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I don't believe in love. Let me get that out of the way right from the start, so you don't expect one of those fairy-tale happy endings. Oh, I used to believe in all that nonsense. I used to believe that love would conquer all and that there was a special someone out there for everyone. Even me. That was before she came into my life and snuffed out the flickering candle of my soul. But I'm getting ahead of myself. To truly appreciate where I am now, you have to start at the beginning of this little tale.
Five months ago my life was crashing down around my ears. Things were not going well at work, I was flat broke, and my girlfriend of the past year had kicked me out of the house we shared. My previously mentioned financial state limited my options, so I moved in with a co-worker, Ron. It was meant to be a temporary solution, but it worked out well for the both of us. I had a roof over my head and he had someone to share the expenses. Apartments do not come cheap in California, and Ron was glad for the extra cash. Best of all, he didn't mind sharing space with a lesbian. In fact, I think he got some kind of weird thrill out of it. Certainly, it amused him that we both drooled daily over the syndicated exploits of a very hot leather-wearing warrior chick and her equally yummy friend. Anyway, a couple of days turned into a couple of weeks, and the weeks soon stretched into a month. Then, one night, everything changed.
I had spent a sunny Saturday afternoon at my ex-girlfriend Elizabeth's house picking up a few things I had left behind. She was supposed to be away for the weekend, but I guess her plans had changed, because she showed up as I was leaving. When she looked at me in the fading daylight, her eyes were flat and hard, and it was hard to believe that I had ever seen any trace of affection there. I remember wondering how love could wither and die so quickly. It's almost funny now. But, I digress. Elizabeth and I exchanged a few nasty words and I left there feeling lower than a dirty wad of chewing gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe.
On the way back to Ron's apartment, I had to stop to put gas in my car. As I waited for the tank to fill, my gaze wandered across the street to a nightclub that I had passed every day. I had never been one for the clubbing scene, but I knew that this was supposed to be a popular spot. Ron had gone up to Reno on a gambling trip with his buddies, and I wasn't exactly excited by the prospect of spending the evening holed up in the apartment, feeling sorry for myself. What the hell? I decided to drive across the street and check the place out. At the very least, I figured I deserved a good stiff drink.
It was still relatively early when I pulled my car into the mostly empty parking lot. The sky was just beginning to turn that murky shade of deep blue that accompanies twilight, and the tall lights in the lot cast long shadows across the asphalt. Faintly amused by my nervousness, I approached the scarred, black wooden door to the club. The tarnished brass handle was worn smooth from countless hands over the years. I opened the door and stepped inside, pausing to let my eyes adjust to the dim lighting. The smell of stale cigarette smoke lingered in the air as I surveyed the club.
A narrow stairwell led down to a large dance floor. To the left, the bar curved in a long semi-circle. High circular tables dotted the rest of the perimeter. The DJ had not arrived yet, and muted techno music sounded through the myriad of speakers that surrounded the dance floor. I handed a five-dollar bill to the man at the top of the stairs, and he stamped the inside of my wrist without a second glance. It was vaguely depressing to realize that I no longer looked under 21.
I descended the steps and headed straight for the bar. There were few other people in the place at this hour, which suited me just fine. I wasn't in the mood for a crowd anyway. With as much dignity as I could muster, I climbed up onto one of the barstools built for ridiculously tall people. The bartender, a chiseled young man with sun-bleached hair and
deep dimples, turned from organizing glasses and smiled at me. I made an attempt at returning the gesture, though I could tell by the sympathy in his eyes that he had seen my kind too many times before.
"What can I get you, sweetie?" He asked.
I examined the rows of bottles behind him. I wanted something that would get me drunk as quickly as possible. I pointed.
"Tequila. No salt. No lime. Leave the bottle." I reached into my wallet and slapped my platinum Visa card on the bar to show that I was good for it.
Both eyebrows shot up into his hairline, but the bartender merely shrugged and carried out my request. In less than a minute, a shot glass and a tall bottle of liquid golden death sat before me. The young bartender started to speak, but I shook my head. I wasn't in the mood to talk either. He put my credit card inside the register for safekeeping and moved down to the other end of the bar where two men were watching a baseball game on the large TV screen.
I slammed the first drink back, grimacing as the bitter liquid burned my throat and brought tears to my eyes. God, I hated the taste of that stuff, but I loved the warm glow that the alcohol was spreading through my stomach. I took another shot. Then another.
Hours passed that way, and the club began to fill quickly. I rested my forehead on the edge of the bar and tried to block out the cacophony of music and voices that swirled around me. I'm not sure how much time went by that way. Next thing I remember, she was sitting beside me. I raised my head as someone tapped my elbow, and my bleary, tequila-soaked eyes feasted on the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
She had long, luxuriously dark hair that shone under the strobing lights. I stared at her full, red lips, mesmerized, until I realized that her lips were moving. I shook myself, trying to concentrate on the words.
"Huh?" I asked. Brilliant opening line, I know.
She smiled at me, revealing a row of perfect, gleaming white teeth. "Are you okay?" She repeated. "You've been sitting there like that since I came in."
Dumbly, I looked at her, then at the nearly drained bottle in front of me. Was I okay? After consuming that much alcohol, I was surprised that I was conscious. With difficulty, I pushed myself up and almost toppled backwards of my seat. She grabbed my arms to steady me and an electric charge went through me when her fingers touched my skin.
"Careful. Don't want you cracking that pretty head of yours open," she said.
Pretty? Me? My head spun, and not just because I was hammered.
"I'm fine," I croaked.
She smiled at me again and I noticed that she hadn't let go of my arm. She waved the bartender over and shouted above the din.
"Hey, Brad. I think my friend here could use some nice, strong coffee."
He nodded and glanced at me as he set a steaming cup of coffee in front of me. For just a second, I thought I saw a warning look in his eyes. Something that said, be careful. At the time, I simply shrugged it off. Now, I wish I had trusted my instincts.
"So." The gorgeous woman with the impossibly dark eyes was talking to me again. "I don't think I've ever seen you in here before."
I shook my head. "Never been here."
"I didn't think so," she said. "I would have remembered someone like you."
If I hadn't been so drunk and so vulnerable from my encounter with Elizabeth, I think I would have realized that she was picking me up. Instead, I fell for every word. It had been so long since I had felt noticed or appreciated by anyone, and now a breathtaking stranger was suggesting that I was someone to be remembered. She knew exactly what I needed to hear.
She told me her name. I told her mine. I had never gone home with anyone from a bar before that night. Hell, I had never engaged in casual sex with anyone before that night, period. Somehow though, we ended up back at Ron's apartment. She was gentle and tender, and she made me feel like I was the only woman in the world. Elizabeth had never been like that, not even in the beginning.
I won't bore you with the details, but we had sex over and over that night until I fell asleep in her arms, completely and happily exhausted. Then I did a very bad thing. I fell in love with her. Looking back now, I know how stupid that must sound --- falling in love with a virtual stranger after one night of amazing sex. I had always believed, though, that when the right woman came along, I would know it. Being with her felt so right, and I thought she felt it too. She told me she did.
Gradually, we got to know each other better in the following weeks and my love for her grew. Every look, every touch from her produced these intense emotional responses that I didn't know I was capable of having. She became my whole world. I couldn't get enough of her. She filled my head when we were apart and invaded my dreams while I slept. I was an addict and she was my drug.
We moved in together after dating for two months. Everything was perfect, at first, and I was deliriously happy. I had finally found that one true love that everyone talks about. I'm not sure when it all started to go wrong. Maybe it was wrong from the very start.
A few weeks ago, I began to notice little changes in her behavior towards me. She had become quiet and withdrawn. We rarely talked anymore. Whenever I asked her about it, she would give me a vague, noncommittal answer. I thought it would pass. Every relationship goes through rocky times, right?
Two days ago, I tried to balance my checkbook. Anyone who knows me knows that I never do this. I never really keep track of my money at all, since most of the time there isn't much to keep track of. Her birthday was approaching, though, and I wanted to see if I had enough to buy her something nice. Okay, I admit it. I was thinking about buying her a ring. I wanted us to be together forever.
I called the automated teller system at my bank to find out what my balance was, and then I started adding up my recent checks. The totals didn't match. They didn't match by a lot. In fact, when I added it all up, I realized that my account was overdrawn. I had nothing. At first, I thought it was me. I frequently forget to write down purchases I make with my ATM card. Then, I thought maybe she bought something and forgot to tell me. These things happen. I searched my brain but couldn't come up with anything that would account for the missing money.
That night, when she came home from work, I asked her about it. I'll never forget the look in her eyes. It was that same cold, hateful look that I had seen in Elizabeth months before. She laughed while she admitted to everything. She took the money. She had been stealing from me since the first night we were together. There was another woman, someone who satisfied her more than I ever could.
"Why?" I asked her, when I could trust myself to speak.
She laughed again and I could not fathom the cold disdain I heard in her voice. Numb, I sat down on the couch before I passed out from the shock.
"Because it was easy," she said. "You're such a fool to think that I could ever love someone like you."
"Why?" I asked again. It was the only response I could manage.
"You're pathetic," she said. "No one will ever love you. Don't you know that by know? Do the world a favor and just kill yourself."
She left then, slamming the door shut behind her. Her words echoed in my ears for a long time as the silence pressed in around me. My chest constricted. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't cry. It was like she had reached into my heart and flipped the off switch.
