After relocating to Seattle, Chuck receives postcards for Lydia, the former tenant of his new apartment.
Change of Address
Chuck left work tired and irritable. He was packed elbow-to-nose with dozens of other cranky commuters stinking of bus fumes, stale perfume and failing deodorant. Everyone jostled around each other, searching for an empty seat or more appealing company. Chuck gripped the hand-hold more tightly and glanced discreetly at the scruffy old man in the seat beside him. He held a paper shopping bag in his lap, his hands hidden from view. At the next stop, the man got up and left the bus, and Chuck quickly lowered himself in the vacated seat.
When he reached his apartment building, Sherry was waiting for him on the front steps.
“Hey there, Tiger,” she called out. “It’s about time you got home. What kept you?”
Chuck rolled his eyes. “The network went down this morning and I lost some really big files I was working on. I spent all day with the IT guys trying to restore them.”
Sherry shook her head. “Hmm. So much for number-crunching. You should change your career path, you know. All those positive ions from our computers are gonna give us all cancer, one day. You just wait. Computers are evil.”
“I don't see you dumping your ’puter out the window.”
“Well, someone’s gotta keep you company at death’s door.”
He looked at her. “You have an interesting way of brightening one’s day.”
Sherry smiled. “Of course. It’s part of my charm.”
“That's funny,” observed Chuck. “I thought it was your hairy back.” He dodged a playful blow and the two walked companionably up the steps to the entrance. Stopping to gather his mail, they entered the building and climbed the two flights to his floor.
As they entered his apartment, Sherry scanned the front room and wrinkled her nose. “Jeez, Chuckie. When’re you gonna get some furniture in this place? I’m tired of sitting on milk crates.”
Chuck sighed and crossed the room to stand near the window. He leaned against the sill and sifted through his mail. “I don't know, Sherry. When the moving guys finally get here, I suppose.”
Sherry followed him and pointed to his trousers. “Yuck, what's this stuff on the back of your pants?”
Chuck twisted around, straining to see the back of his slacks. He remembered the scruffy old man and grimaced. “I’m not sure. I must’ve sat on it when I got on the bus.”
“It’s all gross and sticky. Whatever it is, I wouldn’t touch it, if I were you. You better hie yourself to the cleaners, first thing.”
“It can wait,” he muttered. “I don’t want to deal with it right now.” He paused and pulled out a piece of mail. “Hey look. I got a postcard.” He examined it and frowned. “Wouldn’t you know it, it’s not even for me.”
Sherry took it from him and peered at the writing on the back. “Well, it’s as good as yours, anyway. It’s the right address…” She gave it back to him. “I wonder who Lydia is?”
“Probably the woman who lived here before me.”
“Why wouldn’t she leave a forwarding address?”
“Don’t know.” He tossed the postcard and the rest of his mail on the windowsill and walked toward the bedroom. “Let me get changed and we’ll go. How does a movie and some Thai sound? There’s a paper over by the door. Make yourself useful and pick out a movie.”
Sherry goose-stepped across the room, and extended her right arm in a stiff salute, clicking her heels together. “Jawohl, mein Herr.”
“Smart-ass,” Chuck grumbled.
“Yup! That’s why you dig me so much,” Sherry replied.
“In your dreams,” he answered. For the first time that day, however, he smiled
When he returned home later that night, Chuck was exhausted. He really enjoyed Chicago, but he was feeling a little frayed around the edges. He was in a new city, with a new job he was unsure of, and living in an apartment without furniture. The last he’d heard, it was somewhere between Topeka and Chicago. For the past two weeks, he’d been using a thin, threadbare sleeping bag for a bed and a rolled-up jacket for a pillow. It wasn’t exactly the prime of comfort.
But there was Sherry. She lived in the building across from him and had made it her business to introduce herself the very day he moved in. He smiled at the thought of her. Sherry’s wisecracking, straightforward manner really helped bring Chuck out of himself, and he was grateful for it. They’d become immediate friends.
