By: Tim Stevens
Song: Go On, Say It
Artist: Blind Pilot
Album: 3 Rounds and a Sound
This was not how this was supposed to go. When Derek sat Gretchen down, he was doing it to do the right thing, to be the good guy for once in his life. He told her the truth: about Claudia, about the temptation, the flirtation, the quick kiss that he stopped from going any further. He was doing the right thing!
Right away though, right away, he knew. Gretchen went rigid and pale, her eyes narrowing to slits. She twisted away from him in her seat and fixed her eyes on a section of the wall. He knew he had done this wrong.
In a quiet voice she asked him if he liked it, liked kissing his co-worker. He stayed honest, that he was interested in it, but the moment it happened, he did not want it. She repeated again, did he like it. And he admitted that it had been so quick he had no way of knowing. She went quiet again.
After a minute that felt like an hour, he could not stand the silence anymore and begged for her to respond. And she did, nostrils flaring, eyes shimmering with pools of tears. She screamed about how it made her feel to hear her boyfriend wanted to cheat on her, how he basically did but stopped because he pitied her. She demanded to know how it could be with Claudia of all people, the woman who was always mean to her when she called him at the job or showed up at a work party. Did he think Claudia was prettier? Or that she’d be more adventurous? Or was he just bored and looking for something to pass the time?
Derek was stunned. This was all new to him. He’d always been a jerk, a dog, a cheater. He never cared. He got away with it sometimes, get caught others, but never once did it bother him. But Gretchen was different. He did love her. He did want to be faithful. That’s why he told her, that’s why he didn’t keep kissing Claudia. He did the right thing! Why was she yelling.
“Well?” Gretchen demanded, awaiting his response.
He panicked and restated what he had already told her. Perhaps she had misheard him, he reasoned. Surely she would understand when she heard it again. Understand and stop yelling.
But it only made her madder, more insistent on answers.
He should’ve told her then. Told her what he used to be like. How he had sex whenever and with whoever he wanted and was willing and it didn’t matter if he was single or with someone else. He should’ve admitted that being faithful was not his natural setting, that he never even thought of doing it until her. He could’ve pointed to his childhood, to an unapologetic womanizer of a father and a see-no-evil enabler of a mother. He wanted to tell her that yes, he had flirted with Claudia and yes it was wrong, but that’s not who he wanted to be anymore and that’s why he was here now.
Instead he barked, “No one gets to talk to me that way!”
She reacted like she had been slapped, standing with jaw in stunned agape momentarily, before recollecting herself and asking, “Is this it, then? Are we done here?”
Derek knew he had to say something. To reach out to her and tell her no, no he did not want that. He should admit he just called a therapist today, that’s how serious he was about changing. That he was inviting her to come with him to the therapist’s or not, whatever she wanted. He wanted to beg her to stay, to see he was serious about not being who he was and that she was the one who inspired him to be that kind of serious.
Instead, he huffed, “Whatever…there’s the door.”
She stared and him a moment. Then she took it.
He reached for his phone. He could call her, tell her he was being a jerk. Promise the last thing he wanted was for her to leave. Swear that he was ready to talk.
He cradled it a moment, staring at it. He just needed to dial and speak. Just say something! Just say the truth, not just about what happened, but about who he was and who he was trying to be. Just. Say. It.
He dialed the numbers, hands shaking.
“Hey…Claudia? Yeah, I think I changed my mind. Gretchen…well, she won’t be around tonight. Want to come over?”
He hung up the phone and tried not to cry. He knew it was true, but he could not himself to say it out loud.
Tim Stevens is the creator of this contest and The January Project. His writing can be found all over the web including Marvel Comics website, The Living Room Times, and New Paris Press. He can be found on Twitter @UnGajje where he talks about Val Kilmer, Nic Cage, comics, movies, TV, politics, and his family just the right amount.