She was right. I was a fool. People like me don't get a happily ever after. I realize that now, as I stand here on these rocks, staring at the waves. That kind of love only exists on the screen or in the pages of a book. It certainly doesn't exist for me. But I'm not sad. I'm not even angry anymore, really. I'm nothing. Empty. Broken.
I stand here, staring at the waves, her words resounding through my brain. I'm pretty sure it won't hurt. I hope I'm right.
Life is not a box of chocolates. Hell, it isn't even a bowl of cherries. No, if you ask me, life is nothing but a bunch of sadomasochistic bullshit. People hurt us, we hurt others, and the whole thing just goes round and round in a great big circle of pain. At least, that's what I would have told you if you had asked me six months ago.
I came here to kill myself. It's funny. Whenever I say that now, it's like I'm talking about a complete stranger. Still, the truth is, I came to this city intending to fling myself into the sea. What did I have to live for? I had no real family left. I was stuck in a dead-end job that I hated. And the woman I thought I loved had robbed me blind and ripped my heart out. For three weeks, I had spiraled down into a quagmire of alcohol-soaked despair until I ended up here. I figured I'd be doing the world a favor by offing myself. That was before I met the love of my life.
I was standing on the large, jutting rocks, watching the waves crash against the base. The constant spray was making things slippery, and I started to worry that I would fall before I could work up the nerve to jump. The way my life had been going, that might have been a more fitting end. I took a long swallow from the pint of tequila clenched in my numb fist and gathered my resolve. Then I saw her.
She was jogging along the water's edge, unconcerned by the light rain or the surf that churned around her ankles. I was mesmerized. I wasn't close enough to see her face yet, but I was fascinated by the smooth rhythm of her strides and hypnotized by the ponytail swinging from the back of her baseball cap. I remember wondering, who the hell jogs on the beach at 2:00 in the morning? My feet moved without my conscious permission, moving me a few steps back from the edge. I watched her come closer and closer. She reached the base of the rocks and stopped, tilting her head up to look at me.
Then, I swear, the most amazing thing happened. A gust of wind came from nowhere and blew the clouds away from the moon. I looked down at her, standing there, bathed in a sudden beam of the most beautiful silvery light. And just like that, my heart started to beat again. I knew I was staring at her, and I didn't even have the sense to be embarrassed by it. Strangely enough, she didn't look like she minded.
"You should be careful up there. The rocks get awfully slick."
There was genuine concern in her voice. I couldn't even recall the last time anyone had spoken to me with genuine concern. She was looking at me with that expectant, cocker spaniel-like head tilt. I had to say something, but my tongue seemed to be suddenly glued to the roof of my mouth. It was just as well. I was pretty sure that "will you marry me" probably wasn't the appropriate thing to say. Especially since I didn't even know her name yet. I made a few unintelligible sounds, and I'm sure she thought I was a lunatic. Finally, I managed to pry my tongue loose and spit out a complete sentence.
"I'm okay," I said, trying my best to appear confident and at ease. Like I climbed jagged, slippery rocks at 2 a.m. on a regular basis.
"Uh-huh." She didn't look convinced.
She shuffled her feet, and I was seized with the worry that she was about to jog right out of my life. I couldn't let that happen, so I blurted out the first idiotic thing that popped into my head.
"So, do you come here often?"
I winced as soon as the words left my mouth. The gods had sent an angel to rescue me from my insanity, and I was subjecting her to cheesy singles-bar pick up lines. This was not off to a good start. Before she could flee, I scrambled down the rock face, slipping once and banging my shin. I could feel the blood trickling down my leg beneath my torn pant leg, but there was no pain. All I could feel was a warm, welcoming glow that seemed to radiate from my newfound savior. It felt like I was curled up in front of a blazing fire with my favorite blanket, a good book and a glass of cabernet. It was…comfortable.
"You're bleeding," she noted, kneeling to examine my scraped shin.
The moment she touched my skin, putting pressure on the wound, everything changed. First, there was this strange roaring in my ears, then it all became eerily silent and still. My skin tingled, like someone was pumping low-voltage electricity through my veins. It was like the rest of the world had fallen away and we were all that remained. She seemed to feel it too. Our eyes met, and I was drowning after all, lost in a pair of the warmest, gentlest brown eyes I had ever seen. She smiled at me uncertainly and stood, brushing the damp sand away from her bare knees.
"I think the bleeding has stopped," she said.
She had no idea how right she was. Just like that, with one touch, the bleeding had stopped. Finally.
"I think you're right," I agreed.
"You should clean it out as soon as you get home, though," she advised. "You don't want it to get infected."
"Right. I'll do that." I paused, trying to figure out how to ask her name. "I don't suppose you know of any 24-hour drug stores around here?"
"There's a Walgreen's a couple of blocks that way." She pointed to the east, towards the freeway. "I guess you're not from around here, huh?"
I shook my head. "Nope. Just passing through."
To my surprise, she took the lead from there. She stuck out her hand and dazzled me with her smile. I watched, amazed, as my hand moved on its own. Before I knew it, her fingers had closed around mine.
"Welcome to Santa Cruz," she said. "I'm Faith."
"Faith," I repeated, savoring the way my lips, tongue and teeth formed her name. "Hi. I'm Kara."
"Do you have a car here, Kara?" She asked. I think she sensed the darkness that still surrounded my soul. She didn’t seem to want to leave me alone. Not that I minded.
I shook my head again. "No. I took the bus here."
I hadn't brought my car because I hadn't wanted anyone to know where I had gone. I hadn't even left a note or anything. I figured I would just disappear off the face of the planet. I didn't think anyone would care, anyway.
"Okay." Faith nodded decisively. "I'll walk with you to the drug store. I live in that direction, anyway."
I did a little happy dance in my head. At least, I intended to do it in my head. I think I must have squirmed or fidgeted or something, though, because Faith was looking at me strangely. I grinned like an idiot, trying to hide my embarrassment. I'm sure she was beginning to wonder just what kind of psycho I was. It still amazes me that she didn't run screaming into the night. Maybe she's the lunatic. If she was crazy, then I was prepared to check myself into the rubber room next to hers.
Side by side, we walked up the beach. Neither of us spoke. I doubt either of us knew what to say. Walking in the sand can be incredibly tiring, especially if you're already drunk, and before long I was running out of breath. Faith didn't seem to be having a problem with it; after all, this was a woman who jogged along the beach regularly. I tried not to show her that I was struggling, but I think she noticed. She gradually slowed her pace to a leisurely stroll.
"Can I ask you a question, Kara?" She glanced at me, not quite meeting my gaze. "What were you doing up on those rocks?"
I shrugged. Conversational skills were never one of my strong points. She stopped at the line where the sand met the concrete sidewalk. She turned and looked directly into my eyes, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't tear myself away. She was looking all the way down into my damaged soul.
"I'm asking because I don't think you were admiring the view," she said. "Maybe it would help to talk about it."
Before I could stop myself, I was pouring out my entire pathetic life story. I think I even told her about the time my 2nd grade teacher spanked me in front of the entire class for something I didn't do. Sometime during my litany of past sins, we started walking again. I didn't know where I was going, but somehow I knew she wouldn't lead me astray. Throughout my confessional, she simply listened. Not that on-the surface, hearing-the-words-but-not-really-paying-attention kind of listening, either. Faith honestly seemed to want to hear my story. It was weird, to say the least.
By the time I finished telling her about my most recent heartbreak, we had reached the neon-lit front doors of the drug store. I assumed she would leave me there and continue on to her own home, but she followed me inside. As if it was the most natural thing in the world. Despite my protests, she insisted on buying the box of Band-Aids and the tube of antibiotic ointment, and she waited for me while I went into the restroom to wash up.
I cleaned the cut and bandaged it as quickly as I could, getting most of the ointment all over my pants in the process. I fully expected her to be gone when I came out. But there she was, reading one of those silly checkout tabloids. She smiled at me, and I felt it all the way down to my toes. 'Come on, Kara. You're not actually doing this, are you? Remember what happened last time?' I chastised myself mentally.
"Well, uh, thanks," I said lamely as we exited to the parking lot.
I wanted to beg her not to go. I wanted to know more about her. I wanted to watch the sunrise with her. Oh hell, who am I kidding? I wanted to hear her scream my name in the throes of passion, then watch the sunrise with her wrapped in my arms. But things like that don't happen in real life. Not in mine anyway.
"You're welcome," she said. She made no move to leave, and I wondered if I looked as hopeful as I felt.
"Hey, are you hungry?" She asked suddenly. "I'm starved. I'm always hungry after a run. Sort of defeats the purpose, I guess."
She laughed, and I could feel the tattered remnants of my broken heart putting themselves back together. Hesitant and unsure, I suggested the all-night coffee shop across the street. She agreed, and we quickly found ourselves in a booth next to the vast picture window. We talked for hours, through two plates of french fries, two slices of cheesecake and countless cups of coffee.
Several times throughout the night, I experienced an intense feeling of déjà vu. I knew perfectly well that we had never met before, but I kept getting this sense of comfort and familiarity. Like our souls had been coming together time after time throughout the years. Yeah, I know how mushy and romantic that sounds. Believe me, it still surprises me when I realize those thoughts are coming out of MY head.
