piece of information you could have been gotten from a phone call to my blabbermouth sister.”

“I have children. I see the world through different eyes now. Sorry.”

“Hard to believe you’re a mother. Just how you look.”

“Trust me; I don’t look like this at three in the morning with twin boys.”

“And your non-husband just walked away from you and his kids? Just like that? No strings attached? You aren’t suing him and he isn’t suing you for support or visitation? Maintenance? Nothing?”

“No. He couldn’t care,” she said. “No need to play lawyer.”

Chris was struggling with the obvious. Parents don’t usually walk away from their kids. They fight for them.  They lie and deceive for them.  They use them as tools of vengence and retaliation. There had to be more to her story. What was more important was that she was in the city and had no plans to leave, but to restart her life ten minutes from where he lived.  He could speculate about her children and the rest of the truth later.

The waitress finally got up enough courage to come over to the table and ask if everything was all right. She cleared the two partially eaten burgers, refreshed their coffees, and moved away.

“Now, what’s your story? You don’t sound like the man I left. You look different.”

“Things change. People change. And, before you said I hadn’t changed at all.”

“That was when we sat down. I’m getting something else here.”

“Kim call you out here?”

“Why would she do a thing like that?”

“OK.”

“Ok, what?”

“OK, nothing.”

“Liar. Why would Kim call me?”

“I could get disbarred for lying about meaningful facts.”

“More likely you could get strangled right here, even if you were the world famous, and clearly insane, Dead Cat critic for The New York Times.”

He was staring at her lips, his memory flooding his recall with images he hadn’t allowed himself to admit to, or enjoy in a long, long time.

“Please.”

“Please.”

“Yes, please. I need you to tell me everything. And you need to tell me too, Chris.”

“I learned about it two months ago. I didn’t rush up and down the east coast getting second and third opinions, but there’s no doubt about my diagnosis, or really prognosis.”

Carol began to tremble, the blood washed from her face. Unable to gasp, she let out a whisper of a cough. “Is, is there anything  …?”

“I’ve had every nasty invasive test in the book. Each one confirmed the one before it. The only relief I’ve had since learning about it came from listening to you. You’ve totally taken my mind off my own future, or lack of it.”

She clasped his hands between hers. “Oh my God, Chris.”

“Two lost loves return to find their love renewed and their fate sealed. I’m sure Shakespeare wrote a minor play about us. Either Shakespeare or Edgar Allen Poe, or probably Tim Burton.”

Chris toyed with the salt shaker, while Carol couldn’t keep her eyes from a spot of catsup next to her placemat that had the silhouette of Abraham Lincoln. Even Kim’s warning call couldn’t have prepared her for the explosion of fear and desperation that tore at her insides. “Could we get out of here?”

“I’ll have us home in ten minutes.”

“Or two hundred and seventy-nine steps,” she countered reminding him that he once paced off the distance back to his building just to win a bet with her. He won, of course, but as a prize, he decided to remove her panties with only his teeth instead of collecting the full two bits in hard currency. They walked arm in arm back to his apartment without speaking. It seemed they had already said all there was to say. The only thing left to decide was how each would spend the rest of their lives. “It hasn’t changed a bit,” she said standing in the doorway to his rambling Upper West Side apartment.

“That’s not true. I’ve done three loads of laundry since you abandoned me,” he said closing the door behind her.

“And probably used too much soap, as I remember,” she said noticing his tray of pills on the kitchen counter.

“Not to be concerned. They’re candy pills.”

“There’s what I came back for,” she said walking out onto his terrace. “God, what a view. Straight down Broadway, and those lights. From two miles away, they dance like stars in the night sky. I remember how we laid out here on your makeshift hammock and watched the sun go down and come up.”

He followed her outside. “And you got a mosquito bite on your you-know-what.”

“And how tenderly you applied ointment to my you-know-what after kissing me all over down there.”

“Well, I had to inspect and cleanse the area before applying the medication. I did what any thorough, concerned, Good Samaritan would have done in such an emergency.”

“You did what any dissolute deviant would have done.”

“Do you think mosquitoes come out in March?”

“I don’t know, but one can only hope,” she said, then looked down over the railing to the street below. “You can almost touch them.”

“I’m sure they would be touched by your sentiment.”