He padded into the bedroom to gather his bed things and dropped them under the window in the living room. There, he stretched out on the sleeping bag, and fluffed the jacket. From this vantage point, his setup—the lack of furniture, sleeping on the floor—reminded him of sleepovers and Boy Scout camping trips. The milk crates he used to sit on were none too comfortable, but after he’d located a length of foam rubber and a couple of towels, he’d fashioned them into adequate stools. Sherry, however, had made it clear that she may as well be sitting on, well, milk crates.
Reaching up, he felt around on the window sill above him and found what he wanted. He grabbed the pile of mail and pulled out the postcard. It was battered and worn from its journey, the corners bent and soft. He gazed at the photograph for a moment, then flipped the card over to read the caption:
Space Needle, Seattle, Washington. Site of the 1962 World's Fair. Ride to the top and see the spectacular view of beautiful Downtown Seattle. Dine in the exciting restaurant 500 feet above the ground! Located in the heart of Seattle Center.
Just below, the note began. The writing was small and tight, a barely decipherable scrawl.
I finally made it to Seattle. What a trip! But I’m here and now I’m looking for a job and a place for us to stay. It’s really pretty here, and I can’t wait till you come so we can see it together. Wish you were here (ha ha).
“Lydia,” Chuck said the name softly, letting the word roll off his tongue. “Lydiaahhh…” In the dark of his apartment, reading her mail by the soft spill of light from the streetlamp outside, Chuck wondered who this Lydia was. He yawned and tossed the card aside. Scrunching down into his sleeping bag and closed his eyes, the postcard was already forgotten.
A few days later, after another late night, Chuck was awakened much too early by the phone. It rang shrilly in his subconscious, forcing him to surface from his dream about… He couldn’t remember. He rolled over and untangled himself from his makeshift bed, and staggered to the phone. He suspected it was Sherry, and considered not answering it. What could she possibly have left to say after their all-night gab fest the night before? And it would be just like her to call at—he looked at his watch—8:30 in the morning. He picked up the phone. “What is it?”
“Is this Mr. Daniels?” asked the voice on the other end.
“Mr. Daniels, this is Marvin’s Movin’ Mavens. We have your stuff here. We’re right down the street ready to unload.”
Chuck sighed. It was about time they got there. “Okay, I’ll be right down.” He pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, then ran downstairs to let them in.
A few hours later, his apartment was filled with his belongings. In this strange place, Chuck felt his identity slowly return to him, piece by piece, as his things were carried from the truck below. He was beginning to feel somewhat at home, now.
When the assembly of his apartment was mostly complete, he went downstairs to retrieve his mail. There, lying on top of the pile was another postcard. His heart skipped a beat. This time, Mount Rainier was featured on the front with a field of yellow and purple wildflowers growing in the foreground.
I just can’t wait for you to be here. I interviewed for a job a few days ago, and I’m pretty sure it’s in the bag. By the time you get this, I’ll know for sure. Then I’ll come back home to get you. See you soon. I love you.
Chuck held the card for a moment, and before returning upstairs, he detoured to his landlord’s rooms. He knocked on the door and waited a minute or two before Leo finally answered. The middle-aged man wore dirty jeans, held up by a pair of wide, rainbow-striped suspenders. His t-shirt was filthy and stained with a variety of unknown matter. The utility boots he wore, apparently his cleanest aspect, flaked dried mud to the floor. His hair was steel-grey and buzz-cut Marine-style. He stood at the door, rubbing his substantial belly and chewing a cigar that protruded from fleshy lips. Chuck introduced himself.
“Yeah, I know who you are. I may be old, but I ain’t got altz-heimer’s. You ben makin’ a lotta noise today, ain’tcha? I take it yer done, now?”
Chuck, mildly amused, allowed a slow smile to creep across his face. “Uh, yeah. My furniture was just delivered. I—”
Leo cut him off. “Had movers take care of it for ya, huh?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Waste-a money, you ask me. Surprised they didn’t lose it all on ya.”
“Well, I was beginning to wonder that, myself. It’s been a few weeks since they picked it up in San Antonio.” But he was getting off track. “Look… I have a question about—”
“Everything okay up there fer ya? Don't tell me there’s leaks already?”
“Uh, no. But, I’ve been getting mail that I think belongs to the person who lived up there before me.”