I remember I was sitting there, in that cracked vinyl booth, swirling the last cold french fry through my ketchup, when I saw the light streaming through the window. The sun had risen, painting the tops of the palm trees with a warm pink hue. I had never seen such a breathtaking morning. I had never been so glad to be alive.
"It's beautiful," I said, staring out at the dawn.
"Yes. It is," Faith agreed.
Only she wasn't looking at the sunrise. She was looking at me. We talked about it later, and we both agree that we heard it at the same time. When our eyes met, we both heard this tiny, musical click when our souls grabbed onto each other and promised to never let go.
That was six months ago. Tomorrow, I'm loading up the moving van and driving back down to Santa Cruz, to the house we rented together. I've never really had a home before. I think I could get used to it. Sure, I still think we're both crazy. But that's okay. Straitjackets come in pairs, don't they?
I hate happy people. Why do new lovers think it's acceptable to coo and make googly eyes at each other? I don’t force my misery down their throats, so why is it okay for them to force their joy down mine? I used to want to slap those insipid grins right off their faces. Lately, I'm afraid to look in the mirror. More often than not, I find that same silly, starry-eyed grin staring back at me. It's disgusting, I know, but it hurts to slap the hell out of myself --- so I live with it.
It's been nearly seven months since Faith and I met on that dark, lonely beach. She doesn't like me to say it, but she saved my miserable life that night. Tomorrow we will have been living together for one month exactly. I think we're starting to get used to each other, starting to find our rhythm. We don’t bump into each other every time we turn around anymore. Those first two weeks required some serious adjusting.
For two days, we were blissfully happy. Like a couple of lovestruck fools, we christened every room in the small, two-bedroom house that we were renting. Relax. We wiped the kitchen table down afterwards. Then on the morning of the third day, I decided that I was getting tired of living out of cardboard boxes. I started to unpack, and that was when the first signs of trouble appeared.
Everything I owned in this world fit into either a box or a suitcase. Faith and I had bought all of our bedroom furniture together, but everything else in the house belonged to her. I was happy with the arrangement since I didn't have any furniture to contribute anyway. Well, there was the worn, lumpy, bright orange beanbag chair that sat in the corner of my bedroom, but Faith said that if I brought that with me, the whole deal was off. I didn't mind. I never really liked the thing in the first place. Faith was doing all the decorating too. Again, that suited me perfectly. My idea of interior decorating revolves around throwing stuff into the air. Wherever it lands is where it stays.
That morning, I was in our bedroom, rearranging Faith's scary-looking porcelain clowns when she walked in. She stopped in the doorway and stared at me as if I had suddenly grown a second head.
"What are you doing?" She asked.
A bit confused by the question, I stared down at the maniacally grinning clown in my hand. I looked back up at Faith. She was impatiently tapping her fingernails against the doorframe, and the expression on her face told me that no matter what I said, it was going to be the wrong answer.
I set the clown back on the dresser and the damned thing immediately fell over with a loud thump. I winced and hoped that it wasn't broken. Faith's grandmother had given her most of those dolls, and I knew how much they meant to her. Personally, I had been scared to death of clowns ever since the day that my older brother took me to see 'Poltergeist', but I tried to keep my various neuroses to myself --- for Faith's sake.
"Kara?" She sounded like my mother just then. You know that voice that mothers get when you've done something really wrong? That was the way she was speaking to me. I half-expected her to break out with my full name at any second. 'Kara Marie Pavlovich, what exactly do you think you're doing?'
"Kara?" She asked again. I could tell she was getting irritated.
"What?" I asked, acting as if I had no idea she had been calling my name.
"What are you doing?" Faith repeated her question. "Why are you moving my clowns?"
Uh-oh. I recognized a dangerous question when I heard one. "What" questions are easy. You can usually get away with stating the obvious. It's those tricky "why" questions that get me into trouble every time.
"I'm just clearing a little space on the dresser." I flashed her my toothiest, most charming grin. She wasn't impressed.
"Space for what?"
I gestured towards the open box at my feet. Her gaze followed the wave of my hand until it fell upon the box and its contents. She let out a short, disbelieving laugh and looked up at me, incredulity written across her face.
"You've got to be kidding," she said.
I was baffled by her reaction. Before we moved in together, she had been in my apartment plenty of times, and she was well aware of my toy collection. No, not those kinds of toys. I'm not enough of an exhibitionist to display those in plain sight. This was my collection of six-inch action figures from various movies and TV shows. Faith had always seemed amused by them before. In fact, she fondly referred to me as her "Toys R Us kid." I guess my hobby was less endearing when it started encroaching upon hers.
Looking back now, I realize that we were experiencing normal growing pains. Moving in together was a big step, and we needed to be patient with each other and learn to compromise. Sure, I know that now. Back then it was a different story. It's funny how the stupidest little things can escalate into a full-scale war. I should have calmly and rationally discussed the issue with her until we reached some sort of middle ground. That would have been the mature, adult thing to do and it could have saved us a lot of grief. Instead, I did what I always do. I blurted out the first idiotic thing that popped into my head. Rarely a good move.
"That dresser is half mine, and I can put whatever I want on my half of it."
I must have felt like I wasn't in enough trouble yet, because I emphasized my point by dumping a handful of my toys on top of the dresser --- right in the middle of Faith's perfectly symmetrical arc of clowns. Action figures lay tangled with arms and legs askew while the giant, grinning dolls loomed over them evilly. It looked like a scene from a bad B-movie. 'Killer Klowns Invade the Earth,' or some nonsense like that. Faith just kept staring at me with that same, have-you-completely-lost-your-mind look. It wasn't the first time I had seen it, and it certainly would not be the last.
"I never said you couldn't, Kara." She spoke slowly, enunciating each syllable. It was as if she was talking to a small child. Or a mental patient. Either way, it irked me.
"Maybe not directly, but I know that's what you were thinking." If you ever want to make your girlfriend really mad during an argument, tell her you know what she's thinking. Trust me. Works every time.
Faith's gentle brown eyes darkened. "So now you can read my mind?"
"I don't have to be a mind-reader, Faith. Look at this place! Everything in it is yours! Are we sharing our lives, or am I just sharing your bed?"
I really don't know where all that came from. It was like some evil force had possessed me and forced me to say hurtful things that I didn't mean. Like I said, it's not like I even wanted to help with the decorating and stuff. I didn't. But I've always had this twisted need to destroy everything good in my life. I had hoped that it would be different this time.
I knew I had gone too far. I knew it as soon as the words had tumbled out of my treacherous mouth. Faith took a step backwards, as if I had hit her. Her eyes filled with tears. My heart sank. Stammering an incoherent apology, I reached out to her, but she shook her head and backed away from me again. Agonizing silence hung between us for several long seconds. Then Faith uttered the words that I had been dreading since the day we met.
"Maybe this was a mistake."
With those words, I felt the light draining out of me. I couldn't breathe. It was like a heavyweight boxer had driven a fist into my solar plexus and forced all the oxygen from my lungs. Deep down, I had always known that this moment would come. Every morning since the day we met, I woke up expecting to find that it had all been a dream. Good things just don't happen to me, and someone as beautiful and kind as Faith could not possibly love someone as dark and damaged as me. I wasn't worthy of her love, of anyone's love, and I had always known that it was only a matter of time before she saw me as I truly am. And once that happened, I knew she would run as far away from me as she could get.
My lips felt numb, and I had to force them to form a single word. "What?"
Faith wouldn't even look at me. She stared at the floor, at the wall behind my head, anywhere but at me. When she spoke, her voice trembled and I could barely hear her.
"Maybe this was a mistake," she said again, plunging the knife deeper into my heart. "Maybe we rushed this. Maybe we weren't ready."
Each word pierced my heart and left me bleeding inside. I screamed inside my head. 'Say something! Say anything, you fool!' I wanted to tell her that I was sorry, that I loved her, that she had saved me from a bottomless pit of loneliness and despair. I wanted her to know that no one had ever made me feel as safe or loved as she did. I wanted to get down on my knees and beg for the forgiveness that I didn't deserve, and then spend the rest of my life making it up to her. I wanted to say all those things. Instead, my tongue betrayed me.
"Maybe you're right." I scarcely recognized my own voice.
She nodded once. Without another word to me, she turned and walked out of the bedroom. I heard the harsh metallic jingle as she grabbed her keys from the kitchen table. Then I heard the front door open and close. I wanted to run after her, but like always, I held myself back. My knees buckled and I sank down to the floor. I was stunned. What had I done? She was the best thing that had ever happened to me, and still I was compelled to screw it all up. And now she was gone. Faith had left me.
I don't remember much else from that day. I know that once I could move, I made my way into the kitchen and found the big bottle of tequila in the cabinet. I didn't even bother with a glass. All I wanted was to be drunk out of my mind, and I achieved that goal rather quickly. I have a fuzzy memory of being violently sick in the bathroom sink and of crying myself to sleep. Alone.
The next morning, I woke up with the worst hangover of my life. Groaning, I burrowed deep beneath the covers, trying to escape from the cheerfully bright sunlight that was threatening to invade the cocoon of pain I had wrapped myself in. I didn't want to feel better. I didn't want to feel anything at all. Faith was gone, and my miserable life was over.