“That’s so touching.”

“I think you’re touched.”

“How are your parents? Everybody?”

“Shocked. Disbelieving, at least they were for the first few weeks. Now my cell is flooded with texts and emails. Everybody wants to help. To know what they can do.” Chris went back inside to straighten up the clutter that had accumulated in recent weeks.

“And your parents?”

“They’re just happy to have me back, and access to their grandchildren.” Carol had a small but very tight family dispersed over northern New Jersey. She had two married sisters and a stepfather who would lay his life down for his family, especially his three girls.

“You want something?”

“A half a century for us would do nicely,” Carol said, shaking her head, crestfallen. Tears returned, this time with a passion.

He went into the kitchen, scooped up his midday packet of pills, and washed them down with a glass of orange juice. He felt the gulp of ice-cold juice move down his throat and enter his stomach. Soon the acids and contents would dissolve the pills, which would spread throughout his system, and do what? What was the point of it all? The doctors said it would make his next four or five months easier and more comfortable. But easier and more comfortable than what?

Kim would be delighted to have Carol back too. There was a bond between those two since he introduced Carol to his family. His doting older sister was a successful photojournalist and thoroughly admired the computer-generated illustrations Carol created for some of the major women’s magazines. In the year before Carol left, the two of them had become more like sisters. Chris was delighted with their deep friendship and considered himself fortunate to have two such loving women in his life.

He stared at Carol standing out on the terrace. Two years ago, she would have been wearing his baggy shorts and shirts and one of his ratty baseball caps. She looked adorable in his clothing.

“Can we have a date tonight?” he asked.

She turned towards him and, through the wall of glass that separated his living room from the terrace, nodded, tears again streaming down her face. She came inside. “I have to go back to my hotel and take care of some personal stuff.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“No. I think I’d rather be alone for a while,” she said coming over to him and resting her head on his chest. “This feels so good.”

“That’s why I got it. I knew you would come into my life some day and need a place to rest your little head.”

“You’re just as silly as when I left.”

“I don’t want to talk about when you left. Please.”

She kissed him. “I’ll come back around six and we’ll go out.”

“Or have a picnic on the terrace?”

“I’d love it.”

Carol fell into the elevator and began to weep hysterically. She didn’t press any of the floor buttons and only realized she hadn’t when the elevator started to drop by its own accord. By the time it fell the eleven floors to the lobby she had wretched herself inside out and used up the remains of a packet of tissues. She made it to the street and looked up at the ridge of his terrace hanging overhead. God how she missed him. She loved him that much.

She had wasted two years of their lives and wasn’t by his side when he found out that he was dying. She cursed herself for that every step of the way back to her hotel. By the time she got back, all she could do was fall into bed and start crying again.

She fell asleep and woke up and cried and fell back to sleep. Her body, enervated, drained, and saturated with sadness. The experience of calling him and meeting him and going through their exchange was so exhausting she could barely roll over and reach for the phone when it rang.

“Yes. Kim. No, I’m okay. Yes,” she said, “I just came from there,” she said and asked Kim to wait.

She set down the receiver and heaved a wrenching, uncontrollable sob. When she finished, and it must have been many minutes later, Kim was still on the line.

“You were so great together. I wish you two had married.”

“We will be for every minute of the rest of his life.” She said without offering any more details about Hal’s response after he found out that he wasn’t the father of the twins, and surmised who was and wanted no part of her, or their future. She had explained it all to Kim when she got the call that sent her packing back to the city. There was little left to discuss about Hal and how wrong she had been about not reaching out to Chris when she first learned she was pregnant.

She thanked Kim for calling her in California and assured her that she would call her tomorrow, showered, and cried herself through the rest of the afternoon.

The first thing she would do tomorrow was buy Chris a cat. The two of them could then drive each other crazy. The second thing she would do is figure out how and when to introduce Matthew and Jonathan to their father.

 

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Arthur Davis is a management consultant and has been quoted in The New York Times, Crain’s New York Business, on New York TV News Channel 1, taught at the New School University, testified before United States Senator John McCain’s investigating committee on boxing reform and appeared as an expert witness on best practices before The New York State Commission on Corruption in Boxing. He has written 11 novels and over 130 short stories.  Over 40 stories have been published online and in print.


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