This is another short-short story I wrote a couple of years ago. You might notice that it is not sci-fi which is my general comfort zone. Both of these were submitted to a contest for stories of 1500 words or less, hence the extreme brevity of the stories. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did writing it (even though I think it really is a piece of garbage). So sit back for a couple of minutes and take a read.
“What are you doing here? Why do you keep coming back into my life?”
Angeline’s heart jumped into her throat. The coffee she had just taken from the counter threatened to spill over her hand she shook so violently. I know that voice, but from where? Oh, my God! It’s him. Turning in the direction of the booming voice she confirmed her fear. Her skin tingled as it puckered into goose flesh and her breathing nearly stopped.
“Are you just going to stand there gawking, or are you going to answer me? Why do you keep haunting me? I thought I had finally gotten over you.”
His stare would not release her. Her bright blue eyes dilated until the color had nearly transformed to black. His face was much thinner than she ever remembered, his hair grayer. There was also much more darkness about him than she had ever known anyone to have and so different than she had ever known him. She stared at him in silence unsure of what to say or do. Her mind was a complete blank, yet feeling the urge to run and throw her arms around him while wanting to get as far away as she could.
He stood and walked determinedly up to her. Taking the cup from her hand he set it on the counter. The coffee shop was complete silence, every eye on the couple. Half a head taller than Angeline he looked down into her face. “No running away this time. Tell me.”
Angeline cringed at his tone of voice. His scent was warm and comforting as she remembered. Taking a deep breath while clasping her hands together and bringing them up under her chin she finally uttered almost imperceptibly, “I didn’t know you were here. I didn’t know you were within a thousand miles of here. I-I have to go.” She began to turn in an attempt to leave the store when she felt his large hand seize her arm firmly, but not painfully. Turning back she blurted out, “Because you’re a married man!”
He released her arm and seemed to deflate as a balloon suddenly released of its air. He suddenly looked very weary. In a much softer manner he asked, “What does that mean? Can you please explain this to me? Come with me and have a seat. Please, won’t you explain all this?”
Hesitating for a moment, she followed him to the his table leaving her coffee sitting on the counter..What am I going to say? How can I tell him? Sitting down Angeline looked into his face seeing a tenderness that was absent just minutes before. His features seemed much softer. Her pulse was racing, pounding in her ears. Her dry throat making her voice raspy. “You’re a married man. I left because you are a married man. It’s as simple as that.” Under the table, she rubbed her sweaty palms on her skirt.
“I don’t know what that means. For two years we were good friends. In fact, you were my best friend. I was married the whole time. It didn’t stop us from being friends then. What changed?” He took a sip from his cup.
She detected the smell of more than coffee, something much stronger. His gaze was unrelenting. How am I going to do this? She started to speak when a flood of emotions swept over her. Her eyes burned from the tears that started falling onto her freckled cheeks. Angeline felt her face flush and she began sobbing. “Because you’re married and I’m single and I fell in love with you. I didn’t mean to. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help myself. I have never loved someone as I do you, but-but you were married and I couldn’t destroy that. So I…”. The sobs racked her thin body. She bent her head down till her chin touched her chest.
“Why couldn’t you tell me that before? I would like to think we could have worked through it. You mean the world to me.”
The softness of his voice was as she remembered and brought warmth to her heart as did the hand she now felt holding hers. She lifted her head and took in several deep breaths feeling the tension and sorrow leave a little with each breath. His face was much sadder and older. His shoulders sagged as if the weight of the world was pressing down on them. She leaned forward and asked, “What’s wrong? Was I wrong to say that?”
He looked at her hand in his and slowly shook his head. “No, you didn’t say anything wrong. I got what I asked for. Know that you have always been my friend. I may have been angry at you for a long time, but that is because I was so fond of you.” He suddenly stood up and grabbed his shoulder bag. Smiling at her he said, “Thank you. Goodbye.”
A shock ran up her spine as she watched him briskly walk out of the store. It took a moment before she could command her legs to move, but when she did, she was surprised to find herself running out of the store after him.
“Ma’am? Your coffee?” the young lady behind the counter called out.
Exiting the store and ignoring the girl, Angeline saw him getting into a car. “Steve!” she shouted. She sprinted toward the car feeling an urgency that she had never experienced. “Steve, wait!” She winced as sharp pains shot through her toes with each step from the hard pavement and her shoes. She reached the car just as it started moving backwards and grabbed the passenger door latch only to have nothing happen. Her heart raced faster afraid she would lose him forever and repeatedly pulled on the door handle. His face appeared in the window as the car stopped and he reached over to open the door. She swung the door open and jumped in almost colliding with him.
“What do want? Can’t we just go our separate ways?”
The sadness in his voice was almost palpable. Angelina fought the urge to reach over and hug the man she had loved from afar for so long. “Please, I answered your question. Can you please answer some for me? Something is not right, I can feel it. Please?” The silence was deafening in her ears waiting for him to answer.
He eased the floor shifter into gear and guided the car back into the space it had just occupied. Turning the car engine off and while still staring out the windshield he asked his old friend, “What do you want to know?”
A fear gripped Angeline as if icy fingers were around her heart. “What did you mean when you said you had nearly gotten over me?” She dared not breathe.
Still looking forward he answered deliberately, “You were probably one of my best friends ever. You were my confidant. There were things I could discuss with you that I could never have with my wife. Don’t get me wrong, I loved her with all my heart. I guess in my desire to protect her, there were some things I was never comfortable discussing with her. You were different. I’m still not sure what it was, but I could be open and honest about everything. Then you took that away with no explanation. I was devastated. I was hurt and angry. Just when I would think I was getting past that you would show up. Whenever I tried to talk to you, you would act indignant, say something cryptic, or just turn away. The feelings would come back just as strong as ever. Imagine my surprise when you showed up today, in this same little off the beaten path shop, in this obscure little town. That was when I knew you were haunting me and decided you were not escaping without some real answers. I got those and it is time for me to move on.”
Angeline fought back the tears she felt building as she watched his tears fall. Trying to find the right words she gasped at a realization. “You said you loved your wife as in the past tense. Why?”
“I guess I did. Truth is I still love her very much.”
“But there is more. What is it?”
She saw his entire body almost implode, his head hung as if there was no longer any strength to hold it up before he muttered, “Yes, there’s more. She died in a terrible car wreck. She left me a month after you did.”
“Steve, I am so sorry for your loss and for hurting you so. Please forgive me.” She reached her arms around him. She was surprised when the hug was returned pulling her head to his chest. She felt his warmth and could hear the beating of his heart. She breathed in his scent, a scent of warmth, comfort, safety, and….yes, home.