Then I heard it. Someone was moving around in the kitchen. I almost dared to hope as I dragged myself out of bed and staggered into the living room. Sometime during the night, Faith had come home and she was busily making a pot of coffee. I don't remember saying anything, but I must have made some kind of sound. She turned, and her eyes met mine. Just like that, my heart started beating again.
"Kara." Faith smiled at me and held her hand out.
I didn't trust myself to speak. Instead, I flung myself into her outstretched arms and nearly knocked her off her feet. We kissed and cried in each other's arms --- and kissed a bit more. I never asked her where she went when she left that night. It didn't matter. All that mattered was that we were both finally home.
I saw this saying on a greeting card once. It said, "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it's yours to keep. If not, then it was never meant to be." At the time, I thought it was a stupid thing to put on a greeting card. Now, I understand it better. Faith came back to me. I guess that means I get to keep her.
Love makes you do crazy things. The kind of things you would never have imagined yourself doing in a million years. It changes absolutely everything. One day, you go to bed a completely normal, sane individual. The next day, you wake up a blithering idiot with visions of forever dancing in your head. Still, as mental illnesses go, this one ain’t half-bad. If you happen to come down with one of the purest strains, though, it’s terminal. I discovered that little fact about three months ago.
It was late October --- my favorite time of year. The days were still warm enough, but there was a definite bite to the air at night. It was the perfect time for a weekend trip up the coast. I had booked a room at a little inn near Inverness. Coyote Ugly, or something like that. No, wait. That’s the movie where the chicks dance on top of the bar. The name of the inn was The Dancing Coyote. Hey, I was close before.
We were set to leave home early Friday morning. I had taken the weekend off from work, and Faith was playing hooky. She was in the house, checking to make sure everything was turned off and locked up tight. I was waiting outside by the car and trying not to hyperventilate. See, I had plans for this weekend. Big, big plans.
The front door flew open and I hurriedly leaned my elbow against the hood of the car. I tried to assume my most innocent expression. I may have even started to whistle. Faith eyed me, suspicion evident in the arch of one perfect blonde eyebrow.
“Okay. What are you up to?”
I grinned at her like a lunatic. “Nothing. Are we ready to go?”
Faith’s eyes narrowed as she walked around to the passenger’s side of the car. She paused and stared at me over the roof.
“So you’re not gonna tell me?”
Fortunately, I was a master at the art of dodge and evade. I slid behind the wheel without meeting her gaze.
“There’s nothing to tell,” I said.
I could still feel her eyes burning a hole into the side of my head as we pulled out of the driveway. She didn’t let up until we had reached the end of the street. Finally, she sighed and turned on the radio. That was her way of conceding defeat. For the moment, anyway. I knew she wouldn’t let the matter rest forever. This was going to be trickier than I had thought. She brought the subject up again while I was navigating a winding stretch of Highway 1.
“Kara, you’re being way too quiet. It’s creepy. Tell me what’s going on.”
The conversation was about to become as treacherous as the highway.
“For the last time, Faith! Nothing is going on,” I said a bit more harshly than I had intended. I softened my tone. “I just really need to concentrate on the road right now, baby.”
Lucky for me, she decided not to press the issue any further. I knew if she kept badgering me, I would crack. I had never been very good at keeping secrets, and this one was huge. Even bigger than the time I broke down and told Miss Morgan that Stacy Longaker stole the milk money from her desk. This was way bigger than that, and I needed tonight to be a surprise.
Faith let me drive in peace until we had almost reached the inn. Then, without warning, she slid her hand up my thigh. I damn near missed the turn.
“You’re so easy,” she said, a sultry chuckle bubbling up from her throat.
I couldn’t stop myself from grinning back. She was right. I was easy when it came to her. I looked at her then, with the sunlight shining on her hair. Maybe it was just a trick of the light, but I could have sworn she was glowing.
“You’re so beautiful, Faith. I love you,” I said, making her blush.
She slapped my hand playfully. “Oh, hush. Go get us checked in. I have to pee.”
You might think that would ruin the mood, but it didn’t. I cherished every moment with her. Even the moments when she had to pee. I leaned over to give her a peck on the cheek.
“Be right back.” I winked at her as I got out of the car.
Checking in only took a few minutes. I made sure that everything was ready for later, then I took Faith to our room. It was exactly as I had pictured it. Perfect. Faith seemed to think so too. She squealed in delight as she examined the fireplace, the outdoor shower, and the gorgeous view of the water.
“Kara, look at this. The shower is outside,” she said as she stepped out onto the deck.
“Yep. It sure is,” I replied.
“Won’t it get cold?”
I gave her a wicked smirk. “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll keep you warm.”
I expected her to have a witty comeback for me. Instead, she turned to me, and the scorching desire in her eyes turned my knees to warm Jell-O. I nearly melted into a great big puddle at her feet. She held out her hand, and I took it.
“Maybe we should test it out,” she suggested, nodding at the shower. “See how long the hot water lasts.”
I’m happy to report that the water heater lasted longer than we did. Much later, we were wrapped in fluffy towels and lounging on the bed. Faith practically purred as I carefully ran a comb through her damp, tangled hair. I was tempted to cancel our dinner reservations. Staying in suddenly sounded like a lot more fun. But I stuck to the plan.
We went out to eat at a romantic little seafood restaurant that a friend had recommended to me. Faith wore a new black dress that hugged every single one of her curves. I couldn’t concentrate on the food or the conversation, but if she noticed, she didn’t say anything.
By the time we got back to the inn, my palms were sweating, my chest was tight, and I was seriously considering either passing out or throwing up. I did neither. Faith had the room key because I am forever losing things like that. So, I stood back and waited while she opened the door. She took one step inside and stopped in her tracks.
‘Yes,’ I silently exulted. While we were gone, the staff at the inn had built a nice, roaring fire and delivered a bottle of champagne on ice. As Faith stood there, stunned, I squeezed past her and retrieved the single, long-stemmed rose from the bed.
“For you,” I whispered.
She took it from me and lifted it to her nose with a trembling hand. Gently, I led her out to the deck. Wrapping my arms around her, I drew her close to me, and she rested her cheek against my shoulder. Here, away from the city, we could actually see the stars. The air was crisp, but not cold, and the moon was shining on the water. It was as if Mother Nature herself was in on my plan. Faith and I stood there like that for a long time without speaking. Finally, I took a deep breath, summoned my courage, and took a step backwards.
“I brought you here for a special reason,” I began. I had rehearsed this a thousand times, but now the words were sticking in my throat.
“When we met, I was so lost. Then you came along and made everything all right. You made me forget about all the horrible yesterdays and believe in all our tomorrows.”
Faith’s eyes widened as I slowly sank to one knee. I fumbled in my pocket for the diamond ring I had picked up the week before. It sparkled almost as brightly as her smile.
“Faith Jacqueline Wilson, I love you with everything that I have. You are my heart, my soul, and my guiding light. And if you let me, I will spend the rest of my life trying to make your dreams come true. I would be incredibly honored if you would be my wife.”
I held my breath as the split second of silence seemed to last for ages. Faith’s lips moved, but I couldn’t hear her over the blood roaring in my ears.
“What?” I whispered.
Faith laughed softly. The sound sent a warm, peaceful feeling cascading over me, and I knew she was going to make me the happiest woman on the face of the Earth.
“I said, yes. Kara Marie Pavlovich, I would love to be your wife.”
I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. Yes. She said yes. The most beautiful and perfect woman had just said yes to my marriage proposal, and now I was speechless and paralyzed. I knelt there before her, numb. I had been practicing the asking part in my head for weeks, but somehow all my carefully laid plans hadn't included what to do after she gave her answer. The ring was still in my hand, and I stared at it blankly. What should I do with it, I wondered?
Faith's hand on my face brought me back to reality. She gently stroked my cheek with her thumb. She gazed into my eyes and smiled at me. And all rational thought fled from my brain again.
"I think this is the part where you put the ring on my finger," she said, holding out her hand.
Struck mute, I simply nodded and did as I was told. I slid the gold band onto her finger. The diamond winked at me in the firelight, mesmerizing me.
"You know, I could get used to having you down there. On your knees, I mean." Faith's throaty whisper snapped me out of my trance in a hurry. I knew that tone.
She was still smiling down at me and a familiar, wicked twinkle danced in her eyes. My throat went dry, though I felt a sudden surge of wetness elsewhere. We had been lovers for nearly a year, but I had never wanted her more. Part of me wanted to rip her clingy black dress off with my teeth and ravish her until she screamed for mercy. The rest of me, the part that wasn't stuck in the Cro-Magnon era, wanted this night to last forever. I resolved to be slow and gentle, as if this were our very first time together. It took a lot of self-restraint.
I rose slowly, letting my fingertips slide from her thighs to her hips. She reached for the buttons on my silk shirt, but I grabbed her hands and raised them to my lips.
"Not yet, love," I whispered. I was determined to make this night special. For both of us.
I kissed her palm, darting the tip of my tongue out to taste the faintly salty skin. Faith shuddered. Now she was the speechless one. Letting go of her hands, I leaned in to capture her lips. The kiss was soft and slow. I teased her at first, nibbling tenderly on her lower lip before sliding my tongue into her mouth. I could still taste the smoky cabernet she'd had with dinner. As we lost ourselves in the kiss, I slid my hands around her smooth back and unzipped her dress. I lowered the straps from her shoulders. Faith growled at me when I broke the kiss.