“Oh, you mean Lydia, right? Strange bird, she was. Beautiful, too. Had a boyfriend wouldn’t leave her alone. But he was a nice-enough fella. Don’t know what he saw in her, though. Beauty don’t count for much when you ain’t got nothin’ inside to make it worthwhile. But that’s just me talkin’. Ask me, he should just forget about her.”
“Do you know where I can find her… to give her mail back? It looks like it’s all from him…”
“I doubt she'd want it. They fought a lot. Actually, she yelled a lot and he just took it. Anyways, she left here in a hurry. Broke her lease. Boy did that piss me off. But then you came along, and I guess it’s all right, now, though.” He looked directly at Chuck, his hard grey eyes boring into Chuck’s brown. “So, you lookin’ for her, huh?”
“I just want to get her mail to her…”
“Look. I don’t wanna know. I don’t know where she is, but I can tell you where she was workin’ last. It’s on the lease. I’ll go get it for ya. Can’t guarantee she’ll still be there, though.”
A few minutes later, Chuck returned to his place armed with Lydia’s work address.
Returning to work on Monday, Chuck dialed Information and was connected to the main desk of the legal firm of Cudgel and Cudgel. He gave the operator a name, and she put him on hold. Just as he was getting into the canned Mozart piped through the receiver, he was finally rung through.
“Hi, this is Lydia,” stated a honey-smooth feminine voice. She paused a moment, waiting for a reply. “Hello?”
Panicking, he realized that he had nothing to say to her. What was he thinking, calling her without a plan? “Uh…” he said. And to his horror, it was all he could think of.
“God. Get bent, you moron,” she said, and started to hang up.
The threat of calling again spurred him into action. “Wait…! Lydia?”
“Who is this?”
“My name is Chuck Daniels. I just moved into your old apartment—”
“Well, see, I’ve been getting some of your mail and thought you might like it back…?”
“What mail? I’m having everything forwarded.”
“They’re postcards. From Seattle.”
She paused. “Seattle?”
“Uh, yeah, that’s right.”
“Keep them,” she said curtly.
“But—” But it was too late. She hung up, leaving Chuck speaking into dead air.
The next day, he had a plan. When he returned to his office he made a phone call and settled down to work. A few hours later, his phone rang. It was the receptionist.
“Hey Chuck. You got a delivery down here.”
He smiled. “Thanks, Cyndi. I'll be right down.”
“You want me to bring it up? I could bring it up for you…”
“Uh, no. Thanks. I’ll be right down.”
“Suit yourself.” He could almost hear her shrug.
A few minutes later, Chuck gathered his things and locked up his office. “Hey, Steph?” A cute blonde looked up from her computer terminal.
“If anyone asks, I’m taking off a little early. I’ll be back first thing in the morning.”
“Okay,” she answered, smiling a little too broadly.
Chuck smiled back and winked at her. A little young, but cute, nonetheless. “See you tomorrow, then.” On his way out, he swung by Cyndi’s desk to pick up his delivery, then hailed a cab.
Within minutes, he was at the doors of Kugel and Kugel. He entered the building and deposited a huge arrangement of flowers on the front desk, placing a small plain card between the blossoms. “Delivery here for Lydia Pettiway.”
The receptionist looked at the flowers and rolled her eyes. “Sheesh. That girl gets more flowers. I don’t suppose you have any for me, there, do you?”
Chuck held up his hands. “Sorry.”
“Maybe next time, huh? Hold on, I’ll ring her up.”
“Umm, do you have a phone I could use?”
The receptionist pointed to a table in the corner. “Dial nine, first.”
He waited until she called Lydia down before picking up the phone and pretending to dial a number. It was a long few minutes talking to himself before she finally appeared.
When she did, Chuck was stunned. The woman was tall and thin, with russet hair, green eyes, straight nose and a wide full mouth. She was gorgeous. He watched her carefully as she strode over to the flowers, a small smile lighting her face. When she looked at the card however, her expression turned hard. She muttered something to the woman at the desk.
“Well, honey, you gotta tell him. You can’t just run away when his back is turned and expect him to understand.” She looked at Lydia, whose expression betrayed what she didn’t tell. “Jeez, he don’t even know, does he?”
