Michelle got up early the next morning to see what she would wear when she saw Karen. She picked out a pair of her 'skinny' jeans and an Arizona tee shirt. This was a casual meeting between old friends…she hoped. She pulled out the address Karen and given her, and hoped she'd remember how to get there. The whole town, including street names had changed.
She drove slowly along the streets, got lost several times, than finally found it! Outside was a woman playing with a baby, about two years old. She got out of the car and looked at Karen. The two best friends embraced, it had been such a long time. Karen had cut her long brown hair and was now wearing contacts. She had put on a bit of 'baby' weight but nothing spectacular.
"Michelle, it's so great to see you! I've missed you so much."
"I've missed you too Karen. So how old is the little tyke? He's a handsome little devil!"
"He'll be three next month. He can be a handful! C'mon let's go in the house, would you like a glass of iced tea?"
"Sounds fantastic", said Michelle. She looked at the modest two bedroom house. It was small, but the yard was well kept and looked nice. Inside, baby toys were strewn about the floor, but other than that it was still very tidy. She recognized her Mom's old paisley furniture, and the kitchen table and chairs from the old place. Karen was a single Mom and couldn't afford a lot.
The toddler came up and sat on Michelle's lap…without her permission. He was so adorable, and had beautiful blue eyes that could kill! But my, they did look familiar. It was a strange feeling, like she had held this child before.
"So, Karen, is the Daddy paying child support? I should hope so. You never did tell me who the father was. Was it someone I know?"
Karen laughed in embarrassment. "My you do ask a lot of questions and we haven't even had our tea yet. Karen stood up to fetch the two iced teas. So tell me, what's Arizona like? I know you told me it was massively hot. Would you want to come back here to live or stay there?"
For some reason, there was an unexplainable nervousness in Karen's voice.
"I really love Arizona, but I would consider coming back here to live. I saw Gary yesterday. He's changed so much since high school! I can't believe we lost so much time between us."
"Are you still pining about him? It's been so long, I should have thought he'd be way out of your mind by now! I know you never got to date or anything through high school, but time has moved on. He wasn't that great of a date anyway." Karen realized she had put her foot in her mouth.
"Karen, you never told me you dated Gary. That doesn't matter, he was here, I wasn't. But I thought we were friends and you would have told me that. Which brings me to another subject that's been driving me nuts ! And for the life of me, I don't know why I didn't think of it before."
"Michelle, what on earth are you talking about?"
"Karen, I want you to think back about six years. I had left Maryland for Arizona. I wrote you a letter telling you of my feelings for Gary. You told me you talked to him, and he thought it would never work being a long distance love, and we were both too young to make a commitment 3000 miles away at the age of 16. You lied to me. Why?"
"Alright, alright. I never thought I 'd have to deal with this subject again. For crying out loud, it's been an eternity. When you left for Arizona, I found myself attracted to Gary. He wouldn't look at me twice though. We were good friends though, and he told me all about his feelings for you. I was sick of it! After all, I was here, you were there, it wasn't fair! One day he was working in the library working like he always did, he was such a bookworm. He had a letter, one that he been working on forever. It was telling you his feelings. He was very busy and asked if I would mail it. I went to the mailbox, went to drop it in….but didn't. It was a windy day, I let it fly away."
Michelle could feel her blood boil now. Her best friend. Judas. She felt someone had hit her with a rock. It always does when you trust someone so completely, and they stab you in the back! She stopped for a minute and through tears asked.
"I can't believe you hurt me like that! You knew my feelings for Gary. Yes, I was miles away but that gave you no right to lie to us both. Don't you realize how miserable we both were for those six years that you stole? And why on earth did you tell me was dead?!"
"I thought he WAS dead. He was in the same unit with my brother, and he was so badly gone, they even sent for a priest. My brother left and assumed Gary had died, no one could have lived through what he did, it was impossible. It was an absolute miracle he came out of that, but when I wrote you, from what John told me, he must have died. How did you find out he was alive?"
"Ah, now we get to the interesting part. Gary wrote me a letter after he got out of the hospital. I didn't receive it until one year later. By then, he was out of the service, and had written me an "I never stopped loving you letter". After what you told me, those words were a bit of a shock."
Karen was silent for a long time. She had wondered why Michelle came back to Maryland. Their letters had become few and far between, so she guessed Michelle never got to this part. She wondered why she came here now. She was sure it was just to see her, maybe see the old neighborhood. She thought by now Gary would be history for her. And after what Michelle was about to find out, she'd wish she'd never came. Because if she thought she had been hurt before, what Karen was going to tell her now would be the icing on the cake. God, why did she come here!
Just then the baby toddled over and began crawling on Michelle again. Michelle calmed down to play with the baby and played paddy cake with him. She was upset and hurt but the baby was so sweet. She then looked at his eyes and stopped.
"Karen, I asked you once, who is this baby's father?"
Karen sighed, and looked at her, "Let's put it this way, the baby looks like his Daddy."
Michelle now understood why the child looked so familiar. It was Gary's baby, it had to be. How could he not tell her he had a child? That letter he wrote was a year ago. The child was two years old! How…why?
Through tears, Michelle stared at Karen. "Why aren't you with him then? Is he helping you? No matter how much he's changed, he never shirked responsibility. And with the money he's making…this doesn't make sense!"
Karen said very slowly. "He doesn't know."
Michelle whispered with a lump in her throat just one word. "What?"
Karen was outraged for some unexplainable reason. She looked at Michelle with darts in the eyes.
"Because, while we were making love; he kept calling me by your name! We only made love because he was pining over you. It was disgusting. I was 'comforting' him, like I had ever since you left. I thought once you were out of the picture, he would come to me. No, he didn't come to me or anyone else. It was, "Michelle, Michelle, Michelle" I started hating you! Even after I thought I had broken you up for good! And knowing he loved you, I could never tell him I was carrying his child. He would hate me for it. Little Andrew is mine, no one else's. He's my life now."
"Andrew? Didn't Gary get a slight clue when you named the baby after his middle name? Who does he think the baby's father is?"
"Either he didn't, or didn't want to. It's a common name. Anyway, you've wanted Gary for six years, you can have him. He could never love me or my baby."
"Karen, he has a right to know. It's his child too. You have no right to withhold that from him. He wouldn't want you to."
"I don't think so. All he ever talks about or talked about is you. I know we're friends, but I got so sick of hearing your name from him. If I told him about Andrew now, and you're here, he'd feel trapped, I don't want his pity."
"At the very least, he should be giving financial support. Karen, you have to grow up and face facts! And as for me, well, things have changed more than I thought. I'll see Gary tonight and tell him I'm taking the next flight to Arizona. This changes everything. I could never be together with him knowing you had his child. Besides, you're right, Gary and I are different, in so many ways. Maybe this trip was meant for closure. There is a man I was dating in Arizona, and because of Gary, I never gave him the time of today. Maybe it's time I starting living for today and not yesterday. Good-bye Karen. Have a nice life."
Michelle went out the door and didn't look back. Because of this, she and Gary could never be. He had a responsibility to his child. Michelle never went back to see Gary, she didn't think she could bear it. She went to the hotel, got her things together, and flew back to Arizona. She didn't want him begging or pleading for her to stay. No, this was over. If Gary wrote her again, she would ignore it. Eventually he'd get the hint, and she hoped Karen had the good sense to tell him about his son.
Why did she have to come here? I had to be one of two things. To become reunited with Gary; or to say good-bye forever and have closure once and for all. She would have preferred the former but got the latter. People change and she should have realized within six years, he would have. Why not? She had. Time is indeed a cruel master.
Mary E. Lacey