"Hey, I was enjoying that," she protested.
My lips curled into the lazy smile that she found so irresistible. I winked at her. "Be patient. You'll enjoy this even more."
"Promise?" Faith asked, closing her eyes as I dropped to my knees once more, pulling her dress down with me.
She stepped out of the puddle of fabric. My breath caught in my throat as I stared at her, entranced by the sight. She hadn't told me that she wasn't wearing anything underneath. There I was, on my knees again, staring right at what I wanted the most. My self-control was slipping.
I stood and wrapped my arms around her waist, pulling our bodies together. Without breaking the contact between us, I eased her back towards the bed. She settled back and I stretched out beside her. Hungry, I crushed my lips against hers, demanding and receiving entrance to her warm depths. I slipped downward, nipping and sucking at the juncture between her shoulder and neck, as my hand moved up to cup one of her breasts. She moaned softly, her nipple hardening against my palm.
“God, I love you so much, Faith," I murmured against the skin of her throat.
“I love you too, Kara,” she whispered back.
With one smooth motion, I straddled her stomach. Faith groaned as she felt my wetness sliding against her skin. She groaned again, louder, as I leaned forward and dipped my tongue into her cleavage. She closed her eyes, losing herself in pleasure as my fingers traced slow, languid circles around her nipples. I scooted backwards, shuddering as the motion created friction between my legs.
“I love you, Faith. Forever.”
My lips closed over a hardened peak, teeth lightly grazing against the sensitive flesh, and Faith could only respond with an incoherent moan. Drawing her into my mouth, I licked and sucked, slowly at first, then with increasing ardor. After an eternity, I switched breasts, repeating the process until Faith’s breath was coming in short gasps.
“Not yet, love. We haven’t even gotten to the good part,” I teased.
“Oh god,” Faith groaned as I kissed my way down the length of her body. “Is this how it’s gonna be every night?”
“For the rest of our lives,” I promised.
I meant it too. I wanted so many things for us. Things that I couldn’t seem to vocalize at the moment. So I decided to show her instead.
I positioned myself between Faith’s knees and nibbled at the soft flesh just below her navel. I could taste my own desire on her skin. She quivered as my fingernails gently raked her inner thighs, and I knew she was already on the brink. I slid lower, probing and tasting until I found what I was looking for. I felt her sharp intake of breath as I parted her thighs wider. Then her hands gripped the sheet beneath her as I sucked her throbbing clit into my mouth. My own need intensified until I thought I would burst from the sheer pleasure of loving her. I circled the engorged flesh with my tongue, massaging it until she was trembling uncontrollably and her head thrashed from side to side. Dipping lower still, I ran my tongue around her opening and slowly slid inside. I moved in and out, slowly, steadily, as my thumb replaced the pressure on her clit. I wanted to drink from her until I drowned.
I was about to take her over the edge when Faith’s hands in my hair stopped me. Reluctantly, I left the feast laid out before me and raised my head. She was gazing down at me with such profound love shining in her eyes. It took my breath away. With one finger, she beckoned to me.
“I want to feel you too, Kara. I want to do this together.”
I couldn’t say no to that. I didn’t want to say no to that. I moved back up her body and reclaimed her lips as I settled myself on her thigh. We both shivered at the contact. Her eyes locked with mine, and she nodded. My hand trailed down her body, sliding through the evidence of our love. As she set the rhythm, I slid two fingers inside her. Her inner muscles contracted around me as we moved together. The pressure inside me climbed as I ground myself against her, and I could tell that she was nearing her own release. When both of us were trembling and I could feel her squeezing me even tighter, I added a third finger. Faith arched her back and we screamed out each other’s name in ecstasy as wave after wave of pleasure ripped through us.
I collapsed on top of her, exhausted and completely at peace. She kissed me thoroughly, and I knew she could taste herself on my lips. My fingers were still buried deep inside her and I was in no hurry to remove them. Finally, I withdrew them and held her tight while a series of smaller aftershocks shook her.
Once she had caught her breath, Faith pulled her head back and regarded me seriously. I was surprised to see tears in her eyes. I was even more surprised to feel tears burning in mine. In all the times that we had made love, neither of us had ever cried. I stroked her cheek.
“What is it, baby?”
She shook her head. “Nothing. I don’t know. I just love you so damn much, Kara.”
“I love you too, sweetheart. With everything I have.”
She rested her head against my chest. I knew she was falling asleep. Strangely enough, I was still wide-awake, even after exerting all that energy.
“Promise me something, Kara. Promise me you’ll never leave me.”
I kissed the top of her head. “Never.”
She was already asleep. I lay awake for a long time after that. I couldn’t quite get used to this feeling. I was actually happy. Content. At peace with the world. I wished we could stay like that forever.
Chapter 5: Foolish Heart
I’ve heard people say that time flies when you’re having fun. I’m not sure whether or not that’s true. All I know is that when things are looking dark, time slows down. Each moment lasts an eternity filled with numbing despair.
Faith and I broke up one month ago today. That’s over 43,000 agonizingly long moments. Endless moments when I wished I could fall into some bottomless crevice and simply disappear from the face of the earth. I suppose I could just do what I set out to do so many months before. I could simply fling myself into the sea and be done with it. But the masochist in me tells me that suicide would be far too easy. No, I deserve to suffer. I broke the heart of the only woman that I ever truly loved.
I wish that I could say that I was temporarily insane. Driven mad by circumstances beyond my control. But that would be too easy, as well. I did what I did because something in me wanted to hurt her. Wait, I’m not sure that’s entirely true. Deep down, I don’t really think it was Faith that I was trying to hurt. I think maybe it was me. I was a fool. I had just walked away from the purest, brightest part of my miserable life. To punish myself, I tried to make sure that I could never, ever go back.
The day had started off just like any other day. Faith and I stumbled out of bed just before dawn. Actually, I stumbled. She bounced. Unlike Faith, I have never been a morning person. I need a hot shower and at least three cups of coffee before I begin to resemble anything remotely human.
We got ourselves ready for work. Faith was wearing something new --- a long, flowing blue skirt and a white linen blouse. I laughed and told her that she looked like some kind of 1960s flower child. She rolled her eyes and swatted me with a thick file folder filled with homework assignments that she’d carefully pored over the night before. Faith taught English at one of the local high schools. She’d stayed up well past midnight grading a stack of essays about some Shakespeare play. Othello. I should have paid more attention to her when she was talking about it. Maybe it would have reminded me how dangerous jealousy can be.
I walked Faith out to her car, and she reminded me that she was only working a half-day. After she left, I went back inside. I had a little more time before I had to leave for my own unfulfilling and woefully underpaid job of selling computers to dimwitted college students. The smart college students bought their hardware at real computer stores, not at the second-rate office supply store that I worked for.
I had just grabbed my third cup of coffee when the phone rang. I didn’t answer it. I rarely did unless I was expecting a call, which was next to never. Instead, I simply waited for the answering machine to click on.
“Hi, Faith. It’s me. I need to talk to you. Please call me.”
I was stunned to hear a man’s voice leaving the message. Who was this guy, and why did he need to talk to my girlfriend? Even worse, why didn’t he leave his name or number? That sort of implied that she would recognize his voice and know where to reach him, didn’t it? Dozens of perfectly reasonable explanations for this mysterious message swarmed through my mind, but one incredibly ridiculous one drowned them all out. Faith was cheating on me.
I had no reason for believing that she was unfaithful. No strange notes in her coat pockets, no unexplained absences. Nothing. My suspicions were based on one little phone call and a lifetime of bad relationship scars. That’s not a good combination.
“This is stupid,” I said. My voice sounded thin and unconvincing.
I shook my head, as if trying to rid myself of the doubts gnawing at me. I glanced at the clock and realized that I was probably going to be late for work. Again. As I turned to leave, I hesitated, my finger hovering above the delete button on the answering machine. With one simple push of that button, I could erase this unwelcome intrusion from our lives. At least, that was my theory. I almost did it too. Sanity briefly seized control again and stopped me. Faith would have been furious with me if I erased a message that was meant for her. Especially if it turned out to be important.
“Don’t be such an idiot, Kara,” I muttered to myself as I grabbed my keys and headed for the door.
I was moody and distracted all day at work. My co-workers figured out pretty quickly that it’s best to stay away from me when I get like that, so they gave me a wide berth. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I’ve never been a clock-watcher, but that particular day it was like there was a magnet that kept pulling my eyes towards the big digital clock above the exit doors. Eight hours have never crawled by so slowly.
I knew Faith would be home before me, and I couldn’t stop myself from wondering what would happen when she heard that message on the machine. See, Faith is the type who thrives on helping other people. She talks to strangers. She gives money to the vagrants on the street corners, even though I try to tell her that they’ll probably just blow it on drugs or booze. She doesn’t listen to me. If someone needs something, she’ll go out of her way to provide it. So, I knew that she would call the guy on our answering machine. After all, he needed to talk to her.
A normal person might have assumed that he was a friend who needed a shoulder to cry on, or a family member with important news. Well, I doubt if I’ve ever qualified as a normal person. I mean, I know Faith. She loved me. Only me. She would never cheat on me or deliberately hurt me in any way. But, I also remembered what it felt like to discover that a lover was deceiving me, and the little mental patient in my head kept whispering "what if?”