“I have to get back to work.” She ripped up the card and turned away. “Keep the flowers, Clarice. You deserve them more than I do.”
“And how,” Clarice answered after Lydia disappeared.
Chuck put down the phone and left the building.
The next day, Chuck headed back to Kugel and Kugel during his lunch break. Perching himself on a cement planter just to the left of the building’s entrance, he opened his brown-bag lunch and waited for Lydia to emerge. When she still hadn’t appeared an hour later, he returned to his own office, reminding himself to be patient.
For the remainder of the week, however, his luck hadn’t changed. It occurred to him that whatever errands she ran or people she met, she clearly didn’t do it during her lunch hour. Or rather, not during his. He returned to his office a little discouraged, turning his mind to the weekend before him.
Chuck and Sherry spent most of the weekend hanging out. When he mentioned that he had been trying to follow Lydia, Sherry’s reaction was less than enthusiastic.
“What is up with that?” she demanded.
“What do you mean?” he asked, mildly hurt.
“Where do you get off stalking her over a couple of… of postcards? What are you, a lunatic? God, that is so weird. Just go up to her, for chrissakes, and tell her you have some mail of hers.”
“But it’s not that simple.”
“Oh no? Why the hell not?”
Chuck thought, Sherry was being unreasonable. “Because, she obviously doesn’t want to have anything to do with Jeff, anymore. I’ve already phoned her and she said she doesn’t want the mail. She told me to keep it. Then I sent her flowers and signed them with Jeff’s name, and she almost refused delivery. In fact, she gave them to the receptionist. I… I feel, to some degree, that it’s kinda my duty to find out why.”
“Your duty? It’s your duty to butt into other people’s lives? To spy on them?”
“I’m not spying—”
“Look. I don’t care how you rationalize it, it’s just wrong.”
“Yes, but, I’m not—”
Sherry looked at him hard and held her hands in front of her. “That’s it. I don’t want to hear it. I’m not having this conversation with you, anymore. …And I don’t even want to know about the flowers.”
Still feeling put out by Sherry’s lack of support, Chuck left work early Monday afternoon to stake out Lydia’s building again. He bought a paper and sat on a bench across the street, feeling somewhat ridiculous and a trifle cliché. All he needed was a grey overcoat and a Peter Gunn hat tilted over his brow. He smiled at the image.
His timing couldn’t have been more perfect. No sooner had he settled himself in for a long wait, than Lydia strode through the doors of Kugel and Kugel, and crossed the street to wait for the bus. She stood near him, and he could smell her perfume—a little sweet, a little musky. He closed his eyes, letting the scent wash over his senses. When the bus arrived, and he followed her aboard. He was right behind her when she grappled in her purse for a token. He touched her shoulder lightly. “That’s okay. I’ve got it.”
She turned and smiled as he reached around her to deposit the tokens. “Thanks,” she said. “I appreciate that.”
“Hey, not a problem.” He returned her smile.
Chuck sat a few seats behind her, taking care to keep her in view. He watched her carefully as she opened her purse and began applying fresh lipstick. She was apparently going somewhere. Was she meeting someone? She got off the bus at Clark and he followed her to an expensive restaurant down the street.
She went inside, and he watched through the window as she was led to an empty table. He walked in and sat at the bar. She saw him and smiled coyly. He ordered a drink and wondered what her deal was. He considered approaching her, but before he could act on the impulse, a man was shown to her table.
The man was tall, and wore a dark suit with a crimson silk tie. His black hair was casually swept from his brow. Lydia greeted him warmly as he leaned over to kiss her. He pulled a chair close to hers and sat down, taking her hand in his own. He reached out and stroked her hair. She touched his face.
Chuck caught a glint of gold on the man's left hand. He looked again. It was no mistake. The man was wearing a wedding ring. Chuck had seen enough. He laid a ten on the bar and left.
Before returning home, he stopped at Sherry’s place.
“She’s seeing someone else,” he said without preamble.
Sherry paused. “Who is? What are you talking about?”
Chuck exhaled loudly. “Lydia.”
Sherry stared at him, her eyes narrowed and her lips pressed together in a thin line. “I thought I told you I don’t want to hear about this. I don’t want to be a part of this game of yours. It’s not funny.”
“I’m not trying to be funny. I followed her from work just now, and she met someone at a restaurant. A man. With a wedding ring. And she is so beautiful I can kinda see why—”
“Oh, so she’s pretty. Right. Now I’m beginning to understand.”
He shook his head. “It’s not that. I… I don’t know. In a way, I feel like I owe it to Jeff to find out what the deal is.”
“Well, I could’ve told you it was another man, you nerd. It doesn’t take much to figure that one out. Jeez. Jeff should’ve figured it out, himself, before he even left the city, don’t you think?”
Chuck avoided her gaze, and an indefinable expression flickered across her delicate features. “Oh…”
He looked at her. “What?”
“I don’t know. But I’m sure you'll let me in on it, eventually.”
Chuck looked confused and Sherry rolled her eyes. “Look, now that you know, just forget about it, okay? This is Jeff’s battle. Not yours. It’s not right that you’re following this woman around the city. It’s not healthy.”
Chuck nodded. “All right, fine. You’re right.” He sounded resigned and a bit weary. “I won’t follow her anymore.”
But the next afternoon, he found himself at her bus stop again, waiting. He continued to follow her until he knew her routine. Two nights a week—Monday and Wednesday—she met the man at the restaurant. Where they went or what they did beyond that, Chuck could only speculate. He may be obsessed, but he wasn't demented enough to hang around for too long. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she worked out at a gym not far from his apartment, her old one. On Friday, she went out with friends from her office, including the receptionist, Clarice.
And so things went for a time, until one day, there was a scratching at Chuck's door, as of someone struggling to drive a key into the lock. Chuck rose from the kitchen table and moved toward the door, a frown creasing his forehead. “What the…?”
The door opened and a tall, gangly, red-haired man stepped into the apartment, dropping his bag to the floor. He looked up to see a surprised Chuck frozen in the middle of the room. The man’s eyes narrowed, a scowl darkening his features. “Who the hell are you?”
Chuck’s mouth snapped shut and his eyebrows rose. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
Click. The last piece of the puzzle. “Oh… You must be Jeff.”
“Yeah, I’m Jeff. Who the hell are you?” he repeated.
“Um, I’m Chuck. I live here.”
Now it was Jeff’s turn to look surprised.
“I mean, I just moved in… ah, after Lydia moved out. I haven’t been here very long.”
“Yeah, well, I haven’t been gone very long. What do you mean Lydia moved out? Where’d she go?”
Chuck sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t know Lydia at all. I just moved here from San Antonio. Look, Jeff, I—”
“If you don’t know Lydia, how do you know my name?”
Chuck crossed the room to the table. “Because,” he stated, picking up the postcards and handing them to Jeff. “I got these in my mail a couple weeks ago.”
Jeff reached out and took the postcards, turning them over in his hands. “If she moved, why weren’t these forwarded? Have you gotten the others? What about the letters?”
Chuck shook his head. “I don’t know. These must’ve slipped through the cracks, maybe, before the forwarding info took hold, or something. I don’t know.” He paused a moment, thinking. “You sent others?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Did she write back?”
“No, she didn’t.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little bit strange?”
“Well, I’ve talked to her on the phone.” Jeff looked at his feet. “That’s not really true . I’ve only talked to her answering machine. Obviously, she kept her phone number… Christ.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Now what am I gonna do?”
Chuck thought for a moment. “Are you going to hang around for a while?”
“I don’t see why I should. Things are pretty obvious as they stand, aren’t they?”
Chuck grunted. “You can crash here, tonight. You were probably counting on it, anyway…”
Jeff grimaced. “Yeah, that’s for sure.”
“And tomorrow, you can stick around and try to get a hold of Lydia. Let her know you’re here… She might have more to tell you…”
The next afternoon, a Wednesday, Jeff called Lydia at work, but she refused to talk to him. When he gave the receptionist a different name, Lydia took the call, but hung up on him when she discovered it was Jeff. After that, she wouldn’t take calls from anyone.