Looking back on it, I probably should have called her. One simple phone call could have spared us a whole world of heartache. But I didn’t. Instead, when my workday was through, I sped home as quickly as I could. Of course, during rush hour traffic, “speeding” is really more equivalent to “crawling.”
While I was sitting there, stuck in the afternoon commute, I had way too much time to let my imagination run wild. Disjointed images kept flashing through my mind. Pictures of Diana, my bitch-from-hell ex who ripped my heart out and put it through a blender. I could see the contempt in her eyes. I could hear her laughter as she reminded me that no one would ever love me. That I would always be destined to play the fool. Then, I would see Faith in someone else’s arms. Something like that would be enough to drive anyone a little mad, wouldn’t it? By the time I turned down our street, I was seething with unfounded jealousy and anger. I think I was determined to pick a fight with Faith, even if it had been her saintly old grandfather on the phone.
An unfamiliar car was parked in front of our house. It was more than just a car, actually. It was a spotless, shiny Mercedes convertible. My crappy little job would never allow me to be able to buy Faith a car like that. On my dismal salary, I could barely afford the slightly used Saturn that I had. As I walked past the Mercedes, I was tempted to key it. I restrained myself only because I knew this guy probably had an alarm, and I didn’t want to cause a scene in front of the entire neighborhood. Not yet, anyway.
I stormed up to our front door and let myself in. I never made it more than two steps past the threshold. There, in the middle of my living room, Faith was in someone else’s arms. Just like I had suspected. This man that I had never seen before was holding her and stroking her hair.
“What the fuck is this?”
I couldn’t manage anything above a hoarse whisper, but it was enough. They heard me. They separated, and I saw that Faith had been crying. For a split second, the voice of reason prevailed, and I almost reached out to her. Seeing her tear-stained face tugged at my heart and all I wanted to do was wrap my arms around her and tell her that everything would be okay.
“Hi. You must be Kara. I’m Mark.”
The guy took a step towards me and held out his hand. I still can’t believe that he actually thought I would take it. I took one look at him, and reason was silenced. He was tall, blond and handsome with those squeaky clean, all-American boy looks. He was obviously rich, too, judging by his expensive suit and perfect haircut. And, oh yeah, his flashy luxury car parked in front of MY house.
I gave him the most contemptuous look I could muster. Then I ignored him and his proffered handshake. Faith wouldn’t look me in the eye. Her gaze never lifted above my shoulder. That wasn’t a good sign.
“Who the fuck is Mark?” For some reason, it just seemed appropriate to use ‘fuck’ in every sentence.
“Kara, please,” Faith whispered. “Please don’t do this now.”
I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or scream. ‘Don’t do this now?’ Don’t do what now? I’ve never been able to control my temper very well, and I had never directed my anger at Faith. Never. At that moment, though, I wasn’t even trying to stay calm.
“I come home from work and find you in some strange guy’s arms. In my own living room!” My voice was rising. I didn’t care. “Don’t I have the right to ask who the fuck he is?”
Mark was looking back and forth between us with this confused puppy expression on his face. He was just as clueless as I was. Faith was crying again, and somewhere deep down, I felt bad about that. As angry as I was, I still hated making her cry. Then Mark blinked, and I saw the little light bulb click on in his head.
“You two, you’re, you’re…” he stammered.
He couldn’t even say the word. I decided to help him out, though not out of the kindness of my heart.
“Lovers, Mark. The word you’re looking for is ‘lovers.’”
Just saying his name left a foul taste in my mouth. His perfect brow creased as he tried to comprehend the bombshell I had just dropped on him. I wasn’t done with him yet. I wanted to twist the knife a little harder and make him feel some small fraction of the hurt I was feeling.
“So, how does it feel to find out that your girlfriend has another girlfriend?”
He shook his head slowly, and I almost felt sorry for him. The poor bastard really had no idea.
“She’s not my girlfriend,” he said.
This time I did laugh out loud. “Right. And I’m supposed to believe that?”
There was no reason why I shouldn’t have believed him, really. I mean, what had I caught them in? Nothing. It could just as easily have been a comforting hug between friends. But memories of another time had a stranglehold on my heart and mind, and all I could see was a trail filled with my own failed relationships.
“Please let me explain.” Faith’s voice diverted my attention away from her hapless boyfriend for the moment. “I was going to tell you everything as soon as you got home.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” I interrupted her. “Should I thank you because you were planning on breaking the news about your little boyfriend anyway?”
“Kara, he’s not my boyfriend.” She tried to explain, but I didn’t want to hear it.
“Then tell me who the fuck he is!” I was back to using my favorite expletive again.
I wasn’t prepared for what she told me next. I’m not sure if I ever could have been. Faith closed her eyes and my heart sank lower than I imagined it could. Whatever she was going to say, I knew I wasn’t going to like it.
“Mark is my husband.”
I actually heard all the air rush out of my lungs. I don’t know how I managed to stay on my feet. It felt like someone had punched me repeatedly in the stomach. Questions rumbled through my head like a runaway freight train, and I knew it was going to be really ugly when it derailed. I wondered how Mark would react if I threw up all over his expensive shoes.
Faith was married? How could she not tell me something like that? I knew there were old boyfriends and a couple of old girlfriends, but she had never mentioned a husband. It seemed like an awfully important fact to leave out. How could she be engaged to me if she was already married to someone else? What was next? A house with a white picket fence and 2.3 kids in a Swiss boarding school?
“Your husband,” I repeated.
I was numb. I thought nothing would ever hurt worse than Diana leaving me all those months before. I thought I could never sink that low again. Faith had saved me from that darkness. She was my angel. She was, well, she was my faith. All of a sudden, I was left wondering if I ever knew her at all.
Faith and Mark were both talking at me. I think they were trying to explain. I heard something about divorce papers, but very little of it filtered through the fog in my brain. I couldn’t speak; I couldn’t breathe. Without a word, I turned and walked out of the house. Somewhere, there was bottle of tequila just waiting for a pathetic sap like me.
I think Faith tried to run after me, but Mark stopped her. God, how I wish he hadn’t.
It’s funny how things come full circle. Everything is connected. One event leads to another, which leads to another, until you end up almost back where you started. Ultimately, I found Faith because I got picked up by a woman in a bar. The events with that woman nearly destroyed me. Months later, there’s another bar and another woman. And I nearly lost Faith because of it.
No, that’s not true. Our problems weren’t created by a woman or a bar. They weren’t even caused by Faith’s ex-husband. Yes, she should have told me sooner, but that doesn’t excuse what I did. I take full responsibility for that. Lucky for me, she forgave me, though I know that she’ll never truly be able to forget. I can only hope that someday I’ll be able to make up for all the heartache I caused.
When I walked out on her that day, I’m not sure if I was ever intending to go back. I was so blinded by my own feelings of hurt and betrayal that I couldn’t see her pain or fear. She explained to me later that she didn’t tell me about Mark because it was a chapter in her life that was over, and she was afraid that I wouldn’t understand. I think that disturbs me the most. I thought Faith and I could tell each other anything. Maybe not.
They were married while they were still in college, and although they liked and cared for each other, it was never really love. They just loved the idea of being in love. So they did what their families and friends expected them to do, and they tied the knot. They split up when Faith came to realize that her feelings for him would never run any deeper than friendship. She never told him that she was attracted to women. She hadn’t wanted to hurt him any further.
That’s Faith. She never wants to hurt anyone. She’s the kindest, most decent and compassionate person I’ve ever met. And I broke her heart. It’s a wonder she still speaks to be me. It’s a miracle she still loves me.
After I walked out, I ended up at this little hole-in-the-wall bar. The place was mostly populated by gay men, but there were a few lesbians here and there, so I didn’t look too out of place. I paid cash for a half-empty bottle of Jose Cuervo and slid into a dark corner booth, since I didn’t want to be seen or bothered. Jose and I are old friends. He’s helped me drown a lifetime of sorrows.
An hour passed while I steadily worked my way towards the bottom of the bottle. I desperately wanted to be drunk. I had this theory that the alcohol would numb the pain, but it didn’t. All it did was make me increasingly sad. I’m a depressing drunk. The whole world could have ended in a blazing inferno, and I wouldn’t have cared. I was much too busy feeling sorry for myself.
I was thinking about getting up to go see how clean the bathrooms were, when someone plopped into the seat opposite me. I stared at her through a tequila-gold haze.
“I’m sorry. I know this is none of my business, but I can’t leave you sitting alone when you look so sad. You look like your dog just died.”
It wasn’t the most cringe-worthy line I’ve ever heard, but it wasn’t particularly original either. I knew she was trying to pick me up. I should have stopped it right there.
“I don’t have a dog,” I said.
She sized me up with a toothy smile. She was pretty, I suppose, in a too-much-makeup kind of way. She was probably in her mid-twenties, though she looked older. Glossy red lipstick accentuated a pair of full, pouty lips, and I found myself mesmerized by them. She leaned across the table.
“Then it must be girlfriend trouble, right?”
“I don’t have a girlfriend.”