It became apparent that no amount of determination on Jeff’s part was about to bring Lydia around. She was a coward. And Chuck, for his own reasons, had made it his mission to deliver Jeff from her cowardice and infidelity. He just had to. He owed to Jeff. Hell, he owed it to himself. He took a deep breath and told Jeff to meet him after work. Chuck had some reservations about what he was preparing to do. But, he thought it was for the best.
When Jeff arrived at his office, Chuck hailed a taxi and gave the driver instructions. Ten minutes later, the cabbie pulled up to the restaurant on Clark. Jeff recognized it immediately. “Hey, I know this place. Lydia and I came here all the time. Why are we here?”
Chuck motioned Jeff out of the cab and they crossed the street. “Stay here and just watch.”
Jeff was silent. A thick knot of dread was beginning to form in his stomach. Soon, a bus pulled over and expunged a group of passengers in front of the restaurant. Lydia was among them. Jeff saw her immediately and raised his arm to call out, but Chuck rested a heavy hand on his shoulder. “No. Just wait.” Lydia disappeared into the restaurant. Jeff glanced at Chuck, but Chuck slowly shook his head.
A few minutes later, a cab pulled up, and a man unfolded himself from the back seat. He adjusted his overcoat, brushed his black hair into place with his fingers, and walked into the restaurant. Chuck stepped off the curb and motioned Jeff to follow.
They crossed the street and stopped in front of the establishment. Ignoring the startled stares of the patrons seated near the window, Chuck peered through the tinted glass and pointed to something inside. “There. Look. She’s in there.” Jeff hesitated. “Look, Jeff. You need to see this.”
Jeff cupped his hands around his face and looked inside. He shook his head. “Where? I don’t see her.”
“In the back, two tables from the bar,” Chuck prompted.
And Jeff saw. Lydia was seated there with the man who was in the cab. He swallowed, and looked away.
“He’s married, Jeff.”
Before Chuck could stop him, Jeff skirted around him and darted through the door, moving directly toward Lydia and her lover. Chuck called out, but Jeff ignored him. Before he approached the table, Lydia spotted him and fear crossed her face, then disdain. She met his eyes, and deliberately reached for her lover’s hand.
“Lydia,” Jeff began when he reached her side breathless and visibly shaken.
“I’m not talking to you, Jeff,” she stated.
“Lydia,” he insisted. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you let me come all the way back here to get you, and not tell me you were leaving me? Why couldn’t you have at least let me know?”
Lydia looked away, tracing a pattern on the tablecloth with her free hand and sighed “You are so ignorant, Jeff. I mean really. I never said that I was going to Seattle with you. You just up and decided that you were going to go, and simply assumed that I was going with you. I never agreed to it. I never wanted to leave Chicago, and you should have seen that. It should have been obvious.”
Now she looked at him. “And it should have been obvious to you that I was already seeing someone else. You’re a boring date, Jeff, and a lousy lover. Not to mention, an ignorant pig. I was planning on leaving you, anyway. Your leaving town was simply convenient, is all. I’m surprised you didn’t take the hint a long time ago.” She looked at him with disgust. “God, you can be so clueless.”
Jeff was stunned. He felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him. She was right, though. He was clueless. He certainly hadn’t seen this coming.
Her lover looked from Jeff to Lydia, confusion and suspicion clouding his features. “Who is this, Lydia? How do you know him?”
“He’s no one, Richard. And he was just leaving.” She cast a scathing glance toward Jeff. “Weren’t you?”
Jeff, defeated before he even left for Seattle, before he was even aware of it, finally realized the game was over. Graciously, he nodded. “Yeah, I suppose so.”
But before he turned away, he addressed Lydia one last time. “You know, now that I think about it, Seattle might not be the place for you, after all. It’s a beautiful city, but they are real particular about keeping it clean.”
He backed away from the table as the maitre d’ approached and laid a hand on his arm. Jeff shook it off. “I was just leaving. I hope you two enjoy each other. I mean really.” He turned and walked out, Chuck trailing after him.