I don’t know why I said that. I was upset, sure, but I still loved Faith. I guess I could take the easy way out and claim that it was the tequila talking. That wasn’t it, though. I wasn’t that drunk yet. I could spout off a bunch of bullshit about being hurt and needing comfort, but that wasn’t it either. I was angry, and I wanted to unleash all that emotion on someone, anyone. The next thing I knew, I was following her out the door. She led me to the rear parking lot where two or three other couples were already making out in the shadows. I paid little attention to them, although I think I did see a guy I worked with. And he wasn’t with his wife.
We stopped in front of her truck. The lamp above it was dying, and the weak light flickered, throwing shadows across her face. It was just as well since I didn’t really want to look at her. Yeah, I know how callous that sounds. I didn’t want to see this woman from the bar. I didn’t want to know her name or anything about her. I just wanted to escape from my own life, even it was only for a few moments.
She leaned back against the side of her truck and looked me up and down. She had taken the lead thus far, but now she was waiting for me to make the next move. I should have walked away. The rational part of me was screaming at me to walk away. As usual though, the voice of reason got overruled.
I moved closer, my hands on either side of her. We were close enough that I could feel the heat radiating from her body. She smelled of beer and some kind of spicy cologne. Then I was kissing her. I crushed my lips against hers as if I could transfer all my demons to her through that kiss. Our tongues battled for supremacy and I felt her hand clutching my ass. Memories of Faith and the night we met filled my mind. Our first kiss took place in a parking lot like this one. Only it was dawn, and the kiss was sweet and tender, not desperate like this one. This was wrong.
I pulled back. I couldn’t do this. More importantly, I didn’t want to do this. Faith was probably sitting at home, waiting, wondering whether or not I was coming back. She loved me. She would be worried. And here I was, swapping spit with an anonymous woman in a sleazy parking lot. What the hell was wrong with me? I didn’t want this. I wanted to go home, take Faith in my arms and tell her that I was sorry. That everything would be all right.
“I can’t. I’m sorry,” I said.
The woman shrugged. Her eyes flicked past me, and I thought maybe she had spotted someone to take my place. Casually, she ran her thumb across my lips, wiping away the glossy red lipstick smeared there.
“Whatever. If you change your mind, I’ll be inside.”
She walked away and I never saw her again. I just wanted to go home to Faith. I fumbled in my pockets, searching for some change. Driving myself wasn’t an option. I came up with a quarter and a couple of nickels, enough to call a cab with. I thought I remembered a pay phone in the bar, so I turned to head back inside. I took one inebriated step and froze.
Faith was there. I guess Mark had decided to let her go looking for me after all. She was standing there, in the middle of the parking lot, staring at me. I can’t even begin to describe the look in her eyes. She was more than just hurt; she was devastated. Can you blame her? I mean, she had searched every bar in town for me so that she could apologize to me. Then she finds me here, doing exactly what I had suspected her of doing.
I took another step towards her and hesitated as the asphalt beneath my feet seemed to tilt. Damn tequila. It’s great stuff if you’re looking to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible. Not so great when you need to sober up in a hurry.
She turned to leave, and I knew I couldn’t let her go. Despite my state of intoxication, I chased after her. I caught her just as she was about to get in her car.
“Faith, please wait. Let me explain.”
Even I winced at the sound of those words. I was such a hypocrite. Little more than an hour before, Faith had pleaded with me for the same chance. I had turned my back on her then. What right did I have to expect anything from her now?
For the second time that night, Faith wouldn’t look at me. She stared at my hand on her arm. Finally, after an eternity, her gaze lifted and my heart crumbled. I had expected to see anger, betrayal, maybe even hate. Instead, her beautiful brown eyes were dull and lifeless. Empty. I realized that there was nothing I could say to fix this. I had done the one thing I had sworn to myself I would never do. I had broken her heart.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.
It sounded hollow to my ears. I can’t imagine how it must have sounded to her. The woman I loved more than anything had just caught me kissing someone else, and all I could say was ‘I’m sorry.’ Yeah, I was sorry, all right. A sorry excuse for a human being.
Faith’s bottom lip trembled slightly, a sign that she was fighting back the tears. My hand was on her upper arm, and I could feel her shaking beneath my fingertips. I dropped my hand limply to my side. I had no right to ask her to stay. As soon as I released her arm, she got in her car.
“I have to go,” she said.
No more than a foot separated us, but she had never been so far away. Because I was an idiot, the connection between us had been broken. The gulf between us seemed enormous, like we were standing on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon. I made one last, feeble effort to bridge the distance.
“Faith,” I began.
The words stuck in my throat. I wanted to tell her how incredibly sorry I was. I wanted to explain that I didn’t mean it. That this girl had meant nothing. My god, that sounds lame. I wanted to pour my heart out to her and beg her forgiveness, but I didn’t. What could I have said, really? What could I have said that wouldn’t have sounded like an excuse? So I said nothing at all. I let her go.
“I have to go,” Faith said again.
That was the last thing she said to me. I didn’t try to stop her. I couldn’t. Faith drove away and took my heart with her. I stood there, in the parking lot, for a long time, trying to make some sense of what just happened. I couldn’t do that either. It didn’t make any sense. What had I been thinking? How could I have done that to her? I loved Faith more than I loved my own life. She had saved me from my own terrible darkness, and this was how I repaid her. What kind of person did that make me?
Much later that night, I checked into a cheap motel room. Ordinarily, I would have sought solace at the bottom of a bottle, but somehow I had lost my taste for my poison of choice. Stone cold sober, I laid there in that dark hotel room and stared at a ceiling that I couldn’t see. That night, I realized what it felt like to truly be alone. It was cold and silent, and I suspected that it was very similar to death.
The sun rose the next day, just like always, but I couldn’t feel its warmth. I couldn’t feel anything at all. The sadness in Faith’s eyes was burned into my brain, and I couldn’t escape it. In one fateful night, I had destroyed everything. Faith deserved so much better, so much more than I believed I could ever give her. She deserved to be happy, and I was convinced that she would never find that with me in the picture. So I decided to do the noble thing and set her free. Looking back on it, I probably should have asked her if that was what she wanted.
Chapter Seven: Everybody Plays the Fool
Do you believe in miracles? I never did before, but now I’m not so sure. I’ve searched my brain over and over and I can’t come up with any other rational explanation for the direction my life has taken recently. I wasn’t looking for a miracle. I wasn’t expecting it. I sure as hell didn’t deserve it, but there it was, all the same. So call it what you will --- destiny, fate, kismet. For now, I’ll stick with “miracle.”
It was just another New Year’s Eve when it happened. Like I did every year, I had made plans to hang out at my friend Ron’s place. We would play a few hands of poker, drink a few pitchers of margaritas, and watch Dick Clark ring in the new year on television. I had hoped I would have plans with someone special this time around, but that was before I had gone and trashed the one good thing in my otherwise sorry life.
Faith and I hadn’t spoken to each other in months. We hadn’t even laid eyes on each other since she drove away and left me standing alone in a gloomy, grimy parking lot. I was certain that our relationship had ended that night. After everything I had said and done, I didn’t think there was any chance Faith could ever forgive me.
One day, when I knew she would be at work, I had gone back to the little house we had shared. All of my stuff was exactly where I had left it, but none of it seemed to belong there anymore. Everything looked so foreign and alien that it was hard to believe I had ever lived there. As quickly as I could, I packed up everything I owned. It didn’t take long to fill a couple of suitcases and a few boxes.
My favorite photograph of the two of us was still on the nightstand next to my side of the bed. It was a picture of me and Faith, taken when we were very much in love. My arms were wrapped around her waist and we were squinting into the sun while the vast, blue Pacific stretched toward the horizon behind us. We were smiling. I couldn’t remember the last time I had smiled.
Sadness and regret nearly overwhelmed me as I stared at the happy couple. How had it all gone so wrong? How could a love that had seemed so true grow cold and die so quickly? Oh, I still loved Faith with all my heart and soul. Make no mistake about that. But I didn’t even dare to dream that she might hold even a flickering memory of love for me. No, I had already seen that light go out in her eyes and it killed me to know that I was the cause of that.
I was surprised she had kept the picture. Actually, I was surprised that she hadn’t disposed of my stuff in a great, big, cathartic bonfire in the backyard. It looked, though, like she had kept everything just as it was before. It almost looked like she was half-expecting me to come home at any moment. I just knew that wasn’t the case. I figured she was too disgusted with me to even bother touching any of my junk. I’m such an idiot sometimes. Looking back on it now, the scene in the house probably should have been my first clue.
Still, I was determined to move out of her home and her life. I was going to excise myself from Faith the way a surgeon might cut out a cancerous tumor. With a heavy sigh, I laid the photograph face down on the nightstand and left my key on top of it. My jaw ached from clenching my teeth so tightly, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold back the tears if I relaxed for a split second. I grabbed my bags and my boxes and got the hell out.
I stayed with a co-worker for a few weeks until I could find a place of my own. It wasn’t the first time I had resigned myself to sleep on someone else’s couch. Hopefully, it will be the last. Eventually, I found an apartment downtown that I could afford. It was in a crappy, depressing neighborhood, but I was in a crappy, depressing mood. I figured we were made for each other.
I never even bothered to unpack. My bed was a sleeping bag on the floor. My dining room table --- a board balanced across a pair of milk crates. I existed in that dark, dank apartment for several months. Notice I said “existed” and not “lived.” I doubt what I was doing could be considered living. That was okay with me, though. The monotony of my life numbed the pain.