Back at the apartment, Chuck retrieved two fresh beers from the fridge and handed one to Jeff. “Hey, man. I’m really sorry. I didn’t know how else to tell you. I thought it might be best in the long run if you saw it for yourself. You know, ‘the truth shall set you free’ and all that…"
“Yeah, well, that was really harsh.” He paused. “How did you know about Lydia and that guy?”
Chuck sighed and settled down on the couch beside Jeff. He picked up the remote and turned on the TV. “We've got digital cable service. Pretty cool.” He passed the remote to Jeff. “Go for it.” While Jeff scanned the channels, Chuck filled him in on the past two weeks’ events.
“I guess she’s right, though,” Jeff conceded. “I really should have seen it coming. Now that I think about it, the clues were everywhere.”
Chuck nodded. “Yeah, well, you know, when we’re in it deep like that, I don’t think it’s so much that we don’t see the clues, as much as we don’t want to see them.”
“No, you know it’s true . We both do.” He paused a moment before deciding to continue. “My girlfriend and I broke up shortly before I left San Antonio. She, uh… She left me for someone else. We were dating for a couple of years, and I was going to ask her to marry me. Then I discovered that she was cheating on me for nearly six months. She told me she was going up to her parents’ summer place in Corpus Christi for a week ‘to get some alone time’. That’s what she said. To get some alone time. I thought I’d surprise her there after a couple days. I thought we’d have the rest of the week to ourselves. Turns out she already had company. I found them skinny dipping in her parents’ pool, and they weren’t swimming. It sure surprised her. It surprised all of us. Especially since the guy she was with was my best friend.”
“That’s when I decided to move to Chicago. Only recently, I started realizing the clues for what they really were. She didn’t return my phone calls. She blew off our dates, and made up bad excuses for why she never showed up. Stuff like that. I wasn’t clueless. I was just blind and in love. And so, here I am. And here you are. That’s why I thought you should see for yourself. If you couldn’t get it from her straight, you needed to find out somehow, even if I had to show you. It was the most direct way I could come up with, to drive it home.” He hesitated. “I’m sorry for the pain you feel, though. Believe me, I know exactly what you're going through.”
They were silent for some time, allowing the non-activity of channel surfing and beer drinking fill the space between them, each absorbed in his own thoughts. Later, the intercom buzzed. Chuck shuffled to the door and pressed a button. “Yeah…?”
“Hi, snot face. It’s me. Let me up.”
Jeff snorted. “Snot face? Nice…”
Chuck shrugged. “It's just Sherry. She’s pretty cool. You gotta meet her to really appreciate her, though.”
The intercom buzzed again. Chuck smirked and spoke into the speaker. “Who is it?”
“Let me up, or I’m gonna pitch a fit right here on the street!”
“Frightening,” Jeff observed.
Chuck pressed the buzzer to let her in. “Gotta love her.”
“She’s awfully rough for a chick, isn’t she?”
Chuck smiled. “To know her is to love her.”
Jeff grinned. “Only you would know, my man.”
“Just you wait. You’ll be shelving your own horns before you know it.”
At that moment, Sherry burst unceremoniously through the door and into Chuck’s apartment. “Hey, Chuckie…” She stopped short when she saw Jeff rising from the couch. She looked from Jeff to Chuck, and back again, realization dawning on her elfin features. She stretched out her hand and smiled. “Hi, I’m Sherry. You must be Jeff. Chuck’s told me all about you.” She leaned toward him and whispered loudly, “Sucks to be the cuckold, doesn’t it?”
Jeff’s mouth dropped open.
“Sherry…” Chuck warned.
“It’s okay,” she reassured them. “We’ve all been there.” She looked pointedly at Chuck. “Haven’t we?” I’ve got you all figured out, her expression said.
Chuck sighed. “Jeff, meet Sherry.”
The next day, Chuck saw Jeff to the airport. At the terminal, they hugged briefly, clapping each other roughly on the shoulders.
“Take it easy, Jeff. Enjoy Seattle. I understand it’s a beautiful area.”
“Yeah, it is. You should swing by sometime. We’ll go rafting or something.”
“You know how to raft?”
“Never done it before in my life.”
They laughed, and Jeff walked toward the ramp whistling Wild Blue Yonder. But before vanishing out of sight, he turned around. “Oh, and when you do come out to Washington, make sure you bring Sherry.”
Chuck smiled and waved him off. “Go home, Jeff.”
He watched the plane depart, thinking about everything and nothing.
A few weeks later, Chuck was sitting on the couch watching TV when there was a knock at the door. He rose to answer it, and was surprised to find Lydia standing before him.
She looked at him for a moment, her green eyes glittering . “I thought it might be you. I should have known.”
Chuck looked down at his feet. “How did you know it was me?”
“I didn’t put it together until I noticed you weren’t following me from work, anymore. And that was right after Jeff came back.”
Chuck blushed. “I didn’t think you noticed me.”
“Of course I did. I’m not blind. A good-looking man like you, suddenly showing up where he wasn’t before, and then vanishing into thin air…? You bet I noticed. Maybe if you hadn’t paid my bus fare that first time you wouldn’t have been so obvious. But I doubt it. In fact, I first noticed you in the lobby of my office building. Later, at the bus stop, I couldn’t figure out where I’d seen you before, until I realized that it was you in the lobby making a phone call that day I got the flowers.” She paused. “Jeff didn’t send them, did he? You did.”
He nodded. “I feel really stupid…”
Lydia shrugged. “I guess I should be mad at you, but I’m not. People do weird things, sometimes, for even weirder reasons. It happens.”
“You know, when I got those postcards, I thought you might really want them. But when you told me you didn’t, I couldn’t figure out why. So I had to find out.”
“So, you didn’t know Jeff, before?”
Chuck shook his head. “No, I didn’t. But, I’d just broken up with my own girlfriend and…”
Lydia held up her hand. “Don’t explain. It doesn’t really matter. I handled it badly, and I regret that. …Have you spoken to Jeff, recently?”
“No,” Chuck said, suddenly on guard. “I haven’t really spoken to him since he left. I think he’s finished his business here.”
Lydia looked crestfallen. “Oh. That’s too bad. I was kind of hoping that… Well, it doesn’t matter what I was hoping for. It’s all over, now, isn’t it?”
Chuck was losing interest in the conversation. “Yes, it is. Umm, is there anything else you wanted?”
She shook her head. “Not really. Just if you hear from him, tell him I said hello.”
He looked her, his expression flat. “You know, Lydia, I don’t think I’ll do that. I don’t think he needs someone like you in his life, anymore.”
She stood in the doorway of Chuck’s apartment, suddenly aware that she no longer belonged there. She had no right to be there, standing at this man’s door, even if she had once lived there. The events that led up this moment were of her own doing, and now she regretted them. “You’re probably right.” She held up a pair of keys. “I think I’ll just return these to Leo, now. I won’t be needing them anymore.”
Reaching out his hand, Chuck said, “Why don’t you just give the keys to me? I’ll take them over to Leo a little later. I think it’s best you just leave.”
Later that evening, Sherry came over. Chuck greeted her warmly and held her close for a moment. Then he pulled back and handed something to her. “We got another postcard from Jeff.”
Sherry took it from him and read it.
Dear Chuck and Sherry—
I thought you guys might like to know that things are looking up and I’m dating someone now. She’s really cute. Kinda reminds me of Sherry. Pretty scary, huh? (ha ha) Let me know when you guys want to come out here. I’ve got lots of things planned for us to do.
“So, when’re we going?” she asked.
Chuck kissed her forehead. “Anytime you want, doll face.” He walked to the kitchen table and handed her a package. “Here, I’ve got something else for you.”
“What is it?”
“Open it, why don’t you?”
Sherry tore through the wrapping and fumbled the box open. Reaching inside, she pulled out a pair of keys on a key ring. She raised an eyebrow and looked at Chuck. “Are these what I think they are?”
Chuck smiled and told her about Lydia’s visit. “I think she and Richard are history. Anyway, I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather give those keys to.”
She gave him a great big kiss. “It’s about time, you nut.”
They sat down and began making plans to visit their friend in Seattle. He watched Sherry animatedly coordinate their plans for their trip and knew he’d made the right decisions. Life was very very good.
©1998 Cristina Van Dyck