Christmas came and went. My only nod to the holiday came in the form of a drooping poinsettia that I had picked up at work. Then, before I realized it, it was New Year’s Eve. Like I mentioned earlier, I had planned to drive up the coast to spend the weekend with an old friend.
My car keys were in my hand and I had one foot out the door when the phone rang. I almost didn’t answer it. No one ever called me, so I didn’t think it could possibly be important. Most of the time it was just someone who had dialed a wrong number. Apparently, my home number was very similar to the number for a nearby adult video store.
The phone continued to ring. I thought it might be Ron calling to tell me to pick something up on my way to his place, so I decided to answer it after all. That turned out to be one of the most fateful decisions of my life.
“Hello,” I said, lifting the receiver to my ear.
No one answered me.
“Hello?” I repeated, a bit peevishly. I was about to tell my silent caller exactly where to stick his or her phone when a familiar voice spoke.
“I’m sorry.” Faith’s voice was husky, as if she’d been crying.
I was stunned speechless. I didn’t even know how she had found me. Before I could recover my wits, she went on.
“Kara, please don’t hang up,” she pleaded. “I love you. Meet me at our beach. If you’re not there by midnight, I’ll know it’s over.”
She hung up without waiting for my reply. It was just as well. I was completely incapable of uttering a sound. Actually, I was completely incapable of a single coherent thought. Dumbfounded, I stared at the buzzing receiver in my hand. My head spun as I tried to process what had just happened.
Faith had called me. My Faith. And she loved me. Even after all these months, even after all the incredibly stupid things I had done, she loved me. A thought began to poke insistently at my scrambled brain. What if there are things that aren’t up to me to decide? What if some things just are, no matter how hard I try to screw them up?
I was a fool. A complete, utter, bona fide fool. I had jumped to the conclusion that Faith wanted nothing more to do with me. Then, based on that obviously incorrect assumption, I had decided that we were through and there was nothing I could do to save what we had. And because I had been too busy wallowing in my own self-pity, it had never occurred to me to ask Faith what she wanted.
The nasal whine of the dial tone jerked me away from my epiphany and reminded me that I still had the phone in my hand. Carefully, I dropped the receiver back in its cradle. My mind kept replaying Faith’s words over and over again. She wanted me to meet her at midnight at our beach --- the place where we had met. I checked my watch. It was just after 7:30. I called Ron and told him I wasn’t coming, that I had to go find my angel instead. I think he thought I had finally gone insane. Who knows? Maybe I had.
With more hope in my heart than I had ever felt, I dashed out of my apartment and jumped into my car. As I entered the freeway and headed towards the beach, I fervently prayed that I wasn’t dreaming. Traffic was a nightmare. All of the real nuts hit the road on New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t care. Faith was waiting for me and no force on the Earth was going to keep me from finding her before midnight.
Chapter Eight: All You Need is Love
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” These words hung above the blackboard in my 9th grade history class, but I never really understood what they meant. Probably because I never paid any attention to my 9th grade history teacher. I think I get it now, though.
When I look back at my recent history, I can see all the mistakes I’ve made. First, I made the mistake of trusting someone too much. I gave someone my heart, and she handed it back to me on a plate. What did I learn from that? Not the right lesson, of course. No, that would have been far too easy. Instead, I learned not to trust anyone that completely ever again.
Then I met Faith and we clicked. At first, I was content to be happily head over heels in love. But before long, those whispering voices in my head began eating away at me. Faith was too good to be true. She was going to put my heart in a blender --- just like all the others before her. So what did I do? Fool that I am, I let my doubts overwhelm me. And at the first chance I had, I tried to crush her spirit before she could crush mine.
Obviously, neither one of these tactics makes for a happy and stable relationship. They didn’t do much for my own personal mental and emotional health, either. Especially since I often have the maturity level of a five-year-old. I sulked. I pouted. I whined. I did everything except take a good, hard look at myself in a mirror. Which is something I should have done a long time ago. Luckily for me, I was given another chance to get it right.
When Faith called me on New Year’s Eve, I was shocked. I was certain that she had forgotten all about me. I thought she had moved on with her life. After all, I was trying to move on with mine, although I wasn’t doing a very good job of it. I just couldn’t believe that she might actually want me back.
So many thoughts and memories tangled together in my head as I drove towards the beach that night. I remembered the first time we met, when Faith saved my life. Sometimes I still wonder if someone upstairs deliberately put her in my path or if it was mere coincidence.
Cars rushed past me on the freeway as I drove, but I was oblivious to them. I was lost in the memory of our first kiss. It was so tentative and sweet, but it held such a promise of passion. A preview of coming attractions, I suppose.
Several times, as I gazed out my dirty windshield, I almost remembered the look in Faith’s eyes on the night we broke up. I did my best to push those images from my brain. If I had allowed myself to drown in that guilt and shame again, I probably would have turned the car around. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to see Faith again. Hell, I needed to see Faith again.
The first raindrops began to hit my windows as I exited the freeway. In just a few more minutes, I would be at the beach. My palms grew sweaty and slick on the steering wheel and anxiety twisted my insides until my stomach churned. Each red light lasted an eternity. Each swoosh and squeak of my windshield wipers sounded like the ticking of a clock.
When I pulled into the parking lot, there were only a few lonely cars left. Most of the town would be at the boardwalk for the big New Year’s celebration. That was fine with me, since I didn’t want to see anyone else, anyway. Only Faith. I spotted her battered old Ford and my heart took permanent lodging in my throat. She was really here.
Her car was empty, as I had expected. She would be down on the beach. I parked my car and crossed the asphalt to the wooden steps that led down to the sand. My knees were quivering and my fingernails dug into my palms until I thought they would bleed.
The light rain became a steady downpour, but I scarcely noticed it. I jammed my fists into the pockets of my jeans and started down the steps. I was barely conscious, but my feet seemed to know where they were going. I simply followed them across the dark, wet sand.
A jagged pile of rocks loomed before me --- the same rocks that I had been precariously perched on the night that I met Faith. Tonight, she was sitting at the base with her knees pulled tight against her chest. She stood as I approached. Her long blonde hair was pulled back from her face, just as it had been the first time I had seen her. She had lost weight, though. The clothes that used to cling to every curve now almost hung from her frame. But she was still beautiful. The most beautiful sight I had ever seen.
Her gentle brown eyes met mine, and I melted. I resisted the urge to reach out and take her in my arms. It was probably a little too soon for that. Neither or us had spoken yet, and I wondered if I should go first. A dozen or so opening lines flitted through my mind. I settled on the first question that I had ever asked her.
“So, do you come here often?” My voice cracked, revealing my nervousness.
Faith blinked at me, and a sad, rueful smile twitched at the corners of her lips.
“Only when I’m looking for girls to rescue,” she said.
A tiny spark ignited somewhere in the depths of my soul. Maybe we weren’t over, after all. Maybe there was still hope. Suddenly, words began tumbling out of my mouth without my permission.
I told her how sorry I was, that I had never meant to hurt her, that I loved her. I told her that I understood her anger, that I didn’t blame her for hating me, that I hated myself. I did everything except grovel in the sand at her feet. I was saving that for later.
Faith’s eyes widened and filled with tears. She shook her head slowly.
“Kara, I don’t. I thought....” Her voice trailed off.
Without warning, she sank to her knees and buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders shook violently and each low, strangled sob ripped through my heart. Mentally, I kicked myself. I sat down beside her. I wanted to put my arm around her shoulders, but I wasn’t sure if it was the right time. I wrestled with that question for a moment. Oh, to hell with it. I reached out and pulled her close.
“I thought you hated me,” Faith whispered without looking at me.
I couldn’t believe my ears. How could she think that? After everything I had done to her, how could she possibly blame herself? Outrage welled up in me. Didn’t she know that I was the fool? Not her?
I lifted her chin and gazed directly into her eyes. This was it. If our relationship was going to be saved, this was the moment of truth. Don’t ask me how I knew that, I just did.
“I could never hate you, Faith. I love you.”
Then it hit me like a runaway freight train. I could never hate her, because I loved her. I loved her when we laughed together. I loved her when we fought with each other. I loved her, no matter what. Just. Like. She. Loved. Me. As epiphanies go, this was a pretty important one.
I leaned back against the rocks and began to laugh weakly. Faith eyed me somewhat suspiciously.
“What’s so funny?”
“I love you,” I repeated. God, I loved how that sounded. I laughed harder as my tears mixed with the rain.
“Why is that funny?” Faith demanded.
“I don’t know,” I admitted between fits of laughter.
She looked at me like I had crossed over into looney-toon land. Then, tentatively at first, she began to laugh too. We sat there for several minutes, laughing until our sided ached.
“You’re crazy, you know,” Faith said.
“Yeah, I know.”
Faith sighed. “I guess we have a lot to talk about.”
I nodded. She was right --- we had a lot of issues to work out. Some of it wouldn’t be easy. But for the first time, I believed that it was possible.
Faith nudged my ribs. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
Home. I rolled the word around in my mouth, savoring the feel of it. Faith didn’t get it. I was here with her in my arms. I was already home.
When we left the beach that night, I knew I was finally ready to start my life. And I knew that my life was with Faith. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m still not sure I believe in fairy-tales and all that other nonsense. But there’s one thing I have learned. Love may not conquer all, but it’s a hell of a start.
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